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 outdoors...man, 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.





Saturday, May 20, 2017

Limitless (2011)

Director: Neil Burger

Writers: Leslie Dixon, Alan Glynn

Composer: Paul Leonard-Morgan

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth, Brian Anthony Wilson

More info: IMDb

Tagline: What if a pill could make you rich and powerful?

Plot: With the help of a mysterious pill that enables the user to access 100 percent of his brain abilities, a struggling writer becomes a financial wizard, but it also puts him in a new world with lots of dangers.



My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

Right off the bat the visuals in the opening credits set you up for the film that follows.  It's almost dizzying but it's creative, fun and it gives you the feeling of what our protagonist is about to experience before we even know what it's about.  The performances are good, especially from Cooper.  He's fantastic.  The story is interesting, intriguing and tight.  There's some plain ole luck when it comes to how they explain how Eddie gets away with the gunfight in his apartment but that's a minor quibble.  The ending is really fucking good.  I loved it.  I sure would like to get my hands on some of those pills.  My memory problems would disappear.  Highly recommended.  It's fun, smart and entertaining all the way through. And here's something cool, there was a single season run of a TV series with the same name that takes place after this picture and Cooper shows up from time to time.  I've got to see this.

Friday, May 19, 2017

One More Train to Rob (1971)

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Writers: William Roberts, Don Tait, Dick Nelson

Composer: David Shire

Starring: Geroge Peppard, Diana Muldaur, John Vernon, France Nuyen, Steve Sander, Soon-Tek Oh, Richard Loo, Robert Donner, John Doucette, C.K. Yang, Marie Windsor, Timothy Scott, Joan Sawlee, Hal Needham, Harry Carey Jr., Ben Cooper, Merlin Olsen, Don 'Red' Barry

More info: IMDb

Tagline: He'd been cheated out of his gold... and his woman... now the only weapon he had left was... revenge!

Plot: After taking the fall for a train robbery, Harker Flet is released from prison and exacts revenge on his former partners who cheated him out of his share.



My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

There's no denying that George Peppard is charisma incarnate in this picture.  I've never seen him more naturally likable.  He's really a blast and the only reason you should see this.  Everybody else is fine, too, but it's Peppard that makes this watchable.  John Vernon is always fun, especially when he's in villain mode where he is here.  The story is OK (the dialogue can be a little ridiculous) but the picture has that clean and polished look that lightens the tone like one of those 60s TV Western shows in color.  The pacing is good but the real beauty is watching Peppard do his thing.  Vernon's last scene is silly as shit.  I hated it.  The whole flick is on YouTube.  Watch it before it disappears.




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dead Man Walking (1995)

Director: Tim Robbins

Writers: Helen Prejean, Tim Robbins

Composer: David Robbins

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, Robert Prosky, Raymond J. Barry, R. Lee Ermey, Celia Weston, Lois Smith, Scott Wilson, Roberta Maxwell, Margo Martindale, Clany Brown, Peter Sarsgaard, Jack Black

More info: IMDb

Plot: A nun, while comforting a convicted killer on death row, empathizes with both the killer and his victim's families.




My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

After all these years I finally got around to this one.  It's Robbins' second film as director and it's a stark contrast to his first, BOB ROBERTS (1992).  The picture does a good job of covering the different sides of the death penalty issue.  The scene I like the most is when Helen (Sarandon) visits the parents of one of the victims wonderfully played by R. Lee Ermey and Celia Weston.  It all goes well and emotion until it doesn't and that transition was very nicely acted.  It's a very leisurely paced film that at times dragged but then I think some of that was on purpose to help drag the viewer closer to what the characters are feeling.  The MGM DVD has a non-anamorphic widescreen print with two extras - the theatrical trailer (fullscreen) and a commentary track from Robbins.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Anderson Tapes (1971)

Director: Sidney Lumet

Writers: Lawrence Sanders, Frank Pierson

Composer: Quincy Jones

Starring: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Ralph Meeker, Alan King, Christopher Walken, Val Avery, Dick Anthony Williams, Garrett Morris, Margaret Hamilton, Conrad Bain, Judith Lowry, Max Showalter

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The Crime of the Century!

Plot: After Duke Anderson is released from prison after ten years for taking the rap for a scion of a Mafia family, he cashes in a debt of honor with the mob to bankroll a caper.



My rating:  6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.  Twice is enough.

It's been a good twenty-five years since I last saw this and I feel the same about it now as I did then - it's an OK heist movie.  The cast is loaded with actors that I really dig.  Balsam hams it up as a flamboyant homosexual but he is fun.  I would've liked more of a violent edge to Connery and some of the others.  The first half of the film is the heist setup with the second half being the execution.  Connery's plan is too ambitious to think that they might get away with it.  And things get ridiculous when there's a computer whiz kid in the joint that throws a monkey wrench into the works.  I liked the technical parts (directing, editing and so on) so I guess my issue is with the story.  The last minute of the picture adds an extra bit of "oh, shit" but it's not all that effective and any power it's supposed to have has been diminished by the lackluster story.  The Columbia DVD is part of the Martini Movies collection so you get two 1.5 minutes clips compilations on how to be a leading man and how to drink.  They're forgettable and annoying.  The movie itself and the theatrical trailer are both anamorphic widescreen. 




Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Frankenstein (1910)

Director: J. Searle Dawley

Writers: Mary Shelley, J. Searle Dawley

Composer: Donald Sosin

Starring: Marry Fuller, Charles Ogle, Augustus Phillips

More info: IMDb


Plot: Frankenstein, a young medical student, trying to create the perfect human being, instead creates a misshapen monster.



My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.

This is the first filmed version of Frankenstein and it's pretty darn good.  You'll have to overlook the goofy gesturing of Frankenstein while his monster is forming but that transformation scene is really neat.  They burned a dummy and played it in reverse.  The use of the full length mirror was a great touch, too.  At first it's just a neat visual of having two people in the shot with one being a reflection but the mirror plays nicely as part of the narrative at the end of the picture.  This was reportedly lost for decades until it turned up in the 70s.  The print I watched was dirty and at times difficult to make things out clearly.  I reckon if I searched hard enough I'd find a cleaner copy and enhance my enjoyment of it.  I've seen it twice already so there's not much need to revisit the film but it's only 13 minutes so it's hardly an inconvenience to not give it another go.  The version above on YouTube is jacked because it's presented in widescreen but the addition of the Richard Band cues is a nice touch by modernizing the score. 

Antony and Cleopatra (1972)

Director: Charlton Heston

Writers: William Shakespeare, Charlton Heston

Composer: John Scott

Starring: Charlton Heston, Hildegard Neil, Eric Porter, John Castle, Fernando Rey, Juan Luis Galiardo, Carmen Sevilla, Freddie Jones, Peter Arne, Luis Barboo, Fernando Bilbao, Warren Clarke, Roger Delgado, Julian Glover

More info: IMDb

Tagline: For the first time...Shakespeare's tragic love story is brought to the screen

Plot: After the murder of her lover Caesar, Egypt's queen Cleopatra needs a new ally. She seduces his probable successor Mark Antony. This develops into real love and slowly leads to a war with the other possible successor: Octavius.



My rating: 4/10

Will I watch it again?  No.


In a word, it's dull.  I love Heston but this was a tough slog.  It's admirable that he made this happen and he must have really felt some connection with Marc Antony as this was his third time playing him.  What got to me was the slow pacing, dialogue (which would probably be easier to follow and get into if only the movie had some life to it) and the lead actors acting like they had the world's troubles on their shoulders.  They really oversold the drama.  There's a battle near the end that injected a little interest and potential excitement except that, and I'm sure this was entirely a budgetary problem, it was done on a small scale with medium shots and no long shots to give any type of scale.  I expected more.  The widescreen print I watched (non-anamorphic) was nice but that wasn't enough to mask the drearyness of this production.



Monday, May 15, 2017

Rob Roy (1995)

Director: Michael Caton-Jones

Writer: Alan Sharp

Composer: Carter Burwell

Starring: Liam Neeson, Jessica Lange, John Hurt, Tim Roth, Eric Stoltz, Andrew Keir, Brian Cox, Brian McCardie, Gilbert Martin, Vicki Masson, Gilly Gilchrist, Jason Flemyng

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Honor made him a man. Courage made him a hero. History made him a Legend

Plot: In 1713 Scotland, Rob Roy MacGregor is wronged by a nobleman and his nephew, becomes an outlaw in search of revenge while fleeing the Redcoats, and faces charges of being a Jacobite.



My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Sure.

Those teeth!  They must've had a team of tooth-fucker-upers working on this film.  I dug  Cunningham's (Roth) entrance.  Hell, Rob Roy's (Neeson), too, for that matter.  Everything you need to know about them is made very clear by their first moments on screen.  Rob is good and noble and Cunningham is a deceptively sinister and cruel bastard in fop's clothing.  It's a well made costume adventure picture with lovely Scottish scenery, set/costume design, acting and a great cast.  It's pictures like these that bring old well-established English actors out of the woodwork, a who's who of faces you know.  The final 5 minute sword fight is good and I'm especially impressed that there's an absence of music except for the final blow and I would've preferred that to be silent, too.  You can't have everything.  I'd need a bigger house.  In two hours and sixteen minutes you'd think they could've at least given us the recipe for the drink named after the man.  Geez.  Stupid Hollywood.  Maybe there's a documentary out there that covers that in detail.  The MGM DVD has a good anamorphic widescreen print with one extra, the theatrical trailer (non-anamorphic). 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Verboten! (1959)

Director: Samuel Fuller

Writer: Samuel Fuller

Composer: Harry Sukman

Starring: James Best, Susan Cummings, Tom Pitman, Paul Dubov, Harold Daye, Dick Kallman, Stuart Randall, Steven Geray, Anna Hope, Robert Boon, Sasha Harden, Paul Busch, Neyle Morrow, Joe Turkel

More info: IMDb

Tagline: A MAD GENERATION... Spawned In Lust... Consumed By Hate!

Plot: A young American serviceman, stationed in Germany after the fall of the Third Reich, jeopardizes his position with the Marshall Plan relief effort by breaking the non-fraternization rule and falling in love with a young German woman. He uses his position to obtain food and luxuries for her that are in short supply, and all seems to be going well for the couple. What he doesn't realize is that the Werewolves, the Nazi guerrilla movement, have plans in which he features heavily.



My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.

I'm on a Samuel Fuller kick as of late and I'm loving it.  James Best gives another powerful performance and is the standout in this picture.  If this wasn't filmed in some bombed out city in Europe then kudos to the set designers.  The opening scenes look fantastic, especially on what I presume to be a small budget.  I like the way Fuller's cameras move along with the action.  Were there many films that dealt with the U.S. occupation of Germany after the second World War?  I've seen very few, which is by no means an accurate measure, but it's probably not a subject audiences were clamouring for.  I suspect that once the war was over Americans were ready to get back to being normal, although they were dealing with a new normal.  They probably didn't care or weren't concerned with post-war Germany until the Rooskies started stirring shit up.  I'm really impressed with Fuller's pictures and I'm going to keep going to that well to discover more of his pictures.  I think I'm ready for one of his Westerns now.  Paul Anka sings the theme tune for this one.  The kids of today won't be tappin' their toes to it.
 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Primer (2004)

Director: Shane Carruth

Writer: Shane Carruth

Composer: Shane Carruth

Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya, Carrie Crawford, Jay Butler, John Carruth, Juan Tapia, Ashley Warren, Samantha Thomson, Chip Carruth

More info: IMDb

Tagline: If you always want what you can't have, what do you want when you can have anything?

Plot: Four friends/fledgling entrepreneurs, knowing that there's something bigger and more innovative than the different error-checking devices they've built, wrestle over their new invention.



My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

Now I'd heard for years that this is often considered one of the best, thinking man's time travel movies out there.  I finally saw it.  I gave it my full attention and even that wasn't enough.  For the most part I was with it the entire way.  It's pretty easy to follow at first until the time traveling begins and then there's a lot of non-linear stuff going on that almost has you putting a puzzle together where a lot of the pieces look similar but only fit in a specific way.  I had questions at the end and two choices - either watch the movie again, right then and there (or I'd easily forget something if I waited a few days, weeks or months) or see what the Internet says.  I'm lazy and impatient so the Internet won.  Once I read enough of what others had figured out it made more sense.  I've already forgotten (yay, shitty memory) so I'll just have to re-read the explanation just before I watch it again to gain a further appreciation.  It's a good film despite its simple complexity.  The performances are strong as is the music and writing.  PRIMER is heady stuff and I can see how someone would be easily turned off by it.  It's not sexy and it's dry, but it's very good nonetheless.  The New Line DVD looks great and the only extras are two commentary tracks, one from Carruth and another from the cast and crew.  Someday I'll have to hit those




Friday, May 12, 2017

The Passage (1979)

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Writer: Bruce Nicolaysen

Composer: Michael J. Lewis

Starring: Anthony Quinn, James Mason, Malcolm McDowell, Patricia Neal, Kay Lenz, Christopher Lee, Paul Clemens, Robert Rhys, Marcel Bozzuffi, Michael Lonsdale, Peter Arne, Neville Jason, Robert Brown, Rose Alba, Jim Broadbent, Frederick Jaeger, Terence Maidment, Terry Yorke

More info: IMDb

Tagline: An ice-swept escape route in front of them. A cold-blooded killer behind them. The only way out is up.

Plot: During WW 2, a Basque shepherd is approached by the underground, who wants him to lead a scientist and his family across the Pyrenees. While being pursued by a sadistic German.



My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.

At times this movie feels like it was made for TV and even though there were some high quality TV movies in the 70s, this isn't meant as a compliment.  Sometimes the direction and editing feel weaker than they should be and sometimes it's Micheal J. Lewis' score that feels thin.  The music could be the fault of the mixing but there's an airy quality (heavy on the high strings with little to bring any mid range or bottom).  It could also be in the recording of the score or the budget wasn't there to have a larger, fuller orchestra.  The point is, there are a few little things that add up enough to weaken the overall look and sound of the movie.  The likeliest culprit could be the budget.  Now that I've beaten that damn horse, let's move on.  The dialogue has moments of either cliche or typical Hollywood-ness to it but the actors are good enough to help move it along.  For the most part this is an OK WWII thriller with some big time stars and except for one particular thing, it's largely forgettable.  Malcolm McDowell delivers a delightfully bonkers performance as Capt. Von Berkow, the mustache (if he had one, that is) twirling evil Nazi.  He reminded me a little of Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) from INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009).  He's evil, sadistic and playful.  Berkow (as well as McDowell) in his role as one of Hitler's elite force, the SS.  At first McDowell's choice to play Berkow this way is a little odd because it doesn't fit with the rest of the film, like he's working on a different picture.  But somewhere along the way I just went along with it and embraced it.  That's when I saw the comedy and laughed out loud.




That scene is the apex of the picture's humor.  When he tortures a man (I'm not going to spoil it with who the victim is) in the kitchen, it's absurd and horrific.  The victim sells the shit out of it while McDowell gleefully serves it up.  Then there's the scene where he's wearing a swastika-ed jockstrap.  Once you get past the shock of his out of place performance, he's fun to watch.  The ending is wild as shit, too.  The rumor is they filmed three scenarios for the finale and used all three.  No spoilers again but you need to see this to believe it.  It's fucking glorious.  I absolutely LOVED the ending.  This is an unusual film, for sure, but it's also enjoyable in a peculiar way.  Lower your expectations and have some fun.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Director: Albert Lewin

Writers: Oscar Wilde, Albert Lewin

Composer: Herbert Stothart

Starring: George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford, Lowell Gilmore, Richard Fraser, Douglas Walton, Morton Lowry, Miles Mander, Lydia Bilbrook, Cedric Hardwicke

More info: IMDb

Tagline: His life was a muddy morass into which he dragged all who knew him! Such was Dorian Gray, the man who wanted eternal youth, and bartered his soul to get it!

Plot: A corrupt young man somehow keeps his youthful beauty, but a special painting gradually reveals his inner ugliness to all.



My rating:  7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Probably.

With solid performances, set/costume design, pacing, story, etc., this picture delivers.  Sanders has the best lines and does them justice.  He's so good at playing cads that you'd think he was one offscreen, too.  I'd like to think he wasn't, but he sells it so well.  Hatfield does a fine job, too.  At least I think he did.  I say that because he plays the role with such a lack of feeling and presents Gray as a man who had little emotion who tips the scale and grows even colder and callous with age.  I liked his performance but I'm curious to see how others have done it.  I wonder if this has ever been made as a straight up horror movie.  Dorian Gray is technically a serial killer after all.  This was his second feature and first in a starring role.  He does play it rather cold, so much that Sanders (as Lord Wotton) brings exuberant life to every scene he's in.  The paintings are magnificent, especially the ugly one as the years take their toll.  It's great seeing Angela Lansbury in an early role (her third feature) and she's quite good.  It's a good looking and intriguing film.  The large sets of the mansion are bigger than life and provide a beautiful and lush backdrop.  They almost swallow the players.  My favorite scene is the murder of a certain someone.  It reminded me of PSYCHO (1960) when the hanging light is bumped in the scuffle and it plays out the next few moments swaying back and forth, giving shade to the murderer.  In this case we have the added satisfaction of also seeing the silhouette of the victim appear and disappear.  It was brilliantly shot.  I'm a horror fan so if I were to change anything it would be to amp up the suspense and shock.  That wouldn't drastically alter the film but it would emphasize that take on the story.   



 


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Pig (2010)

Director: Adam Mason

Writers: Andrew Howard, Adam Mason

Composers: Phil Bloomberg, Tim Polecat

Starring: Andrew Howard, Guy Burnet, Lorry O'Toole, Molly Black, Juliet Quintin-Archard

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  He does all the things you dare not even think!

Plot: A deranged psychotic spends his summer day deciding how to deal with the three captives he has chained up on his land. With only his own troubled mind and his dim-witted companion available to guide him and the fate of his victims, the disturbed man makes violent choice after violent choice.



My rating: 5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

Even horror fans might not dig this one but it does have some things going for it even if it didn't work for me.  It's shot in a way that looks like it's one long take but if you're paying attention to it then you'll probably catch some of the hidden edits.  That alone is impressive.  The psycho (I don't think he's ever given a name) has one partner in crime (a very pregnant mentally ill woman he calls, "Retard") who is annoying as fuck.  In addition to her mental speech (she talks as if she's deaf, which she isn't, using only the middle/back of her tongue to speak) she's almost constantly squeezing a dog squeaky toy.  It's an assault on the ears.  They have three victims that we see tortured and killed.  There's blood and some gore but it's not as gruesome as you'd think considering the filming technique and the brutality of the psycho.  The almost constant music helps the pacing and watchability.  It is repetitive but it serves the film better than you'd think.  There is no nudity except for the psycho.  He gives you full frontal and backal.  I literally knew nothing about this film and I watched it cold when a friend asked, "what's this about?".  93 minutes later we made it to the end.  The final few minutes, while putting an interesting spin on who the psycho is, hardly makes up for the sometimes dull and annoying rest of the film.  It starts off good and interesting and ends that way but what's in between has a lot of filler and a neat filming technique.  If this sounds intriguing, you should seek it out and give it a whirl for better or worse.  Even though this isn't much of a recommend, hardcore horror fans should take a chance.  At least it's different. 


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Room 43 (1958)

Original title: Passport to Shame

Director: Alvin Rakoff

Writer: Patrick Alexander

Composer: Ken Jones

Starring: Diana Dors, Herbert Lom, Eddie Constantine, Odile Versois, Brenda de Banzie, Robert Brown, Elwyn Brook-Jones

More info: IMDb

Tagline: For those who think they've seen everything!

Plot: A cabdriver falls for French girl mixed up with a prostitution ring and he helps to liberate her.



My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again?  YES!!!

Where do I start?  The performances are very good.  Herbert Lom plays a great gangster who knows how to get shit done and Eddie Constantine is charismatic yet rough around the edges.  I really dig this guy.  His pal, Mike (played by Robert Brown who many years later would play important roles in several Bond pictures and someone I'm ashamed I didn't recognize) is great and he's got a few scenes to shine.  And then there's Diana Dors.  Hubba fuckin' hubba!  She looks so familiar but I've only seen a couple of her pictures, none of which I remember her from.  She did a fine job, too.  Yowza!


I really dug the score, too, but it didn't take long before I realized why...it sounds very similar to Elmer Bernstein's main theme from THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955).  Listen to the theme from the opening credits above and then listen to this...




Pretty darn close.  The story is a lot of fun but it was the direction and cinematography that grabbed me by the short and curlies.  This picture is loaded with great shots and camera angles.  It's beautiful at times.  There were many moments that literally made me smile.  Hell, even a buddy of mine was impressed (without me saying a word to point stuff out) and he doesn't normally notice things like that.  Considering the subject and whatnot, this film is much better than you would expect it to be.  I cannot find a weak spot in the film.  It's that good.  I'm thoroughly impressed and I'm almost bummed out that I hadn't seen or even heard of this before.  Seek it out.  You won't be disappointed.  There was one quick moment when the camera shows a small gathering at a wedding ceremony and there's this one face that was there for a flash but looked very familiar.  I thought how neat would it be if that were Michael Caine.  Then I read the IMDb page and it sure as hell was.  Supposedly Jackie Collins is an extra somewhere, too.  I'd sure love to have a widescreen print of this on DVD.