Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970)
They call me Mr. Sequel!
Even allowing for the inevitable "sequel letdown", this film is more than just a little mediocre. I doubt Poitier would have done it if he hadn't been offered a lot of money. Basically, everything that made the first film work is either missing or wrong. For example: Rod Steiger's racist cop and all the narrative friction that came with him -- gone. Quincy Jones' excellent music -- here, as stylish as ever but done in a funky style that's incongruous with the character of Virgil Tibbs and which makes the film seem more generic in a "70s blaxploitation" way than it should. The only major element still present in force is Poitier, and his performance is good. He's added a more sexual element to his performance, and finds some humor as well in the mostly dry situations. It's just not enough to power such a mediocre film.
The mystery elements do not work very well. We know from the beginning that the murderer is either the really obvious guy, a landlord (Anthony Zerbe) who looks like date rape on two legs, or the slightly less obvious guy, a preacher (Martin Landau) who's an old friend of Tibbs. Landau's character is so poorly conceived that it's amazing Landau is able to do anything at all with it. BTW, with his largely black congregation and his political crusades, Landau's character more than a little resembles the infamous Oakland/San Francisco preacher Jim Jones, who would rocket to stardom a decade or so later in supremely unfortunate circumstances.
To make up for the lack of "heart" (the first Tibbs movie was a buddy cop story), this film gives him a family. He's also been moved inexplicably from Philadelphia to San Francisco, but presumably the audience wasn't supposed to remember anything from the first film, right? Anyway, his home life is so dull, and so objectionable on so many levels -- after having an awkward conversation with his son about how he was "supposed to be there, the black man and all that", he hits him in the face -- that it makes a film that otherwise might have been mediocre into a disaster. Barbara McNair, whose main experience prior to this was playing a nun in an Elvis movie, must have been thrilled to share so many scenes with Poitier but she can't strike a rapport with him that makes up for the fact that we already saw an entire Virgil Tibbs movie without her. She's window dressing of the most painful sort, and the writers' attempts to make Tibbs' family life some kind of social statement is just about as successful as their attempt to make Landau's preacher into some kind of activist hero.
In fact, that's the film in a nutshell -- the first movie was timeless, this one tries instead to be topical.
It wouldn't be fair to close these comments without a few words about the director, Gordon Douglas: he sucks. Right from the very first shots of the movie you can tell it's a disaster: he shoots the entire murder in first person subjective camera angle, which is just as tacky and dated as extreme zooms from the same era. The fact that the producers picked a guy like Douglas, who'd been in Hollywood already for almost forty years and had directed almost 90 mediocre films, says a lot about their lack of ambition for this picture. Which is really too bad, because the original film combined genre mystery elements with social problems in a stylish way, whereas this film just plods along like any other B movie.
Angels Over Broadway (1940)
Minor gem directed by Ben Hecht
A comedy that examines the hopelessness of modern urban life -- Ben Hecht combines the bitter and the sweet, with a dash of autobiography thrown in. The legendary theater man acted as writer, producer and co-director on this film, making a supremely ironic bid to eclipse young Orson Welles. Perhaps the film's only major fault is its ambitiousness -- like the inebriated has-been playwright played in the film by Thomas Mitchell, this film sets up too much for it to satisfactorily resolve. However, I prefer a stew with too many ingredients than too few. When Mitchell's character begins to refer to Rita Hayworth and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as characters that he is re-writing into the hero and heroine, we know we're in for something special, and we're not wrong.
Hayworth's acting here is more effortless than usual, allowing her charm to come full to the fore. Doug Fairbanks Jr. was never more natural or believable than he was here, playing a suave nobody. I thought their banter had some real appeal -- they spend the picture posing for each other, acknowledging their poses and then acting hurt when the other recognizes the truth. The film also presents a rare opportunity for a real performance from John Qualen, as well. If you don't bite your nails when the poor guy is trying to pretend to be a big-shot at the poker-table, you've got no heart.
This film came out in 1940, but it's really a meditation on the decade that preceded it. The theme is similar to "Casablanca", but with purely humanist goals instead of patriotic ones. Fairbanks is a ruined idealist, pretending to be a hardened cynic. Hayworth is a ruined romantic, pretending to be a whore. It says a lot about how urban Americans saw themselves at the time, and how Mr. Hecht thought they could seek some form of redemption -- note the title, "Angels", not "Angel." This isn't a story of redemption through love, but rather love through redemption.
It's vastly under-rated and deserves to be remembered as one of the milestones in Hecht's astonishing career. Lee Garmes has contributed some very nice photographic details, such as the startling overhead shot of the gambling table, and the opening shots of Fairbanks in the rain. An outstanding production which amounts to a witty film equally dark and convincingly optimistic.
Body Slam (1986)
I missed the first couple minutes of this movie, so if there was ever an explanation of why a little girl (Kellie Martin, who's exactly a week older than me) is allowed to accompany a group of pro wrestlers and rock stars on an RV tour of America, well I missed it. Presumably she was present to make the movie more appealing to little girls.... doubt that worked out super well, but she's the oddly cynical and realistic member of this motley 80s crew.
The movie's plot seems to concern a sleazy manager (TV star Dirk Benedict) in his efforts to help a pair of wrestlers (Roddy Piper and Sam Fatu) win a championship and to win the heart of an intelligent rich girl (Tanya Roberts). Benedict plays it so broad, there's little room for whatever appeal is supposed to develop.
But the film is a blast, at least for those who grew up in the 80s and enjoyed pro wrestling, or perhaps for people keen to see some really cheezy stuff from the period. Benedict's character, a sociopathic loser, strikes gold by combining his clients out of sheer desperation, organizing a rock 'n rasslin' tour that sells out gymnasiums across the country. The sequences showing local talent (and announcers) taking on Piper and Fatu are hilariously banal, if such a thing is possible.
"Captain" Lou Albano (who, besides making this movie, also briefly managed Cyndi Lauper in the 80s and appeared on the legendary "Super Mario Bros. Super Show!" as Mario) is the villainous manager out to ruin Piper's career and put little Kellie Martin in the orphanage. At the film's climax, Piper and Fatu must battle Albano's fearsome "Cannibal Brothers", while Albano tosses Dirk Benedict (and, kid you not, Billy Barty) around at ringside for good measure. A gallery of fading but beloved faces emerges to see the title bout, including Ric Flair, Bruno Sammartino and "Classy" Fred Blassie (who, true to form, roots for the Cannibals).
The music, provided by a group called "Kicks" who later change their name to "Kick", is so poor that it's hard to believe somebody (perhaps stuntman turned director Hal Needham) wasn't having a joke with it. Still, I can remember a time in the 80s when this type of thing was marginally acceptable, if not cool. There's a great scene where Benedict's character is supposed to be talking to a reporter from Rolling Stone, and he says he changed their name to "Kick" because, "Who ever heard of the Whos?" To which the reporter responds, "how about the Beatles?" Now, I wanted to single this scene out because, first of all it's the only intentionally funny scene in the film. Secondly, it gives a good capsule description of this movie's universe. The reporter is an ostensibly "real" person, much like the little girl. Everyone else, the wrestlers and rock stars and particularly Benedict, are running around as if they are in some kind of psychotic delusion; or, perhaps more accurately, they are playing a 10 year old boy's version of adults. Which is to say, psychopaths. Come on, you gotta love this movie!
Diamond Head (1962)
"Giant" on the isles
This is a big film -- the kind of film made from big novels about big ideas about big people, like Charlton Heston's character (originally written for Clark Gable) "The King." In fact, it reminds me of Edna Ferber's "Giant", or James Michener's "Hawaii." The themes of racism and family strife that motivate the film might have been daring in the early 60s but aren't compelling enough at this point to power the film's entire running length.
The big revelation in the film, for me, was (3rd billed) George Chakiris' performance. I never really thought of him as much of an actor, but he definitely nailed this role. He's not a man who is unlikable, but rather a man who doesn't want to be liked (or, perhaps, who doesn't want to need to be appreciated, only respected). At first, his pride and resentment seem simply racially motivated and come off as jealousy; eventually, we begin to see Heston's "King" the same way Chakiris' character does.
James Darren is attractive and serviceable, and Heston approaches the role with his usual sincerity and self-sacrifice (he's not afraid to gradually turn this respectable powerful man into a heel). Yvette Mimieux has a bit too much of a baby face for the role.... at times it feels like a Gidget movie with her and Darren running around on the beach. But her performance is OK.
There's just nothing really compelling or moving about any of these characters. Overblown, novelistic dialog doesn't help. The film feels a travelogue with melodrama thrown in, like a 20s/30s MGM movie (with Clark Gable, of course!) by Victor Fleming or Woody Van Dyke movie, but cinematographer turned director Guy Green is no Victor Fleming. There are some awesome compositions, but they sort of fly by in the midst of the relatively trite plot directions. The characters take their situations so seriously that one is reminded of Douglas Sirk, sans irony.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Somewhere between the Road and Thunderdome.....
While not reaching the dizzy dystopian heights of "The Road Warrior", this film at least does not have the uneven quality or the naked sentiment of "Beyond Thunderdome", so in a sense this new film from George Miller has saved the series -- it wasn't right for "Max" to end on a bad note.
I've heard one person say, "it's too bad Mel Gibson couldn't be in it." But only one person. Most people I think recognize that his presence would only have complicated things; besides which, Tom Hardy is arguably better in the role than Gibson ever was. He's much more adept at disappearing into the role, and portraying Max as somebody who, rather than imposing his will on his environment, rolls with whatever is happening to him and tries to adapt and survive. I halfway think that the reason George Miller waited so long to make this film is that he wanted Gibson to be too old so that he wouldn't be criticized for replacing him.
I know that I wasn't supposed to take the film totally seriously, but the whole carnival/heavy metal aspect of the villains was just too much for me to take. Apparently, when the apocalypse happened a bunch of head bangers (as we used to call them) got together and decided to create a new society based on the lyrics to Slayer and Metallica songs. Everybody knows that it's absolutely essential in the post- apocalyptic environment to have your flaming guitar player with you when you set out on a desperate mission. Can't leave him at home.
To me, the presence of these silly elements does detract somewhat from the film's themes of survival and dignity in the midst of social disintegration. My other problem with the movie is the aggressive way that Miller used the flashbacks to the dead/endangered child. "The Road Warrior" stands alone, without much reference to his family or to anything that happened in the first film -- so why did Miller and/or his writers think it was so important for this film to constantly refer back to the dead family? The dialogue about redemption was heavy- handed and literal.
For every problem, there are a half dozen excellent and fun things about the movie, so I am recommending it to people, but I would say it's not as good as the first two films. I loved the earth mamas on their bikes ("One bullet, one man") -- oddly enough they reminded me of Esme Cordelia Hoggett in "Babe: Pig in the City", kicking ass and rescuing the farm. A lot of people criticized Miller actually for leaving Father Hoggett on the farm to be rescued by his wife -- I think it showed the "feminist" streak that manifested in this movie and lead to even wider criticism of Miller. I'm pretty sure from where he's sitting, with this film raking in dough around the world, he's not too concerned with what a bunch of so-called "men's rights activists" think about the film. He's a subversive guy, and for the most part he knows how to challenge our preconceptions and our expectations just enough to leave everybody happy. The mixture of craziness, sentiment, and thematic force are just about right here.
Don Peyote (2014)
One thing you can say about "Don Peyote" is that it's interesting. The story is fairly dark, there are a lot of "tripped out" sequences -- unfortunately, the directing doesn't rise to the challenge, so you don't really feel immersed in the weirdness but rather like an unwelcome and unwilling spectator of it. The scenes, for example, where he's taken to an underground lair of homeless people or when he finds his fiancé having a sex party at their apartment, are supposed to feel like Fellini but they feel more like Andy Warhol on his worst day (and that is something terrible to behold). It's as if the director invited a bunch of his friends, told them to bring the sexiest date they possibly could and to wear an odd costume, and just shot the results.
Weirdly, Anne Hathaway shows up halfway through this film in which almost every other actor is obviously non-union. Supposedly Topher Grace is in it too but I didn't spot him; perhaps he wore sunglasses or some fake hair to make his appearance here less embarrassing and noticeable. And yeah, when Topher Grace is embarrassed to be in your movie, you have a problem.
I did make it to the end of the movie, because I wanted to see if anything interesting would happen: it doesn't.
If you think about it, the plot is the same as the Hangover: guy's about to be married, goes on a wild drug experience wit his friends. But this guy Dan Fogler -- who's billed 7th despite the fact that his mug is in a close-up in nearly every shot of the entire film -- actually makes Zach whatshisname or Jack Black or any of those people look like Peter Sellers. He's not a horrible actor, but he can't sustain an entire film, and he's not very funny.
Leave this one alone if you can. Unless one of your friends is in the movie, then it might be worth watching if you can spot them in the middle of this madness.
Sleep, My Love (1948)
silly imitation of "Gaslight" does have some of its own charms
The best scenes in "Sleep, My Love" come right away -- awaking on a train, our heroine (Claudette Colbert) can't remember how or why she got there, although an old woman on the train swears she saw her get on in Baltimore. Later, it turns out the woman is a plant, part of a scheme dreamed up by the woman's husband (Don Ameche) and an unscrupulous passport photographer (Ralph Morgan).
Sadly, many of the film's moments that seem to be designed to be creepy or disturbing are unintentionally humorous. Ameche has a book about how to hypnotize people, and he uses it to try to lure Colbert into suicide. It's impossible not to laugh as he whispers next to her head while she sleeps, "go to the window, jump! jump!" Robert Cummings is equally ridiculous for most of the film's running time, although he does allow some interesting moments to creep in after he's discovered Ameche's plot and tries to trap him into revealing himself (he reveals a more forceful side than we usually see from Cummings).
I've never been a huge fan of Colbert in anything other than comedy, as she just doesn't seem to me to have the face or the style for drama. She's a fine actress, but I just didn't see what Cummings was so crazy about. She seems much too much of a square. Rita Johnson is more interesting to me, sorry..... wish we had seen more of her in films, but she definitely had some talent and was camera friendly.
The Road to Yesterday (1925)
Will you still love me... tomorrow?
Cecil B. DeMille manages somehow to infuse an overbearing amount of Christian dogma and imagery into a film that's essentially about past lives -- two sets of lovers (William Boyd & Vera Reynolds, and Joseph Shildkraut & Jetta Goudal) must resolve conflicts from their past lives that are preventing their happiness in the modern world. You'd think the film was flirting with Freudianism -- when Shildkraut first takes his wife home and she won't sleep with him, he jumps to the conclusion that it has something to do with his defective left arm. In Freud, arms or hands are often substitutes for the penis (as in the famous horror film from the same era, "The Hands of Orlac", and its talkie remake "Mad Love"). But no Freud here -- rather, our heroes and heroines are caught up in some bizarre Saturday Evening Post version of karmatic therapy.
The performers, given the usual leeway by DeMille, distinguish themselves more or less relative to their talent. Boyd is magnetic and attractive, very masculine but without a lot of depth. Goudal doesn't do much to impress, Shildkraut is a bit schizophrenic in his depiction of the villain and hero (in historical and modern sequences particularly) so that his character doesn't seem to have focus. Reynolds lends the film some nice comic touches -- her reaction when one of Boyd's boy scouts shoots her hat off, mistaking the feather plume for a bird, is quite amusing. Trixie Friganza is a revelation, a huge woman with outstanding facial expressions and solid comic timing who lightens up a lot of the film's slack moments, first as a tiresome auntie type (there's a hilarious shot of the mule, just as they're about to descend into Grand Canyon, where DeMille invites our sympathy for the ass) and later as a raucous and treacherous medieval barmaid.
It's hard to imagine who in the audience, even in 1925, would have thought that this was sophisticated adult entertainment. The comic tone constantly disrupts DeMille's efforts to get us to take the story seriously, as if he was hedging his bets on his own sincerity.
Picture Snatcher (1933)
Cagney vehicle delivers above-average punch
There's nothing hugely significant going on in this film, but it's a fun vehicle for James Cagney has him as a former hood who decides to "go straight" by working as a photographer for a sleazy tabloid. His boss, Ralph Bellamy, has a drinking problem and a woman problem (Alice White). He falls in love with a journalism student (Patricia Ellis), whose father happens to be the cop who sent him up the river to Sing Sing. After embarrassing the father (Robert Emmett O'Connor) by snatching a picture of an execution, Cagney and Bellamy must figure out a way to get back in his good graces and get hired at a real paper.
Ellis is lovely, Cagney is full of fire, and although there's a few too many scenes of Cagney pushing White around, on the whole I thought it was a fun film with a lot of particularly amusing 1930s "slice of life" moments. Cagney plays his iconic character, a tough guy willing to compromise himself morally to get ahead, but this time he's less self-destructive and more the all-American go-getter. Very funny cameo with Sterling Holloway (as a nerdy journalism student), lots of interesting characterizations from lesser known performers like Ralf Harolde, who plays a "dirty rat" willing to expose his wife and children to danger to save himself.
By no means a major classic, but will be a lot of fun for Cagney's fans.
The Getaway (1972)
Film hits all its marks -- by aiming low
As this film ably demonstrates, literally and symbolically, if you aim a shotgun at a big enough target, you're gonna hit something. This film takes a lot of the more controversial and distasteful aspects of "The Wild Bunch" and "Straw Dogs" and presents them devoid of all philosophical content. It's a triumph of style over substance.
I get it -- in 1972, McQueen and Peckinpah were both in need of a box-office hit. So they got Ali McGraw, who can't act to save her life but manages to get halfway there in this film, and off they go on a crime spree. Author David Weddle noted in his book on Peckinpah that the director made off with about $500,000 at the end of the day -- the same amount McQueen and McGraw's characters made from the heist. Fitting.
It's not a "bad" movie.... the performances are underwhelming, pretty much all around (Ben Johnson disappears too quickly to make much more than an impression), but the action scenes are compelling and the suspense is strong. The story does not make a lot of sense.... for example, Johnson's character is sitting there in the house with all that loot just waiting for McQueen, under the assumption that McQueen's wife is going to betray him. This powerful, cynical man had no back- up plan whatsoever? Time and again, Peckinpah puts pedal to the metal and blasts right through story and character logic, but we don't mind too much.
It's sort of a high-class drive-in movie.... not quite as much mayhem as "Gone in 60 Seconds", but close. McQueen and McGraw are a super sexy couple, and there's an amusing (although sadistic) side story with Sally Struthers and the suitably disgusting Al Lettieri. It's the sort of film Jack Hill would make if he had a bit more money; the stuff that Tarantino fans' dreams are made of.