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Agustin Bernal - The Rondo Hatton of Mexico
With his blocky, pug-ugly features and slightly-going-soft bodybuilder physique, Bernal is most often relegated to villains' roles in low budget Mexican exploitation films, playing murderous cyborgs, bloodthirsty Satanists and the like. But here, for once, he gets to play the hero, the titular character, Chano. (It's likely not a coincidence that Bernal also directed the film.) At the risk of being un-PC or even offensive (and to quote from "Tropic Thunder") Bernal, in this role, goes "full-on retard." I'm not talking cuddly Sean Penn in "Sam I Am" mentally disabled. I mean, he is quite literally a drooling mental retardate. And not just a little bit of spittle every now and then - we're talking bulldog/St. Bernard quantities of slobber, almost literally foaming at the mouth at times, projectile drooling at bad guys, Old Yeller stuff. It must be seen to be disbelieved. He also talks in a high-pitched, sing-songy, 'huh-muh-muh-muh' stereotyped Downs Syndrome jabber that can be more than a little hard to take (some of his co-stars' discomfort is obvious at times).
So, Chano (Bernal) apparently makes his living picking through garbage, and it's in one of these huge Mexico City trash heaps (where we first see him thumbing through a back issue of the controversial - in this country, anyway - 'Memin') that he comes across a discarded pin-up poster of a scantily-clad Paty (Patricia) Munoz. Naturally, he instantly falls madly in love with her.
Not that I can blame him. Munoz is, indeed, a knock-out, looking like something the Hernandez Brothers ('Love & Rockets') might have drawn - except that she's a flesh-and-blood woman. She also disdains brassieres (despite her impressive mammarial qualifications - they look like 44DDs, by my eyeball estimate), spending the bulk of the film's running time in a tight white t-shirt and Daisy Dukes. Sadly, she does no actual nudity in this film, though she comes close in an egregious bubble bath scene. (I call it egregious because it is tastelessly intercut with her son's kidnapping; otherwise, pretty much any excuse to see this woman in the tub is a'ight by me.) The plot concerns Munoz's douche-bag gangster ex-husband kidnapping their son and taking him away to his large suburban compound. Chano and Munoz - alone! - then attempt a rescue.
The movie is by turns violent and somewhat lurid, unashamedly sentimental and loaded with bathos, laughable and titillating - on other words, pretty much what anyone looks for in a Mexican exploitation film.
Crime Doctor (1943)
Really, really lame
Let me start off by saying that I actually like a lot of the old B-movie cheapie film series, like 'Boston Blackie,' 'The Falcon,' 'The Saint,' et.al. - just so you know that I'm not some ADD-addled kid who can't sit still unless a movie is edited like it's been thrown into a blender by Michael Bay.
But, c'mon, let's be serious: this is a pretty terrible film, on almost every level.
First off, Warner Baxter looks awful. Every time one of the women in the film talks about how he's "good-looking," you have to laugh. I realize that in real life Baxter had had a nervous breakdown and was suffering terribly from arthritis (so much so that he eventually had a lobotomy - ! - to relieve the pain). But then the writers should have either cut the lines where women comment on his looks, or the producers should have cast a different actor in the role.
And to be honest, appearance aside, Baxter is a really underwhelming screen presence: his voice quavery, his manner hesitant, his whole demeanor uncommitted. He looks and acts a LOT older than 54. He seems to be barely able look any of the other actors in the eye. (Pretty everyone else in the entire film comes off better than Baxter, in terms of their performances - it's astonishing to think that he once won an Oscar.) I know I should feel sorry for the guy, but that's no reason to let him ruin what might have been a memorable recurring character.
The only reason that I didn't give this film a one-star rating is because it DOES have an initially intriguing premise, one that seems to anticipate "A History of Violence," among other more interesting films. But the writers quickly botch any sense of intrigue, completely throwing the story off the rails with all kinds of irrelevant tangents and sub-plots (how can a 64-minute film have this many sub-plots?), like the various criminals (female thief, disgraced Air Force officer) with whom Dr. Ordway deals with in the course of his work. These little side-stories have NO relevance whatsoever to the main story, adding nothing at all to it and, to boot, are uninteresting and insipid. Get back to the amnesia thread, you idiot writers!
This is not to mention all of the improbabilities and convenient 'coincidences' that occur throughout the story, further stretching credulity well past the breaking point. (Two of Ordway's former cronies just happening to be in a nightclub where Ordway is with his fiancé, then one of them breaks a glass accidentally, requiring medical attention and, of course, Ordway is the only doctor present - yeah, right.)
And why, for example, do Ordway's former partners in crime keep insisting to themselves that Ordway is faking the amnesia? For TEN YEARS he keeps up this charade, goes through medical school, gets a psychiatry degree, sets himself up in private practice, instead of just absconding with the loot and skipping town - say WHAT? How in the hell does that make any sense at all?
I'll only mention in passing how poorly directed this film is, especially in regards to the pacing in the dialogue. Actor A, for example, says something, Actor B ponders these words for what feels like an eternity, then eventually, slowly responds - aaaarrrgh!
Another reviewer has said that this is actually the least of the 'Crime Doctor' series, so maybe I'll give the next installment a chance (I recorded a bunch of them off of TCM), although I am not overly sanguine, and I still think that Warner Baxter is TERRIBLE.
The Girl in Black Stockings (1957)
Doing my duty and warning away any who would be foolish enough to make the mistake I made
It's astounding how many reviewers here have given this either high marks for being a well-made film noir(-ish) murder-mystery, or for it's high camp value. DO NOT BE FOOLED: this movie doesn't qualify on either the level of basic competence, or on the so-bad-it's-good scale. It's just plain bad, in every way imaginable.
But let's get something else out of the way first: for those who want to claim a 'Twin Peaks' connection for this film (which is the reason I was curious about it, initially), such an assertion is basically a bunch of garbage, grasping at less than even tenuous similarities and standard murder-mystery tropes. A girl is murdered. It occurs in a small town. There's an Indian/Native American. And a sawmill. THAT'S IT. David Lynch and Mark Frost did not rip this movie off - and I say that as someone who's not even much of a 'Twin Peaks' fan.
Okay, now that we've cleared that up, what about the film itself? You know it's gonna be bad from the very first lines of dialogue exchanged between Lex Barker and young Anne Bancroft. It's the kind of meaningless, pseudo-hip banter that has zero meaning and makes you want to slap the screenwriter, tell him, "Try writing some words that sound like they might come out of the mouth of an actual human being, you hack!"
But the main problem (one of MANY problems) is that no one seems to take the murder particularly seriously. Basically John Dehner just sort of wanders around, occasionally asking locals somewhat germane questions, but mostly just gossiping, catching up on their relationship woes, chitty-chat. This dumb-a** couldn't solve the mystery of who put the cookie in the cookie jar.
And then there's the guy who owns the motel, the psychologically paralyzed (say what..?) guy who basically sits around (well, he can't do much else, I guess) spouting off some of the most hate-filled, vile, misogynistic bile that you're likely to hear outside of a lockerroom. Now, initially, you think, 'Hunh. That's something of a twist: not romanticizing this character, or trying to make him this sympathetic type' - the way they almost always try to do with pretty much any disabled person in movies and on TV, even nowadays. But after about 30 seconds of this guy, you'll change your mind and start hoping that when Anne Bancroft and Marie Windsor take him in the pool for some hydrotherapy that they'll both get phone calls and leave him to make out on the bottom with the Creepy Crawly. (Okay, I know that they didn't have those back them, but you get the point.)
Who the hell would stay at this lodge? There's a common dining room, or restaurant, and every night the customers have to share it with this wheelchair-bound a-hole, watching him get drunk and rave about how much he despises the fairer sex. Yeah, THAT's what I want for dinner theater. How did this guy get into the lodging business, when all he does is bitch about how running this inn puts him into constant contact with the very species for which he is so overflowing with hatred? Like so much in this film (just wait until you hear Lex Barker's 'explanation' for the murderer's motives at the end of the film), it MAKES NO SENSE.
And not just that - IT'S BORING! Apparently director Howard Koch told all of his actors to pause for several seconds between each line of dialogue, to savor the 'richness' of drivel they're all spouting (I've never heard so many words used to express so little); or maybe the heat or the altitude made them all punchy. It's bad enough that we, the viewers, don't care what's being said, but when the actors all sound like they're on Quaaludes...Never has 74 minutes passed so slowly, so excruciatingly.
I will say that, as someone who loves the '50s as a design era, the Parry Lodge (and the adjoining boutique, the Pink Poodle) are pretty cool to look at; the fact that they shot this stinker on location is about the only thing this movie has going for it, although it also means that the Kanab Chamber of Commerce gets in a number of blatant promos for local businesses and sights. But apart from my interest in the era, this one is a complete and total loser.
Mr. Sycamore (1975)
Made me want to punch a hippy
Lame, pretentious, full of itself, amateurish, 'cute,' trite - I could go on and on and on about all the negative qualities of this film, but suffice to say that the original (1942?!) Broadway productions was one of the biggest flops of that season, and with good reason.
There's some real talent involved here, in front of the camera (Jean Simmons, Sandy Dennis, Jason Robards - Oscar winners or nominees all), as well as in post-production (Maurice Jarre - another multiple Academy Award winner), but the result suffers irretrievably from the fact that the story is utterly worthless, namely: a postman (Robards), tired of his limited dull, pedestrian existence and his small-minded wife, decides that the solution to his problems is...to become a tree. So, he literally plants himself, up to his knees, in the ground in his backyard. And hopes for the best. Need I say more?
Pancho Kohner (brother of Susan, the 'mixed' girl from the 1959 remake of "Imitation of Life", and uncle to the Brothers Weitz, they of "American Pie" fame), thank God, never went on to make another movie (so far, anyway - let us pray...).
The Executioner (1978)
Narcissistic, sentimentalized, racist GARBAGE
If any movie ever made Italians look bad, this is it.
Duke Mitchell - what an A--HOLE. Duke Mitchell, I s--t on your grave. Seeing as practically every person gunned down in this film by the cowardly Mimi is either black or of some other racial or ethnic minority, it's hard not to become convinced that the guy ultimately owes his allegiance to the Ku Klux Klan or skinheads. Awww, but he doesn't shoot the little black kid in the elevator in the opening sequence, so that means he can't be all bad, right? WRONG. Typical softheaded sentimental tripe.
While I do understand why some people might be struck by and even, to a certain extent, admire the film's audacious, totally un-PC verve (it's certainly unashamed of its own hatefulness and sense of self-involvement), this doesn't change the fact that the main character, Mimi (and, by extension, Duke Mitchell), is thoroughly loathsome human being who earns not one iota of empathy or interest, especially given that Duke Mitchell is such a COMPLETE BORE as a performer. But what do you expect from a guy whose main claim to fame (apart from this dog t--d of a movie) was being a second rate Dean Martin imitator?
Silent Hill (2006)
You people are ON CRACK
First off, how does a film this bloody awful rate a 6.5 out of 10?! I suppose if you're an attention span-deprived adolescent who does nothing but play video games endlessly, and whose neural cortex has been so totally overstimulated that the only thing that will prompt you to move or register a flicker of human emotion (other than ennui or blind anger) is either a can of Red Bull or a jolt in the testicles with a taser, then have at it. This movie is for you.
However, if you're actually interested in a film with recognizable human beings, something that vaguely resembles a story and any kind of connection to what is generally acknowledged as the real world, then you better fuggidabowdit. Where to begin...
Okay, the opening scene pretty much sets you up for what to expect for the next 2+ hours (?! and I thought "The Passion of the Christ" felt long): you've got a young couple lives in a house that's RIGHT NEXT to a two-lane blacktop that's busy with truck traffic in the middle of the night, which is also poised RIGHT NEXT to a waterfall with a sheer drop of what looks to be at least a hundred feet; they've got a nine-year-old daughter WITH A HISTORY OF SLEEPWALKING - and yet...this little girl is somehow able to leave the house in the middle of the night; there are no safety features whatsoever to prevent her from wandering off their property either into traffic, or to stand poised on the verge of this precipitous cliff; and - AND (this is the big one) the girl's mother's solution to her daughter's problem is to IMMEDIATELY head off to this abandoned, haunted town the name of which her sleepwalking daughter has been repeatedly crying out during her somnabulistic states. I think we have a winner for Parent of the Year...
This film takes place in a 'reality' that bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the one that you and I live in - and I'm not talking about the haunted town of Silent Hill here. I'm talking about a 'reality' where a young mother, alone with her young daughter at a gas station in the middle of the night, out in the middle of nowhere, as she is walking into said gas station to pay, blithely walks past a scary, dominatrix-looking bike cop WHO'S HEADING STRAIGHT FOR HER SUV WHERE THE DAUGHTER IS SITTING IN THE FRONT SEAT WITH THE WINDOW HALFWAY DOWN and doesn't even so much as turn her head as they pass one another. WTF..? And - oh, get this - she walks into said gas station/restaurant, whose parking lot outside is conspicuously empty of any other vehicles apart from her own and that of the scary bike cop, and...the place is FULL of people! Where are their cars and trucks parked? This movie can't be bothered with such 'mundane' details.
And that's a HUGE problem and here's why: look, I'm not one of these nigglers who demands that a movie adhere absolutely to some perfect resemblance to the real world. Far from it. BUT when you're making a movie with fantastical elements, like those in SILENT HILL, the more closely and rigorously you define a 'real world' to contrast with the fantastical you're going to create, the more impact that latter world will have on the audience. But if the 'real' world in which your characters live is, in and of itself, so totally disconnected from anything even vaguely resembling the waking world, then its bound to seem much, much less impressive when an armless, headless ghoul stumbles out of an auto graveyard and vomits black acid on someone.
Another thing: films with fantastic elements - sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc. - need to establish, if only obliquely, what the 'rules of the game' are. That never happens in SILENT HILL. Basically, Rhada Mitchell gets to the haunted town, lose her daughter and then spends the next two hours running and stumbling from one lurid, horrific set-piece to another with absolutely no sense of progression or logic. And the fact that the viewer has only the vaguest sense of why she's doing what she's doing is only further infuriated by the fact that instead of at least attempting to lay out some ground rules or sense of purpose, the movie spends seemingly endless amounts of time and energy to fill in a totally absurd and utterly derivative backstory that supposedly makes this all make sense (which it most assuredly does not).
Oh, what a waste - of my time; of millions that could have financed 20 independent features (at least maybe 10% of which might have turned out good, giving viewers a 200% return on investment, so to speak); of the talents of a lot of good actors (Sean Bean, Rahda Mitchell, Kim Coates, etc.) and crew (Carol Spier's production design is, as always, top notch). Notice how I DON'T mention the director, Christophe Gans (go back to France, game-boy!) or credited writer Roger Avary (give back your Oscar now, Roger!). Yes, an utter waste.
I hated this film and if you liked it, chances are I hate you too.
Super Fly (1972)
Feet walking...hands passing telegrams...
To anyone out there who wants to see a seminal blaxploitation film: skip this one! This is one of the absolute DULLEST movies you will ever see. All the high ratings that people give this one, I gotta wonder what the heck they were smoking/snorting (some of Priest's blow, no doubt).
Just check under the 'Trivia' section where it's revealed that the script was only 45 pages long - thus all the footage of people driving, walking, etc. This recalls comments by notorious schlockmeister Herschell Gordon Lewis in an interview with John Waters in which Lewis recalls how he purchased an unfinished film called 'Monster A Go-Go' and filled out the continuity by shooting random, unrelated footage of 'feet walking...hands passing telegrams, etc.' This movie may as well have been directed by Lewis, for all the 'excitement' that it evokes. Gordon Parks Jr. could not hold a candle to his old man (R.I.P.).
So pass this one over and check out any number of GOOD blaxploitation pictures, like just about anything with Pam Grier ('Coffy', 'Foxy Brown'), or 'Black Shampoo', or 'Detroit 2000', or a Doris Day movie...
...than Richard Simmons at a Judy Garland film festival
Sorry, no offense to all those TMNT fans out there and the kids who were five when they first saw this, but this has got to be one of the gayest children's programs I have ever seen, right up there with 'Creating Rem Lazar' and 'Sigmund and the Sea Monsters'.
And please, before anyone gets offended, let me clarify that I'm not using the term 'gay' here the way Eminem does, that is meaning 'lame,' 'stupid,' 'uncool,' etc. In other words not in the derogatory, homophobic, 8th- grader's slur of choice sense.
No, I mean 'gay' as in filled with homo-erotic imagery (watch how many shots there are in the opening crew-setting-up montage of muscular roadies' arms and backs), dance routines so effeminate and mincing they make George Balanchine look like Gene Kelly, a villain who references show tunes, and more bulging codpieces than a Chippendales show.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Who Made the Potatoe Salad? (2006)
Okay, to start, we've got a decent if overused basic concept: straight-laced boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé/whatever goes to meet significant other's kooky/crazy/dysfunctional family, and humor (assumedly) ensues. Unfortunately, not here, for the most part anyway, basically because the writer (also the director in this case) has no clue how to structure a comedy (or even knows what's funny, for that matter).
First off, Jaleel White's character spends pretty much the entire film either being a) utterly inept, and/or b)obnoxious and annoying, not unlike the character he played on TV (and for which he will most likely go to his grave being remembered for unless he stays away from roles like this one). Also, as a protagonist, he's almost entirely inactive during the bulk of the action, basically just sitting around and acting as a punching bag (literal and metaphorical) for nearly everyone else in the movie. When he occasionally does take some kind of action (such as a more or less entirely unmotivated peewee football game, and later the climactic bungled staged burglary), he flubs it egregiously, and usually because of his own ego. Thus it becomes really, really hard to sympathize with or even like the character, which is pretty important in light romantic comedy. As an audience member, I kept wondering why in the world does his fiancée say she loves him and only find happiness with him, when the closest he can come to being charming is a half-assed paraphrasing of dialogue from 'Jerry Maguire' (this before he proposes to her)? I mean, what a freakin' lame-o.
Second big mistake: why reveal that White's character is a cop the minute he's introduced to her parents? Look, you've got a potentially really funny set-up, with Clifton Powell as a cop-hating former Black Panther and his future son-in-law as a policeman wanting to impress the old man favorably, so right out of the gate there's a terrific source of comic tension, where you could have White's character running around for the bulk of the film trying to conceal his job from Powell and getting into all kinds of trouble as a result (there are some hints as to how this might have developed in White's initial interactions with the character of June Bug, but that's quickly and inexplicably defused - good job, 'Coke'). Instead, first thing that comes out when he meets his fiancée's parents is that he's a cop - no warning from the fiancée that, "You know, uh, by the way, my dad's a former Black Panther and he hates policemen, so maybe you shouldn't mention that to him, okay?" And then the father's reaction to this is so implausibly and overtly negative that it goes way, way beyond any kind of risibility into outright unpleasantness, not to mention complete unbelievability.
Which is another of this film's greater weaknesses: all kinds of baffling incidents of "What the..?!" implausibilities. Like the fact that White's character, a uniformed beat cop, has his own desk at the police station and apparently is allowed to just kick back there whenever and yack with his fellow officers who also apparently have nothing better to do. Or that June Bug cannot recognize fellow gangstas as friendly until they're within five yards of him. Or that the guys with whom Powell and White are playing dominoes in the park would make such outrageously crude and grotesquely sexist remarks about Powell's wife and daughter when it's obvious to even the biggest idiot that they're just that: his wife and daughter. I could go on and on, but my point is that if your story is set in something at least resembling the real world and, more importantly, we're expected to have some kind of emotional involvement with the characters, then there has to be some level of believability as well as psychological consistency to said characters. That just ain't the case here.
As for Urkel's boner, let's just say that there's nothing quite so disturbing as a Jaleel White sex-dream followed by a Clifton Powell wake-up call.
The Return of October (1948)
Odd, obscure, contrived - but still interesting
When I came across this video (on the old GoodTimes budget label) in a Half Price Books in Tacoma, WA, my initial shock came from the fact that the film was directed by none other than cult auteur Joseph H. Lewis (GUN CRAZY, THE BIG COMBO). The fact that it was shot in Technicolor and starred one of Columbia's two contract leading men (the other being William Holden) makes me assume that this must have been a prestige picture for the studio that year. In all honesty, it's not very good, with a contrived courtroom finale that recalls the previous year's MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET for all the wrong reasons. A brief synopsis of the relevant plot points: greedy relatives are trying to cover up the fact that they've squandered a dead aunt's fortune by getting niece Terry Moore declared insane, based on the fact that she thinks her horse is her reincarnated uncle (isn't it funny how in films of this period people can be declared insane on the flimsiest of premises? maybe not so funny, though, if you were Francis Farmer). Glenn Ford is a doctor of philosophy who is researching the relationships between animals and humans (whatever) and his boss at the university thinks that a paper he's writing about Terry's 'delusion' will be a big seller and bring in lots of publicity and money for their foundering school (yeah, maybe in the Bizarro Universe). Terry Moore is cute but not a very good actress, over-emoting in her scenes with the horse to the point that you begin to think that, Yeah, this chick IS crazy. The late, great Glenn Ford is, as always, charming and essentially decent, though he hasn't at this point fully developed the comedic skills that would serve him much better in the '60s. There are some trademark Joseph H. Lewis shots here and there (early in the film there's a view of Terry and her uncle up in a stand observing a horse on a track shot from a ground level POV, framed by a white wooden railing; a lengthy automobile conversation between Moore and Ford recalls, if vaguely, similar scenes in GUN CRAZY between Peggy Cummins and John Dall), but is of interest on a stylistic level only for completists of the director's work. Still, that trained cat is pretty amazing (though it does look slightly narcotized in some of its scenes).