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The Savage Eye (1960)
fascinating footage, pretentious narrative
This film features wonderful documentary footage of Los Angeles circa 1959, and is a valuable artifact for that reason alone. Unfortunately, the woeful attempt to form the footage into a narrative featuring actress Barbara Baxley as a lonely woman wandering the city and sharing insufferably pretentious voice-over with Gary Merrill (pompously billed as "The Poet") make the film a chore to endure.
I enjoy seeing this kind of footage, showing me how a city I love looked in another age, but the grandstanding voice-over is a deal breaker. Except for the disturbing faith-healer sequence, which is the only portion of the film to use sync sound, this is a movie best enjoyed with the volume turned down and some good music playing, maybe a little jazz from the era.
Walking Tall (1973)
you "boom mike" people don't understand
All you folks complaining that this is amateur film-making because the boom is visible in several shots don't understand how movies are made. In order to get good sound on dialog, the mike is hung very close to the subject. It is almost always captured on film, but in the area which is not meant to be seen by an audience, as the square film frame is supposed to be matted at top and bottom by the projectionist when shown in a theater, or by the technician when transferring film to video.
In the case of Walking Tall, whoever supervised the transfer to video did so "open matte", meaning they transfered the ENTIRE film frame without proper matting, hence the visible boom. This was not carelessness on the part of the filmmakers, but on the part of whoever put it out on video. You'd see microphone booms in Star Wars if it were transfered to video this way.
When I saw Walking Tall in the theater, it did not have visible booms. Blame the video release, not the filmmakers.
Raising Cain (1992)
as bad as it gets
The hit-and-miss DePalma has churned out a few duds in his time, but none worse than this insufferable train wreck of a film. Actually, calling it a film is giving it the benefit of the doubt, as it resembles not so much a movie as a highlight reel of every cinematic trope DePalma has used in his career. (Which were, of course, already ripped off from other directors when he used them the FIRST time.) If the cast of SNL or MAD TV were making a spoof of DePalma films, it might feel like this. (Although it couldn't possibly be this bad, not even if it starred Rob Schneider.)
The clumsy, inept proceedings feel rushed and sloppy, as though this thing were just cranked out as some sort of tax write-off, or to satisfy a contractual agreement. If you can manage to stay awake until the ending, you'll get to see the only gimmicky shot in the film that DePalma has NEVER used before! But have no fear, he hasn't gone and gotten original; the shot is stolen directly from Dario Argento's TENEBRE, which was made 10 years earlier.
So I guess that's the whole purpose of the film: to add one more stolen gimmick to DePalma's already bloated bag of tricks.
Sonny Boy (1989)
one of a kind
I have to agree with all those who sing this film's praises. If you really think about it, this was the last truly independent film to be released on American screens. (I'm not talking about today's so-called "indie" films that are pushed into theatres by giant corporations like Miramax and Lion's Gate and Fox Searchlight, but movies that were peddled by independent distributors the old fashioned way.) I'm proud to say I saw it twice on the big screen: the first time, I was the only person in the theatre; the second time I brought a friend I knew would appreciate it and it was only the two of us! I also proudly own the ultra-rare laser disc. It really needs a DVD release, which ideally would have commentaries revealing more about this wonderful work.
The Woman in Black (1989)
Where can I score some?
Two things I'd like to know from those folks who find this movie terrifying: What were you on when you watched it, and where can I get some? Honestly, this is one of the lamest "horror" films I've ever suffered through. The film is lacking in anything resembling atmosphere, and I'm not saying that because of its low budget or lack of special effects; I'm no fan of overblown special effects myself. But this movie is simply pedestrian film-making. There's about as much atmosphere here as in your average episode of ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL, which is what this movie most closely resembles on a visual level. It just feels like an overlong TV show, the kind in which you'd expect Nancy Drew and a bunch of her girlfriends to show up and solve the juvenile mystery.
As for the title spirit, I'm sorry, but a woman with pasty makeup and lots of eye shadow glaring at me from a distance isn't exactly the stuff of nightmares for me. And as for that big shock scene that everyone mentions, I laughed aloud. She looked and sounded like Carol Kane doing Grandmama in ADDAMS FAMILY VALUES. I watched the movie with someone who usually jumps out of her seat at anything the least bit spooky, and her reaction throughout the film was, "You heard THIS was scary"?
In short, very young kids who want to experience a harmlessly "scary" movie might get a few giggly shudders from this, but I really can't imagine a grownup being scared unless they have such a pathological fear of ghosts that the mere mention of one sends them into a fit. If you're the average adult reading all these rave reviews, and thinking, "Hmmm... I wonder if it really IS as scary as everyone says"?, trust me: DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME; IT'S NOT.
The Terminal Man (1974)
Slow?! Try a little patience.
I was looking for a bit of trivia about this film and made the mistake of reading the reviews here. My jaw dropped when I saw the overwhelming opinion that this movie is worthless because it's too slow. Has everyone been too brain-deadened by recent Hollywood thrill rides to appreciate a patiently unfolding story? The Terminal Man is very creepy, very scary, and is acted with amazing skill by even the smallest of bit players. Each one of the doctors involved in the experiment, for example, carries his or her own personal baggage, and it's that baggage which clouds their reason and makes true progress impossible. The message of the film seems to be that no matter how advanced science becomes, people will still be people, and our petty prides and jealousies will tear down every accomplishment. That's the brilliance of this movie; it takes a broad sci-fi theme yet reduces it to its most unpredictable element: the personalities of the persons involved. There are so many amazing scenes in this film where a line or two of casual conversation reveals so much about the power games being played between the speakers. On the outside, these scientists are titans of technology; on the inside, they're closer to the befuddled old men of the comedy "BALL OF FIRE". The only one who thinks with heart as well as head is the Joan Hackett character, and the clash between her and the good 'ol boys of science is both profound and heartbreaking.
I urge anyone with an IQ larger than their shoe size to ignore the negative comments and give this film a chance. Viewed with an open mind and a little patience, this movie becomes quite an exiting experience. It's one of the greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time, and has never gotten its due respect. It's the kind of film we could use more of, and the fact it's considered boring by today's audiences is very sad proof of the dumbing-down effect of Hollywood clap-trap. We're used to movies that ask you to set back while you're force-fed the story. The Terminal Man requires that you watch what's happening, listen to what's being said, and think about what's between the lines. If you can't do that, stick with Vin Diesel films.
The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)
Aren't we clever? Uh... no.
An annoyingly smug mystery which isn't a tenth as clever as it seems to think it is. A "master of disguise" (who always looks exactly like the famous star portraying him no matter how much makeup he's under) is killing persons whose names appear on a secret list. It's up to dapper detective George C. Scott to solve the case, a task made relatively easy by a script filled with shameless contrivance and jaw dropping leaps of logic reminiscent of the way Adam West used to solve the Riddler's clues on Batman. In an attempt to lure audiences to this artificial, parlor-game excrement, the film-makers included the gimmick of having 4 other famous stars appear in cameos under heavy makeup and daring the viewer to identify them. The only one who speaks in his own voice is instantly recognizable, while two others cheat by being dubbed and one simply keeps his mouth shut. When the whole mess has come to a merciful end, the stars rip off their bad latex Halloween mask makeup and wink at the camera as if to say, "Wasn't that clever?" If you're still awake, your answer will be, "No."
When you take into account the enormous amount of talent involved on both sides of the camera, this is surely one of the most inexcusably bad films of all time.
Monster from Green Hell (1957)
too much Green Hell, too little Monster
Insufferably boring 50s sci-fi with Jim Davis as a space scientist who theorizes that radiation has created giant wasps, so he leads an expedition into the jungle to look for them. And look for them, and look for them, and look for them...
This is the kind of film whose lurid title dragged many a kid into the house on Saturday afternoons, but whose tedium drove them back into the yard to play after about 20 minutes.
A Constant Forge (2000)
Three very short hours
A heartfelt and well made documentary about John Cassavetes, and his unique way of capturing honesty on film. Many familiar faces from the filmmaker's repertory company share insights and anecdotes, and if you're a Cassavetes fan, the 3 hour+ running time flies by instantly and leaves you wanting even more. A good way to spend a rainy afternoon, listening to friends reminisce about a special talent.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
I'm astonished by the number of reviewers who see this film as "stupid". It has one hell of a witty script, with amazingly accurate jabs at everything from media hype to uber-patriotic propaganda. Just listen to the president blaming everything on "the treacherous French and their stinking European allies". Sounds chillingly like "Freedom Fries", doesn't it?
This wonderful little gem is far more intelligent that it's usually given credit for, and certainly smarter than 99.9% of the films made today. Those who dismiss it as stupid junk because of its outrageous premise are missing the point. I haven't seen anyone write a film this smart in at least 20 years.