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4/10 **/5 ~ Abbott and Costello Meet Exploitation.
This compilation feature does a disservice to the memory of the beloved comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The film is a random selection of scenes from the team's Universal films, assembled in evident haste, with none of the care or respect of Robert Youngson's comedy documentaries, and burdened with a condescending narration by Jack E. Leonard. The non-stop footage of the boys makes it a breezy enough light entertainment but a poor introduction to Abbott and Costello.
To its credit the film offers clips from a few of Abbott and Costello's best films (Buck Privates, Who Done It?, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, In the Navy, Buck Privates Come Home) and several memorable ones (Ride 'Em Cowboy, Hit the Ice, In Society, The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap). And the immortal "Who's On First?" routine, as performed in The Naughty Nineties, is duly featured as an appropriate finale.
Yet, with all the riches at their disposal, producer Milton Subotsky and editorial director Sidney Meyer focused inordinately on the team's later, lesser films: Little Giant, Mexican Hayride, Abbott and Costello In the Foreign Legion, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops, Comin' Round the Mountain, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy and the notorious Lost in Alaska.
It is inexplicable that such mediocre material would be consciously chosen over classics like Hold That Ghost, Keep 'Em Flying, Pardon My Sarong, It Ain't Hay, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man and (supremely) The Time of Their Lives. Clearly the compilers had little knowledge or appreciation of the subject of their film. The resulting curio is an unintended insult to classic movie comedy.
7/10 ~ 4/5 ~ Imperfectly Wonderful Ray Harryhausen Fantasy Fun.
Sinbad the Sailor voyages to the mythic northern realm of Hyperborea to restore a caliph from an evil witch's transformation.
Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, the follow-up to the classics The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, is an uneven conclusion to Ray Harryhausen's celebrated "Sinbad Trilogy". The troubled production began with a draggy script, budgetary restrictions and an inexperienced director; the film as released suffers from choppy editing, over-length and routine music scoring. One animation highlight (the giant walrus) is obscured by an optical snowstorm. The attractive cast performs listlessly and the villain is campy rather than truly menacing, although former "Doctor Who" Patrick Troughton is delightful as a befuddled wizard.
Yet, for all its flaws, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger remains an entertaining escapade in the old-fashioned Saturday-Matinée tradition. Costuming and settings are colorful and the film looks handsome in widescreen. The quest for the mystical Shrine of the Four Elements has a particularly epic quality with the usual eclectic blend of mythical elements set against the backdrop of the Arabian Nights.
Most importantly, Harryhausen's realistic stop-motion animation is as extraordinary as ever, with two of the animated-puppet creatures -- Kassim the Baboon and Trog the Troglodyte -- successfully functioning as actual communicative characters within the body of the story. Other wonders include insectoid demons, an over-sized mosquito, Minaton the Brass Minotaur and the saber-tooth tiger of the title.
Genuine movie fantasy is a rare commodity, and Ray Harryhausen's vision and conviction shine through the circumstances of production to make this a satisfying final visit to the land beyond Beyond.
7/10 ****/5 ~ Underrated, intelligent, mature Walt Disney adventure.
This exceptional live-action Walt Disney adventure-drama might have benefited from a warmer actor in the lead role, but Robot Taylor (pun intended) nevertheless brings strength and conviction to the part of an angry but caring man. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, especially Lilli Palmer and Curt Jurgens who supply a depth of emotion to a dry and unsentimental story.
The film works the family-oriented animal interest of the Lippizan horses into the framework of a dramatic and often suspenseful wartime adventure. One needn't be a horse-lover to be caught up in the story and end up caring about the animals which in this film are symbols of art, grace and beauty surviving a war-torn world. The audience is teased with glimpses of the stallions at play and in training and learns to appreciate their value so that the full-blown horse-show finale comes as a welcome joy.
The well-produced movie was filmed on location in Austria and is handsomely photographed. There is a gripping battle scene and adults will be impressed with the maturity of the entire project.
The Concorde... Airport '79 (1979)
2/10 */5 ~ "Please do not misconscrew me. Can't the drone be reprogrammed? What a pathetic joke!"
The original Airport (1970) was a classic of its kind, and the first two B-movie follow-ups (Airport 1975; Airport '77) were watchable fun at best, amusing camp at worst; but this crass and inept final entry lacks any entertainment value and displays a shocking contempt for its audience. It's unendurable and not even good for laughs.
All of the three "Airport" sequels were theatrical releases made by Universal's television wing but this one is beneath even the modest standards of a TV movie of its day, with cheapjack production, grotesque casting, visual ugliness and tasteless, unfunny "comedy". The project was clearly doomed by the "creative" efforts of Universal executive Jennings Lang who personally produced and is given a "story" credit.
Everyone starts somewhere, and writer Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) might have provided an element of self-burlesque, as had the previous films (especially the notorious Airport 1975), but there is nothing worth spoofing in Roth's turgid, incoherent script and even the comedy Airplane! left this crud untouched.
What makes The Concorde: Airport '79 particularly offensive is its insulting misuse of professionals. The worst victim is the supremely gifted Cicily Tyson (Sounder; The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman), pitilessly reduced to a vomitous subplot involving her escorting a frozen heart transplant on the unfortunate flight.
A special kick to the groin is reserved for the wonderful George Kennedy, who is the true lead despite being buried in the cast list. The official mascot of the "Airport" series and the only actor to appear in all four movies, Kennedy had more than earned the starring role and his turn in the Captain's seat would have been the only possible reason for this entry other than the squeezing of one last buck. Kennedy provides the only warmth and real humor in this mechanical muckup, briefly putting aside the bravura machismo and revealing a genuinely sweet and tender side to himself, and his lovable and heroic character of "Joe Patroni". Unfortunately we are never allowed to forget how fat and old and over-the-hill Kennedy is, and overage pretty-boy Alain Delon relentlessly calls him "Porky Pig" as part of a buddy-bonding that falls completely flat. Even Kennedy's Parisian romance, the only humane part of this plane-wreck, turns out to be merely a set-up for a hateful joke at Patroni's, Kennedy's, and the viewer's expense.
Herbie Goes Bananas (1980)
3/10 **/5 ~ Beloved Bug Bites Bottom.
This third and last theatrical sequel to the classic Walt Disney Production The Love Bug (1969) brought the enormously successful franchise about a magical Volkswagen to a screeching halt. Herbie deserved a better send-off.
There's just no love left in the poor little disrespected cash-car. Filmed on the cheap in Mexico, this entry has none of the quality and charm of its original and trashes all that was good about the preceding sequels. Vincent McEveety, the weakest of Disney's three main directors during this period, was assigned the project after having done a fair job with Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, but makes no effort to elevate the project above the level of its poor script.
The frenetic, maudlin result is one of the worst Disney films. Talented comic performers Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman and Charles Martin Smith are wasted on unfunny material. Only the clever stunt and effects work save this mechanical destruction derby from oblivion.
The Love Bug was eventually revived for a brief TV series and made-for-TV movie, but Disney was flogging a dead V-Dub.
10/10 *****/5 ~ Ideal filming of Broadway masterpiece lacks "Class".
Chicago triumphs in meeting and overcoming enormous challenges in adapting a seemingly unfilmable, high-concept stage piece for the screen. The solutions found by director Rob Marshall and screenwriter Bill Condon are not only ingenious, but they "work", and the resulting cinematic/theatrical hybrid is one of the most exciting Musical films since Bob Fosse's Cabaret (1972) -- not that much competition has been available in the anti-Musical interim.
The Chicago/Cabaret comparison is both inevitable and valid, yet the two films are as different as they are similar. Fosse's Cabaret was a radical reinventing of its stage original which threw out the book and half the songs, starting from scratch with a fresh screenplay and a wholly realistic, "in-performance" approach to each musical number. Chicago, on the other hand, goes to great lengths to maintain its innate theatricality in a fresh cinematic context.
Okay, enough already, you've read it all before: This is a wonderful film of an American Musical masterpiece. Especially impressive is Marshall's vivid evocation of the cinematic and editorial manner of Fosse's five brilliant films as director (Sweet Charity, Cabaret, Lenny, All That Jazz and Star 80) while avoiding any slavish imitation of Fosse's approach to the original Broadway Chicago or to that one-and-only Fosse choreographic style. The Fellini influence (Variety Lights in this case), the contrasting reality/fantasy sequences, the vicious fascination with the cult of Celebrity, the obsession with death and the extravagant razzle-dazzle showmanship are all there, but the the film both embraces and transcends Fosse to become an entity of its own.
It is in this arena that the film attains its greatness, but the performances in the center ring are its most amazing feature: Catherine Zeta-Jones' super-pro Oscar devastation; pug-nosed-dream John Reilly's sweet-heartbreak "Mr. Cellophane"; and that incandescent "who knew?" miracle, Renee Zellweger. "All That Jazz", "Roxie" and "Nowadays" take their places among the all-time great movie-musical numbers.
The one regrettable error is the cutting of the memorably vulgar song "Class", surely one of the highlights of the John Kander-Fred Ebb score. It is generally for the best that several songs were dropped from the score, but the film's lack of "Class" is an unconscionable blunder. Marshall and Condon stage a three-ring circus of their own on the DVD commentary track to explain and validate this post-filming decision as Compromising the Film's Conceptual Integrity, yada yada yada, but nothing justifies divesting Chicago of this distinctive song -- or robbing the astonishing Queen Latifa of a second number. It's nice that the scene is included as an extra on the DVD, but until Marshall relents and restores it to a future cut, the film will remain incomplete.
Even its "Classlessness", however, cannot prevent Chicago from being a great movie Musical.
8/10 ****/5 ~ Super Science-Fantasy Entertainment.
Although it never achieves the extraordinary level of Richard Donner's masterly Superman (1978) and Richard Lester's Superman II, Supergirl escapes relatively unscathed from the production troubles that damaged others in the Alexander and Ilya Salkind series.
Screenwriter David O'Dell (The Dark Crystal) adapts the classic comic as an imaginative fairy tale. The film has the light, fanciful touch director Jeannot Szwarc brought to his memorable romantic fantasy Somewhere in Time. Szwarc had handled Jaws 2 well but his promising career in theatrical features was cut short by the mega-failure of the Salkinds' next would-be blockbuster, Santa Claus (1985).
Helen Slater is an ideal Kara, aka Supergirl, and, as the wicked witch Selena, arch-diva Faye Dunaway spoofs her high-camp Mommie Dearest Joan Crawford persona. And the supporting cast, led by the wonderful Peter O'Toole, has class. Only Hart Bochner's insincere romantic lead misses the mark.
The disastrous reception of Superman III led audiences to stay away and the film developed a bad reputation after the Salkinds' fall from grace in the Santa Claus debacle. The time is ripe for the rediscovery of this maligned popcorn dream as Anchor Bay's recent Director's Cut DVD brings Supergirl to new life.
Howling: New Moon Rising (1995)
1/10 */5 ~ Let's Pretend That There's a Moon. (And a werewolf... And a movie...)
There have been so many terrible horror sequels that whole volumes could be written. One of the worst ever must certainly be Howling: New Moon Rising (unofficially Howling VII). Most of the ersatz, in-name-only, direct-to-video "sequels" to Joe Dante's modern classic The Howling (1981) are enjoyable enough on their own stinky cheese level, but this ... this THING is beyond Limburger.
If you're looking for a werewolf movie, be warned: despite the masquerade this is not a horror film at all but a Country-Western musical filled with instantly dated line-dancing and amateur acts by the denizens of a homespun tavern, with something that barely passes for a werewolf tossed in at the very end -- blink and you'll miss it -- to justify the title. There's nothing wrong with Horror Musicals or Country Musicals (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is fun), but this is just horrible. Even the ever-popular Hillbillys (sic) in a Haunted House (1967) has more honest spooks than this.
The lead performer, Australian Clive Turner (of the surprisingly decent Howling V: The Rebirth), who also wrote and directed, has an appealing enough personality, but otherwise this vanity production is hopeless. Technically worse movies exist but few are so gallingly deceptive. By comparison, John Hough's cheap, disappointing Howling IV: The Original Nightmare plays like a winner, while Phillipe Mora's notorious Howling II and III are revealed as stylish successors.
Conan the Destroyer (1984)
5/10 ***/5 ~ Saturday Matinée romp is a far cry from Robert E. Howard's creation.
Conan the Cimmerian (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is tricked into helping a princess (Miriam D'Abo) to steal an enchanted jewel which will revive the demon god Dagoth.
Producer Dino De Laurentiis' unworthy follow-up to John Milius' powerful Conan the Barbarian (1982) is passable escapist entertainment in spite of cheap-jack production values (filmed in Mexico), a sub-literate screenplay and listless direction by the usually competent Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Fantastic Voyage, Barabbas).
Schwarzenegger's Conan is here wasted on a trivial adventure which resembles the Conan comics more than Robert E. Howard's original stories, with none of the latter's imaginative pulp poetry. The Sword and the Sorcerer, a prominent low-grade Conan cash-in, is a more satisfying Saturday Matinée than this. There is more so-called "magic" in this fantasy than in the first Conan film, but the rubber monsters make it play like a charmless remake of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger without the wonderful effects artistry. The script, an appalling come-down for writer Stanley Mann, is cursed with unfunny comedy and relentlessly dumb dialogue which make the dubbed Italian Maciste pepla epics of yore seem bright by comparison.
Big Arnold, then just cutting his teeth as a professional actor, is given no opportunity to develop his one-dimensional character, yet commands attention whenever he is front-and-center. The film only comes to life during the fight sequences, which really deliver the goods. A thrilling sword-fight between Conan and one of the Queen's guards is a major highlight.
Otherwise the production's most interesting aspect is the colorful supporting cast, notably scene-stealer Grace Jones, as a ferocious, butt-kicking warrior, and ultra-cool Sarah Douglas (Superman II), in outrageous leather-bondage garb as an Evil Queen. Mako returns as the Dune Wizard, but sports giant Wilt Chamberlain is not allowed to make much of an impression, apart from a display of grunting machismo. Ferdy Mayne (Count Von Krolock of Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers) makes an appearance as a wicked sorcerer. There is also the novelty of two future Bond women (D'Abo of The Living Daylights and Jones of A View to a Kill) in leading roles. The movie's nadir is the foolish inclusion of a pipsqueak comic sidekick (Tracey Walter), so annoying that the real Conan would have eaten him for breakfast -- raw.
Instead of making improvements for a third entry in the initially promising Conan series, De Laurentiis squandered Schwarzenegger in an unwanted travesty of Howard's Red Sonja (1985), killing off hopes for further adaptations of the author's work. Recent plans by Schwarzenegger to atone by reviving the character seem to have been ... Terminated.
The Spirit Is Willing (1967)
5/10 ***/5 ~ Chilling novel travestied by inappropriate comic treatment.
Nathaniel Benchley (son of humorist Robert Benchley) wrote The Visitors, a frightening novel about a ghostly haunting, which was purchased for filming by legendary Hollywood showman William Castle.
Castle, who had yet to attain respect as producer (but not director) of Roman Polanski's masterly Rosemary's Baby (1968), had recently completed a successful string of blatant imitations of Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), including Homicidal (1961) and Strait-Jacket (1964), and had stumbled with a pair of inept teen-thrillers, I Saw What You Did (1965) and Let's Kill Uncle (1966).
Evidently seeking to expand his audience while maintaining his position as king of schlock horror, Castle re-visioned Benchley's decidedly adult novel as a family comedy along the lines of his bland 13 Ghosts (1960). Unfortunately, Castle was hopeless as a comedy director, as his overly-broad Hammer remake of The Old Dark House (1963) had demonstrated. Humor had been an essential underlying element of Castle's most successful earlier films, The House on Haunted Hill (1958) and The Tingler (1959), but this had been supplied by star Vincent Price and the ironic wit of screenwriter Robb White rather than any knack on the part of the director. Castle persisted and The Spirit Is Willing descended into lazy slapstick, as did its black-comedy follow-up The Busy Body (1967), also starring Sid Caesar.
In and of itself, The Spirit Is Willing is a fun little movie which today carries an aura of tacky nostalgia, but the golden opportunity for a chilling ghostly thriller along the lines of Robert Wise's classic The Haunting (1963) was recklessly thrown away.
It behooves Dark Castle Entertainment, which has been remaking the Castle "classics", to consider a new, dramatic version of the Benchley novel. With the blockbuster success of films like The Sixth Sense, The Others and The Ring, the time is right for The Visitors to arrive.