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Supernatural: The Vessel (2016)
"Supernatural" Season 11 Best Episode So Far
This episode of "Supernatural" is the best so far of this 11th season and the credit goes to director John Badham, writer Robert Berens, submarine technical adviser Robert Mackay and the production design crew. That crew must have gone way over budget to design the interior sets on this episode. For this episode, there is plenty of attention to detail. In one scene in the Winchester's hideaway, there are a bunch of documents and maps and such covering a long wooden desk. Someone took a lot of time to create these colorful prop documents, all clearly shown. Director Badham also worked as a movie director, where you can have great attention to detail, to make a film set look authentic. That concern with making things look authentic extends to the acting in this episode where you don't see anyone eating up the scenery with overacting and making faces to look serious or important. A low key approach, the story is bizarre enough as is, what with time travel and the all powerful wooden Hand of God, along with a knockout actress as a "Man of Letters." Now, if they could only show the Winchesters' high quality printer in action.
Supernatural: Just My Imagination (2015)
"Supernatural" Hits Rock Bottom
Even for a TV series that has run out of ideas for the past five years, this episode of "Supernatural" takes the prize as the worst of the worst. "Supernatural" has gone from head chopping to torture and now to pedophilia. The story for this episode is senseless, the explanation for the events in part that you can in Romania find all sorts of magical goodies. The mopish ending must have been hard to film for the actor playing Sully, dressed in strange duds and reciting lines that were a mixture of bathos and stupidity. As for Dean and Sam Winchester, it is past tiresome to watch them frown sometimes, then look serious and finally make deep and intellectual observations like "huh!" This episode of the now failed series can best be watched as a bad example, of what happens when you mix a showrunner on drugs, actors who are bored and writers limited to copying badly story lines from other movies. The only remaining question is what happened to Sam's forehead, how did it get dented?
"Rage" Is All Bad Writing And Incompetent Direction
The movie "Rage" starts with a few minutes of filler, a traveling helicopter shot of hilly grasslands and then a truck driving down a dirt road. The background music is really bad, vacuous. Lalo Shifrin gets the credit for composing this score. One demerit. I saw this movie on TCM as part of a full day of movies featuring George C. Scott. Bob Osborne said that as director, Scott bought this movie in a week early and under budget. Scott should have spent some more money, especially on lighting. Except for some scenes of violence at the end, "Rage" has the crummy photography, the long build-up and the shoddy writing you expect from a TV movie.
Over 50 minutes pass before Scott's lunkhead character realizes something is amiss. I mean, at the start, he drives by sheep dead on his property, blood coming out of their noses. A normal person would think, what could have killed his sheep. Not Scott, though. As he drives to a hospital, he passes by a neighbor to drop his dog off. Does Scott phone the hospital from the neighbor's place to let them know of his major medical problem and all those dead sheep? Of course not. It was nice to see actor John Dierkes as the neighbor, an actor who was super in an earlier movie, 1959's "The Hanging Tree," where he co-starred with Scott.
"Rage" is a collection of scenes, with a story that is totally unreal. There is a pretty good scene where Scott stops by a gun store to buy an automatic rifle that he puts together by the gun counter. A copy of a similar type scene in a Sergio Leone movie where Eli Wallach's Tuco assembles a handgun from different guns. Only the Leone movie is done way better. More typical of this movie is where the Army officers meet to discuss how to handle their problem. The actors look like they were reading their lines from a teleprompter.
Looking at the movie in total, as I do now, you come to the conclusion that this movie has enough story to fill a 30 minute TV show. Everywhere there is padding, with dialogue serving as filler like in a TV soap opera series. If the military had done the normal thing, tell Scott's character what the situation was and put him in isolation, there would be no movie. In real life, the dead sheep lying out in the open on the range land would have been a dead giveaway to the other ranchers and TV reporters.
I added one star to my rating because of the appearance of John Dierkes. If this movie ever returns to TCM, avoid it.
Bits of Life (1921)
Great Talent In A Vanished Movie
"Bits of Life" is a lost movie, an anthology film was based in part on a Thomas McMorrow short story. McMorrow was a writer who wrote regularly for the Saturday Evening Post in the teens and twenties. According to IMDb, this movie is his only credit. Some 65 years after the release of this movie, McMorrow's son, working at the New York Daily News, phoned up a co-worker of mine at the New York State division I worked at then, asking about a garment firm we were checking into, for something, probably to do with distributing industrial homework. Tom McMorrow came up empty, the co-worker had instructions not to talk to the press.
The movie's cast includes Lon Chaney playing a Chinaman and Dorothy Mackaill in her first full length movie made in Hollywood. The cast also includes Anna May Wong, who could play an Asian without using much make-up, unlike Chaney. Mackaill would later star in 1931's "Safe In Hell," a true pre-Code movie where Mackaill plays a call girl on the run. Call girls are in the news again in New York (refer to New York Governor Spitzer's affairs in 2008).
Producer Marshal Neilan seems to have worked fast. The short story "The Man Who Heard Everything" was in The Smart Set magazine in April 1921 and this movie was out in September of that same year. Like Mackaill, Neilan's Hollywood career was on life support in the mid-30s before he directed one last movie in Britain in 1937. Mackaill last starring role was in 1937's "Bulldog Drummond at Bay," made in Britain.
Both pretty much vanished from sight thereafter, their movie careers over. Mackaill did have a stage career but around 1955, after her mother passed away, she left New York City to live in Honolulu, where she had her last credit, in an "Hawaii Five-0" episode. I sometimes wonder how old time Hollywood talent like Mackaill and Neilan supported themselves when their movie careers were over, their pay may have been good when they were working, much better than most in the pinch penny 1920s and Depression 1930s but, like now again for most workers, they had no pensions. Note: Neilan was very well paid but he lost most of his money on a bad investment in Edendale real estate.
Fame for most vanishes fast with the passage of time. If someone finds a copy of "Bits of Life" in their attic or stored in mislabeled film reels in some European archive, that should temporarily revive interest in these two mostly forgotten talents, who ended their careers playing bit parts. (Edited from a 2008 posting in the now pretty much defunct group alt.movies.silent)
Le corps de mon ennemi (1976)
"Body Of My Enemy" Is A Train Wreck
Plenty of great movie talent worked on "Body Of My Enemy." For all their efforts, this movie is the worst of the movies that paired Jean-Paul Belmondo with director Henri Verneuil. The plot of this movie makes no sense, dealing with an interloper, Belmondo playing a social climber, Francois Leclerq, who gets involved with the super rich and influential family that controls the textile industry in his town. The movie starts off with Belmondo's character getting off a train at the Cournai station, just out of prison, where he served 7 years for a double murder he did not commit.
This opening scene was masterfully photographed by Jean Penzer, as is the entire movie. Marie-France Piser, who plays the rich man's daughter, never looked better, her beauty luminous thanks to DP Penzer. "Body Of My Enemy" was the fourth and last movie in a row that Penzer photographed for Belmondo's Cerito Films. The next movie Penzer worked on as DP was "Get Out Your Handkerchiefs,' directed by Bertrand Blier, the son of Bernard Blier - who played the head of the rich Liégard family in "Body Of My Enemy." The production values of this Belmondo star vehicle, the fine cast and the effort made in finding exterior locations just right for the story cannot compensate for a movie that is overloaded with flashbacks that vitiate the story. "Disjointed" is one word that you can use to describe this movie. As I watched this movie, I started to think that Leclerq, Belmondo's character, is a really unappealing sort, an egocentric guy quick to join the rich crowd.
I just saw this movie on a StudioCanal DVD (in French only), using the English .srt subtitles someone finally posted for this movie on the Internet. The DVD played fine but the movie not so good, a pretentious look at how rich people live. Still, that Marie-France Pisier. At about the 50 minute point, in a bathrobe, she gives a quick salute to Belmondo before the scene cuts. What a looker, what a personality!
Great Perry Mason Episode
This Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Potted Planter," is one of the best in the series. It starts off with one character, teenager Melinda Tarr, riding a motor scooter down a dimly lit road, wearing a party dress. From there, the episode zips along in Robert Dennis's great script. One character is played by Diane Brewster, who looks so good wearing large wide brimmed circular hats that she wears two styles of such hats during her court appearances. I thought courts told people in the room to remove their hats. I have all the Perry Mason episodes on DVD and I transferred them to XviD avi format, to watch them using my media player. Until two days ago, I never got around to watching this episode. This episode has plenty of rotten characters, most of them concerned with money. At one point, Perry says about his client, that he stands to lose his $29,000 investment spent buying a big share of a radio station. Those were the days, when a dollar was a dollar. Robert Hager was the DP for this episode and, boy, did he like photographing Diane Brewster and the shadows her big hats cast on her cheekbones. With several day for night scenes, this episode is one that would look good when Paramount releases Perry Mason on Blu-ray. Assuming Viacom doesn't spin off its Paramount subsidiary, now that parent company Viacom is falling apart (in April 2015). Even in DVD format, "The Case of the Potted Palm" is recommended viewing from one of television's finest series.
The Last Command (1928)
Great Hollywood Movie About Movie Making In Hollywood
"The Last Command" is a story about a Russian general's reversal of fortune, who in ten years goes from leading the Czar's army in World War One to being picked to play the role of an extra in a movie directed by former "revolutionist" Lev Andreyev (William Powell), who now rules a Hollywood sound stage. While Emil Jannings got the Academy Award for playing the general, it is my opinion that Powell's performance as Andreyev is what drives this movie forward. Director Andreyev plucks the general from obscurity in the present, a Hollywood extra, and gives him a small movie role as a general. In this movie, Powell plays his part in a deadly serious manner. Not one smile, no snippy comments. But then you think, why did he hire the former general, who ten years earlier as as a real general had arrested Andreyev, belted him with a riding crop for being insolent and then had him locked up. The only answer is in the phrase "turnabout is fair play." Andreyev's plan to degrade the general went awry when he saw that the general stayed true to character, defending Russia to the end, even in a fictional battle on a Hollywood sound stage. Ten years after the fall of Czarist Russia, Hollywood made this movie that deals in the human wreckage left by the Russian Revolution. Andreyev, the former Kiev theater director, survived the revolution and prospered but his fellow conspirator and possible main squeeze Natalia died in a train wreck. Powell played the part right, he had grim memories of the revolution. His "joke," casting the former (and destitute) general as a Hollywood general, had not turned out the way he thought it would. "The Last Command" is an example of Hollywood professionals using a fictional story to make a movie that casts a spotlight on the real world. A spotlight helped by the details tossed in showing the movie's version of present day Hollywood: the crowd of extras scrabbling at the studio window to pick up their uniforms; the assistant directors hovering over movie director Andreyev and trying to be the one to light his cigarette; the camera in the final scene panning back from the sound stage to show the movie cameras set up to film the movie within a movie. William Powell's role is the thread that links the events in this movie, as the director and, in the long flashback, as the revolutionist whose partner Natalia hooks up with the general. These days, Hollywood stays away from movies like "The Last Command," way too serious and cynical.
Jack Irish: Dead Point (2014)
"Jack Irish: Dead Point" Is Pointless
"Jack Irish: Dead Point" starring Guy Pearce as the title character, is a well photographed movie and has pretty good production values. In one scene, there is a nice special effect showing a helicopter blade whizz by Jack Irish. Those are the only positive things I can say about this badly written crime story that makes no sense at all. Jack Irish is a criminal lawyer who works as an investigator. He seems to be independently wealthy and likes jogging. He also does woodwork. This movie exists in a bubble world where drug dealers leave their drugs in the boot of a fancy sports car stored in an intermodal container on the dock, not in a locker aboard the cargo ship. With rare exception, the police are all honest and they all know Jack. Jack meets and knows all types of people, from elderly pub patrons to elderly gamblers as he tools around in his Studebaker. Most important for this story is that crime does not pay, that anyone involved in the drug trade must die. This movie was a waste of my time, right down to the cop out ending where Jack's client, a judge, comes out unscathed.
After Office Hours (1935)
"After Office Hours" Is Junk
"After Office Hours" is a movie that, for its time in 1935, is insane. It starts off with Constance Bennett's character being dropped off by her chauffeur driven limousine in front of her new workplace, a newspaper, in the afternoon. Soon thereafter, the paper's editor, played by Clark Gable wearing a beanie type cap, is listening to Stuart Erwin's character explain that he only had a two day drunk in Brooklyn, not three days. Then Gable the editor reads a concert review Bennett the writer just turned in. He blasts it as mean-spirited, then fires Bennett and tells her to pick up her pay, including an extra two weeks' sudden termination pay. From there, the movie becomes even more unreal. Another posting here about the movie state that MGM made this movie in response to the tremendous success of "It Happened One Night." That sounds right. Even so, only MGM production chief Louis B. Mayer could a approve a movie like this, one that exists in a parallel universe where the lead characters go to parties in tuxedos, where one character drives his speed boat into a parking space in the living room of his country house and where Constance Bennett wears strange neck pieces made of dead animals. "Screwball comedy" is one phrase that describes what this movie wants to be. Only like most screwball comedies, including "It Happened One Night," "After Office Hours" is not funny and it plays more like propaganda for the masses. I have read that the work of this movie's director, Robert Z. Leonard, is now undergoing reappraisal, that he may be a better director than he gets credit for. In "After Office Hours," Leonard does a fine job directing furniture but that is all. Constance Bennett was a beauty who usually lit up the screen. Not in this movie, though, with her strange attire worn in flat lighting.
I can only imaging what film goers thought seeing this Gable and Bennett star vehicle crash and burn in 1935. This movie escaped to Loew's theaters on February 22, 1935. It may have been playing at second run theaters on April 14, 1935, Black Sunday, when the worst of the Dust Bowl storms unleashed black rollers from the Midwest east across the country.
In 1935, 85,000 people left the Midwest and their homes and buried farms to trek to California to escape the black blizzards. More immigrants to California than during the 1849 Gold Rush. I wonder what it must have been like to be in a movie theater in Kansas in 1935, watching this movie as the sky outside turned pitch black from rollers transporting the topsoil from the moviegoers' farms east to the Atlantic Ocean.
MGM knew how to make realistic movies, just look at the exceedingly grim 1932 movie "Night Court." Thanks to the 1934 Production Code, Hollywood stopped producing movies that were taken from the headlines. Production Code Administrator Joe Breen, the Hitler of Hollywood, censored all scripts to remove negative subjects like drug addiction, corruption, extramarital affairs and hard times for poor Americans, black or white.
Seeing "After Office Hours" on Turner Classic Movies in 2014, I can only wonder what the audiences said after paying their hard earned money to see this crackpot movie in the Depression year of 1935. I can only say this movie gets a 4 from me and I saw it for not much, TCM is included in my FiOS triple play.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Edge Of Tomorrow Senselessly Violent Science Fiction Film
Watching "Edge Of Tomorrow," you realize the contempt Hollywood media conglomerates have for their audience. The central character of this movie, Major Cage, spends most of his time getting killed. According to the idiotic premise of this movie, because he was dowsed with an alien creature's blood the first time he died in battle, Cage will now time loop back to an earlier time whenever he is killed. So, like a gamer playing a video shooter game, Cage goes back to the start of the game if the enemy finishes him off. On and on, Cage gets killed, getting more proficient at avoiding wipe out as the movie progresses.
The reason Cage is in battle is bizarre. He is an American major handling PR who tells a UDF general that he is an American officer and he will he not follow UDF orders to land with soldiers attacking the Micmics, the alien enemies. When Cage says he will make life hard on the general if he tries to send Cage into battle, naturally, the UDF general reduces Cage's rank to private, falsifies records to show Cage is an attempted deserter, kidnaps Cage and sends Cage into battle as cannon fodder.
Co-star Emily Blount plays a character called the "Angel of Verdun." That's it for her character development. J squad, the unit Cage joins just before the attack, is made up of the necessary social representatives: a woman, a black guy, a fat guy, some whites including one who looks Hispanic. The less said about Bill Paxton's Master Sergeant Farell, the better. All put on spiffy mechanical exo-skeletons before being sent to battle.
Comparing this movie to 1997's "Starship Troopers" shows how far Hollywood has sunk in its creative abilities. True, Edge's director Doug Liman doesn't hold a candle to Starship's director, Paul Verhoeven. More than that, though, is how "Starship Troopers" showed a team effort, no single character being Superman, and how Verhoeven and his writers threw in an anti-military subtext.
"Edge Of Tomorrow" is an ugly and unreal movie that glorifies fictional soldiers getting obliterated in battle, repeatedly. This movie has no heart and it makes no sense. I've read that Brad Pitt turned down an offer to star in Edge. After starring in "World War Z," a really ugly and stupid movie, I can understand why Pitt did not want to double down with another junk science fiction movie. Tom Cruise's previous movie "Oblivion" is Shakespeare compared to "Edge of Tomorrow." As you may have guessed, I am no fan of "Edge of Tomorrow."