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Hopefully There Won't Be Another Movie This Year as Annoying As This One, 23 January 2017

Death Race 2050 (2017)

* (out of 4)

The second remake of the cult favorite 1975 film has Manu Bennett playing Frankenstein, one of five racers who is in the cross country race that gives its driver bonus points for running down pedestrians.

DEATH RACE 2050 is an extremely lazy, extremely boring and extremely annoying remake that sadly doesn't really get much of anything right. I'm one that is all for remakes but there's no question that sometimes they are disastrously wrong and that's the case for this one. The original 1975 film was a very fun film that's low-budget was used for some campy and it worked. The 2008 version wasn't all that great but it was mildly entertaining for what it was. This one, however, has so many bad things in it that it's hard to recommend anything about it.

There are all sorts of annoying things here but I think the most annoying is the fact that the film tries on purpose to be campy and it just doesn't work. The characters all seem to have been influenced by THE HUNGER GAMES and this too is rather pointless. The film has the majority of the characters either acting stupid or just so over-the-top that you're wishing they'd be killed off. The Frankenstein character, on the other hand, is extremely bland and just doesn't come across as entertaining. It certainly doesn't help that Bennett doesn't add much to the role but to be fair none of the supporting players bring much to their roles and this includes poor Malcolm McDowell who is picking up another paycheck.

The CGI effects are embarrassingly bad and some of them rival what you'd see out of an Asylum movie. The story is stupid, the added melodrama doesn't work and in all reality there's just nothing here. Well, I'd say that the over-the-top gore helps for those who enjoy the red stuff but you're best bet is to stick with DEATH RACE 2000.

Jackie (2016/V)
Portman Steals the Show with a Wonderful Performance, 23 January 2017

Jackie (2016)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

Pablo Larrain directed this fascinating look at the hours, days and weeks in the life of Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) after the assassination of her husband. We see her try to cope with his murder as well as trying to stay strong for the nation as well as comforting her children.

If you're expecting a straight-forward bio-pic then you'll probably be disappointed with this because director Larrain doesn't deliver anything like that. Instead of a straight drama we're given a rather bleak and depressing character study that tries to show how strong Jackie Kennedy was but at the same time show the horrors that she was battling. Not only do we see her wiping her husband's blood off of her face but also her having to plan for a funeral, deal with the political business as well as try to explain to their children why daddy won't be coming home again.

The film is certainly a very well-made one and I want to point that out right from the start. The film bounces around in regards to its story because we go from moments after the assassination to a set-up, which involves Jackie telling her story to a reporter (Billy Crudup). While that segment takes place weeks after the assassination, another side of the story deal with her questioning God to a Priest. The story even takes place before the assassination as she hosts a television show that she takes on a tour throughout the White House. I must admit that the director held everything together quite well but at the same time I think some of the character drama is lost by bouncing around so much.

There's certainly a style going on here and it's even more clear with the loud and sweeping music score. In a lot of ways the film wants to tell its story with the score as well as the interesting cinematography. Again, all of it is extremely well-done but at the same time I think we lose some of the drama from what is going on with Kennedy. As for Portman, clearly she's the reason to watch the movie as she digs into this role and there's not a single second in the film where you feel as if you're watching an actress. Portman really nails this character to the point where you feel as if you're watching the real woman and a woman having to deal with the shock and horror of what has happened. The supporting cast fit their roles quite nicely as well but there's no question that Portman is the jewel.

As well-made as the film is, one can't help but wonder what it would have been like had the director told a more straight version. The film is so well-made that it's hard to really bash the director for how he decided to tell the story but either way, JACKIE is certainly an interesting take on the material and Portman clearly shines.

Great Documentary on the Underground Filmmaker, 23 January 2017

I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole (2013)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

Wakefield Poole isn't a name that a lot of people are going to know but his film BOYS IN THE SAND did for gay porn what DEEP THROAT would do for bringing porn to the mainstream. This documentary from director Jim Tushinski covers just about every aspect to Poole's life and best of all is that we get the man himself discussing his life and career.

Going into this documentary I had never seen a film from Poole so I was curious to hear more about the filmmaker and there's quite a bit of great stuff here. Poole starts off talking about his childhood, his love of movies and of course how he decided to leave home and try for something better. From here we get some great stories about his time on stage and then of course comes the discussion of the movies. BOYS IN THE SAND, BIJOU and BIBLE! are his three most famous films and we get some great stories about their production as well as the aftermath, which included some stories with Harvey Milk, the political maverick who of course would be assassinated.

If you're a fan of Poole then you'll probably already know a lot of the stories that are told here but there's no question that if you're not familiar with his work then this a great place to get a better understanding of who he was and why his films were so important. We get clips from several of his movies but the film stays well within a R-rating so people don't have to be worried about any hardcore scenes (although, I'm not sure why people would object to them in a film about a man who made hardcore pictures). I really loved the interviews with Poole who is obviously still quite emotional about certain aspects of his life and career.

Fun Clips for MGM Fans, 23 January 2017

That's Entertainment, Part II (1976)

*** (out of 4)

Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire co-host this sequel to the 1974 hit and Kelly also directed this, which would be his final time in the director's chair. Obviously this film was made because MGM made a lot of money the first time around. While many of the great classics were used in the original, this film here still offers up some classic dance and song numbers as well as showing off some MGM comic talent.

Apparently when this was released a lot of people joked at the studio's money grab by asking "what else" was in their vaults that would be good enough for a second film. Well, there was plenty more in their vaults and this film proves that. For the most part the musical numbers here aren't nearly as good as the ones shown in the original film but that was to be expected. After all, MGM put all their classics in the first film so this film here get what would be considered a second group of hits. Instead of Singin' in the Rain we get Good Morning from SINGIN' IN THE RAIN.

Clips from dozens of musicals are shown but this one here also takes it a step further and shows off the dramatic actors like Gable, Garbo, Tracy and various others as well as comedy stars like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and The Marx Brothers. Obviously the studio was pushing more than just their music talent and for the most part all of it is entertaining, although, as with the first film, one could argue that the best way to watch any of these clips are by watching them in the context of their full films.

While there are some very good clips shown throughout the running time, a lot of people will be most entertained by Kelly and Astaire doing a few dance numbers together. Apparently these were done with a request by Astaire and it was a smart move because it's certainly the highlight.

Entertaining Stand on Sex Ed Classes, 22 January 2017

The Girl, the Body, and the Pill (1967)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

A high school teacher is teaching sex ed to her students and this doesn't sit well with some of the parents. The one the most offended is Wesley Nichols (Bill Rogers) as he's the type that likes to preach and force his views on people but as the film plays out we see what a hypocrite he actually is.

Herschell Gordon Lewis' THE GIRL, THE BODY AND THE PILL certainly isn't a masterpiece but fans of his work will certainly want to check it out. I must admit that the film started off extremely strong before it somewhat started to show its flaws as it continued. The most entertaining stuff happened towards the start of the movie when the film and its director seemed to be tackling and raging against those who are so childish and rather stupid to think that teach teens about sex was a bad thing.

The first portion of the film appears to have the director really trying to deliver a message and I thought he did a very good job with it. The attack of the teacher is shown to be something rather stupid and I liked the message that was being sent. The problem is that after about thirty-minutes or so the film starts to take a look at the lives of some of the students and the various problems they get into thanks to the pill. This includes a good girl who falls in love for the first time. It also deals with a bad girl who is stealing her mother's pills. Of course, the parents of these two come full circle as the story plays on.

For the most part this is a pretty entertaining film, although I wish that the film had stuck closer to what it started off like. The stories towards the end are rather predictable and the performances really weren't strong enough to carry them. This was especially true for Rogers who comes across quite campy in several scenes. Some unintentional laughs are to be had. Still, if you're a fan of the director then THE GIRL, THE BODY AND THE PILL is worth watching.

Interesting Early Noir Film, 22 January 2017

The Sin of Nora Moran (1933)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Nora Moran (Zita Johann) is in prison about to die in the electric chair. We then hear about her troubled life, which has her in that spot. After leaving her job as a circus performer, the young woman meets a politician and soon after he's married they carry on the relationship, which leads to a murder that Nora is convicted of.

THE SIN OF NORA MORAN seems to have picked up a few fans over the past few years because it's rather racy poster started going around social media and then more fans started to look for the film. The new cult following that the picture has earned is understandable and especially when you consider that these Pre-code films are more popular than ever. There's no question that this movie is far from a classic but at the same time there's no doubt that it's entertaining enough to where film buffs will want to watch it.

The film's biggest problem is that it's obviously working with a small budget and director Phil Goldstone really doesn't bring much flare to the film. The cinematography is quite flat and there's a certain cheap feel all over the picture but there's still some stuff that works well. I thought the screenplay was good for the most part as it works as what would eventually become known as a film noir. The screenplay also keeps you off guard as to what really happen the night that Nora was arrested.

The film also benefits from Johann being so good in the title role. She's certainly very attractive and fits the role nicely and also manages to deliver a full performance. The supporting cast includes John Miljan, Alan Dinehart and Paul Cavanagh as well as Henry B. Walthall in a brief part.

She (1911)
Decent Version of the Story, 21 January 2017

She (1911)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

H. Rider Haggard's novel "She" was filmed several times during the silent era and this version is from the Thanhouser company. In the film, Marguerite Snow plays She, a powerful woman who waits for her lover to return from the dead. She believes that Leo (James Cruze) is her lover reincarnated but this could lead to her fall.

SHE was filmed several times during the silent era but this here is the earliest surviving version. Obviously with just a twenty-four minute running time there's not enough here to fully dive into the novel but for the most part I found this to be entertaining for what it was. The first half of the film is pretty much the backstory dealing with She, her powers and her lover who eventually dies. The second portion of the film gets into his resurrection but the direction by George Nichols just doesn't do too much here. The film doesn't really deliver us a full story and I'd argue that there's not much drama or anything else here. I did like Snow in her role and Cruze wasn't that bad either.

Fun For What It Is, 21 January 2017

The Phantom of Hollywood (1974)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Worldwide Studio has fallen on some hard times so a decision is to made to sell its back lot to some developers, which will bring in some much needed cash but at the same time it would take away from historic nature. This doesn't sit well with a mysterious figure who starts murdering people on the lot.

This here is basically a remake of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with the main interest being that "Worldwide Studio" is actually MGM. Yes, MGM is the back lot that is used here and some of the most interesting moments happen early on when we see how some of the sets currently look and then we get a clip of the movie that they were once featured in. We get some pretty fascinating scenes doing this and there's another section where some of the MGM classics like SAN FRANCISCO, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and GRAND HOTEL are paid tribute to.

As far as the rest of the film goes, it's a pretty routine murder-mystery but at the same time there's a nice cast that helps keep the film moving even if its 74-minute running time seems a bit longer. I actually really liked the look of the killer as well as his choice of weapon. They really did seem like a costume from the 1930s and as I said we also get a nice cast. Jack Cassidy, Jackie Coogan, Broderick Crawford, John Ireland, Peter Lawford and Kent Taylor are all fun to watch here and certainly add to the entertainment.

Fire (1977) (TV)
Bland Disaster Film, 19 January 2017

Fire (1977)

** (out of 4)

Sam (Ernest Borgnine) really loves Martha (Vera Miles) but she says it's too late as they should have acted on this years earlier. A married couple (Patty Duke, Alex Cord) find themselves falling out of love. A teacher (Donna Mills) must make a devastating decision. Oh yeah, there's a convict who starts a fire to try and make an escape and soon this fire is threatening the entire town. The all-star cast then must jump into action.

Producer Irwin Allen struck gold with THE TOWERING INFERNO so why not take that fire a put it in a different location? FIRE was a made-for-television film that comes as a major disappointment and especially if you're a fan of the genre. As you'd expect, there's a great number of familiar stars on hand here and all of them turn in decent enough performances. Obviously most of the cast were just picking up checks for movies like this but it's still fun seeing all of them here. Not only do we get the stars I mentioned but there's also Erik Estrada, Gene Evans, Neville Brand and Lloyd Nolan.

The biggest problem with FIRE is that there's not a single second that you feel any tension. What I really disliked about this movie is that the "good guys" are constantly put in harm's way but there's no a single moment where you feel as if they are in danger. We get some really ridiculous scenes where it seems like the characters are going to die only to have some cliffhanger-style non-sense happen to where everyone is safe. Whenever you're watching a film like this and you can't feel any tension the entire thing is just pointless.

What's worse is that the 100-minute running time seems to drag on and on. There's really not a very good story here as it's all rather routine and especially the various personal dramas that are thrown in. Even the special effects aren't all that great. Sure, one shouldn't expect the same quality as THE TOWERING INFERNO but what's here just isn't all that memorable.

Trolls (2016)
Sorry But It Didn't Work for Me, 19 January 2017

Trolls (2016)

** (out of 4)

The Bergens are a group of very unhappy creatures who believe that the only way to have fun is by eating trolls. Once a year the Bergens eat trolls but as the film starts they're about to chomp but the small trolls make their escape. Flash-forward twenty-years and the trolls are happy and safe until after a massive party a group of taken. Now it's up to Princess Poppy to try and save her friends.

TROLLS is a film that I'm sure many people are going to love. I'm sure the majority of kids that watch this are going to love it and have a great time with it. I took my kids to see it and they all loved it. My girlfriend loved it as well. With that said, I'm sorry but I'll be the negative troll and say that I really didn't care too much for the picture. It's certainly not an awful movie but at the same time this is pretty much a middle tier animated film that has a couple cute and funny moments but not enough to make me want to see the film again.

There's no question that the animation itself is excellent to look out and this is especially true for the wild and colorful nature of the images. I really loved how colorful the picture was and there's no question that this was the greatest thing in the movie. I thought both Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake were fine in their vocal performances.

So, why didn't I like TROLLS more? There's no question the blame for me goes towards the story. There's just not a very interesting story being told here. How many times have we seen a film where a character makes a mistake and then we have to go on a journey? There's really nothing new or fresh done with the story here and to me it was just rather boring and lacked any real adventure.

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