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Hang 'Em High (1968)
Skip this, go for Leone
'Hang 'Em High' gets off to a great start, but after a set of fantastic opening titles, the movie quickly becomes 'Leone Lite.' Literal in its approach but rambling in structure, 'Hang 'Em High' begins with the premise that Clint Eastwood will go out and seek revenge on the men who nearly killed him. And, well, for the next hour and forty-five minutes or so, that's pretty exactly what you see him do. In between rounds of 'justice,' the film gets bogged down with preachy passages condemning the rigidity of capital punishment and a half-baked subplot/love interest that doesn't begin until the film is nearly over and then doesn't amount to much. It was cheaply made with obvious painted backdrops outside open doorways and noticeably redressed sets. Also, it was sloppily assembled look for the film equipment under the hangman's scaffold.
To compound things, the men Eastwood is out to get really aren't that bad. By and large, the posse that strung him up at the beginning did so only because they believed he was the man responsible for the killing of a well-respected rancher and his wife and a personal friend to most of the posse's members. With a few exceptions, the men were guilty of little more than overreacting and punishing the wrong person but doing so with honorable intentions. They should have been paid for this, but, frankly, I just never felt they deserved what they got.
High Plains Drifter (1973)
Eastwood had obviously picked up a thing or two from Sergio Leone, and it shows in this bleak, violent, and absurd Western. But whereas Leone's 'Man with No Name' was a likable purveyor of death and vengeance, Eastwood's 'The Stranger' is so menacing and cruel that he's rendered completely unsympathetic from the get go. While I enjoyed some of the film's more surreal moments (painting the town red and the apocalyptic finale), Eastwood goes too far in trying not to take his character seriously and turns him into a nearly cartoonish comic book figure. When he tosses the dynamite into the hotel room and then guns everybody down, about the only thing missing was a 'Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker' or 'I'll be back' type quip.
I'm sure there are those who prefer action over art and gritty realism over style, but I'll take 'A Fistful of Dollars' over 'High Plains Drifter' any day.
In Name Only (1939)
Bring your Kleenex and pillow
The mega-stars of the old studio era are usually remembered for the iconic films they starred in: Humphrey Bogart and 'Casablanca,' Katharine Hepburn and 'The Philadelphia Story,' Jimmy Stewart and 'It's a Wonderful Life.' When you come across a title in a star's resume that you've never heard of, it usually means that it's a lesser, forgettable film. And this is the case for "In Name Only" for both Cary Grant and Carole Lombard.
This is a minor, sudsy weeper that only moves from plot point to plot point because the characters don't do or say the things they should in order to extract themselves from their predicaments. By the time the film comes to an end with the doctor explaining the importance of having a positive psychological outlook in order to combat pneumonia, I had lost interest and was actively wishing the movie would end.
The Stepford Wives (1975)
Heaps better than the remake
I'm sure 'The Stepford Wives' spoke more to the audiences of 1975 than it does to the audiences of today, but this holds its own as decent, satisfying thriller. Really little more than a variation on 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers,' 'Stepford' follows that film's structure of slowly unspooling clues and suspicions and saving its bigger 'gotcha!' moments for the end. Katherine Ross was no doubt the star of this film, but Paula Prentiss really stood out for me. Gawky and enjoyable, she oddly predicted Geena Davis by a full generation. At one point in the film, my girlfriend commented of her wardrobe, 'Wow, can you imagine a grown woman today wearing a hot pant jumper?' The '70s yikes!
I had the misfortune of both seeing the remake of 'The Stepford Wives' before seeing the original and *actually seeing* the remake of 'The Stepford Wives.' If the original serves any purpose, it is to expose the remake for the gutless, toothless, anemic waste of everyone's time that it is. God, what a terrible movie
Wuthering Heights (1939)
Natural sleep aide
A sideburned mannequin falls in love with a severely bi-polar woman and spends the rest of the movie making literally *everyone* around him pay for it. Heathcliff's thirst for emotional revenge borders on the Shakespearean, but unless you're my brother, this is one long snooze-fest.
Internet Movie Database makes you write a minimum of ten lines for a review, but the above is really all I have to say about "Wuthering Heights." So I'll pad this out by saying that I did respond to Hindley popping Heathcliff in the face with a large stone. But after that I pretty much spent the rest of the movie thinking about other movies I like better.
Okay. Still not ten lines. Well, one of the movies I thought of that I liked better was "Casablanca." That's a movie about doomed love and a man who makes everyone suffer for his own suffering. Better music, direction, setting, acting, dialogue, and nobody dies at the end. Well, except Major Strasse, but he pretty much had it coming, didn't he?
While the City Sleeps (1956)
While the Audience Sleeps
Dana Andrews George Sanders Thomas Mitchell Vincent Price Ida Lupino Fritz Lang
How could this go wrong? 'While the City Sleeps' probably would have made a better movie if it had been shot as a big, gaudy, Technicolor melodrama, a soap opera about the inner workings of a news conglomerate. It could have been a who's sleeping with who, who's stabbing who in the back-type of movie punctuated with a subplot about a serial killer on the loose. It fails, however, as a noirish crime drama. Pretty dull stuff.
The sad, sad truth
The only thing that I can think when reading the negative comments left for this movie is that the people who wrote them have *clearly* never temped. As someone who spent four years of his life wasting away in other people's cubicles, I can tell you with complete authority that this movie gets every mind-numbing, insulting, and degrading aspect of the experience dead on. I suppose you should be thankful if you can't relate to what's going on in this film because it probably means you've never had to tip-toe into some middle manager's office on a Friday afternoon to get a signature on your time card.
As for those who think "Clockwatchers" is "dull" or "boring," it's called subtly. Look into it.
Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)
B-movies are so satisfying because they're either so bad that they're good or are so intelligent that they end up being better than they should be. 'Earth vs. the Flying Saucers' straddles the line somewhere between schlock and 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.' It has limited production values (an underground research facility that seems to be little more than a small command center connected by a boiler room), and curious dialogue (why does Carol tell her husband and father to bring their coffee spoons when she's out back grilling hamburgers?), but there are also smart passages where it takes time to consider temporal shifts, magnetic fields, and radio wave weapons. Unfortunately, the camp and the thoughtful just do no mix well in this one, and the result is stilted and dull.
And Dr. Marvin really needed to investigate hot wax. I shuddered a little bit when Carol put her arm around him in the last shot.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Gross, Funny, Good
I'll be the first to admit that the horror genre is not high on my list of favorites, so I'll freely admit I'm not as qualified to comment on 'Dawn of the Dead' as some. But I have to say the remake is just better than the original. I like the 1978 version of 'Dawn of the Dead,' and I was skeptical when I first heard about the remake to the point of being dismissive about it. But the effects were better, the sequences tighter, and the sense that the characters were really fighting for their lives much more immediate. The first ten minutes alone are more intense than anything that happens in the original (I know, I know, but, by comparison, the opening moment of the 1978 film are a disorienting, absurdly gory, muddled mess). I also know that the movie breaks a cardinal rule of the zombie film by allowing the zombies the ability to move quickly, but it really only helps the movie. Frankly, I think it's a lot scarier to have a raving thing come at you at top speed rather than just kind of lumber. I'll agree, the gallows humor and social commentary of the original are missing, but so is the bicycle gang.
I mean, really.
What was that about?
Jailhouse Rock (1957)
Great hair, crap movie
I'm absolutely blown away by the people who have praised this movie and call this Elvis' 'best' picture. I don't usually do this, but let me recap 'Jailhouse Rock' just to remind those who have seen it and warn those who haven't exactly what happens in this thing (WARNING! SPOILERS!):
Elvis plays a construction worker who, in the second scene in the film, beats a man to death in a bar after the man starts to rough up a woman he believes was flirting with Elvis. Elvis goes to the State Pen and bunks with an old country music star who, seeing the kid's raw talent, teaches him how to play guitar. Elvis becomes an overnight success when he's seen performing in the prison talent show, which is, for some reason, being broadcast on live television. The months go by and Elvis receives an early release. Elvis inexplicably emerges from the Big House surly, arrogant, sexually aggressive, combative, and, well, an a-hole. It's not that he's rebellious in a Marlon Brando/James Dean kind of way. He's just a jerk. I mean, a *really* unlikable, well, a-hole.
In a strip club, he meets a sexy, young music rep who, recognizing the kid's raw talent, agrees to manage him. She gets him to cut a couple of demos, and, after a few failed attempts, they decide to start their own label. Now, things really take off. The records start selling, and the money starts rolling in. There are appearances on NBC (the famed 'Jailhouse Rock' number) and movie deals in Hollywood. Hollywood is where the movie finally settles down. Now living in a mansion, surrounded by hanger-ons, Elvis is just as surly, arrogant, sexually aggressive, combative, and, well, as big an a-hole as ever. His old bunkmate returns looking for a piece of the action and is given a job as a sort of lackey assistant.
Things reach a boil when Elvis is offered the opportunity to sell his record label to a major, which results in some very hurt feelings from the sexy, young music rep who, naturally, is in love with him despite all his shortcomings. She leaves in tears, and the former bunkmate, brimming with resentment and bonded bourbon, decides to whup Elvis good to teach him a lesson. Elvis takes a punch in the larynx and ends up in the hospital with a tracheotomy. Will Elvis ever be able to sing again? After a few days of recovering at home, Elvis gives it a tentative shot. Fortunately, the sexy, young music rep was hoping this would happen and has Elvis' band mates stashed out the hall. The band comes in, Elvis discovers his voice hasn't been irreparably damaged, and the movie fades to black as the sexy, young music rep and the remorseful former bunkmate look on approvingly.
This movie is *terrible.* Who in their right mind thought that 'Jailhouse Rock' was good for Elvis or his fans? The direction is static and uninspired, the plot is unpleasant, and the star is unsympathetic nearly from the moment he shows up on the screen. It's a series of missteps heaped on one another from beginning to end. People, this a rock and roll movie narrated by a lawyer for crying out loud!
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Beatles man. I do, however, appreciate Elvis and think his fame and place in history are well earned. His catalog, however, is mostly regrettable and only punctuated with occasional gems. I don't say this because I don't think he was talented-he absolutely was. His Sun Records recordings are proof of that. 'Jailhouse Rock,' though, should be considered exhibit A in what was a terribly mismanaged career.