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The Brute Man (1946)
This is much better than its reputation
This was a B film made by Universal but sold to poverty row outfit PRC for distribution, and there are no big names here and no big budget, but it is very poignant for several reasons, which I will get into later.
This is basically a 20th century Frankenstein story. Someone is going around murdering people with his bare hands - "The Creeper" as he is called by the newspapers and the police. The audience sees the murderer from the beginning, and none of the murders seem premeditated. It is initially a deformed man with monstrous strength apparently visiting people he knew before, and when they become afraid or try to scream or run, he kills them in anger.
The police almost catch "The Creeper" after the second murder, but he climbs up a fire escape and into the apartment window of a girl playing a piano. The girl seems unafraid of him and when she asks him if he is in trouble followed by knocking on her door, she hides the man and tells the police that she has seen nor heard anything strange. However, the police never identified themselves, and later you can hear running, yelling, and shooting nearby. If The Creeper is in her apartment who exactly are the police shooting at? But I digress. The Creeper learns the girl is blind, cannot see his ugliness and is therefore friendly, plus she didn't know it was the police at the door, because they never said who they were. Like the Frankenstein monster, in a blind person The Creeper has found a friend.
Meanwhile the police have connected the first two victims and go to visit two people who were connected to them 15 years before in college and who are now married and doing well for themselves. They tell a tale of a popular athlete, Hal Moffat, who was tutored in chemistry by the husband, but when Hal got a little too friendly with his girl - now his wife - the tutor gave the jock the wrong answers to questions for an oral exam the next day. As a result, Hal failed the oral test and was given a long complicated chemistry experiment to do as remedial makeup work. Always having a bad temper, and realizing he had been deliberately tricked, Hal threw the test tubes to the ground, but the liquid splashed on his face. In the hospital, the doctor told his friends that Hal's features would be deformed, and that even his glands, which effect how features are formed and how bones grow, would be effected.
So we have a blind girl who needs money for an operation to restore her sight, a bitter homicidal man who knows that the couple who betrayed him years ago are doing well financially, and who also tends to take violent revenge on anybody who crosses him, and the police who now know who the murderer is, they just have no idea how and where he is living and what he looks like. How will all of this work out? Watch and find out.
The poignant part of this is how art so imitated the life of the man who plays "The Creeper", Rondo Hatton. Mr. Hatton was also a popular athlete during high school who was injured by poison gas during his service in WWI. That chemical exposure later caused acromegaly, a slowly progressive deforming of bones in the head, hands and feet, and internal and external soft tissues caused by disease of the pituitary gland. The deformity, which was progressive, broke up his first marriage. He did, however, marry a second time. So it may be that the low rating is from people who do not like the fact that Universal, who had a contract with Mr. Hatton, used his deformity to exploit him in such roles. However, I think his performance was pretty good. After all, there is no time for real dramatic depth in these old B films. I'd recommend it as a well done modern horror film.
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949)
Fred and Ginger together one more time...
Except this vehicle is nothing like their other films at RKO. This is a MGM musical in the big MGM tradition. The whole thing was an accident. Judy Garland was supposed to have Ginger Rogers' role, but her chronic illness made a replacement necessary. Rogers and Astaire have the same old chemistry even if it is a different studio. They play feuding song and dance team Josh and Dinah Barkeley who break up personally and professionally over Dinah's desire to do dramatic acting and Josh's jealousy over who the author of the play is - a flirty Frenchman, Jacques.
At first Josh says he wants Dinah to fall on her face. But when he sees her actually stumble in rehearsals when he sneaks in to catch a peek, he blames it all on Jacques, who he says does not know how to direct her. So Josh comes up with a ruse in which he calls Dinah after rehearsals and pretends to be Jacques, complete with fake French accent, giving her cues on how to improve her performance based on what he has seen. Unfortunately it works too well. Dinah thinks even more of Jacques since he is helping her out with great tips, and Jacques is bowled over by Dinah's inexplicable improvement. How will this work out? Watch and find out.
Of course MGM spared no expense in the late 40s with the Arthur Freed unit, which made this film. There is beautiful Technicolor, comedy and masterful piano work from Oscar Levant, a great piece of special effects work by MGM and dancing by Astaire in the number "Shoes with Wings On" in which Astaire seems to be dancing side by side with pairs of tap shoes, and a ballroom number in which Fred and Ginger dance to "They Can't Take That Away From Me". Fred sang it to Ginger but the two did not dance to it in 1937's "Shall We Dance". Finally, Ginger's recitation of "La Marseillaise" when she plays "Young Sarah Bernhardt" in Jacques' play is a (probably) unintentional camp classic. Fortunately the French are forgiving people.
It was an unexpected reunion, but for fans of the big MGM musicals of the period and of Fred and Ginger in particular, I would highly recommend it.
The Last Starfighter (1984)
The Music Man Meets Star Wars
A recent high school grad (Lance Guest as Alex Rogan) lives in a rural traier park that his mother runs. Despite having a great girlfriend (Catherine Mary Stewart as Maggie) and a loving family, like any kid in his late teens he wants to see what is in the wider world, specifically he wants to go to college. But that requires a scholarship, and when he doesn't get one, that means he is stuck where he is, going to community college. Out of frustration and boredom he is given to playing "The Last Starfighter" video game that is in the park's rec area. Then one night Alex breaks the record on the game, and is surprised when the alien Centauri (Robert Preston) lands and asks him to come with him, that as the winner of the game he has won a great surprise of a prize.
Alex finds out that the surprise is that Centauri is an intergalactic con man who marketed the game to find somebody with the ability to be a Starfighter and basically simulated the actual war between the democratic Rylan Star League and the autocratic Ko-Dan Empire in the game. Alex says he did not sign up to get himself killed and asks to be taken back to earth.
Right after Alex leaves, the Starfighter base with all of the Rylan fighters is blown up due to sabotage and the Starfighters killed - except for one, Alex. The Empire sends a hitman after him in the trailer park, and he would have succeeded if not for Centauri interceding. Centauri tells him the empire will send more and more of these hit men and that the only way Alex can protect himself and his family is go back and be a Starfighter. Except now he is literally "the last Starfighter".
If this all sounds a bit like Star Wars - autocratic empire versus democratic good guys, a young man who wants adventure who finds himself in the middle of things, etc. that is because it is. Unfortunately, the villain doesn't really measure up. That would be Xur, a traitor from Rylos to whom the Ko-Dan Emperor has promised control of Rylos in return for giving the empire vital information. Xur plays this role as a campy man child who walks around talking to his scepter. Not exactly Darth Vader.
There are some humorous bits - Robert Preston in his last feature film doing a send up of his conman role in The Music Man, and the robotic likeness of Alex who Centauri placed on earth so that Alex's friends and family don't notice he is missing while he is out saving the galaxy. The problem is that the robotic likeness just doesn't get 20th century "mating rituals" as he calls them, and manages to alienate Maggie in Alex's absence, and also frighten Alex's little brother when, in the middle of the night, the Alex clone decides to get up and repair his head.
The ending makes it look like the film was setting itself up for a sequel, but that never happened as the box office didn't really pay off. This was a summer movie in 1984 and much was expected, but it did not pan out. I'd still mildly recommend it, largely for the wonderful Robert Preston who unfortunately is not around for most of the film.
Paris, Texas (1984)
Arthouse character study from director Wim Wenders
Harry Dean Stanton stars as a man who first appears walking alone through the desert terrain of the southwest. After he's hospitalized for heat exhaustion, his brother (Dean Stockwell) is contacted to come and get him. At first, Stanton refuses to speak, and when he eventually does begin to open up, he seems to have memory loss. He's been missing for the past 4 years, and his young 8 year old son has been raised by Stockwell and his wife (Aurore Clement). Once Stanton seems to stabilize a bit, he and the boy go on a road trip to try and track down the boy's mother (Nastassja Kinski).
Harry Dean Stanton has always been one of my favorite character actors, and I was pleased to see him get a lead role for a change. He's terrific, and the only flaws I could maybe point out were the script's fault and not his. Kinski is very good as well. Like I said, the script has some issues for me, with the main character arc being a little hard to buy, and the two and a half hour running time could have been trimmed without loss of mood or substantial content. The cinematography by Robby Muller is fantastic, as is the score by Ry Cooder. I would still recommend this film, but I was a little disappointed considering it was one of the "1001 Movies to See Before You Die".
Nora Prentiss (1947)
How a group of people with no real ill intent create a great noirish tragedy
Dr. Richard Talbot (Kent Smith) is a middle aged man living in San Francisco with two good kids, a dutiful wife, and a good medical practice, respected in the community. And he has one of the dullest most routine lives in the history of the world and doesn't even realize it until one night on his way home from his office he sees a girl (Ann Sheridan as Nora Prentiss) hit by a car and stops to render aid. She has only minor injuries, and he treats her in his office while she flirts shamelessly. He tries to remain aloof, but does kiss her goodnight at her invitation. Something awakens in Richard.
And then the two begin seeing each other. Innocently at first - he shows up at her nightclub to watch her sing on the excuse of eating dinner. And it builds from there. Suddenly the doctor realizes just how dull and routine his life is. He doesn't want to slip into the trap of an extramarital affair, and he tries to get his wife to agree to do "fun" things with him, but she just poo poos him and says they are too old for that sort of thing.
Well, the initial bloom of the affair turns to unhappiness for both Nora and Richard as Nora wants more - and so does Richard for that matter - but he just can't commit the overt act of breaking up his family. He can't make real and open what has been the truth for months. So Nora decides to make a clean break. She is moving to New York to sing in a club for an old friend (Robert Alda as Phil Denardo).
Richard won't lose Nora, but he can't bring himself to ask for a divorce either. As the clock is ticking on Nora's train out of town, in walks a patient with a fatal heart condition complaining of horrible chest pains. Richard tries to save him, but the patient dies in his office. Richard and the patient were alone. The patient has already said he lives at the YMCA and has no friends or family. And the dead man is the same weight, age, and height as the doctor.
So a cowardly solution comes to Richard's mind. He puts the dead man's body in his own car, dowses it with gasoline, sets it ablaze, and pushes it from the road off a cliff to the rocks below. The body is burned beyond recognition with all of Richard's identifying belongings on him. And then he catches up with Nora and lies to her about how he has asked for a divorce and is leaving town with her.
He reads the San Francisco papers in New York and reads of his funeral. But he also reads of an investigation caused by his partner in the practice noticing some funny things that might mean Richard was being blackmailed and was perhaps murdered. So Richard's plans - of which Nora knows nothing - are possibly foiled. I'll let you see how this all works out, but I'll just say the irony is astounding, and ask you - at the end of the film, what would you do if you were Nora?
Kent Smith never really caught on in motion pictures, but here he is great as a man who starts out as dead on the inside but respected, then alive but torn, and then trapped in a jail of his own making as his sanity slowly unwinds. Nora is a tragic figure, even though she started the flirtation, probably just making fun of a guy she at first found unbelievably stiff given the world of nightclubs in which she lived. Robert Alda is as patient as a saint as the guy who loves Nora, knows all about the home she broke up but not about how Richard actually broke it, and doesn't judge her.
If you want to watch a noir in which everybody's life becomes a train wreck but you really can't find one evil character, just one cowardly one, this is your film. It's also one of the first post war films to incorporate the theme of being all alone in a big city despite the sea of people.
Don't reward Disney for this travesty and hand over your money to watch this Mickey Mouse movie
Modern Disney - you know, the one that has to buy Pixar to gain any originality - has its fingerprints all over this one. There were great visuals, entertaining characters, and funny one-liners. Oh, and this one had inspirational messages: Anyone can be a hero, we fight out of love, failure is a teacher, etc. (however ham-fisted).
The audience was there for the world-building and the advancement of the story. None of which really happened. So the audience focused on the string of plot holes, lapses in logic, and generally lack of anything new or interesting that was added to the Star Wars world. The Last Jedi is the cinematic reverse equivalent of fast food. Critics were more than happy with it because they came expecting a Transformers like CGI fest - they got that; the audience was expecting more.
Plus after two movies we literally know nothing about Rey except that she is good at anything with little or no training. The only real spoiler I offer - given what happened on and off the set of the last two Star Wars films - is that the franchise is currently left in the same place as the British TV show Black Adder at the end of each season, minus Rowan Atkinson and the originality.
I have to give it 4/10 stars just for the art design and technical expertise and nothing else. A big budget film like this could never be a 1 or a 2 out of ten. That's an Ed Wood film or "Manos The Hands of Fate" (don't ask). Likewise a 10/10 is Casablanca or The Godfather - when everything including acting, directing, depth of the plot and the ability to argue about themes, all come together such that the film still resonates years after it was made. This one made it about a third of the way between these two extremes.
The Incredible Dr. Pol (2011)
Great look at a practice in rural Michigan
Dr. Pol, DVM, has a practice in rural Michigan, and this reality show follows him as he makes his rounds to his various farm patients, as well as the office where people bring their domestic animals. It has an old fashioned feel to it. The doc knows his patients and their owners, and you get to see him deal with birth, injuries, death, and the hard decision to put an animal down. He's not a man given with the gift of much gab, but he has a distinct likability about him. He's a man who is 75 as I am writing this, and when I first watched the show I was guessing he was in his mid to late 50s. That's what comes from doing what you love - it keeps you young at heart. Also part of the practice is his son Charles, who, as he admits, is not even a veterinary technician, just an assistant, but seems to be loving what he does and being around his dad. The office is organized and maintained by Dr. Pol's wife of 50 years, and then there is "Dr. Brenda", Brenda Grettenburger, and the junior vet on the team, Dr. Emily Thomas.
There are a wide variety of situations, animals, and dilemmas, so I am yet to get bored. I will tell you that there does seem to be a good deal of professional jealousy about Dr. Pol. If you look around the internet you'll see fellow vets talk about how uncaring the staff is and unsanitary the procedures are. Folks, it is called editing. You don't see every little thing that is done. Plus you don't wind up with 20,000 patients by being a bad vet. Dr. Pol was disciplined by a Michigan state board a few years back based on the complaint of a viewer of this show who was a retired veterinarian living in Tennessee! However, that decision was reversed and even the owners of the animal in the case in question said that they were happy with the outcome.
I'd recommend you watch the show. Just don't mention it to your vet or they are likely to start snorting, stomp out of the examining room, and fire you and your pet from their practice. Just my two cents.
The film starts with a middle aged man, Jim Warren (Clive Brook) awaiting execution as a prison band rehearses a lively number while the hammering of the gallows is heard in the background. Talk about the strange contrast. The prison warden and priest are telling Warren that they never believed he committed the murder and they are urging him to say what really happened. He refuses. At first. But then the warden leaves and the priest convinces him to tell him his story as a confession to a priest cannot be betrayed. So Warren tells his story, starting way back in 1909, twenty years before.
Apparently Jim was just getting out of jail for some thievery, but the police still don't have the loot. They think his girlfriend, Norma (Peggy Shannon), may have the goods, and when they find it in her apartment they put her in jail. Jim finds out and says he'll do anything to get her out of trouble. The woman who helped Jim get out of prison in the first place, Mollie (Marjorie Rambeau), says she can fix it but Jim must marry her. Apparently she has always carried a torch and doesn't care if the feeling isn't mutual.
The wedding day is bittersweet, because part of it is just hilarious. Clive Brook uses his naturally rather sullen looks to good effect here as there is a huge clamor of a pre-wedding celebration going on in Mollie's saloon. Mollie tries to get Jim into the spirit of things showing him how she's redecorated the bedroom for him, but there hang the portraits of his two predecessors, Mollie's first two husbands, both of whom died in the same bed which will be his bed by the end of the day.
Meanwhile, Phil Powers is getting Norma out of jail. As Norma can speak of nothing but being reunited with Jim, and Phil knows of the bargain that has been struck, Phil thinks he can sneak Norma into Mollie's boarding house, help her collect her things, and get Norma out before she finds out what is going on. But that's not how it works out. When Norma learns Jim is marrying Mollie - remember she does not know why - she faints and is carried upstairs. Jim says he cannot go through with it to Mollie, who threatens him with the law. Jim doesn't care and goes upstairs to marry Norma, but it is too late. The alderman has just married Phil and a half conscious Norma (is this legal??) to one another.
Two decades pass and the child Norma was carrying at the time of their marriage - of which Phil had full knowledge - is born and grows into the spitting image of Norma. Phil and Norma also name her Norma??? Phil becomes very prosperous, owning a newspaper and real estate. Plus he is on a crusade to out a local crime boss. Young Norma is about to marry into - not just a wealthy family - but a socially prominent one.
Meanwhile Jim Warren has been working various pickpocket and shell game schemes to keep a roof over his head all of these years with his unseemly companion, Harry Silvers (John Wray). Nobody plays the early talkie Snidely Whiplash like John Wray, and this film is no exception. Jim has had nothing to nurse him through the lonely years but a photo of Norma from twenty years ago, and the letters she sent to him when he was in jail and he learned of her pregnancy. Now Harry is tired of being poor and always one step ahead of the cops, and he vocalizes a plot to blackmail Phil Powers into buying the letters so the two of them can retire in style. Jim reacts violently to the suggestion and says he'll kill anybody who jeopardizes his daughter's future. In these snobby eugenics believing times, Jim's daughter would be considered a social pariah if she was known to be the illegitimate child of a common thief. I'll let you watch and see what happens. Let me just say that this thing is not going exactly where you think it is, and also the conclusion proves that it is a very good thing for employees to wear photo IDs.
The acting in this Paramount film that feels somewhat like a poverty row film is well done. Paramount tried to give Clive Brook a chance in talking films, but his aristocratic British accent just did not go with what people expected given his silent roles. Here he almost pulls off an American urban street accent. At least I'm not wondering why this guy is not in a tuxedo as I had in some of his earlier talking roles. And something else unusual for the early talking films - when they go back in time people are actually dressed like it is 1909 not 1930. They actually got the early 20th century costume design right.
The only bad thing I can say is it feels like some of the film has been edited for television due to the production code although archives say it was never actually televised. The reason I say that is that it is not at all clear that Norma is pregnant with Jim's child until twenty years later when that fact is revealed. Nothing ever said in the copy I saw would lead you to that conclusion in the early part of the film.
Golden Boy (1939)
This definitely is not my favorite William Holden or Barbara Stanwyck film
There are only really two reasons why I found this film interesting and they have nothing to do with the film itself. 1) Holden is so young. I know he was about 21 when he made this film and he looks it. It's amazing to me how much his looks changed in the 10 or so years between Golden Boy and Sunset Boulevard. I hardly recognized him in Golden Boy. His voice was different and he didn't even look the same. He sort of looks like a younger, less beefy Tony Curtis. In fact Tony Curtis would have been a great Golden Boy if they had made the film in the late 40s instead of the late 30s.
I think another issue with Golden Boy is Holden's inexperience. This film was his first real role and he was having many issues during the production of this film. It was almost to the point where he was going to be replaced. Which brings me to... 2) The other reason I found this film interesting is the behind the scenes story of how Barbara Stanwyck fought for William Holden to remain in the film after the producers wanted to replace him, which began a lifelong friendship between Stanwyck and Holden.
I think the casting of Lee J. Cobb (who was only 7 years older than Holden) as Holden's immigrant father was ridiculous. Of all of the great older character actors that would have been available at the time, they had to makeup a younger person to pretend to be twice their age. It just didn't work for me. And the result was a jaw-droppingly awful performance by Cobb -(like bad on a "Sofia in Godfather III" -level scale, but in a whole different way.). Seriously, Holden owed HIM a bigger debt than Stanwyck- who should've allowed young Bill to bail on this turkey at the first open exit door he saw.
Still, I give it a five mainly because of Stanwyck, always a trooper in whatever film she was in.
Beyond the Forest (1949)
Boy, Jack Warner must have really wanted to get rid of Bette Davis once and for all!
And although I know this was written based on a novel of the same name, beyond what forest? The film starts with a voiceover describing the town of Loyalton, Wisconsin, and the fact that an inquest is going on concerning the death of a man killed by Rosa Moline (Bette Davis). She claims it is an accident. You do get from the introductory narration that this is a town where everybody derives their income from the sawmill and that Rosa is an insufferable snob. What you don't know is who it is that Rosa has killed - accidentally or on purpose. Then comes the rest of the movie in flashback.
Rosa is very unhappily married to Lewis Moline, MD (Joseph Cotten). Before I watched this I thought, who would be unhappy being married to handsome Joseph Cotten? But he plays this as such a doormat, a guy who is OK with patients who never pay him, who gives in to every expensive thing that Rosa wants, that it is no wonder Rosa has no respect for him. Fine acting from Mr. Cotten to play this as such a weak milquetoast of a guy.
So Rosa lusts after the wealthy Neil Latimer (David Brian) from Chicago, who has a hunting lodge near Loyalton. He's a strong self made man, and that and the money draw Rosa to him and into an affair. If she knew that David Brian would play a character who beats the living daylights out of Joan Crawford the following year I'm sure that wouldn't have hurt either, but that's another story.
So Rosa's dilemma is how to get out of this marriage and get Neil to care enough about her to marry her. What she does to accomplish this and the problems and twists and turns of the plot that crop up along the way constitute the rest of the film and eventually bring us full circle back to the inquest.
Why do I say it seems that Jack Warner was trying to get rid of Bette Davis with this film? It's not so much her acting - she is as good as she ever was - but she is playing a woman about ten years younger than she looks, especially with the tight fitting clothes that show every inch of extra avoirdupois that she is sporting, plus a ridiculous long black wig. And then there is the dialogue. Every time somebody suggests that Rosa do something that she feels is beneath her, Rosa retorts "I would never do THAT, I'm Rosa Moline". How odd. The whole film is about how much she does not want to be a Moline, yet she seems to proudly hail it as part of her identitiy. There is a ridiculous scene with Lewis talking to an unconscious woman about her blood, and why did Rosa build her house as far from the center of town as possible, but position the master bedroom such that the flames shooting from the sawmill incinerator in the middle of the night glow through the window and even the shades and keep her awake? Rosa is a poor architect of her house and her life.
I could go on forever with what is weird about this film, but the acting is quite good, and the story is so weird that the camp actually becomes one of its strengths. I'd suggest it if you can ever find a copy.
Night Shift (1982)
A star is born...
... well actually several of them are. The film is based on a true story of a couple of morgue employees caught running a brothel out of the morgue at night.
You have Michael Keaton in his breakout role acting like...well..Michael Keaton, at least pre "Clean and Sober" Michael Keaton, with his smart remarks and cheery yet loser persona. You've got Henry Winkler as a guy who just lets people walk on him to the point that he's engaged to a woman he really doesn't love because she is there, and just takes it when he's moved from his day post at the morgue to the night shift with Keaton's Bill "Blaze" Blazejowski. Winker's character, Chuck, got to this sad state of affairs when he had a nervous breakdown working on Wall Street, even though he is a talented investor. Since then he's decided the best way to get through life is keep his head down and keep a low profile.
But then his night shift brings a little sunshine his way in the person of prostitute Belinda (Shelley Long), who is getting home about the time that Chuck does, and they begin to have breakfast together and get to know each other. When Belinda is injured by a client because she doesn't have a pimp, Bill talks Chuck into letting Belinda and her friends work for them, and Chuck agrees to invest the girls' money so they'll have a nest egg.
Eventually Chuck and Belinda fall in love, with Chuck assuming Belinda will quit prostitution. Belinda asks the pertinent question - "And do what?". She asks it tearfully, because of course she doesn't like this life, we really never get any background as to how she got here, but future employers would want to know what she was doing with this big blank space on her resume and she knows she has no acceptable answer.
The whole situation comes to a head when other pimps don't care for Bill and Chuck cutting in on their territory. And then there is the little matter of undercover cops. I'll let you watch and see how this all works out.
This would probably just be a six if it weren't for the important place it holds in film history. It is the first feature film directed by Ron Howard at only age 28, and he did a very able job his first time out. It boosted the careers of both Michael Keaton and Shelley Long, who was less than a month away from beginning her star making role on Cheers. And then there is the film's theme song "That's What Friends are For" that was rerecorded in 1985, became a hit, and whose proceeds went to benefit the American Foundation for AIDS.
And what of Henry Winkler who was top billed here? Well, even though he was nominated for awards for this performance, it was pretty much downhill from here professionally. Since 1973 Winkler had built the reputation as the ultimate Eisenhower era alpha male - Fonzie - on the long running TV show "Happy Days". He was a cross between Brando and Elvis. People stepped out of his way when he walked down the street, and he would snap his fingers and several beautiful girls would come running just to be on his arm. A great performance as a man who is a walking doormat through most of the film does not mean that it enlarged his fan base.
I'd say watch it for its place in film history for all the reasons I gave. Even if you weren't alive at the time, the film is at least mildly amusing. Also watch out for cameos by Richard Belzer (Munch on Homicide and then Special Victims Unit), Kevin Costner, and of course Clint Howard who I don't think ever got an acting job without big brother's help, with the exception of maybe his part on TV show Gentle Ben.
Pigskin Parade (1936)
A dull plot and unmemorable songs
While I love Judy Garland (and I think she was the best part of the film), there was really no point to her character. She didn't really add anything to the story. It's almost like she was just added in for the sake of having this child singing prodigy in the film. The only reason I believe that this film is even remembered is because of the future stars that it featured: Garland, Betty Grable and Elisha Cook Jr. Patsy Kelly, who played the wife, was annoying at best. I didn't mind Jack Haley, but he is forever etched in my mind as The Tin Man. When there were multiple comments made to him about having a brain, I was really wanting him to mention his heart somehow, but alas no.
I love watching football, so the old timey football scenes, to me, were the best part of the film. I'd love to know how many horrible injuries players sustained during these times, because they aren't wearing very much protection. However, the game seems to be more physical now than it used to be, and the players are also much bigger.
I found the logic of basketball players being good at football to be strange. I guess we're presuming that these are pass heavy games and good blocking and tackling abilities aren't required in 1930s football. I really liked the scenes of the football in the snow. Bad weather football is the most fun to watch. 5/10 points are for Judy, Betty and football. Whether it is worth watching even once is a take it or leave it proposition.
The Password Is Courage (1962)
Very entertaining and very much like "The Great Escape"
Not just very much like The Great Escape - both films shared prisoners using the same techniques for obtaining materials, tunneling, disposal of dirt from the tunnel, hiding the tunnel entrance under stoves & the same slight issue with the tunnel exit.
I'd not seen this Borgarde film before TCM aired it, so it was startling how many plot similarities it shared with it's much more well known compatriot - I understand that both were in production around the same time (though Courage came out first), so neither were remakes of the other, but whether both referenced the same source material (Courage was apparently derived from the memoirs of Sgt Major Charles Coward), I'm not sure.
A side note: Anyone familiar with railways in England in the 60's will quickly notice that all the railway scenes in Courage, while supposed to be in continental Europe, were clearly filmed in England with a few cosmetic tweaks (German signage, smoke deflectors on the steam locomotives) to try to disguise things. The film also originally had a sequence representing events at Auschwitz, that was pulled at some point - presumably for being too dark a subject matter. You can still tell where this sequence was intended to be, as a narrative piece alludes to it, but the film immediately moves on.
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Eddie Murphy at the peak of his career
Mega-hit action comedy from Paramount Pictures and producing duo Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. Eddie Murphy became a genuine superstar with the starring role of Detroit Detective Axel Foley, a rule breaker and wisecracker that travels to Beverly Hills to solve a childhood friend's murder. It puts him at odds with a shady art dealer (Steven Berkoff) and the Beverly Hills police department. But Foley soon proves his mettle out West as he obviously has superior detective skills compared to his rule centric equivalents in Beverly Hills.
There are a lot of laughs here, and Murphy has tons of screen charisma. A lot of this will probably seem routine to modern audiences, but at the time this film established the action-comedy as one of the biggest genres of the decade. It also contains one of the signature 80's soundtracks, both the pop songs (several of which charted) and the score by Harold Faltermeyer, which includes the top ten single "Axel F." Directed by Martin Brest.
What helped make this film so great - the very fact that nobody involved KNEW it was great until it got rave audience reaction, is exactly what killed the sequel. Beverly Hills Cop Two rests too much on the laurels of the original, but then that is another story.
Worth the wait and makes me want to know more about this time period
This film has triggered my need to locate and borrow a book or two about the Hollywood blacklist so that I can learn more about it and possibly gain an alternate view of the events of the film. I had some knowledge of the blacklist prior to seeing Trumbo, mostly because of all my reading of various Lucille Ball-oriented books and just seeing little blurbs here and there this horrible period in Hollywood history.
This film told the story of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo was one of the infamous "Hollywood Ten," the group of men who refused to answer questions to the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about their alleged involvement in the Communist Party. These men were all jailed for contempt of congress. They were also blacklisted by Hollywood studios. The only way for Trumbo to work was to write screenplays and get non-blacklisted friends to put their names on Trumbo's work and submit the screenplays to the studios. Trumbo and his friend would split the proceeds under the table. Later, Trumbo would use pseudonyms for his work. Later, he and his other blacklisted screenwriter friends found work writing bad B movies and submitting the screenplays under a wide array of pseudonyms. Trumbo's blacklist ended when Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger approached him with their respective films (Spartacus and Exodus) and stated that they would put Trumbo's real name on their film.
I hadn't realized that John Wayne and Hedda Hopper were such prominent figures in the Hollywood division of the HUAC's witch hunt. I also didn't know that Edward G. Robinson's career was affected by his affiliation with Trumbo and the other Hollywood Ten. I also found it disappointing that Robinson snitched on the Hollywood Ten by naming names, but then I imagine that the pressure not to become an "unperson" via blacklist was overwhelming.
Bryan Cranston's portrayal of Trumbo was excellent. Were it not Leonardo DiCaprio's year to win the Oscar, Cranston's performance was worthy of an Oscar. While I'm not too knowledgeable on the real Dalton Trumbo, I would fully believe he was like Cranston's portrayal. It seemed very realistic. Cranston really went the full nine yards in capturing Trumbo's true persona. Helen Mirren made a perfect ruthless Hedda Hopper. Diane Lane was also effective as Trumbo's wife Cleo. Finally, John Goodman was hilarious as the studio boss who ran the bad B movie studio. Goodman's character didn't care what the film was, he just wanted some lightweight, ridiculous fluff that he thought he could exploit and make a quick buck off of it.
My only complaint about this film is the casting of the actors who portrayed John Wayne and Edward G. Robinson. They didn't look or sound anything like the original actors. They didn't even try to do impressions of those performers. I thought the actor playing Kirk Douglas wasn't too bad. At least he somewhat looked like Douglas.
I'd highly recommend this one.
The Ambassador (1984)
Muddled action/political thriller from Cannon Films and director J. Lee Thompson
Robert Mitchum stars as the U.S. ambassador to Israel who is trying to broker a peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Hardliners on both sides don't want that to happen, so there are assassination attempts, blackmail threats, car chases and terrorists bombings. All that, and I still found time to yawn.
Co-starring Rock Hudson (in his final film), Ellen Burstyn (who, at 52, has several nude scenes), Donald Pleasence, Italian star Fabio Testi and lots of local Israeli acting talent. Mitchum looks more bored than usual, and he reportedly spent half of the film sloshed. He and Hudson didn't get along, and Hudson was already starting to suffer the failing health that would end his life less than a year later. Some of the action has spark, but most is perfunctory, and there's not much depth to the geopolitical musings. For completists only.
Go watch the documentary on Cannon Films. It is probably as good as or better than anything they ever produced, and it is a hoot.
A film that actually explains the Cinderella story
Seeing this in widescreen in a nice digital print (VHS can only go so far), made a huge difference for me in appreciating the film, understanding all the jokes, and enjoying the fantastically beautiful costumes and Alpine scenery. always loved the Sherman Brothers songs, especially Protocoligorically Correct (haha, my spellcheck really didn't like that one), but what I've always loved best about this movie is the way it answers all my questions about the Cinderella story period at addresses every issue that I've ever had about Cinderella:
- why does she put up with her step sisters' and step mother's abuse for so long? They move the funeral to just before the ball so that it seems like she's only putting it up for a little bit until she figures out what to do. you actually see them coming back from the funeral kicking her downstairs.
-why the magic only last till midnight? the Fairy Godmother explains that she had to borrow the magic because she only has a limited Supply that she used up helping Cinderella make the stepsisters gowns.
-why the heck is the prince is allowed to marry some commoner? Well this issue is pretty much the whole movie. My favorite song is one of the things that explains how this whole system is based on royalty marrying other royalty to keep the country strong and avoid war, etc. then they solve the issue at the end in a way that would satisfy politics. One brilliant thing I think is having all the foreshadowings of what is coming politically in the coming centuries. part of this is by setting it in the 1700s, before the various revolutions (which also makes for gorgeous costumes)
There are lots of other questions that this movie solves but basically I think it's one of the better Cinderella movies. I'm glad Rocky was sold out the day my dad went to see it, or he never would have seen this movie by accident and fallen in love with it and passed that love on to me.
The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)
Keeping it PG-13 makes it more powerful emotionally than seeing everything
I enjoyed The Zookeeper's Wife and would recommend it to most audiences. Skillful direction by Niki Caro, excellent sets and costumes, a slightly washed-out look to the cinematography which nonetheless has a full range of color, and a capable cast. The story is based on the actions of the owners of the Warsaw Zoo, who saved the lives of more than three hundred Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Nonetheless, the performance of Jessica Chastain is the single most important factor in the film. Unlike many American actors, she understands that a Polish woman of the 1940s does not look, move, or carry her features like a contemporary American. So fully does Miss Chastain inhabit her character that I never had the sense of an actress making choices.
The film is a bit long and a bit slow, like most films today, but not to a damaging extent. I particularly admired the way that the official from the Berlin Zoo who becomes a Nazi officer, well played by Daniel Bruhl, has certain scruples and personal moral standards although he embraces the Nazi philosophy. He's a villain, but not a cardboard villain, and part of the suspense of the film is waiting to see which lines he will cross and which he won't.
The Founder (2016)
Who would think a film about McDonald's would be this interesting?
I was actually surprised when it was over, because the movie had gone by so fast. Who knew a film about McDonald's would be this interesting? Of course Michael Keaton has no problem diving into the character of wheeler dealer Ray Kroc. His perfect foil is Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, deadpan, a solid rock of a man with strong ideas about integrity. John Carroll Lynch as Mac McDonald, Dick's brother, a taller but more accommodating man, is also outstanding. Linda Cardinelli as Joan Smith, eventually to be Joan Kroc, is quite lovely and looks good in the period costumes. At the end of the film Kroc offers what are now, I believe, called "alternative facts" about the founding of McDonald's. The film is very much about two different visions of America as reflected in two different approaches to business.
For car buffs, this film is a must, with many fine 1950s vehicles on display.
Dressed to Kill (1941)
How odd for a murder mystery to be "fun"...
But it really is!
This is a fast-paced comedy/mystery starring Lloyd Nolan as Private Eye Michael Shayne, attempting to solve a double-murder. Nolan seems to figure everything out before the bewildered police inspector, played by William Demarest. The banter between Nolan and Demarest is great. Demarest rolls with the punches, getting conked on the noggin twice, and even getting a chair wrapped around his head. Mary Beth Hughes appears in a subplot as Shayne's fiancée, but their wedding plans keep getting interrupted by Shayne's pursuit of the killer (whose identity did surprise me). Milton Parsons has a juicy part, and Henry Daniell shows a flare for slapstick. Mantan Moreland is hysterical, and I do hope that he laughed all the way to the bank given the roles he was given during his career. Don't think too hard about this one, and you'll have a good time.
I have to admit, though, that just once, it would be interesting if the dumb police inspector actually turned out to be the killer. Now that would be a real surprise. And no, I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that.
Blood Relatives: Fatal Fuse (2017)
The story is well told but please drop the melodramatic touches!
This was the first episode of "Blood Relatives" that I had seen, a show that appears on Investigation Discovery that is basically about a homicide where the immediate family is suspected - sometimes guilty, sometimes not.
At one point the narrator talks about "how this story could be ripped from the pages of a film noir". Well, he was right about that, because nobody showcased is remotely likeable. It's about the Tormassi family of Bridgewater Connecticut. Dad is given to physically abusing mom, who is all of 4 foot 11 and petite. The children are given to bullying one another. And mom takes the cake, and it's a big cake. She is having an affair with one of their tenants in their rental property, and practically sets things up where she gets caught. She also empties her own kids' college accounts to buy fancy Italian shoes. You see, dad may not have it anymore in the sex department, but mom still loves the moola.
Then one night she is shot dead in her driveway. It's pretty hard to feel too terribly bad for her, but there is the matter of law and order. One son was actually in the house when the police arrive after being summoned by neighbors who heard the gunshots. Another son runs back to his house after telling police he saw the murder and gave chase to the killer but lost him. Dad was conveniently at his rental properties doing a routine maintenance check, knocking on doors and asking people if their unit needed maintenance. I've never had a landlord like that have you?
So who was it? One of the kids, dad via hitman, the boyfriend maybe? Somebody else completely? Watch and find out. The plot thickens when somebody unrelated to the family showed up in the driveway just minutes before the murder and saw something important, and there is also a "beyond the grave confession".
The melodramatic touches that could be left out? They keep breaking to a white rose with blood dropping on it and also to a spider who is scampering around different parts of the house. Forensic Files would never do this, and it just led to some eyerolling on my part. I would have given this an 8/10 if not for the goofy melodramatics.
Dead of Night (1945)
What a wonderful thought provoking creepy film!
I watched this again after a too-long gap of about six years. Were there many anthology films made during this time? "Flesh and Fantasy" (1943) comes to mind but "Dead of Night" is superior. The plot involves an architect who arrives at a country house for work, in a recurring nightmare, and he's terrified because he knows how this nightmare is going to end... At the house there are a number of guests and they soon fall into talking about their own horrifying supernatural tales.
The stories of each of the guests range from semi-comical (the "golfing" episode was my least favorite, although there was one chilling moment even in that one) to the terrifying (the best of the lot, imho, is the 'ventriloquist' episode). Some have speculated that Rod Serling probably drew heavily on "Dead of Night" when writing a number of scripts for "The Twilight Zone" (as just one example, the scene where the dummy bites the hand of the ventriloquist is copied almost exactly in the TZ ep "The Dummy"). I'm not sure if this movie was a blockbuster at the time, but I think it was ahead of its time in terms of depth of concepts, in that there is more than meets the eye.
Into the Woods (2014)
An abundance of CGI can't wallpaper over bad music...
... and excuse the mixed metaphor.
This live-action Disney musical based on the Stephen Sondheim stage production was about as enjoyable for me as a root canal. A mash-up of various fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood, Jack & the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Cinderella, etc) set to near-continuous terrible music and slathered in overdone CGI. The all-star cast does their best, I suppose, but the only one who made an impression was Chris Pine as a knowingly shallow Prince Charming. Meryl Streep earned Oscar nomination number 19 for her turn as a witch, and she's okay, if a bit over the top. I usually like Emily Blunt and Anna Kendrick, and they are passable here, with Kendrick's vocal skills put to some small good use. Also appearing are the insufferable James Corden (who's currently busy butchering late night television), a poorly used Tracey Ullman, a couple of annoying kids, and a wasted Johnny Depp. Fans of this stage musical may find more to like, but I pretty much hated every minute of it.
Colorful, energetic Hong Kong action fantasy from director Tsui Hark
Set during a feudal period with many warring clans, Yuen Biao stars as a young warrior who deserts his army and , after falling off of a cliff, finds himself in a magical land in the middle of its own war. The forces of Good, lead by the ancient sorcerer White Brows (Sammo Hung), are at odds with the forces of Evil, lead by the Blood Demon (Corey Yuen). Biao teams up with a group of heroic warriors, including Adam Cheng and Brigitte Lin, to help defeat the evil menace.
Filled with bizarre characters (White Brows fights with his extendable eyebrows!) and dazzling, if primitive, special effects, this film is a non-stop feast for the eyes. It maintains a light tone for the most part, and the choreography, which utilizes a lot of "wire-fu", is spectacular. It has a low budget (for American audiences, anyway) can-do feel, and a lot of the effects are done with in-camera trickery that is quite clever.
The script is convoluted, the way a lot of kung-fu epics are, and there are times when you aren't quite sure who is who and what is what. Some of this I blame on the DVD I watched, a poor quality edition from a Chinese distributor, with a shoddy English-dubbed audio track. If someone were to put this out on a re-mastered Blu Ray, I would buy it in a second. Highly recommended for martial arts fans, and fans of weird world cinema.
The Cat and the Canary (1939)
A grade A remake of a silent Universal film that put Hope on the map in film
This is a class "A" Paramount production, with some really beautiful photography of impressive sets all adding to a genuinely eerie atmosphere in this old house thriller with laughs. And the film's climax, in which the heroine is chased by the psycho killer, is considerably more exciting, genuinely played for thrills, than you might expect to see in a comedy.
For Bob Hope, this was the film which really put him on the map in the movies, as he plays a far more dapper version of himself than we are used to, considering that his screen persona was not yet quite established. Hope and Paulette Goddard have strong chemistry in this film, which would lead to another spook-a-thon together the following year, THE GHOST BREAKERS, a film which I feel is even better than this one.
And, of course, Hope has the usual fast one liners in the film, his nervous, brash comedy augmenting the old dark house chills. At one point, when talking to Nydia Westman, she makes reference to not being used to being in big empty houses.
"Not me," Hope responds, "I used to be in vaudeville."
Call it corny, if you like, but I love that kind of stuff.
Another thing about Cat and the Canary is the supporting cast, including the likes of spooky Gale Sondergaard as the mysterious house keeper and George Zucco. This is all quite terrific fun, in my opinion, all in turn, heightened by an effectively eerie musical score.