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Very Bad Things (1998)
Murder, Mayhem, and Merriment!!!
Writer & director Peter Berg's directorial debut, "Very Bad Things," is simply hilarious for all its shocking revelations that never let up until the last scene. No, I'm not going to give away too much. Indeed, this lively R-rated black comedy with gallows humor galore lives up to its title. A group of chummy friends embark on a bachelor party in Las Vegas that includes gambling, drinking, and binging on drugs. Things turn suddenly tragic when one of them accidentally kills a prostitute while she is in his arms! The poor gal dies with a clothes hook stuck in the back of her head after a night of rough-stuff. The bachelors at the party: Kyle Fisher (Jon Faveau of "Iron Man"), Robert Boyd (Christian Slater of "Kuffs"), Charles Moore (Leland Orser of "Taken"), brothers Michael (Jeremy Piven of "Smokin' Aces"), and Adam (Daniel Stern of "Blue Thunder") decide to bury the stripper in the desert where nobody will find her. Their efforts come under immediate scrutiny when a hotel security guard (Russell B. McKenzie) lets himself in their room to warn them about their noisy behavior. As the security is about to leave, he spots the dead hooker in the bathroom. Boyd attacks him with a corkscrew, stabbing him repeatedly in the chest, and driving him backwards into the bathroom where the prostitute is sprawled in her own blood. Our heroic quintet barricade guard in the bathroom. Eventually, after futilely trying to break out of the bathroom, the security guard dies in the bath tub, and the bathroom resembles an abattoir.
Naturally, an argument ensues, and Boyd convinces his companions that they must transport the mortal remains both stripper and security guard to the desert and bury them in anonymous graves. Adam insists that the bodies be buried with all correct appendages intact. Initially, the guys crammed various parts of the corpses into different suitcases to haul them out of the hotel without attracting any attention. Once they find a suitable spot to bury them, Adam issues an ultimatum that each corpse must be interned with all their appropriate body parts. Later, Adam creates more friction when he shows his accomplices the dead guard's newspaper obituary. He points out that the guard had two sons. Adam emerges as the weak link in the crime. He is more than willing to confess everything he knows about the that fateful night in Vegas. During one of their rehearsal banquets for Kyle's impending marriage to Laura Garrety (Cameron Diaz of "The Box"), these old friends become involved in an incendiary argument about the crime. Adam cannot live with himself, and his brother Michael turns on him. Essentially, Michael decides to smash his vehicle into his brothers' minivan. In an earlier scene, Adam imagines that everybody knows what he has done and he loses his cool when suspicious people at a gasoline convenience store alarm him with their looks. It doesn't help matters that he almost single-handedly turned the store into a disaster area because he stumbled around and knocked over so much merchandise. The cashier ran him out while an African-American uniformed cop watched him with interest.
Christian Slader has some choice Jack Nicholson moments as sarcastic real estate salesman Robert Boyd. The dialogue that Boyd utters after the hooker's death and his efforts to calm them down so they can come to grips with their predicament is a scream. "If you take away the horror of the scene, take away the tragedy of the death, take away all the moral and ethical implications that have been drilled into your head since grade one, do you know what you're left with? A 105-pound problem that needs to be moved from point A to point B." Of course, Boyd's dialogue is as monstrous as he becomes. Meantime, Kyle worries about Laura and the wedding, and Laura worries about the chairs for the wedding that are not going to be padded. Kyle never solves the chair problem because he is too worried about his guilty friends. No sooner has Michael careened toward Adam's minivan than his brother steps in from of it, and Michael smashes into him. Adam doesn't survive the emergency room. Afterward, Adam's suspicious wife, Lois Berkow (Jeanne Tripplehorn of "Basic Instinct"), discovers a confession that Adam left her about their madcap Las Vegas adventure. Kyle and the guys convince Lois that Adam slept with a hooker at the bachelor party and he felt guilty about his behavior. After they leave, Lois goes to bed, and Boyd slips in and strangles her to death. He calls Michael to the house and shoots his old pal. Boyd tells Kyle and Charles that Michael had had a crush on Lois and killed her before he shot himself. In reality, Boyd killed them both so that neither could blow the whistle on him. Michael was grief-stricken about killing his own brother and he had gone about telling everything that he was a brother killer.
At one point, Boyd tries to kill Kyle, and Laura interrupts them and bludgeons Boyd to death, just so they can get on with their wedding. Boyd had attacked Kyle because he had heard about Adam's half-million dollar insurance policy. He demanded that Kyle share the policy with him. Unfortunately, Adam had stopped making his payments, so there was no insurance policy money. Nobody gets off the hook in "Very Bad Things," and everybody pays the piper. Berg walks a fine line between gruesome melodrama and comedy of errors, and "Very Bad Things" ends up being an amusing cautionary tale about trying to get away with murder. Christian Slater and Cameron Diaz have the best lines, and Jon Faveau is caught between them in some sidesplitting scenes.
The Plight of a Saloon Girl
The third episode of "The Loner" entitled "The Lonely Calico Queen" finds our hero bringing word of the death of a man who was romantically linked to a dance hall girl desperate to give up the life of a dance hall girl. Angie Wheeler (one-time only actress Tina Hermensen) learns to her chagrin that her boyfriend, William Carstairs, has been slain. In fact, a rough and tough bounty hunter, Cable (Edward Faulkner of "McLintock"), shot the unfortunate Carstairs in the back and out of the saddle during a chase that had lasted three days and three nights. Bill Colton (Lloyd Bridges) witnesses the shooting. He finds a letter to William Carstairs with a return address to a dance hall girl. Somehow, Angie gets the mistaken notion that Colton is Carstairs. Eventually, she realizes that a relationship with "The Loner" is out of the question. The rude, crude bounty hunter shows up and threatens to blow the whistle on Colton. When he climbs the stairs to inform on Colton to Angie, Colton threatens him. A dance hall girl comes between them, and Cable boots her into him and the two flounder to the floor. Cable whips out his revolver, but Colton wounds him in the side. Cable flees from the saloon. Afterward, Angie tells Colton that another dance hall girl told her about Colton's real identity.
The episode concludes with Angie back in the line-up on the dance floor kicking up her heels, destitute in a saloon. The first part of the episode when Colton confronts Cable over Carstairs' corpse contains a couple of good lines of dialogue. "Mister," Cable tells Colton, "when you're working bounty, you gotta get them anyway you can." Later, when Cable appeals to Colton to assist him getting Carstairs aboard his horse, Colton replies, "If you're man enough to kill a man, you're man enough to bring him in." Edward Faulkner gives a good account of himself as a despicable bounty hunter. Traditionally, at least until Steve McQueen muddied the waters, bounty hunters were considered the lowest scum of the west. I believe that the urge by CBS-TV to curb violence on television prompted the gunfight in the saloon to end with Cable escaping with his life. This episode is as realistic as it is grim about the prospects for a woman in the Old West. Angie summarizes the life of "a drink pusher in a dance hall" as "they're paid to entertain, they get a dime a drink and all the have to do in return is sit in your lap and make believemake believe they are not as cheap and dirty as the customers."
Altogether, "The Lonely Calico Queen" depicts the plight of a dance hall girl. The girls behave like vultures, prepared to pounce on the next man who enters their domain. This is not Colton's usual, clear-cut, black & white predicament. Colton refuse to play along with the dance hall boss, Marge (Jeanne Cooper), and give forlorn Angie something to dream about in her terrible life. It is interesting to note that when Angie comes to Colton's room to talk with him, he leaves the door cracked.
The Burglar (1957)
Dull, Dreary Crime Saga
Director Paul Wenkos' first film "The Burglar" (1957) was based on a David Goodis novel of the same name, and Goodis penned the screenplay, too. This grim, gritty, black & white suspense thriller starts out strongly and then degenerates into a lackluster crime-doesn't-pay yarn. A gang of thieves break into a wealthy spiritualist's mansion late one evening and steals a priceless necklace. The thief who enters the second floor of the dwelling to crack a wall safe and make away with the goods is Nate Harbin (Dan Duryea of "Black Bart"), the kind of sort of leader of a gang of two other guysBaylock (Peter Capell of "Son of Hitler") and Dohmer (Mickey Shaughnessy of "From Here to Eternity")and a young woman named Gladden (Jayne Mansfield of "Female Jungle") who he has known all his life. Ironically, Nate and Gladden were both brought up by a compassionate thief, Gerald (one-time-only actor Sam Elber) who has made Nate swear that he will always look after Gladden. Nate sends Gladden in to case the place, and Sister Sara (Phoebe Mackay of "Splendor in the Grass") takes her in and gives her the grand tour. The night that the guys go to Sister Sara's house, they parked their car along the highway, two uniformed officers in a prowl car stop to check out the abandoned vehicle. Fearless Nate pauses in the middle of cracking the safe, leaves the premises, and walks up to the two cops later on the road. He complains about the shortage of mechanics up at that time in the evening. The two cops believe Nate's story about his car stalling out, so they let him sleep in the back seat until dawn. Nate returns to the house, opens the safe, and snatches the diamonds. Unknown to Nate, one of the two policemen who questioned him about his car parked along the side of the highway is the corrupt cop who takes the necklace off his hands. At one point, Nate and his accomplices pull up stakes and head to Atlantic City. Charlie is hot on their trail, and he has been dating Gladden before the guys arrive. Wendkos confines this thriller to a mere 90 minutes, but the momentum breaks down after the robbery and the period when the thieves lay low and avoid arrest. Wendkos's "The Burglar" inspired director Henri Verneuil's French remake with Omar Sharif and Jean-Paul Belmondo entitled "The Burglars." "The Burglar" suffers from a bummer of an ending, while it's remake is a lot more fun.
The Mummy (2017)
Nothiing Crummy About This "Mummy"!!!
The latest incarnation of Universal Studios' classic horror chiller "The Mummy" doesn't deliver the same caliber of silly, scatterbrained shenanigans of the Victorian-Era, comedy of errors "The Mummy," with Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah. Director Stephen Sommers' "Mummy" (1999) and "The Mummy Returns" (2001) amounted to a tongue-in-cheek homage to the sinister Boris Karloff/Christopher Lee accounts of that timeless tale of evil unwrapped. Comparatively, the new "Mummy" is neither grisly nor will it afflict you with ghoulish nightmares. "People Like Us" director Alex Kutzman and three scribes"Jurassic Park's" David Koepp, "Jack Reacher's" Christopher McQuarrie, and "Burn's" Dylan Kussman--provide audiences with plenty of action, a roller-coaster pace, and a shorter-than-average running time, ten minutes under two hours. Meanwhile, Tom Cruise stars as an amoral Indiana Jones opportunist in search of antiquities. The newest spin amounts to a careening joyride of spectacular set-pieces with surprises that veers erratically from giddy light-comedy to gritty light-horror. Some movies are remarkable from fade-in to fadeout without a single bad scene to mar them. This new "Mummy" racks up one memorable scene after another, but this breathless yarn begins to implode under the weight of its complex 'Dark Universe' scenario. Critics and audiences alike haven't embraced the spirit of this madcap melodrama that christens Universal Studios' efforts to forge their own cinematic horror universe. Marvel Comics/Disney and DC Comics/Warner Brothers have created universes for their respective phalanxes of superheroes so they can cross-over without stepping out-of-bounds. Unfortunately, "The Mummy"the opening gambit in Universal's Dark Universestumbled at the starting gate. Historically, Universal established its reputation back in the 1930s with its Golden Age supernatural creature features: "Dracula," "Frankenstein," "The Wolf Man," "The Invisible Man," and "The Mummy," later adding "Creature from the Black Lagoon." Ironically, Universal has appropriated Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," ostensibly a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer property, to cross-over with "The Mummy." Since Stevenson's story molders in the public domain, anybody can adapt it without fear of copyright infringement. Oscar winning actor Russell Crowe takes a peripheral role in "The Mummy" as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Basically, he constitutes the equivalent of a behind-the-scenes Bruce Wayne with deep pockets to do as he sees fit. Presumably, if the Dark Universe endures, we may learn more about enigmatic Dr. Jekyll's ambitions.
"The Mummy" begins with an Egyptian Prayer of Resurrection which states nobody really dies. Instead, they can be reincarnated. Whether this is derived from a genuine Egyptian prayer, it makes for a dramatic way to start a sinister saga like "The Mummy." Initially, you'd think a movie with such a title would occur in the land of the Pyramids. Instead, the new "Mummy" unfolds in modern-day Northern Iraq. Two U.S. Army "long-range reconnaissance" scouts, Nick Morton (Tom Cruise of "Jack Reacher") and Chris Vail (Jake Johnson of "Let's Be Cops") are pinned down by insurgents in a harrowing firefight. Vail blows his cool and calls in an airstrike. U.S. launched Hellfire air-to-surface missiles scare off their adversaries but explode a colossal crater in the terrain that has concealed an Egyptian tomb for centuries. Predictably, their cantankerous commanding officer, Colonel Greenway (Courtney B. Vance of "Terminator Genisys"), reprimands them for their suspicious sortie a hundred miles away from the enemy. Archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis of "X-Men: First Class") chastises Nick for stealing her map after a one-night stand. Greenway orders the guys and gal down into the cavern. They discover the tomb of a notorious Egyptian princess, Ahmanet (seductive Sofia Boutella of "Star Trek Beyond"), whose life and legend was thought erased from history. The only daughter of an anonymous Pharaoh, Ahmanet trained night and day to prepare herself for the throne until her father married a handmaiden and sired a male heir. Refusing to sacrifice her inheritance, Ahmanet not only murdered the infant male, but she also slashed the throats of both the Pharaoh and his wife. Ultimately, for her treachery, she was cursed and buried alive thousands of miles from her native land. Our heroes hoist her sarcophagus out by helicopter, load it aboard a C-130 Hercules, and fly it back to Europe. Along the way, Vail suffers miserably from a poisonous camel spider bite and turns into a zombie. He stabs Colonel Greenway to death after take-off. Nick shoots him three times, and Vail collapses. Just when they imagine everything has returned to normal, thousands of crows collide with the C-130. Nick manages to strap Jenny into a parachute as the plane loses both altitude and engines. Nick rides the Hercules down as it crashes outside of London. Nevertheless, unlike the other ill-fated mortals aboard, Nick survives the tragedy. Pronounced dead on arrival, he awakens alive and kicking in a body bag. Nick cannot understand what has happened. Neither can he fathom those bizarre visions where Princess Ahmanet cavorts with him in the Sahara Desert.
The new "Mummy" resembles a breathless Indiana Jones escapade. Nick and Jenny team up to track down Ahmanet. They learn Ahmanet wants a wicked ceremonial dagger of Set with a ruby in the handle that an English Crusader Knight stole when he liberated it during the Second Crusade. Princess Ahmanet is a coldblooded sorceress who must recover that dagger with the ruby intact. Tattooed from head to toe with hieroglyphs, this ashen-skinned wench emerges as a titan of terror. She runs amok around England, searching for the Crusader Knight's tomb, when she isn't sucking the life out of innocent bystanders like the female vampire in "Lifeforce" (1985). Moreover, she plans to sacrifice Nick to resurrect her dead lover Set, the God of Evil. Like an Indiana Jones' epic, our hero and heroine leap through one flaming hoop into another to defeat this dame. Cruise seems more sympathetic than usual because she has cursed him. Russell Crowe's Henry Jekyll enters the picture and recaptures Ahmanet, but he professes sinister designs of his own. "The Mummy" is a far cry from crummy!
The Secret 6 (1931)
Flawed MGM Gangster Saga
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer usually dealt with glossy subjects, but the studio got down and dirty with "Tell It to the Marines" director George W. Hill's gangster saga "The Secret Six," with Wallace Beery, Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Lewis Stone, and Johnny Mack Brown. Incidentally, scenarist Francis Marion, one of the top-paid female scripters in the business, was none other than Hill's wife. She wrote some snappy, tough-guy dialogue in this exercise in testosterone between mobsters, the media, and the law. This dated but atmospheric tale of crime and corruption takes place in the gangland capital of America: Chicago. This crime doesn't pay melodrama casts beefy Beery as a hog-killer in a Chicago livestock yards.
Briefly, we see a blue-collar Beery wielding a sledge as he kills hogs that we cannot seek off-camera. Nicknamed 'Slaughterhouse,' Louis Scorpio (Wallace Beery of "Treasure Island") changes his vocations and becomes bootlegger when mobster Johnny Franks (Ralph Bellamy of "The Professionals") recruits him for his mob on the principal that there is more money in bootlegging that hog-killing. Johnny Franks looks like a carbon copy of Al Capone with the brim of his fedora curled up on one side and a scar on his chin. This marked Bellamy's cinematic debut. Anyway, Scorpio signs on, and he learns that greedy Johnny would sell out his best friends to keep from being killed. Although Johnny is the figure-head of the gang, the real leader is their mouthpiece, Richard Newton - Attorney at Law (Lewis Stone of "The Big House"), who buys and sells juries. The natty Newton knows how to use the law not only to keep Scorpio out of the clink but also make a pile of dough for himself, too. One night, Johnny, Scorpio, and Nick Mizoski - the Gouger (Paul Hurst of "Slave Ship") muscle in on the territory of rival racketeer Joe Colimo (John Miljan of "The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold"), and they shoot it out with Colimo's gang. During the fracas, Colimo's younger brother Ivan (Oscar Rudolph) dies in a hail of gunfire. Earlier, Colimo did his best to keep Ivan out of the rackets, but the lure of 'easy money' was too much for poor Ivan. Colimo follows Johnny back across town and confronts him. All Colimo wants is the identity of his younger brother's killer. Treacherous Johnny Franks, who gunned down the younger Colimo, informs the elder Colimo that Scorpio killed Ivan. Hill staged the gunfight in the dark after somebody doused the lights and machine guns rattled and roared. Earlier, Johnny had told Scorpio to go down to Pier 14 and wait on him. Later, as Scorpio is dutifully waiting for Johnny, a group of gangsters riddles the area with a fusillade of bullets where Scorpio is standing, and Scorpio catches a slug in the arm. Scorpio returns to headquarters where he finds Newton and Johnny. Scorpio guns down Johnny Franks in the back without warning, and Scorpio takes over the gang.
Two chummy Chicago reporters, Carl Luckner (Clark Gable of "China Seas") and Joe Rogers (Johnny Mack Brown of "Bad Man from Red Butte") are rivals for a blond on Scorpio's payroll, Anne Courtland (Jean Harlow of "The Public Enemy"), and Joe gets her, but dumps her when he learns that Scorpio leaned on her to please him. We don't get to see much of the police. Mainly, "The Secret Six" concentrates on the rackets and the efforts of newspaper reporter Luckner, who has been taking Scorpio's bribes, but clandestinely funneling the loot to law and order projects. Weirdly enough, the eponymous group, the Secret Six, are unveiled later in the film. These guys all wear black masks and they have pooled their resources to see that Scorpio is prosecuted for his crimes. Indeed, the Secret Six are pretty secret, like future Lone Rangers, and eventually, they manage to land Scorpio in jail. At one point, to make up for his bad judgment in allowing Scorpio to influence his newspaper coverage, Rogers tries to steal Scorpio's gun. This is a mildly tense scene when Rogers sneaks into Scorpio's headquarters and burgles him for his firearm. Rogers is hoping that ballistics tests will show that the bullets that killed Johnny Franks were fired from Scorpio's gun. Unfortunately, Scorpio's henchmen catch up with Rogers and mow him down in the subway. Hill uses darkness again to mask the violence. Ultimately, Carl exercises a bigger role in the downfall of Scorpio, but Newton gets Scorpio off the hook until the Secret Six come up with warrants involving income tax evasion.
Make no mistake, "The Secret Six" is a good movie, but it lacks the raw-edged violence that characterized similar gangster classics such as "The Public Enemy" and "Little Caesar" over at Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers always made the best gangster sagas. "The Secret Six" would have been better if Wallace Beery's hoodlum had been a peripheral role rather than the lead. Indeed, Ralph Bellamy's ruthless character Johnny Franks would have made a better mobster chieftain. Gable gives a stellar performance as does Bellamy. Jean Harlow gives a good account of herself as the blond who sings at Scorpio's trial. "The Secret Six" would have been far better had the film dealt in greater detail with the titular group of good guys. The overall slackness in Marion's script is another weakness. Production values, however, are top-notch.
Wonder Woman (2017)
The Adam West & Burt Ward "Batman" (1966) movie qualified as the first costume-clad crime fighter epic of the modern era. Although women have figured prominently in all superhero sagas, DC Comics' latest superhero origins epic "Wonder Woman" marks only the fifth big-screen actioneer that a woman has been cast as the title character. Earlier entries included "Supergirl" (1984) with Helen Slater; "Tank Girl" (1995) with Lori Petty; "Catwoman" (2004) with Halle Berry; and "Elektra" (2005) with Jennifer Garner. Unfortunately, these four films failed to recoup their respective budgets at the box office and never prompted sequels. (Before in the 1970s, Lynda Carter broke the TV barrier and portrayed William Moulton Marston's comic book creation Wonder Woman. She cavorted about a starry, patriotic costume with lots of cleavage for three seasons. For the record, the Wonder Woman character made her debut in DC Comics in their All-Star Comics in December 1941.) Anyway, "Wonder Woman" is the only superhero movie about a heroine that has been both a smashing critical and commercial success. Finally, little girls and feminists alike have a larger-than-life heroine as a role model to applaud in the eternal struggle against evil. Meantime, Warner Brothers should have released "Wonder Woman" before "Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice." The earlier blockbuster introduced audiences to the iconic Amazon warrior Princess Diana (Israel model Gal Gadot) with her incandescent Lasso of Truth and her ritualistic sword--something like King Arthur's Excalibur--who came to the rescue in the darkest hour of need to vanquish Lex Luthor's genetically mutated monster Doomsday. Sadly, Wonder Woman tangles with an adversary far less menacing than Doomsday in "Monster" director Patty Jenkins' "Wonder Woman." Instead, she clashes with Zeus' son--the wicked God of War Ares--and triumphs over him. Primarily Indeed, "Wonder Woman" is a movie told in flashback about the formative years of the heroine's life and the photograph taken of her with her ordinary male companions in World War I. Actress Gal Gadot will erase any memories of Lynda Carter, and "Wonder Woman" ranks as a spectacular movie until she scrimmages with Ares who resembles the Wizard of Oz's Tin Man high on bath salts. Apart from that predictable climactic clash with Ares, "Wonder Woman" ranks as an exciting, first-rate adventure opus about our heroine shedding her naïve innocence as she blunders through an amoral world.
"Wonder Woman" unfolds in contemporary Paris, at the illustrious Louvre Museum. Diana works as a Curator in the Department of Antiquities. A Wayne Enterprises armored car pulls up, and a uniformed guard delivers a locked valise to her office. Diana recognizes Bruce Wayne's logo on it. Opening the valise, she admires a sepia-colored daguerreotype of her in her Wonder Woman outfit with four troubleshooters posed with her. The significance of the photograph is that Wayne Enterprises, a.k.a. Batman, has sent her the original copy. The picture revives Diana's memories about her youth on the enchanted Uptonian island of Themyscira. Eight-year old Diana (newcomer Lilly Aspell) pleads to be an Amazon warrior, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen of "Gladiator") refuses to let her sister Antiope (Robin Wright of "Forrest Gump") train her to be a warrior. Hippolyta warns her daughter, "Fighting doesn't make you a hero." Later, she calls Diana "the most precious thing in this world" to her. "I sculpted you from clay myself and begged Zeus to give you life." Eventually, Hippolyta relents but tells Antiope that Diana must be the best Amazon on the island. Moreover, she should be able to defeat even Antiope. Predictably, Diana (Gal Gadot of "Fast Five") emerges from her training as the greatest Amazon ever. Initially, when Zeus created the island haven for the Amazons, he made it virtually impossible for anybody to find it. As she is standing on a cliff one day, Diana spots a plane as it penetrates the shield surrounding the island. The aircraft plummets into the ocean, and Diana plunges into the deep. She rescues a pilot from the sinking plane and carries him to the beach. Just as he recovers from the crash, Diana's mother Hippolyta and her warriors ride up on a cliff overlooking the beach and spot German ships breaking through the invisible barrier. Squads of German soldiers in the Kaiser's Imperial Army storm the beach and open fire on the Amazons. The intrepid pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine of "Star Trek Beyond"), seizes a rifle from a soldier while the Amazon warriors let arrows galore fly at the Germans. Incredibly, the Amazons repulse them! Later, they learn from Trevor that he is an American secret agent working for the British. Moreover, he has stolen a valuable notebook from a notorious German chemist, Dr. Mara (Elena Anaya of "Van Helsing"), who is testing a poison gas that will alter the outcome of the conflict.
The refreshing thing about "Wonder Woman" is her origins haven't been told ad infinitum like "Superman," "Batman," and "Spider-man." In fact, the set-up on Themyscira is one of the better parts, especially director Patty Jenkins' choreography of the German invasion and the bow and arrow wielding Amazons. Anyway, Diana learns about the global tragedy of World War I and decides the only way the war will end is when she slays Ares. Diana promises to help Steve Trevor escape from Themyscira if he will usher her to the war. She takes the Lariat of Hestia, an incandescent rope that prompts captives in this twine to utter only the truth, her magical bracelets, and an impressive sword nicknamed 'the Godkiller.' The next best scene occurs on a World War I battlefield. Wonder Woman emerges from the trenches and enters no-man's land. Germans from everywhere greet her with a hail of gunfire. She uses her magical bracelets to deflect their bullets. Gal Gadot acquits herself as well here as the eponymous character as she did in "Batman Vs Superman." Altogether, "Wonder Woman" amounts to a dame good movie!
Island of Lost Women (1959)
Apocalyse in the Pacific
"Hell on Frisco Bay" director Frank Tuttle's final film "Island of Lost Women" was co-produced by actor Alan Ladd and written by "Teenage Monster" scenarist Ray Buffum from a story by Prescott Chaplin. Chaplin is best known for writing the W.C. Fields comedy "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break." "Island of Lost Women" appears to be inspired in part by William Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Instead of a shipwreck, the two protagonists wind up on the island when their aircraft develops engine problems. The people that they meet on the island have gone into voluntary exile, but the leader of this group wants nothing to do with outsiders.
American radio commentator Mark Bradley (Jeff Richards of "Born Reckless") is being flown to a news conference in Melbourne, Australia, when one propeller of their twin-engined plane, piloted by Joe Walker (John Smith later of "Laramie"), malfunctions, and Walker makes an emergency landing on an uncharted island in the Pacific. These guys have been working together for five years and what they are about to encounter is the most bizarre experience of their association. Moments before they land, our heroes hear a warning broadcast to them to dissuade them from landing. Left with no alternative but to land, Walker manages adroitly to put the plane down on the beach without it cracking up. A distinguished gentleman in casual apparel, Dr. Paul Lujan (Alan Napier of "Batman"), approaches them and brusquely inquires how quickly they can repair their aircraft.
Watching nearby from the foliage are his lovely daughters: Venus (Venetia Stevenson of "Darby's Rangers"), Mercuria (June Blair of "Hell Bound") and sixteen-year-old Urana (Diane Jergens of "Teenage Rebel"), who have never seen any men other than their father. We learn later that Paul's wife died on the island. Walker discovers their host's identity when he is gathering eggs for their supper. He finds his name stenciled on a slat from a packing crate: Dr. Paul Lujan, California Institute. A cynical and disillusioned atomic scientist who is "one of the leading authorities on nuclear fission in the world," Lujan explains to Mark that his wife and he forsook civilization fifteen years ago and sought the haven of an island with their three small children after the attack on Hiroshima. Lujan never believed the Allies would have deployed the bomb. He thought it would be used only as a threat. Bradley takes a walk with Venus and they talk about his work. Urana shows up to bring Venus home and asks her has Bradley kissed her yet. Dr. Lujan furnishes our heroes with pillows and bedding to sleep on the beach. While Walker had tried to extend their stay with additional repairs, Bradley wants him now to speed up things because he senses a scoop in their serendipitous encounter on the island. The following morning, our heroes confront Dr. Lujan with his identity, and he allows them the chance to leave, but Bradley is determined to exploit the opportunity. Now, in a drastic change from his earlier graciousness, Lujan promises them that they shall never leave the island if they don't agree to never mention its location. Again, Bradley refuses to accept Lujan's ultimatum. The scientist brandishes a flame-throwing automatic pistol and destroys their plane.
This doesn't keep Bradley and Walker from commencing work on a raft with Venus and Mercuria providing them with tools. Before long, Urana creates trouble of her own when she becomes infatuated with Bradley. Our heroes have built a raft, but Bradley refuses to take Venus with her. Urana eavesdrops on their conversation and informs on them to her father. Eventually, Lujan takes Walker prisoner in his storage shed. Urana finds her father's flame-throwing pistol and they struggled over it. Accidentally, they fire it and a blaze erupts in Lujan's laboratory. Trying to release Walker from confinement, Lujan is thwarted when a shelf above the door collapses and knocks him semi-conscious. Bradley rushes it as the daughters carry their father to safety and rescue his pardner. Earlier, Lujan had shown Mark his process for forging a special isotope from uranium in his small laboratory reactor. The heat from the blaze triggers a reaction. Our heroes, the girls, and Dr. Lujan survive an atomic blast. At fadeout, an air/send rescue plane is flying all six of them back to civilization.
Director Frank Tuttle doesn't have much to work with, but he keeps the action moving briskly in this black and white, 71-minute opus. Alan Napier is ideally cast as the mad scientist who believes that civilization is like a snowball that grows bigger as it rolls along toward extinction. Jeff Richards and John Smith are feisty young bulls. One scene shows them in their swim trunks about a dip in the ocean. Later, Bradley saves Venus from a shark. The shark that Richards kills is hilariously limp. Of course, the girls are all gorgeous. Production values seem above-average as this is a Warner Brothers' release. The uncharted island with atomic energy must have been a stretch in those days. "Island of Lost Women" was obviously used to pack theaters. Routine and competent best describes it.
Evil Spawn (1987)
Ed Wood Would Have Loved This Shlock!!!
"Evil Spawn" is good for some laughs. This 'cautionary tale' about the price that must be paid by taking short-cuts to acquire beauty, power, fame, and money qualifies it as a morality tale. Obviously, this literary theme must have secondary in the collective minds of the three directors--Kenneth J. Hall of "Ghost Writer," Ted Newsom of "The Naked Monster," and the schlockmeister par excellence Fred Olen Ray of "Tomb of the Werewolf." They were struggling to make a goofy, gory, ghoulish monster epic. Naturally, the low-budget special effects hampered their credibility, but this rank amateur quality endows it with a modicum of charm. Unless otherwise notified, it is anybody's guess who helmed the bulk of this nonsense. The directing trio have also slipped in some soft-core porn scenes with frontal nudity. Happily, the naked ladies are beautiful, even the elder of the bunch Bobbie Bresee as a starlet who refuses to let her age impair her in her pursuit of marquee's role. Actually, not only does "Evil Spawn" incorporate soft-core nudity, hilarious lobster-looking behemoths, but it also boasts science fiction content, too!
The film opens with a title card that spells out this exposition: a "Odyssey" probe to Venus has returned to Earth with alien microbes for analysis by independent laboratories. "The use . . . and misuse of these microbes is the subject of this film." Afterward, we see a spaceship made out of cardboard tubes heading toward Earth. A striking looking woman with a weird hairstyle enters a lab and releases a sickeningly bad alien critter and bars the exit from the lab so that the scientist cannot escape and is attacked by the critter. Blood is splashed everywhere. Miraculously, he gets to this feet later and walks away. Later,a young couple in a Renegade jeep show up searching for her cat. They encounter the bitten scientist, and it tears off the guy's arm The gal leaps into their jeep and rams monster. Not surprisingly,continuity suffers in this assemblage of story lines. Meantime, as an aging actress with few starring roles in sight, Linda Roman (Bobbie Bresee of Mausoleum") sells her soul sort of to the devil. Actually, the devil in this equation, Dr. Emil Zeitman (the venerable John Carradine of "House of Frankenstein") isn't alive long because his treacherous assistant kills him. Turns out that this scene wasn't originally in the screenplay! Olen Ray inserted it no doubt to draw on Carradine's name as a fixture in horror movies dating back to the 1940s. This insane scientist has created something evil from alien DNA that enables the vilest part of your personality to assert control over an individual and shape-shift them into something hideous. Linda Roman listens to Zeitman's homicidal assistant Evelyn Avery (Dawn Wildsmith of "Surf Nazis Must Die") who is trying to convince Linda to participate in a study. Our protagonist runs Avery off, but she finds two needles in a case nearby on her table. Reluctantly but desperately, she injects herself and so begins a quasi-"Jekyll and Hyde" yarn. Linda's closest friends are amazed at her reborn youth, and she yearns to star in a movie entitled "Savage Basically, she turns into a monster like "The Wasp Woman" only this time more like super nasty looking marine specimen that resides in the waters off Maine. The acting runs the gamut of tolerable to terrible, but Bresee does an adequate job with her serious, straightforward thesping. Poor Carradine didn't even know that he was in this fiasco.
Most of the gory stuff occurs toward the end, but there is that trademark bursting from the chest scene that occurs "Carrie" like at the end. Earlier, the monster feasting on its victim resembled a giant rat covered in pizza with glowing eyes. Clearly, the filmmakers were too frugal to treat the story on a national basis with these unsavory monsters attacking the Earth in a takeover of the planet. The body count looks to be no more than five, including Elaine (Pamela Gilbert), her untrustworthy Hollywood agent Harry (Fox Harris), and philandering boyfriend, Mark (Mark Anthony). The production was presumably compromised from the start. Scenes appear out of nowhere with the least justification. For example, one scene has a beauty dancing erotically for Linda's boyfriend and then she appears in full insect armor with giant claws and lays waste! Nevertheless, the outlandish storyline, the cheapo values, and the derivative content lend it enough charm if you're willing to let it dominate at least 75 minutes of your day. "Evil Spawn" might properly be seen after dark with lots of alcoholic beverages and pizza to go around for everybody. One last thing: Olen Ray wasn't prepared to let "Evil Spawn" waste away in B-movie Hell, he recycled it with new footage as "Alien Intruders."
Union Depot (1932)
A Charming Romantic Comedy About Counterfeit Cash
"Invasion U.S.A." director Alfred E. Green's charming little romantic thriller "Union Depot" qualifies as a pleasant bit of escapism. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Blondell, Alan Hale, Guy Kibbee, and David Matthau comprise the capable cast in this Warner Brothers' release. Scenarists Kenyon Nicholson of "Laughing Sinners" and Walter DeLeon of "Pot o' Gold" adapted the play penned by Joe Laurie Jr., Gene Fowler, and Douglas Dirkin and writers Kubec Glasmon and John Bright handled the dialogue. "Union Depot" chronicles the escapades of two jailbirds just released from the city lock-up and have gone to Union Depot to rustle up with dough. Chic Miller (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. of "Little Caesar") and his woebegone hobo cohort, Scrap Iron Scratch (Guy Kibbee of "Babbitt"), set about scavenging around Union Depot. Scrap Iron stays out of sight, while Chic indulges in harmless kleptomania. The wiry Miller enters the restroom and slips into an official uniform of a Union Depot Information Agent and then later sheds the uniform. Fortune smiles on him when another passenger, an absent-minded drunk (Frank McHugh of "All Through the Night"), abandoned his suitcase in a toilet stall. Incredibly enough, despite their obvious difference in height and weight, Miller dons some of the drunk's apparel and finds a wad of bills. Off he goes to enjoy a decent meal. Meantime, Scrap Iron finds a pawn shop claim ticket and turns it over to his buddy. Chic takes the claim check to the pawnshop and he looks glum when the clerk returns with a violin case. Chic is poised to sell violin when he takes a peeks inside. He discovers bundles of bank notes. Indeed, the violin belongs to a crook, The Baron - aka Bushy Sloan (Alan Hale of "Santa Fe Trail") who has it stuffed with counterfeit bank notes. He lost the claim check at the depot, and he has been hanging around to recover it.
Meantime, as a change of pace, Chic enjoys the advantages of having folding money. He runs into a chorus girl at Union Depot, Ruth Collins (Joan Blondell of "The Public Enemy"), treats her to dinner. He listeners to her sob story about catching a train to Salt Lake City where she can rejoin a dancing troupe. Initially, Chic thought that she might be a prostitute, but he learns that she had broken her ankle and desperately needs enough money to get to Salt Lake City where she can rejoin her dance company. Chick tries to behave like a carefree bachelor, but he is obviously attracted to Ruth. He buys her a ticket on the next train to Salt Lake City and gives her enough loot to buy a new dress. Chic doesn't realize, however, but The Baron has been shadowing him. The Baron saw Chic break out a fresh batch of bills, and the wrapper flutters to the floor where the Baron recognizes it from his stash of cash. Eventually, we learn through the character of Federal Agent Kendall (David Matthau of "Horse Feathers") that the money that Chic and Ruth have been flashing is counterfeit. Kendall arrests them, and Chic cuts a bargain with him to turn loose Ruth because she has not been a part of this crime. Chic leads Kendall's partner to where he cached the cash, but The Baron follows them and shoots the Federal agent with Chic. Chic and The Baron chase each other through the railway yard. At one point, these two are running around actual trains. Eventually, Chic catches up with The Baron, and Kendall arrests The Baron, while setting the other characters free.
Fast-paced and funny, "Union Depot" is a glimpse into the past about transportation. Nobody in the first-rate class gives a bad performance. Clocking in at 67 minutes, "Union Depot" ranks as an above-average thriller with sympathetic characters and a dastardly villain.
Shriver Your Timbers and Tickle Your Funny Bones
If numbers mean anything to you, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is the fifth film in Walt Disney Studios' 18th century, supernatural, seafaring, fantasy franchise about swashbuckling buccaneers. Norwegian directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg of "Bandidas" have taken the helm and recycled the best elements of the series with this boisterous as well as bizarre scavenger hunt for the fabled Trident of Poseidon. The Tridentaccording t0 "Tower Heist" writer Jeff Nathanson's elaborate but rambling screenplay--will absolve any curses cast on seagoing guys. The exhaustive Trident search amounts to a marathon enterprise in this scenic, widescreen, PG-13 rated, 129-minute epic, but everything works out in the surf. The CGI animation of various characters and the ocean where they find the Trident is probably a milestone for the franchise. Mind you, the "Pirates" movies have savagely maligned for their heavy reliance on special visual effects. Given that fantasy is the keystone of the franchise, such criticism seems entirely irrelevant. Nothing about the "Pirates" movies, aside from the exotic settings and sprawling production designs, is remotely authentic. After several mediocre movies and enough bad press to drive a lesser mortal into exile, Johnny Depp is back doing what he does best. Captain Jack Sparrow is as rum-soaked as ever, and Depp plays him with his characteristic flair for comic theatricality.
Directors Rønning and Sandberg have delivered not only a superior sequel but also an interesting prequel. This time we see Jack before he acquired his signature headgear and attained the rank of captain. Captain Jack Sparrow is still as much a hero as a buffoon. This time out he is pitted against an utterly villainous ghost, while the pride of His Majesty's Imperial Fleet terrorizes him. Presumably, after the least memorable 0f sequels, i.e., "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," producer Jerry Bruckheimer sought a return to form. Although it lacks the inspired spontaneity of the original "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," you couldn't ask for more from this fourth sequel. Forty minutes shorter than the second, overindulgent sequel "Dead Man's Chest," "Dead Men Tell No Tales" ties up many loose narrative threads as well as charts a possible future for the franchise.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" opens with an attention-grabbing scene. Twelve-year old Henry Turner (newcomer Lewis McGowan) rows out by himself into the ocean at night. Knotting a rope to his ankle, which in turn is attached to an anchor, he steps from the boat into the briny deep, and the anchor plunges him down to the ocean floor. Holding his breath all the way down, Henry lands on the deck of the sunken pirate ship The Flying Dutchman. Henry meets the ghostly apparition of his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom of "Ned Kelly"), and assures him that he hasn't given up on his lifting the curse on his dad. Henry tells him about the Trident of Poseidon and assures his father that he can live on land again as soon as Henry acquires the trident. The Flying Dutchman surfaces from the deep, and Will reminds Henry that the trident is largely a legend. Nevertheless, Henry vows to find it. Nine years elapse, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites of "Maleficent") is aboard a British sailing ship in pursuit of a pirate ship. Henry warns the captain in vain that he is pursuing a treacherous course into the Devil's Triangle as the ship approaches a tunnel in a mountain surrounded by a reef. The captain charges Henry with treason and has the youth clapped in irons. Not long afterward, the dreaded Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem of "Skyfall") attacks his ship. They kill everybody aboard except Henry because they find Jack Sparrow wanted posters in his possession. Salazar allows Henry to live on the condition that he tell Jack Sparrow that he wants him. Furthermore, Salazar lets Henry live because he always sends one lone survivor back to tell the tale.
Meantime, Sparrow and his pirate crew have sneaked into the township of St. Martin. They have come to rob the bank. The bank directors are celebrating the addition of new, impregnable vault that nobody can rob. When they open the formidable vault, the commotion awakens a sozzled Jack Sparrow who is inside it. The British fire a volley about the same time that Jack's crew has lashing the vault to a team of powerful horses. Whipping the steeds into action, they wind up hauling the whole bank along with the vault behind them! Jack Sparrow entangles his foot in one of the ropes, and he is dragged along behind it, blissfully guzzling rum from a bottle. Predictably, the British follow with muskets blazing. The trouble is the door to the vault doesn't shut and all the wealth in the vault spills out in a trail of golden bread crumbs that citizens scoop up. This qualifies as one of the best gags in this sprawling spectacle. Indeed, it recalls a similar robbery in "Fast Five." Later, after the British Navy recaptures Jack, they set out to decapitate him with a French guillotine. At the same time, the British are poised to hang an alleged witch, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario of "The Maze Runner"), because she claims to know how to read the stars as if they were a map. Not only does Henry believe she can lead him to the Trident, but also that Jack Sparrow has a compass that can aid them on the quest. Henry enlists the help of Sparrow's crew, and this escape sequence is both hilarious and exciting.
The characters in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" run the gamut of larger-than-life as well as larger-than-death. Salazar's zombie pirate crew are a CGI miracle. Most of his crew are missing fragments of their anatomy, some even their heads. The fifth installment in the "Pirates" franchise will keep you shivering and snickering.