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I also write for Influx Magazine--where many of my opinions and reviews are also posted.
House of Danger (1934)
Not bad considering the incredibly low budget.
This B-movie is from tiny Peerless Pictures. Surprisingly, it's rather good. Now I am not saying it's a 'must-see' picture, but it's better than you'd expect from a cheap B.
When the film begins, Don (Onslow Stevens) and his friend Ralph have been on a sea journey for a very long time. In fact, Ralph hasn't been home in a decade. After the boat explodes, Don arrives at Ralph's family estate and poses as Ralph. This is because apparently, some crazy family member is planning on doing Ralph in and taking the family fortune. So, Don sticks around and investigates, but there is a hitch-- Ralph's old girlfriend has fallen for Don and thinks he is Ralph!
While the plot is a bit contrived, the acting is generally good and the story works pretty well--provided you don't think too much about problems with the plot or listen to the musical interlude (yuck!). Worth seeing if you like Bs--and not a bad time-passer for the rest of the folks.
Poliziotto superpiù (1980)
Silly, ridiculous...yet kind of fun.
When many folks think about Italian movies, they think of the so-called 'Spaghetti Westerns'. However, many don't realize that the Italians made many other films in English--movies about a wide variety of topics (not just westerns or Hercules pictures). A great example is Sergio Corbucci's "Super Fuzz". While Corbucci was famous for his westerns (such as "Django" and "The Great Silence"), by 1980 he was directing many other sorts of films--including this strange cop comedy.
The film finds a cop, Speed (Terence Hill) hit by a rocket containing 'red plutonium'. However, instead of instantly killing him it gives him super powers--such as ESP, telekinesis and mind control! Not surprisingly, this makes him an amazing cop--but the powers strangely come and go. Why? See this incredibly silly film to find out for yourself.
Generally, I think this film would work best for kids, as it has a silly almost Disney of the 1970s style. It certainly is NOT demanding entertainment and much of it is amazingly stupid. But, interestingly, it is also rather likable if you let yourself go and laugh at it for what it is. It ain't meant as high art or the next Oscar-winner--just a silly, low-budget comedy with some very broad humor (such as the sobriety test scene and the last 15 minutes) and a theme song by The Oceans that is very catchy but is played so often that you almost become psychotic after hearing it so many times!
I noticed that some called it a 'guilty pleasure' and 'agreeable nonsense'. I heartily agree!
Heung gong jai (2014)
I had trouble connecting with the characters or caring about them, though the film is unusual.
When I think about films from Hong Kong, usually I think of martial arts films like the old Shaw Brothers films or a Jackie Chan action picture. Now I am not saying that is all they make there, but traditionally this is the sort of film that you'd see imported here into the States. However, Ho-Cheung Pang's recent film, Aberdeen, is absolutely nothing like what I expected and it's a film that surprised me by its style.
Aberdeen consists of several different stories that concern extended family membersthough it takes you a while to realize that the folks you keep seeing are related. Additionally, exactly WHAT the film is about is very difficult to sayeven after the movie is complete! This vagueness will no doubt bother some viewers and various interpretations of what it all means are very possible.
The film concerns two sets of adult children of a grandfather. One story is about a woman who is obsessed with the notion that her mother, who has been dead for a decade, didn't really love herthough there really is no way to know for sure. In fact, she's so caught up with this that she doesn't realize that her husband is being unfaithful to her. Another story is about an aging model who wants to make it in films. However, her husband has an obsessionthat their young daughter is not his. He behaves as if he loves her, but is obsessed that she is ugly, unlike him and his wife. I thought the child was adorable but, I was not this weird man. As for the little girl, she has a bit of an obsession about her dead lizard and its need to go to Heaven.
So is all this worth seeing? Well, the acting is very nice and the direction quite good though quite slow paced. However, as for the story, it left me pretty cold. I am not sure how much meaning or significance there is to all this or if I even cared much about this. Mostly, I think, it's because I didn't care all that much about many of the characters. Had I felt a connection, surely I would have enjoyed it much more.
Hoosier Schoolboy (1937)
Not terrible but it is just too short and needed to be fleshed out more.
"Hoosier Schoolboy" is a film most notable because it stars Mickey Rooney. Although he would soon gain great fame with MGM, this was made for the ultra-low budget studio Monogram--and it shows. While the film has some very nice elements, it also seems incredibly rushed and falls a bit flat. Even for a B-movie, it's a bit underwhelming--though some of the acting is nice.
The film has several different plots--and they all center on some crappy little town. One plot involves the owner of the dairy. He's a real jerk and has decided to put the local dairy farmers out of business-- even if it costs him a fortune. Eventually his son joins forces with the farmers, as he's come to realize that his father is a jerk. There's also the new school teacher who has taken a real liking to a kid that others on the faculty think is bad news (Rooney) and she reforms him. And, then there's the father of the boy--a drunk who won the Medal of Honor. And, there's the bratty son of the dairy owner...in fact, there are SO many plots that they never really seem resolved when the movie very abruptly ends. It's a shame, as if the film was about 30 minutes longer, this all could have worked out well--as is, the film, at the end, was frustrating despite having a lot of good story elements and acting.
For the Defense (1930)
Good, but I would have liked to have seen a film based more on the real Fallon.
In the late teens and through much of the 1920s, defense lawyer William Fallon was unbeatable. In 120 murder cases, NONE of his clients were found guilty! While this might have made him famous in and of itself, his clients were a Who's Who of the scum of the day. Fallon defended mobsters, pimps and other low-lifes! The film "For the Defense" is based, in part, on Fallon's life--as is Warren Williams' film "The Mouthpiece"--which came out just two years later.
This film begins with William Powell playing William Foster--a hot-shot attorney who is known as much for getting off his slimy clients as his courtroom theatrics. However, while he seems like he's on top of the world, he has two serious problems--his drinking (which, in real like killed Fallon when he was still quite young) and his girlfriend, Irene (Kay Francis). The problem with Irene is that she loves Foster but he's unwilling to marry her (and the film STRONGLY implied they have been cohabiting) and she is entertaining a proposal of marriage from another guy!
One night when Irene is stepping out on Foster with this other man, she is driving during a hit and run death. Why she runs is never really believable, as she was neither intoxicated nor at fault as her drunk boyfriend sitting next to her really caused the accident. However, she leaves the scene and the boyfriend stays and takes responsibility-- saying that he was driving. And, since he was drunk, it looks like prison time for the guy. Naturally, Foster is called in to defend the guy--and the case ends up ruining Foster. How and why? See the film.
This movie is, in some ways, typical of many of the Pre-Code films. As I mentioned above, it is implied that Foster and Irene were doing the horizontal hokey-pokey ('sex' for those who prefer the more direct way of saying things). And, the film does glorify Foster (at least to a degree). But, it also shows that eventually evil is punished and Foster gets his comeuppance. Entertaining but a bit of a disappointment, as some might hope for more salacious Pre-Code shenanigans.
Livingstone--explorer and abolitionist lost diary missing diary--found but unreadable cleaned up diaries a bit about massacre--I am sure this happened a lot his explorations led to imperialism interesting how they cleaned up diary pages no saint but helped end slave trade
Today, Dr. David Livingstone is a name few would recall here in the States. While he's well remembered in the UK, I have no idea--but for Americans and other folks not familiar with his work, this documentary is worth seeing.
Livingstone was a famous explorer who helped to open up Africa to Europeans due to his years spent mapping the interior of the continent. While the show talks about this, its main thrust is on the man's involvement in ending the slave trade by exposing its abuses to those outside Africa. However, researchers portrayed in the show want to re- examine his account of a huge massacre perpetrated by slavers and their men. The problem was to find his original notes and then, once they were found, to understand them because they were written on newspapers using berry juice--I kid you not!
The show was well done and interesting. My only quibble was that they talked as if it was a big surprise that the Doctor edited and re-framed his account to make himself seem a bit nicer than he might have been. However, this sort of thing seems pretty easy to believe about him and other primary sources. Heck, it probably happened all the time that writers framed things to make themselves look better...duh! Still, interesting and worth seeing.
Blonde Crazy (1931)
A strange little Pre-Code flick
Aside from an ending that just seemed too vague and too abrupt, this is a very little enjoyable film from Warner Brothers. In some ways, it's very much a Pre-Code style film but it's not as salacious as some of the more extreme films during the era. Sure, there is a some sexual innuendo and the main characters are awfully amoral, but it other ways things are bizarrely chaste--and it's something you really need to see to appreciate.
The film begins with Ann (Joan Blondell) looking for a job at a hotel. A slick bellboy, Bert (James Cagney) helps her get a job and almost immediately begins pawing at her. He's also a guy who is a bit of a huckster--and he schemes and pulls off petty grifter schemes for extra money. Want an example of the sort of dialog in this part of the film?
Bert Harris: Now, you play ball with me... and your worrying days will be over.
Ann Roberts: Yeah? How about the nights?
Bert Harris: (smirks) Well, I'll see what I can do about those too, honey!
As I said, there is a lot of innuendo. However, unlike films like "Red- Headed Woman" and "Platinum Blonde", the leading lady in this one seems to have her virtue intact throughout the film. Ann is willing to go along with some of Bert's schemes but keeps him at a distance throughout the film.
Eventually, the pair get tired of penny ante stakes and quite their jobs to travel the country cheating boobs here and there. The trouble is that in the process, the pair obviously become quite fond of each other. But Ann doesn't want this sort of life forever and eventually falls for a stockbroker (Ray Milland). What's in store for Bert? Well, watch the film for the super-bizarro ending to see for yourself. I don't want to give it away but suffice to say it seems to come from out of no where and the ending of the film is incredibly vague and a bit unsatisfying-- hence my score of only 7 when it easily could have earned a higher rating up until then.
The overall moral of the film seems to be EVERYONE is corrupt and what you get out of life is what you can take--a thoroughly Pre-Code moral in every way! Still, despite its dubious life lesson, the film is well acted and paced, quite enjoyable to watch and offers Cagney a part to play one of his strangest characters. This isn't the nasty criminal sort he played in "Public Enemy" nor the heroic sort he played in Post- Code films, that's for sure.
Madam Satan (1930)
Perhaps the weirdest Hollywood film of the 30s.
The strangest thing in this film might be the morality of the plot. Folks today seem to think that films of the 30s were all stodgy and prudish. Well, this might be true of movies made AFTER mid-1934 when a toughened Production Code was adopted by the studios. But, before that, films were perhaps even wilder than they are today. Stuff like nudity, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, premarital sex and even bestiality were to be found in many of the Hollywood films. In fact, the films were becoming so family-unfriendly, that people stopped attending pictures and the studios started to worry about not surviving the Depression. So, in an effort spurred on far more by economics than morality, Hollywood adopted this very draconian code. Now, in the 'cleaned up Hollywood', you had wholesomeness and virtue...and it became just a bit boring at times. Now I LOVE films of the 1934-1950 era--but occasionally the morality in them seems silly--married couples weren't allowed to be in bed together at the same time, evil was ALWAYS punished by the end of the film (wow...wouldn't it be nice if real life was that way!) and women definitely did NOT enjoy sex...at least not decent women! And, as for the indecent women, as I said, in the end, evil is ALWAYS punished! But none of these Post-Code rules apply to films like "Madam Satan".
This Cecil B. DeMille* film begins with a lovely wife, Angela (Kay Johnson) waiting and waiting for her no-good husband, Bob (Reginald Denny) to return home. However, the guy has been out whooping it up with his friend--drinking (this is during Prohibition, by the way) and chasing other women. Surprisingly, Angela is rather good-natured about it--and seems to accept the age-old notion that 'boys will be boys'. However, Bob is a real jerk. Not only isn't he apologetic but blames Angela for being too boring. In fact, he later announces that he's leaving, as his mistress is much more of a woman than Angela will ever be! At this point you'd assume Angela would be ready to kill or divorce this worm--this WOULD be the case in the Post-Code world. Instead, after getting over her initial hurt and shock, she's decided to cook up a plan to get him back! After all, in this era, men must be excused their little...peccadilloes (a nice word used at the time to cover a multitude of sins...but mostly adultery).
What exactly is the plan? Well, it all unfolds during an insane society costume party--the most bizarre party EVER thrown on this planet--and not just because of its locale but because of the costumes and song and dance numbers! A bunch of rich philanderers rent out a zeppelin (you know, one of those massive airships like the Hindenburg) and invite all their mistresses for a rip-roaring good time. Naturally Bob and his floozy are there. However, just before this woman is crowned the Belle of the Ball, in steps Madam Satan--a very mysterious masked woman of the world. And Madam Satan is NOT there to make new friends or go for a zeppelin ride...nope. She's there to screw Bob...and she's not very subtle about it! Using her thick foreign accent, she vamps Bob and announces 'who wants to go to Hell with Madam Satan?'. Well, obviously Bob does, and he pursues this mystery woman like a dog chasing after a pork chop! Eventually, Bob discovers who this mystery woman is that he so wants to....um...get to know better. But, before he can deal with this, the zeppelin breaks loose from its mooring mast and goes careening through the clouds! Then, the costumed party-goers and crew jump from the airship and parachute to the ground...with a few comical (and one mildly racist) scenes as the folks land.
Does this sound completely crazy? Of course. But the craziest part are the costumes and sets. It must have cost a fortune to make the film and this was at the worst part of the Depression!! Just think of the millions of folks out of work and a film about Madam Satan vamping a rich no-goodnick like Bob! Crazy...but almost impossible to stop watching! If you want to see it, you can get a copy from Amazon, Turner Classic Movies' website or perhaps they'll show it again on TCM. You DEFINITELY ain't seen nothing' yet with this one!!
*If you are an old film nut, you'll probably recognize DeMille as the guy who brought us a long series of overblown religious epics like "The Ten Commandments".
Les beaux jours (2013)
While I didn't completely agree with the film's message, it was very well made.
"Bright Days Ahead" is an odd sort of film for me to review. On one hand, I adore foreign films--particularly French ones. But, on the other, I am hopelessly conservative when it comes to marriage and relationships. I am happy I married my first and only love...even after nearly 30 years. Because of this, some of the themes in the film don't resonate with me at all...though I will still admit that I thought the film was well made and worth a look.
Caroline (Fanny Ardant) is going through a major transition in her life. Her best friend recently died and Caroline has just retired from her dental practice. Figuring out what to do and who she wants to be is the subject of this unusual film about aging. When the film begins, she's going to a local senior center to take some classes...hoping that something will pique her interest. However, her first several attempts are not particularly satisfying and she's very tentative. But, in the process, she ends up finding something she did enjoy...another man. And, he's a much younger and handsome man. While this isn't usually a serious problem, Caroline is married and having an affair could ruin her marriage or bring on other unforeseen consequences. Not surprisingly, she eventually does have an affair--though the consequences on her and her marriage are probably not what you might expect.
I liked some aspects of a film quite a bit. As a retired guy, I can relate to how difficult it might be making some huge life changes. In my case, it worked out well--but it IS a major change and is a bit like a loss. The old you is dead and you need to create a new you. I also appreciate that the film shows a 60-something woman as a very sexual and sensual being. Too often, films seem to be giving us the message that sex and love pretty much end by middle age. While this isn't overtly said in films, think about how often movies, particularly big-budget Hollywood films, have older folks in sexual relationships--unless it is perhaps a comedy. And, how many show these older people as vibrant, real and sexy? Well, "Bright Days Ahead" does...and this is something I really appreciated.
On the other hand, as I mentioned above, am very traditional. Because of this, the notion that affairs are okay or even good is something that troubled me--especially since I have known folks who were seriously harmed by their partner cheating on them. I would have enjoyed it more had the film shown these negative consequences or had Caroline been single. Instead, the film left me feeling uncomfortable...and why I cannot recommend it without some reservations.
Setting aside my misgivings for a moment, I cannot ignore that the film is well made and interesting. The acting is quite nice and the film does make you think. Worth seeing...just don't believe in its message too much--especially since people so often get hurt.
We Cause Scenes (2013)
Sometimes very fun and lovable...and sometimes a bit narcissistic.
My oldest daughter and I just finished watching this documentary. And while we'll admit that some of it was very charming and fun, some portions of the film made us feel a bit uncomfortable. It seems that the guy featured in this movie is very creative and fun...but he also seemed a bit narcissistic and oblivious to the harm he might have caused.
Charlie Todd is the originator of something he calls 'Improv Everywhere'. It's the notion that the world around him is a wonderful place to play pranks--pranks which are much like performance art. The point is to make folks laugh--and many of their stunts are very funny. Occasionally, however, we noticed times when their pranks didn't always seem thought out and folks could have gotten hurt--and I hate to think that this film might encourage more of this thoughtless behavior. Take, for instance, the walking onto the subway pant-less stunt. It's kind of funny (at least until the bit got over-used). But in the first instance they showed, it consisted of a man in winter standing next to a woman--- and he's in his boxer shorts. Considering that the train car is rather empty, our first thoughts were 'that lady must feel REALLY threatened to have a guy standing this close to her--perhaps she's worried he'll hurt her'. Her body language seemed to say this. I am sure this also will run through many viewers' heads--so why didn't this occur to Todd and his friends?
Despite a few misgivings, I am not trashing the documentary. Much of it is enjoyable and the pranks are generally wonderful. Just understand, that there is a disturbing sense of entitlement about a few of them and the documentary completely glosses over this.
Oh, and speaking of entitlement...one part of the show really irritated me. Todd decided to quit his day job to follow this dream. So be it-- good for him. But then they show him proudly showing off his Unemployment check after he quit! Todd...this money is for people who legitimately need help to feed their families and make ends meet. Just my two cents worth about that. Other times, folks seemed hurt by his actions and he seemed to portray himself as a victim. As I said...at times the film sure seemed a tad narcissistic.
Now, about the quality of the film. It was interesting, was well made and kept me watching. I would like to have seem some interviews from the police, local government or stores in which their pranks occurred. But, it did convey who these people were very well.