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Birthdate: September 25
I bid you...velcome.
I'm a shameless movie fanatic who especially favours the following genres:
Favourite directors include:
George A. Romero
The Terror of the Tongs (1961)
Another wonderful villainous performance by Lee.
Sir Christopher Lee warms up for his later Fu Manchu characterizations by playing an Oriental villain here. He's Chung King, the leader of the deadly criminal organization The Red Dragon Tongs in early 20th century Hong Kong. The Tongs reign supreme, and seemingly can't be touched, not by the underwhelming local police force, anyway. However, they make their biggest mistake when, in the attempt to obtain an all-important scrap of paper, they murder Helena Sale (Barbara Brown), the daughter of sea captain Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone). He embarks on a one-man campaign for revenge, taking on The Tongs almost by himself.
A good cast and a snappy pace make this fun. It's far from prime Hammer, but it is entertaining to watch. Some viewers may feel that seeing so many obviously Caucasian actors and actresses play Orientals will take them right out of the action, but others may not mind. It is amusing to see the determined Toone take on all comers, assisted on occasion by a "beggar" (Marne Maitland) whose people are plotting an overthrow of The Tongs. Romance is also part of the mix as the young lady Lee (lovely Yvonne Monlaur, whose French accent remains intact), who's mixed up with The Tongs, falls for our stubborn hero.
As usual, James Bernards' soundtrack is enjoyable, and the sets are evocatively designed. Director Anthony Bushell, himself a former actor, does a decent job; the action builds towards a brief but diverting mass confrontation between citizens and criminals. Lee is authoritative, with his deep, rich voice being perfect for an unflappable antagonist. Also very good are Maitland, Brian Worth as the district commissioner Harcourt, Roger Delgado as the primary henchman, Charles Lloyd Pack as the sinister assassin Dr. Fu Chao, and the briefly seen Burt Kwouk as the brave businessman Mr. Ming.
Clocking in at 77 minutes, "The Terror of the Tongs" provides a modest diversion for Hammer fans.
Seven out of 10.
The Stranger (2010)
Kills 91 minutes without too much pain.
"The Stranger" is a routine, adequate action thriller that mostly works as a vehicle for wrestling star "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Stone Cold plays the title role, a bad ass who keeps changing his identity and line of work as he travels cross country. The earnest psychiatrist who hopes to help him recover his true identity is Grace Bishop, played by Erica Serra. The other recurring character in his life is Mason Reese (Adam Beach), an FBI agent who also seems to know a whole lot.
Stone Cold actually isn't the problem here. He has a strong screen presence, but also does not embarrass himself when it comes to acting. He gets to speak multiple languages, as well. The supporting actors - Ron Lea, Viv Leacock, and Jason Schombing as various Federal agents - are decent enough, with Beach an obvious standout. The movie can't be faulted in terms of pacing, but the story (by Quinn Scott) is patently predictable and pretty ridiculous. What makes "The Stranger" hard to watch much of the time is the overused technique of rapid fire editing and chaotic camera movement. You just wish the picture would stay still.
The movie (mildly) amuses, and is instantly forgettable.
Although set in the United States, it's all too clear that it was shot in Canada.
Five out of 10.
The Faculty (1998)
And YOU thought you hated YOUR teachers...
An unlikely group of high school students must band together when they become convinced that the staff at their school have become alien slaves. They each fit a common stereotype: The Loser (Elijah Wood), The Outcast (Clea DuVall), The Stoner (Josh Hartnett), The Jock (Shawn Hatosy), The Cheerleader (Jordana Brewster), etc.
As could be expected with a Robert Rodriguez venture, there was clearly some fun had with the casting choices. How would YOU like to have Santanico Pandemonium (a.k.a. Salma Hayek) as your nurse, The T-1000 (a.k.a. Robert Patrick) as your coach, Lillith Sternin Crane (a.k.a. Bebe Neuwirth) as your principal, and Margaret White (a.k.a. Piper Laurie) as one of the teachers?
The script is by "Scream" creator Kevin Williamson, based on a story by David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel, and that can be either a selling point or a turnoff for the prospective viewer. Not surprisingly, the script gets annoyingly self-referential, with sci-fi stories like "The Puppet Masters" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" getting a shout out. Rodriguez is a John Carpenter fan, and that's evident in the way that "The Faculty" plays out, as it hits a number of the same beats as Carpenters' "The Thing" - including a pivotal "testing" sequence and a severed head gag. This is all just a little too self-consciously "hip" for its own good, right down to the soundtrack.
The effects are a combination of some practical work and a fair amount of CGI, a lot of it rather ropey. Still, the monster design is pretty fun.
The attractive young cast inhabit their roles reasonably well, and are supported by a superb bunch of veterans - also among them are Christopher McDonald are Woods' father, and Daniel von Bargen. Jon Stewart plays the science teacher! In small roles are Danny Masterson, Harry Jay Knowles, and Duane Martin.
As youth-oriented genre fare in the post-"Scream" era goes, this is fairly entertaining stuff.
One could take a drink of water every time a reference is made to water in this movie, but you'd probably have to go to the bathroom before long.
Six out of 10.
Return of the Seven (1966)
"I'll be damned." "I doubt that very much."
It's inevitable that any sequel to a classic like "The Magnificent Seven" is going to represent a drop in quality. The script (by Larry Cohen) is definitely on the routine side, and its gallery of characters are mostly nondescript. There's still entertainment value in the "assembling men for a mission" theme, and some of the actors here get a chance to shine. Burt Kennedy's direction is certainly adequate, and the action scenes are well executed.
Yul Brynner returns to the role of Chris. He's approached by Petra (Elisa Montes), the wife of Chico (Julian Mateos), a former member of the Seven. Petras' and Chicos' village is raided by a group of bandits who kill some of the men, but abduct most of them for some unknown purpose. The villain responsible is Lorca (Emilio Fernandez), who is not an entirely unsympathetic character. Chris reunites with Vin (Robert Fuller, taking over for Steve McQueen), and brings together associates such as Frank (Claude Akins), Colbee (Warren Oates), and Luis (Virgilio Teixeira); he's also joined by the hard luck young man Manuel (Jordan Christopher).
Admittedly, this setup was indeed more fun with the original gang of characters, who had a little more personality than this bunch. That's not to say that guys like Akins and especially Oates don't have their moments. Oates is certainly a joy in the role of a shameless horn dog. Fernandez is good, but again, he's no match for his predecessor Eli Wallach. Fuller is reasonably likable, but he's no Steve McQueen. At least there's a nice part for Fernando Rey as the well meaning priest who disapproves of Lorcas' methods.
Elmer Bernsteins' theme music still resonates, and the widescreen photography is first rate. The pacing is adequate; this is the shortest of the "Seven" films at a fairly trim 96 minute run time.
Decent entertainment for undemanding Western fans.
Seven out of 10.
Hide in Plain Sight (1980)
A likable, impassioned tale.
Actor James Caan made his directorial debut (and, to date, only directorial effort) with this compelling, believable adaptation of a true story. Caan stars as Thomas Hacklin, Jr., a regular-Joe working man (at a tire factory). His ex-wife Ruthie (Barbra Rae) is now involved with Jack Scolese (Robert Viharo), a Mafia goon who squeals on his associates after an arrest. As a result, Jack ends up going into the Witness Relocation Program - and he takes Ruthie and Thomas's two kids with him. An understandably angry and distraught Thomas tries to track down his family, while doing battle with a rather uncaring government.
There's something inherently appealing about seeing this blue collar guy struggle to overcome the immense amount of red tape facing him. Caan is excellent in the lead; he's low key and convincing, and on those few occasions when the character gives in to anger, you can hardly blame him. The film also strongly benefits from its location shooting (it takes place in Buffalo, NY in 1967) and local atmosphere. Caans' storytelling is efficient and to the point. There's no filler here, with "Hide in Plain Sight" clocking in at a refreshingly succinct 92 minute run time. The widescreen photography is first rate.
The cast is stacked with familiar faces. Jill Eikenberry is immensely appealing as Alisa, the new lady in Thomas's life. The under-rated Joe Grifasi is likewise engaging as his good buddy Matty Stanek. And get a load of this assortment of supporting and character actors: Kenneth McMillan, Josef Sommer, Danny Aiello, David Clennon, Peter Maloney, David Margulies, Leonardo Cimino, Tom Signorelli, Charles Hallahan, Alice Drummond, and Beatrice Winde.
While watching this, one may rightly wish Caan had tried directing more often during his career. He clearly had a knack for it.
Eight out of 10.
The Awakening (1980)
Archaeologists never know when to leave well enough alone.
Matthew Corbeck (Charlton Heston) is a veteran Egyptologist who discovers the tomb of Queen Kara. As fate would have it, her spirit leaves the tomb at the moment he enters it, and possesses his newborn daughter. 18 years later, the headstrong daughter (Stephanie Zimbalist) determines to reunite with her father in Egypt. She becomes concerned over her blackouts, and fears the worst. And the somber Matthew believes that in order to stop the evil queen, he will have to kill his girl in a ritual sacrifice.
It does sound like a good plot, doesn't it? It's based on the novel "The Jewel of the Seven Stars" by Bram Stoker of "Dracula" fame, which was previously filmed by Hammer as "Blood from the Mummy's Tomb". The Hammer version is more entertaining than this plodding effort, however. Director Mike Newell treats the material as straight drama for the most part, with thrilling and creepy moments few and far between. In his hands, the story just isn't as interesting or compelling as one might like it to be. Still, some genre fans may appreciate it for taking a more adult, restrained approach than a traditional one. Major assets include an excellent score by Claude Bolling and cinematography by the great Jack Cardiff.
Heston does a good job, as could be expected. He's actually rather low key in the leading role. Susannah York, as his associate Jane, and Jill Townsend, as his wife Anne, are fine. Zimbalist, unfortunately, just doesn't come off that well. There are some strong actors in the cast, though: Nadim Sawalha, Ian McDiarmid, Miriam Margolyes.
On location shooting in Egypt, and the resulting atmosphere of the settings, help to make this passable if never really exciting. It only picks up a little during its last third.
Five out of 10.
Fade to Black (1980)
Show business is a killer.
I'd agree that "Fade to Black" works better in theory than in this actual execution. It should have been more fun, and admittedly the hook IS quite delicious: what if an unstable film geek murdered those who mocked him, while dressed up as his favourite cinematic characters?
The main problem is that our antihero, Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher), an employee for a film advertising firm, is not sympathetic in the slightest. This isn't a character whom you feel sorry for and root for so much as you want to smack him around. He's an ill-tempered, whiny wimp who attaches way too much importance to his knowledge of movie trivia.
Then again, this may well have been the intention of writer / director Vernon Zimmerman. One of my Internet acquaintances once described "Fade to Black" as "showing the dark side of being a film geek". Eric seemingly can't relate to anybody on a normal level, instead thinking entirely in cinematic terms. As unlikable as Eric may be, however, it's hard to say whether the problem is in the character as written or any ineptitude on Christophers' part.
Another thing that doesn't help are the scenes with the normally entertaining Tim Thomerson as a liberal minded police shrink. The character is a dolt and one doesn't want to root for HIM, either, even if he is sympathetic to Erics' plight.
It's still a fairly enjoyable experience, at least for any cinephile. Amid all the movie references, clips from classics such as "White Heat" and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" are edited in with ease. And it's cool to see Eric dress up as Dracula, The Mummy, and Hopalong Cassidy, etc. while in the act of doing away with his nemeses.
The good supporting cast includes Norman Burton, Morgan Paull, James Luisi, Eve Brent, John Steadman, Marcie Barkin, Peter Horton, and a swaggering young Mickey Rourke. The major bright spot is Australian beauty Linda Kerridge, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike who actually gets named Marilyn in the movie. As Erics' would be girlfriend, she shines.
A nice music score by Craig Safan and a rousing face off on top of Manns' Chinese Theatre are also highlights.
Six out of 10.
Ahead of its time.
Writer / producer / director Arch Oboler conceived this landmark, meagerly budgeted post- apocalypse drama, one of the very earliest of its kind. It brings together five strangers: a poet & philosopher named Michael (William Phipps), a young pregnant woman named Roseanne (Susan Douglas Rubes), a black man named Charles (Charles Lampkin), a bank clerk named Mr. Barnstaple (Earl Lee), and a mountain climber named Eric (James Anderson). After the bombs decimate much of American life, these five people find each other, and spend time at an isolated cliff side house (Obolers' real life, Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home). Various personality conflicts form the basis for the plot as these people struggle to survive, debate methodology, and air grievances.
Also utilizing a poem dubbed "Creation" by James Weldon Johnson, Oboler tries his hardest to create something fairly profound. Stark b & w photography by Sid Lubow and Louis Clyde Stoumen is an asset, and the tale is enacted with sensitivity by its well chosen cast of actors who were, at the time, relative unknowns. The biggest sparks fly when Eric is revealed as a racist, and also somebody who will question things and be certain that there have to be other "immune" survivors living out there somewhere. On the other hand, Michael isn't sure that the cities will be safe. Roseanne is understandably distraught not knowing the fate of her husband.
As one can imagine, this is a pretty intimate story, and it attempts to show how human flaws can still manifest themselves under extreme circumstances. It's at its most chilling when showing how truly alone our characters seem to be, with shots of forlorn streets and buildings and skeletons that are the grim reminders of the devastation wrought by the atomic explosions.
"Five" earns points for good intentions and ambitions, and it stands in contrast to more action-oriented giant monster features of the Atomic Age.
Seven out of 10.
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
That is the law!
This is a pretty good, if not great, second official film version of the enduring H.G. Wells novel. Michael York stars as shipwreck survivor Andrew Braddock, whose boat washes up on the isolated Pacific island inhabited by the diabolical Dr. Moreau (Burt Lancaster). Braddock finds out what kinds of things that Moreau is up to, namely taking animals and turning them into partly human freaks. Realizing he's stuck on the island unless he takes matters into his own hands, Braddock struggles to survive, and falls in love with Maria (Barbara Carrera), the only female human (?) on the island.
Decent direction by Don Taylor (whose other genre credits during this decade include "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" and "Damien: Omen II"), lush cinematography by Gerry Fisher ("Wolfen"), beautiful scenery, and a soaring music score by Laurence Rosenthal help in the enjoyment of this respectable adaptation. Because it's shot in full colour, it doesn't quite have the stark, nightmarish quality of the 1932 film version, but it's still fairly intense, and it is grisly at times. The excellent makeup is credited to Tom Burman, Daniel C. Striepeke, and John Chambers, the man who'd done such memorable work on the "Planet of the Apes" series.
This adaptation, credited to Al Ramrus and John Herman Shaner, does manage one neat plot twist not seen in the other versions. It leads to some of the better moments in the last third as Braddock falls victim to Moreaus' machinations, and strives to retain his humanity (and memories).
Lancaster is not as campy as Charles Laughton or outright insane as Marlon Brando; he's much more low key, and is thus the scariest of the Moreaus in this viewers' humble opinion. Also, Nigel Davenport as Montgomery is not as guilt ridden as Arthur Hohl or screwy as Val Kilmer, instead playing the role as a true mercenary who only finds some semblance of scruples late in the game. York is very good and likable as our hero; the luscious Ms. Carrera is similarly appealing. Lancasters' longtime associate Nick Cravat plays the part of the servant M'Ling. Richard Basehart is solid as the verbose Sayer of the Law.
Good action scenes lead to a rousing, exciting finale. Overall, this is a sci-fi / horror feature worthy of viewing by genre fans.
Seven out of 10.
You might want to take a couple of showers after watching this one.
By their very nature, Women In Prison films are often pretty damn sleazy, but this one takes the cake. Directed by the inimitable Jesus Franco, it wallows in filth and degradation and nudity for a suitably grimy 81 minutes. As it plays out, there are numerous closeups of the female anatomy. There's shock therapy, masturbation, and sexual fetishes in this salacious story. Surprisingly, it's actually kind of slick looking for this sort of thing, enabling its eager viewers to view all of the action in great detail.
Francos' longtime leading lady Lina Romay stars as Maria de Guerra, the fresh fish at a womens' prison. She was convicted of murdering her father (played by Franco himself in a flashback), who'd attempted to rape her. Forming a subplot is the fact that one of the lady convicts has authored a scathing note telling about the atrocities visited upon her and her cellmates. The people in charge decide to punish everybody when the guilty party won't step forward.
Lovers of cinematic trash are likely to be pretty satisfied with what they see. There's not a particularly strong story here, but who is going to care? Franco serves up the exploitation and the sex with fervour. Also helping matters is the relatively brief running time. The performances are fun - Romay is appealing as usual, Paul Muller is good as the guilt ridden doctor Carlos Costa, and Martine Stedil shows conviction as the passionate Bertha Contrini. But the lady who dominates the proceedings is Monica Swinn as the Wardress; she's a hoot as a monocle and short-shorts wearing sadist.
Pleasingly putrid entertainment up to and including the ending.
Seven out of 10.