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"Miss Walsh, Time for Dictation", 30 July 2015

I can't in good conscience give "Screwball Hotel" more than four stars but it is still a must see. Buried throughout what is otherwise a moronic exercise in low-budget torture are short vignettes between the hotel manager and his secretary Miss Walsh (Laurah Guillen). These inspired scenes feature their active costume and fantasy sex life, these assorted scenes are inventive and hilarious enough to belong in a much better film. Despite their almost nonstop silly coupling, the two characters never call each other by their first names; maintaining the executive - secretary formality as they do erotic takeoffs on "The Wizard of Oz", "Star Trek", "Raider of the Lost Ark", "Snow White", and "Jaws". At one point a bellboy dresses up in a frog costume hoping to make it with Miss Walsh.

Miss Walsh is arguably the most erotic character in movie history (Guillen being an irresistible combination of cute face, killer body, and self-knowing whimsy). She surprisingly upstages Penthouse Pet-Of-The-Year Corinne Alphen (whose scenes are the only other ones worth watching) in the sizzle department.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

A Flying Saucer and A Villainess With Orange Skin, 29 July 2015

"The Ambushers" (1967) is the third film in Dean Martin's four-film "Matt Helm" franchise. It is significantly weaker than the other three and the only one which does not feature a song by the Steubenville Thrush, I don't think that omission impacted the film's relative quality. Martin was not in Sinatra's class as a singer or an actor but he was effortlessly likable and had some comedic talent. "The Ambushers" gets two stars instead of one because Janice Rule gives a solid performance in the face of what must have been a professionally embarrassing production for her. She looks extremely uncomfortable when she is not looking bored - I imagine her mind alternated between these two states. I can't imagine that the typical Irwin Allen production design motivated any of the cast.

That said the film works quite well as a window into the pre-Woodstock era cultural vacuum. It throws a bevy of pretty young starlets onto the screen, none having the slightest dimensionality or being involved in anything remotely erotic. Sizzle-wise it's all form over substance.

Rule (whose character physically looks a lot like Mrs. Peel) does provide a bit of erotic voltage in much the same classy detached way Diana Rigg did in a standard episode of "The Avengers". Working against all the females in the cast are some of the worst costume choices you can imagine. Apparently for a few days in 1967 dull finish boots that look to be made from shag carpet were trendy, unfortunately those days appear to have been the days when the wardrobe choices were made.

The film had a villainess or at least the Francesca Madeiros character was intended to serve such a purpose. Francesca is played by a foreign actress named Senta Berger. She has orange skin, no waist, and wears large Christmas tree ornaments for earrings. The film features a flying saucer and I wonder if the original script called for Francesca to be from Venus, perhaps they forgot to communicate the changes to the wardrobe people. That might explain the incredible leaps of logic and obvious gaps in the development of her character. Berger's character is so garishly moronic that it elevates Rule's character or at least helps you appreciate the degree to which Rule was able to transcend this hopeless mess.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

C.O.D. (1981)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Front-End-Loaded, 9 March 2015

Now almost forgotten, C.O.D. (1981) (German title "Snap") was a staple of the old "usa-up-all-night's" programming. The humor was a bit more sophisticated and satirical than most of their exploitation film selections; perhaps reflecting the German influence in the writing and the production. And unlike most it had a quality cast, many of whom have gone on to assemble impressive acting resumes.

Chris Lemmon plays Albert Zack, a relatively dim young advertising executive whose client is the financially failing Beaver Bra Company. The company chairman believes the enterprise can be saved if Albert can get their bra line endorsed by famous busty woman. He has selected five celebrity women and the film consists of five separate segments with the blundering Albert and his female secretary / good-girl-love-interest (played by Olivia Pascal) devising ways to meet them and pitch the endorsement idea. Getting past the escorts and security people involves an assortment of costumes and subterfuge. Working against them is a board member who wants the company to fail, with the biggest laughs coming from his female associate's (played by Jennifer Richards) attempts to stop Albert.

Corinne Alphen and Carole Davis play two of the celebrity women. They were arguably the two most erotic actresses of their decade and are both nicely showcased in their segments. Both had an instinctive acting for-the-camera ability. Former Penthouse Pet-Of-The-Year Alphen was the Nancy Kovack of the 80's, with a remarkably low upper arm to bust ratio. Even in this early role Davis radiates an intelligence and self-knowing whimsy that nicely complements her obvious physical assets.

The front-end-loaded pun refers to the ordering of the segments, as Alphen and Davis are featured early and the other three actresses are simply not up to their standard. Although "The Toy's" Teresa Ganzel does her standard airhead blonde quite competently. This peaking early is the film's only weakness, with little to hold your interest after Davis' hilarious film-stealing appearance as the mega-erotic Contessa Bazzini.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

What Is the Antonym of Synergy?, 1 February 2015

F. Scott Fitzgerald's time in Hollywood inspired him to write "The Last Tycoon", his final novel. Fitzgerald had a tendency to model his heroes on men he admired and then infuse them with a lot of himself. In this case he choose Irving Thalberg, who for a brief period in the late 20's and 30's was the "boy genius" production chief at M-G-M, until his death at the age of 37 in 1936. Thalberg was second to none in his instinctive feel for what would make a successful film but he only provided the bones for Fitzgerald's protagonist, the author fleshed the character out with little or no attempt to incorporate Thalberg's personality or private life. Instead Fitzgerald opted for Abraham Lincoln as the model for much of what was Monroe Stahr - including his novel's title, as Lincoln was frequently referred to by contemporary media as "The Tycoon" and like Stahr was fighting a war on many fronts.

As a film, the "The Last Tycoon" (1976) is far less than the sum of its generally excellent parts, which could also be said of its unfinished source novel. It is full of structural discord that many viewers will find quite frustrating. A relatively large budget, excellent production design, fine performances by a cast nicely matched to the characters they play, clever editing, and first-class cinematography. Then throw in a screenplay that is true to its unfinished source novel. Yet instead of box office and critical success you get one of the more expensive flops in movie history. But you also get a very ambitious film that is about as interesting as any you will find, with a cutting edge story that is no less powerful for its extremely small target audience; all nicely matched by the ambitious, paternalistically cast, and expensive film-within-a-film that the title character is pushing though despite it being an obvious money-loser for the studio.

The adaptation's trouble lies almost solely with the film's love interest, Kathleen Moore, played by Ingrid Boulting. Kathleen is all Fitzgerald, an Irish will-of-the-wisp given to irresponsible self-indulgences and beguiling frankness. Woman such as Kathleen were central to Fitzgerald's world view, he believed that they inspired and tortured any man cerebral and imaginative enough to appreciate them. While such a relationship can be translated to the screen (often easier than in a book because film is a visual medium), it will only connect with a small segment of viewers, most others will find it puzzling.

The most interesting detail of the entire production is the way Boulting is costumed, lit, and filmed in her scenes. She glows in these shots because Kathleen is even more of an ethereal character than Gatsby's "Daisy", Monroe sees her as extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for his world. She is elusive to him, almost translucent, which only makes her all the more precious. Three years later this concept would be carried to its extreme in "All That Jazz" with Jessica Lange's "Angelique" who literally had no physical substance. The point from a "language of film" perspective is that a filmmaker presents a character in this manner to immediately clue viewers into that character representing an all-consuming motivational force that will drive the hero throughout the story - often to doom.

Kathleen makes her entrance in one of the best scenes in cinema history; with the post-earthquake chaos of the flooding studio lot looking like 'thirty acres of fairyland' at night, a radiant mystery woman climbs down from a gigantic floating head (fabricated to be used by the studio as a prop the following week) and smiles at Monroe Stahr, the last of the great Hollywood princes.

To its credit, the screenplay is true to Fitzgerald's vision and Boulting and DeNiro effectively bring their relationship dynamic to the big screen. But potential viewers should understand that their often nonverbal relationship is the core element of the entire film, the rest of the story is simply a backdrop. Fitzgerald struggled with "The Last Tycoon" because he was in effect writing two books in one: a "psychological" novel about Stahr and a social commentary about Hollywood. Harold Pinter's difficulties with the screenplay stemmed from the same issue Fitzgerald had been unable to resolve, just where to strike the balance between the two stories.

The emphasize on Stahr means that the excellent supporting cast, from Tony Curtis as a troubled movie star to Robert Mitchum as a cynical studio head to Donald Pleasence as a perplexed English writer, do not get any substantial screen time; but are relegated to insubstantial supporting parts in the service of giving DeNiro the room to showcase his character's roller coaster of elation and sadness. The only exception is Teresa Russell's Cecilia (the story's Nick Carraway) whose sense of right and wrong helps to elevate her above the others.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

The Girl (2009)
An Absolutely Gorgeous Film, 2 January 2015

Very cool movie. "The Girl" (2009) should be required viewing for all film and video production students. Each shot is a creative tapestry of composition, light, and shadow. Fredrick Edfeldt's acting-for-the camera direction is inspired and Blanca Engstrom gives the perfect nuanced and underplayed performance needed to match the pace and tone of his film.

But the real star of this remarkable film is Swiss cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who has since been the Director of Photography for "Interstellar" (2014). The film is worth a second watch just to appreciate each carefully composed shot. I've never seen anyone do it better, even breaking the 180 rule several times in the service of underscoring the girl's increasingly disoriented drift from reality.

It is not an entirely original story. There are many of the creepy elements from "Tideland" (2005) and some from "The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" (1976), but "The Girl" is much more naturalistic and gentle than those two films. It could also be considered a placid "Alice In Wonderland", subtly off-kilter with Louis Carroll's illogic replaced by the mundane but equally disturbing logic of the modern adult world.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
"Sorry Daddy", 25 November 2014

"I dropped the pears ... sorry daddy" says the stunned child who will grow up to become the creator of Mary Poppins. The child (wonderfully underplayed by Annie Rose Buckley) has returned from the pear fetching errand to find that her long-suffering father has passed away from influenza during her brief absence. Thus begins a life of atonement for P.L. Travers, who will take her father's first name as her surname and adopt a rather strait-laced no-nonsense existence. The whimsical person she was to have become is instead incorporated into her creation, a character modeled on the physical characteristics of her Aunt Ellie (played by Rachel Griffiths) and the style of J. M. Barrie - who she admired. The film confirms this in the closing credits with two different drawings of Mary Poppins, the first one appears when Buckley is credited and the second one a little later when Griffiths is credited.

Buckley's is the key performance of the production as she must non-verbally sell the child's absolute and unqualified adoration of her father, if the parallel story of Travers' efforts at atonement for not saving him are to ring true. In this the young Australian actress is absolutely convincing and John Lee Hancock demonstrates his considerable acting-for-the-camera directing skills.

The film is an extremely well-crafted tale with two parallel time-lines, Travers' traumatic coming-of-age story and Walt Disney's ultimately successful efforts to secure the rights to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. Both proceed chronologically, with Travers recalling her childhood in sequenced flashbacks. More subtle is a third story, minimalist references to Disney's own childhood, which serve as a compare and contrast with Travers; with portions of both fathers blending into the 1964 film's version of Mr. Banks (played by David Tomlinson who appears at the center of that film's cast photo in the closing credits) . The film teasingly alludes to a similarity between these two creative people. Both brought a lot of childhood baggage with them into adulthood in the way of father issues. And for both these issues are reflected in the dichotomy of their adult lives. Early in the film they cut-away to the second floor window of Elias Disney's office on Disneyland's Main Street, Walt's tribute to the work ethic instilled in him by his father. Later Disney attributes the motivation behind his retreat into imagination to bitterness about a childhood which was anything but whimsical.

Those behind "Saving Mr. Banks" understood what it is like to still be wrestling with childhood demons throughout adulthood and they knew how to make the viewer feel the struggle.

On the other hand the saving of Mr. Banks premise is a non-factor in the Mary Poppins books (the original and the sequels). The film would be more accurately named "Saving Mr. (Elias) Disney". Apparently Travers was appalled before, during, and after the screening of the dumbed down film adaptation of her books. And by all accounts she carried her litany of objections to her grave, never permitting a sequel. For 50 years avid readers have been mystified by the adaptation's unrecognizable theme and its peculiar areas of emphasis. The adaptation did not include Travers' best chapter (Mary Popping's birthday party at the zoo among the animals) nor her best character (the star Maia from the Pleiades cluster of the Taurus constellation - who Jane and Michael help in her human form to pick out Christmas gifts for her six sisters). Instead they fabricated additional scenes for the horribly miscast Dick Van Dyke - whose casting even "Saving Mr. Banks" acknowledges as being entirely for commercial purposes.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Lucy (2014/I)
1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
"Hit Girl" meets "The Incredible Shrinking Man", 6 September 2014

"We've codified our existence to bring it down to human size, to make it comprehensible, we've created a scale so we can forget its unfathomable scale" says Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) by way of summation of the insights she has achieved under an accidental overdose of a new and powerful synthetic drug.

"Lucy" is a philosophical film being marketed as science fiction - action adventure. Since it worked for "2001: A Space Odyssey" back in 1968 I guess they thought it would work here. But the mismatch has caused "Lucy" to miss much of Luc Besson's intended audience and to disappoint those looking for Scarlett Johansson doing a "Leon" inspired "Kick-Ass" number in tight shiny "Black Widow" latex.

The mismatch between the film and its promotional campaign is my only major criticism. A minor criticism is the poor quality of the digital effects (the car chase doesn't hold a candle to the old fashion way, insert 1998's "Ronin" here). Given the budget limitations, the POV, and the transforming mental condition of title character; the film would have been far better served had Beeson substituted expressionism for realism. Cinema greatness was there for the taking.

As in "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and "2001: A Space Odyssey", the existential theme is not anti-God (or pro Übermensch) but anti-ego. With a character slowly losing their connection with humanity, finally connecting with the infinite at the moment they become infinitesimal.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

"Sometimes a Great Notion" meets "The Waltons", 22 August 2014

Whenever I see "Spencer's Mountain" (1963) I can't help doing a compare and contrast with "Sometimes a Great Notion" (1970). There is the obvious Henry Fonda patriarch connection; Clay Spencer and Henry Stamper being essentially the same character with much the same "never give an inch" relationship to their respective environments. Clay Spencer is a bit more bending and a bit less self-involved than Henry Stamper, but Fonda did not have to stretch much for the role replication. And there is the obvious parallel between the logging accidents. And the showcasing of dazzling wilderness beauty.

But just as Earl Hamner Jr. was no Ken Kesey, "Spencer's Mountain" is no "Sometimes a Great Notion"; if for no other reason than the differing energy levels of the two films. One could accurately describe it as what "Sometimes a Great Notion" would be if Kesey had heavily sedated himself on an overdose of "The Waltons". Interestingly the novels were released in 1961 and 1964 respectively so it is at least possible that Hamner influenced Kesey.

And both novels and films strip down to stories about the collision between the traditional and the modern, the past and the present. Although Kesey's story is far more gritty and far more ambitious, they are more similar in theme and style than they appear at first glance (I suspect that both authors would be horrified by this notion).

The film version of Spencer's Mountain" suffers in any comparison by the relative weakness of its cast. Fonda is a constant and Veronica Cartwright (as Becky Spencer) makes you wish she had a bigger part, but the rest of the cast is borderline embarrassing; saved only by the one-dimensional nature of their parts. Kym Karath's "Pattie-Cake Spencer" manages to recapture, 20+ years later, the most irritating qualities of Phronsie Pepper. In fairness to James MacArthur, he manages to portray the mega earnest Clayboy Spencer accurately, but this early version of John-Boy Walton is truly cringe-worthy. MacArthur's scenes with 18 year-old ingénue Mimsy Farmer, however, play on a much higher level and nicely illustrate that it was possible in conservative days to create a smoking sexual tension without anything even remotely explicit.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
The Bunny Rabbit as a Frustrated Vegetarian, 16 July 2014

Carl Lindbergh is back with "The Bunnyman Massacre" (2014), his second entry in his "Bunnyman" franchise; and I understand that a third one is in the works. This one is a low budget fusion of "Motel Hell" (1980) and "Kiss & Tell" (1997); and yet another homage to the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974). Unfortunately, none of the female cast is remotely in the sexploitation class of "Motel Hell's" Monique St. Pierre or "Kiss & Tells" Heather Graham – in other words no viewer will be at the edge of his seat hoping to see any of them take off their tops.

Unlike Pamela Gidley's murderous "Beta Carotene" character in "Kiss & Tell", this bunny is (once again) in an actual rabbit costume with a happy face, the kind of costume commonly seen at a community Easter Egg Hunt. The incongruity gives Lindbergh tons of visual juxtapostioning opportunities, the inspiration and entire basis for the "Bunnyman" franchise.

Lindbergh seems to have taken some time to write a very humorous 26-minute black comedy segment, pitched it to some financial backers, and then shot the first one fourth of his film. During this segment the title character breaks movie conventions by attacking a school bus of children on a rural road and then eats dinner with his associate Joe. We learn (during a Mad Hatter inspired dinner scene) that Bunnyman's rage comes from his frustration at being required to stay a vegetarian, because bunnies don't eat meat.

After 26 minutes you are convinced that Lindbergh has a winner here, with it shaping up into the most original black comedy treatment the genre has ever seen. All he has to do is maintain the tension and suspense, which he could easily do by alternating quick kills and unexpected escapes, using a little misdirection to make it impossible for viewers to sort out targets from non-targets.

But by the 30 minute mark you realize that he has already shot his bolt in the initial segments and has simply cobbled together and tacked on sixty minutes of listless moronic filler to get his film up to feature length. The only exception being an inspired sequence of barrel rolling – the best of which involves emptying the barrel for reuse.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Zapped (2014) (TV)
7 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Dancing Queen "Bee", 12 July 2014

Ill-conceived and poorly executed Disney movie, probably the worst since "Princess Protection Program". The tone is "I Love Lucy" slapstick, arguably dumbed-down several notches even from that.

Zendaya is not a dramatic actor (actress), nor are most of the cast members. She does a good comic monologue at the start of the movie and then the wheels fall off. She would make an excellent news commentator, game show host, or comedy club performer, but her dramatic acting is borderline embarrassing. Oh for the days of Kay Panabaker or Amanda Bynes, who could have brought something (audience identification or actual comedy - respectively) to this role.

The strength of the production is Emilia McCarthy, who shows an unexpected range in the role of bad girl queen bee, nicely overplayed. It's extremely unusual to find a young actor with this much versatility. Like Juno Temple, McCarthy could believably play anything from an extreme airhead to an over-the-top queen bee like this one. And her physical appearance is the sort than adapts to sell a variety of personality types.

Although McCarthy helps attract boy viewers (who otherwise would despise this thing), she is the kiss of death for the rest of the cast because her scenes with them expose the staggering talent disparity for all to see.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child..

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