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The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Laughton steals the show from a lot of great performers...
Until seeing Laughton as the Hunchback Quasimodo, I had only seen the Lon Chaney silent, which is excellent. But, I must say that this version surpasses that one, and it's mainly due to Charles Laughton. He makes this deformed bell-ringer of Notre Dame cathedral, even with his marred looks and super-strength, at once a sympathetic figure who we root for.
Besides Laughton, there is Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who plays Archdeacon Claude Frollo of Notre Dame, the man who has been Quasimodo's caretaker since the Hunchback's youth. But now, Frollo is a slimy character who falls in love with Maureen O'Hara's gypsy girl Esmerelda, and is not above committing murder to get to her. O'Hara is very young and beautiful and causes almost every man who sees her to fall in love with her. This includes an almost unrecognizable Edmund O'Brien as a young performer for the poor of Paris. And, of course the Hunchback falls for her, but knows he can never have her. But he is not bitter about it like others, and risks his life for Esmerelda.
The movie, taken on its own, is fine entertainment. But Laughton lifts it above standard fare and makes it a classic. I've seen lots of Laughton films, but this is currently my favorite of his. Highly recommended.
Not exactly Godzilla but still entertaining...
As a huge Godzilla fan, I was stoked to see this when it came out. And with the advent of the new Godzilla film with Bryan Cranston being released, I thought I'd revisit this one for nostalgia's sake.
Many people complained that there was no script for this movie, but with a Godzilla or giant monster movie, I only expect the monster to wage war against mankind and destroy property while doing so, and that's what I got in this movie. The effects are great, the monster looks cool, and the reveal of it being an asexual creature that gives birth to loads of smaller "Godzillas" only adds to the fun. The whole sequence in the demolished Madison Square Garden is the best part of the movie for me.
Now for the less-good things about the movie: Matthew Broderick is the scientist in the movie who is brought in to consult on the nature of the monster. His performance is, well, typical Matthew Broderick. Don't get me wrong, I like the guy when he's playing in his natural zone but that type of character doesn't really translate for a movie like Godzilla. He's too lighthearted for this. That said, his ex-girlfriend, played by Maria Pitillo, is terrible in this. She's shrill and too over-the-top and had me wishing she would get stomped by the monster. Her best friend is a waste of film also. However, Hank Azaria does a good job as the best friend's husband, who is a cameraman for the station that Pitillo works for. His humor somehow works in the movie. He plays scared in a funny way and it's welcome humor. The great Jean Reno is government agent from France who has a stake in Godzilla's appearance in New York.
All-in-all, looking past Broderick, Pitillo, and her best friend, this movie is great entertainment. It's not exactly the Godzilla we've all come to know over the years but just have fun with the monster stuff and you'll be all right.
P.S. I was tempted to deduct a rating point for "Mayor Ebert" and his right-hand man, "Gene," obvious clones of Siskel and Ebert, but their parts weren't big enough for me to rate the movie further down.
Indian Paint (1965)
Leisurely, nostalgic film with personal touches for me...
I have many reasons for liking this film. First, I will admit I heard of it while growing up in a small town in Texas. The filming locations for Indian Paint state that it was filmed in Grand Prairie, Texas and in "Texas" (which, for me, means that there were too many locations to name, but that's just my opinion). But I know specifically of a town where scenes were filmed nearby and that town is Cleburne, Texas.
My older sister (by 10 years) was a young teeny-bopper at the time and knew all about Johnny Crawford and even his brother Robert (Bobby) Crawford Jr. In my small town, even in the pre-internet days, it was no secret that a Johnny Crawford film was being made the next town over. Due to my sister's urging, no doubt, my Dad took her and some of her friends to Cleburne to see if they could find the hotel where the Crawfords were staying.
As there were only so many hotels in town, it wasn't hard to track down and my sister told me of how Bobby Crawford (who was a heartthrob himself for teen girls at the time) saw girls gathering and was playing peek-a-boo with them in and out of the hotel, much to their squealing delight. Meanwhile, my Dad, who could talk his way into many an opportunistic situation, asked a man who was getting into a jeep with a production logo on the side if he could give him a lift to the set. The guy said, "sure," and off my Dad set off towards the filming site. They talked along the way and soon my Dad had to confess that he wasn't part of the film crew. The guy promptly let him out and took off. Back in those days, it wasn't hard to catch a ride (at least in our part of Texas), so Dad got back to Cleburne and met up with my Mom, sister, and her friends. For small-town Texas folk, this was a fun time.
I'd heard that story several times as a kid. Coincidentally, I grew up loving The Rifleman (in reruns) as my favorite TV Western. I didn't really think of Johnny Crawford in the years to come as the same kid that had filmed Indian Paint.
Cut to 1979, and my younger sister got engaged to a guy who was/and is a brilliant Western painter locally. I tagged along with them to visit his family home south of Cleburne and found out that Indian Paint had been partially filmed on their land. My sister's fiancé and his brother even had a small part in the film, but it's one of those "blink and you'll miss it" moments. He showed it to us on VHS and I was just reminded what a small world it is.
As for the film itself, I remember liking it very much for what it was. Not perfect by any means but a gentle, likable family film. Someday I'll try to pick it up on DVD and revel in the memories. Sorry this wasn't as much a review as it was a trip down memory lane for a middle-aged guy.
Fine version/remake (whichever you want)
After seeing this today, I finally came away with an appreciation for a remake of a classic (at least the 1976 version is considered classic by many fans) movie. To start off, I'm not knocking the original with Sissy Spacek at all. I really enjoyed it. Sissy gave a Oscar-nominated performance as the very much put-upon telekinetic misfit who gets her revenge. That said, I disagree very much with those who say that Chloe Grace Moretz didn't act the part of Carrie very well. In fact, I give her the edge over Sissy. Sissy was fine throughout and then at the end, she mostly gives a bug-eyed mannequin performance while destroying the school. Moretz shows every bit of angst, pain, humiliation, and anger on her face when the final trick is pulled on her. And she doesn't just stand on stage, she acts out the destruction with gestures, facial contortions and seemingly choreographed movements, which all add up to a very creepy grand finale. This is not to skip over what went before. It's still very much in line with De Palma's movie (I haven't read the King book in years to compare) and covers the same basic ground but the big difference here is that the filmmakers obviously tried and succeeded to make a quality remake. Julianne Moore is very tense and disturbing as Margaret White, Carrie's quasi-religious mother (I say this because Carrie knows more of the Bible than her mother) and you believe her as a potential agent of harm to Carrie. I do have to give props to the special effects department, especially with Carrie destroying the car (and passengers) of two of her tormentors (this scene is played out slowly, with nuance and great tension), with the car slowly being crunched together with Carrie's will while one of the passengers watches helplessly. Back to Chloe Moretz---she is about the age of Carrie in the novel (that much of the book I remember) rather than the mid-20's that Spacek was in while playing Carrie. Therefore, for me, she's immediately more believable, and she shows the tension of being an outcast at school very well, with scared jerks when someone touches her on the shoulder, with distrustful sidelong looks at whispering students, and with hateful looks at herself in the bathroom mirror, before a student finally convinces her of her beauty. After that, she comes alive as a thriving human being, if only for a few hours of being accepted. Again, I love both movies but give this one the edge. Very much worth seeing at the theaters.
Texas Killing Fields (2011)
Good, moody film...
I don't know exactly what some people expected from this film given some of the negative reviews, but I loved it. I keep reading "disjointed," "incoherent," "jumbled," etc. I found it to be anything but.
There seems to be some confusion as to the relationships between the two sets of suspects in the film. Well, the blonde, tattooed suspect and his pimp friend are basically a red-herring to the main "Killing Fields" case. Yes, they are responsible for the death of the first dead girl found by the detectives, whom Sam Worthington focuses on in the film, complete with the stakeout on the evidence-laden car. His partner, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan is determined to solve the cases of murdered girls found in neighboring bayou areas. It's not really his or his partner's jurisdiction, but he feels compelled to help the neighboring county police chief, played by Jessica Chastain. Chastain also happens to be Worthington's ex-wife.
It's hinted that Morgan, a New York transplant, had been on a similar case there that went unsolved, but we're not given every bit of information and that's okay. We're just supposed to know that he's driven to solve this case, even if he breaks some rules to do it. Some people have complained that the cops get away with beating suspects and breaking the rules...well, I'm sorry, but it does happen sometimes in real life, especially when peoples' lives are on the line. The guy who is beaten by Morgan for wearing the dead girl's ring around his neck...Morgan lost his temper, yes, but the man was wearing evidence and not cooperating and his other friends came in to try to beat on Morgan, so the cops could say what they wanted, whether we side with them or not, and I did side with the cops.
Like others on the boards, I have kinfolk who live in and around Texas City and it's true that it doesn't look exactly like the movie portrays, but I didn't really care about that. I was focused on the story and the film itself and it really works for me on those levels. Plus the performances are uniformly fine. Morgan appears to be the "good cop" i.e. the level-headed one at first, and Worthington the hot-head. By the mid-point of the film, the roles seem to shift with Morgan going off-track with his focus, at least at first glance. He plays both ends of the spectrum without it being hammered over our head and he does it very nicely.
His determination pays off finally. It's his friendship with a local, troubled teen, played by Chloe-Grace Moretz, that finally helps him in his journey.
Worthington does great as the more seething partner, whether he's badgering Morgan about their not focusing on their own case, or rattling suspects' cages in interrogation, or almost ruining Morgan's questioning of witnesses. He also does a turn-around but it's nearer to the end of the film. Only while helping a character gather belongings to go to a new location does he seem to have calmed a bit.
Chastain, who is one of my favorite actresses, is fine here, but her part is not huge. It's mostly sprinkled throughout the film at vital times. Still, she does fine with the part she's given, which is the sheriff whose misfortune it is to have numerous unsolved murders throughout the years go unsolved because the soggy, barren bayous make perfect dumping or "killing" grounds for murderers. It just so happens that the ones that the film focuses on are a case that is ongoing. She relies on Morgan's help, much to her ex-husband's aggravation.
Moretz is super in the film. Her put-upon, unsupervised young girl is vital to the film. She is known to the two main detectives as they frequently find her roaming around town, taking her back to her broken home, "run" by her partying Mom, played by Sheryl Lee. Lee usually has more than a few men hanging out there, making her daughter leave the house at odd hours so Lee can party. This puts Moretz in jeopardy throughout the film, which provides quite a bit of tension.
The look of the film is moody, the music is great, particularly at the film's close, and I was pleased with the ending, although some have cried foul at the "happy ending." Given what each character has lost by the end, I wouldn't say that it's happy, but a just ending. I'd recommended it to anyone who likes compelling stuff that isn't everyday cops-and-robbers.
Also, some have said that the film doesn't disclose what happens to the tattooed-blonde or his pimp buddy. I have the Blu-Ray DVD and the scene does give some closure on at least one of them, although the other's fate is left unknown. But that just adds to the realism of the movie and didn't even faze me about the film as a whole. Again, give it a chance. Don't expect a classic but a good, solid, almost-noirish movie and you'll enjoy it.
The Night of the Grizzly (1966)
Great movie from my youth...
Like another reviewer, I saw this film at a drive-in and was completely captivated by it. Even seeing it on cable a few years back, I was sucked in again. The plot, by now, you know but "bear" with me. Sorry! Clint Walker and Martha Hyer, with their three kids (one is a niece), start a ranch, with designs on raising cattle. But a monstrous grizzly bear soon makes that impossible. It's true that some of the bear-effects are somewhat quaint by now, but it doesn't make the movie any less enjoyable. Clint is his usual stoic self, like his Cheyenne character only on the big screen. Martha Hyer is fine (and fine to look at!) as his wife who tries to be understanding about "Big" Jim's (Walker) dreams of owning his own ranch, but understandably blanches when the bear starts to make life a terror, not only for them, but for every farmer/rancher around. Also as said by a reviewer, Leo Gordon is terrific in this film as the human villain, someone from Big Jim's past, when Jim was a lawman. This is an action-packed Western, but also makes room for good character moments and comic relief, mostly in the form of Jack Elam as a local character and soon-to-be family friend, and Nancy Culp as the local store owner. There is a great sequence with a dance in town, with kids pulling pranks, Keenan Wynn's sons getting into trouble, and Elam taking care of some of the pranksters. Also providing fun is Big Jim's youngest daughter, who gets into trouble with a certain "kitty" and some wet bloomers. But the bear provides the real goods, with the marauding beast killing not for food, but for the pure joy of it. Having seen it so many times, I truly wish that it would be released on DVD. Other, lesser films have been on DVD for years, yet here is a film that truly deserves a good transfer.
Not bad at all...
For a movie presented on the Sci-Fi Channel, this was pretty solid entertainment. No secret that "Wyvern" is the dragon in the movie that starts its killing spree just minutes into the movie and doesn't let up till the end. I must say up front that the effects for the dragon were very decent and not at all like the old computer-game effects that have dragged many a Sci-Fi Channel flick down. That gives this movie a major boost, because if the bad guys/monsters are credible, then you have some drama.
There is humor, action, and suspense here, with good acting, especially from Nick Chinlund, who is doing a rare good guy turn here. I can hardly look at the guy and not see Donald Pfaster from two episodes of "The X-Files" as an evil killer obsessed with Scully. And he does a good job here as a trucker with a past, doing odd jobs around the Alaska town that he's the relative newcomer in. Of course, he reveals that past in a nicely-acted scene with Erin Karpluk, who plays Claire, the owner of the local diner (who, by the way, is a total doll). All this during a lull in the dragon attacks of course.
I love monster movies where everybody pitches in to defeat the evil, and this movie is no different. Pretty much everyone has a purpose, but not everyone makes it.
Also kudos to the writers for keeping me guessing till the end about how in the world they were going to kill the dragon. More kudos for not having an extra dragon pop up or an egg hatch at the end. Dragon dies, people rejoice, credits roll. I enjoyed it and give it a 7 out of 10, as far as movies on Sci-Fi go. Watch this one the next time it's aired---you probably won't be disappointed.
The Middleman (2008)
Loads of fun!
Seeing the previews of this news, I was intrigued by the premise and if they could pull it off. I was pleasantly surprised that they did so in spades! First off, Natalie Morales is gorgeous as Wendy, a lowly temp who, after an encounter with a monster and showing extreme cool under fire, finds herself recruited by the Middleman. Who exactly he is isn't yet known, but he's played by Matt Keeslar as a suit-and-tie wearing, straight-laced, milk-drinking, non-profanity-using (except for one instance) square who still has that twinkle in his eye and is darn good at destroying monstrous baddies and solving mysteries.
In the first episode, somebody or something is offing all the Mafia in the city and Middleman (we don't know his real name yet) and Wendy are on the case. It's not hard to figure out the culprit/culprits but that's beside the point on this show. Watch it for the quick dialogue (I mean both quick=fast and quick=clever) and the fast-paced action, all done with loads of humor.
The supporting characters are cool: The Middleman secretary who is actually some kind of robot or alien (we don't see the front of her face, only Wendy's bored reaction and joke as it happens); her roomie, who is an animal activist; Wendy's boyfriend, who, in the pilot, breaks up with her while filming it, all as a part of his film-class project; the guitar-playing dude who hangs out in Wendy's hallway and talks to her in mostly lyrics and trivia and loves it that she answers in kind. "She's the only one who gets me," he says.
It's a funny, clever, exciting mix of sci-fi and pop culture moments all wrapped up in an over-too-soon hour. If you can't catch the pilot on iTunes somehow, at least watch the next show. Highly recommended.
Army of the Dead (2008)
Goofy enough to watch once
I admit I was drawn to this movie by the art on the cover, with a Conquistador skeleton wielding a shotgun. As long as the movie had that in it, I promised myself I'd be satisfied. As it turns out, it had a bit more.
A brief breakdown of the story, such as it is: The prologue tells of Coronado sending his army to look for the Lost City of Gold in America. They find it, and unfortunately, an army of skeletons who slaughter them all. If I've got the story right from the professor in the story (this film's Basil Exposition), the Mayans killed the Anasazi who in turn came back as bony avengers and killed the Conquistadors when they tried for the gold. Since then, anybody who even looks sideways at the gold is killed to protect it. And whoever gets killed has their flesh slimed away and turns into one of the undead.
Cut to present day where the professor joins some young couples as they take part in a desert race in souped-up Volkswagens. Also along is a Jerry Reed look-alike as their guide and his honey. There is campfire talk, with the professor telling his ghost story and adding to it a personal addendum about a student who fell prey to the undead after finding and keeping a gold coin. Of course, this leads the prof himself to lust after the gold, hence the ruse of the race. He's out there to find the Lost City and he's hired some mercenaries to help them. In short order, the mercenaries are killed by the skeleton army's um, shadows. Just kidding. They use the shadows for effect at the beginning and it's fairly effective.
Our hero of the story, whom I'll refer to as Hero, is a former student of the professor and, along with Jerry Reed clone, rescues the professor. They unwisely take him back to camp, not knowing he has a piece of the gold and that the skeleton crew will soon descend upon them.
And when they do, that's, ahem, the meat of the movie. As has been noted in other reviews, the skeletons are CGI, but they're not that bad. If I had seen them as a kid in the 60s, I would have thought they were the best thing ever. As it is, they are the best thing in the movie besides our Hero's honey of a wife. After the initial attack on the campers, the survivors take off on foot and reach an abandoned radio station where the the final siege takes place.
The acting ranges from okay to bad, the CGI skeletons are fairly cool, the blood is totally fake (it looks animated, as in cartoon animation) and the ending has one of those "how?" factors as in how exactly was the skelecrew defeated. And I did get my hoped-for scene with the shotgun ghoulie, so I was satisfied. There are plenty of story holes, like how did Hero and his wife get out in a beyond-damaged vehicle, but by the end, you won't really care. It's all about the bone boys and they deliver enough goods to make it worth a rental.
Favorite line is when the Jerry-Reed look-alike sees blood smeared all over the front of a windshield and says: "Is that blood?" Really. Have fun with it.
Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
They just get better...
This third entry in the Resident Evil series is great. Although it's been said that it doesn't really touch on the previous films, it does indeed. The start of the movie throws you for a moment as it appears to be Alice's entire introduction from the first film. There is a difference, which I won't spoil here.
Some characters return from the second film, like Carlos (Oded Fehr) and L.J.(Mike Epps). Others, like Jill Valentine and the little girl they fought to save from the school are gone, and no explanation is given, unless I missed a bit of expository dialogue, which I don't think I did.
Alice is first seen on her own, with her voice-over explaining that it's better that way, because large groups of people attract the undead. Plus, she explains later that people (good or bad) tend to end up dead around her, which is certainly true. Eventually though, she connects with a nomadic group of survivors, led by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter), who are making their way cross-country in a well-armed caravan. It's Alice who brings them their sense of direction, as well as much-needed extra-human protection (as hinted in Alice's eyes in final scene of the last film).
Of course, the Umbrella Corperation is up to its usual dirty tricks. The evil doctor seen at the end of the last film is back also.
Now down to the goodies: there are zombies by the thousands (most of them surrounding an outpost for Umbrella Corporation), gunplay aplenty, heroics, scares (with a fair amount of tension taking place at a deserted motel near the beginning), and some unexpected talents from Alice. And to be honest, the reason I love these movies is to see Alice kick zombie butt, which she does in spades. The movie is cram-packed with exciting stuff and really flies by, leaving you wanting more. Although these films are not platforms for acting theatrics, Mila Jovovich does her best job as Alice, who is a killing machine, but shows fear and some...some, vulnerability. I may see this one again before it leaves the theaters. Cannot wait for the DVD release to complete the trilogy.