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Scalpel (1977)
7/10
A 1970s Horror Hidden Treasure
18 April 2018
A murderous surgeon (Robert Lansing) concocts a twisted scheme to win his missing daughter's inheritance money: by transforming a Jane Doe (Judith Chapman) into her double.

Although he was a constantly working actor, Lansing is probably best remembered as the authoritarian Brig. Gen. Frank Savage in "12 O'clock High" (1964), the television drama series about World War II bomber pilots. Genre fans may know him from "4D Man" (1959), "Empire of the Ants" (1977) or "The Nest" (1988). "Scalpel" is an early role for Judith Chapman who went on to star in a wide variety of soap operas.

The film has been called a "Hitchcock wannabe", which is fair. But really, it is as good as some of Hitchcock's work. Maybe not his best films, but better than average.
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4/10
Maciste, Badly Dubbed
25 March 2018
Hercules (Alan Steel) is summoned to oppose the evil Queen Samara (Jany Clair), who has allied herself with aliens and is sacrificing her own people in a bid to awaken a moon goddess.

Sergio Ciani started his career as a stuntman; then he became the body double for Steve Reeves in "Hercules Unchained" and in "The Giant of Marathon", in which he also played a minor role. In the early 1960s he adopted the stage name Alan Steel and starred the leading roles in a number of peplum films with good commercial success. With the decline of the genre Steel thinned out his appearances, until his retirement at the end of the 1970s. This film, like many others, is really an extension of his stunt work. And with the misleading "Hercules" title for English audiences, it even seems like they picked up where Reeves left off.

Trying to judge a film like this is tough. The dubbing may make it appear worse than it really is, and the print quality is typically bad because it has fallen in the public domain. What if it was properly scanned in 4K and subtitled, treated like a forgotten cult film? Sure, it may still be second-rate, but certainly not as bad as it is generally seen.
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7/10
Classic Halloween
9 December 2017
After Donald Duck plays a cruel Halloween prank on his pants-hating nephews, the three team-up with Witch Hazel and her broom to teach him a lesson about 'tricks and treats.' As of this writing (2017), this short is now 65 years old. And it holds up 100%, both for its animation and its music. Far too many movies or cartoons become dated, but this one is truly timeless. In a mere eight minutes, Disney found a way to show us the spirit of Halloween, and throw in a real witch just for fun.

If there is anything at all dated about the short (and this is a big maybe), it is the use of the devil costume. Although Halloween has probably gotten more gory and creepy since this cartoon came out, I feel like actual devil imagery has decreased and perhaps become even taboo.
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8/10
A Quirky, Mysterious Film
9 December 2017
In spring 1976, a 19-year-old beauty, her German-born mother, and her crippled father move to the town of a firefighter nicknamed Pin-Pon. Everyone notices the provocative Eliane. She singles out Pin-Pon and soon is crying on his shoulder (she's myopic and hates her reputation as a dunce and as easy); she moves in with him, knits baby clothes, and plans their wedding. Is this love or some kind of plot? There is so much going on in this film. Initially, it appears to be from the perspective of Pin-Pon and his obsession with a woman who may be the town bicycle. But we only hear his thoughts some of the time. In other moments, we get Eliane's thoughts (as well as memories), and other people take certain scenes as the narrator, too. This only adds to the layer of mystery about what is all going on.

One thing that makes this film very French and not very American is the excessive nudity. Isabelle Adjani spends a fair amount of time in various stages of undress. This is never really necessary, but really says more about French attitudes than anything else. I do not feel like it was meant to be exploitative or sensational.
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5/10
A Forgotten Disney Film
9 December 2017
A young boy and a bunch of misfit friends embark on a quest to find a dark magic item of ultimate power before a diabolical tyrant can.

With the budget of $44 million, it was the most expensive animated film ever made at the time. Earning $21.3 million domestically, it led to a loss for the studio, putting the future of Walt Disney Feature Animation in jeopardy. Due to its poor performance, Disney released the film for the first time on home video in 1998.

Despite growing up in the 1980s, I actually never heard of this Disney film or any of its characters. Even now (2017) when I finally watched it, it seemed like a film that never existed. If Disney tried to bury it, I can understand it being forgotten throughout the 90s, especially as their second golden age was overshadowing decades of duds.

The movie itself is neither good nor bad. A few repeat viewings and it would probably grow on me, but there are no really memorable characters. And there are no songs, which is what really makes a Disney cartoon immortal.
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The Psychic (1977)
7/10
Quality Fulci
7 December 2017
A clairvoyant woman, inspired by a vision, smashes open a section of wall in her husband's home and finds a skeleton behind it. Along with her psychiatrist, she seeks to find the truth about who the person was and who put her there.

Chris Eggertsen included the film as number seven in a countdown of the "Top Ten Underrated Horror Gems", citing its "excellent cinematography and deft use of color", though criticizing its "poor use of dubbing". The dubbing is, indeed, a bit of a problem, but that is more or less standard with these things. Often, if I understand correctly, they do not even have an audio track to begin with and dub everything later regardless of language.

The film works great as a giallo. The general concept is usually someone thinks they see something, but is not quite sure, and then they have to investigate it. This works on those lines, but the "seeing" is a psychic vision, not quite accurate. A gallery is mistaken for a museum, a man with a beard has shaved, and so on.
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7/10
Essential Viewing
6 December 2017
A poor student (Paul Wegener) rescues a beautiful countess (Grete Berger) and soon becomes obsessed with her. A sorcerer (John Gottowt) makes a deal with the young man to give him fabulous wealth and anything he wants, if he will sign his name to a contract.

The film is loosely based on "William Wilson", a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the poem "The December Night" by Alfred de Musset, and Faust. The Faust elements are obvious, the other two less so (though the Musset quotation might give it away). This is really a great early example of horror literature on screen.

Cinematographer Guido Seeber utilized groundbreaking camera tricks to create the effect of the Doppelgänger (mirror double), producing a seamless double exposure. Hanns Heinz Ewers was a noted writer of horror and fantasy stories whose involvement with the screenplay lent a much needed air of respectability to the fledgling art form.
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Navajo Joe (1966)
5/10
So Bland!
6 December 2017
A Native American warrior called Navajo Joe (Burt Reynolds) seeks revenge on a gang of sadistic outlaws who has massacred the people of his tribe.

If this film is known for anything, it is just how much Burt Reynolds hated working on it. The story, in its simplest form, is that he thought he would be working with Sergio Leone and instead got Sergio Corbucci. Beyond that, his protests seem a bit over the top. Yes, this is a bad movie. But is it really the worst one he ever did? Ultimately, it does not really seem terrible in a technical way. Just bland, boring, nothing really special. If Reynolds was not in it, it would be forgotten. The worst part is actually the soundtrack. The Navajo Joe theme is played way too many times and is not very good the first time.
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6/10
The Brazilian Camera
5 December 2017
Eldorado, a fictitious country in Latin America, is sparkling with the internal struggle for political power. In the eye of this social convulsion, the jaded journalist Paulo Martins opposes two equally corrupt political candidates: a pseudopopulist and a conservative.

Its exhibition was forbidden in Brazil in April 1967 for "tarnishing the image of Brazil" but after protests by both Brazilian and French filmmakers, it was authorized by the Brazilian government to be screened at Cannes and in Brazil. What image it is tarnishing is unclear to me, but but every country sees national pride differently.

If any aspect of the film is singled out, it is typically the cinematography. In this case, it comes from Luiz Carlos Barreto, who is more generally known as a prolific producer rather than a cameraman. His best-known film is likely "How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman" (1971). Although he produced 50 films, he only acted as director of photography one other time -- on "Barren Lives" (1963).
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7/10
That Same Old Fun
5 December 2017
Alcoholic werewolf cop Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) springs into action when an eccentric businessman with evil intentions seduces Woodhaven's residents with a new brewery and hockey team in this outrageous horror-comedy sequel.

"WolfCop" is one of the greatest horror films of the 2010s. One might want to say one of the best "horror comedies" or "Canadian horror films", but let us not be too restrictive. The gore, the humor, the originality... it really set a high bar for other films, especially films from otherwise-unknown creative teams.

And being such a great film (and instant cult classic), a sequel was inevitable. But the challenge was put in place: could a sequel live up to its namesake? As hard as that is to do, "Another WolfCop" succeeds. This is the same gory, wacky, frenetic thrill ride from the first time around. In some ways, perhaps even crazier... but at the very least a worthy follow-up.

The gore is most definitely increased, and along with it the body count. The weird factor is up slightly, with the inclusion of an alien-type clone being (not sure how to describe it). Some of the characters and plot lines do dangle a bit, creating the appearance of an incomplete film... but oddly enough, this works, making things even stranger than necessary that not all questions get answered. What is the creature in the strip club? There are other were-animals? Do werewolves have different genitals than their human counterparts (apparently so)?

The inclusion of Kevin Smith is a bit distracting, but he actually does a fair job acting. If I was not aware of who he was he might not have seemed out of place. I suppose that is the risk you run when you try to include a cameo from a hockey-loving director who is currently in the middle of a Canadian trilogy.
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High School (1969)
7/10
Some Things Never Change
5 December 2017
Documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman takes us inside Northeast High School as a fly on the wall to observe the teachers and how they interact with the students.

This film came out in 1969 and I graduated in 1999. So there is a thirty year gap between these students and myself. Yet, in many ways, this seemed all too familiar. My impression is that school has increasingly become oppressive for students, but the old back-and-forth between students and authority is still here. The kid who does not want to change for gym class. We did not learn that Paul Simon was a poet, but just within the last year (2016-2017) Bob Dylan has received a Nobel Prize for Literature. So the same idea is there.

The camera has a strange lingering on teenage butts. Maybe we can dismiss this as a product if its time, but today if someone went into a high school and zoomed in on a girl's butt in gym shorts, that would not be seen as very appropriate.

And what is up with the gynecologist? The sexual education comes across as surprisingly progressive, but this guy is saying things he may not know to be creepy... saying he gets paid to put his fingers inside teenage girls? And laughing about it? Ummmm... what do you even say about that sort of thing? I expect locker room talk from high school boys, but doctors?
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Pulp (1972)
6/10
Three-Quarters Baked
4 December 2017
A seedy writer of sleazy pulp novels (Michael Caine) is recruited by a quirky, reclusive ex-actor (Mickey Rooney) to help him write his biography at his house in Malta.

This is Mike Hodges' follow-up to "Get Carter" (1971) and takes a bit of a different turn. Though there does remain that seedy element, only this time transported to Malta. Fans of Italian exploitation and Z-grade science fiction are sure to recognize Nadia Cassini ("Starcrash", 1978).

Hodges spent a long time coaxing noir veteran Lizabeth Scott out of retirement to fly to Malta for the shooting. Scott said that while she enjoyed the beauty of Malta, she was not pleased that most of her footage was cut out — eight scenes in all. Hodges for his part reported that Scott was challenging to work with while shooting. Scott "hadn't make a picture in 15 years and I had to really coax her into coming back." But Scott overcame her stage fright and Hodges was pleased with Scott's performance.
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7/10
Really Memorable Film
4 December 2017
While emigrating to the United States, a young Jewish mouse gets separated from his family and must relocate them while trying to survive in a new country.

The animation of this film is some of Don Bluth's best work. The story, on the other hand, is heavily influenced by Steven Spielberg, who took bits and pieces of his own family's story as they came to America. Now, my guess is they were not involved in the Wild West (as in the sequel), but for the first time around the parallels are there.

Did immigrants see America as a land without cats and streets paved with golden cheese? It seems absurd that anyone would have this expectation, but at the same time it is not completely wrong. Exaggerated, yes, but compared to the hardships and often death waiting behind in Eastern Europe, the slums of New York might have been seen as a salvation -- in many ways they were!
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Anastasia (1997)
7/10
Better Than Some Disney
4 December 2017
The last surviving child of the Russian Royal Family joins two con men to reunite with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, while the undead Rasputin seeks her death.

When Disney chose Pocahontas as a historical figure to turn into a happy cartoon, they opened a can of worms. I mean, the movie is alright, but has no connection to the reality that Pocahontas went through and how traumatic it must have been.

"Anastasia" is sort of along the same lines. The story takes place in a much more recent time, but is still very much about real people. Yet, it feels more like Don Bluth got it right. Some things are wildly inaccurate (like Rasputin being a zombie), but it comes across more like a fanciful what-if story than any attempt to whitewash history. I suppose one might say they conveniently ignored almost all of the Russian Revolution, but this is a story for kids after all.
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5/10
A Bit of Dud
4 December 2017
A young adventurer named Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) joins an intrepid group of explorers to find the mysterious lost continent of Atlantis.

The film has the makings of a cult classic. Joss Whedon was the first writer to be involved with the film but soon left to work on other Disney projects. According to him, he "had not a shred" in the movie, which is a shame. The artistic style comes from the same hand as the creator of "Hellboy", which probably attracted a certain audience. And the protagonist is a descendant of the the legendary Blackbeard, which opened up some interesting world-building possibilities.

But the story is not as good as it could be, and the idea of different languages is cool but simplistic. The idea that a language an be translated letter by letter in nonsense, on top of the fact that "Iceland" and "Ireland" would both be in English... that is a bit silly.
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6/10
Good, Though a Sneaky Trick
4 December 2017
An animated adaptation of "The Wind in the Willows" followed by an adaptation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow".

If this film is to be criticized, it is for the cheap attempt to make a feature-length film from two unrelated stories. Either of them could have been a full 70-to-90 minutes, and films such as "Sleepy Hollow" have proved that. Instead we get two short films packaged together to create a full film... which it clearly is not.

That concern aside, the stories are both good and done with excellent animation. It has been said that Brom Bones was an inspiration for Gaston. If he was not, it is quite a coincidence because the two have a great deal in common despite living indifferent eras and countries.
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6/10
Quite the Oddity
2 December 2017
After Santa tells Michael Bolton that he needs 75,000 new babies by Christmas to meet toy supply, Michael Bolton hosts a sexy telethon to get the world to start making love.

While there are some duds within this special (notably the "cupid shuffle" skit), this really is a fine attempt at a comeback for Michael Bolton. His new association with Lonely Island and this funny, movie-loving version of himself is perfect. Whether it was him or Samberg who developed it, it works.

Not coincidentally, many of the songs performed by Bolton also appear on his newest album. On this, he covers some of the classic movie songs... which again raises the question, is this sincere, or part of an elaborate ruse?
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6/10
Mildly Amusing
2 December 2017
A young man who works in the mail room at a TV network wants to move up the corporate ladder but finds himself stymied by his selfish boss. By chance he discovers that his neighbor's chimpanzee has a knack for picking successful TV programs.

This is classic Disney all the way. Somewhat silly, harmless fun, it is not hard-hitting and has really no deeper meaning or social commentary. One could, if they wanted, point to the jokes about monkeys picking what we see on TV. But that is not exactly deep satire.

Kurt Russell was alright early in his career, but it seems like this was an even bigger showcase for John Ritter. As Ritter's first film, he does not get a large amount of screen time, but certainly makes the most of each line he delivers.
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6/10
Not As Bad As...
2 December 2017
A brother (Ethan Embry) and sister (Thora Birch) attempt to bring their divorced parents back together for Christmas.

Apparently this film did poorly at the box office and critics hated it, too. I can understand that, as it is sort of a lame version of "The Parent Trap", except less quirky and the kids try much less seriously. Really, this one had me wondering why the parents broke up in the first place. (Presumably if it was worth divorcing over, they probably should not get re-married).

What makes this average film worth watching is the kids. Ethan Embry is decent and it is no surprise he has gone on to a remarkable career. Thora Birch is fantastic. Just amazing. Exactly what happened to her, I do not know. After "Ghost World" she seems to have faded away.
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7/10
Before Prison Break...
30 November 2017
A young man (Edward Furlong) goes to prison and a tough, older convict (Willem Dafoe) takes him under his wing as a mentor.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Eddie Bunker, who plays the part of Buzzard in the film. The novel was written intentionally for the purpose of becoming a film, and anyone who has read the book will notice a large part of the dialogue is used word-for-word. Though Bunker has been involved with many films, he may be best remembered today for playing Mr. Blue in "Reservoir Dogs", not coincidentally co-starring with "Animal Factory" director Steve Buscemi.

Bunker, for those who do not know, is not only an accomplished crime writer, but very much the type of hardened criminal he liked to write about. He had been involved in bank robbery, drug dealing, extortion and more, so he knew what he was doing.

The book was adapted to film by Bunker and his friend and co-producer Danny Trejo. They had both worked with Steve Buscemi before (Trejo was in "Con Air") and Bunker liked Buscemi's film "Trees Lounge" (1996), so he was actually their first choice. He, of course, agreed. Bunker had also hand-picked Edward Furlong for the lead, in part for his "androgynous" look.

"Animal Factory" was filmed at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Filming was completed in 30 days, two days longer than originally scheduled. Buscemi employed hundreds of prisoners from Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the prison that replaced Holmesburg Prison in 1995.

This is a great standout performance for Danny Trejo; interestingly, Trejo is the godfather of Bunker's son, and the two first met at San Quentin State Prison; the duo has been working on movies together since "Runaway Train" (1985). On the flip side of the coin, Tom Arnold is so awful in his line delivery and his moments ruin an otherwise excellent film.

The Arrow Video Blu-ray includes a 20-minute conversation with Barry Forshaw, author of "American Noir", talking about who Eddie Bunker was. In Forshaw's opinion, Bunker was the all-time greatest American prison writer, and he relishes in speaking about the author. Interestingly, he sees "Factory" as a version of the British series "Porridge" (1974-77), which is obviously coincidental. An audio commentary with Bunker and Trejo is ported over fro man earlier release. Beginning to end, this disc is a celebration of Edward Bunker, a it should be.
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6/10
Shocking
29 November 2017
The leisurely paced tale explores the relationship between 14 year-old Bo and Kim, 11, the younger son of the stern boarding school headmaster. Mounting school tensions over the expulsion of a troubled student threaten to sabotage the tranquility of the school.

The film stills holds up in 2017 as being somewhat controversial, particularly in the United States, not only for its subject matter of an adolescent same-sex romance, but also for its scene that shows both young lead actors; Agensø (age 15 at the time) and Bjerg (who was 12) in full frontal nudity, taking a shower together.

Indeed, there are probably two things people will take away from this: one, the child nudity which strikes me as shocking that it passes the censors when it could be seen as pornography. And two, just how very "1970s" the film is with the hair and styles. I do not know much about Denmark, but it does not seem all that different from America culturally at the time.
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Huang tu di (1985)
5/10
Meh
29 November 2017
A communist soldier is sent to a remote region of China in order to collect folk songs. Staying with a peasant family (a widower with two small children), he discovers a community whose way of life is completely alien to him, but he gradually wins their trust.

Richard James Havis, author of Changing the Face of Chinese Cinema: An Interview with Chen Kaige, said that the film was the first Chinese film "at least since the 1949 Communist Liberation, to tell a story through images rather than dialog." Therefore, the film attracted controversy in China. Havis added that the film "was also equivocal about the Communist Party's ability to help the peasants during the Communist revolution", a position which differed from that espoused by the propaganda films that were produced after 1949." I understand the importance of this film and can understand why it is so highly rated, but it really had no appeal for me. None. I had difficulty getting through it, to be honest. Maybe some time I would give it another chance, but it just seems to have so little plot and was full of odd singing that was not pleasant for the human ear.
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6/10
Alright But Forgettable
29 November 2017
Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) is a middle class man with a boring job, a case of insomnia and, to top it all off, he just found out that his wife is cheating on him.

This film is a good one simply because of the cast. Goldblum is always a joy, even when he has very little to do as in this film. Michelle Pfeiffer has always been great, as well, and this was really her in her prime (between "Scarface" and "Batman Returns"). All the cameos are fun, if completely unnecessary.

Despite this, and even with the great John Landis in charge, there really is not much going on, which makes the movie sort of forgettable. No doubt most people have forgotten and it would not make anyone's "top three" or "top five" Landis films. Would it? Some of it seems to anticipate "The Big Lebowski", but without the quirky humor.
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Quicksand (1950)
7/10
Peter Lorre is King
27 November 2017
After borrowing $20 from his employer's cash register, an auto mechanic is plunged into a series of increasingly disastrous circumstances which rapidly spiral out of his control.

Directed by Irving Pichel shortly before he was blacklisted for suspected Communist activities, the film has been described as "film noir in a teacup... a pretty nifty little picture" in which Rooney "cast himself against his Andy Hardy goody goody image." Rooney stills comes across as a mostly harmless, innocent man in this film, but it may be a bit shadier than people had seen before.

Rooney co-financed "Quicksand" with Peter Lorre, but their shares of the profits were reportedly left unpaid by a third partner. Most of the film was shot on location in Santa Monica, California, with exterior scenes at the old Santa Monica Pier. Jazz cornetist Red Nichols with His Five Pennies group are seen and heard in a nightclub scene.

Peter Lorre's fellow actors in "Quicksand" were impressed with his performances on the set. Commenting on the film in a later interview, Jeanne Cagney observed the following about Lorre: "He did it with all his might. Even though the picture was not a top drawer film he still approached it as if it were the 'A' picture of all 'A' pictures." Indeed, with all due respect to Rooney, Lorre is the real star and the reason this film remains worth seeing today (2017).
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Impact (1949)
6/10
Oddly Meandering
27 November 2017
A unfaithful wife plots with her lover to kill her husband, but the lover is accidentally killed instead. The husband stays in hiding, and lets his wife be charged with conspiracy.

In the 1940s, it was still uncommon for brand name products to be seen in movies, but this was a notable exception. A Bekins moving van is prominent in several scenes. The movie trade paper Harrison's Reports typically called attention to cases in which such products appeared on screen, and always took a stand against that practice. It is interesting to consider Bekins within this context, as you not find it strange for vehicles with signage to go by in the real world.

One thing that really stands out today (2017) is the Chinese shopkeeper. While not outright offensive or insulting, it is interesting the way a person from the Chinese community was portrayed. Some credit ought to be given on casting: Anna May Wong was actually Chinese, and Philip Ahn was Korean, still better than casting a Caucasian with a mustache.
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