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Bates Motel (2013–2017)
8/10
Wrong and getting wronger -- in just the right way
4 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I know this show is clicking because my 21 year old son squirms through out the show in total discomfort over the Norma and Norman relationship. He wanted to dump the show after the first episode but came back for the second. I'm sure he'll be back, almost against his will, for the rest. The main actors, Vera Farmiga as Norma and Freddie Highmore as Norman are spot on perfect. They have the look for sure, but more importantly, they have the psychology down perfect. Things are played in such a way that that mother/son kiss could be construed as normal, innocent affection, but you know damn well that something is wrong and getting wronger. There's a lot of story going on in this show -- a lot of mysteries to keep you hooked. Highly recommended.
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Nightfall (1956)
8/10
Poetic painting in black and white
15 March 2012
Nightfall is one of those beautiful, crisp black and white films that make you wonder why they bothered with colour. Jacques Tourneur is at his poetic best with this simple tale of a wrongfully accused man pursued by the police and the crooks — a classic noir plot if ever there was one. The pace and place are ideal. You're caught up and carried along by the action of the present predicament while the understanding of how the protagonist got there is slowly revealed in a series of flashbacks. The cast is perfect: Aldo Ray is solid as the likable hero in the wrong place at the wrong time, Anne Bancroft has just the right combination of worldly wisdom and hope as the girl caught up Ray's troubles, Brian Keith and Rudy Bond are a couple of hard guys who don't much like each other but have 300,000 reasons to form a slightly uneasy alliance and the wonderful character actor James Gregory gives a nuanced performance as the insurance agent on Ray's trail.

While Nightfall won't change your life if is a solid piece of entertainment which Hollywood seem to toss off with so little effort back in 40's and 50's. It might have been just part of a standard double bill in 1957 but if it came out now it would be hailed as something special. Nightfall has more heart and soul than current fare like Drive. It doesn't have an untoward pretentious of being anything but what it is and that's plenty good enough for me.
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Exit Humanity (2011)
7/10
A Serious Zombie Movie
24 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
It's something of a rarity to have a zombie movie with serious intent. Exit Humanity does not go for laughter or cheap horror tricks but takes a very dramatic approach to the zombie horror genre (it's such a departure from the usual zombie movie that it almost exits the genre all together). The action takes place in 1865 in the Tennessee country side. The setting and the time are quite well handled and help add to the serious purpose of the film -- which I think is an examination of what it is to be human and to exit that condition. The Zombie apocalypse has already happened and the protagonist, Edward Young, has already lost his wife to the infection. He sets off cross country to find his son and when he does find him he finds his son has been turned and his new mission is to take his sons ashes to a waterfall -- which has grown in his mind to the last peaceful place. Along the way Young falls in with another survivor named Isaac who recruits him to help get his sister back -- Isaac's sister has been captured by a small group of former soldiers who are looking to find the one person in the area rumoured to be immune to the zombie plague.

The movie tells an interesting story in an interesting way. There are many of the usual Zombie movie devices but these are used to advance the story more than to provide scary moments. There is very creative use of graphics and animation and the sound track is quite effective. The sets and setting add a feeling of authenticity to the story. The acting is very fine indeed -- except perhaps for the token guest star Dee Wallace (on a side note, why do film makers insist on dropping in these supposedly "name" actors? I can't imagine Dee Wallace will put one extra bum in the theatre seat or video rental.) My only real complaint and the thing holding the movie back from a higher rating is that it is rather too slow. I generally enjoy a slow paced movie but there are some times that Exit Humanity is just a tad too languid.
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Drive (I) (2011)
Stuck in neutral
3 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I sort of know where they wanted to go but they didn't quite make it out of the drive way. This is the story of a stunt driver with no name who also drives for stick up jobs. He has a little set piece he tells his clients about how he's just there for the drive, they have five minutes and for five minutes he's theirs. It's the most he speaks the entire show. Usually he just stands around with a slightly retarded smirk on his face. Life changes when his equally vocally challenged neighbour strays into his line of vision. Her hubby is in jail -- but hey whoa gets out after our two leads have spent a few hours staring at each other -- and she has an adorable and wonderfully articulate young child who also seems to fall under the spell of the mute driver. The owner of the garage where the driver with no name works when he's not stunt driving or heist or staring at his neighbour makes a deal with some low level criminal players to finance a race car that will be driven by reticent hero (seems like when you give up speaking you have tons of time on your hands, he's also a killer ninja).

So far I've just set things up and if you still want to watch it, go ahead and stop reading because here's the spoiler. Turns out the neighbours' hubby bought protection while in jail and now has to do a job for the criminal who are financing the race car for our unintelligible protagonist — like, what are the odds? So our nameless driver volunteers to do the driving but something goes wrong, or right, not sure because it's never explained. A second car shows up at the heist of a pawn shop in the valley and the neighbours better half is shot and the driver chased. The driver seeks refuge in a hotel where he grills the surviving heister about what the hell just happened. She doesn't seem to know. The rest of the show drags on with the minutia of exchanging the stolen money — a million dollars so you know that was no ordinary pawn shop — for the life of the neighbour.

Really, the whole thing could have been done in a half hour, the director has confused extreme nihilism and slow pace for something many of my fellow reviewers are calling art. The motivations are non-existent the characterizations facile. A fine cast is totally wasted. Poor Carey Mulligan, so wonderful in "An Education", has nothing to do in this movie. Three of my favourite TV actors, Bryan Cranson, Christina Hendricks and Ron Perlman are shamefully under-utilized with Hendricks and Perlman barely having any screen time at all. Ryan Gosling plays the role with an embarrassed smirk on his face that seems to suggest he has just silently farted and is hoping no-one noticed.

For all the reviewers saying that this is a great film and people who disagree don't know movies, here's my problem — "Gone with the Wind" is IMDb rated at 8.2 and "Drive" is rated at 8.5
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Something a little different
28 July 2011
Lot of different things going on in this enjoyable civil war type western. The plot is set in motion in the opening frames when a ruthless raider named Luke Contrell (I guess he's the union version of William Quantrill) burns out the Three Bells ranch in Texas. The Three Bells is run by 3 friends, Joel McCrea, Zachary Scott and Douglas Kennedy (I hope you don't mind my convention of referring to the characters by the actor's names, it's just easier and apart from Contrell, the names don't mean much) who set of for Brownsville to get even. Contrell carries out his raiding under the protection of the union army, which prevents our hero, Joel McCrea, from doing much more than beating him up and telling him to leave town.

Our three heros -- it's weird seeing Zachary Scott as a hero -- are now kind of shiftless and looking for what to do next. Kennedy decides to join the Confederation and fight in the open. This is kind of different, the movie is set during the Civil War and one of the hero's decides to join the confederation and doesn't feel the need to talk about protecting his way of life. The union army might protect Contrell, but they don't like him much, and the commander offers to buy McCrea a drink after he beats up Contrell -- but McCrea don't drink with Yankees. McCrea and Scott get mixed up in gun running and take to the trade, blockade running guns from Mexico to the confederates.

The romantic sub-plot is that a saloon singer played by Alexis Smith has set her cap for McCrea and McCrea's gal, Dorothy Malone, has followed Kennedy into fighting the good fight as a nurse (the film just never really gets into the nitty gritty of the politics of the civil war). I found the romantic business, usually something of a drag in the avg McCrea feature, to be pretty interesting and not quite so ham handed as is often done.

The production values are not bad, the acting is pretty good, the story interesting and a little different. If you love westerns, and I presume you do if you've read this far, you could do a lot worse that this movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit.
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Played straight
18 July 2011
Saw this movie with my daughter for a grind house date night. We really enjoyed Machete and were pretty hopeful going into this one. We've seen a lot of schlocky movies, having a perchance for the "B" side but nothing prepared us for the glory that was "Hobo With A Shotgun". What make this such a great flick is that it in not a spoof or even a homage, it is the real deal. Everyone is playing it straight; even when the mood is humorous, it isn't with that annoying winking at the camera that so many modern grind house movies engage in.

Kind of a spaghetti western type plot with the nameless drifter blowing into town and finding himself in the middle of a war. The Hobo soon finds himself on the radar of the vicious gang lord Drake and his sons when he stands up for the downtrodden towns folk and gets a brutal beat down. The whore with a heart of gold nurses him back to health and then it's pay bake with a vengeance. Classic themes well executed and above average acting and dialogue.
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8/10
Much better than rating!
11 February 2011
I'm shocked at what a low rating this movie has. I love it and would take it over the much better reviewed "Young Frankenstein" (although I enjoyed that movie too). Leslie Nielson can do no wrong, as everyone knows, but Peter MacNicol is amazing as the hapless Renfield. The action of the movie follows the old Bela Lugosi movie pretty closely and Brooks scatter gun approach to comedy works well here. Some of the gags are misses, to be sure, but some are direct hits and leave you howling. I used to watch this movie with my kids when they were small and recently watched again it again not really expecting it to hold up, but it did.
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True Grit (2010)
7/10
It was good but not sure why they bothered
22 December 2010
Just got back form the movie. It was very good but didn't add anything. I'd heard the Cohens have said they were making a movie about the book, not a re-make of the movie. There are some differences, but not many, the 1969 movie was pretty close to the book too. I think the changes from the novel in the original movie were good and made sense. Matt Damon and Haliee Steinfeld are an improvement on Glen Campbell and Kim Darby but Jeff Bridges, who I like, is in no way a John Wayne. Bridges wisely doesn't try to do anything like Wayne, it's a completely original performance and it's pretty good. However, you can't watch that character and that story and not think about John Wayne. I don't think the pacing or soundtrack is as good as the original. There was more comedy in the first version and also, surprisingly, I think the violence was better too. Also, the country and photography was better in the first. Upon reflection, I guess I just wish they'd made some other western, maybe "The Law at Renaldo", that was a good book that hasn't been filmed.
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The Earthling (1980)
9/10
A crime it's out of print
25 November 2010
I'm a big William Holden fan and this film has had such good reviews I was quite desperate to see it. Trouble is, I couldn't find it anywhere new or used. Then, during one of my periodical Google searches for it I found it was posted on Youtube. Well, it's there in six parts and the quality is not so good, but if you can put up with it you'll find it's a really good movie. My rating is probably too high because I'm such a Holden fan, but he really gives a remarkable performance and the story itself is quite wonderful. Basically it's the story of a bitter and lonely man coming home to die in the Austrian outback but along his way he finds a young boy lost and alone. He can't take the boy back to civilization, he doesn't have that long, so he must take the boy deeper into the wild and teach him to survive along the way. The movie could have been very melodramatic but the cast and director don't go that way, it's played very straight and matter of fact. Rickie Schroder does a fine job as the boy, not cloying at all. I sure hope they come up with a DVD of this movie, but until then, check it out on Youtube.
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Silver Lode (1954)
8/10
Dan Duryea is always a treat
19 November 2010
Dan Duryea is the reason I decided to watch this western and he is wonderful but far from the only reason I rate the movie an 8. The action starts with Dan and three other riders (Harry Carey Jr and Alan Hale Jr for gosh sakes... you know you're in for a good time) riding into the town of Silver Lode on forth of July. They're looking for the man named "Dan Ballard" but everyone they ask gives them the cold shoulder, one remarks they know a gunfighter when they see one. Turns out Dan is a federal marshal named Ned McCarty (other reviews have noted the McCarthy similarity and I agree with them on that) come to take Ballard -- solidly played by John Payne -- prisoner back to California for a murder rap. The victim is, it turns out, McCarty's brother and there is also a matter of $20,000 stolen at the same time.

At first the town's people are solidly behind Ballard but gradually they come around to bow McCarty's assumed authority and turn against Ballard. This is done rather well, not nearly as heavy handedly as might be. Many reviewers have noted the similarity to "High Noon", it's sort of a "High Noon" in reverse. While that's mighty high company the comparison is not out of line and the wonderful direction of Allan Dwan makes up for the lower production values. This is a good story, well made and worth looking for.
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Blue Bloods (2010– )
8/10
Top notch cast
18 October 2010
The cast is first rate and the best thing about the show so far. Tom Selleck is maturing so well you almost forget about the youthful, carefree version of the actor. Today he carries a world weary, solid presence that makes him totally believable as Frank Reagan, the top cop of New York. The interactions between the younger Reagans are spot on and believable. Donnie Wahlberg and Bridget Moynahan in particular are interesting and move the stories along. The rest of the cast is fine with only Len Cariou's role giving a slightly false note, not because of the excellent veteran actor, but because someone thought it would be cool to give him a limp and a cane... hmmmm, a retired older Irish cop with a bum leg and a cane, sounds slightly familiar -- I keep expecting Daphne to appear saying it's time for his therapy.

So far the stories have been solid one offs letting us get to know the lay of the land and the main characters personalities. The show is set in New York and the city is taking an important role. Thank goodness the producers didn't go with the Toronto as stand in for major US city route. I love Toronto, but it always messes with my suspension of disbelief when a car cruises pass a major landmark like the Empire State Building and ends up on Yonge street.

We've been given heavy handed hints of the season's over arching story line -- the youngest Reagan is asked to infiltrate an inner circle of dirty cops called the Blue Templars. I've got a bad feeling about this one. Every time the story goes there it's just lame and brings reality crashing down with a discordant cacophony which jar this viewer out of the story line and makes him cringe.

All and all, however, the series looks very good and if they build on the strengths of the great cast and compelling characters they should have a fine run (once they get the Blue Templars out of the way).
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The Mighty Hercules (1963–1966)
10/10
I just love it. I just love it.
9 July 2010
I didn't realize it was a Canadian production, that makes me so damn proud (and explains why it's been rerun on Canadian TV for almost 50 years).

You can't really rate or review something like this, you either love it and it's a 10 or you don't and it's a 1.

I remember watching it when I was five and it first came out. They interrupted an episode to bring the breaking news that JFK had been assassinated. I watched it with my kids when they we babies. I expect to watch it with my grandkids.

As has been pointed out, it was unbelievably cheap and cheesy. The stories were pathetic and the art childish. And they recycled the same 5 stories over and over and over. But when all is said and done, I just love it. I don't know why. I don't know why.
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The Tall Men (1955)
8/10
Really takes off when the cattle drive starts
28 June 2010
The first thing you notice is the stunning photography and use of the location. Does anyone do the wide screen better Raoul Walsh? I mean he practically invented it with "The Big Trail" back in 1930 with the 70mm Grandeur process. You feel like you're in for a real big screen treat, but then the story moves inside and the story get pretty pedestrian pretty quick. There is an interesting twist I won't spoil that leads to a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. I'm a sucker for a cattle drive and this one delivers big time.

Just before the drive starts, as I watched the foreground action, I was thinking it didn't look like 5,000 cattle in the background. The foreground action was a little silly but it's Clark Gable and Robert Ryan so who can complain? Then Raoul Walsh starts putting it together close shot, long shot, cattle coming at you, cattle lumbering away from you, track shots, panning shots. These are not quick cuts trying to trick you into thinking you're seeing something you're not; these are slow cuts beautifully and artistically assembled to give you the breadth and scope required to understand what an undertaking this is going to be. Dozens of vaqueros, several supply wagons, a herd of extra horses, and all those long horn cattle! Really breath taking stuff. At several times I paused the film and every time it looks like a perfectly balanced painting of the old west was on screen.

There's a silly romance and trumped up rivalry that doesn't interfere with the real story too much -- and after all, it's Gable and Ryan so it's not painful or embarrassing at all. There's a wonderful line by the Ryan character about the Gable character that goes, "He's what every boy thinks he's going to be when he grows up and wishes he had been when he's an old man." Ryan delivers with such an understated honesty that you truly believe his character would say it and about Gable it would be true.

I highly recommend this movie and strongly urge you try to see the wide screen version. While you're being swept along by the story elements, give a thought to the master artist, Raoul Walsh. While singing the praises of John Ford, I always save a chorus for Walsh.
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6/10
Would have preferred it to be called Charlie Allnut
7 June 2010
That's the hero of African Queen of course and as many others have noted, you can't help but think of it while watching John and Kate interact. I've seen almost every picture John Wayne made after 1939 but waited until near the last to watch this one because I just couldn't believe it would live up to True Grit and it doesn't. About ten minutes into the film there's a scene with Rooster dancing around his back room apartment singing about being retired that almost made me turn it off. That's not the Rooster Cogburn I knew and loved from True Grit, not even close -- it's not even Charlie Allnut. My main problem with this movie is that I would have preferred it not to be a sequel to True Grit -- that story and the Rooster Cogburn character is somewhat sacred to me and if they weren't going to be true to them, why not just make it a generic John Wayne vehicle of the time? There's a lot to like about the movie so I give it a recommend. There's the genial inter-action between the two stars who don't let the mediocre script and story get in the way. The scenery is fine, really beautiful and to me that means a lot in a western. Though the script is poorly written, the story is actually pretty good. However, in addition to the crime of tarnishing the memory of a great film and performance, the direction is poor and the bad guys just chew up the dialogue in ham-handed fashion so it's not a very high recommend. Maybe you're better off to skip this one and do what I'll be doing this afternoon, watch True Grit.
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7/10
A really remarkable decent B horror movie.
31 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The tight, intriguing story makes it easy to ignore the not very special effects and the cheesy title (actually, I'm very fond of the title). This is another one of those movies I saw a kid and have been wanting to see again for years. I'm very pleased to say it holds up well. Gene Fowler is the director and handles the assignment with a firm hand. The film stays remarkable on point with the one person knows the truth kind of paranoia parable popular at the time -- see "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". It's no wonder Fowler does such a fine job telling the story, he was the editor for couple of Samuel Fuller's westerns "Forty Guns" and "Run of the Arrow" in 1957 (which I co-incidentally watched the same week as this picture). Fowler's ability to convey the mounting tension of the situation show his editor's training. There's no coy is she or isn't she paranoid here; we know right off the bat she's married to a monster from outer space, but it's great fun to see her come to the same conclusion. One thing that really impressed me was the tremendous amount of boozing going on it the movie -- it was like a horror version of Mad Men. In fact, a key tip off that a person is really a monster that walks like a man is that he gives up the booze (aliens can't tolerate the stuff). This doesn't stop the cadre of monster conspirators from holding their little get together in a bar (and what a great bar it is, alcoholic bar tender, hot jazz, sleazy men and louse women). When the exciting conclusion comes, all is explained in a much more satisfactory manner than most shows provide and I for one felt a certain sympathy with the gruesome grooms.
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Stranger on the Run (1967 TV Movie)
8/10
Something of a gem
31 August 2009
I'd love to know more about how this made-for-TV movie came about. It's got Don Siegel for it's director and Henry Fonda leading a first rate cast -- Dan Duryea is a stand out as the older, wiser gun-hand well past his prime (although he's actual a year younger that Fonda, Duryea looks at least 15 years older, but I gather he was in ill health). Not to give too much away, Fonda is a bum who drifts into town and upsets the apple cart by inquiring about the sister of a friend. The story builds quickly and is intriguing, but it is the characterizations of the players that give the movie it's greatest appeal. Even the minor characters are given some depth and not just the stereotypical kind of depth that is generally used as a kind of short-hand. The production values are just what they should be and the photography is excellent. I would suggest you go out of your way to try to catch this little gem of a western.
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