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It Happened One Christmas (1977 TV Movie)
The Multiplex in Hell . . .
5 December 2019
Shows only remakes.

Spinning the dial (I'm showing my age) on Prime Video for a Christmas movie resulted in our watching the 1977 not-quite-perfectly-awful remake of Frank Capra's dreary and depressing It's a Wonderful Life.

Yes, I said it. I have never liked IAWL. The humor is strained, the Americana is post-WWII over-the-top, and Jimmy Stewart looks miserable, even when things are good.

Why, you ask, did I watch a remake of a movie I don't really like? Maybe boredom.

What I got was a pretty good performance out of Orson Welles. The guy had a voice that I thought was more profound than Morgan Freeman's or James Earl Jones'. Everyone else was either annoying, phony, or cardboard.

Trying to pass off a 40-year-old Marlo Thomas as a high school graduate or trying to explain why Thomas' eldest child, born in 1935-ish, looks like a real high schooler in 1943 is a bit beyond logic.

What the folks behind this turkey were trying to accomplish by tweaking and bending the Capra classic to fit a 3-hour time slot on ABC 40+ years ago is not apparent no matter how hard one tries. If it was modernizing the story by switching the main character's sex, would it not have made more sense finding an actress who could present a female version of Jimmy Stewart's everyman appeal? Marlo Thomas, all stick-angles and squeaky voice, never appealed to me. Wayne Rogers was professionally bland. Orson Welles sat there rumbling evil business psychology. Cloris Leachman made a crappy guardian angel.

The only thing that I found worth noting, worth watching, was the sets and props. Universal must have raided its voluminous inventory of props and toys, and the set design, for the most part, is the only saving grace with It Happened One Christmas.

Everything else, everyone else was just phoning it in.

I should have blocked the call.
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An American Christmas Carol (1979 TV Movie)
Jumping the Reindeer
25 November 2019
This is the sort of lifeless holiday trash that has been turned into a fine art on the Hallmark Channel. There isn't a moment that I regretted agreeing to watch this with family a few days ago. I remember seeing this 1979 mess advertised, and I cringed at the thought of a hack actor like Henry Winkler, decked out in a ridiculous latex old-fart face, playing my favorite antagonist.

I love A Christmas Carol because I love Ebenezer Scrooge. He is an awful, mean, and vulgar man. Scrooge is one of my very favorite bad guys, a tragic character who hopes much of the "surplus population" plays in traffic. He's so nasty, sniveling, and believable that, when it's time for him to get some serious churchin' up, I feel sad. I know it's better that he gets his head straight, but the conversion to being a decent person is the only weak part of Dickens' story.

It's a quibble, but a few days--at least--of soul-searching by Eb, after seeing not one but four ghosts (and Marley is my fave), would have been easier to swallow.

Yes, I know. If he had become a human on December 28th, the whole point of the Christmas goose arriving at the Cratchit's would have been a smidgen weak.

Which brings us back to the cheap-jack movie-of-the-week feel from AACC. Everything screams 1979-trying-to-be-1933-and-not-making-it! Even the engine noises from Winkler's company truck are so overly looped that it's like the sound engineer wanted to scream at you, "Hey, that's an old truck there, for sure, you betcha!"

Even the timeline doesn't work. Winkler's Mr. Slade (I'm lazy enough not to bother looking up the first name) looks forty in 1917 and 80 in 1933. The folks at ABC(?) must have thunk this one up--The Fonz is so underused in Happy Days. Why not give him a movie where he can chew some scenery while encased in the sort of rubber face that Martin Landau used a million times in Mission Impossible?

You betcha, for sure!

It was 90 minutes of almost-perfect hell, and the only good that came out of it was my wife telling me that she enjoyed seeing a movie. We should watch more.

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There's crap that makes sense, and then there's just . . .
18 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers

An apropos review for one of Andrew V. McLaglen's worst movies. There isn't a moment in The Undefeated that seems authentic or original or even coherent. It's just one of those why-can't-we-just-all-get-along bits of moral equivalency wherein the big ol' Union Kunnell and the better-dressed Confederate Kunnell join up to fend off the nasty ol' banditos, cuz, shoot, we gotta put that whole Wull unpleasantness 'hind us.

To make matters worse, the movie falls completely apart when John Wayne's character up and essentially surrenders to the Mexican government.

At least, I think that's what happened. By mid-way through the third reel, I was nodding off, and I was starting to dream about all that fried chicken on the Confederate chuck wagon.

Kin ah hayuv yo recipe, ma'am?
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Germany, Canada, and Fort Harrison Should Have Sued for Slander
29 May 2019
Is this Andrew V. McLaglen's worst film? God, I hope so. I'd hate to think there's another level of crap out there that's tempting me to waste my time.

I don't know where to begin criticizing this Grade Double-Z morass of cliches, lies, stereotypes, idiocies, and knife-wounds. So I won't try.

Suffice it to say that The Devil's Brigade is ugly, predictable, and insulting to anyone with a measurable IQ.
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Flowers for Algernon (2000 TV Movie)
A Swing and a Miss!
29 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Once again, Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon gets put on film, and once again, the book wins. It's not that this Hallmark Hall of Famer is really bad. It's not.


Keyes' book is hard to read. It has lots of levels of humanity. You have to go back and do a page here and a page there over again. When you're done, you feel as if you accomplished something.

At least, that's how I felt.

The TV flick tries mightily to condense the multi-layered and tragic book into 90 minutes. I don't think it can be done. So much of the intellect of the book is condensed or cut free.

Matthew Modine and Kelli Williams are very talented performers, and there is some good chemistry between the handicapped "Charly" and his teacher, but the movie, by it's very nature, is rushed.

Then the movie-makers decide to have Williams throw herself at Modine. Rushed becomes phony. The sex scene, chaste as it is on the little screen, seems so contrived, so unlike Miss Kinian, that sex ruins whatever good was going on.

Maybe I would feel differently if I hadn't seen Cliff Robertson in the 1968 Oscar-winner. There, Charly attacks Kinian, and the second half of the movie has the main character going off to find himself, getting angrier and sadder by the minute.

Charly has it's flaws and so does FFA. If you were able to splice the two together--without causing your audience to feel dosed with a hallucinogen--you might have something closer to the complexity of the book.

It's a little like Charles Portis' True Grit. The remake is closer to the book, but the John Wayne movie is so darned entertaining. It's fun to compare, but if you haven't read the book, you're really missing out.

It's the same here.
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Walking Tall (1973)
Keepin' it in Your Shoe!
28 May 2019
Warning: Spoilers
If ever there was a gory and exploitative serving of boilerplate watchability, it's 1973's Walking Tall. I won't get caught in the thicket of details of McNairy Tennesse Sheriff Buford Pusser's story--real or Hollywood--but I will tell you that Walking Tall is greater than the sum of the cliched parts.

Four things make this movie work. The first and foremost is the sheer intensity and physicality of Joe Don Baker's performance. It take almost no time to suspend disbelief because Baker is an unknown in this movie--had you ever heard of him before? He just radiates a sweaty righteousness that's infectious.

The second is the shock value of the violence, sometimes bordering on nauseating. The bashing, bludgeoning chaos is believable because of the slithering reptiles who run the criminal enterprises in the county. They're just so awful, but they aren't cartoons. You accept people like this as the sort of gangsters who would carve up a guy on a pool table to teach him a lesson or strap down a hooker to a bed to beat a confession out of her.

When Pusser saves her, you're looking at her shredded back and not her bare bottom. That is actually pretty darned effective movie-making.

Next, I thought it was brilliant to use so many familiar TV and film actors in character parts. They probably didn't get many dollars out of a movie that cost 500k to make. I've seen almost every actor and actress in a bunch of things, and the murderous madam, Callie, is the actress who played Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird. That was a shock.

They seem like old friends having a field day, but the good guys (Noah Beery, Jr. and Lurene Tuttle among others) seem a bit cardboard because they're there to support Baker's powerhouse performance. The baddies ooze a level of menace and hatred that makes their violence seem real. You just want them dead, don't you?

Finally, number four of the winning elements is the location-filming in Tennessee. It looks like a lovely place after the blood soaks into the ground.

Even though Walking Tall is a pulpy one-man-against-crime drive-in flick, it is compelling, well-made, and earnest. That's what makes mayhem acceptable.
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Promises are Hard Things to Keep
28 May 2019
Watching the trailer for The Highwaymen on Netflix was the high point of the movie. It looked so promising. The trailer showed a crisp, gutty "bug hunt" with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson paunching and grizzling their way across the Depression-flattened Texas landscape in search of a highway gang led by two people Costner's character later describes as "no longer human."

And when the film was done rolling for what seemed like 127 minute-and-a-half minutes, and the credits had crept, and my butt hurt, and my eyes stung from the toothpicks holding the lids up, I was mightily annoyed by John Lee Hancock's inability to do chest-compressions on his movie to keep it alive.

The Highwaymen is a very significant disappointment because, when you pack that much star-power with the splendid East Texan skies, and you re-tell the can't-help-but-be-compelling story of Bonnie and Clyde, you had better make sure that the viewers are compelled. Their eyeballs can't help being glued to the screen.

You had better keep your promise.
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Scrooge (1970)
It's the Bilgiest Thing That's Ever Been Done to Me!
29 January 2019
I saw Oliver! during my Christmas break in 1968. I was 10 years old, but I remember loving the energy, the baddies, and that gal's chest. It's funny, I remember thinking that I had been stupid, that cleavage was to be looked at, not looked away from.

Was I gone long?

Anyway, a couple years later I saw Scrooge! I knew the story because I had grown up with Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Scrooge! had some of the same depth and breadth as Oliver!, but it seemed forced, cheap.

Years later, I realized that Scrooge! was designed to capitalize on the good feelings from Oliver! It was big and fun, and "Thank ya very much!" is going through my head right now, but it was formulaic, a pumpkin pie in an 8" tin at WinCo.

I have never, ever liked Mary Poppins. It's a long, boring, overblown mess of a musical. Mary Poppins and Julie Andrews went hand-in-hand. No heart, no soul, just a big pile of special effects, dancing penguins, and the Mary and Bert (Burt?) oozing anti-chemistry.

Come to think of it, at just over nine hours of running time, I hate Mary Poppins.

And yet, it's a cinematic triumph compared to a cheap knock-off called "Chitty-Chitty, Bang-Bang." Not only is that movie a pale, bloodless, and cheap-looking follow-on to Mary Poppins, you get Dick Van Dyke again, a man who looks more like an angry drunk than a happy-go-lucky inventor.

I saw the first half of CCBB three times in my life. Each time I got so bored, I bailed on it. Finally, I watched it all the way through with wife and kinder-aged daughter, maybe 18 years ago, and the ladies fell asleep.

Two decades later, and I still remember being chained to the screen in our living room, grimly determined to ride out this crap to the end.

So, you ask, what's the point of this review. It's simple, really.

See a big, gassy, fluffnfeathers musical, and you walk out of the theatre--or you walk into your kitchen--feeling full. Wait a year or four, and suck up some more feathers and bilge gas, and leave the same outside or inside with a headache, a distended gut, and a feeling that the follow-up, exploitative nonsense you just watched will be farting its way into your life for years to come.

Because most people love these big ol' musical crapstorms, and they'll keep getting made until our Sun goes kerflooey.
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Harper (1966)
Expiration Date
30 August 2018
I honestly don't know if I like Harper. When I saw it as a teenager on CBS, it had a feel, a groove of modernity that was appealing. Even after the network grannies cut out a crudity here and a gay slur there, it felt the edgy mid-sixties anti-hero private dick flick it was supposed to.


50 plus years later, Paul Newman remains utterly watchable, and the movie just looks dated. The trouble is that Ross MacDonald's character, brought to vivid life by Newman, and his story (called The Moving Target) was a great restatement of why we like private detective stories. Harper was fresh, but now it's just a source of cliches.


If I want to see some great performances, dressed up in black suits and narrow ties, I can easily go back to Harper. That moment when Newman swings the metal file in the thug's face made me jump in 1973, and I did it again in 2018.
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When the Topic is More Interesting than the Movie
3 May 2017
An infuriatingly uneven biopic, Henry Hathaway's The Desert Fox, is so poorly made that one might be tempted to ignore the topic of Erwin Rommel, a brilliant and chivalrous Wehrmacht commander who was more loyal to his men and patriotic toward Germany than a follower of Hitler.

The internal conflict is classic, cut from the same basic cloth as Brutus in Caesar.

You would think this film would be riveting. It's not. Even though James Mason is magnificently Prussian as Rommel, and there are several other great performances, we're left with a clunky and truncated story of the man George Patton called a "magnificent bastard."

That's a great name for Rommel. Born and bred to an ethic of an earlier time, Rommel became an anachronism to the new and improved concept of warfare in World War II.

Yet, if you don't know anything about Erwin Rommel--and you're willing to accept that he has been romanticized by history and Hollywood-- this film is something of a good start.
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25 April 2017
I felt disappointed when I watched John Carpenter's Escape from New York some 36 years ago, and when I saw it again two weeks ago, getting over a viral menace that makes everything ache, except the muscles for the remote, I found EfNY just as disappointing and silly.

Now, mind you, this isn't supposed to be a big, thoughtful dystopian nightmare, just an adventure into the bowels of Manhattan-as- Supermax, wherein the President, Donald Pleasance, of all people, crashes, and it's up to our hero, Kurt Russell, to get him out.

Read that last sentence again. Yes, I know it's a ginormous run-on, but all you need to know is right above this paragraph.

It's that pretentious and dumb.

And it's not even very good. Carpenter lets the reins go in the third reel, and the movie meanders and muddles until its inevitable "big message" ending. The whole thing is only 80+ minutes long, and I got bored.

Never a good thing for dystopian nightmare action flicks.

I guess Escape from New York was the first true inkling that Carpenter was going to collapse as a major director. I think he had one more goodun' in him, The Thing.
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Wow, I love a movie where . . .
12 April 2017
I don't give a crap about any single character. It's so freeing.

Apparently, there's a message here in the film version of a book I didn't bother reading (and a movie I didn't bother seeing, that is, until I had a viral thingy a few days ago).

The movie came out 30 years ago when I was 29 and too old to connect with brat-pack angst. The story is about some spoiled little rich kidlets snorting and emoting and looking painfully happy when the darlins are a'sufferin' inside.

If the movie had any coherency or powerful performances, I may have almost cared about what happened. Since it didn't, I didn't either. About the only that even moved the giveacrapometer's needle was James Spader's drug dealer character.

But that needle just twitched.

Oh, well. Unlike the hopelessly emotey doper, Julian, my sickness went away.
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Edge of the Source Code of Tomorrow's Adjustment Bureau
9 March 2017
I so dislike Tom Cruise that when I pay attention to a character he's playing, I feel as if I've gotten my time's worth out of a movie.

I so like Emily Blunt that she could spout some dreary anti-Trump twaddle on a late-night comedy show, and I would turn off the sound and just gaze.

Doug Liman's Edge of Tomorrow gets off to such a weak start, with Cruise looking as if he lost his confidence when he heard "action" and Brendan Gleeson looking bored to tears, that I almost gave up.

But I stuck around, deciding I would give the movie a chance.

And off she went!

Cruise's character is such a spineless feather-merchant that you actually start to enjoy his discomfort-fear-loathing-confusion-panic as he gets dropped onto a beach in France to fight some sort of spider/octopus thingies, of which there are about a zillion.

He sees Blunt get killed, then gets it himself, and . . .

Wakes up where he started, at a staging area for the invasion force in England.

With some dandy editing, forgivable lapses in logic, enough true humor, and the whole concept of reliving your death so that you don't get killed, eventually, the viewer gets hooked. Deep.

And then the last reel starts, and the whole thing falls apart. It's a murky mess, with a bunch of volunteers helping Cruise and Blunt fight their way to the queen spider thingamabob (which actually looks like a spongy, electrified golf ball) to kill it. It's all so dark and confusing that the viewer wonders what the hell happened to the crisp narrative in the first two thirds.

Oh, well.

All in all, it was a good use of time. I gauge "good" by how much I'm not getting done around the house. The chores don't get done, and the movie gets above a 5. My wife gets home and wonders if I did anything, the score goes up.

I told her that the movie had Emily Blunt, and she rolled her eyes and said something unpleasant.

She doesn't like Tom Cruise either.
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Cliché, My Lovely
7 March 2017
If it weren't for the always watchable Robert Mitchum, the cool clothes, the lumbering Detroitmobiles, and the smoke and booze flowing like a river, Dick Richards' Farewell, My Lovely would collapse from the clichés, the incoherences, and the feeling that the movie is visually dark to add atmosphere while hiding the fact that the movie was made 30+ years after the book was published.

I tried to get mad at this mess, but I just couldn't. It felt cheap, but paying attention to that basset hound of a man, Robert Mitchum, make Charlotte Rampling's greedy whore laugh, a nice touch indeed.

I saw FML when it came out in the summer of 1975, and I lucked on it when a senior of mine said she had a couple boxes of VHS tapes that her mom wanted gone.

I took 'em, and there was Mitchum on the box cover, looking tough, with a curl of smoke pooling under the brim of his fedora.

Look at that! The movie--or Raymond Chandler--brings out the turn of phrase in the hacks among us.
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7 March 2017
Yeah, I know. I started the review with a bad pun.

This Tony Scott remake of 1974's great, great The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is just awful. Much worse than any pun I can come up with. There's literally nothing to praise here. It's as if the screenwriters broke down the script from the original and the John Godey book, and found almost nothing usable.

Then they put it back together, leaving out, well, everything important. So much for reverse-engineering. You're supposed to figure out how something works when you do that, not how to screw it up.

So, we get John Travolta playing his Swordfish baddie again, Denzel Washington looking disconnected and bored behind some sort of phony nerd-glasses, and not a single character to care about. It's just an opportunity for Tony Scott, a hack right down there with Michael Winner, to use a bunch of fancy-shmancy graphics and camera tricks, and tell a story that was told infinitely better in 1974.

Garbage, garbage, garbage. I never once cared for anyone in this movie. I never once was engaged with the story. It's as if Scott set out to make the crappiest remake possible.

He made it.
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The Essence of Entertainment
7 March 2017
I wonder if there's a correlation between a movie that comes to the small screen with the obligatory editing for television, and doesn't get hurt in the slightest. Sam Peckinpah's lurid freight-train, the original The Getaway, and Joseph Sargent's excellent The Taking of Pelham One Two Three come to mind.

The story is so strong and the performances are so spot-on that snipping out an F-bomb here and a gunshot wound there won't have a negative impact on the viewer's experience.

What a great movie this is! It captures the times, the fear and the moxie of New Yorkers, and the grit, grime, and gallows humor that you would expect.

It has humanism without sacrificing suspense. It has clichéd but delightfully accessible characters. The very fact there is no high- falutinisms, no artsy-smartsy, brings the movie to a level of excellence that is very hard to find. It is pure escapist entertainment, what movie-tickets were designed to deliver.

Since I can find nothing of great consequence to complain about in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (the cynicism gets a little too thick from time to time), I simply think you should, if at all possible, grab a copy or a download of this wonderful suspenser, and make it an evening.
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Lawman (1971)
Despite its Best Efforts
27 February 2017
Michael Winner, trying his damnedest to make a crappy movie, failed to deliver in 1974's Death Wish. The Brian Garfield story was just too good for this hack to hack it up.

Similarly, Winner gets a good and a great performance from Richard Jordan and Lee J. Cobb, respectively. Although Lawman is, in many ways, a bland bloodbath, and there's more than enough plug-nickel psychology to go around, you can't help but begin to like what you're seeing.

Burt Lancaster, one of the most overrated stars in the heavens, is the "lawman" who comes to Bent Armpit or Pig Wallow or whatever the name was for the town that's harboring a bunch of idiot cowhands who accidentally killed an old guy in Lancaster's burg some time before. Ol' Burt takes it upon himself to start throwing lead at one cowpoke after another, including Robert Duvall and Albert Salmi, and by the end of the flick, the bodies are stacked up like the wood stakes that are going to go over their graves.

Sheree North plays a modified version of the same character she did in a bunch of movies, once she got some years on her. When I say "modified," I mean, three-dimensional, sexy-in-a-real-sense.

Robert Ryan lopes about being Robert Ryan. If that wasn't a toupee, the man had great hair.

Charles Tyner, a character actor who appeared in more movies and TV episodes than I can count, starts off as a worthless town preacher, but when he is called upon to read over the body of one of the baddies, his prayer is straightforward and heartfelt. Just when you thought this was going to be another slam at a minister . . .

Lancaster actually almost acts as he slaughters most of the town of Bull Semen or Cliché Flats or, wait, I should stop this and mention the best part of Lawman!

It's the rancher who employs the dummies who shot up Lancaster's town, then they sort of apologize to their boss, Lee J. Cobb. Cobb is so good, you begin to feel that you've seen him before. In a sense, you have. Ed Begley played a similar character in Hang 'em High. Begley begins to dissolve into a toxic stew of guilt, panic, and self-preservation in that fairly good Eastwood western.

Here, Cobb spends much of the movie brainstorming on how to get Lancaster not to keep killing his crew. He keeps lurching toward revenge, and his business acumen holds him in check. When he's had enough, he rides into Toe Fungus or Armpit Sweat (stop this!) and he runs smack into Lancaster, the killing machine who has the nickname, "Widowmaker."

What Cobb does when his business and his family are ruined startled me. Didn't see it coming. Made complete sense.

Taking me by surprise, and delivering some good performances amid the tumbleweeds, puts Michael Winner's Lawman a gun-notch above similar oaters of the late 60s and early 70s.

Although edited for television (apparently the original has a lot more gore and some boobs to boot), Lawman is a pretty good use of 90 minutes--if you fast forward through the ads.

You'll have to sit through the paperback psycho-babble.
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Actual Brain-Like Substance
23 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
At first sight, The Legend of Hell House, is a flabby knock-off of the much, much better The Haunting (of Hill House), so much so that you would assume that the lawyers would be locked and loaded for battle.

The story is murky, the actors are given thankless things to do and say, and the explanation for the pervo-gory ickiness of the "Mount Everest of haunted houses" is just not strong enough.

But danged if the movie doesn't keep you watching!

It may have been the weird synthesized background music and/or the disorienting lack of continuity between the time stamps on screen and the light or darkness outside and/or the actually sympathetic characters played by the two female leads, but I got some decent thrill/chills from this fairly atmospheric and jittery little horror flick.

Made a decade after the brilliant Robert Wise production of The Haunting, the movie earns what would now be a PG-13 from the gore, the flashes of skin, and the general yick that saturates the English mansion in question. Its denouement is fairly pedestrian, but the viewer has some reason to be forgiving. You actually feel sad when the sexy-as-a-pop-tart Pamela Franklin gets crushed under a giant crucifix, and Gail Hunnicutt, all funky facial angles and swollen eyes, who loves her sexually disinterested scientist husband, comes under the influence of the nasty ol' dude slithering around the afterlife in the mansion, and acts as if anything hard and cylindrical will do just fine. If this were an R, I swear she would have started dry-humping one of the columns of the old house.

The Legend of Hill House is a moderately competent psychological night-bumper, and I figure, if you see it advertised on FXM, well, why not? There's actual brain-like substance here.
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Head Cold
20 December 2016
I'm lying on the Motel 6 bed. Middle of the night, and the TV had been left on TMC. It's 11 below outside, so half the room is a meat locker. Wife is snoring. I'm shivering because I came down with a cold, mistook it for allergies, and got a flu shot at Walmart while building up a good case of snotty pressure in my head.

So, I'm cold. I'm in a Motel 6. I'm awake at three in the morning. And I see what's on the tube.

The Bishop's Wife, with Cary Grant and David Niven and Loretta Young. I'm thinking that I've seen this movie before, maybe in the last two or three years.

All I remember is that Young looked too movie-star, Cary Grant didn't seem like an angel, and David Niven was unpleasant enough for me to give up on his character.

That's it. Not much of a recommendation, huh?

But you have to cut me some slack--I gawd a code id by doze.
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Safe House (2012)
I Never Done Seen a Spy Movie Before!
23 October 2016
You'd have to be that new to think there's any originality in Daniel Espinosa's Safe House, a movie that is so painted-by-the-numbers they even got Sam Shepard to play the CIA deputy-director.

You'd think he would have had enough of playing a dirty-cop/executive crap-weasel in 1992's Thunderheart.

Anyway, Safe House is the sort of spy movie where, if you actually have seen a spy movie, you can peg the bad guys before they're done speaking their first lines.

Also, if you've ever heard of Wikileaks or Anonymous, or Watergate or the Pentagon Papers (should I continue?), you know the movie before it starts.

Well, almost.

I was impressed by Ryan Reynolds' physicality. He actually did seem to be in pain after being punched, gouged, slapped, tickled, and stabbed by a shard of glass. Since I am straight, I don't think of him as dreamy, just possibly something more than another vacant Hollywood prettyboy.

But, I digress.

I taped Safe House a year ago off of one of the Fox movie channels. I got around to seeing it today. If I pretend not to have seen another spy movie in my almost 60 years, I guess the flick is okay.

But, I digress.

I have chores to do, ones that I put off for a couple hours. I could use some of Reynolds' physicality helping me rake up the pine needles around the house.

Now that would be dreamy.
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Roger Ebert, Notwithstanding
23 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is Cornel Wilde's best film. It is a feast for those who look for Aristotle's Six Parts of Drama in a movie:

1. The plot is simple and understandable--a chase movie wherein everything seems lethal. Wilde plays a safari guide whose boss, a nasty, little, fraction of an Englishman, runs into a group of tribesman, and the fractional man manages to so insult the tribesmen that they return as a war party. They capture, then butcher the safari, and Wilde gets to be wild game.

2. The characters are static (we never learn much), but there's real sympathy for both Wilde's character and the men trying to kill him (just look at the grief and anger exhibited when the hunters are picked off by Wilde or nature or each other or just plain bad luck). 3. The Naked Prey is a very intellectual movie, wrapped in a bloody loincloth. Because we don't know Wilde's history, nor do we understand the Africans' languages, we have to write our own scripts in our heads; it's a deeply thoughtful method of engaging the audience on a intellectual level.

4. We hear pain and terror and glee in the voices and the words of the many characters. Wilde says a few words here and there; we identify him as American. The tribesmen hunting him, in an undecipherable language to Western ears, speak to each other in a completely understandable language, all because we have been frustrated and horrified and grief-stricken, too. The "diction" of the movie is up to the audience to create.

5. Director Wilde uses three methods to evoke emotions from the audience with "music," whatever hits the ears of the audience, outside of diction. The first is by never being quiet--there always seems to be about a hundred different screams, hoots, clicks, and hollers from nature. Throw in the torment of scene changes going absolutely black and still--catch your breath because I'm going to swap you upside the head again when the light comes up--and you begin to feel some of the Wilde character's panic when he wakes up, aching from lack of food and water, exhausted from the hunt, and getting sick from all the little things that he's ingesting that will wear him out. The second is the juxtaposition of sight and emotion. We see Wilde get lucky killing one of his tormentors. We hate the monstrous sub-humanity of their gleeful desire to kill him, and we are set up to hate them when they take great relish in coming up with exciting ways to torture the hunting party at the start. Then we see one of the hunters find another young man, run through with a spear, and he screams in pain, sobbing while his brain tries to accept how quickly his friend has left this world. We instantly feel for this young man. It's startling how fast we change sides. Wilde does this again and again. Take sides. Show the emotions of both the killers and the killed, and it leaves the audience reeling and confused. Finally, Wilde gives us a thoroughly claustrophobic experience because he mixes the music of the tribesmen and the sounds of nature. They're almost interchangeable. It's smothering in its scariness.

6. From the first moments of the hunt, with elephants being slaughtered, to Cornel Wilde's character scanning the horizon, close up and wide-angle, to the gleeful murder of the hunting party, to the mind-boggling vistas and close up beauty of the African scenery (and more than a few visual gross-outs and gag-inducers), the audience's eyes are locked on to the "spectacle" of the movie. It is visual super-glue. You can't stop looking at this train wreck of a chase. You want to look away, but you simply cannot.

Which brings me back to my saying that of the three Wilde-directed movies, this is the most pleasing. There's trickery in Sword of Lancelot and Beach Red--he tries to come up with new tricks to wow the audience, and he has some success. In Naked Prey, the tricks blend together to give the audience a innovative and evocative experience. The Naked Prey really is in my top 25.

It's that good.
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Beach Red (1967)
The Scalpel and the Sledgehammer
22 October 2016
I remember seeing Cornel Wilde in a couple of costume dramas as a kid. Intense eyes, a very interesting voice, and later I realized he was wearing a wig. He always seemed old to me.

I've seen three movies directed by Wilde. I reviewed Sword of Lancelot, a very good try for a low-budget clang-and-banger. I remember enjoying how daring Wilde was in his execution of battle scenes, and I'm still a little startled by his scene with Guinevere, all drying sweat and catching their breath. 1962. Wow.

Anyway, I saw Beach Red in 2008 on TCM, I think. Although it's a clunky, over-dramatic war-is-heller, once again, Wilde finds some interesting ways to tell his story of the US Marines and Japanese soldiers fighting for an island in the South Pacific. Lots of narrative, lots of flashbacks. I remember one where a Japanese thinks about his wife and children in a bath house. Lots of naked people, but you don't really notice because of how Wilde humanizes his characters. Of course they're naked in a bath house. So what?

It's weird to say this, but that is good movie-making.

Beach Red isn't a great war--or anti-war--movie. But Cornel Wilde seems to have made a name for himself as something of a risk-taker. He sometimes uses a sledgehammer when a scalpel would do, but he gives it a try. Something most corporate movie-hacks wouldn't dream of doing.

And that is why I recommend Beach Red.

I just saw 1977's The Hills Have Eyes. Wes Craven seems to come from the same school of thought, "Let's throw it up on the screen and see if it sticks." But don't lose control of the narrative.
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See is Believing
21 October 2016
Fire up Netflix. C'mon, you have nothing better to do, right? Look for The Valley of the Dolls, easily one of the 2 or 3 worst movies I've ever seen.

It's the story of three women who find out that show business is mean and nasty.

There, that's it. The rest of the movie is a compendium of some of the worst acting and dialogue I've ever witnessed. I use the word witnessed with the idea that watching The Valley of the Dolls is very much like watching a film of that ocean liner that sank off the southern end of Chile about 25 years ago. It lost power in heavy seas, and it seemed like a week before the waves and the flooding just made the big hunk of steel go under.

Nauseating, but fascinating to watch.

Almost like The Valley of the Dolls, only without the "fascinating to watch" part.
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I Give it a Seven
21 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is garbage, but it's quality garbage. Just when I thought Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes is about to drift into the totally incoherent lane, he saves it by giving us something imaginative.

It's the oft-told story (I threw "oft-told" in there just for the fun of it) of a well-adjusted family on the way to California for a vacation. Daddy's got a bum ticker and needs to rest. Mom warns him about said ticker. There's a couple of girls, a baby, and a son-in- law, and derned if they don't get a warning to stay on the highway, and off the moors.

Wait, that's another movie.

Sure enough, the Ohioan doofi get themselves stranded out there in the desert, and are almost immediately set upon by a bunch of blood- thirsty half-wits who live up in the rocks, use surplus walkie- talkies, and like to kill almost anything that has the bad fortune to wander in front of them.

Craven gives you just enough information about the hill people to keep you from being totally bewildered. When you have enough 411, he starts disemboweling German Shepards, crucifying retired police detectives, and shooting mom and sis (Dee Wallace, just out of the back of the station wagon with her hubby), raping, pillaging, and kidnapping a baby for, apparently, the bad guys' holiday dinner.

It's sick, twisted crap, but I kept jumping when I got something I didn't expect.

I guess I should jump right now because I liked The Hills Have Eyes. I also like Mandingo, so you know I have no taste.

Catch it on Flix.
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Cleopatra (1963)
Eight Hours of My Life
21 October 2016
For some strange reason, I have watched Joseph L. Mankiewicz' Cleopatra (1963) twice. That's 8 hours out of, at present time, about 450k.

If you're picking up an unimpressed vibe, well . . .

This elephantine mess of a historical epic cum romance is impressive only if the viewer simply marvels at the eye-popping scope of the story of the pairings of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra and Marcuus Antonius and said same Egyptian queen.

Mankiewicz creates the Eastern Mediterranean and Imperial Rome, 2,000 years ago, and the viewer has to marvel at the skill of the art directors before CGI.

But, with the 1962 amount of about a bajillion dollars spent (100 bajillion now?), you'd hope for something more than a shrill and tedious star vehicle wherein Richard Burton, Roddy McDowall, and, of course, the coarse Elizabeth Taylor chew up the scenery as fast as the set builders can replace it.

Burton looks desperate for some real alcohol in one of those Jacuzzi-sized chalices you see in costume dramas, McDowall simpers and swishes as a very femmie/bitchy Octavian, and Rex Harrison, the only reason to watch, even though he dies before the two-hour mark, makes Caesar something the others aren't, a real man.

Real, as in, believable.

It's Taylor who makes you stop the Netflix playback to see just how much time is left on this awful thing. Under ginormous eyelashes and head dresses, almost baring a butt cheek here and a breast there, and shrieking and clawing with her voice alone, Liz makes you think of what Peggy Noonan says Hillary Clinton sounds like--your landlady yelling down the stairs to remind you to clean up after your dog.

Taylor, the "most beautiful woman in the world," is a thoroughly unsympathetic character. What kills Cleopatra isn't a broken heart, a loss of her throne, or a snake in her fruit cup, it's that we simply don't care about her, or for that matter, anyone, besides good ol' Rex.

And with that said, I'll bring this back to the lost 8 hours in 2 viewings--once in the 80s and once this last week.

When I first saw Cleopatra, I rented it in VHS form from my local video rental shop. It was full screen. If you don't understand the difference between full screen and wide screen, just think of it this way. Full screen on an old TV has a visual ratio of 1.33 to 1, the view from side to side is 1/3 greater than the height of the picture. Wide screen-- or letterbox--mimics human sight, including peripheral vision. It's about 2.35 to 1.

Get it? Wide screen?

When you watch a wide screen movie in full screen, you lose about 40% of the picture the movie maker wanted you to see. It's a major irritant to annoying purists like me. I want to see the whole thing.

Because Cleopatra is in some sort of super-d-duper wide screen, I felt ripped off watching the squished version, even with good scan and pan (the editor who transfers the film to a full screen format scans the image for important action and dialogue, then pans over to capture it).

Another purist toothache.

I wanted to see all of Burton's blustering and pounding his shield, McDowall swishing and shirking, and Taylor flapping those eyelashes and almost having a soapy boob pop out of the bathwater.

I wanted to see the whole tit and kaboodle.

Unfortunately, the wide screen version didn't add anything. I just sat there wondering why I didn't see a custodian pushing a Swiffer around some polished Egyptian floor waaaay off on the left.

I should have known better. I should have stuck with the VHS version.

I should have settled for 60% of the kaboodle.
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