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'Doc' (1971)
7/10
"Lady, where I go, I go alone..."
14 May 2009
Warning: Spoilers
It's been a long while since I've watched 1993's "Tombstone" and 1994's "Wyatt Earp", and my recollection is that I enjoyed them both quite well. It's a pretty fair conclusion to draw that none of the films depicting Wyatt Earp and the events at the OK Corral were ever done entirely accurately, but those two came pretty close, depending on your view of the Earp Brothers and their place in Western legend. For what it's worth, "Doc" may be even more historically accurate regarding the motives of Wyatt and his ambitions in Tombstone, even if the film's finale is entirely off the mark. The 'real' gunfight, as much as history can offer us, lasted only about thirty seconds, with thirty one shots fired, and only the McLaury Brothers and Bill Clanton dead. Before he was cut down, Clanton injured Virgil and Morgan, while Doc Holliday caught a bullet in the hip. Unarmed Ike Clanton and young Billy Clayborn (not a character here, but presumably 'The Kid') backed out of the fight and ran away.

This revisionist telling of the Earp legend won't please everyone, so if you'll be offended by the portrayal of the Earps here as opportunistic heels, it's a fair bet you should stay away. A 1998 compilation of fact based histories titled "Gunfighters of the West" from Wellspring Entertainment offers a compelling view of both the Earps and the Clantons, and neither is pretty. While the Clantons and McLaury's represented the rowdy 'cowboy' element, the Earps weren't above running gambling tables and brothels, while operating as a veritable protection racket for the good folks of Tombstone. Virgil was the assistant town marshal to Sheriff Johnny Behan, and Morgan often rode shotgun on the Benson stagecoach. Both Behan and Wyatt had designs on becoming Sheriff of Cochise County (not Tombstone), because that's where the money was. The county sheriff job, through taxation and other forms of revenue, was worth about forty thousand dollars; translate that into more than a half million today.

Fact and fiction parallel nicely here in the latter half of the picture when Wyatt (Harris Yulin) tries to make a deal with Ike Clanton (Michael Witney) by offering twenty thousand dollars for turning in Ringo Kid (Denver John Collins) for the stagecoach robbery. Historically, the smooth and popular Johnny Behan got Wyatt to back out of running for County Sheriff if Wyatt would accept a Chief Deputy position, with both splitting the spoils of the office. When Behan reneged, the bad blood between the two only heightened, and was made more complicated by Wyatt moving in on Behan's girl, Josephine 'Josie' Marcus.

But wait a minute, this is John Henry 'Doc' Holliday's picture. A dentist by trade, and a gambler and gunman by conviction, Stacy Keach's portrayal rivals that of Val Kilmer's in 'Tombstone" (personally, I like Kilmer better). Doc's reputation as the fastest, deadliest and best gunfighter of the territory was well warranted, but it surprised me (and quite frankly bothered me), that the film writers had Doc involved in that cowardly kill of The Kid in the finale. Along with the entirely one sided portrayal of the Earps as dirt bags, it's not too much of a stretch to say that even-handedness didn't get in the way of this story's outcome.

All that said, it's probably wishful thinking that a completely unbiased telling of the OK Corral legend could ever be told, with adherents on both sides of the fence regarding the reputations of the Earp Brothers and Doc Holliday. If you side with the detractors, you'll probably go along with Doc's assessment when he says to his friend - "You sound like bad people Wyatt". Earp's response - "We are John".
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'G' Men (1935)
8/10
"It's the big daddy of G-Men pictures!"
16 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
My summary quote comes from David Brian for the 1949 re-release introduction to the story, a way for the film to pay tribute to the rise of the FBI to a position of force and respect. Though technically fictional, the picture has some basis in actual events that helped shape the direction of the Bureau. Enough points are made to offer a respectable overview of how the agency received it's authority through Congressional legislation.

I've been watching a lot of James Cagney's early films recently, and even when he's got a minor role he's a standout. Here he tops the bill as lawyer turned 'G-Man' to avenge a friend's death, then finds himself in direct confrontation with the gang whose boss put him through college and law school. I got a kick out of an opening scene when Cagney's character Brick Davis turns down a legal job to represent a mobster, it might be the first time in pictures that the term 'grease ball' is used.

There are some well placed humorous scenes involving the new recruit taking boxing and firearm lessons. When Davis' boss McCord (Robert Armstrong) asks him how he learned to shoot - "I used to be marble champion in the Bronx"! For his part, Armstrong does well as Cagney's boss at the Bureau, every bit as animated as the adventurer who set out to capture King Kong a couple of years earlier. His performance is a far cry from a prior appearance as a gangster in 1929's "The Racketeer", an early sound film that maintains a number of traditions from the silent era.

The supporting cast is respectable as well, with Warner contract player Barton MacLane in a familiar role as a top hood, along with Margaret Lindsay and Ann Dvorak walking a tightrope to Cagney's romantic aspirations. As a good guy, Cagney actually gets to win a girl at the end of the picture, not too shabby.
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6/10
"Anyone can build a bridge over water, I'd like to see some guy build one under."
21 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Danny (Bobby Jordan) accidentally gets a murder rap pinned on him in this East Side Kids outing, and the rest of the gang are out to find the real killer. It's a fairly standard adventure for the boys with a few surprises thrown in. Noah Beery Jr. makes an appearance as a former 'charter member' of the gang, which is a little unusual since this is the only film of the series he appeared in. It's convenient though as he turns up to become the romantic interest for Sylvia (Ann Gillis), the stepdaughter of the murder victim.

Marc Lawrence appears as the villain of the piece, a hood named McGaffey who tries to enlist Muggs (Leo Gorcey) in a warehouse heist in exchange for the murder weapon and a chance to clear Danny. If you really think about it, there wasn't much to his plan at any step of the way; he could have been easily outed, and was, by the time the film ended. Such was Lawrence's fate in most films, with over two hundred movie credits, he almost always appeared as a heavy, be it Westerns, mysteries, sci-fi, or the occasional Charlie Chan flick.

As in many of the East Side films, Danny's big brother is portrayed by Dave O'Brien. Here they have an extended one on one scene that goes a bit heavy on the melodrama as Phil tries to get Danny to tell what he knows. Loyalty is a gang member's best trait, so he's not saying anything, but then again, he was basically in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I always enjoy Sunshine Sammy Morrison as Scruno. He doesn't have a lot to do in this one, but the good thing is he doesn't wind up on the end of any stereotyped racial references. Glimpy (Huntz Hall) fires off a few nifty one liners like the one in my summary. He even has one brief shining moment when Muggs promotes him to Vice President of Miscellaneous Stuff. It lasts less than a screen minute, but hey, it was a moment in the sun.

I see this flick rated relatively high for an East Side Kids film, but don't see it as a cut above most. I always felt they did their best work when supporting a name actor, be it Cagney, Bogart or Garfield in vehicles from larger studios. Still if you're a fan, it won't hurt to take this one in. They even manage to focus in on the Brooklyn Bridge a couple of times, just to make sure there's some connection to the title.
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4/10
"Some men are like books written in a strange language, and that makes it awfully hard to read them."
15 September 2004
Warning: Spoilers
"Daddy" Chris Morrell (John Wayne) is the guardian of a young Indian girl who stands to inherit fifty thousand dollars, whether or not her rightful father is ever found. Bad guy Sam Black wants that money, and is hot on the trail of Morrell and the girl. The action takes place in Snake River, used as the locale in a much later (1951) Durango Kid film - "Snake River Desperados".

Safe to say, with John Wayne in these mid 1930 Lone Star films, Yakima Canutt or George (later Gabby) Hayes are usually close by, in this case both are, Yakima as gang leader Sam Black. Sheila Terry portrays the love interest, as the sister of a local bandit who trades shirt and scarf with a battered Wayne early on, putting him on the defensive in a plot line that goes nowhere.

There's a very cool horse dive off of a rock face near the end, that actually looks pretty exciting. But everything else is fairly standard for the day, as John Wayne ends up in a clinch with Terry in the closing scene, with Gabby and Indian girl Nina giggling their approval.
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Thriller: 'Til Death Do Us Part (1962)
Season 2, Episode 24
8/10
"There's an old nag I've got to get rid of."
10 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Well you've heard of a bicycle built for two, but this story takes that concept to a whole new level. If you think about it though, there's no way Carl Somers (Henry Jones) should have made it past Myrtle's (Jocelyn Brando) funeral considering that, one, that casket would have weighed about four hundred pounds, and two, why wasn't Myrtle's sister-in-law Celia (Reta Shaw) at the cemetery. Sometimes these stories blew by those kinds of inconsistencies trying to put out an entertaining little tale, so I guess what you have to do here is indulge the script until the payoff.

I'm almost through watching the entire Thriller series in order and I'm glad to see that they had a story set in the Old West. Not only that but they brought in a couple of great character actors of the genre like Edgar Buchanan as Doc O'Connor and Jim Davis as the town marshal. You might recognize Davis as the patriarch of the Ewing clan from the hit TV series 'Dallas', and Buchanan, well if you don't recognize him you've never seen a Western at all.

Boris Karloff introduces the story in his own inimitable style once again, but this time he adds a bit of black humor by offering a host of puns that have to do with death and dying, and even gives us a glimpse of a gravestone with his name carved on it. The episode follows through with some more clever lines, like Somers' claim to be a Southern planter and welcoming his first customer in Prunedale when the sheriff guns down an outlaw. But I had to do a double take at one point - do you think there was ever a newspaper called 'Embalmers' Life'?
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'Way Out (1961)
8/10
"For a TV show to be really good, you've gotta believe it could really happen in real life..."
23 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
My summary quote is from Charlotte Rae's character Hazel Atterbury, wife of the guy (Don Keefer) in the 'Death Wish' episode, the one where he wants to kill her but the mortician turns the tables on him. As creepy and mysterious as the shows were, there was just the slightest enough hint of realism to make you think twice. For one season in 1961, 'Way Out' was the lead-in to that other imaginative show hosted by Rod Serling, everyone's favorite 'Twilight Zone'.

Like many of the other posters on this board, I would have been about ten years old when this program first appeared, and the one I remember best even to this day was 'The Croaker'. I just finished watching it, along with the other four episodes that seem to be the only ones readily available. The surprise this time around was learning that the oddball guy turning victims into frogs was portrayed by venerable character actor John McGiver, and the neighborhood kid Jeremy was played by Richard Thomas. I recall sitting on the couch with my Dad fifty years ago when this episode first aired, and we both looked at each other with barely disguised glee when Jeremy concocted his own formula to one-up old Mr. Rana (McGiver). I won't reveal it, but that ending just blew me away. Very clever too, that name Rana, which is a genus of frogs used for McGiver's character.

The shows opened with pairs of buried hands clawing out of their presumed burial places, consumed by smoke and fire. Host Roald Dahl greeted the viewer with a droll "How are you"?, and then did a bit of a somber monologue that was about as creepy as the show itself. Duplicate images of his talking head lent an even eerier quality to the rhythm of his voice, and he had this mesmerizing effect on the viewer making you hang on every word.

Count me in as a fan who would love to see these shows remastered and brought out for a modern day audience. There's a reason why series like this, 'The Twilight Zone', 'The Outer Limits', and 'One Step Beyond' hold sway with such large numbers of fans today. They tap the imagination in a way that's not done any more with stories that both frighten and amuse, and as Roald Dahl would be inclined to say, "You can be quite sure, it is Way Out".
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7/10
"Coincidence. That's all anything ever is."
25 February 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Being well removed from the target audience for a film like this, I can only say I tolerated it for the purpose of posting a review, recommended as a Top 250 Movie for 2009, the year it was released. Like a lot of teenage/young adult heart throb stories, they're usually a one-shot affair as it's present rating wouldn't make the cutoff for the current year's listing. It's not that I have anything against films like this, I just find them mediocre at best with not a lot to say about anything, unless you're someone of the same age dealing with the kind of coming of age issues as Tom (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer (Zooey Deschanel). I thought their portrayals were good by the way, though the way Summer came across seemed like she didn't care about herself very much the way she entered her non-relationship with Tom. And the way Tom burned his bridges at the greeting card company more than anything displayed his own immaturity. He would need a new job referral, wouldn't he?

The one creative effort in the picture I liked was the split screen, Expectations/Reality scenario which diverged and and then dovetailed back on itself during the party scene. The split screen technique isn't new, but I don't think I've seen it used that way before. Before seeing this movie, for the life of me I couldn't figure out how the five hundred days of summer was going to play out in the story, never thinking that it might have been a character's name. But at the finale, I had a pretty good idea what the new girl's name would be, because after all, what comes after summer. In Tom's case, we'll never know if he found true happiness with Autumn, or if he was headed for a big fall.
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7/10
"As of Friday, kindness and generosity are antiquated customs."
30 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Geez, I hate when this happens. The picture starts out as a perfectly intense psychological thriller and then turns into....sci-fi? I think another reviewer had it right when he stated that the movie could have ended when Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) first made it out of the bunker and tested the air for breathability. Not sure if that would have worked too well if it was still contaminated, but one step at a time. Instead we get a look at an alien space contraption and another one of those 'Alien' inspired monsters, but this one with a bulbous pulsing head with fangs. I wish someone would come up with a creative new look for an outer space monster. Up until then, I thought the writing held up well with enough twists and turns to make you wonder what was going on with Howard and his paranoid fantasies. The description that Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) had of Howard being a 'black belt in conspiracy theory' was a pretty good one. I would like to have come up with that one myself. As it is, once Michelle made it back to the outside world I felt let down considering all that went before. I didn't think much of 2008's "Cloverfield", and when the movie was over, I thought even less of this one.
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7/10
"What's wrong with you?"
22 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The acting may be substandard but the movie delivers an important story. Nellie Bly's (Caroline Barry) heroism in bringing the state of abused mental patients to light helped bring the profession of psychiatry out of the dark ages. And it truly was heroic, not knowing what to expect and being subjected to forcible stripping, cold baths, and opiate concoctions intended to make her docile, even if she wasn't actually being all that confrontational to the authority of Blackwell's Asylum. The picture offers an expose of corrupt practices that condoned nurses of spitting on patients, slapping them in the face, immersing their heads in water in a form of waterboarding, and what looked like nurse assisted rape by a male doctor at one point. That scene was rather ambiguously done, so if I'm out on a limb with that observation, I'd be inclined to reconsider. Every now and then, the picture is punctuated with an image of a large hairy spider guarding it's web, as if to symbolize the nightmare web the patients of Blackwell's were inextricably trapped in. Watching the movie, one can't help but admire the real Nellie Bly's courage and determination in making this story public.
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10,000 BC (2008)
5/10
"He has magical powers. He speaks to the Spear Tooth."
26 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The special effects were good and any of the scenes with prehistoric animals were done well, but the story went off the rails when the Yagahls wound up in the land of the tribe that captured Evolet (Camilla Belle) and the others. All of a sudden, prehistoric times met a relatively advanced civilization that had conquered domesticating mammoths to do their work for them, and huge buildings and pyramid structures that were light years ahead of D'Leh's (Steven Strait) people. None of that seemed credible, even for a movie that you knew going in wasn't going to be credible in the first place. I think you know you're in trouble when a flick with the word 'BC' in it has a female character like Evolet who's mascara begins to run when she starts crying. Not that Ms. Belle didn't have a reason to cry to be cast in this story, especially when her character is magically saved from death by the mysterious link shared with Old Mother (Mona Hammond) who does die to revive the story's heroine.

Best line in the movie - when D'Leh says to the sabretooth, "Do not eat me when I set you free." Who came up with that one?
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100 Rifles (1969)
6/10
"I want their heads!"
18 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In her heyday, the 1960's, I don't think any actress was hotter than Raquel Welch in the looks department. Unfortunately, that didn't translate into meaningful movie roles, perhaps because her physical assets outshone her acting ability. Just surmising on that point mind you, since I haven't seen a lot of her pictures. Here she seems effective as the strong willed Yaqui woman who comes to the aid of her people following the hanging death of her father in an opening scene. Fellow Yaqui, Joe Herrera (Burt Reynolds) is being pursued by ex-footballer Jim Brown, who's character Lyedecker is after a two hundred dollar reward and a permanent job for capturing the Indian bandit.

I couldn't help feeling that the almost two hour film could have been done in half the time like a 'B' programmer from the 1950's. Then of course, you wouldn't have needed the three principal stars to tell the story, or the strong supporting cast headed by Fernando Lamas as the bloodthirsty Mexican General Verdugo. Not knowing him by his real name, Eric Braeden, I would have sworn Hans Gudegast turned up for his role straight off the set of "Rat Patrol" - I'll have to go back to some of those episodes to see if there's a uniform change. He's a very similar character here, but certainly second string to Lamas.

I'll have to admit I was a little impatient for things to get going here, once they do there are a few interesting moments. There's a real tough looking descent down a cliff side on horseback by both the Indians and the Mexican rurales. The love scene between Brown and Welch had me wondering if this might have been the first time an inter-racial match up was attempted in film, if so, it was a ground breaking move, even if tame by today's standards. Still, it was a moment to be noted for the late 1960's. For Raquel Welch, the show stopper was the train stopper, if you know what I mean.
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12 Angry Men (1957)
9/10
"You can't send someone off to die with evidence like that".
30 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
When I was a store manager for a regional supermarket chain, about thirty years or so ago, our team was presented a developmental seminar featuring "12 Angry Men". Breaking into work groups, our task was to watch the film, and at strategically paused moments, predict which of the jurors would be the next to change their verdict from guilty to not guilty. It was an exercise in analytical thinking and observation of human behavior, characteristics that a good manager needs in order to develop a work force toward a common goal. There was actually a group that got all the positions right from one through twelve, which astounded me. Watching today, I got stuck again right at the outset, figuring Jack Klugman's Juror #5 would be the first to be influenced by Henry Fonda's argument.

The film is an extraordinary piece of ensemble acting, and if the players weren't that well known back in the day, they have certainly made themselves a name since. Almost all have passed on, but to see actors like Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Ed Begley and Klugman all in one film is a veritable treat, even apart from the story. But it's the story itself that rivets one's attention to the screen, and the slow, methodical plodding Fonda brings to the table with convincing arguments even in the face of his own uncertainty about the case. With a surety that "The facts are supposed to determine the case", Fonda's character struggles to assure his fellow jurors that the life of an accused killer is worth the effort to consider reasonable doubt.

Aside from Fonda, the two most galvanizing characters are portrayed by Lee J. Cobb and Ed Begley. Begley, Juror #10, who exhibits the most extreme traits of racism and bigotry, forces each of the jurors to confront their own prejudices in an uncomfortable scene where almost every other juror stands up and turns their back on him. Cobb, Juror #3, has a much more personal investment in the trial, harboring a failed relationship with his own son that colors his view of the world. The really interesting point regarding Fonda's character is that he accomplished his mission without ever raising his voice. I don't think I could have done that considering the stakes involved.

It's a rare film that can anchor the viewer in one spot for an hour and a half and make time fly by with an intriguing story and realistic dialog. Rarer still is the ability to poke a finger at one's own pre-conceived notions of guilt or innocence, forcing the serious viewer to take a seat at the jury table and examine the facts from all sides before voting guilty or not guilty.
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9/10
"It's a fact, a plain and simple fact, that what is true and right is true and right for all."
2 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Well tonight is Oscar night as I write this, and this picture will likely garner it's share of awards. It deserves it's accolades, but I have to say, it's tough picture to watch at times. The whipping scenes in particular are extremely brutal, and just as in "The Passion of the Christ", I have to wonder if any person's human body can stand up to that type of torture. It's too graphic even for words, and rending another person's flesh as depicted seems almost incomprehensible.

Which is the point I guess. The brutality of slavery is on display here in all it's horror, and in today's politically charged climate, this makes for exceptional Oscar fodder. Too bad it were not otherwise. The film could probably win on it's own merits without the politics of the Academy involved, and if it does win Best Picture, who will know for sure? Of course this all a few hours before the fact, so in a little while I guess all the guessing games can begin.

As well as the picture itself, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o are solid contenders for their respective categories. The scene where Patsey begs Solomon to end her misery was a standout for me, and spoke to the unbearable circumstances so often associated with slavery and it's horrors. Again, a tough picture to watch, but probably an important one if it helps bridge the atrocities of a past century with healing instead of divisiveness.
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127 Hours (2010)
8/10
"I'm in pretty deep doo-doo here."
14 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I knew the story well enough when it happened, but didn't commit to the film when it came out because of the subject matter. I'm not keen on self mutilation and frankly, I get queasy just thinking about cutting one of my own limbs off. But there was a larger story here that compelled me to pick up the film today and give it a shot. There had to be some inspirational take-away from a movie about a man who was forced to make a supreme sacrifice in order to survive, and in that respect, the picture is one of hope and triumph against all odds. I'm not going to be one of those bashers who condemn Aron Ralston (James Franco) for abandoning better judgment on that fateful day, even though I did find it odd that he had all that technical gadgetry and no cell phone. If I'm Aron Ralston, I'm kissing the ground I walk on every day for the rest of my life, content in the knowledge that there exists a Higher Power and a role we're given in life to be an inspiration to others.
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8/10
"I concede nothing, until they throw dirt in my face."
10 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Though limited by the technology and writing of the era, "13 Rue Madeleine" stands as an effective and exciting espionage thriller. I couldn't help thinking that if made today, it might prove worthy as a contender for a number of major film awards.

James Cagney is top billed as a successful espionage agent, now training recruits for Secret Intelligence. His newest class, Operation 77, contains a German agent. However rather than simply exposing the agent, the mission intriguingly evolves to planting false information regarding a second front in Europe to misdirect the Nazis and gain time for the Allies in preparation for D-Day. An associated goal of locating a scientist in the employ of Vichy France would also help uncover the location of German warheads aimed at England.

A major part of the story revolves around the Nazi double agent Kuncel (Richard Conte) masquerading as a recruit for Sharkey's (Cagney) outfit. When he unwittingly (and unknowingly) outs himself in a set up that exposes his experience, Sharkey and his superiors go to work planting misinformation regarding Plan B - the invasion of Germany through the Dutch lowlands. At the same time, they make their one mistake, allowing agent Lassiter (Frank Latimore) to know the real identity of his buddy O'Connell. While on a mission, Lassiter's demeanor changes enough to give himself away, and O'Connell/Kuncel has no trouble doing what Lassiter might have - he kills him by severing his parachute jump line.

Once the film gets under way following the training sequences, the film builds with tension and mystery. Lending support to the main story are Annabella as part of the Sharkey O-77 team, and Sam Jaffe as French Mayor Gallimard. A rare highlight of the film has Annabella's character suffering a violent death when discovered by the Nazis, not the norm for a female lead. For film buffs, it's a hoot to catch uncredited performances by future stars like Karl Malden, E.G. Marshall and Red Buttons.

The picture's title comes from the address of Gestapo Headquarters in Paris, and trivia fans might be interested in something I picked up after watching this quite a while ago for the first time. Shortly after, I caught the Charlie Chan film "The Trap" from 1946. In that story, the killer uncovered by Chan once maintained a Paris address that happened to be right across the street - at 14 Rue Madeleine!
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1408 (2007)
8/10
"Stay scared."
7 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
If you've seen enough horror films, it's pretty hard to come away totally surprised by events in a picture that are meant to be scary. Still, "1408" does a pretty good job with setting up the viewer and it's principal player, John Cusack, for a roller coaster ride of conflicting emotions. I thought the selection of The Carpenters' tune was pretty interesting, as it conveyed to Mike Enslin (Cusack) that yes indeedy, we're just getting warmed up here and you better buckle yourself in for the ride. I thought though, that Cusack's character started to lose it just a little too early in the picture when the coincidence angle could have been played up a bit more. But by the time things really get rolling, the story builds with more and more authenticity so that you start putting yourself in Cusack's shoes and start wondering what you'd do if you were stuck in Room 1408 yourself. Me, I'd rather not even think about it, because if you've ever read one of Stephen King's books alone at night in the dark, on purpose, then that's as much of a scare as I'd like to attempt. Try watching this one alone at night, in the dark, on purpose.
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1922 (2017)
8/10
"And I believe there's another man inside of every man."
21 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Adapted from a Stephen King novella and presented as a Netflix original film, I think the movie stacks up favorably against some of the larger studio offerings like "The Shining" and "Stand by Me". In fact, when I enter the title into a list of Stephen King based movies I've reviewed, it comes in right behind the 2017 remake of "It", which seems to be quite a favorable placement among King adaptations, certainly a lot better than a picture like "Riding the Bullet", or "Children of the Corn". Speaking of which, one of the main thematic elements of this film corresponds to that latter picture, with acres and acres of lush, green corn fields set as a backdrop to the story of a farmer intent on adding his wife's inheritance to an already sizable farm.

All of which made it a little difficult for this viewer to wrap my head around, as this was originally a one family farm of eighty acres and worked only by Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) and his fourteen year old son Henry (Dylan Schmid). When wife Arlette's (Molly Parker) father dies, she's left with a one hundred acre inheritance which 'Wilf' fully intends to add to his own acreage. Prior to large scale mechanization, I have no idea how Wilf was going to make a go of it, but for the sake of the story I guess one has to take it on faith.

As it is though, Arlette sees her windfall as an opportunity to sell out to a large local combine and make a life for herself and her family in a city like Omaha or St. Louis. However her idea about opening a dress shop is met with stiff resistance by her husband, and quite coincidentally, her own son, who has a local sweetheart. When Wilf finally realizes that his wife is firm, he sets in motion a ghastly plan to murder her with his son as an accomplice.

Though the film enters horror territory with the murder of Arlette, there appears to be a distinct departure from some of King's other works. In this one, it's not so much the return of Arlette's ghost that provides the scary elements, as the psychological trauma Wilfred experiences over the guilt of his crime. Not only does he experience the loss of his wife, but the son and eventual heir who he loves, runs off with his pregnant girlfriend, and turns to a life of crime to try and provide for them in a time and place devoid of employment opportunities. When news of their death reaches Wilf via his deceased wife's voice from the grave, he suffers an emotional breakdown heralded by the return of all three 'ghosts'.

With Netflix, I find that they bring a real professionalism to the films made for their platform. Cinematography, effects and performers compare favorably to larger studios with bigger budgets, and for that they are to be commended. This latest entry serves as a good example, and for Stephen King fans, I think the project here is a good one for followers to get a sampling of.
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6/10
"What I have to say you'll find incredible, but true."
4 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
It's probably being picky, but it wouldn't have been too much trouble for the film makers to find out that the closest Earth and Venus ever get depending on where they are in their respective orbits, is about twenty six million miles. Oh well, I guess they rounded down to come up with the title.

I always get a kick out of these 1950's era sci-fi and monster flicks, doing the best they could with whatever the story writers came up with. I had to laugh when Colonel Calder (William Hopper) warned the others on the monster chase that the creature only got ferocious when provoked, at which point he poked him with a stick and beat him with a shovel. I wonder how he thought that was going to work out. And while I'm reading here that the beast was called an Ymir, I never heard it referred to by that name, nor did I see it come up in captioning as I watched the picture. If anyone could help on that score I'd appreciate it.

As for the creature itself, it was a pretty cool Harryhausen creation, with that neat appearing handlebar mustache that really topped off the look. The battle against the elephant went a full three out of five falls if you were counting, by which time the Venusian beast was fully realized due to Earth's atmosphere. I'm not quite sure how Calder determined that the creature was susceptible to electric shock; it could have been a good guess but when they specified it took just the right eighteen hundred volts to keep it tranquilized, I knew they had to be making this all up on the fly.

But you know what - none of the silly science stuff matters if you go for this grade B stuff from the Fifties. In a way, the picture seemed to be an ode of sorts to a couple other classic favorites of mine from the gorilla genre. When the Ymir broke the giant metal clamp pinning him to the lab table it reminded me of Mighty Joe Young, and the creature's death summoned up the way King Kong died in the original. If I ever get tired of this stuff, just throw one of those electrified nets over and haul me off.
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6/10
"Hey fellas, lets' escape!"
11 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Hmm... I seem to be detecting a pattern here. With over two hundred film shorts to his credit, it's not surprising that director Roy Mack would go to the well more than once for the same idea. Trouble is, I seem to be catching them all in a row. In this case, I'm referring to a gimmick in the story turning out to be nothing more than a dream sequence of one of the principal characters. Catching a whole slew of these film shorts on TCM the past week, I've already seen "Soft Drinks and Sweet Music" and "Good Morning, Eve", both of which also disclosed events as a dream at the finale. Oh well, let's just go with the flow.

So what we have here is a quintet of prisoners making a break for it from a chain gang while the inept prison guards don't seem particularly interested in catching them. Almost every other reviewer here mentions the posse using poodles and a collie to track the bad guys, but having been a Maltese owner for quite a few years, those 'poodles' looked suspiciously like Maltese dogs, or perhaps their close cousins, Bichon Frise. I can pretty safely say those dogs wouldn't have tracked anyone other than their owners!

After their escape, the story zeroes in on one of the convicts named Jerry (Jerry Bergen) who makes it home to his wife. But after spending some not-so quality time with the Mrs., the 'dirty little fugitive' (wife's description, not mine) high tails it back to the swamp to hook back up with his chain gang buddies, who presumably have the same idea - let's break back into the hoosegow! You see, the warden is making some adjustments in order to pass muster with a governor's representative who'll be arriving soon to report on prison conditions.

For what it is, this short is an amusing but non-sensical tale at least made lively by a bevy of dance hall beauties near the finale. But it wouldn't be long before the inmates would have to trade in their striped tuxes for real life back on the chain gang. That's about the time Jerry woke up!
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8/10
"There's one thing you oughtta know Professor, Nemo's cracked..."
17 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It's interesting to me how sci-fi films of the mid 1950's presented outer space travelers in those goofy looking suits and helmets, yet in "20000 Leagues Under The Sea" they look perfectly natural as underwater gear. In fact this was the first time I made the connection between over and under water attire; the garb that Nemo and his men wear to explore the ocean depths never look as comical as they did in say, "Abbott and Costello Go To Mars". The subject matter was a bit more serious as well, and for a Disney entertainment, it often struck a nerve regarding the future course of mankind with discussions between Nemo (James Mason) and Professor Arronax (Paul Lukas) on the viability of powerful new energy sources and their destructive power in the wrong hands.

Another thought that crossed my mind was how close Captain Nemo's philosophy compares with what today would be considered a terrorist mindset. Consumed by the loss of a wife and son over their torture and death, Nemo remains committed to protecting the power source of the Nautilus. That includes destroying war ships without regard to human life, much like the attack that left Arronax, Conseil (Peter Lorre) and Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) adrift in a vast ocean. Douglas' character had it pretty much nailed when he called Nemo 'cracked'.

But enough of the heavy stuff. '20000 Leagues' still manages to entertain, with concepts and even direct scenes that Disney saw fit to reintroduce in their "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. Anyone who's seen "Dead Man's Chest" will relate to Ned Land's escape from the island cannibals. One of my favorite scenes dealt with Nemo's dinner menu. What I wouldn't give for a helping of fillet of sea snake, with a side order of brisket of blowfish with sea squirt dressing basted in barnacles. Sort of makes your mouth water, doesn't it?

Kirk Douglas seems to be having a pretty good time of it all, especially with that spirited "Whale of a Tale" number early in the picture. It takes some of the edge off the more sober stuff in the story. James Mason seems the perfect choice as Nemo, affecting a scholarly and serious posture to go with his avowed mission. Interestingly, I recently managed to catch Paul Lukas in a little known pirate adventure called "The Mutiny of the Elsinore" from 1937. I'm rather curious about the original destination of Professor Arronax and his associate Conseil in the film, they were heading to Saigon in a story set in 1868!

The one thing that probably could have been improved upon in the movie was the filming of the underwater scenes, they were generally on the dark and murky side. The battle against the giant black squid was fairly exciting, but here's something to consider. Two years earlier, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby ran across a giant squid in "Road to Bali", and it appeared to be a bright red color, which might seem ridiculous. However it looked a lot like a real one I saw on a National Geographic Special - who would have thought?
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8/10
"We are all by any practical definition of the words..., foolproof and incapable of error".
29 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Notwithstanding Kubrick's status as a legendary director and the film's reputation as a visionary achievement of the genre, I find myself pretty much right in the middle on this picture. For 1968, there is no doubt that '2001' set some high bars for sci-fi in film, but watching today with the passage of four decades, there is a lot that works against it's being the monumental must see that it was when first released. I'm thinking about the extended opening with the ape tribes, and the long psychedelic sequence near the finale that certainly wowed audiences back in the day. Sure, I get it, the picture was portraying one man's interpretation of the evolutionary stages of man, but there's a lot to sit through to get to the point.

The best part of the picture for me was the confrontation between HAL and Dr. Bowman (Keir Dullea), but even there, I find myself with some conflicting ideas about what happened in the story, on two points. For one, I find it difficult to believe that enlightened computer programmers of the future would have given HAL the ability to violate an essential code of human conduct, to commit murder in the interest of self preservation. A machine does not have priority over humanity. Secondly, HAL should have recognized this flaw in his programming, and acted to either repair it or terminate his own existence. William Shatner actually talked a few of his computer adversaries into committing suicide in a handful of Star Trek episodes when it appeared they were going out of control. Those stories also came out in the late 1960's and played out to a much more logical conclusion than having HAL stand his ground only to be terminated by Dave's back door sabotage.

Even with my misgivings though, I can say that my appreciation for the picture has grown with repeated viewings, and I will wind up watching it again as time goes by. However I don't expect something to click in a way that makes me see it as the kind of masterpiece many give it credit for. That rocket has left the launchpad.
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8/10
"I thought he was the one, but now, no."
24 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
My summary line quote is from an Obama voter in 2008. As we count down to the 2012 Presidential Election, I believe that sentiment will be echoed time and time again. This film, I believe, goes a long way to address the topic of Barack Hussein Obama's background and upbringing that was virtually ignored during the 2008 campaign. Personally, I was immersed in the entire run up to that election, so there's nothing in this film that I wasn't already aware of. However the value of the documentary comes from putting things into a time line from the time of Obama's birth in 1961, right through to his education and mentoring by self styled anti-colonialists, radicals, and communists like Frank Marshal Davis, Bill Ayers, Edward Said and Reverend Jeremiah Wright. It's a good starting point for anyone who wants to set off on their own and learn more about the man who holds the highest office in the land.

The over-arching idea that prevails throughout Obama's history is a profound fascination and reverence for a father who he never knew and only met once briefly at the age of ten. Interspersed throughout the film are Obama's words in his own voice from the audio version of 'Dreams From My Father", which author and film maker Dinesh D'Souza uses to underscore key ideas about how Obama's world view was shaped and why he views America as an immoral country. Prior to seeing the film, I thought I would be even more vindicated in my belief that Obama's vision of hope and change is wrong for America. That's still true, but along with it came a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that four more years of an Obama presidency would put the country in a hole virtually impossible to dig out of.

This review is not meant to be a downer. Personally, I came to the conclusion that the President will be voted out of office earlier this year. Though the attendance at my viewing of the movie was rather small, perhaps around fifty patrons, the reaction at the end was altogether positive, and for a handful was for the lack of a better word, rather fiery. If you love your country, you owe it to yourself to see this film, judge it on it's merits, follow up with your own research, and then vote on November 6th.
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21 Grams (2003)
8/10
"Life does not just go on."
14 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Even devotees of non-linear story telling movies might have some difficulty with this picture. The very early sequences of the movie tend to leave one confused and disoriented, seeming as if the principal characters have an established relationship to each other. That idea gets quickly negated as the film moves forward, and you're left scratching your head over something you might have just seen that doesn't make sense any more. It goes on like this for a while until the pieces of the puzzle eventually fall into place, by which time you begin to understand that none of the central characters is particularly appealing and the kind of people you want to root for. A good part of that is owed to the exceptional performances of Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio del Toro, all of whom demonstrate a wide range of thought and emotion demonstrated by their characters. Naomi Watts in particular delivers an outstanding performance in the role of a widow who's lost not only her husband, but two young daughters as well, in an accident that eventually brings all three figures together in an astonishing climax.

The '21 Grams' the movie's title refers to dates all the way back to a pseudo-scientific experiment done in 1901 by a physician named Duncan MacDougall, who was convinced the human soul had weight, and that it could be measured at the time of death by taking the before and after weights of people about to die. Though the experiment was highly flawed, the result the experimenter came up with has lived on as an urban legend of sorts. Upon thoughtful consideration, that really has nothing to do with the premise of this story, as it's thrown into the script one time for matters of association but with no bearing on anything that actually happened in it. Before watching the film, '21 grams' sounded like it could have referred to a quantity of drugs involved in some fatal overdose scenario, but instead it might be the amount of brain power required to concentrate on the film until it's baffling conclusion. Anyone else wondering whether Sean Penn's character shot himself accidentally or on purpose?
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5/10
"Well I'm ready to look for that lonely sympathetic woman who'll understand me,"
14 November 2012
Warning: Spoilers
My guess is that I viewed a severely truncated version of this film since it lasted just a bit over an hour, and in black and white no less, robbing the movie of some vibrancy given the rather exotic location. Given those shortcomings, this seemed to be a rather lifeless picture that wasn't helped at all by the bland characters portrayed by Richard Todd and Merle Oberon. For no discernible reason, Oberon's character becomes obsessed with gambler Todd's 'Young Man', contemplating suicide during the initial flashback scene when he runs a string of bad luck at a gaming table. The tenuous relationship proceeds for a time, but eventually dissolves when the gambling man makes a choice between his addiction and the woman who's melancholy seems to overwhelm the mood of the picture. It's all a rather somber affair, if one could even attribute that description to the title of the picture.
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25th Hour (2002)
9/10
"After tonight, it's bye-bye Monty."
29 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Though I'm not a fan of Spike Lee myself, I can appreciate his talent in bringing provocative and compelling stories to the big screen. It appears he's done it again with "25th Hour". I'm always on my guard going into one of his pictures because I'm expecting an agenda. The scene that started to bother me a lot before it was over was Monty's (Edward Norton) bathroom mirror soliloquy, a Spike Lee rant that leaves political correctness in the dust and skewers virtually every ethnic identity there is. But when it was over, Monty comes to an undeniable conclusion - he 'f....d' up all on his own. I felt better when that came out, the concept of personal responsibility seems to be retreating further and further behind in an era obsessed with getting and having it all. So for Lee to call attention to it isn't a bad thing to my mind. He seems to be kicking slackers, malcontents, and common street thugs in the butt with a wisdom that takes some folks many years to come to grips with. Yes, the film deals with it's share of desperation and futility, and a nod to the spirit of a city devastated by the events of 9/11. However the imagery of removing the rubble from our own lives is a powerful one, and Lee seems to be a master at that. Once again, Edward Norton turns in a stellar performance. Of the crop of modern (not so young anymore) actors, he's right up there at the top of the heap. He gets strong support here from Pepper, Dawson, Paquin and Cox, and a truly conflicted performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman.
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