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Birthdate: September 25
I bid you...velcome.
I'm a shameless movie fanatic who especially favours the following genres:
Favourite directors include:
George A. Romero
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"What's a Belker?" "THIS is a Belker, dog breath."
The men at the Hill lend valuable assistance when a gang war erupts in a different precinct. Esterhaus' pending nuptials are starting to give him pause, especially when his *other* lover, Grace Gardner (the foxy and enticing Barbara Babcock) pays him a visit at the station house. We finally get to see his significant other, Cindy (Lisa Lindgren) at the climactic wedding ceremony. Corrupt detective Macafee (Dan Hedaya, effectively sleazy as he so often is) starts to go mad with paranoia when he believes attempts on his life are imminent. (What he knows could bring down powerful people, and Frank, with extreme reluctance, agrees to the use of some of his people in protecting Macafee.)
Written by actor Alan Rachins ('L.A. Law'), and directed by series producer Gregory Hoblit, this solid episode has plenty of ingratiating humour to help it go down nicely. It also gives star Daniel J. Travanti the chance to do some great, intense acting, as Frank rips the D.A. (Thomas Callaway) a new one for needlessly putting his men in harms' way. Michael Conrad is wonderful as always as Esterhaus, and has a great scene with Joe Spano a.k.a. Goldblume. A delicious guest star turn is provided by a moustachioed Michael Tucker (another future 'L.A. Law' cast member) as an amiable and prolific cat burglar who knows how to tell a good story.
The most memorable moment occurs at about the 32 minute mark, when Grace is determined to utilize her feminine wiles to influence Esterhaus. And the episode is wrapped up in a rather charming and sexy way as Frank and Joyce discuss the possibility of making their relationship known.
Excellent entertainment, as always.
Eight out of 10.
The Sopranos: Pilot (1999)
Solid, engaging TV. A hint of good things to come.
James Gandolfini has charisma and presence as NJ mobster Tony Soprano. Starting to suffer anxiety attacks, he is sent to a psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco). Despite his embarrassment over this situation, he finds it easier and easier to open up to her. Meanwhile, his family issues are piling up: a mother (Nancy Marchand) who adamantly refuses to go live in a retirement home, a daughter (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) rebelling against her mother. He has a nephew (Michael Imperioli) who's becoming hard to handle. And not for nothing is the family of ducks that temporarily makes his swimming pool their home.
This viewer is determined to make up for lost time and check out this series that became a cultural phenomenon for several years, boosting some of its ensemble cast to star status and turning the whole mob genre on its ear. (Interestingly, this came out around the same time as the theatrical film "Analyze This".) It doesn't shy away from violence, treating it as a matter of fact in this sort of storytelling. But it tempers the more serious elements of the story with some disarming humour, and the whole cast is great. Some of them don't get a lot to do in this debut episode, but we can sense that all of these characters are going to be developed in interesting and effective ways.
The series was created by David Chase, a veteran TV writer / producer whose credits date back to shows like 'Kolchak: The Night Stalker' and 'The Rockford Files'. Here, he also writes & directs this pilot, and keeps us engaged from beginning to end.
Seven out of 10.
The Hobbit (1977)
It shows its intended audience a pretty good time.
Bilbo Baggins (voice of Orson Bean) is an amiable, unambitious Hobbit leading a quiet life until he is recruited by powerful wizard Gandalf the Grey (voice of John Huston) to accompany a band of dwarves on a perilous mission. They must steal back the riches amassed by the horrible dragon Smaug (voice of Richard Boone). Along the way, they will be attacked by Trolls, Goblins, and Spiders, and Bilbo will find the inner courage and resourcefulness that he never knew he had.
Tolkien purists might take exception to this adaptation, but newcomers to his work (especially children, obviously the target audience) are likely to be enchanted with the characters and the fanciful character design. The vocal performances (also including such luminaries as Hans Conried, Otto Preminger, Cyril Ritchard, Theodore Gottlieb, Paul Frees, and Don Messick) are all right-on-the-money and wonderful, and the music is lovely too, with Glenn Yarbrough serving as the balladeer.
For a production made over 40 years ago, this viewer thinks that the animation is pretty good, no matter if it's not as slick as one would see nowadays. All things considered, directors Arthur Rankin, Jr. & Jules Bass (that team that made such memorable TV specials as 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer') do the best job they probably could have done given the limits of a TV special kind of budget. Standout sequences include Bilbo's confrontations with the hideous Gollum, in which he and Gollum exchange riddles, and the all-powerful Smaug, completely confident in his dominance over lesser life forms.
Take this modest adaptation for what it is, without fretting over what should have been, and one should have a fairly good time.
Seven out of 10.
The Lovecraft segment makes this worth watching.
'Pickman's Model'. Scripted by Alvin Sapinsley, based on the short story by H.P. Lovecraft. Bradford Dillman plays Richard Upton Pickman, a painter / instructor whose works are decidedly creepy. Nevertheless, one of his students (Louise Sorel), a girl from a good, wealthy family, takes a BIG interest in him. She takes things to the point of tracking him to his studio, where, as it turns out, he is NOT the only resident. Lovecraft is served well with this almost 30 minute long segment: it's richly atmospheric, with appropriate costumes and set design. Sorel is appealing as the girl, and Dillman has a great weary and haunted quality about him. You just KNOW that nothing good can come of the girls' fascination with the man. Excellent support is provided by top character actor Donald Moffat (playing Sorels' uncle), and the creature design in this is actually pretty good for a production that probably didn't have a huge budget. Directed by Jack Laird, who here makes up for a lot of his short, lame comic vignettes on the series with his capable handling of this adaptation.
'The Dear Departed'. Steve Lawrence is good as a phoney medium who collaborates with Harvey Lembeck and Maureen Arthur in bilking believers out of their money. Arthurs' & Lembecks' characters are married, but she's actually been carrying on with Lawrence for a while, as she finds Lembeck to be incredibly inane. When Lembeck perishes in a traffic accident, this seems to solve their problems. That is, until a highly predictable resolution that throws Lawrence & Arthur for a loop, but isn't likely to truly thrill the viewer. Overall, this isn't really bad at all, but it lacks punch. Scripted by Serling, based on the short story by Alice-Mary Schnirring, and directed by the great Jeff Corey.
'An Act of Chivalry'. More ho-hum nonsense from Laird, writing and directing this segment that runs less than two minutes. It's good for one mild chuckle, as a stranger in a ghoulish mask gets on an elevator, and is politely asked to take off the mask. There are no stars in the roles, but this isn't a story that really needs "name actors".
Seven out of 10.
The Walking Dead: Guts (2010)
More gore, more action.
Director Michelle MacLaren puts the pedal to the metal with this second episode of the series. Former regular Glenn (Steven Yeun) makes his first appearance as he helps Rick out of that tight jam in the tank, and Rick is soon holing up with Glenn & other uninfected survivors in a shopping mall, as the walkers amass outside.
It's all about the forward pace here, as we are rarely allowed the opportunity to rest and catch our breath. The protagonists are always having to think their way out of situations. While 'Days Gone Bye' did its job in establishing the scenario and the characters, this episode wastes no time in putting people in peril.
And there are tensions within the group. Guest star Michael Rooker is another actor making his first series appearance here, as a trouble-making, volatile, racist hick named Merle. All of the acting is on point, though. Glenn proves himself to be VERY helpful, watching Ricks' predicament from his vantage point. Andrew Lincoln as Rick is the one who gets the bright idea of learning how to walk among walkers. Suffice it to say, it's not a method recommended for those with weak stomachs. The title of the episode is certainly appropriate. The sight of scores of these walkers (who are also repeatedly called "geeks" here) overrunning Atlanta is quite memorable: those streets are PACKED.
Good fun, overall, with a running time that is pretty succinct (45 minutes, all told) if you're watching this on DVD or Blu, and the commercial breaks are removed.
Seven out of 10.
It has its moments.
Jean-Pierre Aumont plays Claude Marchand, a debonair, jet-setting photographer whose latest assignment is blind, aged sculptor Franz Badulescu (Boris Karloff). Marchand spends a lot of his time charming sexy Spanish ladies like Valerie (Rosenda Monteros), while sometimes the peace of this exotic locale is disturbed by murders - of men, women, and even a dog. What is done with the remains of these murder victims? It involves a cauldron of acid, not blood.
More of a murder mystery (akin to an Italian Giallo) with horror elements than an out-and-out horror film, this was filmed over the course of a few years, and not released until after Karloffs' death. One has to give the genre star credit, as he was not letting ill health slow him down; his performance is as delightful as many others he gave over the decades. The film is unique for incorporating a loud and lively soundtrack of American jazz, as well as surrealism (there are lots of stylized images in some sequences), psychedelia, and the carefree attitude of the swinging 60s. It includes a dungeon setting that is right in line with horror films of years past. The performances are engaging, especially from an unhinged Viveca Lindfors as Badulescus' conniving wife. Aumont is NOT as charming as he seems to think he is, but he does a decent job in the lead. Monteros is highly enticing as an intended victim, as is Dyanik Zurakowska as Elga. The Spanish locations utilized also help to give this a certain stature; while this is of course not up to Peter Bogdanovichs' great thriller "Targets", it's still superior to those VERY low rent Mexican-American horror films that constituted Karloffs' final film work.
Undeniably, this can get pretty crude. The filming and the editing are not exactly slick. A case in point is the ultimate fate for Badulescu; it comes off as laughable. But this Euro-trashy production manages to provide its audience with an amusing diversion, even in light of its troubled history. Karloff and Lindfors make it all worthwhile.
Seven out of 10.
Once you've been to Hell, everything else pales in comparison.
Stephen Geoffreys ("Fright Night" '85) got his first starring role in this amusingly cheesy horror-comedy that marked the directorial debut for actor Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund. Geoffreys plays a kid named "Hoax" (!), a wimpy, awkward outsider dominated by a religious nut of a mother (an amusing Sandy Dennis ("Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?")). Hoax learns of a 976 number from which doomed people get a "horrorscope". Soon, he is granted Satanic powers and full-blown demonic status, and his bad boy cousin Spike (Patrick O'Bryan, "Relentless") has to stop him somehow.
Written by Rhet Topham and Brian Helgeland, this doesn't completely work, especially the stuff with Jim Metzler ("One False Move") and Maria Rubell ("Salvador") as two other would-be heroes. But it manages to build in intensity as it goes along, and has enough touches and details to maintain a reasonable fun factor (fish raining from the heavens, the Wilmoth family home turning into Hell frozen over, etc.). Director Englund does a decent job balancing conventional horror tropes with more humorous elements. Kevin Yaghers' makeup is good, and the production design by David Brian Miller is first-rate. The performances range from mediocre (Metzler doesn't look like he really wants to be there) to decent to effective. Geoffreys, more restrained than he was in "Fright Night", builds sufficient sympathy for Hoax, and Dennis is a hoot. She doesn't try to ape Piper Laurie in "Carrie" and be truly scary, but instead just plays her kooky character for laughs; she always was a natural at bringing out eccentricities in characters to begin with. Also making "976-EVIL" worthwhile viewing is a cameo by the great Robert Picardo, as the dastardly character running things behind the scenes. Other familiar faces include Darren E. Burrows ("Class of 1999"), J.J. Cohen (the "Back to the Future" trilogy), Lezlie Deane ("Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare"), Paul Willson ('Cheers'), and David Mamet regular J.J. Johnston ("State and Main"). The set decorator was Nancy Booth, who's been married to Englund since 1988.
"976-EVIL" is good fun in general, fun enough that genre fans may rightly wish that Englund had tried directing more often over the course of his career. That sounds like him as the voice of the TV evangelist.
Followed by a sequel.
Seven out of 10.
The hunky Luc Merenda stars here as Giorgio Caneparo, one of your standard "Dirty Harry"-type police detectives who has his own way of doing things. Motivated to righteous fury by the brazen murder of his loyal boss DelBuono (Chris Avram), he infiltrates the Milan underworld to seek answers.
Giorgio is nicely set up right at the beginning when he decides to put down some child-murdering scum who escaped authorities. It's a hoot to watch this character as he goes about his business: robbing a hooker at gunpoint, beating the stuffing out of her pimp, torturing an informant, etc. Yet, Merenda has plenty of charisma to spare in portraying this offbeat hero.
The script by the prolific Ernesto Gastaldi can get incoherent at times, but making up for that is the filmmaking savvy of Sergio Martino, who brings life to this cool example of Eurocrime cinema. There is gunfire, and sleaze, and a few chase scenes that are extremely well done. The chase scenes are the best part of the film.
The performances are right on the money, with Richard Conte co-starring as a mafioso who recruits Giorgio as a getaway driver, ignorant of his true identity. The very sexy Martine Brochard has a decent role as a potential love interest for Giorgio. Dubbed "Maria X" by him, she's witty and bright, yet not completely forthcoming about her lot in life.
Enlivened by a wonderful score by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, "The Violent Professionals" is not among the very best of this genre, but it does show its audience a pretty good time. It wears its influence right on its sleeve, right up to the final sequence.
Seven out of 10.
The Mutations (1974)
You may think you're normal, but you are all products of mutation.
Tod Brownings' "Freaks" gets reinvented for the hip 1970s with a mad scientist angle added. Donald Pleasence plays Dr. Nolter, an insane scientist / professor who has mad ideas about breeding humans with plants to create some sort of "superior" being. Tom Baker co-stars as Lynch, a sideshow proprietor - himself very deformed - who procures victims for Nolters' experiments. Nolter has made many empty promises that he can reverse Lynchs' deformities, which is what keeps Lynch going. Some of Nolters' students get suspicious when friends from their little clique go missing.
"The Freakmaker", a.k.a. "The Mutations", has enough twisted and weird stuff in it to make it fairly effective as a horror film. However, Pleasence (who is only here for the pay check) is clearly just going through the motions, and the story unfortunately plays a little flat at times. Had it had more energy and style, it could have been something special. As it is, though, it displays a certain creepy ingenuity in terms of effects, and the fact that it employed many real-life human "freaks" (an "alligator woman", a "monkey woman", a man who's not nicknamed "Popeye" for nothing, etc.) gives it potency, just like Brownings' film did so memorably in the 1930s. And the fate of Nolters' victims is properly disturbing. This was certainly a very interesting directing gig for esteemed, Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff.
Other memorable aspects include the VERY offbeat musical score by Basil Kirchin, and the fascinating time-lapse photography by Ken Middleham, who supervised the insect sequences for "Bug" (1975) and "Phase IV". The performances are variable (Julie Ege, Brad Harris, Scott Antony, Michael Dunn, and Jill Haworth co-star), with Baker and Dunn doing the best work. Lynch, despite his physical appearance, feels NO kinship with the freaks at his circus, feeling that somehow he's "better" than them. This is, by and large, NOT a sympathetic character.
Overall, "The Freakmaker" shows genre fans a fairly good time, especially when it comes to the big finale which does hearken right back to "Freaks".
Many years later, Rob Zombie sampled some of Nolters' dialogue for his tune "Rock and Roll (In a Black Hole)".
Seven out of 10.
El secreto del Dr. Orloff (1964)
Sexy and sinister.
Iconoclastic filmmaker Jess Franco followed up his breakthrough Gothic horror film "The Awful Dr. Orlof" with this similarly effective black & white thriller. The stand-in for Dr. Orlof this time is a scientist named Conrad Jekyll (Marcelo Arroita-Jauregui), who presides over a castle in the country. Conrads' teenaged niece Melissa (the sexy Agnes Spaak) comes to visit to claim her inheritance after the death of her father, whom Melissa never met. Meanwhile, Conrad is sending his "robot" creation Andros (Hugo Blanco) out to murder female entertainers, for his own evil reasons.
Franco melds "mad scientist" and Gothic themes with youthful romance, some poignant drama, irreverent humour, and smokey jazz clubs for this typically interesting work. Viewers who may regard Franco as a sleazy hack need only see efforts like this to see that he was no one-trick pony. The atmosphere is solid, and the performances are efficient without being too flashy. Spaak is appealing as the young lead, and also doing an engaging job is the films' MVP, Luisa Sala as Conrads' wife Inglud. She delivers a haunted performance as a forlorn woman who doesn't exactly have a loving relationship with her husband. Pepe Rubio is a hoot as Juan Manuel, an outgoing Spanish cabbie who aggressively tries to work his charms on Melissa. Pastor Serrador is likewise highly amusing as a police inspector with a dry wit (and a bad cold).
"Dr. Orloff's Monster" (just one of the films' titles) may be a little light on sci-fi and horror elements for some tastes, but fans of Franco's racier pictures will pleasantly note that he has the camera linger quite lustily on the physical assets on some of the female cast members. Among the noteworthy aspects here are the cinematography (by Alfonso Nieva) and the music (by Fernando Garcia Morcillo and Daniel White).
In the end, "Dr. Orloff's Monster" is memorable for having a sad & tragic feel to the story, with the viewer taking pity on this killer Andros, a victim himself of another persons' machinations.
Franco himself has a small role as a piano player.
Eight out of 10.
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)
Fun to watch.
In its day, "The Legend of Boggy Creek" was a big success, and a reasonably impressive achievement for budding filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, who produced, directed, and shot the film. Written by Earl E. Smith, it's a documentary-style, family-friendly horror film that attempts to explore the Bigfoot myth. The good folks in and outside the small Arkansas town of Fouke often have run-ins with a mysterious, hairy, bipedal creature.
Vern Stierman delivers the very pleasant narration for this modest but enjoyable monster movie. In fact, his narration is welcome enough that sometimes the viewer may miss it when it's not present. Pierce makes full use of these rural settings, and all of the local flavour is genuine, complete with the folksy acting by the non-professional cast. Some of them are credited as playing themselves. To Pierces' credit, he never gives us a good look at the creature, keeping it vague at all times except to clearly show that it IS bipedal and basically human shaped. (Three-toed feet notwithstanding.) There is some excellent suspense to enjoy, and even a little bit of humour.
"The Legend of Boggy Creek" is notable for opening the floodgates for a number of similar Bigfoot-themed low budget films, on into the early 80s. It has plenty of lovely shots of all of the flora and fauna in this woodsy locale, and manages to be consistently interesting throughout. It was followed by "Return to Boggy Creek", "The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II", and "The Legacy of Boggy Creek".
Director Pierces' son Chuck Pierce Jr. plays the narrator as a child.
Seven out of 10.
Huo Yuan Jia (2006)
A must for Jet Li fans.
Also functioning as one of the producers here, martial arts icon Jet Li brings to the screen the story of Huo Yuanjia, a Chinese fighter who becomes a symbol of hope to a nation, and the founder of the worldwide success story, the Jin Wu Sports Federation. Humiliated as a youth, he grows up determined never to lose a fight again, and does indeed become a champion. However, he becomes an egomaniac in the process, and will have some heavy prices to pay. Ultimately, he will return to glory as he represents China in a series of fights designed by greedy foreign powers that aim to portray China as a weak nation.
If you love this genre, and you love Mr. Li, you're sure to find this to be very gripping entertainment. It stands pretty tall due to it not being just about fights and action scenes (which of course are well done), but about one mans' spiritual, mental, and emotional journey towards redemption. And Mr. Li is up to the acting challenge; here, he is able to show off acting chops as well as physical skills. It's also about changing philosophies, as Huo Yuanjia decides that death need not be an outcome of any fight, and that competitors must always have respect for each other. Our protagonists' friendly relationship with a Japanese fighter (Shido Nakamura) drives this point home.
Yuen Wo Ping once again does an excellent job in choreographing the fight action. The music by Shigeru Umebayashi is simply wonderful, and the filmmakers clearly spared no expense in recreating the Asia of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Supplementing Li's commanding performance in the lead are noteworthy supporting turns by Yong Dong (as our protagonists' good friend Nong Jinsun), the radiant Li Sun as a blind girl named Moon, Zhi-Hui Chen as the swaggering Master Chin, and Collin Chou & Hee Ching Paw as Yuanjia's parents. Giant Australian strongman Nathan Jones has quite the impressive physical presence as the American fighter Hercules O'Brien.
Touted at the time as Li's last great period martial arts saga, this proved to be a solid way for the star to sign off on the genre. It's available in a theatrical version, an unrated version, and a directors' cut running almost 40 minutes longer.
Eight out of 10.
The Yakuza (1974)
Robert Mitchum shines in another of his private eye roles; he plays Harry Kilmer, who's hired by an old friend (Brian Keith) to retrieve the friends' daughter from a Japanese crime family. Arriving in Japan with Keiths' bodyguard (Richard Jordan) as a backup, Kilmer meets up with an old flame (Keiko Kishi). He has to convince her brother (Japanese star Ken Takakura), who himself is ex-Yakuza, to help him in his mission. He will find that things are seldom as they seem in this rich, engrossing crime fiction scripted by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne.
Directed by Sydney Pollack, this film can take some credit for introducing North American cinema goers to the concept of Yakuza, shortly after "Godfather" 1 and 2 had proved how popular this sort of story could be with the public. It can be bloody and visceral at times, but fundamentally it's a good story that is interesting largely because of its setting and depiction of Japanese culture. The story delivers its twists and turns in style, and some of them may even catch the viewer off guard. For one thing, Keith is playing a VERY shady character. And it carries a genuine poignancy, as it deals with the themes of honour and friendship. Harry ultimately realizes what his presence has done to Tanaka Kens' life.
Mitchum is ideal for the kind of lead role that he plays here; he's tough without being flashy about it, and that "quiet cool" of his is ever-present. This viewer can see why people would refer to Takakura as the "Japanese Clint Eastwood", as he has a low-key but effective screen presence that matches well with Mitchums'. The excellent supporting cast also includes Herb Edelman, Eiji Okada, James Shigeta (Mr. Takagi in "Die Hard" 14 years later), and a sexy and luminous Christina Kokubo as the old flames' daughter.
Films like "The Yakuza" just give further evidence to the superior quality of filmmaking in the 1970s. It's a must-see, whether you love films about Yakuza, crime fiction in general, or this well-chosen cast.
The score by under-rated composer Dave Grusin is wonderful.
Eight out of 10.
The ups and downs of life on the Hill.
Frank is determined that the truth come to light regarding the involvement of a politician in the murder of a young girl, although it will very likely mean no promotion for him in the foreseeable future. Poor LaRue is not able to realize his dream of starting his own business. Cops manage to catch the creep placing the obscene phone calls to Fay's apartment, but she is reluctant to press charges. Hunter is rewarded with his own urban assault vehicle, which he tries to take on a trial run to Sniper Alley, but his own bungling creates a sad end for the vehicle. And Hill & Renko have a rather sweet story thread as they assist with the delivery of a baby.
Typically excellent writing (by Anthony Yerkovich) once again creates some great entertainment, and with capable direction by Robert C. Thompson, this amiable episode is able to move back and forth between comedy and drama. Star Daniel J. Travanti gets some choice juicy moments, but the best performance in this episode belongs to guest star Dolph Sweet, who reluctantly admits that he owed certain powerful people a favour and thus deliberately pursued a case with blinders on. Adding to the poignancy is the aftermath of the death of station employee Marv. LaRue tries to put the moves on one lovely grieving blonde (Angela Aames), only to realize the nature of her relation to Marv. It's quite touching to see how loyal the men & women of the Hill are to Frank, since dozens of requests for transfers were submitted pending Franks' possible promotion.
The clearly stated message regarding Franks' story thread is that integrity and the search for truth are always important, even though they may sometimes work against our interests. In the end, Yerkovich is able to display a light touch by having Frank tell Joyce a joke about "an elephant and an ant", leaving the audience with a smile.
Eight out of 10.
The Shadow Riders (1982)
Unmemorable but pleasant viewing.
Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott play Mac and Dal Traven, two amiable brothers who fought on opposing sides during the Civil War. Now, the war is over, but one revenge-crazed associate of Dals', Major Ashbury (Geoffrey Lewis), is intent on keeping the war going. To that end, he's made an alliance with a rascally gun runner, Holiday Hammond (Gene Evans). Meanwhile, Ashbury and his men have gone on a spree of crimes including the kidnapping of members of the Traven family.
This Louis L'Amour adaptation (by executive producer Jim Byrnes) amounts to agreeable entertainment, with the expected stunts, action scenes, and lovely scenery. The story is nothing special, but it's not hard to follow, and it DOES kill time amiably. What really makes it work as well as it does is the able cast, including such Western veterans as Ben Johnson (as Mac and Dals' scoundrel of an uncle, Black Jack Traven), R.G. Armstrong, and Harry Carey, Jr. Elliotts' real-life longtime companion, Katharine Ross, is vibrant as Kate, and it's no surprise that the two of them share a natural chemistry. Jeff Osterhage co-stars as a scrappy Traven sibling. Other familiar faces include Dominique Dunne (in what was sadly her last role), Marshall R. Teague, and Jane Greer as Carey's wife. Selleck and Elliott look right at home in this genre, just as they always do, and show off plenty of charisma. Johnson clearly has fun getting to play a colourful role.
The writing might not be particularly sharp or witty, but these filmmakers, led by director Andrew V. McLaglen, *still* manage to show their audience a pretty good time. Nobody ever appears to take any of this very seriously, anyway. It's just "good", lighthearted, amiable, predictable TV-level Western storytelling.
Seven out of 10.
Barton Fink (1991)
A sharp dark comedy about the creative process.
John Turturro is Barton Fink, a young NYC playwright who's become a hot property after the success of his current work. Soon, he is hired to fly out to LA to write for the movies. Meeting with studio mogul Jack Lipnick (a great Michael Lerner), he is then hired to write a B level picture about wrestling. The trouble for Fink is that he knows zilch about the sport, and inspiration just won't strike. There are also distractions, such as Finks' gregarious next-door neighbour Charlie Meadows (a memorable John Goodman), with whom Fink develops a friendship, and Fink encountering washed-up novelist W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney), who's now an alcoholic, and Mayhews' long-suffering secretary / companion Audrey Taylor (Judy Davis).
Made around the time when the Coen brothers were going through their own period of writers' block, "Barton Fink" is certainly one of their most interesting efforts. This viewer really didn't mind its eventual descent into the utterly grim and bizarre. It's incredibly atmospheric - the viewer gets the oppressive feeling of the low-rent hotel at which Fink stays, complete with stifling heat and wallpaper that is always coming unglued. The dialogue contains some very entertaining exchanges as characters discuss the writing process, with Fink taking himself a little too seriously and being pretentious about the whole thing. The characters are all thoroughly engaging, and brought to life by a typically eclectic cast for a Coen brothers film: also co-starring are Tony Shalhoub, Jon Polito, Steve Buscemi, Richard Portnow, and Christopher Murney. Lerner has only three brief scenes, but he makes the most of his screen time, and he earned an Oscar nomination in the process. Turturro is right on point as the troubled, artistically inclined Fink, and Goodman is just a delight, even though his character does ultimately become over the top.
Enhanced by its cinematography (regular Coen brothers collaborator Roger Deakins was the D.P. here), production design (by Dennis Gassner), and a typically wonderful Carter Burwell score, "Barton Fink" might not be for everybody, but it's definitely of a piece with other Coen brothers films, and should definitely hit a nerve with anybody who's ever done any creative writing.
Eight out of 10.
The first segment is stronger than the second.
'The Dark Boy'. Scripted by Halsted Welles, based on the short story by August Derleth. A radiant Elizabeth Hartman plays Judith Timm, a schoolteacher in 19th century Montana who encounters a young dark-haired boy who is actually an unhappy spirit. But cast and crew, led by director John Astin, don't go for shocks, suspense, or creepiness here. They go for something far more poignant and emotional, making the case for the need for closure. It's a story of love, loss, and loneliness. It's wonderfully scored (by Ed Sauter), has some excellent rustic settings, and the acting is all on point. Co-starring Gale Sondergaard, Michael Baseleon, and Hope Summers. The title character is played by Michael Laird, who made two more appearances on the series; one must assume he was related to series producer Jack Laird.
'Keep in Touch - We'll Think of Something'. Written and directed by series veteran Gene R. Kearney. Less satisfying overall than the first segment, this stars Alex Cord as pianist Erik Sutton, a man who goes to some pretty far-fetched means of finding the woman of his dreams. She is played by the lovely Joanna Pettet, so you can see why Erik lusts after her. If nothing else, this is an interesting and fairly unpredictable segment about obsession and the way that some of us build things up in our minds. It's also a tale of two unhappy lovers that may very well be destined to be together, even if there are big obstacles in the way. Cord and Pettet are good (as is segment co-star Richard O'Brien as a police sergeant), but this just doesn't have a lot of "kick" to it, or much material to really fire the viewers' imagination.
Seven out of 10.
Here, co-writer / co-executive producer / star Ice Cube does an ingratiating job of portraying the lighter side of life in the 'hood. He plays Craig Jones, a tough but amiable youth who spends an eventful Friday with his best bud Smokey (Chris Tucker). Craig has just been fired from his job (on his day off, no less), and his old man (John Witherspoon) pressures him to find another one. Craig and Smokey must deal with a neighbourhood bully named Deebo (Tommy 'Tiny' Lister), and when Smokey lives up to his name and uses up all of the product of a local dealer (Faizon Love), he will have to cough up $200 to the man, or *else*.
Lots of bright and engaging characters bring life to these proceedings. Cube is good in the lead role (it's a comic highlight when he smokes some weed and trips), and comedian Tucker shines in one of his better movie roles. Witherspoon is hilarious, and also poignant as he attempts to teach Craig about being a man without resorting to the use of a firearm. The dialogue has some great lines, without falling back on an over-abundance of F-bombs, and the movie does get fairly serious but never gets particularly grim. The viewer does feel a certain satisfaction when Craig stands up to Deebo at the end, solving more than one problem in the process. A bunch of familiar faces play area residents: Nia Long (radiant as always), Anna Maria Horsford, Bernie Mac, Regina King, Paula Jai Parker, Tony Cox, etc. That's co-writer DJ Pooh as the character Red, recipient of a memorable shiner.
A pleasant movie to watch on any day of the week, this was followed by "Next Friday" and "Friday After Next".
Seven out of 10.
The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye (2010)
A solid opening.
Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a Sheriffs' deputy in Georgia, is shot and badly wounded while trying to apprehend some creeps. He spends some time in the hospital in a coma, and when he emerges, it's into a world that's gone straight to Hell, "I am Legend" style. Although he won't be aware of it for a while, a zombie apocalypse has descended. He meets the character of Morgan (Lennie James) for the first time, and Morgan appraises him of the situation. After spending some time with Morgan and his son, Rick goes off in search of his wife and son, whom he believes must still be alive.
The long-running series got off to a good start here, especially in scenes where Rick seems to be all by himself, with only the occasional "walker" remaining as population. The landscape is over-run with devastation and dead bodies, and the sense of isolation is palpable. The scenes with Rick & Morgan are also excellent, as we can see a friendship forming. The actors completely sell this material, treating it with all the gravitas they can muster. The makeup effects and gore are well done, but director Frank Darabont makes sure that there's plenty of story and character development as well. Known for feature films such as "The Shawshank Redemption", "The Green Mile", and "The Mist", he was the one who initially developed the series of graphic novels for television, and wrote the teleplay here. Darabont sure did a fine job balancing action and violence with very humanistic moments that allow the viewer to really feel for the characters. He has the action build to a grand finale after Rick has reached Atlanta, and we can see just how many "walkers" are filling up the streets. I can still remember watching this pilot episode back in 2010, and was definitely curious as to how the next episode would resolve the cliffhanger ending here.
Eight out of 10.
The Sniper (1952)
This deserves to be better known.
Arthur Franz, an under-rated character actor from this era, gives an excellent performance as Edward Miller, a deeply disturbed man who has a real problem with women. Now, in adulthood, he periodically goes out and picks them off from a distance with his military-issue rifle.
An interesting combination of psychological thriller, film noir, and police procedural, "The Sniper" paints an effective picture of our maladjusted antagonist. Thanks to Franz's performance, it's possible, however remotely, to feel a twinge of sympathy for him. This is, after all, a character who *wants* to be caught and stopped; he's not legally insane, and realizes what he's doing is wrong. It doesn't help matters that Miller is sometimes exposed to casual sexism from incidental characters, which may well reinforce his own twisted views.
What eventually helps the police is that a smart police psychiatrist (Richard Kiley) is able to do a "profile" on deviants like Miller. So this little film was way ahead of the curve, introducing that sort of element before it became a popular thing in criminal investigations.
Director Edward Dmytryk never got quite enough credit for this one, as he is able to generate sufficient tension from the premise, and he makes great use of various San Francisco locations. He also gets efficient performances from the whole cast. Co-starring are Frank Faylen, Mabel Paige, Marlo Dwyer, and a radiant Marie Windsor. Familiar faces in uncredited bits include Byron Foulger, Charles Lane, and Jay Novello.
Everything here is handled in solid, no frills fashion. There is no filler, and much to keep ones' attention. That includes the finale, which plays out a little more low-key than a viewer might expect. The film does stress the idea that characters like Miller need to be properly assessed and treated early on before they can turn into murderers like he does here.
Eight out of 10.
The worst ain't so bad when it finally happens.
Humphrey Bogart is brilliant in an unsympathetic role as Fred C. Dobbs, a man who fell on hard times and is constantly begging for change in the Mexican town of Tampico. Making the acquaintance of a young man named Curtin (Tim Holt), he gets an idea from a lively old-timer, Howard (Supporting Actor Oscar winner Walter Huston): go gold prospecting! The three of them head into the Mexican mountains for what proves to be a memorable experience. Prospecting for gold will be only part of it.
Wonderfully scripted by Walters' son John Huston (also an Oscar winner, for his screenplay and direction) from the novel by B. Traven, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" is one of THE great American films. It's intelligent, absorbing, atmospheric, and potent. It shows what happens when a person who's been down and out suddenly finds himself faced with a potential big windfall. Dobbs just keeps getting more and more greedy and paranoid, convinced that Curtin will do him in. Howard and Curtin are decidedly more honourable; they play it straight with him, but may very well get screwed because of that.
The whole main cast does exemplary work, with likeable and engaging turns by Huston and Holt. Barton MacLane is good as a scummy smooth operator who hires Dobbs and Curtin for a job and then tries to weasel out of paying them. It's character actor Alfonso Bedoya, as a bandit known as "Gold Hat", who gets to utter the most legendary and oft-quoted (and parodied) line in the picture. Bruce Bennett turns up fairly late in the picture as a loner who figures out our protagonists' game and tries to get a piece of the action. Huston himself has a great cameo as a tourist repeatedly hassled by Dobbs in the opening minutes, and a very young Robert Blake is the Mexican boy who sells Dobbs a lottery ticket.
Extremely well shot (by Ted D. McCord) and scored (by Max Steiner), this is simply great entertainment, with Huston maintaining a firm grip on his viewers' attention. He wastes no time and gives us one riveting scene after another, from the establishing scenes to the interesting and amusing ending.
10 out of 10.
Unforgettable, potent entertainment.
A teenaged girl (ever-lovely Jenny Agutter) and her young brother (Lucien John, a.k.a. Luc Roeg, the directors' son) are stranded in the desolate Australian outback. They really have no clear idea of where to go or what to do, but they meet a stranger who saves their lives. He is an aborigine (Aussie icon David Gulpilil) who is partaking in the ritual known as "Walkabout", wherein he temporarily leaves his tribe to go off on his own and live off the land.
The experiences between these three young people form the balance of this excellent film. The culture clash is immediate, as the two urbanized white kids struggle to make themselves understood by the aborigine. But they ultimately become rather inseparable.
Along the way, they encounter all sorts of flora and fauna. "Walkabout" is highly noteworthy for its respect for Nature, and is filled with many visual wonders. Given that director Nicolas Roeg had been a camera operator and cinematographer, it's no surprise that the film *looks* beautiful, and it's set to a haunting and lovely John Barry score.
Three highly engaging performances anchor the film. Agutter has a naturally sexy presence, and Roeg doesn't miss opportunities to let the camera take in every aspect of her body. His son does a nice job as the brother, avoiding being overly cutesy and always relaxed on screen. Gulpilil proved to be a real find in his film debut. Another Aussie favourite, John Meillon, appears briefly as the white kids' father.
"Walkabout" was largely improvised. The Edward Bond script, based on a novel by Donald G. Payne, was actually only 14 pages or so. Knowing this, it makes the acting that much more impressive, as the cast react instinctively to the scenes & settings.
Overall, this is one of *the* iconic Australian films, and is a must-see for movie lovers interested in cinema from this part of the world.
Eight out of 10.
A so-so action thriller.
A husband / father (Gene Hackman) and his estranged son (Matt Dillon) team up during an eventful trip to Europe. The wife / mom (Gayle Hunnicutt) has disappeared during a solo vacation, and they're determined to find out what has happened and why. They must dodge attempts on their lives as they work to solve this mystery.
A large part of the problem is a not-so-hot script, with its fair share of bad lines. "Don't get funny, get good." But it improves as it progresses, with a stronger second half, and some decent action sequences. (The third and final teaming of Hackman and filmmaker Arthur Penn, after "Bonnie & Clyde" and "Night Moves", certainly promised something more special than this.) Particularly effective are scenes with Hackman and the antagonist once they are revealed. It turns out, they don't have an unsympathetic motivation. Still, the twists here are plenty predictable, which works against whatever fun factor that Penn is able to generate.
Making the difference are the international settings (Germany, France) and the location usage, as well as a typically fine performance by Hackman. The star once again demonstrates his ability to be consistently engaging, whether playing a hero or villain. He and Dillon may not be the most believable father-son duo ever assembled for the movies, but they work together well enough. The supporting cast is just fine, although it must be said that Hunnicutt, as the victim who sets the plot in motion, is by nature of her role largely wasted. Providing able support are character actors Josef Sommer ("Witness"), Guy Boyd ("Body Double"), Herbert Berghof ("Cleopatra"), in his final film role, and Richard Munch ("Patton"), as well as an enchanting Viktoriya Fyodorova as Hackmans' old comrade; she and he do have good moments together.
One can do better than this if they're looking for an intrigue-thriller, but it's certainly not a total waste of time, either.
Six out of 10.
Broken Lance (1954)
Worth seeing for some tour de force acting.
"Broken Lance" is ultimately a tale of a father and his boys, as a very successful rancher, Matt Devereaux (a grandiose Spencer Tracy), fights hard for his rights, even instigating a fight with a copper mine after his cattle drink poisoned water. The story is related largely in flashback, as Matts' son Joe (Robert Wagner) has just gotten out of jail and visits the old family homestead. Joe is Matts' child from a union with an Indian woman (Oscar-nominated Katy Jurado), and the eldest son, Ben (Richard Widmark), has always resented his half-sibling.
Although this wonderfully shot CinemaScope Western is stacked with superb actors (Hugh O'Brian, Earl Holliman, E.G. Marshall, Eduard Franz, etc.), some of them don't get particularly meaty roles. O'Brian and Holliman don't have a lot to do in the great scheme of things, mostly following along in Widmarks' wake. However, we can see that Wagner "came along during good times", and has always been favoured, while Widmark has hated being treated for many years as a glorified hired hand. He's good as always in one of his standard antagonistic roles, making the most of the material, as does the excellent Tracy. By contrast, R.J. and Jurado are much more low-key. Tracy, playing a larger than life character, does well at playing this central figure around whom other individuals revolve.
Although not epic in scope, this does manage to tell a pretty good story, with efficient direction by the under-rated Edward Dmytryk, vibrant photography by Joseph MacDonald, and a lovely score by Leigh Harline. It does go off the rails in its final act, with Widmark turning into an outright villain rather than a more two-dimensional sort of character. Too bad, because one *can* understand him if not completely sympathize with him.
Overall, a good study of a dysfunctional family in the Old West, likened by critic Leonard Martin to a variation on Shakespeares' "King Lear".
Seven out of 10.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Attention, shoppers, we have a special on bloody body parts.
Writer / editor / director George A. Romero follows up his legendary, groundbreaking "Night of the Living Dead" a decade after the fact with this impressive sequel. In depicting a world gone straight to Hell, he completely succeeds. As the zombie population explodes, chaos erupts among the human survivors. Four disparate characters escape together: a helicopter pilot named Stephen (David Emge), his television executive girlfriend Francine (Gaylen Ross), and two Philadelphia SWAT team members, Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger). They discover an isolated, abandoned mall, and decide to set up shop there. They manage to create a fairly idyllic existence for themselves, until a band of marauding bikers (led by Tom Savini) turn up to raise some Hell.
Romero really outdoes himself with his level of ambition here, as he uses the format of the zombie film to make comment on American life - and mall culture - circa 1978. It's an intelligent, measured script that offers solid roles to an engaging quartet of actors; it also contains a smattering of memorable lines that fans of the film just love to quote. In opening the scope of his action, Romero isn't telling quite as intimate a story as before. And yet, the zombies are not as big a factor, or are quite as menacing, as they were before. In fact, the zombies are treated as pathetic characters capable of earning some sympathy. You can't help but feel bad for them when the bikers are doing things like smashing pies in their faces. Still, they have the ability to do some serious damage should the lead characters let down their guard, or get overconfident, as indeed Roger does.
Savini's gore is truly something to see, although the best bits do occur within the first and last half hours. The music by Goblin is a delight and helps to set an atmosphere. Location shooting at the Monroeville Mall is superb, with Romero and company making use out of many spots within the structure. Supporting our four stars are a rich variety of familiar faces from the Romero filmography: John Amplas (also the casting director), Christine Forrest (Romero's wife and assistant director), David Early, Richard France. Character actor James A. Baffico makes the most of his early, brief screen time as a racist, live wire cop named Wooley. Savini is also fun as a swaggering antagonist and does some of the stunts as well.
"Dawn of the Dead" is overall a very interesting and pointed look at this whole idea of consumerism, with the zombies possibly amassing at this shopping centre because their visits to this place remain ingrained in their minds, no matter the circumstances.
It's a must-see, not only for zombie film fans, or horror fans in general, but any lover of film.
Eight out of 10.