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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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The Fifth Floor (1978)
The nightmare is knowing you're sane.
The lovely and appealing Dianne Hull ("Aloha, Bobby and Rose") plays Kelly McIntyre, a college student and disco dancer who suffers seizures on the dance floor one night. It turns out that she's been the victim of strychnine poisoning, but too many authority figures think she's delusional and suicidal, prompting them to place her in the psychiatric ward - the fifth floor of the tile - of the hospital. She has a very hard time convincing people that she's quite sane, and avoiding the lecherous paws of ultra-creepy orderly Carl (Bo Hopkins, "The Wild Bunch").
This is a reasonably entertaining exploitation-drama, somewhat forgotten over time, that should be of interest to fans of the genre. Purporting to be "based on" a true story, it's got an effectively sordid premise, complete with some nastiness and nudity along the way. It takes Kelly's tale seriously, allowing us to build sufficient sympathy for her as well as for some of her fellow inmates. It does have some genuine pathos going for it; Patti D'Arbanville plays a pregnant inmate named Cathy afraid of having her baby taken away, and Sharon Farrell (in a standout performance) is the frail and vulnerable Melanie; ones' heart just goes out to this poor, messed-up woman.
The film does a great job of really having you hate the Carl character. This is one of Hopkins' best roles and performances, and you keep waiting for this person to get some sort of comeuppance. Other roadblocks in Kelly's way include an administrator (guest star Mel Ferrer) and a head nurse (Julie Adams), who tend to dismiss Kelly and her plight.
The quirky characters are a highlight, enacted by a variety of familiar faces: Robert "Freddy Krueger" Englund (his entrance has him pretending to be a doctor), Anthony James (the antagonist in director Howard Avedis' "The Teacher") as the hostile Derrick, Earl Boen ("The Terminator") as the nerdy Phil, and Alice "Large Marge" Nunn as Emma. Pay close attention and you'll spot Michael Berryman ("The Hills Have Eyes" '77) as another inmate; however, Tracey Walter ("Repo Man") is harder to spot. Director Avedis and his actress wife Marlene Schmidt, who came up with the screen story, have small roles in the film.
Overall, this is engaging trash, that is more vivid than one might see in a TV movie treatment of such material.
Seven out of 10.
Let me be Frank.
The science and the military plan to send astronaut Frank Saunders (Robert Reilly) into space to do some exploring; the catch is that Frank is actually a robot. However, Martian villains, led by icy Princess Marcuzan (Playboy Playmate Marilyn Hanold, "The Brain That Wouldn't Die") and her elfin toady Dr. Nadir (Lou Cutell, a.k.a. Amazing Larry from "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"), have arrived on Earth. The women of their planet have been decimated, and they need Earth women for breeding stock. But they didn't count on Frank, who's turned into a monster after receiving damage from a Martian weapon.
"Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster" is fairly amusing 1960s cheese, and is reasonably entertaining for any schlock lover. It can be dull and talky at times, but it does have some fun moments. Of course, ANY movie that features the late, great James Karen (beloved for playing Frank in "The Return of the Living Dead") as a heroic, Vespa-riding scientist CANNOT be all bad. One of a few people from this production who managed to have a solid career after this, Karen is typically solid. Nancy Marshall is mostly just cute as his associate Karen Grant. Hanold and Cutell are entertaining baddies in the schlock movie tradition. Reilly is adequate as the "Frankenstein" of the title. Another great character actor, Bruce Glover ("Diamonds Are Forever"), has two of his earliest screen roles as he plays both one of the Martians and their pet "spacemonster" Mull (wearing a hilarious, fanged and shaggy costume).
A fair amount of stock footage mixes with new material in what is pretty enjoyable material, at least as far as this kind of movie goes. Ultra-cheap sets and special effects likewise make this endearing to the bad movie fanatic. The makeup on Frank (done by John Alese) isn't bad for a movie filmed over 53 years ago on a $60,000 budget.
Partly set in Puerto Rico, although largely filmed in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone went on to bigger and better things; her 1970s credits include "The Godfather", "Serpico", and "Dog Day Afternoon".
Five out of 10.
Excessive Force (1993)
"I couldn't hear that last part." "You weren't supposed to."
"Karate Kid Part III" villain Thomas Ian Griffith debuted as star with this routine B level actioner which he also wrote and co-produced. Griffith plays Terry McCain, a Chicago detective hoping to righteously bust pompous mafioso Sal DiMarco (Burt Young). But time and time again, he gets away with everything. After a bust, the mobster believes that either Terry or one of his fellow cops stole some money from him, and all Hell breaks loose.
Overall, this is quite routine, with a script by Griffith that is pretty predictable. It wins no points for originality, but, as directed by Jon Hess ("Watchers"), it entertains adequately. It has sex appeal (but no nudity), a fair amount of bloody violence, and fine use of Chicago locations. The fact that the supporting cast is very strong - it includes Lance Henriksen, James Earl Jones, Tony Todd, and W. Earl Brown of 'Deadwood' fame - does help matters a fair bit. At first glance, it would seem that Jones, as a jazz club proprietor, is sorely under-utilized, but he gets more to do as the story plays out. Young is fine, although he doesn't exactly have to stretch himself. Henriksen and Todd remain great value. Griffith is a reasonably likeable chap, albeit no great shakes as an actor. Still, he makes for a decent action movie star, with a couple of opportunities to show off his martial arts moves (as well as a standard workout scene with which to start off the movie). Charlotte Lewis ("The Golden Child") looks extremely delectable as McCains' ex-wife, but she didn't improve as an actress after that memorable Eddie Murphy vehicle.
Good pacing (this runs a trim 87 minutes) and an atmospheric Charles Bernstein score further aid in the telling of this story, which does lead to the inevitable bloodbath.
Six out of 10.
Tops of its kind.
Author, screenwriter and occasional filmmaker Michael Crichton does an impressive directing job with this slick, well-paced medical conspiracy chiller which Crichton adapted from the Robin Cook novel. Genevieve Bujold is a compelling heroine as Susan Wheeler, a headstrong second year resident at Boston Memorial Hospital. When her best friend (Lois Chiles) goes in for a routine procedure, and ends up in an irreversible coma, she's naturally devastated. But she's also TOUGH, and she's determined - nay, hellbent - on finding out what happened, especially after the same exact thing happens to another patient shortly afterwards.
Bujold is wonderful as this feisty, single-minded pursuer of the truth, and she is put through her paces as she hides among cadavers, clambers through ducts, flees from a creepy hitman (Lance LeGault), and visits the Jefferson Institute, where the sight of many patients suspended in the air makes for a memorable image. She must also wonder about her boyfriend Mark Bellows (Michael Douglas), a fellow doctor, and how much she can trust him.
Crichton knows how to craft an engaging thriller, one that moves along so steadily one may hardly notice that it takes up the better part of two hours. He also has a way with suspense, as there are numerous close calls for Susan. It's a good thing for her the Jefferson Institute can't boast the worlds' most efficient security staff.
Scored effectively by Jerry Goldsmith (whose music supplements the movie without automatically calling attention to itself), "Coma" is thoroughly engaging. Even though there's much medically-oriented dialogue that would go over the head of the layperson, Crichton still gets all of the salient points across.
Douglas is good as the boyfriend, Rip Torn glowers superbly as a haughty anesthesiology expert, and Richard Widmark remains great value as Susans' superior, who tries to be supportive of her. The variety of familiar faces in supporting roles and bits includes Elizabeth Ashley as a tour guide, Hari Rhodes as a psychiatrist, Tom Selleck as upbeat patient Sean Murphy, and future 'Growing Pains' mom Joanna Kerns as Diane (she would later headline another Cook adaptation, 'Mortal Fear'). Ed Harris made his feature film debut here as a pathology resident.
Utterly absorbing from beginning to end, with Crichton wasting no time in getting the story started; the opening credits are finished in just over two minutes.
Eight out of 10.
Fata Morgana (1971)
In Paradise, man is born dead.
World-renowned filmmaker Werner Herzog has always been an interesting figure who has made a great many interesting and compelling films, whether they be fictional or documentaries. "Fata Morgana" falls into the latter category, and as such it's not telling a story - at least, not in a traditional way - so much as it's relating experiences through a melding of image and music.
Shot in the Sahara desert, it's supposedly about the phenomenon of "Fata Morgana", or mirages, but what the viewer gets is something even more ambitious. It's divided into three parts: Creation, Paradise, and The Golden Age, with Creation accompanied by recitations from the Mayan creation myth. Now, if the prospective viewer is still reading this, they're in for an unconventional experience. It's one in which Herzog has stated that his film is meant to function as collaboration between the filmmaker and his audience, and people can interpret it how they see fit.
It begins intriguingly enough, albeit in a manner that might be off putting to those with shorter attention spans: shot after shot of various planes touching down in the desert, edging forward into the shimmering heat waves of the locale.
Even some Herzog admirers will grant you that this is one of his stranger efforts, but it's so far removed from typical Hollywood product that it merits a viewing just on that basis. Along the way, we see all kinds of vehicle wreckage, a sad assortment of animal carcasses, and one of the oddest musical acts that one will ever see. Certainly the combination of image and music does make for a striking kind of entertainment.
Seven out of 10.
The Outfit (1973)
A worthy addition to the genre of 70s crime thrillers.
Robert Duvall is as cool as can be in this well-shot, efficiently paced production adapted by director John Flynn from the Richard Stark (a.k.a. Donald E. Westlake) novel. Duvall plays Earl Macklin, who's just getting out of prison after having robbed a Mafia (or "Outfit") controlled bank. The Outfit has already knocked off Earls' brother Eddie (Edward Ness), so he's ripe for revenge. Hooking up with another cohort from the robbery (Joe Don Baker), he makes a nuisance of himself until The Outfit is forced to deal with him.
Under-rated action filmmaker Flynn, whose other credits include "Rolling Thunder", "Defiance", "Lock Up, "Out for Justice", and "Brainscan", keeps things moving along nicely, telling an entertaining (if familiar) story in fine fashion. The film is effectively violent without going overboard on the gore, so less squeamish viewers shouldn't be bothered. Overall, the film is fun, in the tradition of tales about bad guys who are up against WORSE guys. Of course, with this narrative, you're never in much doubt that our protagonists will manage to keep their heads and take on all comers.
Duvall and Baker make a good team, sharing a relaxed chemistry as they work to stay one step ahead of The Outfit. The always welcome Karen Black is engaging as Duvalls' lady friend, who doesn't find it that easy to stand by her man. (For one thing, in order to stay ahead, she, Baker, and Duvall have to keep moving from hotel to hotel.) But what's truly nice is that so much of the supporting cast is occupied with known actors. One might argue that some of these people don't get enough to do, but it's a joy to see them just the same: Robert Ryan as the top-dog mobster, as well as Joanna Cassidy, Timothy Carey, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Marie Windsor, Jane Greer, Henry Jones, Elisha Cook Jr., Bill McKinney, Archie Moore, Roy Roberts, Emile Meyer, Roy Jenson, John Steadman, and Francis De Sales.
Flynn keeps the tale gritty and reasonably realistic, aiming it towards an effectively action and suspense packed finale. If the prospective viewer is a fan of this genre, this is a film worth catching.
Seven out of 10.
The Blood Beast Terror (1968)
Creature feature fans rejoice.
Horror icon Peter Cushing stars here as Detective Inspector Quennell, faced with a baffling series of killings. The male victims are typically clawed at and drained of blood, and a bunch of mysterious objects (like scales) are left in the English wilderness. This may possibly involve the esteemed insect expert Professor Mallinger (Robert Flemyng) and his frosty daughter Clare (Wanda Ventham).
Cushing personally considered this the worst of all his pictures, but in truth it's not all that bad. It *does* have treasures for lovers of B grade monster movies. Yes, it has its problems - it wastes some time, gets silly, lacks distinction, and ends up turning horribly (yet delightfully) cheesy. But it's *fun*, damn it, entertaining in a reasonable manner.
The filming is adequate - Vernon Sewell ("Burke & Hare") is the director, Stanley A. Long the cinematographer, Paul Ferris the composer of the enjoyable music score. The special effects? Not so much. In fact, they are utterly laughable, but this will just add to the entertainment value for some peoples' tastes.
Of course, no film can be completely worthless with the great Cushing as the hero. Most people watching can figure out the "mystery" early on, but you don't much mind watching a talent like Cushing catch up to us as he works to decipher the clues. The supporting cast is very fine - Flemyng (who hated working on this film himself), Ventham (trivia: she's the mother of current actor Benedict Cumberbatch), the gorgeous Vanessa Howard as the inspectors' daughter, David Griffin as goofy, likable bug hunter William, Glynn Edwards as the reliable Sergeant Allan, William Wilde as the insect collector Britewell, Kevin Stoney as the scar-faced butler Granger, John Paul as the jovial Warrender, Russell Napier as the landlord, and Roy Hudd (who gets "guest star" billing) as the comedy relief morgue attendant. Kenneth Colley, recognizable to "Star Wars" franchise fans as Captain / Admiral Piett, has the small role of James.
An effort by the less well known British genre company Tigon, "The Blood Beast Terror" may be far from British horror cinema at its finest, but, as I said, it will still appeal to lovers of cheese.
Six out of 10.
Slap Shot (1977)
Essential viewing for any hockey fan.
Paul Newman, once again working with his "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting" director George Roy Hill, has one of his finest roles here. He's Reggie Dunlop, the fun-loving player / coach of minor league hockey team The Charlestown Chiefs. The outlook for the team is not good; they've been struggling for a while. But after the lively Hanson brothers (bespectacled, goofy Jeff Carlson, Steve Carlson, and David Hanson) join the team, Reggie is inspired, and the team turns their fortunes around by beginning to play dirty.
Considered by many to be the greatest hockey film of all time, "Slap Shot" is not just a must-see for fans of the sport, but also people who love a good comedy and fans of the actors involved. The film does take on a circus-like attitude when the players give in to their more primitive instincts and not only participate in fights, but instigate them. This leads to a lot of great on-ice action, complete with plenty of bone-crunching and face-smashing. Written by Nancy Dowd (whose brother Ned was a technical advisor and plays the much-talked-about character Ogilthorpe), "Slap Shot" is highlighted by a hilariously profane script that allows the cast to throw out all sorts of obscenities.
Adding some gravitas to the story is the "depressed working class town" atmosphere, in which the potential closing of a local mill could spell all sorts of trouble for the team and the citizens.
The actors work together wonderfully: the cheerful Newman, the priceless Strother Martin (Newmans' nemesis in "Cool Hand Luke") as the weaselly manager / P.R. man for the team, Michael Ontkean (as the goal-scorer who won't get with the program and play rough), Jennifer Warren, Lindsay Crouse, Jerry Houser, Andrew Duncan (very funny as the toupee-wearing local announcer), Yvon Barrette, Allan F. Nicholls, Brad Sullivan, Stephen Mendillo, Matthew Cowles, Kathryn Walker, Melinda Dillon, M. Emmet Walsh, Swoosie Kurtz, Christopher Murney, Paul Dooley.
Rough, tough, and rousing, "Slap Shot" is a sure audience-pleaser. It's a classic sports comedy that loses none of its appeal over 40 years later.
Followed by two direct-to-video sequels.
Nine out of 10.
St. Vincent (2014)
A lot of humour and heart in this agreeable little film.
Bill Murray gets another solid role which he can make the most of: Vincent Mackenna, a Vietnam veteran and retiree who has little use for other human beings besides his pregnant stripper friend Daka (an amusing Naomi Watts). He's slovenly, he's cranky, and his instinct is to act in pure self-interest. A case in point: when his new neighbour Maggie (Melissa McCarthy, in one of her best performances to date) desperately needs someone to look after her preteen son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), he grudgingly accepts the responsibility IF he will be paid.
Naturally, the kid and the old fart soon start to hit it off, and while there is some predictable humour as Vincent takes the impressionable boy to such places as the race track and a dive bar hangout, writer-director Theodore Melfi develops the story in interesting and unexpected ways, showing us the layers to these characters as Vincent and Oliver bring out the best in each other.
Murray gets to have fun playing with his characters' eccentricities (which extend through the closing credits) while revealing his utter humanity. Ultimately, Oliver realizes that there is a compelling argument to be made for Vincents' sainthood: he may be flawed, but underneath the curmudgeonly exterior, there beats a big heart.
Murray is extremely well supported by McCarthy and Watts, in addition to other familiar and reliable players like Chris O'Dowd (a hoot as a sardonic priest / teacher), Terrence Howard, Lenny Venito, Nate Corddry, Donna Mitchell, Ann Dowd, Reg E. Cathey, Deirdre O'Connell, and Ron McLarty. But make no mistake: this is Bills' show. This role of Vincent is the sort of thing he's excelled at for decades. Then-newcomer Lieberher (who went on to play young Bill in the 2017 feature film of Stephen Kings' "It") shows a lot of poise and talent, and he's a good match for his veteran co-star.
While this viewer personally felt that the various story threads weren't resolved all that satisfactorily, "St. Vincent" is still an engaging character study that moves along efficiently.
Seven out of 10.
Taking Care of Business (1990)
Will the real Spencer Barnes please stand up.
Jim Belushi is fun in one of his most engaging roles: Jimmy Dworski, a car thief and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan who escapes from prison in order to attend a pivotal World Series game. Along the way, he happens upon the forgotten Filofax organizer belonging to uptight, ambitious Malibu executive Spencer Barnes (Charles Grodin). The whole weekend ahead of him, Jimmy first figures to return the organizer (a combination wallet and daily planner) to Spencer and collect the reward advertised inside. Instead, he ends up pretending to *be* Spencer for the weekend, leading to the expected wacky mishaps as unwary people expecting a different sort of behaviour from this Spencer character get something else entirely.
Although quite predictable, formulaic, and overlong (the script is by Jill Mazursky (daughter of Paul M.) and J.J. Abrams (his earliest screenwriting credit)), "Taking Care of Business" is indeed a cute comedy that travels far on Belushis' easygoing charm and the perfectly cast Grodin. Spencer will have a long road towards meeting this temporary nemesis, enduring some hardships, while Jimmy will enjoy this brief opportunity to live in the lap of utter luxury. (That Malibu mansion is a wonder to behold.) Entertaining side characters also help a lot: Anne De Salvo as a persistent, annoying, but endearing old school chum of Spencers', Mako as a tough Japanese businessman, Stephen Elliott as Spencers' ailing boss, Hector Elizondo as the weaselly prison warden, Veronica Hamel as Spencers' fed-up wife, the enticing Loryn Locklin as the boss' daughter, Ken Foree as a convict, and 'Star Trek' universe actors Gates McFadden and John de Lancie, as employees in Makos' company.
The picture is silly, and reasonably amusing, and may not exactly be very believable, but it serves as a good diversion for people who aren't demanding something of substance. One does feel good for the unlikely lead duo when all is said and done.
Naturally, the title invites the expected use of the classic Bachman-Turner-Overdrive hit tune.
Seven out of 10.
We have such sights to show you.
Famed genre author Clive Barker had been dissatisfied with previous adaptations of his work: "Underworld", "Rawhead Rex". He then adopted the adage that "if you want something done right, do it yourself." So he adapted his own novel "The Hellbound Heart" for the big screen with this very memorable horror film, a triumph of overwhelming, doom & gloom atmosphere, wonderfully over the top gore, and iconic characters & dialogue. At the time, it must have seemed like a breath of fresh air to genre fans tired of slasher formulas (although, to be fair, this film does build up its own reasonable body count).
Veteran screen villain Andrew Robinson ("Dirty Harry") and Clare Higgins ("The Golden Compass") star as Larry Cotton and Julia, a couple who move into the old Cotton family homestead. To say it's a fixer-upper would be an understatement. But the kicker is that Larry's brother Frank (played as a human by Sean Chapman, and as a monster by Oliver Smith) is hiding in an upstairs room, in a badly deformed condition. Soon, Julia (who had once had a fling with Frank) has been convinced to lure assorted victims back to the house so Frank can replenish himself with their blood.
The twisty, circular plot also involves those incredible Cenobite characters - demons to some, angels to others - who are eager to reclaim Frank, who had escaped them before.
"Hellraiser" is capably acted by all - including the debuting Ashley Laurence, who plays Larry's feisty daughter Kirsty. Of course, it's the Cenobites - Doug Bradley as Pinhead (before the character had been given this name by fans), Nicholas Vince as the Chatterer, Simon Bamford as Butterball, Grace Kirby as the female - who steal the show. They're a delicious bunch of well-conceived antagonists, and it's Pinhead who has all the truly choice lines that people (including yours truly) just love to quote.
Barker does a fine job with the direction, and although he's seldom worked as a filmmaker during his impressive career, he showed with this debut that he has what it takes. The story moves forward steadily towards a series of bloody confrontations. Other creepy touches, like the "derelict" (Frank Baker), help a lot.
Naturally, a review of "Hellraiser" can hardly be typed without mentioning that fantastic, grandiose, operatic score by Christopher Young, which will stick in your head well after the film has finished.
The makeup effects team led by Bob Keen do some very nice work. While the Leonard Maltin review may give it a left-handed compliment by calling the film "ugly fun", us horror fans wouldn't have it any other way.
Followed by a whole slew of sequels.
Eight out of 10.
Jack the Giant Killer (1962)
"I kill a giant every morning before breakfast. Starts my day right."
The stars (Kerwin Mathews, Torin Thatcher) and director (Nathan Juran) of "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" reunite for another engaging fantasy adventure, in which Mathews stars as the title Jack, who rescues the Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) from a fearsome giant. The giant was unleashed by the villainous Pendragon (Thatcher), a power-mad sorcerer. Pendragon, however, has not given up, and he succeeds in abducting Elaine and keeping her prisoner in his island fortress. The good thing is that Jack is a consistently brave sort who is also able to get by with a little help from his friends: the viking Sigurd (Barry Kelley), Peter (Roger Mobley), the son of a ships' captain, and the powerful Imp (Don Beddoe), a leprechaun imprisoned inside a bottle.
"Jack the Giant Killer" is good, agreeable fun, if not quite as charming as the best films in this genre (some of which also star Mathews). It is perked up by a variety of colourful characters, as well as equally colourful visual effects. The stop motion animation is handled by Wah Chang, Gene Warren, and Tim Baar (and an uncredited Jim Danforth, as well), and while it may not quite equal the work of medium master Ray Harryhausen, it's still well done and enjoyable to watch. Some effectiveness is derived from a little creepiness in the presentation: those witches in Pendragons' employ are certain to get to the youngest members of your family. Cinematography (by David S. Horsley), art direction (by Fernando Carrere), and music (by Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter) are all first-rate. The Imps' shtick may wear thin for some people, as everything he says is done in a rhyming, sing-song style.
The acting is solid from the whole cast: Mathews is likeable as always, Meredith is lovely and appealing (and highly enticing when Pendragon is able to "bewitch" her), Thatcher is a wonderfully theatrical bad guy, and there are fine moments for many in the cast: Walter Burke as the henchman Garna, Dayton Lummis as the King, Anna Lee as Lady Constance, and Tudor Owen as the Chancellor. The prolific Charles Gemora, known for his many performances as gorillas in feature films, as well as extensive behind-the-scenes work, was a makeup artist here (this would turn out to be his final film credit).
Refashioned by producer Edward Small as a musical, amusingly enough, with the footage doctored to make it look like actors were singing instead of speaking dialogue. Small had originally been approached to produce "7th Voyage", and turned down the project; when he saw what a hit it became, he was then determined to make his own version.
If you love the stars and the genre, then by all means give it a look.
Seven out of 10.
Achieves a commendably high level of sleaze.
Centuries ago, a gorgeous witch named Isabella (Rita Calderoni) was staked and burned alive; her lover vowed revenge. In modern times, a man named Jack Nelson (Mickey Hargitay) buys a mountaintop castle and moves there with his niece Laureen (also played by Calderoni) to celebrate her engagement. However, there are occultists on the premises who regularly sacrifice the hearts and eyes of comely female virgins to their exalted "great mistress", Isabella; they hope to restore her to life.
Writer & director Renato Polselli doesn't ever concern himself too much with telling a particularly coherent story, stuffing a lot of exposition into the final few minutes. Rather, he stresses other aspects of the presentation, to the delight of any Eurotrash-horror fan watching. It's very sexy (there's abundant nudity), very gory, and has a nonstop general feeling of weirdness and gloom. Polselli *does* have a way with atmosphere, aided in no small part by his cinematographer Ugo Brunelli. Brunellis' lighting schemes are wonderfully colourful, and are worthy of Mario Bava and Dario Argento at their most stylish. This *is* a gorgeous picture to look at, in more ways than one, with fine use of locations, and a psychedelic touch. There's even some actual intentional comedy, accompanied by a decidedly goofy variation in the otherwise subtle music.
The acting is basically tolerable, although Hargitay (former bodybuilder and husband of starlet Jayne Mansfield) is rather stiff. Also, Stefania Fassio is fatally annoying as motor mouthed airhead Steffy. This character wears out her welcome fairly quickly. William Darni is requisite hero Richard Brenton, and Italian Donald Pleasence lookalike Marcello Bonini Olas is amusing as a scar faced occultist named "Gerg".
Any viewer who adores the sleazier side of world cinema from this era is sure to take a liking to "Black Magic Rites", no matter how muddled the story is.
Six out of 10.
While imperfect, this is still a stunning example of early German cinema.
The legendary play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is adapted by visionary director F.W. Murnau ("Nosferatu") in this remarkable silent, shot through with potent, brooding atmosphere. The story deals with an aged alchemist named Faust (Gosta Ekman) who is losing his faith while God and Satan battle for control of the Earth, and a plague is decimating mankind. Faust makes a deal with a demon named Mephisto (Emil Jannings), one of Satans' emissaries, which will grant him the power to heal. But Faust decides that he also wants his youth back, and the ability to romantically pursue a lovely young woman named Gretchen (Camilla Horn). Mephisto throws a monkey wrench into the plan by interfering, and making sure that things may not end happily for anyone.
While weighed down by the romantic portion of the plot, which ultimately drags too much, "Faust" '26 is marked by a wonderful look and feel. It starts out as beautifully bleak and ominous, with very effective cinematography by Carl Hoffmann. The imagery and visual effects are quite impressive for a film over 90 years old, and the now ages-old device of a character selling their soul to the Devil ensures thematic elements such as human vanity and frailties, and the idea of "being careful what one wishes for". Although the film ceases to be quite as interesting while Faust is aggressively courting Gretchen, it does get back on track for a truly haunting and despairing final half hour, when it becomes necessary for Faust to atone for his big mistake.
The performances are fairly typical for the silent era in that they are highly theatrical, but there's no denying that Jannings is a superb villain. Allowed to play some of his scenes for comedy, he towers over everybody else here with a memorable portrayal of seductive charisma as well as initial creepiness.
The classic theme of Good vs. Evil creates a resonance that has made this tale so powerful for so many decades. If the viewer has previously enjoyed "Nosferatu", they really should check out this film as well.
Seven out of 10.
Another creditable dramatic performance for Arnold.
Arnold Schwarzenegger had previously proved that he could pull off a straight dramatic performance, without resorting to being the "man of action", in the horror-drama "Maggie". Here, he's similarly affecting in a tale that the filmmakers are careful to tell us was *inspired by*, rather than *based on*, a true story that happened in Europe.
Arnold plays Roman, a blue collar guy who loses his beloved wife & daughter (and unborn granddaughter) when two planes collide. The person singled out as being responsible is air traffic controller Jake (Scoot McNairy), who wasn't entirely at fault; not only was he left on his own in the tower, he was simply trying to handle too many tasks at once.
The balance of the film is a study in how individuals are able, or not able, to cope in the face of a big tragedy. As we can see, neither the grief-stricken Roman nor the guilt-plagued Jake handle it all that well. But they give it some effort, until Roman decides that he just HAS to confront the man he holds responsible for his loss.
There the screenplay starts to turn more melodramatic and predictable, instead of the more realistic bent it adopts for most of the running time. Written by Javier Gullon, and directed by Elliott Lester, it's a sombre, slowly paced (some viewers might say monotonous) meditation on dealing with loss. The supporting performances (including familiar performers such as Maggie Grace (as Jakes' wife), Glenn Morshower (as Romans' co-worker), Martin Donovan (as Jakes' boss), and Kevin Zegers (as a lawyer)) are effectively understated.
Overall, the film is respectable in what it attempts, if not all that successful. But give it a shot if you want to see Arnold actually act in a picture that is mostly devoid of violence.
Seven out of 10.
A stunning film in every way.
This is the story of Brian Sweeney "Fitzcarraldo" Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski), a European living in Peru (and a character from history) who has a passion for opera. He is determined to bring that style of entertainment to his corner of the world. He learns that he can do this by exploiting an area rich in rubber trees, but to do so he will have to navigate the Amazon - and, in the films' major set piece, move his steamship up one side of a mountain and down the other in order to circumvent a barrier.
Written and directed by the beloved visionary Werner Herzog, "Fitzcarraldo" is a an exhilarating and visually rich film, shot on picturesque South America locations. Ultimately, it's a testament to VERY hard work done in the pursuit of a dream, and overcoming the various trials and tribulations in the way. Granted, it's not for all tastes; at least, it's not for those viewers who grow impatient with overlength and slow pacing. But the rewards are ample: it's a lovely, poetic, sometimes tense film.
The supporting cast is excellent, although it must be said that it's unfortunate that lovely leading lady Claudia Cardinale has to be written out of the story for a large chunk of its running time. Kinski delivers one of his most appealing performances, and is ably supported by Jose Lewgoy as the hearty Don Aquilino, Miguel Angel Fuentes as the argumentative Cholo, Paul Hittscher as the steadfast ships' captain, and Huerequeque Enrique Bohorquez as the drunken but still reliable (and, as it turns out, ingenious) ships' cook.
There are some hair-raising moments along the way, but in the end it would be very difficult not to feel a sense of exultation and accomplishment. You share in the good feelings of our protagonist - and the filmmaker as well, who's gone to great lengths to create something quite interesting.
10 out of 10.
The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)
Give this one a look.
"The Wilby Conspiracy" is a slick, well-executed chase thriller pairing top actors Sidney Poitier and Sir Michael Caine. Set against a very political backdrop, the racial strife taking place in South Africa, it has Poitier as a political prisoner being released and Caine as a mining engineer who are forced to take it on the lam together. Sometimes assisted by Caines' girlfriend Prunella Gee (who is also the lawyer who helped to free Poitier), they must work to stay one step ahead of the sly, racist security agent Nicol Williamson, an antagonist par excellence.
This film is fundamentally an entertaining story (scripted by Rod Amateau and Harold Nebenzal, based on a novel by Peter Driscoll), very well told and engrossing. It does have some slow spots, but never takes too long to perk right back up again. The action scenes (directed by Amateau) are first-rate, along with the stunning photography of the genuine Kenya locations, and the solid (but never overwhelming) soundtrack composed by Stanley Myers. The film calls ones' attention to the real-life turmoil in this part of this world, while making sure to also show us a good time.
Part of the appeal lies in the performances of the two leads. While undoubtedly the film delivers some echoes of Poitiers' earlier classic "The Defiant Ones", our stars have good chemistry and are consistently amusing. They are extremely well supported by a wonderful international cast: Saeed Jeffrey as a jittery dentist / activist, Persis Khambatta as his lovely assistant, Rutger Hauer as Gees' shady husband (and means of escape for the heroes), Rijk de Gooyer as a smiling, slimy agent, and Patrick Allen as the district commissioner. Khambatta and Hauer made their English-language debuts here; actor / executive producer Helmut Dantine has a small role as the prosecutor. Williamson steals it from everybody, though, and is a treat to watch.
Directed by the great Ralph Nelson, whose previous work with Poitier includes "Lilies of the Field", where Nelson had directed the actor towards a Best Actor Oscar win.
Seven out of 10.
Superhero Movie (2008)
Better than expected.
Following in the wake of other cinematic spoofs of pop culture comes "Superhero Movie", which this viewer would have to guess is at least better than some of them. Mostly a send-up of the Spider-Man origin story, it also takes shots at other iconic superhero characters: the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, etc. Drake Bell plays Rick Riker, a high school loser who is bitten by a genetically enhanced dragonfly while on a class trip. He of course obtains super powers, except the ability to fly. These he will HAVE to put to use when battling the mega-villain The Hourglass (veteran comedy villain Christopher McDonald, appropriately hammy), who must kill people in order to extend his own life.
It is refreshing to see writer / director Craig Mazin throw caution to the wind, and refuse to kowtow to political correctness. Point in fact: real-life Dr. Stephen Hawking (played by character actor Robert Joy) comes in for a fair amount of abuse. With the assistance of experienced comedy director David Zucker (one third of that redoubtable team that made "Airplane!"), he actually manages to deliver a respectable amount of genuine laughs. Granted, some of the humour is stupid and obvious, but it still works. Key to "Superhero Movie"s' success is the fact that the actors largely play it straight, as if this was a real superhero movie. We've all known for years that movies of this type aren't nearly as good if it looks like everybody is in on the joke.
Many familiar faces abound, although it would be best if this viewer did not spoil them all. Marion Ross of 'Happy Days' fame is appealing as Aunt Lucille (although it's such a shame Mazin & Company resort to a few minutes worth of fart jokes with her character), and spoof legend Leslie Nielsen is in fine form as always as the goofy Uncle Albert. (He and Bell come up with a funny spin on that classic Spider-Man line about great power.)
Granted, this is NOT in the same league as "Airplane!" or "Young Frankenstein" (just to throw out two examples of classic, vintage spoofs), but it kills time agreeably enough. There's simply too much outtake and blooper footage during those closing credits, though.
Six out of 10.
Still very charming, 30-plus years later.
'A Claymation Christmas Celebration' was one of the trio of seasonal TV specials created by clay animation expert Will Vinton, and deservedly won an Emmy. It's a good-natured, spirited production hosted by odd-couple dinosaurs Rex (voice of Johnny Counterfit) and Herb (voice of Tim Conner). They proceed to educate us on a series of perennial Christmas songs, enacted by a wonderful bunch of characters.
This viewer hopes that this particular art of clay animation never dies out. There is something so irresistible about it, especially when it comes to character design. The sequence with the ice skating walruses is particularly bright and amusing. The songs are all wonderfully performed, and some vibrant spins are put on the material, making them fresh (but without being disrespectful to tradition). The stylish visuals during the "Joy to the World" performance are a real treat. The "California Raisins", a popular bit of pop culture at the time, come in for a special appearance as they regale us with their rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".
The humour is disarming, and will appeal to viewers young and old. One main running gag is that Rex tries to take the proceedings seriously, and Herb just won't ignore that constant rumbling in his stomach. The "Carol of the Bells" sequence is hysterical (it's hard not to crack up when the dumb-bell quips, "I lost mine"). Of course, the brightest moments are derived from the inability of various characters to get a certain song right. Instead of "wassailing", they either sing "waffle-ing", "waddling", or "wallowing".
It's a shame these Vinton specials are rarely seen these days, so this viewer was happy when he found a DVD of Vintons' seasonal work.
All in all, upbeat fun.
10 out of 10.
I see those cakes and I start to go wild! (His main squeeze is Julia Child!)
Mario Van Peebles is very engaging in this rather harmless attempt by the Cannon Group to capture mid-80s rap culture on screen. He plays John "Rappin'" Hood, a street tough who's changed his ways after time in jail, and returns to his 'hood to romance the lovely Dixie (Tasia Valenza), set his younger brother Allan (Leo O'Brien) on the right track, and fight back against Duane (Charles Grant), a vicious former crony, and Thorndike (Harry Goz), a sleazy land developer.
Done in a musical style, with numbers delivered at fairly frequent intervals, "Rappin'" is not to be taken seriously. People could definitely argue that it's in dire need of bite, edginess, and grit, but for a PG rated look at inner-city people who find a way to express themselves, it's hard to truly dislike. One could also argue that a lot of the rhyming is inane and goofy, but this viewer liked that the picture had a sense of humour (like the scene with the hooker, or that utterly dopey number "Snack Attack"). Ice-T (who has a number of his own, as an auditioning rapper) dubbed in Van Peebles' rhyming.
The picture does take problems of inner-city living lightly, but then director Joel Silberg and company likely wanted to avoid ever making this too unpleasant, in order to reach as broad an audience as possible. In fact, the whole thing DOES come off as a little cheesy (with opportunities for many of the main cast members to belt out a line or two during the closing credits number).
Grant and Goz are appropriately odious villains; you do hope that Grant brawls with Van Peebles at some point so he can get his ass righteously handed to him. Valenza is a charming love interest, Eyde Byrde is appealing as the grandmother, Rony Clanton is good as a slimy landlord, there are early roles for future stars Kadeem Hardison and Eriq LaSalle as two of Van Peebles' crew, and the enchanting character actress Rutanya Alda also has a role as an area resident. It's always nice to see her in anything.
As this viewer already said, the picture is entertaining enough to watch provided you don't ever take it that seriously.
Six out of 10.
Shadow of the Hawk (1976)
Well made and fairly absorbing.
Although somewhat forgotten over time, this is an entertaining film combining drama, suspense, supernatural horror, and American Indian mysticism. Jan-Michael Vincent plays Mike, the Westernized grandson of a veteran Indian medicine man, Old Man Hawk (Chief Dan George). The old man makes a very long trek to the city to enlist the grandsons' help in defeating an ancient, vengeful entity terrorizing the old mans' tribe. Marilyn Hassett plays Maureen, a freelance reporter looking for a story and who gave the old man some assistance.
There are some effective moments in this little picture, especially the harrowing one with Vincent, Hassett, and George on a rickety wooden bridge. It's also impressive when the old man erects an "invisible wall" into which a car crashes. It all takes place among some magnificent British Columbia (Canada) scenery, and is accompanied by majestic music composed by Robert McMullin. Mike will have to ultimately face the demonic Dsonoqua (played by the alluring Marianne Jones) on his own, as well as her minions and one persistent black bear. The presence of a mystery figure, who wears a creepy mask, is another solid touch, and this figure will repeatedly appear in Mikes' visions. Although, as I said earlier, Mike is very much a Westernized character, he *will* end up embracing his heritage and his heroic destiny.
Vincent is solid in one of the vehicles from the peak period of his career, when he hadn't fallen victim to his own demons. Hassett doesn't get much to do that's actually interesting, but she is likeable as well. Chief Dan George is excellent as the mystical elder who knows all the right things to do and say, and who knows that being laid up in a hospital being treated with ineffective Western medicine will do him no good.
Overall, this is a decent little picture, spooky when it needs to be and consistently atmospheric. It's worth a look.
Seven out of 10.
"'Cause only a woman can take everything a man has, and still want more."
There's just no end to the goofy possibilities in the "cheap and cheesy monster movie" genre. Here we have a finned predator that burrows through the snowy ground of New York State, popping up time and time again to turn various moron victims into Snow Shark chow. Among those who determine to destroy the beast: a knuckle-headed, macho local (played by writer / director / cinematographer Sam Qualiana), a team including two scientists and a boorish Great White Hunter, and a Sheriff (played by Sam Q.s' father, C.J. Qualiana) who has a personal stake in the mission.
"Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast" gives you exactly what you expect from this genre: a silly script with various attempts at clever lines, inane characters & amateurish performances, and utterly laughable special effects. (Still, I give Qualiana credit: he uses a puppet head for the Snow Shark, keeping digital nonsense to a minimum.) The wintry atmosphere does help matters a fair bit. The quality of the pacing is fine - this clocks in at a reasonable 80 minutes. (Although, some people would argue that it's still 80 minutes too long.)
Qualiana Sr. delivers the closest thing that this picture has in terms of a decent performance; he looks very serious throughout. That said, Qualiana Jr. is a hoot as a stereotypical redneck, and Andy Taylor is likewise amusing as the amiable dope who keeps ribbing his female cohort.
Perked up somewhat by its hilarious (if not that original) ending.
One good thing: this viewer did enjoy that closing credits tune, "She's Gonna Eat You Alive".
Producer / unit production manager Gregory Lamberson (director of "Slime City") has an unbilled cameo at around the one hour mark; one of the editors is veteran D.I.Y. filmmaker Mark Polonia.
Five out of 10.
The End of Violence (1997)
Ambitious, but not terribly successful.
Bill Pullman is okay as Mike Max, a veteran Hollywood producer who's made his name with a succession of violent action pictures. One night, he is carjacked by two hoodlums, only to escape and spend time hiding out with the family of his Mexican gardener. He doesn't seem THAT interested in finding out what truly happened that night; meanwhile, the film also follows Ray Bering (Gabriel Byrne), a lonely man operating a high-tech surveillance project out of Griffith Park Observatory. A young detective called "Doc" (Loren Dean) tries to make sense out of the Mike Max disappearance.
The intentions of celebrated German director Wim Wenders are certainly good, as he and his screenwriter Nicholas Klein set out to examine, and ruminate over, the "psyche of Los Angeles". His desire was to paint a multi-faceted portrayal of a city beset by paranoia and violence, a city which fascinated him. Given that Wenders himself is not fond of the proliferation of violence in cinema, "The End of Violence" shows us very little. Unfortunately, this picture of his suffers from a slow pace and a sometimes meandering nature. It's really not that involving, with very few characters we can genuinely care about.
Among its assets are the widescreen photography (this was Wenders' first film shot in 2.35:1), and the excellent, flavourful soundtrack composed by guitar great Ry Cooder.
The wonderful assemblage of acting talent helps to maintain interest even when the story doesn't. Traci Lind is a standout as a lovely stuntwoman being groomed for a career in acting. Andie MacDowell is barely passable as Mike Max's neglected wife. A sombre-faced Byrne does get to share some scenes with the legendary filmmaker Sam Fuller, who plays his father. Sadly, Fuller would pass away shortly after production wrapped. Other familiar faces include Rosalind Chao, Pruitt Taylor Vince, John Diehl, Nicole Ari Parker, Daniel Benzali, Marshall Bell, Frederic Forrest, Udo Kier (a hoot, as always, as a film director), Henry Silva, Peter Horton, Michael Massee, and O-Lan Jones.
Ultimately, style triumphs over what little substance there is in this forgettable feature.
Six out of 10.
The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
It's all about the acting here.
Joanne Woodward lights up the screen in triple roles in this tale of multiple-personality disorder. Her initial, primary role is that of Eve White, a seemingly ordinary and meek Southern woman married to a man named Ralph (David Wayne). Well into adulthood, her second personality, a flirty, vampish, life-of-the-party pre-marriage version of herself, starts posing serious problems, and she is sent to therapy. An eminent psychiatrist (Lee J. Cobb) uses hypnosis to try to get through to her, and find the life event that triggered the emergence of Eve No. 2 (although none seems to exist). In time, a third personality emerges, a soft-spoken but mature and intelligent woman named Jane.
Although extremely well shot in CinemaScope by Stanley Cortez, this relatively brief film (92 minutes long) does not try to dazzle the viewer with visual dynamics, hinging almost entirely on Woodwards' impressive ability to delineate these three distinct characters. She certainly deserved that Best Actress Oscar win; "The Three Faces of Eve" offers her plenty of opportunity to just emote for everything that she's worth. Offering strong support are Wayne, as the husband who finds that he just can't stand by her (and, in one memorable scene, finds himself attracted to the Eve Black personality), and Cobb as the determined doctor interested in Eves' welfare. In smaller roles, you'll see familiar actors and actresses such as Nancy Kulp ('The Beverly Hillbillies'), Douglas Spencer ("The Thing from Another World"), Vince Edwards ('Ben Casey'), and Ken Scott ("Stopover Tokyo"). The film is narrated by Alistair Cooke of 'Masterpiece Theatre' fame.
This compelling material is given fairly straightforward treatment by screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, in one of his eight directing credits. It doesn't get too bogged down in "psycho-babble", although there is some amusement in the way that Cobb has his work cut out for him trying to use laymen's terms with the not-terribly-bright, hot-tempered Wayne.
While the film ends rather abruptly, it's careful to point out to us that the journey to self-discovery for Eve was a couple of years in the making. While the ending is kind of typical Hollywood stuff, Woodward still sells all of it so beautifully.
Inspired by the real-life case of South Carolina woman Christine Costner Sizemore, who ultimately manifested over *20* different personalities over the course of her lifetime.
Eight out of 10.
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
A classic nerve-shattering 40s thriller.
Barbara Stanwyck turns in a bravura, Oscar-nominated performance as Leona Stevenson, a rich invalid (heir to a pharmaceutical company) who begins the film by trying desperately to get in touch with her husband Henry (Burt Lancaster). While on the phone, she overhears two men discussing a plot to murder someone at a quarter past 11 that night. After a nights' worth of informative conversations with assorted people, she starts to fear that the intended victim is HER, and that Henry is somehow involved.
"Sorry, Wrong Number" is a superior example of this kind of suspense entertainment. Scripted by Lucille Fletcher, based on her successful radio play, it receives sterling direction from Anatole Litvak. One could argue that it's overly based on dialogue and exposition, but it remains utterly riveting, with director Litvak slowly tightening the screws bit by bit. It unfolds like a *good* mystery, one where the audience isn't ahead of the game the entire time, and where they learn things along with Leona.
The film is powerfully atmospheric, with lots of moving camera, and noted ominous lighting schemes by cinematographer Sol Polito. The music by Franz Waxman is wonderfully grandiose stuff guaranteed to keep viewers' teeth chattering. The performances by a well-chosen cast (also including Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Harold Vermilyea, Ed Begley, Leif Erickson, William Conrad, Jimmy Hunt, and Dorothy Neumann) are all extremely efficient. Stanwyck is compelling in the central role. In an interesting turn, she's portrayed in flashbacks as NOT being that sympathetic (she's spoiled and always determined to have her way, no matter what), although by the time of the big finale we're completely back to being scared for her. And that finale is a doozy, surely one of the best in this genre, leading to a memorable ending.
Remade for TV in 1989 with Loni Anderson in the lead.
Eight out of 10.