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8/10
A Fascinating, under-appreciated film of Fritz Lang
14 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
House by the River was a modestly budgeted film made during an apparent low point in Fritz Lang's film career here in the US for "poverty-row" studio, Republic Pictures. Set in late Victorian times, House details the story of one man's slide from unsuccessful writer to inadvertent murderer and his mostly successful efforts to cover it up. The film shows Lang's continuing interest in mentally disturbed but compelling villains. Stephen Byrne, the villain of House is in a long line of Langian sociopaths, psychopaths and individuals driven mad from injustice from Mabuse, Rottwang the scientist in Metropolis, Peter Lorre in M, Spencer Tracy in Fury among others.

While other commentators have pointed out the superb cinematography that puts this film in the film noir/Gothic story genre, what seems to have been missed is the jet black humor with which this film is shot through. Mordant humor is present when Stephen discovers he's becoming a better writer through his crimes. Comments are made by other characters in the movie about how a writer should only write what he knows about. That takes on a dark, ghoulish tone when the audience becomes aware that Stephen's newest book is entitled, Death on the River and that it has a compelling narrative indeed. In fact, Stephen shows he really enjoys the notoriety of being involved in the disappearance of the servant girl, Emily, as well as her death. He even sends a picture of himself to the newspaper investigating the story. They print it along with the story and Stephen uses the publicity generated to boost his book sales. This film is a good example of Lang as a brilliant yet very dark satirist of human ambition and folly.

In sum, not a perfect film (the conclusion especially feels rushed), but compelling and unexpectedly funny. In some ways, Stephen's mad writer vaguely anticipates Stephen King's equally mad writer, Jack Torrence of The Shining.
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Madeleine (1950)
8/10
A Fascinating, slightly flawed film from David Lean's early period
26 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
David Lean's film Madeleine tells the true story of Madeleine Smith, a young woman from an upper-class Scottish family, who was tried for murdering her lover in 1857. The case, which was a media sensation in its day, ended with Ms. Smith being released after the jury reached the verdict of "not proved", which, in Scottish law, meant there wasn't enough evidence to convict her but sufficient evidence to entertain doubts about her innocence. The movie maintains the same ambiguity about her guilt or innocence of the crime, indeed ending with a voice over narrator asking the title character as to whether she was guilty or innocent. She just looks at the camera and gives a vague half smile that could mean either of the two.

The strengths of the film are considerable. The lighting and overall cinematography give the film both a wonderful Victorian-era feel and a film-noir aspect as well. Indeed, the film has much in common with film-noir aside from the lighting. The story, like many noir films, has a dubious heroine who leads a fundamentally disadvantaged man, in this case, a lover from the wrong side of the tracks economically and socially, to his destruction. Indeed, given the situation presented in the film, the lover couldn't have realistically expected Madeleine's domineering and strict father to have ever accepted him given his poor social and economic prospects. Adding into the mix was Madeleine's own ambivalent handling of their relationship, promising one moment to tell her father about them, then pleading it was too difficult to do so. As history indeed bore out, it was a recipe for personal disaster.

My main criticism of the film is that virtually nothing is told of how Madeleine managed to meet her lover in the first place. Some accounts I've read indicated that they first met in a Glasgow park. I think Lean should have shown that meeting to show how Madeleine had a mind of her own and how willing she was to defy her conventional and strict Victorian father. That would have added to the ambiguity of Madeleine's character, seemingly compliant to the demands of her family in terms of love and marriage and yet defiant of them as well.

Still, the performances, especially Ann Todd as the title character, are top notch and this is a film well worth seeing. As I've said, this is the closest David Lean came to film-noir that I've seen.
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10/10
A wonderful slice of life film from Jacques Feyder
2 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Crainquebille is a delightful silent film from 1922 that tells the story of the poor vegetable peddler, Crainquebille, and his troubles with the law. Because of an altercation with a hard-of-hearing policeman, Crainquebille is put in jail for two weeks and has to pay a fine of 50 francs. Unfortunately, his stay in jail cause his former customers to shun him. Reduced to dire poverty and thrown out of his garret for non-payment of rent, Crainquebille considers suicide until he's rescued by a homeless newspaper boy whom he'd befriended earlier.

This simple story, based on a short story by Anatole France, affords the director Jacques Feyder ample opportunity for great visual wizardry, especially in the trial sequence of the film. The viewer sees the proceedings from Crainquebille's perspective. The policeman who testifies against him is made to seem immense and overpowering while Dr. Mathieu, the one witness in Crainquebille's defense, appears literally small and insignificant. Also, there are several shots of the bust of Marie, the French national symbol, staring at Crainquebille disdainfully indicating that the verdict is never in doubt. Especially imaginative is the dream the aforementioned Dr. Mathieu has the night after Crainquebille's trial in which the unjust and farcical character of the trial is underlined with the judges transformed into howling demons leaping up from their chairs. Indeed, Feyder captures Anatole France's sarcastic rage at the injustices of the French legal especially as it applies to the poor.

This film and the accompanying feature, Faces of Children, are the two best films on the three DVD disc set of the early silent films of Jacques Feyder. As the liner notes aptly quote D.W. Griffith, this film is a wonderful evocation of Paris and Parisian life as it existed in the 1920s. Strongly recommended.
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6/10
Being Present at the Birth of the Feature Film
28 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This film, as the title plainly indicate, is a dramatization of Dante's Inferno which comprises a third of his Divine Comedy. As is well-known to all, the Inferno relates Dante's journey through Hell being guided by the Roman poet, Virgil. Dante is shown the nine circles of hell where sinners are punished with afflictions appropriate to their sins. The climax of the work is seeing Lucifer himself at the very center of hell.

The influence of this work in Western art and literature is staggering and obvious. Much of what Christians believe to be typical of Hell is derived not from the bible but from Dante. Artists and illustrators from the late Middle Ages through the 19th century have depicted scenes from Dante's work. Indeed, this movie uses Gustave Dore's illustrations of the Inferno as the basis of the cinematography.

As for the film itself, its technical crudity and the highly uneven quality of the film stock, really make it mainly of archival value. Moreover, the acting is of the broad gesturing variety associated with early silent movies.

Still, despite these limitations, the care and effort that went into this film is obvious. The special effects are not half-bad and the Dore illustrations are brought to life reasonably well. To a film audience in 1911, this was plainly seen as a momentous event. In its runs in Europe and America both before and after World War I, the film was extremely successful and grossed for the time enormous box office.

Indeed, in the liner notes to the DVD edition of this movie, an advertisement by a British distributor from 1911 encouraged theaters to rent this film by pointing out how profitable it had been to other exhibitors. In this ad, one can see how the feature film, a film longer than 60 minutes, became established as the basic mode in which film would be presented in the future. From the 1890s until 1911, the short subject was the only medium in which film was shown. With the success of this film and other Italian feature films which followed like The Last Days of Pompeii and Cabiria, film makers like D.W. Griffith were inspired to direct long, involved films like Birth of a Nation and Intolerance.

Unlike most other commentators, I wasn't too put off by the Tangerine Dream soundtrack. I agree it wasn't great but it wasn't the worst I've heard.
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6/10
An uneven, but still fascinating fantasy/adventure of the Jules Verne variety
25 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
L'Atlantide is an early action, adventure movie that strongly recalls the exotic fiction of Jules Verne. Pierre Benoit, the author, clearly was following Verne's footsteps as he retailed a story of French soldiers stationed in colonial Algeria on the cusp of World War I getting lost in the desert and ending up in the kingdom of Atlantis. According to the conceit of the story, part of Atlantis survived the great flood that destroyed most of the island 9,000 years ago and became an oasis in the center of the Sahara desert.

The basic plot of the novel recounts how three French soldiers end up in this kingdom under the rule of a mysterious queen. As the filmization of the novel unfolds, the viewer discovers this queen collects and discards husbands as it strikes her fancy. The exes end up as preserved, life-sized gold statues in the queen's main chamber. Talk about trophy husbands! In the story, the queen meets her match when one of the French soldiers, a religiously pious man who's totally indifferent to the queen's charms. This maddens her and she connives through the use of drugs to get the soldier's friend to kill the man who spurned her. Eventually, the soldier who killed his friend and a female member of the queen's entourage flee the kingdom only to fall victim to the desert. The young woman dies but the soldier barely survives. In the end, the soldier, after having told his story to another friend, sets out to find the kingdom once again as all men who come into contact with the Queen of Atlantis must go back to her.

That, in a nutshell is the story. What such a cursory description cannot detail is the often striking cinematography which was actually shot on location in the Sahara under very difficult circumstances. Also, such a description can't tell how the story is a strange combination of femme fatale a la Salome, covert religious melodrama as well as exotic adventure. The set design of the queen's palace is striking and reminiscent of the elaborate painting of the Symbolist painter, Gustave Moreau.

The principal problems of the film are the overacting by the title character and the over length of the film. The narrative itself is also convoluted as the audience is treated to flashbacks within flashbacks which aren't hard to follow but add to the length of the film. Also, at the denouement, the main character simply runs away from the Queen without directly confronting her even though the movie ends with this character setting out to return to her. Such a resolution seems rather unsatisfying. Another plot line not followed through is the guilt the queen feels for causing the death of the man who spurned her. The guilt is shown but doesn't go anywhere plot-wise.

In sum, a fascinating film that according to what I read was quite successful in its day but very dated in many ways. My advice, be patient with it, laugh at the silly parts and be intrigued by the set designs.
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7/10
An interesting twist to the old myth of gods walking among us mortals
22 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This fascinating curio from the 1930s is based on an Italian stage play that posited the simple question: Would Death be intrigued by why we mortals cling so stubbornly to life in spite of our self-evident self-destructive urges. Death, in this movie, is at a disadvantage in this since he is immortal and can never death itself. It posits a question that has been posed as earlier as the ancient Greek playwrights such Euripides: Are the gods inferior to mortals because the former have no knowledge nor capacity for understanding the deep suffering the latter are capable of because mortals are always aware on some level that they will ultimately die? This story, Death Takes a Holiday, is reminiscent of aspects of Christian theology that posited Jesus, as the Son of God, was part of the divine Godhead and thus by allowing Jesus the Crucifixion, God could come to understand the suffering of which His creation was capable. By that understanding, Jesus could redeem the sins of mankind as God, through Jesus, gained an understanding of what it meant to be human. Even though this perspective isn't strictly orthodox, it was best illustrated in another movie, The Green Pastures, which was made in 1936.

As to the film itself, the presentation has definitely dated aspects. What keeps the film in the category of a flawed classic rather than a dated curio is Frederick March's wonderful performance as Death who comes as Prince Sirki to a weekend gathering of Italian aristocrats at the villa of one of those aristocrats. March captures ideally the worldliness of an ageless figure, such as death, who has seen everything and his endearing naiveté as Death realizes he's actually experienced nothing of what he sees. It's when he falls in love with the beautiful Grazia that he begins to understand the suffering of which humans are capable. Indeed when Grazia wishes to go with Sirki/Death, Death feels the anguish that a person feels who must part from one he loves. It is when she declares that she knew who he really was all along and isn't afraid to follow him to his realm that Death grasps the power of love in the face of death. March conveys all of this beautifully and even makes his final rather overwrought speech memorable and moving.

Unfortunately, from those thespian heights, the other aspects of the film are a rather mixed bag. The young actress who plays Grazia is given overdone dialog that irresistibly reminds me of the lines of the "serious" play that Katherine Hepburn's character in the movie, Backstage, is auditioning for. That's the play with the classic line, much parodied, "Father, the calla lillies are in bloom again..." Grazia's lines approach the laughable. Also, for a group of Italian aristocrats, the guests at the house sport frank American or English accents while the few working class Italians that appear are pure stage Italians out of the Chico Marx mold.

But despite these limitations which led me to subtract three stars out of ten, it's a film well worth seeing.
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8/10
An intriguing dark film of the 1960s
2 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Even though this film stars horror film icon Vincent Price, this is really a psychological thriller with plenty of gruesome moments spread throughout. In a sense, the action the audience sees on screen is reflexive of the time period in which the story is set. As the narrator explains near the start of the film, the year is 1645 and England is in the grip of a bloody civil war between King Charles I and the forces of the parliamentary party commanded by Oliver Cromwell.

As the narrator further elaborates law and order has pretty much broken down which gives self-righteous opportunists like Matthew Hopkins the ability to take advantage of people's superstitions and fears to hunt down suspected witches, hence the original title of the movie, Witchfinder General. Early on in the film, it's quite apparent that Hopkins and his sidekick, John Stern, are basically racketeers who extract confessions of witchcraft out of people by barbarous means for financial recompense by the local magistrates who operate free of any government supervision given the chaotic conditions of the country at the time.

What is most intriguing about the film is that Matthew Hopkins, wonderfully portrayed by Vincent Price, is really the personal embodiment of the hatred, fear and rage that arise in a country torn by civil strife. It is highly symbolic that the young soldier who finally stops Hopkins's bloody reign of terror with an ax is infected by the madness and hatred that had gripped Hopkins by the end.

This is not a film for the squeamish but neither is it just horror exploitation. It demonstrates how dark times can produce monstrous people.
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8/10
An Intriguing artifact of the 1950s
5 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is one of those anomalous films that result when one takes the style of a brilliant illustrator and translate it to live action. All sorts of psychological concerns not so evident in the illustrated, cartoon work of Dr. Seuss become more readily apparent when live actors are substituted for cartoon characters. For example, the lack of a father figure for a young boy and the resultant feelings of loss and loneliness are very strongly expressed in this work. Young Bart's father has died prior to the start of the film and the discipline of Doctor Terwilliger's piano practice methods seems to serve Bart's mother as a means of providing the masculine element missing in Bart's life.

The problem is that Dr. Terwilliger's take on masculinity, as the film makes abundantly clear, is rooted in megalomania and, worse, has strong suggestions of sexual perversion. Many commentators have pointed out Dr. Terwilliger's obvious gay affect. Remember, this film, as an artifact of the 1950s, would not have viewed this sexual preference favorably. Mr. Zablodowski, the plumber, is presented as the representative of so-called "normal" sexuality, i.e., heterosexuality.

I suspect Dr. Terwilliger's gayness stems from American ambivalence about high culture. On one hand, Bart's mother sees merit in his practicing the piano. Even Mr. Zablodowski concurs with that at one point in the film. On the other, there is the suspicion underlying this film that anyone committed to a career in high art, has to be bent sexually. (This was graphically shown in a recent episode of the police drama, Law and Order, Special Victims Unit, where a piano teacher was a predatory pedophile. The allure of high art was that piano teacher's bait to catch children for sexual purposes.) Dr. Terwilliger embodies these suspicions and anxieties. Clearly, as flamboyantly unpleasant as Dr. Terwilliger is, parents send their children to him to introduce them to high art. Yet, it is up to Bart to liberate the children from Dr. Terwilliger's hold.

It's an ironic position: On one hand, the film argues that kids should be kids and do kid things like run with their dog and play ball and look up to salt-of-the-earth men like the local plumber, Mr. Zablodowski. On the other hand, very real artistry went into the depiction of Dr. Terwilliger's institute as well as the songs that served to bolster the story. So, art is desired yet deprecated. Like I said, an intriguing artifact of the 1950s.
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1/10
Agonizingly bad movie
1 October 2006
Yes, the votes are in. This film may very well be the Plan 9 From Outer Space for our generation. But whereas Ed Wood's film, for all its flaws, retains a certain charm despite it all, this film defines the word "charmless" to the nth degree. In fact, I'd suggest to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary to cite this movie as a key example defining the that word in the next update to the dictionary.

Carrot Top is a performer of such abysmal ability that normally rational people that I know once they hear his name become homicidal maniacs dedicated to wanting to kill Mr. Top as soon as possible. Indeed, if one goes to Amazon.com and look at customer reviews for Carrot Top's movie and other performance DVD, one will find several that could be construed as death threats to Mr. Top.

One other curious fact about this film, I recall that Mike Nelson, the head writer for MST 3000, in his book Mike's Mega Cheese about movies, good and bad, said he saw this film and shortly afterwords couldn't recall a thing about it, including the title. Obviously Mike was suffering a classic reaction to trauma. Viewing this atrocity was so soul numbing, Mike Nelson had to block it from his mind. (Evidently, in a later chapter in his book, Mike Nelson had recovered his memeory of this film. From the review he offers, Mike Nelson was definitely not grateful for the recovered memory.)

The only comment I offer about the film, and it is not a spoiler, it's simply God's honest truth, it's not funny. None of it is, not even a nanosecond of it is funny.
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2/10
A Truly Unique Film
30 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I agree with one commentator who says that it's really impossible to review Glen or Glenda? objectively. If one does so, the film on its merits would have to be rated as fairly terrible given the hilarious, convoluted dialog, the generally mediocre to poor acting by the cast as well as the zero production values. Yet, such an assessment does not capture the absolutely riveting experience of watching this film as it unfolds. It isn't the fact that the subject of the film is transvestitism and that it was a controversial lifestyle choice in the 1950s. It's not even the plea for tolerance of people who embrace alternate life choices that fascinates except as an historic relic.

No, what makes Glen or Glenda? still a fascinating film after 50 years is that Ed Wood laid his psyche bare in a way that so-called auteur directors like Hitchcock or Godard, despite their vastly superior talents, never did. In Glen or Glenda, Wood isn't afraid to reveal his own deeply conflicted feelings about being a transvestite despite the plea for tolerance for it through out the film. Indeed, the conclusion of the film suggest that Ed Wood's Glen character will be able to "kill" his Glenda female counterpart by transferring the feelings of love and affection Glen has for his feminine counterpart to his future wife, Barbara. The psychiatrist even reassures Glen and Barbara that as Glen makes that psychic transference, Glenda will disappear. So, while Wood could plead for tolerance of transvestites in general, he wasn't so sure of desiring it for himself.

Moreover, Wood wasn't afraid of throwing everything else that crossed his mind on the screen. He did it with whatever stock footage he could get his hands on. If it didn't cohere, so what? What the viewer saw in Glen or Glenda especially was Ed Wood's imaginative world in all of its fundamental strangeness.

The only comment I wish to add to my comment above is that my two-star rating is based solely on the objective evaluation criteria cited in the first paragraph. The oddly memeric effect the film has despite its technically atrocious qualities I don't think can be rated.
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6/10
A not bad film noir of corruption in Portland, Oregon
14 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
As some of the other commentators have pointed out, in the 1950s there flourished a film genre that purported to tell a true story of crime, corruption and violence in an American city. In many ways these films anticipated such dramatic documentary TV shows like City Confidential. The point of interest in this film, Portland Expose, is how the conjunction of gangsters and corrupt union members helped to milk money out of legitimate businesses in Portland, Oregon in the 1950s. While I suspect the story of the tavern owner who went to work for the mobsters to get information on them for the authorities is fictional, I gather the strong-arm tactics of the mobsters were not.

As for the film itself, it is a competent, low-budget affair. With a little trimming here and there, it could stand as an TV episode of a true crime show. Frank Gorshin, who went on to fame as a master voice impersonator as well as showbiz immortality as the Riddler on the campy Batman show of the mid-1960s, is quite good as a creepy hood who gets his just desserts at the hands of a freight train. One chilling moment is the expression of glee on his erstwhile partner's face as he watches the train run over Frank Gorshin's character's body. Edward Binns, who appeared as a character actor on dozens of TV shows in the 60s, is good as the tavern owner who gets the goods on the hoods at great risk to himself and his family.

My only serious problem with the film is that the audience doesn't get to see enough of Portland, OR as it was in 1957. The way the film was shot, most of it could have been taking place anywhere. But, given its limitations of budget, I guess I shouldn't complain too much.
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Death Wish 3 (1985)
4/10
This Movie is a good definition of "over the top"
2 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
By the time the third Death Wish movie came out in 1985, a basic formula was in place which varied little from the second Death Wish movie onward. First, Charles Bronson's character, Paul Kersey, would have a relative or close friend murdered by street scum. Further mayhem would befall ancillary characters so as to goad Kersey into a righteous killing frenzy. One significant variation that this formula allowed is that in each succeeding movie the weaponry Kersey will use to blow away assorted miscreants will get more and more elaborate. From the hand pistol Kersey used in the first Death Wish movie, we now get enormous elephantine hand guns that could actually kill a real elephant as well WWII Browning machine guns as well as grenade launchers by the third film. Also, the criminals Kersey is up against aren't just assorted street punks as in the first Death Wish film but now a criminal army with enough firepower to take on the Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad.

What is truly striking in the last 30 minutes of the movie is that with the mayhem going on, the government didn't force the issue and send in the US Army to restore order as the Union Army did do in New York during the Draft Riots of 1863 while the Civil War was going on. Another priceless moment in the film is the ease with which Kersey is able to receive serious ordinance through the US mail. If it really was as easy as shown in the film, Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations really missed an opportunity in arming themselves in the US.

Like I said, the film defines improbable to extremely unlikely. It's a revenge fantasy of truly baroque extremes and frankly enjoyable on that level. In the Death Wish world, there is no moral ambiguity. There are good decent people and then there are street scum. Here, the street scum harass, maim and kill the decent and the police are oddly helpless. Even though the criminals are dressed so garishly and distinctively from the characters who are good and decent, no one seems able to obtain any evidence against them. So, the only solution is just to shoot them dead. It's nice that the criminals in these films are all unredeemable psychopaths who dress quite distinctively so even a child could kill them with a clear conscience(as a few do in one of the many disturbing scenes at the end during the big shoot-out). In sum, not total trash, not really good, fascistic in a really simple-minded way (for a more complex pro-fascistic perspective, I recommend viewing the Depression political fantasy film, Gabriel over the White House, from 1933) that doesn't go beyond offering shooting street scum like turkeys as a way to solve crime but undeniably exciting.
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8/10
Truly Fascinating Document of a Desperate Time
20 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
As other commentators have noted about this film, the acting is not the strongest suit of this film. With the exception of Walter Huston as President Hammond and the actor who plays the chief gangster, Nick Diamond, the acting is adequate but not memorable. What is memorable is the storyline. The film is nothing less than a plea for the president of the US to assume dictatorial powers to solve the problems of the Great Depression. What makes this film definitely fascistic in its orientation is the appeal to a supernatural agency as a higher authority than that of the will of the electorate. The horn motif heard in the movie to signify the otherwordly presence of the Angel, Gabriel, is more than just a plot device, it serves as an explicit validation of President Hammond's extra- and un-constitutional actions such as suspending Congress and declaring national martial law.

Fascism, like other totalitarian ideologies such as Communism, hold Democracy to be invalid because these ideologies express the belief that there is an authority greater than that of the will of the people whether expressed directly in a town meeting or through representatives like those in state legislatures or Congress. What this authority is the main area of disagreement between these ideologies. Fascism and its even more extreme manifestation, Nazism, appealed more readily to irrationalist belief in a mystic national community that transcended divisions of the moment that was created by a higher power. Communism held that historical development mandated the triumph of the working class and of its ideas.

This film, while it fell on the fascistic side of the extremist political spectrum, shows nonetheless how potent a appeal to blunt force applied to national problems in a time of severe distress could be. Keep this film out of Dubya's mitts. It might give him ideas.
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Mr. B Natural (1957)
1/10
The King, or is that Queen, of hideous "educational" short subject films
16 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Without a doubt, "Mr. B. Natural" is one of the worst "educational" films foisted upon hapless high-school students during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Purporting to inspire youngsters to study music, the film is, as has been pointed out by other commentators, a half-hour dramatic infomercial for the Conn (appropriate name) Music Company. Instead of inspiring anyone to purchase a musical instrument, this movie could convince people to gouge out their ears with a screwdriver so they'd never hear another thing again. Films of this ilk helped to put the death seal of eternal dorkiness on anything of any cultural value. Just listen to Mr. B. Natural describe the instruments of an orchestra. It would make any sane youngster think you'd have to be a pathetic, hopeless uncool, loser to want to even touch one, much less play one.

All this said, I must confess I found this grotesque film mesmerizing as I watched Mr. B Natural prance around Buzz's room, knocking him over at one point. The poor kid who played Buzz looked obviously intimidated by Ms. Luster (how inappropriate a name here!)as the demonic fairy, Mr. B Natural. One almost suspects if Buzz had rejected Mr. Natural, he/she would have dragged him by his hair into the fiery pits of hell, like the statue of the Commandatore did to Don Juan. In a way Buzz was smart taking up an instrument: he got rid of Mr. B Natural and at least wasn't as lonely as he was at the start of the film.
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Citizen Kane (1941)
10/10
The Role of Sheer Chance in Life
16 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
One commentator made the original point that Kane may have uttered "Rosebud" as his dying word not because he was nostalgic about his childhood but rather as a symbol of sheer chance in affecting and changing his life. As the commentator pointed out, Kane would never have met Susan Alexander, his mistress and later his second wife, if he hadn't been at a warehouse looking over things from his childhood home. If Kane hadn't met Susan, his life would have turned out quite differently. Indeed, if one looks carefully at the childhood scenes of Kane's life, one would see little that Kane, as an adult, would be nostalgic about. There are strong suggestions his father beat him and that, however caring about Kane's welfare his mother was, she seemed emotionally cold and distant. Indeed, Kane's association of his sled Rosebed with the role of chance in his life would be reinforced by the fact that he was interrupted playing on Rosebud and told by his mother and Mr. Thatcher about the radically different turn his life was taking from that of a poor boy to a quite wealthy one really overnight. Indeed, by subtly showing the decisive role of chance in Kane's life, the filmmakers were undermining the powerful American myth of the self-made man. Hard work didn't make Kane's fortune, it was the result of his mother inheriting the title to a mine thought to be worthless but wasn't.
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China Seas (1935)
8/10
A solid, well-crafted film of MGM's Heyday
15 August 2006
It is a relief to see a vibrantly entertaining film that is well-crafted as a finely made chair. Like most chairs, this film is no classic like "Citizen Kane" or "Gone With The Wind" but it's exciting with charismatic leads like Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. The chemistry between the two is gripping, even if a lot of their encounters in this movie are rather repetitious of the "I love you but I shouldn't" variety. One can see why Gable and Harlow were cast together at every opportunity MGM had from "Red Dust" onward. The other supporting actors are quite good especially Wallace Beery as a slippery villain. While Robert Benchley is quite amusing, his drunk act starts getting really old after a while. Also, it's quite sobering to realize that Benchley would die in 1945 from the effects of long-term alcoholism. In sum, despite some unhappy reminders of Hollywood's racism of times past, this is a fine film that probably served as one source of inspiration for Spielberg's Indiana Jones series of films in the 1980s.
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The Creeping Terror (1964 TV Movie)
1/10
Truly Inept Film Making
11 August 2006
Having seen such God-awful "classics" like Plan 9 From Outer Space, Manos, the Hands of Fate and The Wild World of Batwoman, this film, The Creeping Terror has them beat. As most commentators have pointed out, the film is virtually dialog-free with a narrator pedantically explaining the story to the audience. More importantly, though, is the inert, suspenseless style of film making. Even though the story is about a monster from outer space on a rampage, everything literally moves at such a lethargic pace with the narration and the sparse dialog delivered in a deadpan, unemotive style that one could use this movie as a tranquilizer in case of insomnia. Indeed, the directorial style of Art Nelson is as dead and somnambulant as that of Coleman Francis. This film has a deadness rivalled only by Red Zone Cuba or Skydivers.
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1/10
What Happens when Camp goes very, very wrong
18 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Reading the comments of the people who've seen this "movie', I am struck that only a few appreciate just how staggeringly bad a film can be that botches camp. Since the intent of this film, as opposed to the execution, was to capture the broad comic spirit of the Batman show of the '60s, its failure to do so magnified the abysmal quality of the finished product. The only thing that intrigued me were the different films that this feature so shamelessly pilfered from. As many noted, The Mole People was represented here by snippets irrelevant to the main story. But, I wonder if anyone has tried to track down the other films that 'Batwoman' stole from. I suspect that bizarre sequence at the beginning where the Batgirls watch a mugging and subsequent murder, doing nothing about it, was actually from another film with footage of the onlooking Batgirls spliced in. That might explain why they just sat and watched, just like us, the audience watching this film. Otherwise, the only real virtue of this schlock was that it moved along until it finally collapsed at what might be charitably called a conclusion
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1/10
Truly an unforgettable cinematic experience
30 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
For many years, I felt secure in my opinion that Plan 9 From Outer Space was truly the worst movie ever made. But, after seeing Red Zone Cuba, I'm seriously considering revising my opinion. Ed Wood, for all of his confusion about whether certain scenes take place during the day or during the night, is a master of clarity compared to Coleman Francis. At least in Wood's features, the viewer has some sense of a story being told with a point to it however confusedly that point may be presented. This film, Red Zone Cuba, dispenses with any clear narration. In fact, it doesn't bother to show or tell how the characters get from one place to another. Half of the time, the viewer isn't sure where the characters in the story are. In fact, the whole Cuban episode from the film derived its name is in fact a digression that sets up the sort of Treasure-of-Sierra-Madre climax of the film. Essentially, the cast goes to Cuba so they can be taken captive and put together with Lieutenant Chastain (sp?) who tells about his pitchblende mine. That, as far as I can make out is the point of the story.
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Hostel (2005)
7/10
Fairly Effective Horror film with a Realistic Premise
25 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This is an insinuatingly effective horror whose premise quietly creeps up you and really hits you after seeing it. It is gory but unlike films like Hellraiser or the innumerable Holloween and Friday 13th films, it doesn't veer off into the supernatural and unrealistic gore. The idea that wealthy sadists pay enormous amounts of money to practice freely their sickest fantasies in countries, in this case in Eastern Europe, poor and desperate enough to accept such money and turn a blind eye to what happens to the victims of these people isn't as off the wall as people would like to believe. With real life horrors like Darfur, Bosnia, Cambodia, the Holocaust, is it so implausible that such a torture pit as shown in this film could exist? Unfortunately, I don't think so.
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The Hurricane (1937)
10/10
A Classic that delivers good characterizations and terrific special effects
10 November 2005
The Hurricane, John Ford's masterful film of 1937 is rightly remembered as one of the best disaster films of all time. It stands head above shoulders over should such miserable cinematic fare like CBS's ludicrous Category 7: Day of Destruction. For one thing, the hurricane in The Hurricane is not the focus of the story but its climax. Ford spends most of the movies developing the main characters of Terangi and Murama (played by Jon Hall and Dorothy Lamour respective) and their lives on the fictional South Pacific island of Manukura in French Polynesia. John Ford spends his time as any good story teller does in presenting sympathetic and unsympathetic characters (such as Raymond Massey's governor, Eugene De Laage and John Carradine's sadistic warden)and shows the obstacles that face these characters before leading up to the climatic hurricane of the movie title. Such patient work by Ford on his characters pays off in the climax of the movie when the hurricane hits. We, the viewers, care about the death of the people so affected. I found myself riveted by the climax, appalled at the death and destruction, as one should be by any disaster. Unlike Category 7, there is no temptation at all to laugh because Ford ultimately wasn't interested in special effects but in people and their effective characterization.
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