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My All-Time Favorite Movies: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070122364/
- No genre is beyond redemption or above contempt.
- Just because a movie's good doesn't mean you'll like it; just because you like it doesn't mean it's good.
- Italians have been making the worst movies for a hundred years.
- Howard Hawks supplied the simplest definition of a good movie: "Three great scenes. No bad scenes."
- Nine out of ten times when there's a bar in a movie there's a fight.
- Every great auteur/actor has a bad or dubious film; but, remember, even God created the cockroach.
- People who go overboard with criticism -- e.g. "This is the worst film ever!" or "I'd give this 0/10 if I could!" -- lose credibility as reviewers. The same goes with overrating a movie.
- Honest reviewers must resist the influence of mass hype when a popular film debuts. Separating it from the initial epidemic fervor is mandatory in determining it's true worth. (Remember when Roger Ebert gave Peter Jackson's "King Kong" a perfect rating of 4/4 Stars? Why sure!).
- Movies are life with the boring bits taken out.
- A movie can be technically well-made, but void of depth. The reverse is also true: A movie can be technically deficient (usually due to low-budget), but thematically wealthy. Whereas the ideal is to have both, sometimes a movie's budget doesn't allow for top-notch filmmaking, but it can still soar in the realm of worthy mindfood. Some excellent examples from my reviews include "From Within," "Billy Jack" and "Tribes." Many episodes of the original Star Trek TV series are great examples as well, such as "Space Seed," "The Naked Time" or "The City on the Edge of Forever."
- Movies must be critiqued and graded according to what they are and aspire to achieve. For instance, 1998's "Godzilla" is a colossal-creature movie and should therefore be reviewed on that level. Compared to the original "Apocalypse Now" it's dreck, but how does it stack-up to other gigantic-monster movies?
- Reviewers who intentionally say false things about a film reveal a personal vendetta against it and lose all credibility as reviewers. Don't even give these types of "reviewers" and their "reviews" the time of day.
- Movies are the modern-day campfire tales of centuries past. They entertain, amuse, inspire and mentor. Generally speaking, they provide the mythology that helps the modern world cope with reality.
- I see a lot of reviewers giving movies 10/10 Stars or 1/10 Stars when, the reality is, most movies fall between 5/10 Stars and 7/10 Stars.
- Disregarding profits, the main purpose of a movie is to entertain; the secondary purpose is to convey a message. The better the entertainment and message, the better the movie. The reverse is also true.
- In 99 out of 100 movies, if something doesn't happen by the end of the first reel, nothing's gonna happen (at least nothing compelling, effective, original or inspiring).
- Popularity at the box office is very important for people who's opinion of an artistic work needs validated by others (rolling my eyes).
- A movie that doesn't do well at the box office isn't always an indicator that it's bad; it could mean something interesting is going on that's too far out of the norm for mass consumption. "Watchmen" and (believe it or not) "The Wizard of Oz" are good examples ("Wizard" bombed when it debuted in 1939).
- Watching a movie is like seeing someone else's hallucination. You have to be willing to enter into the film's 'world' to appreciate it. If you can't, you won't.
- The rating of a movie is irrelevant (G, PG, PG-13, R). Does more gore, more nudity, more cussing, more overt sexual situations determine the worthiness of a film? Maybe for 13 year-olds. Is "The Wizard of OZ" a lousy film because it's rated G? How about the original "Planet of the Apes"?
- While good movies can be made with big budgets, big names, big stunts and incredible F/X, they can also be made with small budgets, creative writers & directors and no-name-but-quality actors.
- No one sets out to make a bad movie.
- It's always preferable to watch an entertaining mess over a competent bore-fest.
- Art (including film) is not meant to be an imitation of reality, but rather an interpretation of it.
- Never watch a movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
10/10 Stars: A+ (Top-of-the-line)
9/10 Stars: A (Excellent)
8/10 Stars: A- (Breaks the threshold of greatness)
7/10 Stars: B+ or B (Very good or, at least, good)
6/10 Stars: B or B- (Marginal "thumbs up")
5/10 Stars: C+ or C (Too flawed to recommend, but some worthwhile aspects)
4/10 Stars: C or C- (Severely mediocre or flawed)
3/10 Stars: D+ or D (Cinematic flotsam)
2/10 Stars: D or D- ("Brain and brain, what is brain?")
1/10 Star: F (Worthless garbage for one important reason or another)
Note: Like everyone else, I tend to watch movies I think I might like, which explains my numerous positive ratings.
Favorite Film of All Time:
Apocalypse Now (original version only, not Redux)
- Every ten years or so a TV show comes along that doesn't suck.
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Please note that this list refers to women "Present & Past," so there are several women who have passed away or are well beyond their physical prime. Carol Lynley is a good example. This is why I cite specific movies or TV shows in which to view these lovely ladies at their physical best.
Others have suggested several women that I should add to the list. I appreciate this and I may add them at some point when I eventually view them in a movie or show (Sofia Vergara and Sophia Loren are good examples); but some of them I'm well familiar with and -- even though they're beautiful women one way or another, perhaps even stunning -- they lack the qualities necessary to make my list (Raquel Welch, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Alba come to mind) (some of these almost made my list, like Jessica Biel).
It was also suggested that I should add several Victoria Secrets women, but this list is limited to women who appear in movies & TV shows, even if a few of them are more singers than actresses.
Someone else criticized the list for not including "women of color," but look closely and you'll observe a sprinkling of such lasses, like Vida Guerra, Bingbing Fan, Yolanda Pecoraro, Demi Lovato, Mariah Carey, Salma Hayek, Sonia Braga and more. The obvious reason there aren't more "women of color" is because I'm a white dude (with some Native American blood) and, gee, I guess I tend to prefer women with lighter skin. This has nothing to do with racism; it's just personal preference and, besides, this is a subjective list.
For questions, comments or rebukes, write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
WARNING: Some of my comments contain SPOILERS.
(More to come)
Write me at: email@example.com
Most cult movie lists curiously contain utterly horrid flicks, like "Pink Flamingos" (Seriously?) and "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (get real) or fruity wannabe hip crapola like "Rocky Horror" (Why sure!), which explains the title of my list. While numerous of the films on this list are loathed by the masses they're actually worthwhile movies for various significant reasons. My commentaries provide evidence.
I'm not including widely-known movies that you'll often see on cult movie lists, like "The Wizard of Oz," "King Kong," "Apocalypse Now" and "Pulp Fiction," because -- although I wholly agree that they deserve their devotees -- they're just so popular that they're not really cult films.
Some definitive cult flicks, like "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and "Mad Max," aren't on this list simply because -- while certainly worth seeing -- they're just not entertaining enough to make my list; and entertainment (one way or another) is the name of the game.
Lastly, any cult movie list that includes every Tarantino flick -- or practically all of them -- should be rejected out of hand. (Pick one or two that best represent his repertoire and be done with it).
For questions, comments or rebukes, write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
FYI: I'm not a fan of 1993's soporific "Gettysburg," although it has some worthwhile parts. And I'm not including 1962's "How the West was Won" because it's an over 3-hour movie and John Ford's Civil War vignette is only about 12 minutes long and thoroughly disappointing.
This list includes films from all three types of sword & sandal movies: 1. historical or realistic, 2. fantasy ones that typically have an element of magic/sorcery (i.e. "sword & sorcery") and 3. biblical, which is arguably one-and-the-same as the first type.
Some heralded Westerns aren't on the list because either 1. I'm not a fan (e.g. "The Searchers") or 2. I generally like them, but not enough to make my favorites list (e.g. "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" & "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"). In some cases, I might have yet to see the film (e.g. "The Great Silence").
There are other Westerns that I remember liking and they may make my list in the future, but I have to give 'em a fresh viewing because I haven't seen them for so long.
Feel free to give your feedback, thanks!
Since this list contains movies from all production levels, film snobs who only favor flicks with blockbuster-level budgets are encouraged to skip it.
For questions, comments or rebukes, write me at: email@example.com
In no certain order.
For questions, comments or rebukes, write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You could shuffle the first six movies (on this list) around in any order and I wouldn't mind a bit.
City Beneath the Sea (1953)
Sea adventure in Jamaica with Ryan and Quinn
Two American divers (Robert Ryan and Anthony Quinn) get a gig in Jamaica to find a sunken vessel with gold cargo while carousing and seeking out fair ladies (Mala Powers and Suzan Ball). Unfortunately, there are shady characters afoot (George Mathews). Woody Strode has a peripheral role.
"City Beneath the Sea" (1953) is an oceanic adventure/thriller that has the look and tone of "Dinosaurus!" (1960), but is thematically similar to "The Deep" (1977), "Into the Blue" (2005), "Into the Blue 2: The Reef" (2009) and "Fool's Gold" (2008).
The best of these, believe it or not, is "Into the Blue 2," which was a direct-to-video release. This one is worthy too if you can acclimate to the early 50's quaintness. It's rollicking escapist fare with a buddy film foundation.
On the female front, Suzan Ball is reminiscent of a taller Salma Hayek while Mala Powers evokes Susan Hayward.
The film runs 1 hour, 27 minutes, and was shot at Universal Studios in Universal City, California.
The mysterious death of 50's icon George Reeves
In the early morning hours of June 16, 1959, George Reeves (Ben Affleck), star of the Adventures of Superman that ran from 1952-1958, is found dead in his Westside Los Angeles bedroom from a gunshot wound to the head. While the official cause of death is listed as suicide, his mother hires a private detective (Adrien Brody) to investigate the possibility of murder. Although it is argued that Reeves had reasons to kill himself due to depression over being typecast and aging issues, several individuals had motive and opportunity to kill him, including ex-girlfriend Toni Mannix (Diane Lane) and her powerful husband, the manager of MGM (Bob Hoskins), as well as Reeves' fiancé (Robin Tunney). The biggest mystery is why the other three individuals in the house at the time of Reeves' death waited 45 minutes to notify police.
"Hollywoodland" (2006) is a crime drama in the neo-noir vein and also a tragic biopic similar to "Auto Focus" (2002), "Mommie Dearest" (1981) and "Changeling" (2008). The only fictional character is Brody's private eye, but he was based on real-life detective Milo Speriglio.
The movie effectively details the three different death scenarios with the hint that one is the most likely. But, really, it begins as a mystery and ends as one, which I think is fitting since no one actually knows what happened at this point. In any case, this is a worthy tribute to Reeves and his life in Hollywood during the 50s. After watching, research the case for yourself.
Also notable on the female front are Caroline Dhavernas as the detective's girlfriend and Molly Parker as his ex.
The film runs 2 hours, 6 minutes and was shot in Los Angeles and the greater Toronto area.
A Midnight Clear (1992)
Christmas is near on the snowy Western Front in WW2
In the beginning stages of the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, a reconnaissance patrol is sent ahead in the Ardennes forest on the border of France and Germany where they encounter some German soldiers. Who will survive to celebrate Christmas?
"A Midnight Clear" (1992) is an obscure artistic WW2 movie focusing on a patrol in the wintery sylvan landscapes of the Battle of the Bulge. It's more realistic than the surreal "Castle Keep" (1969), but it reminds me a little of that arty flick.
While a couple of scenes could've been more convincingly executed and some elements of the story are unlikely or weird, it's almost an exact recounting of author William Wharton's actual experiences (he wrote the 1982 novel the script was based on). Director/scriptwriter Keith Gordon desperately wanted to plainly state "This is a true story" at the beginning, but the lawyers wouldn't allow it. As such, the supposed disclaimer during the end credits is vaguely worded for legal reasons.
Speaking of Keith, you may remember him as the protagonist in "Jaws 2" (1978) and, especially, "Christine" (1982).
In any case, I appreciated the wintery war ambiance in the woods with cast members from "Platoon" (Kevin Dillon and John C. McGinley), "Dead Poets Society" (Ethan Hawke) and "Forrest Gump" (Gary Sinise). I also liked the inventive approach, the music, and the depiction of this handful of young men united in a struggle of life and death. While the middle starts to get a little tedious and questionable there is a turning point and, from there, the film is quite compelling.
The film closes with a haunting rendition of "It Came upon a Midnight Clear" by Sam Phillips as the credits scroll. I felt moved and reflected.
The movie runs 1 hour, 48 minutes, and was shot in the Park City area of north-central Utah.
Howard the Duck (1986)
The infamous film version of Steve Gerber's intelligent, wise-cracking waterfowl from another world
An English-speaking duck from another planet is somehow transported to Cleveland, Ohio, where he befriends a rock group leader (Lea Thompson). She introduces him to her friend, a quirky lab assistant (Tim Robbins), to figure out what happened, but the situation is complicated when a doctor at the lab is possessed by a "dark overlord of the universe" (Jeffrey Jones).
"Howard the Duck" (1986) is the film version of Marvel Comics' anthropomorphic waterfowl created by writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik with the Duck's first appearance being in Adventures into Fear #19 featuring the Man-Thing, which debuted in March, 1974 (cover date Dec. 1973). While the cartoonish character was atypical for Marvel, he was a surprise hit, which led to this movie a dozen years later.
It's made in the mold of "Ghostbusters" (1984) and obviously influenced "Men in Black" (1997), but it's the least of these and notoriously bombed at the box office. It begins well enough, both intriguing and amusing, but starts to lose its mojo in the second act before spiraling into a loud, frantic last act with loads of colorful special effects.
The problem is that, after the first act, the flick abandons the characters for action-oriented zaniness and it loses the attention of the viewer. Creator Steve Gerber plainly said the movie "sucked" and was dissatisfied with the duck's bland voice and costume. Howard's face just isn't animated enough and his eyes are too cute & innocent for Gerber's ill-tempered, wise-cracking waterfowl. That said, there are enough entertaining elements in the "Ghostbusters" / "Men in black" vein to enjoy the movie to some degree as you revisit 1985 America when it was shot. But you have to be able to accept it as a cinematic alternative to Gerber's original concept.
I'm not big on Lea Thompson, but she's winsome enough as Beverly on the female front, although she didn't exactly fit Gerber's version of the Duck's babelicious pal. Liz Sagal is also notable as Ronette in a minor role.
The film runs 1 hour, 50 minutes, and was obviously shot in the Bay area of Northern California, NOT Cleveland, Ohio.
Lake Placid (1999)
Crocogator horror with humor
A monstrous croc is discovered to live in a remote lake in Maine and so a conflicting group of people join together to capture or kill it: the local Sheriff (Brendan Gleeson), a Fish and Game officer (Bill Pullman), a paleontologist (Bridget Fonda) and an expert croc hunter (Oliver Platt). Betty White is on hand as a comical lady who lives on the lake.
"Lake Placid" (1999) is the best of the series due to the simple fact that it was the only theatrically released installment and cost $35 million, which is about 17.5 times as much as any of the five follow-ups, which had TV-budgets (for instance, "Lake Placid 2" only cost $2 million). With such a hefty budget for what is essentially a Grade B creature feature, the croc looks great compared to the cartoonish CGI of the sequels. The cast is pretty top-rate as well and the dialogue is witty, plus delivered smoothly (although you have to pay attention because it's so rapid-fire).
Speaking of which, this can't be taken as a serious creature-on-the-loose flick, like "Prophecy" (1979) or "Black Water" (2007) because it's so funny in a droll way. Films like "Crocodile" (2000), "Humanoids from the Deep" (1980) and "Piranha" (1978/1995) are dead serious by comparison. If you can roll with it, however, it IS genuinely amusing and you start to buy into the reality of the characters and their situation. While their relationships are what psychologists would call conflict-habituated and the old lady cusses like a sailor, the movie has a warm heart, just stick around till the ending.
Of course Bridget stands out in the female department. She was 34 during shooting and would only do seven more movies (two of them TV productions) before leaving acting to focus on raising a family (she also worked on two TV series at this time). While people complain about how annoying her character is in "Lake Placid," it's understandable if you consider what's happening in her life in combination with being a fish-out-of-water camping out in the backwoods; besides, she becomes warmer as the story evolves.
Also on the feminine front are Meredith Salenger as Deputy Gare and Natassia Malthe as Janine, the latter in a bit part. Both are winsome and easy on the eyes.
I didn't have very fond memories of this film due to the dry humor and conflicting personalities, but I 'got' it this time and really enjoyed it for what it is, an amusing creature feature supported by a huge theatrical budget. If you like this one, be sure to check out "Lake Placid 2" (2007) as it's a worthy sequel, even though it only cost a fraction of the amount.
The film is short-and-sweet at 1 hour, 22 minutes. It was shot at Buntzen Lake, British Columbia, which is just northeast of Vancouver, as well as other lakes in the region (Shawnigan Lake & Hayward Lake), plus establishing shots of Camden, Maine, and opening shots of Manhattan.
Realistic hillbilly horror
Two young couples break down in the sticks of the Northeast where they encounter some questionable shack-dwelling yokels (Simon Phillips, Michael Swatton, etc.) who have a pregnant captive (Samantha De Benedet).
"Butchers" (2020) is a wilderness slasher that creates a feeling of mundane, solemn realism similar to the tone of "Wolf Creek" (2005) whereas "Wrong Turn" (2003) became increasingly cartoonish. Remember the sequence in the latter where the protagonists try to evade the hillbillies by walking way up in the tree branches? Why Sure! "Wrong Turn 2: Dead End" (2007) is even more comic booky, campy and thoroughly unbelievable. Don't get me wrong, they're both entertaining for what they are and have loads of gore, but they don't really create a sense of horror. "Butchers" does, very much so.
It recalls the realistic backwoods horror of "The Shuttered Room" (1967) and "Deliverance" (1972), just from a slasher angle and with a lower budget, which you wouldn't know from the proficient filmmaking.
Other than De Benedet (Celeste), Julie Mainville (Jenna) and Anne-Carolyne Binette (Taylor) appear on the feminine front and are more prominent.
So why not a higher rating? It's probably too mundane & grim for its own good and therefore is NOT a fun film (like the Friday the 13th flicks), which ironically is the basis of my praise above. Plus they coulda done more with the women, particularly Anne-Carolyne Binette.
The movie runs 1 hour, 32 minutes, and was shot in the Eastern Ontario townships of Merrickville-Wolford and Elizabethtown-Kitley, as well as Cumberland Heritage Village, which are in the Ottawa area and to the south toward the St. Lawrence River.
The Devil Rides Out (1968)
Christopher Lee takes on some satanists in Southern England
In London & the south of England in 1929/1930, an expert on the occult & his associate (Christopher Lee and Leon Greene) clash with a cult of Satanists led by a man with the power of mesmerism (Charles Gray). Nike Arrighi and Patrick Mower are also on hand
"The Devil Rides Out" (1968), also known as "The Devil's Bride," is a supernatural thriller from Hammer based on Dennis Wheatley's 1934 novel. Cinema started to flirt with satanism in the early 60s with Roger Corman's "The Masque of the Red Death" and England's "Devils of Darkness," which were shot in 1963 and 1964 respectively. You can trace it back further if you consider "The City of the Dead," aka "Horror Hotel," which was made in 1959. The overt satanism is surprising for films shot way back then.
None of them paint satanism in a positive light, but goat-sucking LaVey capitalized on this new interest and sprung his "church" of satan in 1966. "The Devil Rides Out" and "Rosemary's Baby" went into production the next year. Rob Zombie's "The Lords of Salem" (2012) is a worthy modern example of the genre.
The setting is great, including the old automobiles; and the woodsy Baphomet sequence is superb, as well as some other effective scenes. Meanwhile Gray is appropriately satanic-looking as the villain (not to mention borrowed by Marvel Comics 5-6 years later). Unfortunately, the mesmerism angle is overdone and I didn't find myself caring about the protagonists. On the surface, it's one of the more notable films of the genre, indeed, but its shallowness in human interest lowers my view.
The movie runs 1 hour, 35 minutes, and was shot in Elstree Studios, which is just northwest of London, and places nearby, like Black Park Country Park, which is a dozen miles southwest of the studio.
Crazy Lake (2016)
A group of youths go to a cabin-in-the-woods (no, seriously)
Several coeds retreat for some fun-in-the-sun at a vacation home in the backwoods of central Florida. Unfortunately, there's a weird guy lurking about and suspicious things start happening.
"Crazy Lake" (2016) is a dynamic-yet-traditional cabin-in-the-woods slasher that meshes "Bread Crumbs" (2011) and "The Lake on Clinton Road" (2015) with the common tropes of the Friday the 13th films. While only costing $285,000, it does not smack of a "student project," as one critic called it (I don't think he's seen too many micro-budget flicks). Sure, the cast members are all no-names, but the writing/acting is convincing enough and the filmmaking is proficient. The movie doesn't try to reinvent the wheel and doesn't need to; it simply entertains within the framework of its subgenre.
Someone complained that the protagonists are an obnoxious bunch that "deserve to die," but that's not true. They're typical youths out celebrating on the weekend or school break. We've all done it and we were all likely "annoying" when we did it.
Someone else lamented the flick as "soft porn" because of the "almost no clothing" but, gee, they're involved in vacation activities like swimming and slip-sliding, which necessitate swim attire. It is true that there's a strip poker sequence but, again, it's not like this isn't something common youths might do when they're in party mode on Spring Break or what have you. If potential viewers don't think they can handle such a sequence, I suggest staying away.
Dark-haired Keily Fernandez stands out in the female department, followed by blonde Skyler Joy. There are a couple of other notables. The director has a good eye for depicting feminine beauty and keeping it fun without getting too tasteless.
At the end of the day the movie works for what it is. It contains all the requisite staples of the genre and works them into an entertaining stew that doesn't overstay its welcome. You won't figure out the story until the final 15 minutes and, even then, there's a small surprise or two (although I would've done the end-credits sequence differently if I wrote the script). It's superior to the cartoonish "The Evil Dead" (1981), the over-the-top comical "Evil Dead II" (1987), the trashy "Cabin Fever" (2002), the lame "Zombeavers" (2014) and the too-creative-for-its-own-good "Cabin in the Woods" (2012).
The film runs 1 hour, 20 minutes, and was shot in the boonies at Brooksville, Florida, about a 40-minute drive north of Tampa.
Lake Placid 3 (2010)
Serviceable but routine installment in the amusing crocogator franchise
The nephew (Colin Ferguson) of deceased Sadie Bickerman takes over her rustic estate on Black Lake, but his son starts feeding the little crocs and soon there's a huge problem with monstrous killer crocs. Kirsty Mitchell is on hand as his wife while Yancy Butler plays an amusingly droll hunter.
"Lake Placid 3" (2010) is a solid, if unremarkable, entry in the series, marred by the cartoony croc CGI. I was never a big fan of the semi-campy series since they're throwaway horror flicks with the first movie (from 1999) being the only one released theatrically with its relatively big budget and big-name cast. I've only seen the first four and favor the second one (from 2007) because it has the most compelling story and best cast, in particular the lovely females (e.g. Sarah Lafleur) and John Schneider.
Brunette Kacey Barnfield (now Kacey Clarke) stands out on the female front as college girl Ellie. There's also blonde Angelica Penn as her friend, Tara; Roxanne Pallet (now Roxanne Carrion) as hitchhiker April; and Bianca Ilich as babysitter Vica.
The Lake Placid series is basically Friday the 13th with killer crocs substituting for Jason, but they're just not as all-around entertaining as any of the F13 flicks. Then, again, all the F13 films were theatrically released and therefore had bigger budgets with the exception of the original "Lake Placid."
The movie runs 1 hour, 31 minutes, and was shot in Bulgaria.
The Virtuoso (2021)
"Are you an assassin?" "I'm a soldier." "You're neither."
A professional assassin (Anson Mount) is given an ambiguous gig in a small town in the Poconos. Can he get the job done with as little collateral damage as possible? Anthony Hopkins plays his boss, Abbie Cornish a waitress and David Morse a deputy.
"The Virtuoso" (2021) is a neo-noir crime drama/thriller with a Tarantino bent. Films with criminal protagonists don't usually interest me unless there's angle of redemption or some other intriguing aspect. "Death Wish," "The Punisher" and "Taken" are exceptions because the central character isn't really a criminal, but rather a (anti)hero on a mission of justice denied by the system.
This is a well-made neo-noir with an interesting second person narration. It doesn't focus on eye-rolling action scenes and explosions every five minutes, but rather the assassin figuring out the mission, executing it (no pun intended) and surviving. Unfortunately the gross contrivances of the script emerge in the last act and it's impossible to suspend disbelief, as they say. I get the message of the film, but what do I care? Assassins who heartlessly murder people simply to make a good living are criminal scumbags and should be executed themselves.
Still, the heavy mood is to die for, the psychology of a professional assassin is well written, Mount makes for a great masculine protagonist, Abbie is jaw-dropping in a curvy way, the second-person narration is effective and the locations & score are superb.
The movie runs 1 hour, 50 minutes, and was shot in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in the Poconos, as well as Santa Ynez, California, which is about an hour's drive west of Malibu.
The Messengers (2007)
Little Haunted House on the Prairie
A troubled family from Chicago (Dylan McDermott, Penelope Ann Miller and Kristen Stewart) moves to the prairie of North Dakota after purchasing a dilapidated farmhouse where they plant a sunflower crop. Unfortunately, the estate's past interrupts their enjoyment of their new home. John Corbett plays a drifter who hires-on while Dustin Milligan plays the daughter's potential beau.
"The Messengers" (2007) is a haunted house flick from the Pang brothers of Hong Kong, which is their first American film. The basic set-up is exactly the same as "Cold Creek Manor" (2003) with the difference of a rundown farmhouse substituting for the woodsy manor. From there it throws in elements of "The Grudge" movies mixed with "The Amityville Horror" and "The Birds."
While I appreciated the colorful prairie setting, this is easily the least of these because the story is too simplistic and dramatically dull. Fans of Kristen might be interested though; she was 16 during shooting.
The film runs 1 hour, 30 minutes, and was shot at Indian Head and nearby Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, which are just a couple hours' drive north of the border of North Dakota.
Cold Creek Manor (2003)
A troubled New York City couple (Dennis Quaid & Sharon Stone) move to the country after purchasing a dilapidated estate at a can't-refuse price. Unfortunately, the manor's past interrupts their enjoyment of their new home. The cast is rounded out by Stephen Dorff, Juliette Lewis, Dana Eskelson, Christopher Plummer and Kristen Stewart (who was 12 years-old during shooting).
"Cold Creek Manor" (2003) is a drama/thriller with a bit o' horror that mixes "What Lies Beneath" (2000) and "The Messengers" (2007) with "Undertow" (2004). Instead of cabin-in-the-woods, it's a manor-in-the-woods flick, but don't expect over-the-top slasher antics (e.g. Silent masked killer with a machete), as this one's more low-key and realistic, albeit saddled with eye-rolling thriller/horror clichés.
If you can roll with that flaw and a laughably executed snake sequence, this is pretty much on par with "What Lies Beneath" and "The Messengers" although it lacks the artistry of "Undertow." Stephen Dorff is outstanding and the movie brings to life the small town/rural area with the residents thereof. People criticize the casting of gruff Dennis Quaid as a "wuss," but he's not a wuss; he's just not rash because he knows a reckless social mistake can bring life-changing tragedy in seconds. Most other nitpicks can be just as easily explained. For instance, a person can't very well push someone into a well if they're no longer in the area.
The film runs 1 hour, 58 minutes, and was shot at Cruickston Park, Cambridge, Ontario, and places nearby in the Kitchener/Cambridge region with studio stuff done in Toronto, which is just an hour's drive east.
Wrong Turn 2: Dead End (2007)
One of the goriest films ever made
A Survivor-like reality show meets in the backwoods of West Virginia where the contestants & crew find themselves assaulted by a family of mutant yokels. Henry Rollins plays the Drill Instructor-like host of the show.
"Wrong Turn 2: Dead End" (2007) is the first of many sequels in the franchise about cannibalistic hillbillies in Appalachia. The reason "Deliverance" (1972) is so iconic and unsettling is because the story actually COULD happen. The first "Wrong Turn" film from 2003 started out this way but became increasingly unbelievable as the story progressed. As such, it was entertaining and compelling but not genuinely scary.
This one adds some overt camp and goofiness while increasing the gore factor. It may well be the goriest film ever made at the time of its release. And it is entertaining to a point, despite the disgusting elements (not just gore, but sleaze as well), yet it's not truly chilling because it's so over-the-top it's cartoonish.
Still, Rollins does well as the gung-ho host and a few of the protagonists emerge as likable people worthy of surviving. Unfortunately, the most agreeable character is one of the first to buy the farm. I'm of course not taking about the annoying Kimberly Caldwell in the opening, although what happens to her is amusing in a "shocking" black humor kind of way.
Petite Aleksa Palladino (Mara) stands out on the feminine front. Crystal Lowe (Elena) is alluring but her character is a loathsome skank. Erica Leerhsen (Nina), who was a highlight as the Wiccan lass in "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" (2000), still looks good, but has unfortunately lost weight and looks stick-like.
The mutant hicks are well done, but most of them look like Klingons from Star Trek from back in the day, just uglier.
While "Wrong Turn 2" has some entertainment value, it's so excessive in its attempt to be revolting & amusing it loses impact. Less is more.
The film runs 1 hour, 33 minutes, and was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Grade B horror in the cornfield with Kennedy Tucker
Broken down in the Midwest on the eve of Halloween, a brother & sister (Mateus Ward and Kennedy Tucker) meet a Goth-ish local guy (Dylan Riley Snyder) and party at a corn maze. Unfortunately a strange meeting of eccentrics nearby need bodies for their 'art.' Roger Cross plays the stepdad while Robert Donavan is on hand as the leader of the kooks.
"C. O. R. N." (2021), sometimes subtitled "A Field of Screams," is Grade B horror that meshes films like "Freddy vs. Jason" (2003), "Scarecrows" (2017) and "Shadows of the Dead" (2016). With a budget of $950,000, it lacks the production quality of "Freddy vs. Jason," but it's almost on par with "Scarecrows" and superior to the prosaic "Shadows of the Dead."
There's a freestyle manner to the filming/editing, which makes the first 30 minutes iffy in a meandering way. If you can acclimate, however, there are enough highlights to make "C. O. R. N." worthwhile for those who appreciate Indy horror and are in the mode for a flick with lots of Halloween-ish ambiance. The tone is serious, but there's some Vincent Price-like camp with the cult artists, especially Donavan.
Petite beauty Kennedy Tucker as protagonist Tia is worth the price of admission. The commendable female cast also includes the likes of Audra Schildhouse, Meitar Paz and Elise Spicer, amidst peripherals. The writer/director (Robin Christian) thankfully knows how to shoot women, no pun intended.
For those interested, the acronym stands for "Collective Order of Recreational Necro-philanthropists."
The movie is overlong at 1 hour, 42 minutes; it would've worked better at a streamlined 72-90 minutes.
Brando's romantic culture clash in Japan after WW2
In 1951, an American Air Force pilot serving in Korea (Marlon Brando) is reassigned to Kobe, Japan, where he deals with his American fiancé (Patricia Owens) and a Japanese performer who attracts his attention (Miiko Taka). The problem is there's a military order against fraternizing with indigenous women. James Garner and Red Buttons have peripheral roles while Ricardo Montalban is on hand as a famous Kabuki entertainer.
"Sayonara" (1957) is a romantic drama highlighted by Brando's performance as a genial Southern officer, the Japanese culture & locations, plus the quaint conventions of the time period, not to mention Garner in one of his earliest roles. It's similar to "The Ugly American" (1963), but arguably better. "Désirée" (1954) is another apt comparison, despite taking placing during the Napoleonic era.
The film is a little long at 2 hours, 27 minutes, but I didn't mind. It was shot in Japan with some stuff done in Burbank & Hollywood.
Alpha Wolf (2018)
Cabin-in-the-woods werewolf flick in rural SoCal with Casper Van Dien
A man & wife (Van Dien & Jennifer Wenger) retreat to a vacation house in the arid backwoods outside L. A., but run afoul of a werewolf-like creature. Once someone is bit all hell breaks loose on the full moon. Patrick Muldoon and the hulking Robert Allen Mukes are also on hand.
"Alpha Wolf" (2018) is surprisingly good for what it is, a TV-budget werewolf flick, which pretty much meshes "Dire Wolf," aka "Dinowolf" (2009), and "Wolves" (2014). If you appreciate those ones, you'll like this too. Like "Dire Wolf" it's mostly serious but with a fitting wink of amusement. The alpha male angle is intriguing and the script even throws in something original for a werewolf movie in regards to the curious naked dude (Tyler Gallant).
One eye-rolling sequence involves the couple's first assault by a hairy man-like creature. They brush it off as if a normal animal radically attacked them when it's glaring that it's ANYTHING BUT. If you can roll with this flaw (and the CGI gore), this is a worthwhile werewolf flick that should be enjoyed by anyone who values Grade B horror, especially the cabin-in-the-woods variety, whether the antagonist is a werewolf, sasquatch, slasher, bear or otherwise.
While petite Jennifer Wenger is perfectly agreeable as the female protagonist, Raquel Woodruff stands out in the beauty department; too bad her part wasn't bigger. Regardless, it's nice to have a director (Kevin VanHook) who knows how to photograph women for a change (and I'm not tawkin' bout nudity, although Raquel has a top nude scene for those who care).
Casper & Jennifer were married five months before the movie's release. Meanwhile Van Dien and Muldoon appeared together in the cult flick "Starship Troopers" (1997).
The film runs 1 hour, 25 minutes, and was shot in Southern Cal at Topanga Canyon, Acton and Ramona (Exteriors & Woods).
There's a reason you've never heard of this Hammer flick with Cushing & Lee
Around the turn of the century, Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing) and Doctor Watson (André Morell) try to protect the heir of the Baskerville estate (Christopher Lee) in southwest England after the former owner was found dead, rumored to be victim of a curse going back to the time of the English Civil War in the mid-1600s.
"The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1959) is Hammer's take on Arthur Conan Doyle's oft-filmed tale. While there are some minor changes to the story, it doesn't "wildly" deviate as some have criticized. It features the lush colors and Victorian ambiance that Hammer is known for, plus you can't go wrong with Cushing and Lee. Meanwhile Marla Landi is sharp & spirited in the feminine department while winsome Judi Moyens is notable in a brief opening role.
If you like Hammer and the principles, it's enjoyable to some degree, but there's good reason it's so obscure in the Hammer canon. It's just not that compelling; the well-done opening is the best part.
The movie runs 1 hour, 27 minutes, and was shot at Bray Studios, which is just west of London, and two spots south of there in Surrey: Chobham Common and Frensham Ponds.
Another take on the original "Piranha," but with lampreys (eel-like creatures)
A town in Michigan is threatened when myriad aggressive lampreys infest the reservoir and get into the water system. Jason Brooks & Shannen Doherty play the main protagonists with Ciara Hanna as their daughter, Nicholas Adam Clark as her beau and Zack Ward as a Fish & Wildlife worker. Christopher Lloyd is also on hand as the mayor.
"Blood Lake" (2014), sometimes subtitled "Attack of the Killer Lampreys," is a creature feature very similar to "Piranha" (1978/1995), but with bits of other flicks like "Beware, the Blob" (1972), "Squirm" (1976) and "Night of the Creeps" (1986). While this is a production from The Asylum, it's pretty much on par with those films, disregarding the heavy use of cartoonish CGI. The original "Piranha" (1978) is easily the best of the bunch and should be one's first choice.
The trailer makes it seem like "Blood Lake" is more comedic than it is, but actually has the same tone as "Piranha," which means mostly serious with a few bits of humor thrown in, such as the creative fate of Lloyd's character. Despite being a TV production, the principles take the material serious and give it their all. Brooks makes for a great protagonist, Doherty looks good at 42 during shooting, and Ciara Hanna is winsome enough.
The film runs 1 hour, 27 minutes, and was shot in Los Angeles County, particularly Santa Clarita, which is located in the high country just north of L. A., as well as Long Beach. The problem is that most of the locations don't look like Michigan, but rather SoCal. The aridness and mountains are a dead giveaway. In one scene they forgot to switch the license plate of the Fish & Wildlife truck.
Lake Mungo (2008)
Docudrama concerning the possible ghost of an Australian girl
A 16 year-old girl disappears in the water in a rural area of Australia and family members & others claim they see apparitions of her while various secrets are slowly unveiled.
"Lake Mungo" (2008) is a mystery Indie with a bit 'o horror, but in the style of a mockumentary, aka fake documentary.
Like "Curse of the Blair Witch," which was released three weeks before the found footage hit "The Blair Witch Project" in 1999, "Lake Mungo" consists of fake interviews with several people about the central topic, as well as examination of some found footage. "Curse of the Blair Witch" worked because it only ran 44 minutes whereas this one is twice as long and the fact that it's all an act pretending to be a documentary can't sustain interest. I suppose if you thought it was real it might be more compelling.
The brother's revelation (no spoilers) is odd in that it takes away from what the docudrama is trying to do. For me, the first 53 minutes of constant phony interviews is pretty tedious. Thankfully things perk up in the final 34 minutes. Although the first revelation thereof goes nowhere, the second one (the one that occurs at the titular lake) is well done and certainly creepy, not to mention an intriguing concept.
I'm sure everything ties together if you reflect on it, but IMHO it's not worth the effort because the flick just isn't compelling for the bulk of the first hour. And the payoff isn't enough to make it worth the investment UNLESS maybe you're a devotee of mockumentaries or found footage flicks. Add to this the aggravation of the pendulum swinging back-and-forth regarding the nature of the paranormal happenings (she is a ghost; she isn't a ghost, ad nauseam).
That said, the movie is well made for what it is, the actors are convincing and I enjoyed seeing that part of southeast Australia.
The film runs 1 hour, 27 minutes, and was shot in Ararat, which is a 2 hours' drive west of Melbourne, and Mildura, which is 3.5 hours north of Ararat.
GRADE: C-/C (4.5/10)
Lake Alice (2018)
A cabin-in-the-woods in northern Wisconsin during Christmas
A family consisting of mother, father, daughter and boyfriend take a retreat to a cabin at Lake Alice, Wisconsin, during the Holidays, but the joys of the season take a deadly turn when a mysterious slayer suddenly emerges.
"Lake Alice" (2018) is a modern slasher Indie in the mold of traditional slashers with the tropes thereof, e.g. The silent killer with a mask of some sort. The technical filmmaking is good except for a couple of issues. What works best is the authentic cold winter setting of northern Wisconsin. I like the whole set-up of the family returning to their home town in the rural Great Lakes region and the entertaining drama thereof. Sometimes the director spends a little too much time on a mundane scene, but I felt it established the reality of the situation, so I didn't mind.
The second half is where some weaknesses rear their heads. I didn't find the killings very convincing for the most part. For instance, when the first person is fatally attacked I giggled and thought maybe it was a prank. Most of the rest of the assaults have an unreal vibe as well and were okay at best. So the director is good at drama but needs to improve when it comes to staging action/suspense sequences. The micro-budget Indie "The Ridge" (2005) had the opposite problem: The drama of the first half is so weak it tempts the viewer to tune out, but the horrific second half wherein the killer chases the victims is superbly done.
The diff between this and "The Ridge" is that "Lake Alice" features a Whodunit angle. The first half establishes 4-5 possible suspects and the scriptwriter came up with a decent conclusion (as far as whom the killer turns out to be and the details thereof). The director just needs to work out the kinks in the attack sequences.
The movie runs 1 hour, 18 minutes, and was shot at Tomahawk in the Lake Alice region of northern Wisconsin.
The Toll (2020)
A traveling woman stuck on a rural backroad with her "weird" Uber driver
A socially awkward Michigan Uber driver (Max Topplin) picks up a weary young woman at the airport (Jordan Hayes) to take her to her father's farmhouse, but the vehicle mysteriously breaks down in the backwoods, where uncanny things start happening. What's going on?
Written & directed by Michael Nader, "The Toll" (2020) is a technically well-made mystery/horror Indie that borrows the basic plot of "Wind Chill" (2007), yet isn't as good or moving. If you like these kinds of flicks give it a try, but you'll probably be disappointed. While the two main characters are interesting enough and there's a sense of creepiness to the situation, not to mention the core mystery is intriguing (I don't want to spoil anything), the increasing illusions were tedious to me.
What really puts the nail in the coffin is a minor twist at the end that contradicts everything the viewer is led to believe about something up to that point (I'm being intentionally vague). "Wind Chill" had a minor twist as well, but it was organic to the story. This one just feels wholly contrived and you're left feeling duped in an eye-rolling way. At least this was my experience.
Nevertheless, I liked the filmmaking, the plot, the spooky sylvan ambiance and the cast. Less illusions, no artificial twist and more focus on the paranormal mystery would've put this in the ballpark of "Wind Chill."
The film runs 1 hour, 20 minutes, and was shot in Ontario, Canada.
El Cid (1961)
Ranks with the best sword & sandal epics
In the latter half of the 11th Century when Spain consisted of Christian kingdoms and Moorish strongholds, Castilian knight Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar (Charlton Heston) becomes known as 'El Cid,' meaning "the lord," after generously showing mercy to a couple of Emirs, who orchestrated an attack on a Spanish city. This gets him accused of treason, but he proves his nobility, courage and skill to King Ferdinand (Ralph Truman) and his successors (Gary Raymond, John Fraser & Geneviève Page). Sophia Loren plays his romantic interest while Herbert Lom is on hand as a Berber general hell-bent on Islamic world domination. Raf Vallone appears as Rodrigo's cunning rival for Jimena's affections
"El Cid" (1961) is curiously obscure compared to other classic sword & sandal epics, like "The Ten Commandments" (1956), "Ben-Hur" (1959) and "Spartacus" (1960), but it's just as great and on par with the more modern "Troy" (2004), not to mention superior to the overrated "Braveheart" (1995) and "Gladiator" (2000). Even if you disagree with me on those last two films, "El Cid" stands well with any of these epics.
I knew enough about Rodrigo's real-life story to know that the political intrigue gets convoluted and wondered if the movie could keep everything understandable and compelling for the course of three hours; and it does (unlike 2005's "Kingdom of Heaven"). Just before the drama overstays its welcome a quality action scene manifests, Like Rodrigo's thrilling duel with Jimena's father. I also appreciated the subtext of dealing with flawed people in leadership positions and overcoming resentment to have effective working relationships.
For those who object to Heston being cast as a Spaniard, the Castilian aristocracy of the 11th Century was generally Visigothic in ethnic background, aka German. Despite the regular influx of people of color ever since, there are plenty of Blond Spaniards to this day, even redheads. (Remember, Spain is decidedly Europe and not Mexico).
The film runs 3 hour, 2 minutes, and was shot in Spain with studio stuff done in Rome.
Old-fashioned werewolf flick by a do-it-yourself filmmaker
In 1910, a traveling heir (Earl Owensby) returns to his family's estate in North Carolina after his father's death, but becomes suspicious of what went down while learning of a family curse linked to a satanic priest (Ed Grady). Sid Rancer is on hand as a helpful doctor.
"Wolfman" (1979) had a limited release in Southern states and is comparable to a Hammer flick of the 60s, but the writing & acting aren't as finely tuned (because that takes money) and the sluggish story is easily 15 minutes too long; plus don't expect horror icons like Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee or even Andrew Keir. This was writer/director Worth Keeter's feature film debut. Although the movie's low-budget, it has good Gothic horror ambiance with fitting music. Keeter shows that he's a competent filmmaker in a do-it-yourself way, but sometimes the modest budget betrays itself.
The quaint werewolf make-up & effects are decidedly old-fashioned with the hairy beast resembling Spain's renowned Paul Naschy. In just a couple years hits "The Howling" and "An American Werewolf in London" would forever raise the bar for werewolf movies.
Whilst short/stocky Owensby is serviceable as the protagonist, don't expect the caliber of Oliver Reed in "The Curse of the Werewolf" (1961). On the positive side, Kristina Reynolds is stunningly beautiful and a good actress to boot. Too bad Keeter didn't do more with her.
At the end of the day, "Wolfman" fills the bill for if you're in the mood for Hammer-esque full moon horror AS LONG AS you don't mind the limitations of low-budget Indie productions, including parts that drag, like the sequence where the protagonist digs up a grave. Personally, I appreciated the depictions of life in a small Eastern town in the early 1900s with the corresponding mood of Victorian horror.
The film runs 1 hour, 42 minutes, and was shot in Shelby, North Carolina, which is about a half-hour drive west of Charlotte.
Scream of the Wolf (1974)
One of Clint Walker's best roles and certainly his most intriguing
People are found slain in the coastal Los Angeles region from what appears to be a vicious animal. The Sheriff (Philip Carey) enlists the help of a former hunter turned author, John Wetherby (Peter Graves). He in turn seeks the assistance of his mysterious big game hunter friend (Clint Walker), who seems entertained by the heightened fear that the attacks have created. Jo Ann Pflug is on hand as the author's girlfriend.
"Scream of the Wolf" (1972) debuted on TV as a Movie of the Week. The 70s produced some really good or even great television films, like "Tribes" (1970), "Duel" (1971), "The Night Stalker" (1972), "Kung Fu" (1972), "Short Walk to Daylight" (1972), "Go Ask Alice" (1973), "Pray for the Wildcats" (1974), "Dracula" with Jack Palance (1974), "Trilogy of Terror" (1975) and many more.
This one was directed by Dan Curtis, known for Dark Shadows and the first two Kolchak movies, the aforementioned "The Night Stalker" and the just-as-good sequel "The Night Strangler" (1973). It's similar in tone to those movies, just without Kolchak (Darren McGavin), and is superior to "Moon of the Wolf," another ABC Movie of the Week from two years prior. Actually, I think Peter Graves makes for a superior protagonist to the somewhat goofy McGavin and I could see this becoming a series, like Kolchak, wherein Wetherby (Graves) encounters and endeavors to solve mysterious phenomena each episode.
But what makes this flick so worthwhile is Clint Walker's character, Byron. He's a Zaroff-type (from "The Most Dangerous Game") and Walker is perfect for the quiet, enigmatic loner who respects primal emotions, fair hunting, cunning and strength above all. Wetherby's girlfriend (Pflug) naturally discerns Byron's dark eccentricity, which he finds amusing in his thoroughly nonchalant way.
The film doesn't overstay its welcome at a mere 1 hour, 14 minutes, and was shot at Universal City, California, and the nearby coast.
Moon of the Wolf (1972)
Southern Gothic murder mystery with a werewolf
A young woman is found dead near a bayou town in Louisiana. Was she slain by wild dogs, a person or... a werewolf? The Sheriff (David Janssen) has several suspects: the doctor (John Beradino), the woman's brother (Geoffrey Lewis), a swamp yokel (John Davis Chandler) and the town aristocrat (Bradford Dillman). Barbara Rush is on hand as the latter's sister and the Sheriff's potential romantic interest.
"Moon of the Wolf" (1972) debuted on TV as a Movie of the Week, which was known for producing some really good or even great modest-budget productions, like "Tribes" (1970), "Duel" (1971), "The Night Stalker" (1972), "Kung Fu" (1972), "Short Walk to Daylight" (1972), "Go Ask Alice" (1973), "Pray for the Wildcats" (1974), "Dracula" with Jack Palance (1974) and "Trilogy of Terror" (1975).
As my title blurb says, this one's a Southern Gothic murder mystery at heart. Despite the werewolf element, it should be enjoyed by anyone who likes Southern Gothics, whether crime dramas, mysteries or horrors, especially from the 60s-80s, like "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), "Squirm" (1976), "Cat People" (1982), "The Skeleton Key" (2005), and so on.
Keeping in mind that it's a television production from the early 70s with the limitations thereof, the cast is great and the Deep South ambiance is authentic.
The film doesn't overstay its welcome at a mere 1 hour, 14 minutes, and was shot in Clinton (town) & Burnside (Rodanthe estate), Louisiana.