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Freaky Farley (2007 Video)
Atrocious home movie
23 January 2011
C'mon guys, you weren't even trying. When you have non-actors you have to spend some time coaxing decent performances out of them, not just go with what are obvious first or second takes. And don't have your lead actor slowly raise his knife to the heavens, time and time again, like someone out of an old silent movie, or have a fight scene with monsters that looks like an asinine game of patty cake. And don't have your female cast members who are killed by these trogs appear to have nothing more than a few facial scratches. If you want to go through all the travail of making a movie then make it count when you do -- don't be sloppy and lazy. It's not enough to gather a bunch of friends and family members and wannabes together and shoot something on the fly. If you're not serious about it then all you've got is a home movie.

Therefore, this is across-the-board awful, even as a low-budget lark. A real actor in the lead role would have helped immensely, but unfortunately Matt Farley is the star and he's appallingly inept. The only worthwhile performances are from Sharon Scalzo and Steff Deschenes, although they both suffer from having to mouth some terrible dialogue, and get saddled with embarrassingly directed death scenes.
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Las Vegas: The Burning Bedouin (2007)
Season 4, Episode 14
bittersweet and funny
1 July 2008
A funny takeoff of 'Misery' with the star of the movie himself (Caan)flat on his back again. Sandra Bernhard plays a less-crazed, but more abrasive sort-of substitute for the Kathy Bates character. This episode also features a bittersweet side to Vanessa Marcil's Sam and the actress handles it well. It's just a TV show, but realistically there is no way a man in a coma for 20 years would wake up and both mentally and physically be essentially back to normal. But playing it closer to reality would have veered the show off into ER-like dramatics that it's not prepared to handle. But that aside, on a pleasant visual note there is also a trio of pretty olive-skinned beauties on display in this episode -- the standout, in my mind, the strikingly pretty Morena Baccarin (formerly featured prominently in the short-lived 'Firefly' Sci-Fi series).
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The Wide World of Mystery: The Werewolf of Woodstock (1975)
Season Unknown, Episode Unknown
A Hairball Coughed Up By Dick Clark
14 June 2008
First try and find this film... a VIDEOTAPE TV movie from 1975. That's right: it wasn't even shot on film. But if you do find it (good luck), view this sorry thing with below-the-floor expectations and maybe, just maaaaaaybe you'll squeeze some entertainment out of it. Honestly, there's no need to bother trying. This is godawful nonsense that only rates a viewing for completists of the scintillating screen careers of Andrew Stevens. Michael Parks, and Tige Andrews. Andrews is listed as "Special Guest Star" which seems odd, until you realize by the end of the film that ol' Tige is barely on screen after the first few minutes. Dick Clark produced this sad spectacle and probably doesn't even recall it now (or would be willing to admit to it).

Let's see, what have we got: an embarrassing $1.99 werewolf mask... an embarrassing $1.99 wool-knit beanie hat worn by Michael Parks... a $2.99 replica of the Woodstock Festival stage, and a quick shot of some garbage strewn about in a clearing beyond the stage that is so small that this must have been where the Hamster Woodstock was held, not the full-size festival... a dune buggy chase with a werewolf at the wheel ... and flower child Beckie (Belinda Belaski) who is so tuned into the frequency of her dead pooch named Virgo that she can "feel his pain is not over." But your own pain can end with a quick skip to the finish, or a tossing of this garbage in the nearest receptacle.

Actually I make this sound better, in a supremely cheesy sense, than it truly is. Mostly it's tedious. Be warned. Woof!
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Forgotten film about man who forgets
23 April 2008
This is an obscure time filler from Columbia Pictures. Obviously lots of musical numbers, and they're not bad. But it's too bad that Phil Harris is the star. Not that he's awful or unlikeable, it's simply that he's too light and uninteresting a performer to carry a picture. Harris was leading his own band at the time and he's fine in that function, and in being a second banana to the antics of Jack Benny on radio, but his starring in a film is equivalent to seeing Carson bandleaders Tommy Newsome or Doc Severinson trying to be leading men.

The stale amnesia angle doesn't help either, but there it is. Harris and his assistant Eddie "Rochester" Anderson are painters doing a job at a nightclub. Harris tries to help in his small way with struggling singer Leslie Brooks, and clumsily falls on his head in the process and takes the ol' amnesia route. By circumstance and guesswork he's made to believe he's actually a bandleader. Oddly enough, he's got an innate talent for it and becomes a success -- and Anderson, even though he knows Harris is really a painter, attaches himself as a Man Friday in order to ride along on Harris' bandleader success. Brooks plays an angle as well, but falls in love with him in the process. There's a few more contrivances, a few more musical numbers, and a predictable finish. There's also a quick joke where Harris as his screen character makes fun of the real Harris as a bandleader. Actually, the only reason to watch this film is to catch the always pleasing Eddie Anderson. Obviously his race kept him from being the star of this movie, and that's too bad because he's the only one of Jack Benny's cast members who could carry a film -- and he certainly could have carried this one. Instead it's Harris who fills the screen (almost literally considering his bulk). Nonetheless, it's a pleasant little movie that's easy on the brain... but hard to see considering its virtual unavailability.
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Wonderwall (1968)
Peeping Tom Psychedelia
18 February 2008
Any movie that is defended with the idea that it can only be enjoyed by viewing after taking drugs... well, c'mon, you know it's got to be pretty bad. And this is bad, no mistake about it. Sure, it's very colorful, and for the drug-inclined it's an eye-popping visual "overdose" of nostalgic psychedelia...

But at the the heart of this foolish fruity farrago is an offensive story of a geeky middle-aged man obsessing pervertedly over a pretty young woman living next door -- that obsession fueled by non-stop Peeping Tom activity. This sick invasion of privacy is treated as an excitable, joyous, comical diversion. It leads the geek professor to wild flights of fancy and lunatic dreams, giving us plenty of bizarre sequences filmed in full 60's psychedelic-meets-Richard Lester glory. But, wacky comedy-wise, it's weak tea in comparison to Lester's 'The Knack' or 'Help!' And considering the obvious Lester-Beatles influence (including the actor playing Birkin's boyfriend having a distinct Liverpudlian accent) it's no surprise that George Harrison provides the score.

Too bad that the score is awful. Whole scenes go by with virtually no dialogue, thus a catchy pop score from Harrison would be welcome, and add to the nostalgic value of the film beyond the psychedelia. Unfortunately we get the Shankar-sauce sitar-period Harrison. Only those finding a nostalgic trip from Indian music that sounds like the wailing of out-of-tune violins (or worse, the sound of a cat trapped inside bagpipes) will be pleased. Otherwise, it's an ear-offending slog.

And otherwise, filmically, you get a frantic but professional performance from Jack Macgowran, a lot of eye-catching shots of pretty cult-figure Jane Birkin, and a few comic bits that work.
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dated and tired
23 January 2008
I guess Fonda's character can be considered "Crazy Larry" for his driving antics, but I'm not sure why Mary is considered "dirty." As for the film, it's not really dirty or crazy, more dated and lazy. Vic Morrow does the umpteenth version of the grousing sheriff in pursuit of the robbers, snapping at underlings with a pained hemorrhoidal delivery that is severely one note. When an assistant can't get him info about Mary fast enough, even using a computer, he complains about the computer! He's so ill-humored throughout that watching him becomes a chore. On the other side, there's the fetching Susan George, who is very easy on the eyes. Too bad her accent goes in every direction. Her character is also distinctly unlikeable for most of the movie. Fonda and Roarke are dull. In fact, Fonda is so utterly passive an actor that casting him in this role can only be attributed to 'Easy Rider' yet it's Dennis Hopper who would have fit the bill here. Fonda strains under the film's need to have him project an out-there personality. Imagine Fonda in Roarke's role and Hopper as Crazy Larry. More interesting, hypothetically, in my opinion.

The direction is routine. For a car chase film this one isn't very exciting, with many shots held far too long. There's also a cameo from Roddy McDowall that provides the usual bug-eyed, jaw-drop take he's so fond of. And considering how un-clever this film is, the ending seems appropriate -- the filmmakers having run out of ideas and shrugging "this is all we could think of." As I recall when the film came out that it was a hit. Now it seems dated, especially the dialogue (and some of the dialogue is just plain weird, almost non sequitur-like). Oh, and Tarantino loves this movie. But Tarantino loves virtually every movie from the early-to-mid-70's so that's not saying much.
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Diamante Lobo (1976)
Don't blame this on God.
7 January 2008
This is titled Diamante Lobo, although it was filmed in Israel and produced by the Israeli team of Golan Globus -- and its title means 'Wolf Diamond' in Spanish -- but it goes by many other names, including 'God's Gun.' Go figure. It's a Matzo Ball Western, hold the spaghetti. But it might as well be covered in pasta since it's got the look and the sound (especially the music score) of a tried-and-true Italian oater. Not to mention the old hand himself, Lee Van Cleef, is the star. Or should I say double-the-star since he plays two roles. Even so, he's overshadowed by Jack Palance playing only one role, but with enough grinning-breathy bravura (also known as ham acting) to fill three roles of his own. Poor drunk Richard Boone adds a few moments but his snarling menace is undercut by his late-career dissipation and his voice being dubbed by someone else. Leif Garrett is mostly mute, which helps, and doesn't sing, which helps even more. Danning is cute, and the rest of the cast and the film itself, is wallpaper. The word I'm searching for is "blah."
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Paris, mostly from directors who miss the point
7 December 2007
Sadly, this is an awful grab bag of mostly trivial stories. Certainly it is ambitious and interesting as a concept, and Paris looks beautiful, but the producers didn't rein in the directors and what appears winning in theory becomes a lazy mishmash in execution. Each director was given five minutes of screen time and two days to shoot their film. Almost all of the directors figured they could dispense with writers and do it themselves. A bit of ego, a bit of film school, and a misunderstanding that even five minutes of screen time requires a writer's hand, especially so since the short time frame demands concise story telling skills.

Indeed, some of these film makers, e.g. Christopher Doyle, have barely sat in a director's chair, much less be worth trumpeting as members of an extraordinary group of visionaries. And the concept involves love stories and the love for Paris. What connection is there with this concept and the filmography of Joel and Ethan Coen? In fact the heavy American and British presence seems more mercenary than visionary from the producing end of things. Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands playing two Americans finalizing their divorce in a restaurant could have been filmed in New York or Chicago and shipped over to France for attachment to the movie. Worse, this episode relegates a giant of French cinema, Gerard Depardieu, to the minuscule part of the restaurant owner. There's nothing wrong with having some stories about tourists and expatriates, but this collection relies far too much on it. The bulk of the Parisians in this film are relegated to background chatter and bit parts. Surprisingly, even the city is relegated to background fodder. It appears that almost none of the film makers have any sense of Paris, or what to do with it given the opportunity to make a small film there. Many take place in nondescript indoor locations, or in the case of the Elijah Wood episode, a meaningless dark street straight out of 'Sin City.' Story wise, this is a director's film. Therefore the writing is weak and in some cases almost non-existent. In the case of Cuaron's episode with Nick Nolte, even the direction is non-existent (almost entirely a long shot track of Nolte yakking away to his nubile daughter as they walk down a street -- once again, a heavy American element with no trace of Paris except some dialogue). Some of the vignettes have "punchlines", while others merely fade away or end pointless and lost. The two most "commercial" feature Steve Buscemi in a cartoonish skit in a Metro station, and an absurd tryst between Elijah Wood and a vampiress. Both stand out but for the wrong reasons. Buscemi is forced to say nothing throughout his episode, and to behave like a punching bag for no reason. At least it IS snappily directed, and makes its point and ends with an exclamation. But it's also more clichéd American-in-Paris tourism. The Wood vampiress story not only doesn't belong in this film, it is also extremely predictable as a vampire sketch.

Many of the other stories seem either a small part of a bigger film, or a made-up hodgepodge to fill five minutes. To each his own as to the merits of the results. Certainly this smörgåsbord provides enough promise in its theme to delight those who think they're getting a taste of Paris along with humanistic stories (rather than the usual gangster, spy, or sleaze films using the city for its location). But I think the producers should have demanded that the directors adhere to the concept rather than allow them free rein to indulge in half-thought out skits that have only an arbitrary connection to the locations of the title city.
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Sails but doesn't soar
14 September 2007
A young William Boyd stars as the captain of the title ship who is involved in a serious maritime challenge on behalf of the U.S. against arch rival Britain. It's a race to see which country's best sailing ship can get from Foochow, China to Boston the fastest. To do this they must sail across the Pacific and around the southern tip of South America. The prize is not only the Foochow tea trade but the winner gets the other's ship.

Boyd's journey quickly becomes encumbered by a young stowaway (Junior Coughlin) and the unexpected additions of a young woman and her craven fiancé. When one of Boyd's crew offers to help the woman and her fiancé escape, Boyd's troubles really start brewing up. From there it's fights, attempted mutiny, budding romance, and comedy relief... and, oh yes, a race to be won. The film has its moments and, thankfully, has none of the eye-rolling acting hysterics prevalent in so many silent movies. But it also doesn't have much personality. Boyd's star part lacks color, and the female lead's part isn't any better. Obviously the filmmakers keyed on the young boy to sell the movie to the real target audience.

The VHS copy I viewed comes with an intro from Junior Coughlin that looks like it was taped in the 80's.
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Incident on a Dark Street (1973 TV Movie)
Busted Pilot covered in hair
19 May 2007
Lots and lots of hair. The only enjoyment in watching this film is the nostalgic kind. That early 70's TV look, that cast, and those hairdos. Shatner is startling to look upon at first, with his oily hair and lamb-chop sideburns (not to mention his outfits). Then there is Richard Castellano, who is never less than repugnant to view, with a terrorist-torn-out-of-bed hairstyle that is a work of grunge art. His character is not much better.

As for the content of this TV movie, there's little to say. It was a pilot for a proposed 1973 NBC series called 'The Prosecutors.' It never got past this film. Familiar cast, familiar story, plodding execution. With almost iconic types like David Doyle and Murray Hamilton popping up, along with the camp master himself Shatner, it's hard to pay much attention to the story: you spend more time thinking "I remember that actor!" Unfortunately, the star of the film is the colorless James Olson. Now, if Shatner had been put in place of Olson this might have been far more entertaining. Oh, and Susan Stafford has a small role. Very pretty, but showed far more brains and talent when she got OUT of showbiz later.
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Bobbikins (1959)
Francis the Talking Baby
14 May 2007
The title alone is enough to repel, but this is an amiable, cutesy comedy that aims to please. The dubbing of Baby Steven Stocker is remarkably good, and the supporting cast is familiar and helpful. The two leads aren't very interesting, sadly. Jones is saddled with the concerned wife part and plays it so tightly that it removes the breeziness when she is on screen. It's all very predictable, with the usual Francis the Talking Mule routine of only one person hearing the title character speak and the resultant think-he's-nuts stuff that bedeviled Donald O'Connor and his mule. Then again, it's never made truly clear whether the infant is able to talk like an adult or that the whole thing is a delusion on the part of Bygraves' character. It's certainly contrived as to why the child refuses to speak to anyone else. It's almost like the ventriloquist who thinks his dummy is real. And somehow, in the midst of all this silliness, the film tries to sell the idea that making money is a bad thing and that it's better for Bygraves & Jones to continue to struggle as stage performers. Weird movie, even though it appears to be mild fluff.
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Okay little C-movie
6 January 2007
This is a Monogram film and that qualifies it less as a B-film than a C-film. Gale Storm had been dropped by RKO after a short stint and Monogram grabbed her. They tried to make her their own little star but ultimately it was television in the fifties that finally established Ms. Storm. Not that she wasn't without talent at this early stage in her career, but the association with drab sets and third-rate actors, writing and direction that came with Monogram certainly kept a dim spotlight on her appearances. In this one she plays a wannabe singer who is, as the title states, of a certain age, and unable to get singing work. She ends up getting shunted around, first to a job with a bookmaker that quickly lands her in trouble, then to a singing/dancing academy that only takes students between the ages 8 and 14. Quick as a flash, and as fast as you can say "rip-off of 'The Major and The Minor'"(from 1942--the year before) our little Stormy is play-acting a fourteen-year old in order to get into the academy. Complications, of course, ensue. At least Storm, unlike Ginger Rogers in Billy Wilder's film, is passably convincing as a younger teen, but the stakes and transformation aren't very much. Storm's character is really only making herself a couple of years younger and only to get a little voice and dance training. It appears the filmmakers watched 'Major and The Minor' and used the central idea, but neglected to use the strong comical complications that the idea offers. Still, it's not bad for a Monogram film, being more watchable than most of them.
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Old English fossil
6 January 2007
This English farce is actually titled 'Charley's (Big-Hearted) Aunt' and Richard Murdoch is credited with '(Stinker)' in the middle of his name. It also stars Arthur Askey, a long-forgotten English entertainer, whose talents on display here certainly do not rate a revival. There's a nice attempt at using 'Charley's Aunt' as almost a play-within-a-play, but the efforts, however pleasant and frantic, are quite predictable and ultimately tiresome. Cute at the time, perhaps, but a dry fossil for today's audience. Even though it's only meant as a silly comedy, it's still bizarre to feature the virtually middle-aged Askey as an Oxford undergraduate. A professor, yes; a student, quite absurd. At least Graham Moffatt is, and looks, the age of a student, but that makes Askey's casting even more off-putting (incidentally, Moffatt plays a character named Albert which for some odd reason is the same character name he goes by in most of the films he ever made). Also odd is that the woman character Askey is supposed to be duplicating in drag looks nothing like her (and Felix Aylmer's character once dated the real woman yet doesn't seem to question the ugly homunculus version that Askey creates... then doesn't recognize the well-kept real version when she shows up). In fact, Askey barely bothers to even alter his masculine voice during the masquerade, inviting even more skepticism of both the charade and Askey's performance. But it is done with a light enough sense of humor that it toddles along amiably, all clichés intact, with laughs for those easily amused by another English music hall performer donning woman's clothing.
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Okay time killer
5 January 2007
Nothing special here. Robert Stanton plays a crooner looking for a gig singing on the radio for a sponsor named "Plantation Coffee." Considering the name of the company, he figures playing a "southerner" will get him the job, and he ropes singer Lynn Merrick into the idea with him (since he'd accidentally helped her lose her job earlier as a jukebox girl). But they find they need a coach and that's where Thurston Hall comes in as "The Colonel." He's a hustler himself and is willing to coach them in Southern ways in exchange for a "stipend." It looks like the kids get the gig, but complications ensue when the phony Southern-style name that the Colonel has given Merrick, "Bellwether", turns out to be mistakenly attached to an $800,000 inheritance. Merrick can't live with the fraud, so frantic farce ensues as she and the Colonel and Stanton attempt to find a way out of it, including a phony heir-for-hire (Matt Willis--an actor with a very goofy-looking puffed-out mouth). Of course everything works out in the end for all concerned. The title of the film is off: it should be called "A Southern Belle from Brooklyn" since the actual title is meaningless with regards to the story. Incidentally, Stanton is the brother of famed vocalist Dick Haymes and is also sometimes credited as Bob Haymes. He had a good speaking and singing voice, and okay looks, but his film and singing career never took off. But he did write the beautiful and successful song "That's All." As for this film, it certainly didn't help his career and for today's audiences it's dated and trivial (the jukebox-girl job especially a head scratcher for present-day viewers). It's a passable entertainment, nothing more.
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The 27th Day (1957)
Enemies of intelligence will enjoy
4 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Here's a film that means well but is so shoddy budget-wise, and so tortuously contrived story-wise, that it nearly collapses into the 'Worst Movies Ever' category by the end. It's not THAT bad, but it's a far cry from being an underrated or undiscovered "gem" that many of the reviewers in this forum would like to claim of it.

This is basically a mashing of "The Day The Earth Stood Still" and "Red Planet Mars." The basic gimmick is a make-up compact-like device that contains lipstick-sized human-killing-only "bombs." The aliens hand it over to human-kind figuring it'll speed up our race to destroy ourselves (since the aliens can't do it themselves and they want our planet for their own survival). But instead of handing the devices off to the leaders of five different powerful countries, they hand it off to five various individuals---then announce it to the world. And they don't explain to anyone how to open these devices... and they don't say what's inside the devices and whether it's good or bad. It's all very vague and unnecessarily confusing when these aliens have a 27 day deadline to get the job done. It's also known as bad writing. And the worst example of the forced and, dare I say stupid, writing follows halfway through. That would be when the Soviets get their device opened first and immediately threaten total destruction of North America. That would be workable... except that the U.S. contingent (led by Gene Barry) open one of their alien devices soon after. Stalemate, right? Mutually assured destruction, right? Nope. For some reason the U.S. says nothing. In fact, all demands of the Soviets are met (pulling out of Europe, the Mediterranean, etc.) and, even faced with a 48 hour deadline that North America will be destroyed, the U.S. still REFUSES TO REVEAL THEY'VE GOT THE WEAPON, TOO! Huh? After this kind of egregiously inept story-telling the film has no where to go intelligently. It simply slaps on more idiocies involving messages decipherable by only one man (the German Scientist) who proceeds on a hunch based on a vague clue ("The alien said it had the power of life AND death." How meaningful) that leads to a laughable finale involving a Soviet leader crawling on the ground for the open compact evidently more concerned with meeting that deadline to destroy North America than he is with the brain-splitting sound wave that is killing him. But he's an "enemy of freedom" and is wiped out like his fellow freedom enemies across the globe, because the German scientist in the U.S. has figured out how to use the device not to kill all humankind... but only the bad people. Somehow the device has some supernatural ability to determine, like Santa Claus, who's been naughty or nice. No matter that a miscalculation on the Scientist's part might have wiped out millions of "innocents" even accepting the preposterous idea that he would have discovered and accepted the device's "enemy only" capabilities. In the end, it all becomes a reversal of "The Day The Earth Stood Still" wherein instead of the aliens threatening the Earth with destruction if we don't mend our ways, we show the aliens that we've mended our ways and are now welcomed and respected by the alien collective out there in the universe. Bravo, earthlings. Applause. But let's not forget that at the time of this film (1957) the U.S. and Soviet Union already had the SAME SITUATION as presented in the film, involving nuclear weapons. Therefore the crucial element in the plot is totally repetitious. Both the U.S. and the Soviets already had weapons capable of blowing up the entire world. We moved from A-Bomb to H-Bomb in a game of one-oneupmanship that only led to détente. What difference would a more powerful weapon make? Even if the Soviets threatened the U.S. with the alien weapon the U.S. could counter with good ol' fashioned nukes to destroy the Soviets. So, what would be the point? And lastly, it's ridiculously forced storytelling to have the human race be saved or destroyed by the actions of one man (the German scientist) and then have the aliens congratulate mankind for waking up and joining the "friends of freedom" across the universe. Mankind DIDN'T wake up... one lone scientist just figured out the way to use the device to kill bad people. And Gene Barry didn't even help--because he played a people-distrusting cynic! It's a weird (or just plain bad) film indeed that lets its top-lined star play such a non-heroic, virtually useless character (try to recall ANYTHING that Barry does in this film that's productive). Sadly, it seems there are viewers out there who find this heavy-handed Armageddon nonsense to be a deep and thought-provoking sci-fi take on Cold War hysteria. It's hysterical alright. One last note: the film features the famous voice of Paul Frees as a news announcer and actually has him on camera in one scene. It's surprisingly rare when Frees is on camera so this is one opportunity to see the face behind so much fabulous voice-over work. I assume his character wasn't an "enemy of freedom" and made the cut when that scientist fired off the weapon.
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Dreamland (I) (2006)
Absurd claptrap
22 December 2006
This is cliché-ridden nonsense not worth the time of day. Why even bother making a movie when the story is almost non-existent and the characters are thin retreads from a thousand other films? What on earth convinced a fine performer like Gina Gershon to take such a tiny, nothing role? Why on earth would the filmmakers hire a short and petite actor like Justin Long in the role of a potentially hot college basketball prospect? And how could the director not realize that exposing Kelli Garner's enormous chest in bikinis and plunging necklines would take attention away from everything else in her scenes? Regardless, nothing could cure this film from its essential ailment of triteness. C'mon, a coming-of-age love triangle? The intertwining lives of struggling dreamers in a small community? Ugh, Sundance/IFC Storyline Class 101. In fact, a small town young-people-in-love-triangle is as old as silent movies. Even getting past that, the filmmakers don't even have enough courage to make the characters tougher. They're all so soft, especially Corbett as the disconsolate alcoholic father. He's supposed to be such a handful that Agnes Bruckner's character feels the need to take care of him rather than go off to college, but he's such a mild drunk (no wild jags, no barking at the moon, no violence, no buried in his own vomit, etc.) and written without any clinging neediness for his daughter, that we never get any sense that he needs her around as his keeper. And when Garner needs watching over later in the film, Corbett drops the emotional burnout routine in thirty seconds flat and comes to her aid with barely a ripple of personal struggle. We also simply get told that Bruckner is brilliant and in demand as a potential college student with acceptances pouring in the mail, even though she lives out in the middle of nowhere in a trailer park. And with Long going back to college and Bruckner's nerdy work buddy going off to college, it seems Dreamland could create its own fraternity. Then there's poor Kelli Garner stuck with the cliché "sick-girl" role straight out of the Hallmark Channel (although there's no Sally Field-type mom/aunt rubbing her forehead). Sure she's got MS, and is supposed to be doomed, and even gets to be in the climactic accident, but she's filmed in swimwear and other revealing outfits and never looks less than quite healthy and voluptuous. And she gets to fool around with various absurd gimmicks to relieve her MS, including bee swarms and clutching live power lines. It's such nonsense that I half expected the filmmakers to take it to its ultimate combination at the finish -- by having Garner clutch a power line while in the middle of a bee swarm while wearing a bikini (and maybe a tin foil hat, too). Wait, perhaps I'm all wrong: could this film just be a bad joke played on the audience? You can only hope.
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Pleasant Ealing-style comedy filmed in Sicily
15 December 2006
This fairly enjoyable little comedy was part of a batch of British films made by MGM-Elstree studios in England, some of which made it to the United States and some, like this one, that did not. The Director/producer/writers involved here were the same group that made the highly successful Agatha Christie adaptation 'Murder She Said' with Margaret Rutherford the year previously (1961).

As for this film, it has an Ealing Studio flavor to a degree, but is unlike most other British comedies of the period because it keeps itself stationed in Sicily throughout (the exception being the opening montage in London). Eric Sykes plays the low-rent English salesman who takes a trip to Sicily and ends up getting mixed up in a virtual contest to pick the bride of an expatriate member of an old family of the area who is coming back to marry and willing to lay down some nice money for the family of the bride. Veteran English comic actor John LeMesurier plays the local priest (the Don) who convinces the local patriarchs to let the first stranger who comes to town be the one who decides which of their daughters is chosen. Enter Sykes. But not only does Sykes have to contend with the conniving local families, he also ends up getting mixed up with the town firebrand Scilla Gabel. Then there is the classic Sicilian vendetta obsession that rears up toward the finish, putting Sykes in further hot water. It's all good-natured fun, not particularly clever, but glides along smoothly. Certainly the feminine pulchritude on display is impressive---virtually a satire of buxom Italian peasant girls that populated that country's films throughout the fifties. Gabel and Yvonne Romain are the two main females on display and they are an undeniable eyeful. This film is no great shakes, and not comparable to the Rutherford-Agatha Christie movies the filmmakers were involved in, but it breezes by with its light charm.
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Enjoyable light-hearted Arabian nonsense
29 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Columbia Pictures may not have had the stars to populate this film like MGM or Warners would have, but they knew how to have some fun with what they had. Sure, it's splashed with expensive Technicolor and has lots of costumes and effects (the effects winning an Academy Award for Lawrence W. Butler), but its feeble cast features Evelyn Keyes, Cornel Wilde and Phil Silvers. Not exactly box-office, although Wilde was one of the hot new stars of 1945. But it's Keyes and Silvers who make this film enjoyable, even if their lack of star value keeps this film from being noticed today.

It's the umpteenth variation of the 'Aladdin and the Lamp' story, but this one is hoked up with plenty of anachronisms, chiefly in the form of Phil Silvers who plays Aladdin's thief buddy as an All-American wiseguy complete with the latest 40's slang and a pair of modern eyeglasses. And when Aladdin gets hold of the famous lamp (after a scene wherein he and Silvers dodge a giant played by Rex Ingram, who virtually reprises his character from 1940's 'Thief of Baghdad') out pops the genie played by Evelyn Keyes. And she's a sassy sprite who likes to be called "Babs." Since she's invisible to all but the owner of the lamp, she gets to mess around with others and sling wisecracks and warnings at Aladdin, to his discomfort. Sandwiched between Silvers and Keyes, poor Wilde is nothing more than a handsome grinning prop. At least his fencing skills come into play in a climactic duel.

The story includes the requisite villain, in this case played by Dennis Hoey (most famous as Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Homes series) in a duel role as a Sultan and his scheming twin-brother Prince. Adele Jergens plays the Sultan's daughter who naturally falls for Aladdin because he's so gorgeous and sings love songs to her (Wilde's singing voice dubbed). Jergens is not very interesting (looking like a pale imitation of Virginia Mayo) and to be honest, in my estimation, is strangely overshadowed by the striking looks of her chief maid played by Dusty Anderson. Neither of them became movie stars, but Anderson's looks and voice are so much more impressive than Jergens that it distracts from Wilde's pursuit of the Princess. In my view, why take a chance on being executed for trying to possess a moderately pretty Princess when the maid is a knockout, and likable too? (One small note: Shelley Winters plays a fellow handmaiden in this film, but good luck finding her. I think I spotted her in the back row of a group of maidens in a scene near the end of the film).

Interesting line: Phil Silvers looks into a sorcerer's crystal ball and sees himself robbing someone. He quips to Wilde re: the Sorceror: "This guy has run into television and don't know it." Since no pretense is made that this is anything other than a silly romp, Silvers gets to gag it up with plenty of other current references, including the absurd ending wherein he croons a Sinatra tune ("All or Nothing at All" and using the actual Sinatra recording) to handmaidens in bobbysoxer footwear. Needless to say, this a fun movie, easy to like.
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Francis without Chills, in two ways
28 November 2006
This is the last of the seven Talking Mule pictures in the series put out by Universal during the fifties. This one is the wild card, seeing as it not only does without Donald O'Connor, but also Chill Wills' voicing of Francis. This time we've got Mickey Rooney in the lead and Paul Frees as the voice of Francis. I have lots of admiration for Rooney who can be dynamite when properly directed, but here he is directed by notable hack Charles Lamont and is allowed to sputter away cartoonishly throughout. And Rooney, only in his mid-thirties, looks quite aged, far removed from the youthful looks of his heyday only a decade previous to this. Then there is the heroic attempt by Paul Frees to imitate Chill Wills, which is impossible because Frees' voice is almost as well known and distinctive.

The film itself is one of those estate inheritance murder mysteries with Francis saving the day by alternately helping Rooney solve the case and rescuing him from being killed during the investigation. David Janssen has a small part as a cop, and Timothy Carey plays a hulking worker at the estate (without getting one line of dialogue). The film's title and advertising campaign tries to make you think this is a spooky story, but there's nothing supernatural about it and the scenes at the estate aren't played for chills. Sadly, there aren't any laughs either, unless you find mirth in the umpteenth time Francis reveals his talking ability to some hapless bug-eyed character.
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Trapeze (1956)
Triple air somersault, anyone?
28 November 2006
This one has a musty script as old as silent movies: a love triangle set in a circus. Lon Chaney did this a couple of times back in the twenties. Apparently the novel this film was based on was mostly about a murder committed by one of the members of the love triangle. It didn't dwell much on the circus, so Lancaster dispensed with most of the book and had it re-shaped into this cliché hash. The combo of Lancaster and Reed is a guarantee that the film would be humorless and indeed it is. In fact, it is relentlessly gloomy, with an overbearing score by Malcolm Arnold that doesn't help. The only humor to be found is of the unintentional variety early on when the self-denying acrobat Lancaster keeps trying to cut loose the pestering New Kid Curtis. It's so corny it's risible. And so much of that pestering is about that all-important 'Triple Air Somersault' -- so much about it that the film comes unglued in its obsession over this gymnastic stunt.

But on the plus side, the film was a huge success at the time, and it lifted Tony Curtis to stardom. It also showed off Lancaster's undeniable physical gifts, and most noticeably, the physical gifts of Gina Lollobrigida, in her first American film. She is absolutely gorgeous, and gets to play the most realistic and interesting character in the film. If you like Lollo and the circus, you'll like this one.
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Not bad for its time
28 November 2006
Usually these Young-People-against-The-System films from the late 60's-early 70's are populated with groovy-talking stoners, angry radicals, and even angrier authority figures (cops, parents, etc.) But this one dispenses with those cartoons. Sarrazin and Hershey play idealistic college students, but Sarrazin is realistic enough to understand he needs help from his family connections when he gets into trouble, and Hershey doesn't have a beat-the-system attitude when Sarrazin escapes from custody; in fact, she can't fathom why he was so stupid.

It all revolves around an accident involving Sarrazin hitting a pedestrian with his car. It has nothing to do with campus politics and no attitudes are posed. The filmmakers don't try and truckle to the youth crowd by having the establishment types be played over-the-top. When Sarrazin mildly mocks the justice system, his lawyer played by E.G. Marshall shuts him up fast with a well-written lecture that reasonably explains Marshalls' viewpoint. And, noticeably, it is Marshall's law assistant, of the same age as Sarrazin, who is played as far more hard-core establishmentary than Marshall, or Sarrazin's father, played by Arthur Hill. The film also features a young Robert Klein, who is quite good as Sarrazin's buddy. It also features a small but striking performance from William Devane as an airplane pilot hired to help Sarrazin. Devane is on screen no more than thirty seconds before he becomes more interesting than anyone else in the film (although Sarrazin's grandma is quite a kick, even though one note). And yes, Hershey does show off her very nice young figure in a couple of scenes. Unfortunately, the film also features Randy Newman drone-singing one of his boring songs at the opening and closing.
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The Outsider (1961)
Valiant attempt that suffers from miscasting
28 November 2006
This film is a somewhat accurate account of Ira Hayes' story, and is well-meaning, but it suffers from the fatal miscasting of Tony Curtis. Curtis certainly tries hard, but the very idea of a Brooklyn-voiced actor with striking good-looks slathered in bronzer playing an ordinary-looking man from Arizona is ludicrous. Granted there weren't any movie star Native-Americans at the time to fill the role, but you never get a sense of an average guy doing his job: Curtis is far too gorgeous (although the make-up people do try to hamper his looks, unfortunately transforming him into something resembling a Romulan from Star Trek.). And yet some would not only ignore this, but also claim this is Curtis' finest performance. Hardly. See 'The Boston Strangler' or 'The Sweet Smell of Success" or 'The Defiant Ones." As for the film, it is relentlessly moody and downbeat, with an equally moody music score. The Iwo Jima material is almost right, but marred by the idea that Hayes would become a mess because of the loss of James Franciscus' character. Not that the fictional character is so bad, but the dull acting of Franciscus makes him impossible to care about. Since the film takes great pains in making this character so important to Hayes, it should be handled by a much more powerful acting presence than a stiff second-rate TV actor. Meanwhile, Hayes' fame rests with his helping put up the famous flag at Iwo Jima and then be put through the war bond drive and publicity grind stateside, yet the two others(Gagnon and Bradley) who were also involved in both flag raising and publicity war bond tour are barely in this film. 'Flags of Our Fathers' takes full advantage of this character interaction, but this film ignores it almost completely (granted it could have been due to rights issues from Gagnon and Bradley).

But it IS a story that was important to tell and worth watching, regardless. Sadly it was not a success back in 1961 and remains obscure to this day. Possibly 'Flags of Our Fathers' will give it new life.
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Rogue's March (1953)
Interesting idea but mediocre results
6 November 2006
This film does have an interesting set-up but never takes full advantage of it. There's nothing clever about the beginning, wherein British Fusilier Captain Lawford is court martialed for being a Russian spy and imprisoned, but things get intriguing when he escapes and joins the military again, inspired by the idea that it would be the last place the authorities would be expected to look for him. Now an enlisted man, he has to hide his abilities and keep a low profile, but circumstances put his masquerade in jeopardy. If written properly, this could be an effective and suspenseful story, but not so here. The film goes off into a simplistic hero-redeemed thread that seems more concerned with using MGM's access to the real Khyber Pass in Afghanistan than with the complications of Lawford's plight. A pity. But for fans of British Colonial War movies this one does have a fairly well-done and believable action climax. How the producer coaxed MGM into shooting on location in Afghanistan is the only interesting question regarding this movie. Or maybe one more: how did Lawford's character escape from military prison? We never see this and it's never explained. Just another potentially suspenseful scene not taken advantaged of by the filmmakers.

Lawford? He's handsome, tanned and sports a fine moustache, but he was never leading man material and proves it again here. He's too reticent an actor; there's little energy or passion visible from him. The role is that of a man wrongly and ruinously convicted who must submerge himself in a lower (military) station, then rise up and redeem himself when occasion demands it. A role requiring a mix of outrage and tightly-coiled intensity. Not the role for a dapper "cocktails anyone?" kind of smooth lounge loafer. Lawford is directed to treat all this as if slightly disturbed from missing a dinner engagement.

Richard Greene, in the second lead, is far better suited to Lawford's role, but alas, he gets The Other Hero role: the one that doesn't get the girl and gets saved by the Big Hero (Lawford). Janice Rule and Leo G. Carroll pop up here and there, and Sean McClory as Lawford's likable enlisted buddy is more enjoyable than anybody else, but disappears before the film even gets to its big action climax. And John Abbott is one of the top-billed actors, yet he disappears early on. Then again, not much should really be expected considering the film is scored by studio hack Alberto Colombo, written by the mediocre Leon Gordon (this being his last movie) and helmed by an inconsequential English television director named Allan Davis.
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Mixed bag from the Price collection
1 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Vincent Price lends his always welcome presence to this routine ghost-possession story. It's adapted from two stories by Maupassant 'The Horla' and 'Diary of a Madman' that are somewhat mashed together. Not a bad mashing, but still this is well-worn territory. It certainly looks good and has a rousing romantic-horror score by Richard LaSalle that helps immeasurably, but it's flatly directed and features a terrible performance by Chris Warfield as the unjustly accused painter in love with pretty Nancy Kovack. The Horla is voiced by Joseph Ruskin with the declarative timbre of a radio announcer, sounding less the slithery voice of evil you'd expect or desire and more the voice of advertising, or even the doom-laden boom of the "Control Voice" from 'The Outer Limits.' And the green light-band on the eyes is a cheap effect, but even it would be acceptable if the desires of the Horla were a little more interesting than breaking up Price's relationship just to prove the woman is greedy (one would expect the mis-use of Price's position as magistrate would be the real interest of the Horla). But overall the film is competently made and does have the shock effect of the ultimate disposition of Kovack's head. Otherwise it's not bloody or clumsily handled. Certainly not a bad film to spend time with, especially for devotees of pre-Seventies horror films.
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For fans of the "ancient comic ways"
21 October 2006
This was made at a time when A & C were just starting to slip down their comic peak. They'd been hammering out scores of films for years by now and the audience was starting to tire of the increasingly obvious antics. Too many movies and not enough good material. This time around the thought was to see what comedy could be mined by throwing the boys in a girls school. Surprisingly they took no advantage of the "cheesecake" factor and decided to go with athletics. So we get wrestling, basketball, and road chase antics for the most part. A & C are in good form and still quite energetic at this point. There's a dice-in-Lou's-stomach scene that's inventive and funny. A few other gags work here and there. Mostly it's now viewable as "ancient comedy" and acceptable on those terms. For veteran comedy watchers the wrestling and oyster stew scenes are painful old wheezes as is much of the other slapstick material. The Jonah and the Whale comic bit is tiresome, as well. But not as unwatchable as the musical interludes that are jammed into the proceedings, as they always are with these wartime A & C vehicles (in fact, this is where A & C get out of their film vehicle and stand on the sidelines awaiting their opportunity to get back into their own movie). This is only for A & C fans and the easily entertained (and/or nostalgia types that grew up with these movies)--- others beware.
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