Wednesday, August 31, 2011

#390. American Grindhouse (2010)


Directed By: Elijah Drenner

Starring: Robert Forster, Allison Anders, Judith Brown




Tag line: "Giving Audiences What They Want Since the Dawn of Motion Pictures"

Trivia:  John Amero, Pam Grier, and Harry H. Novak were all approached to be interviewed in this documentary, but turned said offers down





For those who think Grindhouse cinema was a product of the 70's...think again. As director Elijah Dranner's fascinating documentary, American Grindhouse, reveals, the true roots of sleaze and exploitation stretch much further back. Take, for example, the 1913 movie, Traffic in Souls, a film about white slavery and prostitution. Despite its taboo subject matter, Traffic in Souls was a huge hit, and paved the way for the formation of Universal Studios. Even as far back as the days of silent movies, filmmakers were looking for new and exciting ways to titillate their audience, and American Grindhouse shines a light on some of their more memorable accomplishments. 

Narrated by Robert Forster, American Grindhouse doesn't devote much time to any one period or genre, offering instead a concise overview of the history of shock cinema. There's a look at Hollywood's early days, when movies like Freaks and Night Nurse raised a few eyebrows, as well as the “educational” films of the 30's and 40's, where social issues (childbirth, sexually transmitted diseases) provided an acceptable excuse to show nudity on the big screen. As Hollywood tightened the reigns on sex and violence in motion pictures, the independents were pushing the boundaries of taste to their breaking point: teen rebellion and burlesque in the 50's, nudist camps and Bikers in the 60's, and the influx of violence onto the scene. By the time American Grindhouse finally gets around to the 70's, we've seen clips from dozens of films, some of which are more shocking than you would ever have imagined. 

Along with the films, we learn about the filmmakers behind them (Tod Browning, Dwain Esper, Russ Meyer), and even hear from a few others. Besides such noted movie fans as directors John Landis and Joe Dante, American Grindhouse interviews some of the giants of sleaze, like Jack Hill (Coffy, Foxy Brown, The Big Doll House), Larry Cohen (Black Caesar, It's Alive), and the Godfather of Gore, Mr. Herschell Gordon Lewis (Blood Feast), all of whose insights are invaluable. 

What I love most about documentaries like this is that I usually walk away with a veritable shopping list of movies I now want to see, and American Grindhouse is no exception: Dwain Esper's Maniac, Mom and Dad, I Wake Up Screaming, Dragstrip Riot, Lord Love a Duck, Hell Up in Harlem, just to name a few. This is what makes movies like American Grindhouse pure gold for film fans, the promise of uncovering a great new movie to explore that otherwise might have lingered in obscurity. 

Well, maybe “Great” is too strong a word in this case. How about “Jaw-Dropping”?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

#389. Gothika (2003)


Directed By: Mathieu Kassovitz

Starring: Halle Berry, Penélope Cruz, Robert Downey Jr.




Tag line: "Because someone is dead doesn't mean they're gone"

Trivia:  Halle Berry broke her arm filming a scene with Robert Downey Jr.






I hate to fall back on a tired, old cliche, but Gothika is all style and no substance, a movie in which the filmmakers expend far too much energy on visual tricks, and barely any at all on building a plausible story. 

Dr. Miranda Grey (Halle Berry), a clinical psychologist, works in the mental ward of a Connecticut high-security prison. Frustrated by her most recent case, a deeply disturbed young woman named Chloe (Penelope Cruz), Miranda often consults with her husband, Doug (Charles S. Dutton), who's also the head of the prison's psych department, and her boss. While driving home alone from work one evening, Miranda nearly hits a young girl standing in the middle of the road. When she gets out of her car to investigate, something bizarre happens, causing Miranda to black out.  Three days later, she finds herself in a cell at the prison, where her friend and colleague, Pete (Robert Downey Jr.), informs Miranda she's the prime suspect in the murder of her husband.  Unable to recall anything after her encounter with the mysterious girl, Miranda must piece together the shattered remnants of her memory if she's to have any hope at all of discovering the truth. 

Like a peacock showing off its feathers, Gothika struts out one gimmick after another in an attempt to spruce up it's flimsy tale of ghostly revenge. Take, for example, the group shower scene, where Miranda once again comes face-to-face with the young girl she encountered on the road. What could have been a frightening moment is instead disjointed and confusing, containing so many quick cuts and camera swoops that we have no idea what’s going on. As for the plot itself, it’s hard to overlook the contrivance of Miranda becoming an inmate in the very prison where she worked, and harder still to believe she’d be permitted to mingle with the general population, many of whom were patients of hers. But then, I don’t think the filmmakers expected us to focus on such details; with so many pretty things to look at, why bother with cohesion and logic? 

In the end, director Mathieu Kassovitz and his crew undermine Gothika with a visual exuberance that’s far too overbearing, leaving the story to wither and die. And that’s just what it does.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Monday, August 29, 2011

#388. Mothra (1961)


Directed By: Ishirô Honda

Starring: Frankie Sakai, Hiroshi Koizumi, Kyôko Kagawa




Tag line: "Incredible! Inconceivable! World wrecked as monster hunts human mates!"

Trivia: 
Mothra was released in the United States in May 1962 on a double-bill with The Three Stooges in Orbit





1961's Mothra differed from many of the giant monster films released by Japan's Toho Studios in that it's title creature wasn't hell-bent on destruction for destruction's sake. Unlike Godzilla, who terrorizes and destroys because he's big and nobody can stop him, Mothra is a monster on a mission, and would have gladly left the good citizens of Tokyo alone if they, in turn, left his island in peace. 

After learning that a highly radioactive isle may be inhabited, the government sends a team of scientists to investigate. What they find will astonish them. After becoming tangled in a carnivorous tree, Dr. Sinichi Chujo (Hiroshi Koizumi) spots a tiny set of twins (Yumi & Emi Ito), whom the island's natives believe to be fairies. Both Dr. Chujo and a reporter named Senichiro Fukuda (Frankie Sakai), who stowed away on the ship so he could see first-hand what's going on, befriend the fairies, but rich gangster Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito), who funded the expedition, kidnaps the twins so that he can put them on display in Tokyo. All attempts made by Dr. Chujo and Fukuda to free the fairies end in disaster, but the twins themselves aren't worried because they know Mothra, the protector of their island, will soon come to save them. A giant larval moth, Mothra methodically makes its way towards Tokyo, sending the entire population into a panic. Will Nelson relinquish control of the fairies, or will Tokyo be devastated by the angry monster slowly swimming towards its shore? 

There's a lot of imagination on display in Mothra, not all of which centers around the title creature. When the scientists first arrive on the island, they're greeted by some unusual sights. There's a cave filled with brilliantly colored objects, and strange plants that seem to reach out and grab them. The twins, which stand about a foot tall, are another interesting find, and the natives who worship these two tiny beauties stage an elaborate dance to awaken Mothra, so that he might return them safely to the island. Mothra's rampage through Tokyo is impressive, and the model work here (highlighted by the destruction of a huge dam) is among the best Toho has ever produced. But this time out, the film doesn't rely on its giant monster to generate all the fun, creating instead an entire world of wonder, one that grabs your attention well before Mothra is even hatched from his egg. 

Geared towards a younger audience, Mothra is definitely on the lighter side of Toho's giant monster movies, and while it may lack the rougher edge of films featuring the likes of Godzilla and Rodan, the spectacle on display in Mothra more than makes up for it.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

#387. Beyond the Door (1974)


Directed By: Ovidio G. Assonitis, Robert Barrett

Starring: Juliet Mills, Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia




Tag line: "Demonic possession lives, and grows and grows and grows and..."

Trivia:  Director Ovidio Assonitis had actually had Samantha Eggar in mind for the lead role that eventually went to Juliet Mills





Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the cinematic world, it's also sometimes the fastest route to a huge payday. Beyond the Door, a 1974 horror film about demonic possession, was released less than a year after The Exorcist, a movie that proved a worldwide phenomenon and broke a slew of box-office records. While Beyond the Door wouldn't quite reach the same lofty heights as its predecessor, it did manage to bring in some $15 million in the U.S., quite an accomplishment for a film supposedly budgeted at around $350k. 

Jessica (Juliette Mills) is a happily married mother of two living in a well-furnished San Francisco apartment. Life is good for Jessica, and when she learns she's expecting yet another child, both she and her husband, Robert (Gabriele Lavia), are elated. But their happiness turns to anxiety when Jessica begins experiencing severe mood swings, some of which lead to violent outbursts. To make matters worse, Jessica has also started to hallucinate, seeing a past lover named Dimitri (Richard Johnson) everywhere she looks. During their brief relationship, Dimitri introduced Jessica to a series of bizarre Satanic rituals, and she now believes his sudden reappearance might have something to do with the changes in her personality. Convinced her pregnancy is unnatural, Jessica consults her family doctor (Nino Segurini) about the possibility of having an abortion, but the unborn child, which possesses powers beyond Jessica's understanding, has no intention of allowing this to happen. 

The scenes where Jessica is under the control of the demon, whether spewing green slime or rotating her head 180 degrees, are, without a doubt, the strongest in the film. The problem is there simply aren't enough of these moments, and most of what leads up to them fails to generate any real thrills. Through most of Beyond the Door, we're given brief glimpses into Jessica's “condition”; the occasional appearance of Dimitri in a bathroom mirror, a low moan emanating from Jessica as she sleeps, and the unexplained appearance of blood on the floor. A later scene, set in the children's bedroom, where dolls walk and dresser drawers open and close by themselves, had me believing the film may have finally turned a corner, which, unfortunately, it had not. The build-up to Jessica's possession is a methodical one, far too methodical at times, and on more than one occasion, I found my attention waning. 

Beyond the Door is, indeed, an imitation of The Exorcist, but in subject matter only. Plodding and occasionally lifeless, this film is more likely to elicit yawns than it is screams.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

#386. Five Minutes to Live (1961)


Directed By: Bill Karn

Starring: Johnny Cash, Donald Woods, Cay Forrester





Tag line: "How could she extend the moments he had given her?"








Five Minutes to Live is a heist movie starring, of all people, music legend Johnny Cash, who, making his big-screen debut, takes on the part of a sadistic criminal. In the opening scene, Cash, along with an accomplice, are attempting to rob a warehouse in New Jersey. When the police burst in, a shoot-out ensues, during which Cash picks up an automatic weapon and blows one of the cops away. 

How have I never heard of this film before? 

Cash plays Johnny Cabot, a lifetime thief and part-time killer whose always on the lookout for the perfect score, and fellow crook Fred Dorella (Vic Tayback) thinks he may have found it. Inviting Johnny to partner up with him, Dorella plans to rob a small town bank without even so much as a gun. Instead, Cabot will take Nancy Wilson (Cay Forrester), the pretty wife of the bank's vice president (Donald Woods) hostage, and remain with her in her house while Dorella, posing as a depositor, demands that her husband turn over $70,000 in cash. If he refuses, Cabot will kill his wife. But things take an unexpected turn when the bank manager confesses to the would-be thief that he intends to divorce his wife, and is running off to Las Vegas with another woman (Pamela Mason) that very night. 

A taut thriller, Five Minutes to Live also reveals why Johnny Cash didn't appear in that many movies. In short, as an actor, he's a pretty good singer. That's not to say his performance was terrible; in fact, he does an admirable job in the scenes where Cabot loses control, violently lashing out at his hostage (at one point, even suggesting that he intends to rape her). Fortunately, the filmmakers also gave his character a guitar, and let him play it from time to time (Cash also wrote and performed the film's catchy title song), ensuring that, at the very least, we catch a few glimpses of him doing what he does best. 

The remainder of the cast, including a six-year-old Ron Howard as the banker's son, is solid, and the story will keep you on the edge of your seat. With a few hints of film noir effectively tossed into the mix, Five Minutes to Live amounts to much more than a mere curiosity, or the answer to a trivia question. Well paced and suspenseful, Five Minutes to Live is also an entertaining movie.










Friday, August 26, 2011

#385. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)


Directed By: Blake Edwards

Starring: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal




Tag line: "Audrey Hepburn plays that daring, darling Holly Golightly to a new high in entertainment delight!"

Trivia:  Tiffany's opened its doors on a Sunday for the first time since the 19th century so that filming could take place inside the store





I wonder if it’s possible to watch Breakfast at Tiffany’s and not fall in love with Audrey Hepburn? It certainly wasn’t for me. From the opening scene, when she cocks her head slightly to one side while peering through the window of Tiffany’s jewelry store, I knew I was a goner. 

Holly Golightly (Hepburn) is an erratic New York playgirl who enjoys the finer things in life, and hopes to find a rich man who'll supply them for her on a regular basis. Paul (George Peppard) has just recently moved upstairs from Holly, occupying a room that’s being paid for by "2-E" (Patricia Neal), a wealthy older woman with whom he’s having an affair. Yet, despite his relationship with "2-E", Paul falls deeply in love with Holly, and is the only one who recognizes that her outward bravado masks a frightened, lonely existence. Paul wants nothing more than to take Holly away from it all, but will Holly's never-ending quest for the security of wealth prevent her from ever experiencing true love? 

More than just gorgeous, Audrey Hepburn is positively enchanting in Breakfast at Tiffany's, lighting up the screen whenever she strolls across it, and regardless of what she may be wearing at the time (the morning she first meets Paul, Holly’s dressed in nothing more than a plain, oversized night shirt, yet is still alluring enough to catch his eye). Aside from her physical beauty, Holly Golightly’s bubbly personality and zest for life is also endearing, giving one the impression that she doesn't have a care in the world. But as we come to learn, Holly does have her share of problems, such as her inability to make a commitment of any kind. In every aspect of her life, no matter how trivial or insignificant a relationship might be, Holly prefers there be no strings attached, which allows her to keep everyone at an emotional arms length. There are times in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, however, when Holly lets her guard down, like when she receives an unexpected visit from her estranged hillbilly husband, Doc Golightly (Buddy Ebsen), who’s been trying to track her down for years. Doc represents a past the young socialite would just as soon forget, yet the moment she sees him standing in the hallway, Holly throws her arms around him and greets him warmly. For that one, brief moment, we see the real Holly Golightly shining through. 

Audrey Hepburn’s wonderful screen presence makes Breakfast at Tiffany’s an enthralling film. Her manner, her personality, even her winning smile are picture perfect, and I, for one, was totally captivated by her charms. Odds are, if you’ve seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.










Thursday, August 25, 2011

#384. Don't Go In the Woods (1981)


Directed By: James Bryan

Starring: Jack McClelland, Mary Gail Artz, Angie Brown




Tag line: "Everyone has nightmares about the ugliest way to die"

Trivia:  Director James Bryan doubled as the Maniac in many shots






It didn't take but five minutes for me to realize what kind of movie Don't Go In the Woods was going to be. We open with a young girl (Alma Ramas) running through the forest. She's obviously trying to escape from someone (or something), but before getting too far, she stumbles and falls into a stream...looks up...and...nothing. That is to say, we have no idea what happens to her, because the action immediately cuts away to an ornithologist (McCormick Dalten), strolling through the woods in search of exotic species of birds. Suddenly, he's attacked (by what, we have no idea), and before he knows what hit him, his arm has been sliced clean off. From here, we're introduced to the four main characters, all of whom seem to be vying for the honor of “Worst Delivery of Dialogue in a feature-length motion picture”. 

Don't Go In the Woods is a bad movie. 

Four backpackers: Peter (Jack McClelland), Ingrid (Mary Gail Artz), Joanie (Angie Brown) and Craig (James P. Hayden), head off into the vast wilderness of Utah to spend a few days communing with nature. But it seems this particular stretch of forest is home to a psychotic maniac (Tom Drury), whose already murdered a number of people. The local sheriff (Ken Carter) and his deputy (David Barth) have been extra busy tracking down a slew of missing persons, unaware that each and every one fell victim to the mysterious killer. And if Peter and his friends aren't careful, they'll surely be the next to die. 

Taking potshots at Don't Go In the Woods is the writer's equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel; it's just too damn easy. But I'm gonna do it anyway. For starters, the entire fist half hour or so is spent introducing one extraneous character after another, who exist solely to provide the killer with anonymous victims to finish off. Aside from the girl and ornithologist mentioned above, there's the tourist (Dale Angeli) and his mother (Ruth Grose), who've wandered into the forest to take pictures of passing trains, and a newlywed couple (Frank Millen and Carolyn Braza) honeymooning in a run-down camper they've inexplicably parked next to a sheer cliff. None of these characters is on-screen for more than a few minutes, and we know the moment they appear they're gonna die, ensuring zero tension is generated from the first half-dozen or so kills. Don't Go In the Woods does try to introduce some comic relief in the form of the sheriff (easily the largest man I've ever seen wearing a badge) and his deputy, whose first few scenes together were designed to make us laugh, but their antics aren't nearly as funny as the interactions between the four leads. The first night, after setting up camp, Craig tells a fireside story meant to scare his companions, but the actor's delivery, pausing after every 4 or 5 words for dramatic effect, was so horrendous it had me in stitches! 

Don't Go In the Woods is poorly acted, pathetically paced (it made 80 minutes feel like 8 hours), and entirely devoid of any chills or thrills whatsoever. In short, this movie sucked.










Wednesday, August 24, 2011

#383. Under the Sand (2000)


Directed By: Francois Ozon

Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Cremer, Jacques Nolot




Tag line: "Can love vanish without a trace?"

Trivia:  Under the Sand was nominated for 3 Cesar Awards, including Best Film







Francois Ozon’s Under the Sand is a tense, troubling drama; the story of a woman whose life is thrown into chaos when her husband vanishes without a trace. It is a loss so devastating to her that the only way she can get through the day is to pretend it never happened. 

English teacher Marie Drillon (Charlotte Rampling) has been happily married to Jean (Bruno Cremer) for many years. While the two are away on vacation, they decide to take a day trip to the beach, where Marie naps while Jean goes for a swim. When Marie wakes from her nap, Jean is nowhere to be found. After a frantic search ends in frustration, the authorities have little choice but to presume that Jean has drowned. Marie does eventually get on with her life, returning to work and socializing with friends, yet she cannot accept the fact that Jean may be gone forever. For her, his disappearance is an unending riddle, one that eats away at her mind: Is Jean dead, or did he simply leave her, looking to start a new life on his own? The answers are elusive, leaving Marie emotionally stilted, and clinging to the fading hope that Jean will one day return to her. 

One of the strengths of Under the Sand is the way it shields its central mystery. Truth be told, we’re as much in the dark regarding Jean’s true fate as Marie. After all, we never actually see Jean go into the water. Did he really go swimming, as he said he was going to do, or did he take advantage of Marie's decision to nap, and run off? Like Marie, we simply don’t know, but unlike her, we come to accept that, with each passing day, Jean’s return is increasingly unlikely, especially when you consider that there are only two possible scenarios to explain his disappearance. One, he drowned; two, he quietly walked away. Whichever is the actual chain of events, it’s clear that a joyful reunion of man and wife will never occur. 

Under the Sand is still utterly fascinating, thanks in large part to the wonderful performance of Charlotte Rampling, who strikes the perfect balance between maturity and repudiation. In most films, when a character is in denial, he or she will act in a completely atypical manner, either losing control of their emotions or roaming through life in a daze. To her credit, Rampling never falls back on the obvious in her portrayal. While her Marie is certainly in denial, she nonetheless remains resilient, strong-willed, and always in control, which is how a woman of Marie’s stature would handle such a calamity. 

Marie is the tragic figure of Under the Sand, a woman who could easily survive on her own, yet has no desire to do so, holding on tight to a hope that's been all but extinguished. In the end, we do not weep for Jean; whether dead or alive, he has at least reached an end. Our tears are reserved for Marie. For her, there is no end in sight.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

#382. Hood of Horror (2006)


Directed By: Stacy Title

Starring: Snoop Dogg, Ernie Hudson, Danny Trejo





Tag line: "It AIN'T all good in da hood"










Guided by a mysterious figure known only as the Cribmaster (Snoop Dogg), Hood of Horror relates three stories of life in the ghetto, all of which are peppered with a twist of the macabre. Posie (Daniella Alonso) is a street artist who, as a child, witnessed the murder of her mother. After being pushed around by a gang of thugs, Posie meets a mysterious stranger (Danny Trejo) who grants her a very special power, one that will allow her to get even. Next, we have Tex Woods Jr. (Anson Mount), a nasty, vile redneck whose father, Tex Sr., died a very wealthy man, leaving his son, among other things, a house for aged veterans, all of whom served in Vietnam under Tex Sr.'s command. According to the terms of his father's will, Tex Jr. and his wife, Tiffany (Brande Roderick), must move in with the veterans for one year before they'll inherit any of the money, an arrangement that doesn't really work for anyone. Finally, there's the story of a rapper named Sod (Pooch Hall), who, along with his partner, Quon (Aries Spears), rose through the ranks until he hit the very top. But Sod, whose only interested in fame and fortune these days, loses sight of what got him there in the first place, and is in need of a lesson in humility.

Things get off to an OK start in Hood of Horror; the first tale, about a young girl on a mission of revenge, is somewhat engaging, featuring appearances by both Danny Trejo and Billy Dee Williams, as well as some impressively gory special effects (the best involving a gang member named Streako, played by Tayo Johnson, who meets his end by way of a beer bottle). Unfortunately, this is the best of the three stories, with each successive one failing to live up to the level of its predecessor. Anson Mount does a fine job as Tex Jr. in the second segment, playing a character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. You really want to see him get his comeuppance, and Ernie Hudson (as one of the veterans) and his pals are only too happy to oblige. But a comedic undertone runs through the entire tale, taking some of the edge off of it, and Tex Jr. is so cartoon-like that his fate is a foregone conclusion. As for the final entry, Pooch Hall and Aries Spears do their best to make it click, but Sod's transformation from God-fearing wannabe to pompous superstar occurs much too quickly to give the sequence any real dramatic punch.

All of the performances in Hood of Horror are fair, and a handful of animated sequences, used to connect the stories, are impressive (the first, which reveals how Snoop Dogg became the Cribmaster, plays out during the opening credits). It's a shame the tales themselves fall a bit short of the mark, and though Hood of Horror is certainly not a waste of time, it's far from the movie it could have been.









Monday, August 22, 2011

#381. Baadassss! (2003)


Directed By: Mario Van Peebles

Starring: Mario Van Peebles, Nia Long, Joy Bryant




Tag line: "A father. A son. A revolution"

Trivia:  Troy Garity appears uncredited as the singer Donovan








Melvin Van Peebles was the first African-American filmmaker to take on the system, and his 1971 independent movie, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, literally broke the Hollywood mold. Up to that point, African Americans, as seen in a variety of motion pictures over the years, were little more than background characters, happily existing in a usually all-white environment. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song dragged its audience into the ghetto, focusing on an entirely different black experience. Thanks in part to a mobilization of the Black Panthers, which urged its members to get out and support the film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song went on to become the top grossing independent movie of 1971. 

Baadasssss! (aka How To Get the Man's Foot Outta Your Ass) is a dramatized account of the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, taking us from the film's creative beginnings to its historic premiere at a small Detroit theater. It proved a difficult journey for its director, Melvin Van Peebles (played here by his son, Mario). To begin with, the major studios wouldn’t touch Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, fearing it was far too radical for a mainstream audience, and even Melvin’s agent, Howie (Saul Rubinek), strongly advised him to drop the idea of a film about a black revolutionary. Ignoring this advice, Melvin decided to raise the money for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song himself, yet more problems would arise when the initial financiers he lined up pulled out of the project. His back against the wall, Melvin had little choice but to invest his own money to complete the film. In conjuncture with the financial burdens it presented, Melvin also had to handle the editing of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, despite the fact he was rapidly losing his vision in one eye. And if all this wasn’t bad enough, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was then saddled with the dreaded "X" rating by the MPAA, and because of this, only two theaters in the entire country would play the film. Melvin Van Peebles had sunk everything he had into this movie, and its reception would determine whether or not he was financially bankrupt as a result. The rest, as they say, is history. 

In Baadasssss!, Mario Van Peebles captures the creative energy and rabid determination of his famous father, yet, because he's telling this story from an eyewitness’s point of view (as a child, Mario was on set for much of the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song), he also avoids many of the usual biographical pitfalls, refusing to paint Melvin as a larger than life individual. Instead, Mario allows his father’s true personality to explode on-screen. As seen in Baadasssss!, Melvin Van Peebles could, at times, be nasty and overbearing, yet despite his shortcomings, we ultimately recognize him as a true cinematic pioneer. Melvin Van Peebles may have had a short fuse, and was certainly not the most loving father, but he did have a vision, and possessed the right amount of drive and determination to make it a reality. 

There was power in Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and that power is successfully recaptured in Baadasssss! by his son, Mario. Often funny and sometimes sad, Baadasssss! is a must-see for movie fanatics.








Sunday, August 21, 2011

#380. Shadow: Dead Riot (2006)


Directed By: Derek Wan

Starring: Tony Todd, Carla Greene, Nina Hodoruk





Trivia:  This film was shot on location at an old disused prison in Holmesburg, Pennsylvania








Shadow: Dead Riot is a 2006 movie with a distinctly 70's personality, a slick combination of horror and the women in prison sub-genre that's so wonderfully over-the-top, you simply can't resist it's audacious charms. 

Solitaire (Carla Greene) is the newest inmate at an experimental women's prison, yet there's something about the place that doesn't sit right with her. During a stint in solitary confinement, she discovers the source of her uneasiness; twenty years earlier, a serial killer known only as Shadow (Tony Todd) was scheduled to be executed in this very facility. As he was about to be put to death, a strange force took control, causing Shadow's torso to explode before the lethal injection could even be administered. His sudden and violent end led to a prisoner's riot, during which several inmates were killed, then buried in a mass grave on the penitentiary's grounds. Solitaire can sense Shadow's presence, and knows something very bad is about to go down, but her attempts to learn more are hindered by both the prison's doctor (Michael Quinlan), who has an agenda of his own, and a fellow inmate named Mondo (Tatiana Butler), a monster of a woman whose position of power is threatened when Solitaire refuses to back down. Through it all, Solitaire searches for answers, yet not even her wildest dreams could prepare her for the true evil that was about to be unleashed. 

Shadow: Dead Riot opens strong, introducing us to Tony Todd's Shadow by way of a flashback to his unsuccessful execution. As played by Todd, Shadow is a truly frightening character, a killer with filed-down teeth who not only doesn't fear death, he invites it. From there, the film shifts into a full-on women in prison flick, with plenty of shower scenes, cat fights and lesbian overtones to satisfy even the ficklest aficionado of 70's grindhouse cinema. There's even some martial arts action tossed into the mix, and plenty of bloody violence to keep the gore hounds smiling. And if you're a zombie fan, you won't want to miss the climactic battle, where Solitaire and the other prisoners join forces with the warden (Nina Hoduruk) and her guards to fight off an entire army of the undead. Reading like a laundry list of some of the best that 70's exploitation had to offer, Shadow: Dead Riot promises something for everyone. 

Of course, not everything in Shadow: Dead Riot works; a pair of fight scenes between Solitaire and Mondo lack energy, and there's a side story about a zombie baby that results in some laughably bad special effects (which, even if they were intentionally bad, take you right out of the film). But in the final tally, the movie delivers more smiles than it does groans, and is an entertaining nod to the movies of the grindhouse era.







Saturday, August 20, 2011

#379. Easy Rider (1969)


Directed By: Dennis Hopper

Starring: Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson




Tag line: "A man went looking for America. And couldn't find it anywhere.."

Trivia:  Rip Torn was originally cast in the role of George Hanson. According to Torn, Dennis Hopper pulled a knife on him during a pre-production meeting





Easy Rider burst onto the scene in 1969, daring to speak to a new audience, a younger generation that had not yet found their voice in motion pictures. So bold and refreshing was Easy Rider that it was named "Best Film by a New Director" at that years Cannes Film Festival, where it also competed for the Palme d'Or.

After completing a major drug deal in L.A. that’s netted them more money than they know what to do with, bikers Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) head east to check out Mardi Gras in Louisiana before finally settling down in Florida to ‘retire’. On the way, the two experience a slice of America they never expected to see, spending time at a hippie commune and even landing in a small-town jail, where they meet George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a lawyer who asks if he can tag along on their adventure. But when a violent confrontation with local rednecks ends in tragedy, Wyatt and Billy start to wonder if their “American Dream” has turned into a nightmare.

At its heart, Easy Rider is a story of freedom, of two men who set out to find America, yet ultimately lose their way. Once rich, Wyatt and Billy figure they've got it made, but out on the open road they encounter a variety of individuals who've already found peace in America, including a Rancher (Warren Finnerty) who lives off the land, and a hitchhiker (Luke Askew) who leads Wyatt and Billy to a hippie commune, where everyone's happy despite the fact they have very little. Even George Hanson, played marvelously by Jack Nicholson, seems to have it all figured out with his non-chalant approach to life. Towards the end of the film, when Wyatt says to Billy, “We blew it”, he’s saying they’ve lost out on true freedom, which they only felt was within their grasp because of the money. Without the riches, they'd have never considered themselves free, and to come into contact with so many others, who've little or no money yet have discovered true freedom, was an eye-opening experience for Wyatt. Yep, they blew it...and in a big way.

With its brash new approach to film making, supported by an explosive rock soundtrack, Easy Rider single-handedly jettisoned American movies into a whole new era of creativity, paving the way for a younger generation to take up the reins in Hollywood. How ironic that Easy Rider managed to generate the very freedom for others that its main characters let slip through their fingers!








Friday, August 19, 2011

#378. Africa Blood and Guts (1966)


Directed By: Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi

Starring: Sergio Rossi




Tag line: "You May LOVE It! You May HATE It! But You'll Not FORGET It!"

Trivia:  Despite having almost half of the original material removed, the English print under the title Africa Blood and Guts is noted as being more gruesome than the original, uncut print





Originally titled Africa Addio, Africa Blood and Guts caused a bit of a stir when it was released in 1966. Condemned in its native Italy as a racist film, the movie has also been attacked for its scenes of incredible violence, and even though it's well over 40 years old, I find myself siding with the naysayers; time has done nothing to diminish this film's ability to shock you.

Directed by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi (the creative minds behind Mondo Cane), Africa Blood and Guts is a documentary which reveals, in sometimes graphic detail, the political and social upheaval that plagued the continent during the tumultuous mid-60's. We're taken to the battlefields of various civil wars, such as those in Zanzibar and Rwanda, which claimed the lives of thousands, and join the big-game hunters as they track and kill as many of Africa's exotic animals as they can find.

It's difficult to dispute the charges of racism leveled against Africa Blood and Guts by censors and critics alike.  Early on, as we watch the last British Governor leaving Tanzania, the narrator spouts off about how Europe is “abandoning her baby”, at which point we cut to a celebration in the streets, where native Tanzanians are breaking thousands of Portuguese eggs in protest of that country's continued colonialism. It's a theme that resonates throughout the entire picture: European ceremonies of pomp and sophistication are followed by the chaotic, sometimes barbaric rituals of Black Africans, leaving little doubt as to where the sympathies of the filmmakers lie.

Interspersed within the pandemonium of revolution are scenes of brutality, most of which take place on the Continent's various game reserves. In one particularly puzzling scene, a rope is tied between two jeeps, which then speed off in the same direction.  Traveling about 20 yards or so apart from one another, they head straight for an entire herd of zebras, tripping up the animals as they're in full gallop. Even if one can excuse the grisly images of the Elephant hunt (carried out by both hunters and natives alike) as a bit of sport, there's really no “sport” in chasing animals down with automobiles!  Not to be outdone, we also witness the violence of man against man, as evident in the static shot of a large pile of hands that once belonged to Watusi warriors, severed as punishment for their uprising.

Even those going in with a morbid curiosity might find Africa Blood and Guts a difficult film to sit through, and while the movie, at over 2 hours long, is never boring, you may want to think twice before watching it.

And if you do check it out, don't say I didn't warn you!










Thursday, August 18, 2011

#377. The Human Monster (1939)


Directed By: Walter Summers

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Hugh Williams, Greta Gynt




Tag line: "Based on 'The Dark Eyes Of London' By Edgar Wallace"

Trivia:  The first film in Britain to receive the 'H' (for Horror) certificate







The Human Monster opens with two very potent images. The first is that of London Bridge, slightly concealed behind the transparent eyes of the film's star, Bela Lugosi. The second, a dead body floating face-down in the Thames, and while the appearance of the body sets the story in motion, it's Lugosi's eyes that reveal just how entertaining The Human Monster is going to be, with the noted actor delivering yet another charismatic performance. 

Scotland Yard Detective Larry Holt (Hugh Williams) is assigned to investigate a serious of deaths that have occurred in London over the course of several weeks. At first glance, the deaths appear to be accidents, but when Holt discovers each of the deceased had recently been issued life insurance policies by a man named Orloff (Lugosi), who, as it turns out, was also the beneficiary of each policy, he suspects foul play. Holt's suspicions are further confirmed when a man named Stuart (Gerald Pring), also insured by Orloff, is found drowned, nothing in his pockets but a broken cufflink and a message written entirely in braille. With the help of a visiting American cop named O'Reilly (Edmon Ryan) and Stuart's only daughter (Greta Gynt), Holt hopes to put together a case strong enough to lock Orloff away for good. 

In The Human Monster, Bela abandons his trademark black cape to play a fiend in a 3-piece suit, but the performance is still pure Legosi. Shortly after loaning Stuart a large sum of money, Orloff signs him to a sizable life insurance policy, with himself as the beneficiary. He then writes out an address for Stuart to visit the next evening, that of the Dearborn Home for the Blind, where Orloff supposedly spends a great deal of his 'charitable' time. He smiles while handing the address over, but Orloff's smile quickly disappears as he stares into the unsuspecting Stuart's eyes, hypnotizing him to ensure he shows up at the Dearborn Home the next day to meet his doom. 

One gets the feeling that the monster of the title, as seen in the film's promotional materials, is Jake (Wulfred Walter), the blind manservant who assists Orloff at the Dearborn Home. Jake, whose hunched back, protruding teeth and large stature give him the very appearance of a hideous freak, is the man Orloff enlists to carry out the murders, yet there's little doubt in the end that it's Orloff, and not Jake, who is The Human Monster's true creature. And honestly, that's exactly how it should be. As was often the case, The Human Monster became a better film the moment Bela Lugosi was cast as the heavy, and is a bit more interesting to watch whenever he's on screen.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#376. Duel in the Sun (1946)


Directed By: King Vidor, David O. Selznick and 5 more

Starring: Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, Gregory Peck




Tag line: "Emotions . . . As Violent As The Wind-Swept Prairie!"

Trivia:  The role of Pearl was originally written for Teresa Wright, but pregnancy forced her to drop out





The opening shot of the film is of the blazing sun, which is appropriate, seeing as Duel in the Sun, directed by King Vidor (among others), managed to generate a good deal of heat when it was first released. With saucy, sexual dialogue and some racy situations, Duel in the Sun caused quite a stir back in 1946, and the picture was attacked from all sides by the moral majority. Yet, despite the uproar, the film’s feisty producer, David O. Selznick, refused to bend to the pressure, and released Duel in the Sun relatively uncut, a decision that would pay off in the end. 

Following a family tragedy, Pearl Chevaz (Jennifer Jones) travels to Texas, where she moves in with her father’s second cousin, Laura Belle McCanles (Lillian Gish), whose husband, Senator Jackson McCanles (Lionel Barrymore), owns the spacious Spanish Bit ranch. Because she’s one-half Native American, Pearl is treated with some hostility in Texas, especially by the gruff and bigoted Senator. However, it’s the Senator’s youngest son, Lewt (Gregory Peck), who gives her the hardest time. Lewt is a tough, uncontrollable cowboy, and he lusts after Pearl with a blinding passion. Pearl initially rejects Lewt’s advances, yet finds herself strangely attracted to his brutish personality. an attraction that grows stronger with each passing day. 

Jennifer Jones is electric in the role of Pearl, capturing her character’s down-home naiveté and combining it with a sexuality that is red hot. Gregory Peck matches her intensity as the sinister, undisciplined Lewt, a thug who, despite his ruffian ways, successfully steals Pearl’s heart. In one of the film’s most notorious scenes, Lewt, who'd just returned home after being away for several days, finds the ranch deserted with the exception of Pearl, who's too busy scrubbing the floor to notice his arrival. Lewt takes advantage of the situation by quietly walking up behind Pearl, closing the door, and grabbing her violently. Pearl tries to resist, but eventually succumbs to Lewt’s passionate kiss. This is but one example of the film's sexual fire, and a key reason Duel in the Sun was given the rather unflattering nickname “Lust in the Dust”. 

The stimulating nature of Duel in the Sun raised the ire of the Legion of Decency, a religious organization that took it upon itself to establish a set of moral guidelines Hollywood was expected to follow. As you can imagine, Duel in the Sun fell far short of even their most basic requirements, so much so that the Legion threatened to condemn it outright unless six minutes were cut from its final print. The movie was also banned in the District of Columbia, and censor Lloyd Binford of Memphis, Tennessee, would comment that Duel in the Suncontains all the impurities of the foulest human dross”. But instead of hiding his movie away, or succumbing to outside pressure, Producer David O. Selznick took advantage of this free publicity, opening the movie in over 200 theaters around the country, an uncommon practice in those days. In spite of the negative hype surrounding it, Duel in the Sun would take in over $10 million at the box office. 

Even as far back as 1946, sex sold.










Tuesday, August 16, 2011

#375. The St. Francisville Experiment (2000)


Directed By: Ted Nicolaou

Starring: Madison Charap, Troy Taylor, Ryan Larson




Tag line: "This ain't no walk in the woods"










The St. Francisville Experiment is a 2000 film that follows a team of four investigators into a supposedly haunted plantation estate in St. Francisville, Louisanna. Hoping to uncover evidence of the paranormal, the four: a filmmaker (Tim Baldini), a psychic (Madison Charap), the team leader (Paul James Palmer) and a history student (Ryan Larson), are each given a camcorder and a variety of high-tech gadgets, all in the hopes of capturing an authentic otherworldly event. The apprehension they feel upon entering the centuries-old estate is soon replaced by abject fear when their 'experiment' proves more successful than any of them dared imagine. 

The St. Francisville Experiment is a found-footage horror film in the vein of the wildly popular 1999 indie sensation, The Blair Witch Project. The movie begins as if it were a straight-forward documentary, with a number of talking heads relating the bizarre history of the central location, and warning of the dangers involved with undertaking such an experiment. Not much changes when the movie shifts to St. Francisville, where we witness some pretty tame scares right out of the box (the first involving a chandelier that short-circuits and comes crashing to the ground). There's a lot of talk about 'cold spots' in the house (supposedly a sign that there are spirits around), and even a pretty pathetic “cat-screeching” scene, where the frightened animal comes jumping out of a cupboard. Based on these initial sequences, I was admittedly concerned as to whether The St. Francisville Experiment would deliver on it's promise of scares (the psychic, Madison, even says at one point that the ghosts won't do anything when the video cameras are on...a real problem when your primary task is to document proof of the paranormal). But the tension gets underway when the four make a trip into the attic, where enough happens to convince them to hold a séance. The real thrills, however, take place when the group finally splits up in an attempt to 'cleanse' the house of it's evil nature, a cleansing that goes none too well for any of them. 

I admit to generally liking the "found-footage" style of horror film: even knowing it's all fake doesn't make it any less interesting for me. I actually find myself wanting to believe it's real. Of course, the movie has to meet me halfway by generating its share of scary moments, and despite getting off to a slow start, The St. Francisville Experiment managed to do just that.















Monday, August 15, 2011

#374. Chatterbox (1977)


Directed By: Tom DeSimone

Starring: Candice Rialson, Larry Gelman, Jane Kean





Tag line: "The Story Of A Woman Who Has A Hilarious Way Of Expressing Herself"









I love discovering odd, unusual movies, and Chatterbox qualifies as one of the strangest I've come across to date. 

Get a load of this

Hairdresser Penelope Pittman (Candice Rialson) is deeply in love with her boyfriend, Ted (Perry Bullington), but something's about to change the nature of their relationship. One night, just after Penelope and Ted make love, a mysterious female voice chimes in, challenging Ted's skills as a lover. In a fit of rage, Ted storms off, dumping Penelope on the spot.  But what he doesn't realize is the voice isn't Penelope's. In fact, Penelope Pittman is about to go down in medical history as the owner of the world's first talking vagina! Distraught by the sudden appearance of an extra personality between her legs, Penelope pays a visit to her psychiatrist, Dr. Pearl (Larry Gelman), but instead of helping her cope with this outspoken body part, the good doctor takes advantage of the situation and become a talent agent, representing both Penelope and her new alter-ego, who they name Virginia. What's more, Virginia has an excellent singing voice, and after revealing his patient/client's unusual physical ability to the world, Dr. Pearl has no trouble booking Virginia in all the best nightclubs. Upset with both her unwanted companion and the publicity it's brought her, Penelope longs to reunite with Ted, while Virginia seeks to experience as much of life, and as many men, as she possibly can.

Chatterbox is an adult comedy in every sense of the term, and never lets you forget it. Some of Virginia's off-the-cuff remarks are tastelessly irreverent (when Dr. Pearl first learns of Penelope's "condition", he tells her she's about to become the eighth wonder of the medical world. “Hey”, Virginia shoots back, “I'm the wonder. She's just the tits and ass”). Along with her blunt outlook on life, Virginia is starved for sex, and, at one point, convinces Penelope to dress up in tight, sexy shorts and go prowling the streets for men. Virginia balks at many of the would-be suitors who approach them, but jumps at the chance to hook up with an entire basketball team! Virginia is undoubtedly the most interesting “character” in Chatterbox, but gets solid support from a few others as well. Rip Taylor is at his campy best in a brief appearance as the owner of the beauty salon where Penelope works, and Larry Gelman shines as the nebbish Dr. Pearl, who' thrilled to be representing the most unusual singing act in showbiz history. Dr. Pearl can smell the money, so much so that he turns a blind eye to his new client's obvious disadvantages (he tells Penelope he can get Virginia booked on national television, but only after they address a few concerns the FCC is having). 

Chatterbox is certainly not a perfect film, and, at times, isn't even a particularly good one. Candace Rialson is smoking hot, and we get to see just about every inch of her in this movie, but she's far from a perfect actress (which is probably why Virginia gets all the good lines). Her relationship with the dull and dreary Ted is also a mystery, and their first scene together, where Ted's insulted by Virginia, is dragged down by some pretty pathetic slapstick. But then, the movie's weaknesses don't matter much in the long run, do they? 

I mean, seriously...are you gonna let a few minor drawbacks keep you from a movie about a talking vagina?








Sunday, August 14, 2011

#373. Tooth and Nail (2007)


Directed By: Mark Young

Starring: Michael Madsen, Vinnie Jones, Rachel Miner




Tag line: "How far would you go to survive?"

Trivia:  This film was shot entirely in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania







Tooth and Nail takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that was not the result of a nuclear catastrophe, viral outbreak or cataclysmic collision with a rock from outer space. As we learn from Darwin (Robert Carradine), the leader of a group that's trying to build a new life for themselves, the world simply ran out of gas, which brought an end to transportation, electricity, nuclear power and, before long, civilization as we know it. 

Avoiding the mad rush to the south that's steering the hopes of many survivors, Darwin and his followers have decided to hang back in Philadelphia, where they occupy an abandoned hospital that offers both clean water and a hell of a lot of space . While out scouring the streets for something useful, three of the group, including Viper (Michael Kelly) and Ford (Rider Strong), happen upon an assault in progress. After chasing off the would-be killer (Vinnie Jones), they offer assistance to one of his potential victims, a young girl named Neon (Rachel Miner), and invite her into their fold. But Neon's arrival comes with a price: a rag-tag band of cannibals called the Rovers have been following her, and have now tracked her to the hospital. Preying upon the living in their quest for food, the Rovers surround the facility, trapping the remaining survivors inside. With the promise of nightly attacks looming over them, the group must come up with a plan to keep themselves from becoming the Rovers next main course.

Prior to the action, Tooth and Nail creates an interesting post-apocalyptic reality, and the various personalities that make up Darwin's group (the restlessness of Michael Kelly's Viper, the loyalty of Nicole DuPort's Dakota) is a nice bit of storytelling to carry us through to the first on-screen kill, which is simultaneously gruesome and shocking (one character meets their end by way of a meat cleaver to the throat). Another of their number, named Victoria (Beverly Hynds), had disappeared the day before without a trace, and when the rest of them find a pool of blood on the floor (the remnants of the fresh cleaver kill), it kicks off a mystery that nearly rips their tight-knit community apart. But the truth doesn't stay a mystery for long: Michael Madsen, playing one of the Rovers, makes the kind of entrance only Michael Madsen can make, burying an axe into the back of another of Darwin's followers while whistling “I've Been Working on the Railroad”. The Rovers, with their Mad Max attire and no-nonsense approach to murder, remain an enigma through much of the film, but that doesn't mean they're any less menacing. 

Tooth and Nail shifts nicely from a story of survival to a battle for survival, painting a picture of a world that, though nearly devoid of human life, still hides a few dangers up its sleeve.








Saturday, August 13, 2011

#372. On the Waterfront (1954)


Directed By: Elia Kazan

Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb




Tag line: "The Man Lived by the Jungle Law of the Docks!"

Trivia:  The part of Terry Malloy was originally written for John Garfield, who died before the film was made.







Corrupt union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) rules the waterfront with an iron fist. Cross him, and you won’t live long enough to brag about it. Former boxer Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) does odd jobs for Friendly from time to time, and his brother, Charley (Rod Steiger), Friendly’s right hand man, watches out for Terry as best he can. But Terry starts having second thoughts about his current line of work when he unwittingly assists in the murder of a dock worker set to testify against Friendly. His confusion over what to do only intensifies when he meets both Father Barry (Karl Malden), a crusader trying to rid the waterfront of Friendly's brand of corruption, and Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the sister of the man who was killed. Suddenly, Terry is asking some questions of his own, many of which have Friendly and his gang seeing red. 

The most famous scene in On the Waterfront is undoubtedly the one in which Brando's Terry, sitting in the back seat of a cab with his brother, Charley, laments about his shattered boxing career, which ended the night he threw a fight at Charley's request. “I coulda been a contender”, he says to his brother, “I coulda had class. I coulda been somebody”. These are arguably among the most famous lines ever uttered in the history of the cinema. In fact, I saw this very sequence at least a dozen times, in film specials and retrospectives, before I ever got a chance to see the entire movie. It’s a shining moment in Brando’s career, and you can appreciate his awesome performance from just that one clip. But the truth is, I couldn’t find a single moment in On The Waterfront where Brando doesn’t shine. His Terry Malloy is like an innocent child in a den of thieves, a guy who sets up an acquaintance to take a fall without realizing that "fall" would result in his murder. All at once, the reality of Terry's current situation has caught up with him, and he’s genuinely struggling with it. Brando builds this character moment by moment, scene by grueling scene, until his conscience has finally gotten the best of him. 

Sure, the ‘contender’ monologue is a classic, but the true magic is how seamlessly this iconic moment folds into the rest of the film. In the end, it’s no more or less important than any other. Brando is truly great in that scene, but just try and find one in On the Waterfront where he isn’t.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, August 12, 2011

#371. Georgy Girl (1966)


Directed By: Silvio Narizzano

Starring: James Mason, Alan Bates, Lynn Redgrave



Tag line: "The Wildest Thing to Hit the World Since the Mini-Skirt!"

Trivia:  Lynn Redgrave picked up the lead role after her sister, Vanessa Redgrave, backed out just before filming was to begin.







For years, Georgy Girl was nothing more to me than a song. Performed by The Seekers, my mother had a 45 single of this Oscar-nominated tune, and many was the day its lyrics rattled around in my head:

“Hey there, Georgy Girl, 
swingin' down the street 
so fancy free”

Sure enough, the memories came flooding back the moment Georgy Girl began, with that damn song playing over the opening credits as the film introduced us to the title character, Georgy (Lynn Redgrave), a plump, somewhat plain girl, walking down a busy London street. Obviously self-conscious about her appearance, Georgy impulsively buys a wig to improve her looks, then almost immediately regrets the purchase. But as we'll soon learn, what Georgy lacks in physical beauty, she more than makes up for in personality. 

Georgy works as a dance instructor for children, and has her own studio in the upstairs room of a London flat owned by her parents' long-time employer, James Leamington (James Mason). Though more than twice her age, Leamington adores Georgy, and longs to make her his mistress (he himself is trapped in a loveless marriage to a hypochondriac, played by Rachel Kempson). But Georgy is secretly in love with Jos (Alan Bates), the sometimes-boyfriend of her beautiful roommate, Meredith (Charlotte Rampling). Shortly after Meredith announces she's pregnant, she and Jos tie the knot, but after a few weeks living in the apartment with Meredith and Georgy, Jos begins to realize how shallow his new bride is, causing him to fall in love with the much kinder Georgy instead. 

As played by Redgrave, Georgy is a free spirit trapped in the body of a shy, withdrawn girl. One night, when Meredith goes out on a date with one of her many suitors, Georgy is left to entertain Jos, and it's clear the two have a good rapport with one another. When Georgy answers the door wearing a long coat, Jos jokingly asks if she's naked underneath it. “Stark”, Georgy replies, to which Jos responds “Let's have a look, then”. Georgy, somewhat embarrassed, sheepishly tries to keep the joke going by setting a price of threepence for such a show. This scene, and others in which Redgrave and Bates banter back and forth, have a terrific energy to them, so much so that we aren't at all surprised when Jos eventually chooses Georgy over Meredith, even if Georgy herself doesn't quite know how to handle it. 

But the highlight of Georgy Girl is undoubtedly the performance of Lynn Redgrave, who infuses the title character with enough wit and charm to make up for all of her physical shortcomings, And while she may never be the most attractive woman in the room, we come to believe Georgy will always be the most interesting.







Thursday, August 11, 2011

#370. A Taste of Blood (1967)


Directed By: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Starring: Bill Rogers, Elizabeth Wilkinson, William Kerwin




Tag line: "A ghastly tale drenched with gouts of blood spurting from the writhing victims of a madman's lust!"

Trivia:  "A Taste of Blood" was well-made enough to impress Roger Corman. who offered the director a directing gig, which Lewis politely turned down.





A Taste of Blood is a vampire movie directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, a filmmaker whose works I've enjoyed in the past, and I have to say the very thought of “The Godfather of Gore” taking on the vampire genre was one that had me giddy with delight. Unfortunately, A Taste of Blood proved a major disappointment, and I even experienced a feeling I've never felt before while watching a Herschell Gordon Lewis film: I was actually kinda bored. 

A mysterious package from London arrives at the office of John Stone (Bill Rogers), inside which are two bottles of brandy and a note, explaining that Stone has inherited the estate of a long-forgotten relative. But (as I'm sure you know) there's more than brandy in these bottles; in fact, they also contain the blood of Count Dracula, who, it turns out, is Stone's ancestor. Not realizing the true nature of this gift, Stone drinks from the bottles and slowly turns into a vampire himself. Once he's a full-fledged member of the undead, Stone travels to London, where he seeks revenge on the descendants of those who killed Count Dracula over a hundred years earlier. Back home, Stone's wife, Helene (Elizabeth Wilkinson), and best friend, Hank (William Kerwin), worry about the recent changes in Stone's personality, yet neither realize just how dangerous he's become until it's much too late. 

In a number of interviews, director Lewis has stated that A Taste of Blood had the highest production value of any film he'd made up to that point, and just by watching it, you can tell this is true. For starters, in past films, such as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs, Lewis regular William Kerwin was usually the best actor of the bunch, and while he does continue his streak of dependability in A Taste of Blood, he's matched this time around by Bill Rogers, who brings the right balance of likability and menace to the part of Stone. Even the story itself, about a man taking revenge for perceived wrongs done to his ancestor, is an enticing one. Unfortunately, it never fully panned out, and I think a big reason why was the “artistic clash” between Lewis' style of filmmaking and the material itself. While the great director's standard doses of constricted sets, jumpy edits and one-camera set-ups worked marvelously in a 67-minute gorefest like Blood Feast, they lacked the power to pull off a nearly 2-hour vampire story, especially one that favored character development over spectacle. Ultimately, it was a lack of visual variety that did A Taste of Blood in for me. 

I take no great pleasure in making the above statement; Lewis' trademark style is the key reason I fell in love with movies like Blood Feast and The Wizard of Gore in the first place. But in this film, telling this rather complex tale, Herschell Gordon Lewis himself was undoubtedly the weakest link.