Monday, October 31, 2011

#441. Island of Lost Souls (1932)


Directed By: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Charles Laughton, Bela Lugosi, Richard Arlen



Tag line: "TERROR! Stalked the Brush-Choked Island...Where Men Who Were Animals Sought the Girl Who Was All-Human!"

Trivia:  This was Charles Laughton's first starring role in a U.S. film






Based on H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of Lost Souls is a fascinating motion picture, released at a time when the horror genre was taking Hollywood by storm, and though it shares similarities with several classic Universal monster movies, this Paramount Studios offering still manages to stand apart from the rest. 

Edward Parker (Richard`Arlen) is the only survivor of a shipwreck. Rescued by a passing freighter, Parker soon angers the ship's captain (Paul Hurst), who, instead of taking him to the nearest port, drops Parker off on a remote South Seas island, where the mysterious scientist, Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) resides. But Moreau is not alone; also on the island are a race of beasts, creatures the scientist himself created in his laboratory. Chief among them is the lovely Lota (Kathleen Burke), also known as the Panther woman. Hoping to prove Lota is as human as any other female, Moreau attempts to lure Parker into mating with her, but his horrified guest will have none of it, and instead tries to escape the island so he can return home and marry his fiancee (Leila Hyams). 

Like Universal's Dracula and Frankenstein, both of which debuted the year before, Island of Lost Souls tells a tale of humanoid monsters. But where the monsters were the primary cause of chaos in the earlier films, in Island of Lost Souls, they are clearly the victims. One key scene has Parker rushing in to Moreau's lab to investigate several blood-curdling screams. Upon entering, he finds Moreau and his assistant, Montgomery (Arthur Hohl), hard at work dissecting one of the creatures, which is lying on the table, fully conscious. Tortured and manipulated in the name of science, the various beasts of the island prove much more sympathetic that their obviously mad landlord, a man who believes himself a God, and has, to that end, created an entire race of beings to worship and fear him. In Frankenstein, Colin Clive's Victor Frankenstein also compares himself to the Almighty (“Now I know what it's like to BE God”, he shouts when his monster first breathes life), yet his was clearly a reaction to the moment. It isn't long before Frankenstein regrets his 'experiment', thus dispelling all notions of divinity he may have once harbored. Moreau is another matter. Standing on a hill overlooking the creatures' village, he smiles as their leader , played by Bela Lugosi, praises him. “His is the hand that heals”, Lugosi shouts, and as he does, Moreau raises his arms, drunk on the adoration being sent his way. 

Charles Laughton is devilishly sinister as Moreau, a man who takes pure delight in his work, whether it be teaching Lota how to act more human, or cutting open one of his 'creations' in the lab (a room the beasts refer to as the 'House of Pain'). Showing no remorse whatsoever for the destruction and death he has caused, Laughton's Moreau is a loathsome individual, and the actor's performance, combined with an incredibly dark story of science run amok, transforms Island of Lost Souls into one of the most shocking horror films of the 1930s.








Sunday, October 30, 2011

#440. Frankenhooker (1990)


Directed By: Frank Henenlotter

Starring: James Lorinz, Joanne Ritchie, Patty Mullen




Tag line: "She's hot. She's sexy. And she's sutured to please"

Trivia:  A family in the movie is called Shelley...after Mary Shelley, the original author of Frankenstein






As Frankenhooker opens, mad scientist Jeffrey (James Lorinz) is in the midst of conducting a crucial experiment. Having grafted an eyeball onto a human brain, Jeffrey is hoping to stimulate his newest 'creation' so that the eye will follow his hand as he waves it. He picks up a scalpel and gently buries it into the brain, then drives it even deeper with a hammer he pulls out of a toolbox. This slight adjustment seems to do the trick, causing the eyeball to move independently. Jeffrey's jubilation at this success is interrupted when his girlfriend's mother (Joanne Ritchie) asks him to pass the ketchup.

Ok, so Jeffrey isn't conducting his experiments in a lab; he's at a kitchen table. And maybe he isn't exactly a mad scientist, or indeed any sort of scientist at all. Truth is, Jeffrey's flunked out of med school three times, and works as an everyday stiff at the local power plant. Still, he has a dream, and he's gonna follow it to wherever it might take him.

But Jeffrey's dream quickly turns into a nightmare when one of his latest inventions, a remote controlled lawnmower, accidentally runs over his fiance, Elizabeth (Patty Mullen), chopping her up into little pieces. Unwilling to part with the love of his life, Jeffrey gathers as many of Elizabeth's body parts as he can find, including her head, and preserves them for future use. What 'future use', you ask? Well, Jeffrey feels he's ready to take his research to the next level, and hopes to successfully graft Elizabeth's head onto the body of another woman, perhaps even the perfect woman, in order to bring her back to life. To this end, Jeffrey scours the streets of New York, looking for the most beautiful prostitute he can find. With the help of a super-potent drug he's concocted, Jeffrey sets his plan into motion, but will his conscience allow him to follow through with it?

I recognized James Lorinz right off the bat as the wise-ass doorman from 1987's Street Trash, a minor role that also marked his big-screen debut. Here, Lorinz is the star, and while he wasn't destined to walk off with any awards for his performance as Jeffrey (nor should he have), he does a fine job carrying the first two-thirds of the movie by himself. We spend a great deal of time early on alone with Jeffrey in his bedroom, where he talks with him mother (Louise Lasser) and, from time to time, drills into his own head, an action he's convinced helps him to think more clearly. At one point, Jeffrey even sits down at the dinner table with Elizabeth's severed head, carrying on a conversation with her as he pours wine into her mouth (which promptly drains right out of the bottom). For most of the movie, Frankenhooker is a one-man show, and Lorinz proved the right man for the job.

On paper, Frankenhooker has all the makings of a bloody slasher film, with severed limbs and flying body parts aplenty. But director Frank Henenlotter chose instead to focus on the humor of the story, with almost no blood whatsoever (not even where seven hookers explode into pieces). Though occasionally shocking, the film is never gratuitous, and is always more interested in getting a laugh then in making its audience squirm.







Saturday, October 29, 2011

#439. Julius Caesar (2002)


Directed By: Uli Edel

Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Richard Harris, Christopher Walken




Tag line: "Feared by enemies. Betrayed by friends"

Trivia:  This was the last screen appearance for Richard Harris







Made for television in 2002, Julius Caesar takes on the arduous task of relating the life story of one of history's most famous, and, indeed, infamous personalities. It's an ambitious film, nearly as ambitious as the historical figure at its center, and while the movie does come up short in several key areas, it is far from a total failure. 

We open in 82 .B.C, a time when the 20-year-old Caesar (Jeremy Sisto) ran afoul of deranged dictator, Sulla (Richard Harris). Though condemned to death, Caesar earns the respect of Pompey (Christopher Noth), Sulla's most trusted General, who helps Caesar escape from Rome. Following Sulla's demise, Caesar returns to the city and, with Pompey's assistance, garners a seat in the Roman Senate. Despite his constant bickering on the Senate floor with the powerful Cato (Christopher Walken), Caesar's influence grows, and is further strengthened when he leads a successful military campaign in Gaul. Now, with several legions behind him, Caesar marches on Rome to claim the ultimate prize, forcing his enemies, and even old friends like Pompey and Brutus (Ian Duncan), to flee. Established as Dictator of the city, Caesar would soon fall victim to his own ambitions, but not before changing the course of Rome's history, as well as that of the entire world. 

As with many such historical biopics, especially those dealing with well-known figures, many aspects of Caesar's life are left under-explored. His friendship with Pompey never gets the full attention it deserves, and because of this, the dramatic split that eventually occurs between them, one that plunged Rome into years of a terrible Civil War, lacks emotional punch. Perhaps most surprising of all is how little time is dedicated to Caesar's relationship with Cleopatra (Samuelo Sardo), a key event that's here reduced to about five minutes of screen time. That said, I was impressed with the film's opening, where Caesar stands up to the newly-arrived Sulla (played flamboyantly by Richard Harris), and the entire sequence covering the Gallic Wars, from Caesar's pursuit of tribal leader Vercingetorix (Heino Ferch) to the battle of Alessia, is undoubtedly the strongest one in the film. 

Despite clocking in at three hours, Julius Caesar still comes up short, and isn't the ultimate exploration of its title character the filmmakers intended. But it does, at the very least, do the great man justice. The movie will certainly entertain, and perhaps even teach you a thing or two, but if you're a student writing a paper on Caesar, take my advice: watching this movie will not be enough to earn you a passing grade!








Friday, October 28, 2011

#438. Mansion of the Doomed (1976)


Directed By: Michael Pataki

Starring: Richard Basehart, Gloria Grahame, Trish Stewart




Tag line: "Keep An Eye Out For Dr. Chaney...He Needs It!"

Trivia:  In the Philippines, this movie was released as Eyes of the Living Dead






I wasn't very impressed with the first 20 minutes or so of Mansion of the Doomed, which had all the makings of a typical, run-of-the-mill psychological thriller, with flashbacks, dream sequences, and a whole lot of voice-over narration. But as the movie progressed, I found myself increasingly engrossed in this story of medical experimentation, and by the time it was all over, I was even a little shaken up as well.

Noted surgeon Dr. Leonard Chaney (Richard Basehart) is obsessed with the prospect of curing his only daughter (Trish Stewart), who was blinded in an auto accident. Facing insurmountable odds, Chaney is nonetheless convinced he's perfected a new surgical procedure, during which healthy eyes are transplanted into a blind patient, thus restoring their sight. Unwilling to take his findings public, Chaney, with the help of his assistant, Katherine (Gloria Grahame), experiments in his basement laboratory, where he lures unsuspecting 'donors' prior to rendering them unconscious and stealing their eyes. Each failure results in the need for new and healthier donors, forcing the good doctor to seek out victims on a regular basis.

Mansion of the Doomed opens slowly, with Chaney taking us through the events that led him to attempt a surgery no one before has dared try. We see the accident that started it all, and are forced to listen in as Chaney rambles incessantly about his daughter, his life, and the belief he's stumbled upon a medical miracle. It's all very rushed, even somewhat confusing, but things improve the minute he goes to work on the first 'donor', Dan (Lance Henriksen), a colleague and his daughter's former fiance, whom he drugs during a dinner party. This first operation is a success, and Chaney's daughter is able to see through what had hours earlier been Dan's eyes. The next day, however, her body rejects them, and she's blind once again. So, Chaney drugs more people, performing the same procedure over and over again with no success. Along with the tension generated by each new operation, we also pay the occasional visit to the unwilling donors, whom Chaney refuses to kill because he's convinced he'll soon be able to restore their sight as well. All are locked away in a basement cage, healthy except for the fact they have no eyes. As more and more are added to the mix, they slowly start to organize a break-out, with Dan acting as their leader. It's a disturbing thing to look on people whose eyes have been ripped from their sockets, and because Chaney is unable to perfect his medical 'breakthrough', their numbers continue to mount until there's no room left to hold them. The secondary story of these blind prisoners is well handled, and adds the right level of creepy to what otherwise might have been a pretty mundane tale.

So, my advice if you choose to watch Mansion of the Doomed is to hang in there; it may not look like much at the start, but it gets a whole lot better before it's over.







Thursday, October 27, 2011

#437. Bully (2001)


Directed By: Larry Clark

Starring: Brad Renfro, Nick Stahl, Bijou Phillips



Tag line: "It's 4 a.m... do you know where your kids are?"

Trivia:  The plainclothes officer who arrests Marty is Frank Ilarraza, a real-life police detective who arrested the real Martin Puccio in 1993







Director Larry Clark’s Bully is based on an actual killing that occurred in Florida in 1993. Marty (Brad Renfro) and Bobby (Nick Stahl) were the best of friends, but their relationship was far from friendly. For starters, Bobby liked to bully Marty, lashing out at him both verbally and physically every chance he got. Things went from bad to worse when Marty fell in love with Lisa (Rachel Miner), and Bobby extended his abusive treatment to include her as well, going so far as to rape Lisa on a number of occasions. With such cruelty hanging over their heads day in and day out, it wasn’t long before Marty and Lisa decided they’d had enough, and along with their friend Ali (Bijou Phillips), concocted a plan to murder Bobby. But could they deal with the consequences once the deed was done? 

Larry Clark was attacked on several fronts following the release of Bully due to the film's frank depiction of teen sexuality (“It feels like a peek into the closet of a pedophile”, wrote critic Sean Axmaker of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer). Far from being merely exploitative, the depths to which Clark descends in relating this woeful tale works to the advantage of his young actors, who are given more than enough leeway to drive their performances home . I give the stars of this film a hell of a lot of credit; they took chances, and never once shied away when things got raw . Nick Stahl is awesome as the abusive Bobby, a kid whose mean streak may be masking a homosexual attraction to Marty. Renfro, Miner, and Phillips are also superb, the perfect embodiment of burned-out teens from good homes who aren’t going anywhere in life. Filled to the breaking point with confused kids, Bully brings us right into their world of depravation and excess, stupidity and anger. 

If you’re a parent, then I should warn you that Bully will not be an easy film to sit through; it explores a side of teenage angst that will send shivers up your spine. As I watched Bully, I found myself hoping that some sort of “moral to the story” would make itself known, something that might shed a little light on what these kids might have been thinking to act as they did. Unfortunately, I was only left with the realization that they just weren’t thinking at all.








Wednesday, October 26, 2011

#436. Mysterious Island (1961)


Directed By: Cy Endfield

Starring: Michael Craig, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan



Tag line: "A world beyond imagination! Adventure beyond belief!"

Trivia:  Producer Charles H. Schneer claimed that he chose this story after reading an article stating that Jules Verne's "Mysterious Island" was the most-looked-at book at public libraries





Any film featuring Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation is worth checking out, but I wasn’t ready for how complete a motion picture Mysterious Island was going to be. Initially expecting little more than the usual Harryhausen magic, I instead was treated to a very pleasant surprise.

Three Union soldiers are being held in a Confederate prison during the waning days of the American Civil War. One of them, Capt. Cyrus Harding (Michael Craig), devises a plan by which he and his two companions, Pvt. Herbert Brown (Michael Callan) and Cpl. Nugent (Dan Jackson), will escape with the help of a hot air balloon the Confederates have tied down in their compound. Despite being forced to bring a New York war correspondent (Gary Merrill) and a Confederate soldier named Pencroft (Percy Herbert) along for the ride, the escape goes off without a hitch, and after a few days in the air, the five land on a remote island, where they hope to survive until a boat can be built to carry them back to civilization. Things get a bit more chaotic, however, when two women, Lady Mary Fairchild (Joan Greenwood) and her niece, Elena (Beth Rogan), adrift since their boat sank, also wash up on shore. Together, the seven face not only the difficulties of adjusting to life on an uncharted tropical island, but find they must also do battle with some amazing creatures in the process, everyday animals that live in the surrounding jungle and have grown to hundreds of times their normal size! 

Of course, the highlight of the film is Ray Harryhausen’s animation (the battle with the giant crab is exciting, and the sequence where the humongous bees wall Herbert and Elena up in their honeycomb is really quite brilliant), yet I found Mysterious Island actually worked on many levels, even when the special effects weren’t on-screen. The hot air balloon escape that kicks the movie off is extremely tense and well-executed, and the overall tale of survival on the island, including the hunt for food, was also engaging. It literally seemed as if there was no end to this wonderful story, which, before it's through, also provides a glimpse at an underwater civilization, as well as a face-to-face meeting with the legendary Captain Nemo (Herbert Lom), giving us a first-hand look at his world-famous submarine, The Nautilus

This is a good all-around movie, finely acted and charmingly told from start to finish. With the promise of adventure around every corner and the fine animation of Ray Harryhausen tying it all together, Mysterious Island will surely surprise you as well.








Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#435. Sling Blade (1996)


Directed By: Billy Bob Thornton

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Dwight Yoakam, J.T. Walsh



Tag line: "A simple man. A difficult choice."

Trivia:  Molly Ringwald played the newspaper reporter in the original short Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade







Sling Blade is the award-winning film written and directed by its star, Billy Bob Thornton, who plays Karl Childers, a man recently released from a mental institution where he’s lived since the age of twelve. Though socially backward, Karl lands a job at a local fix-it shop, and there meets Frank (Lucas Black), a young boy whose mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday), is trapped in an abusive relationship with a bigoted drunk named Doyle (Dwight Yoakum). With no place to stay, Frank invites Karl to come home with him. Linda agrees to let her son's new friend stay for a while, while Doyle goes out of his way to let their strange new “guest” know he’s not entirely welcome. 

Sling Blade wastes no time in introducing us to Karl Childers, establishing the character in a pre-title sequence that's as uncomfortable as it is fascinating. On the day he’s to be released from the hospital, Karl's being interviewed by a young female reporter (Sarah Boss). The director of the hospital, Dr. Woolridge (James Hampton), warns her not to speak, that Karl will do all the talking. Once in the room, Karl sits himself down in a chair next to the only light. Hunched over, he starts speaking in a deep, guttural voice, throwing in the occasional grunt as if it were the punctuation to his sentence. He makes no eye contact whatsoever; instead, they dart around the room, or stare down at the ground. It's under these conditions we learn Karl's back story. His father worked for old man Dixon, who was mean and didn’t pay a good wage. Jesse Dixon, old man Dixon’s son, had a disposition worse than his father's, and when Karl caught Jesse laying on top of his mother one evening, he felt he had to kill them both with a Kaiser blade (“some people call it a sling blade”, Karl says, “but I call it a Kaiser blade”). My reactions to Karl varied as this scene progressed, with an initial apprehension brought on by Karl’s peculiarities soon giving way to a slight sense of amusement at his speech patterns. Yet, as Karl told his story, I also found myself accepting this incredibly odd, possibly dangerous man. With a character as unusual as Karl Childers, whose very walk might illicit sneers and snide remarks from passers-by, acceptance was a huge challenge, yet Thornton manages to garner just that from his audience, and what's more, he gets it right off the bat. 

Sling Blade contains some fine performances. Newcomer Lucas Black does a good job as Frank, the boy who's able to look past Karl's odd behavior, and so does John Ritter as Vaughn, the homosexual manager of the local Dollar Store and Linda’s closest friend. Then there's the drunk and disorderly Doyle, played to perfection by Country music star Dwight Yoakum, who successfully conveys every one of his character’s dirt-bag tendencies. Yet while most every member of the cast is exceptional, Billy Bob Thornton is the true show-stopper here. His Karl Childers represents a career defining role, not to mention the actor's most amazing transformation.








Sunday, October 16, 2011

Update

Dave, the Author of DVD Infatuation, was hospitalized
The night of Oct. 13 And underwent emergency
Surgery.

He is recovering nicely, and should resume
His daily posts within the next 2 weeks.

Thanks for your patience!

Friday, October 14, 2011

#434. The Odd Couple (1968)


Directed By: Gene Saks

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Fiedler



Tag line: "Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are The Odd Couple...say no more"

Trivia:  The names of the English sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn, are taken from Oscar Wilde's play "The Importance of Being Earnest"







The teaming of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in The Odd Couple seemed a natural pairing, what with the duo's success two years earlier in Billy Wilder’s uproarious comedy, The Fortune Cookie. Armed here with some hilarious Neil Simon dialogue, the veteran actors are at the top of their game, and helped transform The Odd Couple into one of the funniest movies of the 1960s.

Neat-freak Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) falls into a deep depression when his wife throws him out of the house. With nowhere else to turn, he pays a visit to his friend, slovenly divorcee Oscar Madison (Matthau), who agrees to let Felix move into his apartment.Despite the fact Felix and Oscar have very little in common, they somehow find a way to make this arrangement work...for a day or two. Things begin to fall apart when Felix, still smarting from the break-up of his marriage, is less than enthusiastic about a dinner date with their new neighbors, a pair of British sisters named Cecily (Monica Evans) and Gwendolyn (Carole Shelley). When the date ends abruptly, Oscar blames Felix, and before long, the two friends are at each others throats. 

Both actors do enjoy a few funny moments on their own (at the beginning of the film, Lemmon’s Felix, whose despair over his failed marriage has driven him to the brink of suicide, plans to do himself in by jumping from a hotel window. Unfortunately, he throws his back out trying to get the window open), but it’s the scenes where Lemmon and Matthau are together that truly stand out. I could point to countless examples of their perfectly timed give-and-take, but my favorite is most definitely the ‘meatloaf incident’. Felix, busy in the kitchen preparing a meatloaf for their dinner date with the sisters, chastises Oscar, who's arrived home late, for not getting there sooner to help with the meal. As the minutes pass, Oscar discovers the real reason Felix is upset: he timed the meal to be done at exactly 7:30, and now, at eight o’clock, his meatloaf is drying out. “Can’t you pour some gravy over it?” asks Oscar. When Felix points out that they have no gravy, Oscar, clearly a novice in the kitchen, says he assumed gravy just automatically ‘came’ with the meat. The next thing you know, Felix is threatening Oscar with a ladle.

While watching The Odd Couple recently, I found myself genuinely surprised at how little the movie has aged. It's a film that still manages to generate some hearty laughs. The credit for this must go to Lemmon and Matthau, whose timing is so precise that it’s almost scientific. In all the films they appeared in together, including The Front Page, Buddy Buddy and Grumpy Old Men, I don’t believe they ever matched the comedic precision achieved here. The Odd Couple proved the perfect teaming of two immensely talented performers, with each, in turn, playing the perfect role.










Thursday, October 13, 2011

#433. The Public Enemy (1931)


Directed By: William A. Wellman

Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods




Trivia:  The infamous grapefruit scene caused women's groups around America to protest the on-screen abuse of Mae Clarke









Tom Powers (James Cagney) is a bad seed, and has been his entire life, from his early days hanging around pool halls with petty crook Putty Nose (Murray Kinnell) to running booze for Paddy Ryan (Robert O’Connor) during prohibition. With the help of his longtime pal, Matt Doyle (Edward Woods), Tom quickly moves up the ranks in organized crime, rising all the way to the top. His mother (Beryl Mercer) believes her son is a good boy, while older brother Mike (Donald Cook) knows the truth about Tom’s ‘business’. Mike tries to convince his brother to go straight and end his criminal ways, but will a rival gang get to Tom first, thus bringing his reign of violence to a bloody end? 

In an amazing characterization, James Cagney brings a truckload of style to the role of Tom Powers. With a squint of his eye, a tip of his cap, and a soft punch from his right hand that’s nothing more than his way of saying “hello”, Tom Powers is the very definition of charisma. An unsavory, sometimes violent individual, he's a man we're supposed to abhor, but because of Cagney’s cool, effortless portrayal, we don’t. In fact, from where we're sitting, Tom's life looks pretty darn good. In one scene, he's treating his newest girl, Gwen Allen (Jean Harlow), to a night on the town. They walk into a restaurant, where the Maitre d acts as if Tom were a member of the Royal Family, seating the two of them at the best table in the house. As if this attractive portrayal of the criminal element wasn’t enough to get the censors screaming “foul”, the gangsters who inhabit the world of The Public Enemy take it a step further, daring to revel in their decadence. Tom is bad; and doesn’t give a damn who knows it. When his brother, Mike, who’s just returned from service in World War One, confronts Tom about the life he’s chosen, Tom simply smirks and walks away. Nobody can prevent Tom Powers from doing exactly what he wants, and the way James Cagney plays him, we pity whoever tries to. 

Challenging Hollywood’s unwritten rule that movies must show good triumphing over evil at every turn, The Public Enemy dared to depict a gangster as a somewhat sympathetic character. But they never could have pulled it off without James Cagney. The Public Enemy has been called the film that made James Cagney a star, yet I don’t think this is completely accurate. James Cagney was a natural performer, a man destined for greatness at some point in his career. It was The Public Enemy that truly benefited from the pairing.








Wednesday, October 12, 2011

#432. The Rage (2007)


Directed By: Robert Kurtzman

Starring: Andrew Divoff, Misty Mundae, Ryan Hooks



Tag line: "A Mega-Dose of Pure Terror"

Trivia:  Director Robert Kurtzman came up with the story after he saw a vulture display at a museum in New York City








Some movies fall back on gore for shock value, while others use it as a device to tell what's most likely a very intense story. Then you have films like 2007's The Rage, where gore is all they got. And in the case of this particular motion picture, it's all they really needed. 

Doctor Viktor Vasilienko (Andrew Divoff), probably the maddest mad scientist you're ever gonna come across, has concocted a serum he's affectionately dubbed “The Rage”. Hoping to bring the entire American financial structure to its knees, Vasilenko's been hard at work testing his newest “creation”, which, when injected into the human brain, turns ordinary people into insane, flesh-hungry monsters. But one particular “subject” manages to escape from the good Dr.'s secret hideaway, and when he dies in the forest, he's immediately devoured by vultures (I'm sure you can guess what happens to them). At the same time this is happening, five friends: Kat (Erin Brown), Josh (Ryan Hooks), Olivia (Rachel Scheer), Pris (Sean Serino), and Jay (Anthony Clark), are on their way home from an overnight rave party. All are a little hung over, and feeling the effects of an alcohol and drug-fueled evening, but their day is about to get much, much worse. 

From the word 'go', The Rage has the violence cranked all the way up. In Dr. Vasilienko's lab of horrors, we watch as he slices a chunk out of one subject's head, then sticks a needle into the man's exposed brain. Following a full dose of the Rage vaccine, the subject begins freaking out on the table, flailing around uncontrollably, so much so that he eventually breaks free. After unleashing a fair bit of carnage in the lab, the infected subject makes his way into the woods, where he kills a couple having sex in their car (and eats the girl's eyeball for dessert) before finally dropping dead. And I haven't even gotten to the insane vultures yet! Barely five minutes of movie goes by without some form of violent bloodletting, making The Rage a picture you'll definitely want to avoid if you're chowing down on a TV dinner. 

Try to analyze any portion of The Rage, and it falls apart. Shine the light of logic on it, and it runs for cover. So take my advice...don't do that! Yeah, it's silly. At times, it's even stupid. But it also has killer vultures, and in my book, that's enough to justify switching your brain off for 85 minutes.








Tuesday, October 11, 2011

#431. Back to School (1986)


Directed By: Alan Metter

Starring: Rodney Dangerfield, Sally Kellerman, Keith Gordon, Robert Downey Jr.



Tag line: "Registration Starts Friday, June 13th, at Theaters Everywhere"

Trivia:  In the original script, the lead character was poor







With all due respect to Henny Youngman, I always considered Rodney Dangerfield the king of the one-liners (“I tell you, I had so many pimples when I was a kid”, he said in one bit, “that when I fell asleep in the library, blind kids tried to read my face”), and while he didn’t appear in all that many films, those he did make were memorable. Back to School, a 1986 comedy directed by Alan Metter, was certainly one of his best. 

After breaking it off with his unfaithful second wife, Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau), self-made millionaire Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) decides to improve himself by returning to school. He enrolls at Grand Lakes University, which also happens to be where his son, Jason (Keith Gordon), is currently enrolled (at first reluctant to allow someone who never finished high school into their University, the administration has a change of heart when the elder Melon coughs up a “generous” cash donation). Once there, Thornton helps his son get onto the diving team, and even meets a beautiful literature professor (Sally Kellerman), with whom he falls instantly in love. Unfortunately, Thornton isn’t a very good student, and his attempts to ‘buy’ an education fall miserably short. Does the oldest freshman at Grand Lakes have what it takes to earn his diploma, or will he simply throw in the towel? 

Dangerfield gets the zingers flying early in Back to School. His character, Thornton Melon, made his fortune in clothing, specializing in big and tall sizes, and in a commercial for his store, he gets a few jabs in at the expense of his obese customers. “When you jog, do you leave potholes? At the zoo, do elephants throw YOU peanuts? At Thornton Melon’s Tall and Fat stores, we got you covered”. His cheating wife doesn't escape his barbs, either. When Lou (Burt Young), Thornton’s long-time chauffeur and bodyguard, insults Vanessa, Thornton comes to her defense. “Lay off Vanessa”, he says, “she gives great headache”. Not even the rigors of college life can slow him down. On his first day of class, Thornton falls head over heels for Diane, his literature professor. Jason warns his father not to get involved. “Remember, she’s the teacher”, he says. “I like teachers”, Thornton replies, “Do something wrong and they make you do it over again”. When he finally asks Diane out to dinner, she politely refuses, telling Thornton she's teaching a class that night, and one the next night as well. “Well then”, Thornton retorts, “why don’t you call me sometime, when you don’t have any class?”. 

Back to School is a very funny film, and its success is due almost exclusively to the talents of its lead. This movie provides Dangerfield with a role as memorable as his Al Chervik in Caddyshack, allowing him full range to cut loose and do exactly what it was that made him a star in the first place.








Monday, October 10, 2011

#430. Singin' In The Rain (1952)


Directed By: Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

Starring: Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds




Tag line: "What a Glorious Feeling !"

Trivia:  The script was written after the songs, and so the writers had to generate a plot into which the songs would fit






Mention musicals, and the first film that pops into my head is Singin' in the Rain. Singin' in the Rain is as essential to the cinema as Charlie Chaplin, Casablanca, or Star Wars.

It's 1927. Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) are Hollywood’s top screen couple, and the silent films they've made together have been box-office gold. But the recent advent of sound threatens to change all that. The problem isn't so much with Don, who came up through the ranks as both a singer and dancer, as it is with Lina, an egotistical starlet whose thick New York accent might prove a turn-off for audiences. Sure enough, their first sound film together, The Dueling Cavalier, is a complete disaster. Enter Don’s best friend, Cosmo (Donald O’Conner), who concocts a brilliant plan: transform The Dueling Cavalier from a sappy romance into a musical comedy. Studio head R.F. (Millard Mitchell) loves the idea, and with Don’s newest flame, the young and talented Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), dubbing Lina’s harsh voice, it’s sure to be a hit. But will Lina accept a secondary part in her own movie, even if it is only her voice in the backseat?


Thanks to Arthur Freed, a lyricist whose tunes have brightened motion pictures since the dawn of talkies, Singin' in the Rain stages some of the most entertaining musical numbers ever to grace the screen. In fact, I can’t think of a single tune that isn’t a showstopper. I love the vivacity of “Good Morning”, in which Kelly, O’Conner and Reynolds all show off their singing talents, and complement one another perfectly. Put this number in any other film, and it's the highlight. In Singin' in the Rain, it finishes third behind Gene Kelly’s life-affirming rendition of the title song and Donald O’Conner’s uproarious “Make ‘em Laugh” routine. Along with their impressive energy, each of these numbers also boasts an infectious sense of fun.


But Singin' in the Rain isn't just song and dance; the film is also a funny, fascinating look at Hollywood in its earliest days, when the introduction of sound affected the careers of many of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Before Al Jolsen’s The Jazz Singer sent noise streaming off the screen, actors and actresses never had to worry about high-pitched voices or thick accents. All at once, they were expected to sound like royalty, and those who couldn’t keep up with the times slipped quietly into obscurity. Handled with wit and a bit of pathos by co-directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, Singin' in the Rain is an absolute treat; a great musical that also tells a great story.







Sunday, October 9, 2011

#429. Welcome to the Jungle (2007)


Directed By: Jonathan Hensleigh

Starring: D. Kevin Epps, Sandy Gardiner and Callard Harris






Tag line: "From the Producers of The Terminator and Aliens"







Don't let the title fool you...this jungle is anything but inviting!  

While vacationing in Fiji, four twenty-something friends overhear a story concerning the whereabouts of Michael Rockefeller, the son of former U.S. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, who went missing when his boat capsized off the coast of New Guinea in 1961. Presumed dead by just about everybody, a helicopter pilot (John Leonetti) renews hope that the younger Rockefeller may, in fact, be alive, claiming to have spotted an elderly white man in his 60's living among the cannibalistic natives. Believing this to be Michael Rockefeller, the four friends: Mandy (Sandy Gardiner), Colby (Callard Harris), Bijou (Veronica Sywak) and Mikey (Nick Richey), pack up their video cameras and take off for the Asmat region of New Guinea, convinced that recorded proof of Rockefeller's existence will make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. 

Even by horror movie standards, the four main characters in Welcome to the Jungle are stupid, oftentimes ridiculously so. With no real plan (but plenty of booze), they sail from Fiji to New Guinea, and once there, set off into the jungle in a rented vehicle. At one point during the drive, Bijou reads a travelers advisory issued by the U.S. Government, warning of roadside bandits. Sure enough, as the friends are making their way down a secluded jungle road, they spot a mother and child sitting right in the middle of it, inexplicably blocking their way. They stop, and are approached by men with assault rifles, who fire on them as they quickly turn around, barely escaping with their lives. Now, that's a pretty traumatic experience, one you might expect would have them scurrying back to civilization with their tails between their legs. Nope. These morons press on, setting up camp in the jungle, where Bijou and Mikey get drunk...each and every night. Mikey even gathers up a souvenir along the way: a human skull he swipes from a native outpost! It's to the film's credit that it generates some decent suspense from a story that can only end one way, and though we're on the edge of our seats in the final act, Welcome to the Jungle's escalation from simply dangerous to downright grisly comes as no surprise whatsoever. 

Much like Ruggero Deodato's infamous 1980 film, Cannibal Holocaust (a documentary film crew blindly travels into Cannibal territory with tragic consequences), Welcome to the Jungle features characters completely out of their element, whose ignorance leads them down the path of their own destruction. Yet where the filmmakers in Cannibal Holocaust were done in by arrogance and prejudice, the main characters in Welcome to the Jungle are just plain dumb. Frankly, they were doomed from the start.








Saturday, October 8, 2011

#428. Cisco Pike (1972)


Directed By: Bill L. Norton

Starring: Kris Kristofferson, Karen Black, Gene Hackman




Tag line: "A Has-Been Rock Star. A Crooked Cop. And a Lot of Money"

Trivia:  Seymour Cassel was set to star but left shortly before filming began. Kris Kristofferson was a last minute replacement





The movie opens with a soft ballad, titled “Loving Her Was Easier”, over which are images of a lone man walking down the street, carrying a guitar case. But he's not on his way to a gig; instead, he makes a detour into the local pawn shop, where he hopes his guitar, a memory of happier days, might fetch him a little spending cash. 

The man is Cisco Pike (Kris Kristofferson), a former musician twice arrested for selling narcotics. Having just been released from jail, Cisco's looking to get back on the straight and narrow, and has sworn to his girlfriend, Sue (Karen Black), that he'll never deal again. But life throws him a curve in the form of Officer Lee Holland (Gene Hackman), a corrupt policeman looking to make a little extra cash on the side. Holland asks Cisco to help him sell 100 kilos of marijuana, and what's more, he needs it all sold in less than three days time! Promising to help clear Cisco's arrest record, Holland also isn't above resorting to threats to get his way, leaving Cisco little choice but to put his plans on hold and hit the streets once again. 

Kristofferson is superb as Cisco, all the more impressive when you consider this was his first significant film role (he made a cameo in Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie a year earlier). Along with his musical contributions (he wrote and performed four songs that play throughout the movie), Kristofferson gives a confident, almost effortless performance as the title character, a man dealing with a difficult situation as best he can. Even with a solid supporting cast gathered around him, Cisco Pike is a showcase for the singer/songwriter's talents, and he makes the most of the opportunity. In one scene, Cisco and Holland are walking through a park, discussing their new “business” arrangement. Holland is clearly nervous, and doesn't want to talk about the reasons behind his decision to enter the drug trade. Cisco, not satisfied with his proposed partner's responses, continually presses Holland for an answer. It's a good scene for Hackman, who's predictably strong as the shifty Holland, but an even better one for Kristofferson, proving he could hold his own with one of the 70's biggest stars. 

Kristofferson himself would reach a level of stardom throughout the 70's, with turns in films such as Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Cisco Pike was his launching pad, the one that showed Hollywood he was up to the challenge. A well-acted movie with some fine music and a strong main character, Cisco Pike is a gem of a film.








Friday, October 7, 2011

#427. Flesh for the Beast (2003)


Directed By: Terry West

Starring: Jane Scarlett, Sergio Jones, Clark Beasley Jr.




Tag line: "Open the Gate. Step In. Lose Your Mind."

Trivia:  Shot entirely in Yonkers, New York







I have to warn you folks”, says John Stoker (Sergio Jones), the owner of the haunted Fischer Mansion, to six paranormal investigators, “This place makes Amityville look like a spinning tea-cup ride. The manifestations can be harsh and jarring”. A lofty claim, to be sure, and one that 2003's Flesh for the Beast never lives up to. 

Among the six investigators studying the mansion are Erin (Jane Scarlett), a psychic, Ted (Clark Beasley Jr.), the so-called leader of the bunch, and Ketchum (Jim Coope), an older researcher who can smell the money Stoker's throwing their way. The team splits up to cover different sections of the house, which, decades earlier, was owned by the diabolical Alfred Fischer (Aldo Sambrell), an occultist who turned the place into an elaborate whorehouse. Much is learned by the team during their trek through the dark hallways of Fischer Mansion, including the fact that the spirits haunting it are, in reality, demons, called from the other side by way of an ancient trinket that Alfred Fischer stole from a gypsy (Caroline Munro). One by one, the team encounters the demons, usually with tragic consequences. But is Stoker looking to “cleanse” the house, as he claims, or does he have a much more sinister plan in mind? 

Flesh for the Beast never hits its stride, and is bogged down by a number of problems. Key among them is the casting, with performances ranging from merely fair (Sergio Jones' history of Fischer House is well delivered, and might even cause a few goosebumps to spring up) to very poor (Jane Scarlett spouts off every line as if she were reading it from a cue card, and a key scene in which her character is 'overpowered' by the house's energy, a feeling she herself called “a concentrated slap in the face”, is handled as if she merely lost her balance for s second). The issues continue when the six split up to investigate, and despite the number of directions they branch off into, none of what they find early on generates any real tension (the first death is handled clumsily, leaving us more confused than scared). Then there are the demons, former prostitutes who appear in various stages of undress to seduce the male team members before finishing them off. Ketchum is the first to encounter one, named Pauline (Caroline Hoermann), and I can't decide which was more unintentionally hilarious: the awkward sex scene or the bloody attack that followed it. 

Ultimately, the major flaw with Flesh for the Beast is that it's boring, a haunted house movie that keeps your eyes darting back and forth between the screen and the clock, wondering how much longer you'll have to endure it. An erotic horror film with no scares and little sexual energy, Flesh for the Beast comes up empty in every way imaginable.








Thursday, October 6, 2011

#426. Barfly (1987)


Directed By: Barbet Schroeder

Starring: Mickey Rourke, Faye Dunaway, Alice Krige



Tag line: "Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead"

Trivia:  Charles Bukowski wanted Sean Penn to star as protagonist Henry Chinaski, but Penn insisted that Dennis Hopper direct the film







I’ve been a huge fan of Mickey Rourke’s ever since I saw him in Barry Levinson’s Diner. Towards the beginning of his career, he never shied away from a challenge, yet in each part, he managed to maintain his good looks, as well as a certain degree of charm. In movies like 9 ½ Weeks and Angel Heart, Rourke also relied on an intense sexual energy to mold his characterizations, and it usually worked out for him.

Barfly sticks out like a sore thumb in the actor's early filmography. His character in this Barbet Schroeder film is the exact opposite of most he played in the 80's. Here, Rourke is a drunk, and not a depressed middle-American drunk like Nicholas Cage’s Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas. I’m talking a dirty drunk; a filthy, unshaven disaster of a man. But the alcohol supplies this fascinating individual with more than a buzz, or a means to escape his problems. This guy drinks for inspiration, and it serves him very well. 

Based on the writings of Charles Bukowski, Barfly is the story of Henry Chinaski (Rourke), an alcoholic poet who drifts in and out of a local bar, annoying the bartender, Eddie (Frank Stallone), to the point of rage. One day, Henry meets fellow drunk Wanda Wilcox (Faye Dunaway), who he hears is also a bit touched in the head. Yet in her, Henry believes he’s found a soul mate, and before long, moves into her apartment. The two enjoy the life of the inebriated, but when Henry receives an offer from publisher Tully Sorensen (Alice Krige) for his writings, he finds he must make a decision. Will he stay mired in the life of a starving artist, or surrender all he holds dear and enter the mainstream? 

The persona Rourke builds up in Barfly is so complete that it even impressed his real-life inspiration. “Mickey doesn’t just imitate me”, Charles Bukowski said in an interview, “he’s improved upon me”. High praise indeed, seeing that Rourke’s Henry is such a complete mess. He staggers when he walks, wears clothes that look like last year’s Goodwill rejects, and has long, unkempt hair hanging in front of his face. “He looks like a wet rat”, a fellow bar patron observes, and people normally sidestep him on the street. To make matters worse, his temperament matches his appearance. He gets into fights constantly, and usually ends up losing them. After one particularly brutal beating delivered by Eddie, which left Henry lying in the street, an onlooker felt sorry for him. “He hates help”, another man warns the potential do-gooder, “and he’d piss on you if he could”. But Henry is happy, and has accepted his place in the world. In the early days of his romance with Wanda, she warns Henry she has no desire to fall in love with him. “Don’t worry”, Henry replies, “nobody’s fallen in love with me yet”. 

Charles Bukowski once wrote, “The majority of Americans are inspired when they’re intoxicated. I am one of these Americans”. This is exactly how Rourke plays Henry; a man who drinks not to escape reality, but to experience it, to explore the world in a way he never could while sober. In his bottle, there’s more than booze; there’s a connection to life, and no amount of clean living is worth giving that up.








Wednesday, October 5, 2011

#425. Children of a Lesser God (1986)


Directed By: Randa Haines

Starring: William Hurt, Marlee Matlin, Piper Laurie



Tag line: "Love has a language all of its own"

Trivia:  Marlee Matlin won the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Sarah Norman. At 21 years and 218 days, she is the youngest winner of a Best Actress Oscar








Directed by Randa Haines, Children of a Lesser God exists between silence and sound, merging the two into a beautiful story of romance and understanding. 

Teacher James Leeds (William Hurt) has just landed a lucrative job at a very prestigious school for the deaf. Against the wishes of the facility’s administrator, Dr. Franklin (Philip Bosco), Leeds introduces a few innovative teaching techniques, hoping to ignite a spark in his students, as well as prepare them for life on the outside. Sarah (Marlee Matlin), a former student and the current school custodian, catches Leeds' eye, and he is soon smitten by her. But a terrible secret from her past has forced Sarah to withdraw into an emotional shell, where she refuses to face life beyond the school's walls. 

Children of a Lesser God is carried by its two leads, both of whom bridge the gap between them in a most convincing way. Leeds believes it's his personal calling to bring the hearing impaired a little closer to the world of sound, and uses some unorthodox methods in order to accomplish this. He urges his students to try speaking, and employs music in his classroom. He does experience a level of success, reaching students like Lydia (Allison Gompf), who at one point dances around the classroom with him to the tune of “Boomerang”. Sarah, however, is another matter. Though her actions occasionally cross the line into downright rudeness, Leeds is impressed with Sarah’s tenacity, which he finds isn’t hampered in the least by her handicap. At first, Sarah wants nothing to do with the kind-hearted teacher, but Leeds doesn’t let up, and soon the two are falling in love. But as the relationship progresses, the teacher finds he is becoming the student, discovering that Sarah’s silence is anything but lonely for her. While out together for dinner one evening, Sarah asks Leeds to dance. Once on the floor, she doesn’t so much dance as move to the vibrations, as if she could sense them swimming all around her. She’s not in rhythm with the music, but is in perfect rhythm with what she feels. Leeds can only stand back and watch, amazed by both her courage and comfort in the silence. It's a touching moment, and easily Matlin’s best scene in the film. 

Children of a Lesser God is a window into the world of the hearing impaired, and we relate to it on a level that’s simultaneously observant and interactive. Through James Leeds, a passageway forms that transports his students from silence to sound. Through Sarah, another passage emerges, one in which Leeds himself travels into the silence, and in the end, it becomes difficult for him, or us, to tell the difference between the two.








Tuesday, October 4, 2011

#424. Color Me Blood Red (1965)


Directed By: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Starring: Gordon Oas-Heim, Candi Conder, Elyn Warner



Tag line: "A Blood-Splattered Study in the Macabre"

Trivia:  Director Herschell Gordon Lewis cited Roger Corman's A Bucket of Blood (1959) as the main inspiration for Color Me Blood Red






Color Me Blood Red is the final entry in director Herschell Gordon Lewis' unofficial Blood Trilogy (after Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!), and like many of the director's more popular films, this one tells the story of a psychotic killer driven by his obsession to spill blood, usually by the bucketful. What makes Color Me Blood Red different from the others is that, this time out, we witness the lead character's descent into madness, and can even spot some regret shining through as he carries out his diabolical fixation. 

Adam Sorg (played by Gordon Oas-Heim under the pseudonym Don Joseph) is a mildly successful artist who teeters on the edge of greatness, yet lacks that “certain something” to make his paintings truly unique. While on a retreat at his beach side home, Sorg discovers the inspiration he so badly needs when his girlfriend, Gigi (Elyn Warner), accidentally cuts her finger on a broken picture frame. Hypnotized by the sight of blood on canvas, Sorg sets out to paint his masterpiece, but finds he must have an unlimited supply of hemoglobin to do so. Spurred on by his desire to create, he now also has to obtain the blood, even if it means finding prospective “doners” who aren't exactly willing to part with theirs. 

At the outset of Color Me Blood Red, Adam Sorg is many things: an arrogant hot-head who doesn't take criticism very well, a flamboyant artist who enjoys degrading his live-in girlfriend, and a man who generally loathes others, especially is he has to rely on them for his very survival (he is constantly rude to Farnsworth, the art dealer who regularly displays his work). One thing he is not, however, is a killer. That comes later, after he's mesmerized by a crimson trail of streaked blood, a color he's unable to duplicate artificially. Sorg even tries relying on his own blood for his art (a scene in which he continuously cuts his own fingers is tough to watch) before turning his attention outwards. When he finally does cross that line into murder, it weighs heavily on him. His first “blood” painting is hailed as a masterpiece by art critic Gregorovich (William Harris), and Mrs. Carter (Iris Marshall), a rich patron of Farnsworth's studio, is willing to pay as high as $15,000 for it. But Sorg refuses to sell. The knowledge of what he'd done to create it is far too much for him, and to now profit from his actions is unthinkable. 

Color Me Blood Red may not contain as many gore scenes as some of Lewis' other films, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Along with a knife to the head and another death by harpoon, Color Me Blood Red gives us a particularly gruesome image, arguably one of the most gruesome in Lewis' filmography: that of a murdered young girl tied to a wall, her intestines hanging out, and Sorg walking up to milk more blood from the entrails in order to finish his painting. It's a bit of grisly brilliance, one that does its part in making Color Me Blood Red the perfect film to round out a memorable trilogy.










Monday, October 3, 2011

#423. Wings of Desire (1987)


Directed By: Wim Wenders

Starring: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander




Tag line: "There are angels on the streets of Berlin"

Trivia:  Filming the actual Berlin Wall was prohibited, so a replica of the wall twice had to be built close to the original. The first fake wall warped in the rain because the contractor cheated the producers and built it from wood




Life certainly isn't without its problems. Aside from the everyday hassles of traffic jams and mounting bills, there are the more intense issues we must occasionally deal with: relationships, illnesses and the very prospect of our own mortality. Like many people, I try, on occasion, to escape these problems, and my particular avenue to freedom happens to be the cinema. But for Damiel (Bruno Ganz), an Angel sent to earth to observe mankind in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, human life, whether it be filled with pain or pleasure, is beautiful, and he longs to experience it. While we’re busy trying to dodge life, Damiel is looking for a way in. 

He and his partner, Cassiel (Otto Sander), spend their days and nights watching over the citizens of Berlin. As an Angel, Damiel is neither seen nor heard, which allows him to move freely throughout the city, intermingling with others as he listens in on their thoughts and observes their actions. One day, Damiel visits the circus, where he spots a tightrope walker named Marion (Solveig Dommartin). He falls in love with her, and decides to do what very few Angels before him have done; become human. Even though such a change will cost him eternal life, Damiel believes the potential joys are well worth the sacrifice. 

Wings of Desire looks at humanity from the point of view of an outsider, someone who knows our ways and customs only through observation, and though it means the end of life everlasting for him, we can identify with Damiel's desires to become mortal. Much of the credit for this must be given to Bruno Ganz, who brings a child-like innocence to Damiel, a being who sees beauty where others might find pain. In a key scene, as he and Cassiel are sitting around comparing notes at the end of the day, Damiel finally reveals his deepest wishes to his partner. “To be excited not only by the mind”, he says with a smile, “but at last by a meal” He longs to know what it’s like to feel, to smell, to “guess without always knowing”. 

Coupled with Ganz’s performance is Wenders’ exploration of the city of Berlin, presented in a wholly detached manner, as if we, too, were observing it from the outside. Made at a time when the Berlin Wall was still standing, Wings of Desire brings us to this monument of political division on a number of occasions, and while the citizens of Berlin are kept on either side of it, Damiel and his kind travel freely through both sections. In fact, there at times we're not sure which side of the wall he's on, and ultimately it doesn't even matter. As Damiel and Cassiel have learned, people on both sides are basically the same. 

Through these characters, in this city, Wenders has given us the opportunity to detach ourselves from the world we know, to exist on the outside instead of within. We too are observing, and all at once can see why Damiel finds the world so appealing.







Sunday, October 2, 2011

#422. Monster (2003)


Directed By: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern




Tag line: "Based on a true story"

Trivia:  Charlize Theron gained 30 pounds for her role in the film







Aileen Wuornos (Charlize Theron) is a homeless prostitute working the highways of Florida. One night in a bar, she meets Selby Wall (Christina Ricci), and before long, the two have fallen deeply in love. Now with someone to care for, Aileen spends more time on the streets, hoping to bring in enough money so that she and Selby can have a good life together. But when one particular ‘client’ gets out of hand, she fights back, killing him, then stealing both his wallet and car. It's at that moment Aileen Wuernos realizes murder pays more than prostitution, kicking off a spree that, before it’s over, will result in the deaths of seven men. 

Charlize Theron completely immerses herself in the role of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuernos, and her transformation is beyond amazing. It’s more than the fact she assumes Wuernos' appearance (Theron, an undeniably beautiful woman who's worked as a model since the age of 16, gained 30 pounds to play this part, and appears unkempt throughout, with matted hair and shabby clothes). It’s the very attitude she conveys, the way she walks, and the manner in which she takes control of every situation. When we first meet Wuernos, she’s just returned from having spent the day out on the highway, and is seriously contemplating suicide. Before ending it all, she decides to buy herself one last beer, and walks into what happens to be a gay bar. It's here that she meets Selby. At first, Aileen is very direct, telling Selby in no uncertain terms that she’s not interested in a gay relationship. But after the two spend the night talking, Wuernos senses a connection with this girl, whose life is every bit as screwed up as hers. “I was flexible” she tells us in her dual role as the story’s narrator, “I mean, everyone’s gotta have faith in something, and all I had left was love. I was getting pretty sure I was never gonna love a man again, so I was gonna do it”. Having walked into that bar intent on dying, Aileen Wuernos instead found a reason to live, and was going to do whatever was necessary to keep that love alive, even if it meant killing for it. 

So impressive was Theron’s performance that the actress walked off with sixteen separate awards for her portrayal, including the 2004 Academy Award for Best Actress, the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Drama, and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead. If you really want to be blown away, I recommend you first watch a pair of documentaries directed by Nick Broomfield, in which he conducts a series of interviews with the real Aileen Wuornos. In 1992’s Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer and 2003’s Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, we get a first-hand glimpse of the woman's mannerisms, her speech patterns, even the occasional slips into her own bizarre reality. After these two films, check out Theron's interpretation in Monster; you’ll swear you were watching the same person. It’s more than uncanny...it’s damn spooky.








Saturday, October 1, 2011

#421. The Maltese Falcon (1941)


Directed By: John Huston

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George




Tag line: "A story as EXPLOSIVE as his BLAZING automatics!"

Trivia:  The Shakespeare reference that ends the film was suggested by Humphrey Bogart.






Prior to playing Sam Spade, Daschell Hammett’s shifty private eye, in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart portrayed a string of petty criminals in films like The Petrified Forest, Angels with Dirty Faces and High Sierra. With The Maltese Falcon, he finally found himself on the right side of the law, yet traces of his earlier roles shone through in his performance. Though taking a break from crime, The Maltese Falcon proved Bogie was still as tough as nails. 

San Francisco private eye Sam Spade (Bogart) and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowain), are hired by the sophisticated Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) to follow a man she claims is a relative of hers. The first night on the job, Archer ends up dead, leaving Sam all alone to pick up the pieces of the case. After digging around, Sam discovers that Miss Wonderly is actually Brigid O’Shaughnessy, and what she’s really after is a jewel-encrusted statue known as the Maltese Falcon. Joining in the hunt for this treasure are two gentlemen of questionable character, Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), both of whom also attempt to hire Sam to locate the valuable trinket. But Sam is busy working an angle of his own. 

There’s no doubt Sam Spade is the hero of The Maltese Falcon, even though his very nature is anything but heroic. We recognize early on that Spade has an appetite for the ladies. When his secretary, Effie (Lee Patrick), is announcing Miss Wonderley, she tells Spade, “You’ll want to see this one. She’s a knockout”. In fact, Spade gets around a bit more than he should; he’s been carrying on an affair with his partner’s wife, Iva (Gladys George), a fact that makes him a prime suspect in Archer’s death (even Iva asks Sam if he had something to do with it). With his own reputation on the line, Spade has added incentive to get to the bottom of things, and fast. He starts by playing the principle characters, Joel Cairo, Kasper Gutman and Brigid O’Shaughnessy, against one another, flip-flopping back and forth, agreeing at one time or another to work for each of them, all in the hopes of uncovering the truth. He’s experienced enough to know when he’s being lied to, and isn’t above a bit of play-acting himself. My favorite moment in the film comes when Spade is chatting with Gutman in the latter’s hotel room.  The conversation's going nowhere, and, quite suddenly, Spade jumps form his seat, angrily smashes a glass against the wall, and threatens both Gutman and his hired gun, Wilmer (Elisha Cook Jr.), before storming out of the room. But as he's walking down the hallway following this tirade, we catch a smile slyly curling Spade’s lips, as if to say he’s pleased with the way he played that particular scene.  In a case with as many twists and turns as this one, Sam Spade is obviously right at home. 

This was the third attempt by Warner Bros to film Daschell Hammett's story, despite the fact the previous two (including one with the same title directed ten years earlier by Roy Del Ruth) were failures. But then, they didn’t have Bogart. Sam Spade was the perfect private eye to locate the elusive Maltese Falcon, and Humphrey Bogart was, in turn, the perfect Sam Spade.