Wednesday, February 29, 2012

#562. Hero (2002)


Directed By: Zhang Yimou

Starring: Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung




Tag line: "How far would you go to become a hero?"

Trivia:  Jet Li agreed to a pay cut so he could be in the movie







OK...time to break out the Thesaurus. I'm gonna need a lot of superlatives for this one!

Hero was director Zhang Yimou’s very first venture into the martial arts genre, but you'd never know it. This film makes him look like a seasoned pro. Stunning in every way a movie can be, Hero is flat-out awe-inspiring.

In 3rd Century B.C. China, an unknown warrior (Jet Li) arrives at the palace of the King (Daoming Chen) to announce he's defeated the country's most notorious assassins, sending all to an early grave. These assassins; Sky (Donnie Yen), Snow (Maggie Cheung) and Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), have been the king’s enemies for some time, and he is pleased to hear they've finally been vanquished. But all is not as it appears, and his majesty may just have another enemy to deal with, one much closer to him than he realizes.

Hero is an all-out attack on the senses, an amazing barrage of sights and sounds that never seems to end. To single out one specific moment from the film as ‘most spectacular’ would be an act of futility; the gorgeous images start within moments of the opening credits, and don't let up for a single second. Each time you think you’ve seen the most exhilarating battle, or the most picturesque locale, another comes along within minutes that starts your imagination to soaring all over again. Colors spill off the screen as if the edges of the frame lacked the strength to hold them back, yet in Hero, they do more than accent the movie's splendor. Director Zhang utilizes color to define emotion: sharp red for anger, deep blue for love, light green for serenity, bringing visual substance to that which is normally only felt. The story itself, which contains elements of political intrigue, love, deception, even war, is thoroughly engaging, and the action sequences are a ballet of activity so fulfilling, they’re nearly hypnotic.

Bottom line? This is as impressive a motion picture as the cinema could ever hope to achieve. With Hero, Zhang Yimou has created a true work of art, and an experience that is unrivaled.







Tuesday, February 28, 2012

#561. Malcolm X (1992)


Directed By: Spike Lee

Starring: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Delroy Lindo





Trivia:  Years earlier, Oliver Stone tried to bring this story to the big screen








Spike Lee’s Malcolm X is a force to be reckoned with, the epic story of a man who lived several lives, only one of which the majority of Americans ever knew about. 

Malcolm X (played superbly by Denzel Washington) was Malcolm Little, a man from the rural south whose preacher father was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. In his early days, Malcolm held a job as a Railroad Porter, took to straightening his hair, and did odd jobs for a shady Harlem gangster named West Indian Archie (Delroy Lindo). A petty thief, Malcolm eventually landed in prison, where his association with a fellow inmate (Albert Hall) would lead him to the Nation of Islam and the teachings of its leader, Elijah Mohammed (Al Freeman Jr.). Shortly after his release, Malcolm joined the Nation, and went on to become one of its most fervent disciples. A gifted speaker, he called for the followers of Islam to take action (violently, if necessary) to end the oppression of white America, and it wasn't long before his words put him in direct conflict with the policies of the Nation of Islam, leading to a rift with Elijah Mohammed that would ultimately end in tragedy. 

The controversy Malcolm X generated when he was in the public eye was, in large part, fueled by his own statements, such as referring to the assassination of John F. Kennedy as nothing more than “the chickens coming home to roost”. Yet his fiery words were but one aspect of Malcolm X. So it stands to reason that his time as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam is, in turn, merely one aspect of Malcolm X. In this film, director Spike Lee provides a glimpse into the experiences that defined the man; some good, many bad, but all of equal importance in determining the path he would take through life. It’s all here; the childhood of promise stifled by bigotry, the days as a common thug and drug addict, the commitment to Elijah Mohammed and the Nation of Islam, and the betrayal that drove him from the cause he loved so dearly. Lee gives equal time to each and every one of Malcolm X’s vastly different lives, and in so doing has crafted as complete a picture of the man as he possibly could.







Monday, February 27, 2012

#560. The General (1926)


Directed By: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton

Starring: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender




Tag line: "Love, Locomotives and Laughs"

Trivia:  Buster Keaton always said that this was his favorite movie







One of the most instantly recognizable of silent film stars, Buster Keaton rarely showed any emotion on screen. At a time when others relied on over-the-top pantomime to drive their performances home, Keaton’s characters were cool and collected. This demeanor earned him the nickname “Stone Face”, a moniker he perfected in his 1926 classic, The General

Railroad engineer Johnny Gray (Keaton) is in love with the beautiful Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). When the Civil War breaks out, Johnny tries to enlist in the Confederate Army, but is turned away because his railroad experience is deemed more beneficial to the war effort. As she watches every other able bodied young man go off to war, Annabelle tells Johnny she's ashamed of him, and breaks off their engagement. But Johnny will get a chance to redeem himself when the Union army steals his beloved train, The General, inadvertently kidnapping Annabelle in the process. 

In The General, Keaton remained true to form in that his Johnny Gray kept his head while everyone else was losing theirs. What made this character so remarkable, however, was not so much his composure as that he kept it in the midst of unbelievable chaos. Never mind silent films; The General has some of the most amazing action sequences I’ve ever seen, period. There are moments of such daring that, at times, the movies downright exhausting to watch. Take the scene where Johnny’s train is stolen by Union spies. As Johnny realizes The General is speeding off without him, he tries to pursue it on foot. During the chase, he comes across several modes of transportation to help him keep up, including a railway cart, a bicycle, and, eventually, another train equipped with a huge cannon. The game of cat and mouse continues, one perilous turn after another, as the thieves do everything they can to slow Johnny down. From this point on, The General becomes a thrill-a-minute action adventure, with a few incredibly dangerous moments thrown in as well (the Union spies try to stop Johnny’s approach in the other train by throwing railway ties onto the tracks, and Johnny has to run ahead of his train to clear the way, sometimes doing so at the last possible second). Through it all, Johnny shows no signs of concern. He has a job to do, and will do it to the best of his ability, and always with a clear head. 

The Roman playwright Plautus once said, “Patience is the best remedy for every trouble”. Buster Keaton made a career out of proving this statement. Quietly calm when surrounded by absolute anarchy, Keaton maintained his poise through numerous films, usually as the world around him was falling apart at the seams.







Sunday, February 26, 2012

#559. 3 Dead Girls (2007)


Directed By: Christopher Alan Broadstone

Starring: Tony Simmons, Gabriel Sigal, Lora Cunningham




Tag line: "One killer becomes the victim of another"

Trivia:  The Motel Room scene in Scream For Me was actually shot in the Director's bedroom






3 Dead Girls is a collection of short films by director Chris Broadstone, each unique in style and execution, yet with one important thing in common: all of them are very, very good. 

Though you probably could have guessed from the title, 3 Dead Girls features three films in all. Scream For Me opens with the murder of a girl (Lora Cunningham) by a disturbed young man (Gabriel Sigel) who didn't realize someone else was also coming to visit her, a demented rapist known only as the Madman (Tony Simmons). And as you can imagine, he was none too happy to find his intended victim already dead. The 2nd film, My Skin!, sees Death (Simmons) coming to collect the soul of a murdered housewife (Lisa Montague), only to discover she wasn't due to die for another 64 years! But not to worry; Death has something quite interesting in store for the killer. We wrap things up with Human No More, about a detective (Tony Simmons once again) who, due to the murder of his wife and son, has lost his faith in God (“A killer has come and taken my family from me” he says at one point, adding, in a somewhat defeated tone, “he has even stolen my vengeance”). But there's more to this story than despair, and even though he's the only person in the room at any given moment, the detective is never really alone.

As mentioned above, the three shorts presented in 3 Dead Girls are definitely unique. The initial killing in Scream For Me is brutal to watch, and goes on for what seems like an eternity. Yet it's nothing compared to what Madman does once he gets there. Simmons is strong as the psychotic rapist; he can even make an everyday item like duct tape seem creepy. My Skin! Is my favorite of the group, and is the 2nd in the collection to show a murderer suffering a fate worse than his victim's. Simmons plays a pissed off Grim Reaper, which might have something to do with the date on the calendar (it's Sept. 12, 2001, meaning Death has been doing a lot of this sort of thing lately). The film has an otherworldly quality to it, and the deliberate manner in which Death moves, right down to the way he loads a gun, is mesmerizing. Human No More falls back on psychological horror, and is not as straight-forward as the other two, yet boasts a look and feel that is just as engaging (the camera roams freely throughout the one-room set, as if to signify someone...or something...is watching). 

Masterfully directed by Broadstone, and with a trio of magnificent performances by Tony Simmons, 3 Dead Girls is not to be missed. 

Learn more about 3 Dead Girls by visiting Black Cab Productions











Saturday, February 25, 2012

#558. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)


Directed By: Robert Aldrich

Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono




Tag line: "Sister, sister, oh so fair, why is there blood all over your hair?"

Trivia: The wig Bette Davis wears throughout the film had, unbeknownst to both leads, been worn by Joan Crawford in an earlier MGM movie






What Ever Happened to Baby Jane is the story of two sisters, both of whom had careers in show business. Jane (Bette Davis) was a child star, perhaps the biggest stage act of her time, while Blanche (Joan Crawford) found her niche in motion pictures a few years later. Unable to jump-start her dwindling career, an adult Jane turned to the bottle, and one night, in a drunken stupor, caused an automobile accident that put Blanche in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Many years have passed since that fateful evening, and the two elderly sisters are now living under the same roof. Unable to take care of herself, Blanche depends on Jane for her most basic needs. But when Jane decides to make a “triumphant return” to show business, it dredges up all the bad feelings of the past. Trapped in her wheelchair, Blanche can only sit back and watch as Jane’s delusions of grandeur spiral out of control, pushing her to the brink of insanity. 

In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, we're afforded the opportunity of watching two of Hollywood’s greatest actresses face off against one another, with Bette Davis standing out as the unscrupulous sister who’ll do anything to get her own way. We’re given a first-hand account of Jane’s selfishness in the film's opening scene, a flashback to 1917, when “Baby Jane” (played as a child by Julie Allred) was an international sensation. While on stage, Jane’s a pure delight, singing and dancing her heart out for her adoring public.  Backstage, she's Godzilla in a dress, verbally abusing her father (Dave Willock) in front of dozens of young fans, all because he refused to buy her ice cream. It’s obvious Jane’s success came much too early in life, whereas Blanche’s arrived when she had matured, and was able to learn from her sister's mistakes. Always impressive, Joan Crawford works wonders as the handicapped former starlet, yet it's Bette Davis’ bitchy sibling, still aching from the pain of watching her sister become a big star, who commands our attention. As egotistical as she is crazy, there's no predicting how low she'll sink to grab the spotlight for herself. 

Besides being two tremendous performers, both Davis and Crawford had a reputation for flying off the handle from time to time, which led many Hollywood pundits to believe their pairing would lead to some nasty fireworks. Even Robert Aldrich said early on that he wasn’t sure if he was “going to direct a motion picture or referee a title fight”. But if there was friction between the two, it only worked to the film’s advantage, for however they may have felt about one another off-screen, their work in front of the camera was practically flawless.







Friday, February 24, 2012

#557. Sense and Sensibility (1995)


Directed By: Ang Lee

Starring: Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, James Fleet




Tag line: "Lose your heart and come to your senses"

Trivia:  Emma Thompson's first draft of the screenplay consisted of 350 hand-written pages







Based on the novel by Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility tells the story of Mrs. Dashwood (Gemma Jones) and her three daughters, all of whom are mourning the death of their patriarch, Mr. Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson). Due to the strict rules of inheritance as defined by both law and tradition, the late Mr. Dashwood’s entire estate is passed on to his son, John (James Fleet), a child from a previous marriage, leaving the current Mrs. Dashwood and her offspring penniless, and without a place to call home. This harsh reality forces the Dashwood women to forsake London in favor of the country, where they settle down at the home of their cousin, Sir John Middleton (Robert Hardy). Unfortunately, one of the Dashwoods left more than luxury behind; Elinor (Emma Thompson), the eldest daughter, had fallen in love with Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), a romance that started to cool right after her sudden departure. Yet one sister’s loss is another one's gain, and once the family's settled into their new country cottage, Marianne (Kate Winslet), Elinor’s idealistic younger sister, finds herself juggling two suitors, rejecting the advances of the noble but boring Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) in favor of the unpredictable Willoughby (Greg Wise). 

Sense and Sensibility contains moments of charming simplicity, presented within the serenity of the English countryside, a contrast of sorts to the pomp and majesty one normally associates with England’s Georgian age. But as impressive as these contrasts are, they pale in comparison to the film's artistic style, and the manner in which director Ang Lee employs his camera to tell the story of the Dashwood women. In one incredibly realized, yet straightforward, sequence, Elinor receives word that Edward will not be coming to visit as promised. To take her mind off the disappointment, she tends to her sewing, seated at a table in the back room, as her mother, concerned for her daughter’s well-being, hovers nearby. The two women remain in position as the camera slowly moves backwards down the hall, framing mother and daughter in the doorway and stopping just in time to catch the wind as it blows a curtain in the front room. By utilizing depth of field in such a manner, Lee gives us a chance to take it all in, background and foreground, while making sure there’s plenty to see in both. It’s a beautiful scene, one of several to be found throughout the movie. 

Sense and Sensibility is a marvelous tale of love and loss in jaded high society, and boasts many exemplary performances. But it's also a stunning visual feast, not to mention a shining example of the art of film making at its most eloquent.







Thursday, February 23, 2012

#556. The Stuff (1985)


Directed By: Larry Cohen

Starring: Michael Moriarity, Andrea Marcovicco, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino




Tag line: "Are You Eating It...Or Is It Eating You?"

Trivia:  Arsenio Hall was at on point considered for a role in this film







OK, just for a moment, let’s play a little game called “What would you do?” 

Here’s the situation: 

You’re an employee at a refinery, and you’re working late one night, checking out the grounds, when you happen upon some white goo bubbling up out of the snow. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. What would you do? Dig it up? Call someone else to come take a look at it? Try to determine if there are any pipes in the area that might be leaking? There are easily a dozen or so different courses of action you could take, but I’m guessing one thing you wouldn’t do is bend down, scoop some of the goop up, and pop it into your mouth, which is exactly what Harry, the employee in question, does in the opening moments of The Stuff

That tastes real good”, he says, and maybe it does. But dude…come on! 

From the looks of it, old Harry isn't the only one who likes this tasty substance. Packaged in small containers and marketed as the “Stuff”, it becomes an overnight sensation, and the dessert of choice for thousands of American families. Of course, this doesn't sit well with the country's ice cream manufacturers, who hire David Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), an ex-FBI agent specializing in industrial espionage, to check into this mysterious new sweet. Right off the bat, his investigation raises a few red flags. For one, the Stuff was approved by the FDA, yet almost every official who passed it is now missing. What's more, a young boy named Jason (Scott Bloom) was taken into custody for trashing a small-town supermarket, claiming he saw the Stuff “moving by itself” in his refrigerator. Rutherford eventually joins forces with Jason, as well as Nicole Kendall (Andrea Marcovicci), a campaign executive who now regrets producing the commercials that made the Stuff so popular, and together they go under cover to infiltrate the factory turning out the gooey treat, hoping to finally get to the bottom of this potentially dangerous snack. 

While we never do learn with any certainty what the Stuff actually is, director Cohen slowly strips away the mystery as Rutherford's investigation intensifies. He pays a visit to an FDA employee named Vickers (Danny Aiello), who's more evasive than helpful. When asked about the approval process, Vickers replies “You got to understand, this is a dessert, not a prescription medicine. Not any different from yogurt or ice cream”. Kind of a chilling statement coming from an FDA official, wouldn't you say? But the real break in the case happens when Rutherford checks out a small town, which has supposedly been inundated with the Stuff. Here, he meets Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garrett Morris), a famous cookie magnate who lost his company around the same time the Stuff started flying off shelves. While strolling down a dark street in this seemingly deserted little town, the two are attacked by a group of crazed locals, and when Rutherford slugs one across the jaw, the man's entire face implodes! At that moment, he realizes the Stuff contains...well, some pretty nasty stuff! 

The film has something to say about the power of advertising, and how a little bit of positive buzz can turn even the strangest item into a moneymaker. But never mind all that, because The Stuff is also about white goo trying to take over the world, which is ultimately what makes it such a blast to watch.









Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#555. Blackout (1978)


Directed By: Eddy Matalon

Starring: James Mitchum, Robert Carradine, Belinda Montgomery




Tag line: "The night the power failed.... and the shock began!"

Trivia:  In Australia, this film was released as NEW YORK ESCAPEES






A blackout in New York City is a bad situation. Throw some escaped convicts into the mix, and you have a real mess on your hands! 

A severe thunderstorm causes a massive power failure, plunging all of New York City into total darkness. As a result of the blackout, an armored vehicle transporting dangerous prisoners loses control and crashes into a wall, killing the guards on impact. Of the prisoners, only four survive. Led by the sociopathic Christie (Robert Carradine), this quartet manages to break into a posh apartment complex, where they go door-to-door, terrorizing residents in their search for money and a getaway car. Officer Dan Evans (Jim Mitchum) is the only policeman on the scene, and he hopes to apprehend the escaped cons...by himself, if he has to...before they've had a chance to do any serious damage. 

At the heart of Blackout is an excellent performance by Robert Carradine, whose Christie is a natural leader of men, yet one with a mean streak a mile long. The other surviving prisoners, Chico (Don Granberry), Eddy (Terry Haig) and Marcus (Victor B. Tyler), were on their way to jail after spending time at a psychiatric hospital, and Christie, who's extremely bright, knows just what to say to gain their trust. In contrast to the camaraderie he develops with his fellow fugitives, Christie shows nothing but contempt for the well-to-do tenants of the high-rise complex, who he believes contribute to a corrupt system that favors the rich. One of the first apartments the group enters belongs to a French magician named Henri (Jean-Pierre Aumont), whose only companion is his little dog. Along with the fact he has no cash to give them, Christie is further annoyed to learn Henri uses the dog in his magic act, accusing the aging Frenchman of exploiting the animal for financial gain. Prior to walking out of the apartment, Christine will stick a knife in Henri and leave him to die. Another victim of Christie's cruelty is Mrs. Grant (June Allyson), whose husband (Fred Doederlein) is hooked to a life support system. Claiming Mother Nature has no time for the sick, Christie turns off the machine that's keeping Mr. Grant alive, leaving Mrs. Grant, who's been tied to a chair, to watch as her husband slowly suffocates. 

Carradine is deliciously evil as the man who considers himself a crusader for the lower classes, yet is, at his core, merely a psychopath, bent on stirring up as much chaos as he possibly can. Small and somewhat frail in appearance, Christie is far from physically intimidating, but his powers of persuasion, coupled with a militant attitude, make him the most dangerous person these particular tenants are likely to ever face.







Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#554. Sweatshop (2009)


Directed By: Stacy Davidson

Starring: Ashley Kay, Peyton Wetzel, Brent Himes




Tag line: "One Hammer. No Prisoners"

Trivia:  The character "Enyx" is named after The Enix Corporation (now Square Enix), publishers of such video games as Dragon Warrior and Xevious







Sweatshop is a 2009 indie horror film with loads of blood and gore, and a killer you won't soon forget. 

Charlie (Ashley Kay), Enyx (Naika Malveauz), and a group of their friends break into a seemingly abandoned warehouse and start fixing it up it for a Rave scheduled later that night. But somebody else is there as well, a giant in a mask (Jeremy Sumrall), who's none too happy to see them. Wielding what can only be described as a hammer the size of an anvil, this beast of a man begins taking his frustrations out on the revelers, tearing them, one by one, into tiny little pieces. 

Simply calling Sweatshop “violent” doesn't adequately prepare you for how bloody this film gets. The first kill occurs in the opening scene, though this particular victim, a girl named Brandi (ViVi Sterling) who was sent ahead by the others to check out the warehouse, isn't finished off by the “Beast”, as he's called in the credits, but a policeman (Michael Gingold), who spotted her vehicle in the parking lot and decided to investigate. Spooked by a series of strange noises, the nervous cop unloads his gun into poor Brandi, who came running towards him, bare naked and screaming for help. Yet despite being shot a number of times, including once in the head, Brandi still fared better than some of her friends. Like Lolli (Krystal Freeman), for instance, who gets herself cornered by the Beast's two ghoulish “sisters”, a duo of freaky looking women that follow him wherever he goes, then gets the bottom of her jaw ripped off, or Kim (Danielle Jones), who's captured, tied to a table, and, after having two of her fingers snipped off, loses both legs when her captor brings his humongous hammer crashing down on them. Both Lolli and Kim tried screaming for help, but their friends couldn't hear them over the music. 

Which, along with the convincing gore, is another of Sweatshop's strengths: the fact that none of the Beast's potential victims ever know he's there until it's much too late. In spite of his size, the killer moves pretty quickly, and leaves no survivors to run and warn the others. From start to finish, he remains a force to be reckoned with, and the cruel manner in which he dispatches his victims will stay with you for a long, long time. 

Believe me when I say, “Brutal” isn't a strong enough word to describe Sweatshop.







Monday, February 20, 2012

#553. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)


Directed By: David Lean

Starring: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn




Tag line: "A Mighty Motion Picture Of Action And Adventure!"

Trivia:  Almost all movement in the film goes from left to right. David Lean said he did this to emphasize that the film was a journey





Simply put, Lawrence of Arabia is as grand a motion picture as I have ever experienced. 

While stationed in Cairo, British officer T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is ordered by High Command to meet with Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness), an Arabian military leader, to discuss the Prince's growing concerns regarding the Turkish occupation of his homeland. Though officially restricted to the role of a liaison, Lawrence nonetheless finds himself sympathetic to the Prince's cause, and disobeys his superiors by volunteering to assist Feisal in his war against the Turks. To gain the trust of his new comrades, Lawrence commands a small contingency of Feisal's soldiers, guiding them across the treacherous Nefud desert, in the hopes of taking the port city of Aqaba, a Turkish stronghold, by surprise. The mission is a success, and to show their appreciation, the Arabs give Lawrence command of his own rebel army. With the help of other chieftains such as Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif) and Auda aba Tayi (Anthony Quinn), Laurence leads his men to victory time and again on the battlefield, and before long, the man known as "El Aurens" has put the entire Turkish army on the run. 

Even with the film clocking in at four hours, Lawrence of Arabia spends very little time getting to know its main character. It reveals nothing of Lawrence's early years, and aside from an opening scene showing us his death (the result of a motorcycle accident), the life he led following his service in the Army is completely ignored. Instead, the movie focuses on Lawrence's days in the desert, and the exploits that made his name legendary in that part of the world. History tells us, at some point during his time in the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence fell in love with the desert, so much so that he felt compelled to fight for it. In Lawrence of Arabia, director David Lean reveals, in sometimes striking detail, exactly what it was that Lawrence saw in this desolate corner of the globe. As Lean moves his camera slowly across the barren landscape, we, too, bear witness to the majesty of the place. We marvel at the elegance of a desert sunrise, and react with nervous anticipation as men are led across its dangerous, hot sands. Lawrence the man may remain a mystery when the final credits roll, but what inspired him to become a legend is laid bare for all to see. 

When writing about the film, critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times stated the experience of watching Lawrence of Arabia in its original format “is on the short list of things that must be done during the lifetime of every lover of film”. Even with the limited scope of my television, I've fallen in love with this movie. I can’t imagine how I'd react if I were to catch it on a huge 70mm screen. 

But, man...would I love to find out!







Sunday, February 19, 2012

#552. The Addams Family (1991)


Directed By: Barry Sonnenfeld

Starring: Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, Christopher Lloyd




Tag line: "Weird is relative"

Trivia:  Cher wanted to play the role of "Morticia", but Anjelica Huston was cast instead







For the last 25 years, poor Uncle Fester has been missing from the Addams family home, a residence jam-packed with a number of bizarre luxuries, not the least of which is a hand-servant (make that a severed hand-servant) named Thing, which brings new meaning to the term “odd jobs”. In an effort to gain access to the enormous Addams fortune, the family’s shifty lawyer (Dan Hedeya) conspires with a crooked doctor (Elizabeth Wilson) to disguise the doctor’s son, Gordon (Christopher Lloyd), so that he resembles the long-lost Fester. At first, it looks as if their plan will go off without a hitch when Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia Addams (Angelica Huston) welcome the phony Fester with open arms, but their youngest daughter, Wednesday, (Christina Ricci) has some doubts concerning the true identity of her 'prodigal' uncle. 

Visually, The Addams Family is dazzling. The vast set pieces that adorn the Addams home, like the family safe that can only be accessed by way of a gondola, are really quite amazing. Along with the sets, Director Barry Sonnenfeld relies on a variety of clever camera angles to keep things hopping, perhaps the most interesting of which is the ‘Thing-Cam’, where we follow Thing as he scurries through the house on all fives. I was also impressed with the sense of the macabre that takes over The Addams Family from time to time, a morbidity that always adds to the humor. In the middle of a rather dull school play, Wednesday and her brother, Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), stage a pirate sword fight, complete with severed limbs and gallons of blood spattering onto the unsuspecting audience. 

Thanks to the efforts of a good many people, including set decorator John Sweeney and Special Effects supervisor Mike Edmundson, the zaniness of the original Addams Family television series isn't just recaptured for The Addams Family, it's expanded upon, creating a unique experience in which a sitcom mentality is presented within the confines of a big-budget motion picture. 

Yes, the Addams family is still creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky…only now, much more so.







Saturday, February 18, 2012

#551. It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)


Directed By: Robert Gordon

Starring: Kenneth Tobey, Faith Domergue, Donald Curtis



Tag line: "Out of primordial depths to destroy the world!"

Trivia:  This is the film that brought together producer Charles H. Schneer and special effects legend Ray Harryhausen. Their professional relationship would last until Clash of the Titans





It Came From Beneath the Sea tries to be more than your typical monster film, what with its lighthearted humor and complex love story, but the movie never really hits its stride until Ray Harryhausen's animation finally takes center stage. 

When an atomic submarine runs into a few problems during a routine dive, its Commander, Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey), orders the vessel to surface and return to base for repairs. Upon inspection, it’s determined the ship’s damage was caused by a giant octopus, one that's grown to an amazingly large size. Two scientists, Professor Joyce (Faith Domergue) and Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) are hard at work trying to determine what it was that mutated this creature, but time is quickly running out. According to military radar, the monster is on the move, and will soon be unleashing its fury on the unsuspecting citizens of San Francisco. 

The look of the octopus, as devised by Harryhausen, is really quite impressive, and an early attack on a navy scouting ship establishes, in one fell swoop, both the creature’s strength and its nasty disposition. This exciting pace intensifies once it finally arrives in San Francisco, where it lets loose a furious anger on the unprepared city. At one point, the beast even attacks the famous Golden Gate Bridge, a sequence that's unquestionably the strongest in the film. As he’s done many times over the years, Harryhausen's creation transforms what would have been a mediocre monster film into something considerably more substantial. 

Harryhausen has lent his talents to a number of memorable films, including such rousing adventures as Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. The single element each of these movies has in common, including It Came From Beneath the Sea, is the incredible amount of imagination that went into their making, an imagination which never failed to find its way to the screen.








Friday, February 17, 2012

#550. The Uninvited (2009)


Directed By: Charles Guard, Thomas Guard

Starring: Emily Browning, Arielle Kebbel, Elizabeth Banks




Tag line: "Can you believe what you see?"

Trivia:  a remake of a 2003 Korean Horror film A Tale of Two Sisters







Anna (Emily Browning) has spent the last 10 months in a mental institution, trying to come to terms with the death of her mother, who was killed in a tragic house fire. Cleared by her doctor (Dean Paul Gibson) to return home, Anna's thrilled to be reunited with both her father (David Strathairn) and sister, Alex (Arielle Kebbel). And then there's Rachel (Elizabeth banks), dad's new live-in girlfriend who was also her mother's nurse at the time of the tragedy. Neither Anna nor Alex care much for dad's new squeeze, but what starts out as contempt soon turns to suspicion when Anna begins experiencing visions of the recently deceased, all of whom seem to be warning her about Rachel. The two girls delve into Rachel's past, where they uncover everything from false identities to suspected murder, yet despite the overwhelming evidence they've gathered, their father isn't quite ready to admit he might be sharing his bed with a monster. 

A remake of the 2003 Korean film, A Tale of Two Sisters, The Uninvited offers plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing to the end, and the various apparitions that visit Anna in the night, including her deceased mother (Maya Massar), are enough to get the hairs on the back of your neck standing at attention. But just as impressive as the film's story is the stylish way in which it's presented. For one, The Uninvited contains a number of vivid dream sequences, like the one where Anna, while strolling through the forest, comes across three trash bags filled with body parts (one containing the remains of a young girl, played by Lex Burnham, who will visit her several more times throughout the film). The directors, Charles and Thomas Guard, also get a bit creative with their camera, allowing it to move freely, shooting the action from high above, or gliding across the floor, thus enhancing the film's otherworldly feel. 

All three actresses at the center of The Uninvited deliver outstanding performances. Emily Browning plays Anna as slightly withdrawn and somewhat vulnerable, yet at the same time keen to what's going on around her. Arielle Kebbel's Alex is bitchy enough to be believable, and Elizabeth Banks' Rachel evolves from friendly-yet-creepy to downright sinister as the plot progresses, proving she's capable of more evil than anyone, especially dear old dad, would have given her credit for. These three, along with the film's engaging style and a truly surprising ending, all work in unison to transform The Uninvited into a smart, compelling ghost story.







Thursday, February 16, 2012

#549. The Virgin Queen (1955)


Directed By: Henry Koster

Starring: Bette Davis, Richard Todd, Joan Collins





Trivia:  This was the second time that actress Bette Davis portrays British monarch Queen Elizabeth I









1955's The Virgin Queen was Bette Davis' 2nd go at portraying England's Queen Elizabeth I (following her turn in 1939's The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex), and from the looks of it, I'd say she had the role down pat. 

Walter Raleigh (Richard Todd) dreams of becoming a famous explorer, and during an audience with Queen Elizabeth I (Davis) talks of nothing but his intentions to sail to the New World. Impressed with Raleigh's enthusiasm, the Queen appoints him to an important position at court, much to the dismay of her chief adviser, Sir Christopher Hatton (Robert Douglas), who fears Raleigh may soon replace him as the Queen's favorite. Elizabeth has, indeed, developed feelings for Raleigh, and eventually agrees to outfit a ship for his proposed voyage to the Americas. But his future is threatened when he secretly marries Beth Throgmorton (Joan Collins), one of Elizabeth's ladies in waiting. If this secret is ever revealed, Raleigh will undoubtedly fall out of the Queen's favor.  So far out, in fact, that it might even cost him his head. 

The opening scenes of The Virgin Queen feature Raleigh almost exclusively, and Todd delivers a solid performance as the opportunistic adventurer, even going so far as to show off his skills as a swordsman during a bar room tussle. Yet the film doesn't really come to life until Davis' Elizabeth I makes her grand entrance. At this point in history, Elizabeth was an older woman, and illness had caused her to lose her hair (Davis supposedly allowed makeup artist Pete Westmore to shave two inches off her hairline, which, she claims, never fully grew back).  Yet while the Queen may no longer be as attractive as she once was, what she lacks in beauty, she more than makes up for in guile. While walking together during their initial meeting, Raleigh and the Queen come to a puddle in the road. Raleigh lays his expensive cloak across the puddle, so that the Queen can cross without getting wet. When he leaves the garment on the ground, Elizabeth asks why he didn't pick it up. His answer: he's not worthy to wear a garment her royal highness has tread upon. “Oh, pick it up”, she snaps back, somewhat annoyed by the obvious attempt at flattery, adding “I'm not yet sure whether you please me or not”. From that moment on, Raleigh is more direct in his dealings with the Queen, and his candor soon wins her over. 

Bette Davis is wonderful as the strong-willed Queen who can, at times, be downright unpredictable. When Raleigh first asks Elizabeth for a ship to sail to America, she responds by dousing him with a goblet of wine, causing the eager young man to storm off in anger. Yet, instead of banishing him from court, Elizabeth makes Raleigh the Commander of her Guard, convinced he's a man she can trust, and thus the perfect candidate for this important position. But as many have learned over the years, the Queen expects more than loyalty from her trusted subjects. At one point, Lord Leicester, played by Herbert Marshall, tries to warn Raleigh of Elizabeth's disposition, telling him “The Virgin Queen demands a devotion that is single-hearted, unwavering”.

It's advice Raleigh ignores, and soon wishes he hadn't.








Wednesday, February 15, 2012

#548. Creation of the Humanoids (1962)


Directed By: Wesley Barry

Starring: Don Megowan, Erica Elliott, Don Doolittle




Tag line: "Man's Own Creation! Can He Control Machines That Produce People?"

Trivia:  Supposedly, this is one of Andy Warhol's favorite films







Far from your typical '60s Sci-Fi flick, Creation of the Humanoids presents us with a fascinating world, one it explores by way of a smart, creative story. 

As the result of fallout from a global nuclear war, the human birth rate has fallen into sharp decline, and mankind is forced to face the likelihood of its own extinction. To keep society going, a race of robots is created, humanoids whose primary duty is to serve. But the robots are not welcomed by all; an organization calling itself The Order of Flesh and Blood has made it its goal to convince the governments of the world that humanoid robots are an abomination, and should be eliminated. To this end, Kenneth Craigis (Don Megowan), a dedicated member of the Order, follows two robots to the home of one Dr. Raven (Don Doolittle). Convinced the doctor is conducting illegal experiments, Craigis and several others burst into his house, just in time to see Dr. Raven die at the hands of a humanoid. But here's the topper: the robot that committed this murder had been altered to look exactly like a man! 

Creation of the Humanoids wastes no time whatsoever, tossing us into the thick of things right from the get-go, and it's a challenge to keep up as the film branches off in several different directions. Along with Dr. Raven's efforts to create a robot that's indistinguishable from man, we sit in on a meeting of the Order of Flesh and Blood, at the conclusion of which Craigis is given some disturbing news: his only sister, Esme (Frances McCann), has recently entered into a “rapport”, or romantic relationship, with a robot! Craigis pays Esme a visit to try and talk her out of it, and while there, meets Maxine (Erica Elliott), a beautiful woman with whom he falls instantly in love. To coincide with its jam-packed tale of science and romance, the film also has a lot to say about bigotry. Despite the fact he works closely with the Humanoids, Dr. Raven calls them “clickers”, a derogatory term, and grows angry when one robot refers to the mainframe as its “Father-Mother”. Creation of the Humanoids even throws a few surprises in as well, including a very effective twist I never saw coming. 

The performances in Creation of the Humanoids are admittedly sub-par, and the set pieces look as if they were made on the cheap. What's more, the movie's underlying message of intolerance is often delivered in a heavy-handed fashion; some characters seem to be giving speeches as opposed to reciting dialogue. But, ultimately, there's enough going on here to take your mind off these deficiencies, and I predict you'll be as surprised as I was at how much content the filmmakers squeezed into a mere 84 minutes.







Tuesday, February 14, 2012

#547. The Grapes of Death (1978)


Directed By: Jean Rollin

Starring: Marie-Georges Pascal, Félix Marten, Serge Marquand




Tag line: "When the wine flows, the terror begins ..."

Trivia:  The film was originally envisioned as a disaster-themed film, but as the production developed, director Jean Rollin saw the potential for it to be a horror film instead






French director Jean Rollin, best known for his Gothic, often erotic vampire films (Lips of Blood, The Shiver of the Vampires), veers off into a slightly different direction with The Grapes of Death, a film about...well, grapes, and the extraordinary effect they have on anyone who consumes them. 

We follow Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal), a young woman traveling by train to the French village of Roubles to meet her fiance. When the train stops at a nearby station, a man, whose face and arms are covered with pus-filled lesions, stumbles aboard and murders Brigitte, Elizabeth's traveling companion. In a panic, Elizabeth hops off the train and flees into the French countryside, looking for help. What she finds instead is an entire population infected with a bizarre virus, one that spreads by way of wine tainted with pesticides, causing people to turn violent without a moment's notice. Alone in a strange place, Elizabeth must fend off hundreds of zombie-like creatures as she tries to make her way to Roubles, and, hopefully, safety. 

One of the strengths of The Grapes of Death is you're never quite sure which of its characters are infected, and which are not. Shortly after rushing off the train, Elizabeth makes her way to a farmhouse, occupied by an older man and his adult daughter. Never once does the old man take his eyes off Elizabeth, and flat-out refuses, sometimes angrily, to assist her in any way. It's fairly obvious from the get-go that he's ill, but his daughter, who seems the more reasonable of the two, is, at first, a mystery. We begin to suspect she may also be sick the moment she tries to physically prevent Elizabeth from leaving, and our suspicions are confirmed when the daughter, whose name is Antoinette, tells Elizabeth to go upstairs and rest, yet fails to inform her there's a dead body, its throat cut from ear to ear, already lying in the bed. Despite appearing quite normal most of the time, Antoinette is also infected, leading Elizabeth to the realization that she can never fully trust anyone she encounters on this perilous journey. 

As is the case with many of Jean Rollin's films, the pacing in The Grapes of Death is a bit lackadaisical at times; there are extended scenes of Elizabeth running through the countryside that could have easily been cut down, as could several of her run-ins with the locals, who spend an inordinate amount of time just staring at her. Yet despite its drawbacks, The Grapes of Death works because it keeps you guessing. Because of this, I never found it boring in the least.







Monday, February 13, 2012

#546. The Day of the Jackal (1973)


Directed By: Fred Zinnemann

Starring: Edward Fox, Terence Alexander, Michel Auclair




Tag line: "The Jackal spent 71 days, 56 minutes thinking a bullet into the brain of de Gaulle"

Trivia:  There are 31 individual insert shots of clocks in the movie






Director Fred Zinnemann's 1973 political thriller, The Day of the Jackal, is downright obsessed with the particulars.

The OAS, an underground organization bent on assassinating French President Charles DeGaulle, has thus far failed in every attempt they've made on the leader’s life. Desperate for results, they bring in an outsider, a British assassin known only as the Jackal (Edward Fox), to finish the job. A true professional, the Jackal’s meticulous attention to detail confounds the rank and file of the French police, who have thus far been unable to determine either his true identity or his whereabouts. Enter Claude Lebel (Michael Lonsdale), considered by many the best detective on the force. With time ticking away, Lebel must resort to extreme measures to locate the elusive Jackal and prevent him from carrying out his murderous assignment.

In relating its tense tale of political wrangling, The Day of the Jackal explores two separate, yet equally intriguing stories. On the one hand, we follow the Jackal as he sets his plan in motion, from acquiring a false identity to the purchase of his weapon, a specialized rifle that is virtually untraceable. At the same time, we also tag along with the police, specifically Lebel and his partner, Caron (Derek Jacobi), who seek assistance from outside organizations, including Scotland Yard, to learn as much as they can about this mysterious assassin. This is where the film truly sets itself apart. So often, in a movie of this nature, we spend most of the time following a single plot line, usually at the expense of all others, which are either completely ignored or, at the very least, under-developed. In The Day of the Jackal, each side gets a fair shake. By the time the film's over, you'll have difficulty deciding which of the two was the more provocative story. 

The Day of the Jackal is clever in both style and form, and we the audience are treated to a real bargain when watching this well-crafted thriller. After all, it isn’t often we’re given what amounts to two stories for the price of one!







Sunday, February 12, 2012

#545. When Harry Met Sally (1989)


Directed By: Rob Reiner

Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher




Tag line: "Can men and women be friends or does always sex get in the way?"

Trivia:  Director Rob Reiner and producer Andrew Scheinman are credited on some drafts of the script







So did Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa really want to get on that plane with Victor Laszlo at the end of Casablanca, or didn’t she? This is just one of the many questions that arise during the course of Rob Reiner’s 1989 romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally, the story of two friends who have no idea how right they are for one another. 

Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) have known each other for just over a decade. Many of their friends, mutual or otherwise, feel Harry and Sally would themselves make the ideal couple, but they refuse to travel that path together, believing romance would ruin the perfect relationship they already share. Will these two ever take a chance on love, or will they continuously ignore the fact they already are, for all intents and purposes, the perfect couple? 

From the film’s opening sequence, which hits on the high points of an 18-hour car drive to New York City, one can already sense the teaming of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan will be a winning combination. Aside from the Casablanca dispute described above, we’re privy to many other debates that erupt between the two, including the reasons men and women can never truly be “just friends”, and why it’s not possible to have great sex with someone named Sheldon. Billy Crystal is impressive as Harry, a guy who's as sharp as he is funny, and Meg Ryan is also perfectly cast, playing a role that, much like Crystal’s Harry, seems to mirror her own personality. The success of any romantic comedy hinges on the chemistry generated by it’s stars, and thanks to the great work of Crystal and Ryan, When Harry Met Sally is one of the most successful romantic couplings in recent Hollywood history. 

Along with Crystal and Ryan, I also enjoyed the quick little asides Reiner threw into the film from time to time, featuring a real-life tale of romance, in which an elderly couple recounts the details of their first meeting. Throughout the film, I found myself wondering what Harry and Sally's version of this story might have sounded like. Maybe something along the lines of: "Harry thought Sally was uptight, and she felt the 18 hour drive was one of the worst experiences of her life". 

Sounds like the beginning of something very special.







Saturday, February 11, 2012

#544. Cape Fear (1962)


Directed By: J. Lee Thompson

Starring: Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen




Tag line: "Their ordeal of terror triggers the screen's most savage war of nerves!"

Trivia:  The financial failure of Cape Fear ended Gregory Peck's company, Melville Productions






When Cape Fear was still in its planning stages, star Gregory Peck went to director J. Lee Thompson and expressed concern that the character he'd be playing, a reserved attorney whose family is threatened by a psychotic stalker, might be dull, and in danger of being upstaged by the stalker himself. This comment was made prior to the casting of that pivotal role, and one can only imagine how Peck felt when he learned Robert Mitchum would be his nemesis.

At that point, Peck must have pretty much known it was “Game Over”. From start to finish, Cape Fear belongs to Robert Mitchum. 

Max Cady (Mitchum) has just been released from prison, where he'd served eight years for assault and rape. With the bitter memory of his time behind bars gnawing at him, Cady starts shadowing attorney Sam Bowden (Peck), the man who acted as the prosecution’s key witness against him eight years earlier. Bowden, who has a beautiful young wife (Polly Bergen) and teenage daughter (Lori Martin), fears the worst, and goes to great lengths to have Cady locked away for good. But it won't be easy, seeing as Cady’s making damn sure he goes no further in his torment of Bowden than the law allows, and not even the local police Chief (Martin Balsam) or a determined private investigator (Telly Savalas) are able to get the goods on Cady. Nearly out of options, Bowden makes one last, desperate attempt to save his family, a move that might end in disaster for them all. 

As played by Mitchum, Max Cady is the most dangerous type of stalker there is; a hardened criminal who used his time behind bars to study up on the law. Early on, Cady follows Bowden and his family to a bowling alley, telling Bowden he just wanted to “get a look” at his wife and daughter. This prompts Bowden’s first trip to the police, seeking protection. But Cady hasn’t actually broken any laws, nor said anything that would signify he intends to harm anyone. With the authorities offering little to no help, and Cady breathing down his neck at every turn, Bowden starts to unravel, while Cady remains, at all times, in perfect control. 

Director John Huston, who worked with Mitchum on 1957's Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, once called the actor “a rarity…hard-working, noncomplaining, amazingly receptive”. In Cape Fear, he puts all of these attributes to good use, while throwing in an extra dose of strength, and more than a hint of menace, for good measure.







Friday, February 10, 2012

#543. Rhapsody in August (1991)


Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Sachiko Murase, Richard Gere, Hisashi Igawa





Trivia:  This film premiered at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival









Kane (Sachiko Murase), an elderly grandmother living on a small farm just outside Nagasaki, is playing host to her four grandchildren, who are spending the entire summer with her. One day, Kane receives word that her older brother, who'd moved to Hawaii several years before the outbreak of World War II, is dying, and wishes to see her one more time. Kane wants to honor her brother's request, but the memories of the atomic bombing in 1945, which claimed the lives of some 80,000 people, including her husband, remain fresh in her mind. How could she possibly visit the country responsible for such devastation? Her nephew, Clark (Richard Gere), arrives from America to escort Kane to the United States, yet despite being urged by her grandchildren to make the trip, she remains undecided. Torn between her obligations to her brother and her unresolved issues with Americans, Kane searches for a solution to this dilemma. 

With Rhapsody in August, director Akira Kurosawa addresses one of the most troubling of human characteristics: overlooking the events of the past, no matter how terrible they might have been. This is brought to the forefront through Kane's grandchildren, all of whom were born well after the war had ended. Being young, they obviously have no memory of what happened in the nearby city of Nagasaki, and know nothing of the bombing save what they've learned from stories and history books. To them, the prospect of visiting America is an attractive one, and they can't understand why Kane doesn't jump at the opportunity. It isn't until the four take a trip into Nagasaki that the reality of what occurred there starts to sink in. Tami (Tomoko Otakara), the eldest, tells the other three the story of their grandfather, and how the school he taught at was very close to where the bomb hit. She tells how their grandmother, who was safe at home, shielded behind a tall mountain, traveled to Nagasaki that very evening to try and locate her husband, which resulted in radiation poisoning that caused most of her hair to fall out. The four visit the site where the school once stood, which is now nothing but an empty lot. Yet a single monument to the devastation remains; a twisted mound of metal, which at one time had been a set of playground monkey bars. Staring at this remnant of a horrific event, they begin to understand their grandmother’s apprehensions. The tragedy of that day has suddenly become very real for them. 

And for us as well.








Thursday, February 9, 2012

#542. The Mummy (1959)


Directed By: Terence Fisher

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux



Tag line: "Torn from the tomb to terrify the world!"

Trivia:  A door that Christopher Lee must crash through was accidentally bolted by a grip before the scene is shot. Lee's shoulder was dislocated when he broke down the door, but the shot remains in the movie





Having already tackled both Frankenstein (1957's The Curse of Frankenstein) and Dracula (Horror of Dracula in 1958), Hammer Studios took the next logical step by updating the 1932 Universal classic, The Mummy, and who better than their two most proficient actors, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, to take the helm, with Lee once again hidden behind layers of make-up, and Cushing doing whatever it takes to destroy him.

During an expedition to Egypt, archeologist John Banning (Cushing) inadvertently desecrates the tomb of an ancient Egyptian Princess named Ananka, an act that brings her mummified lover, Kharis (Lee), back to life, looking for revenge. To this end, Kharis follows Banning to England, but the appearance of Banning’s young wife, Isobel (Yvonne Furneaux), ignites the creature's passion, reminding him of a love he lost long ago. 

As you might expect (especially since it's a Hammer production), The Mummy looks great. What's more, director Terence Fisher also relies on a little creative lighting to enhance key moments in the film. When Banning’s father (Felix Aylmer) and uncle (Raymond Huntley) first enter the newly discovered burial chamber of Princess Ananka, the area is adorned with many of the usual Egyptian props, like a statue of the God Anubis, and hieroglyphics filling just about every inch of wall. Yet despite the ornate decoration, it all feels a bit sparse (especially when you consider it's supposed to be the final resting place of a Princess). So, to distract from the empty spaces, Fisher cast a green light over the sarcophagus, bright enough to draw our attention directly to it.

But the film's most striking scene is undoubtedly the flashback sequence, set thousands of years in the past, which reveals exactly how the mummy came to be. Once a High Priest, Kharis had fallen in love with the Princess, a love so strong that he broke sacred law by attempting to resurrect her from the dead. Aside from the sequence's impressive set pieces, Fisher also fills us in on a little history, giving the audience an insider’s view of the mummification process. The design team did a magnificent job making this scene, and others, look spectacular. Rarely do these individuals receive the recognition they deserve, so let me correct that now by mentioning Bernard Robinson, who handled the Production Design on The Mummy, and Don Mingaye, the Assistant Art Director. Charles Davis was the Master Carpenter, Molly Arbuthnot the Wardrobe Supervisor, and Andrew Low the resident Egyptologist. 

The combined talents of Cushing, Lee and Fisher may have made The Mummy an interesting film, but they didn't do it all by themselves.







Wednesday, February 8, 2012

#541. The Late Great Planet Earth (1979)


Directed By: Robert Amram, Rolf Forsberg

Starring: Orson Welles, Hal Lindsey, Babetta




Tag line: "Heaven and Earth will pass away, but my words shall not pass away. Matt. 24:35"

Trivia:  Portions of the film were shot at the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park in California







We kick things off in biblical times, with an elderly man (Beaumont Bruestle) on the run from an angry mob. Doing everything he can to avoid his pursuers, the old man makes his way to the top of a steep cliff, where a younger man (Timothy nicely) hits him on the head with a rock, causing the poor guy to stumble, then plummet a hundred feet to his death. Cut to modern day. His bones are lying on the ground in exactly the same position, and Orson Welles steps into view, bends down, and picks up the old guy's skull. He examines it, turns to the camera, and says “This was a prophet, a false prophet, some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. Why did they stone him? He made a mistake, probably”. 

Gee, you think

Thus begins The Late Great Planet Earth, an apocalyptic, and painfully dated, vision of things to come. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name, The Late Great Planet Earth sets out to prove that the prophesies recorded in the bible, most notably those in the Book of Revelations, were, at the time, a scant few years away from coming true. Along with the book's author, Hal Lindsey, Welles interprets the words of the prophets Jeremiah, Isaiah, and even Jesus himself to establish that mankind has just about reached the end of the line. 

And what were these prophecies? What was it that had Lindsey, Welles, and many others believing the late 1970s were the beginning of the end? 

Well, let's see...

First off, there's the cataclysmic event that was due to begin when the planets aligned in 1982, and was supposed to trigger volcanic eruptions worldwide. Then, if we somehow survived that ordeal, we'd be facing widespread famine, stretching as far as Europe and the Americas all thanks to the out-of-control population boom. Also, natural resources were rapidly depleting, and wouldn't last us to the new millennium, while water pollution would make it nearly impossible for us to breathe. Oh, and then there's the “world dictator”, whom Lindsey calls the Anti-Christ, a man “alive right now, and unaware of his future role in mankind's downfall”. But don't take his word for it; a handful of scientists chime in as well, including Dr. George Wald, a Nobel prize winner who says, with total certainty, that he didn't see how man could survive to the year 2000. This is one of the few predictions made in The Late Great Planet Earth to actually come true. Dr. Wald didn't see it. He died in 1997. 

The Late Great Planet Earth was designed to make people think, to force them to change their ways before it was too late, and I imagine it did raise a few eyebrows in 1979. I remember another movie titled The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, which I caught on cable in the early '80s. Also narrated by Orson Welles, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow was about Nostradamus, and his take on how the world would end. I was around 11 years old, and that film scared the living hell out of me (I'm not sure how many of its prophecies actually came true, but if memory serves me correctly, we should already be living in a world like the one in The Road Warrior). 

Yep, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow and The Late Great Planet Earth sure packed a wallop back in the day. Now, they're good for a chuckle, and nothing more.







Tuesday, February 7, 2012

#540. Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008)


Directed By: Mark Hartley

Starring: John T. Lamond, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Quentin Tarantino




Tag line: "Finally an Aussie film packed full of boobs, pubes, tubes ... and a bit of kung fu"

Trivia:  The movie premiered at the 2008 Melbourne International Film Festival






Having just seen the chaotically entertaining Australia After Dark, I was in the perfect frame of mind to revisit the documentary that brought that film to my attention, director Mick Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation

Not Quite Hollywood is an in-depth exposé of Australian genre films of the 1970s and '80s. Following a brief history of the social and political climate that allowed for such movies in the first place, Not Quite Hollywood splits itself off into 3 sections: Ockers, Knockers, Pubes and Tubes, which explores the era's sexy, lowbrow comedies, Comatose Killers and Outback Chillers, covering a horror genre heavily influenced by the American films of the same period, and High Octane Disasters and Kung Fu Masters, where we learn a little more about the roving gangs of bikers and motor heads, a la Mad Max, that were so prevalent in the movies of the time. Through a barrage of film clips and interviews with actors, directors, critics, and fans alike, Not Quite Hollywood offers as complete a picture of ozploitation as is humanly possible. 

A funny thing happened while I was watching Not Quite Hollywood this time around. Normally, when I know I'm going to be writing about a film, I jot down a whole bunch of notes during the viewing, to help me remember key moments, or specific lines of dialogue. In short, anything that will help me when I sit down to write. This is how it started with Not Quite Hollywood as well, but by the time the movie reached the half-hour mark, my notes had “evolved” into a running list of titles I was now dying to check out. Movies like 1972's The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, a bawdy sex comedy chock full of gratuitous nudity and vomit, and Night of Fear, a horror film featuring a scene in which a naked man covers his genitals with a severed head. And let's not forget The Man From Hong Kong, a kung-fu cop story starring the egotistical Jimmy Wang-Yu, or Stunt Rock, a movie about...well, stuntmen and rock music! With a steady stream of awesome, jaw-dropping clips parading before my eyes, I couldn't possibly concentrate on anything outside of the films themselves. 

Not Quite Hollywood is more than a documentary; it's a treasure chest of motion pictures from a specific time and place. Not all of the films were new to me, but the excitement I felt revisiting the ones I have seen (Australia After Dark, Razorback, Patrick) has me anxious to check out a few that I haven't. 

A few? Who am I kidding!?! I want to see every damn one of 'em!







Monday, February 6, 2012

#539. The Midnight Meat Train (2008)


Directed By: Ryûhei Kitamura

Starring: Vinnie Jones, Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb




Tag line: "The most terrifying ride you'll ever take"

Trivia:  Clive Barker provided some of the paintings seen in Susan Hoff's art gallery






Odds are, I'll never be standing on a New York City subway platform at midnight, but even if I was, after watching The Midnight Meat Train, I'm pretty sure I'd choose to walk instead!

Leon (Bradley Cooper) is an amateur photographer who's introduced, through a mutual friend, to Susan Hoff (Brooke Shields), an influential art dealer who recommends to Leon that he dedicate his time to shooting the city's darker side, the seedy night-life of New York's criminals and undesirables. Hoping to make enough money to marry his girlfriend, Maya (Leslie Bibb), Leon takes this advice and hits the streets, searching for the one image that will make him a boatload of cash. But his quest for the perfect picture soon turns into an investigation when, during his travels, he meets up with Mahogany (Vinnie Jones), a butcher by day and murderer by night, who spends his evenings knocking off the after-hours passengers of the city's subway line. Feeling he might be connected to dozens of missing persons cases, Leon starts tracking Mahogany's every move, all the while closing in on a secret he'll soon wish he never uncovered. 

If there's one image you'll take away from The Midnight Meat Train, it's that of Vinnie Jones' Mahogany casually walking towards his potential victims, brandishing a solid steel hammer. The first person we see him use it on is a pretty model named Erika (Nora), who Leon saved moments earlier from a gang of toughs. This first kill has an almost cartoon-like feel to it, with Jones, out of focus and sitting in the background, creeping up behind Erica and slamming the hammer into the side of her head. There's no blood, but the second kill will more than make up for it, when Mahogany takes his frustrations out on not one, but three passengers. Randle (played by none other than Ted Raimi) gets the hammer to the back of his head, which causes his eye to go flying out of its socket. After disabling a second guy with a shot to the groin, Mahogany turns his attention to Randle's wife, Leigh (Stephanie Mace), who fell after slipping on her husband's eye, and is now crawling across the blood-soaked floor. Switching to a first-person view from Leigh's perspective, we watch as Mahogany brings his weapon of choice down twice on her noggin, the second being strong enough to knock her head halfway across the subway car. A former British football player, Jones' Mahogany sets about murdering, then butchering, his victims, often with chilling detachment. and never uttering so much as a syllable while doing so.  Thanks to his imposing stature, Jones makes for an impressive psychopath, and remains a force to be reckoned with throughout most of the film. 

Now, I'm a big opponent of CGI blood; I've stated in the past how phony I think it looks, and unfortunately, The Midnight Meat Train has some of the worst computer-enhanced splatters I've ever seen. Yet, as bad as they are, they never once took me out of the movie. A nerve-wracking motion picture with one of the most fascinating killers in recent memory, The Midnight Meat Train is a gore-soaked horror film that genre fans are sure to love.