Friday, November 30, 2012

#837. The Eye (2002)


Directed By: Oxide Pang, Danny Pang

Starring: Angelica Lee, Chutcha Rujinanon, Lawrence Chou




Tag line: "Some things are better left unseen"

Trivia:  When Dr Wah and Mun are on the train together, a ghostly woman's face appears in the window behind them as they travel through a tunnel






When it comes to Asian horror, my favorite movie will always be Ju-On, which scares the hell out of me every time I see it. But I gotta tell you, The Pang Brothers 2002 film, The Eye, is a very close second.

Mun (Angelica Lee), who’s been blind since the age of two, has just undergone a corneal transplant operation to try and restore her eyesight. The procedure is a success, but Mun soon realizes she’s seeing things, and people, that nobody else can. As it turns out, Mun is now able to see the dead, whose spirits have either just departed their bodies (led to the afterlife by a mysterious shadow) or are trapped in this realm, looking to break free. Terrified, she turns to her therapist, Dr. Wah (Lawrence Chow) for help, and together they attempt to track down information on the donor of the corneas, hoping it will solve a mystery that is driving Mun insane.

The Eye has many terrific scenes, ranging from the fantastic (like when the spirit of a young boy passes through Mun as she’s crossing the street) to the suspenseful (a sequence set in an elevator will drag you to the edge of your seat) to the downright terrifying. Whenever Mun opens her eyes, there’s a chance she’ll see something extraordinary, and more often than not, she does. The Eye also contains an excellent twist that took me completely by surprise, and a climactic scene as surprising as it is brilliantly staged.

For a time there, Hollywood was churning out remakes of recent Asian horror films, some of which are quite entertaining; The Ring is one great example of a remake done right, as is 2009’s The Uninvited. In 2008, The Eye joined the ranks as well, with a movie that featured Jessica Alba in the lead role. As to how good (or bad) this particular version of the story is, I can’t say. That’s because I haven’t seen it, and more than likely never will. For me, The Eye was done to perfection by writers/directors Danny and Oxide Pang back in 2002. There’s simply no way anyone could have improved on their movie.

Not for me, anyway.







Thursday, November 29, 2012

#836. The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002)


Directed By: Cathy Malkasian, Jeff McGrath

Starring: Tim Curry, Rupert Everett, Flea




Tag line: "This Could Be The Beginning Of A Beautiful Adventure"

Trivia: This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song, for "Father and Daughter" by Paul Simon







Starting in the late '90s, the U.S. cable TV network Nickelodeon, which offers programming geared specifically towards kids, tried building a few feature films around their more popular animated shows. The results were mixed; 1998’s The Rugrats Movie was fun, as was its sequel, Rugrats in Paris, whereas 2002's Hey Arnold! The Movie was a dismal failure. But '02 also saw the release of The Wild Thornberrys Movie, and unlike its predecessors, the show itself featured a storyline that translated perfectly to the big screen.

For those unfamiliar with the series, The Wild Thornberrys followed the adventures of a young girl named Eliza Thornberry (voiced by Lacey Chabert), who, along with her family, lived in a souped-up RV. See, her father, Nigel (Tim Curry) hosted a television nature program, which was filmed and edited by his wife (and Eliza’s mother), Marianne (Jodi Carlisle). As you can imagine, their profession took them all over the world, visiting many exotic locales. Eliza’s older sister, Debbie (Danielle Harris), didn’t really enjoy life on the go, and wished the family would leave the wilderness behind and move back to civilization. Of course, if they did, they’d have had to figure out what to do with Donnie (voiced by Flea), a boy they found living in the wild and adopted as their own. Needless to say, Donnie, with his unkempt hair and untamed personality, would have probably stood out in a suburban setting.

Besides, Eliza possessed a very special gift that would’ve gone to waste in polite society. Due to her undying love for all creatures furry and small (as well as scary and big), a kindly Shaman empowered her with the ability to communicate with animals, allowing her to talk to rabbits, lions, and her new best friend, a chimp named Darwin (Tom Kane). There was, however, one condition: if Eliza told anyone about this “gift” of hers, she’d lose it forever!

That’s the show; now on to the movie, which opens in the wilds of Africa. One morning, as Eliza is playing with some baby cheetahs, one of the cubs is snatched up by poachers. Eliza tries desperately to save her young friend, but to no avail. What’s more, the danger she puts herself in attempting to rescue the cheetah shocks her parents, as well as her grandmother, Cordelia Thornberry (Lynn Redgrave), who’s visiting from England. Worried for her granddaughter’s safety, Cordelia recommends that she take Eliza home with her. Nigel and Marianne reluctantly agree, and as a result, Eliza is packed off to the UK and enrolled in one of the country’s finest boarding schools. Yet try as she might, Eliza can’t stop thinking about her cheetah friend. So, with the help of her snobbish roommate, she runs away from school and heads for the nearest port. Once back in Africa, Eliza meets explorers Sloan and Bree Blackburn (Rupert Everett and Marisa Tomei), who claim to love nature just as much as she does. But… do they?

The Wild Thornberrys Movie is jam-packed with adventure, something most kids will likely enjoy, and while portions of it may be a bit juvenile for their parents, the majority of the film is quite engaging even for older audiences. Also, unlike some of Nickelodeon’s previous efforts, The Wild Thornberrys Movie actually looks like a theatrical motion picture; the animation is a step up from what was featured on the TV show, and is more in line with the company’s early Rugrats entries. Finally, its story, about poachers killing animals for profit, is good for a lesson or two.

While not the best animated film ever made, The Wild Thornberrys Movie is certainly better than your average cartoon fare.







Wednesday, November 28, 2012

#835. The Man in the Moon (1991)


Directed By: Robert Mulligan

Starring: Sam Waterston, Tess Harper, Gail Strickland




Tag line: "Remember when you couldn't wait for your life to begin... and then, one day, it did?"

Trivia: Reese Witherspoon answered an open casting call in Nashville, Tennessee, for extras, but ended up landing one of the lead roles






1991’s The Man in the Moon marked the screen debut of Reese Witherspoon, who was only 14 when it was made. After watching her in this film, it’s easy to see why she went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

Danielle Trant (Witherspoon) is a 14-year old tomboy (she prefers that people call her Dani) growing up in 1950's Louisiana. She lives on a farm with her strict but loving father (Sam Waterston), her caring (and very pregnant) mother (Tess Harper) and two sisters. Older sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) is 17, and is considered a beauty by all the local boys. But Maureen wants more out of life, and is preparing to go away to college in the fall. Dani, meanwhile, passes the hot summer days by skinny-dipping in the neighbor's pond. One day, she's joined (albeit inadvertently) by an older boy named Court (Jason London), the son of Marie Foster (Gail Strickland), an old friend of the Trant family. At first, Dani and Court don't get along. Soon, however, a friendship develops between them, which soon gives way to romance. While Court can't shake the feeling that Dani is way too young for him, Dani has no problem whatsoever with their situation. So, when Court finally meets Maureen, and sparks fly between them, Dani can’t help but feel a little betrayed.

The Man in the Moon might have easily drifted into sappy chick-flick territory were it not for director Robert Mulligan. No stranger to the problems of small-town America (earlier in his career, he helmed the 1962 classic, To Kill a Mockingbird), Mulligan gives his characters enough space to develop beyond the stereotypes found in most standard Hollywood romances. Sure, Dani’s tale of teen angst has TV movie-of-the-week written all over it, but her problems feel genuine, and we sympathize with her, despite the fact we tend to agree with both her father and Court that, just maybe, Dani’s not quite ready for a boyfriend. As for Witherspoon, her performance is near flawless. To watch her so convincingly portray this very likable young girl is simply amazing, especially when you take into account this was her first time in front of a movie camera.

Make no mistake: The Man in the Moon is a tearjerker. But it’s also a wonderful motion picture, one that carts you off on an emotional journey you’ll feel all the richer for having taken.







Tuesday, November 27, 2012

#834. The Stunt Man (1980)


Directed By: Richard Rush


Starring: Peter O'Toole, Steve Railsback, Barbara Hershey




Tag line: "If God could do the things that we can do, he'd be a happy man . . ."

Trivia: Ryan O'Neal originally was slated to play the lead, but dropped out and was eventually replaced by Steve Railsback.




Director Richard Rush ‘s 1980 film, The Stunt Man, is a scathing satire of both the Hollywood system and the depths to which some filmmakers will sink in order to get the “perfect shot”.

Cameron (Steve Railsbeck), a Vietnam veteran, is on the run from the police. While trying to evade capture, he inadvertently disrupts a film shoot and, in so doing, causes the death of the production’s stunt man. The only person to witness the tragedy was the movie’s director, Eli Cross (Pete O’Toole), who was watching from a helicopter. Fearing the local authorities may shut his production down, Cross convinces the sheriff (Alex Rocco) that Cameron is the stunt man, and that he, in fact, survived the accident. This clever ploy secures Cameron’s freedom (his physical appearance is even altered to resemble that of the deceased stunt man) while also allowing Cross to continue making his movie. Yet as Cameron soon discovers, life with Eli Cross is more traumatic than he ever could have imagined. Forced to perform death-defying feats with little or no advance knowledge of what’s in store for him, Cameron lives in constant fear, and despite the reassurances of the picture’s leading lady (Barbara Hershey) and its writer (Allen Garfield) that everything will be fine, he doesn’t trust Eli one bit. So, when it’s time to do the stunt for the film’s big climax, Cameron isn’t sure if he can go through with it.

The Stunt Man is, at times, a very funny movie, but it’s also a dark one, and much of that darkness comes courtesy of Peter O’Toole. The actor delivers a bravura performance as Eli Cross, the raging egomaniac who, rumor has it, once tried to kill a cameraman for missing a crucial shot. O’Toole’s Cross looms heavy over the entire film, pulling everyone’s strings to get them to do exactly what he wants. As an outsider to it all, Cameron acts as our guide through this bizarre world of make-believe, and like him, we find ourselves wondering where the movie ends, and reality begins.

Railsback is convincing as the confused title character, and both Hershey and Garfield are solid in their respective roles. The Stunt Man also features some truly harrowing stunt work, impressive even by today’s standards. Yet it’s Peter O’Toole who steals the show. Playing a man who’s equal parts God and the Devil, O’Toole delivers yet another of his patented witty performances, and netted himself an Academy Award nomination in the process.

In the end, you may not remember everything about The Stunt Man, but odds are you’ll never forget Eli Cross.







Monday, November 26, 2012

#833. The Killing Fields (1984)


Directed By: Roland Joffé

Starring: Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich




Tag line: "Every so often, there is a film that is destined to be talked about and remembered for years to come"

Trivia: Supporting actor Spalding Gray wrote a monologue about his experiences filming this movie, which was later filmed as Swimming to Cambodia





Set in Cambodia in the 1970s, The Killing Fields is a tale of survival set in the most extreme circumstances.

New York Times reporter Sidney Schanberg (Sam Waterston) is a foreign correspondent working in Cambodia, where he covers the Vietnam War. His aide, Dith Pran (an Academy Award winning performance by Dr. Haing S. Ngor), acts as Sidney’s interpreter, and also gets him access to many restricted areas. The two work closely together, and become fast friends, so when the Khmer Rouge takes control of the country, Sidney makes arrangements to get Pran’s family out of Cambodia (Pran remains behind to continue assisting Sidney). After several close calls, Sidney and Pran end up at the French embassy, and, with the help of photographer Al Rockoff (John Malkovich) and British journalist Jon Swain (Julian Sands), attempt to forge a passport so that Pran can leave Cambodia. But their efforts fail, and Pran is instead shuttled off to a labor camp. Once back in America, Sidney writes hundreds of letters and contacts dozens of relief organizations, all in the hopes of saving his good friend. Pran, meanwhile, is suffering daily tortures at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Pushed to the breaking point, he makes one last-ditch effort to escape, pinning his very life on a plan that has little chance of success.

The fact that The Killing Fields is based on actual events is remarkable, and even if there was some embellishment on the part of the filmmakers, the emotion and fear that results from Pran’s harrowing tale of survival comes across as 100% genuine. I found myself totally immersed in this man’s story, and the performance by Haing S. Ngor was a big reason why. Himself a survivor of Cambodia’s Killing Fields, Ngor successfully conveyed his character’s courage in the face of adversity, and, in so doing, became the obvious choice for that year’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Also quite deserving was Chris Menges’ Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Despite all the turmoil and internal strife, Cambodia was (and is) a very beautiful country, and Menges managed to strike the perfect balance between the area’s natural beauty and the chaos that the war inflicted upon it.

The Killing Fields captured my attention and stirred my emotions. It is a visually brilliant, expertly acted movie, and if you haven’t seen it yet, you must do so immediately.







Sunday, November 25, 2012

#832. Treasure Planet (2002)


Directed By: Ron Clements, John Musker

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emma Thompson, Martin Short




Tag line: "Robert Louis Stevenson's Greatest Adventure 'Treasure Island' As It Has Never Been Seen Before"

Trivia: The name of the ship, "R.L.S. Legacy" is a reference to the book's ("Treasure Island") author, Robert Louis Stevenson





Disney’s Treasure Planet is proof positive that a handful of good scenes and a few funny moments don’t amount to a great family movie. A decent one, perhaps, but not a great one.

Inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel, Treasure Island, Treasure Planet introduces us to Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young man who’s always getting into trouble. He and his mother (Laurie Metcalf) run the Benbow, an Inn for space travelers, and their most loyal patron is Doctor Doppler (David Hyde Pierce), a dog that doubles as an astrophysicist. When the mysterious Billy Bones (Patrick McGoohan) crash lands near the Benbow and gives Jim a map to a place called Treasure Planet, Jim and Dr. Doppler hire a ship and set off, hoping the map will lead them to the hidden treasure of the notorious space pirate, Flint. Their ship, the RLS Legacy, is helmed by Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson), a wily space “dog” in the guise of a feline. As for Jim, who's never been on board a vessel like the Legacy before, he's placed in the care of the ship’s cook, John Silver (Brian Murray). Posing as a honest crewman, Silver is actually a former member of Flint’s crew, and plans to steal the treasure he feels is rightfully his. Jim is wary of Silver, yet the two of them bond when Silver defends Jim after the young man is blamed for the death of the ship's ornery first mate, Arrow (Roscoe Lee Browne). Still, Jim knows Silver can’t be trusted, and keeps a sharp eye on his new ‘friend’ once the RLS Legacy arrives at Treasure Planet and begins its search for a fortune in loot.

I really wanted to love this film. Treasure Island is my favorite book, and I thought the change in venue, from sea-faring adventure to deep-space spectacular, might introduce Stevenson's story to a new generation. But the end result was, to say the least, disappointing. For one, the movie starts slowly, and is even boring early on. Also, the characters seem half-baked, and I made no connection whatsoever with many of them (to transform the novel’s Dr. Livesey, a shrewd, clever man, into the bumbling Dr. Doppler was a downright travesty). The tempo does pick up when John Silver and the RLS Legacy enter the picture, but Treasure Planet never reaches that level of exhilaration I was hoping for, and the ending, while certainly thrilling, left me cold; it was exciting, just not particularly interesting.

For the audience this film is shooting for (namely kids), Treasure Planet is an entertaining enough diversion. But with Treasure Island serving as its source material, the fact that Treasure Planet didn’t bowl me over means it fell way short of my expectations.







Saturday, November 24, 2012

#831. Henry V (1944)


Directed By: Laurence Olivier

Starring: Laurence Olivier, Robert Newton, Leslie Banks




Tag line: "Laurence Olivier's Presentation in Technicolor of Henry V"

Trivia:  The filming of a battle scene was stopped in order for the company to watch while overhead a group of British fighters attacked a formation of German bombers on their way to bomb London




At the outbreak of WWII, Laurence Olivier set aside his acting career and joined the Royal Air Force. But as the war dragged on, the British Gov’t decided his services were needed elsewhere. So, he was removed from active duty and instructed to make a movie, one that would help boost morale on the home front. The resulting film was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play, Henry V.

Henry V is set in the 15th century, during the Hundred Years War. Having recently ascended to the throne, Henry (Olivier) sails to France with his army and wins battle after battle, culminating in the victory at Agincourt in 1415, where Henry and his men, greatly outnumbered, managed to defeat the superior French forces. This not only secured the entire country for the British crown, but also allowed Henry to court the beautiful French Princess, Catherine (Renee Asherson), who would eventually become his Queen.

Olivier’s Henry V opens in London’s Globe Theater in the year 1600, in front of a live audience. These early scenes play out on a small, makeshift stage, as if we were watching a contemporary presentation of Shakespeare's play. But soon, the spectators disappear, the space expands, and the stylized sets and costumes morph into more realistic surroundings. It’s as if the "show" had somehow merged with reality, and by the time we reach the Battle of Agincourt, we’re transported to a wide, spacious field, witnessing an epic recreation of the melee complete with archers, horses and a hand-to-hand fight between Henry and a French Commander (Leo Genn). The slow dissolve from artificiality to reality that Olivier employed in Henry V was a stroke of genius, reminding viewers what they were seeing was once performed on a stage, but that the story itself was lifted straight out of the history books.

With Henry V, Laurence Olivier made his particular contribution to the war effort. The film reminded Britons of a time when their army successfully invaded and conquered a foreign foe, an event the country’s then-current military forces, and, indeed, those of much of the world, were hoping to repeat.

Lucky for us, they did.









Friday, November 23, 2012

#830. Quiz Show (1994)


Directed By: Robert Redford

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, Rob Morrow


Tag line: "Fifty million people watched, but no one saw a thing"

Trivia:  Before filming began, Ralph Fiennes wanted to speak with Charles Van Doren in person. But the feeling was that Van Doren wouldn't want to help with the film at all. So Fiennes and one of the film's staff drove to the town where Van Doren lived, and found him sitting on a chair outside his house. Fiennes then pretended to be a lost driver and asked him for directions




Quiz Show, director Robert Redford's take on the corruption that rocked the television industry in the 1950s, is a dramatic look at one of television's earliest scandals.

The current champion of Twenty One, America's most popular TV quiz show, is Herbie Stempel (John Turturro). For a while there, audiences seemed to like this clever but oafish guy from New York, which the network used as justification for supplying Stempel with the answers to all the questions, thus ensuring their popular contestant would remain champ for a long, long time. But the ratings have been dropping as of late, meaning America was getting tired of Herbie Stempel, so word comes down from the top that his reign is over. This pushes Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a literature Professor and the son of a prominent poet, into the limelight, making him Stempel’s chosen successor for the Twenty One crown. At first, Van Doren is reluctant to receive the answers in advance, but eventually gives in and wins more money than any contestant in the show’s history.

The whole shebang threatens to blow up, however, when Stempel, furious that the network won’t allow him to take part in another show, says he’s bringing his case to court, where he promises to reveal all. A closed-door meeting is held with the New York DA, during which Stempel’s claims are rejected as the ramblings of a mentally disturbed individual. Yet the story receives a small by-line in a New York newspaper, attracting the attention of Dick Goodwin (Rob Morrow), a hot-shot Harvard law grad working for the regulatory commission in Washington. Goodwin decides to look into the matter further, leading to an investigation that would shake the very young entertainment medium to its core.

I found Quiz Show utterly fascinating, partly because it’s based on a true story, and features real-life personalities whose names I recognize. As a kid, I remember watching the host of Twenty One, Jack Berry (here played by Christopher McDonald) on the ‘70s game show, The Joker’s Wild, which was, in turn, produced by Dan Enright (wonderfully portrayed in the film by David Paymer). More than this, though, Quiz Show is engaging because it delves into the consciences of its characters, not only Stempel and Van Doren, but Dick Goodwin as well, the man who brought the scandal to the forefront (the screenplay was based on his book). At the outset, Goodwin had no qualms whatsoever about dragging the nebbish Stempel before the grand jury, exposing him to ridicule, yet balks at doing the same to Van Doren, the all-American boy, and someone he’s grown to admire and respect. By relating this tale from multiple points of view, we’re given insight into the motivations of all three men, making Quiz Show as complete an exposé of this fiasco as it could possibly be.

What’s more, Quiz Show challenges us to ask ourselves the tough questions, namely: if a major TV network offered us a chance to win a boatload of cash, then provided the answers to ensure we’d do just that, how would we react?

Me? What would I do? I have absolutely no idea.







Thursday, November 22, 2012

#829. Contempt (1963)


Directed By: Jean-Luc Godard

Starring: Brigitte Bardot, Jack Palance, Michel Piccoli




Tag line: "More Bold! More Brazen! And Much, Much More Bardot!"

Trivia:  Producer Joseph E. Levine insisted on the Brigitte Bardot nude scene that opens the film, realizing that it was the only way he could sell a film that he hated




Out-of-work writer Paul Jarvel (Michel Piccoli), who's married to the gorgeous Camille (Brigette Bardot), has been hired by American producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance), to re-write the script for a film that’s already in production. Based on the classic tale of Ulysses, Jeremy feels the movie, in its current state, is much too abstract, and is in dire need of a little “poetry”. The director, Fritz Lang (played by himself), disagrees, and he and Jeremy are constantly butting heads as a result. But Jeremy is adamant in his belief that Ulysses’ failure to return to Ithica had something to do with his wife, Penelope, who had fallen out of love with him. Paul agrees with Jeremy, and works with Lang to build a story in which Penelope, angry at Ulysses for refusing to intervene when she was approached by various other suitors, learns to despise her husband. Ironically, Paul himself faces a very similar situation when Jeremy makes advances towards Camille. Not wanting to lose his lucrative writing assignment, Paul does nothing to dissuade Jeremy’s flirtatious nature, and his apathy leads Camille to declare their marriage is dead.

With Contempt, Godard has put together a memorable, though-provoking, and ultimately heartbreaking motion picture, using the pretense of making a film to underline the passion, or lack thereof, of his main characters. Paul has deep feelings for Camille, and at the beginning of the movie, tells her his love is unequivocal, and will last forever. So, when he acts as if he's not jealous over Jeremy's aggressive pursuit of her, Camille feels a sharp betrayal, and believes Paul is a weak and feeble man.

Along with its tragic tale of a marriage dying before our eyes, Contempt is also quite beautiful, and while the cast is effective (even Palance, who goes over the top on a number of occasions), the real star here is the Italian scenery. Shot, in part, on the island of Capri, Godard goes out of his way to emphasize the beauty of this area, using it to contrast the sorrow and humiliation his characters are forced to endure.

A positively stunning movie that weaves a most unique love story, Contempt is a marvelous, memorable film.







Wednesday, November 21, 2012

#828. Gator Bait (1974)


Directed By: Beverly Sebastian, Ferd Sebastian

Starring: Claudia Jennings, Sam Gilman, Douglas Dirkson





Tag line: "Untamed and deadly, she ruled the swamp with a BLAZING GUN and a LUSCIOUS SMILE"

Trivia:  Lead actress Claudia Jennings was Playboy's Playmate of the Year in 1970





Before her untimely death in 1979, former Playboy Playmate Claudia Jennings appeared in a handful of ‘70s exploitation films, including Group Marriage, Truck Stop Women and Deathsport. In 1974, she joined filmmakers Ferd and Beverly Sebastian, a husband/wife team, in the swamps of Louisiana for what would prove to be one of her most unusual pictures, a nasty little number called Gator Bait.

Desiree (Jennings) grew up in the swamps, and makes her living poaching alligators, which helps put food on the table for her brother (Tracy Sebastian) and sister (Janit Baldwin). One day, while out checking her traps, Desiree is spotted by local deputy Billy Boy (Clyde Ventura) and his friend, Ben Bracken (Ben Sebastian). Looking to have some “fun’, the two men chase her boat through the swamps. But their pursuit ends in tragedy when Billy accidentally shoots and kills Ben. Fearing the consequences, Billy tells the sheriff (Bill Thurman) that it was Desiree who murdered Ben. This incites the wrath of Ben’s father, T.J. (Sam Gilman), who, along with his surviving sons, heads out into the swamp to exact his revenge. But when they cross the line by attacking Desiree’s young siblings, the hunters soon become the hunted, with a pissed-off Desiree hot on their trail.

Despite its picturesque bayou setting and down-home country soundtrack, Gator Bait is a gritty, sometimes cruel exploitation flick. The tragedy at the start of the film, when Ben is shot dead, resulted from Billy Boy’s plan to catch Desiree in the act of poaching, so they could threaten to throw her behind bars if she didn’t let them have their way with her. Of course, a beauty like Desiree is used to fending off men. When Ben’s brother, Leroy (Douglas Dirkson), tried to rape her years earlier, she responded by cutting his testicles clean off. But Desiree isn’t the only female in Gator Bait, and on our first visit to the Bracken homestead, we watch as a third son, Pete (Don Baldwin), tries to get a little lovin’ from his sister, Lorelai. When their Pa discovers the two of them rolling around in the mud, he chases Pete and flogs him with a bullwhip. This is all a precursor to the film’s most brutal sequence involving Desiree’s sister, a scene that doesn’t offer much in the way of graphic violence, yet is pretty shocking all the same.

And Gator Bait also has Claudia Jennings, who does a fine job as Desiree, the scantily clad Cajun beauty with the sexy French accent. Unlike some of her other movies (The Great Texas Dynamite Chase), Jennings keeps her clothes on in Gator Bait (save a brief flash of skin as she’s trying to get away from Billy and Ben, the whipping winds blowing her top open a couple times). So, with the eye candy kept to a minimum, the actress instead gets to kick ass, and even hit a few dramatic high notes (the scene where Desiree finds out what happened to her sister is very poignant).

In the final scheme of things, Claudia Jennings won’t be remembered as the most gifted performer, but her work in Gator Bait showed what she was capable of, and it’s a shame she didn’t get a chance to develop her talent further.







Tuesday, November 20, 2012

#827. Evil Aliens (2005)


Directed By: Jake West

Starring: Emily Booth, Jamie Honeybourne, Sam Butler





Tag line: "A bloody close encounter"

Trivia:  This was the first full-length British horror film to be filmed using Sony HD (High Definition) cameras







The term “over-the-top” is given a whole new meaning in 2005’s Evil Aliens, a sci-fi / horror / comedy from the UK that’ll have even the sturdiest of gore hounds rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

Not much happens in the small village of Scalleum, a farming community situated off the coast of Wales. Not much, that is, until the aliens arrive! In search of ratings, Michelle Fox (Emily Booth), host of the cable TV show “Weird Worlde”, travels to Scalleum to investigate claims made by local girl Cat Williams (Jennifer Evans), who says she was abducted, then impregnated by aliens from outer space. With the help of her video crew (Sam Butler, Peter O’Connor) and a so-called “expert” (Jamie Honeybourne), Michelle goes about “investigating” the alleged events of that fateful night, never once believing a word of Cat’s story. She quickly changes her tune, however, when the aliens return and start terrorizing the locals, torturing and killing in truly brutal fashion. Trapped in Scalleum, Michelle and the others must find a way out of town before they, too, fall victim to these very evil aliens.

I could sit here and describe, in detail, the madness that is Evil Aliens, but I think a laundry list of some of its most outrageous moments would more effectively drive the point home.

OK, here goes. We have: 1. A male character anally raped with a drill, 2. A blue alien babe sporting a trio of breasts, 3. A crow nailed to a cross, 4. A flashback in which Cat’s womb is cut open and an alien baby implanted, and 5. Several badly-mutilated cattle. All this (and two sex scenes to boot) happens in the first 30-odd minutes of the film, before the “invasion” even begins, meaning Evil Aliens only gets crazier from there on out.

The constantly swooping camera and rapid edits are a bit distracting at times, but if the above insanity sounds like fun to you, then by all means, give this movie a chance.

Me? Yeah, I loved it! Evil Aliens was a blast!







Monday, November 19, 2012

#826. Sunshine State (2002)


Directed By: John Sayles

Starring: Angela Bassett, Edie Falco, Alex Lewis




Tag line: "Take a vacation with JOHN SAYLES"

Trivia:  The restaurant that Reggie Perry and Desiree Stokes Perry stop at to get directions at is at a actual motel in Yulee Florida. The beach store that is supposedly across the street is actually several miles away on Ameila Island





Director John Sayles’ Sunshine State takes place in an unsullied area of Florida, a town the land developers haven’t gotten their hands on. Not yet, anyway… but a number of them have been hanging around in recent weeks, all looking to snatch up property as quickly as they can. Marly Temple (Edie Falco) lives in Delrona Beach, and runs the motel / restaurant her father, Furman (Ralph Waite), started up years earlier. She hates the job, but the untimely deaths of her twin brothers, who were being groomed to take over, forced Marly to step in. One day, she meets Jack Meadows (Timothy Hutton), an architect hoping to buy some land to build on, and despite the fact his plans put him in direct competition with the motel, Marly finds herself attracted to him.

In the neighboring community of Lincoln Beach, former resident Desiree Perry (Angela Bassett) has just returned home after many years away. Now married to Reggie (James McDaniel), Desiree harbors ill feelings towards her family, who, when she became pregnant at the age of 15, sent her to live with relatives. Her mother, Eunice (Mary Alice), has herself taken in a young man named Terrell (Alex Lewis), who’s had some trouble with the law. Dr. Elton Lloyd (Bill Cobbs) is a longtime resident of Lincoln, and hopes to stop the developers from spoiling the area’s picturesque scenery, thus preserving its beauty for generations to come. Unfortunately, he's not getting much help.

A number of other characters make their way in and out of Sunshine State, including local sports celebrity Lee “Flash” Phillips (Tom Wright), a college football star whose career was cut short by injury, and Earl Pinkney (Gordon Clapp), a compulsive gambler, and his wife, Francine (Mary Steenburgen), who’s helping to organize the town’s upcoming Buccaneer Days celebration. Yet what makes Sunshine State an interesting film isn’t its large cast, but how it presents their stories. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys” in this movie; not even the developers. There are just regular people, trying to make their way in the world as best they can. Far from drawing lines in the sand, forcing us to choose sides, Sunshine State simply relates its various tales, leaving us to decide which of its many characters we admire, and which ones we don’t.

More than this, though, Sunshine State is about tradition, and how the younger generation doesn’t always honor the customs of their elders. Along with the stories presented throughout the movie (especially that of Dr. Lloyd’s attempt to prevent developers from moving in), this lack of respect for tradition is addressed by a group of golfers (one of whom is played by comedian Alan King), who make a series of cameo appearances, lamenting the way things are and wishing for a return to the “good, old days”.

Yet, despite all their differences, all the conflicts and strife, the men and women at the heart of Sunshine State are one with this community, and will always hold a special place in their hearts for the area they call home. So, even if the landscape does eventually change, and its long-standing rituals are a thing of the past, the town itself will never die. There’s definitely some comfort to be taken from that.







Sunday, November 18, 2012

#825. Chicago (2002)


Directed By: Rob Marshall

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere




Tag line: "In a city where everyone loves a legend, there's only room for one"

Trivia:  Renée Zellweger had no singing or dancing training prior to this film






Motion picture musicals staged a comeback of sorts in the early part of the new millennium, with both Moulin Rouge (in 2001) and Chicago (the following year) being nominated for Best Picture by the Academy. Unfortunately, Moulin Rouge came up empty, save a pair of awards for Costume and Set Design. As for Chicago, it received a whopping 13 nominations, walking away with 6 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Best Picture. Watch the film, and you’ll understand why; Chicago is a rollicking good time!

It’s the Jazz Age, and housewife Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) wants to be a star. She’s married to the kind yet dim-witted Amos (John C. Reilly), and is having an affair with Fred Casely (Dominic West) because he’s promised to help her break into show biz. But things don’t go Roxie’s way. For one, her favorite stage performer, the lovely Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones), the hottest act in all of Chicago, has just been arrested for murdering both her husband and sister, who she caught together in a “compromising” position. On top of that, Fred dumps Roxie, telling her he doesn’t really have any connections in the business, and that she’ll never be a star. In a fit of rage, Roxie shoots Fred dead, and when Amos finally figures out what happened, he turns his wife over to the police. Locked away in prison, Roxie, with the help of the facility’s warden, Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), hires hot-shot lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to represent her, a shifty shyster who claims that, for $5,000, he can get you acquitted no matter what the crime.

The problem is, Billy also represents Velma Kelly, who’s none too happy to hear her lawyer has turned his attentions away from her to concentrate on a lowly housewife. But then, Roxie doesn’t stay lowly for long. With Billy’s assistance, she becomes the talk of the town, and Chicago’s brightest new star. This pits Velma and Roxie against one another, each vying for the ever-important spotlight, with Billy in the middle of it all, collecting a boatload of cash.

Chicago is loads of fun from start to finish. Each new “event” in the film is given its own musical number, my favorite being the “Cell Block Tango”, a flashy scene set in prison that features a collection of female criminals, including Zeta-Jones’ Velma, recounting their crimes (and in a very non-repentant manner). Even John C. Reilly gets to belt out his own tune (the melancholy “Mr. Cellophane”). As for the leads, Zeta-Jones and Zellweger are positively alluring, but the show is stolen by Gere, whose quick banter is matched only by his dance moves (as seen in his “Tap Dancing Around the Witness” sequence). The combination of great set pieces and impressive period costumes are merely the icing on the very tasty, very entertaining cake that is Chicago, a movie that’ll leave you breathless.

… And smiling!







Saturday, November 17, 2012

#824. Auto Focus (2002)


Directed By: Paul Schrader

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Maria Bello




Tag line: "A day without sex is a day wasted"

Trivia:  The bald actor who plays a reporter interviewing Crane about midway through the film is Crane's real son, Bob Crane Jr.







Paul Schrader has made a career out of delving into the psyches of disturbed individuals, both as a writer (Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder, Raging Bull) and director (Hardcore, Affliction). Auto Focus, his 2002 film exploring the life and death of actor Bob Crane, presents us with a lead character who, by all appearances, was living the American dream, and having a great time doing so. But beneath his beaming smile and warm personality, Bob Crane hid a secret so dark that it likely cost him his life. 

Early in his career, Crane (Greg Kinnear) was a happily married man, a radio disc jockey who attended church regularly with his wife, Anne (Rita Wilson) and their children. But around the time he landed the role of Col. Robert Hogan in the hit TV series, Hogan’s Heroes, things started to change, and the catalyst for this change was new pal, John Carpenter (Willem Dafoe). An audio technician, Carpenter introduced Crane to a brand new technology called home video, and acted as his guide through the seedy world of strip clubs and sex parties. To further complicate matters, Crane also struck up an affair with actress Patricia Olson (Mario Bello), one of his co-stars on Hogan’s Heroes. After learning of her husband’s multiple “indiscretions” Anne divorced Crane, leaving him free to marry Patricia (who agreed to overlook his sexual promiscuity). But when Hogan’s Heroes was cancelled, Bob Crane’s career took a nosedive, due, in part, to his reputation as a sex fiend. Stuck performing in dinner theaters, his marriage to Patricia fell apart, and Crane began to suspect that his friendship with Carpenter was costing him dearly. So, he decided to end their relationship. But it was Bob Crane’s life that ended instead on the night of June 28, 1978, when he was bludgeoned to death in a Scottsdale, Arizona motel room, a crime that, to this day, remains unsolved.

Auto Focus flat-out implicates Carpenter in Crane’s murder, implying he relished the attention he received whenever the two men appeared in public together, and couldn’t bear the thought of it all coming to an end (for the record, Carpenter was cleared of any wrongdoing in 1992). But Auto Focus isn’t so much about the mystery surrounding Bob Crane’s death as it is the tragedy that was his life. Kinnear and Dafoe do a fine job portraying best friends who brought out the worst in each other, and Schrader perfectly captures the raw emotion of a man who, despite his reputation as a nice guy (and he was, apparently, a very nice guy), was controlled by an addiction that transformed him from one of Hollywood’s hottest stars into a liability no studio would take a chance on.

In telling the story of Bob Crane, Auto Focus functions as both a biopic of a talented, troubled individual and a commentary on the lurid side of Hollywood.







Friday, November 16, 2012

#823. The Burning (1981)


Directed By: Tony Maylam

Starring: Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer




Tag line: "If you go down to the woods today... Watch out for Cropsy!"

Trivia:  The shot of Cropsy's legs kicking wildly in the fire are actually those of make-up artist Tom Savini







1981’s The Burning is a trivia lover’s delight. Not only did it mark the big screen debuts of Holly Hunter (Raising Arizona, The Piano), Jason Alexander (George from Seinfeld) and Fisher Stevens (Short Circuit), but it was written (at least in part) and produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who would go on to found Miramax pictures and, over the course of a few decades, haul in a number of Academy Awards.

Oh, and The Burning is also one of the best ‘80s slashers out there. Don’t want to forget that!

Some of the kids at Camp Blackfoot have had enough of the site’s miserable caretaker, Cropsy (Lou David). So, one evening, they decide to play a practical joke on him, only things go very wrong and Cropsy ends up in the emergency room with burns covering most of his body. After five years, Cropsy, still badly deformed, is finally released from the hospital, and, wielding a pair of garden shears, takes his revenge against the current crop of teens inhabiting Camp Blackfoot.

With its story of a killer stalking young adults at a campsite, The Burning was obviously designed to cash in on the success of 1980’s Friday the 13th. Yet the movie ends up being so much more than your typical, run-of-the-mill rip-off. For one, the opening scene, where we witness first-hand the burning of Cropsy, was executed brilliantly (the sight of Cropsy engulfed in flames is one of the film’s strongest images). Next, the collection of “kids” (many of whom look well over 20, but what are you gonna do?) the filmmakers assembled proved to be much more than generic slasher victims. Dave, played by Jason Alexander is a precursor of Seinfeld’s George Costanza, and steals nearly every scene he’s in. Brain Backer is solid as Alfred, the awkward camper who spends most of the movie running for his life, and Larry Joshua’s Glazer is the perfect bully, a guy you can’t wait to see the killer get his hands on.

The Burning has all this, and Tim Savini to boot. An expert at make-up and special effects, Savini rejected an offer from Friday the 13th, Part 2 to make The Burning instead, and his handiwork is on full display in the film’s most famous sequence, where Cropsy attacks five campers as they float down the river on a makeshift raft (one poor teen even loses a few fingers in the melee).

Featuring a number of talented people at the start of their careers, and a make-up artist who was already a master of his craft, The Burning simply had too much going for it to be just another knock-off.







Thursday, November 15, 2012

#822. Demons (1985)


Directed By: Lamberto Bava

Starring: Urbano Barberini, Natasha Hovey, Karl Zinny





Tag line: "Their Evil Becomes an Orgy of Bloodshed"

Trivia:  Lamberto Bava cites this as his personal favorite of the films he has directed






Demons is a mid-80s Italian horror film that’s loads of fun... and loaded with plenty of gore!

While walking through a Berlin subway station, pretty college student Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) is handed free tickets to the grand reopening of a movie theater. She invites her friend, Kathy (Paolo Cozzo), to tag along, and together, the gals make their way to the beautiful Metropol movie house, which, as luck would have it, is showing a horror film. They’re joined by a number of others, including a pimp (Bobby Rhodes) and his two favorite prostitutes, a blind man, a couple that bickers constantly, and a pair of guys, George (Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny), who immediately hit it off with Cheryl and Kathy. But there’s more to this theater than meets the eye, something that becomes painfully obvious the moment several audience members transform into bloodthirsty demons! Realizing they’re locked in, the remaining few band together to try and find a way out, hoping to escape before they, too, join the ranks of the damned.

Directed by Lamberto Bava (son of the legendary Mario), Demons may be silly, but what the film lacks in logic, it more than makes up for in action. Simply put, Demons is a wild ride, and things start to happen fairly quickly, kicking off when Rosemary (Geretta Geretta), one of the prostitutes, notices that her cheek, which she cut earlier, is bleeding. Rushing to the bathroom to clean up, Rosemary discovers the wound is getting bigger by the second. Before long, it explodes, and by the time you realize what’s happened, Rosemary is a demon, her mouth oozing green pus. From this point on, Demons doesn’t stop to take a breath. In fact, it gets crazier by the minute, culminating in a final showdown that features:

1. A motorcycle,
2. A sword, and
3. A downed helicopter.

I told you Demons was a wild ride!







Wednesday, November 14, 2012

#821. The Piano Teacher (2001)


Directed By: Michael Haneke

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Annie Girardot, Benoît Magimel






Trivia:  The character of the mother is based on author Elfriede Jelinek's real life mother







With its stark depiction of repressed emotions and sexual deviancy, director Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher gnaws at you, wearing you down until you’re completely immersed in (and simultaneously repelled by) its story of a woman standing on the precipice of self-destruction.

Erica Kohut (Isabelle Huppert) is a middle-aged piano teacher who lives at home with her domineering mother (Annie Girardot). As an instructor, Erica is very strict, and often verbally abuses her pupils whenever they make a mistake. She is also sexually frustrated, and spends a great deal of time visiting porn shops, or spying on teens at the drive-In theater as they explore their budding sexuality. So severe is her mental anguish that it sometimes drives her to acts of self-mutilation. Then, at a recital, Erica meets Walter Klemmer (Benoit Magimel), an amateur musician who quickly becomes infatuated with her. At first distant, Erica soon succumbs to Walter’s charms, and the two share a rather intimate encounter in an auditorium restroom. She eventually writes Walter a letter, revealing her deepest desire is to be tied up and beaten while her mother, unaware, sits in the next room. Repulsed, Walter abruptly ends the relationship, but Erica continues to pursue him, anxious to rekindle an affair that has come to mean the world to her.

With The Piano Teacher, director Michael Haneke turns his back on what many would consider “normal” behavior (sexual or otherwise) to present a portrait of human suffering that is often difficult to stomach. Erica’s repressed rage manifests itself in different ways throughout the movie, including an authoritarian approach to her work. But her harsh treatment of her students has its roots in selfishness more than anything else, designed to shatter their dreams in much the same way hers have been destroyed (in one scene, she intentionally injures her most promising protégé right before an important recital). Obviously, her conduct hinders any emotional connection between Erica and the audience, but then, such a bond isn’t essential. Together, Haneke and Huppert have constructed a central character we may not like, and one we certainly won’t understand, yet they still manage to keep our attention throughout, building interest to the point that we’re eager to see where Erica’s fate will guide her.

The Piano Teacher is, at times, cold and dispassionate, yet it is also never exploitive, and, considering the material Haneke was working with, that alone is something of a minor miracle







Tuesday, November 13, 2012

#820. One Hour Photo (2002)


Directed By: Mark Romanek

Starring: Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan




Tag line: "There's nothing more dangerous than a familiar face"

Trivia:  Trent Reznor, of the band Nine Inch Nails, composed an original score for the film, but director Romanek opted not to use it





Director Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo is a thriller that draws you in with its story of a seemingly simple man and the dark, disturbing secret he’s trying to hide.

Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) works at a local discount store, developing pictures for the one-hour photo booth. A dedicated employee, Sy is also a loner, with no family or friends to speak of. So, to fill the void in his life, he becomes fixated on the family of one of his regular customers, a housewife named Nina Yorkin (Connie Nielson), who lives in a nice suburban neighborhood with her husband, Will (Michael Vartan) and son Jakob (Dylan Smith). Sy’s fascination with the Yorkins is all-consuming, and has grown to the point that he runs off extra prints of their pictures for himself. This raises the suspicions of his boss (Gary Cole), who’s noticed that a large number of the photos Sy is processing aren’t being accounted for. Sy’s world is further turned upside-down with the discovery that Will Yorkin is having an extramarital affair. His dream of a perfect life shattered, Sy takes matters into his own hands, and sets out to “punish” Will for his indiscretions.

The manic comedian who made us laugh in such films as Club Paradise, The Best of Times and Good Morning, Vietnam is nowhere to be found in One Hour Photo. In his place is a shy, deeply wounded shell of a man who, in his quest for love, has resorted to stalking his customers. Williams is superb in the role of Sy, causing us to shudder in fear at the depths to which his character sinks, yet all the while stirring our sympathies for what is clearly a lonely, confused individual who wants only to belong. Williams manages to manipulate the audience’s emotions throughout One Hour Photo, shifting them back and forth between horror and pity in an almost seemless manner, all leading up to a final scene that’s as revealing as it is bleak.

With its twisted tale of a man and his out-of-control obsession, One Hour Photo will definitely have you thinking twice the next time you drop your film off to be developed!







Monday, November 12, 2012

#819. The Mummy's Ghost (1944)


Directed By: Reginald Le Borg

Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Robert Lowery





Tag line: "Nameless! Fleshless! Deathless!"

Trivia: This was the only Universal Mummy movie to utilize no flashback footage whatsoever






No matter how many times they burn up poor Kharis, he always comes back for more. I guess you just can’t keep a good mummy down!

It’s been decades since Kharis’ reign of terror on the small town of Mapleton, and yet another High Priest (John Carradine) is dispatched to America with instructions to locate the remains of Princess Ananka and return with her to Egypt. This won’t be easy, seeing as the Princess’s mummified body is now the main attraction at the Mapleton museum! So, the High Priest once again summons the mummy, Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr.), to assist him with this arduous task. But when they attempt to steal the princess’s remains, the High Priest discovers her spirit has already come back to earth, and now inhabits one Amina Mansouri (Ramsay Ames), a pretty college student engaged to be married to Tom Hervey (Robert Lowery). Like his predecessor in The Mummy’s Tomb, the High Priest orders Kharis to kidnap the girl, then falls in love with her himself, thus inciting the jealous rage of not only Tom, but Kharis as well.

As you can tell from the above synopsis, which shares many similarities with that of The Mummy’s Tomb, the series had, by this point in time, moved firmly into formulaic territory. But what saves The Mummy’s Ghost from becoming just another routine entry is John Carradine, who delivers a deliciously diabolical performance as the High Priest. I also like how the film presents a somewhat stronger, more fleshed-out female character, in the form of Amina Mansouri, than any of the previous Mummy pictures, and with one movie already under his belt, Lon Chaney settles nicely into the role of Kharis. Along with all this, The Mummy’s Ghost also has the bleakest ending of any of the Mummy films thus far, a conclusion that clearly set the stage for yet another sequel.

More on that later...








Sunday, November 11, 2012

#818. Solaris (1972)


Directed By: Andrei Tarkovsky

Starring: Natalya Bondarchuk, Donatas Banionis and Jüri Järvetbr />





Trivia:  Writer Stanislaw Lem was critical of this adaptation of his novel, complaining that he didn't write about people's "erotic problems in space."







Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, a 1972 sci-fi / mystery set aboard a space station, is a haunting, dramatic look at what it is that makes us human, and what we require to keep our humanity alive.

The three scientists residing on board the Solairs Space Station have been sending bizarre transmissions back to earth, and psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatis Banionis) is sent in to investigate. Upon his arrival, he learns one of the scientists, his good friend Dr. Gabrarian (Sos Sarkisyan), has killed himself, and only Drs. Snauth (Juri Jarvet) and Sartorius (Anatoli Solonitsyn) remain. They inform Kelvin that the planet Solaris has been active as of late, and may be causing a phenomenon that science cannot explain. At first skeptical, Kelvin himself soon realizes something strange is going on when his wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk) suddenly appears on the station, despite the fact she committed suicide over ten years earlier! Now, Kelvin must deal not only with the mysterious powers of the planet Solaris, but his own past as well, including the mistakes that led to his wife’s death. Is Hari’s presence just a figment of his imagination, or is this the second chance he’s been longing for?

Andrei Tarkovsky was a filmmaker who liked to take his time, utilizing long, sustained shots that favored imagery over dialogue. In Solaris, we get many such moments, including Kelvin’s arrival at the station, where we follow along as he tours what has become a desolate, run-down vessel. It’s a sequence that emphasizes the loneliness of space, a loneliness that will soon give way to a reunion of sorts, as well as an opportunity for redemption. Tarkovsky’s camera lingers in nearly every scene of Solaris, taking in all that surrounds it, and setting a tone as ominous as it is observant.

The Solaris station, which, at first glance, appears to be a floating pile of junk, is hiding an astonishing secret that's downright torturous for those left to deal with it. While Kelvin struggles with his past, Hari searches for proof of her own existence. Dr. Sartorius warns Kris not to get emotionally involved with Hari, who, he says, is only a reproduction, an image created by the planet based on Kris’ own memories of his wife. As for Hari, she’s fully aware that she’s only a copy, yet perfectly recalls moments from their history together, and harbors the same feelings as the actual Hari, the same love for Kris. Are these feelings and memories enough to prove this Hari is, in fact, a living, breathing human being? If not, what more is required?

These are the questions Tarkovsky poses throughout Solaris, a motion picture that pushes the concepts of humanity, consciousness, and man’s need for love to the forefront. Wonderfully poetic, Solaris is unlike any science fiction film I’ve ever seen before.







Saturday, November 10, 2012

#817. A Hard Day's Night (1964)


Directed By: Richard Lester

Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr



Tag line: "Soaring in their first, full-length, hilarious, action-packed film!"

Trivia:  The Beatles record producer George Martin got an Academy Award nomination for his music score in the movie, but The Beatles themselves weren't nominated for their music





Richard Lester directs the Beatles in their first motion picture, a groundbreaking rock and roll film that’s both funny and a whole lot of fun.

The story, flimsy though it is, concerns a day in the life of the rock and roll band The Beatles, or, more specifically, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. As A Hard Day's Night opens, the fab four are dodging a throng of their fans who’ve come out to the train station to see them off. Once the quartet is safely on board, Paul introduces his bandmates to his grandfather (Wilfred Brambill), who’s decided to tag along with them. The boys spend most of the trip getting into trouble, much to the chagrin of their manager, Norm (Norman Rossington), his assistant, Shake (John Junkin), and a television director (Victor Spinetti) who’s trying, in vain, to put on a live show.

But as problematic as The Beatles are to the powers-that-be, that’s how annoying Paul’s grandfather is to them, pitting one against the other, stealing Ringo’s invitation to a posh casino, and selling counterfeit autographed pictures of the boys to their adoring fans. Grandfather even convinces Ringo to go for a long walk a mere 45 minutes before their TV show is scheduled to air!

Many of the Beatles’ early hits are here, including the title number, as well as All My Loving, and I Want to Hold Your Hand. An obvious influence on the music video craze that reached its zenith in the 1980s, A Hard Day’s Night builds to a frantic pace whenever a new song is playing, showing its four stars running down the street to escape overzealous fans or, in one of my favorite scenes, just plain acting crazy in the middle of a park as Can’t Buy Me Love fills the soundtrack.

Jammed with plenty of cinematic gags (portions of the above-mentioned Can’t Buy Me Love number play out at double-speed), A Hard Day’s Night was made when the fab four were at the height of their popularity, and on the cusp of becoming pop icons. Clearly, the lads had a great time making this film, and their unbridled optimism spills right off the screen in just about every sequence and lands directly in the audience’s lap.







Friday, November 9, 2012

#816. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)


Directed By: Robert Wiene

Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher





Tag line: "A THRILLING FANTASTIC PHOTO-PLAY"

Trivia: Producer Erich Pommer wanted to have Fritz Lang as the film's director. Lang was interested, but then decided to work on another film






With its brooding ambiance and distorted set designs, the 1920 German Expressionist classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, became the standard by which all horror films that followed it would be measured.

The carnival is in town, and a mysterious entertainer named Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) has just applied for permission to erect a display for his very unusual act. Professing to be a hypnotist, Caligari works with a somnambulist named Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a man he claims has been under his hypnotic control for over 20 years. More than this, whenever Cesare is temporarily awakened from his perpetual slumber, he's able to see into the future. Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), who’s visiting the carnival with his good friend, Francis (Friedrich Feher), puts Cesare to the test, asking the woozy sideshow attraction how much longer he has to live. Cesare’s chilling response is that Alan will die by daybreak. When Cesare’s prediction comes true, and Alan is, indeed, found dead the next morning, Francis sets out to prove that Caligari, with the help of his ‘accomplice’, Cesare, murdered Alan during the night. Yet while collecting evidence to support his accusations, Francis uncovers something quite revealing about his own bizarre nature as well.

The world as it exists in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is exceedingly dark, and presented at sharp angles to enhance the dream-like atmosphere its story demands. One of the film’s most striking images is that of Cesare carrying the unconscious Jane (Lil Dagover), the love of Francis’ life, along the city’s crooked rooftops, surrounded on all sides by twisted chimneys branching off in many directions. In this scene, and others like it, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari presents its macabre view of the world, creating a place where fantasy and reality collide.

Along with its unforgettable set pieces and warped sensibilities, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari also features a surprising twist at the end, a plot device that, while common nowadays, was undoubtedly something its 1920 audience had never seen before. It's this combination of story and style that lifts The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the lofty heights of a nightmarish masterpiece, a position it still holds today, and likely will for many years to come.