Thursday, June 30, 2016

#2,128. Legendary Amazons (2011)


Directed By: Frankie Chan

Starring: Cecilia Cheung, Xiaoqing Liu, Richie Jen



Alt Title: This film was also released as The Lady generals of the Yang Family

Trivia: This was a remake of the Shaw brothers' 1972 film The 14 Amazons








Legendary Amazons first caught my eye while I was perusing the DVD shelves at my local Wal-Mart, and based on the cover alone, I thought it looked kinda cool. What’s more, it was produced by the great Jackie Chan, so at the very least I was expecting this film to be a bit of fun.

And Legendary Amazons is fun. But you have to be willing to meet it halfway.

Set in ancient China, Legendary Amazons focuses on the Yang clan, renowned warriors who loyally serve the Empire, defending its Northern borders from the invading Western Xia army. But the war has taken its toll on the Yangs, claiming the lives of most of its men and leaving only the women to carry on their proud tradition.

Yang Zongbao (Rochie Jen), the husband of Mu Guiying (Cecilia Cheung ), is believed to be the most recent casualty when its reported he and his troops were decimated by the superior Xia forces. Left with no other choice, the Emperor and his Prime Minister (Wu Ma) turn the army over to Wenguang (Xiao Mingyu), the inexperienced son of Zongbao and Guiying. Not willing to sit back and allow yet another of their men to perish, each and every female in the clan, including Guiying, her mother (Liu Xiaoqing), and even the elder Taijun (Cheng Pei Pei) decide to accompany Wenguang on his mission, vowing to fight alongside him every step of the way.

A remake of the Shaw Brothers’ 1972 action flick The 14 Amazons, Legendary Amazons begins well enough, showing us the battle in which Zongbao’s forces are defeated. This is followed immediately by a flashback scene (mostly comedic in nature) where Guiying recalls the circumstances under which she and Zongbao first met. Next, we’re introduced to what I’m guessing are 14 female warriors of the Yang clan (I can’t say for sure, though, because I lost count after a half dozen or so), complete with intertitles telling us each one’s name and weapon of choice. We meet others as well, including a large number of the clan’s faithful servants, and it’s here that the film’s first real weakness shines through: there are far too many characters! So many, in fact, that I couldn’t keep track of them (with all the supporting players floating around, I was never sure who was who, which made it hard to care whenever one was killed in battle).

Another issue I had with Legendary Amazons was its sketchy CGI (In the opening melee, boulders are launched via catapults at Zongbao’s stronghold, none of which looked particularly convincing when they came crashing down). Also, if you’re not a fan of wire work, then you'll definitely want to avoid this movie. During practically every fight scene, the combatants flip and fly all over the place, often for no good reason (some hand-to-hand skirmishes are dragged out because the participants spend so much time leaping through the air). Still, the action is entertainingly over-the-top, and there’s more than enough melodrama to keep us watching in-between the battles.

Legendary Amazons may come up short when compared to such 21st century offerings as Hero, House of Flying Daggers and 13 Assassins, but as mindless action films go, it will surely give you your money’s worth.







Wednesday, June 29, 2016

#2,127. Virgin Witch (1972)


Directed By: Ray Austin

Starring: Ann Michelle, Vicki Michelle, Keith Buckley




Tag line: "She has the power to love, kill, torture and arouse. The Virgin Witch can do it all!"

Trivia: This movie was rejected by the British Censor in April 1971, but was passed with an X rating by the Greater London Council






I went in expecting a horror movie, and instead a playboy photo shoot broke out!

Yes, there’s a lot of nudity in 1972’s Virgin Witch. A LOT of nudity; we get a gander at three or four naked young ladies during the opening credits alone. There’s a story of sorts as well, concerning a pair of sisters and their initiation into a coven of witches, but even here the movie focuses more on female flesh than it does the black arts.

Christine and Betty (played by rea-life siblings Ann and Vicki Michelle) live together in a London apartment. Christine (Ann) wants to be a fashion model, while the only thing Betty (Vicki) has on her mind is making out with her boyfriend Johnny (Keith Buckley). One day, Christine answers an ad for a modeling job, and immediately impresses Sybil Waite (Patricia Haines), the head of the agency, who hires her on the spot (the fact that Ms. Waite is a lesbian and has the hots for Christine might have helped).

After showing off her “assets” to her new boss, Christine gets her first gig: a photo shoot at a posh country estate owned by Dr. Gerald Amberley (Neil Hallett). With Johnny out of town, Betty decides to tag along with Christine and Ms. Waite, and both sisters are anxious to enjoy a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city. What they don’t know, however, is that Dr. Amberley and Sybil Waite are witches, and have plans to entice both girls into joining their coven. To their surprise, one of the sisters doesn’t need as much coaxing as they thought!

If the nudity-laced opening doesn’t convince you of this movie’s laid-back approach to sexuality, then an early scene on the streets of London surely will. As Christine and Betty stroll past some shops, a complete stranger walks up and pinches Betty on the ass. How does she react? She and Christine dart across the street, giggling, as if it was all a game.

From there, neither sister keeps their clothes on for very long. Shortly after arriving at the estate, Christine gets down to work with the photographer, Peter (James Chase), who, after snapping a couple of pictures, unbuttons Christine’s blouse and tells her to run around a little, giving him a look at practically all of her. A few scenes later, Betty, while exploring the grounds, suffers a bad fall, but instead of treating her wounds, Dr. Amberley advises that she take a bath, then proceeds to watch her through a peephole while she's sitting in the tub! Christine’s initiation into the coven offers a chance for even more naked flesh, as well as some physicality when the good doctor, who is the head honcho of this particular group of witches, evokes his “rights” as leader and has sex with her on the alter.

The movie does take a few steps towards horror in the final act, when Christine tries out her newfound powers (once a full-fledged witch, she discovers she can control people’s minds), but it’s too little too late. Truth be told, Virgin Witch is more likely to terrify the National Organization of Women than it is members of its target audience.







Tuesday, June 28, 2016

#2,126. The Mask (1994)


Directed By: Charles Russell

Starring: Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Riegert




Tag line: "Stanley Ipkiss is not the man he used to be"

Trivia: Jim Carrey supposedly based his character on his father








Having already scored a hit with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Jim Carrey returned to the big-screen with 1994’s The Mask, proving to the world that, when it came to physical comedy, he was in a class by himself.

Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) is a shy, mild-mannered banker who lives alone in a small apartment with his pesky but incredibly smart dog, Milo. Try as he might, Stanley can’t hook up with any women interested in dating a nice guy. Even his newest customer, a gorgeous blonde lounge singer named Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz, in her first film role), isn’t all she seems to be; she flirts openly with Stanley, but only so she can record secret video of the bank vault for her mobster boyfriend Dorian (Peter Greene), who’s planning to rob the place in the next few days.

One night, after he’s ditched at a club by his friend / co-worker Charlie (Richard Jeni), a dejected Stanley heads for home. But when his clunker of a loaner car breaks down on a bridge, it leads Stanley to a discovery that is destined to change his life: a jade-colored mask. When he puts the mask on, Stanley magically transforms into a completely different person, with a green face, super-human abilities, and a confidence level that the real Stanley could only dream of. Over the course of several days, Stanley (while wearing the mask) will steal money from his bank (before Dorian’s gang gets a chance to) as well as the heart of Tina Carlyle. Naturally, neither of these sits well with Dorian, who dedicates all of his resources to tracking down the green-faced lunatic that’s ruining his life. Throw in a bad-tempered police detective (Peter Riegert) who has to clean up the mess Stanley’s Mask leaves behind, and you have a double dose of bad news that could spell the end for our hero.

Based on her performance in this film, you’d never believe that The Mask was Cameron Diaz’s big-screen debut; a natural beauty, she also exudes the charisma of a star even at this early stage of her career (and as introductions go, her first scene in The Mask can’t be beat!). But, as expected, the real show-stopper is Jim Carrey, who wins us over with his hapless, nerdy portrayal of Stanley Ipkiss while also wowing us with his antics as Stanley’s God-like alter-ego. Of course, most of what happens when he’s wearing the mask is CGI-enhanced, and his gestures and ticks owe quite a bit to classic cartoons (at one point, he creates a whirlwind much like the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil, and later on, while watching Tina sing on-stage, his heart beats out of his chest and his eyes pop out of his head). Still, there’s plenty of Jim Carrey in the character as well, from his exaggerated facial expressions to his over-the-top line delivery (after his initial transformation, he looks directly into the camera and says “Smokin!” in a way that only Jim Carrey can).

To be fair, the CGI is phenomenal, and allows Stanley to perform some amazing feats (his and Tina’s dance routine is my favorite sequence in the entire film). What’s more, we get to see what happens when a few other characters try on the mask (not all of whom walk on two legs). This, combined with the chemistry between Diaz and Carrey, helped make The Mask a box-office hit (it grossed $119 million in the U.S. and about $350 million worldwide), and in so doing trumpeted the arrival of Jim Carrey as Hollywood’s newest superstar.







Monday, June 27, 2016

#2,125. Island of the Fishmen (1979)


Directed By: Sergio Martino

Starring: Barbara Bach, Claudio Cassinelli, Richard Johnson



Tag line: "They Fight and Live on the Bottom of the Ocean ..."

Trivia: A sequel directed by the same director Sergio Martino was made and released about sixteen years later and entitled The Fishmen and Their Queen






A late ‘70s Italian take on The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of the Fishmen squeezes as much exploitative goodness as it possibly can into a feature film.

The year is 1891, and Lt. Claude de Ross (Claudio Cassinelli) is floating on a lifeboat in the middle of the sea. A doctor whose ship, a prison transport vessel, sank several days earlier, Claude, along with a handful of convicts, are short on supplies and hoping beyond hope that they soon make their way to dry land. As luck would have it, their boat does, indeed, reach a remote island, but Claude and the others quickly realize it’s not exactly paradise; aside from some well-concealed (and quite lethal) booby traps, there’s also a group of mysterious creatures stalking them every step of the way, beings powerful enough to kill a man with a single blow.

Eventually, Claude and the two surviving convicts, Jose (Franco Iavarone) and Peter (Roberto Posse), push further inland, where they're approached by a beautiful woman on horseback, warning them to leave the island as soon as possible. Her name is Amanda (Barbara Bach), and she’s the unwilling consort of the tyrannical Edmond Rackham (Richard Johnson), who, for all intents and purposes, “owns” the entire area. But Claude and his companions have no means of escape, so Rackham agrees to put them up for a few days. 

During his time with their host, Claude discovers a number of disturbing things, including the fact that Amanda’s father, world-renowned scientist Ernest Marvin (Joseph Cotton), is also on the island, and is responsible for creating the monsters, known as Fishmen, that Claude and his cohorts encountered shortly after their arrival. Along with being incredibly strong, these fishmen are also helping Rackham retrieve treasure from what he believes is the sunken city of Atlantis! Throw in a voodoo priestess named Shakira (Beryl Cunningham) and a volcano that’s about to blow and you have one extremely tense situation.

Can Claude and the others escape this island prison, or will they, too, fall victim to the dreaded Fishmen?

While the movie itself is light on gore and doesn’t feature any nudity (we do, however, get to see a soaking wet Barbara Bach in a sheer white dress), Island of the Fishmen still has lots to offer, starting with its exotic locale (a fair portion of the film was shot on-location in Nuoro, Sardinia). In addition, there are plenty of dangers to keep the characters on their toes, including snakes, scorpions, and deadly traps (one poor convict falls into a pit of sharpened sticks, and is killed instantly). We’re even treated to a voodoo ceremony, complete with an actual sacrifice (animal lovers beware: a chicken loses its head before this sequence is over), and the film’s finale is as intense as it is exciting.

As for the Fishmen, they may look kinda goofy at first (they reminded me of the monsters in 1980’s Humanoids from the Deep) but when the chips are down, they’re pretty damn intimidating. We don’t get a clear look at these creatures early on; when polishing off their initial victim, a prisoner named François (Francesco Mazzieri), we see little more than the swipe of a claw and a jarring close-up. Before long, though, these Fishmen become an integral part of the story, and we even feel a bit sorry for them as the movie progresses (their sole purpose is to swim to the ocean floor and bring treasure to the surface).

An Americanized version of Island of the Fishmen, titled Screamers, was released a year later by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, and featured an added sequence (a prologue starring Cameron Mitchell and Mel Ferrer that expanded on the lost city of Atlantis subplot). I’ve never seen this version of the movie, though, to be honest, I don’t think Corman or anyone else could have improved on the original. With its fast pace and thrill-a-minute story, Island of the Fishmen is a veritable smorgasbord of fun.







Sunday, June 26, 2016

#2,124. Schoolgirls in Chains (1973)


Directed By: Don Jones

Starring: Gary Kent, John Parker, Stafford Morgan




Tag line: "They were abducted and abused... ...but worse was yet to come!!"

Trivia: This film was inspired by an actual incident in which a missing woman's car was discovered on the side of the road, but the woman was never found






Like a good number of ‘70s exploitation films, most of what you need to know about this particular 1973 movie is in its title. If you can get past the whole Schoolgirls in Chains thing, you can certainly handle whatever else this flick will throw your way.

Frank Barrows (Gary Kent) and his brother Johnny (John Stoglin) live in a remote farmhouse with their domineering mother, who controls every aspect of their lives. To ensure that Johnny (who, despite being a grown man, has the mind of an 8-year-old) always has someone to play with, Mother has Frank kidnap young women and chain them up in the basement. When Johnny grows tired of current “friends” Ginger (Suzanne Lund) and the sickly Stevie (T.R. Blackburn), the two boys go out looking for fresh victims. They abduct Sue (Lynn Ross) as she sits in her broken-down car by the side of the road, but when she doesn’t work out the brothers go after Johnny’s “dream girl”, college student Bonnie (Cheryl Waters), who is dating her psychology professor, Robert (Stafford Morgan). Unlike Ginger and Stevie, though, Bonnie has no intention of becoming a toy, and will do everything in her power to escape this living nightmare.

While it’s certainly a perfect exploitation title, calling the movie Schoolgirls in Chains is a bit misleading. As director Don Jones said in an interview, the film doesn’t feature “any schoolgirls, and not many chains” (he had sold the rights to a distributor, who came up with the title). Still, Schoolgirls in Chains has a lot of what you’d expect from this sort of fare: men abusing women, nudity, rape, and a few nerve-wracking chase scenes (Sue, whose abduction opens the movie, manages to slip away at one point). The acting is so-so, as is the film’s overall pace, though director Jones does get creative at times with some POV shots, showing us what Johnny sees while spying on Bonnie through the windows of Robert’s house (along with being stylish, these scenes are also incredibly creepy).

In addition, Schoolgirls in Chains explores the sometimes complex relationship between a mother and her sons. During a flashback, we witness the disastrous afternoon when Frank tried to introduce his fiance Jane (Sara Lane) to his mother (played by Greta Gaylord). Not willing to “share” her son, Mother tells Jane that she and Frank have not only committed incest, but continue to do so (Mother claims the intimacy began when Frank was only 15 years old). Aside from keeping Frank as a lover, Mother also treats her other son Johnny like a young boy so that, no matter how old he really is, he’ll always act like a child (Johnny and Frank have very different ideas of what “playing” with the girls means).

Along with a decent exploration of its twisted characters, Schoolgirls in Chains has both a twist ending (while not a total surprise, it’s fairly effective) and an intense final act (where Bonnie uses her wits, as well as her body, to escape her kidnappers). All this, plus the right amount of ‘70s sleaze, makes Schoolgirls in Chains a movie that grindhouse aficionados will surely enjoy.







Friday, June 10, 2016

Announcement




(NOTE: I've added an update at the bottom of this post)

Well, my consecutive days have come to an end!

Yesterday evening (June 9, 2016), I found myself dealing with a physical ailment that, while not life threatening, was serious enough to keep me bed-ridden the entire time,  It's something I'll be dealing with over the next few days, but I should have a full recovery very soon (it must be something with birthdays.  The illness that caused the hiccup in my streak back in 2011 occurred on my birthday, and yesterday was my youngest son's birthday!).

The result of this illness is that, unfortunately, it prevented me from writing and posting a review yesterday, the first day I've missed since October 23, 2011 (a quick calculation: I made it 4 years, 7 months and 16 days, or 1,690 days in a row, without missing a review).


It's going to take me a few days to recover, but once I'm able to post again, I don't intend to stop until I reach the 2,500 mark.

In the meantime, I will continue to post on Twitter as I have (I have some 22,000 tweets that I've amassed over the years, so putting them together is a matter of simply "cutting and pasting", as opposed to having to type them out), though the frequency of the tweets will likely drop (no more new post every 10 minutes.  I'll try for one tweet every 15 minutes and see how that goes)

I thank all of you who have been following me over the years, and know that I have every intention of completing the challenge.

Thanks, and you'll be hearing from me again soon!


Dave B.

6/15 UPDATE

My recent health concerns, while not 100% better, are moving in the right direction.  I thank all of you who sent me well wishes; it means the world to me.

That said, I've decided to give myself a little extra time to rest and fully recover and to enjoy some relaxation time with my family. 

But I want to assure everyone that I will be back with a vengeance on June 26th, posting daily reviews again until I reach my goal of 2,500 movies. 

Thanks again for your patience and support. 
Dave B
 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

#2,123. Not of this Earth (1995)


Directed By: Terence H. Winkless

Starring: Michael York, Parker Stevenson, Elizabeth Barondes




Tag line: "They've Crossed The Galaxy In Search Of Our Blood"

Trivia: In Italy this film was released as Killer From Space







Directed by Terence H. Winkless, 1995’s Not of this Earth marked the third time that producer Roger Corman brought this story to the screen (The first, which was helmed by Corman himself, was released in 1957; and a 1988 remake featured former porn star Traci Lords as one of the leads). With that in mind, you would think this version of Not of this Earth would be pretty darn good (practice makes perfect, right?). Instead, it’s merely OK, leaving me to wonder why ‘ol Roger even bothered making another one.

The story is the same: an alien from another planet (Michael York), posing as an eccentric millionaire named Paul Johnson, comes to earth to find a cure for the blood disease that is killing him and his people. Using his mind control powers, he “convinces” Dr. Rochelle (Mason Adams), a leading physician, to work on the problem, while at the same time hiring the services of his nurse Amanda Sayles (Elizabeth Barondes), who becomes Johnson’s live-in assistant, helping him administer the blood transfusions that are keeping him alive. It isn’t long, though, before Amanda realizes all is not right with Mr. Johnson, who has resorted to murder to obtain the blood he needs on a daily basis. With the help of her cop friend Jack Sherbourne (Parker Stevenson) and Johnson’s chauffeur / handyman Jeremy Pallin (Richard Belzer), Amanda sets to work trying to solve the riddle that is Paul Johnson, but will she discover the truth in time to prevent him from killing again?

To be honest, I’ve never seen the original 1957 Not of this Earth, and it’s been so long since I sat down and watched the ‘80s movie that I don’t feel I’m in a position to compare and contrast the various versions. But as far as this particular Not of this Earth goes, it’s certainly not a terrible film. Michael York delivers a deliciously over-the-top performance as Johnson, and the special effects aren’t nearly as cheesy as you’d expect (at times, they’re actually decent). Where the movie falters is in its more intense scenes. A late sequence where Angela and Jeremy search the mansion for clues isn’t the least bit suspenseful (even though Johnson was on his way home at the time and could have walked in at any minute). Most disappointing of all, however, is the ending, which features several chases (Johnson tracking Angela as she runs through the streets; Jack, on his motorcycle, pursuing Johnson’s car), yet is totally lacking in energy. Those moments when Not of this Earth should have been soaring high, it instead fizzled out.

Again, 1995’s Not of this Earth isn’t unwatchable. But it was unnecessary. And here’s hoping Roger Corman doesn’t attempt a fourth one.







Tuesday, June 7, 2016

#2,122. Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992)


Directed By: Nick Broomfield

Starring: Nick Broomfield, Alleen Wuornos, Steve Glazer




Line from this film: "I don't care what the sentence is. I'm already on death row"

Trivia: Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival







It was between 1989 and 1990 that Aileen Wuornos, known as “Lee” to her friends, killed seven men along the highways of Central Florida. A prostitute by trade, she’d lure her victims into a wooded area, then shoot them and steal their wallet and car. Her live-in girlfriend Tyria Moore claimed to know nothing about these crimes, and when Lee Wuornos finally surrendered to police, she told them that she acted alone. Once incarcerated, Wuornos, now billed as the first ever female serial killer in U.S. history, was tried for all seven murders (over the course of many months) and each time was sentenced to death by electrocution.

But then, we know all this from the excellent 2004 Patty Jenkins film Monster, in which Charlize Theron played Wuornos and Christina Ricci was Tyria Moore. Nick Broomfield’s 1992 documentary Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer shows us what happened in the months and years immediately after Lee Wuornos’ arrest, when everyone from her lawyer to the police were looking to profit from her crimes.

After a brief rundown of the events mentioned above (including video footage of Wuornos confessing to the crimes), Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer introduces us to some of the people who grew close to Lee after her arrest. Following her trial for the murder of victim #1, Richard Mallory (which resulted in her first death sentence), Wuornos replaced her public defender (who failed to introduce evidence that Mallory was a convicted rapist) and brought in Steve Glazer to represent her. A former professional musician who decided to try his hand at law, Glazer also put director Broomfield in touch with Arlene Pralle, who had “adopted” Wuornos a few months after she was taken into custody. Claiming that it was Jesus who brought them together, Arlene tells of how close she and her new “daughter” have become, and it was Arlene and Steve, working together, who convinced Wuornos to plead “No Contest” (in other words “guilty”) at her next trial. They told her that confession was good for the soul, but it sure didn’t help her body much, seeing as Wuornos was sentenced to death three more times (Arlene and Steve said she was “ready to die”, but instead of remaining calm, Wuornos throws a fit when the judge pronounces sentence, shouting obscenities as the guards led her from the courtroom).

Steve and Arlene claim their intentions are pure, that they simply want to help their good friend through this most difficult time. Of course, they also demanded $10,000 from Broomfield to speak with him on-camera. As for Wuornos, she refused to talk to Broomfield on numerous occasions, despite assurances from Arlene and Steve that she would gladly do so.

In addition to this, we learn Wuornos’ former lover Tyria Moore may have swung a deal with police for (if you can believe it) the movie rights to the story. Wuornos complains about “police corruption” during her subsequent court appearances, though most dismiss it as the ramblings of a crazy woman. Imagine their surprise when, a few months later, three investigators on the Wuornos case were forced to step down over… you guessed it.. their role in trying to secure a movie deal for the story!

By keeping his cameras rolling, Broomfield captures all of the turmoil that made its way into Aileen Wuornos’ life once she was in prison, and quite often we’re rolling our eyes at the gibberish coming out of Steve and Arlene’s mouths (Arlene tells of how she was in a serious auto accident a while back, and the doctors told her it was “the flow of love” from her to Wuornos that saved her life). Merging this behind-the-scenes fiasco with actual news reports and police file footage, Broomfield creates a documentary that’s as engrossing as it is sad.

Bottom line: Aileen Wuornos committed seven murders, and she deserved to be punished for her crimes. What she didn’t deserve, though, were all these yahoos in her life!







Monday, June 6, 2016

#2,121. Legend of the Chupacabra (2000)


Directed By: Joe Castro

Starring: Katsy Joiner, J.T. Trevino, Chris Doughton



Line from the film: "It looks like its intestines have been sucked out"

Trivia: Director Joe Castro's mother appears in the film, playing one of the "experts" interviewed during the movie






Legend of the Chupacabra, a found footage / mockumentary directed by Joe Castro, is an ultra-low budget monster movie that, in spite of its flaws, manages to conjure up a few genuine scares.

Three cryptozoologist students head to Texas in the hopes of capturing footage of the legendary Chupacabra, a carnivorous beast from south of the border that, according to some, has been feasting on the local livestock population. One of the students, Maria Esperenza (Katsy Joiner), has a more personal reason for wanting to track down the Chupacabra (it supposedly murdered her uncle a week before), and with heavily-armed former U.S. Marine George Armistad (Stan McKinney) backing them up, the trio heads to the farm of Daniel Webster (Chris Doughton), whose goat was killed the night before (FYI - Chupacabra is Spanish for “goat sucker”). It’s here that their terrifying adventure begins.

Despite its mockumentary approach (the movie also features talking-head interviews with several “experts”, all discussing their theories on where the monster comes from), there isn’t a single moment in Legend of the Chupacabra that we believe what we’re watching really happened. Part of the reason for this is the quality of the performances, which, across the board, are on the weak side. But more than that, the creature itself, played by a guy in a suit, looks like.. well, like a guy in a suit! In addition, the story gets a bit goofy from time to time, introducing not one but three religious mediums who insist the Chupacabra is a demon sent from hell.

Where Legend of the Chupacabra excels is in the way it handles its monster; unlike other films of this ilk, the Chupacabra appears early and often, usually popping up unexpectedly (resulting in some effective jump scares). Toss in special effects ranging from mediocre (a few of the dead corpses Maria and company encounter are so-so) to pretty damn impressive (there’s a late effect involving a severed arm that looked great) and you have a horror movie that occasionally delivers the goods.

Legend of the Chupacabra may not be perfect, but it’[s not a total washout, either.







Sunday, June 5, 2016

#2,120. The Big Trail (1930)


Directed By: Raoul Walsh

Starring: John Wayne, Marguerite Churchill, El Brendel



Tag line: "The Most Important Picture Ever Produced"

Trivia: Gary Cooper was originally offered the role of Breck Coleman and wanted it, but he was under contract to Paramount Pictures







Dedicated to the men and women who planted civilization in the wilderness and courage in the blood of their children

A grand, sprawling motion picture about the pioneers who pushed their way west, The Big Trail also marked the first time a young man named John Wayne was given a starring role in a film, and both he and its director do their part to make it as auspicious a debut as possible.

As the movie opens, a large band of pioneers is gathered along the Mississippi River, preparing for the long journey to Oregon, where they plan to start a new life for themselves. To help them on this westward trek, they’ve hired a grizzled old buzzard named Red Flack (Tyrone Power Sr.) to serve as Wagon master, and also ask young Breck Coleman (Wayne), who had spent years traveling across country, to act as scout. While he’s certainly happy to assist his neighbors, Breck also took the job because he believes Flack and his partner Lopez (Charles Stevens) murdered an old friend of his, and he intends to exact some frontier justice on the two once they reach Oregon.

Also joining the wagon train is former Southern belle Ruth Cameron (Marguerite Churchill) and her younger siblings David (David Rollins) and Honey Girl (Helen Parrish). Breck’s first encounter with Miss Coleman doesn’t go well; thinking she was someone else, he grabs her from behind and kisses her. His attempts to apologize are thwarted by Miss Coleman, who instead turns her attentions to fellow southerner Bill Thorpe (Ian Keith), a gambler who, unbeknownst to her, isn’t quite the “gentleman” he proclaims himself to be. Joined by hundreds of others, including Swedish immigrant Gus (El Brendel) and his loud-mouthed mother-in-law (Louise Craver); as well as Breck’s good friends Zeke (Tully Marshall) and Pa Bascom (Frederick Burton), the wagon train sets off on a journey that will last for months, filled with hardships that will claim the lives of many settlers before they ever reach their “promised land”.

Though he wouldn’t become a full-fledged star until the later part of the 1930’s, when John Ford cast him in Stagecoach, John Wayne makes for a fine hero in The Big Trail, portraying Breck Coleman as a young man who knows his way around the wilderness and is prepared to do whatever it takes to see the settlers through safely. As with most movies of this ilk, Breck has his share of enemies, including Flack and Lopez, who murdered an old trapper friend of Breck’s a while back; and Bill Thorpe, who sees Breck as a romantic rival for the hand of Ruth Cameron. All three are shady characters, and agree amongst themselves that Breck must die before they reach Oregon. As the love interest, Marguerite Churchill is more than adequate, and El Brendal’s Gus provides some comic relief along the way (the funniest bit involves him trying the help his mother-in-law across a mud puddle).

The first half hour or so of the movie is dedicated to these characters, and we get to know each of them well enough. But it’s when the journey begins that the true spectacle of The Big Trail kicks in, with large-scale scenes that reveal, sometimes in brutal detail, just how difficult an undertaking the westward expansion was for those who attempted it. At one point, the wagon train has to cross a river, and the current is so strong that it sweeps some of the wagons away, leaving many to rebuild before they can begin again. Other obstacles await the settlers as well, including sheer cliffs (the company, cattle and all, has to be lowered by ropes) and, as they get closer to their destination, hostile natives who have no intention of sharing the land of their ancestors (the film’s most exciting scene involves a battle between the settlers and the Native Americans). Throw in a harsh, unforgiving desert (where water is scarce) and raging snowstorms, and you’re left to wonder how anyone could survive such a treacherous expedition.

Utilizing dozens of wagons, hundreds of extras, and at least that many horses and heads of cattle, Walsh brings an epic feel to practically every scene in The Big Trail while, at the same time, never losing touch with the personal tragedies and triumphs that make it so rewarding. An ambitious film from start to finish, The Big Trail is one hell of an impressive motion picture.








Saturday, June 4, 2016

#2,119. Little Rita (1967)


Directed By: Ferdinando Baldi

Starring: Rita Pavone, Terence Hill, Lucio Dalla



Line from the movie: "You are taking a risk far too big, and it bugs me"

Trivia: The movie was also released as Crazy Westerners








Little Rita, also known as Crazy Westerners, appeared to be a spaghetti western / musical with tons of personality. Too bad I have such a shitty copy of it, otherwise I'd know for sure whether it is or isn't.

Gunslinger Little Rita (Rota Pavone) roams the west, gathering up all the gold she can from outlaws and murderers. It’s not that Little Rita is greedy; on the contrary, she plans to destroy the gold she's collected, believing it to be the root of all evil. Chief Sitting Buffalo (Gordon Mitchell) and his tribe support Rita in her quest, and even allow her to hide the gold she’s already recovered in one of their caves.

With the help of her German friend John Fitzgerald (Lucio Dalla), Rita also takes on two of the area’s most notorious criminals, Ringo (Kirk Morris) and Django (Enzo Di Natali), and manages to add their gold to her cache. Her luck runs out, though, when she encounters Mexican bandit Pancho (Fernando Sancho), who takes her prisoner. Fortunately for Rita, she also meets up with Black Star (the always charismatic Terence Hill), who aids her in her time of need. But is Black Star really all that he claims to be?

Despite being half as tall as everyone else in the film, Rita Pavone won me over with her portrayal of the title character, and she even got to kick some ass along the way (not convincingly, mind you, but she did her best). The movie also made me laugh quite a few times (in the opening scene, a bandit, holding up a stagecoach, says to the driver “Here, let me help you down”, then immediately shoots the poor guy in the belly. On paper, it might sound mean-spirited, but trust me, it was funny!). As for the musical sequences, they were always up-beat, with people dancing and jumping all over the place, and it looked like everyone was having the time of their life.

It’s here, though, that my DVD copy of Little Rita let me down. Part of an 8-movie western pack released by Echo Bridge Entertainment, the version of Little Rita I saw was dubbed, and not subtitled. To be fair, I knew this going in; Echo Bridge almost always opts for the dubbed version, and most of the time it isn’t an issue (not much of one, anyway). But this 1967 film was also a musical, and each and every song was still in its original Italian! And seeing as there was a musical number every few minutes, there’s a whole chunk of this movie I couldn’t understand. I’m not saying they should have dubbed the songs as well (that would have sucked more). Some subtitles would have been helpful, though.

I would love to see a completely subtitled version of Little Rita. It’s a goofy movie, but also a lot of fun. 

Maybe someday…







Friday, June 3, 2016

#2,118. Rio Grande (1950)


Directed By: John Ford

Starring: John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Ben Johnson



Tag line: "THE BREATHTAKING SAGA OF THE UNITED STATES CAVALRY!"

Trivia: John Wayne later said he considered the movie a parable for the Korean War







Now here’s a John Ford film I had never seen before! Made one year after She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande was yet another of the director’s Cavalry-themed flicks, a movie that, like many of Ford’s best works, mixed drama and excitement to great effect.

Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (John Wayne), commander of a Cavalry unit, has been tasked with stopping a renegade group of American Indians, who are carrying out “hit and run” raids in the area, then retreating into Mexico (despite the protests of Col. Yorke and his men, the cavalry is forbidden by U.S. law to cross the border and give chase). To add to his troubles, Col. Yorke is surprised to find that his son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr.), who recently flunked out of West Point, has enlisted as a Cavalryman, and is one of his unit’s new recruits! The two haven’t seen each other in 15 years, yet despite being father and son, Col. Yorke tells Jeff that under no circumstances will he be given special treatment (which Jeff says is fine with him).

The family reunion continues when the Col’s estranged wife (and Jeff’s mother) Kathleen (Maureen O’Hara) arrives unexpectedly, demanding that Jeff be excused from military duty. Though happy to see her, Col. Yorke refuses his wife’s request, while Jeff himself, who has become fast friends with fellow recruits Travis Tyree (Ben Johnson) and Sandy Boone (Harry Carey Jr.), tells his mother he has no intention of abandoning his post. As this family drama plays itself out, further Indian raids decimate the area, building to a final showdown that could put the entire Cavalry, and their nearest and dearest, in harm’s way.

Rio Grande bears all the familiar traits of a John Ford film. For one, it was partially shot in Monument Valley, a locale the director had also used for Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (among others). In addition, the movie features a number of Ford regulars, including John Wayne, Victor McLaglen (as Sgt. Maj. Timothy Quincannon)), Harry Carey Jr., and Grant Withers (as a U.S Deputy Marshal). Rio Grande has plenty of humor as well (most involving McLaglen’s ornery Irish Sgt. Major), and some rousing action scenes (the best being a chase in which the American Indians pursue a wagon train carrying the camp’s women and children). And, as Ford has done countless times in the past, the movie has some fairly effective dramatic sequences (aside from the family issues plaguing Col. Yorke, there’s a strong scene right at the outset, when the wives and children of the returning Cavalrymen, who have just come from a tense battle, line the streets, looking frantically for their loved ones in the hope they survived the ordeal).

Rio Grande was a “compromise” picture for John Ford, who really wanted to make The Quiet Man (Republic, the studio with whom Ford had recently signed, convinced him to first direct Rio Grande in the hopes it would be a money-maker, especially since they believed The Quiet Man would tank at the Box Office).Yet even if Rio Grande wasn’t his dream project, the legendary director still managed to turn out a pretty solid movie.







Thursday, June 2, 2016

#2,117. The Missouri Breaks (1976)


Directed By: Arthur Penn

Starring: Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid



Tag line: "One Steals, One Kills, One Dies"

Trivia: Due to the production's alleged mis-treatment of animals, the film was placed on the American Humane's Association "unacceptable" list







1976’s The Missouri Breaks has one hell of a cast. Along with stars Jack Nicholson and Marlon Brando, it features Randy Quaid (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), Frederic Forrest (Apocalypse Now), Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man) and John Ryan (Bound). The behind-the-scenes talent was just as impressive, starting with director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) and including cinematographer Michael C. Butler (Jaws 2), co-editor Dede Allen (The Breakfast Club), and composer John Williams (far too many classics to pick one). All of the above pool their collective skills to deliver what amounts to a thinking man’s western, where spacious plains and action sequences play second fiddle to its characters.

And they are an interesting bunch, to be sure.

As the movie opens, horse thief Tom Logan (Nicholson) and his cohorts Little Tod (Quaid), Calvin (Dean Stanton), Si (Ryan) and Cary (Forrest), are mourning the death of their good friend and compatriot Sandy (Hunter Von Leer), who was hanged for stealing mares belonging to land baron David Braxton (John McLaim). Hoping to get even with the noted businessman, Logan poses as a prospective rancher looking to buy land on Braxton’s vast estate. If all goes according to plan, he and his associates will swipe every horse Braxton owns right out from under him.  

But a couple of “eventualities” pop up along the way that Logan wasn’t counting on. The first is Braxton’s daughter, Jane (Kathleen Lloyd), with whom Logan has fallen deeply in love. The second is notorious bounty hunter Lee Clayton (Brando), who Braxton called in to help find the thieves plaguing his business. Caught between romance and danger, Logan begins to have second thoughts about the whole arrangement, but it may be too late for him and his pals to turn back now.

The Missouri Breaks is, at times, a funny movie (a scene in which Logan and Little Tod rob a train doesn’t end as planned for the two would-be thieves), and it has one or two exciting moments as well (Calvin, Si, and Little Tod head into Canada and steal horses belonging to Mounted Policemen, only to be ambushed before crossing back into the states). What’s more the scenery is about as beautiful as it gets (the entire movie was shot on-location in Montana). 

But what makes the film are its characters, thanks in large part to the fine work of its extraordinary cast. As played by Nicholson, Logan is a decent guy who just happens to be a thief, and when he finds himself falling in love, he genuinely considers giving up his life of crime and settling down for good. Equally as strong are Logan’s partners, chief among them Harry Dean Stanton’s Calvin (who tells Logan a story from his past, involving a dog he once owned, that offers real insight into his frame of mind). In her first film role, Kathleen Lloyd is quite good as Jane, Logan’s love interest who has no patience for her father and his own personal brand of “justice” (in the opening scene, we see the hanging of Logan’s friend Sandy, and its too much for Jane to bear; she rides off the moment the rope tightens up).

Topping them all, though, is Marlon Brando, who is strange as hell, yet at the same time oh so interesting as the ruthless bounty hunter Lee Clayton. He’s such a bizarre cuss, in fact, that, before long, even Braxton wants him dead (when he’s not busy shooting men in the back from a distance, Lee is bird-watching or taking baths in Braxton’s hand-carved tub). A ruthless SOB with a golden tongue (some of his dialogue is absolutely priceless), Lee is the true villain of The Missouri Breaks, but damned if you don’t miss him when he’s not on-screen! 

You would think that a 2+ hour western with not much action to speak of might wear out its welcome, and fast. But that is definitely not the case with The Missouri Breaks. If anything, its characters were such an engaging bunch that I found myself wishing the movie was even longer.







Wednesday, June 1, 2016

#2,116. The Witch (2015)


Directed By: Robert Eggers

Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie




Tag line: "Evil takes many forms"

Trivia: Stephen King has been quoted as saying that this movie "terrified" him








The Witch, a 2015 horror film from first-time writer / director Robert Eggers, is the kind of movie that reminds me why I love the genre so much; an imaginative, original film with impressive set pieces, an engaging story, and tremendous performances all around. It is a movie that works on just about every level, resulting in a unique motion picture experience I won’t soon forget.

Subtitled A New England Folktale, The Witch whisks us back to the 17th century to witness the trial of William (Ralph Ineson), a deeply religious man whose beliefs have alienated him from the rest of the community. Ordered into exile, William packs up his belongings and, along with his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie), daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), and fraternal twins Mercy (Ellie Grainger) & Jonas (Lucas Dawson), heads into the wilderness to start a new life.

Some time passes, and the family, now living in a farmhouse situated next to a large forest, has welcomed a new member: infant son Samuel (Axton Henry Dube & Athan Conrad Dube). One day, while Thomasin is babysitting, young Samuel seemingly disappears into thin air. William believes the child may have been carried off by a wolf, but in reality, it was a witch, living deep in the woods, who snatched Samuel, and she plans to use the infant (parts of him, anyway) to help rejuvenate her powers.

Samuel’s disappearance is the first of several calamities that will befall the family, and with each new disaster, it becomes more apparent to them all something evil is at work, leaving William and Katherine to wonder which of their children has brought this darkness upon them.

Shot on-location in Kiosk, Ontario, The Witch utilizes costumes, set pieces, and period-style dialogue to great effect, perfectly recreating the film’s 17th century time period. In addition, the underlying issues that exist within the family (its strong religious convictions, William’s failure to adequately provide for them in the wilderness, Caleb’s budding sexuality, etc), coupled with the area in which they’ve settled (director Eggers shoots the woods in such a way that we know well before its characters do that something ominous lurks within), introduces a level of tension that only grows stronger once the witch enters the picture.

Add to this the extraordinary performances (Ineson is strong as the father struggling to keep his family together, yet its Anya Taylor Joy who steals the show as Thomasin, a young girl who may or may not be the root of the evil that torments them) and a surprise ending you won’t see coming, and you have what amounts to one of the best horror films of the last five years. Dark and creepy, The Witch is a winner.