Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Capsule Reviews - July 27, 2021

Cataclysm (1980) – Also released as The Nightmare Never Ends, this cinematic dreck had three different directors, which might explain why it doesn’t make a lick of sense. Cameron Mitchell stars as a police detective investigating the murder of his neighbor, a concentration camp survivor who, prior to his death, asserted that a jet-setting, twentysomething playboy (Robert Bristol) was also the Nazi commandant who murdered his family some 40 years ago! Turns out, this guy isn’t your average playboy / former Nazi; he’s actually a demon from hell! The film (if you can call it that) also focuses on a writer (Richard Moll) whose newest book, God is Dead, has stirred up quite a bit of controversy. The writer’s wife (Faith Clift) is a devout Catholic, and believes the book will only bring them trouble. She’s even convinced the nightmares she’s experiencing are a warning that Satan is near. How do these two storylines connect to one another? Beats me... and I’ve seen the damn thing! The performances are dismal (even the usually reliable Mitchell and Moll are wooden at best) and the story so choppy and confusing that you can’t make any sense of it. Scenes from this movie were supposedly pieced together to form a segment for the 1985 horror anthology Night Train to Terror. Well, I’ve never seen Night Train to Terror, but here’s hoping they used as little of this movie as possible. Rating: a generous 2 out of 10

Field of Lost Shoes (2014) – Director Sean McNamera’s Field of Lost Shoes is a well-realized, though overly melodramatic motion picture centering on of an actual incident from the American Civil War, where young cadets from the Virginia Military Institute fought and died in the 1864 Battle of New Market. The cast is impressive; though he appears in only a few scenes, Tom Skerritt makes an impression as Ulysses S. Grant, as does Jason Isaacs, who portrays General John C. Breckenridge, commander of the Confederate forces at New Market. Also quite good is Keith David as Moses, the slave and chief cook at the Institute, and the younger cast members, including Luke Benward, Zach Roerig, and Josh Zuckerman, do a fine job as the cadets called into action. In addition, the settings and costumes are quite good, and do their part to bring this era convincingly to life. Alas, the movie is a bit too sentimental at the end, and it’s assertion that many cadets were anti-slavery is undoubtedly a fabrication, added to make its central characters more sympathetic. Field of Lost Shoes has its positives (in addition to the performances and production design, the battle scenes are thrilling), but as an historical account of a real-life, tragic moment in American history, it falls a little short of the mark. Rating: 6 out of 10

French Quarter (1978) – An incredibly bizarre yet surprisingly intriguing exploitation film, French Quarter stars Alisha Fontaine as Christine, a young woman who, after the death of her father, heads to New Orleans in search of employment. When her new job as a stripper / waitress doesn’t pan out, Christine decides to move back home, but first follows the advice of the barmaid Ida (Virginia Mayo) and visits a voodoo priestess, who proceeds to drug the poor girl. While knocked out, Christine has a dream in which she’s a hooker in the Jazz Age, whose virginity is about to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Though she works for Countess Willie Piazza (Mayo again), Christine –named “Trudy Dix” in her fantasy – meets and falls for talented jazz pianist Kid Ross (Bruce Davison), who would like nothing more than to rescue his new love from her chosen “profession”. Aside from Davison and Mayo (both are quite good), the acting in French Quarter is weak; even Fontaine falls flat more often than not as the lead. I also thought it was a bit odd that, while in a drug-induced state, Christine dreams not only of herself and Kid Ross, but concocts a number of side stories involving her fellow whores, including Coke-Eyed Laura (Ann Michelle) and Big-Butt Annie (Lindsey Bloom), who get into all sorts of mischief on their own. Yet despite its flaws and the occasional exploitative moment (there’s a lesbian scene that pops up out of nowhere, adding nothing to the story), French Quarter gets points for originality, and for offering something a bit more interesting than the standard fare. Rating: 6 out of 10

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