Wednesday, September 29, 2021

#2,623. The Intrigue (1916)


This 1916 spy thriller features a nifty premise, but only a so-so execution.

When the U.S. military refuses to buy his new ray gun, inventor Guy Longstreet (Cecil Van Auker) heads to Europe to sell it to the highest bidder. Realizing this weapon could change the outcome of the war, Baron Rognait (Howard Davies), ambassador of a foreign (unspecified) country, enters into negotiations with Longstreet, going so far as to accompany the inventor back to his laboratory in America.

Hoping to nix the deal, a rival government sends their most trusted spy, Countess Sonja Varnli (Lenore Ulrich), to America, where, posing as a maid, she uncovers a plot that could not only tip the balance of world power, but also cost Longstreet his life.

Notable today for its script penned by film pioneer Julia Crawford Ivers, it’s the contributions of director Frank Lloyd that make The Intrigue passably entertaining (two early sequences, depicting a wartime battle and a field hospital, are arguably the movie’s strongest).

The cast, led by Broadway veteran Ulrich, is decent though not spectacular, and even at 64 minutes the movie seems to drag at times (especially the later scenes, when things should be getting more exciting, not less).
Rating: 5 out of 10

Monday, September 27, 2021

#2,622. The Hunger (1983)


Tony Scott’s incredibly stylish vampire film, The Hunger is positively gorgeous, and while some might argue that the story doesn’t quite measure up to the visuals, I feel that the two complement each other nicely. 

Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) is a centuries-old vampire whose lovers (also vampires) never seem to live as long as she’d like. Such is the case with John (David Bowie), her current companion. Though she promised, many years ago, that he’d never grow old, John is suddenly aging at a rapid pace. 

 Hoping to slow down the process, he seeks out scientist Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon), whose research centers on a possible “cure” for growing old. Little does Sarah know how her meeting with John - and a later encounter with Miriam - will change her life forever. 

The cast assembled for The Hunger is extraordinary; Deneuve and Sarandon have some steamy scenes together, and Bowie, under tons of make-up, delivers what is arguably his best screen performance as the desperate John, clinging to a life that’s quickly slipping away (Also impressive is young Beth Ehlers, who plays Alice, Miriam’s and John’s neighbor and only friend). All of the actors do their part to bring us into this dark yet beautiful world of music, murder, and life everlasting. 

In addition, Scott’s approach to the material, combining bloody horror with an arthouse sensibility, might be off-putting to some (critics were not kind to the movie back in 1983), but I loved it! Very seldom have I seen light used so effectively in a horror film, let alone one about vampires (who, by tradition, usually dwell in the darkness). 

Sporadically creepy and dependably hypnotic, The Hunger deserves a second look, and a new appreciation. 
Rating: 9 out of 10 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

#2,621. Tank Girl (1995)


Based on a UK comic series of the same name, Tank Girl is set in the year 2033, decades after a comet struck earth, throwing the world’s climate into chaos.

Because it hasn’t rained in 8 years, water has become a scarce, very valuable commodity, and the Water & Power (or W&P) Corporation, controlled by the sinister Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell), has a monopoly on it. In fact, W & P has just destroyed the last independent water well, which belonged to Rebecca (Lori Petty) and her friends.

With most of her accomplices dead, Rebecca is captured by troops loyal to W & P and forced to work in the company’s facility. Teaming up with a meek mechanic named Jet Girl (Naomi Watts), Rebecca eventually escapes, steals a tank, and sets off into the desert to save her adolescent friend Sam (Stacy Linn Ramsower), who W & P has working in a brothel.

To defeat the mighty corporation, Rebecca, now calling herself Tank Girl, tries to track down an army of mutants known only as The Rippers. Even W & P is afraid of the Rippers, and with their help, Tank Girl is positive she can rescue Sam and bring the mighty Kesslee to his knees.

There's a lot to admire about director Rachal Talalay’s Tank Girl, but it’s story isn’t one of them; it’s all a bit hackneyed, jumping from one setting to another so rapidly that it’s hard to get your bearings. In addition, W & P - Kesslee included - never feels like much of a threat.

Fortunately, the movie’s positives far outweigh its negatives. From the well-realized post-apocalyptic set pieces to its exceptional soundtrack (assembled by Courtney Love and featuring music from – among others - Ice-T, who also plays one of the Rippers), Tank Girl has style to spare, and Lori Petty oozes charisma as the title character, bringing an incredible amount of energy to the role.

Add to that the contributions by Stan Winston’s make-up effects team (which created the look of the kangaroo-like Rippers) and some kick-ass animated sequences, and you have a motion picture that, while certainly not perfect, is a hell of a lot of fun.
Rating: 7 out of 10

Thursday, September 23, 2021

#2,620. The Color of Money (1986)


The Color of Money is not a Martin Scorsese film; this is an attack launched time and again at this movie, from critics and fans alike.

The truth is, it really isn’t a Martin Scorsese film.

I mean, it is…he directed it…but it’s not in that it doesn’t have the same energy, the same bravado as a typical Scorsese work. It follows its story too closely, the camerawork doesn’t seem as interesting, and even the situations are (gasp) occasionally formulaic.

I concede to all of these points, but in no way do so to damn the film outright.

A sequel to the 1961 classic The Hustler, The Color of Money sees Paul Newman reprising his role as Fast Eddie Felton, a pool shark who is now past his prime. Instead of hustling, Fast Eddie spends his time nurturing an up-and-comer, Vincent (Tom Cruise), teaching him the ways of a hustler.

Joined by Vincent’s girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), the pair hit the open road, traveling from one pool hall to another, in the hopes of making a fast buck.

With The Color of Money, we bear witness to legendary director Martin Scorsese sitting comfortably in the back seat, allowing his star, Paul Newman, to take the wheel. Does this make The Color of Money a bad film? Absolutely not. It makes it an atypical Scorsese film, nothing more. After all, if Scorsese decides to stay out of the limelight every now and again, who better to take his place in it than Paul Newman?

As expected, the actor delivers an Academy Award-winning performance, giving us a Fast Eddie who has matured, and is willing to pass what he’s learned on to the next generation. Cruise is also quite good as the cocky Vincent, as is Mastrantonio (her character is arguably the smartest of the three). But this is Newman’s show, and he’s absolutely superb.

So don’t go into The Color of Money expecting a Martin Scorsese film, but I wouldn’t let that scare you away, either. It is a Paul Newman film, and the great actor proves yet again he’s more than worthy of a few hours of your time. 
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

#2,619. The Irishman (2019)


It seems that nothing can slow Martin Scorsese down. Almost 50 years after turning Mean Streets loose on the movie-going public, the great director offers yet another glimpse into the world of organized crime, and 2019’s The Irishman is every bit as masterful as Mean Streets, Casino, The Departed, and, yes, even Goodfellas.

Robert De Niro stars as Frank Sheeran, a Philadelphia truck driver who, after befriending mobster Russell Buffalino (Joe Pesci), became a major force in organized crime, gaining a reputation as a guy that “painted houses” (i.e. – killed those who needed killing).

Buffalino eventually introduced Frank to Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), and over the years Sheeran and Hoffa became close friends. But when Hoffa started feuding with other Teamsters officials, most notably his associate Tony Pro (Stephen Graham), it sent shock waves through the underworld, with Frank Sheeran caught in the middle of it all.

Scorsese has assembled a dream cast for The Irishman, starting with his old pals DeNiro (who shines as Frank Sheeran, the Irishman of the title and also the film’s narrator), Pesci (as the calm and collected Buffalino, a far cry from his Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas), and Harvey Keitel (appearing in several scenes as Angelo Bruno, the mob boss of Philadelphia).

Also present are Stephen Graham and Bobby Cannavale, both of whom had major roles in the Scorsese-produced series Boardwalk Empire; comedian Ray Romano as Bill Buffalino, Russell’s cousin and a lawyer for the mob; and Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s estranged daughter, Peggy. The standout performance, however, is delivered by Al Pacino as the impulsive Hoffa, whose short fuse consistently lands him in hot water. Even in prison, he couldn’t keep his anger in check, getting into a scrum at one point with Tony Pro in the mess hall.

And then there’s Scorsese himself, employing every trick he’s learned over the years to ensure this nearly 4-hour movie flows brilliantly, feeling less than half that long. As with most Scorsese crime films, The Irishman is often violent, sometimes jarringly so (there’s rarely any warning when Sheeran carries out a hit), and the film has an epic feel to it, with such historic events as World War II, The Bay of Pigs, and the assassination of President Kennedy occasionally playing into the story.

Yet The Irishman also differs from the likes of Goodfellas and Casino in that it follows its characters into old age, showing us how they dealt with their past transgressions when approaching the end of the line. In one late scene, Frank Sheeran shops for his own coffin. Perhaps it’s a natural progression for Scorsese, himself a few years shy of 80 when he directed this 2019 movie.

Yet even with The Irishman being a bit more reflective than Goodfellas, it’s also just as magnificent, and while some filmmakers might lose their edge when they get older, Martin Scorsese has proven with both The Wolf of Wall Street and this movie that he’s only getting sharper.
Rating: 10 out of 10

Sunday, September 19, 2021

#2,618. Fantastic Planet (1973)


Director Rene Laloux’s animated film Fantastic Planet whisks us off to the planet Ygam, home to both the intelligent, oversized Draags and the tiny, humanoid Oms. To the Draags, Oms are either pets (for their young) or vermin (wild Oms hide in every corner of Ygam, and multiply much more rapidly than Draags).

When his mother is accidentally killed by playful Draag children, an Om infant named Terr (voiced by Eric Baugin) is taken in by Tiwa (Jennifer Drake), daughter of the Draag leader, Master Sinh (Jean Topart).

As he grows older, Terr (now voiced by Jean Valmont, who doubles as narrator) learns the ways of the Draags, including how to read their language. These skills prove useful when Terr escapes captivity and joins a tribe of wild Oms, which is in constant danger of being eradicated by their Draag overlords.

Though colorful and wildly imaginative, Fantastic Planet is also quite bleak; the abandoned park where the wild Oms reside is home to a number of dangerous creatures, from giant bird-like monsters that devour Oms by the dozens to plants that lure insects to their doom, not for food but for the mere sport of killing them. In one of the film’s more surprising moments, a baby reptile is devoured moments after it’s hatched… by the very creature we assumed was nurturing it!

While the story itself isn’t very complex (the Draags mistreat the Oms, who eventually rebel, and the threat of war between the two looms heavy in the final act), the visuals that Laloux conjures up throughout Fantastic Planet, regardless of how horrific they sometimes become, are what keep us watching.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, September 17, 2021

#2,617. The Collector (2009)


The Collector has enough blood and gore to fill two horror movies, but it’s the film’s more suspenseful moments, skillfully executed by first-time director Marcus Dunston, that really impressed me.

Arkin (Josh Stewart), a former convict, does odd jobs for his employer Michael Chase (Michael Reilly Burke), a well-to-do executive whose family recently moved into a new house. In dire need of cash to pay off a loan shark, Arkin breaks into the Chase homestead while the family is away and heads straight for their wall safe.

But as the would-be thief will soon discover, someone else had the same idea, only his fellow intruder, a masked psychopath known only as “The Collector” (Juan Fernandez), is after much more than money.

Though tense and frightening, The Collector does, at times, push the believability envelope to its breaking point (you may find yourself asking questions, like how did the Collector rig so many elaborate traps in only a few hours?). But in the end, it was such a thrill ride that I had no trouble suspending disbelief.

In fact, I was totally caught up in the cat-and-mouse game that develops between Arkin (who does his damnedest to stay hidden) and The Collector (the way director Dunston shoots these scenes, occasionally letting his camera drift above the action to show how close the two characters are to one another, enhanced the suspense). And as the movie’s villain, The Collector is one eerie dude (we see his glowing eyes through the mask, and it’s enough to send a chill up your spine).

As for the gore, it’s pretty gnarly; The Collector rigs the house with everything from hooks and bear traps to a pissed-off guard dog, all of which inflict their fair share of pain (in addition, there’s a scene involving a cat and lots of glue that had me on the edge of my seat).

The Collector proved to be one hell of a low-budget horror movie! Don’t miss it!
Rating: 8 out of 10

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

#2,616. To Your Last Death (2019)


An animated action / horror film from director Jason Axinn, To Your Last Death is insanely brutal, but oh-so-much fun!

Having survived the deathtrap set by her billionaire father (voiced by Ray Wise), which claimed the lives of her three siblings, Miriam DeKalb (Dani Lennon) is approached by a supernatural entity known as the “Gamemaster” (Morena Baccarin), which offers Miriam a chance to go back in time and alter the outcome of this tragedy.

Though confused and frightened, Miriam accepts, only to discover along the way that there’s more at stake than she could have ever imagined.

Filled to its breaking point with sleazy characters (even Miriam’s brothers and sister have their dark sides) and bloody gore (there are axes and guns aplenty, yet, surprisingly, the film’s most memorable mutilation comes courtesy of an electrical outlet), To Your Last Death also dabbles in fantasy (i.e. - the Gamemaster subplot), making it one of the more unique animated films I’ve seen in some time.

Add to this the fact that it’s narrated by William Shatner, and you have a movie you’ll want to immediately move to the top of your queue!
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Monday, September 13, 2021

#2,615. Metamorphosis (2019)


South Korea has been knocking it out of the park in the 21st century, churning out one genre classic after another. From vampires (Thirst) to zombies (Train to Busan) to giant monsters (The Host), South Korea filmmakers have proven themselves the new masters of horror.

Metamorphosis, a 2019 possession-themed film directed by Kim Hong-Sun, tried to continue the trend, only this time the results were mixed.

Following a botched exorcism, which resulted in the tragic death of a teenage girl, Father Joong-Soo (Sung-Woo Bae) decides to leave the priesthood. But before he can hang his crucifix up for the last time, Joong-Soo receives a frantic call from his older brother Gang-Goo (Dong-Il Sung), whose family is being terrorized by a malevolent spirit.

Will Joong-Soo regain his confidence in time to save the day, or will the evil entity win out in the end?

There are aspects of Metamorphosis that work quite well, starting with the family at the center of it all. Having recently moved to a new house, Gang-Goo, his wife Myung-Joo (Jang Young-Nam), and their three kids (Hye-jun Kim, Yi-Hyun Cho and Kang-Hoon Kim), find themselves tormented by a demonic force that doesn’t so much possess his victims as duplicate them. In a very disturbing scene, daughter Hyun-joo (Yi-Huyun Cho) is awakened one night by her father Gang-Goo, who leers at the poor girl as she lays helpless in bed. Only it isn’t her father; it’s the demon, which can take the form of any family member at any given time. Much like the alien creature in John Carpenter’s The Thing, these transformations cause paranoia to run rampant in Gang-Goo’s household, with nobody sure who can be trusted, and who can’t.

And like 1982’s Poltergeist, we care about Gang-Goo and his family, making what happens to them all the more terrifying. In addition, Metamorphosis features a number of surprising twists as it story plays out, most of which prove effective.

Where the movie stumbles is in its depiction of the demon itself, when in its true form. The opening sequence, where we witness Joong-Soo’s failed exorcism, has a familiar, “been there, done that” feel to it, and as a result never generates the thrills it should. Unfortunately, the final confrontation between good and evil is just as humdrum, with a plot twist that was lifted right out of The Exorcist!

Still, Metamorphosis, shortcomings and all, is good enough to warrant some attention.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Saturday, September 11, 2021

#2,614. The Saphead (1920)


Notable today for being Buster Keaton’s first feature-length film, The Saphead - even at 77 minutes - seems to drag on incessantly.

Part of the problem is the story, which is about as exciting as watching paint dry; Nicholas Van Alstyne (William H. Crane) has made a killing on Wall Street, and is none too happy that his philandering son Bertie (Keaton) is only interested in spending the money he makes.

Hoping to teach Bertie a lesson, Van Alstyne kicks him out of the house and refuses to allow him to marry Agnes (Beulah Booker), the love of Bertie’s life.

But when Van Alstyne’s unscrupulous son-in-law Mark Turner (Irving Cummings) tries to steal his millions out from under him, Bertie’s ignorance of the stock market’s inner workings may be the only thing that can save the family fortune!

Keaton is predictably excellent as the not-too-bright Bertie, and the scenes in which he’s featured are easily the best (especially the big finale, where Bertie darts around the exchange, tackling brokers and inadvertently buying up stock).

Unfortunately, The Saphead contains far too many scenes without Keaton, none of which are memorable, and the film’s main plotline – Van Alstyne’s purchase of stock in the Henrietta Mining Company and his son-in-law’s attempt to snatch it away - is as dull as they come.

Keaton completists will enjoy seeing the master in an early role, but everyone else would be better served watching The General instead.
Rating: 5 out of 10

Thursday, September 9, 2021

#2,613. The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)


Based on Norton Juster’s 1961 children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth is a (mostly) animated adventure that will likely appeal to kids under the age of 12.

Bored with life, young Milo (Butch Patrick, aka Eddie in The Munsters) is given the surprise of a lifetime when he’s whisked away to a magic kingdom, where words and numbers are at odds with one another and everything seems to be topsy-turvy.

Aided by a watchdog named Tock (voiced by Larry Thor) and a pretentious Humbug (Les Tremayne), Milo attempts to set things right by freeing the Princesses of Rhyme (Patti Gilbert) and Reason (June Foray), both of whom were banished to the Castle in the Sky.

Produced by Chuck Jones (who was also behind the excellent Rikki-Tikki-Tavi), The Phantom Tollbooth is a wildly creative animated film that teaches kids the value of words and numbers, as well as the power of positive thinking. During the course of his travels, Milo encounters dozens of characters, including the “Whether Man” (Daws Butler), Kakophanous A. Discord (Cliff Norton), and a race of lazy globules known as the Lethargians (Thurl Ravenscroft), all the while discovering how rewarding it can be to learn something new.

Though geared towards children, The Phantom Tollbooth has moments that will please older viewers as well (the scene where Chroma the Great, voiced by Shepard Menken, “conducts” the sunset is a definite highlight).
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

#2,612. Georgia Peaches (1980)


A TV movie designed to capitalize on the success of The Dukes of Hazzard, Georgia Peaches (aka Follow That Car) is a mindless bit of fluff from producer Roger Corman.

Dirk Benedict plays Dusty Tyree, a stock-car racer who dabbles in illegal moonshine (the movie opens with one very improbable car chase, in which Dusty does everything he can - including setting the entire street on fire - to outrun the local police).

Dusty’s girlfriend is Sue Lynn Peach (Terri Nunn), a mechanic whose sister Lorette (Tanya Tucker) is on her way to becoming a country music star.

The threadbare plot (the three leads agree to work undercover for the U.S Treasury Department, which is trying to bust the film’s heavy, played by Sally Kirkland) is just an excuse to stage more car chases, and there’s plenty of country music as well. It’s all fairly harmless, and if you grew up a fan of The Dukes of Hazzard, Georgia Peaches will be right up your alley.

Just don’t expect to remember it the next day.
Rating: 6 out of 10

Sunday, September 5, 2021

#2,611. Man in the Shadow (1957)


A year before he directed the masterful Touch of Evil, Orson Welles appeared in this crime/ western, playing Virgil Renchler, owner of the Golden Empire ranch and the most powerful man in the small town of Spurline.

One day, Ben Sadler (Jeff Chandler), the new sheriff of Spurline, receives a report that Juan Martin (Joe Schneider), a Mexican hired hand employed by the Golden Empire, has been murdered by the ranch’s foreman, Ed Yates (John Larch).

But when Sheriff Sadler tries to investigate, he finds himself facing off against not only Renchler and his cronies, but the entire town of Spurline as well!

Directed by Jack Arnold (who also helmed The Creature from the Black Lagoon), Man in the Shadow is a taut, slick modern western that’s also an effective thriller. Chandler is excellent as the Sheriff determined to see that justice prevails, and Welles is predictably engaging as Renchler, who isn’t so much the heavy as he is a man backed into a corner by those working for him (he was as surprised as anyone to learn Martin had been killed). The scenes in which these two characters verbally spar are the film’s best.

Also superb in supporting roles are John Larch as the treacherous Yates and Colleen Miller as Skippy, Renchler’s kind-hearted daughter.
Rating: 8 out of 10

Friday, September 3, 2021

#2,610. Byzantium (2012)


Neil Jordan’s Byzantium is the supremely endearing tale of two centuries-old vampires, Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan).

Forced to flee the city, the two make their way to a seaside village where Clara strikes up a “friendship” with a lonely guy named Noel (Daniel Mays), whose mother recently passed away. In need of companionship, Noel invites Clara and Eleanor to stay with him in his family’s spacious hotel.

But just as their lives seems to be settling down, the two vampires are once again confronted by the secrets of their past.

Saoirse Ronan is solid as Eleanor, the introspective, conflicted young girl who longs to share her life’s story with new friend Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), but it’s Gemma Arterton as the savvy, occasionally violent Clara who steals the show (an early scene, set in a strip club, establishes the character’s brutal nature while, at the same time, proving she can take care of herself).

In Jordan’s skillful hands, Byzantium is both a fascinating character study (of two women’s very different approaches to their unique circumstances) and an intriguing mystery (my favorite moments in the film are the flashback sequences, during which Jordan patiently reveals the tragic details of Clara’s and Eleanor’s lives, including why they must remain in hiding).

Thoughtful and mesmerizing, Byzantium is a vampire movie you won’t want to miss.
Rating: 9 out of 10

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

#2,609. Dante’s Inferno: An Animated Epic (2010)


Though loosely based on the 14th century poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, 2010’s Dante’s Inferno was directly inspired by a video game of the same name (developed by Visceral Games and released by Electronic Arts).

Having survived the Third Crusade, the brave knight Dante (voiced by Graham McTavish) now must descend into hell to save his beloved Beatrice (Vanessa Branch), whose soul has been claimed by Lucifer himself (Steve Blum).

Aided by the poet Virgil (Peter Jessop), Dante fights his way through the nine circles of hell, but will he fall victim to his own sins and weaknesses along the way?

With six different directors lending their talents to the project, Dante’s Inferno is always interesting to look at; I especially enjoyed the filmmaker’s interpretation of the 2nd circle (“Lust”), while the 3rd circle (“Gluttony”) was as gross as it was visually exciting (Dante faces off against Cerberus, the Hound of Hell, who at one point swallows Dante whole). The film is also incredibly violent; each circle features an action sequence, and copious amounts of bloodshed.

Yet as impressed as I was with the movie’s style, I was never emotionally invested in its story; it always felt like I was watching someone else play a video game (which makes sense, I guess, taking into account its inspiration). In addition, the final segment, when Dante battles Lucifer, was a major let-down (it was the weakest portion of the movie, when it should have been the strongest).

Fans of the video game and anime in general will find a lot to love about Dante’s Inferno. As for me, I only liked it, and not as much as I hoped I would.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10