July 14, 2014

Sugar Hill (1974)

Marki Bey sizzles the celluloid (bits?) as Sugar Hill in this 1974 voodoo-zombie-revenge thriller that reminded me of the structure of the female revenge thriller I Spit On Your Grave. And, of course, there's Zara Cully as Mama Matrisse the voodoo queen - a few years before hitting the big time as Mother Jefferson in the iconic television series. It's not bloody because the zombies are not the flesh-eating kind; that said, the zombies look kind of ridiculous but the movie is fun and well-acted and you might recognize a few other actors before they became more prominent in Hollywood pictures.

June 29, 2014

Survivors (2008)

Survivors is a thrilling post apocalyptic BBC series with fascinating characters, some bizarre scripted motivations (Samantha and Greg - really?) and dramatic, action scenes that are nail-biting. The United Kingdom setting thoughtfully affords us a relatively gun free source of violence - which is an absolute pleasure! Only two seasons ran before the show was cancelled with (from what I read) many loose ends so I stopped watching after Season 2, Episode 4 which has a satisfying-enough series finale.

June 28, 2014

The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring is an intriguing and (somewhat) engrossing take on demons and exorcism. The film makers did their home work in one respect because there are bits and pieces of every demonic possession movie I've ever seen integrated into this story. In another respect no homework was done: being a pastiche, the threads in the story should be invisible, not black.

June 24, 2014

Coma (2012)

There was no reason to remake the 1978 movie of the 1977 book Coma because, though a groundbreaking theme in the 70s, torture porn has pretty much made organ theft a mundane topic. This mundanity, a pedestrian script and some (less than ground-breaking) CGI leave you nothing but Ellen Burstyn claiming These are mah babies. This one's Chinese. And this one is a mulatto. And although her part is a supporting role, it is ALWAYS a pleasure to watch Ellen Burstyn.

June 20, 2014

Bonnie and Clyde (2013)

In the darkness of the first scenes of Bonnie and Clyde: Dead And Alive, the 2013 uninvolving and long television tale, I thought Clyde's mom was played by Mare Winningham. In the later, brighter scenes I saw it was Dale Dickey whom I had never seen before. After almost four hours, that's all I got.

June 15, 2014

Thirteen Women (1932)

Thirteen Women (showing on WatchTCM this week) at its heart is a film about bullying in a girl's school and Irene Dunne is the bully! Myrna Loy and Peg Entwistle (who infamously jumped to her death from the Hollywood sign shortly after filming this, her only film) are some of the women in the cast (which never quite reaches 13). It's an interesting artifact to watch (and somewhat prescient) although it felt much longer than it's 59 minutes.

June 14, 2014

Flickers (1980)

Flickers is one of those quirky BBC dramas they made back in the day; this one takes on the fledgling film industry with Bob Hoskins and Frances de la Tour as a couple of quirky producers running a silent picture studio. There's not much history although writer Roy Clarke has definitely used factual events to fashion his story. The ensemble cast is wickedly good despite the broad characters but thankfully the action centers around the perfectly bearish Hoskins and the marvelously adroit De La Tour, both endearing actors playing great together.

May 1, 2014

Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark (1988)

I laughed at two things in Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark and they were not her breasts. Cassandra Peterson's character is beloved but unfortunately the two jokes wear very thin repeated endlessly in this pastiche of unfunny. The film feels like the contract stipulated a specific number of double entendres in the movie so everything in the script works towards that end before it concludes at a movie theatre friendly ninety six minutes.

April 30, 2014

Don't Bother To Knock (1952)

The closest Marilyn Monroe ever came to appearing in film noir is the first movie in which her name appears above the title, the 1952 black and white thriller Don't Bother To Knock with noir favorite Richard Widmark and singer Anne Bancroft. Although not the brightest script, Monroe proves her acting chops as the baby sitter in hotel room 809; she is poignant, detached and bat-shit crazy. I've read that this movie is closest to the real Monroe (not the blonde bimbo) but there is no playacting here; Monroe is mesmerizing.

April 28, 2014

Life With Judy Garland: Me & My Shadows (2001)

Kudos to writer/producer Lorna Luft, actresses Tammy Blanchard and Judy Davis and director Robert Allan Ackerman for creating a poignant portrait of Frances Gumm and her doppelgänger in Life With Judy Garland: Me & My Shadows. The 45 years go by in three hours as you're immersed in the glamour, angst and humanity of the iconic entertainer. Be sure to listen to the informative DVD commentary in concert with the film; Luft and Ackerman (among others) offer information about Garland and how her real life was dramatized for television.

April 18, 2014

Dial M For Murder (1954)

To call Dial M For Murder a crackingly, taut, suspense thriller still understates the feeling that you are on the edge of your seat throughout. Alfred Hitchcock has taken the uber successful 1948 Broadway thriller and filmed it with his eye for irony and angles. Grace Kelly gives one of her best performances as do her gentlemen callers Ray Milland, Robert Cummings, John Lawson and John Williams - the latter actor having worked with Hitchcock more than any other.

April 16, 2014

Vera (2011)

I binged on season 1 of the British crime drama Vera. Brenda Blethyn wows as Vera (the 'surly' detective); she's surrounded by a great cast (David Leon, Wunmi Mosaku), and the intricate mysteries kept me guessing 'whodunnit' until the end. If you like puzzlers, seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on Amazon Prime (four episodes each).

March 18, 2014

Alien Trespass (2009)

It's amazing that some one somewhere found the 1957 presumed-destroyed film Alien Trespass and was able to release it in 2009. This pastiche of every 50s science fiction B movie you might have seen before it has not much more than that premise except a charming performance by Eric McCormack ... and color film! The movie is prepended with the newsreel that had been placed before it in 1957 which, coupled with Robert Patrick, gives the whole thing a family feel - although I'm not sure why.

February 28, 2014

The Flapper (1920)

I have no idea why this film is called The Flapper because it has no flappers (or flapper dresses); in fact, it was made in 1920 before the term was even used on a regular basis. At the most, star Olive Thomas (a one-time Vargas and Ziegfeld girl) attempts to vamp her man as she wears a dress similar to the one Theda Bara wore in A Fool There Was. The story is a piffle about a teenager from a girl's school, the adult she finds exciting (silent child sex?) and a robbery, but it is interesting to see Thomas whose death (from an undetermined accidental or intentional poisoning shortly after this film was made) was the first of the Hollywood tragedies that ultimately lead to the enactment of the Production Code.

February 16, 2014

Night Must Fall (1937)

Night Must Fall, the 1937 film of the successful Emlyn Williams dramatic thriller, is a dark, atypical MGM film in that its tone and characters go against the studio's more famous light-hearted fare. Young Rosalind Russell, Robert Montgomery and (yes!) Dame May Whitty are all fascinating to watch dancing around the central murder mystery and are supported by a stellar cast (all in Oscar caliber performances). I don't want to convey anymore because it's a tight story (adapted by John Van Druten of I Am A Camera/Cabaret fame) and a fine film to watch unfold without prior knowledge.

February 15, 2014

The Dolly Sisters (1945)

The Dolly Sisters starring Betty Grable and June Haver is 20th Century Fox's 1945 musical biography about the titular vaudeville performers from the turn of the 20th century. Although the music and dancing are enjoyable, the lack of any story on which to hang these musical numbers is clearly evident (although sometimes it plays like For Me And My Gal with a second gal added). Vaudeville performer Harry Fox (played by John Payne) is also part of the story (or lack thereof) as is a song performed by the sisters in blackface; the former I get, the latter I don't.

January 16, 2014

Zoolander (2001)

I thought Zoolander (in essence, a comic take on The Manchurian Candidate) was an Adam Sandler movie so I never saw it. When I was informed that it was Ben Stiller and not the aforementioned, I found it immediately, watched it, and loved it! All white guys look alike.

January 9, 2014

Hedy Lamarr as a Nymphomaniac

Dishonored Lady is a 1947 potboiler in which the ravishing, patent-owning Hedy Lamarr, without so much as uttering the word, plays a nymphomaniac who seeks the help of a psychiatrist. Although timely in its themes (for example, Lamarr works in a man's job), the public domain movie plays out as one might expect from post-code Hollywood: love and marriage and murder (not in that order). The final scene almost plagiarizes the final scene of Casablanca - interesting considering the producers of the 1936 Joan Crawford vehicle Letty Lynton were convicted of plagiarizing the play version of Dishonored Lady causing the Crawford film to be pulled from circulation to this date.

January 6, 2014

It Happened One Christmas (1977)

It Happened One Christmas, the rarely-aired 1977 gender-reversed remake of It's A Wonderful Life was the first Frank Capra movie I saw; in other words, the television movie is pretty much a shot-by-shot copy of the classic original - with the same artificial snow and some small script modifications. Fortunately, the story is so strong that this version stands on it's own as a pleasant tale. Producer Marlo Thomas (who as lead actor channels her future television daughter, Jennifer Aniston) also made the right decisions in hiring Orson Welles (as Mr. Potter) for gravitas, Cloris Leachman (as angel Clara Oddbody) for humor and Wayne Rogers (as Mary Bailey's other half) for banality.

January 4, 2014

This Gun For Hire (1942)

This Gun For Hire, the 1942 film noir, is at times hopelessly propagandized, ridiculously out-dated, magically tuneful, screamingly over-the-top and miraculously riveting. In the film that made him a star (and with a part that belies his third billing), Alan Ladd creates the template for hired killers by stroking kittens, slapping women, killing men and generally packing an unstoppable punch as he seeks revenge; the monologue in which Ladd recounts a battered childhood was emotionally draining for both of us. Veronica Lake is the sultry songstress who becomes his redemption and Robert Preston is her guy and although you always know how this one will end, the last twenty or so minutes is a nicely paced, pulse-racing chase scene with great black and white cinematography that is not as expected.

December 28, 2013

Never Been Kissed (1999)

Never Been Kissed is a sweetly, intelligent throwback that never fails to work my tear ducts overtime. Drew Barrymore is adorable as the undercover reporter reliving her high school past; Molly Shannon, David Arquette, Gary Marshall, Octavia Spencer, John C. Reilly, Leelee Sobeiski, and Michael Vartan support admirably. The script recycles plot points from Carrie in a comedic way but they are integrated originally and the film is so effervescently made you can only be charmed.

December 4, 2013

The Happiness Of The Katakuris (2002)

The Happiness Of The Katakuris begins as claymation and ends as a wonderfully imaginative zombie musical. The musical works because the central characters are developed and the story (of a family trying to market their bed and breakfast) is not an afterthought to the zombies. Director Takashi Miike (of Audition and The Ichi Killer) has created an entrancing mashup of The Sound Of Music and Night Of The Living Dead; its surreality is beyond mere description and deserves a look.

December 1, 2013

A 1956 Music Video by Gower Champion!?

While perusing the public domain site archive.org, I happened upon Once Upon A Honeymoon a fifteen minute music video directed by Gower Champion. À la Michael Jackson's Thriller, this video is a complete story about recently married (m)ad man Ward Ellis who works too much so has never had a honeymoon; Virginia Gibson is a standout as his lovely wife and the premier vocalist of the video's song, A Castle in the Sky. A few solid character actors (Chick Chandler, Alan Mowbray and a small yet pivotal turn from Leo G. Carroll) round out the cast in this lost (and now found) infomercial from the 1950s.

Haunts of the Very Rich (1972)

Haunts of the Very Rich is one of the myriad Aaron Spelling productions aired as an ABC Movie Of The Week during the 1970s. This story of disparate people that find themselves questioning their lives and choices in a garden of Eden (actually Vizcaya in Miami, Florida) is interesting both for its uniformly good cast (Lloyd Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Edward Asner, Anne Francis, Tony Bill, Donna Mills, Moses Gunn, Robert Reed) and its denouement which may or may not be what it may or may not purport to tell. I've watched it a few times (on YouTube) and still can't figure out what's going on so that must count for something.

November 30, 2013

They Shall Have Music (1939)

Knowing how heart-breaking Andrea Leeds (Academy Award nominee for Stage Door who only made several films) can be, I decided to sit down and watch They Shall Have Music (the one she made with Joel McCrea) when I saw it posted (in its entirety) to YouTube. But in fact, the real stars are Gene Reynolds (who grew up to become a producer/writer/director of the television series M*A*S*H) as a kid from the streets and Jascha Heifetz, the famous violinist, who teaches Reynolds about music; Leeds and McCrea don't even enter the story until almost 45 minutes into the movie. Still, it's a very sweet film with many long musical, classical interludes (including opera) and a child actors in Reynolds and Diana Lynn who knows how to unlock your tear ducts.