Saturday, August 29, 2015

Logan's Run (1976)

Inhabitants of a domed city lead a decadent life of leisure until they turn 30. Then they are "renewed". By which we mean, killed. Some people, not content with this, choose to "run", by which we mean run. That is where the sandmen come in. Their job is to track down and "terminate" the runners. By which we mean kill. Serves them right for not going to Carrousel.

Sandman Logan 5 (Michael York) is placed on a secret mission to find Sanctuary, the place the runners are escaping to, and destroy it. He asks for help from a chick that wouldn't sleep with him. Together they find a wonderful place with trees, grass, sky, and cats! Hey, and they are in America despite everyone having English accents.

Sci Fi great George Pal was set to produce the film, which makes sense. It's high concept, paper-thin acting, blatant morale, and amazing set pieces fits in well his other work. Unknown to his style would be the brief nudity and many scenes of what I like to call "70's jiggle".

I watched Logan's Run on the big screen 40ish years ago. I had forgotten very little of the story. I also watched the short lived TV show which would be cool to find again. My oldest son is a Sci-Fi buff but I never got him to sit through this with me.

This is considered Farrah Fawcett's breakout role, even though her part was small and her performance forgettable. Also, she had already been in a couple low budget films and a steaming pile of television over the previous seven years. It would take her a few more years to learn to act reasonably well.

The color of the crystal in their left hand represents their age group, as well as dictates the color of their 70's toga-gown. Except the Sandmen, who wear only futuristic cop uniforms. So, why do people start searching for Sanctuary only when the crystal starts blinking? Why don't they start when they are, say, 25? Do they think it doesn't apply to them until they are 29 and 11 months old? That is simply poor planning.

Logan's Run is very dated but enjoyable. The city overview shots showing personal transport looks as if it was lifted by Futurama. In fact several plot points seem to have been recycled. It was landmark science fiction in a world before Star Wars existed. Sci Fi fans should take another look. AMRU 3.5.
"Everything made sense... until Box."

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Music Man (1962)

Travelling salesman (Robert Preston) comes to River City, Iowa to sell the townsfolk band instruments, planning to be gone before they figure out he has no idea how to lead a band or teach music. He sets his eye on the Librarian/music teacher (Shirley Jones) who he learns had made brazen overtures to a much older philanderer/philanthropist. The sadder but wiser girl for him. Things, however, don't go precisely as planned.

Actor Timmy Everett (Tommy, Great Honk!) went on to appear in two episodes of Ben Casey, then call it a career. Fourteen years later he would be gone. In contrast little Ronnie Howard would go on to do everything on earth. Hermione Granger of Potter fame was named after the actress playing the Mayor's wife, Hermione Gingold, in that the actress was named in 1897 and the character was named several years after. Yea, let's go with that.

There is a camp site at scout camp called Wells Fargo thus my boys knew the associated song. My wife and I decided to force them to learn where it comes from. In the process, they found out where Peter Griffin got Shipoopi.

The Music Man is a charming and wonderfully performed film with few faults. The finale isn't contrived or ex-machina in any way. There are no lulls or noticeable weak points, although Hackett's musical number comes close. This film is chuck full of memorable lines, great performances, and charming scenes. Truly, a landmark of Hollywood cinema. AMRU 4.5. Shirley Jones was adorable.
"You watch your phraseology!"

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Blue Dahlia (1946)

When a war hero (Alan Ladd) comes home early to surprise his wife, she surprises him right back (nudge nudge). When he finds out how his son actually died, he considers killing her, but decides she isn't worth it. Later she is found dead by his gun, and he decides to lay low for a while. His army buddies bumble around.

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake were in seven films together. They had a few things in common. Other than stature, they both died at age 50. While he died of the manly disease of liquor and barbiturates, she died of hepatitis. While he worked in pictures up until the end, she was seldom caught on camera past the age of 30. Her last picture was the terrible Flesh Feast.

Screenwriter Raymond Chandler didn't like Lake much, calling her Moronica Lake, thinking her performance didn't add anything to the movie. She would call herself a sex zombie. Sounds like Chandler was kind of a dink himself, offering to drink himself blind in order to finish the script on time. What a way to take one for the team.

This is the third film I've done to feature Hugh Beaumont of Beaver fame. I actually don't remember him in The 7th Victim. I recognized the voice of suspect number 1 and looked him up. He played Ben Franklin in 1776, my favorite musical ever.

In real life, shortly after the film's release, a young woman named Elizabeth Short was murdered in a particularly grizzly manner. The press labeled it the Black Dahlia murder and it is still unsolved. There is no actual connection to the film.

Blue Dahlia is better than fair film-noir mystery for most of it. Ladd struck the right tone, Lake (the Kristen Stewart of her day) was passable as eye candy with lines, and the supporting cast was interesting. As we approached the finale, the mystery gets muddled. I won't elaborate but suffice to say I have one big pet peeve with mysteries and this one hit it. The reason was because the studio demanded a rewrite of the ending, throwing Chandler for a loop.

Still, better than fair. AMRU 3.5.
"You've got the wrong lipstick on, Mister."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Shining (1980)

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) takes the position of off season caretaker of the Grand Overlook Hotel. Turns out the former caretaker had some troubles, and those troubles seem to be following Jack and his family. But, as they say, all work and no play ...

Somehow I had managed to miss seeing this horror classic, and while I've watched the famous scenes to death, there was a good deal of the story I did not know. Young Danny (young Danny) has "The Shining", which means he can hear thoughts and pick up impressions left before. And other stuff. He has an imaginary friend named Tony (Redruuuum!) He only had one other acting credit, a TV movie about G. Gordon Liddy. He played young G.

I was thrilled to watch this at Movies on the Block, but towards the end, when Wendy (Shelley Duvall) was at wit's end running from Jack, people laughed. I was offended. I wanted to find Duvall, hug her, and tell her everything is going to be all right. All performances here were stellar, but her's surprised me.

Based on the Stephen King novel, this is a Stanley Kubrick movie, make no mistake. Tone, character, and story elements are changed to agree with the director's genius (King hated his treatment of the material). His attention to detail is legendary, as are his tactics. Duvall was treated poorly on camera and off to give her a beleaguered feeling. The scene on the stairs when she waived a baseball bat, it was said, was done in 127 takes.

There is way too much to say about any Kubrick movie, The Shining in particular, so I will again leave with someone else's video. There is no end to interpretations on its meaning. This is a spectacularly well made horror movie, one of the best in the genre. Room 237 is crap. AMRU 4.5.
"Wendy, I'm home."

Monday, August 3, 2015

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

The rightful queen of the Township of Oz was sent off to Kansas as an infant by the evil Prime Minister Kruel. Prince Kynd demanded the return of Queen Dorathea so Kruel travels to Kansas with the great and powerful charlatan to steal Dorothy's mail once and for all. From there is starts to make less sense.

This version of The Wizard of Oz is a framework for exhibiting vaudeville gags, not a story unto itself. Director and would-be scarecrow Larry Semon runs from the cruel Uncle Henry, is attacked by bees, and creepily try to woo the teenaged Dorothy, seventeen years his junior. (Creepier still, the actors were actually married at the time!) And don't get be started about the duck!

The film, silly and shallow as it is, possesses some interesting visuals. The inclusion of animation with live action, interesting camera tricks, and stunts makes it more ambitious than most of it's era. Ambitious enough, it would seem, to bankrupt the studio before the film's release. Many theaters who ordered prints never received them. But it's rather telling of the story that this 70 minute fantasy was annoyingly tedious. If a gag worked for four minutes, they ran it for ten. Then they began another.

I never read the Baum stories, so I don't know what elements are accurate to the source material, but this flick resembled the Garland extravaganza not in the least. No witches, no munchkins, no slippers, and no Toto too. There is no brick road nor a flying monkey in sight. Several characters travel to Oz (a short plane ride from Kansas), not just Dorothy, and their alter egos (woodsman, scarecrow, lion) were disguises to avoid capture.

Let's talk about our cowardly lion, shall we? Of course he's a black laborer whom we first see sitting in a field eating watermelon with a giant grin. The bar has been raised for racially insensitive films.

Terrible uncle Henry, played by obese Frank Alexander, gets into the good graces of the Evil Prime Minister, and thus earned the title of Prince of Whales. Yea, cuz he's fat. Alexander lived to the ripe old age of 58. A youngish and slim-ish Oliver Hardy played the tin woodsman and scarecrow's romantic rival Dorothy's affections. He had done a huge pile of shorts by then but this was one of his first feature films.

The financial disaster that The Wizard of Oz was spelled the end of Larry Semon's career, and apparently his life. He did another film and a bunch of shorts, but would die in 1928 under unclear circumstances. I'm sure a bottle was involved.

I wanted to like this movie. It did have a lot going for it. But the weakness of the overall narrative and the tediousness of the bits made it fall short. And the samboesque stereotype didn't help. What a way to treat a war veteran. AMRU 2.5.
"I have heard that these alley cats like dark meat - personally, I'm not afraid!"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Jaws (1975)

A NYC cop (Roy Scheider) takes the job of Chief of Police on a small island. A young girl is killed by a shark, but the townspeople are hesitant to close the beaches because the forth of July is coming and they rely on tourist dollars. After several more attacks, they hire an old salt to hunt the fish down.

Before I continue, allow me to confess that Jaws is one of my essential films. I could go on and on (and on AND ON!) about my personal history with Jaws, but that would bore even me. Just let me say that I read the book before they made the film (even did a book report on it), my parents vacationed on Martha's Vinyard during filming, and the local dive cinema played it the entire summer so I went again and again. I started seeing films at Movies on the Block and brought my family to see Jaws.

Seeing it again, and on the big screen, emphasized that every scene is a masterpiece. Nothing was included that wasn't exceptional. If anyone doubts Spielberg's genius, point to Jaws. He's not infallible, mind you, but there is no improving on this film.

Here's what I found interesting: I remembered every nuance of this film. Every turn of phrase, every meaningful glance. Everything. Ingrained permanently in my grey matter. Susan Backlinie played Chrissie, the first victim. Denise Cheshire played Chrissie when swimming. The two would team up the same way again for 1941. There is so much interesting (to me) trivia about this film that I am incapable of editing myself. Go to IMDb and read it for yourself. Better yet, watch the film, then the video included at the bottom.

Wonderful visual storytelling, pitch perfect dialog, incredible acting, and perfect editing. The only thing that could have made it better would be if the two jack-asses didn't get into a fist fight right at Ben Gardner's big scene. AMRU 5.
"Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women!"

 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The good doctor (Peter Cushing) is in prison waiting execution when he tells his story to a priest, and it goes something like this: Young Victor is rich, becomes an rich orphan, is brilliant, hires a tutor, somehow grows older than his tutor, then starts playing with things God did not intend. Then he goes to jail ...

The original took serious liberties with the source material, and Hammer films were threatened with a lawsuit if any of it's story or images were copied. So, we are left with the elements brilliant and privileged scientist, taking science too far, creation of a monster, and bad consequences. Mix elements thoroughly and bake for 45 minutes and you get a new version of Frankenstein. Or Jekyll and Hyde. Same deal.

TCM played a pile of Christopher Lee films a couple weeks after his passing. Because interesting films on TCM come in waves, I had filled my DVR with good stuff and had to be very selective what I saved. This was the lone Lee film that made the cut.

Formal, stilted acting, mostly unoriginal story, and a complete lack of actual scares or surprises is mostly saved by decent set design and photography, and Lee's performance. Very much a Hammer production. AMRU 3.5.
Christopher Lee: "I've got no lines!"
Peter Cushing: "You're lucky. I've read the script."