Thursday, December 31, 2009

Film Blog Year in Review

I've been doing this for ten months and have blogged 59 movies. (Dirty secret: some of the early movies were watched months prior!) One entry covered two and one movie spread two entries. My original premise was to do movies of "some distinction" that I hadn't seen before, made before I was born. So, how did I do?

Not too good. March through May went well, 17 of 18 movies that meet my criteria. I had seen Kong before. June and July (busy months for me) I did four movies, only one which fit. I don't know WHAT I was thinking doing The Bad News Bears. Maybe I felt I needed to add content. August had good films, but only one fit the criteria, though Dr. Renault's Secret was very enjoyable. September and October were mixed bags, doing crap films from my Horror collection and rehashing movies I already knew I liked. December started poor but ended well. Overall, I count 37 that fit my intention.

The biggest surprises for me are:
Seven Samurai. I cannot explain why this 3 1/2 hour, black and white, subtitled, actionless action film kept me so entranced. It was simply wonderful.

The Thin Man. The humor holds up very well, the story is complex, and the dialog is as sharp as it gets. I already have the next one on my entertainment center.

It Happened One Night. Never heard of it before, despite it being an Academy Award winner. It was wonderful and loved it when I watched it a second time the following day. I had seen some of the scenes, though. Either from Warner Brother's cartoons or from when I watched That's Hollywood back in the day.

M. Not sure if I will watch it again, but was surprisingly impressive.

Would I change any movie ratings? The A in AMRU is significant. Few things in life are as arbitrary as my rating system. But looking back, I was a little too kind to some movies. I gave many a 2.5 because I didn't want to be too dismissive. Don't know why. Case in point, The Reluctant Astronaut. All that movie had going for it in 1967 was the public's fascination with the space race and Don Knotts improbable popularity. Today, it brings nothing to the table. I have fond memories to the pre-Ralph Furley Don Knotts, but this film is a testament to rose collared glasses.

What have I learned? I've come to notice how things like score and editing can really effect a movie's appeal. I've come to notice good acting a little better. I've come to realize the benefit of Netflix, which I may subscribe to in the near future.

What will I do in the future? I intend on keeping to my criteria a lot more. I'll slide on the year a bit or grab lesser known films, but I hope to keep the total trash (I'm looking at you, Killers from Space!) to a minimum.

At this moment, I'd like to acknowledge my first ever follower. Hi Carl! That was pointless, as nobody else reads this tripe, not even my family. And even Carl may fly the coop when he sees me concentrating on films outside of his interest range. I appreciate your interest.

Whelp, it's been fun and educational. I hope to continue this blog for at least another year. Maybe I'll take a film class. Naw, that'll never happen.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dr. No (1962)

My thirteen year old son has become familiar with James Bond through unlikely sources. The TV show Mythbusters frequently tests stunts from the movies. Also, there was a program called "The Cars of the Bond Movies". For reasons that escape me, he has become a Bond fan. I brought the first of the series home from the Library.

He knew that Sean Connery played Bond in many of the films. I asked him if he knew who he was. He said he had heard of him. Do you know who else he played? Not sure. He seems familiar. Listen to his voice. See if you can't place him.

I saw Dr. No a long time ago, or at least portions of it. I only remember bits and pieces. I do remember the book, however, which I read in my mid to late 20's. A secret agent disappears along with his files of a mysterious Dr. No. The good doctor operates a bauxite mine on an island off the coast of Jamaca. (note: in the book it wasn't bauxite he was mining. It was bat shit. Seriously.) The dashing Bond is sent in to investigate.

No discourages visitors via terror and intimidation. The locals fear a dragon. People who sail ashore disappear. Bond must simply take a look. There he meets up with Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). Got to love those Ian Fleming names. The missing agent is named Strangeways, and let's not forget Moneypenny.

Bond is a man-whore. An awesome man-whore, and that's why we love him. He's from a fantasy world that never existed, and doesn't exist in fantasy much anymore. He killed three bad guys and bagged three babes. The film pleases and was discrete enough to allow my 8 year old to watch. We all enjoyed it. I can't see going out of my way to watch it again, but From Russia with Love is already queued up.

After the movie I showed my son who Connery also played, specifically Indiana Jones' father. He'd also like The Hunt for Red October, but I'll suggest he read the book first. AMRU 3.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Metropolis (1927)

Back when I got my collection of horror movies, there were a couple films on it that I was very much looking forward to watching. First was Nosferatu, which I found disappointing. Secondly was Metropolis, which amazed me. The video quality on that public domain was very poor and it made me long to see a restored copy. Finally I have.

Those looking for a restored copy of Metropolis will find many. The most authoritative version is the Kino edition, which includes the most footage and uses the original score (and no, it wasn't done by Queen). Why so many versions? The original film was long. Too long, studio execs felt, for American audiences. They also had little regard for it. The film was edited, reorganized, and rescripted. Many times by many different people. Trying to piece together the original masterpiece was quite an undertaking.

The Kino edition is a little over two hours. I had the boys watch. Someday they will forgive me.

Here's the basic story: rich guy runs the plant, the Metropolis. They workers are drones who live a brutal existence in the depths. Freder, the owner's son, is a playboy who spends his time ... well, playing. The mysterious Maria brings the children of the workers into realm of the privileged to see their "brothers and sisters". Freder is captivated. He goes down below and takes the place of a worker for a ten hour shift. He learns that Maria holds illegal meetings deep in the catacombs. She is looking for a mediator between the hands and the head. Perhaps this could be Freder? Good 'oll dad will have something to say about this.

What I saw in the public domain version was a visual work of art, obscured by scratches. The story didn't make a damn bit of sense. The title cards were sometimes clipped, unclear, and some seemed to be missing. But the special effects, given the time and technology, were wonderful. A machine the men operate has a breakdown and people are killed. In Freder's eyes, the machine transforms into a giant pagan god, consuming the people. A featurette on the disk describes what Fritz Lang had to go through to make that happen. It's worth watching.

One thing I found out was that approximately a quarter of the movie is lost. They inserted title cards to describe the missing scenes as best as they can piece them together. So, the full film was, what, close to three hours long? Seriously?

Oh, the religious imagery. The virginal Maria is waiting for a mediator, which seemed like something of a messianic character. Maria speaks of the story of Babel from the old testament, there is a reference to a character named Hel (from Norse mythology, not the double-hockey sticks place), and a character named Josaphat. Oh, and the pagan god monster mentioned earlier and pentagrams everywhere, especially in evil inventor Rotwang's house. Rotwang creates an evil robot version of Maria, maybe a reference to the whore Magdalene? (I know Mary Magdalene wasn't really a whore!)

Silent films are tedious. Two hour long silent films with missing scenes are doubly so. I put the family to sleep. There were moments where I myself found my eyes closed. The amazing art work and imagery could take it only so far. That's when I learned that an almost complete version of Metropolis was discovered in a film library in Argentina. A restoration is expected to be ready in 2010. Could I sit through another, even longer viewing? That is something I will have to consider.

In the meantime, AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

It is true. I've lived 43 years and never saw It's a Wonderful Life in it's entirety. Until, that is, last night.

I had caught parts of it in my youth. I knew the premise. I saw the Saturday Night Live skit about the "missing ending". My sister was a huge fan. Somehow I managed to miss it.

Now, everybody know that George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) gives up his life's dreams to keep his father's savings and loan in operation. The evil Harry Potter keeps trying to own or crush the S&L because it's the only thing in town he doesn't control. After things go wrong, a guardian angel is dispatched to show George what the world would be like if he was never born. Conclusion: not good. It's a Capra film so you know everything will turn out all right.

Lionel Barymore is cast against type as Potter and Donna Reed is Bailey's hot wife, her first starring role. George has a douche-bag buddy from high school (Heee-Haw!) named Wainwright who returns rich and with a hot young wife played by Marian Carr, who later went on to play Lon Jr's would-be girlfriend in Indestructible Man. That's what we call a downward slide.

A well made, satisfying movie. What did I find surprising? It's long, over two hours. It was nominated for five Oscars and won nothing. Initially, it was a financial flop. My boys weren't terribly interested but my wife, who missed a good bit of it, wants to see it again. Next year, maybe. AMRU 3.5.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Indestructible Man (1956)

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane. No, it's Indestructible Man!

Enough quality entertainment, time to revert to garbage! Indestructible is something of a retelling of Frankenstein as a 50's detective story. Lon Chaney Jr. is Butcher Benton, one bad dude. He gets the electric chair for his crimes but his cohorts, who turned states evidence against him, get off scot free. Here's the twist: only Benton knows where the 60 Gs are located. Butch takes that information to the grave. Well, almost.

Insert mad scientist. Well, not actually mad. He wants to do cancer research and needs the body of the recently dead, so he steals one. Butch will do. Funny thing, though. His experiments did two things. It brought butch back from the dead, and it transformed him into Indestructible Man!

Butch can no longer talk because the experiments burned out his vocal cords. That's just fine. Monsters can't talk anyhow. His anger and hatred is expressed by poorly edited closeups of his ugly face. So Butch goes about his business of finding and killing his lawyer and accomplices, plus anybody handy. Into the mix are Butch's girlfriend who works at a burlesque house, and detective Dick, hot on his trail.

More like hot on her tail. Detective Dick is clueless to what is going on and how to proceed. But he does know this hot blond should be ready to move on any moment, now.

Indestructible Man looks like a made for TV movie. TV level acting, script, and overall production. A scene would start and the actors appeared to be waiting for the cameras. Nothing too bad but nothing to distinguish it.

This was a Lon Chaney Jr. vehicle. For those who don't know, that's Creighton Chaney, the bastard son of one of the greatest silent film stars. After Lon's death (age 47, lung cancer - cigarettes are harmless, boys and girls!) he changed his name to Lon Jr to boost his career. They looked nothing alike. Jr was five inches taller than dead 'oll dad. Eventually Creighton dropped the Jr altogether hoping people would confuse him with pop.

Come the middle 1950's, Junior's career was winding down. The big man liked the bottle. He would do a lot of television and low budget crap. This is my first Lon Jr. movie, so I will hold off disparaging his career until I've seen more of it. Can't wait.

This movie had no major flaws. It simply was uninspired and unoriginal. It was narrated by Detective Dick doing a Jack Webb impersonation. I'm glad I saw a Lon Jr. movie. I'm not glad it was this one. AMRU 2.5. Watch it here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Big Sleep (1946)

The Providence Public Library started running a Film Noir Sunday Matinee several weeks ago. They began with The Maltese Falcon, did Double Indemnity last week, and yesterday was The Big Sleep. I Finally had the chance to stop in. I dragged along my 13 year old kicking and screaming.

The movie was delayed a half hour. Seems that Netflix sent them the wrong movie. Which one did they get? The remake. They took a trip to a video store.

Humphrey Bogart is Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, private dick. Rich man hires him because somebody is trying to blackmail his hottie daughter. His other daughter is played by Lauren Bacall. Hey, my first Bogie and Bacall film. I remember Bacall back in the day as an elderly spokeswoman for polident or whatever and for that reason I have a hard time thinking of her as hot. I'll say this about the old broad: she's 86 and has three movies coming out next year.

The story twists and turns like film noir is want to do. The big screen holds my attention better than the small so I think I followed it better than I did The Maltese Falcon, but I was still somewhat mystified. Who is in cahoots with who? Who killed that one? Why?

There is something to say about the media being the message. The jokes are funnier, the gun shots more dramatic, the suspense more intense, the kissing scenes more uncomfortable for a 13 year old boy. I noticed this effect in reverse recently. My Seven Samurai experience encouraged me to have the boys watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. On my second viewing, I rated it a real good movie. When I first saw it in a theater I thought it one of the best movies ever. It simply didn't translate to the small screen very well. Forest Gump fell similarly.

Unlike the genre Horror, I don't have a good feel for what defines film noir. All men wear suits, all women wear cocktail dresses or long flowing nightgowns. Men are men and women are young and hot. Lots of smoking and drinking. Everybody is serious and wants to be taken seriously. And it must be a detective story. Otherwise, Casablanca would be film noir. Am I close?

Lets take a look at the ladies, shall we? Of the principle women in the film, the oldest was 23 when the movie came out. The OLDEST! Of course there was a cigarette girl who was the ripe old age of 29, but she barely had one line. 46 year old Bogie claimed to be 38. Must of been good to be a dirty old man in Hollywood back in the day.

What was that 13 year old's reaction at the end of the film? He applauded. This is a total Must See Again film. Great dialog. Wonderfully filmed sequences. Atmosphere, texture, all those film school phrases. It was great stuff. I have to bring the wife next time. AMRU 4.

Oh, and I am seriously considering elevating Lauren Bacall to hot.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Monster Walks (1932)

The Ghost Walks, so why not the Monster?

Made two years before Ghost, this movie has many of the same horror devices. A rich man dies and his only daughter arrives for the reading of the will. She inherits just about everything, of course. Into the mix are the deceased man's brother, the lawyer, a housekeeper, butler, and the good lady's boyfriend (Rex Lease). Oh, yea, and a black chauffeur to be afraid of everything. Gots to have one of those.

Chauffeur Exodus is played by a very young Willie Best, credited as "Sleep 'n Eat". He would go on to a respectable career as a demeaning racial stereotype, but here he is quite forgettable.

The monster in question is a chimp kept in a cage in the basement. Yea, look at the poster again. Looks like a caged chimp to me too. Apparently Bobo hates the young Ruth. Strange things happen and Doctor Boyfriend becomes Detective Boyfriend. Is the chimp getting out of his cage? Was it "walking"?

Not much more to say about this movie. The old, spooky house has secret passage ways (of course) and there is an almost comic scene when Hunky Dr. Ted reassures Ruth that nothing could possibly happen to her, while a picture frame in the background rotates to reveal a hole. Maybe they weren't all sealed up ages ago after all. No soundtrack to speak of, paper thin plot, grainy film, and poorly edited. Not the worst of the genre but fairly unremarkable. AMRU 2.5. Quite skipable.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Maniac (1934)

I had free time after work and was too tired to do any reading. I popped in a disk from my public domain horror collection and watched Maniac. The greybeard scientist is working on his plan to reanimate dead tissue. Apparently he watched Frankenstein a couple years earlier and wanted to do exactly that.

Dr. Meirschultz's Ygor is a vaudeville actor named Maxwell who is wanted by the police. His specialty is impersonations and here he is impersonating an actor. Seriously. The actor was apparently a makeup artist in his only acting role. Meirschultz needs a body to do a full scale experiment and has Max impersonate the coroner to gain entry to the morgue. Max is worried but agrees.

Is this supposed to be a comedy? The script is bad but the acting is among the worst I've ever seen. And that is saying something! "Once a ham, always a ham!"

In the morgue they find what they are looking for: a young hottie who committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. The undertaker, believing Maxwell as the coroner, makes some risque comments. The body is brought back to the lab.

Time for the next step. Need to find a body with a shattered heart and replace it with a throbbing prop he has in a jar. Meirschultz had a great idea! He tells Max to kill himself and promises to bring him back from the dead. Nope, no red flags there. Instead Max kills his mentor.

Here the story becomes a little disjointed. Max impersonates Meirschultz, a woman arrives seeking help for her schizoid husband and sees the body, schizoid husband goes berserk and carries reanimated hottie (who's goodies are briefly visible) off to a park to do the Zombie Mambo. Max's wayward wife learns that Max has inherited a fortune and seeks him out. Max sinks lower and lower into insanity while scenes from crazy-weird silent films are superimposed over him.

And quite frankly, so do I. This film is nuts. There are montage scenes where it is implied Max/Schultz molests a woman (who's goodies are briefly visible). Oh, right, this is Sex Maniac, the exploitation film. Now I remember.

Oh, and the cat fights. There are several scenes where cats are fighting each other, chasing mice, and being all around annoying. In one scene they tied a cat and dog together to make them really go at it. Charming. Don't get be started about the crazy cat man. All this was brought together at the end when the schizoid's wife and Max's wife have a cat fight of their own. There may have been a little boobage there as well.

The schizoid's wife, by the way, was played by Phyllis Diller. Not THE Phyllis Diller, just a Phyllis Diller. I wonder if the original run time was longer. What I saw was just under 51 minutes and there were jump cut scenes that may have contained more naughty bits. There is a fully restored version but I won't be looking it up.

The film was loosely based on Poe's The Black Cat and written by the director's wife. Imagine that. "Honey, I want to do a sex film. Could you write it for me?" There was another Poe reference, when The Murders in the Rue Morgue was mentioned.

I kinda enjoyed the film but you can't get around the fact that it was a really poorly made film. The dialog was poor, the acting was terrible, the best thing I can say is the sets were good. The weird montage scenes were interesting if for no other reason that because they were so unique. In the final analysis, I can't truly say I'm glad I watched it. AMRU 2.5. Watch it for yourself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Ghost Walks (1934)

A playwright wants to present his latest play to a producer and somehow convinces him to drive to his remote mansion on a dark and stormy night to read it. His man-secretary is along for the ride. They get stuck in the road and have to walk to a nearby spooky mansion. Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Strange things are a-foot. Writer Prescott Ames has a history in the house and at dinner, we learn a murder happened there ten years earlier, that very night. The lights go out, a ghost makes an appearance, and the widow disappears! Guess what. Mr. Ames is putting his producer friend (and his closeted secretary) on. This is HIS house, and they were all actors treating them to act 1 of his play. Oh, wait. Spoiler Alert! Was I too late on that?

Producer and secretary find a room ... I mean find the script and realize they were played. No longer frightfully fearful, they go back downstairs to enjoy the show. The actors fess up to the deception, but when they find the poor widow, she actually is dead! Producer and BFF don't believe them.

A guard from a sanitarium (of course) arrives saying a homicidal maniac is on the loose. Then we learn the house has a history of murder, and the eyes in the painting come alive and look at people and, well, they pull out just about every cliche in the book. The actors run around like mad and the producer and his guy-pal snicker, thinking it's all a gag.

This movie is old enough that the scare devices were fairly new, if not original. And for the title, well, there was kinda a ghost. I suppose he was walking. Other people totally walked. Had to. The car was stuck.

I'm torn on what to give it. Clearly it wasn't "great". The audio and video quality ranged from poor to pitiful. I hate to condemn it for that reason, but I simply cannot enjoy a movie I can't hear and barely see. Right now I give it a 2.5. Watch it for yourself.

The Living Ghost (1942)

I stopped into the library to pay my fines (totally worth it) and I saw a "vintage double feature" (Translation: two old, crappy movies with a similar theme). The titles were "A Walking Nightmare" and The Ghost Walks". Never heard of them. Or of anybody who was in them. Can't resist.

The first one, called A Walking Nightmare, is actually named The Living Ghost. But of course the name of the movie is called Haddocks' Eyes, but that's another story entirely.

Marketed as a horror story (at least by Alpha Video), this is a comic (maybe screwball) mystery along the lines of The Thin Man series (which are GOOD movies). Maybe a little too closely. Released twelve months after Shadow of the Thin Man, the reluctant, smart alec detective is named Nick. Nick Traynor, played by James Dunn. Retired from the detective business, he is badgered into taking the case by his light haired Nora, Billie Hilton played by Joan Woodbury. She was a kinda hottie who's career dwindled as 30 got further in her rear view window. Two big differences with The Thin Man is that Living Ghost takes itself far less seriously and the lack of conspicuous drinking.

The story surrounds the mysterious disappearance, and later reappearance, of the wealthy Walter Craig. When he returns he is in a catatonic state. The actual doctor's description of what happened to him is rather stupid. The peculiar family hosts many suspects. Nick does his sleuthing in the scary mansion while doing vaudeville shtick and dodging verbal barbs from Billie.

Now, let me make fun of the titles. Living Ghost? Craig was indeed living, and he was sorda like a ghost in the sense ... no, he wasn't anything like a ghost. More like a zombie. But he was living! (Although the actor would be dead in four years.) Walking Nightmare? Maybe Craig was having nightmares while he was walking? I swear they made up movie titles based on what word was popular that month.

Clever, witty, short, all good traits of a B movie. Not horror by any stretch, but mildly thrilling if one is willing to be so. Don't confuse it with a quality film and you'll be happier. AMRU 3.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Seven Samurai (1954) - part 2

The new copy came in an I watched the last of disk one and about half an hour of disk 2. Daily life disallowed me to watch the last hour and change until last night.

So, we take up the story of a village under oppression. Their crops were robbed by bandits, and when they return, they realize the village has nothing. So they decide to return when the barley ripens. A villager hears this and know that if this crop is taken, they are doomed. Give up the crop without a fight and beg the bandits to leave them something?

No, says grandpa. Hire Samurai to defend the village. It is a tall order to find Samurai to fight for nothing more than rice. In all seven agree. One is young and untested. One's Samurai credentials are in question. Others are not great warriors but posses other skills. They fortify the village and train the farmers.

There are a few side stories. The villagers fear the Samurai. One forces his daughter to dress as a boy. Another villager has a secret. Some of the houses are outside the protection perimeter and that causes concern. Add to it the idea of Ronin staying loyal not to a lord, but to a noble cause, and the Samurai who isn't a Samurai. All of this works together.

Partly the way I watched the film, I could readily identify with only four of the seven. The leader was distinct, being older and having cut his hair early in the film. The young Katsushiro was timid and unsure. Kikochiyo moved unlike the others. You did not have to see his face to know who which one he was. Unlikable at first, he becomes very endearing. The others kinda blended in. A second, uninterrupted viewing would be in order.

A few things to mention. For a movie with such a high body count, there was no gore. The Samurai slices his sword near an opponent and the cut is implied. I didn't feel it was missing. A three and (almost) a half hour movie is quite daunting, but it didn't drag. The pacing was perfect.
There are many elements in this movie. Action fight scenes, a love story, a noble cause, youth proving one's self, and it's all done expertly. Maybe technically perfect. Far be it for me to make such a declaration, but put this much stuff into a 207 minute, subtitled, black and white film, and if you get an eight year old video game junkie glued to the screen, and you have something special. I returned the disks two days late at $2 a day. It was worth it.

AMRU 4.5. Now maybe I can get the boys to watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

William Powell is still a witty drunk. Myrna Loy is still a hottie. Baby Nickie is a little older. Same kind of story, different details. Nick keeps walking into a murder investigation, and tries as hard as possible to avoid getting involved, but it's no use. First, a jockey is shot while in the shower. Then there's this binder that everybody is trying to get their hands on. Another murder and way more characters than I am able to keep track of.

Maybe I started the movie when I was just too tired. Maybe I'm growing tired of the series, but the charm factor was gone. About an hour into the film I shut it off and went to bed.

More awake after work, I watched the end. Guess what? Detective stories are way more entertaining when you have enough brainpower to actually follow the story. The characters and format are basically identical to the first three movies, but here are my observations:

A 20 year old Donna Reed was basically forgettable in the second role of her career. Asta again provided comic relief. The joke here being that he was afraid of everything. To illustrate the point there were sequences of sped up film of Asta running and hiding. Funny stuff. The cops are incompetent, of course.

Maybe I will watch it again. I really enjoyed the last twenty or so minutes. I have a busy weekend, we'll see. I'm curious to see the mystery when you know who the murderer is. And it'll be nice to see it while awake. AMRU 3.5.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Seven Samurai (1954) - part 1

Seven Samurai (Shinchinin no samurai) is the story of a farming village in 16th century Japan. Roaming bandits rule the landscape. When one farmer overhears bandits say they will plunder the village when their barley crop ripens, the community is thrown into despair.

After a long discussion, the decision is made to try and hire Samurai to defend the village. The problem is that all they have to pay them with is rice. They must find hungry Samurai. A motley band of seven arrive to a village of people who both desperately need and fear them.

Seven Samurai is a movie of great reputation. IMDB voters have ranked this foreign language film as the 15th greatest all time. Entertainment Weekly placed it twelfth. It is called the first modern action movie, with many of the cinematic elements either invented or refined here. The Magnificent Seven (1960) was based on it.

At first I was apprehensive to start this movie. It's over three hours long and I didn't know if I had the stamina. Imagine my surprise that not only did I totally get into the movie, but so did my 8 and 13 year old sons. This, a black and white movie with subtitles and surprisingly little action.

Now, imagine my frustration when the DVD flaked out on me at the end of chapter 10 (of 12) on disk one! On close inspection I found that the disk had been cleaned with what looks like find grit sandpaper. Disk two looked slightly better, but I wasn't going to play it without seeing the rest of disk one. I've tried it in the Playstation to see if I got better results, but no dice.

I've requested another copy from the library. I'll hold off giving it a rating, but as of now it's a 4, at least. Woonsocket Harris library, you're getting yours back!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Outside of the Box

When I started this blog, I was intending on watching "good" and "important" movies. But lately I've been watching a lot of crappy sci-fi and horror. Whatever, it's my blog. I'll get around to watch some good movies eventually. In the meantime I picked up two films that are sort of throwbacks, modern movies in the style of old B thrillers.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera (2001) tells the story of a scientist who goes to a remote location to study a meteor said to contain high amounts of a rare element, atmospherium. An evil scientist wants to steal the meteor and use it to resurrect a skeleton and rule the world. Into the mix are a couple space aliens who need the atmospherium to repair their ship. Also, there is the matter of an escaped space mutant.

Lost Skeleton is less an hommage and more a spoof. The filmmakers went out of their way to recreate the cheezy props, bad acting, and awkward dialog. It is a screwball comedy with a B-movie premise. What they didn't recreate is the atmosphere of the old films. It was filmed digitally then the color was removed in post production. The end result looks nothing like an old movie. It was way too sharp. Also, there is something about how it was shot that makes it hard to confuse it with anything but a modern movie. I can't put my finger on it.

That said, it did have it's funny moments. The dinner scene was hilarious. My boys still hoot about it. The redundant and terse dialog was interesting, but was taken too far. It became an annoyance after a while. It was fun loving and funny and that made it worthwhile, but I wish it took itself a little more seriously. There is a sequel and I may see it.

Alien Trespass (2009) does take itself seriously. A scientist witnesses what is assumed to be a meteor crash and goes to investigate. Turns out it was a flying saucer. In the crash a space monster escapes and threatens the world. Wait, didn't I just hear something like that?

Clearly made with a larger budget, Alien Trespass is more entertaining, more visually appealing, and faithfully recreates the feel of an old Sci-Fi movie. The color was slightly washed out like the old technicolor movies. The sets were (for the most part) accurate and attractive. Great attention to detail.

The space ship commander (sort of a space-federal marshal) borrows the body of the scientist and goes hunting for the ghota. Some teenagers have seen the monster but the cops don't believe them. A diner lady thinks the scientist has flipped his wig, and nobody seems to know what is going on.

Clearly not breaking new ground, but it wasn't meant to. What it meant to do it did exactly. Pitch perfect. An old style Sci-Fi with an interesting story and enough hidden jokes for modern ears.

Rating these two, I'll give Lost Skeleton a 3.5 and Alien Trespass a 4.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Last Man on Earth (1964)

I've seen a lot of zombie movies recently. On Halloween AMC ran The Night of the Living Dead and I ended up seeing most of it, again. Apparently the inspiration for Night was The Last Man on Earth, and the book it was based on, I Am Legend. Last Man was in my collection, so I popped it in.

Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) lives in a world where everybody else is infected by a virus. The virus kills the host, then they rise from the dead to kill the living. Delightful. Price plays a scientist who spends the last few years searching for a cure. We follow his regular routine, make coffee, run to the super market, burn corpses, look around town for zombie/vampires to drive stakes into their hearts. Regular stuff.

The monsters fear their own reflection, avoid garlic, can talk, hide in daylight, and are killed by the stake thing. Totally vampires. They are slow moving, dimwitted, and resemble rotting corpses. Sounds like zombies. I'll call them Zompires. No, wait, Vampies! Lemme work on it and I'll get back to you.

In flashback we see a little bit of Morgan's life and how the epidemic started spreading. His wife and child were taken. Three years dealing with the dead and missing his family have driven him to the brink of despair, or insanity. So sad.

Last Man is in the public domain and the quality was fairly poor. It was made in Italy and the dubbing was terrible. Worse still, this wasn't the perfect role for Price. He plays better as the smug villain, not the heroic protagonist. And what can you say about a movie where you sit and think of all sorts of ways to make it better, while you are watching it? Oh, and the poster is way sexier than the movie. Still, it boasts a legacy of Night, The Omega Man, and I am Legend, so it was interesting to see how it all began. Classic "Glad I saw it, don't need to see it again" deal. Totally AMRU 3.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

A ditzy chick (Judith O'Dea) and her duche-bag brother (Russell Streiner) drive several hours to put flowers on their grandfather's (or father's) grave. Bro starts teasing sis that the boogie men are out to get her, when whadda ya know. They ARE out to get her. Johnny saves Barbra, but, alas, gets eaten by the zombie.

Barbra runs into a house and more zombies come around. Enter: heroic black man. He kills a couple zombies then boards up the house, while sissy runs around like a lunatic. This goes on for a while when I realize that my eyes are closed. I open them and wonder if I missed anything. Can't tell. Main characters run around, while the zombies slowly advance on the house. I nod off again. Hey, there are more people in the house? Where did they come from? Oh, they were in the basement. They argue. I nod off. Some of the people are gone. I guess they were eaten. Whatever.

I was awake to see the famous ending. Man, this movie moved slower than the zombies. I feel I should see it again to see what I missed (some important parts, I understand) but I just don't want to. I know it's a cult classic, I found it a bit of a bore. This sucker is in the public domain because George Romero forgot to include a copyright notice. That's gotta suck. AMRU 3. You have weird dreams when you fall asleep to a zombie movie.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Frederick Loren (Vincent Price), an eccentric millionaire, rents a spooky mansion to throw a party for his wife and five strangers. If they stay the night, they each will get $10,000, which was serious coin back in the day. The house was the scene of a brutal double murder.

The film opens with a black screen and a blood curdling scream followed by ghostly noises. We are left to our imagination. Next we see the disembodied head of Watson Pritchard (Eliza Cook, Jr.) who explains a little bit of the background. His brother was murdered in the house and since then he has owned it.

Loren's head appears next, explaining a little about the party. It was his wife's idea, but he chose the guests. With the simple turning of the phrase "She's so amusing", we have great insight into their relationship. Vincent Price was simply amazing. The guests arrive in funeral cars.

Carol Ohmart plays Annabelle Loren, Price's hot trophy wife. She's still alive.(Edit: Nope! Died in 2002!) Richard Long is hunky test pilot Lance Schroeder. Maybe you remember him from Big Valley. I did. He died of multiple heart attacks at age 47. Alan Marshal is Dr. David Trent, a psychiatrist. Perhaps you remember him from guest appearances in 77 Sunset Strip and Surfside 6. I sure don't. He died of a heart attack at age 52. Julie Mitchum plays Ruth Bridges, a newspaper columnist. Perhaps you remember her as the sister of Robert Mitchum. That's probably the most interesting thing about her. This was her last film. She lived to the ripe old age of 88, outliving her baby brother by five and a half years. Carolyn Craig is Nora Manning, a young office worker. Isn't she pretty? Perhaps you remember ... no, you don't. Trust me. She died at 36 from gunshot wounds.

Director William Castle (dead of a heart attack at age 63) loved gimmicks. When shown in theaters, a skeleton would fly across the cinema at a critical point. That aside, the film had enough gimmicks on screen. Scary hands from behind the door, pianos playing without anyone at the keys, scary people jumping out at you. Matinee (1993) was based on him.

So, what is going on? Is Loren trying to kill the Mrs, or the other way around? Are there really ghosts like Watson Pritchard keeps saying, or are the spirits haunting him the bottled kind? Is Lance Schroeder trying to find out what's going on, or is he trying to get into Nora's pants? And maybe the Mrs. Lorens too? While the movie works the second time around, the story in large part doesn't, but that's ok. The atmosphere is great and the dialog is sharp. It's a fun movie.

Here's what doesn't work. The exterior of the house is about as un-haunted house looking as possible. A Denny's looks scarier. The Frank Lloyd Wright abomination was 35 years old at the time. Even worse, there's a scene at the beginning where you see downtown Los Angeles in the background. Thank god the majority of the film is interiors.

Nora Manning, who works for Mr. Loren, was invited because she needed the money. Or so he says, but maybe was was intended to get the Mrs. jealous. Her acting was horrible. She plays the young woman who is frightened of everything. Not a tall order. To watch her struggle and do it standing next to Price was plain weird.

A little silly, yes, but watchable, interesting, and fun. I could say it's AMRU 5 because I did buy it, but that's only because it cost a buck. How did this film end up in the public domain? I love Haunted Hill, flaws and all. One of the best B horror films. AMRU 4.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)

Ya know, I'm sick of crappy horror movies. Without a decent one at my disposal, I popped in last year's Christmas gift.

Michael Rennie was ill The Day the Earth Stood Still, but he told us where we stand. Actually, while he was shot, he had gotten better by the time he made the earth stand still. And by the time he got around to letting us know where we stand, well, let's not get into that ...

A space ship lands in Washington DC. Out comes Klaatu bearing gifts. The military shoots him, then takes him prisoner. He has a message to give to the world, but he must speak to all leaders, not just some. This proves impossible. So, he goes out on the town.

He rents a room at a boarding house and meets a single mom and her son (Patricia Neal and Billy Gray). Stuff happens, they tour DC, he meets a scientist, Neal's douche bag boyfriend tries to turn Klaatu in, Gort goes berserk, then Klaatu makes his grand speech.

Of all the B Sci-Fi movies, this one is my favorite. When I spoke earlier how dark and light can be used as effective elements in a black and white film, here is the evidence. Klaatu/Mr. Carpenter (Jesus reference!) stands in darkness at the boarding house. The others, transfixed by the news story of the saucer landing, suddenly notice him. Slowly he enters the light and inquires about a room. The scene is close to perfection.

Later in the film, Neal and Rennie are driving through DC and the military is at every corner. The actors were filmed in California and were spliced into Washington DC footage. Not only do the scenes match, the route driven (I am told) actually makes sense. The attention to detail and level of craftsmanship is unparalleled in B movies.

Say what you will about the preachy ending, this movie is a gem. Not flawless, but truly excellent. I'll sign off with my favorite line from the movie.
"You'll feel different when you see my picture in the paper."
"I feel different right now."
AMRU 5. You thought I'd say "Klaatu, barada, nikto", didn't you.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Bat (1959)

Three years ago I was given a collection of horror movies. Fifty horror "classics" on 12 DVDs. Of course, all of those movies are in the public domain, and some are not by any stretch of logic "horror" films. The Bat is one, regardless of how IMDB categorizes it.

A mystery writer (Agnes Moorehead) rents a spooky old mansion deep in the woods. Rumors of a murderer named "The Bat" scare most of the servants away. Vincent Price plays a doctor. Sounds like horror so far.

A million dollars was embezzled from the local bank and everyone thinks it might be stored in the house. The Bat sneaks into the house looking around and scares the writer and her maid. We have several suspects, including the butler, Dr. Price, and maybe even the new cook. False clues lead us all around.

Now knowing who the killer was, the movie makes less sense. We know what the killer's objective was (the loot) and what he knew, and when. His course of action simply doesn't make any sense. Many mystery stories don't stand up to that kind of analysis, but that doesn't mean I should give them a free pass.

Spooky? Not really. Suspenseful? Somewhat. Horror? Please. The killer was a thief wearing a fancy costume. No insanity, nothing supernatural, just a mystery. Not a bad mystery on the whole, but by no means horror.

Darla Hood of Our Gang fame made her last appearance in a motion picture, and a forgettable one at that. While working on a Little Rascals reunion in 1979 she had minor surgery. She contracted acute hepatitis then suddenly died.

This is a well made film all around. Vincent Price always makes a movie better. Not much of a horror movie, but judging it as a mystery, it's a fair film. AMRU 3. Watch it here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dead Men Walk (1943)

The Evil Elwyn Clayton is dead, murdered by his twin brother, the good doctor Lloyd Clayton. But evil doesn't stay dead long. Elwyn rises, with help from his faithful servant Zolarr, as a Vampire! Dr. Clayton's niece Gayle, played by the hot Mary Carlisle, is in danger. She is to be married to the wooden Dr. Bently, but o'll dad has plans to make her his vampire servant.

After Dr. Clayton realizes his Evil brother is a vampire, he knows he must find the body during the daytime and burn it. He does everything he can, including searching the entire town for the body. No, wait. Everything EXCEPT actually search for the body. Instead he just rubs his chin. Until the end, that is, when he searches for it AT NIGHT! Way to go, Doctor Action.

This film has a lot going for it. George Zucco as both Claytons, the hot Mary Carlisle in the last movie of her career, and even Dwight Frye (Dracula's Renfield) as Zolarr. Less than seven months after this film came out, Dwight would be dead, another happy customer of the Christian Science Healthcare Plan. One wonders if health concerns explain his muted performance. Fern Emmett, looking like a simple minded and good intentioned Elmira Gulch, was a crazy townswoman who knew Elwyn had risen. Three and a half years later, she too would be dead.

The story was fair, the script ok, the setting good. Why was the movie so ... flat? First might be the quality of this public domain film. The contrast seemed a little weak. A good filmmaker can do wonders with black and white, shadows and highlights. See The Day The Earth Stood Still. This movie didn't have any of that. A black screen is good for dark, brooding dialog, but no good for fight scenes. I also think it could have been edited a little better.

What it was truly missing was a proper score. A good score goes a long way to build suspense and creepiness. The score was a total dud.

I fell asleep during parts of Dead Men Walk, so I watched it again online, skipping the parts I saw. I wanted to like this movie, but I never felt involved with the characters. George Zucco was great, but his vampire fell flat. Put a proper soundtrack on this film and clean it up, and you'd have a real good movie. I wanted to give it a 3, but as it is now, the best I can do is a 2.5.

Watch it here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Corpse Vanishes (1942)

Young women are mysteriously dying at their wedding alter. Stranger still, their bodies are stolen before they get to the morgue. The police, brilliant as they always are in old movies, are clueless how to stop it. Fortunately, a society reporter who covered one of the weddings, is on the case.

Cub reporter Patricia Hunter (Luana Walters) finds a strange orchid at the alter and decides to ask the creepy Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi) who lives in a creepy castle miles from town. You can guess the rest.

It's well known that if you extract ... something out of the neck of beautiful young virgins (they were taken before their wedding night, you know ...) and inject it into the neck of your old, vain, and creepy wife, she becomes young and beautiful again. It's a scientific fact. Of course you'll need a steady supply of hot young virgins because it wears off over time.

Bela sleeps in a coffin and has a dwarf and gimp as servants, so they tried to pump up the creepiness. I'll give them some credit, but not too much. So Bela Legosi draws the life force out of young women like one of those ... what do you call them? I forget. Bela in the role he was born to play, and had to continue playing even after he died.

Not scary, not funny, not thought provoking. Mostly forgettable. AMRU 2.5. See for yourself.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

King of the Zombies (1941)

Three people on a plane over the Caribbean are blown off course and land when they hear a radio broadcast. They become the guests of the mysterious Dr. Sangre. The passengers manservant, played by old friend Mantan Moreland, becomes convinced the mansion is crawling with zombies.

Mostly predictable story. Not too funny, not very original, not at all scary, it would seem this film has little going for it. The one thing it does is Mantan. He has quickly become my favorite racial stereotype. Another good point is Marguerite Whitten, who plays a maid who feeds Mantan zombie stories and pie. The whities in the story, mostly forgettable. The poster doesn't show the darker actors, so I have to include a photo of the people that made this thing work.

Here is what sticks in my memory: Dr. Sangre requiring Mantan to sleep in the servants quarters. It seems that the movie makers wanted to take half a stand against racism. A forgettable film if it weren't for the black actors. Shockingly enough, this movie was nominated for an Oscar. So, where do I put it? 2.5? 3? I'm a bonafide fan of Mantan now. AMRU 3.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Here's a breakdown of the story: upstanding scientist does research on the dark side of man's nature, and creates a potion that transforms him into a bad guy. What happens next? Read the book. Seriously. It isn't that long, and it's good. Look into it.

This silent version stars John Barrymore. His transformation from upright scientist-gentleman to ugly hedonist was remarkable. I wasn't sure it was the same actor. But here's where my biases come into play: I don't like silent films. When I started watching it, I didn't realize it was that old. There is a 1931 version that I understand is very good.

I watched the unimproved public domain version and found it rather tedious. The music track was terrible and never matched the action on screen. I turned the volume down almost all the way. Ten minutes shorter would have been ten minutes better. I don't think a fully restored copy with a new score wouldn't have made the difference for me. I should have skipped this one. AMRU 2.

Still interested? Watch it here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

What is the best Sci-Fi/Horror hybrid movie ever made during the 1950s and financed by a Baptist Church? If you said Plan 9 from Outer Space, then you probably read the title.

Plan 9 has to be the most famous, obscure, low budget film ever. It is known for it's sloppy editing and lousy acting and has become a cult favorite for those reasons exactly. Allow me to sum up the plot:

Aliens are afraid that Earth will create a Solaranite bomb, which will destroy the sun and all planets that suns rays reach. Their plan (numbered 9, in case you were curious) is to raise the dead to kill off ... all humans? You know, I'm not really sure how that would work. They only raised three bodies. Maybe it was a proof of concept test. An airline pilot, an Air Force colonel, and a detective investigate and eventually find the saucer.

Anyhow, that's it in a nutshell. What worked: The story. It's no worse than many B sci-fi movies of the day. Also, the special effects and makeup. Really, they were on par. You could see the strings on the space ships, but most low grade sci-fi films never even tried to show the ships in motion. And Tor Johnson's makeup was rather scary looking.

What didn't: the script. Writer/Director/Producer Edward Wood had no talent for writing dialog. There are times where the sentences seemed to be out of sequence. The entire conversation simply made no sense. In at least one scene the actors ad libbed because the script was so bad.

The acting. If you go to an amateur community theater and the acting was this bad, you'd be disappointed. Did they even rehearse? Even the "real" actors in the movie seem to have forgotten how to act.

Combine those two fatal flaws with Wood's refusal to reshoot scenes when there was a flaw and his rather poor use of stock footage, and you get Plan 9. I contend that one could recreate an almost scene for scene version of this film, completely rewriting the dialog and upgrading to mediocre actors and you would have a successful movie. Not a great one, but good enough. Oh, yea, and lose the narrator. In fact, two remakes appear to be in development right now. Grave Robbers from Outer Space (the original title) and Plan 9. I am somewhat curious.

All that said, Plan 9 is a very watchable movie. The flubs become Easter Eggs and for some adds to the enjoyment. My version was colorized, which annoyed me initially, but does make it more accessible to the younger ones in the family.

I watched Plan 9 as a boy on late night television. I've seen it lampooned over and over again in works like It Came from Hollywood and the like. Regarding the visual flubs, I remember Wood being quoted as saying that nobody notices those things. Maybe that was in the movie Ed Wood. In fact, he might not have been far off. As a boy I didn't notice them. I remember liking the movie. As an adult, I think I've seen it enough. AMRU 3.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Grand Hotel (1932)

1933's Best Picture about the Grand Hotel in Berlin was very Grand, and very ... hotely. For the first time ever, an ensemble cast of top actors was brought together.

Greta Garbo, the prima donna actress who was not as good as she thought she was, plays a prima donna ballet dancer who is not as good as she thinks she is. John Barrymore plays a "Barron". I don't want to spoil anything, but since when as a character introduced as a Barron actually BEEN a Barron? Let's pretend, shall we?

John's slightly older brother Lionel plays the aged Otto, an office worker with an unnamed terminal illness (AIDS? Nawww ...) who is blowing his life's savings to enjoy himself, for once. Wallace Beery (Uncle of Noah Beery Jr from Inherit the Wind) plays Otto's boss, The Angry German Giant, who is trying to make a very important business deal. Joan Crawford is his hot young stenographer who spends much of the time scrubbing toilets and screaming about coat hangers.

The Giant wants to plow Joan, who might be willing because she "needs the money". But Joan would rather be plowed by the Barron, who was initially very agreeable. But the Barron instead falls in plow with Garbo, who charmed him with her mediocre looks and bad acting. Garbo falls for the Barron because his mother used to call him "Flix". This made sense in 1932, I'm guessing.

The Barron, who also needs money, finds it easier on his conscience to steal it rather than accept hand outs from Otto and Garbo. Doing the Giant is entirely out of the question. Then we have a climactic scene, comeuppance comes up, situations are mostly resolved, and no one gets plowed. I think. Oh, yea, and there's this morose doctor who bookends the film by saying "People come, people go. Never ever happens." That's called irony, boys and girls.

First let's chat about Joan Crawford. I'm old enough to remember the OLD Joan Crawford from the 1970s. Nasty, ugly, severe. I didn't expect to like her. But the young Crawford was hot and charming on screen. I had never seen Greta Garbo before except in very short clips. Clearly she cut her acting teeth during the silent film days, where over-the-top acting was de regueur. 1932 audiences certainly ate this up, but I found it comical. It is in this film that she recites her signature phrase "I want to be alone".

John Barrymore was a stage actor, so he knew how to talk on stage. He's the grandfather of Drew Barrymore, so forget what I said in "You Can't Take it With You". Lionel seems to play the same character. Old and amicable, even though he was only a couple years older than the dashing Barron.

There's a lot of scuttle about the film. Because Joan and Greta did not get along, they had no scenes together. The director feared they would try to upstage each other. A fearful arms race to be sure. Beery initially rejected the assignment, but was convinced to stay because his character would be the only one with a German accent, even though ALL the characters except Garbo were German. This also stands as the only Best Picture winner that didn't get nominated for any other award.

Grand Hotel is a good film and I'm glad I watched it. I don't see renting it again. AMRU 3.5. Hey, it's October. I'm going to stick to horror for now.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Initially I had little interest in covering movies like this, wanting to focus on movies I HAVEN'T seen, but it was on TBS the other day, and what the hell ...

Just about everyone has seen the Wizard. It has become part of our cultural language. It has been referenced, spoofed, and copied in more places than can be counted. The movie connections link on IMDB goes on and on, and I'm certain I can find references that were missed. But, for the benthic organisms in the audience, allow me to summarize the story.

Hot chick runs away from home and finds a lonely old con man and says she wants to run away with him. He, for reasons that escape me, convinces her to go home. During a tornado, no less. She returns home and cannot find her family. She gets knocked on the head and falls asleep. She wakes in the technicolor land of Oz. Midgets and a drag queen tell her that a lonely old con man might help her get home, so she goes looking for him after stealing the shoes of a woman she killed.

Along the way she meets up with three magical creatures, one that represents a heartless father figure, another a mindless sack of hay, and a third the courage to do the deed. After a pit stop in an opium den and an experience with some "snow", they arrive at the Emerald City to beg free gifts from the wizard. He asks for an old woman's broom in exchange.

Off they go to steal the broom from the sister of the murdered woman. After the hot chick is captured by flying monkeys, the magical creatures go in to save her. During the rescue the hot chick dumps acid on the old woman, killing her. The guards quickly realize that they aren't going to get paid anymore, so they let her plunder the castle.

The con man of Oz tries to renege on his agreement, so the magical creatures rough him up. They get their booty, but before the hot chick gets safe passage back to Kansas (seriously, she wants to go to Kansas), he makes his escape in a hot air balloon. Just then the drag queen from earlier arrives to tell her he's been jerking her around the whole time and she always could have gone home, phych! Meanwhile, the magical creatures take control of Oz and rule it with an iron fist.

I have a few observations from this viewing. While there are many elements that make this movie work, one I don't think gets enough attention is the work of Margaret Hamilton. As Elmira Gulch, she's a nasty bitch. As the Wicked Witch, she deliciously evil. An unattractive woman, even in complementary makeup, Hamilton was captivating in every scene she was in. If there could have been any acting awards (there weren't, let's be serious), it would have been for her. I would totally buy her crappy coffee. I will say, however, that the witch constantly calling Dorothy "pretty" made me uncomfortable.

One more thing. Early in the film, Glinda establishes that only bad witches are ugly. She then proceeds to ask Dorothy if she is a good witch or a bad witch. Hmmmm. Sounds to me like the old lady had an axe to grind.

AFI called it the number one fantasy film. I don't know about that. Premiere Magazine, however, rated it as one of the 20 most overrated films of all time. That may be so, but it's still a good movie. While watching it I wondered if the Wizard of Oz would have been the Wizard of Oz, if it weren't the Wizard of Oz. Something to think about. AMRU 4. You must see it again. You have no choice.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Island Earth (1955)

Dr. Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) is a hunky pilot and scientist. Working for the government, he receives parts from a mysterious source. Assembling them, he finds that it is a giant video phone with lasers. The mysterious Exeter recruits Dr. Meacham for a special, super secret project. Boarding a pilotless airplane, he lands at a remote research facility/Shangri-La where many noted scientists run around like frightened rabbits.

But not Meacham, no sir. He's far too hunky macho for that. He takes charge of the situation and with the aid of The Professor and the requisite hottie, he learns that Exeter and his high-brow bunch are really aliens getting the humans to build ... well, enough spoiling. Suffice to say that the Metalunians need our help and are just too shy to ask.

Are the Metalunians evil or can they be trusted? Funny thing is, if Meacham doesn't get on that plane, nothing happens. No consequence to him or the Earth. The story ends there. In fact, little difference to ANY of the characters in the story. Oh, well. Sometimes a hero needs a scenario to be heroic. Rex, tired of acting, turned his back on Hollywood at age 32. He's still alive and does autograph sessions from time to time.

I watched this with my 13 year old and we both enjoyed it. I might see it again. Actually, we will because I plan on borrowing the MST3K movie (1996) which features it. I loved the series and my boy has never seen an episode. His final comment about This Island Earth is that the title is dumb. I agree. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Killers From Space (1954)

Peter Graves is Dr. Martin, a young Air Force officer working on a project involving nuclear bomb testing. It's called Operation: Nuclear Bomb Test. He is flying around a test explosion taking readings, when he notices a flash of light on the ground. So, he abandons the project to have a look. On his way, the pilot loses control of the aircraft and crashes.

Later, Martin arrives back at the base without any memory of what happened from the time of the crash to when he arrived at the gate. Upon inspection, they find a mysterious scar that couldn't have happened in the accident. His behavior and loss of memory leads them to think he might be an impostor.

The first part of this movie is a mystery. What happened? Our only clues is that the title implies that someone or something from space mean to kill us. I'll ignore the obvious plot flaws and horrible visual effects, which are truly awful. This part of the movie actually works, at least a little. After Martin steals test information, he is captured and given truth serum. Then he relates the story.

Note: this is not a spoiler. I simply am retelling everything that happens in the film. This movie was spoiled the day it came out.

Bug-eyed aliens, resembling Retarded Blue Man Group, brought Martin back from the dead to use him to steal the test information. Their plan is to take over Earth by using close up images of lizards and bugs. Martin won't cooperate, so they brain wash us ... I mean him. Martin thinks to himself and figures if he cuts off power for ten seconds, it will overload their "resistors" and kill all the aliens. The feds aren't buying it, so he has to go to the power plant himself and cut the circuits. The only security guard was busy ticketing his illegally parked car.

Long story short, the aliens blow up and earth is saved. One word about the visual effects. (I call then visual effects because the only thing special about them is the note pinned to their sweater.) Without an effects budget, this movie should not have been made. Or at least made as a mystery rather than Sci-Fi. The alien's bug eyes were made from egg cartons, their outfits looked like sewen up bath robes, and much of the military and nuclear testing scenes were stock footage. When Martin's plane is circling the test site, you can see through it. And he appears to be circling with a diameter about three times the plane's length. Man, were the effects bad!

Now, remembering that the effects were stock footage, poorly dressed aliens in a cave, and close up of bugs, look again at the poster for the movie. The poster depicts exactly what this film was not. I'd sue for fraud. Hey, is that a topless chick in front? Even that wouldn't have saved this.

I like B Sci-Fi films, even bad ones, so I'm tempted to give this a higher rating that it'd otherwise would get, but I have to be realistic. The poor acting was the BEST part of this film. The dialog, story, and effects all sucked. AMRU 2. Wanna see it anyhow? Click here. The movie is free.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

M (1931)

Someone is abducting little girls and murdering them. Peter Lorre is Hans Beckert, a "rehabilitated" mental patient, who is frustrating the police. No material evidence is ever found and witnesses disagree on every detail. The police, in desperation, spend every night raiding every night club and harassing every two-bit crook.

The crooks have had enough. They band together to find the culprit so that they can get back to their businesses of picking pockets and other petty crimes. I'm going to stop right there. Anything more would be spoiling the film, and with M, I actually care.

I picked up M because in the category of Film-Noir, IMDB rates it number 3. 48th overall. I didn't know what to expect. M is a truly remarkable film.

Lorre's performance was nothing short of stunning. Earlier in the film, he'd be on screen and you'd say "oh, yea, totally a child molester". He just had that look. His big scene at the end is unbelievable. Truly out of this world.

I don't have anything sarcastic to say. I'm lost for snark! It's disorienting. Here's what I learned about Fritz Lang. Fritz was a German movie director principally remembered for Metropolis (1927). M, he felt, was his best work. When the Nazis took over in Germany, he fled. He continued to make movies in Hollywood, none matching the power and impact of M. He had the reputation of being demanding of actors, to the point of abuse. But, what did he look like? Think Colonel Klink, but more gay.

That's the stuff! In striking contrast to every other movie I've gotten from the library, this one was perfect. Not only was the restoration flawless, the disk itself was pristine. No skips! I must see this movie again. AMRU 4.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dark Victory (1939)

Back in my early teens, Kim Carnes sang of a woman with Bette Davis eyes. There were two things that I didn't know back then: what the hell that meant, and that Kim Carnes sucked.

Bette Davis overacts as rich Long Island socialite Judith Traherne, who has been having headaches and dizzy spells. Dr. Frederick Steele, played by a cardboard cut out of George Brent, is the dashing brain surgeon who convinces her she needs surgery, and fast!

Humphry Bogart get third billing (third billing!?!?) as a horse trainer with an Irish accent (an Irish accent!?!?!?) He wants to nail Judith but doesn't get to (he doesn't get to?!?!?!?) This was before Casablanca, so Bogie wasn't calling the shots just yet.

Ronald Reagan played a rich, shallow playboy (a rich, shallow ... no, that's about right) who doesn't have much to say. He got forth billing.

Well, the surgery is a complete success and Judith can go back to being the happy-go-lucky socialite without distractions. She falls in love with Dashing Doctor, Dashing Doctor falls in love with her, then she finds out what "Prognosis Negative" means. Spoiler alert: she's gonna die anyhow. After a brief hissy fit (Bogie's best chance, just missed) she goes running back apologetically to Dashing Doctor. They marry, move to Vermont ("What do you do there in between yawns?") to live out her life without regret. Then she gets what every young lady ever really wants: a 45 minute death scene.

Not my cup of tea. It was nominated for best picture, but this was the year of The Wizard of Oz and some costume drama about the civil war, I forget. It's not a bad film, and better than most of the movies I've rated a 3, but I really don't need to see it again.

One final word about Bette's eyes. There were two of them, mostly the same size and evenly spaced, and used to collect visual information. Except towards the end there. Kim Carnes sucks.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)

Back in the day I would come home from school and turn on channel 56 (WLVI Boston) to watch Creature Double Feature. This is where I got my love of old B horror movies. There is where I learned to love Godzilla. This is the film that started it all, in America, at least.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is an edited version of the 1954 film Gojira. Ok, go ahead. I know you want to. Take a moment and point at the crown molding and say "Gojira" in an accelerated, fake Japanese accent. I'll wait.

Are we done? Good. So, we're all familiar with the giant, long-armed, fire breathing tyrannosaurus with a penchant for noshing on Tokyo. For it's American release, they edited out the parts blaming us for the monster (that's right, it's all our fault) and inserts an American as a witness/narrator.

Raymond Burr is Steve Martin, a decidedly unwild and non-crazy newspaper reporter who just happens to be in Tokyo. Despite not speaking the language and having no official status, he leads Japanese officials around to witness first hand each plot point. There he watches with detached concern as toy trains and cardboard buildings are chomped, squashed, and set ablaze.

The Japanese characters are a white-hair scientist, his hot daughter, his enigmatic, one-eyed assistant who is engaged to the hot daughter by arrangement, and another guy who the hot daughter actually loves. Their story may have been interesting, but it was radically watered down for the American release. US audiences apparently would rather see Burr relight his pipe and look on with vague disinterest than watch a love-triangle sub plot.

It wasn't hard to determine which scenes came from Japan and which were added later. The Japanese film was rather thin with poor contrast and noticeably more scratches. The American parts had much sharper detail. Using the visual clues, you can see where when Burr/Martin talks to a major character it's with their back to the camera. When they do face the camera, Burr is not in view.

IMDB tells me that Burr's scenes were shot in a 24 marathon session because he could only work on the film for one day, per some contract. No, that doesn't make sense to me either. Also, the beast was supposed to be 400 feet tall. I suppose that means the high tension wires in Tokyo are about 400 feet high. I understand Gojira was much shorter in the Japanese version.

I won't be watching this film again, but I would consider the Japanese version. It was clear that a lot more was going on with the Japanese characters than we were led to know. I had the boys watch, but they weren't very interested when the monster wasn't on screen. And it wasn't on screen much. The movie makers were masters of not showing the action. Many times we saw lengthy reaction shots before we saw what they were looking at. Man, that was annoying. AMRU 3.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Another Thin Man (1939)

Nick and Nora are back with all of the booze and sarcasm intact. This time the executor of Nora's estate is convinced someone is out to kill him. Well, guess what ...

Anyhow, with the loving encouragement of Nora, Nick is on the case. Is the murderer Phil Church, who the victim suspected? One of his accomplices? The adopted daughter or her nere-do-well fiance? The Charles' nanny (they have a baby now, you know)? The housekeeper? Lots of suspects and like the previous two, you are kept guessing.

Not much to say without spoiling the story. Shemp Howard had a small, uncredited role as a thug. The nanny was from Providence, RI. The actor who played the Charles' baby died at age 35. This was his only acting role. I saw about two thirds of the movie before my player in my bedroom stopped reading the disk. I finished off the film in the living room in the morning. Part of one chapter was skipped because of damage. The disk didn't look in too bad compared to some I get from the library.

I love the police work in these old movies. I know this is before the Miranda law, but come on. They shoot at every opportunity, contaminate every crime scene, allow witnesses to walk away without questioning them. Best thing I can say is I didn't notice them drinking while on duty.

The mystery was mysterious. The dialog was sharp and witty. Loy is still hot. The liquor still flowed. I noticed that the Thin Man movies have decreasing IMDB ratings, but I was not disappointed. The first is still my favorite, but this may be better than the second. AMRU 3.5.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Once while perusing the IMDB top 250 list I noticed a movie called il buono, il brutto, il cattivo very near the top. Number four, in fact. I learned that this movie is in fact The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (1966). Of course I'm familiar with the Eastwood spaghetti western, but I never cared for the genre. I knew it was popular with those who liked them, but forth best movie all time? Sounds like a stretch.

Doing a little research, I learned that it was the third in a trilogy. First came A Fistful of Dollars, then A Few Dollars More. Few Dollars more lands at 123 on IMDB's list while Fistful just misses it. I had seen part of a couple Eastwood westerns, and I got a hankering. I picked up Fistful from the library. Let's see what the hullabaloo is all about.

It is the story of a man with no name, named Joe. He wanders into a small Mexican town we presume he once lived in. He discovers that two families, The Baxters and the Rojos, are vying for control of the weapons trade. Joe decides to put himself in the middle and play them off of each other.

Eastwood plays a few clever games to outsmart both families, each time getting paid. There's a woman who is held captive by a Rojo brother that we know 'oll Clint will simply have to rescue. There's also this gold. Well, Clint/Joe/No Name does such a great job that everyone lives happily ever after and there is no come-uppance. That's right, none at all. Not even when the Rojos find out that Joey has been playing them for patsies and beats the living crap out of him. Or the town and the townspeople. All hunky-dory.

This movie made Clint Eastwood's career. The role was first offered to James Coburn, then Charles Bronson, then Richard Harrison, then Eric Fleming, then our man Clint. Henry Fonda and Steve Reeves were also thought for the roll. It was released in Italy in 1964 and became a big hit. It wasn't released in America until 1967. The story was stolen from the Japanese Samurai movie Yojimbo (1961).

Liked it, didn't love it. Certainly glad I watched it but I'm unsure if I'll watch it again. The audio track was a little iffy, what with half the characters speaking in Italian and being dubbed into English. Few Dollars More will end up on my list eventually, but I'm in no hurry. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Casablanca (1942)

I've seen this film once or twice before, so I knew I loved it. I got it on DVD last Christmas. Yesterday, I watched it again.

The story is basic. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is the owner of a saloon with a mysterious past. The leader of the Czech underground and Nazi thorn Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrives with his unbelievably hot wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) trying to find passage to America. The local authorities, Captain Renault (Caude Rains) and the Nazis want to keep them in Casablanca. Rick can help, but will he?

It seems back in Paris (Flashback! - Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo, Doo doo doo), Ilsa and Rick met up just before the Nazis rolled into town. Ilsa thought Victor was dead, so she made plans to run off with Rick. At the last minute, she learns Victor was only MOSTLY dead, so she leaves Rick at the alter/train station. Poor Rick.

Back in Casablanca, Rick has a choice to make. Help Victor because he sympathizes with his cause or set him up and take his unbelievably hot wife?

Here are a couple of my observations after this viewing:

Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre had very small roles, smaller than I remember. Ingrid Bergman was unbelievably hot. Had I mentioned that before? Claude Rains has many great lines. Clearly a womanizer, but look at these:

"Well, Rick is the kind of man that... well, if I were a woman, and I were not around, I should be in love with Rick."
and

"She was asking about you earlier in a way that made me very jealous."
I know he was supposed to be French, but come on! What's going on here? Discuss ...

Casablanca is an all time great film. Great acting, writing, and atmosphere. It's even better than it's reputation. And Ingrid Bergman was unbelievably hot. AMRU 5. I hope to convince my sons to watch it.