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.