Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fright Night (1967)

Strange craft crashes near a lake and NASA covers it up. Hanky Panky youths park near said lake and are brutally murdered. Strange footprints are found near the scene and grizzled cop (John Agar) investigates.

Recently I watched American Scary, a documentary about Horror Hosts. You know, those people that dress up and introduce horrible movies late at night on local TV stations, ala Elvira. It was mentioned that host Gore de Vol was still doing this on the internet (there is no such thing as local programming anymore). I had to check it out.

Turns out that if you subscribe to the Roku channel Vimeo, you can subscribe to Count Gore TV there and watch his movies on that fabulous little Roku box. Fright Night was the most recent one.

For starters, don't confuse this movie with Fright Night. Or Fright Night for that matter. Nor should you confuse it with Fright Night or even Fright Night. In addition, it shouldn't be confused with Fright Night or Fright Night. I hope I cleared that up. This Fright Night is a very low budget, made for TV horror movie and is quite skipable. Acting was weak at best, the story unoriginal, and the production value was minimal. On top of that, the video quality was poor. Can't complain too much as Gore uses only public domain sources for obvious reasons. There are no charges or advertising for Vimeo or the Count's channel. The best thing I can say is it wasn't painful to watch. Just uninteresting.

But the interesting part of the program was Count Gore de Vol and his shtick. The premise is that it's another new year's eve and his love, the Countess, is failing to appear yet again for his party. She does appear but brings her Fiancee, a computer nerd. Ah, the indignities.

Quite unrehearsed, it was somewhat charming. There was very little chatter about the movie, which I was expecting, and I'll give it another try. Not sure how many he produces in a year. For the movie at hand, though, AMRU 2.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Haxan (1922)

Witchcraft Through the Ages.

Haxan is a dramatized documentary whose main thesis is that accused witches from history would in modern times be diagnosed with mental illness. The movie begins with a description of medieval beliefs and transitions into scenes of people being accused of witchcraft and the ordeal they faced. The movie ends with how modern times would interpret the same circumstances.

Psychotherapy was still young and Haxan does a fair job with their medieval depictions and interpretations (even allowing for a little exploitation) and any nits to be picked are allowable because of the film's age. The revelation that the witch craze was caused by a lack of understanding of the human mind falls squarely in the "well, duh" category, but that was probably ground breaking stuff back then.

The technique used to description of early beliefs in the occult was decidedly low tech. A page from a text book is opened and various features of the illustration are identified by pointing to it with a pencil. Hmmm. Suppose that works. The director wanted to get the input of experts, but they were all against making the movie.

I learned of Haxan a while ago and made a point of seeing it. Netflix didn't have it streaming, but it was available via Roku and the Internet Movie Archive private channel. I love my imperfect little Roku.

Haxan is categorized as Horror, but not by me. It's an interesting early documentary on belief in the occult. Worth seeing, and I would watch it again were I to happen across a fully restored version. But for now, AMRU 3.
"The Devil is real. I have seen him sitting at my bedside."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Them! (1954)

Nuclear tests in the desert have caused a mutation in common ants that make them huge. Sargent Peterson (James Whitmore) and FBI agent Graham (James Arness) bring in the esteemed Doctor Medford (Santa) and his hot daughter to plot a course of action.

One of the first and arguably the best in the Giant Bug genre of cold-war science fiction movies. The plot is described quite simply but the movie surprises with it's elegant complexity. You don't necessarily want your viewing to be all text book, and many knock off films take a giant turd on the science portion of the show, but Them! does it right. Enough valid science to keep the nerds in the audience happy and enough giant ant mayhem to please the rest.

One interesting point is that Them! was originally supposed to be color and in 3D, but apparently a studio exec got nervous and pulled the budget at the last minute. Maybe he saved the movie in the process. The ants were all colorful and glittery and looked somewhat foolish, but they worked in black and white. Joan Weldon (the hot doctor-daughter mentioned earlier) said she laughed every time she saw them.

Them! is a classic sci-fi that holds up. Not too high concept and not dumbed down, excellent pacing, and the story, script, and acting were above grade. I held off watching it because I was already very familiar with it, but it still pleased. Even my kids liked it. AMRU 4.
Robert Graham: And I thought today was the end of them.
Dr. Harold Medford: No. We haven't seen the end of them. We've only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pride of the Yankees (1942)

Young Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper) wants to play baseball, but his mom wants him to become an engineer like uncle Otto. So he goes to university, where he plays baseball. Mom Gehrig needs an operation so how can a young man raise money to pay for it? He plays baseball. So, Little Louie becomes the star of the New York Yankees and his mother has no idea. Aw, shucks.

We follow Louie through his baseball life, his love life, and ultimately, his demise. All in all, he considered himself rather lucky. What was mom thinking naming him after a deadly disease? Aw, shucks.

I saw a small part of this movie ages back and the same thing struck me now as then. It is off putting watching Gary Cooper, age 41 going on 51, play the athletic Gehrig as a teen, who incidentally died at age 37 (17 months before the movie premiered). Apparently makeup had not been invented yet. 24 year old Teresa Wright was positively yummy as Mrs. Gehrig. Four years later she'll play a teen in The Best Years of Our Lives.

Walter Brennan plays Lou's sports writer friend and The Babe himself steals a few scenes. He seemed hearty and hale but apparently there were delays because of his health. In six years he'll join Lou in the ground.

Pride of the Yankees takes a few liberties with the life of Lou, but all in all is a better than fair love story. What it isn't is a Baseball Movie ala Bull Durham. If you are looking for a story about your baseball hero, this isn't it. Nor does it need to be. That said, it would have been cool had they added a little Joe DiMaggio reference in there. By films release he was a bonafide Yankee star.

Lou Gehrig was a quiet, unassuming family man. And he was a spectacular hitter. He was the model for the durable, hard working athlete and his body dissolved before he reached 40. For a man overshadowed most of his career by a crass, gluttonous, womanizing pig, his story rightly touches a nerve. If one is going to idolize someone with as useless of an occupation as baseball player, Lou is probably the best choice.

As far as this movie goes, despite it's flaws it held my interest and was clearly well made. AMRU 3.5.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Goldfinger (1964)

Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to investigate Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) who is suspected of smuggling gold. After Bond is captured by Oddjob, he convinces Goldfinger to keep him alive so he can bed more of Goldfinger's helper women. Bond proceeds to uncover a plot against Fort Knox, named appropriately after a Denny's breakfast. Does the gold-obsessed fat boy intend on stealing it all?

I got this in just under the wire. It seems that too many of my viewing choices are determined by netflix decisions to remove titles. This also goes for my next two. Which leads to another problem. I watched Goldfinger almost two weeks ago and let's face it, Bond films blend in together. I have to go reading online to remember which one is which. Anyhow, during one of these movies, Thunderball I think, I paused to film to inform my fifteen year old son and his friend that this is not how you treat women. This is what is termed 'assault'.

Anyhow, this is the film that has hottie Shirley Eaton die from skin suffocation (not possible), a giant Korean who chops off heads with his hat, and a decidedly middle aged bond girl in Honor Blackman, who is actually older than Connery. Blackman quit her cushy job on TV's The Avengers to be in the movie and used it to launch herself into a series of movies that I've never heard of. Honor's character on The Avengers was replaced by the more appealing Diana Rigg.

But seriously, Pussy Galore? Was Ian Fleming a 12 year old? Did he actually use the line "You're a woman of many parts, Pussy"? Unbelievable.

Turns out I had seen this before. Maybe ten years ago, maybe thirty. Still, classic Bond that delivers what you expect. Booty count of four, AMRU of 3.
James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Algie, the Miner (1912)

Nice poster, eh?

Anyhow, Algie is a foppish dandy who, in order to earn the hand in marriage of his love, must prove himself a man inside of one year. So, sporting the seasons best in western wear, he joins a rugged mining crew to gain the respect of his prospective father-in-law.

What makes this ten minute silent film interesting isn't that Algie is some fish out of water. He completely embraces his life in the wilderness. It's that he is the G.A.Y. No, it's not spelled out, exactly, but seriously, did it have to? Getting off the train, he thanks a couple men who give him directions by kissing them. Algie, the Miner is considered the first gay movie character ever. Interestingly, it was directed by the first ever female movie director, Alice Guy. Uncredited, of course.

So, is it interesting? Funny? Exciting? Original? Except for the reasons sited above, not really. It is worth a look-see as the public domain version is in fairly good shape and it's rather short, but don't expect to be wowed.

Algie returns with his mining comrades and he claims his stake with his woman. So, what are we to think? Is homosexuality is a condition that can be cured? Or is sexual orientation and individual character not mutually exclusive? Discuss. AMRU 3.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thunderball (1965)

SPECTRE has stolen two nuclear warheads (or, "Thunderballs", if you will) and threatens to blow up either a British or American city if they don't pay his demands. Bond is sent in to slut around for a while and, if possible, solve the case.

Goldfinger was supposed to be next but come showtime, netflix couldn't get it to work. So, I went to Bond number 4. Not too bad, except the final reel consisted of an ungodly tedious underwater fight scene with spear guns (they never show anyone ever reloading) and a pointlessly long boat chase. Shorten both and you have a better movie. Not much else to say. Typical stuff. Smarmy comments, clever gadgets, gratuitous action and babes. Booty count of four. AMRU of 3.

"Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She's just dead."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

From Russia with Love (1963)

Nefarious crime organization SPECTRE plans to steal a Russian decoding machine by coercing a hot young Russian spy and tricking Bond (Sean Connery) to steal it for them. Will bond figure it all out first? Will he nail the ruskie? Seriously? You have to ask?

I have a long simmering interest with the world famous secret agent and awesome man-whore. I had a few on my netflix queue a while ago and some point they re-appeared, only to be taken away after the first week of the new year. I got in as many as I could.

So, Bond breezes into an assignment with no apparent plan, does little actual spying and no police work, is immediately identified by all of his adversaries, and gets away with it. And with Bond films it's less about the body count than the booty count. I didn't think to keep track.

The film introduces Desmond Lleweln as Q for his first of seventeen movies (Connery did only seven). Not a bad gig. Lois Maxwell was in he second of fourteen as Moneypenny. Also see a young (ish), fit Robert Shaw. But watch From Russia with Love for what it inspired, for instance Frau Farbissina.

Bond delivers with everything we come to expect from the myth. AMRU 3.5.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) is an author and avowed bachelor for life who finds himself married. Before his honeymoon he rushes to visit his favorite aunties to break the news when he finds that they have been busy poisoning people and burring them in their basement. To complicate matters, his bully of an older brother (Raymond Massey) shows up running from the law, with a body of his own.

Based on the play, Arsenic and Old Lace stays fairly true to it's theatrical roots. The movie, almost in it's entirety, takes place in one room. Witty dialog, good acting, fast pace, it was an enjoyable watch.

What was interesting was how self-referential it was. In one scene in a grave yard, Grant is near a stone that reads Archie Leach, his real name. Massey's character underwent cosmetic surgery to hide from the authorities, but his doctor (Peter Lorre) made the mistake of making him look like Boris Karloff, who during filming was playing that character in the Broadway play. And in another scene Mortimer is mocking how people act in plays while the exact same situation happens around him. To tell the truth, I found it a little irritating.

Worth seeing, even if Grant hated his own performance. AMRU 3.5.
Elaine Harper: But Mortimer, you're going to love me for my mind, too.
Mortimer Brewster: One thing at a time!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Slaves in Bondage (1937)

It seems a manicurist shop is a front for a prostitution ring. You see, they lure innocent young hotties into the big bad city with promises of cushy jobs and then coerce them into being ... Slaves in Bondage! The good news is that a young hottie and her 40 year old cub reporter fiancee are hot on the case. Or bad news, depending on your perspective.

In typical exploitation fashion, it pretends to be a cautionary tale when in actuality they are dangling the luscious behavior for the viewing audience to salivate over. I watched this, my first from the Internet Movie Archive via the Roku, because I thought it was a pre-code gem. I mean, look at the poster! Adults Only! Let me tell you, I saw a lot of scantily clad knee caps. I'll have you know that '37 was well into the Hays era, and it showed.

Anyhow, here are the weird parts. The girls are "coerced" to work in a very high class bordello. None of them, except the one who escapes at the very beginning to introduce the story, seem all that disappointed with their lot in life. Well, I finished the movie and it wasn't too bad, but it really fell flat. The acting was mediocre at best, the story flat, and the sex appeal almost nonexistent. Watch it here if you must. AMRU 2.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Nosferatu (1922)

or A Symphony of Horror.

Young real estate agent Hutter visits the strange Count Orlok to sell him a house. The local villagers are frightened of the Count and try to convince him not to go. Once inside Orlok's castle, he discovers that he is a vampire. Hutter escapes and makes his way back to Germany to confront the monster.

Several years ago when I received a DVD collection of horror classics, I was excited to see two titles: Metropolis, which amazed, and Nosferatu, which disappointed. The public domain copies of both are of such low quality I caution anyone from watching them. Interestingly, the "fully" restored versions had a reverse effect on me. I believe I liked Nosferatu better.

Back story on the film: the filmmakers wanted to do a version of Dracula and were all set to start when they were denied the rights to the story. So, they renamed all of the characters, changed some story elements, and made a "different" vampire story. Actually, a Nosferatu movie, a similar word that might mean undead. Or not. Well, Bram Stoker's widow sued their asses and the settlement was to destroy all copies of this film. Luckily for us, it survived.

Nosferatu is described as a classic example of German Expressionism. Not wishing this to become an artistic discussion, just think of Munch's "The Scream" in movie form. What Nosferatu offers us, despite a still poor quality media and some silly, over the top silent film acting, is a truly creepy monster and setting. Orlok is not the seductively stylish character of Bela's incarnation. He is a monster in every sense of the word. In fact, director Murnau described actor Max Schreck as "Strikingly ugly".

The "special effects" may not resonate with a CGI generation, but they worked well in the day. But it was the regular effects that steal the show. The vampire's shadow on the wall is iconic, and sets the mood appropriately.

Now, I was going to save this movie for when I did the survey of vampire movies like what I did with Frankenstein, but that film study book I read used it as an example film to tie together everything they discussed.

Nosferatu offers us a lot, visually and through story. It actually strays from the book significantly in the second half and offers a cool twist on the ending. It is required viewing for any horror fan. AMRU 4. See the restored version. Why does netflix claim it was made in 1929?

One last note: when doing werewolf movies, I discovered that IMdb has werewolf is one of it's plot keywords. A werewolf is mentioned, but it doesn't play a significant role in the film.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: My Film Blog Year in Review

At times I was disappointed in myself for watching forgettable schlock rather than "important" movies of substance, and I believe I did a better job of sticking to quality in 2011 than in the past. The movies I rated highest last year were Night of the Demon, I Walked with a Zombie, The Sting, and Frankenstein, legendary films all. In addition, I rated thirteen movies a 4.0, which is a lot for one year. And of these seventeen movies, only two had I seen before. So, I give myself high marks for including more good movies and not rehashing what I'd seen before. Good job, Fred!

Christmas frequently brings movies from my Amazon wish list, but this year it brought only one: Kentucky Fried Movie. I hadn't seen it since my bachelor party (seventeen years, by the way) so maybe it will be in our blog future. With the advent of Netflix on my life, personal copies of movies become much less important. What did come was far better: A Roku LT. What I needed was to be able to watch Netflix in the bedroom and this little box totally does that. In fact, it does a better job than my Wii. In addition, there are other "channels" that offer content, though nothing is nearly as exhaustive as Netflix. One that got my interest is a "private" channel (not found in the Channel Store) that streams the Internet Movie Archive. Soon I will review the first movie I saw this way. So, if you find a need to watch Netflix (or Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, or whatever) on another television, the Roku LT is totally worth the $50. I hope that doesn't sound too much like a commercial. I don't do advertising. Ever.

In my 2009 recap I listed the biggest surprises of the year (I didn't do a year in review after 2010 for the following well thought out reason: I forgot) and for 2011 I'd start with the first movie of the year: A Farewell to Arms. A frank story about war and sex that the Hayes Code disallowed for decades afterwards. In addition I'll list Night of the Demon, Diabolique, and To Be or Not to Be. As far as movies I saw in the theater, that's an easy list: None. I hope to double that total in 2012. Actually, the new Stooges movie has me intrigued.

What was the worst movie of the year? Without a doubt it is The Beast of Yucca Flats. I haven't seen many movies on the all time worst list, in fact I had only seen Santa Claus via MST3K on IMdb's bottom 100 list, but I can't imagine any movie with less entertainment value than the Beast. I rated five movies a 2.0 but I'll mention The Three Musketeers serial as almost unwatchable. Sorry Duke.

Now, when December began it was unthinkable that I wouldn't hit seventy movies. I missed the mark partially because something happened to the interface that wouldn't allow me to compose entries outside of the HTML interface. Well, they did eventually fix that and I got my last one in, but I have three more waiting. Besides, the last half of December is rather busy for me, this year more than usual.

Well, enough blah blah blah me me me for now. I hope to have more interesting content before the Aztec zombies raise from the grave to conquer the earth sometime in December. And maybe along the way a little movie education will slip into my head. It could happen.