Thursday, August 21, 2014

Black Legion (1937)

Director: Archie Mayo

Writers: Abem Finkel, William Wister Haines, Robert Lord

Composer: ???

Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Ann Sheridan, Helen Flint, Joe Sawyer, Clifford Soubier, Alonzo Price, Paul Harvey, Dickie Jones, Samuel S. Hinds, Addison Richards, Eddie Acuff

More info: IMDb

Tagline: They murdered at midnight!

Plot: When a hard-working machinist loses a promotion to a Polish-born worker, he is seduced into joining the secretive Black Legion, which intimidates foreigners through violence.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

If you watch some of Bogart's earlier work, and I'm talking about the pictures he made in the early-to-mid 30s where he was largely a bit player, you couldn't see much in his performances that would lead you to believe he'd be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.  He played a lot of thugs and criminal lowlifes.  In fairness, he wasn't given much of an opportunity to show off his acting chops. That's why it's so refreshing to see him stretch a bit in one of his first top-billed roles.  He makes a fine go at it, too, with a range of emotions, breathing life into the character of Frank Taylor.  At first he's a loving family man but that all changes when he loses his big promotion to a...FOREIGNER!!!  OH, NO!!!!  It's time for a KKK-esque group, The Black Legion, to step in and make things right for Frank and his fellow 'patriots'.

Naturally this is the wrong path for Frank but he's going to have to learn that lesson for himself.  There are lots of fine performances in this moral tale of bonehead groups like this.  The pacing is pretty quick until it gets to the last eleven minutes of the trial but even that has a few surprises left to spring on us. It's a good picture and probably one that most fans of Bogart will dig.  Warner Bros. knows how to treat their films right (but not all the time).  With this minor Bogart effort they give us a commentary (with Patricia King Hanson and Anthony Slide), the film's trailer and their 'Warner Night at the Movies' which has a trailer for THE PERFECT SPECIMEN (), a newsreel, a soundie (old timey music video) of Cab Calloway singing Hi De Ho, the 17 minute short film UNDER SOUTHERN STARS (1937), and a cartoon short PORKY AND GABBY (1937) which leads into the film. 

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Director: William Asher

Writers: William Asher, Leo Townsend

Composer: Les Baxter

Starring: Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, Deborah Walley, Harvey Lembeck, John Ashley, Jody McCrea, Donna Loren, Marta Kristen, Linda Evans, Timothy Carey, Don Rickles, Paul Lynde, Buster Keaton, The Hondells, Earl Wilson, Bobby Shaw

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Any number can play...but it's better with just two!

Plot: In the fourth of the highly successful Frankie and Annette beach party movies, a motorcycle gang led by Eric Von Zipper kidnaps singing star Sugar Kane managed by Bullets, who hires sky-diving surfers Steve and Bonnie from Big Drop for a publicity stunt. With the usual gang of kids and a mermaid named Lorelei.

My rating: 5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Dumb, silly, idiotic and sometimes fun, but it's the interesting cast that can't let me pass it up.  It's great seeing Rickles, Lynde, Carey, Lembeck and Keaton (who's got some really funny bits) in one picture.  The humor is way over the top.  I dig slapstick but I wasn't partial to what this picture was serving up.  In fact, I was wondering who was diggin' this stuff 50 years ago.  We watched the film outside on a big screen in my backyard and hung out in the pool which was fun.  It's a film that plays much better when you're watching it with friends.  I wouldn't recommend seeing it alone.  I think the only times I laughed were at the ridiculousness of it all.  Was Avalon wearing a toupee?  The songs are bad to OK with one standout sung by Jackie Ward (lip synced by Linda Evans)...

The end credits were fun and the song was catchy (we were all singing the tune for a few minutes after it was over but quickly forgot it when the second movie started).  It's pretty tame (no surprise) and most of the jokes fall flat but it's an over the top product of its time and it was popular, making lots of dough.  There are a few other films made by the same folks and I'll eventually watch them all and mostly because they're sprinkled with actors I dig. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Poor White Trash (1957)

Original title: Bayou

Director: Harold Daniels

Writer: Edward I. Fessler

Composer: Gerald Fried

Starring: Peter Graves, Lita Milan, Douglas Fowley, Jonathan Haze, Ed Nelson, Eugene Sonfield, Evelyn Hendrickson, Milton Schneider, Michael Romano, Timothy Carey

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Somewhere, a 15-year old girl may be a teenager... in the Cajun country, she's a woman full-grown! ...and every Bayou man knows it!

Plot: A community of Cajun fishermen living around a remote bayou includes one authentic beauty, Marie, who wants to better herself but must deal with the unwelcome attentions of storekeeper Ulysses. When she meets Martin Davis, visiting New York architect, they hit it off at once; but the sinister Ulysses is not inclined to suffer a Yankee rival.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

I kinda figured, this being from '57, it wasn't going to deliver what the title suggested.  The story is pretty simple.  Ulysses (Carey) is a dangerous asshole that takes what he wants and no one in this little Cajun community will stand up to him.  He rapes Marie (Milan) and gets jealous as hell when Martin (Graves), an architect from NYC, takes a liking to her but there's a hurricane a-brewin' that's sure to shake things up even further.  There isn't much reason to see this except that it's got Peter Graves, Jonathan Haze (Seymour from THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960)) and a wild performance from Kramer!

Nope.  It's Timothy Carey but he is definitely a wild card when it comes to acting. This 6'4" guy often times acted his way into being the oddest or most memorable character in a lot of the pictures he did.  In this one he's off the charts again (did you see that dance in the video above?) as the asshole rapist.  He definitely stands out, that's for sure.  Here's something salacious for you, Marie is 15 years old and the adult Martin never questions her age; he just goes along with the flow...even when that river moves him down to nailin' her during a hurricane.  That scene is just awful, too.  The lovemaking (mostly kissing from what I can see) is superimposed with the rough, crashing waves created by the hurricane.  And there's the horrendous trumpet/mariachi-esque music where the theme lasts a few seconds but it's repeated at least 10-20 times.  It's an assault on the eyes and the ears. That's the hurricane sex scene.  After that Martin finally shows some balls (he's a pacifist that doesn't want to fight) when he's forced into battling it out with Ulysses.  There's no surprise who wins.  There's a tiny bit of nudity near the beginning when Ulyysses is chasing Marie and rips a piece of clothing off her as he catches up to her two or three times.  You see her backside but that's it.  Everything else is cleverly concealed even though the chase lasts a lot longer than you'd expect.  Great job on the editing.  I'm a sucker for these sleazy Southern pictures so it was worth my 83 minutes.

Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters & Marvels (2002)

Director: Scott Zakarin

Composer: ???

Starring: Stan Lee, Kevin Smith

More info: IMDb

Plot: In this video, filmmaker/comic writer Kevin Smith interviews the legendary comics writer, editor and promoter Stan Lee about his life and work. In two seperate films, "Creating Spider-Man" and "Here Come the Heroes," Stan Lee discusses the creation of his greatest character, his career in the comics field and his relationship to his creative collaborators, especially the artists and co-writers, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

Stan Lee is such a chatty, interesting guy that it's fun simply watching him talk about his life  in comics.  The two 'features' total about an hour and a half but they're very informative and fun.  He covers lots of material talking about all of the characters he created or had a hand in creating.  The only rub I've got is in the first few minutes of the first feature.  Kevin Smith says 'uh-huh', 'yeah', 'right', and so on, acknowledging every single sentence Lee speaks and he interjects frequently as if to show us he knows what Lee's talking back.  At first it's really annoying but eventually it starts to dissipate so you focus on Lee.  I really dig Smith but it old fast.  The disc is fun for fans of Stan Lee and he really delivers the goods and for that, it's worth picking up on the cheap.  It's got a few extras including text cast bios, a two-minute behind the scenes featurette (really?  two minutes is all you could muster?), a 7-minute interview with Stan's wife, Joan, who he's been married to since 1947 (!!!), less than a minute unused clip with Kevin and Stan about the 1990 FANTASTIC FOUR movie, 14 minutes of audio of Stan reading his poem, "God Woke" (God, says Stan is the greatest super hero of all (!)), and 3 minutes of Stan's home movies.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tales from the Far Side (1994)

Director: Marv Newland

Writers: Gary Larson, Marv Newland, J. Falconer, Dieter Mueller

Composer: Bill Frisell

Starring: Kathleen Barr, Doug Parker, Lee Tockar, Dale Wilson

More info: IMDb

Tagline: It's going to be a bumpy night.

Plot: A series of Gary Larsen's "Far Side" gags are turned into short animated gags, such as a Frankenstein cow; an insect airline's in-flight movie; deers, hunters, and UFOs; wolf home-movies; egg horror flicks; and cowboys & aliens.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I LOVE the comic strip.  For me it's second only to Calvin & Hobbes and a close second at that.  This near-half hour special is simply Larson's single panel comic brought to life.  It's not as fun as the comic strip but it's really dark in tone and Frisell's score sets the mood to a 'T'.  If you imagine one of his comics, widen the field of view and start the camera off to one side and ending on the punchline, you'll have a good idea at how this animation works.  There are also gags that weren't in his strip like the airplane filled with all manner of insects flying to their destination with a bug flight attendant handing out larvae for the on flight meal.  That might have been a comic strip but what follows wouldn't have been (the attendant's head is eaten by a passenger).  If you dig the strip you'll probably dig this to some degree.  It's not a home run but I've seen it twice now and I think I'm done but I'll never grow tired of Larson's comic. 

Gun Crazy (1950)

Original title: Deadly Is the Female

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Writers: MacKinlay Kantor, Dalton Trumbo, Millard Kaufman

Composer: Victor Young

Starring: Peggy Cummins, John Dall, Berry Kroeger, Morris Carnovsky, Anabel Shaw, Harry Lewis, Nedrick Young, Trevor Bardette, Mickey Little, Russ Tamblyn

More info: IMDb

Tagline: SHE BELIEVES IN TWO and violence!

Plot: A well meaning crack shot husband is pressured by his beautiful marksman wife to go on an interstate robbery spree, where he finds out just how depraved and deadly she really is.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

This one's been sitting on my shelf wrapped in plastic for years and I finally slapped it in.  What a great fucking flick!  The first few minutes might seem like it drags but it's important to the story so stick with it.  You find out what Bart's (Dall) motivations are.  Cut to adulthood and Bart has turned himself around and he's on track to do what he loves to do.  Once he gets himself a job as a sharpshooter at a carnival he meets Annie (Cummins) who you know is going to be bad news...and she is.  But the funny thing is she's really devoted to Bart which is really endearing.  Let's forget these two are a modern day Bonnie & Clyde, you know...with killin' folks and shit.  It's an odd romance that you can get behind, that is until, you know...with killin' folks and shit. The cinematography is outstanding.  DP Russell Harlan put his camera in some unusual places, getting some great shots and he keeps stuff in focus you wouldn't believe except you're seeing it.  The two leads work wonderfully together.  I've been a fan of Dall's ever since seeing ROPE (1948) thirty years ago. It's amazing he only has 8 movies and a handful of TV to his credit. Cummins is in the same boat. The Warner Bros. DVD looks great and it comes with a commentary by author and film noir specialist, Glenn Erickson. I look forward to hearing it someday.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Sender (1982)

Director: Roger Christian

Writer: Thomas Baum

Composer: Trevor Jones

Starring: Kathryn Harrold, Zeljko Ivanek, Shirley Knight Paul Freeman, Sean Hewitt, Harry Ditson, Olivier Pierre, Tracy Harper, Al Matthews, Marsha A. Hunt, Angus MacInnes

More info: IMDb

Tagline: He has the power to make you live his nightmares... And he's dreaming about you.

Plot: A disturbed telepathic man is able to transmit his dreams and visions into the minds of the people around him.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Meh.  OK thriller/horror with good performances and mood, I suppose, but I didn't find it all that compelling.  The opening few minutes (see video above) are fantastic but once he's in the hospital it's a slow go until the end of the picture.   It's not as if it struggles to the finish line.  It's the doctors trying to figure out what's going on with this kid and how to fix it added with scene after scene of strange goings on they can't explain that add to the pacing problems.  Maybe there's a bit too much of it.  Beats me.  The ending works for the picture so if you dig the film you'll dig the ending.  I found the film somewhat flat but it's not a bad picture.  The Paramount DVD has a great looking widescreen print and not a single extra.