About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Review: Caligula


A depiction of the reign of Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, AKA Caligula (Malcolm McDowell), from 37 to 41 A.D. During this time, he indulged in much debauchery (including incest with his sister Drusilla, played by Teresa Ann Savoy), treachery, and violence. A bored-looking Dame Helen Mirren plays Caligula’s wife Caesonia, Peter O’Toole plays Caligula’s uncle Tiberius (whom he overthrows as Caesar), Sir John Gielgud appears briefly as Tiberius’ offsider Nerva, and John Steiner plays gaunt financial adviser Longinus.

 

I saw a slightly cut version of this infamous 1979 film, but for once, it’s much of a muchness because most people would say that the most hardcore scenes in the film (and there’s still debate as to who was aware that they were being inserted into the film) are also the least necessary, and most tacked-on. I don’t think the uncut version can really be called the ‘intended’ version, really. One look at the very confusing credits indeed suggests that no one really wants to take ownership of the film (Gore Vidal doesn’t get full credit as screenwriter, so there’s no real indication of who wrote the damn thing, let alone who officially directed it). And to be honest, even in this slightly softer version (still running fairly close to full-length, I might add), I still think there’s too much sex and nudity. Yep, I just typed that. Me, of all people wanted less sex in a film. But it’s actually true in this case. Some debauchery is necessary for this tale, given its subject, but whatever combination of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione (who produced), and/or director Tinto Brass was responsible for all of the sex (both softcore and hardcore), they’ve over-indulged in it.

 

To be perfectly honest, I don’t think Caligula makes for a good choice for a lead character in a film. He’s much better of as a flamboyant side character. When put front and centre, it results in a film full of orgies, debauchery, incest, possible bestiality, and...frankly not much else. It never really goes anywhere...for around 2 ½ damn hours, just repeating itself over and over. It’s a one-note, boring and inert film featuring a couple of very fine performances that give it a slight lift. Chief among these is the perfectly cast Malcolm McDowell in the title role, even if this is perhaps the film that sealed his doom as a star (Look at his roles before this one, and his career after it. It’s very telling). I’m pretty sure the moment McDowell’s career as a leading man died at the precise moment we see him in bed with a very uncomfortable-looking horse. If Caligula were a supporting character in another character’s story, McDowell would get huge praises for his performance, but here his good performances gets overshadowed by all the debauchery that comes with his character and story. A little of Caligula goes a long, long way, and we see nothing else of his rule. Just the orgies, death, decay, and some anal fisting. Yes, anal fisting, ladies and gentlemen, albeit off-screen. Surely there was more to the guy than this? Perhaps not.

 

The other performance you’ll remember in this film is by Peter O’Toole, who really does have the perfect porn name, doesn’t he? He’s not long for the film (lucky guy), but looks intentionally ghastly, and despite not being his biggest fan, he’s genuinely good here. In fact, he makes more of an impression than Sir John Gielgud, who is normally brilliant (and is perfectly fine here, don’t get me wrong). It’s when O’Toole leaves that the film really does go to hell.

 

Unfortunately, two good performances (and one other solid one in Gielgud) can’t ultimately take the film very far. Other performances are variable, with pre-Dame Helen Mirren being just as bad here as she was in “Excalibur”, whilst poor Teresa Ann Savoy hasn’t got a chance, being stuck in a role involving scenes of incest and incestual necrophilia. Poor girl. Most of the other actors are badly dubbed Italian performers (The actor playing Macro, for instance is voiced by the very recognisable Patrick Allen).

 

It’s a dull and ponderous film, that is neither a good historical film nor a good porno. There’s little to no context for most of the sexual content (a lot of it feels tacked-on), and not enough of anything else to keep one interested. Hooray for flaccid penises, though, if you’re into that sort of thing. But what kind of sick freak likes that? In fact, it’s the art direction of Danilo Donati (“Flash Gordon”, “Red Sonja”, “Fellini’s Intervista”) that manages to steal the show here. It’s great stuff (and he also designed the costumes, his more frequent occupation), but when you’re a pervert like me, and you’re noticing the sets more than the sexual content, something is very, very wrong. The giant phallic statues were way too much, however, and frankly absurd. I’m guessing Guccione instructed that they be built, just a hunch I have. But it’s a good-looking film, and Donati can be genuinely proud of the job he did here. Actually, the work he, McDowell, and O’Toole do here is enough to earn an ‘average’ grade. Barely (and even then, it depends on what you consider average to be).

 

It’s a one-of-a-kind film, though, so I’m sure you’ll want to see it at least once. It’s probably not as bad as you’ve heard, but it’s all the more unfortunate that it should’ve and could’ve been even better (if still not terribly good), if it weren’t so monotonously obsessed with graphic scenes of sex and torture. Here’s a film that actually could’ve used less sex and violence. I feel ill just saying that.

 

Rating: C

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: My Darling Clementine


The story of the feud between the Earps and the Clantons, mostly set in Tombstone where things are set in motion when young James Earp (Don Garner) is killed and their cattle stolen. His elder brother and town marshal Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) swears to bring the killer (s) to justice. His brothers Morgan (Ward Bond) and Virgil (Tim Holt) also become his deputies. Said killer is Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan) the nasty head of the Clanton family, whose sons include Ike (Grant Withers) and Billy (John Ireland). Victor Mature plays ‘Doc’ Holliday, a moody gambler with tuberculosis and a severe case of self-pity. Doc is currently running with hot-tempered, trashy saloon singer Chihuahua (Linda Darnell), who in turn is having an affair with Billy Clanton. Things get even more complicated for Doc when a girlfriend from out of town named Clementine (Cathy Downs- whose career only lasted ten films) arrives, looking for him. His rejection of her proves to by Wyatt’s gain, though. Background characters include Shakespearean actor Granville Thorndyke (Alan Mowbray) and Jane Darwell as a local elderly woman who has to assist Doc (who in real-life was supposed to be a dentist, not a surgeon) in some rather makeshift surgery.

 

Although I think this story has been far more entertainingly told in films like “Gunfight at the OK Corral”, “Tombstone”, and “Hour of the Gun”, this 1946 John Ford (“Stagecoach”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “The Searchers”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) western has some strong elements. Chief among these is the film’s look. Ford and B&W cinematographer Joe MacDonald (“The Young Lions”, “Warlock”, “Niagara”, “Mirage”) give the film a dark, shadowy, noir look that is starkly beautiful and fascinating. It’s probably the best-looking Ford film I’ve seen, and unlike any other western I’ve ever seen from a cinematography point of view. I’m shocked MacDonald wasn’t nominated for an Oscar

 

The performances are also rock-solid. Henry Fonda is an interesting choice for Wyatt Earp. As played by Fonda, the character is not quite as forceful a presence than say, Burt Lancaster made him, but Fonda is easy to take as a figure of righteousness and sympathy nonetheless. Victor Mature has one of his rare commendable outings as Doc Holliday, as well, at least this film’s interpretation of the character. I’ve heard Vincent Price was considered for the part, and whilst Mature is fine, that would’ve been incredible. Ward Bond, a veteran of many a John Wayne picture, is also rock solid as Morgan Earp.

 

The one who stole it for me was veteran character actor Walter Brennan as mean Old Man Clanton. I know Brennan had played villains several times, but he’s especially nasty here. It’s a bit of a shame, then that the characters themselves just don’t ‘pop’ the way they do in other versions of this tale. The Earps and Clantons, besides Wyatt and the Old Man, are all frankly a bit interchangeable, except that you’ll recognise Ward Bond, Tim Holt, and John Ireland (who later played gunslinger Johnny Ringo in “Gunfight at the OK Corral”). I suppose that was true of “Gunfight at the OK Corral” too, but I preferred that film’s Wyatt and Doc much more than this film. More scenes with the lovely Jane Darwell would’ve been greatly appreciated, too. Scripted by Samuel G. Engel (the excellent “Night and the City”) and Winston Miller (“Gone With the Wind”, “Lucy Gallant”), the characters just aren’t as iconic or interesting this time around.

 

The film is also a tad too romantic in its portrayal of ‘Doc’ Holiday for my liking. He was given much more of an edge when played by Kirk Douglas in “Gunfight at the OK Corral” and Val Kilmer in “Tombstone”. I also didn’t much take to the title character, who isn’t historically accurate, as she was a mere bit player in the real story. I don’t recall Wyatt and Doc having shared a female love interest, and we all know Wyatt left his wife for an actress named Josephine, right? Ford, who actually met Earp, claims his version of the actual gunfight is pretty accurate, but this isn’t entirely so, and he plays fast and fancy with the truth at other times throughout (We all know Doc had a different ending than the one depicted here, and I’m pretty sure Morgan was an actual living participant at the gunfight, Mr. Ford!). Some might not be bothered by historical accuracy, and the facts may not have been as well-known back then, I dunno. But it bothered me nonetheless (and historical inaccuracy doesn’t always bother me), and when stacked up against other films about these events, this one isn’t the best of the lot.

 

Still, this is a solid, if low-key film and an exceptionally well-photographed one. It’s entertaining, just not as entertaining as other versions of the same story and seriously overrated. You certainly won’t be able to get the title tune out of your head, though.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: I Love You to Death


Italian immigrant and shameless lothario Kevin Kline has been caught out by his previously naive, Yugoslavian-American wife (Tracey Ullman). The solution? Murder him. This, however, proves surprisingly difficult, especially when the two hitmen hired named Harlan and Marlon (played by Keanu Reeves and William Hurt) are zonked-out morons of the highest (lowest?) order. River Phoenix plays Ullman’s co-worker at the local pizzeria who is not terribly shy about his romantic inclinations towards Ullman, and gets caught up in the whole caper. Miriam Margolyes is Kline’s mother, James Gammon is a detective, Heather Graham plays one of Kline’s conquests, as does Phoebe Cates in an uncredited appearance.

 

Directed by Lawrence Kasdan (“The Big Chill”, “Silverado”, “Grand Canyon”) and scripted by John Kostmayer (who had written episodes of “Simon & Simon” and “Sidekicks”), this 1990 film might just be the most likeable black comedy about the attempted murder of a shameless douchebag philanderer you’ll ever see. Keanu Reeves (who lost a fight with some hair clippers it would appear) and especially William Hurt are a hoot playing a couple of idiot, zonked out would-be killers. I’m not sure what planet Hurt (whom I’m normally allergic to, by the way) was on during this film, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a planet full of oxygen.

 

However, this is versatile Kevin Kline’s showcase here. Even when his character is practically a walking corpse, he still managed to be funny. Perfectly cast, in anyone else’s hands this role would be thoroughly repulsive. But Kline makes this sleazebag oddly charming and ingratiating. He has a very funny first scene confessing all his sins to a priest. Of course, that doesn’t make him stop sinning. He sports a ridiculous tan to play a seriously ridiculous human being.

 

I’ll never be accused of being the biggest advocate of the late River Phoenix, but it’s undeniable he had talent, charisma, and a world of promise. It is a tragedy that we lost him. It’s also rather unsettling to see him adopt a disguise for a scene here that includes a Fu Manchu moustache, black-rim glasses, and a hat, making him look almost exactly like the guy whose nightclub he died in. Tell me I’m wrong, people. It’s not the most interesting role he plays here, but Phoenix probably enjoyed the opportunity to show a different side to himself. In fact, the only one who fails to impress here is rather surprising- the film’s veteran, Joan Plowright who plays the Italian grandmother stereotype to the hilt...except she’s meant to be Yugoslavian. Ah, they’re all the same, right Mr. Kasdan? Seriously, the woman barely stops short of shouting ‘You must EAT!’ in her every scene. It’s an unfunny, uninteresting and one-dimensional role (in a film that already has Kline pretty much speaking like a stereotypical Super Mario, granted) and sadly, the performance is uninteresting and one-dimensional too. Not Mrs. Olivier’s finest hour (As for Mr. Olivier, he sadly died while his wife was making this film), as she swings and misses for the most part. Kasdan is usually a terrific director of actors (if not much else), Plowright simply isn’t given much to work with.

 

British comedienne Tracey Ullman has never been my favourite going around, but she’s actually pretty well-cast as the scorned, frumpy wife. It’s not a terribly comedic role, though, which is odd when you think about it. Look for Mrs. Kline, the hottest woman on planet Earth in the early 80s, Phoebe Cates as one of Kline’s rendezvous. Damn you Kevin Kline for making her have babies and quit movies! Damn you to Hell! Heather Graham, meanwhile, has an early appearance here and I swear she looked almost exactly the same in 1990 as she does now. Incredible.

 

I guess you could argue that the film is a bit slow, but I didn’t find it boring, and the laughs are pretty consistent whenever Kline, Hurt, or Reeves are around. If you’re a Kevin Kline fan, you owe it to yourself to see this film (though every other review will state that he’s the weak link for some odd reason), it’s one of his best comedic showcases. Not all black comedies work, especially American ones, but this one delivers the laughs. Based on a real-life couple (!), too just in case you thought the ending (and Kline’s accent, apparently dead-on) was a Hollywood invention. 

 

Rating: B-

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls


Note: You may or may not know, but Epinions.com has pretty much been taken over by eBay, and thus I will be moving some of my reviews from there to here, as I’m not sure what will become of them otherwise. I’m sad to see the site pretty much go, I had a good decade or so writing for them, but I’ll do my best to provide you with (in my opinion) the best of my work from there, beginning with this review.

 

And now, your feature presentation...

 

A bunch of weird elements have come together to create a one-off film masterpiece. Many have tried for intentional camp, but fail miserably and humorously. BVD is a film like no other. It’s not a sequel to "Valley of the Dolls" (book or film), but similar in basic plot. Not a total parody of the aforementioned, either, because screenwriter Roger Ebert and filmmaker Russ Meyer weren't overly familiar with the source. Nope, this is Beyond the Valley of the Dolls baby, an original, and terrific entertainment.

 

Three sexy girl musicians and their goofy, Greg Brady-looking manager attempt to make it big in the industry. Along the way, each of these four characters meet several other important characters, and these interactions will be the catalyst for either their demise or their success as the venture BEYOND the valley of the dolls.

 

First, there's lead singer Kelly McNamara, played by playboy centrefold Dolly Read, who struggles to hide her English accent. She's sorta got a thing going on with the manager, Harris, but when then she meets three very important men who make her forget all about Harris. Ronny 'Z-Man' Barzell (John LaZar) is a Phil Specter-type record exec who takes Kelly and her pals under his deranged  wing...oh yes, there's more to the Shakespeare-quoting, sensible shoes-wearing Z-Man than meets the eye. Then there's studly toy-boy Lance Rocke...famous for being pretty, I guess, and Kelly is immediately drawn to him, and all the fame, parties, and fortune he and Z-Man provide. Then we have Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod), an old fuddy-duddy who works for Kelly's sexy Aunt Susan (the delectable Phyllis Davis), and is hell-bent on ruining Kelly and her 'hippie' friends.

 

My favourite character would have to be bass player Casey, played by the ample-bosomed playmate Cynthia Myers, easily the most talented of the trio. Her character doesn't like the whole party scene, and is instead drawn to lesbian (woo hoo!...er

...sorry) photographer Roxanne (Meyer regular Erica Gavin). Anyhow, Casey is the owner of the most beautiful eyelashes you'll ever see (and no, that's not a euphemism for something dirty!)

 

And then there's Petronella 'Pet' Danforth, played by Marcia McBroom, the resident 'Soul Sister' drummer of the group. She meets straight-laced lawyer Harrison Page, and all is going well, if a little vanilla, when in walks (shirtless) Randy Jackson (no, not that Randy Jackson...or the other one for that matter), a studly, swaggering Muhammad Ali-type, who sweeps Pet off her feet.

 

Poor Harris, meanwhile, is left out in the cold, and left vulnerable to the advances of statuesque pornstar Ashley St. Ives, a real man-eater, who is played by once-famous starlet Edy Williams, who gets the film's second best line; 'You're a Groovy Boy, I'd like to strap you on sometime!' (The best line being one from Z-Man: ‘You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!’)

 

All of these characters are going to be tested, in this bizarre concoction by famed film critic Roger 'I liked Anaconda' Ebert and legendary 'Nudie Cutie' filmmaker Russ Meyer, whose pop-culture and humorous touches are as rapid fire as the film's terrific editing style. The characters all have soap opera names, and the plot is pure corn, but served in such a frenzied, over-the-top manner, all intentionally, that it becomes a truly unique motion picture experience that defies categorisation.

 

The film has many satirical moments (one character is wheelchair-bound in a truly hilariously overdone moment), some genuinely clever touches (references in shots to "Citizen Kane", and a frenzied finale that has to be seen to be believed, and is a masterstroke of editing), some great exploitation content (lesbian love scenes, an hermaphrodite who wants to be called 'Superwoman', a decapitation etc., even a cameo by future exploitation queen Pam Grier, if you're sharp), and by the end  of the film, you inexplicably end up caring about the characters. And hey, there's lots of towering women with large breasts in it too, need I say more?

 

This is supremely entertaining, and not the bad movie some might lead you to believe (particularly those who would confuse it with "Valley of the Dolls", which is awful). Hey, even the music is catchy, and I would gladly choose this film over any Shannon Tweed, or fill-in-the-plastically-enhanced-softcore-star-of-your-choice film, any day. It's smarter, funnier, more action-packed (the finale especially, involving a triple homicide, a lesbian scene, a hermaphrodite, a Nazi, a double wedding, AND an epilogue), and yeah, there's lots of breasts here too. Everyone needs to see this film at least once in their life. It’s insane, and kinda brilliant.

 

Rating: A-

Review: Sweet Revenge


Stockard Channing plays a young car thief who is trying to earn enough cash to buy her dream car, an expensive Ferrari. Sam Waterston plays the lawyer who tries his best to get through to the girl and put her onto the straight and narrow for good. But Channing is no ordinary car thief, she seems to have a compulsion for it, and can’t stop. Hell, it doesn’t even seem like she wants to. Franklyn Ajaye has a role as one of Channing’s associates.

 

The director of “Panic in Needle Park” and “Street Smart” strikes out with this dull 1976 film. Surprisingly, director Jerry Schatzberg takes what is pretty heavy subject matter, and turns what could’ve been reasonably gritty dramatic material, into a sudsy soap opera. Hell, given the main character’s involvement with cars, it could’ve even been turned into a fun exploitation film. It’s not nearly worthy of the ‘BOMB’ rating Leonard Maltin gave it- it’s too harmless for that. But it’s also completely toothless, superficial, insignificant, and frankly a bit sluggish. It’s not a terrible film, but one can easily see why it has been forgotten.

 

Stockard Channing is a fine and charismatic actress and pretty believable in the lead, but the girl can’t work miracles. It’s especially hard to sympathise with her character when she keeps fucking up, and the character doesn’t have much depth. We’re not really given any indication that she’s a Klepto or has some mental compulsion to be doing what she is doing. The romance between Channing and Sam Waterston is a bust too, because she’s unlikeable and he’s Sam Waterston. Sorry, but the guy is a block of wood and the stiffest actor around outside of a porno. Oh well, at least playing a lawyer isn’t exactly a stretch for the guy. The connection isn’t there. It’s also a shame that the multi-talented and versatile Franklyn Ajaye is wasted in a part that, although the actor is likeable, requires little more of him than to say ‘dig’ at least once per sentence.

 

Meanwhile, there aren’t even any cool cars or exciting car chases. You’d think the film would at least work on that level. But no, it’s not really a drive-in movie. No, this one’s just not worth seeing. It’s just...there. The superficial, underdone screenplay is by Marilyn Goldin (the French film “Camille Claudel”, of all films), B.J. Perla (her only significant credit), and Jor Van Kline.

 

Rating: C