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, October 25, 2014

Review: Around the Bend


Sir Michael Caine plays a dying patriarch who lives with his son (Josh Lucas), grandson, and horror movie-obsessed Danish live-in carer (Glenne Headly!). Turning up unannounced one day is Caine’s estranged son Christopher Walken (!), though it turns out Caine wrote to the family black sheep, wanting to see him one last time. Lucas, however isn’t happy to see the ex-junkie father who hasn’t been in his life since he was a kid. Anyway, grandpa soon dies, and his will states that the three remaining generations of male family members take his ashes on a road trip of a bunch of KFC restaurants in the US. Yeah, I’m really not kidding about that. It really is the plot. Along the way, Walken and Lucas rehash the past, which is undoubtedly what Caine was trying to orchestrate in order for his family to finally heal old wounds. But some wounds leave giant, gaping holes and too much blood may have already lost. Yep, pretty much went all the way with that didn’t I? Meanwhile, Walken appears to be hiding something, which will gradually and eventually be revealed.

 

How does a film with this cast produce such utterly mediocre results? It’s all about the script, folks. This 2004 family drama from writer-director Jordan Roberts (who tellingly has only five other minor writing credits and has only directed one film since, in 2012) isn’t half the film you want it to be and Sir Michael Caine looks nothing like Christopher Walken, nor is he even old enough to be his father, he’s only ten years older than Walken! (Josh Lucas and Christopher Walken convince as father and son, though). He’s otherwise OK in the role for the most part, but he doesn’t even get the Yank accent right. Mostly though, it’s just that the script isn’t any good, refusing to take place on any level of reality, which robs it of any emotional resonance whatsoever. A film about this subject should produce the tears (the core subject matter is very relatable), but Roberts has gone for a quirkier than quirky vibe, where everyone’s a little nuts, especially in the first third.

 

Christopher Walken gives one of his best-ever performances here (the underrated Josh Lucas is fine too), and that’s a shame because the film doesn’t deserve such talent. Also, it has to be said that this is the worst case of gratuitous product placement I’ve seen since 1988’s “Mac and Me” (Does anyone buy Caine as a fan of the Colonel anyway? I love the stuff, but Caine? Unlikely). This script needed a do-over, preferably from someone not hell-bent on making a quirky indie movie that no one can relate to. The fact that the story is autobiographical means nothing, if you can’t get your audience to actually believe it. There’s just too much nonsense here that the potentially interesting fractured father/son relationship material is pretty much collapsing under the weight of all that off-putting quirkiness. When you find out what Walken did that was so bad all those years ago, it’s disturbing and there’s no easy answers to whether he should be forgiven or not. I liked that, it was really interesting. But the rest? Ugh.

 

Lucas and especially Walken are terrific, but they can’t save this eye-roller of a film where- get this- workaholic Lucas has a mobile phone pretty much surgically attached to his ear. “Rain Man”, anyone? 1988, anyone? No, this just won’t do at all.

 

Rating: C

Friday, October 24, 2014

Review: She-Gods of Shark Reef


Bill Cord and his escaped convict brother Don Durant find themselves shipwrecked on an island full of women who seem to have a spiritual connection with sharks. Durant also gets wind of a hidden cache of pearls that he decides to familiarise himself with. Jeanne Gerson plays the tribal elder, Lisa Montell plays She Who Wears Boot Polish, and falls for hunky Cord, after he saves her from some weirdo ritualistic sacrifice deal.

 

Roger Corman may be a director/producer of cheap schlock, but usually his films are entertaining cheap schlock and look more expensive than they likely were. So let’s chalk up this 1958 AIP film from director Corman and writers Robert Hill (“Sex Kittens Go to College”) and Victor Stoloff (Something called “The 300 Year Weekend”), as a mistake from someone who didn’t yet know much better. Corman had directed several films before this, but wouldn’t make “Bucket of Blood” until the next year, let alone “Little Shop of Horrors” or the Poe films. Still, it has to be said that it’s a waste of interesting Hawaii locations, and a potentially interesting plot point involving a mysterious corporation behind the film’s island location that all involved seem to completely forget about. That second point is really important, because it’s the only interesting thing about the whole damn movie, which starts out promising but pretty much goes nowhere. A hidden cache of pearls is introduced to the plot at the 40 minute mark, suggesting the whole thing was made up as they went along. The criminal back-story/setup, meanwhile, is woefully defined.

 

Mostly, this is like a Japanese kaiju film without the monster, and pretty badly done, save for the Ronald Stein (“The Terror”, “Dementia 13”, “Journey to the 7th Planet”) music score, one of his better jobs. All we get are some regular sharks (pretty small-looking at times, actually, suggesting that the sharks above ground had much smaller underwater stunt doubles), one of whom is a god named Kangaroa, which is just moronic.

 

It’s seriously malnourished nonsense, and lazy filmmaking, particularly in the screenwriting department (Though the sound FX are pretty rank too, clanging chains sound all-too like popcorn popping!). It goes to all of the obvious places, and abandons anything that could’ve been remotely interesting. Hell, even the girls aren’t terribly attractive. I’m pretty sure Ms. Lisa Montell is wearing boot polish, which doesn’t help. She’s Polish not Hawaiian, whilst Russian-born Jeanne Gerson is quite clearly not a ‘native’, either. She may remind you a bit of the great Maria Ouspenskaya, but her ‘We smoke ‘em peace pipe. Many fire’ speech pattern is appalling and silly. The beefcake factor is far more worthwhile than the cheesecake factor here (Stars Cord and Durant never wear shirts at any point in the film), and unfortunately, dudes just aren’t my thing. Bill Cord and Don Durant are supposed to be brothers here but don’t look remotely alike. Mr. Durant is also an absolutely awful actor (He, unlike Mr. Cord, went nowhere after this).

 

The B&W cinematography by Floyd Crosby (Who did excellent work on Corman’s Poe films like “Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”), meanwhile, looks far better above ground than underwater, and even then the scenery is doing pretty much all the work. It looks like the whole thing was shot at 4PM during a period of overcast weather, it isn’t just a print issue, though I have no doubt print quality plays a part (You don’t think anyone would bother restoring this do you?). Nope, it’s more likely an issue of Corman wanting to get the film in the can ASAP to appease AIP. It was directed by someone who just wanted to get it done (And you can tell it’s the lesser of two films shot on the same locations, as Corman was wont to do. Here the other film was “Naked Paradise”). I’m pretty sure I saw the boom mic at the top of the frame in one scene with Broken English Woman and the two ‘brahs’. Corman, should know better than that, and undoubtedly doesn’t look back on this film terribly fondly (It barely gets a mention in his must-have autobiography).

 

Worst of all? Sylvia Syms, of all people, strangling a cat over the opening credits in the guise of singing a song called ‘Nearer My Love to You’. Oh, and the title makes no goddamn sense whatsoever. Originally titled “Shark Reef” (which is a bit better), the women here aren’t gods, sharks are. What the hell? How the hell did no one notice this? You keep watching this film to see where it’s all headed, but once you realise the potentially interesting corporation stuff isn’t going to be paid off, you feel cheated and angry. It’s capped off by an absolutely pissweak, wet fart of an ending. Wow, this is just shoddy stuff.

 

Rating: D+

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Review: The House at the End of the Street


Mopey teen Jennifer Lawrence and her mother Elisabeth Shue have just moved to a new town. They quickly learn that the house next door was the site of a grisly family murder several years ago. Max Thieriot, brother of the crazy young killer, lives there all alone now. The locals are mostly frosty towards him but Lawrence starts up a relationship with the rather shy young man, much to her mother’s worry. Is she overly protective, or is there something sinister going on inside this young man’s mind that will see Lawrence in danger? Have you ever watched a horror film before? And what is going on down in Thieriot’s cellar? Gil Bellows plays the local cop who is somewhat protective of Thieriot.

 

Shot in 2010 and released in 2012, one wonders if this genre piece from director Mark Tonderai (who has a British TV background) would’ve gotten off the shelf at all had Jennifer Lawrence not won an Oscar and starred in a Young Adult Fiction franchise. It’s not an awful film, it’s just the kind of mediocre, neutered, and forgettable stuff that I can’t even bring myself to hate. There’s nothing critics hate more than a film that leaves you wanting to simply type: ‘meh’.

 

Scripted by David Loucka (the underrated comedy “The Dream Team”, the boring sports comedy “Eddie”) from a story apparently written by action director Jonathan Mostow (and the “Terminator 3” director was originally set to direct), the title suggests a horror film remake. Nope, you’re thinking of “The House on Sorority Row”, which was already remade (appallingly) as “Sorority Row”. This one’s all original…it just feels like you’ve seen it a billion times before. Aside from the always welcome Elisabeth Shue (who is genuinely good here) and a well-cast Max Thieriot (who does his best with a clichéd role), the only thing this has going for it is some excellent woodland scenery (giving the film a creepy underbelly it fails to capitalise on) and cinematography by Miroslaw Baszak (George Romero’s “Land of the Dead”), and even that gets occasionally spoiled by the director’s apparent penchant for MTV-ish camera trickery. Actually, I’m being unfair, the music score by Theo Green (the director’s previous “Hush”, not to be confused with the same-named Jessica Lange crapfest) is creepy and ominous, if a tad loud.

 

Outside of “Silver Linings Playbook”, I find Jennifer Lawrence a terrible actress, and that’s no different here, though full credit to her for being able to sing decently, as required at one point. She has been worse (“The Hunger Games” and “X Men: First Class”), but looks completely bored. You’re the one who signed on the dotted line here, sweetie. What bothered me most, though, is her unpleasant demeanour and screen presence here. There’s something off-putting about her. I’m not sure if it was intentional to the character or not (I highly doubt it, though), but there’s an ego on display here. It’s like she or the character thinks she’s hot. In my opinion, she’s not especially attractive or interesting, and has a seriously inexpressive face and a fatal lack of charisma.

 

Meanwhile, by casting TV actors Thieriot (who looks alarmingly like one of my best friends from high school, except Thieriot is attractive enough to play a love interest in a film) and the consistently useless Gil Bellows, and given the teen-based dramatics filtered through a somewhat mystery-oriented plot, the whole thing feels like watching a brooding teen TV drama in the league of “Twisted” or “Pretty Little Liars”, only less compelling and addictive than the latter…which I’ve neither heard of nor watched. I swear (The setup and relationship between Shue and Lawrence, meanwhile, is like “Panic Room” without the panic room…and the rest of that film). I needed more than what feels like a teen soapie with a stalker storyline. ***** SLIGHT SPOILER WARNING ***** The whole dangerous sibling locked in the cellar deal is a horror staple as old as the hills, but even so, it could’ve made for more compelling cinema than this. ***** END SLIGHT SPOILER ***** The climax is right out of 1978 slasher cinema, and the final scene/plot point have their hoary old slasher movie roots too.

 

This is dull and seriously dreary, muted and anaemic. Shue and Thieriot can’t make something out of ‘blah’, I’m afraid. Aside from some really gorgeous shots, there’s not much to see here, folks, certainly no surprises. Oh, and Jennifer. If you’re making a movie purely because you need the money, try not to look like it, OK? It will endear you to the public about as much as claiming that anyone who looks at your stolen/leaked naked pics online is committing a sex crime.

 

Rating: C

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: Blue City


(Formerly at Epinions.com, written in 2013)

 

Troublesome smart-arse misfit Judd Nelson comes back to his hometown after a long exile to learn that his estranged mayor father was murdered a while back. Well, he learns that after he gets thrown in jail for typical barroom thuggery. He decides to stick around to find out what happened and who is responsible, running afoul of not just local gangster and brothel owner Scott Wilson, but annoyed police chief Paul Winfield, who knew Nelson’s daddy well, but wants Nelson to get the hell outta town. Nelson thinks it’s very likely Wilson was involved in his dad’s death, hell he has hooked up with his dad’s trashy girlfriend for starters. He enlists the aid of gimpy former best pal David Caruso to do some digging. Ally Sheedy is Caruso’s sister whom Caruso specifically tells Nelson to keep his hands off. Yeah, that’ll totally happen. ‘Tiny’ Lister plays one half of Wilson’s hired muscle, whilst Julie Carmen plays one of Wilson’s hookers.

 

Every once in a while I like a film that 99.99% of the rest of reviewers seem to hate. Welcome to what is quite possibly the only positive review of this movie on them thar interwebs. Boy do people hate this 1986 film from hilariously named director Michelle Manning, who was producer of “Sixteen Candles”. This was her one and only film directing gig, as she later became the head of Paramount). More importantly, the film is scripted by noted names Walter Hill (writer-director of “The Long Riders”, “48HRS”, and director of “Streets of Fire”) and Lukas Heller (the triple-threat of “Flight of the Phoenix”, “Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, and “The Dirty Dozen”). Frankly, I don’t really understand the hate on this one, it’s pretty underrated and doesn’t even have anywhere near as much swearing as Leonard Maltin seems to suggest. Is it a great film? No, it’s fairly familiar stuff full of most of the noir trappings- local gangster, loser coming back to his hometown after his father’s murder, etc. There’s even a greyhound race. It’s no surprise to learn that the source material the film is based on came from the 1940s. It’s classic pulp noir. I also picked the twist, albeit only a couple of minutes early. Some of you will spot it much earlier, but I think good casting helped conceal it from me for a while.

 

But the film also boasts some good performances. Judd Nelson was never much of an actor, but I have to go against the consensus here and say I thought he was perfectly cast in the lead role. He has a bit of an edge, a kind of ‘bad boy’ persona to him that makes him far more acceptable than most young actors of the 80s for a role that has him going up against some very dangerous and tough people. He also makes for a convincing, obnoxious smart arse, as anyone who has seen “The Breakfast Club” (who the hell hasn’t?) can attest to. I actually think this is the one role Nelson was actually born to play. Matt Dillon’s the only other actor of the period I could see coming close to playing this role and I don’t think he’d get the smart arse aspect down as well as Nelson. I guess what I’m saying is that Nelson doesn’t have much range, but this role pretty much is his range.

 

You’ll be shocked that Scott Wilson plays a bad guy here. Absolutely shocked. In all seriousness, he’s one of the most underrated character actors of all-time and it’s great to see him getting some exposure recently on “The Walking Dead” (though I checked out of that show after the second season. I just can’t watch the same zombie stuff for 40 minutes every damn week). This is far from Wilson’s best work, but I put that down to some of the poor dialogue he is given, as the man has never given a bad performance. Ally Sheedy isn’t all that much better than Nelson as an actor, but she and Nelson work rather well together (they appeared in several films together, twice as a couple, well three if you count “The Breakfast Club” as them being a couple). David Caruso, looking about as young as he did in 1982’s “First Blood” also works well with Nelson and Sheedy, but might as well have ‘dead meat’ written on his forehead. African American character actor Paul Winfield, meanwhile, is having more fun than anybody here in one of his better roles of the period. Like Wilson, the man rarely failed to deliver, no matter the role he was given. The one dud in the cast is Julie Carman (“Fright Night II”), who is a bit bland and stilted, but thankfully she’s not around all that much.

 

The film is pretty violent, probably at the insistence of producer and co-writer Hill, who no doubt also suggested his regular composer Ry Cooder (“Streets of Fire”, “The Long Riders”) for the gig here. Cooder contributes a more pop-rock score than his usual bluesy deal, but it’s still good stuff.

 

Based on a Ross Macdonald (“Harper”, “The Drowning Pool”) novel, I think it’s time for a re-evaluation on this B-movie. It’s an OK film, I mean, for a movie directed by a chick (named MAN-ning. Get it? Hilarious) and all. There you go. Every film has at least one defender, and for this movie, as was the case with “Jonah Hex”, “An American Haunting”, “Little Nicky”, and “Deadly Friend”, I am that lone defender. You’re all crazy, I tells ‘ya. Crazy. Anyone who thinks this is one of the worst movies of the 80s needs to go watch some “Friday the 13th” sequels, “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, “Blood Diner”, “Killer Klowns From Outer Space”, and “Rhinestone”.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review: Stoker


Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, whose father (Dermot Mulroney) has just died in a car accident. At the funeral, her uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) turns up, and before long is trying to charm himself into the lives of India and her self-absorbed mother (Nicole Kidman). India had no idea he existed before now, and is somewhat hostile and suspicious of him. And yet, she’s also undeniably curious, maybe even aroused. But then people mysteriously seem to vanish… Jacki Weaver plays Great-Aunt Gin, who arrives out of the blue and seems awfully wary of Uncle Charlie.

 

I didn’t know what to make of this 2013 film from South Korean director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”, “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance”, “Thirst”) and writer Wentworth Miller (Yeah, the other guy from “Prison Break”, and no I don’t know why either), except to say that I didn’t much like it. It seems to be aiming for something in the vicinity of “Shadow of a Doubt” (There’s a young woman with a murderous Uncle Charlie, for instance), but I’ve seen “Shadow of a Doubt”, and it was a whole lot more fun than this. The film has no warmth or light…or anything beyond one drab note played over and over. Mr. Park Chan-wook, you good sir are no Alfred Hitchcock, that’s for damn sure, though “Thirst” was excellent.

 

Miller was apparently inspired by “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, oddly enough, but aside from the title, I wasn’t seeing that. What I did see, however, was a film that seemed to aim for suffocating tension, but getting ‘nails on a chalkboard’. I think the director is much more to blame, though. The sound design is presumably deliberately irritating, but like just about everything else in the film (except the performances, more on that latter) it goes too far and is just overdone and irritating beyond belief. Did we really need to hear the sound of a pencil being sharpened? A little of this went not terribly far at all. I wasn’t tense, I was annoyed and turned off by the film. Cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung (“Thirst”) favours a shaking camera for simple dialogue scenes where no such approach is warranted nor suitable. That’s annoying too. Is it to create some kind of unbalance? Then let the actors do their fucking job and suggest that themselves. It’s what you pay them for.

 

I think the film was aiming for a much darker uncle/niece relationship than in “Shadow of a Doubt”, but it’s entirely uninteresting. Part of this is because the singularly uninteresting Matthew Goode wears the exact same self-satisfied look on his face the entire film. At least Nicole Kidman can blame the botox for her rather cold and immobile performance, or better yet blame Miller for giving her absolutely nothing worthwhile to do here. Aussie actress Mia Wasikowska fares a bit better in a kind of Wednesday Addams role, but the only one with a beating heart in this entire film is Jacki Weaver (yep, a triple threat of Aussie actresses on show here). Her role is a huge cliché of horror/thrillers, and she doesn’t even last as long as most characters of this type, but it’s still great to see her getting roles in overseas projects and she’s the only reason this thing gets an average rating instead of a slightly poor one. The central trio really sink it, though, because without any warmth to latch onto, without any sympathetic central characters, how can one possibly care?  Dermot Mulroney, meanwhile is utterly wasted in flashbacks that suggest a slightly more interesting story than the one we’re watching.

 

I like horror and I like melodramas, but this film has been completely overpitched (despite the performances being at the other extreme), features almost no characters worth a damn, and left me at arm’s length throughout. Really unappealing, uninteresting, and ultimately rather pointless. All the allusions to “Shadow of a Doubt” leave this one looking decidedly inferior. That film was one of Hitch’s more subtle films. Subtle and Park Chan-wook don’t appear to belong in the same sentence. Nope, didn’t get this one at all, but then I wasn’t a huge fan of “Oldboy”, either.

 

Rating: C

Review: The Day After Tomorrow


Dennis Quaid stars as a Palaeoclimatologist who isn’t on pig-headed Vice President Kenneth Welsh’s Christmas card list, after Quaid pretty much publically humiliated him. Quaid is approached by a British scientist (Ian Holm) with frightening evidence that Quaid’s estimate of an upcoming new ice age in about 50-100 years is actually a gross under-calculation. Unfortunately, because the VP is an ignorant dick with a grudge against Quaid, Welsh ignores any warnings from Quaid about this issue. America is therefore up frozen shit creek without a backup plan, as crazily cold temperatures and storms hit like you wouldn’t believe. The bulk of the film is split between Quaid trying to make it from Washington to New York, to rescue his estranged son Jake Gyllenhaal, and Gyllenhaal’s experiences on a doomed school trip where he and his friends (principally the very pretty Emmy Rossum) hole themselves up in the public library. Perry King is the POTUS, Adrian Lester is one of Holm’s associates, and Sela Ward is Quaid’s ex, a doctor who stays on duty with a young cancer patient, whilst also worrying about son Gyllenhaal.

 

Look, there’s no doubt that director Roland Emmerich (“Universal Soldier”, “Stargate”, “ID4”) and his co-writer Jeffrey Nachmanoff have taken the issue of climate change and gone and added a whole lotta steroids to it. However, aside from insane climate change deniers, most people would at least agree that this 2004 disaster movie features stuff that is at least in theory plausible…just sped-up big time for the purposes of drama. That’s kinda what a good popcorn movie does, and indeed this is one of the better ones of the 00s, so long as you don’t take it too seriously.

 

The opener is very silly, but hair-raising, with Jay O. Sanders apparently doing his best Rip Torn vocal impersonation. Yes, the opener shares similarities with “Deep Impact”, only with a different kind of trouble afoot, but once the weather really kicks in, the film finds its own identity. Dennis Quaid is an excellent choice for the lead, very easy to relate to, and Jake Gyllenhaal is similarly ingratiating as his son. He has one hilarious scene where we cut from falling ice in Japan to a shot of bored-looking Gyllenhaal, that intentional or not had me thinking of “Donnie Darko”. Emmy Rossum, meanwhile, shows real star quality in this, so it’s a shame that her best exposure has really been on TV. Yes, she’s kind of a star now, just not as big as I personally predicted upon seeing her in this, “Mystic River”, and “Phantom of the Opera”. She’s charismatic and a genuinely good actress, even in something like this where it’s not always easy to distinguish yourself amongst the FX work. Bilbo Baggins himself, Ian Holm also brings a nice sense of English genteel to his scientist character as well, and is there any cameo player more hilariously arsehole-ish than Rick Hoffman?

 

This is really well-staged stuff, mixing CGI and more traditional FX, and although over-the-top, it never looks fake. They still hold up a decade later, actually, which is really quite remarkable to me. There’s a few flaws, though. I feel a bit sorry for character actor Kenneth Welsh, whose character is there to be wrong about everything at all times. The character is a familiar one in films like this, but it’s too much. The wolves, meanwhile, were extremely unnecessary and silly, too. Also, Perry King is one helluva cut-rate casting choice to play the US President, if you ask me. Were Peter Strauss, William R. Moses, Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, and Chad Lowe all busy or something?

 

This is just straight-up well-staged mayhem and disaster, but with at least two central characters the audience can get invested in and hope to see come out of this situation alive. Usually these films are about watching famous people die spectacularly, here’s one where you genuinely care about them enough to not want to see that. Well, except Rick Hoffman, that smug yuppie bastard deserves to bite it.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review: The Little Foxes


Set in the deep south in 1900, and centred on the primarily greedy and ravenous Hubbard family. Bette Davis is the ruthless Regina, who wants to invest in a new cotton mill venture along with her unscrupulous brothers Ben (Charles Dingle, sly as a fox indeed) and Oscar (Carl Benton Reid, dour and cruel), but she hasn’t the money to do so. Her gravely ill husband Horace (Herbert Marshall), a fair-minded man who has been recovering from a heart attack in hospital, strongly disagrees with the mill and refuses to give Regina the necessary money to invest. But Regina (who isn’t quite as rich as her two brothers, having not inherited much of the family fortune) will seemingly stop at absolutely nothing to get what she wants. Meanwhile, Oscar conspires to get his idiot son Leo (Dan Duryea) married to Regina’s daughter (his first cousin!) Alexandra (Teresa Wright), a kind and virtuous young lady who would do well to get the hell away from her family. Patricia Collinge plays daffy Aunt Birdie, who is treated abusively and dismissively by her husband Oscar. Richard Carlson turns up as a likeable young would-be suitor for Alexandra.

 

Based on a play by Lillian Hellman (“The Children’s Hour”, “The Chase”), this 1941 borderline melodrama from director William Wyler (“The Best Years of Our Lives”, “The Big Country”) is a great showcase for some excellent actors, and brilliant B&W cinematography by ‘deep focus’ master Gregg Toland (“Citizen Kane”, “The Best Years of Our Lives”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Enchantment”). Fans of the stage play may prefer Tallulah Bankhead (who originated the character, and was no doubt very well-cast), but kabuki makeup and all, Bette Davis has a magisterial presence here that can’t be matched. None of these characters is infallible or indestructible, but Davis here plays the one with the most power, and boy does the character know it. She’s intimidating as hell, ruthless, and possibly completely heartless. It’s an extraordinary character, especially for 1940. At one point, she accuses the family maid of babying her daughter too much. The maid! Says everything you need to know about her maternal nature, doesn’t it? The character’s terror at the prospect of getting old and being alone is this powerful, ruthless woman’s Achilles heel and subtly but effectively conveyed throughout by Davis, a terrific actress and undeniable, forceful movie star. OK, so Davis doesn’t sound remotely Southern, but once you hear the perfectly English Herbert Marshall as her husband, you realise it’s not terribly important. She’s still unforgettable in the part, and towers over all.

 

The heart of the film comes from Teresa Wright and Patricia Collinge, both of whom played their parts on stage. This was Wright’s extraordinary film debut, one of the most impressive debuts you’re likely to see, from a still underrated actress. I’d argue that Wright’s character is the film’s most pivotal. She’s the one with enough youth and strength to break out from this revolting family if she can wake up to it all. The character might lack the colour of the more flamboyant and amoral characters in the film, but she’s the one who goes through a real arc from young and naïve, to somewhat wise, defiant, and determined. It’s no surprise Wright earned her first Oscar nomination on her debut assignment, she’s not only excellent, but has a sympathetic, charismatic quality that just can’t be taught. This terrific, but somewhat forgotten actress had one helluva impressive start to her film career, being Oscar nominated for her first three roles and winning the Oscar for “Mrs. Miniver”. Her fourth role? “Shadow of a Doubt”. Hell, I’d retire after that small run of good work. Speaking of “Shadow of a Doubt”, Patricia Collinge plays Wright’s mother in that one, whilst here she is sad and heartbreaking as the daffy, but brow-beaten Aunt Birdie. This woman has clearly been defeated by this family of not just foxes, but piranha, especially her cruel husband (Carl Benton Reid) who regards her as both an annoyance and an embarrassment. Carl Benton Reid plays a cruel bastard of a man, but Charles Dingle as his brother may be even worse- soulless, racist, sly, and calculating. Both are rock-solid in their roles. Herbert Marshall is absolutely spot-on as the gravely ill family patriarch, whom you want to sympathise with, but you never quite can. You want him to take a stand against this horrible, ruthless family for the sake of his daughter, whom he clearly loves. But this man simply doesn’t have the strength or energy to do so anymore. Perhaps Davis has over time crushed him and turned him into mush. Or perhaps he never had the constitution to begin with.

 

It’s Dan Duryea, however, who constantly steals scenes here (though he doesn’t get to share much screen time with the dominating Davis, I might add) as the Eddie Haskell of the early 1940s. Making his screen debut (like Collinge, Reid, and Wright), slimeball specialist Duryea essays one of the dumbest, most cowardly, little turds the screen has ever seen. Leo is too stupid for his own good and twice as gutless. If he had any kind of thought in his head, it’d die of loneliness. If there’s one letdown in the acting department, it’s the pleasant but dull Richard Carlson, as Wright’s love interest. Not only is he dreadfully plain, but he and Duryea engage in the girliest slap fight the silver screen has ever seen. Why didn’t they just tickle each other with feathers or have a pillow fight? There’s a touch of the Stepin Fetchit’s about some of the African-American characters here, but the family maid played by Jessie Grayson ain’t no Prissy. This woman knows what’s going on in this family, no doubt about it.

 

As I mentioned earlier, the Gregg Toland cinematography is a definite highlight of the film, there’s particularly excellent depth of field. This is not just a stagey, dialogue-driven film, no matter its theatrical origins. It isn’t stagey, it’s just that the shot composition is stupendous, with an emphasis here on everyone being positioned in just the right place within the camera’s frame. There are two scenes in particular, one centred on Collinge, and a later one with Wright, that employ the same technique of a character in the background, but centred. For Collinge, she looks sad, forlorn, and defeated in the background, with the ‘little foxes’ in the foreground. But when it’s Wright’s turn, she ain’t just gonna sit there and take it from these horrible people. The scene where Collinge says something she shouldn’t, and Reid hears it, is a masterwork on every level, not just shot composition.

 

This is the kind of film that gives you something new to discover every time you see it. It’s one of the best films derived from a stage play you’ll ever see, and 99.99% of the performances are top-notch. This one still has a real power to it and is a must-see. Hellman wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay, with additional help from Arthur Kober (“Me and My Gal”), Dorothy Parker (“A Star is Born”, “Saboteur”), and Alan Campbell (“A Star is Born”).

 

Rating: B+

Review: …All the Marbles


Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon play the California Dolls, a female wrestling tag team who travel the USA with their manager Peter Falk (who used to have a thing with one of the Dolls). The film charts their attempts at rising in the ranks, whilst also fighting to just get paid enough by shitty promoters. Tracy Reed and Ursaline Bryant-King play a rival tag team, John Hancock is their manager. Burt Young plays a shonky promoter, whilst Richard Jaeckel turns up briefly as Earl Hebner…er…sorry, as a crooked referee.

 

I chastised the otherwise excellent “Requiem for a Heavyweight” for portraying wrestling extremely negatively, which I felt was a little over-the-top for a film made in 1962, not today’s climate of ‘sports entertainment’. Well here’s a Robert Aldrich (“The Dirty Dozen”, “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, “Emperor of the North Pole”) film from 1981 about women’s tag team wrestling, and it tries to sell it as almost 100% legit! The only hint of ‘kayfabe’ (wrestling parlance for…well, not a legit or ‘shoot’ fight) we get here is the suggestion that the home tag team is expected to win, and our heroines suggest that if the home team wanted to win, they should’ve tried harder. As someone who has been watching wrestling on and off since 1986, I know that the truth about wrestling is that it’s considerably less ‘fake’ than ignoramuses think. It’s got fake punches and fake storylines, but in other ways, there’s still some genuine impact to the body (just that they usually try not to hurt each other as much as they would in a legit fight), and potential for injury, especially if something goes wrong. Some wrestlers like to work ‘stiff’ (which is another term for, well, a lot less ‘fake’), and there are some moves that are very hard to perform without at least a little bit of pain involved. I mean, do YOU want to take an open hand slap to the chest from a 7ft giant? I certainly don’t. The final match here as presented, is amusing but even more ‘fake’ (which, by the way, is a word I hate. I prefer ‘choreographed and pre-determined’ and even that isn’t entirely accurate) than modern day wrestling, despite being played as ‘legit’. Bizarre. We even get a crooked referee angle portrayed as real (for the benefit of the film audience, not just the audience in the film itself if you get my meaning), for fuck’s sake, decades before the infamous ‘Montreal Screwjob’. I’m also not convinced that a sunset flip, even in pre-WWF/E era women’s wrestling would be an acceptable finishing move. Today, wrestlers don’t even use a sunset flip bomb as a finisher, let alone a simple sunset flip itself, both are seen as ‘transitional’ moves at best. So that was a little hard to swallow for me.

 

Scripted by Mel Frohman, the film gets the a-hole promoters down pat (Hello, Burt Young), but it feels like they’re touring the entire country all in one go, rather than working a particular territory/promotion, finishing up after a while and moving on. If I’m wrong about that, then the film doesn’t show it coherently enough. This feels more like boxing than wrestling, to me (while the mud wrestling scene seems more like barnyard wrestling). And we’re talking about a film about not only women’s wrestling, but women’s tag team wrestling, which is like a niche within a niche inside a niche form of entertainment (Women’s tag team wrestling barely even exists at all in 2014. Sure, there used to be teams like the Jumping Bomb Angels, but…who else? Not nearly as many teams as this film seems to suggest, I’d wager).

 

Obviously the film’s POV is a little bit silly and tough to swallow for anyone who really knows their stuff (Though my knowledge is more 1986-1994, and 2007-present, not so much the territory days). Thankfully, the film does have other merits, in fact as inaccurate as it may be, it’s still a pretty well-made film in many respects, sadly Aldrich’s last. The working class town scenery captured by Joseph Biroc (“Forty Guns”, “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, “Emperor of the North Pole”) is a definite standout, as is Peter Falk’s performance as the soft-hearted manager. The sorely underrated Burt Young is spot-on as a bastard promoter, and although not great actresses, both Vicki Frederick and Laurene Landon are convincing enough in and out of the ring. The fact that they are pretty but not knockouts is fairly accurate for the era, I believe too (The Fabulous Moolah, anyone?). And the film does get the occasional thing right, like Landon taking pills for pain, which is certainly accurate, and although I might quibble about the layout of the matches, it’s obvious the two actresses are doing all their own stuff, and most of their opponents look to be pro-wrestlers too, which helps things look a little more authentic. There’s also a reasonable amount of nudity in the film too, which is nice (i.e. the mud wrestling scene).

 

While this film is amiable, and Peter Falk is terrific, it loses steam in the second half, it’s inaccurate and not really for wrestling fans. I’m not sure it’ll really interest non-fans, either, though. As for me, I probably shouldn’t have liked it at all, but I found it sorta watchable, all things considered.

 

Rating: C+