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 31, 2015

Review: The Defiant Ones


Two convicts escape a chain gang whilst still chained together. One is a racist, angry white southerner (Tony Curtis), the other an African-American (Sidney Poitier). They may not like each other, but they’re gonna need to work together if they are to evade the law, let alone a nasty lynch mob (headed by Claude Akins). Unfortunately, they don’t just dislike one another, they hate each other. Theodore Bikel is the sheriff under pressure from not only the governer, but hawkish State police captain Charles McGraw who wants to deploy dogs to track the men down before they get too much of a headstart. Lon Chaney Jr. plays a man who helps the duo out of a tight spot, whilst Cara Williams plays a lonely widow who sets her sights on Curtis.

 

Superb 1958 Stanley Kramer (“Not as a Stranger”, “Inherit the Wind”, “Judgement at Nuremberg”) racial drama/escape flick that although highly entertaining, is also a really powerful look at some of humanity’s worst and most pathetic traits. Even in the tense situation these two guys are in, Poitier and Curtis can’t help but squabble with one another. It really says something. It’s quite a rough, tough, and gritty film for something with such a social conscience. Kramer is a clever filmmaker, as this one works on multiple levels.

 

Tony Curtis isn’t exactly convincing as a Southern cracker, but accent aside, this is one of Curtis’ only genuinely good performances along with “Sweet Smell of Success”. There’s an irritability and sour quality to his performance that Curtis conveys well. This guy’s bitter, and you get the feeling he’s been that way for a long time. As impressive as Curtis is, Sidney Poitier for me is more interesting in performance and character. It’s not as showy as the Curtis role, but this guy’s also got a lot of anger and bitterness inside of him, he’s just not as explosive about it.

 

The supporting cast is pretty damn impressive too. Oscar-nominated Theodore Bikel is just OK as the lawman leading the hunt, gravel-voiced co-star Charles McGraw would’ve been even better in the part if you ask me. Claude Akins is pretty good as a bullying lynch mob leader, but it’s Lon Chaney Jr. who is most effective here. It’s perhaps his best-ever performance (alongside “High Noon”), and a performance you might not have thought he had in him. That Bikel was nominated for an Oscar and not Chaney is a crime if you ask me. I must say, though, that Chaney looks rather awful here. He seems to have aged a helluva lot in the 15 or so years between “The Wolf Man” and this film. I believe it’s called alcohol, and it’s a real shame that it helped destroy a career full of potential. Shirley Jones lookalike Cara Williams has a startling Oscar-nominated role as a lonely and needy widow with a kid. It’s an interesting performance and character, actually. She needs a man, and Curtis is kind of a man, so he’ll do. The funny thing? She’d be better off with Sidney Poitier, the much nicer of the two. But he’s black and she’s racist.

 

Extremely well-shot by an Oscar-winning Sam Leavitt (“Anatomy of a Murder”, “Pork Chop Hill”), this is one of those films that simply had to be shot in B&W. I mean, think about it. It’s the only thing that would make sense. The best thing about the entire film? At about 90 minutes, it gets off and running right away, says what it needs to, and gets out without overstaying its welcome.

 

Really efficiently done, and just all-round terrific stuff that works as both social commentary and exciting manhunt picture. The Oscar-winning screenplay is by Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith, who both later scripted Kramer’s “Inherit the Wind”.

 

Rating: A-

Review: Anzio


As the title suggests, a film about the fight in Anzio, Italy during WWII. It was a battle that resulted in a whole mess of Allied casualties due to incompetence higher up. Robert Mitchum plays a war correspondent following the Allied forces who ends up having to join in the fight. The Allied soldiers include a seemingly bloodthirsty Peter Falk, Earl Holliman, and Reni Santoni, whilst Arthur Kennedy, Patrick Magee, and Robert Ryan play the short-sighted Allied brass (the latter a glory/publicity-hound). Wolfgang Priess plays a Nazi Field Marshall.

 

Director Edward Dmytryk (“The Caine Mutiny”, “Warlock”, “Mirage”) seems to be trying to keep up with John Sturges (“Hell is for Heroes”, “The Great Escape”) and Robert Aldrich (“Attack”, “The Dirty Dozen”) in this 1968 all-star (well, all-character actor, perhaps) war movie. The results are pretty disappointing, though any film with tanks armed with flame throwers can’t be a complete turd. There’s a good war movie in here, but the problem is aside from the characters played by Robert Mitchum and Reni Santoni, the only characters to really stand out are the brass (particularly Arthur Kennedy and Wolfgang Priess), and since the brass don’t really get involved in the action, neither does the audience as a result. The talented Earl Holliman is especially wasted as the guy who is apparently the senior officer of the platoon, but never seems likes it with Mitchum around.

 

The problem with casting a guy like Robert Mitchum as a war correspondent is that he’s Robert Freakin’ Mitchum in a war movie. Ain’t no way he’s playing some pussy detached observer. As a result, he comes off like he’s the one leading the damn platoon and it comes across very confusingly and silly. Mostly though, it’s just dull, livened up only whenever the terrific Peter Falk turns up to wipe everyone else off the screen via the force of sheer personality. The real film lies with him, unfortunately no one here seems interested in him and his character seems to get lost in the shuffle after about 30 minutes.

 

There’s some good action, particularly towards the end, but it’s all for nought because the characters are so damn underdeveloped. Despite a fun, boozy, brawling opening, “The Dirty Dozen” it ain’t. Give it a miss unless you’re interested in seeing the romantic comedy stylings of Reni Santoni! The culprit here is Harry A. L. Craig (“Lion of the Desert”, with Anthony Quinn), adapting the novel by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. It’s all about the script, folks. Solid music score by Riz Ortolani (“A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die”, “The Fifth Musketeer”) is a highlight.

 

Rating: C

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: Game of Death


Bruce Lee (kinda) plays a martial arts movie star named Billy Lo who needs to fake his own death after a crime syndicate sends an assassin (Mel Novak) after him, for refusing to go in cahoots with them. The syndicate also target his singer-girlfriend (Colleen Camp), continually trying to recruit her as part of their ‘clientele’. After extensive facial reconstruction surgery, Billy is able to go after the syndicate without them knowing his identity. By this time, however, they’ve gone so far as kidnapping the singer. Dean Jagger plays the head of the syndicate, Hugh O’Brian plays Jagger’s second-in-command, Robert Wall plays a kickboxer, Gig Young plays Billy’s journalist friend Jim Marshall, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a student of Lee’s) is the fearsome-looking Hakim, whilst Sammo Hung (as Hung Kim Po) plays another fighter. Look out for Roy Chiao from “Bloodsport” as Billy’s uncle.

 

A really lousy film from director Robert Clouse (the awesome blaxploitation kung-fu flick “Black Belt Jones”) released in 1978, in which star Bruce Lee died before the film could be completed as originally envisioned. He had filmed several fights (back in 1972), before going off to make “Enter the Dragon” (also directed by Clouse, strangely enough). Unfortunately, he died before he was able to come back to work on the rest of this film. As a result, Clouse (who is credited as screenwriter under the pseudonym Jan Spears) was brought in to salvage the project. He ended up using stock footage of Lee (not to mention footage from his own funeral! Disgusting…), plus a couple of seriously unconvincing stand-ins for Lee (one of them being Yuen Biao, interestingly enough), as well as the footage Lee had already shot (including the infamous fight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). The resulting film is a shoddy piece of piecemeal crap that frankly should never have seen the light of day (At least with Brandon Lee’s “The Crow”, most of the film was already shot, and it’s a seriously good piece of filmmaking). It’s also really creepy to see Lee in a film about a movie star who fakes his own death, when both he and his son Brandon both died midway through shooting a film (Brandon in an on-set accident, which is even creepier given there’s an assassination attempt here involving a supposed prop gun!). I’m sorry, but this was a really sour experience for me, I didn’t much enjoy it at all.

 

It’s in English, and has a predominantly American cast, but the English dubbing for the Chinese actors is pretty poor. In the case of the idiot dubbing Lee, it’s pathetic and insulting. He sounds so hushed and hesitant that it makes the film play like a sci-fi film where Lee’s character is actually a pod person, an alien in the body of a human being. The Lee doubles aren’t remotely convincing, and the idea of having him fake his death and then just wear the fakest facial hair of all-time to hide the fact that it’s not really Bruce Lee is just ridiculous. Yes, he also gets facial reconstruction surgery, but why not just leave it at that as an explanation for why he no longer looks like Bruce Lee? You can have Yuen Biao or whoever play the part without any of the trickery necessary. The fact that his doubles wear bad fake beards is just dumb. I guess they really needed to use Lee’s fight footage (and fair enough), but the whole film just plays so poorly. The fact that they name Chuck Norris in the opening credits is pretty crass too, considering it’s just footage lifted from the climax of “Way of the Dragon” (Chuck apparently threatened to sue Golden Harvest. I don’t blame him in the slightest). Chuck Norris is in this film even less than Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris is not in this film. The leather couch-beating sound FX, meanwhile, are the worst of any Lee film, I’m afraid.

 

I’m not going to deny that the film has its positive attributes. The non-Asian cast is a mixed bag, but there’s some pretty decent work by some of them. Colleen Camp, usually relegated to comedic films, looks like a late 70s-early 80s era Bond girl here, and the John Barry (“Goldfinger”, “Robin and Marian”) penned song that she sings over the end credits only enhances that impression. Hell, she would’ve made for a much better Tiffany Case in “Diamonds Are Forever” than Jill St. John, and is there anyone who would disagree with my assertion that she’s a much better actress than Maud Adams (who had two stints as a Bond girl, including “Octopussy”)? The film seems to kind of lose her towards the end, but whenever she’s around she’s good fun and really likeable. An ancient-looking Dean Jagger, meanwhile isn’t exactly in peak form but is eccentric fun. I’m not entirely certain if he’s all there mentally, but he’s certainly a hoot. Martial artist Bob Wall actually gets to be heard in this one in English…and probably shouldn’t have been, if that’s indeed his real voice. He gets to be seen as a bit of a bad arse in this one, and his fight with ‘Not Bruce Lee’ is actually pretty good. I do find it a bit disconcerting that Wall looks a lot like a member of the Australian cricket team circa 1977 or so (There’s a bit of a Max Walker vibe about him). Less effective are Mel Novak and a wooden Hugh O’Brian, the latter of whom is a very poor man’s Charles Napier. Neither belongs in a martial arts fight scene, either, and they represent two of the weaker fights in the film. Basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has his moments, when seen as an intimidating henchman throwing people around he’s perfectly effective. When involved in martial arts scenes with Lee, he’s a gangly, awkward-looking mess. The film also contains a particularly distressing appearance by the late Gig Young in his final film. Young was unhappy at this point in his life and committed suicide. He spends the entirety of his scenes in this seemingly legit drunk and frankly looks like he hates life.

 

The fights are clearly the best thing in this film, with a good fight using nunchuks, that Lee himself does appear in. The sound FX for this scene are beyond silly, however. The most worthwhile scenes in the film and the bulk of the Bruce Lee footage comes at the climax, which plays like a series of ‘Boss fights’ really. It’s not Lee 100% of the time, but he’s there for most of it, in the iconic yellow jumpsuit that QT and Uma Thurman would pay homage to in “Kill Bill vol. 1”. These scenes are a lot of fun (aside from the fight with O’Brien and Lee’s double), and Lee sure does prove to be dominant in these scenes. In a David vs. Goliath way, Jabbar vs. Lee works as a spectacle…kinda. Jabbar looks awkward as hell, but it’s certainly interesting.

 

This isn’t a boring film, but with precious actual Lee footage in either dramatic or fight scenes, and a lot of shoddy attempts at deception, this feels like a sleazy rip-off. The cast of familiar faces occasionally helps, and I appreciate the predicament everyone was in (the story is surprisingly coherent, all things considered), but this is actually really scummy and I wish it was never released. 

 

Rating: D+

Review: The Monuments Men


Set in 1944, as WWII seems to be headed in the wrong direction for Hitler and Germany, US President Roosevelt (unseen) assigns a bunch of art experts with the task of locating artwork stolen by the Nazis (for Hitler’s own private collection), and returning the pieces to their rightful owners. They have to go through basic training first, of course. Matt Damon plays Clooney’s right-hand man (an art restorer) who is given the job of trying to enlist the help of frankly disagreeable French museum curator Cate Blanchett, who helped catalogue the art for the Nazis but isn’t remotely sympathetic to the Nazi cause whatsoever. She’s a tough nut to crack, though, claiming to not know where any of the stolen art is. The rest of the team are played by Jean Dujardin (an art teacher), Bill Murray (an architect), Bob Balaban (an art critic), Hugh Bonneville (a Brit art historian), and John Goodman (a sculptor).

 

I think a lot of people unfairly had a bug up their arse with this 2014 war movie from director/star George Clooney (“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”, “Good Night and Good Luck”) and his co-writer Grant Heslov (“Good Night and Good Luck”), based on a true story detailed in the book by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter. Yes, Cate Blanchett ends up somewhat wasted, yes I found its message of importance in preserving art in the context of WWII and actual human lives being lost to be a slightly hard pill to swallow. However, if you go into this film thinking it’s going to be anything other than a slightly less madcap 2014 version of 1970’s underrated “Kelly’s Heroes”, please stop watching movies right now. Go to the opera or something, you snob. Who cares if the actors never really disappear into their roles? This is not “Good Night and Good Luck”, and it was never meant to be anything like that. It’s not like every movie Clooney and Heslov make has to be a docudrama, for cryin’ out loud. This is old-fashioned war movie entertainment, the kind of thing that I’m rather partial to myself. It’s no “Dirty Dozen” or even “Kelly’s Heroes” in terms of quality, but it’s a more than respectable throwback and I don’t think it’s trying to be much more than that. True story or not, it’s “The Wild Geese” as imagined by an art gallery owner.

 

Whatever one might think about the merits of trying to save cultural items during a time of war for future generations to learn from and appreciate, it’s a helluva story (Failed artist stealing priceless works does sound amusingly petty I must say) and I’m surprised it wasn’t turned into a film sooner. Perhaps it’s for that very reason, the fact that it’ll divide people a little. If you can get over that thought (helped by having some of the ‘real’ military men in the film being annoyed with having to deal with these art guys telling them what to do, not to mention it’s the last stages of the war), it’s an entertaining film with a great cast.

 

My main problem with the film is that while every moment with Bill Murray (who gets one truly beautiful, moving scene I won’t describe) and Bob Balaban is absolutely wonderful, those moments are few and fleeting (Ditto John Goodman, who although likeable as ever, is admittedly way overweight for his role to be remotely credible). Balaban manages to be immediately funny without even saying anything. It’s also a bit of a shame that Clooney and Damon spend a lot of the film apart, because they have a relaxed chemistry on screen that is appealing. And as I said earlier, Cate Blanchett’s character ends up playing a very minor part in the story, though she’s wonderfully defiant and snobbish.

 

If the idea of a less action-oriented modern take on old-fashioned war classics like “Kelly’s Heroes” and “The Wild Geese” sounds like your idea of fun (I suppose it’s a little like “Three Kings” as well), this certainly won’t fail to entertain you. Yes it could’ve and should’ve been better, but please don’t go into this expecting a serious-minded, arthouse docudrama. Hardly likely to top anyone’s Top 10 of 2014 list, but geez, just enjoy it for what it is: Entertainment. Top-notch, rat-a-tat music score by Alexandre Desplat (“The Ghost Writer”), who also appears on-screen as the Frenchman whom Damon befriends.

 

Rating: B-

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: Lady and the Tramp


Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy) is the pampered pooch of a well-to-do couple whom she refers to as ‘Jim Dear’ and ‘Darling’. However, after a while, her human owners decide to have a baby, and Lady feels ignored and fears she will be cast out of the household altogether. Once the baby is born things get even worse with the arrival of Aunt Sarah (voiced by Verna Felton) a woman with no fondness for dogs whatsoever. Aunt Sarah’s Siamese cats are even more horrid. On the friendlier side of things are Scotty the Scottish Terrier (voiced by Bill Thompson), and of course The Tramp (voiced by Larry Roberts). It is the latter mongrel, as free as Lady has been sheltered, whom Lady will eventually fall for (and vice versa). Peggy Lee (who voices more than one character) provides some sass as Peg, a stray dog well known to The Tramp.

 

Unless some TV station lose their minds and show “Song of the South” at some point (and that film’s only partially animated), I think this 1955 animated flick is the last of the more well-known Disney animated flicks pre-“The Rescuers” (which I’ll be seeing very soon and reviewing…sometime) for me to see. It’s probably a favourite of many, but although enjoyable I can’t say I fell in love with it. The film seems to lack some kind of conflict or truly villainous character to make it stand out (the Aunt is overplayed as a horrible woman, but hardly a ‘Disney villain’), and the only memorable song comes from Peggy Lee’s character. The rest are either forgettable, or in the case of the notorious ‘We are Siamese’…let’s just say they probably played better to 1955 audiences than 2015. It’s not “Song of the South” levels of racism (or Mickey Rooney in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), but the song is still terribly annoying, as are several others. The ethnic stereotypes on show here are really awful. Italians (ruining the most famous moment from the film. There’s even a bloody accordion playing…geez!), Asians (the bitchy, duplicitous Siamese cats), Irish (Does any real Irish person use the word ‘Begorrah!’ or just in the movies?), pretty much all the colours of the ethnic rainbow get a serving. By the way, I also call bullshit on Jock’s Scottish accent. Saying ‘bonny’ and ‘lass’ every two lines doesn’t make you Billy Frigging Connolly, son. It makes you a bloody pirate!

 

I also have to say that Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy) completely outshines The Tramp (voiced by Larry Roberts) in every single way. I don’t think Roberts sounds remotely scrappy or street-wise enough to cut the mustard as a ‘tramp’. Lady, however, you’ll fall in love with in about 2.5 seconds. So. Cute. Sure, not as cute when she’s an adult, but isn’t that always the way with puppies and kittens? It’s a bit weird that she’s supposed to be a Cocker Spaniel when for all money she looks like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (They’re easy to tell apart. The latter are gorgeous, the former are mangy-looking), only with different colours. I loved how Lady refers to her two owners as ‘Jim, Dear’ and ‘Darling’. It’s cute, ‘coz that’s what she hears them calling each other. I also liked how the film stressed that Lady is rather pampered, so that when she starts to worry about the arrival of a baby, it makes sense because she’s so used to being the centre of attention. It’s also kind of true to life, really, and it’s not just that Lady is worried that she’ll have to leave the house because a baby is around and might pose a danger to it. It’s more than that. Special mention must be made of Beaver (voiced by Stan Freberg), he’s absolutely hilarious.

 

The plot isn’t terribly original (a dog-snatcher? Really?), though “The Aristocats” and “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” owe something to this film, and if I liked those films (the latter especially) I surely can’t dislike this one. I just wish the story weren’t so thin. It’s a nice, colourful-looking film (quite vibrant, actually), but the racial stereotyping is quite aggravating, and one half of the central coupling is far more charismatic than the other.

 

Directed by the trio of Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske, all three of whom would later direct “One Hundred and One Dalmatians”. The screenplay is by Don DaGradi (Yes, the guy later played in “Saving Mr. Banks” by Bradley Whitford), Erdman Penner (“Fantasia”, “Pinocchio”), Joe Rinaldi (“Cinderella”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “Peter Pan”), and Ralph Wright (“Peter Pan”, “The Jungle Book”, “The Aristocats”), partially based on a Ward Greene short story.

 

Rating: B-

Review: Blended


Adam Sandler plays a widower with three kids, Drew Barrymore is raising two sons on her own because her ex is Joel McHale. The two go on a super-awkward blind date at Hooters and it’s hate at first sight. However, they keep bumping into one another, and eventually contrivances not worth writing about end up with them both in South Africa at a resort for ‘blended families’. Subplots include Sandler’s eldest daughter (Bella Thorne) who is treated like a boy, and Barrymore’s youngest son who is prone to exhaustive temper tantrums. Wendi McLendon-Covey plays Barrymore’s friend, Terry Crews plays a bizarro African singer, Lauren Lapkus a babysitter, Allen Covert is Tom, Shaq turns up as Sandler’s co-worker, and Kevin Nealon plays an annoying resort guest.

 

After making his best film to date “Funny People” in 2009, Adam Sandler has seemingly defiantly eschewed any critical credibility by going back to his stock and trade of juvenile comedies of middling to (predominantly) abysmal results. Basically, he has lazily and stubbornly pissed his career away, because with each increasingly bad comedy, he loses more and more of his audience. He’s rich, so he gives no fucks what you or I think. Now he’s tried to recapture that magic by reuniting with Drew Barrymore one more time. Hey, it worked the first two times, especially the underrated “50 First Dates”. And y’know what? It mostly works with this surprisingly funny 2014 directed by Sandler crony Frank Coraci (“The Wedding Singer”, “The Waterboy”, “Click”). It’s by far his best film since “Funny People”, though it’s not hard to beat “Jack & Jill”, “That’s My Boy”, or “Just Go With It”. The annoying thing is he followed this one up with “The Cobbler”, a film so poorly received in the States that it went direct-to-DVD here in Australia, though apparently that one’s more of an ambitious failure than a tired comedy. I guess the damage had already been done by that point. Still, this one’s actually worth seeing, even if you’re not one of the few remaining Sandler faithful.

 

The first half is particularly good, I must say. I liked Sandler knowing all the waitresses names at Hooters, that was funny. It also establishes some sympathy early on for both Sandler and Barrymore. Sandler is actually genuinely likeable here for the first time since “Bedtime Stories”. Barrymore, as was the case in “The Wedding Singer” (where she and Jon Lovitz were the best things) is entirely huggable. She just seems so damn nice, doesn’t she? Charisma, folks. It can’t be taught. You also had a surprisingly loose and funny Shaq, and Joel McHale makes for the perfect sarcastic, insincere jerk. As well he should (Just sayin’, Joel…) Meanwhile, the running gag of Barrymore carrying her seemingly comatose son, post-baseball meltdown up the stairs when he’s way too big, surprisingly holds up OK the second and third times (whilst in South Africa) in addition to being hilarious the first time. Honestly, the opening 45 minutes is the funniest opener to a Sandler film ever, and the only reason why I’m not listing more of the gags is because I don’t want to spoil the fun for you.

 

Once we get to South Africa (which according to the filmmakers only has two white people), the film becomes a little too safe and sappy, but even then there’s still fun to be had. For instance, the requisite Allen Covert cameo (playing a familiar character) is amusing, and although it will go over the heads of Americans, the cameo by fearsome South African fast bowler Dale Steyn was pretty funny too. Seemingly nice off the pitch, Steyn’s a scary fucker with the ball. I’m not kidding, the guy looks like a real hard arse with the ball in hand. Meanwhile, if you don’t find the idea of a band of monkeys playing ‘Careless Whisper’ (yes, a band of actual monkeys) hysterically funny, you and I simply cannot hang, OK?

 

Look, not everything works. Terry Crews was brilliant on “Lip Sync Battle”, but his ‘African chorus’ (Or was he a South African Tom Jones?) is more strange than funny. The fact that Barrymore’s kids looked alarmingly like Sandler’s kids in the “Grown Ups” films was odd too. However, the real stinker was the running gag about Sandler’s eldest daughter. Actress Bella Thorne is a very pretty girl who doesn’t look remotely like a man, and thus the jokes make zero sense whatsoever, in addition to leading to the biggest movie cliché of all-time, the makeover scene! The makeover isn’t necessary, because anyone who thinks she has a boy’s haircut is a fucking moron. I just didn’t get that at all. It’s a lame subplot anyway, but whoever cast Thorne in the role should be given the “Old Yeller” treatment…or at least a pair of glasses.

 

Uneven, but this Adam Sandler comedy hits way more often than it misses, especially in the first half. Sandler and Barrymore prove a winning combination yet again. The screenplay is by Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera (both fairly new to cinema), it sometimes plays like “Just Go With It”…done right.

 

Rating: B-

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review: Come Back, Little Sheba


Shirley Booth stars as a middle-aged housewife with an inability to shut the hell up, even boring the piss out of the mailman whenever she gets the chance. Her sour but patient husband (Burt Lancaster) is a man struggling valiantly with alcoholism. Terry Moore plays the perky young boarder, a college art student set to marry one young man, but seemingly flirting with another (Richard Jaeckel, looking about 19!). She seems to arouse things in the older couple (and not necessarily the thing you’re thinking of), which will only lead to trouble. Philip Ober appears briefly as an AA colleague of Lancaster’s.

 

One of those films that just hasn’t held up over the years, this 1952 drama from director Daniel Mann (“Our Man Flint”, “Willard”, “The Revengers”) is stagy and ten minutes with Oscar and Tony-winning Shirley Booth (in her film debut after essaying the role on stage) and I honestly didn’t blame Burt Lancaster for taking to the drink. This woman seriously never shuts the hell up, and while I understand she’s clearly very lonely, it’s the kind of nauseatingly chatty, whiny performance that has ‘gimme an Oscar!’ written all over it. The sheer irritation of this lead character and performance helped distance me from the material, though Shelley Winters might’ve been able to make the role sympathetic or at least bearable. Shirley Booth fans will want to burn me at the stake, as they’ll champion her go-for-broke work here. I needed a Panadol. Oscar nominee Terry Moore is a little too ‘perky’ in her first scene, but ultimately calms the hell down, and improves the longer the film goes on. She sure is purdy, too I must say, if perhaps lacking that intangible ‘star quality’ to really break out. I could see myself liking her an awful lot in something else, but I found her occasionally annoying in this.

 

The biggest problem with the film isn’t that it’s stagy or irritating, it’s that it’s superficial. The film really needed to be a bit longer, I think, to fully deal with the heavy situations it sets up. The way things play out in the film, everything starts out so damn slowly and then gets wrapped up all too quickly at the end as a result. I just didn’t buy it, it comes off melodramatic, superficial, and silly. Perhaps that’s because it spends so much damn time with the insufferable Booth character (I’m sure I was meant to sympathise with her, but it didn’t happen), when the real story is with Burt Lancaster’s sad, inwardly struggling character. Yes, there’s been plenty of films before and since about alcoholism, but it’s a much more interesting subject than a needy, nagging, lonely wife who won’t stop her yammerin’ already.

 

The reason why the film is getting the rating I’m giving it is almost exclusively due to Burt Lancaster’s rock-solid performance. Personally, I think he’s just a tad too young (at 39 years of age, 15 years younger than co-star Booth!) for his clearly aging role, but that actually gives him the opportunity to really earn the part by acting, instead of being ‘Burt Lancaster, screen icon!’. It’s not one of Lancaster’s showier roles, but it might be one of his best-ever, certainly it’s one of the more vulnerable and subtle performances he ever gave. The fact that he’s so quiet when everyone else in the film is so incessantly chatty, probably sees me more drawn to him. He’s terrific, the film is just so-so. The other worthwhile aspect to the film is the excellent B&W cinematography by James Wong Howe (“Sweet Smell of Success”, “Hud”), which is very shadowy and contains interesting shots of faces obscured artfully, without calling too much attention and taking you out of the drama.

 

Overall, I just don’t think this one quite holds up, let alone measures up. Yes, it’s interestingly mature for 1952, but mostly it’s dreary, stagy, and when Booth’s around, seriously annoying. Based on a William Inge (“Bus Stop”) play, the screenplay is by Ketti Frings (“The Company She Keeps”, “Hold Back the Dawn”).

 

Rating: C+

Monday, October 26, 2015

Review: Happy Birthday, Wanda June


Rod Steiger is a pompous, chauvinistic adventurer who returns home after being lost in the jungle for several years, and presumed dead by wife Susannah York. Hoping to once again claim masculine superiority over the household he previously abandoned, he finds York has become liberated and is currently dating a dopey, peacenik liberal doctor (George Grizzard), to his horror. Steven Paul plays Steiger and York’s opinionated son, who is just as mortified with the hippie doctor as Steiger is. Don Murray is another interested suitor, who like Steiger is a macho idiot (and a vacuum salesman to boot), but much more of the ‘idiot’ than the ‘macho’, though he certainly tries. William Hickey turns up as Steiger’s acid-brained test pilot buddy, who has to explain to his own wife where he’s been all these years.

 

More accessible than the film version of “Slaughterhouse-Five”, but also stagey and far less interesting, this awkward 1971 comedy is loud, shouty, pretentious, and uneven. Directed by the eclectic Mark Robson (“The Harder They Fall”, “Inn of the Sixth Happiness”, “The Seventh Victim”, “Valley of the Dolls”) and adapted by Kurt Vonnegut himself from his play, it’s got terrific work by a scene-stealing Don Murray (as a man too stupid to be a macho man), and fine moments for Rod Steiger and William Hickey, but has dated considerably and I can’t say I found its themes terribly interesting or relevant. I would’ve foregone the irritating characters played by Susannah York and Steven Paul (who would later become the world record ‘youngest producer’ and the writer/producer behind the infamously bad “Baby Geniuses”), and just focussed on Steiger, Murray, and the fascinatingly idiosyncratic Hickey (Imagine Michael Crawford’s hilariously accident-prone Frank Spencer recast as a New York acid-tripper). Paul in particular, is one of the most irritating child actors I’ve come across, whilst York has been much better elsewhere.

 

Say what you will about “Slaughterhouse-Five”, but at least it was one-of-a-kind, this is very much a 70s-era adapted stage play comedy, and not one of the better ones. Some will see a lot of Vonnegut in some of the narrative tricks and so on, I just found that stuff typically stagey, not typically Vonnegut, and all they do is attempt (and fail) to mask what is otherwise a very typical and very dated romantic comedy about the battle for a woman’s affections by a lout and two dopes. The one truly Vonnegut touch is all the stuff with the Nazis up in heaven, and that’s the film’s weakest material. It plays like a deleted scene from “Slaughterhouse-Five” (admittedly that film adaptation was made after this film) and certainly would’ve played better there. Hickey does have one hilarious bit when Murray asks him what it’s like to be a test pilot. Let’s just say that this is one guy you hope never pilots a plane with actual people in it.

 

The film gets better and less quirky the longer it goes on, but I really do think this is one of those films that was once topical and now reads rather ho-hum. It’s a film that seems just as disapproving of fuddy-duddy peacenik intellectuals as it is of overly macho chauvinists, but was there any other point to it than that? Someone out there probably loves this film, I found it watchable and occasionally funny, but pretentious, stagey and ultimately parts are much better than the whole. Probably a must-see for Steiger fans, though, it’s a real showcase for his blowhard theatrics.

 

Rating: C+

Review: Pret-a-Porter (Ready to Wear)


A (pseudo) fly-on-the-wall look at the goings on at an annual international fashion show in Paris. Someone gets murdered, people act bitchy, and lots of dog shit gets stepped in. The most prominent characters are ditzy Southern-accented reporter Kim Basinger, Sophia Loren as the wife of the murdered fashion bigwig (Jean-Pierre Cassel), Marcello Mastroianni as Loren’s pickpocket first hubby skulking about, Anouk Aimee is a designer with Rupert Everett improbable as her son. Other major characters include Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins as bickering American reporters who are forced to share a hotel room together, and Stephen Rea as an in-demand Irish fashion photographer who delights in humiliating a trio of friendly rival fashion mag editors (played by Sally Kellerman, Linda Hunt, and Tracey Ullman). Lauren Bacall plays a respected fashionista, Forest Whitaker is a gay designer, Lili Taylor is a reporter for the NY Times, Richard E. Grant plays Whitaker’s bitchy snob rival designer, and Danny Aiello and Teri Garr play a long-time couple, with Aiello also a buyer. And a cross-dresser. Yep. Various models and celebrities appear as themselves throughout in cameos. Lyle Lovett’s here too, pretending he’s actually an actor in this film (OK, so he plays a boot maker from Texas).

 

Director Robert Altman (“Nashville”, “*M*A*S*H*”, “Popeye”, “Short Cuts”) and co-writer Barbara Shulgasser (a former reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times) literally forget about the plot in this useless, pointless, plotless 1994 flop that even most Altman fans rejected. Altman could’ve made 5 better films with several of these actors, instead he has made a “Nashville” (or “Short Cuts”) wannabe as he tries to cram all of the stars in. It’s pretentious, unnecessary, and superficial, a lot like the fashion industry I guess.

 

It’s a film about nothing, Altman might as well have done a fly-on-the-wall documentary, instead of making a contrived fictional film in documentary style (and featuring actual Fashion Week footage, hence the celeb/model cameos throughout). He’s not interested in any of the characters or their stories, and neither was I. Nothing gets resolved, and the nude runway finale, whilst aesthetically pleasing is the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a film about fashion, so what’s the fucking point of naked chicks walking down a runway, genius? Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins could’ve potentially been a decent romantic comedy coupling (on paper at least), but they have to compete with all the other characters here, and so they don’t even have a chance. Then again, Roberts is forced and annoying, and was it meant to be funny that she spends most of the film wearing a sloppy, stained t-shirt with ‘World’s Greatest Mom’ written on it? Hell, if she was even meant to be a mother, either we weren’t told or I was in a coma by that point. Meanwhile, at first Kim Basinger is somewhat amusing as a bimbo reporter, but the caricature gets old very, very quickly. Richard E. Grant is usually good value, but he’s playing an irritating cliché here, and Forest Whitaker just doesn’t seem comfortable cast as a gay fashion designer (And I doubt the original choice, Robert De Niro would’ve been any less awkward). Also, did anyone else watching this in the last ten years or so, find it retroactively creepy that the film is set in the fashion industry and involves murder? Obviously that isn’t the film’s fault, but it does play creepily today, when you think of what happened to Gianni Versace. The recurring ‘gag’ of everyone stepping in dog shit throughout the film is just plain juvenile, as is all the gags about how funny them thar Frenchies talk, har-har. Real mature, Mr. Altman.

 

I get the feeling Altman was aiming for a blend of French farce with his own brand of multi-character, overlapping dialogue filmmaking, but he has forgotten how to do it right. It might want to be “Nashville” for the fashion industry, but it’s not even close. There’s practically nothing to it. Oh yes, someone is murdered, but that’s about all. Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren don’t even do anything until around 90 minutes have passed! The wastage of Loren (who spends most of her scenes walking around being photographed by paparazzi), Lauren Bacall, and Lili Taylor is especially disgraceful. Truth be told I’ve never liked the overlapping dialogue gimmick in Altman’s films. There’s a reason why most filmmakers don’t do it: It’s noisy and counter-productive to making sense of what is being said. But then, I didn’t give a flying monkey butt fuck about any of this. Sorry, but it’s the truth. Also truthful? Lyle Lovett belongs nowhere near this film and we all know why he’s here. Talk about sticking out like sore thumb.

 

A terrible, terrible film that is only saved from a bottom-of-the-barrel rating through the hilarious work by Stephen Rea and a nice job by veteran character actress Linda Hunt. Julia Roberts and Richard E. Grant, bring up the rear, whilst everyone else fights for screen time. When Danny Aiello in drag (!) fails to get a laugh (because Altman botches the scene completely), you’re really in trouble. For undemanding fashionistas only, though Sally Kellerman fans might like to know that she shows more skin in this than in “*M*A*S*H”.

 

Rating: D-

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Review: The Killing of Angel Street


Liz Alexander returns to her father Alexander Archdale’s urban abode (mostly filmed in the suburban area of Balmain in Sydney) on the title street to find the old man and his leftie associates (the late Arkie Whiteley among them) are involved in protests against a current plan by a top developer to get rid of homes on Angel Street to make way for flash new high-rise apartments. They really, really want the residents out and aren’t above using strong-arm tactics, as thugs like Tony Martin (Yes, Father Bob from “E Street”) are always lurking about intimidatingly. However, when the old man dies under fishy circumstances, Alexander suspects that things have escalated to new, criminal heights. Along with a commie local union guy (John Hargreaves), she starts to do some digging and uncovers something very sinister indeed, something that appears to involve both government and police. “Prisoner” co-star David Waters appears as a TV host, and David Downer is Alexander’s brother.

 

Although the title suggests something in the vicinity of a killer-thriller, this 1981 Australian film from director Donald Crombie (“Caddie”, “The Irishman”) is actually a crime-drama ripped from the headlines. Loosely based on the same true incident as the more well-known “Heatwave”, this is actually a film about dodgy developers, and police and government conspiracy/corruption (The real story was set in King’s Cross, closer to the city than Balmain). It’s all rather familiar stuff and hardly unique to Australia. It’s also really stereotyped and overdone, right down to John Hargreaves’ commie/anti-nuke posters in his character’s office. The film really hasn’t aged too well. I guess I’m supposed to be outraged by what went on, but because none of this is new or shocking, I just didn’t care. It plays silly today when 1997’s “The Castle” basically sent some of this sort of subject matter up, and I also don’t think it was terribly shocking or original for its era, either.

 

It’s all a bit blah, despite good work by Liz Alexander (a familiar face from loads of TV work in particular) and Alexander Archdale. In fact, all of the acting in this is pretty good right down the line. Apparently Julie Christie, of all people was offered the Alexander part, which I don’t think would’ve worked nearly as well. Alexander more than gets the job done, there’s no need to import a ‘star’, and she’s every bit as good as more lauded Aussie actresses like Sigrid Thornton and Wendy Hughes, too. The best thing about the film is the surprisingly good score by the usually cheapjack Brian May (“Snapshot”, “Gallipoli”, “Turkey Shoot”), who goes a more traditional route than his normal cheap-sounding synth stuff. Although it has its basis in truth, the film is based on a fictionalised story by actor Michael Craig (the star of TV’s “G.P.”), with the screenplay by Craig, Evan Jones (“Wake in Fright”, “Escape to Victory”), and Cecil Holmes (who mostly comes from a documentary and short film background). Not a shining example of Aussie cinematic storytelling, I’m afraid.

 

Rating: C

Review: Cinderella (1950)


The story of poor young Cinderella (voiced by Ilene Woods), treated as a servant by her nasty stepmother (voiced by Eleanor Audley), and dismissed by her thoroughly rotten, ugly stepsisters. Her only friends are a group of mice, who are forever being menaced by a cat named Lucifer (or as I call him, Grumpy Cheshire Cat). The King (hoping to find a wife for his charming son) is throwing a ball and every available young woman is invited to attend, and Cinderella is most excited to go. However, her stepmother and stepsisters do all they can to prevent this from happening. But with help from the mice and one fairy godmother (voiced by Verna Felton) later, and Cinderella looks set to attend the ball. You know the rest, folks.

 

Lovely 1950 Disney animated movie from directors Clyde Geronimi (“Peter Pan”, “Lady and the Tramp”), Wilfred Jackson (“Fantasia”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “Peter Pan”) & Hamilton Luske (“Pinocchio”, “Fantasia”, “Peter Pan”), that is a bit too slight to be considered one of the great Disney efforts like “Pinocchio”, “Peter Pan”, or “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. The best thing here is the animation, the interiors are particularly unforgettable, though I’m not sure Cinderella looks and sounds quite young enough. She seems about 27-35, when I think she’s meant to be somewhere between 16-21, and it’s pretty noticeable. The ugly stepsisters, meanwhile I prefer to call the ’42 year-old stepsisters’ because they’re not ugly, just middle-aged. Watch the film and tell me I’m wrong.

 

It’s a nice film, but it’s such a shame that our young lovers only meet at the 50 minute mark of a 70 odd minute film that really doesn’t have a whole lot of story, really for it to take so damn long to really kick in. The first section of the film, although cute, is full of extraneous animal characters, and also rather choppy. Still, I found it an easy watch, and it’s all very charming.

 

There’s a really good use of shadow throughout, and if the Stepmother’s look wasn’t based on Bette Davis, I’d be shocked. She’s a dead-ringer for her. Although the title song is pretty wretched, ‘Bippity Boppity Boo’ (or ‘Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo’ as it is sometimes spelled) is an infectious song, and the other songs are fine too. The ugly stepsisters’ comically bad singing is particularly priceless. Absolutely not a film for people who hate “Alvin and the Chipmunks” or other squeaky-voiced animated animal characters, this one’s full of them.

 

Terrifically designed, very sweet, but a bit underdone on plot. However, I’m a guy, so perhaps I’m not the chief audience for this. It’s not really a ‘guy’ film. The screenplay is by Kenneth Anderson (“Pinocchio”, “The Jungle Book”), Homer Brightman (“The Three Caballeros”, “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad”), Winston Hibler (“Peter Pan”), William Peet, Erdman Penner (“Fantasia”, “Pinocchio”), Harry Reeves (“The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad”), Joe Rinaldi (“Lady and the Tramp”, “Peter Pan”), and Ted Sears (“Pinocchio”, “Alice in Wonderland”).

 

Rating: B-