Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Molly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald is a talented actress with more of a talent for crying than screaming. She was at the height of her fame and acting career when she starred in the 1980s classic teen romantic comedies "The Breakfast Club", "Pretty in Pink", and "Sixteen Candles". She struggled to make a successful transition into adult roles, but she eventually managed to get her acting feet back under her and currently stars in the ensemble series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager".

Along the way, she made several thrillers and a couple of horror films in which she was the best thing they had going for them. She starred in the Australian slasher flick "Cut"; the black comedy "Office Killer", the thrillers "Teaching Miss Tingle", "Malicious", and "Requiem for a Murder"; and the first television mini-series based on Stephen King's "The Stand".

Ringwald's only announced current project is "The Secret Life of the American Teenager", but hopefully she will return to horror films and thrillers soon, because she was the only decent thing about several of the ones she appeared in.

'Cut' doesn't make the grade

Cut (2000)
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Frank Roberts, and Kylie Minogue
Director: Kimble Rendall
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Scream Queen and TV actress Venassa Turnbull (Ringwald) returns to finish a slasher flick that saw production stop after one of the actors went nuts and murdered the director and tried to kill her. As the new crew of film-students (including one played by pop star Kylie Minogue) looking to make a name for themselves start production in an isolated area on the outskirts of one of Australia's big cities, someone dressed in the costume of the film's burn-scarred mad killer starts butchering them, one by one.

If most of that summary sounds familiar to you, then that's because there's nothing new that this film brings to the table--other than having Ringwald in a rather amusing role as an actress whose demands and ego outstrips her starpower. What's worse, the film, probably in an effort to offer what the script writer felt was deep and insightful commentary, presents us with the rather foolish notion that the film and all its prints are cursed--whenever they're screened, the shears-wielding killer manifests himself in the real world, brought forth by all the "creative energy" put into making the film. Why are the prints cursed? Who knows? The film doesn't bother to provide an explanation that seems credible. Maybe the filmmakers were trying to be satirical--Ringwald's character and some of what the film crew do get up to some funny stuff--but whatever their intent, it's obscured by a script that's bad in just about every way.

While refreshingly light on "stupid character syndrome," and filled with a cast of attractive and talented Australian actors and actresses, not to mention plenty of gore and the always enjoyable Ringwald, the script is both so tired AND ludicrous that "Cut" is a must-miss unless you're a hardest of hardcore slasher flick fans.

(I saw a reference somewhere that this film was planned as the first of a trilogy ala "Scream." Since it's been ten years since "Cut" was released, it's safe to assume that it didn't make a enough money to warrant a follow-up. That's a shame, because there are far worse movies that have spawned sequels.)

Friday, November 26, 2010






'Dream Stalker' is not worth losing sleep over

Dream Stalker (1998)
Starring: Valerie Williams (aka Diane Cardea), Mark Dias, John Tyler, and Pamela Hong
Director: Alan Smithee
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

As Brittany (Williams) tries to move on following the accidental death of her violent and domineering boyfriend (Dias), he reaches out from beyond the veil of death to make sure that if he can't live with her than no one will.

"Dream Stalker" deals with the ultimate possessive boyfriend... one whose domineering ways isn't even stopped by death. It is fairly good when compared to other ultra-low budget horror flicks shot on video. The acting is slightly better than average, the camera work is mostly okay, and what effects and make-up it features aren't bad either. The pacing is mostly pretty good, and, although the script could have done with another draft or two to make the dialogue a little better, there aren't too many characters behaving stupidly or illogically due to plot dictates.

That said, the film is marred by some of the worst sound work I've ever witnessed. In several scenes, the dialogue is drowned out almost completely by background noise, as if the crew was using microphones on their video cameras instead of mikes on the actors or booms. It's certainly obvious that the filmmakers never heard of the concept of tracking/rerecording dialogue in post-production.

Even with that annoying techincal flaw, "Dream Stalker" might have earned Four or Five Stars if the last quarter of so of the story hadn't started to fall apart when it should have been building to its climax; it was almost as if the writer or director traded in story for wild hacking and slashing.

Trivia: Alan Smithee is the name a director puts on a film when he wants to disavow himself from it. Someone didn't like the way "Dream Stalker" turned out so he or she is probably thrilled the film will probably never make the transition to DVD!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

'The Reptile' is Hammer at its most gothic

The Reptile (1966)
Starring: David Baron, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, and Michael Ripper
Director: John Gilling
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A retired military officer and his wife (Baron and Daniel) inherit a cottage in a small Cornish village after his brother dies under mysterious circumstances. When he moves there with his wife (Daniel), he discovers that there has been a rash of deaths and that all of them can be attributed to a rare poisonous animal found only in far-away India. The obvious perpetrator behind these dastardly deeds is the reclusive doctor of theology (Williams) who has made a career out of studying obscure religions in the Far East and who keeps his daughter a virtual prisoner in their manor house. But throw in a mysterious swarthy fellow, the daughter’s strangely hypnotic effect on her father when she plays the sitar, and things are a little less clear. Will the newly arrived couple’s only ally in the area (Ripper) help them stop the spreading evil before it consumes them all?

“The Reptile” is the most strongly gothic-in-genre of all the Hammer horror flicks. There’s the ogre-like father and the oppressed daughter; there’s the mysterious Outsiders who are bringing a corrupting influence to wholesome British society, and there are curses and victims and victimizers who may not be what they seem. It’s a well-mounted film that contains several moments of genuine chills.

“The Reptile” would have gotten an 8-Star rating if not for the inexplicable over-acting displayed by all the principles in the first half of the movie; inexplicable because the leads in the film director John Gilling helmed immediately prior to this one (“Plague of the Zombies", which even used many of the same sets) was blessed with beautifully restrained performances that made the film even creepier and more believable. It’s even odder because Michael Ripper gives the same type of understated performance he did in “Plague.”)

As the film evolves, the over-blown performances start to fit with the tenor of the going-ons, but they seem so out of place early in the film that it’s an irritant. The movie’s resolution is also a bit weak, with the title creature going down without much of a fight. The combination of the overacting in the first reel and the shaky climax were enough to knock off a Star. Still, it’s an entertaining film if you enjoy Hammer-style movies or gothic tales.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

I am thankful for the roof over my head, and for the fact that I have enough money to keep it there. I am thankful that I have good friends to spend this day with. I am thankful that I live in the United States where I have the luxury and freedom to watch and review whatever the heck I want in my various blogs, not to mention the freedom to write whatever I want on other subjects. I am thankful for all the men and women in law enforcement and the armed services who are protecting my rights and ability to be frivolous.

And I am thankful for all of you reading this and to those of you who have or will be picking up 150 Movies You Should [Die Before You] See. Writers may write, but we also hope to be read.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

I hope you all are having a wonderful day, enjoying the time with family and friends and considering how fortunate we are. Even when things are at their worst for us here in the United States, we are better off than many, many people around the world.

Here's a bit of fun by way of a Thanksgiving pageant with Wednesday Addams in the role of Pocahontas (from "Addams Family Values"):

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'The Big Empty' is a little bit of weirdness

The Big Empty (2005)
Starring: Selma Blair, Elias Koteas, Richard Kind, Gabriel Mann, and Hugh Laurie
Director: J. Lisa Chang
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When its discovered that Alice (Blair) has a vagina that serves as the gateway to a vast, frozen wasteland, the doctor who makes the discovery (Koteas) takes her on the lecture and talk show circuits, using her as his own ticket to fame and fortune. But an encounter with a caring young man (Mann) may finally alleviate the painful, cold aching inside her.

I'm not sure what to make of this 21-minute film. My first thought was that maybe it was the story of the pain a woman unable to have children might feel, but toward the end I thought it might be about the emptiness and heartache one feels living without love in one's life. Perhaps the message in this film is a Woman Thing, because I'm left scratching my head.

Despite my uncertainty of what the filmmakers are trying to say, I am impressed with the creativity (and touch of craziness) in the idea of this film, as well in its execution. The oddness of the film isn't restricted to its subject matter, but also to its costume and production design which is a mixture of modern-day and 1950sh sort of look that gives it a timeless, dreamlike quality. It's also impressive that, despite the sad tone that runs through the piece, the filmmakers bring on a high number of laughs as it unfolds, with the cameo appearance by Hugh "Dr. House" Laurie being funny just because of who he is. The concluding special effects shot is also jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

All in all, this is a film that's a fitting work product for all the movie heavy-weights involved, ranging from the well-known actors to executive producers George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh.

You can watch "The Big Empty" in its entirety via this very post. Just click on the arrow below. I hope you enjoy the film, and I hope you'll share your opinion of it.

(This is actually the first of two films titled "The Big Empty" that I'll be reviewing before November has run its course.)

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Thanksgiving Birds

Getting a turkey for the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner wasn't always as easy as Marilyn Monroe makes it look.

The early settlers in the United States, the Pilgrims, had to struggle for food and survival. If left to their own devices, they might well have starved to death.

Fortunately, the Wampanoag Indian tribe came to the aid of the Pilgrims. In 1621, the two communities shared a Thanksgiving feast that started a tradition that continues nearly 400 years later.

On the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather with friends and families to give thanks for the bountiful blessings in our lives and to admire great-looking birds.

I hope all my American readers have a pleasant and safe Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family tomorrow. The hope of a safe day goes double for the men and women in the military and law enforcement who put themselves on the line to protect the rest of us.

Monday, November 22, 2010

'Devil Hunter Yohko' is weakened by too much sexual content

Devil Hunter Yohko, Episode One (1991)
Director: Katsuhisa Yamada
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

In "Devil Hunter Yohko," a typical (well, typical for late 80s/early 90s Japanese cartoons) 16-year-old girl discovers that her birthright and duty is to assume the role of "devil hunter" and turn back an impending demonic invasion of Earth.

"Devil Hunter Yohko" is an early 1990s direct-to-video animated series from Japan. There are some glimmers of cool ideas in the 45-minute first episode, but they are overwhelmed by a crass, hypersexual attitude that runs through the story. The episode starts with Yohko waking up from a prophetic wet dream, and it continues through her friends being corrupted by "lust demons" who want to make sure she loses her virginity before she awakens to her devil hunter powers--because they only manifest if the girl is pure in mind and body. That stuff is sort of tasteless and leads to a softcore cartoon porn scene between a couple of teenaged characters--one of them possessed by a demon--but the show is very crass and tasteless in its portrayal of Yohko's mother who seems to want to see her daughter sleep with any available male... doesn't care who, so long as Yohko is spreading her legs.

Although I imagine that this series would be highly placed on any Top Ten Anime Series list compiled by Gary Glitter or Roman Polanski.

I am not a prude, but the sexual references and themes in the first episode of "Devil Hunter Yohko" were just too tasteless for me. I understand the series gets better, so I may give the next installment a try.

Numa-Numa covered by Alina

With a video that's almost as incoherent as the song itself, here's a cover of "Numa-Numa" titled "When You Leave." The performer is Alina Smith--who is mostly uncovered as she covers the song--and it was released in July of 2009.

I'm not sure what makes more sense. Some of the parody lyrics I've posted in the past, or this Alina song.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

'The Mystery Train' deserves attention

The Mystery Train (1931)
Starring: Marceline Day, Hedda Hopper, Nick Stuart, Al Cooke, Carol Tevis, and Bryant Washburn
Director: Phil Whitman
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Sociopathic socialite Marion Radcliffe (Hopper) helps Joan (Day), a beautiful convicted criminal, escape from custody and makes her part of an elaborate scheme to force her to marry millionaire bachelor Ronald Stanthorpe (Stuart). Marion hopes to gain control of Ronald's fortune to replace her own lost fortune, but her plans start to unravel when Joan and Ronald truly fall in love, and it turns out that Joan was actually framed for her supposed crime and the authorities are not seeking her to put in her prison but to exonerate her.

"The Mystery Train" is an intrigue- and action-packed tale that packs more romance, comedy, and suspense into its 62-minute running time than many movies with twice the length manage to offer. The script is tight and lean, with not a scrap of padding in evidence as its characters move through the effectively paced and well-filmed scenes and story twists involving a train wreck, blackmail, cat-and-mouse with police detectives, stolen jewels... all of it leading to a suspenseful climax on a runaway, decoupled passenger train car that is carrying both heroes and villains to a certain doom.

Hedda Hopper does a nice job playing the vicious, scheming Radcliffe and Marceline Day is perfect as the innocent girl she is trying to use as her way back to unlimited wealth. Nick Stuart is a notch above the usual male leads in films like this, coming across as likable and charming rather than annoying or bland as is typical. The comic relief has even held up better to the passage of time than that in most B-movies of this vintage, with Al Cooke and Carol Tevis playing a pair of train-riding, barely newlyweds whose marriage is already on the rocks.

But this film isn't as good as it is just because because of the talented cast being served by a well-written script. Unlike many other films from this period set on trains, some effort was actually made by the director and effects people to make it seem like the actors are actually onboard a train. Using sound and motion, and even some unsteady steps as actors move through hallways, laudable and successful attempts to create the illusion of being on a moving train are made.

All in all, "The Mystery Train" is one of the many movies from the early days of talkies that doesn't deserve the obscurity it fell into. I recommend it to lovers of classic detective stories and dramas.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Hazel Court

British actress Hazel Court brought beauty, grace, and even a little menace when she starred in a string of horror and suspense movies between the years of 1952 and 1964, after which she retired from acting to focus  on her family and a career as a sculpture. Before appearing in "Ghost Ship" (1952), she had been on  the path to be a more traditional leading lady-type actress, but horror fans are forever grateful for the turn her career took at that point.

Among the two dozen or so horror pictures she appeared in are superb films like "The Curse of Frankenstein" and "Masque of the Red Death" and "classics" like "Devil Girl from Mars."

Hazel Court passed away in 2008 at the age of 72.

Friday, November 19, 2010

'The Maltese Falcon' is a mystery classic

The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Gladys George, and Elisha Cook Jr.
Director: John Huston
Rating: Ten of Ten Starts

When private detective Sam Spade (Bogart) tries to solve the mystery surrounding the murder of his partner, he finds himself drawn into a struggle between eccentric treasure hunters (Greenstreet and Lorre) and a beautiful con artist who may or may not also be a coldhearted killer (Astor). At stake is the Maltese Falcon, a treasure of almost unimaginable value.

"The Maltese Falcon" is one of the few movies that truly deserves the label "classic." It's a perfectly paced detective story, with just the right mix of suspense and humor to bring out the maximum effectiveness of both elements as they play off each other.

The characters are quirky and unpredictable to the point where the final outcome of the story remains in question until the final few minutes of the film, and each actor is perfectly cast in their role. Even better, every line of dialogue is perfectly crafted and delivered with spot-on timing.

In fact, everything in this film is about as perfect as a film could possibly be. If you're a fan of the hardboiled detective genre or mysteries in general and you haven't yet seen this masterpiece, you owe it to yourself to change that.

Humphrey Bogart as the deeply flawed hero Sam Spade is particularly excellent in the part, as a man with questionable moral values yet a firm personal code of honor who finds a woman (Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy) who at first seems capable of bringing out the best in him, but who ultimately may end up bringing out the absolute worst in him. While Spade is constantly fighting verbally and physically with the Lorre, Cook and Greenstreet's villains, it is Brigid who is Spade's main foil and she turns out to be one of the screen's greatest femme fatales, because Astor brings a vulnerability to a character who may be the hardest of any of the hard cases that populate this story that goes a long way to keeping the mysteries swirling through the plot open questions until the very end. As amusing and dramatic as Lorre and Greenstreet's performances are, it is Astor who is the true driver of the story, providing a great portrayal of a character that is almost as important as Bogart's Sam Spade when it comes to the success of this film.

There are only a handful of movies that I've watched more than once. "The Maltese Falcon" is one of those. Check it out, and I'm sure you'll see why.

Trivia: "The Maltese Falcon" was the third adaptation of the Hammett novel by the same title. This goes to show that not all remakes are bad. Some are even improvements on the original film. (Although, by all accounts, the 1931 and 1936 versions are pretty good, too, with the 19365 version being a spoof. I haven't seen either of those older movies yet, but both other versions are included in the DVD edition I've linked to above while the Blue-Ray edition only includes the 1936 comedy version, "Satan Met a Lady".)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Satan strikes at Trinidad school?

There's a movie in this... the question is whether it's "The Exorcist V: The Trinidad Ritual", "Satan's School for Girls 2: Caribbean Demon Queen", or "All the Little Girls", a gritty, modern-day version of the Salem Witch Trials.

The Trinidad Guardian: Panic after ‘Devil attack’ at school

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Whichever it is, maybe we can get Oprah to fund the picture in exchange for an executive producer credit?

Monday, November 15, 2010

''Watching the Detectives' not up to legacy

Watching the Detectives (2007)
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Lucy Liu, Michael Panes, and Jason Sudeikis
Director: Paul Soder
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Neil (Murphy), a self-professed film geek and owner of a small video store, has his life turned upside-down when he falls in love with a thrill-seeking woman who may actually be certifiable insane (Liu).

While I was watching "Watching the Detectives", my mind kept flashing back to "Bringing Up Baby", a movie where a decent guy finds his life demolished by a crazed prankster but who finds himself in love with the girl and the excitement she brings to his days. The same dynamic is in effect here, but transplanted to modern-day and set a little bit further down the social latter.

Unfortunately, whenever "Bringing Up Baby" came to mind, this movie was found lacking. Now, it may not be entirely fair to compare anything to one of the greatest romantic comedies ever created, but almost everything that made that movie so great is what's missing in "Watching the Detectives".

"Bringing Up Baby" had a rapid-fire, never-stop-for-breath pace which made the craziness seem even crazier and even the calm moments seem like the characters were running a mile a minute. It was lean with not a second on the screen that was wasted. This movie is nowhere near as swift or trim, and it seems to be jogging from joke to joke rather than sprinting. The pacing of the film is far to languid for the kind of movie it wants to be, which is a modern screwball romantic comedy.

Another bigger problem with the film is that Lucy Liu is no Katherine Hepburn. While Liu is a fun and sexy actress who I've enjoyed even in parts that I felt were badly written (such has her role as the love interest in "Lucky Number Slevin"), she just doesn't have the charisma needed to pull off the sort of character she portrays in this film. She has more energy than a nuclear reactor, tons of sex appeal, and, like always, there seems to be a little bit of crazy lurking just below the surface, but without the charm and grace of a Hepburn, her character comes across as mean-spirited and vicious rather than just a little over-the-top and ultimately loveable. Heck, if Liu had been able to project innocence and naivety like Heather Angel in "Half an Angel" was able to do, she might have worked in the part... but that is even more remote a quality in Liu's bag of acting tricks. While Cillian Murphy is just about perfect in his role, his falling for Liu and tolerating her placing him in real danger just isn't believable, because she doesn't have the "right stuff" for her part.

It also doesn't help that the script never draws back the curtain on the mystery that is Lucy Liu's Violet. She remains as strange and distant to the audience at the end of the film as she was when she first appears in the video store. If the screenwriters had allowed Neil, and the viewers, to get a real glimpse into her world instead of always seeing the results of her lies and manipulations, the character would have seemed a bit more sympathetic and Neil's falling for her a bit more credible. As it stands, the fact Violet remains a cypher makes Liu's lack of charm all the more damaging to the film.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that it's trying to modernize a type of film that simply can't be made today. The more films I watch, the more convinced I become that actors simply aren't trained in ways that allow them to effectively play the sort of characters found in the old Howard Hawkes-type comedies.

"Watching the Detectives" might be worth seeking out if you're a huge fan of Lucy Liu or Cillian Murphy, but if you are attracted to it, because of the promise of a modern-day screwball comedy, you're going to be disappointed.