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Monday, October 22, 2018

My Son John (1952)

A young man (Robert Walker) returns from Washington D.C. where he works and lives to visit his aging parents (Helen Hayes, Dean Jagger). They are a conservative religious pair and are appalled when he begins spouting liberal rhetoric. When an FBI agent (Van Heflin) turns up at their door, they suspect the worst about their son ..... he's a commie! Co-written, produced and directed by Leo McCarey (GOING MY WAY), this mind blowing film needs to be seen to be believed! It's in your face anti "Red" propaganda, pro church (how dare you put man above God) and the American flag and portrayal of commies as pure evil (they give away free dope to hook you) and assassins if you want to leave the party would be laughable if it weren't so badly done. The acting is way over the top (Jagger's performance is a career low point) and Walker seems to be playing Bruno from STRANGERS ON A TRAIN again. That its screenplay was nominated for an Oscar is a bad joke. The film is also anti-intellectualism. Walker's wholesome brothers are football playing soldiers while Walker went to college and warped his mind! It's an artifact from the height of the HUAC reign of terror. With Richard Jaeckel and Frank McHugh.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Cat People (1982)

A young girl (Nastassja Kinski) arrives in New Orleans to reconnect with her brother (Malcolm McDowell) who she hasn't seen since they were children. After their parents death, they were separated and placed in foster homes and institutions. But now that they are reunited, the brother must tell his sister of their dark heritage and the tortured existence they will have to deal with. Loosely based on the classic 1942 horror film and directed by Paul Schrader (AMERICAN GIGOLO). Schrader and his screenwriter (Alan Ormsby) have taken on what was only hinted at in the 1942 film and placed it center stage and turned it into a piece of erotic horror. Namely, the connection between sexual "animal" urges that literally turn one into an animal. The film has a spectacular look to it courtesy of Ferdinando Scarfiotti (Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST), here billed as a visual consultant. The film was done pre-CGI yet the special effects are first rate and give the film a more natural look than computer generated images could provide. The underscore is by Giorgio Moroder and features a killer song by David Bowie played over the end credits. With John Heard, Annette O'Toole, Ruby Dee (excellent), Frankie Faison, John Laroquette, Berry Berenson and Ed Begley jr. 

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Empire Of The Ants (1977)

A real estate developer (Joan Collins) takes a group of prospective buyers on a tour of an island where plots are being sold in anticipation of a beachfront community. Instead, they are welcomed by giant killer ants, the result of a toxic radiation spill. Very loosely based on the short story by H.G. Wells and directed by Bert I. Gordon. Incompetent about says it all but it's the kind of film that actually becomes grandly entertaining in its ineptitude. If you hadn't seen competent actors like Joan Collins, Robert Lansing or Albert Salmi in other things, you would assume they were the dregs of their profession based on their work here. But to be fair, the dialog is dreadful and there's probably nothing they could have done to make the screenplay other than what it is. It's the kind of dumb movie where the cast is surrounded by giant killer ants and one character says to another, "Have a piece of candy. It will make you feel better." Yeah, nothing like a piece of chocolate to make you forget you're about to be an ant's lunch. The special effects are shoddy. Obviously the actors had to pretend there were giant ants but in one attack scene John David Carson keeps swinging his oar into the empty air. Clearly, someone had forgot to put in a giant ant in front of him. With Jacqueline Scott, Robert Pine, Irene Tedrow, Pamela Susan Shoop and Edward Power.

Pardon My Sarong (1942)

After taking a bus without permission to go from Chicago to Los Angeles, two bus drivers (Bud Abbott, Lou Costello) are hunted down by a detective (William Demarest). In order to escape the law, they hire on as deckhands on the yacht of a playboy (Robert Paige). Directed by Erle C. Kenton (GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN), this is one of the comedy duo's weakest vehicles. Indeed, it's a candidate for one of their worst. There are a couple of laughs in the film which is hardly enough to justify its sleep inducing tedium and this comes from a huge Abbott & Costello fan. The film's high points aren't even related to comedy but come from choreographer Katherine Dunham's dance numbers which showcase her Afro-Cuban dance style and briefly liven up the proceedings. Hard to believe but this piece of silliness was the second highest grossing film of 1942! With Virginia Bruce, Lionel Atwill, Leif Erickson, Marie McDonald and Nan Wynn. 

Last Call (2002)

In ill health and struggling with sobriety, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Jeremy Irons) attempts to write a new novel with the help of a young secretary (Neve Campbell). Based on the memoir AGAINST THE CURRENT: AS I REMEMBER F. SCOTT FITZGERALD by Frances Kroll (played here by Neve Campbell) and directed by Henry Bromell. Very well done with one of Jeremy Irons' very best performances. The film manages to avoid most of the cliches of movie biographies of great writers, mostly by concentrating on a specific period of Fitzgerald's life rather than a full bio. The movie thankfully avoids sensationalism as the last couple of years of Fitzgerald's life provides more than enough drama. The period detail (the late 1930s/early 40s) is exceptional and the lensing by Jeff Jur is quite striking. There's a fine underscore by Brian Tyler. The only minor flaw is the unnecessary addition of Zelda Fitzgerald (Sissy Spacek who is wasted) as a ghostly presence in Fitzgerald's imagination which only seems to hinder the narrative. Oddly enough, Spacek was the only actor to receive an Emmy nomination. With Natalie Radford, Paul Hecht and Shannon Lawson. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Halloween (2018)

40 years after she was the lone survivor of a slaughter on Halloween night by a masked killer (who has been kept locked up in a high security asylum), a woman (Jamie Lee Curtis) finally gets an opportunity for closure while she awaits to face the "man" who destroyed her life when he escapes. Directed by David Gordon Green, the film ignores the nine HALLOWEEN films that came out between the 1978 original and this one as if they never existed. Personally, I quite liked the 1998 HALLOWEEN H20 but the others didn't bring anything to the franchise. While I liked this one, it was a bit of a disappointment. On the plus side, there's a fierce Jamie Lee Curtis performance whose Laurie Strode has been pushed to the brink of insanity in the 40 years since the murders which has alienated her from her adult daughter (Judy Greer). David Gordon Green does bring some intense action scenes to the fore and he does, for the most part, provide the requisite frights. On the downside, the film has some annoying and lame characters like the two British journalists. So irritating that I literally had to restrain myself from applauding when Michael Myers bashes the head in of the male journalist (Jefferson Hall). Not a good idea to make the victims so unappealing (there are several others) that you side with the killer! The final confrontation is superbly done and yes, the film does let it self open for a sequel. With Will Patton, Andi Matichak, Virginia Gardner and Haluk Bliginer as the film's ill conceived replacement for the Donald Pleasence character.  

The House Of The Seven Gables (1960)

In the mid 19th century, a young woman (Shirley Temple) comes to stay with a poverty stricken distant relative (Agnes Moorehead) in a rundown mansion. The mansion is reputed to be haunted and the family has a history of witchcraft, corruption and mysterious deaths. Based on the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne and directed by Arthur Hiller (LOVE STORY). Originally done for television, this is a stripped down Readers Digest version of the rich and complex Hawthorne source material. But at least it remains relatively true to the Hawthorne novel as opposed to the 1940 film adaptation which made unacceptable changes. As the young country girl, Temple shows why she never made a smooth transition from child star to adult actress ... she's a terrible actress. But to be fair, the limited adaptation doesn't offer any of the actors an opportunity to flesh out a character. With Robert Culp, Martin Landau, Jonathan Harris (LOST IN SPACE) and John Abbott. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Terror Train (1980)

A group of frat boys hire a private train to throw a New Years Eve costume party. As the trains speeds through the snowy mountains, brutally murdered bodies start turning up. Could these killings be tied in to a mean spirited prank that went horribly wrong three years ago? Directed by Roger Spottiswoode (UNDER FIRE), this is a rather simplistic slasher movie. The identity of the killer is never in question. The mystery comes from where could he be and in what guise. It's a perfectly serviceable slasher best suited to fans of the genre. Jamie Lee Curtis at the height of her "scream queen" fame is the engaging and plucky heroine. But it's hard to care much for the other victims, drunken frat boys and their airhead girlfriends. More frightening than anything in the film is that these drunken party animals are pre-med students and the thought of them practicing medicine is scary. The cinematography is quite striking and courtesy of John Alcott (BARRY LYNDON). With Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, Vanity, Timothy Webber and Derek MacKinnon.   

My Gal Sal (1942)

Set in the Gay Nineties, a young man (Victor Mature) rejects his father's (Stanley Andrews) plans for him to become a pastor and instead runs off to seek his fortune as a musician and composer. When he meets a Broadway star (Rita Hayworth), their contentious relationship eventually gives way to romance. Directed by Irving Cummings, this musical is based on the life of songwriter Paul Dresser (the older brother of novelist Theodore Dreiser on whose story this is based). It's the kind of musical that give musicals a bad name. Poor 20th Century Fox never had the sheen of the great MGM musicals that came out during the 1940s. MGM had Garland, Kelly, Astaire and the Arthur Freed unit. Fox had to settle for the likes of Alice Faye and Betty Grable. Frankly, Dresser's songs aren't my cup of tea. They're the kind of songs favored by barbershop quartets and if that's your bag, you may well enjoy this. On the plus side, there's the glorious Hayworth in Technicolor and she gets to dance to Hermes Pan's choreography. Pretty to look at but not much else but 1942 audiences lapped it up. With Phil Silvers, Carole Landis (in the film's best performance), John Sutton, James Gleason and Mona Maris. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Changeling (1980)

Following the death of his wife (Jean Marsh) and daughter (Michelle Martin), a composer (George C. Scott) relocates from New York to Seattle, Washington. But the old house he's moved into seems to be haunted and as the composer investigates the unexplained phenomena, a horrible history is uncovered. Directed by Peter Medak (THE RULING CLASS), this is a first rate ghost story. Based on events that reputedly occurred at the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Denver, Colorado. Medak and his screenwriters have concocted with the most minimal of special effects, a crackerjack psychological horror movie that feels possible rather than fantastic. Its genuine sense of horror comes not from jumps and scares but a sense of dread. It's almost old fashioned in its storytelling, rich in suggestion and atmosphere. The film didn't exactly rock the box office or critics when first released but in the ensuing years, it's developed into a true cult classic. With Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Madeleine Sherwood, John Colicos, Roberta Maxwell and Barry Morse.