Not So Random Film Of The Week: Panic In Year Zero!

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Oh, I just LOVE that song! Oh, wait…

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It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I don’t feel fine!

I recall the first time I saw Ray Milland’s Panic In Year Zero! some decades back as a kid, I laughed at a few things from some of the histrionic acting and direction, the incredibly poor science on display (back then I was a science whiz), Frankie Avalon’s perfect coif (that pomade he was using was pretty much disaster proof) and every woman being a second class citizen and second fiddle to the men in the world it presents. I still laugh now, but it’s more of a dry cackle of late. The film’s less that rosy display of humanity comes off as only a fraction of where we are today with reality rolling up with a nice ice cold dose of “hold my (insert obviously named) beer, pal.”

Despite its flaws, it’s a really good “B”-grade film that’s quite dated on a few fronts, but the message hits home because hell, who wouldn’t want to get the heck out of town after major cities fall under multiple nuclear attacks? Well, if you’re a tightly knit family unit like the Baldwins, who happen to be on a camping vacation when all hell breaks loose, you get in your trusty sedan with that handy trailer attached and try to survive the trip into the mountains as chaos breaks out everywhere. Saying this film is a total blast is an understatement as well a a nice and corny joke (ha and ha).

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Night Tide (1961)

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Sirens go off: A figure of speech, as it were.

night tide mpSpoiler Theater: In Curtis Hanson’s beautiful, haunting and unsettling romantic thriller, it’s a case of Boy meets Girl, Boy gets Girl and Boy, Oh Boy, does Boy lose Girl, But That’s Sort Of A Good Thing?  Night Tide is a dark and moody film set by the Pacific, with an old pier carnival and its seaside surroundings as the main setting and what could be seen by some today as a few problematic elements in some of its troubled characters. I still think it’s an excellent film, mind you. But after watching it with a few friends recently, I see it’s also a film where some viewers applying more modern thoughts to its story may find an issue with their overall enjoyment. You’ll see.

A young sailor on leave named Johnny Drake (Dennis Hopper) goes to a seaside amusement park at night. He pops into a jazz club where he sees a lovely woman (Linda Lawson) sitting alone enjoying the music. He crosses the room, asks her if he can sit at her table because he can’t see the musicians from where he is, then proceeds to sit facing the woman, not the musicians. He tries to strike up more conversation, but she asks him to let her listen to the tunes instead. He then tries to buy her a drink twice, but she refuses both times. Suddenly, a strange, middle-aged black-clad woman (Marjorie Cameron) comes into the club, approaches the other woman and starts speaking an untranslated foreign language (Greek?) to her. The young woman is upset by this and quickly hands Johnny some cash to pay for whatever she was drinking and rushes out of the club.

 

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Fast Company (1979)

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I’m still waiting for the Slow Company movie,  but I’m patient…

fastco mpI think it was around 1983 or so and I’d seen four or five films by David Cronenberg when I found out he’d made the 1979 drag racing centered “B” movie Fast Company. At the time I had to search around for a video store that carried it because in the US, it wasn’t readily available as far as I was seeing. A friend of a friend got a copy of the film from one of his sources not too long afterward because he was just as curious as I was and its funny how that sort of thing works out, isn’t it? I recall liking the car stuff, but not liking the plot much, but overall it was a decent popcorn flick provided you didn’t take the story at all seriously.

Watching it again more recently reveals it’s still a pretty pedestrian (ha-ha) movie with a some great car action, a touch of sex and nudity not uncommon to the era and if you didn’t know it was directed by Cronenberg, you’d think you’ve gotten a pretty good made for cable flick from a time capsule. It’s not a badly made film at all, though. In fact, some of the drag race scenes and a later car reconstruction scene benefit from Cronenberg’s attention to detail and his real-life obsession with the sport. Hey, everyone needs a hobby, right? You could say “All body horror and no play make Jack a dull boy”, but that’s not true if you stop and think about it. Still, variety is indeed, the spice of life, so this one’s special like that.

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Random Film of the Week: The Navy vs. The Night Monsters (1966)

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“You’re gonna stay in this picture and LIKE it, Mister!”

the navy vs the night monsters-MPFrom looking at this list in comparison with these much longer ones, it seems to me that in the 1960’s, science fiction flicks exclusively made in the US were in a bit of a rut. You can also see from those longer lists that horror films have fared far better and you can probably name quite a few memorable fright films from the era off the top of your head from Carnival of Souls, Night of the Living Dead, A few Herschel Gordon Lewis flicks, Rosemary’s Baby and many (many) more. Let’s just say that truncated list in the last sentence was about 20 or so films before common sense made me edit it down.

The reason I’m focusing on US-made films is simple. As other countries were just more prolific and innovative in their sci-fi films and during this time, the US seemed not to know what to do well despite kicking off and ending the decade with some pretty solid films (1960’s The Time Machine and 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey). Which brings us to one of the less stellar efforts of the decade, 1966’s The Navy vs The Night Monsters. The film looks and feels as if it was made a decade earlier and interestingly enough, the best thing about it is the actress playing the requisite eye candy, Mamie Van Doren. “Best” meaning she plays her role as straight as can be does it without chewing the scenery or mugging it up for zero laughs like some of the guys here do. Stripped of its silly jokes, it might have been a decent “B” flick, but hey – some things just won’t die a natural death.

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Review: Promise Her Anything (1966)

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“Strike a pose, there’s nothing to it…”

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My brain wants its time back. My eyes… well they were pleased for a hot minute or two.

The very last thing you see before the end credits to Arthur Hiller‘s bizarre 1966 sex comedy Promise Her Anything is a red neon sign that says one word: STOP, which if it had appeared at the start of the film, would have probably saved me the trouble of watching this earlier this morning. To paraphrase Fight Club, “I am Jack’s flabbergasting 98 minutes.”

Let me hip you to the ’60’s era plot so I can get away with torturing, murdering and burying this one as fast as possible, although I may take my time with the torture part, as the movie is very much like scheduling a 98-minute session with a nearsighted dominatrix who happens to be stone deaf, owns a too short set of whips, keeps missing her target, her safe word is “Mister Mxyzptlk” and if you don’t sign it properly with the quotes, she keeps on madly whipping the air. I’ll first apologize to anyone who’s exactly like that in real life or has that particular fetish, by the way.

Anyway, here we we go: A lovely widow with a baby moves into a Greenwich Village apartment on the same floor as a free-spirited guy who makes mail order adult movies but has intentions of making it big in art films one day. They sort of hit it off (although she has no idea of the work he does), but she gets a job as an assistant to a baby-hating child psychologist and plans to woo him because she sees a good provider in that wealth he’s got. Meanwhile, her neighbor becomes quite a helpful babysitter… who keeps trying to bed his emotionally susceptible newly widowed neighbor while secretly putting her child in the films he’s selling.

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You’re watching this film for the girls, right? Bless your soul.

Well now, that’s kind of unforgettable for a few reasons, isn’t it?

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Review: Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1946)

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This French poster looks as it was started in 1909 and completed a few dozen years later.

“Well, I certainly wasn’t going to laugh…”  is what I immediately thought after viewing this tepid 1946 film on TCM a few evenings ago. To be fair, I’d seen a few Andy Hardy films in the past and found them to be drolly amusing light comedies and as fluffy as could ever be possible, especially the three with a young Judy Garland as Mickey Rooney‘s co-star. This effort, however just left me cold and in a few parts, rubbed me the wrong way save for one performance that steals the show.

The absolutely drop-dead gorgeous Dorothy Ford was actually 5′ 11″, but played her too brief part as Coffy Smith at well over six feet in heels and yes, steals the film from Mickey Rooney’s tired but competent shenanigans. She also turns out to be the “wisest” character in this film, offering up some sage relationship advice and dealing with having to dance with Rooney in a lively, but paradoxically strangely dull sequence where her height is the butt of a few jokes. Andy being about breast high being one none too subtle bit, but that’s actually funny for a few seconds.

 

 

Then again, the film very likely will be loved by the comfort flick crowd for a lot of the usual things the franchise was known for. You get that long Andy and Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) talk with morality and choices as the center, and yes, the family Hardy is as wholesome as Instant Ralston with Jam, and cream mixed in (ewww). There are some amusing moments like the homecoming sequence when Andy comes back from his service in WWII, and a few of the college scenes are cute and chuckle-worthy. Still, for me, the film was a chore to sit through because of the “Poor Andy Hardy” scent emanating from the plot.

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Random Film of the Week Quickie: DEAD END

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“I hear the marinara sauce is good in this joint…”

Dead End 1937 MPI love Dead End for a few reasons. It’s a great film based off a stage play that yep, both looks and feels stagey, but that works highly in its favor. It’s a classic Old New York City film just for the location it presents and the feeling that, staging aside, that place actually existed. It also marked the debut of The Dead End Kids who’d later morph into The Little Tough Guys, then The East Side Kids and then into The Bowery Boys with a total of close to 50 audience-pleasing fluff comedies made between 1937 and 1958. To some non-fans of the Boys, this only proves the law of diminishing returns should have been more strictly obeyed and enforced (ha and ha). But, I digress.

It also has Humphrey Bogart in an early knockout role as a slickly dressed but menacing thug who returns to his old stomping grounds with a brand new facelift for mixed results. Finally, it’s a nicely directed “message” film by the great William Wyler that works on many levels, some of which soak in only after a second or third viewing. Go grab your popcorn, pal. I’ll wait. Oh, you’re making it on the stove the old-fashioned way? Good. I’ll go get a bowl and meet you back here in five.

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Bogie lets McCrea know he can’t wear a hat AND a bucket at the same time.

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An Animated Discussion (Part 3)

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So, here we are again. Let’s see how, this time, we’ll see what else was in the bag of cartoons I loaned a friend. I added some stuff that wasn’t animated or not quite cartoons, but they all fit a theme.  So here’s the final countdown with a few surprises for good measure:

roujin-zRoujin-Z:  Here’s the thing. Both kids don’t like anime, but I decided to pop this into the lot because it’s a family film of sorts and I know both parents would be into it because  they’d “get” it and enjoy it even if their two Teen Titans didn’t. Lo and behold, not only did the kids take to it, they were both deciding that the genre was much more that what friends at school were hammering them in the heads over endlessly.

I should have gone with Ghost In The Shell as well, but this Otomo flick was more of an acceptable choice and I didn’t want to overwhelm them, although, yes, I had to field a few questions regarding the crazy ending. That said, I wonder how Akira or something as nuts as a Fist of the North Star would have gone over. That said, I think a Miyazaki film might be a better thing (I’m looking at YOU, Lupin!)

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Random Film of the Week: The Split (1968)

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I’d very safely say that her ‘do outdoes his hair here, huh? (say that five times fast).

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Is everybody happy? Well, not for long…

As crime capers go, Gordon Flemyng’s 1968 action/thriller The Split is flawed, but pretty good, even if the big money haul it showcases would be 100% impossible if attempted today. Granted, 2010’s The Town presented a similar heist that was more modern and also successful (until it wasn’t), but in this earlier film, anyone who tries what’s done here today will be in for a few problems from the get-go. You’ll see, but let’s talk about the plot for a bit.

Jim Brown plays Mac McClain, a recently released thief who takes on the task to rob the Los Angeles Colosseum of $500,000 during a football game after he’s led to the job a partner in crime, Gladys (Julie Harris, in a big bouffant hairdo!). After a bumpy but eventually successful encounter/reunion with his ex-wife Ellie (Diahann Carrol). Mac sets his plans into action. Naturally, color plays a big role here, so this first ever R-rated film plays it big on the use of language and insinuations about Mac from a few characters.

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Lets just say, in the words of one Admiral Ackbar…. (that’s your cue, dear reader)

He recruits four other man to aid him in some rather ridiculous ways, but that gives you the chance to see them react to McClain’s crazy testing. He gets into a big knock down, drag out fight with Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine) in Bert’s office, but splits out a sliding door before the man knows what’s what. Then, he leads shady limo driver Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman) into a car chase where he wrecks Harry’s limo and a nice Corvette in the process. McClain also gives suave shooter Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland) a tryout (the crack shot misses his target, but keeps his cool). And then there’s wily safe-cracker Marty Gough (Warren Oates), who gets a hooker, and a vault that needs escaping as his weird tests. Yes, Mac chooses all four to join in on his plans and as expected, they’re initially not happy about this.

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Review: The Monster of Piedras Blancas

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“Oh, crap. I forgot to put on my silky underthings BEFORE I got into the costume. Er, they prevent chafing, you know, right…”

MFPB_MP2On one hand, Irvin Berwick’s 1959 flick The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a pedestrian and very slow-burning “B” horror film with some neat noir-like shots, light early gore, and a great creature costume cobbled from a few sources that looks quite spectacular when it’s finally revealed. On the other hand, it’s still a pedestrian and very slow-burning film that drags out its plot a wee bit too long.

Its big monster reveal comes so late in the film and manages to come off as somewhat disappointing because you still see less of that really cool-looking monster than you’d like, but at least you get some action on-screen when it happens. It’s far from a “bad” film, it’s just a bit dull in its presentation of an otherwise great-looking man in a suit. The again, with a budget under $30,000, you can see where the money went thanks to the suit that man is in being so well-conceived.

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“I will roar from the highest rooftop that I DID NOT DO IT!”

Granted, the film teases the titular creature right at the very beginning as a claw reaches for a beat-up metal bowl and afterward, some kids are sent packing off the beach by a lighthouse keeper named Sturges (John Harmon) with a secret. He’s the one keeping the creature well-fed and of course, he’s got a tasty and somewhat gorgeous daughter, Lucille (Jeanne Carmen) he’s kept out of the loop for years (ten years of boarding school, eep!). Naturally, she’s all grown up now and she and her curves caught the eye of Fred (Don Sullivan) a visiting biology student who’s not at all after her for her shapely figure and hey, this is 1959 we’re taking about and that stuff didn’t happen in movies like this (he said, sarcastically). Sturges is not a fan of Biology students who want to date his shapely daughter, it would seem.

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