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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Random Film of the Week: Dracula/Horror of Dracula (1958)

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Now, that’s a title screen, Isn’t it?

draculaAmusingly enough, I was wearing a Famous Monsters of Filmland T-shirt I got as a gift when I ran into an older neighbor in the supermarket last week who mentioned that as a kid, her parents took her to see Horror of Dracula back in 1958. She was only 8 years old, but was a big fan of sci-fi and horror movies, noting her parents were as well, and they’d make trips to the movies regularly. She noted she couldn’t sleep for about a month or so, but not because of Dracula, mind you, as (spoiler!) he’s as dead as a door nail at the end of the film (well, until his revival in the next films), but because of his brides.

She was convinced they were going to come after her for some reason and I noted that I’m sure many people who’ve seen this film sure as heck wanted a nibble on the neck from any of the lovely ladies in that film, vampires or not. Maybe even a few too many nibbles.

She laughed, and said “I know, but there was one in particular… what’s her name? The one that looked like a cat?” I thought for a few seconds and guessed correctly it was Andrée Melly, who indeed did look like a cat, and yes, briefly played that favorite bide of too many others as well. The neighbor let out a loud laugh. “Well that was fast! I guess she made an impression on you, too!”, which made me laugh as well, as there’s a pun in there she didn’t realize she was making. Anyway, we chatted a bit more and I helped her get a big aluminum baking pan off a high shelf for the ham she was making, as family was visiting that weekend. She paid for her groceries and left with a wave, thanking me for jogging her memory.

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Meow! Careful. I hear she bites…

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Review: Hellboy (2019)

The heroic trio

London’s burning with boredom, now: Well, not yet on the burning part, but plot-wise, that’s all she rote. This is a busy flick that can be hell to watch.

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Somewhere around the 10th level of Hell, it’s good.

So, I finally saw Hellboy a few days ago and waited to write this review to see if I still remembered what happened a few days later as it’s quite a busy flick (there’s a LOT going on, let me tell you).  I did remember (mostly), but I also realized for the second time after a second viewing that it would have been better as a short mini-series on cable spread over a few days that the two-hour film that’s here. I mean, go big or go home, right? This film just goes big all the time, but all that effort manages to feel flat and canned.

The main issue here is despite the copious amounts of swearing, R-rated mostly CGI gore and a few decent performances, the film crams so much in its 120 minutes that it feels like three films worth of material. Between the flashbacks, references to the comic (of which there are plenty) and the fact that it’s quite loud most of the time and has a pretty annoying selection of “headbanging” hard rock tunes (if headbanging means bashing one’s own skull in with a Sisyphus-sized boulder), the end result manages to feel too much like a film made by committee. This one’s a push-button film designed to be some sort of forced “cult classic” and both looks and feels like it. At least some of the practical costume monsters look as if they’re perfect for prime time.

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Random Film of the Week: Gold Diggers of 1933

(Thanks, Classic Fun!)

gold diggers mpFor too many reasonable to reasonably odd reasons, after all these years, I’d never seen ALL of the Mervyn LeRoy/Busby Berkeley film extravaganza that is Gold Diggers of 1933. I’d seen the fantastic beginning many years back as a kid, but it was late at night and I fell asleep at some point, waking up to some other film playing. Another time, the film was on but I missed about half of it and I hate sitting down to watch half a film, and the back half, as that.

Years later, it was on rotation on TCM by this time, so I figured I’d always catch it at some point. By then, I’d seen 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, and a few other similar musicals, so I thought it would be along the same thematic lines. It is to some extent, very much like the others: a simple plot but elaborately made escapist film for the masses.  With its fantasy of three pretty young ladies in a Depression-era New York City finding love and wealth despite their showgirl roots and assorted shenanigans via a case of mistaken identity that stretches credulity as it should in a film like this, it was gong to be as light and breezy a time as could be, I thought.

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He’d buy that for a dollar: Aileen MacMahon, a lucky Guy Kibbee and Ginger Rogers, who. despite her charms, doesn’t get the guy here.

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Random Film of the Week: Doctor X (DVD)

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For all that trouble setting their private and expensive game show up, no one could guess what was behind Curtain #1.

Dr. XLet’s just say that as a kid of, oh, seven or eight years old back in the 70’s, I had no idea (not a clue!) what I was watching when the local public TV station ran Doctor X so very many years ago. I do recall not knowing what was going on for a bit and some parts were wacky, but yes indeed, I did perk up when the “Synthetic Flesh” scene kicked in. Hell, I was a Frankenstein fan by then, even if my exposure was courtesy Universal Pictures and James Whale and not Mary Shelley until I read the book years later.

When I revisited the good Dr. Jerry Xavier (Lionel Atwill), and the film as I got older into my teens, elements started to click and it was all “Oh, that’s what that means!” on more elements I didn’t understand previouslyWhich of course means that as a grumpier and older old man these days, I’m all over this freak-fest like I’ve run into an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. This one’s pretty funny, pretty grim and completely bonkers. Oh, by the way, Doctor X sounds better and scarier than Doctor Jerry. That and if it were called Dr. J, there’s that slim chance a slimmer handful of folks might get fooled into thinking it’s a sports biopic (heh).

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Jacket jealousy here, as Fay’s got the stripes. but Tracy’s got the tweed and they both win the fashion lottery.

It’s also a great pre-code film, what with its discussion of a few hot topics those who think “well, those old movies were DULL!” might find they’re a bit incorrect about if they ever get off that dead horse they always jump on and see a few of these films. Now a little murder? Hey, that’s fine and dandy in a film about a mysterious killer. Toss in elements like that mysterious killer who happens to cannibalize corpses, a bit of prostitution and rape as story elements, plus a few old guys sitting around talking about their fetishes (hey, that may be the most creepy thing about this to some!), and more atmosphere that you can shake a few sticks at, and you get a true classic.

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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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(Not-So) Random Film of the Week: Barry Lyndon

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Where it all begins for one Redmond Barry.

Barry Lyndon is a story which does not depend upon surprise. What is important is not what is going to happen, but how it will happen.

Stanley Kubrick

barry_lyndon_ver1_xlgMy first introduction to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon was via the most likely means most 11-year olds with little to no interest in certain three-hour plus films made by somewhat visionary directors had at the time: MAD Magazine. I do recall that particular issue was confiscated from the classmate who owned it later in the day by a somewhat strict English (Literature) teacher who didn’t appreciate his not paying attention during her class. Fortunately, the magazine was returned the following day with a note that student had to take to his parents about his reading habits during class and oddly (or not so oddly) enough, a public library copy of The Luck of Barry Lyndon for him to read, write a book report on and return to the teacher. It turned out the teacher was a big fan of Kubrick’s film but had never read the MAD version, so she took it home, read it and liked the parody. Thus the somewhat unusual  temporary gift and form of “punishment”.

You gotta love good teachers, friends. Go and hug one today (er, with consent, of course).

I’ve had the feeling for some time that I may have wished for such a tremendous fate back then, as it took quite a few years more for me to actually read the book Kubrick adapted and altered somewhat using groundbreaking lighting techniques and some of the most gorgeous and true to life costume recreations ever put on film. It’s also a film where you can practically hear its director chuckling as he reworked the book into his own style that in my opinion, fits in well with Thackeray’s original writing. Droll, deadpan humor is laced throughout the dramatic scenes, all of which are masterfully composed shots that may have you pausing the film to admire a landscape or painterly composition (of which there are many). Excellent performances from the cast all around also help, as does realizing that Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal) isn’t supposed to “act” here in the sense of a person throwing himself into a part and chewing up the scenery. He’s perfectly cast as a man in a particular point in history where both good to terrible things happen and he reacts as he sees fit (which isn’t always accordingly).

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Random Film of the Week: Waterworld

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Uh, hey pal… you’re not gonna DRINK that, are you?

WATERWORLD ArrowMovie memory #1764 (or so): sitting in a packed theater back in 1995 watching the opening sequence to Waterworld as Kevin Costner’s Mariner character urinates into a plastic container, then pours that pee into a dicey-looking filtration system and drinks the results. You’d best believe the bulk of the audience let out a collective “EWWWWWW!” and yes, there was one guy sitting somewhere in the back of the darkened theater who yelled out something about how ice cubes would have made that recycled beverage go down better.

“EWWWWWW!”

Flash forward to me watching the three (!!!) versions of the film in Arrow Video’s packed to the gills (heh) with bonus features triple-disc set and I kind of want one of those funky filter devices just so I don’t need to take breaks when I’m going through my film backlog. For all its expensive sets, Costner’s dedicated performance, some amazing stunt work and a completely and perfectly bonkers performance by Dennis Hopper as its main villain, the film is still flawed in that, “Where’s the beef?” manner when it comes to a few key plot elements. Granted, its ecology past peril theme is a bit more relevant it today’s climate (and yes, that’s a double pun, kids). But there’s no real “science” here if you’re looking for it. Hell,  if the Earth does lose its major land masses underwater as shown here, an overblown big-budget sci-fi action flick isn’t exactly where we’re headed in that watery future, glub, glub.

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(Not So) Random Film of the Week: Slipstream (1989)

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This one’s a real woozy-doozy, folks. But an innnnteresting woozy-doozy.

Welcome to this latest installment of VSAH, folks! Definitely check out this month’s other reviews from Todd at Cinema Monolith, Mike at Mike’s Take on the Movies, and Sir Wolf (you’ve been knighted, pal) over at Wolfman’s Cult Film Club.

slipstream 1989Ambition can be a weird and wild thing at times, particularly when it comes to film production whether it be a big deal studio film or tiny independent flick. Taking a pack of awesome ideas and turning them into reality (well, of the cinematic kind) while keeping an audience hooked into the world you’ve created it a risky business, specifically when it comes to fantasy and science fiction.

Granted, the actual “science” in most sci-fi is at best, suspect and at worst, more than enough to yank a viewer clean out of the experience and leave them scratching their heads raw (ow!) while they try and figure out what the hell is going on in some scenes as they miss an important plot point or three in the process.  On the other hand, a film like Steven Lisberger’s (TRON) absolutely ambitious 1989 film Slipstream isn’t going to be one where you question the science all that much (if at all) because you’ll likely be questioning a few other more important things from parts of its plot to some offbeat cameos that may add to the star power, but come off a bit too much like stunt casting or a few folks popping in for a fast paycheck.

 

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Bill Paxton, doing his best Bill Paxton doing Christian Slater look, circa 1989.

 

The film certainly kicks off ambitiously enough with a properly bombastic Elmer Bernstein main theme and a wonderfully shot flying sequence using one of a few of the custom made aircraft created specifically for the production. That plane is carrying the somewhat cantankerous “peacekeeper” Will Tasker (Mark Hamill) and his able-bodied assistant Belitski (Kitty Aldridge) and said plane is chasing a man in a nice suit (Bob Peck) running away from them to no avail. He’s caught up with and captured by the pair who plan to take him to some faraway location to be tried and executed for the murder he’s committed. Unfortunately for them, their nattily dressed prisoner is swiped by Matt Owens (Bill Paxton), a genial illegal arms dealer looking to make a big score when he discovers how valuable that prisoner is before he decides to try his hand at kidnapping.

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Oh, The Horror! Severin Films Remasters The Horror of Party Beach

(Thanks, SeverinFilmsOfficial!)

 

HoPB_MPYes indeed, it’s a hot summertime thing from 1964 and it’s BACK. Well, it’s back on August 28, 2018, but you can pre-order this slice of not too scary sea life NOW.  Now, don’t get me wrong, people. The Horror of Party Beach is kind of bad. How bad? Well, I did a review a few years back noting it wasn’t all that good, if that helps. That said, in retrospect, its heart is definitely in the right place, the film is actually terribly funny and campy as hell, and will indeed make you laugh if your funny bone is in good working order.

I’d prattle on some more, but YOU, dear reader? You have some pre-ordering to do if this spiffy new 2K restoration floats your particular boat. Get the bundle! Or get the Blu-Ray by itself! Or get the DVD if you don’t have a BR player yet! You can also get the enamel pin and/or Beach ball from the bundle separately and make believe you bought the bundle (er, if that’s your thing).

Uh, if you only have a VHS or (eek!) Betamax player, you’re kind of out of luck, sorry!

-GW