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Lechuguilla (pronounced Lech-ah-GEE-ah) [caver]
I write film scripts and IMDb film reviews.
The Glass Menagerie (1973)
"Chew Chew Chew"
Early in the story, a loquacious Amanda (Katharine Hepburn) and her two twenty-something children, Tom (Sam Waterston) and Laura (Joanna Miles), are eating dinner in their dining room. In her long-winded, nervous chatter, Amanda abruptly notices that son Tom is eating too fast. "You must chew your food; animals have secretions
But human beings must chew their food; a well-cooked meal has many delicate flavors, so chew, chew, chew." To which an angry Tom shoots back: "Mother, I have not enjoyed one bite of this dinner because of your constant directions on how to eat it. It's you that makes me rush through meals with your hawk-like attention to every bite I take".
Later, Tom is sitting at a table writing. Amanda comes over and scolds him for his poor posture: "Now why can't you sit up straight I know what that position does to your internal organs. Now you sit up straight; here I'll show you. Your stomach pressed against your lungs, your lungs pressed against your heart, and that poor little heart gets discouraged 'cause it hasn't got any room left to go on beatin' for you".
But that's Amanda: an overbearing busybody who means well, but dominates those around her. She is so sure of herself and her moral values. Tom feels trapped, not only by his mother but also because of his mundane job at a warehouse. Daughter Laura is crippled and has a dreadful inferiority complex, which makes her shy. She identifies with her tiny glass animals, as fragile as she is.
Set almost entirely indoors in a drab little apartment in St. Louis, "The Glass Menagerie" is a play that conveys a lot of human feelings: anger, guilt, regret, dependency, and emotional damage. There's also a bit of humor. The story takes place during the WWII era of the 1940s. Eventually, Amanda imposes her wishes on Laura as well, as the mother badgers Tom to bring home a "gentleman caller" for Laura, in an effort to prevent Laura from being an old maid. What follows is both inspiring and heartrending.
The claustrophobic script is talky as one would expect for a play. The drab costumes are appropriate given the family's financial straits and the time period. Camera is largely static and functions mainly as a fly on the wall. Casting is very good. Acting is terrific. Hepburn does a wonderful job, except that she talks too fast for a Southern woman. The ending leaves viewers hanging.
With minor exceptions, the script and the performances are marvelous. Yet I'm not sure I would want to watch the film again; it is so depressing, especially toward the end.
The Queen (2006)
"Let's Keep In Touch"; "Yes, Let's"
The film plots the response of the British royal family to the death of Princess Diana in a car accident in 1997. Tension focuses on the idea that, in contrast to the general public, the Royals didn't much care for Diana. In one scene, Prime Minister Blair (Michael Sheen), in tune with the public's mood, talks on the phone with the Queen; they're discussing how the monarchy should respond to Diana's death. After a tense and difficult conversation, Blair concludes by saying: "let's keep in touch". To which the Queen, in an icy voice, responds curtly: "Yes, let's", then hangs up. "The Queen" is a good movie.
In the film, the Queen (Helen Mirren) comes across as dignified, disciplined, confident, unemotional but brooding, perceptive, stoic, and fond of protocol and tradition. Blair comes across as informal, perceptive, jovial, and easy to relate to. Differences in their personalities are blatant and obvious.
In addition to a delicate script that zips along at a good clip, the film's production design is terrific. Though palace interiors are probably tacky in comparison to what the real British palaces must look like, the film crew does a fine job with the budget they had to work with. Ditto the credible costumes. Cinematography is fine. Casting is ideal.
A couple of concerns keep the film from being really great. There's a bit too much screen time spent on the "stag" hunt in the North. And in those scenes, I wouldn't have thought that the Queen actually drives a car herself, or wears a scarf. And second, and more important, you get the feeling that the film was made in direct response to the death of Diana; otherwise, the film would never have been made. If that's true, then it's Diana who is the real story here, and the title is thus a tad disingenuous.
Despite my problem with the film's reason for being, "The Queen" is a fascinating drama. Helen Mirren's understated performance is wonderful, and boosts the overall quality tremendously. It's a film well worth watching.
Per un pugno di dollari (1964)
It's San Miguel, in Mexico. The town's got two bosses; neither likes the other. Both bosses lord over a clan of bad guys. The town is not moral; it's a town of death. Into this gloom rides Joe the stranger (Clint Eastwood). The stranger may or may not be a good guy. But he's a sharpshooter with a .45 pistol, and he uses it, a lot. He sizes up things in San Miguel and formulates a clever plan. This stranger is smart.
Commonly referred to as the first spaghetti western, "A Fistful Of Dollars" evokes a new style: a script with grungy, mean characters; minimal dialogue; a hip protagonist vaguely similar to James Bond. Also, sets, costumes, and music are all highly stylized. I like the style.
The script is engineered for maximum entertainment. There are action climax sequences about every ten minutes. Sounds of gunshots are heightened. We never learn anything about Eastwood's character, which makes him mysterious, indeed.
Outdoor visuals were shot mostly in southern Spain. Cinematography makes use of long camera shots and extreme close-ups. Camera filters are poorly used in day for night shots. Production design is terrific. San Miguel looks pleasantly minimal with its whitewashed adobe dwellings and dirt streets.
The look of the film and the script convey a sense of isolation, mystery, and death. There are references to Easter: a crucifixion, resurrection, a last supper. Though I have never been an Eastwood fan, and would have preferred another actor in his role, the multi-national cast perform their parts well.
Aside from the casting of Eastwood, my main problem is the blurring of villains. With two evil gangs, it was hard to tell who was who, and which side each character was on. Overall, though, "A Fistful Of Dollars" is an entertaining western. I like its 1960s style much better than the stale, stereotypes of pre-1960 westerns. And that mournful, funereal dirge of Morricone's soundtrack adds enormously to the film's emotional tone.
Murder in Peyton Place (1977)
Melodramatic Soap Opera
However unrealistic, the premise of this murder melodrama provides an interesting twist on the motive of revenge. The film is not a whodunit. We know early on who the villain is. Instead, the plot follows multiple, and I do mean multiple, characters and subplots in a small American town.
The viewer almost needs some kind of cheat sheet to keep track of all the people, and how they are connected to each other. Forget deep characterization. They're all just stick figures in service to the story's premise.
The script is talky and highly melodramatic. Most scenes take place indoors, on sets. As a result, many of the scenes mimic then-current television soap operas. Of course, that's basically what the original "Peyton Place" was, at least that is my understanding. Dialogue in "Murder in Payton Place" is generally dry and hackneyed, again reminiscent of daytime soap operas.
Casting is okay. But acting seems stilted and over-rehearsed. Photography is about what one would expect for a typical made-for-TV movie. Background music is highly manipulative.
Despite the poor script, the cheesy sets, and melodramatic acting, the premise and mystery element held my attention, barely, given my added patience and my failure to find any other film available for watching at the time.
"I feel like I'm being shoved into a corner and if I don't get out soon, it will be too late." So says Dan Brady (Mickey Rooney) after a series of bad decisions causes him to get deeper and deeper, quicksand like, into crime. Viewers are led to believe that Dan is basically a good guy; but he just can't get a break, as he goes from one small problem to a disaster, then to a bigger disaster. It's almost comical.
What makes the film better than comparable era crime stories is the casting of Rooney, an actor who's little boy face and short stature run counter to villain stereotypes. Actually, Dan's downfall can be traced back to his infatuation with a blonde "dame" named Vera Novak (very well played by Jeanne Cagney). Various twists and turns in the plot add interest.
A few complaints here. First, the film gets off to a slow start. Second, I don't like the "Deus-ex-machina" ending. And third, the film is almost too brief; it seems rushed. The impression conveyed is that the scriptwriter was too lazy to add story depth and a few extra scenes to the script.
For its historical era, B&W visuals are okay, but nothing special. Costumes, editing, and prod design are average. Casting is terrific and is probably the best element. Acting is average except for the performances of Rooney and Cagney, which are terrific.
Because the run-time is brief, "Quicksand" is a somewhat thin story. Yet, it still held my attention once the plot got going. Of course I'd rather see a too-short film that's good than a too-long film that's bad.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
A Sad Journey
In this intense character study of a twenty something alcoholic and a prostitute, Nicolas Cage plays Ben Sanderson, a lonely failed screenwriter who travels from Hollywood to Las Vegas to end his life by drinking himself to death. Elisabeth Shue plays the prostitute, the only person in Vegas who shows any compassion toward Ben. It's a depressing movie.
The simple, thought provoking story gives us a journey of two lost souls who find each other, share their experiences, anguished and hurting as they are, adrift in a cold, uncaring world. We feel for these two people; we root for them. Yet, despite how physically attractive both are, their situation is dire.
It's hard to imagine a guy like Ben on such a trajectory. How can someone be so lacking both in self-knowledge and interpersonal relations; ditto Shue's character? I would have preferred that the scriptwriter make these two people a bit more complex, and allow Ben to make some attempt to change course.
As such the script is a tad manipulative. Viewers are supposed to come away with a specific message about loneliness and alcoholism. But the plot is too heavy handed, the message totally not subtle, and the overall story not realistic. Also, I did not like the Yuri subplot. In addition, the plot is repetitive. We see Ben's same behavior, in different settings, over and over and over.
Casting is acceptable; acting is quite good, especially Cage and Shue in the lead roles. High contrast lighting implies a subtle neo-noir quality. And as we would expect in a character study, there are a lot of closeup camera shots. Background music trends toward blues and what I would describe as sad jazz; music is a bit too loud in some scenes.
"Leaving Las Vegas" is a serious character study wrapped in Hollywood glitter, which only amplifies the mood of fatalism and desperation. For technical quality the film is quite good. But viewers need to understand that there is almost no humor and precious little entertainment here. The background music at the end is appropriate ... a soft, sad piano dirge.
Paris In The Early Sixties
Owing to the romantic setting of Paris and the haute couture style of the two lead actors, "Charade" fits right in with the cultural ambiance of early 1960s Camelot. Producers could not have picked two lead performers more suited for such a pretentious film: the annoyingly suave Cary Grant and the annoyingly sophisticated Audrey Hepburn. Completing the ensemble of annoying contributors is Henry Mancini, with his dreamy "romantic" music; mercifully, the film doesn't contain his song "Moon River".
The voluminous dialogue driven script is a mess, as it is as contrived and talky as we would expect for early 1960s haughty Hollywood. Worst segment is the "romantic" riverboat ride at night, all schmaltzy and dreamy, that just reeks of Camelot idealism. Further, the plot's alternating humor and murder is unsettling. It conveys the impression that both Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) and Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) are both plagued either by ten second attention spans, or worse, self-deception, wherein multiple deaths in two hours function merely as inconvenient intrusions into their budding love affair.
All that said, the mystery element is pleasantly reminiscent of Agatha Christie's film "And Then There Were None". And the final few scenes are suspenseful. The whodunit element is rather easy to figure out for most of us, except for the giddily delusional and oh-so-naïve Regina Lampert. The plot's predictability in turn results in a somewhat disappointing ending.
Color cinematography is average. I didn't notice any problems, but nothing about the visuals struck me as being overtly laudable, either.
"Charade" has no significant message to impart. It's a mainstream film that provides a pleasing two hours of diversionary entertainment for a star-struck mass audience. But the dreamy, romantic, sophisticated style of Grant, Hepburn and Mancini, set in romantic Paris, makes me yearn for a rowdy Western wherein old, cantankerous characters lacking teeth get dirty and cuss up a storm.
Describing what could happen in the future, the film combines formulaic character subplots with terrific visuals in the second half to convey a fictional but realistic story of people caught up in their own private dramas before and during a devastating earthquake.
There are a couple of problems here. The first relates to the subplots; there are too many, resulting in an unnecessarily long run-time of about three hours. The assassination subplot seemed a bit hokey. At least 30 minutes probably could have been cut out without affecting the quality of the overall story. Because of so many speaking parts, I lost track of how some characters connected to other characters.
Also, the sound quality in the copy I watched was not very good. At times I could not understand the dialogue; it seemed muffled.
But of course viewers aren't really watching the film for the melodrama. They're watching for the disaster that's about to befall the characters. And the visuals during and after the earthquake are spectacular, every bit as good as in the 1974 film "Earthquake", if not better. Attention to detail is terrific. A lot of time and effort went into the visuals of this film, and it shows.
Casting of main parts is fine; the cast of extras is enormous. Overall acting is average, though I thought Joanna Kerns, as the lead character, gave an especially credible performance. Production design was far higher here than we would expect for a TV movie.
And I think it is indeed the "TV movie" label that brings down the cumulative rating for this film. Actually, "The Big One" is closer to a blockbuster theatrical release than it is to the stereotyped image of made-for-TV movie that viewers have come to expect. Unnecessarily lengthy subplots notwithstanding, if the viewer can watch the film for what it is, sans TV label, the viewer will enjoy it all the more.
Rumble Fish (1983)
Thin Story, Interesting Visuals
Youth alienation seems to be the obvious theme of this story about a high school kid named Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a big believer in rough, angry neighborhood gangs, and his long-lost older brother who unexpectedly returns. Perhaps at a more subtle level, the story's theme relates to the passage of time, in hours and years, as evidenced by the film's visuals of passing clouds and the presence of clocks in numerous scenes.
The story is thin. Rusty and his "gang" hang out, talk, walk around a lot, get angry, encounter various characters that appear in some scenes, then disappear. Ultimately, the glue that holds the plot together is the relationship between Rusty and his enigmatic, somewhat intellectual older brother, no longer a gang leader, who now functions as Rusty's mentor who over time, wised up. The story's era is unclear.
Casting is okay except for a disconnect between story location and character accents. The setting is supposed to be Oklahoma; yet, most characters, and especially Rusty James, speak with a thick New York accent. Director Francis Ford Coppola made the same mistake in "The Outsiders", using the same location and some of the same actors.
The film was shot in B&W, except for a couple of scenes where aquarium fish appear in red and blue. Overall photography is interesting in that visuals have a look and feel influenced strongly by German Expressionism, and include low-angle, noir lighting, heavy shadows, smoke and fog, and a few weird camera angles. Visuals in many scenes convey a gritty, dingy, urban look.
In the copy I watched, dialogue sounded muffled and hard to understand. Background sounds combined general urban clanking noise with the rhythmic based ticks of a clock and light jazz to create an interesting if perhaps contrived overall soundtrack.
An art film that was not well received by audiences when it came out, "Rumble Fish" would appeal to an art house audience but probably few others. I found the story talky and boring, though the B&W visuals were interesting in a stylized sort of way.
Murder by Invitation (1941)
Paint By Numbers Script
A rich old woman with an annoying chuckle invites her relatives over to her big house for a week, so that she can study them "just like a scientist studies rats in a laboratory." Her rationale is to determine which one of the relatives deserves her $3 million dollars when she dies. The light, overall tone of the film conveys the impression that the film was intended as a parody of murder mysteries.
The protagonist is Bob White (Wallace Ford), a "famous columnist", who worms his way into the house, after a murder occurs. Eventually, an inept sheriff also shows up. So there's no famous detective or crime solver, like a Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes, and the story suffers because of that.
I incorrectly guessed the identity of the killer, but I wasn't that drawn in to the story to begin with. There are too many suspects, and the script gives them little or no characterization. Absence of a well-known detective doesn't help, and neither does the lighthearted tone. The end provides a bit of interesting irony to the underlying theme.
B&W photography is acceptable, I suppose, given the era. Scratchy sound effects and clearly audible static are annoying. Casting and acting are marginal. Background music is nondescript, manipulative, and in some scenes too loud.
With its contrived, paint-by-numbers script, its barely passable visuals and audio, and its cheap sets, "Murder By Invitation" is not a movie I would care to watch again.
The Young Savages (1961)
Angst And Anger
Almost everyone in this film is angry about something, in this social drama, set in Harlem's slums, about two rival youth gangs at war with each other, and the adults caught in the middle trying to understand all the angst and anger. The script's inciting incident occurs when one of the gang members is murdered.
The main adult, and the story's protagonist, is Hank Bell (Burt Lancaster), who tries to build a criminal case against the aggressor gang, even as he once had a romantic interest in the mother of one of the boys charged.
The heavy-handed script, combined with Director Frankenheimer's attempt to convey social relevance to the then contemporary theme, forces actors to try to out-angst other actors in a series of monologues. In so doing, the film telegraphs the approximate outcome of the story long before the ending. And that ending occurs in a clichéd courtroom setting instead of in the urban jungle where it would have been more effective.
The B&W lighting is okay but rather bland. So much more could have been made of the lighting, with higher contrast lighting and more unconventional, i.e. rebellious-theme, camera angles. Editing is generally effective, though I question whether all those monologues are really needed. Casting, costumes, and production design are fine. Background music, for the most part, is either 1950s jazz, heavy on the sax, or sleepy elevator music, depending on a scene's emotional tone.
Despite the directing and script issues, the film did hold my attention, mostly because of its interesting theme and the effective casting of several actors, such as Shelley Winters and Neil Burstyn. "The Young Savages" is basically a social melodrama relevant to its historical era, as it examines the complexities of growing up in urban poverty.
The Outrageous Sophie Tucker (2014)
What A Character
Wow. How do you conflate the life of this remarkable woman down to a 90-minute presentation? All you can do is broad-brush that life with highlights and a few telling details spanning some 60 years, from her vaudeville days of the early 20th century through the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Hard to do, but this film documentary by authors Lloyd and Susan Ecker does a pretty good job.
Source material includes Tucker's autobiography, her enormous scrapbook, B&W home movies, and interviews with a variety of celebrities, close friends, and extended family. Throughout it all, Sophie Tucker comes across as determined, confident, innovative, unique, perfectionistic, and highly ethical. To her, a handshake was her word of honor not to be broken; no written contract was ever needed. How do you think that would work now in the 21st century?
With that booming voice, her business savvy, and her dominating personality, she overwhelmed everyone and everything; nothing and nobody could get in her way. She was personal friends with a veritable whose-who of the twentieth century, a checklist of the rich, famous, and powerful ... Rudolph Valentino, Irving Berlin, Helen Keller, Mickey Rooney, Charlie Chaplin, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Joey Bishop, Al Jolson, Ronald Reagan. She mentored Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Jerry Lewis. She personally new 7 U.S. Presidents, plus the Queen of England, Isreal's Golda Meir, gangster Al Capone, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, among many others.
I watched this documentary from start to finish, three times. I had a couple of minor complaints. I didn't care for the mechanical movements of her art pictures, which seemed a tad cartoonish. And some of the old audio sounded muffled and thus hard to understand. Minor stuff like that. Overall, this is a good documentary: interesting, insightful, and as comprehensive as ninety minutes will allow.
Although Sophie Tucker was before my time, those of us in a more modern era can still appreciate her talent, and her influence on jazz in particular and entertainment in general. She even had an impact on WWII. For those of us in the 21st century, the old cliché "they don't make them like they used to", really does apply.
A couple of the remarks by interviewees were funny. Carol Channing commented that Sophie Tucker was so old her social security number was 2. Someone else, also commenting on Sophie's age, remarked: "She goes back to the days when the Dead Sea was only sick". Marvelous.
Hot Rod Rumble (1957)
The Road Devils
Story about youthful leather rebels who band together into a club called the "road devils". They race their hot rod autos around in various road races, impress the girls, chitchat in greasy diners, and otherwise act cool, in this juvenile delinquent film from the mid-fifties.
The protagonist is a guy named Arnie (Richard Hartunian). Plot follows mostly him and his drama, and involves a girlfriend, a "best friend", and an unfortunate death. It's a fairly straightforward plot that ends about the way you would expect. I did not detect any twists and turns, so to speak, or any real surprises. Mostly it's a character study of the rebel persona that existed during that time period.
Visual styles reflect the era ... guys with greasy, slicked-back hair and leather gear; gals were deferential and wore long skirts and ponytails. Most of the male actors looked too old to be credible juveniles.
Sound quality is not very good, but no worse than that of comparable low-budget films from that period. But the B&W cinematography is terrible, at least in the copy I watched. The visuals were so dark there were scenes when I could barely tell the outline of a human against a dark sky. The poor visuals interfered with my enjoyment of the film; my mind kept wandering away. The jazzy score was nice and fit right in with the rebel theme.
Surely a low-budget film that was never meant to be anything other than a grade-B flick, "Hot Rod Rumble" is still worthwhile viewing for its 1950s juvenile delinquent theme ... if the viewer can manage to somehow overcome the way too dark visuals, especially at and near the film's beginning.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
It's hard to overstate the true significance of this film. The Library of Congress informs us that it is the most watched film ever made. Its signature song, "Over The Rainbow", written for the film, didn't merely win the Oscar for best original song of 1939. More significantly, decades later the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts both voted this song as the number 1 song of the twentieth century. The American Film Institute ranked it as the greatest movie song of all time.
But the film's accolades go on and on. It is one of only a few films listed in UNESCO's "Memory Of The World" Registry. Even in a supporting role, actress Margaret Hamilton turned her Wicked Witch into American Film Institute's 4th-greatest villain of all time, behind Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, and Darth Vader. All of the main actors and many people responsible for the film's technical achievements have received and continue to receive innumerable awards and honors seventy years after the film was released.
From its inception as a children's book in 1900 by author L. Frank Baum, the simple story was retold countless times in novels, stage presentations, and other forms, in many subsequent years, including: 1908, 1910, 1914, 1925, 1933, and 1938. But it was the film of 1939, directed by Victor Fleming, that propelled the story into immortality.
With its perfect 3-Act structure, the script creates iconic characters and iconic dialogue. Some lines have morphed into cultural clichés, they are so often repeated. How many times has the line "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more" been borrowed by hack writers to use in their hack scripts? I think it was Oscar Wilde who said: "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness".
At a deeper level than the well-known story, the film's many allegories have been and will continue to be debated by scholars. Many of these allegories are so subtle they may never be appreciated by viewers, especially in an age when subtlety has been rendered a forgotten art. Is the naïve Dorothy really the American people? Does the yellow brick road symbolize the gold standard? Is the Emerald City a symbol of materialism that we in the early 21st century might equate to Wall Street?
A deep, intellectual script it may be, but the film would be merely great without its underlying emotional appeal to the heart. It's the visuals and music that render the film so beloved by the world.
And when you join the simple, yet intellectual, story with the power of great visuals and great music, you create a timeless expression of the human experience. The summary message is thus conveyed that no matter where or how far you may roam, and no matter what joys and friendships you may experience along the way, after all and in the end, there's no place like home.
It's almost impossible to view this film objectively, critically, so magical, mythical, and powerful has it become. It's a film that does not require a plot summary; it's too well known for that, too burned into our collective consciousness.
Academy Award films, well-made classic films linger with us. But "The Wizard Of Oz" isn't just another Oscar winner or classic film. It is unique, its own category, a one-of-a-kind artistic expression. There will never be another film quite like it. If humans are still around a thousand years from now, someone, somewhere, using some form of futuristic technology, will be watching it, enthralled by its universality, its timelessness.
The 33 (2015)
"Deep Down Dark"
In this true-life story, the title relates to the number of miners trapped in a copper mine in Chile, in 2010. It's a compelling premise. We feel for the miners in their small, claustrophobic hole some two thousand feet below the surface. And we empathize with anxious family and friends above ground who desperately want the men rescued.
Based on the follow-up book "Deep Down Dark", the script has some problems. Characterization is minimal. Barely twenty minutes in, the mine's collapse supersedes characterization. If you're not familiar with the people by then, too bad; miners and their family members tend to take on a stick figure quality, one character pretty much blends in with some other character.
English dialogue in a Spanish speaking country comes across as unrealistic. But much worse is the stilted, contrived nature of the chat; overwrought drama, anguish, arguing, and outward display of emotions reek of Hollywood talking, not the people who experienced this event. Despite the overly Hollywood feel to the script, the final twenty minutes are compelling and inspiring.
Casting and acting are generally acceptable, except for the presence of Antonio Banderas in the lead role. As happens so often, Hollywood inserts big name actors into lead roles, which accentuates the Hollywood feel of a film, rendering the movie contrived. I would have preferred a lesser known actor.
Background music consists of Spanish songs, which is nice. Color cinematography does a nice job in a low-light environment. Some segments in Act II could have been excised or shortened, as they either slow down the plot or they convey the impression of filler.
The main reason to see this film is because of its real-life premise. The event really happened. How that event was handled by different characters, and the emotions it evoked during a span of many days is what gives the film its potency, a flawed movie script notwithstanding.
The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
Eh ... no
Through the first half, more or less, it held my attention. A family turns off the main highway onto a dirt road in search of a diamond mine in them thar hills. Their car breaks down, stranding them in a lonesome desert with no way to communicate their SOS. We're in daylight, to begin with. But as day turns to night, their plight turns creepy: strange noises, not knowing what's out there. Yet someone or something is watching them. This not knowing ups the suspense factor. Unfortunately ...
A certain character conveys the essence of the menace; and soon thereafter we actually see the menace. What a letdown; sheer Hollywood lack of imagination. From this point on, the plot goes downhill, so to speak, as the family does battle with the villains. There's lots of yelling, screaming, shrieking, running around, and physical contact; also lots of gore.
The film's first half is not a segment one should watch right before a wilderness camping trip, as it is creepy, spooky, suspenseful. Yet the second-half plot is so stupid and so Hollywood contrived, by the time the film is over, if one has the patience to sit through it, that prospective camping trip doesn't look so fearful after all.
Casting is acceptable. Acting is okay, though in a horror movie like this, acting really isn't that important. Color cinematography is pretty good. Sound quality in the copy I watched seemed substandard, with the dialogue slightly muffled.
"The Hills Have Eyes" will appeal to horror fans, no doubt. I'm not one of them. And so for me, despite a reasonably good first half, the second half is so banal, so trite and unimaginative, the film goes in my trash file of films I wish I had never wasted time on. Score of 3.5 out of 10.
Raggedy Man (1981)
Time And Place
It's 1944; WWII is in progress; times are tough all over. A divorced mom who's trying to raise two young boys, Nita (Sissy Spacek) works in her home as a switchboard operator. She lives in a dilapidated wood frame house with paint severely peeling. Nobody in this small Texas town has much money, and few have any education. They're all kind of ... trapped.
Into Nita's dreary life comes a sailor on-leave, named Teddy (Eric Roberts). Cautiously, over time, Nita and Teddy become more than friends; Nita's two boys take a liking to Teddy. Undeterred by local gossip, Nita and Teddy continue their relationship.
The best element by far is the sense of time and place we get from this film. Production design is superlative. From the dank wallpaper to the Lux detergent box in the kitchen, to the tinny radio music of "Rum and Coca-Cola", to those old fashioned gas pumps, to slamming screen doors, the viewer really feels like he or she is back in the 1940s. Cheap era clothes amplify the sense of time. And the blackness of night scenes with the chirp of crickets and streets devoid of street lights scream small, country town.
I am ambivalent about the subplot of the two local louts. It seems highly contrived. Yet, without it the overall story would be almost stagnant. This subplot eventually takes on some importance, and leads to a surprise final Act, with a sudden infusion of tension and suspense.
Casting and acting are fine. Sissy Spacek has been effective in every role I have seen her play. Color cinematography is well done. Background music is intermittent; scenes that lack it amplify a sense of realism.
A less than perfect script combined with an abrupt tonal shift toward the end notwithstanding, "Raggedy Man" conveys a marvelous sense of time and place.
The Shanghai Cobra (1945)
Poory Written Script
Theft of radium from a bank vault, a jukebox containing a camera, and a switchboard supervisor that understands Morris code figure into this murder mystery featuring Sidney Toler as the inimitable Charlie Chan. The story follows the same whodunit theme as other Charlie Chan mysteries. And I wish I could recommend this film; but I can't.
The script is poorly written. I about tore my hair out trying to figure out who's who with these various story characters and how they related to each other, if at all. Suspects are poorly defined. There's very little suspense here. The plot is somewhat mangled with unexplained occurrences. Some unnecessary scenes could have been either shortened or deleted.
The B&W lighting also is not high quality. Though the noir atmosphere at the very beginning is atmospheric, the lighting is so dark the viewer can hardly distinguish character faces in outdoor scenes. High contrast lighting is also too severe in underground segments.
The "cobra" is actually a person that inflicts a small cigarette lighter device containing poison into the victim. It's an imaginative plot hook, but hardly realistic. Beyond that story hook and a couple of funny Birmingham character scenes, the poor script and outdoor lighting render "The Shanghai Cobra" below average in the Charlie Chan series of whodunits.
Oliver Stone knows how to make good movies. And "Snowden" is a good movie. From start to finish the film suggests a political thriller, comparable to "All The President's Men". With an overall tone of suspense and intrigue, the underlying theme here expresses the clash between citizen privacy and government spying by means of technology in the name of national security.
Of course Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is "just" a 29 year old computer geek who wears casual clothes and a backpack. How could he be a threat to the government? Well, in addition to being smart and having a conscience he happens to be in a position that allows access to sensitive computer information. He doesn't like what he sees; and he takes action.
Ed Snowden comes across as innocent, naïve, and introverted. His girlfriend has an influence on him, and gradually changes his political point of view in a way that motivates his extreme actions.
The script is well written except for the continual use of flashbacks, which would normally render a jerky plot. Yet, the editing is so polished that the plot flows fairly well despite the flashbacks. Background music generally is somber and serious. Editing is terrific. Casting and acting are fine. At first I had qualms about the casting of Gordon-Levitt, based on movies of his I have seen. But here he gives a surprisingly effective performance in the title role.
Cinematography is acceptable, but I could have wished for more realistic production design. Computer control rooms and panels look a bit too futuristic in a Star Wars sense, for American government facilities.
"Snowden" conveys a mood of justified paranoia. It reminds me of the film "Silkwood", wherein an ordinary person takes on a powerful institution. This underlying theme is almost always potent in the right directorial hands. Consistent with his past films, Oliver Stone has made a riveting, timely, and potent film.
Roadhouse 66 (1984)
A rich city boy from back East named Beckman (Judge Reinhold) encounters local bullies in the form of rural Arizona rednecks as he drives west through the desert. Together with his hitchhiking companion, Johnny (Willem Dafoe), the two buddies function as updated characters to Buz and Todd, from the old television series "Route 66". I never saw the TV series, but it must surely have been better than "Roadhouse 66".
A lot of the screen time takes place in or near this roadhouse, a local greasy spoon, where guys play pool, a local band livens things up with blue-suede songs, and the manager is a savvy, streetwise gal who reminds me of actress Ida Lupino. The plot has Beckman and Johnny meeting some local babes and fighting the bullies in the cafe.
The best thing the film has going for it is that it was filmed entirely on-location in Arizona; and there's no CGI. The desert scenery is nice. And I like the performance of the café manager who doesn't suffer fools gladly, having been one herself when previously married to the star bully.
But like the town itself, the film is boring. Not a lot happens here. Original songs are blah and forgettable for the most part. And the ending is predictable. But the worst element is the casting of the two leads. I can't take Judge Reinhold seriously as an actor. He always reminds me of those irritatingly lightweight "comedies" of the 1980s. I also dislike his geeky persona and annoying smirk. Willem Dafoe carries around the same irritating regional accent in all movies I have seen him in. At least he had the smarts to avoid a career as a singer. This film shows why.
This is a below average buddy/road film. For some viewers, and depending on their mood, it may help pass the time. Oh, and the prod design for the greasy spoon is not realistic, owing to the absence of a major component ... flies.
An original BBC story with Conan Doyle's two main characters Sherlock Holmes (Rupert Everett) and Dr. Watson (Ian Hart), "The Case Of The Silk Stocking" takes place in London in the early 1900s. A young girl of the English aristocracy has been murdered. Some of the story characters are aristocratic and not very likable. Major scenes take place in a high brow, Victorian setting.
The plot is clear enough and there's some genuine suspense. But there are too few suspects. I kept waiting for some strange plot twist; it never came. The story's underlying premise I found disappointing. And the solution to the case is revealed too soon.
Although Holmes presents many of the traits and mannerisms we would expect from Conan Doyle's original character, in this film, as portrayed by Rupert Everett, the character comes across less intellectual as merely haughty and hostile, not unlike the aristocratic characters into whose world he has entered. Except for the charming young females, the entire bundle of characters is too snooty and superior for my preference.
Probably the best element is the editing, which skillfully blends concurrent events in an interesting way and shows character relationships across the entirety of the principal cast. Intermittent background music is nondescript and a bit loud. Costumes and prod design are expertly crafted for a difficult social class and historical era. Color cinematography is indifferent but competent. They went a bit overboard with the fog machine.
Well worth a one-time viewing, "The Case Of The Silk Stocking" strikes me as your typically well-directed but assembly-line-produced murder mystery. The result is a modern update of an iconic fictional detective investigating an original, but none too believable, story; by-the-numbers script; and a well-known but miscast actor in the title role.
La muerte llama a las 10 (1974)
Mediocre Production Values
This is one of those films where it's hard to know what to make of the story until right at the end. The back-story is well hidden, with only occasional dialogue references to a Vietnam photojournalist named "Michael", and the visual of a mysterious black briefcase that comes into the possession of Michael's girlfriend in London. The plot takes place almost entirely in London and is focused on the girlfriend. Along the way, at least one person is murdered. A couple of characters function as red herrings. And that's about it, until the end.
There are a couple of spooky segments; one takes place in a deserted old airplane hanger, accompanied by semi-noir lighting and the shadow of someone holding a gun. The killer tools around on a motorcycle, dressed entirely in black leather. I correctly figured out the killer's identity, but I missed the motive.
The story is fairly simple and is explained quickly. But viewers expect that a high-quality giallo will have striking visuals, spine-tingling suspense, and a surprise ending. "The Killer Wore Gloves" spends so much plot time on the girlfriend, the killer and this person's movements are not accentuated, which detracts from suspense. The ending I had figured out about two-thirds of the way through.
Visuals at best are mediocre for the giallo genre. They're not bad. But the lighting could have been spookier in combination with more scenes devoted to the killer. Sound quality is muffled, especially near the beginning. Even at the end, poor sound quality covers up part of the killer's explanation. Intermittent background music is frantic and annoying. Casting is acceptable, but Gillian Hills is not a very good actress in the role of the girlfriend.
This Euro-cinema whodunit is worth a one time watch for viewers who appreciate the giallo genre. But a general audience will probably not be impressed, as production values trend somewhat low and acting quality is not especially good.
Deadlier Than the Male (1967)
Dated and Formulaic
Greedy big business tycoons fighting each other for oil wealth propels a plot that is formulaic, more or less, to those James Bond spy flicks of the 1960s. Here, the most conspicuous villains are females: young, shapely, and sexually alluring.
The fantasy script is comic bookish, with absurd action segments, shallow characters that lack a back-story and have no depth; contrived coincidences in timing; witty but too clever dialogue. All of which contribute to entertainment value for viewers who don't mind an almost total absence of realism. But I do mind, and I find the film boring. The clichéd plot elements render a lack of tension, suspense, and mystery. Mostly what the filmmakers seem to want is for male viewers to fixate on the lovely, curvaceous females.
Visuals are quite dated. I did like the life-size chess players toward the end. But even the dialogue comes across as dated, like when one character challenges another to a game of chess, the first character announces in a proud voice: " ... the age of computers, Drummond", and up pops the life-size chess props controlled by remote control. The implication is clear; viewers are supposed to be impressed.
Casting consists of mostly beautiful people. Richard Johnson, as hero Hugh Drummond, is as boring as the plot. Elke Sommer plays her usual stiff, cold performance, but is less robotic than in other films of hers that I have seen. Mediterranean settings are attractive and nicely filmed. Sound effects are adequate; the opening song and some of the scenes appear to have an interesting echo chamber effect. Film editing is quite good, though the plot seems too long and drawn out; a one-hour run-time would have covered the two or three essentials.
"Deadlier Than The Male" is typical of spy films made during the 1960s, especially in tone, costumes, and script gimmicks. It's a film that will be nostalgic and entertaining to male baby boomers. I regard it as kind of a cinematic relic.
I Saw the Light (2015)
In Post Great Depression America
With the same title as a song written by him, this film chronicles the turbulent life of country/western singer/songwriter Hank Williams. The plot spans the late 40s and early 50s, when he was most popular. Terrific costumes and prod design for that historical era contribute to realistic visuals, as does the cinematography, a blend of B&W, color, and sepia. Many interior scenes convey a dimly lit, drab atmosphere, common in post Great Depression America.
The major problem here is the script. Too much time is spent on his stormy marriage to wife Audrey; this theme repeats over and over. As a result the film's tone trends toward anger. The tone needed to reflect melancholy. Moreover, the strongest scenes are right at the end, the funeral, which needed to be at the very beginning to set the stage for a life beset by difficulty and depression. The ending then could have been an expanded version of the last few hours of his life and subsequent funeral.
In addition, there's a tendency to insert filler scenes into the plot that, although factual, were tangential to his onstage performances and his many burdens. The long segment of his and Audrey's reconciliation at a rural home, the B&W movie reel, the Dory Sherry interview, the bird dog hunting are examples of plot segments that could have been excised from the film.
Acting, both by Tom Hiddleston as Hank and Elizabeth Olsen as Audrey, is acceptable. But having Hiddleston lip sync Williams' songs might have worked better.
The film's poor public reception may relate less to the film's plot problems than to the subject matter. Time moves on. Perhaps a modern audience no longer feels that the life of a county/western singer from 65+ years ago would be relevant.
Yet, for Hank Williams fans, like me, the film is worth watching at least once. His music is frozen in time, the songs being expressions of sadness and heartache that were common among the common man and woman during a period in American history that had not yet fully recovered from the Great Depression.
I'll Name the Murderer (1936)
Instead of a well-known crime detective we get a hotshot newspaper columnist who's hot on the trail of a murderer. Tommy Tilton (Ralph Forbes) writes a gossip column called "Tattle-Tales Along Broadway", and hobnobs with all the big city police brass and attorneys in town.
When one of Tommy's buddies is suspected of murder in a supper club, Tommy's fast thinking and keen deduction work quickly to unmask the killer. The film's title comes from Tommy's ongoing sleuthing efforts described in his daily column.
The script of "I'll Name The Murderer" is b-grade quality, typical of the 1930s. Tommy is something of a gadabout playboy type that I found less than credible as a detective; Charlie Chan and other fictional detectives carry more cerebral heft.
I counted 6 or 7 suspects. The identity of the killer came as something of a surprise to me. I guess I missed the part about the person's motive. Dialogue is fast-paced and perfunctory, though there's a bit of humor in a few scenes. The ending plot segment contains just a bit of spine-tingling suspense, but then the story ends rather abruptly, via some usual plot clichés.
B&W cinematography is fairly good for the most part. But sound quality is a bit muffled. Except for Ralph Forbes, who is not convincing as a detective, the casting is okay. Acting is about what you would expect for the 1930s, slightly amateurish and at times a bit hammy. Most scenes take place on indoor sets minimally furnished, though certainly no more austere than the Monogram sets for Charlie Chan.
As a whodunit, this film is not bad, but there's nothing here that we haven't seen before in countless other murder mysteries. I would describe "I'll Name The Murderer" as mediocre.