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Showing posts from 2018

Chained for Life (1952)

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Many of the current crop of television shows owe quite a bit to exploitation films of the past, and it constantly amuses me to see genres that have generally been treated with eye-rolling scorn catch the imagination of mainstream audiences.  Sons of Anarchy, despite its pretensions toward being an update of Hamlet, was at its heart a good, old fashioned biker gang movie stretched out to multiple seasons. Orange Is the New Black?  Women in prison films - and this one enjoyed largely by women, who in the past would have walked in on something like Chained Heat screaming about how they can't believe men could watch such trash.

American Horror Story is a mishmash of many obvious influences, through (at first) seemingly disconnected seasons which eventually weaved into their own universe, with some of it being better than others - and much, especially in later seasons, feeling frustratingly random.  One of the random bits in the fourth season, Freak Show, was lifted almost wholesale fr…

Hit Man (1972)

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The Blaxploitation genre these days often gets a bit more credit than it deserves, largely due to directors like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez pushing the movies as an influence.  Truth is, there are a number of hidden gems that were made by this time, by both white and African-American directors, and it was a bit of a shame that the backlash against the worst aspects of these movies (mainly by white critics) led to the premature demise of this type of film making and, as a result, the careers of many involved.

The reason I think it gets too much credit for influencing big budget retro-exploitation is because, like most things removed from its proper time and place, only the best examples are remembered.  Classical music is a great example.  We are a century or more removed from the most influential composers.  On the other hand, we are also a century or more removed from thousands of mediocre composers whose material was played for light entertainment at dinner tables throu…

Shoot First, Die Later (1974)

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Of all my hobbies I can definitely say that my top two are record collecting and delving deeper and deeper into what cinema has to offer.  While I do not collect DVDs like I do records, there is a connection.  There is just over a century of material and, while that may seem like a blink of an eye in the history of humanity or, indeed, the world, it is still enough time to have created enough material to keep an interested person finding something new for a lifetime.

Which brings me to my first poliziotteschi, Il poliziotto e' marcio, retitled Shoot First, Die Later for international distribution.  The original Italian translates roughly to The Rotten Cop, which is much more appropriate than the attempts of U.S. posters to make it look like some sort of James Bond knockoff. 

Domenico Malacarne (Luc Merenda) is Milan's top cop, gaining some unwanted media attention after he and his partner Garrito (Rosario Barelli) manage to chase down and arrest the perpetrators of a deadly j…

Marooned (1969)

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There is a reason, despite the criticisms of Neil Degrasse Tyson, why science fantasy will always trump hard science fiction when it comes to the media of film.  It's kind of accepted that if you are taking the time to read a book that you have the patience, and possibly the intellect, to understand the concepts presented and are willing to marvel at many of the things the author gets right, even if its decades down the line.  With movies, however, it is a lot more interesting to watch a bunch of ships dogfighting, with full sound in space and maneuvers that ignore the fact that the lack of atmosphere in space make them unnecessary.

After 2001: A Space Odyssey, it's not surprising that film execs would think that maybe another slow-moving, largely fact-based science fiction film with convincing effects would hit it big.  So, in that vein, we have John Sturges taking over a movie that was originally meant to be directed by Frank Capra and adapting it from a book by Martin Caid…

Countdown (1968)

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All great directors start somewhere.  Often, that is the only reason anyone really knows a movie exists.  Duel is an okay made-for-television film, but for all the killer car movies that came after it, it would largely be forgotten today if it was not for Steven Spielberg getting his start with it.  Even Stanley Kubrick started off a pulpy bit of noir called Killer's Kiss, which really isn't on anyone's list of classics.

With Countdown we get to see Robert Altman in his feature film debut.  He had done television and industrial films before, but here he gets to direct a rather staid, and sometimes dull, film about the impending moon landing.  Still, he and his cast do wring some life out of it despite the budget limitations and the fact that not a lot happens until about the last third.

Chiz (Robert Duvall) is set to become the first man on the moon as NASA's Apollo project comes to its fruition.  However, the Soviets manage to do a successful orbit of our satellite a…

Bright (2017)

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While there are many advantages of the platform that Netflix pioneered - from being able to stream shows and movies to not having to worry about running up late fees if you forget to turn the tape or DVD back into the store - one of the things I have missed from the past were direct-to-video films.  As the drive-in and bargain theaters slowly faded away b-movies needed another outlet, and video stores were definitely it.

Honestly, most large studios won't take the chances of putting something with a limited audience in the theater, and many chains won't fill up one of their theaters with something like Bright when it's one more room they can jam a number of people into to see the newest Marvel offering - especially when the movie's director is one of the many responsible for dragging the competing DC universe through the muck.  After practically destroying the franchise with Suicide Squad, trying to convince the usual Hollywood machine to back an overly expensive pulp…

The Lost Continent (1968)

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Saturday mornings as a kid in the 1970s and 1980s was great.  While I did like some cartoons, what I always waited for was a show on KPHO (now a CBS affiliate, but back then an independent station) called The World Beyond.  Opening with the sounds of Jon and Vangelis's "Curious Electric", and featuring a spinning galaxy, it featured everything from old Universal horror films to Godzilla vs. everything.  Sure, there were things to do outside, but they could wait.

That's not to say everything I ever saw on there was of the greatest quality.  They played the Hammer and American International films as well (edited slightly for content, of course), and that even included the lesser efforts, like The Lost Continent.  The last time I could remember seeing it was at my grandparents' cabin in Payson, and this was probably when I was 11 or 12.  I had seen it before, and it wasn't any better that time around.  The only thing that stuck with me over the years was the th…

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

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If there is one thing a Cold War is good for it is spy thrillers.  That is why even the newer James Bond films are left hurting for convincing villains.  Communism, at least the way it was practiced behind the Iron Curtain, was the anathema of everything modern Western civilization stood for.  You didn't need a moustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash when you had at your disposal a hive mind of political fanatics that spit bullets and political dialectic equally.

We now know that things were more than a little different than we thought, but the outrageous fear both sides had for each other (usually based on exaggerated claims themselves or individual bad actors) made for some great stories.  Even to this day, if you want to do a spy story right, setting back in the days of the Cold War (like the television show The Americans).  There is only so much shadowy organizations like SPECTRE or Hydra can do on their own, after all.

This new version of John Le Carre's classic espionage no…

Road House (1989)

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When you mention any '80s film there is inevitably rumors that a remake is in the works.  Not surprising, as even '90s movies seem fair game right now, and certain franchises, like Spiderman and Batman, seem to get rebooted every few years.  The problem is that certain movies can only belong in the time period they were made.  It has nothing to do with quality, but simply the fact that certain genre films only work in the era they were made.

The '80s contain many of these, and one of the foremost being action films.  Yes, the first two Expendables movies were fun, but they still felt like modern action films.  All the old guys get together for one more round.  It still feels way too much like, "Remember when?"  And, yes, many of us remember when rather clearly. 

That doesn't mean I remember everything fondly.  At the time Road House came out I consider Patrick Swayze another up-and-coming pretty boy without much substance.  I was forced to watch Dirty Dancin…

10 Rillington Place (1971)

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There are many movies and TV shows that glamorize serial killers as evil geniuses that weave complex webs and stay one step ahead of the law for years as the body count piles up.  The truth is more along the lines of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer than it is The Silence of the Lambs.  There are some undoubtedly reaching supervillain status, but the average killer relies on a combination of being able to hide behind a respectable facade and police incompetence.  A bit of isolation, usually in a place where police don't want to be, doesn't hurt.

John Christie was certainly no genius.  He was, in fact, a violent thug with a penchant for prostitutes (their usual services, not murdering them, although one of his later victims did work in the profession) who managed to somehow keep many of his baser instincts hidden for awhile after being released from prison, but for some unknown reason finding a new hobby in murder as World War II raged on and the bombs dropped on London.  He…

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

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Sam Raimi has had quite a journey, from pounding the pavement to make and promote The Evil Dead, to making two excellent Spiderman films and then, finally, to the point of making a Disney film.  For Raimi, it is definitely a success story, and proof that hard work and perseverance can occasionally get you somewhere, even in Hollywood.

Still, he has had his ups and downs.  Along with two great Spiderman films came Spiderman 3, and such vanity projects as For the Love of the Game.  Through it all, everything he has done, whether successful or not, felt like the works of an individual that really cared for the craft of filmmaking and wanted to make the best movie he could.  Unfortunately, with Oz the Great and Powerful, it feels for once that he is merely coasting through.  It's probably no surprise that the next thing he did after this is return to the universe that introduced him to the world.

Oscar Diggs (James Franco), also known as Oz the Great and Powerful, is a shabby, womani…

Total Recall (2012)

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I hate to call the current spate of remakes a trend.  In truth, Hollywood has been remaking films since its Golden Age.  I would say in most cases these days they are just unnecessary.  I think a bigger problem that someone like me has is that it makes me feel a bit old when I start complaining.  "Why remake Total Recall?  That's a movie I saw in the theater.  As an adult even!  Heck, the movie is only twenty-two... um... shut up, kid!"

Yes, twenty-two years between the original and the remake is not that much.  There were three versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde within that same time period from, the first only 11 years after the original.  Looking back at that time, it brings up more of a point about current remakes.  The 1931 remake was a sound picture, while the original, as great as it is, was silent.  The 1941 version may seem unnecessary, but it feels more like a modern film than the 1931 version simply because the art of making movies had changed that much with…

Queen of Blood (1966)

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Roger Corman was known to spare no expense when producing movies.  And by that, I mean that if any of his up-and-coming filmmakers asked him to spare a dime, it was doubtful they would receive a nickel.  Despite making a number of great movies, Corman always looked at it as a business venture rather than an artistic one.  He just happened to be pretty good at both ends.

American International, the company that he worked with almost exclusively in the 1950s and 1960s, managed to acquire the rights to some highly-regarded Soviet science fiction movies made at the time.  Soviet films were never known to be high-budget affairs themselves unless whoever was in charge decided they had to try and trump some American blockbuster, but the films they purchased had some of the best special effects of anything coming out at the time. 

Of course, just releasing these films as intended during the Cold War era was not going to fly, as they contained their share of anti-American propaganda.  Instead…