Archive for the 'Movies and TV' Category

Is Netflix Shoving Us to Stream? Apparently not

Posted in Movies and TV on August 20th, 2012

UPDATE: Maybe it is just a run of odd luck. It does seem odd that Smallville Season 4 Disc 4 suddenly becomes unavailable, that Stargate Season 4 Disc 1 is suddenly hard to get, and that at least one or two other old, presumably not-much-in-demand others won’t ship…but they are, finally, shipping us a TV DVD. I’m still a little suspicious (given Netflix’ past history of manipulating queues), but…

Second update: Netflix has gone out of their way to provide Stargate SG-1 Season 4 Disc 1. We’re happy.


Original post:

Maybe it’s just a run of odd luck on our part, but I wonder…

We have a disc-only subscription to Netflix, because our DSL–while fast enough for all other purposes–isn’t fast enough to deliver a streaming Netflix picture that we consider watchable on our HDTV.

We have a three-disc subscription because we watch old TV series on disc. Otherwise, a single-disc subscription would be jes’ fine: we watch one movie a week.

Until last week, Netflix was working the way I’d expect: you send back a disc, you get the next disc in your queue…almost always. (We don’t pop the latest movie releases up to the top of our queue.)

And then…

We sent back a TV disc, with another TV disc at the top of our queue (I pop the next one up when one’s finished). We didn’t get the next disc; instead, we got another movie.

We sent back the movie, with two TV discs at the top of our queue. We got another movie…and both TV discs suddenly said “Very long wait.”

We moved those discs down the queue and another, entirely different, TV disc to the top of the queue. And completed the only TV disc we had on hand, and sent it back.

And got another movie.

I’ve now put three TV discs, none of them showing a wait, on top of our queue. Two discs are on the way back to Netflix.

If we get more movies, frankly, I’m gonna get suspicious. Suspicious that Netflix is deliberately ignoring TV discs in an effort to force us to use streaming for TV and pay the extra $8. (Which would require at least an extra $30-$50/month to get adequate bandwidth.)

Which would also backfire, since we’d drop back to a single-movie (Blu-ray) subscription, and the differential is a heck of a lot more than $8.

I trust it’s just some odd sequence of accidents. But the fact that Netflix has, over the years, always handled the queue properly (and we’re very early subscribers), does make me, well, a little suspicious.

Is this happening to anybody else? Or are we just oddballs? (OK, maybe the fact that we don’t pay a fortune to have Really Broad Broadband and actually watch TV series on discs makes us oddballs…)

Mystery Collection Disc 32

Posted in Movies and TV on August 2nd, 2012

Hold That Woman, 1940, b&w. Sam Newfield (dir.), James Dunn, Frances Gifford, George Douglas, Rita La Roy, Martin Spellman, Eddie Fetherston. 1:07 [1:04]

This fast-moving comedy (not much mystery, although there’s plenty of crime) is set in an LA where apparently nobody actually pays for anything and people move every few days to avoid being held accountable, thus keeping an army of skip tracers employed: People who go out to either get some money from the skipper or retrieve the item.

Skip-Tracers Ltd. has a star tracer—and another guy who doesn’t do so well (and who deeply resents the fair-haired boy but never says why). He’s told that he has 30 days to ship up or ship out, and given to easy assignments to do before his date that evening: A fur coat and a radio. Next thing we see, he’s picking up his date—the beautiful daughter of a cop—and hands her this great new coat to wear for the evening. Oh, and they have to stop on the way to the nightclub to pick up that radio…and when he tries to do that, he gets arrested.

Anyway, one thing leads to another, with repossessions and “un-repossessions” all over the place, a jewel robbery with an obvious suspect (who’s obviously guilty: Not much mystery here), a wealthy Hollywood starlet with an odd accent and a tendency to love whoever’s handy…and this skip tracer who has impulse problems. As with: When you’re about to get fired and have $600 to your name, what’s more reasonable than to propose on the spot, get married, rent a house and spend the rest of your cash on a houseload of furniture. (Which turns out to be…you guessed it.)

Lots of action, a fair amount of fun, reasonably well played. Silly, but (or “Silly, and”) I’ll give it $1.00.

Midnight Limited, 1940, b&w. Howard Bretherton (dir.), John King, Marjorie Reynolds, George Cleveland, Edward Keane, Monte Collins, L Stanford Jolley. 1:02.

The night train from New York to Montreal is the setting for a series of robberies—always in Car 1 (next to the baggage car), always the same MO. In the first one, a young woman—not the intended victim—has crucial papers stolen because the robber wants to intimidate her. She needs the papers and keeps bugging the railroad detectives until one of them takes a fancy to the case (and to her).

That’s the basic plot, and as you’d expect it winds up with the couple getting married, with a fair amount of plot in between. (The plot doesn’t always make sense, but…) The problem I had with this fairly typical low-budget B mystery is the dialog and acting of the head detective and the hero: They both sounded like they were reading from a dictionary, and the dialog seemed wholly artificial. That clumsiness reduces an otherwise typical buck-a-pop hour-long B to $0.75.

Murder At Dawn, 1932, b&w. Richard Thorpe (dir.), Jack Mulhall, Josephine Dunn, Eddie Boland, Marjorie Beebe, Martha Mattox, Mischa Auer, Phillips Smalley, Crauford Kent, Frank Ball. 1:02 [0:51]

There is a plot, to be sure. A young couple about to get married head upstate to her father’s mysterious lodge/laboratory, accompanied by another married couple (the husband a cheerful alcoholic). They arrive at some remote train station where the only conveyance is the source of some sad ethnic humor…and eventually at the house (which the driver didn’t want to take them to). Meanwhile, the father’s just completed his invention, a solar-powered source of unlimited energy! which works equally well under artificial lighting! and will revolutionize the world! According to one review, the lab equipment (with lots of sparks and the like) was the same used in the original Frankenstein.

From there we get lots of secret passages, lowkey-spooky housekeeper, mysterious characters of all sorts, the drunken bumbling and childish screaming of the male friend, one murder, at least one assumed murder and some varied number of unknown folks stalking other unknown folks. I guess it all ends well, but it’s so incoherent that it’s hard to tell. Apparently 11 minutes of an already-short flick are missing; it’s possible (but unlikely) that it would be more coherent if it was complete. Mostly this is just dumb, in a mediocre print. Charitably, $0.75.

Murder at Glen Athol, 1936, b&w. Frank R. Strayer (dir.), John Miljan, Irene Ware, Iris Adrian, Noel Madison, Oscar Apfel, Barry Norton, Harry Holman, Betty Blythe. 1:04 [1:07]

The suave detective on holiday (at a wealthy friend’s home, the friend conveniently gone), trying to write a book while his former-prizefighter pal (they’ve saved each other’s life) is vacuuming, butling, and generally interfering. The neighbors with complicated family stuff—including a golddigger who’s divorced one person for a fat settlement, driven a husband into the asylum, and now wants to get rid of him and marry his brother…and who comes on to the detective, but also has a beautiful and not quite so bizarre friend. Gangsters (I guess) also come into the play—partly because the slut/golddigger/party girl is blackmailing one of them.

What follows: Lots’o’plot but remarkably little real motion, to the point that I may have nodded off once or twice. Three murders (well, five deaths…) It all winds up with the detective marrying the beautiful friend after a (courtship? a few conversations) lasting perhaps two or three days, and justice sort-of done.

Somehow, this one just didn’t work. I didn’t care about the mystery, I didn’t care about the detective, the friend, the victims, anybody. Charitably, $0.75.

Comedy Kings Disc 9

Posted in Movies and TV on July 6th, 2012

The Nut Farm, 1935, b&w. Melville W. Brown (dir.), Wallace Ford, Betty Alden, Florence Roberts, Spencer Charters, Oscar Apfel, Bradley Page. 1:05 [1:07]

A small businessman’s wife gets a postcard from her mother and brother, living in sunny California—and he’s just been offered $40,000 for his store (from a chain), a lot of money in 1935. Maybe they should move to California and buy a nut farm…

Next thing we know, they’ve arrived, first meeting the mother and brother’s half-deaf landlord (whose daughter is the brother’s girlfriend). The brother’s a wisecracking “producer”—or, rather, assistant director who hasn’t actually had a call in six weeks. And the wife has been reading an ad about Hollywood’s need for new faces and a great acting studio.

So we get the plot. She falls into the hands of a slick “producer”/drama coach, while her husband’s out looking for nut farms. He finds one—but she says she can star in a movie for an investment of $40,000, guaranteed to triple the money. And the smooth operator manages to con the husband as well—and even the brother, who he chooses on the spot to direct.

Caution: Spoilers ahead, but not the final round. Since the “producer” has already, um, spent all the money, filming will shut down early—but the kid’s going to shoot those final scenes somehow. When it all comes together and gets its premiere showing, it gets laughed off the screen. As a drama, it’s a pretty good comed…oh, wait… Anyway, after a few more twists, all winds up happily. And it’s funny: fast, well played, funny. Not a major motion picture, but a nice little flick. I’ll give it $1.25.

Palooka, 1934, b&w, Previously reviewed in C&I 7.5.

The Perils of Pauline, 1947, color. George Marshall (dir.), Betty Hutton, John Lund, Billy De Wolfe, William Demarest, Constance Collier, Frank Faylen, William Parnum, Chester Conklin, Snub Pollard, Bert Roach. 1:36.

The good news here is that the film is in Technicolor—a little faded but still wholly enjoyable—and the print is about as good as these ever get: Still VHS quality but very good VHS quality. The better news is that this is a thoroughly enjoyable comedy about movie-making, with Betty Hutton showing herself to be a great physical comedienne as well as a fine singer and accomplished deliberate scenery-chewer.

Hutton plays Pearl White—who did star in the actual serial The Perils of Pauline, but whose life had only certain points in common with this combined romance, musical comedy and satire of early silent churn-em-out movie-making. The first introduction to the movie factory, in which Hutton winds up raging through a series of doors and, in the process, through four or five entirely different movies being made, is nothing short of classic. The supporting cast is also first-rate.

I could go on, but the plot itself is somewhat secondary. If you’re looking for a pure biography of Pearl White, this ain’t it—but I don’t think it was ever intended to be. (Reading the negative reviews on IMDB, I can practically smell the grinding compound on the axes.) This movie is delightful, and I couldn’t possibly give it less than $2.

The Rage of Paris, 1938,b&w. Henry Koster (dir.), Danielle Darrieux, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mischa Auer, Louis Hayward, Helen Broderick. 1:18.

The plot, such as it is: French girl in New York, trying to find work, bluffs her way into a modeling job but takes the wrong address slip—and soon finds herself half-stripped when a businessman walks in to his office. After she flees following an odd conversation, her friend in the apartment house convinces her she needs to marry a rich man, and engages a maître d’ who’s just about saved up enough to open his own restaurant to underwrite the girl so she looks uptown and can snare a millionaire.

Which she does—except that the millionaire’s a good friend of the businessman, who knows she’s up to no good. This leads to him kidnapping her, a variety of stuff happening, her realization that she loves him, his saying “and just when did you find out I’m wealthier than my friend?”—and, of course, it all works out in the end.

It’s an early romantic comedy with some screwball elements, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. plays the businessman with flair. (Darrieux and Auer—the maître d’—are also first-rate, and the rest of the cast is more than adequate.)It’s charming and in the best romcom tradition, years before the genre was really solidified. The print’s pretty good, and I think it’s easily worth $1.50.

Mystery Collection Disc 31

Posted in Movies and TV on June 26th, 2012

Double Cross, 1941, b&w. Albert H. Kelley (dir.), Kane Richmond, Pauline Moore, Wynne Gibson, John Miljan. 1:02.

One of those hour-long programmers that keeps right on moving. This time, a cop’s gotten friendly with a hard-edged woman who co-owns (?) a nightclub/gambling hall. He’s visiting her when he should be on duty. When the cops raid the joint, she manages to grab his gun, shoot another cop, and shove the gun into his hands as the cops shoot him. That’s just one double-cross in a movie that has its share.

The bulk of the plot involves another cop (friend of the first one), his fiancée (who takes photos at the club), his father (a police captain who’s about to be named commissioner), some semi-undercover work, the backer of the club who sees to it that it keeps reopening (big surprise here), and a surprisingly effective movie. Nothing really special, but this one works. Given the length, I’ll give it $1.

Ellis Island, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Donald Cook, Peggy Shannon, Jack La Rue, Joyce Compton, Bradley Page, Johnny Arthur, George Rosener. 1:07.

This oddity is really a semi-slapstick comedy about a park ranger who cheats on his long-time fiancée, gets caught at it, wants his buddy ranger to bail him out by lying (saying it was the buddy’s cousin and the ranger was just meeting her at the train as a favor)…and eventually Gets the Girl. Which is a little sad, actually.

The movie’s “mystery” plot is about a ten-year-old bank robbery (one that suggests Federal Reserve guards are worthless) that yielded $1 million, with the trio of robbers—all immigrants—captured and put away for ten years. Now they’re out and being deported (through Ellis Island, where part of the action takes place), with a deportation process that seems to assume nobody’s ever going to put up a fuss or try to escape. Various shenanigans happen, with hoodlums trying to find out where the money’s hidden, a phony Treasury agent also trying to find the money, the niece of one of the bandits involved, and a moderately clever twist.

Not great, not terrible, but an unsettled blend of semi-mystery, romantic comedy, slapstick comedy and more (there’s a stereotypic farmer-with-shotgun, the “get offa’ my land, you chicken thieves!” type). It does not help that the cheating boyfriend is an incredibly annoying character. I can’t really give it more than $0.75.

Exile Express, 1939, b&w. Otis Garrett (dir.), Anna Sten, Alan Marshal, Jerome Cowan, Walter Catlett. 1:11 [1:09]

Another one that’s part slapstick, part murder mystery (with a spy story and an evil chemical formula thrown in), part romance. And partly seems as though they’re making it up as they go along.

The plot: A beautiful Ukrainian immigrant is a chemist’s assistant, on the eve of getting her citizenship. She’s being courted by a handsome young rogue she doesn’t really love. The chemist has combined a number of specific pesticides to create a super-pesticide that’s sort of a permanent Round-Up: It not only kills all the pests and all the crops, it makes the land useless for years to come. He plans to turn it over to the Feds…and when a spy shoots him, he manages to spill acid on the formula before he dies. (The assistant, having been approached by a spy from her homeland, calls him and warns him—and as he’s about to put the formula in his safe, he gets shot.)

The cops assume that the woman had something to do with it and send her off for deportation after she’s acquitted (I guess—it’s just a bunch of headlines). Since she’s in San Francisco and you can only deport people from Ellis Island, she’s put on the “exile express,” a four-day train ride, along with a tax evader/big-shot criminal who’s happy enough to be going home. And a dashing young reporter who’s looking for some story, although it’s not quite clear what. Oh, there’s also a bedraggled Bolshevik; after anybody talks to him, they start scratching themselves.

Anyhoo…the young rogue sees to it that she escapes from the train with the story that she’ll get married to some American chump, go across the border to Canada, then come back as the wife of a citizen—but, of course, the young rogue’s really the spy’s boss. Without going into the rest of the plot, let’s just say that she winds up happily (I guess) married to the reporter.

All a little helter-skelter. OK, it’s a mess. The print’s mixed, but the sound’s worse: It fades in and out, possibly due to some automatic attempt to reduce background noise (it’s dead silent except when there’s dialog or sound effects, at which point there’s lots of background noise—and sometimes the fade-in misses a line of dialog). I suspect this kind of mixed-genre short movie was enormously popular at one point, but it’s hard to make work well. $0.75.

Hollywood Stadium Mystery, 1938, b&w. David Howard (dir.), Neil Hamilton, Evelyn Venable, Jimmy Wallington, Barbara Pepper, Lucien Littlefield, Lynne Roberts, Smiley Burnette.

Based on the description, I was expecting another variation on the “Who in this big crowd pulled the trigger?” theme—but this nonstop flick isn’t quite that. There’s a murder in the first two minutes, but that’s not the crime. We have a beautiful female mystery writer and a handsome male DA who meet cute, are immediately antagonistic to one another, and of course are going to wind up married by the end of the movie. We have a couple of actual murders—one of them the challenger to a boxing title, murdered in a way that involves an odd scent. We have a comedian playing himself, doing a little act to distract people being held for questioning. We have a murderer who seems like an unlikely candidate. There’s humor, some misdirection, and generally almost too much plot for a short film. All in all, fun and well done. Based on the sleeve’s “66 minute” timing, the movie’s missing 13 minutes. In any case, I’ll give it $1.00.

Box Office Gold Disc 10

Posted in Movies and TV on June 20th, 2012

Portrait of a Showgirl, 1982, color (made for TV). Steven Hilliard Stern (dir.), Lesley Ann Warren, Rita Moreno, Dianne Kay, Tony Curtis, Barry Primus, Hamilton Camp, Kip Gilman. 1:34 [1:36].

A first-rate cast, a good print (VHS quality), an OK story. It’s slice-of-life time for three dancers in Las Vegas: A newly arrived hard-edged former Fosse dancer, just in from New York in her Mercedes; a naïve young thing in from St. Louis; and an Italian stalwart who lives in town with her husband, a hotel concierge who dreams of making it big. The stalwart wonders if she has one more good show left in her—but at whatever age, it’s hard to think of Rita Moreno (Italian, right? and married to Tony Curtis) as being less than superb as a dancer. Lesley Ann Warren does hard-edged superbly, and a combination of bad at making romantic choices and good at telling the truth even better. The rest of the cast includes some notably good talent as well.

The foreground story? Not much, really, Caesar’s Palace (where it was filmed) has decided to go back to a showgirl revue, and the troupe is getting ready. It all revolves around that. Nothing terribly deep, and the St. Louis newbie is a little too naïve to believe—but it all works fairly well. It’s made for TV, but it’s a good job. All in all, it gets $1.50.

Casablanca Express, 1989, color. Sergio Martino (dir.), Jason Connery, Francesco Quinn, Jinny Steffan, Jean Sorel, Donald Pleasence, Glenn Ford. 1:25.

Set in French Africa (Algeria) and Morocco in 1942, based on the plan of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin to meet in Casablanca and plan their war efforts. Churchill’s now in Algiers, and the idea is to get him to Casablanca alive—despite the clear presence of collaborators (Vichy French and Arabs who regard the Third Reich as liberators).

After the setup, it’s mostly set on a train, the Casablanca Express, and it’s a bloody ride as the Germans try to kidnap Churchill. What else can I say about the plot? There’s a modest twist at the end, and we all know that Churchill wasn’t captured by Hitler. In any case, it’s a fairly good cast, the acting is OK, and all in all it’s not a bad ride (although, reading the poisonous IMDB reviews, it’s apparently wildly inauthentic). Filmed where it’s set, by an Italian company. (It’s a “sons” picture—Connery and Francesco are the sons of Sean and Anthony.) $1.25.

Cold War Killers, 1986, color (made for TV). William Barnes (dir.), Terence Stamp, Robin Sachs, Carmen Du Sautoy. 1:26.

The title’s a little misleading. Yes, the plot does involve several deaths—but only one during the film itself, and that one’s off-screen. This movie is a moderately complex espionage flick involving the KGB, the Mossad and at least two different (I think) branches of British intelligence, all somehow trying to solve a 30-year-old mystery when a crashed plane emerges as a large pond is being drained.

What you need to know (and what may explain why this rather good movie is in this set—well, that and its TV provenance): No explosions. No high-speed car chases. No gun battles. Indeed, the most violent action is a window being broken (twice during the film—and we’re expected to believe that a high-level British operative breaks into a store by, wait for it, taking a tire iron to the window instead of using lock picks).

And it’s really quite good. I’m not sure why I liked it, but Terence Stamp is clearly part of the reason. I found this compelling and entertaining. Not a great movie, but pretty good, and exceptional as a TV movie: $1.75.

Delta Force Commando, 1988, color. Perluigi Ciricai (dir.), Brett Baxter Clark, Fred Williamson, Mark Gregory, Bo Svenson. 1:36.

The only way I can plausibly review this flick is as a modern Spaghetti Western, only with grenade launchers, helicopters and an atomic weapon that’s readily carried by one person instead of horses, saloons and acrobatic shooting—although it still has a prostitute (sort of) if less nudity than usual. It’s Italian, it’s got pretty decent production values, it stars a wronged handsome fellow and his unwilling sidekick who seem immune to bullets and leave an enormous body count. I mean enormous. I didn’t even try to count. (The guns all seem to have limitless firepower—even though people are changing clips once in a while. Verisimilitude is not, shall we say, this film’s strong point.)

The “plot”: Some Latin American revolutionaries swipe this backpack bomb from “U.S.Base” in Puerto Rico (I think that was the name), thanks to a lecherous Sergeant who takes a really sleazy hooker to his upscale barracks and…well, never mind. Just know that on the way out, the trigger-happy bomb thieves manage to shoot the pregnant wife of Our Hero.

Somehow, the 50-person Marine Delta Force can’t leave the carrier where they’re staked out waiting to find this bomb—and there’s even a BBC reporter (who reads words very slowly and wouldn’t last a day on the actual BBC), invited there by a State Department idiot who seems to be in control, and… well, never mind. The hero hijacks a helicopter and we’re off and running, er, gunning.

I won’t spoil the plot twist, but it makes no sense in any case. Let’s just say this is mano-a-mano with a few dozen other dead manos (and women) thrown in for good measure. (The plot summary on the sleeve and at IMDB is just wrong.) Viewed strictly as over-the-top Italian action flick making, it’s maybe worth $1.00.

Box Office Gold Disc 9

Posted in Movies and TV on May 13th, 2012

Death Scream (orig. La maison sous les arbres or The Deadly Trap), 1971, color. Rene Clement (dir.), Faye Dunaway, Frank Langella, Barbara Parkins, Karen Blanguernon. 1:36 [1:32]

We have Frank Langella as a mathematical genius, working for a publisher, who’s contacted by someone who really, truly wants him to do something for them…something clearly not on the up and up. He’s in Paris, where he moved two years previously with his wife (Faye Dunaway), their 8-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. Dunaway seems to be having memory problems, the marriage isn’t as good as it should be, and he bonds with the daughter while she spoils the (slightly rotten) son. The real estate agent who found them the apartment lives downstairs with her husband and spends a lot of time with them. Dunaway’s character is seeing a psychiatrist and seems to be getting more anxious by the day, especially when she buys a party dress and her daughter points out that she already owns the exact same dress.

And then, she’s with the kids at a puppet show, buys a hoop for the son, and as they’re going home, she loses them. After clues suggesting that they might have drowned (or that she might have drowned them), it turns out they’ve been kidnapped. The rest of the film deals with that (and gaslighting, but not by her husband). The title’s a cheat; there are deaths (two of them), but that’s not really the theme. I guess it’s a psychological thriller; I just didn’t find it particularly compelling. Widescreen (but not anamorphic, and zooming this VHS-quality print up to fill a big screen was occasionally unpleasant). Not terrible, not great, $1.25.

Powderkeg, 1971, color (TV: pilot for Bearcats!). Douglas Heyes (dir.), Rod Taylor, Dennis Cole, Fernando Lamas, John McIntire, Michael Ansara, Tisha Sterling. 1:33.

The plot’s all seriousness: A band of Mexican bandits hijack a train and its 73 passengers (shooting the troops that are on the train) in order to free the brother of the head bandit, who’s going to be hanged in New Mexico after the gang had raided the town. If the brother isn’t freed, the head promises to shoot all the passengers—and keeps running the train back and forth on 40 miles of track in the open Mexican country, so he can spot any attempts to rescue them.

Well, sir…the note demanding the exchange (pinned to the body of a railroad official, thrown off at the station the train doesn’t stop at) was written under duress by a young Mexican lawyer, instructed to address it to the president of the railroad and any high-ranking names he can think of. The two names he adds turn out to be a couple of guys who’ve done border-town cleanup in the past. And thus the romp begins.

And romp it is: High adventure with low plausibility, carried off with style by a good cast. After learning that this was actually the movie-length pilot for a one-season TV series starring Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole (Bearcats!)—well, it’s still a good flick. It’s not even worth recounting the rest of the plot. I found it well done, enjoyable, a fairly good print; easily worth $1.50.

Slipsteream, 1989, color. Steven Lisberger (dir.), Bob Peck, Mark Hammill, Kitty Aldridge, Bill Paxton, Susan Leong, Abigail David, Robbie Coltrane. (Brief parts by Ben Kingsley and F. Murray Abraham.) 1:42.

There’s a deep mystery to this picture. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Oh, the mystery’s not the nature of the killer who’s central to the plot. He (Bob Peck) starts out being captured by two cops, one of whom (Mark Hammill) delights in blowing people away at the slightest provocation; is taken from them by a no-account bounty hunter (Bill Paxton) who wants to turn him in for the reward; and winds up the most heroic character in the film. If you haven’t figured out what he is long before it’s revealed—about halfway through the film—you’re not trying.

It’s not even the erratic nature of the slipstream—the supposed worldwide band of constant howling winds that’s the chief result of “the Convergence,” a near-future environmental disaster that’s resulted in the death of most people and ruination of most others. The slipstream is terribly ferocious when it suits the plot; nonexistent when it doesn’t.

It’s not even just how long in the future this could be set, given that one semi-decadent “downstream” group, living in an old museum/library setting with a variety of artifacts seems to have an unlimited supply of Dom Perignon.

Variable acting (Mark Hammill makes a great villain), pretty good print, loads of scenery, good stereo sound (unusual for these pictures) with an Elmer Bernstein score. Not a great scifi flick, but not a bad one.

The mystery is this: How on earth does a British 1989 color science fiction flick with good production values and scenery (if not great special effects), produced by Gary Kurtz, filmed in Turkey with a quality score and a good cast wind up in a Mill Creek Entertainment megapack? In any case, I’ll give it $1.50.

Somewhere, Tomorrow, 1983, color. Robert Wiemer (dir. & screenplay), Sarah Jessica Parker, Nancy Addison, Tom Shea, Rick Weber, Paul Bates. 1:31.

At first blush, this appears to be a movie told as flashbacks, starting with a teenager (an 18-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker) in ICU after a minor concussion—because, the doctor says, she seems to want to die. And, in the end, she doesn’t—but there’s also a little twist on the twist.

Basic plot: The girl’s father was killed in a plane crash—it’s never said how much earlier. She mourns him. She and her mother live on a horse ranch, but really can’t afford to keep it up. Her mother’s dating a local cop, and the girl’s not too wild about that.

And then…and then. Lots of plot. Cut to a teenage boy and his friend, taking off in a single-engine Cessna (I guess the kid’s old enough for a pilot’s license) to go visit the kid’s horse, who is on a stud appointment at the girl’s ranch. There’s some sputtering just before they take off (as the kid’s teaching his friend to fly), but they ignore it. Which, of course, eventually leads to them crashing in the firebreak near the ranch, just as she’s taking the kid’s horse out for some exercise.

We wind up with the boy showing up as an all-too-physical ghost only she can see (and, oh look, she was watching Topper just before going out for the exercise ride), a lot of blather about the need for her mother to move on, her mother marrying the police officer…and back we go to the hospital. It all ends happily and truly peculiarly.

The good parts: Very good print (full VHS quality). Some good scenery. The bad parts: The very young Parker (in her first movie, although she’d done earlier TV) isn’t all that great, and neither are the other actors—but maybe that’s the script. Oh, and Parker sings two songs, which turns out not be a win either. I found the whole thing sort of dreary; there may have been a Deep Religious Message that I missed, and there’s definitely a “life must go on!” message*, but mostly it was not very good. Generously, $1.

Box Office Gold, Disc 8

Posted in Movies and TV on April 10th, 2012

Eliza’s Horoscope, 1975, color. Gordon Sheppard (dir.), Elizabeth Moorman, Tommy Lee Jones, Rose Quang. 2:00.

An 18-year-old country girl north of Montreal shows up in a not-so-great part of the city, somehow at an odd apartment building, meeting an ancient Asian astrologer and… OK, the sleeve says she’s “looking for a new life,” moves into this boarding house where Tommy (Tommy Lee Jones) also lives and has a “checked past,” and that the astrologer tells her (the sleeve says an Astrologer who tell here: the person must have actually watched this just before writing it) she’ll meet the love of her life and she starts a hunt for the man.

What I saw: random characters and worse than random filmmaking, with lots of visual hiccups—you see the first second of a shot, then the same first second followed by more—and occasional random inserts of scenes for no apparent reason. Maybe it’s supposed to be trippy, but it felt like stone incompetent direction and editing. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe there is no point.

Even with a young Tommy Lee Jones, I could barely last for half an hour before giving up on it. After reading the odd set of IMDB reviews, I conclude either that the movie’s simply too deep and artistic for my cloddish soul—or that it’s a badly-made piece of pseudo-mystical crap. I note that the director was also the producer, writer and editor—and never directed, produced, wrote or edited another feature film. The star apparently never acted in another movie either (but did stunts in one) Tommy Lee Jones (“Tom Lee Jones” at the time) does not save the picture; not by a long shot. Decent print, I guess. Even in “headier” days I would have walked out on this; it’s possible that if you’re sufficiently stoned, it would be wonderful. Or not. No rating.

It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time, 1975, color. John Trent (dir.), Anthony Newley, Stefanie Powers, Isaac Hayes, Lloyd Bochner, Yvonne De Carlo, Henry Ramer, Lawrence Dane, John Candy. 1:30.

There’s a lot right with this farce—a great cast, good photography, a good print, and some genuinely amusing moments. Stefanie Powers is a beautiful woman with somewhat questionable morals: She divorced her first husband (a starving playwright, played by Anthony Newley) to marry a wealthy construction magnate—but she sleeps with her ex once a week, and when she gets involved with a politician’s campaign she’s clearly ready to sleep with him as well. She also wants to save her feisty mom’s house from being torn down, by her husband’s company, by getting it declared a landmark, and gets the politician involved in that (but he’s double-crossing her). That’s just the start of a fast, frequently funny flick that never stops moving.

So what’s the problem? It tries a little too hard, from the opening cartoon credits to the use of cuckoo-clock sound effects each time the armed mom is about to do something nefarious. (It’s also a panned-and-scanned version of a widescreen flick, but that’s par for the course.) Still, it is a remarkable cast (with Isaac Hayes as a drunken sculptor, a young (and slim) John Candy as a hapless junior-grade cop and more) and while I don’t grant “hysterical” it is amusing in a frenetic way. (It is not a “John Candy film” by any means: his role is relatively minor.) $1.25.

Mooch Goes to Hollywood, 1971, color, made for TV. Richard Erdman (dir.), Vincent Price, James Darren, Jill St. John, Jim Backus and, mostly in cameos, Marty Allen, Richard Burton (voice), Phyllis Diller, Jay C. Flippen, Zsa Zsa Gabor (voice), Sam Jaffe, Rose Marie, Dick Martin, Darren McGavin, Edward G. Robinson, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney. 0:51.

Sometimes a picture is so astonishing that it raises fundamental questions. Such as, in this case, how did this thing ever get made—and, better yet, why? The plot, if you want to call it that, is that a mutt jumps off a freight car (hobo’s bag & stick in mouth) and wanders around Hollywood, instantly charming a number of movie actors—specifically, the first four listed above—and twice getting taken to the same sinister vet’s (I say “sinister” only because I’ve never seen a real vet who’s so bad with animals).

Oh, and Zsa Zsa Gabor narrates the whole thing.

A remarkable cast, although some of them are barely in the picture at all (I think Mickey Rooney’s on screen for ten seconds or less, with no lines, and Phyllis Diller’s part isn’t much bigger). I know I remarked on it: “Don’t all these big names have anything better to do?” Followed by “Did Jim Backus—who co-wrote and co-produced this—really have that many favors owed him?” One repeated sequence (repeated with each of the four main players) is dumb the first time and a little creepy by the fourth. (Apparently the dog playing Mooch was the original Benji, for what that’s worth.) Decent print, good color, wholly pointless, and even as a bizarre little flick it’s not worth more than $0.75.

The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go, 1970, color. Burgess Meredith (dir. & writer), James Mason, Jack MacGowran, Irene Tsu, Jeff Bridges, Peter Lind Hayes, Clarissa Kaye-Mason, Burgess Meredith, Broderick Crawford. 1:29.

I’m not quite sure how to describe this movie, set in Hong Kong while it was still British-controlled. We have James Mason as a half-Mexican, half-Chinese evil power broker (who turns good halfway through the movie); Burgess Meredith as a grumpy old Chinese acupuncturist/herbal medicine purveyor (Meredith also wrote and directed the movie); Jeff Bridges as a deserting soldier who’s also a James Joyce scholar/writer (I guess) and, on the side, blackmailer; Irene Tsu as his Chinese wife/girlfriend/companion; and narration by Buddha (who apparently can, once every 50 years, cause a transmutation in one person when the world needs changing). Oh, and a crass CIA agent who’s also a Joyce scholar and who has trouble dying (he’s as ineffectual at that as at everything else). Some really annoying pop-style songs. As one review says, fight scenes “right out of Batman”—that is, the series in which Meredith was the Joker, certainly not the movies. Jeff Bridges’ first feature film (he was 21), although he’d done TV before that.

That’s just the beginning. There’s lots of plot. Tsu has wardrobe problems throughout, as do a number of lesser-known Chinese actresses. It’s a truly odd flick. The print’s soft but watchable; the flick’s weird but watchable, even if I did sort of go “Huh?” when it was all over. As a not very good curiosity, I’ll give it $1.00.

 

Mystery Collection Disc 30

Posted in Movies and TV on March 16th, 2012

The Bridge of Sighs, 1936, b&w. Phil Rosen (dir.), Onslow Stevens, Dorothy Tree, Jack La Rue, Mary Doran, Walter Byron, Oscar Apdel, John Kelly, Paul Fix. 1:06.

We open on an astonishing trial scene, set high in a courtroom building—a courtroom that apparently emulates Venice, being connected by a bridge to the jail—thus, the Bridge of Sighs. “Commit perjury and it takes 10 seconds to walk over…and 10 years to walk back!” This as the prosecutor hectors the poor young woman mercilessly…except that it’s all an act, as she’s his girlfriend (who keeps rejecting his marriage proposal).

They go off to dinner. She sees someone she recognizes, but who has no time for her. The other man starts to sit down with three others (two men and a woman)—but they’re about to leave, and he goes with them. The next thing we know, there’s a shot, one of the group that just left is dead, the man she’d attempted to talk to runs away—and is captured by a cop responding to the gunfire.

With four eyewitnesses offering the same story, it’s a fairly cut-and-dried murder case—during which the prosecutor (the boyfriend) conceals evidence from the defense, which I guess was considered fair practice in 1936. The jury brings back a guilty plea and the man’s sentenced to death, albeit at the expense of the woman among the foursome going to jail as an accessory (she hid the gun, claiming it was thrust at her).

The first woman’s convinced he’s innocent and sets about proving it—by getting herself convicted on phony check-kiting charges and being sent to the same women’s prison, where she gets the second woman as a roommate. They wind up escaping thanks to the actual killer. Add lots of suspense, an “electric ear” used to bug a hideout, a three-way car chase and a just-in-time happy ending. Lots of action, pretty good dialogue, and a fairly satisfactory early procedural/mystery. Some implausible points—such as a prosecuting attorney immediately taking over a crime scene because he happens to be nearby, and the road from sentencing to actual execution being no more than a couple of months—but never mind. Unfortunately, the sound and picture are both wavery at times, reducing the score to $1.25.

Circumstantial Evidence, 1935, b&w. Charles Lamont (dir.), Chick Chandler, Shirley Grey, Arthur Vinton, Claude King, Dorothy Revier, Lee Moran, Carl Stockdale. 1:07.

A newspaper reporter covering a murder trial along with his girlfriend, the newspaper’s sketch artist, is outraged because the defendant can be put to death based solely on circumstantial evidence. So, after proposing to the woman (which she accepts, then tells him that the newspaper’s gossip columnist had proposed the night before and been turned down), he decides to prove his point…by staging a mock murder with lots of circumstantial evidence pointing to him, getting arrested, tried and convicted, then showing how absurd the situation is.

Right off the bat, that’s more than a little hard to take. A whole lot harder: He chooses the rejected suitor—who is an “old friend” but also has some fairly odd tastes—as the “victim.” Sure, because the other guy couldn’t possibly double-cross him or anything… At this point, I’m convinced that the reporter needs a long vacation and some therapy. But he does his thing, with various staged stuff culminating in the “friend” setting an old skeleton he has lying around into the room of his newly-purchased country home and covering it with lots of furniture. At this point, the agreement is that the friend will add kerosene-soaked rags and burn the place down, then go off to San Francisco under an assumed name until recalled to show up the situation. Except, except: The friend has a passport under another name and a ticket on a cruise ship to France. Except, except: As he starts the fire (and shoots the reporter’s gun into the skeleton to improve the frame), somebody shoots him. Dead.

The rest of the movie runs on from there. We have an over-the-top DA denouncing a signed document admitting the situation as being a probable forgery since the handwriting expert was paid by the defense. We have various shenanigans and, of course, a sort-of happy ending. And I found the whole thing so implausible that it was hard to take seriously as a mystery. There’s also an issue with the sound: For about 15 minutes in the second half of the film, it’s as though it was being recorded from an LP with a bad scratch and loads of surface noise. Still, the acting’s amusing; if you don’t mind the implausibility, this one might be worth $1.

Convicted, 1931, b&w. Christy Cabanne (dir.), Aileen Pringle, Jameson Thomas, Dorothy Christy, Richard Tucker, Harry Myers, Nike Welch. 1:03 [0:57]

There’s something special about mysteries that involve transport—all those great train-based mysteries, some airplane-based mysteries, and a few cruise ship mysteries. Like this one—except that the mystery only seems to occupy about half of an already-short movie and then moves too fast and erratically to be satisfying.

As far as I can figure out, we have a slick type in First Class on a cruise ship (the kind where everybody’s formally dressed all day and all night, which I suppose could have been true in 1931) who makes a point of greeting a young woman who wants nothing to do with him. He’s then approached by another young woman who he wants nothing to do with—but who clearly has some unfinished business with him. We also meet an investigative reporter, a drunk and his cabin mate and a few others. As things progress, the reporter encounters the man refusing to let the first woman go and Has Stern Words. There’s dancing. The man, the drunk and cabin-mate, some other random passenger and a ship’s officer wind up playing poker (the first man losing badly to one person and refusing to pay his losses to another, who he knows was at one point convicted as a cardsharp)—and a couple of hours later, the man’s dead: Hit over the head with a blunt instrument but killed by stabbing.

Somehow, the investigative reporter winds up heading up the case and interviewing all those who might have been involved. Suspicion falls on the first young woman—and she later admits to coshing him over the head (but that wasn’t what killed him). The captain finds out that the ship had been wired (a wire that never reached its destination) that the man had embezzled $100,000 from his company and was to be arrested—and, oh look, there’s some money in the young woman’s closet. Oh, by the way, there’s another murder, one the woman could not plausibly have been involved in. In any case, the way it plays out means nobody could plausibly have guessed what’s going on. And after the mystery’s solved, there’s another five or ten minutes as the ship docks and we learn that the reporter and the young woman are, he believes, engaged.

All bizarrely staged: They keep reminding us that it’s a cruise by having wholly irrelevant scenes on the bridge, about positioning via sextant and calling out headings. There’s very little background to understand why or how either woman is or would be involved with the man; in fact, no motivation appears for any character in the movie. Additionally, there’s so much background noise on the print that the sound is unpleasant through much of the movie. The movie’s title doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. Maybe the missing six minutes explain everything—but as it is, there’s so much idle footage in this flick, that’s a little hard to believe. (Looking at the IMDB reviews, I rather like the one that assumes this is actually a documentary on cruise ship life, interrupted annoyingly with a silly murder plot. I might be more charitably inclined if that was true.) All in all, and most of the rating only for the early shipboard scenes, I can’t go above $0.75.

The Devil Diamond, 1937, b&w. Lesslie Goodwins (dir.), Frankie Darro, Kane Richmond, June Gale, Rosita Butler, Robert Fiske. 1:01 [1:00]

I’m not sure whether I could take another Frankie Darro, All-American Kid, but in any case this movie—about a cursed diamond that a bunch of jewelers want a retired cutter to split into smaller, presumably uncursed stones, and one or two groups planning to steal the jewels—had so many missing syllables and words that I gave up partway through: The quality of the print made it tiresome to try to follow the dialog. I wonder about the IMDB timing—I’d say there was at least a minute’s worth of missing footage during the 15 minutes I watched. Unrated.

The rare truly clever review

Posted in Movies and TV on March 15th, 2012

Background

When I watch old movies from the Mill Creek Entertainment megapacks–what used to appear in Cites & Insights as Offtopic Perspectives (and will continue to appear there, but with a Media label)–I deliberately write my own informal comments (a mini-review, if you will) before looking at any other comments on the film. Then I go to IMDB to check credits and original running length–and usually read some of the reviews of the movie (all of them unless there are more than 20 or so).

IMDB reviews include lots of ax-grinders and lots of purists–people who detest any John Wayne movie that’s not a Western or any Hitchcock movie that’s not a thriller, for example–and lots of people who appear to love any movie that involves light and movement, especially the cheaply-made ones with lousy acting and poor writing. (Purists also include those who treat any “noir” movie as pure magic and lump nearly all old black-and-white B-grade mysteries as noir.)

But sometimes…

Middle Ground

So yesterday I watched Convicted. The title makes no sense at all (especially following, as it does, two movies on the disc both about murder convictions and last-minute salvation), and that’s only the start of stuff that doesn’t make much sense in this movie that manages to combine short running length with what feels like enormous amounts of padding.

I went into this one predisposed to like it, because it’s set on a cruise ship (in 1931), and transportation mysteries–those set on trains, planes or ships–are usually fun and frequently interesting. This flick may have actually been filmed on a cruise ship, and certainly has lots and lots and lots of footage establishing cruise-ship aspects (including a number of short scenes on the ship’s bridge that do nothing whatsoever to forward the plot). Unfortunately, the mystery (other than the never-explained issues of why Mr. X and Ms. Y and Ms. Z and others feel the way about each other that they appear to–what the backstories are) doesn’t take up much of the picture and is wildly slapdash. Even after it’s “solved,” there’s another seven minutes of the ship coming into dock and a wholly absurd romantic plot point–this out of a flick that runs an hour or so.

Unusually, this movie had few (if any) defenders on IMDB. The overall average is 3.8 out of 10, and I think a reel of blank film would get at least a 3. But…

Foreground

“robinakaaly” from the United Kingdom was remarkably creative in his/her August 23, 2011 review. It begins:

This was an interesting documentary about life on an ocean liner in passage from New York to Los Angeles. There was footage of the scary looking passenger gangplanks, freight being loaded, and the side of the ship as she left harbour, with passengers on the ship and crowds on the quayside waving at each other. We see the funnel belching out smoke as if there were no Clean Air Acts (there weren’t then, of course).

and deals with the so-called mystery at the end:

We also get to meet several fictional passengers from the world of entertainment, and a criminal journalist. These characters, their lives, loves, criminal activities and gambling tended to get in the way of the examination of shipboard life.

I can’t link directly to this review; the set of reviews is here.

What I can say is this: Well played, robinakaaly, well played!

50 Movie Comedy Kings Disc 8

Posted in Movies and TV on March 3rd, 2012

The Milky Way, 1936, b&w. Leo McCarey (dir.), Harold Lloyd, Adolphe Menjou, Verree Teasdale, Helen Mack, William Gargan, George Barbier, Dorothy Wilson, Lionel Stander, Charles Lane, Marjorie Gateson. 1:29 [1:27]

Burleigh Sullivan (Harold Lloyd) is a milkman with glasses, a timid sort who gets practical jokes played on him during dairy meetings and isn’t much liked by his boss, the dairy owner. His sister is a hatcheck girl. When he comes to pick her up at the club, she’s being harassed by two sizable and drunk buffoons, one of them far more buffoonish than the other. He comes to her defense and, in the ensuing melee, seems to have knocked out one of the buffoons—who turns out to be the middleweight boxing champion.

That’s the setup. From there, it’s a fast-moving joyride with Adolphe Menjou doing a great job as a boxing manager/promoter with the ethics you’d expect, just enough physical comedy, some great ways to duck-and-dance, love interest, the meek becoming the arrogant—and redeeming himself, and lots more. I found it thoroughly entertaining in an ageless way, well played by everyone concerned, well written and just flat-out funny to boot. A key plot point involves a thuggish boxing assistant who’s literacy is minimal at best and the fact that “some ammonia” and “insomnia” have some similarities. Pretty good print, but it seems to be missing a minute or two (though there’s no obvious gap). Supposedly, this movie almost disappeared because Samuel Goldwyn purchased both the rights (for a Danny Kaye remake) and the negative, and destroyed that—but Lloyd had retained a quality print. I’ll give it $1.75.

Money Means Nothing, 1934, b&w. Christy Cabanne (dir.), Wallace Ford, Gloria Shea, Edgar Kennedy, Vivien Oakland, Maidel Turner, Betty Blythe, Eddie Tamblyn. 1:10 [1:04]

This is a Depression romantic comedy in the worst way: I found the whole thing pretty depressing, and it being filmed in 1934 was part of that. The plot’s also a little strange, possibly due to a few missing minutes in this print. To wit: A young socialite’s at a sleazy roadhouse with her drunk-to-the-point-of-unconsciousness date. She spots four men conferring at a nearby table and thinks they look interesting/suspicious. A waiter tells her she should mind her own business. But of course, she trails them outside and, stuffing her comatose date in her fancy roadster, follows their car…which is on its way to hijack two trucks full of tires, an effort she aids by stalling her car in a manner that blocks the trucks.

In the ensuing brouhaha, one driver gets shot and the handsome young man who was in the same truck admonishes her. They wind up at her father’s (or sister’s?) mansion, with the driver bleeding all over the expensive sofa, cops, doctors, bemused father, angry sister… Anyway: She (the socialite) essentially stalks the young man (who’s a manager at an auto accessories store), loading the roadster down with a dozen or more horns in the process, until she finally gets him to marry her. (The incongruity: He never seems to show more than the most casual interest in her.) Naturally, her sister sees to it that she’s cut off without a cent—and shortly thereafter, he loses his job (which apparently has something to do with the gossipy, loud woman in an apartment near the one they move to, whose husband is a higher-up at the parts place). He’s looking for work. She’s pawning stuff to keep them going—and at one point, a pawnbroker’s wife informs her that she’s pregnant (based on her near-fainting spell?). Anyway, somehow, the husband winds up being part of a tire hijacking ring but heroically saving the day and getting his old job back. Or something like that.

Occasionally amusing, but mostly not, and really pretty depressing as well as being wildly illogical even by romantic comedy standards. (Full confession: I love good romantic comedies.) At best, I’d give this $0.75.

Never Wave at a WAC, 1953, b&w. Norman Z. McLeod (dir.), Rosalind Russell, Paul Douglas, Marie Wilson, William Ching, Arleen Whelan, Leif Erickson, Hillary Brooke, Charles Dingle, Lurene Tuttle, Regis Toomey, Gen. Omar Bradley (playing himself). 1:27.

This one’s also a romantic comedy, as well as a comedy about growing up and the military—and it’s an absolute charmer. Russell plays a Washington, DC socialite, daughter of a senator and divorced from a fabric manufacturer and researcher (who works with the Pentagon on specialized uniform needs)—and whose boyfriend, a Colonel, is suddenly on his way to Paris to work with NATO.

While she first makes a flight reservation for Paris, a discussion with her father leads to a belief that she can get the government to pay for her flight—by joining the WACs with an assured officer commission and billeting in Paris. So off she drives to Fort Lee, where she’ll deal with the formalities before rejoining her boyfriend. Basic training? Surely she doesn’t have to…

Things don’t go quite as planned—and in the process, we get a movie that’s enjoyable on several levels. There’s some pure physical comedy, a lot of relationship comedy (among women as well as between women and men), a lot of heart and an odd but presumably happy ending. Even though there are a few missing syllables (but apparently less than a minute overall missing) due to print issues, it’s still worth $2.

Nothing Sacred, 1937, color. William A. Wellman (dir.), Carole Lombard, Fredric March, Charles Winninger, Walter Connolly, Sig Ruman. 1:17 [1:14]

The plot’s not all that unusual, but this 1937 romantic comedy is in well-preserved Technicolor and stars Carole Lombard, and it’s a flat-out winner. A newspaper reporter who’s done very well for his New York paper gets taken in by a fake Asian potentate (actually a shoe-shine artiste) and relegated to the world’s worst obituary desk. Pleading his case with the editor, he spots an underplayed story about a young woman in a Vermont town who’s dying of radium poisoning.

He goes off to interview her and to show her New York as a great story and publicity stunt. The interactions with small-town Yup/Nope Vermont, specifically a factory town wholly owned by a watch company, and the lush doctor who (mistakenly) diagnosed radium poisoning (a mistake that the patient and doctor, ahem, choose not to reveal when the reporter offers the New York trip) starts out a fast-moving, charming tale. Yes, it’s a bit cynical, but it’s also funny and entertaining. Fairly big-budget for its time, well-made, a good print, and easily worth $2.


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