Sunday, September 28, 2014

Darktown Strutters

Darktown Strutters (1975)

Runtime: Around 85 minutes

Directed by: William Witney

Starring: Trina Parks, Edna Richardson, Bettye Sweet, Shirley Washington, Roger E. Mosley

From: New World Pictures

Here's a quick review from me, of a rather unique blaxploitation film that was on TV last night. Onto the Letterboxd review:

This is a movie I've known about for a long while and even though I heard it described as “obnoxious” I still wanted to give it a chance so when it came on TCM Underground late last night I decided to give it a viewing.

Obnoxious doesn't even begin to describe it.

This in theory is a blaxploitation tale about a group of colorfully dressed women on motorcycles who are together as the mother of their leader is missing and they are all looking for her, but this is simply weird, having everything from a lot of dancing, blackface and the KKK to stereotypical characters straight out of the 1920's, dirtbikes, undercranked footage, all the audio and dialogue being done in post-production, and a Colonel Sanders spoof named Louisville Cross... and there are other things but I won't spoil the surprises.

I definitely am not automatically against films for being strange and nonsensical. Problem was, while I did laugh at some of the absurdity, at other times I thought this was rather painful, due to the lack of subtlety and the overarching unsavory tone. It's SO uneven. I understand those who love it... and those that hate it. Me, this seems to be the most accurate rating I can give it; maybe if I had ingested copious amounts of drugs beforehand... personally, if you want to watch a very strange and unique movie involving themes from the past, I'd rather watch Forbidden Zone, which is not only much stranger than this but that is what I'll do again in the future as I need to add a review for it here.

Anyhow, I'd say that Gene Corman wasn't his brother Roger, but it was Gene that produced The Big Red One, so I can't do that. I'd love to hear how everyone came up with such a strange take on the blaxploitation genre.

I need a little longer break so I won't be back until Wednesday night.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Narrow Margin

The Narrow Margin (1952)

Runtime: 71 minutes

Directed by: Richard Fleischer

Starring: Charles McGraw, Marie Windsor, Jacqueline White, Gordon Gebert

From: RKO

This is another movie I watched courtesy of the local library. It's a film noir classic, or so I heard; turns out that they were right. Onto the Letterboxd review:

No, this is not the 1990 remake starring Gene Hackman. Rather, this is the original 1952 movie that I heard was a film noir classic and thankfully was available at my local library; I heard it features some veterans of the genre and the plot being a case where the typical hard-boiled detective has to escort a gangster's widow on a train from Chicago to Los Angeles in order to give some important information to the authorities and several hitmen are also on board, looking to sniff her out... only they don't know what she looks like... that sounded really interesting to me.

While there were some things that made me go, “Hey, wait a minute now...”, overall it was a movie I enjoyed. It's only 71 minutes and yet there's no wasted time with needless BS. You start off with the lady being picked up and things end as soon as things get resolved. There are the expected hallmarks of the genre, such as the dark subject manner, tough dialogue, plenty of arguing, and some twists and turns, which you definitely get here. There were several surprises, and not just the fact that the detective hero looks like Jack Palance or a villain looking like a cross between Dennis Franz and Harris Yulin.

This B movie was so well done overall, from the script to the performances and how it was shot. Most of it takes place on a train and you do get that claustrophobic feeling, especially with a very large man who claims he's only 260 pounds (more like 360!) having trouble moving around. There's also a swell fight in a train compartment that dare I say rivals the one in From Russia With Love.

From what I've seen in my life (not just what I've watched in these past few weeks) this is deserving to be on the list of the best film noirs ever made.

As an aside, what a long and varied career director Richard Fleischer had, everything from this and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Mr. Majestyk and Red Sonja. I had no idea until I looked it up just now.

I need a short break so I'll return Sunday night.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Roar

Roar (1981)

Runtime: 84 minutes (at least that's the only copy that's available online)

Directed by: Noel Marshall

Starring: Noel Marshall, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, Kyalo Mativo

From: American Filmworks

Here's a totally random film, and an incredibly unique one at that. I'll explain the details in the Letterboxd review but note that this has to be the most dangerous and definitely the most reckless movie that has ever been made and let's cross our fingers something this dumb never happens again, where literally many lives were put in peril for a long time and it turns out, for no real good reason at all. Note that this is a film where you literally see many of the cast get legit attacked by wild animals! Now onto the Letterboxd review:

Note: I do not have any pithy jokes to make concerning the Katy Perry song of the same name; honestly, the song's terrible and Ms. Perry is an ATROCIOUS tone-deaf singer and musician and her being so popular makes me shake my head in shame.

That said, here's a film that at first I thought I had never heard of before, but as the Bad Movie Fiends podcast was reviewing it I realize that I HAD read about this movie before. In short, to catch everyone here are the details on this one of a kind film:

* It was made by Tippi Hedrin and her then-husband Noel Marshall; it was a passion project for them. It includes Tippi's daughter Melanie Griffith in an early role, and other family members are also there.

* For reasons I'll explain in a bit, it took ELEVEN YEARS to film from the time that the script writing began until it made its debut.

* There really isn't a plot to the movie, except that you get to see a ranch (in what's supposed to be “Africa” but it was actually filmed in California) and in the house live an incredible amount of jungle cats; I mean, literally dozens of lions, tigers, jaguars, pumas, and all the other varieties live on the property... and there are other animals around too, such as elephants.

* Note that as far as I know none of these animals were trained. NOW WHAT COULD GO WRONG THERE? Judging by a peak at the incredible trivia section on the IMDb page for the movie, a lot did go wrong, from fires, floods, and illness to the obvious, in that many members of the crew and cast were seriously injured during the making of this motion picture when the animals attacked them, including Griffith and a then unknown Jan de Bont. The full list is there on IMDb but many people got hurt bad and it's a miracle that no one was killed. Believe me, many reckless things happen throughout; this for sure is legit the most terrifying and the most dangerous movie you'll ever see.

* I mean, injuries resulting in many stitches, or to such severity that it took literally a few years for people to recover. You often see those wild animals fighting with each other and all the lion attacks are legit. Talk about terrifying! It goes against the incredibly hippie attitude of the film. Now, I am all for preserving such animals and preventing them from becoming extinct, but keeping wild beasts in your house is insanity. You literally see them tear that dump they call a house apart!

In terms of entertainment value, I can't rate it any higher than I do. Like I said there's really no plot to speak of and they basically went with what footage they could actually get. Lead actor/director/producer/writer/everything else Noel Marshall is not only a pretty crappy actor but he's a major asstagonist, constantly saying that it's OK to live with all these beasts even when you're constantly shown evidence that this isn't the case. Now, I laughed at this bozo getting attacked himself, but in real life putting all the crew members AND YOUR FAMILY'S lives in danger like that for so long?

While it's amazing and it's great to laugh at due to how absurd it is (at least no one was killed or crippled for life), it's not something I'd ever see again. As to how I found it, it's on YouTube in a copy that looks like a foreign dub but actually isn't... you didn't hear that from me, though.

I'll return tomorrow night.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Charlie Chan In London/Charlie Chan In Paris

Charlie Chan in London (1934)

Runtime: 79 minutes

Directed by: Eugene Forde

Starring: Warner Oland, Drue Leyton, Ray Milland, Mona Barry, Alan Mobray

From: 20th Century Fox

Charlie Chan in Paris (1935)

Runtime: 72 minutes

Directed by: Lewis Seiler/Hamilton MacFadden

Starring: Warner Oland, Mary Brian, Thomas Beck, Erik Rhodes, Keye Luke

From: 20th Century Fox

Here's another two-fer from me. This is courtesy of the local library, which actually has a decent amount of these old films. I saw both last night as they are quick watches that aren't too long. First, London, then Paris, courtesy of my Letterboxd reviews.

An untapped resource for me that I finally started using again was going to the local library and for free, picking up an older film to watch. They happen to have a decent amount of old Charlie Chan films and as I've never seen any of the films based on the character from the old Earl Derr Biggers novels, I figured I should try it out and I got the two earliest films they had that starred Warner Oland. Sure, Oland is from Sweden and he's definitely not Chinese in real life, I understand how Hollywood was back then and even in the 1980's you have white people doing the “Yellowface” act.

The title of this film is indeed accurate; the detective is in the jolly old UK. He's there to finish another case but suddenly he's asked to assist in another case. This one revolves around a man convicted of murder who is about to hang in 3 days and his sister asks Mr. Chan for help, so he goes to a hunting club and right before and during a foxhunt he has to try and figure out who the killer is, who of course is there and they do more killing.

While the character acts and speaks in a stereotypical “Wise Oriental Man” manner who often speaks in wacky metaphors and sayings, at least the character is a hero who uses stereotypes to his advantage and isn't a sap. He has to deal with wacky over the top characters (one of which was played by a young Ray Milland), which at least added some color to this sometimes creaky tale.

For what it is-a light mystery film-it's good.

Last night I also watched this Charlie Chan film, which is directly after his adventures in London and he says he's on vacation in Paris but it's actually a front for his real mission, which is investigating a bank fraud. It may not sound exciting, but various murders happen in Gay Paree, which oddly is a world where you don't hear much in the way of French accents, much less French actually be spoken. It's more fun than watching a space opera and have it be about the taxation of trade routes...

This is light entertainment which at least is entertaining to watch. It's not too long and you have Warner Oland (who also did a nice job here) as Chan be a stereotypical yet fun character to watch, he of the wacky and “wise” phrases. Donuts and donut holes are a theme; don't ask, it'll make sense if you've seen the movie. You also get the Apache Dance, something that I hadn't heard of before but it is fun to watch. No, it has nothing to do with Will and Carlton on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Adding a human element to things is the introduction of Charlie's eldest son, who helps out his pops. He is played by Keye Luke, who at least is a legit Chinese man. As I am used to him being an old man in films like Gremlins, seeing him as a 30 year old was jarring at first.

Oh, and even back then the Catacombs of Paris were well-known.

I'll return tomorrow night.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Confess


Runtime: 95 minutes

Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden, Brian Aherne

From: Warner Brothers


I don't know when I'll be able or want to see another Hitchcock film but via the local library I was able to check this one out, one of his more obscure movies... well, at least by his standards. It's about a priest in Quebec and that's not the only unique aspect of it. Onto my Letterboxd review:

Among the lists I've created on Letterboxd is one devoted to the films of Sir Alfred Hitchcock. I've seen part of his filmography throughout my life and I figured it'd be a great idea to watch or rewatch those films, as many of them I rate highly. This counts as one I hadn't seen before but the plot of a Quebec priest (Montgomery Clift) being told a murder confession by someone he knows in confessionals but even when the man of the cloth is accused of that very same crime he can't break the Oath and exonerate himself, leading to great conflict... it was certainly a unique plot. It was based on a stage play and at times it does come across as that but it didn't really bother me.

While this isn't one of the classics from Hitch, it doesn't mean it was bad, not at all. While it is a little ridiculous how the plot is expanded upon with the priest Father Logan having a longtime love and there being blackmail, I still enjoyed this film. It was nicely acted by the main cast (which includes Anne Baxter and Karl Malden), it was filmed very well with some beautiful shots and moments, and in place of any colorful wacky characters in this pretty serious tale (well, aside from the ending), the Quebec City setting and its Old World style provides some flavor and figurative color.

I've heard this was one of the most film noir movies that Hitch did and I'd have to agree with it with all the dark footage and the general plot, and apparently this is a favorite among French New Wave directors, whatever that's worth. I say that even if this is a relatively obscure film, if it sounds interesting then it is worth tracking down.

I'll return Wednesday night.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

I Rewatched Rear Window

A few years ago I reviewed it but to be honest that review was no good so let me just copy and paste what I wrote about the film today on Letterboxd and state that I'll return tomorrow night.

Here's yet another review I am doing over, as I originally had up something far too short for a movie I give the highest possible rating to. I have seen this a few times before and luckily one of them was on the big screen. Still, it was something I hadn't seen in far too long and via my local library I sat down to watch it on DVD.

To think that this movie was filmed on a giant soundstage and almost all of the action was either shot looking into or looking out of one room in an apartment, and most of the sound is ambient and natural to the world and yet it is a masterpiece... Hitchcock has had so many classic films during his long career, but in my opinion this is the very best. The tale of photographer L.B. Jefferies recovering from a broken leg alone (aside from a few occasional visitors) in his apartment and deciding to engage in voyeuristic intentions and look at the lives of some people that live in the complex, until he sees what he thinks is a salesman and the aftermath of him murdering his wife.

Besides the story always being intriguing and you wonder if the greatly named Lars Thorwald actually did kill his invalid spouse, everyone in the cast does a great job playing those interesting characters, from the people who you see in the apartment of Jefferies to the individuals that are seen by the eyes of L.B.; those include a newlywed couple, a young dancer, an older woman living alone, a wacky couple, a woman with a dog, a musician (the guy that created Alvin & the Chipmunks), and of course Lars and the wife; even though you only occasionally overhear them they all get little stories that have a beginning, middle and end. Even Jefferies has a relationship to deal with and his fears of whether he has enough in common with his rich girlfriend Lisa and if opposites would attract and stay attracted forever.

The movie also says a lot about such things as the dangers of being a Peeping Tom and trying to look at the hidden lives of people in the privacy of behind closed doors. It was a hot New York summer so that's why the windows are all open but maybe he should have read more books instead of spying on people; you can actually sort of understand the antagonist's reaction at the end.

Everything about this movie is done so well, even though it's been alluded or parodied probably hundreds of times by now in the 60 years since it first came out, if you haven't seen it in awhile or if you actually have never seen it period, I give it my highest recommendation.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Thomasine & Bushrod/Shaft

Thomasine & Bushrod (1974)

Runtime: 95 minutes

Directed by: Gordon Parks, Jr.

Starring: Max Julien, Vonetta McGee, George Murdock, Glynn Turman, Juanita Moore

From: Columbia

Shaft (1971)

Runtime: 100 minutes

Directed by: Gordon Parks

Starring: Richard Roundtree, Moses Gunn, Charles Cioffi, Christopher St. John, Gwenn Mitchell

From: MGM

Last night on TCM they showed some films from both Gordon Parks, Sr. and Gordon Parks Jr. I'll talk about one of each, the first being one of the 4 films that Jr. made before he sadly perished in an airplane crash (and it's a film I hadn't even heard of before) then I rewatched a classic film from pops; I hadn't seen Shaft in quite a long while so it was nice to check it out again. First, Thomasine & Bushrod, then Shaft.

While I do think it's cool that TCM plays a lot of movies from WAY back in the day (& I enjoy checking them out), it is also cool when they play something from the 70's or 80's. Last night they had the spotlight on some films from both Gordon Parks and Gordon Parks, Jr. This was one of them and I hadn't even heard of it before. It was one of the four movies that Jr. made before he sadly perished in an airplane crash.

It's an obscure blaxploitation western about a male and female duo (blaxploitation veterans Max Julien-who wrote this-and Vonetta McGee) who are like a Bonnie & Clyde in the Texas of the 1910's and with the aid of the newfangled inventions of the automobile and motorcycle they are able to rob banks and evade being captured by “the evil whitey” of this film, which is a Marshal played by George Murdock, likely best known as “God” in the much-beloved Star Trek V. Here, he looked quite a bit like a chubby Kelsey Grammer.

This is not a movie to watch for its action scenes; a good amount of that stuff is covered in wacky montages. Instead, it's more about the story and how the outlaws (at the time, a real life couple off the screen) interact with each other. It has to be said that the movie is intentionally anachronistic at times and the girl is the dominant force in the relationship. Both are interesting aspects in this genre. The heroes are also like Robin Hood in that they give a lot of their stolen loot to the poor people, no matter their creed or skin color.

Another interesting aspect is another blaxploitation vet-Glynn Turman-playing Jomo, a wacky Jamaican who is pretty much a Rastafarian. He provides some comic relief in what is usually a serious tale of outlaws who do wish to settle down but circumstances get in the way. While this isn't a great film I still thought it was fine and I wish it could be more widely available so people don't have to wait for an extremely rare TV showing to check it out.

Now, onto Shaft.

Of course I had seen this a few times before but the last time was a long while ago so I was happy when I saw that TCM would be showing this. Among the lists I have compiled is one for blaxploitation films; now that I have this film on there the list seems most complete, as this helped create a genre that ruled during the 70's.

This isn't a wild and over the top film like you typically saw in the genre. Like others have said it's just a low-key detective story where someone has to help find the kidnapped daughter of a gang leader and it turns out that the mob is involved and all-out chaos could break out due to the race implications.

It's just that this is a well-done movie all around from the interesting story, colorful characters, a quality score overall from Isaac Hayes and of course an awesome magnetic performance from Richard Roundtree as the title character, and it's focused on African-Americans and you get to see the dirty and sleazy parts of New York City and the blue-collar live of that huge city. As it was a huge hit you got all those imitators and there you got the craziness and zaniness.

Like I said it's a movie done well and along with the nice cinematography you have a legendary opening with the all time great opening title song and in just the first few minutes you get the perfect look at who John Shaft is and just how cool that bad mother... is, and it's strengthened by how he acts throughout. Also, what a fiery finale too.

I'll return Sunday night.