Wednesday, March 21, 2007
WATERFRONT - 1944
A YANK IN LIBYA -1942
Yow! The next time I hear someone disparaging old movies as “stupid” and “boring,” I’ll wonder if they saw “A Yank in Libya.” It’s just over an hour long, so I can’t be too hard on it; it does fulfill my minimum expectations for 1940s programmers. Just barely. But it is stupid. And it is boring. It’s about a really obnoxious American reporter in British-controlled Libya during World War II and he’s discovered that the Nazis are supplying the Arabs with guns to cause an uprising. But nobody will listen to him because he’s such an asshole! And he thinks he’s so charming. Blechhh! The very cute Joan Woodbury is on hand playing a very cute British agent.
The only good scene is late in the film and the Arabs have discovered the asshole reporter snooping around dressed as an Arab, so they bury him in the sand up to his neck and throw spears at his head! He moves his head a little to the side, and the spears miss. This goes on FOR HOURS because his sidekick has time to ride all the way back to town and rouse the British who finally get their act together and ride to the rescue! (What is “good,” Phaedrus, and what is not “good”? Do we need someone to tell us these things? It’s not “good” because it makes sense. It’s “good” because it’s REALLY DUMB. The rest of the movie is merely dumb and often kinda boring.)
SIGNS OF LIFE – 1968
This is a German film about a guy going crazy in a Werner Herzog movie. It’s World War II and three German soldiers and a Greek woman are guarding a fort on a Greek island. They are trying to make sure the partisans don’t get to the ammo in the fort. One guy slowly goes crazy.
And that’s pretty much it.
This is supposedly the inspiration for “The Shining.”
It’s alright, I guess. Herzog is interesting, but I’m not a big fan of German cinema, in general. Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst are totally awesome. There’s a couple of Fassbinder films I like. “Signs of Life” isn’t boring but it doesn’t do a whole lot for me. At least it didn’t piss me off like “Zentropa” did.
I want those two hours back, von Trier!
THE LEGEND OF THE EIGHT SAMURAI - 1983
This is one of the longest bad movies ever made. It’s sort of like the Japanese equivalent of “Frankenstein Island.” If you don’t get that, it means you haven’t seen “Frankenstein Island.” Lucky you! You can still be saved! Get out now! Stop watching these movies!
This movie is about – Well, it’s been a while since I saw it, and I wasn’t really sure what it was about when I had just watched it. It’s futile Japan. All the members of one ruling samurai family have been slaughtered by the dead samurai family they slaughtered generations ago. (The one family, you see, made a deal with some evil gods and they live forever. So I’m a bit unclear about why they’re so upset with the family that killed them. ’Cause they didn’t kill them.)
But the princess escapes. And she has to find the Eight Samurai. You see, one of her ancestors married a dog, um, and, uh, somehow that means she has to find the Eight Samurai. They are identifiable by flying, white beads. And so, after three or four hours, she finds a few of the samurai. Then, an hour or two later, she finds some more. (One of the samurai is Sonny Chiba.) Occasionally they have badly edited fight scenes where you aren’t sure what is going on. And there’s a love scene with a song in Japanese but with music from a Bonnie Tyler album, so you’re sure this movie if from the 1980s.
And then at some point, it ends. And you are happy.
FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: BEAST STABLE -1973
Scorpion is hiding out from the law on the Tokyo subway but the cops get her and they even get cuffs on her but she gets away and the door closes on his arm and cuts it off. So she’s running through the streets with the cuffs and the arm hanging at her side, but it was Japan in the 1970s and this sort of thing was very common, so nobody seems to pay her much notice. (Everybody is so glad they aren’t getting attacked by Godzilla that they are very happy to mind their own business, thank you very much.)
She meets a hooker in a graveyard. I think her name is Yuki. Yuki is possibly the most pitiable character in all Japanese cinema. She lets her brother hump her constantly because he is totally crazy after a factory accident. And he’s crazy. And she has to keep him locked up. And she has to do it with him because he is uncontrollable. If she lets him get out of hand, he might rape her.
Scorpion is captured by underworld figures with a grudge against her, but she escapes and kills them one by one, then the police chase her into the sewers and she’s in the sewers for about half the movie. Yuki brings her food and tells her how to keep warm by lighting a match and sticking it in her hootchie. (An old Japanese hooker trick, apparently.)
Scorpion, also known as Sasori, also known as Matsu, escapes the sewers and takes her revenge without hardly lifting a finger. Very Zen.
Not quite as good as the non-stop excitement and insanity in the first two Scorpion movies but it still kicks ass when it gets rolling.
BARBIE NUTCRACKER - 2001
Um, Wow! This is - I just don’t have words for the Barbie movies. They are a very special kind of cinema. And they are enjoyable in a very weird and perverse way. My niece loves them, and she loves it that I watch them with her. We don’t like them for the same reasons, and I think she knows that. But it thrills her no end that her uncle occasionally convulses with laughter at Barbie Swan Lake or Barbie Fairytopia.
Specifically, Barbie Nutcracker is Tschaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Only with Barbie. And she dances. And she hangs out with a magic Nutcracker who is an enchanted prince and they travel to a magical land and rescue the inhabitants from the evil Rat King, who sounds just like Frank N. Furter. Which is exactly like Tschaikovsky. Isn’t it?
Yeah, they’re bad. But, damn, they are funny.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST – 2006
I saw this opening weekend at the El Capitan in Hollywood. The place was packed with summer tourists from places like Iowa. The people sitting behind me had those really strong ridiculous Midwestern accents that shout, “Ah’m a Chee-ristian and I’m better’n yu!" I knew the third Santa Clause movie was going to bomb BIG when the rubes behind me were making fun of how stupid it looked from the trailer. I mean, these are the people the "Santa Clause" movies were made for, and they can tell it’s a stinker.
(I’m famous for liking bad movies, but I do have a limit, and I believe a third "Santa Clause" is way, way, waaaay past that point.)
Sorry. This is a review of the second Pirates movie. Well, it simply rocks. It was one of the last movies I saw when I lived in Hollywood. It was quite a send-off, really. I was pretty sure it would be my number one movie for 2006 because it was so much fun. However, the best movie of the year turned out to be Borat.
I saw Pirates II again on DVD and it holds up pretty well. Real easy to sit through a second and third time. Johnny Depp, Kiera Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush and the rest were all plenty smart to hitch their wagons to this franchise.
MR. MOTO TAKES A CHANCE - 1938
Peter Lorre is in this movie and he is Japanese. His name is Mr. Moto. He is an archaeologist. But he isn’t! He is a spy working for the International Police undercover. And then there’s a female aviator, played by the incredibly yummy Rochelle Hudson. And she sets off a flare in her airplane to make it look like she had plane trouble and she jumps out right after looking at some stock footage of Angkor Wat. And there’s a couple of Americans filming real-life adventure stuff. And by an amazing coincidence, they all come together in a studio backlot in Hollywood and they all pretend it’s a made-up country called Tong Mai which is one jungle over from Cambodia.
And there’s a bunch of running around and a temple and thugs stalking Moto in the dark, and it all has something to do with the Germans arming the natives to foment a revolt to make trouble for the … French, maybe?
But it’s mostly about how yummy Rochelle Hudson is.
And she certainly is very yummy.
This is not the best movie ever made, but I thought it was while I was watching it.
THE DEVIL RIDES OUT - 1968
This is a pretty good Hammer film. I’m not a big fan of Hammer films. Every once in a while you get a good one, but all too often, they’re kind of dull. And generally, the production values are good enough that they never fall into the “unintentionally funny” category.
“The Devil Rides Out” has Christopher Lee as a good guy. The time is the 1920s. Christopher Lee and some other guy are worried that the son of an old friend is about to give up his soul to Satan. So they ride around rural Britain foiling the Satanists.
Some pretty nifty scenes, neat costumes, great old cars, a scene with a coven, the devil visits. Wow! Highly recommended for people who like this sort of thing.
LADY SNOWBLOOD: LOVE SONG OF VENGEANCE - 1974
The second Lady Snowblood film has Meiko Kaji roaming around Japan in the period just after the Russo-Japanese War (circa 1905) and getting involved with a secret government organization and anarchists. (The main anarchist is played by the guy who directed “Tampopo.”) There’s Japanese guys in Guy Fawkes masks, the plague, a shanty town, a secret plot, a guy who cuts his own arm off to escape and a big finale. Meiko Kaji kicks ass, as usual. If you liked the first one, you will like this. If you didn’t like the first one, don’t talk to me!
COFFY - 1974
Pam Grier is totally awesome, and I doubt she was ever more awesome than she was in "Coffy." She's a nurse who decides to take on the drug lords who got her little sister hooked on heroin and she opens the movie by shooting a guy in the face with a shotgun and forcing a junky to overdose. In the next 90 minutes, she kills Diane Arbus's husband, fucks up Sid Haig real good, and kills a bunch of other people. All of whom deserve it.
"Coffy" was directed by the great Jack Hill and this movie totally kicks ass. I especially love Pam's totally preposterous Jamaican accent when she's pretending to be an exotic hooker from the Caribbean. If Jamaicans really talked like that, we would have to sink the island.
WARNING FROM SPACE – 1956
The Japanese film industry has given us some great films, including some wonderfully dumb mock cinema with guys in monster suits wrecking toy trains and elaborate miniatures, as well as hysterical alien beings and nonsensical plots that might create insanity in weak minds. And don’t forget the weird musical bits, the bad acting and the bee-zarre concepts. I admit it. I love them. They are the Italy of Asia in so many ways.
But this movie. I dunno. Ye gods! WOW! Fun is fun, guys, but it’s easy to go too far. Somebody should have stepped in and said, “Don’t make me come back there! If this movie doesn’t start making sense we’re turning back and going home!”
Maybe that did happen, but it was just too far along, rolling downhill at a reckless pace, with no one at the wheel, a giant goofy juggernaut, flattening everything in its path. No one could stop it. This movie is a special kind of stupid. And I love it!
There’s these aliens, see, that look like giant starfish with eyes in their bellies. Well, actually, they look like guys in dumb suits, shaped like starfish and having eyes on the bellies. And they are good aliens. Just kinda snotty. And they are trying to warn the people of Earth that there is a runaway planet going to run into Earth. So the aliens appear and try to contact some people, but the Japanese are, apparently, easily frightened by guys in dumb suits, so when the aliens appear, everybody screams, “Eek! It’s a guy in a dumb suit!” and runs away.
Then we are treated to some dance numbers that seem lifted from 1930s movies, with tap shoes, and big sets, and tuxes, only with Japanese people. And there’s one girl who seems to be the Japanese Ginger Rogers, and the aliens decide that the only alien with a girl’s voice should have her body formed into a replica of the Japanese Ginger Rogers, assuming she will get more attention that way.
The plan works - sort of. The scientists come up with various ways to save Earth and one of them works. Earth is saved. I left out a lot of fabulously silly bits. You have to see it for yourself. You will hate yourself if you don’t see this movie. Did I mention the Japanese Ginger Rogers? How about the Japanese Bob Dole? It’s impossible to look as much like Bob Dole as this guy and still look Japanese.
ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE - 1960
This is a really cheap Italian science fiction movie that is redeemed by its short running length (70 minutes) and the totally hot actress who plays Y-13. She looks kind of like Ava Gardner, but hotter.
The hero is an asshole reporter who has been assigned to Galaxy M-12 (or some other dopey-named place) by his newspaper. He acts like a jerk and pisses off the space station commander who shows great restraint in not feeding him to the maw of space. A few things happen. (Not many. This movie is mercifully short.) Then a rogue space ship with a destructive force field threatens Earth! And the asshole reporter saves the day!
Not as bad as it sounds. Not really very good either. Did I mention it has a hot actress?
COSMOS WAR OF THE PLANETS - 1978
This seems to be equal parts Star Trek with equal parts Star Wars with equal parts Ed Wood. Ouch!
It’s mostly about headgear. These people wear some Jetson-era clothes, but they also have really weird red helmets. They wear them all the time. They even wear them when they sit next to the glowing ball that seems to represent futuristic sex.
I’m trying to remember what it’s about. I kept feeling like I had fallen asleep for a minute. I hadn’t fallen asleep. It just felt like it because this movie is so indifferently edited.
There’s this maverick captain who seems to be resentful that he has to wear a dumb helmet. But he remains captain because …
I dunno. You got me.
His ship is sent to investigate a strange message from a strange planet. They find a race of green people with pointy ears living underground. Stuff happens. (More often, stuff doesn’t happen.) The strange message was sent by the stupidest computer-like being in the universe because he wanted to lure Earthlings to the planet so they could help him make war machines to conquer the universe.
Or something. I might have made some of that up.
Quite as bad as it sounds. Very amusing. I might be willing to give this movie a break if it had been made in 1878. Highly recommended for anyone compiling a list of the 10 worst science fiction films of the 1970s.
PRIX DE BEAUTE – 1930
This might be a little difficult for modern audiences because it is kind of strangely made. It is a French film, and it has that dream-like quality that many French films of the late ’20s and early ’30s have. (I’m thinking “L’Atlante” or “Blood of a Poet.”) It started as a mostly silent film (they were only planning on having some songs but no dialogue), but sound became all the rage during production, so they tacked on a soundtrack. But they don’t make much effort to match the lip-synching. It doesn’t bother me at all. But I know some people have trouble with things like that. I find it to be an interesting hybrid of that silent-to-sound transition period.
It stars modern cult actress Louise Brooks in her final starring role. (She was all of 24 years old, but she had pissed off way too many people in Hollywood.) She had made “Pandora’s Box,” the German film that would make her one of cinema’s Immortals, in 1928.
It’s about – Well, I don’t want to give too much away. I didn’t know too much about it, but I love Louise Brooks, and I’ve been wanting to see “Prix de Beauté” for twenty years. And I was very pleasantly surprised. I don’t think I would have liked it as much had I known too much. “Prix de Beauté” means Beauty Prize in French, and Louise enters the Miss Europe contest, and it pisses off her boyfriend that she wants to be anything else other than his girlfriend. The song is by Edith Piaf and I’ve heard that Edith Piaf dubbed Louise’s voice through the whole movie.
So, see it, if you like Lulu, or if you like old European movies. I liked it.
VOYAGE TO A PREHISTORIC PLANET - 1965
This has Basil Rathbone. For about a minute. And it has Faith Domergue. For about three minutes. Tops. And it has a robot. With toes.
And it has weird, but kinda neat-looking art during the credits.
So, yeah, it’s that kind of movie. So, if you like that kind of movie, watch it. But if you want your movie to make sense or be exciting, look elsewhere. There is one really funny scene where the astronauts are on Venus and they are attacked by hopping lizards that look like a bunch of midgets in bad lizard suits. God, it’s funny. I hope no one was hurt.
But most of the time, it’s not really bad enough to be funny. It’s not excruciating to sit through or anything. Just kind of there.
Plot? Um, two astronauts with a robot (with toes) go to Venus. And then three more guys jet down from the Mother Ship to check on the first two guys and the robot. Faith Domergue is running the Mother Ship. She phones it in. Literally. She is never on scene with any of the other actors. Their boss is Basil Rathbone. He is based on the moon and tells them what to do every twenty minutes or so. And he puts his feet on the console. And the extra playing the communication guy is too intimidated to say, “Hey! Sherlock Holmes! Get your frigging foot off my console!”
This is on the same DVD where I got “Warning From Space,” “Cosmos War of the Planets” and “Assignment: Outer Space.” I watched “Warning From Space” first and I thought it was one of the worst movies I had ever seen. But, man, after watching the rest of the movies on this DVD, “Warning From Space” is “Blade Runner” or “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
My head hurts. I go sleep now.