Thursday, September 29, 2011

Night and Day: "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" (1972)

With all the parallels between this film and the hippie generation, it is ironic that the film's major strengths are its good old fashioned film standards.

Sadly, this film has no real plot to summarize. Graham Faulkner is very good as St. Francis of Assisi, a merchant's son who discovers God one day. He shuns all possessions, lives in poverty, and begins gathering devoted followers as he rebuilds a decrepit church on the outskirts of the city. Pope Innocent III decides an audience with Francis is in order, especially after the local bishop's troops try to burn down the church. The final scene between Francis and the pope is very good and very touching.

Everyone seemed to hate Faulkner's performance except me. He is very good as Francis, wide eyes and seemingly insane, but without being goody goody. Alec Guinness, looking like Obi Wan Kenobi, is Pope Innocent III, who eventually sees that Francis is living the Christian life so many others crave but are afraid to try. His scene is very good and too short.

My main complaint about this film is its lack of story. The pictures are very pretty, the music is nice, but not much happens here. This is a surprise considering the cowriters included the director and Lina Wertmuller, the diva of European cinema. Donovan's songs are no worse than the song compilations that pass themselves off as film soundtracks today. If anything, they are slightly inappropriate considering the time and subject matter, but I will listen to them another hundred times before I hear "Who Let the Dogs Out" on one more movie preview. Judi Bowker, as Clare, Francis' comrade in Christ, is absolutely wasted. Her character is the back half of the title of the film, and she is given little to do besides look at Francis coquettishly, and join his gang in time for the film to end.

If anything, the film will have you thinking about your own life and your hold on material possessions. "You Can't Take It With You" is not just the title of a famous play, it speaks volumes about what our ultimate goals in life are today. No, I am not tossing my worldly possessions into the street. Francis is the ultimate answer to the question "will God provide?"

This is not a perfect film, but on par with the Mickey Rourke- Helena Bonham Carter film "Francesco," which covered the same lives. I will recommend "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," but with reservations. (* * * *) out of five stars. See this movie now!: Brother Sun, Sister Moon

The Power of Silence: "Broken Blossoms" (1919)

The years have not been kind to D.W. Griffith, the father of American film direction. "Birth of a Nation," an average but still landmark film, is better known for its racism than its technical achievements. "Broken Blossoms" is also not politically correct, but I am recommending it as an example of Griffith's skill.

Lucy (Lillian Gish) is a teenage girl in the Limehouse district of London. Her father, Battling Burrows (an excellent Donald Crisp), is a boxer more concerned with boozing and broads, much to the chagrin of his manager (Arthur Howard). Since a boxer can't hit his scolding manager, Battling takes out his frustration and anger on Lucy, consistently beating her with a short whip.

Cheng Huan (Richard Barthelmess) lives in the Chinatown section of the city, above the small shop he runs. Years before, he was a devout Buddhist in China, leaving his homeland to spread his naive message of peace to all. Now, he is in England, spiritually broken and smoking opium. He sees Lucy here and there, even saving her from the lecherous Evil Eye (Edward Peil).

Battling must leave to train for a fight, and beats Lucy so severely that she wanders the streets in a daze, collapsing in Huan's shop. Huan takes her upstairs and dotes on her, giving her food, clothing, and a new name- White Blossom. As Lucy heals, she and Huan grow closer, until a nosy friend of Battling tells the boxer what his daughter has been up to.

Let's get the racism out of the way first. The entire title of the film is "Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl." It is based on a short story by Thomas Burke entitled "The Chink and the Child." Huan is referred to as the Yellow Man in the credits, and is called Chink by Battling, and Chinky (as a term of endearment) by Lucy. The main Chinese characters, Huan and Evil Eye, are portrayed by white men. Whew! At least Gish is playing Lucy as a teenager, and not a twelve year old girl like in the short story on which the film is based.

Most notable about the film is Griffith's style. So many of the angles and shots we take for granted today were invented by the man, who was never given his due. Many of the scenes are tinted, adding to the drama. Sadly, in order for Gish to appear younger, her scenes look as if they are shot through a filter, almost five decades before the comical "Mame" with a red headed blob known as Lucille Ball, filmed through a seemingly Vaseline-smudged lens. One closeup of Barthelmess allows the viewer to observe his Oriental makeup, and the shape of his natural eyebrows.

Griffith was a great believer of acting with the eyes, as opposed to the often laughable flailing that you might see in other silent films. The editing here is clean, and the special effects are both quaint and nostalgic. Gish is good in her role, Barthelmess tries underneath his makeup, but Crisp is superb as Battling. His performance is modern in its rage and bravado, and although you never hear him speak, Crisp uses his physicality and Griffith's camera to give us a fully realized character.

"Broken Blossoms" was shot in eighteen days for a cost of just $91,000, in California (despite its Asian and European settings). If you can get past the controversial racial elements, and appreciate the direction and performances, then I think you will be in for a surprise. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Broken Blossoms (Deluxe Edition)

A Bright Shining Example of Cable Television Film Making: "A Bright Shining Lie" (1998)

Based on a true story, this made for cable television movie is both a heavy indictment of our involvement in Vietnam and a rallying story of American patriotism.

Bill Paxton plays Army colonel John Paul Vann. In March 1962, he is sent to Vietnam as a military advisor. The advisors are supposed to be hands-off instructors, helping the South Vietnamese drive back the North Vietnamese. Vann is looking for action and he knows Vietnam is going to be a hot spot. He is right in more ways than he will ever know.

Vann leaves his wife Mary Jane (Amy Madigan) in the States with his young children, and immediately takes up with English language teacher Lee (Vivian Wu). We learn that Vann has little respect for his marriage vows, and sleeping around is in his nature. Right away, the wool is being pulled over everyone's eyes, as photos of dead Viet Cong are being doctored to increase the number of dead the South Vietnamese are "killing." Vann repeatedly butts heads with South Vietnamese brass, and after a disastrous raid that kills many undertrained South Vietnamese as well as some of the "advisors," Vann goes to reporter Steven Burnett (Donal Logue). Vann has had it with the corruption, and pours his heart out to Burnett, who prints the story.

Vann is taken on a tour of briefings around Washington, where he comes up with a new strategy for the Vietnam War- win the hearts and minds of the peasants and they will stay on our side. He is rejected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and resigns in protest. Vann and Mary Jane work on their deteriorating marriage, and see a counselor (Richard Libertini). Vann seems to be a sex addict, and it stems from a deep dark secret involving his mother. JFK is assassinated, and Vann tries to get back into Vietnam after Johnson begins increasing troop presence there. He is offered a job with Civilian Aid, and sent back to Vietnam, where he is assisted by Doug (Eric Bogosian) to help the people there. Corruption is now rampant as the Americans fix a school's leaky roof. In the meantime, he offends the local criminal colonel Dinh (Les J.N. Mau), who kills Vann's native staff and orders the bombing of the village in retaliation.

Vann launches a campaign against the corruption, still preaching his idea about helping the people directly. He finds out his mother dies, and returns for her funeral. We find out why he treats women the way he does, his murdered mother was a prostitute. Mary Jane asks for a divorce, and Vann heads back to Vietnam. He also shuns Lee, getting another local girl pregnant and marrying her. Doug returns to the states, where he becomes an anti-war demonstrator. Vann predicts the Tet Offensive, but General Westmoreland (Kurtwood Smith) ignores him. The Offensive is defeated, and Westmoreland is out. Vann soon finds himself a civilian running things in a capacity normally reserved for active duty officers. He is referred to as a senior advisor, and finally gets his own battle and routs the enemy troops in a daring maneuver involving carpet bombing of his own location. On the way back from a medal ceremony, Vann is killed in an unceremonious helicopter crash due to poor weather, ten years after arriving in Vietnam.

Bill Paxton is probably the last actor you would think of to play a major part like this, but he pulls it off. His style is so laid back, he makes his character more real than some other performer who might spend the whole film chewing the scenery and making little scenes that could be shown to the Emmy nominations committee. Amy Madigan is good in the clicheed long suffering wife role, and Donal Logue is okay as the reporter. My problem was more with the character of Lee than Vivian Wu's portrayal. The character is completely unnecessary, and I could not figure out what her function in the film was.

Despite the self important title, the film is surprisingly not anti-military. Paxton has a great line to Logue at the end, where he blames the Vietnam War on Kennedy and all the reporters who said we should be there to help these poor unfortunate people in the first place, then these same reporters worked to end the war by questioning why we were there in the first place. Westmoreland is clearly portrayed as less than effective, the South Vietnamese military cannot seem to put one foot in front of the other, but Vann is no saint either. His sexual dysfunction and personal ambition cloud his judgement.

George wrote and directed the film, and his budget seems to be larger than your average cable film. He handles the war scenes with appropriate horror and gore, and the Thailand locations work perfectly.

No matter what your politics are, this film addresses a number of issues. The people involved and the constant change of strategy (the press conference after Westmoreland's departure is a comedy of semantics) all cloud the fact that, according to end credits, almost 60,000 U.S. troops and close to a million Vietnamese died in the conflict.

While we pay attention to our dying World War II generation, we should also be getting the stories of our Korean, Vietnam, and later war veterans. Waiting until these veterans get their own "Saving Private Ryan" will prove too late. "A Bright Shining Lie" is another thought provoking war film that I highly recommend. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: A Bright Shining Lie

I Want a Divorce: "Bride of the Monster" (1955)

Bela Lugosi is evil mad scientist Dr. Vornoff. His ultimate, insane goal? Not sure.

Vornoff and his Igor-like assistant, Lobo (Tor Johnson), kidnap local citizens who wander around the duo's lab/abandoned house in the middle of the swamp. The victims are fitted with a funny hat, have a piece of photograph processing equipment aimed at them, and are fed to the giant rubber octopus out back.

Spunky gal reporter Janet (Loretta King) decides to investigate the locals' disappearances much to the collective chagrin of her straight arrow fiance, detective Dick (Tony McCoy) and Captain Robbins (Harvey B. Dunn). Janet is captured by Lobo and held prisoner. Dick and his partner follow convenient victim Professor Strowski (George Becwar) to the swamp. For some unknown reason, perhaps to explain the title, Janet is eventually dressed in a wedding gown. Soon, Dick and Janet do battle with Vornoff and Lobo as Robbins and half a half dozen cops close in.

Written and directed by Ed Wood, this film is awful but not as technically inept as "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Wood does let his cast aspire to whole new depths of lousy acting. The entire cast is stiff, and the audience's sympathy falls squarely on Lugosi. His performance is not just bad, it is sad.

As mentioned, the "bride" in "Bride of the Monster" is King, but who is she supposed to be marrying? Vornoff? Lobo? The rubber octopus? There is a throw away line about her being the bride of an atom, which makes no sense.

Ed Wood is looked upon with fondness today; some might say he simply made films that are child-like and innocent. I have seen some of his films, and they are instead both childish and insolent. (*) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Bride of the Monster

I Do: "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935)

Almost seventy years old now, this sequel to the classic "Frankenstein" proves that some films are timeless, even when looking at them for the first time.

Elsa Lanchester is Mary Shelley, recounting what happened after the events of the first film, on a dark and stormy night with her famous husband and Lord Byron. The film makers wisely recap the highlights of the first film, reminding the audience of the basic plot.

While better than the original "Frankenstein," this film is still not technically perfect. There are quite a few editing gaffes, where someone is doing something in one shot, but not another. Whale's direction really does not come alive until the last creation scene, which has wonderful off-center and shadowed shots. Even Karloff's monster makeup appears softened compared to the first film.

On the positives, however, the black and white atmosphere works well here. Sets or not, the high ceilings and creepy Euro look are chilling. The special effects also rival modern films, they are excellent and not cheesy in the slightest.

While Karloff is good, Lanchester is excellent in her too brief role as the bride. Una O'Connor is a scream (literally) as the cowardly housekeeper who always seems to meet up with the Monster at the wrong time. Dwight Frye is underused as a lab assistant. Colin Clive is kept in the background as Frankenstein. He seems ill at ease, and the actor died a few years later as a result of alcoholism. By the way, the book and film "Gods and Monsters" got their title from this film, and a toast made by Pretorious.

While this film has garnered a nearly flawless reputation in the last seven decades, it does deserve accolades.

"The Bride of Frankenstein" may not terrify you like it did audiences of the past, but it is interesting to see the inspiration behind almost every monster movie made afterward. (* * * * *) out of five stars. See this movie now!: The Bride of Frankenstein

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Inbred: "The Breed" (2001)

Capable cast and really cool art direction are negated by wrongheaded script and more than a nod to John Woo.

Set in the near future, "The Breed" opens with NSA agent Steve Grant (Bokeem Woodbine) investigating a girl's disappearance with his luckless partner. The girl is found, dead, and a bald man with a hat attacks Grant and kills his partner. Of course, the bald guy climbs a wall after biting the partner's neck. Vampirism may be involved.

Grant finds out vampires are really just genetic mutations who want to be integrated into human society. I don't know why, since this futuristic society is a mixture of Nazi Europe and "1984." A vampire cop, Aaron Gray (Adrian Paul), is assigned to work with Grant to find the killer, generating a typical serial killer film investigation. Grant falls for vampire Lucy Westenra (Bai Ling), as the two find out who the real killer is, and the entire reasoning behind the crimes.

"The Breed" is one frustrating film. The Budapest, Hungary locations are astonishing. I could feel the cold, all the buildings are crumbling, and not a beam of sunshine is evident. Roy Hay's heavy techno music is more than appropriate, coming in at all the right times. Oblowitz's direction is good, although I saw a lot of "The Matrix" in the action scenes. Cool guys with long coats levitating in the air while shooting two guns simultaneously is getting a little old, until the "The Matrix" sequels arrive.

On the other hand, Woodbine, who was so good in "Jason's Lyric," is hampered with a lousy character. Grant should be hard boiled and tough, instead he is given a part that seems to have been written for Martin Lawrence or Chris Tucker. He is also the lousiest shot in cinematic history, as his action scenes become style over substance. After you get over the fact that Adrian Paul looks just like John Waters, his Gray is very restrained and very well done. Likewise with Lucy, although her character (femme fatale who knows more than she lets on) has been done a thousand times before. The film makers also make a fatal mistake, since the viewer will identify the killer immediately, ending the suspense in that subplot.

Technically incredible, but academically a failure, "The Breed" is pretty to look at, and a completely unchallenging film. It falls right in the middle, which is a shame. (* * *) out of five stars. See this movie now!: The Breed

Why Can't American Films Be This Interesting?: "Breathless" (2010)

Like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List," "Breathless" is not your average sit-down-and-gobble-a-bucket-of-popcorn movie. It is violent and depressing, and if not for a lot of flab in the first half of the film, a downright brilliant flick.

Sang-Hoon (the film's writer and director Yang Ik-Joon) is muscle for small-time hood Man-Sik (Man-shik Jeong). Sang-Hoon has a lot of issues, and takes them out on the people he is sent to collect from. The film opens with violence, and the fighting is virtually non-stop throughout. Sang-Hoon lost his mother and sister thanks to an alcoholic father, who is being released from prison. He does have a half-sister and nephew, but his hatred for his father taints his relationship with them as well. He is consistently mean to the little boy, calling him horrible names before angrily dropping off financial assistance for the mother.

Sang-Hoon gets into it with a high school girl, Yeon-Hee (Kot-bi Kim), who dishes out what she takes, thanks to her own messed up home life consisting of a father suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (he won't believe that his wife is dead), and a psychotically violent brother (Lee Hwan) who threatens Yeon-Hee with murder- and who looks like he might carry it out.

Sang-Hoon and Yeon-Hee begin to hang out, but not in a romantic comedy sort of way. The two trade serious insults constantly, both afraid of what might happen if they let their respective guards down. The two are also connected when Yeon-Hee's brother comes to work for Man-Sik, and must learn the ropes from Sang-Hoon, who is not aware that he is Yeon-Hee's brother.

Yang Ik-Soon wrote and directed himself quite a juicy role. The audience is not expected to like Sang-Hoon...and doesn't. I spent most of the first half of the film wondering why I was subjecting myself to the constant barrage of violence and profanity, waiting for some kind of redemptive moment to come out in the main character. You feel terrible for Yeon-Hee, and everyone else who must deal with Sang-Hoon's constant physical and emotional abuse.

The South Korean locations are excellent. No pretty scenery, just back streets in an unnamed urban location. The cast is awesome all around. Toward the end, some very melodramatic moments occur that could have killed the film. They may have read melodramatic on paper, but Yang Ik-Soon directs his cast so well, they are heart wrenching and not silly. Strong scenes populate the film, and it does improve in the second half but again, that first half of the film had me numb to the violence to the point where I almost did not care what happened to Hang-Soon in the second half of the film. Luckily, the film makers brought me around.

"Breathless" is an emotionally draining experience, and much different from the horror films coming out of the Far East as of late. I just hope that if this is picked up for an American remake, they will do it, and Yang Ik-Soon, justice. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Breathless

Do the Locomotion: "Breakheart Pass" (1976)

While most of Alistair Maclean's work is formulaic, consisting of good guys with a traitor in their midst (don't believe me, watch "Guns of Navarone" and "Force 10 from Navarone"), action director Gries brings together enough elements to make this a very effective film.

Bronson is arrested and taken aboard a train bound for a remote fort ravaged by diphtheria. Aboard the train is a whole list of suspects, including Ben Johnson, Richard Crenna, Ed Lauter, Charles Durning, and Jill Ireland. Next, we get a wild west version of "Murder on the Orient Express," as dead people turn up constantly, and the list of criminals narrows to reveal our killer and the real reason for the trip to the fort.

For a ninety five minute film, the plot does get a little complicated. Bronson is in fine form as the mysterious criminal who figures it all out. The real star here is the action sequences, with a now classic fight on top of a moving train car. Yakima Canutt does a great job coordinating the stuntwork.

This is a change of pace western is entertaining and moves quickly, with capable cast and crew. "Breakheart Pass" is not a modern classic, but a good change of pace from young guns and American outlaws. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Breakheart Pass

The Most Important Visual Feast of the Day: "Breakfast of Champions" (1999)

I do not pretend to "get" this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s novel, but I certainly enjoyed the ride.

Vonnegut is almost impossible to film, "Slaughterhouse Five" is the most successful, while I have reserved a special place in my bowel tract for Jerry Lewis in "Slapstick (of Another Kind)." The plot, for what it is, goes a little something like this. Bruce Willis is Dwayne Hoover, who runs a giant car dealership in Midland City.

His spaced out wife Barbara Hershey pops pills and watches television all day. His son Lukas Haas is a lounge singer, dropping his first name George in exchange for Bunny. Nick Nolte is Willis' sales manager, a paranoid cross dresser. Glenne Headly is Willis' receptionist and mistress. Willis does not seem to be going through a midlife crisis so much as a nervous breakdown. The people around him notice a change to his behavior, as his sincere grin flashes on his commercials, which play nonstop, he is in his own personal hell. He is asking the question many of us ask: why are we here?

As his life crumbles around him, he sticks a gun in his mouth three different times, never following through with a way out that would not answer his ultimate question. Omar Epps is a released prison inmate who wants to work for Dwayne Hoover just because their names are similar. He probably gets the most mainstream laughs, as he lives out of his new car on the car lot, turning it into something nicer than a few of my former apartments.

Into this nightmarish fray comes writer Albert Finney. He has written two hundred novels and two thousand short stories, but they have all been published by porno mags and hardcore sex novel publishers. He is invited to Midland City for an arts festival, and the novel he has may contain the answer to life that Willis is looking for. The film lurches along through Willis and company's day.

Everyone has a quirk, and that may be a detriment, as the viewer has trouble latching onto someone to help wade through all the eye candy. Director Rudolph impresses, throwing in visual effects that dazzle. He also wrote the screenplay, and shows a true affection for the source novel. Mark Isham's musical score is perfect- Muzak on crack.

The performances in this over the top story are brilliant. Willis has not been able to be this loose onscreen in a very long time, and he seems to be having a ball. There are no bad actors here, and look for Owen Wilson and Michael Clarke Duncan in small roles.

The description of this film on the video box likens this to a mainstream comedy, and that is a huge mistake. People renting this and expecting "Airplane!" or some Adam Sandler drivel are going to be supremely disappointed. This is weird, deep stuff that a lot of people out there will not consider their cup of tea.

On the other hand, Rudolph pulls out all the stops, shows us the weird and crazy, then tries to get us to care about the plot. In fact, this film is not a plot driven film, it is character driven, but Rudolph tries to keep this one convention in an otherwise unconventional film.

This is truly one of the most bizarre films ever made, right on the line with "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Where drugs fueled the mania in that impossible film, here the mania is caused by something we deal with everyday- life. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Breakfast of Champions

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest, Put Your Patience to the Test: "Bram Stoker's Dracula's Guest" (2008)

Writer/director Michael Feifer makes a fatal mistake in the opening minutes of this low-budget film- a mistake the film cannot recover from.

Young Bram Stoker (Wes Ramsey), a real estate broker, is charged with finding a house in London for the mysterious Count Dracula (Andrew Bryniarski). Bram is also courting Elizabeth (Kelsey McCann), but her father (Dan Speaker) forbids the two to see each other for one year before they can become engaged, just to make sure their love is true. Elizabeth pouts and runs away, and as unbelievable coinkydink would have it, is kidnapped by Dracula. She's held in a cave as both Bram and Elizabeth's father (who has his own secret about the family bloodline) rush to the rescue.

The opening scene of the film has Bram finding Elizabeth in the cave, hearing that she has been raped and impregnated by Dracula, and swearing revenge. Then the film flashes back to a week earlier to start the story...why? Feifer's structural flourish makes watching Bram's trek across Europe completely pointless. We know he survives the dog attack, and the robbers in a house; and is uninjured in the forced suicide of his best friend, which he grieves for about twenty seconds. We know where Elizabeth will end up, so her dull escape from her father offers no suspense.

Feifer could have dropped the opening scene, but that would not have solved all of this film's problems. While the casting of Bryniarski, who looks like an NFL linebacker, as Dracula is interesting, the cast is terrible (sad, considering Ramsey's excellent work in "Latter Days"). This was shot in southern California, which does not substitute for England and Transylvania very well. Everyone tries an accent, and everyone fails. Feifer shot this on video, and I wish the money saved had been spent on a tripod. Many scenes left me woozy as the director tried to cover the lack of budget with a constantly moving screen. There is no gore, not even bloody bite marks, and the finale leaves too many unanswered questions, which is ironic considering the spoiler that kicks off the film.

The title, with Stoker's name included, is meant to sound literary and important. The resulting product would be unwatchable and disappointing. (*) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: Bram Stoker's Dracula's Guest

The Only Way Many of These Films Will Be Seen: "Boys Life 3"

It seems that whenever mainstream Hollywood makes a gay themed film, the world is going to end thanks to the subject matter.

Short films also deal with gay themes, and companies like Strand Releasing and Picture This! collect them together in compilation DVDs. Some of the films are good, some aren't, and some of the DVDs are good, some aren't. "Boys Life 3" is one such compilation, and it is one of the good ones. The films are reviewed individually:

Inside Out (Directed by Jason Gould) (4/5*)
Gould films in familiar territory- being the gay son of two celebrities. Gould plays Aaron, a struggling actor better known for his better known parents. He gets set up by his friend Adam (Alexis Arquette) on a blind date with a closeted man, goes to the Church of Scientology, and is hounded by a tabloid photographer (Jon Polito). Gould makes some funny observations about being the son of celebrities, even bringing in real life dad Elliott Gould. Christina Crawford shows up at a Survivors of Celebrity Parents support meeting, as does Summer Ladd, daughter of Cheryl Ladd. I wish more of Gould's ideas had a chance to draw out and become whole. He tries to hard to get a shot in at everybody, which does not work on a film that runs under half an hour. On the other hand, his light directorial touch is perfectly suited for his screenplay.

Just One Time (Directed by Lane Janger) (4/5*)
Anthony (Lane Janger) wants girlfriend Amy (Joelle Carter) to have sex with another woman as part of his fantasy "just one time." She then turns the tables on him. This is a vibrantly colored short, to the point, and very funny more because of its actors than Janger's screenplay. Cute stuff, women like Amy can probably relate, and maybe should try this.

Hitch (Directed by Bradley Rust Gray) (3/5*)
Two men, one gay and one possibly gay, drive around in a Volkswagen bus in the desert. This film had a great aged look to it, but the overuse of closeups was jarring, and the film began to bore me. The two leads were good, but the script felt too light.

Majorettes in Space (Directed by David Fourier) (4/5*)
From France, this mockumentary ties in one heterosexual couple, one gay man, the production of condoms, the Pope, and the obvious fact that when a Cosmonaut calls his wife a "fat cow," he is using a metaphor. This is a very fast and freaky collection of images, and it not only works, but makes some kind of sense. Fourier is making a statement about AIDS and protecting oneself sexually, but he does not take his point and belabor it.

$30 (Directed by Gregory Cooke) (4/5*)
Teenage Scott (Erik MacArthur) is presented with thirty dollar teen hooker Emily (Sara Gilbert) on his birthday, and she figures out why he is not interested in sex with her. The final film is also a good effort, with MacArthur and Gilbert scoring major indie film points, and having a really nice chemistry. Emily's character is not delved into much, because this is not her story. Cooke's direction is fine, if not a bit awkward here and there, and Christopher Landon's script is smart (watch for the inside joke concerning Emily's choice of TV viewing habits). A solid entry.

"Boys Life 3" is recommendable based on all the films, with "Majorettes in Space" being the best film. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Boys Life 3 [VHS]

Boys Will Be Boys Will Be Boys Will Be Boys: "The Boys from Brazil" (1978)

There are many spoilers ahead in this review of a chilling film that is given more credence today than ever before.

This review contains some spoilers. Laurence Olivier is Lieberman, a broke Nazi hunter being bothered by phone calls from a very young Steve Guttenberg. It seems Guttenberg has discovered a gathering of Nazis in Paraguay, including the elusive Dr. Josef Mengele, played by an unrecognizable Gregory Peck.

Before Guttenberg can give Lieberman details, he is killed. Lieberman learns Mengele has ordered the world wide slayings of over ninety civil servants who have turned sixty-five years old.

The killings begin, and Lieberman soon discovers a link between all the men- they all adopted a little boy, who has piercing blue eyes, pale skin, and dark black hair. Lieberman sees a couple of these boys and assumes they are a multiple birth divided between international parents. He could not be more wrong. We find out the boys are all clones of Adolf Hitler, and Mengele is trying to bring about another reich. He figures he has taken care of the "environmental" concerns of the boys' upbringing by killing the fathers at age 65, just as Hitler's father died at age 65. The bloody climax mixes a clone, Lieberman, Mengele, and a room full of Dobermans.

Franklin Schaffner directed from Ira Levin's novel, which seemed so far fetched just a few years ago. There is a chilling scene where Mengele talks of Hitler living into the 1980's, the 1990's, and the year 2000, a year that seemed so far off in 1978, when this was released. Schaffner uses a lot of silent scenes to convey the plot, like when Mengele stands in a broken down building and remembers this was where the women were impregnated with the clones. Another chilling scene involves the "experiments" that Mengele has been working on. These scarred, abused people now roam around his South American estate, and they are always in frame for scenes taking place there.

There are light moments, as well, that do not seem forced, but completely natural. Lieberman's run in with his landlord is perfectly choreographed. Olivier was one of the great actors of all time, and proves why here. He is Lieberman, he does not simply play him. Peck is equally good as Mengele, his scene at the farmhouse where he tries to pin a murder on Lieberman is brilliant. The cast has many recognizable names in supporting roles, all of them superb: James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, Rosemary Harris, John Dehner, John Rubinstein, Anne Meara, Bruno Ganz, Walter Gotell, Michael Gough, and Steve Guttenberg, who is quite good in a type of role he should have stuck with before becoming the washout poster boy he is today (anyone for a "Police Academy" film? I didn't think so).

I had one quibble about a plot point, but I think the film makers explained it for me. Mengele flies from Paraguay to New England, and I thought, gosh, wouldn't anyone recognize him and arrest him? Schaffner shows us that Lieberman's battle is all uphill, and he is discouraged by those who would rather forget about the atrocities of WWII instead of tracking down old men. It is totally believable that these war criminals can travel around, who cares? I think we can apply this lesson today, as we try to get our lives back to normal following 9/11 and on the eve of war, we should not be so normal as to lapse into complacency and forgetfulness about the thousands are no longer with us.

What seemed impossible over twenty years ago rears its ugly head today, and makes "The Boys from Brazil" not only an incredible film, but an important argument about cloning humans.

If Hollywood can find this story and scare us with it, we should take note. I highly recommend this one. (* * * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Boys from Brazil

Boo Hoo: "Boys Don't Cry" (1999)

I hate to break this to the good citizens of Hollywood, but there are literally hundreds of millions of people in-between the two coasts of California and New York who are not "looking to get out" of their small town existences. Please stop making me feel wrong for the location I have picked to raise my sons...

Based, very loosely, on a true story, Swank is Teena Brandon, who cuts her hair short and becomes Brandon Teena. She is a troubled soul with big dreams about owning a mobile home park, and who likes to pass as a boy in order to be with other women. She leaves Lincoln, Nebraska and lands in Falls City and meets up with "The Center of the World"'s Peter Sarsgaard, who introduces her to his screwed up extended family. Everyone here drinks too much, smokes too much, and works dead end jobs so they can leave this "goddamn town."

Swank meets Chloe Sevigny, falls in love with her, and they make plans to leave Nebraska for a glistening fantasy life in Memphis. Then the cornhusks hit the fan. Swank is imprisoned on a traffic violation and is found out to be a woman. Everyone reacts the way white trash should react, and the final forty five minutes of the film is an orgy of drunken rape and murder.

First, let me state that Hilary Swank deserved every award heaped on her. She has a perfect look, and I sometimes forgot she was a woman as she immersed herself in the lie Teena Brandon lived. I hope Swank can keep up with the promise this breakout role gave her.

I am an Air Force brat, and have lived all over the world before settling in North Dakota. For years now, Hollywood has doled out all this cow plop about how horrible it is to live in the Midwest, and I am sick of it. No, this ain't paradise, but I will take a forty below wind chill over drive-by shootings and cities that never sleep any day. I like my livin' crime free and devoid of traffic jams and noise. A blanket statement about big cities, you protest? Well, I guess that's the sheltered Midwest existence talking- where we are expected to express shock at Rosie O'Donnell coming out of the closet and to get excited if Nickelback plays the state fair.

The Nebraska of this film is not Nebraska, and I figured it out early. Kimberly Peirce directs the film with all the subtlety of acid thrown in your eyes, and at one point shows us a director-y shot of a big city skyline- Dallas'. Reading the credits, this film proudly states that it was shot in Dallas, Texas. I was born in Fort Worth, and I graduated from high school in Nebraska, and I can honestly say there are more than a few differences. For one thing, the white trash cast here all have Texan drawls that are never explained! The film makers make a point of how horrible Nebraska must be, yet do not even back up their hatred with accurate locations.

The entire cast is awful. Not awful actors, awful people. One of the people portrayed sued the film makers for defamation of character, and you have to wonder what other liberties the director took. Brandon Teena does not come off as a heroic martyr, she comes off as an idiot who could not seem to wake up and smell the stale beer and SKIP TOWN. Peirce throws us into this cesspool, never explains WHY Teena did what she did, and still expects us to be moved and angered.

Peirce has some good moments here and there, but after all the decadence in the first part of the film, the viewer may find themselves dulled to the horrific rape and murder scenes, which leave nothing to the imagination. If anything, I felt bad for the real people involved, who had to relive this nightmare on film in order to shock an audience. I dare use the word "exploitation" to describe the extended rape scene and the murders. While these scenes are strong and shocking, do not let them anger you into thinking this film is gospel fact and therefore good cinema. For a horrific true crime story, see the original film version of "In Cold Blood," that film will stay with you for days for what they did NOT show.

This is a ghastly story that needs to be told. I just think the money may have been better spent on a documentary with the people involved, not a skewed perspective masquerading as an independent film.

"Boys Don't Cry" is not worth the tears. (* *) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: Boys Don't Cry

I'll Be Brief: "Boys Briefs"

Six short films about homosexual awakening are gathered together in one easy to manage DVD. Some are good, some are not, and the two hosts (picked primarily for their cutie pie looks) annoy immediately. The six films are reviewed individually:

The Absolution of Anthony (Directed by Dean Slotar)
Anthony (Joe Quintero) lives with his grandfather (Carlos Rafart), makes obscene phone calls, pines for basketball playing Joe (Gary Cohen), and is the focus of concern for Father Carson (Victor Garber). This ends abruptly, there are too many close-ups, and I am still not sure what Slotar was trying to say. (3/5*)

Smear (Directed by Sam Zalutsky)
Davey (Marc Fratello) pines for his straight friend Frank (Steven Amato), who prefers to spend time with girlfriend Jennie (Liat Goldman). The three goof around at a local park, before Davey commits a startling act of violence. Again, more film would have helped, Fratello looks a lot like Hilary Swank from "Boys Don't Cry," and this ends without moving me one way or another. (3/5*)

Front Room (Directed by P.Y. Clouin)
A guy licks an unknown body part, which turns out to be his bicep, for under a minute. What film festival would take this kind of one-joke material over films that might have something to say? Dumb. (1/5*)

Fairy Tale (Directed by David Kittredge)
This is by far the best of the compilation. Partners Todd (Terrance Flynn) and Eric (Eric M. Cole) go to Todd's hometown to visit his mother Eleanor (Paula Roth) on his birthday. Eleanor dislikes Eric, despite his best efforts, and Todd does something that angers his loving partner, as well. While some of the dialogue is too soap operatic (Eleanor will never have grandkids, Todd can't have sex in his parents' house), Flynn and Cole have such a good chemistry that I could believe them as a couple. There are some weird "Little Red Riding Hood" allegories at work here, but this is the better of the six films. (4/5*)

Piglets (Directed by Luc Feit)
This German film plays like one of those racy foreign ads you see on television clip shows sometimes, and it is very funny if not too short. Two men try to make love as an elderly woman in the next room keeps distracting them with normal things like loud music...and a giant drill. Definitely oddball, but I thought it was different enough. (4/5*)

Beloved Stanley (Directed by Simon Chung)
Kevin (Wes Wong) is a mixed race teen who is being shipped off to an English boarding school away from his best friend James (Oliver Williams) and his beloved Stanley section of Hong Kong. Not much happens, their possible homosexual relationship is only hinted at, but the locations and great editing save this from being just another coming of age story. (3/5*)

The video's hosts, Michael and Jason, make unfunny jokes about the flicks while walking around L.A.'s Melrose Avenue. They bring nothing to the table, I would have liked to know more about the film makers instead of watching these two.

"Boys Briefs" is a mixed bag, and I will give it an average rating. I will recommend it on the strength of some of the films, but with this many shorts, someone is bound to find something. (* * *) out of five stars. Get this collection now!: Boys Briefs

Good Bounty: "The Bounty Man" (1972)

Clint Walker is a mean bounty hunter in this early 1970's made for television western.

He rides into town to dump his latest capture, and makes the local saloon flies mad in the process. The hangers-on, led by Richard Basehart, decide to get back at Walker for refusing to buy them a drink with his new found wealth.

Walker leaves to capture a $5000 reward by getting Billy Riddle, played by John Ericson. He spirits Ericson away from a ghost town/criminal hangout, but also gets some extra baggage in the form of Ericson's girlfriend, Margot Kidder. As Ericson and Kidder speak in whispers and plan their escape, Basehart's gang decides to take Ericson from Walker and claim the reward as their own. Suddenly, a routine bounty for Walker turns into something else as he must deal with enemies on two fronts. Kidder, however, begins to take a liking to Walker, and the trio get pinned down by the gang with no food and water. The final plot twist is a surprise, and helps along an otherwise standard story.

Walker bares a resemblance to Tom Selleck, and is just fine here. He is not the nice guy from other films I have seen him in, and his story about what happened to his wife explains the bitterness in his character. Walker should have had a much larger career in westerns than he did. Kidder is very good as Mae, the prostitute who falls for Riddle. Some of her dialogue is a little shrill, but she handles it well and turns in a performance that is smart. Richard Basehart is the creepy head of the gang that rides after Walker. It is almost refreshing to have villains who want one thing, money, and have no past history or old scores to settle with the her.

The film is a brief seventy four minutes, so any deep meanings and characterization is lost, save Walker and Kidder. This is also the kind of film where the good guy must win, must hit everything he shoots at, and must turn the bad girl good, and all of that is here. A real plus is Moxey's direction, which is neither boring nor fanciful. He shows real nuts and bolts camera moves, not trying to take away from his leads or the action taking place. The title song and musical score are a mess, done by some forgotten pop group called The Orphanage.

"The Bounty Man" is a basic western that delivers the goods, and does not want much from its audience in return. It is entertaining and watchable, but I do not think the members of the television academy overlooked it for any awards. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: The Bounty Man / Aces N' Eights / Prairie Fever / Bullets Don't Argue / Sabata the Killer

Monday, September 12, 2011

One Hottie's Quest for the Perfect Paper Towel?: "Bounty Huntress" (2001)

No, my friend, this is much much worse. Take one porn film, remove said element of porn, and what are you left with? This.

J.C. (Nicki Dolan) is a bounty hunter who uses her good looks to capture horny unsuspecting criminals. She works for the oily Benny (Dillon Silver), who teams her with rival Lance (Jason Schnuit) on her toughest assignment yet. They must track down a mob informant last seen in the company of two hookers (Devinn Lane and Kimber Lynn), plus J.C.'s ex-husband Tom (Justin R. Hughes III), a district attorney, gets involved in the case.

Aside from the terrible acting, poor directing, laughable script, and over-reliance on stock footage, how do I know this was porn? For one thing, Devinn Lane's name is in the title. I am familiar with her work from some godawful thing I saw a few months back...I remember her in a book store with some other women, and they were not boning up on their Longfellow. Anyway, at the end of the credits, the producers proudly proclaim, or is it disclaim, that the bothersome "of legal age" law does not apply to this production. To use another less obvious clue, all of the sex scenes are very soft softcore. I am not talking "Red Shoe Diaries" softcore, I am talking about tens of minutes of footage being removed from between two characters' tentative stripping and the naughty post-coital afterglow basking and redressing, with just a fair amount of nudity on display.

The story runs all of seventy minutes, including the credits. So, when all the porn is edited away, you are left with just story, and it is a lousy one at that. I am not sure about the cast's ability between the sheets (except for Lane), but when it comes to rudimentary acting skills like delivering dialogue or creating a character, everyone fails miserably.

The set design deserves special disparaging mention. I was fascinated with district attorney Tom's office, where his desk and walls are all painted a color best described as "fecal." At one point in the film, a major character is murdered offscreen, and the cast reacts with such indifference I am convinced the actors could not remember what part the victim played in the film.

"Bounty Huntress" even spawned a couple of video sequels, but I think I have had enough of the series. This is one bad film. (*) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: The Bounty Huntress

Tijuana, We Have a Problem: "Boom in the Moon" (1946)

The great stone faced silent comedian Buster Keaton stars in the worst film of the 1940's.

He plays a sailor stranded at sea at the end of WWII. He washes up in Mexico, and turns himself in as a prisoner of war. He is mistaken for a mass murderer and sentenced to the electric chair. He and a prison buddy volunteer for a crazy professor's new invention- an atomic rocket to take them to the moon. The pair, and the professor's cute niece, get into the rocket, which flies only a few miles. They land in a field in their native Mexico, think it is the moon, and begin to try to contact the "moon men." They find their way back to the same prison they just left. If you are laughing at this description, don't, this is so bad...

Where to begin? The film came out in 1946, way past Keaton's prime. He looks old and tired here. He still manages to do some painful looking slapstick, not that the story deserved it. He just rips off stuff that was funny twenty five years earlier. The film is Mexican, with a Mexican cast dubbed into English. Keaton obviously does not speak Spanish, so he stares blankly into space during most of the other characters' dialogue. To see this great comedian look completely lost in this stupid film is absolutely criminal. He knows when to say a line when his prison buddy either points at him or slaps him on the arm.

Salvador's idea of direction is to nail the camera to the floor and let Keaton be "funny." Keaton has no idea what is going on in the story, but tries to make a scene hilarious by resorting to old tricks that do not work anymore. Even kids will be bored by the inane story that insults the collective intelligence of all who view it. The title, "Boom in the Moon," makes little sense as well.

The screenwriters make a giant plot gaffe toward the end of the film. Keaton and his buddy (sorry, none of the characters have names) are on the ship and find out they have been exonerated for the murders. They both hear the report on a radio. Later, back on Earth and in prison, they are set free and await their fate because of the murders they are falsely accused of. The police captain tells them they have been exonerated and can go...but they already knew this, they heard it on the ship! Out of nowhere, they haul in a Mexican woman as Keaton's wife and he locks himself back in the cell. Cute joke, but the wife is never mentioned before in the film. Where did she come from? This kind of sloppiness is typical throughout.

The special effects here make "Plan 9 from Outer Space" look like "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." The rest of the Mexican cast are awful, and dubbed equally badly. Count the number of times you hear the word "vamos," it really gets irritating.

The video company that released this must have won the rights to this in a fifty cent poker game. They should have saved the late Keaton some embarrassment and left it on the shelf. Also known as "A Modern Bluebeard," this is my pick for the worst, most inept film of the 1940's.

Hopefully, you will not have to see this to prove me right. (*) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Boom in the Moon