She Who Obeys: “Frankenstein Created Woman” (1967)


WHEN WILL WOMEN EVER GET AHEAD IN THE MOVIES?: Despite proving herself a prolific mankiller in Terence Fisher’s “Frankenstein Created Woman”, Susan Denberg is still subject to the whims of a male master’s voice, as is traditional in Hammer’s Gothic horrors.

     “Frankenstein Created Woman”  (1967)

    Considering the usual limitations placed upon the status of women in the Gothic horror movies produced by Hammer Films-  generally subsumed to decorative but insubstantialfrankensteincreatedwomanOS roles calling for little more than subservient heaving women in peril or subservient bodacious honeys present only for a titillating display of cleavage and curves  -it should come as no surprise that when that meager pedigree receives a bump in antagonistic prominence, such an elevation would continue to be sublimated by the will of all of the men in the room.

    Terence Fisher’s “Frankenstein Created Woman” continues the apparently ceaseless experimentation of everyone’s favorite mad scientist who never seems to acknowledge the irony that his attempts to revive the dead usually end up with a greater quantity of deceased. Seeming to recognize the repetition of their Frankenstein films, screenwriter John Elder (the nom de plume for Hammer producer Anthony Hinds) alters Baron Frankenstein’s modus operandi by abandoning the familiar mix and match cadaver quilting and moving into the realm of metaphysical outrages by enabling resurrection by way of soul transference. Perfecting a method of capturing the fleeing soul from the dead (there appears to be a one hour expiration on a successful capture, discovered through means too truncated and inconclusive to satisfy even this frankensteincreatedwoman50film’s  conspicuously lowered standard of shameless concession to incredulity), the Baron only needs to await a the conveniently fresh corpse (here in the form of a wrongly accused killer Hans[Robert Morris]) and a second (the disfigured Christina [Susan Denberg] with whom Hans was engaged in a secret dalliance during the time of the murder) in which to complete his immaterial exchange program. But to what end? Forever absent of an expressed scientific goal, the distinguishing characteristic of Hammer’s Frankenstein films seems to be the good doctor’s only real motive for continually bringing violent chaos to his surroundings is the compulsive scratchable itch of hubris. He can bring about disorder, so he will.

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The Descent of Dissent: “Punishment Park” (1971)


punishmentpark1              “Punishment Park”  (1971)

    Acts of provocation are certainly the prerogative of the artist- it is one of the essential nutrients fueling that elusive but ever evolving abstractive absolute known as Art  -and most certainly are convenient tools for the socially conscious filmmaker. Even run-of-the-mill commercial directors make use of the provocative manipulation of hearts (emotion) and minds (psychology); it’s their stock in trade. However, punishmentparkOSin the instance of deliberate political provocation, the filmmaker might be expected to responsibly employ a reasonable level of  informed clarity if their film is intended to result in a stimulative experience beyond that of base propaganda.

    Such is a great part of the controversy clouding an objective assessment of Peter Watkins’ “Punishment Park”, a film that takes great pains to present a particularly negative view of America as a government controlled state succumbed to fascism. The fact that Watkins is a British filmmaker, has also been the source of intense consternation in what has been labelled an unwelcome (and, by that same measure, unknowing) criticism from across the pond. Skeptics of his method and message cry “foul”, which might be a sympathetic (if not arguable) stance were films made by foreigners speaking in glowing terms of the Fifty States met with an equal sense of an illegitimate violation of sovereign tranquility, and with an equally vehement energy. This, of course, is not the case.

    In the matter of “Punishment Park”, an incendiary work to be sure, to preserve the integrity of the critical eye one must muster the capacity for a rational discussion as to its form, technique and substance in separate but equal measure from the more rash, emotionally volatile implications of the film’s theme (which, in themselves can be dissected, but not in a vacuum of nationalist self-pity) just like any other film. It is, after all, just a movie. 

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Visitors: “It Came From Outer Space” (1953)

itcame2            “It Came From Outer Space”  (1953)

    A meteor that could easily be mistaken for a Christmas ornament crashes into the Arizona desert  and mysterious galactic visitors descend upon an altogether peaceful Southwestern hamlet to wreak havoc and spread paranoiac suspicion. (Is there, perhaps, a dangerous shortage of yucca plants in the faritcamefromouterspaceposter reaches that accounts for the attraction of this desolate area by the cinematic menaces of this film and countless others to follow?) Welcome to the continuing saga of attributing allegorical Cold War connections to almost half of the films of the decade, especially in science fiction,  in what is certainly the most pedestrian of what are generally considered Jack Arnold’s 1950’s B-movie SF classics, “It Came From Outer Space”.

    The sleepy town of  Sand Rock, Arizona is the site for a giant fiery meteor to come crashing to earth, completely unnoticed  by all (this is a sleepy town) except for casual astronomer  John Putnam (Richard Carlson), who just happens to be is gazing at the sky with his girl Ellen (Barbara Rush) when the giant object strikes terra firma. Putnam, being an alarmist, alerts the town, including the archetypal doubting sheriff Matt Warren (Charles Drake), reporting that the object is, in fact, a spaceship, but that it has been subsequently buried by a rockslide. Assuming the role of Chicken Little, Putnam is dismissed until certain members of the town disappear and then reappear acting strangely. (Though it’s fairly easy to spot the imposters ahead of time when the wailing theremin is cued.)


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Inconvenient Truth: “Elle s’appelle Sabine” (2007)


ellesappelle sabine 4

THE LOOK: Just what is going on behind the eyes of Sabine Bonnaire, the autistic younger sister of acclaimed French actress Sandrine Bonnaire, is never overtly explored, though her haunted stare leaves a discomforting impact which speaks volumes, in “Elle s’appelle Sabine”.

       “Elle s’appelle Sabine”  (2007)  

       Ideally the documentary form should present an objective point of view. How then to judge a film which by the very nature of the film maker’s intimate relationship with theellesappellesabineOS subject guarantees the intrusion of emotional subjectivity that might very well alter the foundation of, not only the conclusions of the film, but the very techniques employed by which such predetermined ends are reached? In such a case, are facts sufficiently colored by such a prejudicial perspective on the part of the film maker, that it might render the film’s deductions capable of question? 

   French actress Sandrine Bonnaire has chosen as the subject of her directorial debut a portrait of her younger autistic sister Sabine, who despite demonstrating remarkable proficiency in music and an enthusiasm for literature, athletic activity and travel (she loves America), is spirited away to a hospital at the age of 28, where in the five year period comprising her institutionalization, she undergoes a monstrous transformation rendering her barely able to function and in a semiconscious state. The tragedy blatantly illustrated in the film is in the stark counterpoint between the pre and post institutionalized Sabine in manner, behavior and appearance. To say that the contrasts are shocking does not do the crimes of negligence against this young woman justice; a point that is made repeatedly over and again with an unerring sense of shock value by the clearly rankled film maker.

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Panic Rooms: “Tread Softly Stranger” (1958)


Diana Dors as the temptress Calico, an entirely different breed of hot cat on a roof in the British crime drama “Tread Softly Stranger”.

          “Tread Softly Stranger”  (1958)

    When gambler Johnny  Mansell (George Baker) overextends his bookie debts, he flees London, returning to his working class hometown of  Rawborough to visit with his steel mill accountant brother Dave (Terence Morgan), who has embezzled from the company treadsoftlystrangerHSto buy expensive baubles for his  ersatz girlfriend, the oversexed bar hostess Calico (Diana Dors), who conveniently lives in an adjoining rooftop flat which will make the constant frantic exits and entrances demanded of the film’s increasingly fevered inclinations toward excited strategic arguments between the three (after Dave’s  attempt to rob the mill’s payroll to disguise his earlier theft goes sour, resulting in the shooting death of the night watchman, the father of a childhood friend) that make the film, at times, seem as if it intends to be a melancholy film noir version of a door slamming bedroom farce (this may also hint at the film’s stage origins). Complicating the growing stress between the threesome over the homicide (Johnny was spotted at the scene attempting to halt the robbery, while Calico supplied Dave with the murder weapon) is a sexual tension between Johnny (who feigns resistance) and the faithless Calico that adds further grist to Dave’s rapidly deteriorating grip on reality.

    Gordon Parry’s film impressively takes fairly routine material and cranks up the tension by manipulating subtle variations in editing tempo and through the use of ingeniously effective camerawork by Douglas Slocombe in which Dave’s consuming paranoiac panic is reflected in the film’s visual design. Interestingly, the movie is shot intreadsoftlystranger3 a relatively dispassionate workmanlike style until the robbery scene, in which the mise-en-scene shifts into a dark descent into chiaroscuro fueled images symbolic of a fall into an abyss of moral damnation. (The exceptions to the earlier unaffected visual design, are anything but subtle punctuations which make no mystery in identifying  Calico as an amoral succubus, who preys on the weakness of Dave’s clueless affections; she is often shot in provocatively come hither poses, with the film cutting to the steamy expulsions of the steel mill as if the entire town were in the throes of an orgasmic discharge generated by her overheated sexuality.) 

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What’s Love Got To Do With It?: “Hell is Sold Out” (1951)



Hell Shocked: A confused and glum Dominic Danges (Herbert Lom) can’t understand how a bestselling book which he never wrote has his name on the cover in Michael Anderson’s romantic comedy (or is it a drama) “Hell is Sold Out”.

       “Hell is Sold Out”  (1951)

    One need not be Ernst Lubitsch to direct a stylish romance, but on the evidence of “Hell is Sold Out”, it pays not to be Michael Anderson.  It doesn’t matter that the plot , takenhellissoldoutLC from a novel by Maurice Dekobra, is no more preposterous than most concocted for many  celebrated Hollywood fabrications (certainly not those firmly footed in the dizzy realm of screwball comedy), but if the resultant movie cannot commit to whether it wishes to be amusing or dramatic, the rusty mechanics of forced contrivance are bound to assert themselves in pronounced ways that emphasize the deficiencies in writing, direction and the resultant disjointed performances.

    Popular novelist and French Resistance fighter Dominic Danges (Herbert Lom), a POW mistakenly reported killed, returns to find his latest book has become a tremendous bestseller. The only problem is, he didn’t write it. Nor the one before that. Nor does he hellissoldout2recognize Valerie Martin (Mai Zetterling), a Swedish woman who is masquerading as his widow, and who is the actual author of Danges’ two fraudulent works. Predictable complications arise concerning Dominic’s continued literary reputation and the usual love/hate signals shot back and forth between Dominic and Valerie, temporarily complicated by Danges’ POW buddy Pierre (Richard Attenborough) whose feelings toward Valerie creates a romantic triangle that is sensed by all but never explicitly articulated.

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The Only Way to Fly: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Feb. 2018 Edition, Vol. 747

flying15The Only Way to Fly: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Feb. 2018 Edition, Vol. 747

     How often does this happen to you? You are waiting in endless airport security lines. The attending TSA agents are more suspiciously handsy than Bill Clinton redeeming a 50% off coupon at the Bunny Ranch. You are briskly detained  for three hours to fill out forms explaining the purpose of the highly suspicious cache of Orange Tic Tacs in your sweater pocket, while the first line of domestic defense in our national security are waving through a fidgety travel group from Yemen who are wearing matching IMPERIALIST DEVILS MUST DIE WORLD TOUR 2018 t-shirts  and who might be easily identified by the number of electrical wires poking through their tube socks. Sadly, any practitioners of preventative observational skills,  would have to be unafraid of derisiveflyinggif3 cries of “foul” ranging from accusations of ethnic profiling (no Virginia, I’m suspicious of anyone with a fuse dangling from their sleeve regardless of origin) to the hellfire and brimstone branding of racism. In the interest of saving countless thousands, the prospective politically unafraid hero might manage to generate a contempt only slightly more vitriolic than that aimed at the Manson Family. During all of this, it just may occur to you that air travel ain’t what it used to be. Still, the romance of flying through the clouds has not been entirely extinguished by fistfights in the aisles , and for that we have to direct a great deal of thanks to those brave and noble folks who fly the friendly skies, while patiently maintaining the good will and fortitude not to order the cabin crew to distribute the chloroform pillows to the disturbingly high percentage of potential asylum dwellers they are hauling around at 30.000 feet. Which brings us to this month’s edition of America’s most revered source of vertigo while in the sitting in the upright position, the Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, brought to you by those interstate smugglers of SKITTLES, America’s favorite cure for nasal incontinence. In this episode we applaud and celebrate the airplane pilot, those daring men or women who travel through the skies , not at all disturbed by the fact that the passengers are held hostage with the seventh screening of “Norbit”. Suckers. The following twenty images feature actors and actresses portraying pilots of vehicles that go zip through the air. Your job, as always, is to identify all twenty and be the first to do so. The lucky winner will receive (eventually) that beloved citation of good taste and preferred seating at the rest room of your choice at the NY Port Authority bus station, the CSR Culture Shock Award. Good luck.



Posted in books, clint eastwood, comedy, humor, James Stewart, John Wayne, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, silent movies, war movies, writing | Tagged | 3 Comments

Violated: “Hannie Caulder” (1972)

Hannie Caulder (1971)         “Hannie Caulder”  (1972)

    Sometimes a movie is crafted with an admirable skill that, while falling short of artistry, manages to work quiet wonders in the small details which through an amalgam of calculated design, instinct, blind luck and providence, fortuitously produces momentshanniecaulderOS which transcend the familiar, bringing shades and textures unique to the film going   experience; and yet, things can still go spectacularly wrong.  Such a case of an extreme aesthetic tug of war is on view in Burt Kennedy’s “Hannie Caulder”, a western that presents a truly unique variation of the classic revenge theme based upon an unsound rationale which presupposes an empathetic charity in the audience, who is asked to sympathize with the devastated victim of brutal multiple rapes, while concurrently finding the continued reprehensible behavior of her assailants comically amusing.

    Fugitives from a bungled bank robbery, the Clemens brothers, Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam) and Rufus (Strother Martin), assault a horse station, killing the proprietor and gang raping his wife Hannie (Raquel Welch, once again perfectly at ease in the saddle). Painfully following the trio’s path on foot, Hannie encounters bounty hunter Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp, in a magnificent performance), who slowly resigns himself to be her mentor in handling a gun, after his initial indifference to the traumatized woman’s requests thaw. (Significantly, it is never suggested that Price himself should track down the rampaging threesome.) It ishanniecaulder6 during the middle third of the film, where the two travel to Mexico to the coastal retreat of an expatriate Confederate  gunsmith  Bailey (Christopher Lee, seeming to relish the change from formula horror films) that the film settles into a fascinating seminar in the art of gunfighting. The Mexico sequences exude a almost Hemingwayesque tone in their spare economy of expression, that is  both dramatically satisfying and emotionally rich. There is a beautifully captured moment with Hannie and Price in silhouette on the shoreline: Hannie, walking behind, takes his hand and the sudden, slight shift in Price’s gait speaks wordless volumes about how this hard man is imbued with an increased sense of purposefulness through the merest show of tenderness. 

To read the complete review, click the following link to:

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Quicksand: “Jungle Street” (1960)

junglestreet4                “Jungle Street”  (1960)

    Charles Saunders’ “Jungle Street” is one of those minor crime dramas which the British film industry made in plentiful numbers without the greater impact of  comparable American film productions of the 40’s and 50’s. What distinguished the films junglstreetposter2across the pond is that the British films generally substituted an unexpected level of viciousness for what they lacked in the chiaroscuro inspired stylishness of the American film noir.

    After unwittingly killing an elderly man in an act of petty thievery, Terry Collins (David McCallum) returns to the Adam & Eve Club where he works as a gofer to club owner Jacko Fielding (John Chandos) and is smitten with a featured stripper named Sue (Jill Ireland), who also happens to be the girlfriend of Terry’s partner in robbery Johnny Calvert (Kenneth Cope), who, while maintaining Terry’s identity a secret from the authorities is serving a year’s prison sentence but unaware of the Sue’s new profession as an ecdysiast. ….

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Desert Critters: “The Brotherhood of Satan” (1971)



DOES AAA MENTION THIS IN THE TRAVEL BROCHURES?: Three travelers experience a typical level of understandable angst which seems to perpetually befoul the rural Southwest as seen through the prism of the American cinema, in Bernard McEveety’s “The Brotherhood of Satan”. 

      “The Brotherhood of Satan”  (1971) 

   Children may seem to to be the root of all evil in “The Brotherhood of Satan”, but it’s only a feint, thinly disguising the actual complicity of the town’s elders. Clearly, when it comes to supernatural wickedness, timing is everything. Bernard McEveety’s low-budget chiller continues the long standing Hollywood tradition of portraying isolated Southwestern towns as magnets for unexplainable horrors, be they fugitive criminals, gigantic atomic mutations, ill-mannered outer space immigrants, or here, in the post-Manson Family era, cultists with a homicidal bent.

   In this case, the cult is a coven of Satanists who, partially through the use of an unexplained power to animate simple children’s toys into weapons of mass destruction, have prevented anyone from traveling in or out of community limits. There is no doubt that these “witches” are a busy bunch, though the motivation for their widespread chicanery isn’t accompanied by a passable explanation (Worship of the Devil being what it is in the movies, each individual film seems to make up its own set of rules as it goes along. Say what you will about God fearing organized religions, but they generally follow a game plan.) and so the pious mumbo jumbo given extended treatment fails to resonate with neither sufficient mystery nor menace to produce any result but giggles. “The Brotherhood of Satan” is the kind of film which  requires an excess of suspension of disbelief from the audience (for obvious reasons) as it is never explained as to how such events might unfold unnoticed by civilization as surely someone from the outside would eventually attempt to make deliveries, transport mail or make a phone call. 

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Posted in Drive-In Movies, horror, movie reviews, Movies, Poe in the Cinema, Reviews, writing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Working Girl: “The Flesh is Weak” (1957)



WELCOME TO THE DARK SIDE: A rare moment of drama as Marissa (Milly Vitale) is about to travel a route of no return in Don Chaffey’s lurid prostitution exposé “The Flesh is Weak”.

         “The Flesh is Weak”  (1957)

     As if the film’s suggestively salacious title weren’t clue enough, if there were any doubt as to the direction to be taken by Don Chaffey’s “The Flesh is Weak”, look for no further guidance than in the direction in which the camera is pointed during the opening credits: toward the gutter.

    A young woman arrives in London, checks into a hostel and is immediately set upon by predatory agents of a vice ring who plan to enter the unwitting woman into a forcedfleshisweakinsert  career in the sex trade. By what the film seems to suggest, it is unsafe for any girl to stroll a sidewalk or sit in a coffee house in England without an armed escort.

    A supposed exposé of prostitution rings, “The Flesh is Weak” is so contrived in the melodramatic manipulations used by pimp Tony Giani (John Derek) against innocent but almost pathologically gullible Marissa Cooper (Milly Vitale) that it finally collapses under the absurdity of its own suspect stratagem; the protracted and tenuous charade pretending a nurturing domestication by which Tony initiates Marissa into emotional enslavement seems both impractical and economically unsound. Compounded with the unconvincing extremity of Marissa’s ignorance (which extends to her being blind to the nature of her fate even after  servicing several men), is the film’s unsavory portrayal of women suggesting that, perhaps, they are unwittingly but still culpably complicit in their ruin by a surrender of protective reason in order to satisfy their own hunger for material gain and/or even fleeting emotional gratification.  (Significantly, there is only one minor female character introduced in the entire movie who isn’t, in some fashion, employed in catering to the more handsy factions of the Queen’s subjects, a disturbing exercise in occupational census taking.) That Marissa affects a distant, almost instantaneous hardened attitude, once she finally reaches a point of resignation toward her circumstances, is more an act of pouting than of remedial cognizance.

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Posted in British films, crime, film noir, London, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Romance, sex, women, writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Camera Obscura: “I Am a Camera” (1955)

       “I Am a Camera”  (1955)

   The first thing one notices in “I Am a Camera” is that the tone is completely wrong. In Christopher Isherwood’s Farewell to Berlin, the second of two novels comprising The Berlin Stories, the quote comprising this film’s title is a seemingly offhand but indelibly iamacameraOSimportant moment of self-assessment both explaining his function as narrator to his story, and as a remarkably astute thumbnail characterization of his observational method of writing, in which he manages the neat trick of assuming neither the role of protagonist nor antagonist during the events which form the narrative, but strictly as observer, offering astute and colorful trails of objective description for which his subjective voice is skillfully neutralized, allowing characters and events to speak for themselves; his literary surrogate relinquishing the role of an active instigator of events. In this manner, Berlin is able to be experienced by the reader with a remarkable nonjudgmental clarity in all of its manifestations: mysterious, decadent, dangerous, yet vibrant, exotic and startlingly alive.

     How the film manages to undercut Isherwood’s unique voice, almost immediately, is to dispense with the author’s artful objectivity and replace it with an uncharacteristically acerbic voiceover,  ill-served by the harsh intonations of a misdirected Laurence Harvey as iamacamera3the author. The actor’s manner, from the start, reeks of condescension; exacerbated by smugly dismissive observations that often times make the narration feel like cheap film noir pulp. Isherwood’s narration neither observes nor sympathetically commentates, but rather disagreeably grumbles while throwing petty barbs. It’s not that Harvey is irretrievably damaging to the film, but that the film seems to find comfort in conforming to his rather distant actor’s persona. 


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Stolen Kisses: The Birth of Adult Cinema

kiss       The Birth of Adult Cinema:  “The Kiss” / “Après le bal”       (1896/1897)

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”] as I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it …

                                              – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, 1964

    It’s all a matter of perspective. One era’s pornography is another’s quaint antiquity and perhaps nothing is more universally telling of both the flexible measure of contemporaneous moral standards and a fairly accurate barometer of a society’s cultural climate than its preoccupation, both in enthusiasm and condemnation, with sex. However, it should be no surprise that with the emergence of new cultural art form, among those to give an initial critical voice to the infant cinema were the naysayers whose intemperate sense of moral condemnation found suspicious seeds of community corruption in any innovation that attracted popular attention, especially (in their view) that susceptible unwashed public who must be protected from themselves and the corrupting of any encroachment by a subversive ascension of purveyors of sin and filth regardless of form. (For the record: the public has never been simpleminded, simply susceptible to bad taste, however, that’s an entirely different problem.)

      Enter the infant cinema whose audience’s appetite for sensationalism would soon prove to be insatiable. However, before the primitive wonders of Georges Méliès’ special effects enchantments, or the later initial excitement of such seminal genre templates as “The Great Train Robbery” and “Musketeers of Pig Alley”, there musketeerspigalleywere incidentals: short unembellished filmed records of. not so much events (though in a contextual vacuum in which little had been represented cinematically, every incidental might be regarded as an event), but everyday  occurrences- the ancestor of the newsreel clip, though often without a newsworthy context. Thus, the camera might record a common incident made novel merely by the fact that it was a viewed as a product of being recorded: not unlike painting, sculpture and the relatively infant form of photography before it, the motion picture could be recognized as the latest cultural manifestation to bombard the public with a representative form promoting public fascination with the banal merely due to the fact of its own existence: the ordinary becomes extraordinary merely through the process of arrivalofatrainatlac1896cinematic reproduction, with reality briefly transmogrified into a wondrous state of sensory stimulating artifice. Before the novelty of the incidental wore thin enough to make way for the evolution to a primitive narrative form, the drawing card was little different than that of the far more complex- but equally non-nuanced -contemporary cinema in that there was a constant demand for greater and more gratuitous sensation (one of the greatest attractions heralding the arrival of the incidental period was the Lumière Brothers’ “L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat”, a 50 second film depicting an almost head-on arrival of a locomotive at a train platform, an image which film legend claims sent many patrons screaming from the theater in fright), rather than increasingly challenging artistic expression which would weave its way through the history of cinema more through individual vision rather than an encouraged grander design.

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Too Much Monkey Business: “King Kong Escapes” (1968)


If, (from left to right) Akira Takarada, Linda Miller and Rhodes Reason, the cast of “King Kong Escapes”, are staring at something off-screen, the sight of any dignity remaining intact in their film careers is probably not a bet on which you would want to risk your paycheck.

     “King Kong Escapes”  (1968)

    If one were to remove all of the unconvincing effects shots from “King Kong Escapes” (and some of them are fairly wince inducing, even by Japanese standards), it would remain an embarrassing resume filler, perhaps palatable only to the most undiscriminating pre-toddlers who might find the Man-in-the-tattered-carpet-remnant-ape-suit a great companion with their Binky Blanket. An unofficial extension of the Saturday morning Rankin/Bass produced cartoon series “The King Kong Show” (though the similarities seem only to extend to the participation of producer Arthur Rankin, Jr. and some form of the big monkey himself), the film seizes upon the matinee movie popularity of Japanese kaiju films combined with a seemingly insatiable appetite for trivial junk to make the most famous resident of the Empire State Building suddenly reappear in the Pacific Rim long enough to for his strength to be harnessed for nefarious purposes by the evil Dr. Hu, who is easily recognized as the bad guy as he is the only one in the film running around in a leftover Mexican vampire cape.

To read the complete review, click the following link to:


Posted in children, Drive-In Movies, fantasy, kaiju, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, writing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Children at Play: “The War Game” (1962)

thewargame1           “The War Game”  (1962)

    The seeds of human extinction always seems more poetic (if not palatable) when seen through the prism of allegory. But is any message pleading for a cessation to the proliferation of hostility that ultimately leads to death and destruction ever usefully served when mired in an obscuring mountain of symbolism?

    Mai Zetterling’s 1962 short film “The War Game”, not to be confused with Peter Watkins’ 1965 cautionary faux documentary, joins that slim roster of movies in which children are used as pawns in which the damaging effects of societal intolerance and political self-destruction are presented, less as a thoughtfully reasoned contributory voice, than as an exercise in manipulation: in which the film maker calculatedly relies on the instincts of thethewargame2 audience to react with a primal emotional response; to become reflexively protective when it comes to the suffering of children. Certainly, eliciting emotional responses from the audience is desirable by any director, but when even existential cruelties are specifically directed at the most helpless of targets, the desired response of outrage may be exponentially magnified, not necessarily as a result of an intellectually persuasive point-of-view but through deliberately provocative visceral embellishment. From such a limited context of manipulation, the response of the audience may be more a by-product of socially respondent conditioning than  If incautiously used, this manipulative approach can easily cross the line between editorial and propaganda. Fortunately, Zetterling’s brief directorial debut is ultimately literal in its caveat against aggressive proliferation, but the film (until the final moments) is needlessly vague, ultimately collapsing under the burden of her ambition. 

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Posted in children, Cold War, Mai Zetterling, movie reviews, Movies, politics, Reviews, short films, women, writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Shades of Gray: “Juste avant la nuit” (1971)


00000justeavantlanuit1        “Juste avant la nuit”   (1971)

     If Claude Chabrol is casually regarded as the Gaellic Hitchcock, the too easily accepted comparison betrays a basic misunderstanding of not only the French filmmaker but of thejusteavant Master of Suspense (Chabrol’s own public adoration of Hitchcock tends to blur critical viewpoints, more so than in Hitchcockian comparisons with the far lesser-case De Palma) While both Chabrol and Hitchcock spend an inordinate amount of attention on the shadier localities of Man’s better nature, the results are far from psychologically (and certainly not aesthetically) complimentary.

      One fundamental difference between the two filmmakers is in directorial temperament-  the truth of the matter is that Hitchcock’s films have a greater interest in the mechanics of plotting than character, whereas Chabrol’s are immersed in the minutiae of the psychological.  In comparison to those of his French counterpart, the Hitchcockian character is a relative cipher, often made charming by the extraneous means of banter or fortuitous casting choices. However, in ascribing psychological depth to Hitchcock’s characters, one, more often than not, encounters shallow mining, as their personalities are generally defined by reflex reactions to the elaborate mousetraps set in motion by the director; since the majority of his plots are orchestrated to manipulate the players (and by de facto, the audience) as pawns incapable of movement or action independent of the needs of the intricate interlocking set pieces which at the heart of the grand designs of his cinematic puzzles.

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Posted in Alfred Hitchcock, art house cinema, Claude Chabrol, crime, erotica, Film, Film Reviews, French movies, movie reviews, Movies, Mystery, Reviews, writing | 4 Comments

Fools for Love: “The April Fools” (1969)

 aprilfools4                “The April Fools”  (1969)

    “The April Fools” asks the audience to believe in an instantaneous romantic attraction intense enough to make a two people discard everything in their lives, all the while mocking the ruinous relationship choices people make. The contradictions prominent inaprilfoolsOS Hal Dresner’s screenplay are not lost on director Stuart Rosenberg who seems rather desperate at times to send his penchant for visual gimmickry into overdrive in an attempt to masquerade the surprising shallowness of both the central romance and the loveless circumstances which make such agreeable case of dual infidelity so attractive.

    Married investment executive Howard Brubaker (Jack Lemmon) celebrates his new promotion by attending a party at the apartment of his boss, Ted Gunther (Peter Lawford), who despite being married to the lovely Catherine (Catherine Deneuve) openly acts the lascivious playboy with his female guests. At Ted’s prodding, Howard inadvertently invites one of the guests to a drink, an invitation she unhesitatingly accepts, with Howard unaware that the young woman is actually Ted’s wife Catherine. They quietly leave the party and in the process of getting to know each other discover that they have much in common, including a mutual dissatisfaction with their respective marriages. In the process of the evening, what begins as a friendly attraction blossoms into love.


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Posted in comedy, Jack Lemmon, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Romance, women, writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Idiot’s Delight: “Putney Swope” (1969)



THE SOUL TRUTH: In “Putney Swope” there is a demonstrable equality between the races as every character, regardless of skin color is depicted as a cartoon stereotype, militant thug or buffoon.

           “Putney Swope”  (1969)

    In “Putney Swope”, a Madison Avenue advertising agency is subject to an unexpected power shift when a new Chairman of the Board is hastily chosen, after his predecessor collapses during a company meeting. That the new Chairman is announced as having been elected putneyswopeOSby mistake (each of the board members voted for him thinking no one else would) is a convenient comedy set-up, but more importantly (to the film’s purpose), the fellow is the only black man in the company,  Putney Swope. From this premise, director Robert Downey, Sr. offers a satire of  advertising, capitalism, racism, sexism and probably a dozen more -isms, all of which are presented with the indelicate touch of a wrecking ball.

    In Downey’s universe, everyone is depicted as either a one-dimensional stereotype or a freakish buffoon (often both), a misanthropic view which he is unable to quantify as a legitimate comic perspective, but which he obviously finds hysterical. Subtlety doesn’t rate a qualifying seat at his satiric table, which would be irrelevant if the film delivered on a certain level of humor, but, though the film is sated with what are presented as sharp observations, they miss the mark with a consistency of failure that is embarrassing to watch. The jokes are unfunny enough, but it is the crude execution of every scene which makes the material feel doubly desperate, every line is forced, bluntly italicized to be admired for what Downey clearly feels is militant bravura, but the film fails (actually,putneyswope7 does not even attempt) to establishing any coherent point-of-view. The movie feels unfinished, as if any material that would bring any coherence to film is still laying on the editing floor. For a filmmaker like Downey, whose kamikazee approach to humor is wielded as a counterculture truncheon, the success of the comedy is in the cultural bullying of the audience. Films such as “Putney Swope” announce their comic truth to the audience with the force of a slap to the face, but it is a supremely arrogant pose (the movie dares you to not like it, lest you be identified as an Establishment lackey); one that is reflected in every frame of the film. It professes anger and outrage, but without a cause. It is social activism as an empty temper tantrum.

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Posted in black cinema, Boston, comedy, movie reviews, Movies, racism, Reviews, writing | Tagged | 3 Comments

Looped: “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” (1966)

 whats-up-tiger-lily                  “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?”  (1966)

    “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” is an  unwatchable, ungodly mess of a film that is the product of dishonesty and arrogance, with an added dash of the disposable cinema’s greatest ally: postproduction studio interference.

    The film is the product of a literal hijacking of a Japanese spy film (two actually) by Woody Allen in which the original plot has been jettisoned by way of  a reedit and the insertion of a newly recorded English language dubbing track which converts the original espionage narrativewhatsupOS.jpg into one involving the theft of a prized egg salad recipe. The newly installed plot is clearly meant to have a comedic purpose, but to what end? Since the presence of a genuinely funny (or clever) line of dialogue becomes as rare as chateaubriand at Burger King, this exercise in pop cultural superiority leaves only the bitter taste of confusion rather than amusement. (The scorn for the original participants of the material is most telling when a credit dismissively announces the film as “Starring a No Star Cast”, an unwarranted slur toward Tatsuya Mihashi, Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi.)

    Since the nature of the film is more action oriented (with many conversational connections conveniently appearing to be missing in the reedit) with the opportunities for aural alteration annoying limited; one gets the opinion that the appropriators (one can hardly refer to those involved in this filmic evisceration as “filmmakers”) deliberately chose a film in which their…

To read the complete review, click the following link to: 

Posted in comedy, espionage, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Woody Allen, writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Black Gowns Matter: Hollywood Explains It All To You

HYPOCRISY IS THE NEW BLACK:  In the whirlwind grab-onto-any-headline-that will-make-you-sound-like-a-profound-thinker-without-the-benefit-of-having-to-learn-anything-about-the-subject-so-that-you-don’t-embarrass-yourself-with-disproportionately-inane-public-comments world known as the Hollywood movie award season, the semi-nude think tank conveys a timely lesson in the evils of sexually objectifying women to the Great Unwashed in typical “do as a dribble, not as I do” fashion by wearing the latest in superficial designer minimalist funeral wear at this year’s inaugural Movieland Pay for Play, aka the Golden Globe Awards ceremony. 

Black Gowns Matter: Hollywood Explains It All To You

      Ah, the Golden Globe Awards, that monument to critical integrity that once put Pia Zadora on the map by way of the deep pocket resources of the reckless Riklis empire plying the open mouths and greedy hands of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, that covert roster of carhops, failed escorts, personal trainers and fugitives from ICE, who determined that her stunning demonstration of the thespian art in the cinematic masterwork “Butterfly” (co-starring a beyond redemption Orson Welles, whose participation should have found him stripped of all career encomia and summarily beaten with the lost reels of “The Magnificent Ambersons”) was worthy of the bestowing of the title “New Star of the Year”. 


WHO’S IN CHARGE OF VETTING, NANCY? Hollywood’s current poster girl for the victimization of women, invited and welcomed guest Tonya Harding, as seen at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards, appropriately garbed in black, acknowledging the death of good taste (or judgment) in Hollywood. Was Leslie Van Houten unavailable?

    In this year’s evening of inebriation masquerading as philosophical profundity, the Golden Globe Awards celebrated the “Year of the Pissed Off B-List Actresses Fondled and Abused By the Best Friends of the Awards Industry Again Silenced, Supplanted and Left In the Dust By the Elite Meryl Streep Sewing Circle Who Knew It Was All Going On But Didn’t Want to Be Left Off of the V.I.P. Party List But Who, Nevertheless, Will Act Appropriately Outraged Damaged Anyway” with the evening presented with a special level of irony (lost, of course, on guess who?) as Hollywood chose to address the serious issue of the sexual harassment of women (one of the few products which Hollywood, ironically, has been historically successful at churning out year after year) by emphasizing their own silicon enhanced golden globes in ill-fitting open chested evening wear, but entirely in black so you know they are a serious social revolutionaries. (What??) If one were to take this same coterie of …

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Posted in Boston, cartoons, Culture, fantasy, juvenile delinquency, politics, psychiatry, Sex in Cinema, women | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The First Time is Not the Charm: “Bolero” (1984)

bolero_boderek              “Bolero”    (1984)

     Has there ever been a more overwrought, exhibitionistic vaudeville designed to celebrate the loss of virginity than John Derek’s 1984 potboiler “Bolero”? Concurrent with the actor cum writer/director’s other exercise in spousal exhibition, his rancorously sexualized version of “Tarzan the Ape Man”, “Bolero” is less a coherent motion picture than a flimsily veiled excuse for the shooting of on-location  photographic magazine spreads. The title of the film is meant as a double entendre of sexual footnoting, both as a derivation of the name of his wife and star Bo Derek and as a reminder of the source of her initial fame (and thus the male Derek’s excuse for exploiting his better half toboleroOS resuscitate his career), the 1979 Blake Edwards film “10” in which her love scenes were scored with the erotically rhythmic Maurice Ravel composition Bolero. By the film’s attention to past glories (if Edwards’ typically pandering, oafish farce could be considered glorious) and desperate attempt to capitalize on them, “Bolero” becomes embarrassingly blatant at setting a surprisingly degenerative standard in erotic cinema by witnessing how low even the mangiest might dig to subterranean levels. There are hints that the carnality of the film may have been partially inspired- beyond the filmmaker’s baser self-interests -by sources as disparate and disconnected as erotically charged images of silent film star Rudolph Valentino, the photography of David Hamilton (who directed his own exercise in carnal surrender with “Bilitis”) and certainly Lady Godiva of Coventry (naturally bereft of historical context as well as garb), though the film’s slick. greasy nature may have just as likely found its genesis with the perusal of a Tijuana Bible. 

    To experience sexual bliss for the first time, graduating students “Mac” (Bo Derek) and Catarina (Ana Obregón) announce that they intended-  fueled by a lust for the cinematic image of Rudolph Valentino  -to travel the exotic locales in order to replicate their pop culture fed fantasies of romantic ardor; emboldened by the rather naive assumption that any starry-eyed illusions given seductive attraction in the guise of overheated exotically located romantic melodramas will find realization as soon as one crosses past a customs desk. However, no amount of soft focus can disguise the fact that these are mature women playing these inconsistently conceived ingenues (who are alternately naive and given to unfettered provocative solicitation) with a dim vacancy of performance that, presumably, is meant to represent giggly naivete but comes uncomfortably close to undiagnosed mental retardation. Seldom have so obvious examples of well traveled bodies been placed in the service of masquerading as the chastely innocent.

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Posted in Bo Derek, erotica, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Romance, sex, women, writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Future Shock: “The Hellstrom Chronicle” (1971)

hellstrom1        “The Hellstrom Chronicle”  (1971)

     One of the most recognizable characteristics of the 1950’s science fiction film is that peculiar concession to the presentation of an academic nature profile in the midst of an atomic mutation’s using the nearest township as an appetizer; those brief factual film presentations educating the film’s hero as to the inevitably aggressiveness of Mother Nature (whose message always seems to be that everything would kill us if it were large enough), as if National Geographic were suddenly in the business of tracking down and sounding alarums against those giant predatory beasties mysteriously resistant to pesticides and the square cube law.

     In the curious 1971 documentary “The Hellstrom Chronicle” these very same occasions for academic zoological profiling are  reprioritized and given center stage in the form of a feature length caveat by a severely distressed scientist Dr. Lasse Hellstrom, who, after a rather needlessly protracted period of sweaty palmed alarmist foreplay, presents evidence of his not particularly convincing assertion that the taken for granted balance of nature is doomed to continue with Man as the dominant species on the planet. The façade of the science fiction context is disrupted, but only momentarily, as the concept of enlarged predators is quickly supplanted with a similarly disheartening prediction concerning their mutation-free counterparts. Prof. Hellstrom declares that the insect world’s longevity and adaptability make it inevitable (presumably, this is a last call dinner bell announcement rather than mere existential theory) that those flying and crawling  critters so casually assaulted  by pesticides, shoe leather and no pest strips will dominate and destroy Mankind. It seems that in the melding of cinema and entomology, Darwin’s descendants of the ape cannot catch a break.

To read the complete review, click the following link to:


Posted in Documentaries, education, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, science, science fiction, writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

All Quiet on the Western Omelette: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Jan. 2018 Edition, Vol. 1/2 & 1/2

All Quiet on the Western Omelette:  Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Jan. 2018 Edition, Vol. 1/2 & 1/2

    The start of a new year brings with it it’s own set of leftover problems to which the average person attempts to avert the hands of Fate (as opposed to Hollywood “Handsies of Fate” for which Meryl Streep is certainly award bait for her unbelievable performance as Sgt. Schultz) by declaring a sudden epiphany of self-improvement in the form of resolutions, which is really an annual ritual of deceit and familial subterfuge. (That’s why it’s the national holiday of a certain Fat Kid in a Pyongyang far, far away.) And with that admission of informed disgust we now bring you this month’s edition of America’s most admired reason to “Admit Hopelessness In a Cruel World Infested With Corruption, Selfishness, Misogyny, Racism and Bitter National Division” (and that’s a direct seasonal greetings quotation from Chuck Schumer’s Christmas card), the Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, brought to you, in this time zone, by SKITTLES, America’s favorite alternative to SuperBeets. In this edition we celebrate a different kind of beginning, the daily kind: the All-American Breakfast, at least as depicted in the cinema. Each of the following baker’s dozen images is a scene from a film in which breakfast is a heart healthy way to introduce hunger pains for lunch. Your mission is to identify all thirteen images. Simple. Tell us. Simple. The first to do so will receive that most rare of rare jewels, the coveted CSR Culture Shock Award. Not so simple, since our latest shipment (Pete and Alex, don’t worry, they’re on their way) is being held up by the red tape of foreign manufacturing importation tariffs, which will teach us a lesson to never have anything else made in Vermont. Good luck.















Posted in books, comedy, food, John Wayne, Movies, silent movies, westerns, women, World War II | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Trapped in Midair: “The Eiger Sanction” (1975)

eiger1      “The Eiger Sanction”  (1975)

     If the opening scene of “The Eiger Sanction” is any indication, one would expect to be seeing a straightforward espionage drama. However, when we are soon introduced to a black agent named Jemima Brown (Vonetta McGee), an albino intelligence chief named Dragon (Thayer David) and a flamboyant gay villain (Jack Cassidy) with a dog named Faggot, it becomes clear that the enterprise is not exactly meant to be taken seriously, and therein lies the problem with Clint Eastwood’s film of the Trevanian thriller; not a lack of tone, but an inability to choose from scene to scene just what kind of film is intended. It’s a thriller. It’s a parody of a thriller. It’s both simultaneously, and therefore succeeds at neither. Which is a shame, for what works in the film is quite spectacular, with action sequences that are literally jaw dropping without once reverting to the tired reliance on blazing guns or noisy explosions.

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Posted in book reviews, books, clint eastwood, espionage, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, writing | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Mug Shots: “Take the Money and Run” (1969)


WHAT’S A RABBI TO DO?: What could be amusing, becomes tired through slapdash editing, primitive direction and a noncommital performance by Woody Allen, all problems symptomatic in the Allen’s troublesome directing debut “Take the Money and Run”

    “Take the Money and Run”  (1969)

   “Take the Money and Run”, Woody Allen’s directorial debut, is a parody of the crime profile documentary, and as such is not a particularly challenging nor original vehicle for a fledgling director, but within its own limited aspirations it is often amusing with moments of genuine inventiveness that manage to surprise the viewer as to just howtakethemoneyOS silly many of the conventions of the gangster films actually are when the visceral immediacy of  heightened melodrama is removed. That being said, much of the material may be familiar to those conversant with Allen’s stand-up comedy, but the recycled jokes are not provided with sufficiently clever visual embellishment that might compensate for the loss of what was most valuable in their initial incarnation: Woody Allen’s voice, that dryly risible whininess affecting an absurdist self-mockery. Unfortunately,  in “Take the Money and Run”, Allen’s line readings come across as heavy handed, with his comedian’s skill in tone and rhythm undone by the supplanting of his own persona  to that of a fictional personality who is not particularly well developed, a rather serious flaw in a film in which the entire point is an insightful biographical profile (albeit a humorous one) of his character. 

To read the complete review, click the following link to:

Posted in comedy, crime, Documentaries, humor, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Woody Allen, writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Unbalanced: “La bestia uccide a sangue freddo” (1971)

            “La bestia uccide a sangue freddo”   (1971)

    “What else have you done? You moved the body and took away the weapon. Then you called the police, asking me to come immediately with maximum discretion, as if it were for a routine check, not for a massacre by a lunatic criminal!”

  “This is too much! You’re insulting me!”

    Fernando Di Leo’s “La bestia uccide a sangue freddo” (AKA: “Slaughter Hotel”) offers a bevy  of curvaceous sexy women in an unfortunately close proximity to Klaus Kinski. Can mayhem be far behind? An indecisive film that wavers between wannabe giallo and  pornographic sexual exhibitionism, Di Leo’s movie contains many of the expected tropesslaughterhposter within the particularly lurid Italian genre, yet the film is lacking in the expected stylishness for which the often vividly colorful and visual flamboyant genre is noted. The genre is also characterized by a penchant toward markedly exaggerated infusions of sex and violence, though one might hope that it might seem morally incumbent on the responsible filmmaker to avoid crossing the line rationalizing that the latter is a natural expected consequence of the former.

    Befitting the rudimentary giallo formula in which the need for psychological disturbance is absolute, “La bestia uccide a sangue freddo” features an appropriately time saving setting by placing the action within the confines of a mental clinic. However, this turns out to be something of a shortcutting cheat, since ultimately the homicidal motivations of the killer have no real connection to mental illness (unless we’re willing to concede that randomly killing several people is an activity that silently acknowledges a certain level of disturbance), nor is it addressed as anything but an opportunity to voyeuristically exploit the most intimate hills and valleys of the comely roster of patients; conveniently, this clinic is suspiciously bereft of any male subjects or of any female who are not prodigiously endowed.

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Posted in Film, giallo, Italian cinema, Movies, Mystery, Reviews, sex, women, writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Cinema Santa: 2017 Edition

cinemasanta20172        Dear Cinema Santa:  2017 Edition

  Light up boys and girls and all of the ships at sea, for once again we’ve arrived at that time of the year in which the bonds of a year filled with fake empathy and grudging good deeds gives way to reveal our true motives of gain and avarice. Yes, it’s time for our annual nosedive into the wondrous world of begging a red suited fat guy (not to be confused with the fat Red guy from North Korea) to makes our cinematic wishes come true: it’s the annual Dear Cinema Santa wish list. Let us hope that in the year to come, at least one or two of these desperate pleas for a better film world may come true. And to those who might find this a complete waste of time, may the jolly elf leave you a bucket brimming with coal flavored popcorn. And to all (except the Fat Red guy) a good night.

To read this year’s posting, simply click the following link to:

Posted in acting, Christmas, comic books, Disney, holidays, humor, Movies, politics, sex, writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

Chandler’s Trailers: “A Sound of Thunder” (2005)

           “A Sound of Thunder”  (2005)

     Based upon the Ray Bradbury short story of the same name, “A Sound of Thunder” is that rare science fiction film which ambitiously expands upon its source material, yet emerges a shadow of its former self.  Time Safari is a corporation specializing in time traveling excursions in which the rich may venture back into prehistory to shoot an Allosaurus; a proposition so extravagant in its necessary disciplinary limitations to prevent the slightest alteration of history (mindful of the possible undefinable evolutionary effects that might subsequently take place) that the entire enterprise defies common sense.

To read the complete review, click the following link to:

Posted in books, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, science fiction, short stories, writing | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Go to Gift Wrap: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Dec. 2017 Edition Part Deux, Vol. 25

rg7Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Go to Gift Wrap:  Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Dec. 2017 Edition Part Deux, Vol. 25

    In Tom Stoppard’s absurdist play, two minor figures from Shakespeare’s Hamlet are granted the center stage in a theatrical exercise proving that even the most peripheral characters add a theoretical contributory weight to a broader proceedings while at the same time, within that limited context are powerless against the greater forces of  prescribed narrative fate. Heady stuff. or merely existential flummery? Only time willrggif tell, except that in this case-  despite the claims of John Cameron Swayze  -my Timex has inconveniently ceased to function (though falling out of the Chrysler Building may have had something to do with it, but that’s another story). Which brings us to this month’s special second edition (supplanting Ebola as the most odious spreading global threat). of America’s most beloved cerebral supplement with no value in preventing dandruff, the Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, brought to you by those folks responsible for bringing you SKITTLES, the holiday season’s most beloved neon colored energy booster.  In this special encore edition, we celebrate the supporting figures who orbit about the main character(s) of a Christmas themed film. Your assignment is to identify all twelve of  the films from which these unsung performers appear. To the victor (meaning the first to decipher all twelve films correctly) will go the celebrated CSR Culture Shock Award, the only cultural trophy to also serve as useful tongue scraper. Good luck.


Posted in book reviews, books, Christmas, Entertainment, History, holidays, Movies, Musicals, photography, Reviews, Romance, women, writing | 4 Comments

“All Aboard!”: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Dec. 2017 Edition, Vol. 3:10

“All Aboard!”:  Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Dec. 2017 Edition, Vol. 3:10

With the exception of the horse, the automobile, the airplane and the whore with the heart of gold, there is, perhaps, no mode of taking a ride more celebrated in movies than the train; that chariot of the Plains gliding along a pair of steel rails eternally fixed on a parallel course yet somehow meeting in a magical kiss on a horizon which is a forever beyond reach. Then again, there’s Amtrak, Still, riding the rails has been a source for stimulating the imagination with wild flights of romanticized adventure  appearing possible around every bend in the track, in every bathroom stall at Penn Station. (Sorry,trainsgif1 we promised we weren’t going to make any references to Congress this time around.) And it this sense of hobo adventure that we find reflected in this month’s edition of America’s longest running non-steroid competition, the Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, brought to you this month, as always by those fine folks who market and distribute  SKITTLES, America’s most popular over-the-counter nutritional supplement. In this very special extended holiday edition (That’s what’s called hype folks, just so you’ll appreciate all the labor intensive minutes that were sacrificed to put this crap together.), we celebrate the time honored method of transportation known as the railroad as used as both a means of conveyance and a backdrop for romance and mystery. The following twenty five images (yes, we have increased this edition’s photo layout as a sort of cinematic Advent Calendar) illustrate just a few (25, in fact) examples of the endless representations of riding the rails in the cinema. Your task, as always, is to identify all twenty five films (correctly if you will, otherwise it’s far too easy a puzzle) from which the pictures are taken. The first to do so will, as always, receive the truly smashing CSR Culture Shock Award, a limited edition trophy which will suitably adorn any Georgian Manor mantel or the bottom of any dustbin with equal aplomb. Good luck.



























Posted in animation, book reviews, books, espionage, Hitchcock, movie reviews, Movies, Musicals, Reviews, Romance, westerns, women, writing | 5 Comments

Vampire Redux: “House of Dark Shadows” (1970)

houseofdarkshadows2.jpg                     “House of Dark Shadows”  (1970)

    Within the realm of popular culture, so ingrained is the image of Count Dracula in the public consciousness that any manifestation of a vampiric figure who might escape the literary eclipse of Bram Stoker’s iconic creation would have to be regarded as something of houseofdarkshadowsOSa triumph of characterization. Such an occasion arises with the appearance of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins on the supernatural television soap opera Dark Shadows and in its cinematic incarnation “House of Dark Shadows”, a film that continues the character dynamics of the program, but also extends those characters into a plot sufficiently independent of the need of the source material’s continuous flow of daily evolutionary exposition (and in the process, exposing several evident borrowings from the  filmic antecedents of Stoker’s novel, which are skillfully woven into the fabric of the narrative), thus granting a comfortable continuation of the home experience while being entirely accessible to the novice viewer.

    That director Dan Curtis manages to make this extension of the soap opera entirely cinematic, without a glimmer of aesthetic resemblance to the daytime version is a testament to his skill as a director of atmospherically immersive mise en scene, especially in judiciously upping the ante as to the explicitness of the horrors presented, extended beyond the limits imposed by network Standards and Practices; bloody gruesome as befitting the subject matter, but somehow less exploitative than the average Hammer film.houseofdarkshadows3 In Curtis’ film, there is a purpose, and within the context of the story, a tragic inevitability to the events which grant the violence the weight of consequence. There is also a great deal of dread generated in the film, which is, no doubt, the result of the same necessary application of restraint in telling such potentially garish material under restrictively disciplined guidelines. The experience seems to have granted the director an appreciation of building tension through mood and patient exposition, allowing the audience to nervously anticipate rather than to being simply assaulted by cruder but more widely used shock tactics.


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Posted in horror, movie reviews, Movies, Reviews, Romance, Television, vampires, writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Over Troubled Waters: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Nov. 2017 Edition, Vol. 7384750069858

troubled1Over Troubled Waters: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Nov. 2017 Edition, Vol. 7384750069858

     As the song goes, “what goes up, must come down”. That’s right, you may have been expecting a little slice of Paul Simon, but it is the sworn duty of everyone here at the administrative offices of CSR to confound, confuse and disrupt the flow of thought, the momentum of action and the source for any mental designs upon our readership to upset the delicate flow of control of thought on these pages. So there. That being said, it is time, once again, for the latest edition of the Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, or as it was once listed in the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary (before they caught on to our penciling it in on the updated galleys), “America’s favorite (well, you really don’t have troubled7any choice in the matter …do you?) complete waste of time” probably better spent at solving such a minor problem as how to magically reduce a certain Fat Kid on the far edge of the Pacific Rim into the contents of a dustbin, but this is the burden to which all good men and women must be subjected in a free and open society. Again, so there. Anyway, to the task at hand. In this edition, brought to you-  as always  -by those crazy folk who market the Free World’s favorite breakfast candy, SKITTLES, (except in Vermont, where the preferred snack food is swallowing bile), we celebrate those curious but necessary structures called bridges, and their timely appearances in motion pictures. (Timely since there would be an awful lot of drowning actors if they were forced to cross even a puddle without the assistance of a team of heavily armed assistants, body doubles and chiropractic consultants.) Each of the following sixteen images is taken from a film in which a bridge features prominently. Your task is to identify all sixteen photos, let us know of your conclusions and await either congratulations or commiserations on your efforts. The first to correctly identify all of the images will receive, whether they like it or not, the sacred CSR Culture Shock Award, the only religious icon useful as an oral contraceptive. (Just tell anyone you are the proud possessor of the Award and they’re guaranteed to refuse to sleep with you.) Good luck.


















Posted in book reviews, books, History, movie reviews, Movies, Mystery, Reviews, Romance, silent movies, women, World War II, writing | 3 Comments

Flop Sweat as an Art Form: “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966)

              “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken”  (1966)

   If “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” were to be completely dismissed as kid’s stuff, a late arrival of the venerable haunted house sub-genre which had already seen countless permutations of dramatic, comedic and campy collisions between frightened mortals and spectral pranksters with varying degrees of attitude, then such an assessment would have to be blind to the presence of one of the screen’s most idiosyncratic comic actors: Don Knotts.

   That the slightness of the film fails to be offset by an asterisk in resource volumes of film history, it is through the sometimes cruelly unfair hands of circumstance by which a performer, who under more provident historic placement would have found proper appreciation and nurturing to take a place on the short list of indisputably iconic comic screen stars (what a silent comedian he would have made!), may be relegated to the lesser elevated status of ” screen talent” rather than “artist”  by virtue of unfortunate contractual associations with studios (Universal and Disney) who failed, especially with the dissolution of the studio star system, to court and develop materials which might fully elicit the full range of Knotts’ abilities. Substantively, as in all of his feature work, the film feels like a trifle, an aesthetically indeterminate variation of an extended television situation comedy or a product of the shameless surrender of Hollywood in their exhausting decade-plus battle with said idiot box and a concession toghost1  the flavorless homogenization of material consistent with much situational comedy. Even the cast exudes small screen déjà vu,  comprised as it is of an extensive collection of character actors, many who cut their teeth in the cinema, but whose recurring weekly exposure on television gives associative reinforcement to the cinematic slightness of the work. Outside of Knotts, there is nary an actor, regardless of their innate abilities, who does not concede to the narrow demands that afflict performers when subjected to skill eroding continuous formulaic role playing. 

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Going Native: “What the Butler Saw” (1950)

                  “What the Butler Saw”         (1950)

     God bless English servitude, for without domestic help, with whom would the eccentrics of the privileged ranks commiserate? “What the Butler Saw”- not to be confused with the Joe Orton play of the same name -is a comedy which derives its humor equally from both the standard formulas of cross cultural clashes and the introduction of disorder into the life of a figure whose role in life is defined by the observance of orderly propriety, in other words, an example of the long standing British tradition of simultaneously exalting and kicking the ankles of their titled classes.

     Returning to his estate after an absence of ten years as the Governor of  the Coconut Islands, a dotty Earl (Edward Rigby), accompanied by his stalwart butler Bembridge (Henry Mollison), begins to unload crates filled with hunting trophies (these Pacific islands somehow fully stocked with alligators, crocodiles and leopards and …is that a rhino?) when Bembridge discovers a stowaway: native Princess Lapis (Mercy Haystead), Hiding within one of the shipped boxes, the young royal is eager to continue what has obviously been a heavily romantic relationship with the not-quite-unflappable servant. Her presence creates a greater strain between the snooty class disdain of the Earl’s daughter, Lady Marly (Eleanor Hallam) and grandson Gerald (Michael Ward), who is prone to expressing  exasperation over what both the Earl’s behavior and Lapis’ surprise appearance will have on his position at the Foreign Office. Attempting to contain a possible scandal becomes secondary when Lapis’ father, a King on one of the Islands, asserts declarations of a possible war sparked over his mistaken belief that his daughter has been abducted.

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Brained: “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” (1966)

        “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter”  (1966)

     Released as a double feature with “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula”, William Beaudine’s “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” is the kind of matinee movie in which it might have proved prudent to hand out a Rosetta Stone to each attending tot, as the mixture of impenetrable accents (are they supposed to sound Mexican or Austrian or is half of the cast simply afflicted with mouths full of novocaine?) render much of Carl Hittleman’s dialogue incomprehensible. On the other hand, the chatter that does rise above the fog of obscurity makes make you wish for a sudden flare-up of hysterical deafness. However, no amount of desensitizing can disguise the fact that the performers would have had to graduate from decades of Actor’s Studio training to rise to the level of appalling.

   Maria (Narda Onyx) and Rudolph (Steven Geray) Frankenstein are conducting experiments in a Southwest matte painting above a backlot village. Maria, concerned that her continued series of failed experiments (she replaces healthy brains with artificial ones so that she might create “someone to do our bidding who can’t be put to death”) have emptied the local village of usable children (unless her plans include sending the mindlessly obedient tykes to ravage the neighborhood demanding Burpee Seed orders, it’s unclear as to why she doesn’t understand that her dream of world domination doesn’t make a bit of sense), until after consulting her grandfather’s notes (which even the stupidest of scientists might have done before running through the local population), she discovers an error in her medical procedure and realizes “a man, a giant” would be a more suitable candidate for her experimentation.

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Necking: “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” (1966)


billythekid2            “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula”  (1966)

   There isn’t a great deal of merit in William Beaudine’s “Billy the Kid vs, Dracula”, but the film makes an excellent case for the furtherance of black and white in shooting horror films; the garish, overly bright television lighting emphasizing the cheaply manufactured production values, while making it obvious that there isn’t a hint of moodbillythekidOS visually attempted. In fact, the only semblance of atmosphere in the entire film is the score by Raoul Kraushaar, with otherworldly elements introduced with fanfares of frenzied harp runs and theremin stings.

   Riding a stagecoach, Dracula (who is never identified as such, though his inappropriate western garb consisting of a lined cape and top hat  gives him away in the first scene) is introduced to Mary Ann Bentley (Marjorie Bennett) who shows him a photo of her lovely daughter Betty (Melinda Plowman), with whom the vampire is immediately smitten. The next morning, the occupants of the stagecoach are massacred after Dracula slays an Indian maiden (or Hollywood’s version of a squaw, who wears enough cosmetics to go undercover as a Goldwyn Girl) during a rest stop. He then assumes the identity of Betty’s uncle-  whom she has never met but was also on the stagecoach  -in an attempt to accost the girl and make her his mate. Fortunately, Betty has a protector in fiancee William Bonney (Chuck Courtney), whose ability with a six-shooter is meaningless against the undead, but who will continue to act rashly despite the fact that his dismissal of knowing advice places Betty in desperate jeopardy.

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    Adrift: “Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice”  (2014)

        “Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice”  (2014)

Fidelity has long been used as a thematic excuse for Hollywood excursions into cheap eroticism, using the subject as an excuse for glossy portraits of high profile versions of Joe Sarno films so convoluted in their melodrama they would make Douglas Sirk weep.

“Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice”,  begins rather inauspiciously with a long shot of a nude woman swimming in the ocean, a moment which suggests both innocence and sexuality, a lyrical balance which will define this extraordinary debut feature by Lucie Borieteau.   The woman is thirty year old Alice (Ariane Labed), who has been assigned as a second engineer of the freighter Fidelio, leaving her boyfriend, graphic designer Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie), for an extended period in a situation of long distance career separation that has been well traveled in the movies (the examples in the war genre alone are too lengthy to contemplate), but seldom with the complexity of feeling and rarely, if ever, with such a frank honesty regarding the equality of desires within men and women, a perspective not limited through overt sexuality (there is that, but in a move of startling originality, the sex scenes actually advance character development) but in the ways both genders find definition by shared experience with loneliness, relationship insecurity and a palpable fear that one will be unable to find someone who might significantly ease the absence of reciprocal intimacy.

Alice’s world is a world of men, her romantic isolation magnified by the fact that she is the lone woman among the Fidelio’s crew, but in a twist that allows for a naturally reactive character development rather than narrative contrivance, there isn’t a hint of sexism on the ship. Regardless of her gender, little is made of this division, a perspective fideliothat is both refreshing and essential in dispensing with feminist manifestos, thus allowing the film to examine the more valuable, less thematically restrictive shared human experience.  Alice is truly one with the crew, and with divisive gender boundaries neutralized, the film is able to realize a non-critical but realistic dynamic in which individual personalities rally in the comfort of the company of the situational peer rather than one determined by biology. It is a camaraderie born of voluntary inclusion rather than dictated by social doctrine. Alice is openly welcomed, without a hint of self-consciousness, into the fold of raucous fraternity; the unfiltered coarseness of macho braggadocio and profane jocularity is shared with Alice, not as acts of humiliation, but of bonding.


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Veiled Threats: “Bride Wars” (2009)


              “Bride Wars”  (2009)

   Women haven’t fared particularly well in the realm of recent American film comedies; the occasions for a revision in the cinematic perception of the post-feminist woman being a rare species, as the gentler sex is perpetually relegated to the diminished stature of a driven career woman willing to drop all personal aspirations at the drop of a hat in order become the idealized subservient (think office pool Stepford Girlfriend) in order to win their dream man, or, worse yet, degenerate into the most odoriferous level of sophomoric crudity in mirroring the lowest possible standards of hijinks (in which the inclusion of a high volume of flatulence, vomiting and a host of scatological disfuntion signals a guarantee for the studio to open the film at a minimum of 2,500 screens) of  their male movie counterparts.

   The cynical, self-righteous absence of wit that has become signatory of the SNL set has become the standard to which almost all contemporary movie comedy has declined: wit has been replaced by an aggressive dare: that to find the film unamusing is a sign of being lethally unhip with the times. After all, the popularity (in box office numbers) announce triumphant success with the public’s taste; though this is only the result of decades of formulating opening weekends as opposed to the tried and true method of success being a film with longevity. 

    What is generally missing in women’s comedies is a sense of sincere bonded sisterhood woven with an independent spirit existing beyond the influence of the male gender, giving bold definition of the woman as as both a member of a self-sufficient social sorority and as her individual self. This would also extend to reaching beyond the examples of behavior defining the current male movie role models. (As antiquated as young audiences might find the comedies of Doris Day, there is a defiant individualism at work even in the most domesticated of scenarios. One does not acquire the image of a professional virgin without thinking for one’s self.)


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Border Crossing: “The Undefeated” (1969)

      “The Undefeated”  (1969)

    The American Civil War has received relatively little serious attention in Hollywood, generally serving as a backdrop or as a passing reference point in the larger scheme ofundefeatedOS like period romantic dramas or westerns. The illiteracy of the studios in sidestepping history in favor melodramatic contrivance has left generations, who have mistakenly relied upon popular culture as a legitimate source of informational insight, ignorant of the complexities of history. Is it then any wonder that an even wider chasm in the awareness gap is present in the history of our neighbor to the immediate south? Despite the multiplicity of films which frequent tourist excursions through a national heritage immersed in recurring threats of revolutionary unrest, names like Villa, Zapata, Juárez, Diaz and Maximilian might as well be the propriety names on border town cantinas rather than major figures in both the War of the French Intervention and the Mexican Revolution. That a Hollywood film manages to flaunt cultural and historical ignorance in a multinational setting exhibits a genuine flair for promoting the shamelessly crass to an unsuspecting (and possibly uncaring, but that’s the subject for an entirely different time) mass audience. However, that’s exactly what Andrew V. McLagen’s “The Undefeated” delivers; an unsurprising, unexceptional and unnecessary western which manages to diminish the Civil War as an excuse for a running series of worn quips, false piety and a particularly unsavory and unsympathetic willingness to show, on several occasions, a disdain for national sovereignty.

    Rock Hudson portrays Colonel James Langdon (based rather loosely on real life General Joseph Shelby), a Confederate officer who refuses to acknowledge the events at Appomattox, and forms a fugitive caravan with his men to penetrate their way through Mexico and meet up with the Napoleonic appointee Emperor Maximilian; an arrangement to which we are never privy to the important details (or any), but it must be assumed that they would act as a mercenary force against the legitimate president, Benito Juárez. Heroes indeed. The film’s portrayal of the Southern sore losers is entirely sympathetic to the point of depicting them as victims of heartless Yankee carpetbagging opportunists (a pair of land speculators clumsily attempt to low-ball a transfer of property, a scene lifted almost verbatim from “Gone With the Wind”) and bends over backwards to show that Langdon bears no ill will against his now freed slaves by handing one of them his heirloom gold pocket watch, the kind of generous parting gift that would surely lead to the poor recipient being lynched for theft in such a magnanimous political climate.

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Damsels in Distress: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Oct. 2017 Edition, Vol. o – o

distressgif2Damsels in Distress: Classic Film Images Photo Quiz, Oct, 2017 Edition, Vol. o – o

     It may be politically incorrect to point out the obvious fact that holding a door open for a lady might well bring widespread repercussions of accusations of sexism, misogyny, gender bias, economic injustice and perhaps even homosexual panic, though in our experience here at CSR headquarters, our non-male staffers are generally mollified by under the table non-disclosure agreed payments of tens and twenties. What this has to do with this month’s edition of America’s favorite civil rights violation, the Classic Film Images Photo Quiz (brought to you, as always, by the F.R.I.E,N.D.S. oSKITTLES, the Freedom Caucus protecting your right to enjoy America’s favorite breakfast candy), is beyond our understanding, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to make snarky remarks about an unnamed fiery sore loser and her latest volume of masochistic wish fulfillment, so bear with us, and expect a slender envelope under the door at any minute.  In the meantime, now seems as appropriate time as any to mend any fences with the fairer sex and celebrate the silver screen’s attention to endangered debs; those fair ladies who, for one reason or another, find themselves overwhelmed by danger, either physically or psychologically, yet all had the class and fortitude never to sink into a self-pitying wallow, screaming to the heavens “What Happened?” (There. That wasn’t so hard after all.) The following sweet sixteen images come from films in which the illustrated woman is facing a severely taxing situation. Your job, as always, is to identify the name of all sixteen films; the first to do so will receive the celebrated gender neutral (though, reportedly, still chauvinistic) CSR Culture Shock Award, America’s sweetest confection since the invention of horehound candy. Good luck.


















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Delirium Tremors: “The Vampire” (1957)

      “The Vampire”  (1957)

     A traditionally supernatural  creature meets modern science in “The Vampire”, a by-the-numbers monster movie which can more comfortably (though it doesn’t elevate the quality of the production) viewed as a drug addiction cautionary tale, than an effective spook show, though even as a social parable, one might find “Bigger Than Life” preferable to this not quite mad doctor movie which is only slightly less silly than (though not as much fun as) “Reefer Madness”.

    Dr. Paul Beecher (John Beal, in an admirably committed, sweaty performance which is foiled at every turn by the insipid dialogue of Pat Fiedler) attempts to reconcile a quiet life in a country town as the local doc-  complete with cute as a button daughter Betsy (Lydia Reed) and a pretty as a peach nurse Carol (Coleen Gray) -after he has mistakenly swallowed a mind altering experimental drug for a migraine headache; a bit of medical sloppiness which might explain the complaints from his patients, though ignores the irony that these same possible malpractice filers also encompass the victim list resulting from his murderous nocturnal prowls.  A virtual companion piece to Columbia’s 1956 “The Werewolf, itself a melding of Universal horror models with 1950’s SF, “The Vampire” expands the focus of the usual altruistic scientific researchers “playing God” and crippled with astonishingly unreliable foresight genre, by giving an almost unbearable attention to the victim of misapplied experimentation, resulting in characters vying with Lon Chaney. Jr.’s Lawrence Talbot for the title of the most relentlessly whiny homicidal stalker in the movies.

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Love in the Fast Lane: “Populaire” (2012)

      “Populaire”        (2012) One of the obvious ingredients comprising the classic American romantic comedy- an ingredient long since abandoned in the genre, subject to the coarsening depiction of the relationship between the sexes since the too long … Continue reading

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Passion Play: “Matinee” (2009)

matinee1                “MATINÉE”   (2009)

A man and a woman encounter each other on a mattress and engage in heated coital action until reaching mutual satisfaction. With the exception of an equality emphasized in the pleasure principle, the scene is hardly more remarkable than any countless number of  filmed vignettes which exist for no other reason than to stimulate the libido. That this sex scene can be reasonably identified as the sole reason for the existence of the film as a whole is not without significance in the debate between Art and populism, eroticism and pornography.

Directed by self-professed “feminist pornographer” (as opposed to the normal brand of porn director who objectifies a woman by filming her naked having sex?) Jennifer Lyon Bell, “Matinée” is a short vignette which professes to address the matter of the legitimacy of live sexual performance as an enhancement to a greater artistic enterprise. That this is a central area of discussion in the greater conflict between the “legitimate” arts and pornography gives the film an appearance of an underlying intellectual purpose. However, the actual threadbare scenario, after an introductory dialogue suggesting a situation in which a move into graphic sexual performance  can be construed as the only possible course in displaying a dedication to artistic purpose, exposes any declaration of higher ambitions to be disingenuous and firmly fixes the film in the unsavory arena of pornographic vignettes, to which the “adult” film industry has willingly surrendered a once promised attempt to elevate into a merging with commercial and artistic legitimacy.

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Hanging by a Thread: “Il cappotto” / “The Overcoat” (1952)

             “Il cappotto” / “The Overcoat”  (1952)

In “Il Cappotto”, director Alberto Lattuada transposes Nikolai Gogol’s  short story from 1800’s Russia to a contemporary Italy, and while the film is representative of an early fledgling move in Italian cinema in the use of a more sentimental, comedic wink in addressing issues heretofore touched upon by the harshly unforgiving gaze of neorealism, it also retains ilcappottoOSthe original tale’s conclusion-  the spectral revenge of a character haunting the townspeople and one particular authority in particular  -that signifies a rare advance of a non-genre Italian film embracing the realm of the supernatural.

That Lattuada’s film signifies an unrecognized leap forward in the formation of many of the characteristics now commonly associated with the Italian cinema (his influence on the young Fellini can be seen in their collaborative directorial effort “Luci del varietà”), not the least significant of which is a rich vein of sentimental humanism unashamedly running through a story that in Gogol’s version is ultimately sympathetic to his protagonist after a rather cruelly drawn exposition. The original story’s bluntly critical, if darkly satiric, consideration of the oppressive and dislocating effect on the individual by both institutional social structures and their companion authority has been converted into a more comic poke at corrupt and vacuous bureaucrats whose authority seems only to exist to serve enhance their own benefits and their pay for their private pleasures. This film adaptation, by Lattuada and his small army of co-scenarists (Giorgio Prosperi, Giordano Corsi, Enzo Correlli, Luigi Materba, Leonardo Sinisgalli and Cesare Zavattini), is characterized by a mollifying of tone and a major shift in narrative focus; prioritizing the bureaucratic antagonists rather than the individual protagonist.

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Ghost of a Stance: “Sleuth” (2007)


0000sleuth1    Sleuth”   (2007)

    In their peculiar and particularly unsatisfying production of  Anthony Shaffer’s play “Sleuth”, scenarist Harold Pinter and director Kenneth Branagh have fashioned not so 0000sleuthOSmuch a reworking of the popular thriller, nor even merely a reinterpretation, but a savage evisceration that reduces a fizzy confection to mere bad faux Art. If Pinter’s adaptation is characterized by only the trace remains of the plot outline of the original, he seems quite content to stuff the empty carcass with his own signatory brand of elliptical, obtuse conversation and stony pauses. Compounding the felony is it is aesthetically matched-  and then some  -mise-en-scene, engulfing the action in a suffocating shroud of creeping, claustrophobic blue-tinged paralysis by the director and his cinematographer Haris Zambarlookos. Seldom has an entire filmmaking team seemed laser locked in perfect unison to the production of a singular vision so spectacularly wrongheaded on every visible level; a vision which encompasses not only a total substantive reconception of the original’s thematic core, but of the willful desire to deny entertainment. While there is nothing expressed wrong with the concept of remake by way of reinterpretation (this is actually preferable than a retread based solely upon commercially impelled creative sloth), it becomes fair critical game to question the reasoning compelling those responsible for said interpretive shift; especially with the marketing materials shamelessly s blaring BRANAGH….PINTER, as if the mere mention of the names were a generic signpost to a consumer guarantee, promising a cultural epiphany.

     Beginning with a complete rewrite of the play’s text, Pinter has transformed a deliberately stylish cat-and-mouse into an exercise in groundless tedium that is under the miscalculated delusion that ham-fisted exchanges of smirky but witless japes are a substitution for cleverness.  Even the conceptual set-up of an escalating game of wits is undone from the very start by placing the players are on an equitable footing (entirelysleuth2 foregoing the original’s blatant-  but essential  -subtext of classicism), as if both had enjoyed a prenumbetory insight into the script. Situations don’t arise from the nature flow and consequence of events, but, given the  at the convenience   even the plausibility of a necessary collapse is undone by the brevity (and thus intensity) of the set-up. What is the rush? Perhaps a realization the more extended the plotting, the more the danger of exposing the latent of transparency in the script’s trickery, which may explain but hardly excuses Branagh’s annoying penchant for distracting visual asides which fail to emphasize the obsessions of a particular character as did similar but more successful visual footnoting in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ 1972 version. In Branagh’s hands these diversions merely feel like ill-designed attempts at padding an empty scenario with a vacuous techno bric-a-brac.

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Chandler’s Trailers: “Where Eagles Dare” (1969)

    There is not a poetic, contemplative, emotional nor genuinely human moment in ‘Where Eagles Dare”. It’s a damnably dirty dumbbell of a film, unashamedly made to excite the senses of undiscriminating viewers to whom empty, noisy and unceasing explosions, gun battles and general mayhem are acceptable substitutions for intelligence, artistry and clarity. It’s a film that shouldn’t work at any level: supremely silly, illogical and preposterous. Yet, work it does, if one doesn’t resist viewing it through a primitively visceral lens; on a level that brings the film back to reflect one of the original elemental pleasures of the cinema: the excitement of the cliffhanger with its calculatedly frequent perils and subsequent escapes; though admittedly often through means of shameless misdirection and more than a small amount of narrative flim flammery. Director Brian G. Hutton’s movie plays like a hyperactive serial with all of the boring recapitulation scenes excised and the chapter climaxes ramped up and italicized. 

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An Intimate Life: Undressing Emmanuelle by Sylvia Kristel

kristel2             Undressing Emmanuelle 
by Sylvia Kristel

    The memoirs of a Euro starlet whose greatest claim to fame was in embodying the cinematic incarnation of the eponymous character in the provocative roman a clef by Emmanuelle Arsan, Undressing Emmanuelle (originally and tellingly published in    as Nue) is a fairly unflinching portrait of fame sought, achieved and pilfered, told with surprising, unapologetic, self-critical candor that is rare in film autobiographies. It is also a bookundressing1 that is equally notable for its intimacy of human insight as well as its refusal to cater to more lurid appetites seeking an accounting of sexual sensationalism.

    Despite the public  prominence of Ms. Kristel’s screen image as a self-professed “goddess of Love” (or, perhaps more accurately, a fresh faced representation of repressed middlebrow wish fulfillment), the sparscity of graphically prurient anecdotes is both surprising and refreshing. Seekers of lurid gossip had best look elsewhere. If one is seeking an abundance of name-dropping celebrity disclosures, the book aims more directly at a subject of interest which the author clearly deems as having greater relevance in terms of having more formative and lasting influence on the Self, through which all subsequent intimacies in life are inextricably intertwined, and thus given narrative rebirth through an unforgiving filter of candid remembrance and often painful experience: family.

    The book is written in relatively short bursts of anecdotal recollections. Events are often quickly recounted with a brevity of a memory flash, forming a somewhat sporadic yet cohesive narrative which unfolds as if the reader were attendant at a most intimate therapy session. Brimming with observational insights, virtually every entry, no matter how brief, contributes an insightful rumination which builds upon the next into a patchwork quilt of unexpected emotional depth. Memoirs are the act of recollection in which a selective inclusion of events mark significant reflections of resultant character shaping knowledge and wisdom obtained; the relaying of the metamorphic effect of the cumulative imprint of personal history.

    The indelible effect which Ms. Kristel’s nakedly painful confessions cannot help but emphasize is an inescapable psychic imprint resulting from the helpless nature of childhood. Mercilessly deep insecurities born from parental discord, real or amplified by highly susceptible imagination, have a scarring effect upon her adult personality-  and subsequently, her self-destructive behavioral patterns  -which are evident in a person who has clearly surrendered her formative emotional priorities to those same parentally based anxieties. For all of her bravura, this was an individual desperate for approval and affection, who found herself at a very early age as a global cultural symbol of modern female libertinism.

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Blind Date: “Four Sided Triangle” (1953)


IS THIS THE FACE OF ROMANCE? With a lighting design such as this, is it any surprise that madness,or at least very poorly considered judgments, may be close at hand?  

                 “Four Sided Triangle”   (1953)

Commonly, science fiction films unwisely minimize (or altogether eliminate) the human element in favor of exploiting the more fantastic elements of the story, the greatest commonality of creative exhaustion manifested through the appearance of invasionaryfoursidedOS aliens or spectacular atomic mutations. Now, since SF is fundamentally engaged with science and technology and its applications in how it affects Man and how he socializes, progresses, exists;  it would seem an ungrateful contradiction to complain of a film in which the “human factor” is preeminent. Promoting such a rare divergence from the surrender to gaudy sensation is Terence Fisher’s “Four Sided Triangle”, a film in which the scientific backdrop of the story finds a pronounced catalyst in the emotional foibles of the human heart. The film’s simplistic conceit is a wish fulfillment fantasy in which romantic longing finds a second chance;  though the context of the theme’s exploration is so preposterously conceived as to surrender to the perils of even rudimentary considerations of logic, not to mention common sense. But, being that this is science fiction, what could possibly go wrong?

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Cesspool: “Whirlpool” (1970)

whirlpoolgif              “WHIRLPOOL”       (1970)

  “Protracted” isn’t often the first word that comes to mind when think of film thrillers, especially of the psycho-sexual variety, but a flexible vocabulary certainly comes in handy when talking about José Ramón Larraz’ directorial  debut “Whirlpool”  (AKA: “She Died With Her Boots On”), an exploitation hybrid whose offense is magnified by being marketed using extravagantly overreaching comparisons to “Psycho”, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” and “Repulsion”. Such unfathomable symbiotic attribution is designed to entice curious patrons of unnuanced sexually violence, but in the process of comparison there is a danger of conjuring prior artistic heights which tend to make the deficiencies of the current offering all the more obvious.

    The film wastes no time in establishing a tone of enervated dreariness with the introduction of a pair of emotionally inanimate blonde mannequins:  Theo (Karl Lanchbury), a photographer specializing in memorializing the horrified throes of women being assaulted and murdered (making the absence of  a mention of “Peeping Tom” in the advertising campaign difficult to fathom) and his Aunt Sara (Pia Andersson, bearing a distracting resemblance to a mature Tippi Hedren), who it is revealed to not be Theo’s aunt (huh?), thus relieving the film-  slightly  -from entrance into more provocative area of an incestuous relationship during the film’s confused but plentiful sexual gamesmanship. The film is essentially a chamber piece involving the aforementioned duo and Sara’s latest pickup Tulia (Vivian Neves), an aspiring model who for no apparent reason accepts an invitation to Sara’s isolated “cottage” for an open-ended holiday (with predictably escalating dire results) and who breaks into absurd metaphysical musings whenever the conversation dries up. (As Sara comments, Tulia is “susceptible to atmospheres”; the kind of dialogue straining to be taken seriously as a camouflage for all of the sleaze that is the film’s true raison d’etre.)

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Night Visitors: “Invasion of the Saucer Men” (1957)


                   “Invasion of the Saucer Men”  (1957)

     A flying saucer lands in a deserted field and wreaks havoc in the lives of an alcoholic drifter, a pair of teen lovers and a misanthropic farmer. 

    It only takes a moment for “Invasion of the Saucer Men” to reveal its intention to be taken as a less than dramatic SF outing, with a merry display of humorous title card drawings and a Ronald Stein score more reminiscent of Spike Jones than the usual ominous orchestral stings for which similar 1950’s B-movie horror/SF scores were noted. This lightness of tone results  in a somewhat  paradoxical final product in which an adherence to the formula genre tropes of nocturnal menace are presented with a cavalier pie-in-the-eye tone that is amusing to a point.

    The film follows the typical generational denial of credibility in getting the thick-headed authorities to notice what is going on right under their very trooper hats (a considerably new but surprisingly predictable trope considering that at the time the prominence of teens within the genre was in it’s relative infancy), and, most importantly, the usual body count of disposable human victims. Oddly, the lighter tone works to nudge the obvious absurdities inherent in the genre, though the lightness of tone is at the mercy of the inventiveness of screenwriter, whose idea of fun is often indecipherable from the strait faced target of his parody. Is this a symptom of a genre which has already sunk to trivial depths and boxed itself into an unapologetic repetition of unchallenging tropes, or is absurdity of the formula resistant to a dramatic presentation bereft of any camp value?

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