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Month: December 2008

Magnum Force (1973)

Magnum Force (1973)

“I didn’t start shooting at anyone that didn’t start shooting at me first.”

Magnum Force Poster

Synopsis:
“Dirty” Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) hunts down a team of rookie cops who are murdering notorious criminals.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this second installment in the “Dirty Harry” franchise “lacks the gritty feel and stylistic impositions of the original” but has some “tough, cleverly directed” action scenes and an “exciting”, morally ambiguous script (co-written by Michael Cimino). Since the identity of the killers is made clear from the beginning, there’s no “murder mystery” to be solved; instead, the film’s interest lies primarily in watching how a notorious vigilante cop like Dirty Harry reacts when confronted with a group of sharpshooting fascist rookies (led by blonde David Soul) who take his own cynical attitude to a deadly extreme. (Harry himself states at one point, “I hate the goddamn system, but until someone comes along with changes that make sense, I’ll stick with it.”) The film’s title (magnums are ultra-powerful cartridges) hints at an emphasis on firearms and ballistics throughout, and the scene in which Eastwood battles Soul for top prize in a shooting contest is particularly exciting. However, I could do without the inane “subplot” involving Harry’s sexually available Asian neighbor (Adele Yoshioka), whose two-dimensional presence merely serves to tap into Orientalist fantasies.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An intriguing premise
  • Effective use of San Francisco locales (including the infamously twisty Lombard Street)

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look, and must-see for “Dirty Harry” completists.

Links:

Squirm (1976)

Squirm (1976)

“Something is making the worms go crazy…”

Squirm Poster

Synopsis:
A city boy (Don Scardino) visiting his girlfriend (Patricia Pearcy) and her family (Jean Sullivan and Fran Higgins) in a backwoods Georgian town discovers that an electrical storm has triggered an onslaught of killer earthworms.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is far too generous in his assessment of this unintentionally campy low-budget horror flick, which he claims is “effective” and full of “fun characters” and “clever directorial touches”. In truth, despite writer-director Jeff Lieberman’s best efforts, Squirm — “as in Sqworm” — is poorly acted (everyone’s pacing is peculiarly off), sadly lacking in any genuine horror thrills (how scary can worms really be? gross, yes, but not scary), and resolutely unfunny (the scene in which Scardino discovers a worm in his egg cream is not, as Peary posits, witty). While a handful of other critics agree with Peary that Squirm is an inspired little film — Time Out‘s reviewer, for instance, argues that it’s “far better and more interesting than the obvious schlock appeal its plot would suggest” — I was relieved to discover I’m not alone in considering it to be an undeniably bad movie, worthy of spoofing (search YouTube and you’ll find the MST3K version available to watch in 10 minute segments). Throughout his Guide for the Film Fanatic, Peary seems to be trying to champion underdog, low-budget films like this one — particularly in the horror genre — but you’re better off skipping Squirm altogether.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A few mildly gross shots of wriggling worms en masse
    Squirm Worms

Must See?
No, unless you’re in the mood for a laughably bad “horror” flick — and in that case, I recommend the MST3K version instead.

Links:

Black Room (1935)

Black Room (1935)

“This murder will happen again, just as it did before — in the Black Room!”

Black Room Poster

Synopsis:
In a desperate attempt to prevent an ancient family prophecy from coming true, a despotic baron (Boris Karloff) kills and impersonates his noble twin brother.

Genres:

Review:
This unassuming period thriller about fratricide, ancient familial prophecies, and lust for power remains an enjoyable treat for film fanatics, thanks primarily to the central performance by inimitable horror icon Boris Karloff. Karloff embodies the dual roles of both “good brother” (Anton) and “bad brother” (Gregor) with relish and nuance, immediately convincing us that they’re two different men — but his most impressive work comes once he’s playing Gregor-as-Anton, maintaining a simmering aura of calculated greed and sociopathic arrogance underneath a facade of noble charm. The screenplay is surprisingly tight and suspenseful — especially given that Anton is killed off fairly early — and the denouement offers a nifty resolution to the ancient prophecy. Atmospheric cinematography, creative direction, and appropriately baroque set designs add to the ambience of this compelling B-level flick.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Boris Karloff as Gregor, Anton, and Gregor-as-Anton
    Black Room Karloff
  • Atmospheric cinematography, direction, and sets

Must See?
Yes, simply to see Karloff in one of his best performances.

Categories

Links:

Angelo, My Love (1983)

Angelo, My Love (1983)

“We’re not going to leave you alone until I get the ring, okay?”

Synopsis:
A precocious Greek gypsy boy (Angelo Evans) and his brother try to retrieve a family ring stolen by a conniving Russian gypsy (Steve Tsigonoff).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming-of-Age
  • Gypsies
  • New York City
  • Robert Duvall Films

Review:
Fourteen years before producing and directing The Apostle (1997), Robert Duvall helmed this neo-realist indie film about a little-known American subculture: gypsies in New York City. Its strength lies primarily in the central casting of real-life gypsy kid Angelo Evans (essentially playing himself, as does much of the cast), whose precocious energy drives the narrative: we both believe in and care about him from the first moment he’s on-screen. An early scene in which the illiterate Angelo struggles to maintain his pride in a public school classroom is quietly devastating, and immediately helps us to understand why he prefers to live in the “real world” — among adults — instead. Duvall is less successful in crafting a compelling overall narrative (the ring-heist plot is flimsy at best), but this ultimately doesn’t matter, given that we’re most interested in watching Angelo navigate the streets of New York, and gaining a sense of how this group of societal outcasts manages to maintain key elements of its ancient culture while surviving in a modern city. We may not approve of the gypsy lifestyle portrayed here, but it’s certainly memorable, and fascinating to observe for a short while.

P.S. See Mike Newell’s Into the West (1992) for a comparable — albeit more strategically crafted — film about modern-day Irish gypsies (known as “Travellers”) in Dublin.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Angelo Evans as himself
  • A fascinating ethnographic look at New York’s gypsy community

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look.

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Topper Returns (1941)

Topper Returns (1941)

“It isn’t every day a girl gets murdered!”

Topper Returns Poster

Synopsis:
When the friend (Joan Blondell) of an heiress (Carole Landis) is accidentally murdered, her ghost enlists the help of Cosmo Topper (Roland Young) in identifying the killer.

Genres:

Review:
Roy Del Ruth directed this final installment in the inexplicably popular Topper trilogy, which banks on much of what made the first two so successful: plenty of ghostly special effects and tedious slapstick humor. While it’s no masterpiece, the presence of Joan Blondell as the ghost de jeur (replacing Constance Bennett’s “Mrs. Kirby”) adds a much-needed touch of sass and vigor to the proceedings, and the Old Dark House “whodunit” plot at least provides viewers with a welcome narrative hook (I’ll admit the ending caught me by surprise). Best of all: Billie Burke as Cosmo’s airhead wife is given mercifully few scenes!

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joan Blondell as Gail
    Topper Returns Blondell

Must See?
No. As noted previously, the Topper sequels are certainly not must-see viewing — though Blondell makes this one more bearable than its predecessors.

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