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Month: October 2009

Who Are the DeBolts? [And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?] (1977)

Who Are the DeBolts? [And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?] (1977)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“You know, being a mother of 19 can be pretty hilarious–“

Who Are the DeBolts Poster

Synopsis:
Bob and Dorothy DeBolt maintain a loving household of both biological and adopted children (many of whom have physical disabilities).

Genres:

  • Disabilities
  • Documentary
  • John Korty Films
  • Raising Children

Review:
The DeBolt family — a dauntingly enormous crew of biological and adopted children — grew gradually, over a number of years: after giving birth to several kids of their own, Dorothy DeBolt and her first husband decided to adopt a few special-needs kids from around the world; shortly after her husband died, Dorothy met and married Bob DeBolt (with one biological daughter of his own), and they proceeded to adopt even more children, eventually raising 20 altogether (though they “only” had 19 at the time this film was made). The DeBolts ultimately come across like the Brady Bunch on overdrive, with countless personal struggles to overcome, but an overriding sense of unity and pride holding them together through thick and through thin.

While director John Korty and his crew have been accused of sugar-coating the DeBolts’ existence by showing a preponderance of family sing-alongs and playful holiday adventures (rather than day-to-day squabbles, for instance), this can easily be forgiven, given the invaluable insights we gain into Dorothy and Bob’s unique philosophy of child-rearing. Their driving belief is that each child, no matter how physically challenged, should be as responsible for him or herself as possible. Their son J.R., for instance — both blind and paralyzed from the waist down — is taught to get himself safely down the porch stairs to wait for the bus; it may take him 15 minutes to do so, but he develops a routine that works, and he’s able to do it on his own. Meanwhile, Karen — a feisty girl with no limbs — is able to adroitly put all her appendages on herself, and doesn’t allow her impediments to get in the way of having as much fun as possible. You’re guaranteed to watch Who Are the DeBolts? with a sense of both joy and respect for this unusual family; within the space of just 72 minutes, they have something to teach us all.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Many heartwarming scenes of personal triumph and family unity
    Who Are the DeBolts Karen
    Who Are the DeBolts JR
    Who Are the DeBolts Lounging
    Who Are the DeBolts Piano
    Who Are the DeBolts Sofa

Must See?
Yes, as a most enjoyable and inspirational Oscar-winning documentary.

Categories

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Vigil in the Night (1940)

Vigil in the Night (1940)

“There is nothing so good as a good nurse, and nothing so bad as a bad one.”

Vigil Night Poster

Synopsis:
A dedicated nurse (Carole Lombard) takes responsibility for a death caused by her uncertified sister (Anne Shirley), and leaves to work at a large urban hospital, where she develops a relationship with a handsome surgeon (Brian Aherne) and fights to help fund a plague ward.

Genres:

Review:
At the time she agreed to star in George Stevens’ adaptation of A.J. Cronin‘s serial novel Vigil in the Night, Carole Lombard was attempting to break out of typecasting as a screwball actress by taking on more “serious” roles. Unfortunately, her choice of “breakthrough” material is little more than a sappy soaper about a do-gooding nurse (Lombard) a la Florence Nightingale who’s willing to give up all personal gain for the sake of helping others. Her first act of selflessness, which sets the story in motion, is accepting responsibility for a negligent death caused by her immature younger sister (Anne Shirley), who carelessly leaves the bedside of a terminally ill boy at just the wrong moment. Leaving her sister behind to finish her nursing certification, Lombard quickly moves on to a grueling position at a hospital in London, where a potential romance with a handsome surgeon (Aherne) is hinted at but never develops; instead, Lombard’s Nurse Lee stalwartly deals with crisis after crisis, never losing her head, and always fighting for “what’s right” against stony head nurses and sleazy benefactors. She may be plucky and honorable, but the truth is she’s terribly uninteresting as a character; we long for Lombard to break into manic screwball mode, even for just a moment! The primary redeeming feature of this predictable weeper is Robert De Grasse’s luminous cinematography.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert De Grasse’s cinematography
    Vigil Night Cinematography

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Crazy-Quilt, The (1966)

Crazy-Quilt, The (1966)

“Henry indulged Lorabelle in some of her fantasies, ignored others — and gradually realized that what she wanted most was the impossible: a declaration of love.”

Crazy Quilt Poster

Synopsis:
An idealist (Ina Mena) attempts to cure her husband (Tom Rosqui) of his cynical realism, with little success.

Genres:

Review:
John Korty‘s debut film — narrated by Burgess Meredith, starring unknown actors, and following a most unconventional storyline — is a delightful taste of mid-century independent American cinema. More a fable than a realistic narrative, The Crazy-Quilt is nonetheless grounded in the very-real tribulations of love and marriage, as two complete opposites struggle to create a life together. Korty’s low-budget camerawork is consistently innovative and striking, making fine use of high-contrast lighting and naturalistic settings; meanwhile, Peter Schickele‘s creative score provides a quirky, memorable backdrop to the proceedings. Mela and Rosquith are well-cast as the film’s protagonists, with Mela in particular (she has no other credits listed on IMDb) giving a haunting performance; she ages from giddy young housewife to seasoned woman over the course of the film, and the contrast is striking. Film fanatics should definitely seek out The Crazy-Quilt: while it may come across as slightly dated, its emotional impact remains largely intact.

Note: Korty’s Oscar-winning documentary Who Are the DeBolts? [And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?] (1977) is also well worth a look; surprisingly, it’s not a Peary title.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ina Mela as Lorabelle
    Crazy Quilt Ina Mela
  • Tom Rosqui as Henry
    Crazy Quilt Tom Rosqui
  • An unusual portrait of an unconventional love affair
    Crazy Quilt Sleeping
  • Memorable imagery
    Crazy Quilt Memorable
  • Impressive low-budget b&w cinematography
    Crazy Quilt Cinematography
  • Peter Schickele’s distinctive score

Must See?
Yes, as a one-of-a-kind experimental film.

Categories

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New Leaf, A (1971)

New Leaf, A (1971)

“All I am, or was, is rich — and that’s all I ever wanted to be.”

New Leaf Poster

Synopsis:
A financially strapped playboy (Walter Matthau) woos an eccentric heiress (Elaine May) with the intent of murdering her after their marriage.

Genres:

Review:
Comedian Elaine May was apparently so appalled with the drastic studio cuts made to her debut film that she wanted her name taken off of it; despite her discontent, however, A New Leaf remains a memorably unique black comedy, and the strength of May’s vision still shines clearly through. Perennial grump Walter Matthau is brilliantly cast as a spoiled bon vivant so enamored with his lifestyle of wealth and leisure that he fails to pay any attention to his rapidly dwindling trust funds; when reality finally forces him to confront his state of near-destitution, he contemplates both suicide and marriage — ultimately deciding that the latter is marginally more acceptable. Because he finds women an annoyance, however — preferring instead to indulge his tastes in fine wine, fancy sports cars, tailored clothing, and impeccable decor — his decision to woo the clumsiest woman in Manhattan (if not the entire United States) comes at no small cost to his personal sanity.

As bespectacled botanist Henrietta (whose greatest aspiration in life is to find an undiscovered species of fern and have it named after her), May is the perfect comedic foil for Matthau; together, they are the epitome of odd duck coupling, and could potentially stand a chance — if only Matthau wasn’t so determined to murder her at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, details of May’s premarital existence are gradually revealed, as we begin to understand the myriad ways in which every individual in her life has taken advantage of her extreme naivete and charity. Will Matthau simply be the next in line — or will he experience a change of heart, and recognize his chance for happiness and fulfillment with Henrietta? This comedic gem is well worth watching to find out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Elaine May as Henrietta
    New Leaf May
  • Walter Matthau as Henry
    New Leaf Matthau
  • May’s darkly humorous screenplay
    New Leaf Humorous

Must See?
Yes, as an enduring comedic treat. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Categories

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Caddyshack (1980)

Caddyshack (1980)

“So, I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”

Caddyshack Poster

Synopsis:
At an elite country club, a young caddy (Michael O’Keefe) hopes to win a college scholarship; meanwhile, the groundskeeper (Bill Murray) pursues a menacing gopher, and the club’s owner (Ted Knight) clashes with an abrasive new member (Rodney Dangerfield).

Genres:

Review:
A cult favorite of those who remember it fondly from their youth, Caddyshack is essentially just a vehicle for comedians Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, and Rodney Dangerfield. Murray manages to squeeze in a few funny lines — including his infamous vignette about caddying for the Dalai Lama and being given “total consciousness” in lieu of a tip, leading him to quip, “So, I’ve got that goin’ for me” — but Chase is surprisingly subdued. It’s Dangerfield (in his first major film role) who really stands out as an unbelievably obnoxious real estate developer (“Tell the cook this is low grade dog food… This steak still has marks from where the jockey was hitting it.”) Unfortunately, the film itself is a bit of a pointless mess, and its central protagonist — young caddy O’Keefe — quickly loses our sympathy once he cheats on his loving girlfriend (an appealing Sarah Holcomb) with the resident tart (Cindy Morgan); it’s hard to care much about him — or the film — after this. Caddyshack is really only must-see viewing for diehard fans; all-purpose film fanatics can feel free to skip it (though be sure to check out the truly surreal male synchronized swimming sequence — see still below).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rodney Dangerfield as Al Czervik
    Caddyshack Dangerfield
  • Several drolly amusing sequences
    Caddyshack Synchronized

Must See?
No, but fans of Dangerfield or Murray certainly won’t want to miss it.

Links:

Men (1985)

Men (1985)

“Women have no scruples. We — we can be blackmailed by our consciences.”

Men Poster

Synopsis:
When an advertising executive (Heiner Lauterbach) discovers his wife (Ulrike Kriener) is having an affair with a bohemian artist (Uwe Ochsenknecht), he assumes a new identity and moves in with Stefan (Ochsenknecht), determined to learn more about why he’s so appealing to his wife.

Genres:

Review:
Made on a shoestring budget for German television, Doris Dorrie‘s Men later enjoyed a successful theatrical release, and was the most widely seen German film that year. Essentially an unconventional “love triangle”, it tells the story of a successful ad executive named Julius (Lauterbach) who is so devastated and puzzled by his wife’s affair with free-spirited, long-haired artist Stefan (Ochsenknecht) that he goes to comedic extremes to learn more about why she’s betrayed him. Because the storyline is set up as a comedy, we’re meant to ignore the first glaring logical loophole that emerges: wouldn’t Stefan see photos of Julius at his lover’s house, and recognize him? This minor quibble aside, however, we soon watch in fascination as the newly humbled Julius– a casual womanizer himself, who’s cheated on his wife countless times in the past — does everything he can to comprehend Stefan’s appeal, and perhaps become a bit more like him. Meanwhile, he can’t help releasing his simmering rage towards the unsuspecting Stefan in random fits, which Stefan conveniently accepts as part of Julius’s “crisis”. Eventually, as the two men get to know and trust each other, a genuine friendship emerges, albeit one predicated on deception. While it’s not must-see viewing for all viewers, Men is recommended for those who enjoy unconventional tales of male bonding.

Note: The film’s poster, which depicts an image from the final comedic scene in the film, is a bit misleading; while there are certainly homoerotic twitches throughout (and one kiss), relations between the two men, for the most part, remain strictly “platonic”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Heiner Lauterbach as Julius/Daniel
    Men Lauterbach
  • Uwe Ochsenknecht as Stefan
    Men Ochsenknecht
  • An unconventional tale of male friendship and secret rivalry
    Men Friendship

Must See?
No, but it’s definitely recommended. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

“There are five people back there on a black mountain in a pure sand desert. They’re starving to death!”

Sands Kalahari Poster

Synopsis:
A diverse group of individuals — including a womanizing pilot (Nigel Davenport), a domineering hunter (Stuart Whitman), a failed mining engineer (Stanley Baker), a beautiful divorcee (Susannah York), a soft-spoken doctor (Theodore Bikel), and a former Nazi officer (Harry Andrews) — struggle to survive in the Kalahari desert after their passenger plane crashes.

Genres:

Review:
Released the same year as Robert Aldrich’s Flight of the Phoenix, writer-director Cy Endfield’s survival tale — based on a novel by William Mulvihill — starts with the same premise of a plane crashing in the Kalahari desert, but moves in an entirely different direction. While the survivors of the Phoenix focus on rebuilding a plane that will lift them out of the area, the motley passengers in Endfield’s film become involved in an existential fight for dominance. Indeed, it’s soon made clear that Endfield is primarily concerned with highlighting the passengers’ devolution into primitive beings (much like the tribes of fang-baring baboons occupying the area), as sexual passions flare — York, conveniently gorgeous, is the only female passenger — and Whitman’s increasingly obvious desire for mastery at any cost (he’s the only one in the group with a gun and ammunition) takes hold. While the plot and dialogue occasionally strain credulity, we’re nonetheless intrigued by the “Lord of the Flies” mentality which emerges, pitting passengers against each other. Fine on-location shooting and an unusual script makes this a worthy adventure flick for those who enjoy tales of survival under extreme circumstances.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine location shooting
    Sands Kalahari Location
  • An often tense and gripping script
    Sands Kalahari Script
  • The unexpected ending

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Lady in Red, The / Guns, Sin, and Bathtub Gin (1979)

Lady in Red, The / Guns, Sin, and Bathtub Gin (1979)

“Beauty killed the beast, my ass — it was all them reporters.”

Lady in Red Poster

Synopsis:
A farm girl (Pamela Sue Martin) with dreams of making it big in Hollywood struggles to survive in Chicago, and eventually falls for notorious criminal John Dillinger (Robert Conrad).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this entertaining “pay-TV favorite” rises above its “conventional New World-Roger Corman material” through “fast-paced, flavorful direction by Lewis Teague; a snappy script by John Sayles…; and a surprisingly engaging performance by [“Dynasty”‘s] Martin, who exhibits a winning combination of sex and savvy” and appears “remarkably at ease” in her first leading film role. While ostensibly focused on Martin’s role as an unwitting accomplice in Dillinger’s infamous death, Sayles’ heavily fictionalized, socially conscientious script is actually more concerned with presenting Martin’s coming-of-age story, as she transitions from dreamy farm girl (humming “42nd Street” to herself while collecting eggs in her father’s barn) to sweatshop employee to dance hall girl to prostitute to waitress, doing what she can to survive while sticking up for what she knows is right. She’s presented as innocently uninformed about Dillinger’s true identity, so her embroilment in his death comes across as simply one more stroke of bad luck against her — leading to the film’s “final act”, in which she decides not only to get even against the mob, but to “get ahead”. Filled with fine period detail, subtle social commentary, and smart supporting performances, Lady in Red is a worthy entry in the “Depression-era gangster film” genre, and should be seen by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Pamela Sue Martin as Polly
    Lady in Red Martin
  • Louise Fletcher as Anna Sage
    Lady in Red Fletcher
  • Nancy Parsons as Tiny Alice
    Lady in Red Parsons
  • Effective period detail
    Lady in Red Period Detail
  • John Sayles’ smart, socially conscious script
    Lady in Red Script
  • James Horner’s score

Must See?
Yes, as an all-around good show.

Categories

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Chained Heat (1983)

Chained Heat (1983)

“You can get by inside if you do the right people — you know what I mean.”

Chained Heat Poster

Synopsis:
A naive young woman (Linda Blair) convicted of manslaughter is sent to prison, where she quickly learns that corruption is rampant, and strategic alliances are everything.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately refers to this New World WIP flick as a “ridiculous sexploitation” film which “lacks the fun or political subtext” of earlier entries in the genre, but is nonetheless guaranteed to “make any exploitation fan drool” due to its infamous grindhouse cast (including Sybil Danning, John Vernon, Stella Stevens, and Tamara Dobson, among others). He misses the boat, however, in his mean-spirited assessment of a scene in which “Danning and Blair take a nude shower together and the tall, statuesque Danning is required… to display a sexual interest in the short, plump star”. Doesn’t Peary know that prison sex is often based on power dynamics rather than lust? And while she’s no Penthouse model, Blair’s actually quite cute here. At any rate, fans of Women-In-Prison flicks won’t want to miss this badly-acted, ridiculously plotted, cliche-ridden smorgasbord of nudity, violence, sex, drugs, and corruption — complete with Blair’s transformation into a righteous avenger by the end. The rest of us, however, can feel free to skip it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joseph Conlan’s score

Must See?
No. Despite its status as a cult favorite, this one is really only must-see viewing for fans of WIP flicks.

Links:

Certain Sacrifice, A (1985)

Certain Sacrifice, A (1985)

“Do you think for once that any lover of mine could be tame?”

Certain Sacrifice Poster

Synopsis:
When his new girlfriend (Madonna) is raped by a sleazy stranger (Charles Kurtz), a former college student (Jeremy Pattnosh) and his friends seek revenge.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is far too generous in his review of this infamous student film, which he argues is “not the best but certainly not worthless”, and has some “bright ideas and wit floating around”. Made in 1979 (when Madonna was just 20 years old), it was strategically released by director Stephen Jon Lewicki as a quick money-maker six years later, when her fame was beginning to skyrocket. Apparently Madonna insisted on being paid $100 for her work in the film, resulting in a signed contract which later prevented her from legally removing the movie from circulation — but there’s not much here for her to be especially ashamed of, other than some tame nudity and her typically amateurish performance in a crude independent film. As many have noted, she made so many awful films later in her career that this one doesn’t stand out as particularly egregious — it simply has the lowest production values and makes the least sense.

Indeed, it’s often difficult to tell exactly what’s happening in this pretentious and unbearably artsy movie, which focuses on a college drop-out (Jeremy Pattnosh) who roams the streets of New York and falls for a young girl (Madonna) who’s secretly involved with a “family of lovers”. Meanwhile, Pattnosh encounters a boorish pig (Charles Kurtz, who Peary argues “steals the film” in his role — not much of a stretch) at a coffee shop, then later rapes Madonna simply because she’s Pattnosh’s girl. A final orgy revenge scene caps everything off. The soundtrack, unfortunately, is by Pattnosh rather than Madonna herself. Ultimately, A Certain Sacrifice is the type of movie that was probably must-see during its moment of notoriety (as Peary notes, “initial reports claimed it was an S&M porno film”), but is now required viewing simply for those who are morbidly curious or genuinely hung up on Madonna.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
Not much.

Must See?
No; unless you can’t contain your curiosity, feel free to skip this one-hour clunker.

Links: