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Month: January 2018

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! (1978)

“Who would have thought? All we wanted was a bigger, healthier tomato.”

Synopsis:
With the help of a journalist (Sharon Taylor), a spy (Gary Smith), and a parachuting lieutenant (Rock Peace), a special operations agent (David Miller) attempts to learn why tomatoes are suddenly wreaking havoc on humanity.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that the “title sufficiently tells [the] plot of this sci-fi spoof that, regrettably, is not nearly as bad as its distributors would like us to believe”. He argues that “unfortunately, the filmmakers had enough skill to make it clever but dull rather than inept but campy, like other ‘Worst Film’ contendors”, and points out that “at least it has an even more ludicrous title tune than The Blob‘s” (indeed, the song will stick in your memory for days thereafter; be forewarned). While Peary asserts that the “funniest gag has an actor dubbed (loud and out-of-synch, appropriately) simply because this is a sci-fi film and he is Japanese”, I believe the best scenes (relatively speaking) are those which openly parody well-known horror films (i.e, tomatoes bobbing menacingly in the ocean a la Jaws). While I’m not a personal fan of this ridiculously silly film, it’s harmless and worth a look if you enjoy this kind of entertainment.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fun parody sequences from famous flicks

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look if you’re curious.

Links:

Which Way is Up? (1977)

Which Way is Up? (1977)

“Which way is up, sucker? You forget who you are and where you came from?”

Synopsis:
An orchard worker (Richard Pryor) living with his wife (Margaret Avery), his horny father (also Richard Pryor), and many others in a tiny house accidentally becomes aligned with a protest movement and is forced out of town by his company. Once in the big city of Los Angeles, Leroy (Pryor) falls in love with a beautiful organizer (Lonette McKee) and starts a family with her — but when he accidentally witnesses the murder of a prominent activist, he’s sent back to his small town, where he begins to live a double life with both McKee and Avery (who is suddenly sexually interested in him). Complicating matters even further, Avery admits she’s been impregnated by her “spiritual counselor” Reverend Thomas (also Richard Pryor), which sets Leroy on a vengeful mission to sleep with the Reverend’s pious wife (Marilyn Coleman).

Genres:

Review:
This loose remake of Lina Wertmuller’s The Seduction of Mimi (1972) is an awful misfire from start to finish. It was clearly designed as a star vehicle for Pryor, playing three utterly unlikable characters who aggressively pursue and/or cheat on women. There is little incentive to care about the central protagonist’s travails, and the screenplay simply reinforces racial stereotypes through profanity and caricatures. It’s hard to see what appealed to Pryor about this one, other than the chance to bed several beautiful women onscreen and inhabit multiple roles a la Eddie Murphy (who was much more skilled at this). Skip it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
Not many.

Must See?
No, unless you’re a diehard Pryor fan.

Links:

Galaxina (1980)

Galaxina (1980)

“I’m better than a human woman.”

Synopsis:
An intergalactic policeman (Steven Macht) on board a spaceship with an inept boss named Captain Butt (Avery Schreiber) falls in love with a beautiful android-servant (Dorothy Stratten) who reprograms herself to become more human-like for Macht — but will the crew survive a battle with aliens for the desirable “Blue Star” crystal?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, “the ill-fated Dorothy Stratten moved from Playboy ‘Playmate of the Year’ into the title role of this insipid, low-budget sci-fi film”, a “truly boring sci-fi parody (it is also a parody of westerns) with limp humor and uninteresting direction by William Sachs (who also wrote the script).” Peary notes that “the most offensive sccene is set in an outer-space [‘human’] cafe that has women’s heads mounted on walls and such dishes as poached legs on toast and fruit of the womb”. He adds that the “picture has a cult because of Stratten’s appearance”, but it’s doubtful most modern film fanatics will even have heard of Stratten, let alone be curious to see her in this tediously awful film. Definitely feel free to skip it.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some interesting cinematography choices

Must See?
Uh… No. Despite its cult status, you can definitely skip this one.

Links:

Man From Laramie, The (1955)

Man From Laramie, The (1955)

“I’d push you right off the Earth if I thought it would help Dave.”

Synopsis:
A man (Jimmy Stewart) determine to avenge the death of his brother by finding the person who sold an Apache tribe repeating rifles comes to a ranch owned by an aging patriarch (Donald Crisp) with a psychopathic son (Alex Nicol), where the ranch-hand (Arthur Kennedy) is convinced his filial loyalty to Crisp should be repaid in property.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that in this “fifth and last of Anthony Mann’s westerns starring James Stewart,” Stewart is once “again a revenge hero”, though “one with no sense of guilt”. He notes that “the psychological dilemmas Mann usually reserves for his hero are shifted to the villains in this film”, which is “structured like a classical tragedy in which a powerful corrupt family is about to collapse”. Peary asserts that the “picture has excellent dialogue and — this being Mann — impressive, thematic use of the landscape (in this case, New Mexico)”, and further adds that what he finds “most compelling about the film is the presentation of violence”, which “is brutal and always comes impulsively”. He argues idealistically that “the film is saying that if men learned to control their volatile tempers and to act rationally, there would be much less senseless violence (in our world or Mann’s West).”

I agree with Peary that this film is beautifully shot, and makes excellent use of natural landscapes as a backdrop for the revenge-driven storyline. The violence itself is indeed “brutal” and shocking; we’re not used to seeing heroic Stewart treated as unfairly as he is here (dragged along the ground by a rope, shot calculatedly in the hand). Indeed, the psychopathy of “sadistic and crazy” Nicol — and Crisp’s unwavering loyalty to his son despite all evidence that he should reject him — are quite disturbing. I find it challenging to watch the “family” dynamics playing out between Crisp, Nicol, and Kennedy; this is a serious morass of denial and dysfunction, and it’s hard to have much sympathy for Crisp, who nonetheless is portrayed as deserving love (from Aline McMahon as his neighbor and former love interest) and understanding (especially given his failing eyesight). Meanwhile, Cathy O’Donnell’s role as Nicol’s cousin and Kennedy’s would-be fiance is underdeveloped; she’s beautiful, but her performance feels oddly distant. With all that said, there is enough brilliance here in staging, setting, and cinematography to make this outing worth a one-time look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gorgeous cinematography

  • Fine sets and use of outdoor locales


Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for one-time viewing.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Winchester ’73 (1950)

Winchester ’73 (1950)

“Some things a man has to do — so he does ’em.”

Synopsis:
A sharpshooter (Jimmy Stewart) arriving in Dodge City with his longtime friend (Millard Mitchell) wins a coveted Winchester ’73 rifle in a shooting contest, but it’s stolen by his rival (Stephen McNally), who then loses the gun to an “Indian trader” (John McIntire), who is scalped by Chief Young Bull (Rock Hudson). Eventually the gun lands in the hands of a cowardly man (Charles Drake) engaged to a dance hall girl (Shelley Winters) who has a crush on Stewart. Drake’s outlaw partner (Dan Duryea) steals the gun from Drake, but loses it back to McNally. Who will finally end up with the gun — and the girl (Winters)?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “classic adult western by Anthony Mann, the first of five he directed with James Stewart”, has “excellent action sequences” as well as “unusual characterizations”, “interesting relationships”, and “unpretentious dialogue”. Indeed, it’s likely my favorite of the five, given that all elements of the rotating storyline (a la Ophuls’ La Ronde) help build a complex tableau of an Old West filled with classic tropes of the genre: a Cain-and-Abel brother-revenge tale; trigger-happy villains with plenty of guns; a “loose” woman (Winters) eager to settle down with a “real” man (Stewart); skirmishes with Native Americans; and male dominance hierarchies establishing tentative order in a lawless, violence-ridden landscape. The characterizations are indeed “unusual”, and quite rich, especially given how often the storyline shifts from one set of characters to another. I like how additional insights into motivation are gradually revealed; how the seemingly disparate storylines eventually converge; and how subplots (i.e., Winters’ dismay over her fiance’s unexpected cowardice during an Indian raid) turn into essential elements of the narrative (Winters plays an unexpectedly pivotal role in the film’s final outcome). Mann’s direction, William Daniels’ cinematography, and the range of supporting performances (including dependable baddie Duryea) are top-notch throughout.

Note: This film’s pacing, episodic western narrative, and cast of diverse characters put me in mind of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Excellent performances across the board (Peary nominates Stewart for a Best Actor award in his Alternate Oscars)


  • Strong direction by Mann


  • Fine cinematography by William H. Daniels
  • Excellent use of rugged outdoor settings
  • Smart dialogue

    “Haven’t I seen you somewhere?”
    “I been somewhere!”

Must See?
Yes, as a classic of the genre. Nominated by Peary as one of the Best Pictures of the Year in his Alternate Oscars.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Far Country, The (1954)

Far Country, The (1954)

“Where there’s gold, there’s stealing. Where there’s stealing, there’s killing!”

Synopsis:
A cattle-driver (Jimmy Stewart) hoping to earn money by selling his herd in the Yukon is arrested for murdering two employees who tried to steal his cows, and sentenced to loss of his animals by a Seattle-area judge (John McIntire). After agreeing to accompany a savvy saloon owner (Ruth Roman) on her trip to set up a new business in a frontier town, he steals his cattle back and takes them along, supported by his long-time buddy (Walter Brennan) and a young French-Canadian (Corinne Calvert) with a crush on Stewart. But McIntire refuses to back down without a fight, and swears he’ll punish Stewart once he’s back on American soil.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “fourth in the five-film Anthony Mann-James Stewart western series” “has many elements of the other entries — a hero with a shady past, a revenge motif, strong violence, a beautiful but rugged landscape — but it’s weaker than the others”. He notes that “most significantly, it lacks the typical Mann-Stewart antagonist who represents Stewart’s alter ego, someone with a similar background who is the character Stewart would become if he didn’t reform”. He adds that “Stewart’s character is neither interesting nor appealing”, and “neither are the two women who love him: good-bad girl Roman and tomboy Corinne Calvert, who’s too sweet and innocent for a Mann film”. Finally, he notes that “the romantic scenes are trite, [and] the action scenes are unwieldy”. I’m in agreement with some of Peary’s assessment — particularly re: Calvert’s out-of-place portrayal as a young Francophone woman prone to petulantly asserting her maturity: “I’m NOT a freckle face. I’m a woman!” However, I actually find Roman’s business-woman “Ronda Castle” quite interesting: she’s a refreshingly strong-willed, independent, boldly sexual counterpart for Stewart, and effectively serves as his “antagonist”. She helps to flesh out the story’s focus on entrepeneurial grit — mixed with plenty of corruption, greed, and violence — in early mining towns.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • William H. Daniels’ Technicolor cinematography

  • EFfective location shooting (at Saskatchewan Glacier and in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada)

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a look for its historical relevance.

Links:

Bend of the River (1952)

Bend of the River (1952)

“There’s a difference between men and apples.”

Synopsis:
A former border raider (James Stewart) helps a group of settlers — including two beautiful sisters (Julia Adams and Lori Nelson) — cross safely into Oregon while rescuing a vigilante (Arthur Kennedy) who then joins their troupe. When food supplies become scarce due to a gold rush in Portland, Stewart must try to secure their safe shipment back to the settlers — but will Kennedy be lured by the exorbitant prices being offered by miners?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that this “exciting” “second of five westerns Anthony Mann made with James Stewart” centers, “like most Mann westerners”, on men who “can’t escape [their] past”, and “how violent men choose to lead their lives now that the West is becoming civilized”. He writes that the “script by Borden Chase is first-rate”, with “the dialogue between Stewart and Kennedy… particularly strong”, conveying that “each knows what the other is thinking at all times”. Indeed, Stewart and Kennedy make for a fascinating pair of (anti-)heros, with each demonstrating the better or worse part of their natures when confronted by temptation. Tension in the storyline is near-constant, given the confluence of naturally rugged terrain, limited supplies, a small handful of beautiful women, and gold fever infesting men’s hearts and minds. When basic supplies can be sold for 100 times their “natural” cost, will greed outweigh basic decency and respect for human life? That dilemma drives the narrative, which takes place within “excellent cinematography of the beautiful landscape” by Irving Glassberg.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Excellent use of outdoor locales
  • An action-packed screenplay

Must See?
Yes, as another fine outing between Mann and Stewart.

Categories

Links:

Naked Spur, The (1953)

Naked Spur, The (1953)

“They’re men, honey, and you ain’t — remember that.”

Synopsis:
An embittered bounty hunter (Jimmy Stewart) seeks help from a grizzled prospector (Millard Mitchell) and a dishonorably discharged “Indian fighter” (Ralph Meeker) in trapping an outlaw (Robert Ryan) who is travelling with a vulnerable young female companion (Janet Leigh).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “in his third Anthony Mann western, James Stewart is a hard-bitten man” whose actions — “like most Mann westerners” — are “determined by his past. … Having lost everything dear to him, he suffers guilt and self-hatred — his need to take out his anger on another man, who is much like the immoral ‘beast’ he has become, is obviously his way of attacking himself”. Peary adds that “as usual, Mann uses his landscape as more than a backdrop: as the terrain becomes rougher and the stream they follow becomes more turbulent, the tension among the characters increases and their cruelty becomes more evident”. However, Peary writes that “the script by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom is weaker than those used in other Mann westerns”, with “trite” dialogue and Stewart’s “character… poorly developed, so that we can’t really understand… the exact nature of his neurosis”. He notes that “this is the one Stewart hero in a Mann film that could just as easily have been played by other actors”, but he concedes that “Ryan makes a great villain”.

I share Peary’s concerns. Stewart’s character is too much of an enigma to relate to: we hear in passing about the injustices he suffered while away at war, but his bitterness and deceit prevent us from sympathizing with his goal of bringing Ryan back (dead or alive) at any cost. While Ryan is a “great villain”, his psychopathy — emblemized by his near-constant sneering smile — is so obvious it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine Leigh maintaining her loyalty to him for so long. Indeed, this entire group of men are so tough and self-serving that it’s difficult watching naive Leigh navigate among them, knowing she’ll inevitably be taken advantage of. However, the action scenes are all exciting, Mann keeps the pace moving quickly, and excellent use is made of rugged outdoor locales. Film fanatics will want to check this one out.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine direction
  • Excellent use of outdoor locales

Must See?
Yes, as a well-crafted if harsh outing by a master director.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Captain Blood (1935)

Captain Blood (1935)

“I’ve resented you because you’re beautiful, and I’m a slave. Do you understand that?”

Synopsis:
When a physician (Errol Flynn) in 17th century England is convicted of conspiracy against the crown after tending to a wounded rebel, he and others are sent to work as slaves in an American colony overseen by a cruel governor (Lionel Atwill) whose beautiful niece (Olivia de Havilland) purchases Flynn, much to Flynn’s chagrin. Flynn and his men eventually become pirates on the high seas, partnering with a captain (Basil Rathbone) who takes de Havilland as a hostage — but will Flynn rescue her, or let his resentment continue to drive a wedge through their nascent cross-class romance?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “rousing adaptation of Rafael Sabatini’s novel about a 17th century English pirate made a star of Errol Flynn, who made the most of his first lead role”, and notes that it “boasts of marvelous action sequences; extremely intelligent dialogue; spirited direction by Michael Curtiz; and an earnest, strong performance by Flynn.” He adds that a highlight of the film is the “Flynn-Basil Rathbone swordfight-to-the-death on a rocky beach, during which the opponents smile constantly” — and that the inaugural on-screen pairing of beautiful young de Havilland and Flynn represents “one of the cinema’s truly wonderful romantic teams”. Indeed, fans of swashbuckling romantic dramas will find much to enjoy here, though I’ll admit it’s not a personal favorite: I’m not thrilled by the buffoonish nobility, Rathbone’s faux-French accent, or Flynn’s hairstyle (!). In the film’s favor are marvelous cinematography (by Ernest Haller and Hal Mohr), rousing action scenes (Curtiz is indeed masterful), and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s “excellent” debut score. As a curiosity, listen for Blood’s surprisingly forthright and graphic proclamation that “If a man molest a woman captive against her will, he, too, shall receive the same punishment.”

Note: Sadly, supporting character Ross Alexander — who plays Jeremy, the ship’s navigator — had a tragic (closeted gay) personal life and killed himself just after this film was made.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography


  • Expertly directed combat scenes


  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score

Must See?
Yes, once, for its historical importance.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

“This thing is very personal to me.”

Synopsis:
When his visiting buddy (James Russo) is murdered, a Detroit-based detective (Eddie Murphy) travels to Beverly Hills to investigate potentially criminal dealings at the art gallery where Russo worked, managed by their mutual friend (Lisa Eilbacher); but will Murphy’s efforts be foiled by local cops (John Ashton and Judge Reinhold) who resent his involvement?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this “phenomenally successful Eddie Murphy comedy-crime drama” contains “some nice moments between Murphy and Beverly Hills cops Judge Reinhold and John Ashton, whom he wins over”, but argues that the “story is terribly written” and that director Martin Brest’s “comic touches are always disruptive”. However, he concedes that “Murphy saves the day, successfully fighting through his bad lines and improvising — hilariously — like crazy” as he “invade[s] ritzy establishments (fancy hotels, restaurants, art galleries, Beverly Hills mansions) or institutions and, using his con act, imitate[s] authority figures”. I think Peary’s a bit too harsh on this cult ’80s favorite: while it may be a “big joke” that Daniel Petrie’s script “received an Oscar nomination” (!), Beverly Hills Cop (the first in a lengthy franchise) remains a serviceable, well-executed, fast-paced thriller with plenty of danger and laughs. Murphy’s loyalty and persistence are charming, and the theme song is catchy enough to deserve its own “must-listen” status.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Eddie Murphy as Axel Foley

  • Harold Faltmeyer’s catchy theme song

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links: