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This film is a mess that goes nowhere
7 November 2019
Too many things wrong with this film to list them all. Multiple tropes are introduced but go nowhere; themes are dropped without resolution, and characters are announced to have "mortal flaws" up until *whoops* they conveniently don't.

It's unclear who the protagonist is meant to be, or what morality we're suppose to surmise. A few sympathetic but 1-dimensional caricatures of servants serve as scenery, but no one is better for it. The humorless plot drags on.

Probably the worst performance by Robert Montgomery ever. He spends half the film affecting a bad accent, and the other half staring like a deer into headlights.
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Marlowe (1969)
It's not noir but it's a fine Raymond Chandler story
20 August 2019
A Hop-head blackmailer, East Coast mobsters, a sit-com actress, a creepy doctor, an annoying farm girl, Bruce Lee, and a stripper collide in Raymond Chandler's funhouse called Hollywood.

It's not as stylish as Murder, My Sweet - the lighting and camera work here are artless - still, there's a kinship to Dick Powell's arch-theatricality, and all the personalities are teetering on the brink of camp.

Every character actor in this is a standout. Rita Moreno sizzles in a defiant striptease. Carrol O'Connor and Sharon Ferrell are so good they somehow make their archetypes feel real. But Garner is too handsome and inoffensive for the role, and the film makes the interesting choice to cut all those existential monologs that define the noir era. Garner's Phillip Marlowe bounces from crook to kook, playing straightman to a parade of star performances.

There are many deliberate nods to nostalgia and old movies, and a lot of the dialog is straight from Chandler's book, but some of the updates clunk or make no sense. Somehow, this Phillip Marlowe has a European supermodel girlfriend he takes to swanky restaurants, and to bed which erases any feelings he's supposed to have for the actress.... Bruce Lee's scenes have the odd effect of inserting Bruce Lee into the movie - it feels like a parody, but it's his US film debut.

The story is serpentine but never dull. Marlowe guesses. He has part of a bone and doesn't let go. Like most of Chandler's pulp, the "mystery" is being chased rather than solved. The plot holds up (I think?) but leaves you to fill in motives and connections. The result is character reveals that come as quickly as betrayals and double-crosses.
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The Guardsman (1931)
Lunt is adorable in this pre-code sex farce
7 July 2019
What a shame that this is our only Lunt/Fontanne film. They seem natural together as the hammy actors stepping on the other's lines and bickering during curtain calls. The characters recall the over-the-top narcissistic actors from 20th Century, but here they are far more likable. After a brief stage scene of "serious acting" we cut to backstage where the real drama is unfolding. Lunt's histrionics are half attention-seeking and half the insecurity of an over-blown ego - he's the diva.

I can think of several films where an actress wife creates a false identity to fool her husband - usually to get a part in his show. Here's a fun genderswap with Lunt as the flashier sex, sighing loudly in his underwear - and when that doesn't get a reaction he sticks out his rump and sighs again louder while a dry Roland Young ignores him. Later, Lunt imagines himself passionately bursting into Fontanne's boudoir, only to turn and drape himself vulnerably across her makeup table. In contrast, Lunt's Russian guardsman is a growling brute in a uniform that no woman can resist (so he thinks).

Fontanne has less to do in her "straight man" role, but manages to steal the spotlight even in Lunt's contrived fantasy, sending mixed-messages announcing she could never cheat on her husband while clearly encouraging her suitor's advances.
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Altered Carbon (2018– )
A pointless mixed-bag of disconnected cliches for idiots without an attention span.
11 October 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I almost cancelled my Netflix account over this 14-karat toilet bowl. IMDB lists EIGHTEEN producers - I can only assume they never met and the script was pasted together exquisite corpse style through emails and post-it® notes.

1-dimensional characters, lazy-writing that can't settle on a genre or plot and fails at ALL the tropes it rips off, with moments that strive for shock value but are just incoherently stupid. The big dumb mess of a story "climaxes" into super-powered siblings sword fighting on a crashing airship bordello after it's discovered the long dead sister has been manipulating world events for half a century - a "twist" that would be stupid even in an action cartoon. Watching Altered Carbon is like listening to a 5yo try to explain a Raymond Chandler film using WWE action figures. It's not even bad enough to be schlocky fun, instead it's so dumb it isn't even wrong. I am struggling to find synonyms better than just saying "It's stupid" over and over, but honestly, it's just stupid at every level.

EACH episode makes promises it can't deliver - and regrettably I watched them all, but I had to fast-forward through the last 2 episodes endless combat while unimportant secondary characters run around some corridors, yeah that's the wrap-up, the dark "cybernoir" mystery is resolved with an ad-hoc Scooby-gang running around aimlessly while the villain makes speeches and swordfights on a rolling log in a burning house. But why should the ending be coherent when nothing else is? Victims of a mysterious plague dressed in Yeezy fashion rags: CHECK! Mutant animal-people fighting in caged arenas: CHECK! Bad guys with Russian accents and no motive other than to kill the hero: CHECK! Lead actress who is only convincing in her explicit sex scene but is otherwise horribly miscast as the youngest sex-vixen police lieutenant on the force, and has rambling speeches about class inequality that she seems to have learned phonetically a few minutes before the camera rolled: CHECK! These situations go nowhere, aren't resolved, and are never mentioned again. If you aren't currently addicted to Ritalin, you will struggle to understand what the hype is about.

Nearly every bit of "worldbuilding" is tediously self-breaking if thought about for more than 5 seconds. We are repeatedly told that life is so precious, but everyone fights like Neo from the Matrix and there is literally no death. The whole premise revolves around a technology that allows consciousness to be "written" onto a hdd and body-swapped, a technology that has allowed humans to travel to other planets, but itself is a paradoxically handwavium artifact from another planet made by aliens who (like the Yeezy plague victims and manimal cage fighters) are never mentioned again. There is a "big connecting mystery" that never connects, so the lead actress has a line exclaiming "And they are all related!" as if that is supposed to make them all related.

At this point I would normally point out the few things that I liked which would be Dichen Lachman as the evil sister who honestly looks as bored as I was, and a funny, even poignant scene by Matt Biedel as a body-swapped abuela/gangster in the one intelligent scene that bothers to explore the premise of immortality. Potential iconic moments are squandered by an artless production. Lachman's extended nude fightscene where she emerges again and again from cloning pods in a futuristic bubble-room becomes tedious. The scene is overlit, lacks tension, and makes zero sense in the larger narrative. It finally just ends like they ran out the clock. Naked lady sword fight scene: CHECK!

There aren't enough gratuitous penises or prostitute autopsies to raise this crap above the corporate cut-and-paste "spin the wheel of random genre" tossed salad. The most cringe-inducing part is reading fanboys gush over how this diarrhea of derivative entitlement vignettes is great writing. This is the Emperor's New Clothes of trope-laden genre that hasn't any clue what it's stealing from.
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Unseen "gold digger" gem
24 December 2017
Ignore the haters that didn't appreciate this unpolished gem from the gold digger era. It's Cagney in a romantic comedy as a low-grade con man, against a mother-daughter team in matching outfits looking to bag a rich husband. When his scams profit, mother Ruth Donnelly thinks he's a perfect mate for daughter Mary Brian, but when his fortunes turn as they often do, the ladies switch polarity. Donnelly never misses an opportunity to kick him while he's down, meanwhile Brian's passion for underdogs cools when he's in the black.

If you're looking for Cagney as a toughguy gangster this isn't it, although the film takes some timely, self-aware potshots at Cagney's image including grapefruit jokes. Here his schemes are mostly harmless like rigging a dance contest, and he's as likely to be scammed as he is to make a big score. I can see how his fans might be disappointed, but Cagney was also a song-and-dance man and a self-depricating comedian. Gold digger comedies, like crime-genre and noir, are filled with amoral characters and backstabbing frenemies but played for laughs. It's easy to forgive shady motives when the leads are wholesome Dick Powell and sunny Priscilla Lane. James Cagney on the otherhand has electricity and an edge that plays for darker characters. Here he's forced to rely on charm and guile - you may be waiting for him to bust up the joint and rub out his enemies, but gold digger heroes are lovers not fighters. This isn't his best fit, but "date movie" Cagney is the nicer guy who doesn't smash citrus in women's faces.

Ruth Donnelly anchors the meandering plot as the most gold digger-y character in a gold digger comedy. What kills the film is the casting of elegant Mary Brian who mostly stands around looking pretty. Her "inverse barometer" reactions to Cagney's ups and downs would have played better with a more sexual screen presence. She represents the female sexual urge, while mother Donnelly represents the brain, conflicted over bad-boy Cagney's tumultuous circumstances. They dress alike because they metaphorically are one woman, but also because it's funny hanging a lampshade on their mother-daughter bear trap. The clever subtext is that Cagney can't win the girl until he figures out how to appeal to both women's sensibilities at the same time.
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Travelers (2016–2018)
a grown-up show about life and people, rather than gadgets and time travel
4 March 2017
Written by one of the creators of STARGATE: SG-1 (Amanda Tapping directs the finale), it has the familiar Vancouver production and a "quirky" 5-person team on a mission, but goes in the opposite direction from gadget/planet/villain of the week TV formula. Instead the story follows the five agents navigating the complicated (in some cases compromised) lives of the people whose identities they have assumed. More drama than sci-fi, and what seems to be a slow start turns out to be the actual tone of the whole season, but this is the kind of show that feels stronger by binge watching. The sum is greater than the parts.


TRAVELERS is about agents from a dystopic future who take over host bodies in an effort to alter the time-line. Set firmly in present day – we don't even "see" the future aside from one Yeezy fashion-refugee hallucination. Characters are reluctant (if not forbidden) to discuss where they came from (if we've learned anything from time travel tropes it's that the future is uncertain). Cut off from their previous life with no way of knowing when/if their butterfly-effect missions are having an impact on the distant future, the Travellers succumb to the present drama of their cover identities.

This becomes an odd meta experience for the viewer: I also didn't care much about the sci-fi missions (typically involving techno-babble pretexts for pushing a red button as an arbitrary timer counts down to zero…), or the show's nouvelle vague layers of conspiracy and time travel plot holes (if they can bring technology from the future why don't they just… oh, reasons? Um, OK. Hopefully you'll figure something out by Season 2…).

However, I got hooked by the acting and mature drama, especially MacKenzie Porter and Reilly Dolman who manage to do a lot with ennui and existential sadness.... Nesta Cooper and Jared Abrahamson are better with action scenes than emotional gravitas. Both unfortunately find themselves in working-class clichés of abusive home life. Hopefully they'll have more to do next season…. Team leader Eric McCormack has the charisma of frozen waffles but he's balanced by a compelling wife (my husband is different!) as the show puts her through an emotional wringer while keeping her in the dark. Patrick Gilmore tugs at your heartstrings in a similar role as an implausibly supportive doormat to Porter's manic pixie medic assassin dreamgirl.

Individual episodes are hit or miss with occasional SYFY alum as recurring characters (Jennifer Spence and Kyra Zagorsky are favorites). There's also the unmistakable feeling that large chunks of worldbuilding are tabula rasa until the show finds its audience. Despite some ridiculous moments and much suspension of disbelief (especially involving the FBI and Army Intelligence), Travellers hits a consistent somber tone and in each episode there are moments between characters that linger.
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Experimental Feminist Grand Guignol
4 August 2016
Kudos to Christina Ricci for this intelligent, impressively reaching story arc. Lizzie is smart, social climbing, chaste, and ruthless – a Victorian Lady American Psycho, and Ricci plays her as a wide-eyed pathological monster. It's not a character trope we are very familiar with. I'm struggling to recall a similar literary character. She's not a femme fatale. She is not at all sexual and never seduces. On the contrary she is rational and self-empowering, and all she demands is respect. She kills only when someone threatens her independence, later her upward mobility. Her character is most like a 1930's gangster, a James Cagney or Edward G Robinson, a little guy who is underestimated but who has no limits to violence. Transpose this underdog with the soul of a killer, to an unmarried woman in an era where women were not just weak but invisible.

The production takes artistic risks with unflinching conviction. Art house camera work, jaw-dropping period costumes, and a twangy "new country" music score sometimes jarringly out of step with it's serial killer premise – not quite David Lynch, more like film student indulgence, and yet it never becomes stupid like American Horror Story. I was addicted to all the feminist subtext. My husband was addicted to the bodycount.
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Kurotokage (1962)
The ORIGINAL Black Lizard is a pre-feminist treat!
11 January 2015
A few minutes in I realized this is not the 1968 film of the same name, the camp classic staring a female impersonator.... I had no idea the same film had been made only 6 years earlier staring a woman, and to my delight the original is just as fabulous, peppered with weird musical sequences, off kilter camera angles, and dynamic theatrical lighting - yet also somewhat edgier by doing it first and by playing it "straight".... I imagine it was an evolution similar to John Water's Hairspray - a low-budget movie which became a Broadway musical and then again a film.... Most reviews credit Yukio Mishima as adapting the stage show from the original novel - he absolutely did not, the source is clearly this film. Aside from the gendered casting, the two versions of Black Lizard are identical scene for scene. The remake is more slick, has extra sequences, and plays as a comedy. However the original is just as stylish, strange and seductive.

Ms Kurotokage is a mastermind jewel thief whose capers are becoming more brazen and fetishized. She enjoys putting herself right into danger, publicly confronting her victims and then escaping in disguise. Vain and immoral, she takes great pleasure in outwitting her victims, even explaining the crime to them as it is happening. Her desire to steal "jewels" extends to young beautiful people she collects to use as pawns in her game of match-wits with a master detective Akechi Rampo, the only man who truly understands her.... How can she not fall in love? "Crime and detectives are two sides of the same coin" she tells him. And "You romanticize crime."

Although the remake is perhaps better known (it had a festival revival in the 1990s and a limited DVD release), don't pass up the opportunity to also see the gem that spawned it. Everything that makes that film entertaining is also here: the uncompromisingly fabulous villain-protagonist with devoted servants, over-the- top speeches about love and crime (some simultaneous between her and the detective in split-screen), and most (if not all) of the magical visual moments are here too, like characters stepping into a spotlight to speak their thoughts in monologue - in this case it seems less a campy veneer, and more as inspired theatrical tricks to hide small cheap sets and and keep chewy dialog entertaining. Little wonder it translated so well into a successful theater show.
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Some real gems here
5 June 2014
Woman Times Seven is a collection of vignettes about seven random women (not adultery, as the synopsis claims) all played by Shirley MacLaine, and all the women are different. That's the whole point, they are different - one is shy, one is a prude, one is a bitch, one is even boring! They end up in different situations, some ridiculous, some poignant. There is no over-arching thread or moral to bind them together. They are character studies more than plots, something American audiences may not appreciate. Some vignettes are left unresolved, some are broad comedies, some are bittersweet. If you are waiting for the punchline it isn't always here, but sometimes it is, leaving the overall flow bumpy and uneven.

I'm not a fan of vignette films, but it's so difficult to find interesting female characters in today's films. How refreshing to see many different "types" here - even if all played by the same actress. MacLaine is good. She's thoughtful about each character and steps out of her usual pixie/harlot role, but taken together it feels like a gimmick - the sum is not greater than the parts. The characters suit the style of each story, so some have gravity and others are comic caricatures that serve the situation - another aspect that makes the film seem uneven. Within each vignette MacLaine does a fine job, using her considerable talents as a dancer to physically embody each woman differently, but we're not with these women long enough to see any metamorphosis.

The first is a grieving widow opposite Peter Sellers whose words of comfort keep turning to inappropriate propositions. The scene belongs completely to Sellers, and it's the weakest of the stories.

The second character is a prudish wife who after discovering her husband and her best friend in bed, runs out of the house vowing to have sex with the first random man she meets. Instead she finds sympathy in a group of prostitutes who exchange war stories about love and men. For all their sexual experience they don't seem to have a better grasp on relationships, and an instant sisterhood bridges their social divide.

The third is a modern sex farce about a beautiful UN translator who has become so jaded about men that she has idolized her platonic relationship with a gay roommate. Meanwhile she reads poetry in the nude and invites two playboy dignitaries to her bed while she shows them slides of modernist paintings. the handsome men humor her bizarre quirks while trying to get the other to leave, a testament to men putting up with any amount of femcrazy to get laid.

The fourth character is the dull housewife who feels she must compete with the unrealistic fantasy woman of her husband's novels. She begins to embody the outlandish descriptions, wearing wigs and costumes, laughing and singing and being so impetuous that everyone begins to think she is having a mental breakdown. This is the first episode that feels like a real story arc, moving from awkward comedy to a heartbreaking moment as she realizes she has gone too far, crying out "I'm not crazy , I'm just in love!"

The fifth vignette is my favorite. MacLaine plays a society bitch who is mortified to discover a rival will be wearing the same gown to the opera. The stakes escalate as their powerful husbands get involved, then their husbands' corporations as the two Dames flex their power, neither willing to budge. MacLaine is spectacular shifting gears between barking orders at her husband's employees, giving condescending lectures to the maid, looking absolutely fabulous, while plotting violent sabotage. It's lavish and campy and evil. So much fun!

The next episode clunks. MacLaine and Alan Arkin are lovers trying to negotiate a suicide pact but keep coming up with excuses to not go through with it. The dialog feels improv, and it all takes place in realtime in one room, like a one-act play or a TV skit. It's a case where the vignette before it is so lavish and fun this scene drags in comparison.

In the final piece, a shy housewife and a glamorous model friend meet for lunch and they are followed by a young man. As they separate the shy woman is thrilled the man follows her instead of her friend. She wanders home slowly hoping to make the moment last. The tone is innocent and bittersweet (but also a little creepy by today's standards of harassment and stalking - there is a twist at the end that lets us know he will not come back later, break into her house, and murder them all).

What's remarkable with Woman Times Seven is individual moments that stick with you long after the movie has gone. It never gels together as a whole, but I feel that's a problem with all vignette films. There are some interesting situations and characters who probably are not compelling enough for a whole movie, and maybe that's the idea. Most of these women are having small personal moments that define them. It's individual portraits done in a charming way, with a big talent Hollywood actress but with European flavor. We get to follow some pre-feminist characters we would not normally be allowed to see. They are fallible, self-contradictory, and immature.

While there are observations about the different sexual expectations of men and women, it's dismissive to say this is a movie about "adultery" or sexual romps, as if it is another slice of '60s Euro-erotica. Instead of cheesecake, many of the women are portrayed unflatteringly or for laughs. The viewer sees through the illusion they do not see themselves, and there-in lies the opportunity to say dozens of small truths through comedy: it *is* crazy to try to become someone's fantasy. The shyest person could crave dangerous attention. Love is NOT worth dying over, but also death is not the end of love....
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Congo Maisie (1940)
Maisie Revier in the Jungle!
3 January 2014
If you are a fan of the Maisie films you may be surprised (as I was) that this is only the second in the series (out of ten). It's so over the top it feels like the series has "jumped the shark" and the brassy showgirl from Brooklyn finds herself in Africa in an isolated medical camp surrounded by restless natives.

In all her films Maisie gets into hilarious situations, but the best scenes are when her suffering stage acts go horribly wrong just before she gets fired.... In Congo Maisie however the "disaster" stage act comes at the climax when she must out voodoo a native witch doctor with hokey illusions from her nightclub act - and of course this means she has to present her entire show including singing St Louis Woman to the accompaniment of native drums while wearing a showgirl costume. This is mere minutes after assisting in emergency surgery, meanwhile clearing up the relationships of everyone around her.... It's all for laughs at a manic screwball pace. Southern moves briskly from scene to scene holding the energy. By the time she starts doing her nightclub act in the jungle I was in love.

All the Maisie movies are charmers, and as the series progressed Maisie joins the war, works in an airplane factory, goes out west and discovers a hidden goldmine.... Maisie is practically a prototype of Scooby-Doo-esque iconic American adventures, borrowing liberally from trendy plot lines appropriate for a B comedy. They are all feather light and Ann Southern puts so much heart and sweetness into her character, It's wonderful to see same Maisie story progression, her fighting and falling in love with her leading man again and again - even though we know it won't be the same guy next time, poor Maisie!

But Congo Maisie is the one that really stands out as the most outrageous and off the hook. It breaks from the apple pie formula into stylized farce, and pokes fun at so many movie tropes of the day that it stands out from the rest of the series as a funny parody of many films, from Harlow's Red Dust to Ann Harding's Prestige, all painted with broad strokes and with snappy dialog.
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Heavy Metal (1981)
15 October 2011
Juvenile, mind-numbingly bland, and clichéd vignettes move from instant gratuitous sex to instant gratuitous war, numerous droning speeches about War & Destiny from people you don't care about, mediocre animation that relies too much on rotoscoping, tinny b-list radio play soundtrack, and a nonsense story arc that is meant to hold it all together.... This is getting a 3/10. It's that bad.

HEAVY METAL is one of those films that fans love because of what it represents, rather than what it actually accomplishes on its own. Although the source material may have been groundbreaking, the vignettes here are either boring or incoherent. The magazine was a collection of serialized "adult comics" and the film attempts to show a range of those stories each realized with different animation teams based on artwork from the publication, but the film never pulls together as a whole and is actually weaker than its individual parts.

Two of the sequences rise above their genres. "Den" is a sarcastic take of barbarian/fantasy genre with its musclebound hero literally having the mind of an 18yo nerd, an evil queen who interrupts a battle to have sex with the hero, and a sneering gay-ish villain who seems ready for the whole thing to be over. But the sequence never gets the chance to LOL as a genre-challenging satire. The animation is appalling (Thundar the Barbarian TV-show looks better!) and contrasts badly with the final sequence "Taarna" which takes its Fantasy pretensions seriously.

In the Sci-fi story "So Beautiful, So Dangerous" a scientist reporting to the Pentagon on the impossibility of extra-terrestrial life turns out to be a robot planted by aliens. When he malfunctions and is retrieved via vacuum tube to a giant spaceship that looks like a kawaii-style smiley face, a sexy Jewish "New Yawker" secretary (reporter?) is accidentally sucked aboard as well. Beautiful/Dangerous is the best-looking and least dated of the entire film - and the gratuitous sex is the least irksome, although there's still plenty to cringe at.

The lone Horror-genre piece "B-17" written by Dan O'Bannon (ALIEN) stands out as the most memorable sequence, told almost entirely through action and in real time. The story would feel at home in EERIE or similar pulp comic from the '50s, and really is an oddity in this film. It completely ignores the Loc-Nar story and is the better for it. I've read it was not an actual story from the magazine.

Another odd-ball is "Captain Sternn" where the life of a rogue is examined in a court trial that gets interrupted by mayhem. The character animation here is refreshingly stylized rather than rotoscoped, and the plot also dismisses the Loc-Nar arc.

The opening credit sequence "Soft Landing" shows an astronaut sitting in a vintage Corvette. The animation is processed with hand-painted Xerox frames but would have felt dated even by 1981 in the age where MTV was exhausting alternative animation methods. Like most of the film, "Soft Landing" is a one-punch joke that you are stuck with for too long.

"Harry Canyan" is a clichéd effort at a noir double-cross set in future New York City where cab drivers are the baddest dudes you will ever meet. There's a girl with an artifact. There's a gangster. There's a deathray in the back of the cab for unruly passengers. It's low-grade writing, although it's amusing to contrast this sequence with THE FIFTH ELEMENT where similar cab driver/hero clichés are done with a wink and nod.

The peak sequence "Taarna" is handsomely animated but slow and pretentious. The plot is so ridiculously unimaginative - belonging to the Fantasy sub-genre: Naked woman in a Temple with a Sword - that I could devote an entire review pulling it apart. Meanwhile the filmmakers are convinced that what they are showing is SO amazing that they cannot cut away or edit for narrative pacing. Long rotoscoped sequences and long speeches, the title character putting on her skimpy leather straps for a really long time, people you couldn't possibly have any investment in are slaughtered (probably because it takes Taarna so long to get dressed) - all with monumental self-importance.

The only worse sequence is the recurring story arc that is meant to hold the film together "Grimaldi" where the green orb Loc-Nar must convince a little girl how EVIL it is, apparently by talking her to death.

If you see this, be sure to also see ROCK&RULE and WIZARDS. They got it right.
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Fun B-movie with a ton of recognizable mature stars!
28 April 2009
This is a light-weight film with a stellar cast of mature actors that rise above it's so-so script simply because the actors are so sturdy. No doubt their experience adds depth to characters who would otherwise have none and plays a huge part of making this a winner, even though no one goes far out of their way to steal a scene or play over the top. It's really great to see so many "old ladies" working together in the same film, without the backstabbing or bitchiness in THE WOMEN. Sure they fall into "types": the busy-body, the old maid, the grand dame..., but everyone hits their mark and says their lines with little fuss and the film just flies. Charles Coburn is a wonderful foil as the curmudgeon sea captain who suddenly finds himself at the center of attention in an old ladies home and the butt of jokes by the old men in town. Most of the comedy plays around him being cantankerous because he can't smoke or cuss or drink like a man should -- and the ladies being both fascinated and repulsed by his manly failures. It drips with sentimentality and there are no bad guys here, just a lot of "aww shucks" kind of men who bumble their way through a world controlled by women hoping to be loved and accepted for all their faults.
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Smart Blonde (1937)
Glenda Farrell as a fast talking sleuth reporter
7 November 2007
Glenda Farrell originates the role of Torchy Blain, a fast-talking wise-cracking reporter who will do anything for a scoop, including using her amiable lieutenant boyfriend to sneak into crime scenes, steal clues from the police, and even bully suspects into making false statements to find the real culprit. Farrell has a filmography a mile long, usually playing a second-fiddle gold diggers and hard-luck girls, so it's nice to see this forgotten actress take the lead in a role that is smart and funny. Lasting only an hour, SMART BLONDE is one of those "B" movies that was shown before the main feature, so don't expect deep characters or an intricate mystery, but Farrell tears through the script at lightning speed, trading quips and unraveling a murder cover-up. Barton MacLane as her lieutenant boyfriend McBride is a sturdy and likable foil -- for once the cops aren't entirely stupid. Despite some shamefully racist moments, the Torchy Blane series of films are overall very satisfying and fun. They should be remembered in the same pre-war vein as HIS GIRL Friday, where a woman could be every bit as smart and career-driven as a man. Oddly enough, Farrell played an identical character in the horror classic MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933) but lost top billing to Fay Wray.
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Rosalie (1937)
Eleanor Powell in uniform!
29 June 2007
Fans of Eleanor Powell will wonder how she detoured into this Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy overblown costume piece -- and in the role of Jeanette MacDonald no less! Whereas delicate Jeanette would have floated through this pageant with an air of fluttering dignity, pants-wearing Ellie delivers too much punch for a princess. She barks most of her lines and unfortunately comes off as a bitch. A more delicate actress would have softened the barrage of "womanly" insults laid on Nelson Eddy and we would know this meant she was smitten. But with the confidant and athletic Powell delivering the insults you really start to wonder if wooden Eddy is a masochist or just extremely submissive. It's an electric energy that cost Powell her spotlight, and didn't fit with MGM's idea of what a feminine leading lady should be.

Those who are fascinated by Ellie's unusual (at least on film) gender-play will be thrilled to see her "go all the way" and dress as a man to sneak into a military academy where she leads the cadets in a marching drill in front of a phallic war memorial. While Powell is hardly mannish (and here with Jeanette's wardrobe and make-up budget she never looked prettier) the production plays with her "masculinity" and dresses her in all extremes of buttoned-downed marching band jackets and crisp uniforms, interspersed with overly feminine gowns with frou-frou puffy sleeves and Jeanette's corkscrew curls. It's an inconsistent and mostly unsuccessful gender dichotomy -- especially when compared to her smart wardrobe play and winning charisma in the Broadway Melody films.

Her tap numbers are too few and too short -- a Pieroette "ballet" on giant drums is an weird jumble of inconsistent imagery, and a brief scene with Ray Bolger makes you wish they'd shared a competitive dance of lightning legwork rather than the time-wasting dialog in the script. Other supporting players are also underused: as the Queen Edna May Oliver appears briefly in a tiered nightgown that exaggerates her Olive Oil frame, and Frank Morgan does his best to keep the banter rolling as a befuddled monarch with a ventriloquist dummy, but there isn't enough comedy here to entertain. A sudden accidental revolution in the tiny Balkan monarchy has potential, but is dropped just as quickly. Even the production numbers are too short, following the pattern of the other MacDonald/Eddy films where actual choreography and musical style are ignored for lots and lots of extras arranged in expensive costumes and plenty of operetta bombast from Eddy.

Other than seeing Eleanor Powell in one of her few starring roles this is a forgettable film that shows no one to advantage, except possibly MGM's costume department. I can see how this was originally a vehicle for Marion Davies because the sets are jaw-droppingly huge.
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38 isn't old and she isn't a virgin, but doris Day is very funny
6 May 2007
That Touch of Mink seems like such formula star vehicle fluff that it's a surprise the original script by Stanley Shapiro and Nate Monaster almost won the Academy Award (it did win the Golden Globe)! The mildly amusing dilemma "will she or won't she", which has Doris Day breaking out in hives and hallucinating that everyone can see her in bed with Cary Grant, is easily overshadowed by the antics of the supporting cast.

Audry Meadows takes a break from the Honeymooners as Day's protective conscience who dispenses advice along with lunch through the tiny windows at the Automat, and Gig Young shines as Grant's employee and confidant who worships the industrialist but openly hopes someday he will get his comeuppance.

It's actually never said that Day is inexperienced. The joke of her being the "world's oldest virgin" is a sexist slur. The real trophy at stake isn't her virtue but her value. Easily won is easily discarded — it takes a woman of experience to know how men think, and to hold out for what she really wants. Far from being a prudish throwback in an age of carefree swingers, Day forges her own brand of lipstick feminism: the right to wear skirts and high heels and still insist that men respect you in the morning, no matter what your age or experience.

Plenty have criticized Day's comeback career as an outdated fantasy with its aging star and wrinkled morality, but it probably plays better now than it did in the pseudo-liberated '70s. Nearly half a century has passed since this film debuted and women still earn less, are still judged by their femininity, and still struggle with society's double-standards on sex and marriage — Day's comedies are perhaps more resonant now after the collapse of equality. Women now want to be respected on their own terms, not for adopting the cavalier morality of bachelors.

What works for this Cinderella fairytale is its satire of the age, poking fun not just at stunted feminism but also at eligible industrialists who welcome womanly advice and donate huge sums of money to help unmarried mothers. Plenty of laughs are at the expense of a Freudian psychologist who is perplexed when he mistakes Young's obsession with Grant for romantic attraction. Day admits she has an uncle who is a socialist, and even UNIVAC is spewing pastel colored punch cards after one of her emotional piques.

The whole courtship takes place in a matter of days, as if modern romance can be plucked as easily as a sandwich from the Automat.... If it's not exactly fresh, That Touch of Mink is something akin to refrigerated left-overs: comfort food in a microwave age for women old enough to measure and know their own worth.

Recommend Shapiro and Monaster's How to save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life (1968) as a similar romantic comedy of the sexes.
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Sparkles like the jewel in the Sultan's turban
5 May 2007
Big colorful sets and fantasy costumes are featured in this hokey update to Alladin's Lamp that never takes itself seriously. Evelyn Keyes is adorable as the genie that no one but handsome Cornel Wilde can see, but he has eyes only for Adele Jergens as the blonde princess. Sidekick Phil Silvers has his eyes on every jewel in the palace. Of course there's a scheming Vizir and a Sultan switcharoo. A thief masquerades as a prince, and just about every other Arabian Nights cliché is given some sort of send up.

Most of the comedy involves one of the secondary characters turning to the camera and saying something modern while the leads play it straight. Subplots (and villains) are invented then abruptly dropped, and cultural awareness seems unknown in 1940s Hollywood. If this sort of thing makes you cringe you will hate this film, but if you like pretty musical comedy in gorgeous Technicolor there's a lot here to like! The Princess is carried in a royal blue litter that matches her dress, and her bed is draped in sumptuous curtains the same color as her lilac gown. Harem girls flutter in pastels, and the brightly colored see-thru veils they use to cover their faces is merrily naive. Set pieces are few and far between but fabulous, and every other scene seems to take place on an ornate balcony. An authentic looking dance is a welcome distraction, and Silvers and Wilde share a bar sing-along about women (one for romance, the other against) that is campy fun.

By the end it feels over-sweet like you've swallowed too much cake icing, but it moves along quickly and there's a happy ending for everyone even the genie. This film is in the same vein as Marlene Dietrich's version of KISMET (1944), which I highly recommend for its pastel harems and anachronistic Baghdad that never was.
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Ziegfeld Girl (1941)
Should be called 2 Mealtickets and a Drunk!
8 April 2007
Lana Turner, Judy Garland, and Hedy Lamarr star in this showgirl exploitation flick that tries to cash in on the glamor and drama of The Great Ziegfeld (it actually recycles footage from that film's dazzling musical numbers), but ends up a chintzy lurid and poorly-written propaganda piece about what happens to women who dare to abandon their paternalistic yoke and enter showbiz.

The whole plot (or should we just call it the moral) is spelled out 20 minutes into the film in an opening night speech: "…You're Ziegfeld Girls… Some of you will end up with your name in lights (close up on Judy Garland). Some of you will end up with a husband and kids (close up on Hedy Lamarr). And some of you are going to end up…, well, not so good…. But don't blame it on the Follies…" Some pep talk!

Despite an all star cast, the film fails to find much glamor. The costumes by Adrian are stolen from a highschool pageant with fake birds, butterflies, and stars sticking out in all directions with wires, and an uninspired montage of showgirls on stair-parts evokes nothing of Ziegfeld's creatively evolving stages.

But Lana Turner as golddigging Sheila has a few campy moments climbing into a bubble bath wearing her jewelry, and spends the whole movie drinking herself to the bottom. She gets slapped by a gangster in a speakeasy while anachronistically wearing a private eye disguise. If she'd been a little older Turner might have played it over the top and we'd have a hilarious gem like The Dolly Sisters. Anyway, she is exquisitely pretty and plays the material straight, but the script is unfair to say the least so it's hard to walk away enjoying her performance.

Hedy Lamarr is decorative and not much else, but that's what you expect from a showgirl. She supports her deadbeat musician husband who promptly dumps her as thanks. 17 year old Judy Garland plays her usual starry-eyed kid with the big voice. She gets one good number Minnie from Trinidad with choreography by Busby Berkely, but otherwise stays virginal and financially supports her overbearing bombastic father — sort of a vaudeville era Hillary Duff. Eve Arden shows up from time to time as a wisecracking Eve Arden-type, and Tony Martin is handsome but nearly invisible as the Follies' crooner.

Florenz Ziegfeld certainly didn't have to go out "discovering" pretty girls since they lined up for an opportunity on his casting couch, but in this film Ziegfeld doesn't even appear. Instead he's represented by the sexually ambiguous Edward Everette Horton, who comes off as a creepy pimp with lines like "Mr Ziegfeld is only interested in your daughter!", and suddenly dragging a confused Lamarr up to his boss's office with "Mr Ziegfeld is waiting for YOU!".

Ignore this schmaltz and watch the real Ziegfeld in Glamorizing the American Girl instead.
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For Ziegfeld research it's a must!
7 April 2007
For Ziegfeld research it's a must, and you get to see many of Ziegfeld's stars perform, but the sound is poor and there isn't a whole lot of conflict to drive the plot....

As a woman, it's nice to hear Mary Eaton speak frankly to her boyfriend (a dreamy Edward Crandall) about wanting to live a little and see what she can do before settling down and raising children. He's hurt, but not petulant or insulting (like every boyfriend/husband in ZIEGFELD GIRL and THE DOLLY SISTERS). He does wait for her and seems genuinely supportive of her success, before eventually settling for girl-next-door Gloria Shea -- who actually is treated pretty badly by the film, abandoned and hit by a car! Eaton discovers her boyfriend's moved on just as she goes out for the finale in the Follies, and you see the emotions hit her as she struggles under the weight of an enormous headpiece that cascades around her like a fountain.... OK, so it's not exactly heartbreak, but at least she doesn't die of alcohol poisoning or get slapped around like in the exploitational ZIEGFELD GIRL.

The production numbers are tame by Hollywood standards, and we wait the whole film to finally see one of Flo's evolving stage contraptions. Most of the numbers are arranged in tableau including a gorgeous "painting" of a mermaid being pulled from the sea in a fisherman's net as the Pope and neoclassical figures stand by. Tableaux don't make interesting cinema, but I was happy to see some man flesh in these scenes too as nearly nude males (like Johnny Weissmuller here) were apparently excised from the later interpretations of Ziggy's stagework -- ironic since Ziegfeld had his first success displaying the muscular Sandow, so you know he wasn't shy about it.

Eddie Cantor has an overly long vaudeville scene as a Jewish tailor, but is actually funnier in a brief exchange with a haughty showgirl, Rudy Vallee might have been a somebody back then but he sure doesn't show it here. Helen Morgan sings her signature torch song from atop a piano (a schtick she invented by necessity as she was too short to be seen in many music halls). She is excellent in the film APPLAUSE which also came out in 1929 where she played an aging showgirl trying to keep her daughter out of theater life, but unfortunately her performance here suffers from the antique recording.

Ted Shawn is the imaginative choreographer who arranges the dancers as exotic animals, graceful swans, and nouveau beauties clutching glass globes. Shawn would create the Jacob's Pillow dance festival and was instrumental in forming a uniquely American branch of Modern Dance.

There's a lot of history here, and the opening montage is almost Fritz Lang-esquire, but I wouldn't try to show the whole film to any of my friends. The film quality is terribly uneaven, suggesting inconsistent filmstock. Silent footage from a premier was spliced in so we can get a glimpse of Ziegfeld and Billie Burke, as well as other Broadway dignitaries of the age. It's a tragedy the technicolor scenes are lost (at least, not a part of the Alpha Video release). All-in-all it's not a bad film, the pre-code heroine isn't "punished" for having career ambitions but she experiences some bumps and bruises along the way (by her selfish mother and an unscrupulous manager). She loses the cute guy but he comes to congratulate her when she stars in the show and that seems like a fair compromise; much better than the plots that would slap down any woman who dared to have her own goals in later films.
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This movie isn't about some foam robot, it's about Patricia Neal!
31 March 2007
Warning: Spoilers
30 years before Steven Spielberg made E.T., Patricia Neal originated the archetype of a single mother who discovers her son is spending too much time with an alien. "Sci-fi Mom" can be found in the retro animated Iron Giant, and also in Spielberg's classic masterpiece Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What's the pattern here? Are fatherless boys more likely to attract aliens because they look for a father in every stranger…? Perhaps over mothering has left the boys gullible and needy, susceptible to the influence of dominating spacemen…. Maybe it's just because if left unsupervised, boys will get into all kinds of trouble…. Ugh, what's a single mom to do! Although an undisputed classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still is extremely dated. It was made in the paranoid Eisenhower-era of wise old scientists and panic-stricken people, when a messianic alien named Klaatu lands in Washington DC (the center of the universe in 1951) with his robot enforcer Gort. Klaatu (née Mr. Carpenter, née Jesus the Christ) delivers a message of universal peace — OR ELSE! He explains that the worlds he represents haven't so much solved their differences as made violence illegal, enforced by a race of Gorts who will immediately destroy any aggressor. His peace message is actually a warning: Kill each other all you want here on Earth, but if your wars spread to other worlds the Gorts will get you.

The script is at times either naive or ridiculous: although parked in the nation's capital, the flying saucer is guarded by only two solders and a wooden fence. The Gort which had previously melted a tank with his eye-ray is shellacked in a plastic cube which doesn't hold him. A meeting of benign and selfless scientists is called to disseminate the alien message, but a trigger-happy military shoots unarmed Klaatu not only once but twice, finally killing him so Klaatu can be resurrected to more convincingly deliver his doomsday ultimatum. Earth will be judged by a higher authority….

The reason this early '50s artifact is still praised is that it is barely sci-fi at all. Instead the film plays as a taught espionage thriller with long wordless sequences where Billy follows Klaatu to the spaceship, and later when Helen watches Gort bring Klaatu back to life. Solid directing by Robert Wise, noir-ish lighting and camera-work, and an ethereal theremin soundtrack by Bernhard Herrmann add gravity to what otherwise would have been a laughable display of alien power. When the Earth stands still, the result of selectively interrupting electricity for 30 minutes at noon (a noon that is apparently happening all around the Earth simultaneously as Moscow is frozen in midday as well…), we see a montage of soda fountain malts that can't be served, cows that can't be machine-milked, and unsuccessful phone calls to complain about the power outage. Ohh, the horrors….

There are really only three sci-fi elements in the film but they are all good: Gort whose stoic silence and deathray make him cool despite being puffy foam and mitten-handed, the seamless flying saucer that dramatically splits down the center to open, and the saucer's interior: a sophisticated executive office of louvered glass and mood-lighting that encloses the ubiquitous Lucite™ control panels in an uncluttered rotunda.

But the real attraction is Patricia Neal as the single mother with hard choices and few options. Six years after WW2 how many war widows were in the same position, living at a boarding house and supporting a family on their own? She works in an office, but with the return of solders women were expected to get married and give up their jobs to the men. Her personal life is subjected to gossip from the elder boarders whom she must rely on to help care for her son. She has an opportunistic fiancé who wants to get married quickly to boost his options for a raise….

In a story that combines menacing robots with Old Testament retribution, and pits evangelical scientists against a suspicious shoot-first military, it's ironic that Sci-fi Mom is the only compelling character. This underestimated woman who helps an alien escape, witnesses his resurrection, and confronts Gort is completely under the authorities radar, and she is free to simply walk away after cradling the wounded and dying Klaatu.

Patricia Neal assumed the film would be forgotten, just another in a string of trashy flying saucer films of the day, but her performance raises it to an unexpected drama. The script is simplistic anti-war propaganda, but she alway seems to be playing several emotional levels at once, navigating her own suspicions while carefully speaking only in polite protocol. She's even convincing as a mother. She is moral, strong, and intelligent in a genre that often dismissed women as hysterical decor.
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funny and surprising Pygmalion performance
7 February 2007
Something I'm learning about early DeMille films, he LIKED women. He was willing to flatter his actresses and record bold yet true emotions from them into his camera. His stories are equally bold, but not as true. The plots are farces, bedroom plays of cheating husbands and scheming wives which rely on coincidence to further the plot, and ultimately climaxing with his star in a stunning costume as she manipulates the men with sex appeal.

The Clinging Vine is a twist on that old plot, suggesting women would be superior in the office as well as the home. Enter Leatrice Joy as A. B. who is practically running the company, but has given up her femininity. Introduced only with initials, and seated at a desk of whirring office activity, we accept A. B. as a man. Helped by a dashing haircut and tailored business suit Leatrice Joy is the image of a young hero. Dedicated, hardworking, and ready to be the victim of female manipulation.

Much ballyhoo was made of Joy's daring haircut at the time. Hollywood rags dished on how DeMille was angry she could no longer play leads, and titillating stories about Joy passing for a man and flirting with young women.... This was mid-1920s. Flapper styles were slim and boyish, many had bobbed their hair. Women were adopting the modern look, and voting and working. Hollywood ballyhoo aside, Leatrice Joy just took it to the next level.

Once DeMille establishes that A.B. is an office woman, he lingers on Leatrice Joy as she acts very convincingly as a man. There is a sort of titillation here as she runs the office efficiently, even writing on her sleeve. She is not just mannish, she is a man's man, a go-getter, a brash young hero beating men at their own terms.

Yet it is clear she has no romantic life at all. She is even awkward when a secretary announces her engagement, sadly returning to her office alone. It's not that she's de-sexed, just de-personalized. She has not adopted the clothing of men, she has adopted the clothing of the office. As strong as the transgender theme is visually, it is not a part of the script. A.B. is always treated sympathetically as a woman, just an overly-efficient office woman.

It's hard to suppress our modern post-gender sensibilities, and clearly Joy has created such a convincing, even attractive masculine image that it is confusing when no one in the film reads A.B. as a man, but the film is a light comedy full of topsy-turvy characters. At one point the company execs (a bumbling, hen-pecked patriarchy) are afraid they may lose A.B. and begin scheming to marry her to keep her in the firm! One protests that A.B. would put a timeclock in the bathroom and their socks in a filing cabinet. The "bad" is that she is undomestic, rather than being too masculine, since in this world the men don't seem to be very useful. Clearly though, DeMille and Joy are presenting a polemic image of dualities, first a studied and convincing young man, then a fluttering and exaggerated female.

The boss's wife (Toby Claude as a jazz-age Grandma) steps in as fairy godmother and transforms A.B. into Abigale a "clinging vine" who is decorative and flirtatious. Sensing Abigale has no experience with love, Grandma hooks her up with her grandson Jimmie, whom A.B. has recently fired from the company. Abigale's Pygmalion transformation is so complete that no one recognizes her. Most of the comedy derives from Abigale's clumsy and mannered femininity, in exaggerated puffy gowns and over-sized bonnets.

To modern feminists The Clinging Vine seems like a nightmarish scenario: giving up a career to coddle a simpering man-child -- worse she invests her life savings in his hair-brained invention, but DeMille is not a woman-hater. He takes every opportunity to make A.B. sympathetic, while making Abigale ridiculous. It's true she gives up her career for marriage to an inferior man -- one she even fired, and learns to pacify men by pretending to be stupid..., but it is no different when she affirms her boss's ego allowing him take credit for her work. In DeMille's world women are superior (if unthanked) in the bedroom and the boardroom. When encountering a glass ceiling they learn to switch tactics. This could be interpreted as the goal of a lazy patriarchy, to be pampered and aroused by over-talented submissive women.

The patriarchy falls apart all together however when you look at Grandma. Here this dichotomy of young and old, who slides down banisters and dances to jazz music in her underwear, embodies the ultimate power-wielding matriarch. Knowing her grandson isn't gifted with business sense she marries him off to the company's top whiz. Grandma secures her own bloodline as well as her company's future with an injection of female brains, and by the end of the film Abigale has doubled her wealth using Jimmie as a financial puppet armed with her new powers of sexual manipulation.

The moral isn't pre-feminist, it's actually reverse sexist! Love takes care of the rest.
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Davies socks it to Gable
1 February 2007
Since Clark Gable became famous for punching women in films (notably Barbara Stanwyck in Night Nurse), it is worthy to note that Marion Davies gives HIM the black eye! Cain and Mabel has a cute premise: a boxer and an actress get together for the sake of publicity but secretly despise each other! Unfortunately there isn't much spark here. Davies is serviceable in the reluctant golddigger role with platinum hair and impossibly blue eyes that seem to have no iris at all, but she doesn't seem particularly committed. Gable also phones it in as a one-note brute -- almost a parody of his many other roles. The subplot that they'd both rather stay home and eat pork chops than act out their romance for the audiences, seems a little too real. This is one of those films that pairs up two huge stars in a mediocre script, hoping sparks will fly with arguments and overturned ice buckets, but mostly it fizzles.

The one stunning exception comes in the third reel when Davies performs in the finale of her Broadway show. It is a jaw-dropping tableau of romantic imagery in huge puffy sleeves and fluffy white feathers. From Louis XVI wigs, to Venice canals, to flying angels, to a choir arranged to look like a pipe organ. Curving staircases, ornate bridges, miles of drapery, and a princess double-cone hat with cascading tulle..., and it just keeps coming. Thematically it steals -- I mean, pays homage to half-a-dozen depression era musicals like "Shall We Dance", and even borrows the violin song from "Gold Diggers of 1933". At the center of it all Davies struggles to keep a relaxed smile, like a bride statuette on a wedding cake so ornately decorated with white icing there is no room left for the groom!

Without this scene I would have only given the movie a 4, but this sequence is EVERYTHING YOU WATCH SILVER-AGE MUSICALS FOR! I have to bump it up to an 8 as a "must see" in musical history.
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Sadko (1953)
Iconic adventure fantasy
8 December 2006
Sadko (not Sinbad, ugh) is a hunk of a poet with a harp. He's got two girls in love with him: one is a nice village girl with a weird pigeon habit, and the other is the Princess of the Sea.... Clearly the thing to do is get out of town quick, so Sadko trades 3 goldfish for 3 boats (they were magic goldfish) and sets sail to find the Bird of Happiness. Along with a small army are Uncle Klepto, Big John, and Timmy the brash young mascot of the group -- these are not their actual names but they might as well be. The heroes are so cliché they're almost iconic.

Sadko and Co. spend the rest of the movie traveling to exotic places and getting into trouble with the locals. They battle Vikings, and play chess with the King of India. They bet a laughing horse for the Bird of Happiness and discover her true nature is not what they thought. They fight and are heroic, and on the return trip a storm threatens to sink the ships, so Sadko goes to the bottom of the sea to soothe an argument between King Neptune and his wife by entertaining them with his harp. Although the Princess loves Sadko she knows he prefers the pigeon girl. She helps him get home again on a speedy seahorse.

This is a very nice looking film. The story is fantastical without being too familiar. There is plenty of Russian flavor to make it semi-exotic to American tastes, and the Russian folk dancing is amazing. The special fx are charming and obvious, like stage tricks. When Sadko lifts a magic fish the light rays emitting from it are actually hundreds of metal wires sticking out of the fish! Most of the exotic locations are drawings, but the India sequence is full of elephants and dancing girls and over the top temples. The Bird of Paradise is satisfyingly surreal in a way that just wouldn't happen now with CGI. The final act in Neptune's Kingdom is a campy delight.

I rate it 8 out of 10. I'd originally seen the Sinbad version and I had to turn the sound down. It was that bad, and obvious the visuals were from a better movie. I'm glad I saw the restored Russian version because the visuals are much clearer and the original soundtrack is pleasant with strong music and the deep serious voices of the men. The story also made a lot more sense. Highly recommend! Would love to see more of this kind of film.
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Mid-Century Moderne as sci-fi
24 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Forbidden Planet rates as landmark in science fiction, carefully staying within "hard" aspects of the genre (science -- not fantasy, ergo nerds will love it) while still playing with imagery and ideas of contemporary 1950s values. Morbius's isolated house is a model of modern design with open spaces that step out into sculpted gardens, a swimming pool, and the ultimate home appliance: Robby the Robot. "A housewife's dream!" exclaims the Captain after lunch and a demonstration of the robot's abilities to synthesize food and disintegrate waste.

Also revealing to the 1950s: Fruedian psychology rears its head in the Id explanation, although Morbius dismisses it as an outdated concept. There is a touch of the Pacific war drama in the battle with the invisible monster and life aboard the saucer. Perhaps most timely is the post-atomic fear that Science is the enemy, and arrogant scientists will unwittingly bring down destruction in their blind quest for knowledge.

Yet the suburban drama presented by Forbidden Planet seems uniquely fresh in the sci-fi genre. They aren't swashbucklers or heroes, but ordinary sailors crossing the galaxy with a serviceman's crudeness and honesty. The good guys drive the flying saucer, and the aliens are so long gone we don't even know what they looked like -- although their music er-"atmospheric tonalities" by Bebe and Louis Barron are remarkably futuristic today. The views from Morbius' house are truly alien with jagged cliffs and pink bonsais. The interior of the saucer is just this side of Buck Rogers. There's a lot visually to like. Although we get fantastic monsters and robots for the kiddies, Forbidden Planet is a cerebral movie, slow paced and talky. It is working on many levels at once: hard sci-fi against space adventure, philosophical against domestic.

There are many suburban touches. In spite of all their space-talk, the soldiers are dressed for the golf course. Morbius' fatal discovery is a humble educational facility, a schoolhouse. The most interesting character is Morbius' daughter Altaira. Having never seen a man she is unashamedly forward to the crew. She's a post-Madonna teen who designs her own space-age clothes and takes every opportunity to change outfits -- imagine Christina Aguilera with a household replicator. Men watching the film might see her as a naive girl in a minidress, but every woman knows there is no such thing as a naive girl in a minidress. Anne Francis deserves better recognition for humiliating the Leut with kisses. Alas we'll never know if she was "working" him as he suspects, since the Captain interrupts and becomes a more interesting target for her attention. She is the character who makes the important change in the film. Shocked that her father compares the dead Doc to the other "embeciles" in his landing party, she turns away from her father, her home, to leave with the sailors for Earth. It's this act of defiance, of maturity, that sends Morbius' Id creature over the edge, allegorically destroying its creator just as it did thousands of centuries earlier to the Krell.

Maybe the Krell had teenage daughters too...?
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Star Maidens (1976– )
I want to live on Medusa!!!
5 October 2006
If you're a fan of THUNDERBIRDS or SPACE:1999 then you might be curious about this obscure TV show made shortly after the Andersons' divorced. Although she is uncredited, the hand of Sylvia Anderson is all over this ambitious but mostly haphazard production: Gogo- booted guards in day-glow crash helmets, delicious sets and props that have more in common with a Pucci gown than technology, romantic innuendos and social situations too advanced for a space-rocket adventure.... Star Maidens isn't just a campy role-reversal. It explores what happens when worlds collide, and the ripple effect each has on the other's culture, albeit played out in a silly melodrama with a handful of characters shot on as low- budget as possible.... Adam escapes Medusa thinking Earth will be a male-dominant paradise. Instead he finds earthlings attempting to balance the roles of men and women, and Adam realizes what he wants: Equality. Meanwhile, hostage Liz Becker basks in her predicament as a closet-subservient to fellow prisoner Rudi Schmidt, but she must pretend to be his master as the planet Medusa offers her every opportunity except admitting her need for a man. Perhaps most complex is Fulvia who uses her political status to shield a taboo relationship with her domestic servant, which she condescendingly dismisses as the love of a pet until they become curious about the ways of Earth. Can Fulvia and Adam find common ground before their relationship creates an interplanetary conflict? Clearly there is more here than ray guns and space battles, but in 30-minute episodes nothing gets very deep and the directing is so clumsy from episode to episode that the show is barely pinned together like the Medusans' elaborate hairstyles! Scenes are awkward, characters inconsistent, and plot-holes abound, but a groovy future lounge soundtrack keeps things rolling along and each episode is only a half hour. Feminists attempt to seize power on Earth with stolen Medusa weapons, Fulvia and Adam roleplay a trial suburban marriage, while Liz and Rudi unravel the ecological collapse of planet Medusa. Where is all this going? Is it satire or space opera? Who cares! Sit back and indulge in this strange artifact from a time when the sexual revolution threatened to go too far.

All 13 episodes are available from AmazonUK on 2 region-free dvds.
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Score (1974)
campy 70's porn with non-stop groovy dialog
21 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Being a woman, it's hard to find erotic entertainment that doesn't insult my gender or rely on the simple tastes of men (sorry guys, you know it's true). It's also very hard to find erotica where women come out on top, much less their needs even acknowledged. While het-porn is happy to explore girl-on-girl as long as she ends up with a dude at the end, god forbid there's guy-on-guy action for the rest of us to watch. Happily, Metzger is the exception: always presenting strong beautiful women, and adding style and substance along with the erotic bits. And in "Score" he evens the score (pardon the pun) by including vulnerable males, bisexuality, and more.

If you're reading this you're probably already a Radley Metzger fan or fell in love with his glossy erotic dramas like "Camille 2000" or "Carmen, Baby" and are looking for similar, but "Score" marks a turning point in Metzger's career from romantic tragedies to a full-on nudie comedy. It's still obviously a Metzger film, set in some unspecified Euro rental, with attractive people and another groovalicious soundtrack, but in "Score" the budget seems to have plummeted. Little or no time is wasted on rehearsing the actors, or dressing the sets with Metzger's signature mod furniture. The overall feeling is chintzy compared to his earlier efforts. The actors spend as much time naked as clothed -- it's not as explicit as today's porn, but it's clear that Metzger has abandoned his high concept orgies and classic 19th-century novels for full frontal nudity and frank sex talk.

But I'm not knocking "Score", it is a sparkling example of campy 70's porn. Compared with the icy "Camille 2000" or the pretentious "Lickerish Quartet", "Score" is a tongue-in-cheek party film! I watched it with my favorite gay and we howled with laughter-- more often WITH it than AT it. The hokey dialog is deliberate, and the conversations so over the top it almost lampoons adult movies. I've fantasized more than once about turning the script into an off-off-Broadway play....

THE PLOT: A married couple (Elvira and Jack) scoff at middle class morality, but she's become bored with the kind of easy swingers who've answered their ads in sex magazines. Seeking a challenge Elvira invites unsuspecting vanilla newlyweds over for dinner, drugs, and seduction (not necessarily in that order). As the young couple proves hard to crack due to a smorgasbord of immature sexual disorders, Jack bets that he can score before she does. Think "Lickerish Quartet" meets "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" with the script from "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" and you start to get the idea. It's extremely campy, and refreshingly unrepentant.

The sex is only simulated, but kinky and fetishistic, and it does not embarrass by being overly graphic or banal. The actors are reflected in sheets of mylar and other psychedelic touches (although Metzger has done better), and the editing inter-cuts between men's and women's bodies mirroring at times their positions and movements. There is a lot of nudity but it is never clinical. Metzger gets creative in the men's sex scenes: an undone belt is grasped as if it were an erection, and other phallus-shaped objects stand in for oral (including an amyl nitrate cartridge -- ooh, it's SO decedent!). Metzger attempts to keep even the straightest guys aroused during the guy- on-guy action with lots of abstract tension and no scary erect penises, meanwhile the women play complex top/bottom roles exchanging rapid fire dialog that draws you into their psychological games.

If you have friends who consider themselves the decedent type who might throw on a porno for laughs, try sneaking this one on them as a campy swingers movie and see who you can turn bi. Or make it into a drinking game (everytime they take a drink or smoke a joint in the movie, you do too! har har.) I give it 7 out of 10 stars: although the production is sad compared to earlier Metzger films, the result is a Trojan horse of a too clever script disguised as a trash-fest. "Score" makes you laugh and holds your attention, delving gleefully into taboos, drugs, and nudity that no "legit" movie could touch.
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