Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In the Bleak Midwinter (a.k.a., A Midwinter's Tale) (1995).

Note: With this post, we'll be taking a short holiday break. See you in the new year!

The Scoop:
A sort of upper-crust version of "The Full Monty," this hilarious (though sometimes aggressively quirky) little film follows the travails a group of oddball actors who try to mount a Christmastime production of "Hamlet." It is, of course, a colossally ill-thought out idea because, really, who wants to be that depressed on Christmas? But, as written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, it makes for a great, intimate film and a touching tribute to the struggles and idiosyncrasies of community theaters, whether in Britain or the U.S.

The cast of British theater veterans seems to be having great fun in this back-to-basics production by the usually over-elaborate Branagh. It's easy to see Branagh's attraction to this material, considering the many parallels between his life and the character of the director in the film. In fact, Branagh used this as the warm up for his wonderful uncut film version of "Hamlet."

Best Line:
"Is this whole production going to be based on innuendo?"

Side Note:
Costars Michael Maloney, Richard Briers and Nicholas Farrell all went on to star in Branagh's "Hamlet," but in different roles than their characters play in this movie's production of the play.

Companion Viewing:
"The Full Monty" (1997) and "Hamlet" (1996).

Venice Film Festival press conference transcript.

Take a Look:
The opening monologue:

The auditions:

Opening night:

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Black Room (1935).

The Scoop:
Gather your torches and pitchforks! It's time to storm the castle!

This Columbia production does a good job of capturing vaguely old Eastern European milieu of the classic Universal horrors of the same period in this story aristocratic twin brothers battling an ancient family curse.

"The Black Room" stars an old Universal hand, Boris Karloff, who is at his best playing the twins -- diabolical Gregor and saintly, crippled Anton. We start with a brief prologue, in which the family castle's ancient torture chamber is walled off to prevent the fulfillment of a prophecy of the family's ruin -- namely that the younger twin will kill the older. Flash forward a few decades and Gregor, who has inherited the family's baronage, invites Anton, who has been living abroad for year, back home. Anton discovers that the villagers all hate Gregor since he's essentially a serial killer who has been abducting the young women of the village, raping them, then killing them in "the black room," for which he has discovered a secret entrance. From there, we get the obligatory double-crosses, twin role switching and eventual triumph of good over evil that we expect. And of course, the prophecy comes true in the most ironic way possible.

The plot is pretty predictable and formulaic. This was obviously an attempt by Columbia to steal some of Universal's thunder, and the trite screenplay by Arthur Strawn and Henry Myers, shows this. But "The Black Room" is worth watching, though, not just for Karloff's typically fine acting, but also for the direction of Roy William Neill and the cinematography of Allen G. Siegler. Together, they create a rich Gothic atmosphere, with plenty of oddball touches.

Especially fascinating is how heavily Catholicized this film is. Huge crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary abound, given prominence in many establishing shots. Even the many chases between the village and the castle (through landscape that, anachronistically, is straight out of an early Western) pass several Catholic icons.

It's an odd mix, but it works. Thanks to the efforts of Neill, Siegler and Karloff, the film rises above the banality of the genre programmers it was meant to join.

Best Bit:
The dog objects!

Side Note:
Two different dogs were used to play Anton's loyal hound -- one male and one female. The difference is obvious on screen, sometimes even from shot to shot.

Companion Viewing:
"The Black Cat" (1934).


Take a Listen:
No clips right now (curse you, Internet!) but be sure to enjoy this little tidbit of dialogue.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Wizard of Oz (1925).

The Scoop:
It is best to check your expectations at the door with this silent screen adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novel. It is a very different creature than the classic Judy Garland version.

What it is, mainly, is a vanity project for popular silent film comedian Larry Semon. Not only did he star in the film as the Scarecrow, but he also directed and co-wrote (along with L. Frank Baum Jr. and Leon Lee). The result strays pretty far from both the novel and the 1939 film. There are no witches, no yellow brick road, no Muchkins, and no Toto. What plot is left is minimal -- Dorothy, who was born the princess of Oz and sent to Kansas as an infant (for reasons that are never adequately explained), is whisked off to her homeland with some friends (who merely dress up in the familiar parts of the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion) and reclaims her throne with only token opposition.

The rest of the film's running time is filled, essentially, with Semon's ego, rendered in the form of seemingly endless, unfunny pratfall sequences and long, loving close-ups of Dorothy (played by his wife, Dorothy Dwan). The physical comedy is, frankly, a product of its time and, as such, does not hold up well today. It is well performed, particularly by Semon and the young, up-and-coming Oliver Hardy (as the Tin Woodsman), but isn't very inventive. Especially when compared to the work of Semon's contemporaries, Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin.

And then there's the Cowardly Lion, played as a mincing charicature by African-American actor Spencer Bell, who is also given the unfortunate screen name of G. Howe Black.

It is sad to say, but an evening watching this movie is just not time well spent.

Best Line:
"In spring, the young man's fancy turns to -- lollipops."

Side Note:
The androgynous Phantom of the Basket is played by Frederick Ko Vert, a well-known drag performer of the time. He had a handful of similar film roles throughout the 1920s, and also designed the costumes for "The Wizard of Oz."

Companion Viewing:
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939).


Take a Look:
An abridged version of the first half of the film:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Anniversary Week, Part 2: Easter Eggs.

It was two years ago today that the Desuko Movie Spot was born. I'm happy that I've met my goal of keeping it going at least this long, and I hope it will be around even longer. I want to thank all of you who have been loyal readers, whether you've been here since day one, or you arrived just recently. And I especially want to thank those of you who have taken the time to leave comments; it's always fun to start a good film discussion, and I hope you lurkers will feel free to join in, too.

By way of celebration, I want to look back a little bit and flesh out some of what has come before. I guess you can consider this post an Easter egg or a collection of DVD bonus features. I like to include as many video clips as possible in my reviews, but by not being to extract and post clips on my own (for the time being), I've been relying on the vagaries of YouTube and other video sites -- some of which has been less than stellar. So, some of the reviews have either had no video content, or very little of significance. But in the time since they've been posted, some clips have turned up online, so here they are, along with links to the original reviews, to give you a fuller sample of each film.

The ending of "The Naked City" (1948):

Here is "The Day the Sky Exploded" (1958) in its entirety:

From "Targets" (1968) comes this kinda spoiler-y TV spot:

...and Boris Karloff spinning a classic scary tale:

This clip from "The Addiction" (1995) proves that white chicks are nothin' but trouble:

A TV spot for "The Gong Show Movie" (1980):

...and Phil Hartman's cameo from the same film:

The full version of D.W. Griffith's "Intolerance" (1916):

The trailer for "Ghost Story" (1980):

More "Ghost Story." (Boo!):

A trailer for "Alice Through the Looking Glass" (1998):

The trailer for "Norma Jean and Marilyn" (1996):

The whipping scene from "Queen Kelly" (1929):

The trailer for "Werewolf of London" (1935):

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Anniversary Week, Part 1: The Movie Index.

This Friday marks the two-year anniversary of Desuko Movie Spot! I'll be posting a proper commemorative post then, but today is about giving you a road map to where we've been in the past two years. While the post tags are helpful in browsing the older reviews, there hasn't been a comprehensive index of every film covered here -- until now. These 166 films represent 93 years of movie history, from 1915 to 2008. I'll try to update this every year around anniversary time to make it easier to find what you're looking for. Happy browsing!

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957).
1941 (1979).
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953).

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
Ace in the Hole (a.k.a., The Big Carnival) (1951).
The Addiction (1995).
Airport '77 (1977).
Alice Through the Looking Glass (1998).
The Amazing Colossal Man (1957).
Angels and Insects (1995).
Any Given Sunday (1999).

The Bat (1959).
Batman: The Movie (1966).
The Beach Girls and the Monster (1966).
The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961).
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970).
The Big T.N.T. Show (1966).
The Black Scorpion (1957).
The Blob (1958).
Blood of Dracula (1957).
Blue in the Face (1995).
B. Monkey (1998).
The Body Snatcher (1945).
Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues (a.k.a., The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II) (1985).
Bowery at Midnight (1942).
Bowling for Columbine (2002).
Braindead (a.k.a., Dead Alive) (1992).
The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962).
A Bridge Too Far (1977).
The Busher (1919).

Carnival of Souls (1962).
Cars (2006).
A Christmas Story (1983).
The Clash Live: Revolution Rock (2008).
The Cocaine Fiends (a.k.a., The Pace That Kills) (1935).
The Commies are Coming, The Commies are Coming (1962).
The Continental Twist (a.k.a., Twist All Night) (1961).
Cop Land (1997).
The Creeping Terror (1964).
The Crowd (1928).

Dante's Inferno (2007).
The Day of the Locust (1975).
The Day the Sky Exploded (1958).
Dead Men Walk (1943).
Don't Knock the Rock (1956).
Don't Knock the Twist (1962).
The Doom Generation (1995).
Dracula (1931).
Dracula (Spanish Version) (1931).
Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965).
Driller Killer (1979).
Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999).
Duck Soup (1933).

El Mundo de los Vampiros (1961).
Eraserhead (1977).

The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967).
F For Fake (1974).
First Man Into Space (1959).
First Spaceship on Venus (1960).
A Fool There Was (1915).
Forgotten Silver (1995).
Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971).
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943).
Freaks (1932).

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942).
Ghost Story (1980).
The Giant Gila Monster (1959).
Gimme Shelter (1970).
The Girls on the Beach (1965).
The Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973).
The Gong Show Movie (1980).
The Gorgon (1964).
Greed (1924).

Hamlet (1996).
Headin' Home (1920).
He Knows You're Alone (1980).
Helter Skelter (1976).
Hercules (1958).
Hey, Let's Twist! (1962).
High School Confidential (1958).
The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929).
Horror Hotel (a.k.a., The City of the Dead) (1960).
Horrors of the Black Museum (1959).

Instrument (1998).
In the Company of Men (1997).
Intolerance (1916).
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
I Was a Male War Bride (1949).

Lady Frankenstein (1971).
La Jetée (1962).
Last Days of Planet Earth (1974).
Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (1974).
Let's Rock (1958).
The Lively Set (1964).
Lobster Man From Mars (1987).
Logan's Run (1976).
Love is News (1937).
Love Object (2003).

The Man Who Turned to Stone (1957).
The Mask (1961).
The Monster of Camp Sunshine (1964).
Monster on the Campus (1958).
Moulin Rouge! (2001).
Murder By Death (1976).
The Mysterious Doctor (1943).

The Naked City (1948).
Norma Jean and Marilyn (1996).

The Old Dark House (1932).
Orgy of the Dead (1965).
Outrage (1950).

Pecker (1998).
The Phantom Planet (1961).
Pi (1998).
Pretty Poison (1968).
Psycho (1960).
Psycho (1998).
Psych-Out (1968).
The Puma Man (1980).

Queen Kelly (1929).
Queen of Outer Space (1958).

Return of the LIving Dead 3 (1993).
Rio Bravo (1959).
Rocketship X-M (1950).
Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979).
Rock! Rock! Rock! (1956).
Rollerball (1975).
Rush Hour (1998).

Safe at Home! (1962).
The Scarlet Empress (1934).
The Scarlet Letter (1926).
The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988).
Shadow of the Vampire (2000).
Slacker Uprising (2008).
Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity (1987).
Sleep With Me (1994).
The Snow Devils (1967).
Something Wild (1986).
The Song Remains the Same (1976).
Soylent Green (1973).
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (2004).
Stargate (1994).
Star Trek: Generations (1994).
Summer of Sam (1999).
Surf Party (1963).
Surf's Up (2007).

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974).
Targets (1968).
The Ten Commandments (1923).
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994).
Thank God It's Friday (1978).
T.N.T. Jackson (1975).
Topaz (1969).
Twist Around the Clock (1961).
Two Girls and a Guy (1997).

The Undying Monster (1942).
The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006).

The Valley of Gwangi (1969).
Volcano (1997).

The Walking Dead (1936).
Werewolf of London (1935).
When We Were Kings (1996).
William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999).
Wizards (1977).
Woodstock (1970).

Zombies of Mora Tau (1957).
Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952).

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957).

The Scoop:
This is yet another crappy Bert I. Gordon special effects spectacular about oversized terrors.

The colossal man in question of army officer Glenn Manning (Glenn Lanagan), who accidentally gets caught in a nuclear explosion, which causes him to become 65 feet tall and surly. He loses his mind and goes on a rampage through downtown Las Vegas, only to be killed in a fall from the Hoover Dam. Or so it seems, because he eventually returns for a sequel, "The War of the Colossal Beast."

This film is respected in some circles, but don't believe them. It's only good for a laugh.

Best Line:
"How many sins must a man commit in a single lifetime?"

Side Note:
Contrary to the scientific explanation given for Manning's growth, the human heart is actually made up of millions of cells, not just one.

Companion Viewing:
"The War of the Colossal Beast" (1958).

1,000 Misspent Hours.

Take a Look:
The scientists try to inject Glenn with a giant hypodermic needle. Watch the hilarity (and bad FX) ensue:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Love is News (1937).

The Scoop:
The screwball comedy featuring the fast-talking reporter and the madcap heiress was a genre that was done to the death in the 1930s, and unfortunately "Love is News" was one of the murder suspects.

Maybe I'm being a little too hard on this movie, since its heart seems to be in the right place, and it does have its amusing moments. In fact, it's mostly charming. But there are also a lot of bland screwball clichés on parade, as well as a needlessly convoluted plot.

The story, in a nutshell, involves a cynical, amoral newspaper man (Tyrone Power) who scams his way into an exclusive interview with a celebrity heiress (Loretta Young), who in turn gets back at him by starting a media frenzy by saying they are engaged. This upends the reporter's life and he must tangle with his cantankerous editor (Don Ameche), the heiress' ex-fiancé (George Sanders) and a whole host of cloying stock characters to set the record straight, before true love finally wins out in the end.

"Love is News" was not the best screwball comedy produced in the era, but it was also far from being the worst. Power and Young have a good chemistry on screen, but they were no Hepburn/Tracy or Grant/Russell. This film had the potential to be a whole lot better, but just wasn't. In all, it's a good light entertainment, but not the place you want to start in exploring the screwball comedy genre.

Best Bit:
Either the booze checkers game, or the George Sanders photo flipbook.

Side Note:
Director Tay Garnett must have gotten on famously with Young. This was the first of three films they made together, and he also later directed several episodes of her TV show.

Companion Viewing:
"His Girl Friday" (1941), "Woman of the Year" (1942) and "Bringing Up Baby" (1938).

Laura's Miscellaneous Musings.

Take a Look:
The bickering lovebirds square off against the cranky country judge (Slim Summerville):