“What are we looking for? A man with a twisted mind. It could be anybody.”

Losey needs to sue Edgar Wright:

Opening music sounds like a variation on “when you wish upon a star,” then the movie proceeds to introduce and murder little Elsie, who bears the same name and receives the same balloon which drifts evocatively into the same power lines as the Fritz Lang original. Killer David Wayne has a less distinctive voice than Peter Lorre, and plays a tin flute, and the movie has a less distinctive, shadowy and angular look than the original. I thought the movie would have more of a reason to exist, maybe some anti-McCarthyism sentiment beneath the surface, but it’s really just an English version of the Lang movie, with a few changes.

You can just see the “M” reflected in the Chiclets mirror:

I’m not against the changes, either. I always felt the original was a little over-long in the second half. This one tightens it up, and expands the role of the man chosen to defend the killer after the criminals abduct him from his shopping-center hideout. Langley is a lawyer who became a hopeless drunk and now works for crime boss Charlie (the movie never considered that crime bosses might prefer a sober, competent lawyer). In the parking garage he’s given the task of defending Wayne so the riled-up crowd won’t dispatch the killer before the cops show, but Langley rises to the occasion and turns on his boss, who shoots Langley in front of the just-arriving police force, who cart away both the murderers together. In exchange for the lawyer additions, the movie cuts details of the beggar organization from the original, which was always one of my favorite parts.

David Wayne and prey, trapped in a mannequin shop:

Losey and actor Howard Da Silva (chief inspector on the case) would soon be on the hollywood blacklist. I assume Larry Cohen was responding to this when he cast Da Silva as the President in his Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover. D.P. Ernest Laszlo had just shot D.O.A., would later handle Kiss Me Deadly (with director Robert Aldrich, who assisted on this picture) and While The City Sleeps for M originator Fritz Lang.

I liked the blind balloon vendor. John Miljan had appeared in Buster Keaton movies (not the good ones) in the early 30’s.

Lawyer Langley (below right) was Luther Adler of D.O.A. and House of Strangers, and his boss (below center) was Martin Gabel of The Thief the following year. The prolific David Wayne played one of the millionaires in How to Marry a Millionaire, and I described him as “sort of an annoying Donald O’Connor” in Adam’s Rib. Generally in musical comedy roles, I have no idea how he ended up as a desperate serial child killer.

Careful phrasing in the media about the murdered children: “the kids were neither violated nor outraged.”

Netflix Streaming has got a bunch more movies I would never pay to rent, but which I might watch for free if I was sick or something. I’m sick today, so here goes.

Prince of Persia (2010, Mike Newell)
I see ropes and swords and Lord of the Rings fire-sculptures, and holy crap is that Ben Kingsley?? Donnie Darko has a fake british accent, and he just let his girlfriend fall into the pit of hell before unleashing a crazy amount of ‘splosions and triggering a muted montage of flashback snippets. Then Donnie, who long ago became less cool than his big sister Maggie Darko, discovers that the movie was just a dream he saw in the handle of his magic dagger. All I remember from the video game is that your little man had a more human-like gait than was usual for video games, and it was incredibly hard to avoid falling into pits. As I type this, Donnie is telling a beardy fellow to “listen to your heart.” So it’s safe to say the movie isn’t much like the game, except when the girl fell into that pit.

The Men Who Stare At Goats (2009, Grant Heslov)
“Larry’s dead,” are the first words I hear… guess I won’t be seeing Kevin Spacey. Still holding out hope for Stephen Root, though. Oh wait, there’s Spacey now, wtf. Directed by an actor who played “guy in big suit” in Bug. There’s an LSD prank then all the army base’s goats and prisoners are set free. I’m not detecting much comedy in this comedy, so I guess it got dark and turned into a drama halfway through. Jeff Bridges and George Clooney escape in a chopper, Ewan provides poignant, anti-corporate-media voiceover, and it ends on a dud of a joke. Glad I didn’t sit through the rest of this.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009, Niels Oplev)
A pierced punk rock girl (a “rebellious computer hacker” according to the Netflix description) talking with her mama seems sad. Later, some blond woman is talking about being raped by her dad, cue spazzy flashback with bland music. Punk girl visits hospitalized boyfriend, drops off secret financial records, he writes an article causing a mogul to commit suicide, and punk girl steals a lot of money and escapes to a tropical paradise. Whole thing seems anticlimactic and unengaging. But I guess if The Da Vinci Code can be a huge success, so can this. Still, at least Da Vinci had a big ending (the codex is shattered! Amelie is Jesus’s daughter!) to justify all the dreary exposition. This one wasn’t even exciting enough for me to check out the last ten minutes of the sequels.

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009, Nishimura & Tomomatsu)
Dubbing!! The fakest CGI ever. Oh, this is one of those direct-to-video Japanese teen movies full of awful music where everyone wears school uniforms. It’s not even as good as Tokyo Gore Police (they share a director). “When you gave me that chocolate, I had no idea how you really felt about me” should not be one of the final lines of a movie with this title. Oh, and Vampire Girl decisively wins.

Factotum (2005, Bent Hamer)
Hooray, Lili Taylor! Long takes + poorly furnished rooms = gritty realism. Poor Charlie Bukowski is having money issues and lady issues. Matt Dillon gets life advice from “Old Black Man” (according to the credits) in the unemployment office, finally gets one of his stories published. I don’t find Dillon’s poetic voiceover very compelling. From the dude who made Kitchen Stories.

Ondine (2009, Neil Jordan)
She is telling fisherman Colin Farrell that she’s not a magical water creature, but just a girl who almost drowned while escaping from something or other. Uh oh, some fellows with pistols and strong accents. What is happening? Colin and the girl live, are getting married at the end. Jordan made a bunch of movies that always look somewhat intriguing but not quite essential.

The Day The Earth Stopped (2008, C. Thomas Howell)
If you start watching a movie ten minutes before the closing credits, the hero and villain are always in the middle of some revelatory exposition scene. All movies are the same. Should you really entrust the remake rights of The Day The Earth Stood Still to one of the teen actors from Red Dawn? Earth starts shaking (I’d hardly say it is standing still) and sepia-toned CGI versions of major world monuments (and a ferris wheel) are falling rapidly towards the camera. I was excited that Judd Nelson is in this, but I’d gotten him confused with Judge Reinhold – who is Judd Nelson? There is yelling and guns and terrible camerawork, then something really stupid happens and I guess the aliens don’t destroy Earth. Shame.

2012 (2009, Roland Emmerich)
Here’s a movie that isn’t afraid to let the world end, or to cast Oliver Platt! I don’t see world monuments crumbling, just a big Titanicky iceberg adventure (Roland must’ve had some ice left over from The Day After Tomorrow) with people yelling and swimming through tunnels to close or open portals and machinery. Oh, surviving mankind lives on arks now, and Africa turns out to be the future, or the home of the our civilization or something.

Salt (2010, Phillip Noyce)
Another movie with a third-billed Chiwetel Ejiofor, and more awful camerawork – only this time it’s awful in a big-budget extreme-cutting sense, not the give-an-idiot-a-camera awfulness of The Day The Earth Stopped. Ooh, the president is down. A. Jolie, handcuffed in FBI custody, still manages to kill Liev Schreiber, whoever he is. The backstory exposition comes a couple minutes late in this movie, then noble Chiwetel lets Jolie escape to kill again. From the writer of Equilibrium (and Ultraviolet, yuck) and director of Rabbit Proof Fence (and Sliver).

Red Dragon (2002, Brett Ratner)
Emily Watson is in a super intense burning-house scene, then a big fake explosion knocks down Ed Norton. This movie marked the end of my needing to see everything Norton was in (Keeping the Faith and The Score had already lowered expectations). Ed’s in the William Petersen role (WP’s on a cop show now). After he and Raiff Fiennes shoot each other to death, we see ol’ Hopkins (in the Brian Cox role) writing letters, and oh Ed isn’t dead actually, and it ends with a cheese-headed transition into an early scene from Silence of the Lambs. Doesn’t look bad, really, but as with all Ratner movies it is not to be taken seriously.

The Addiction (1995)

A black and white (but mostly black) arthouse vampire movie. Being a big fan of talky French cinema and a moderate fan of avant-garde, non-narrative films, I always hesitate to use the word “pretentious,” but it kind of seemed pretentious. Maybe I’m just afraid of philosophy, and since the lead character is getting her PhD in philosophy, there was lots of Sartre and Heidegger and the like.

With Edie Falco, who I didn’t recognize with long hair:

It’s full of great ideas, though, and maybe it’s because I was weak and sick while watching, but I found it moving by the end. College student Lili Taylor (in that brief period between Short Cuts and I Shot Andy Warhol when she seemed like a movie star) is bitten in an alley then left alone. She get no underground vampire dance clubs or Lost Boys camraderie – she has to figure it out on her own. Clever metaphors to STD’s and drug use abound (she steals blood from homeless dudes using a syringe, ugh) along with the pondering about the nature of being. She does briefly (oh! too briefly) get a mentor in the form of Christopher Walken, second-billed for his three minutes of screen time.

With the teacher she’s about the seduce and then bite:

Lili graually infects classmates and professors, then holds a graduation party that turns into a bloodfeast. I think she dies from taking sacrament soon after, but she’s in the hospital all torn up so maybe she was dying anyway. Movie was “presented” by hip-hop/comedy producer Russell Simmons for some reason and written by Nicholas St. John, who wrote most of Ferrara’s previous movies but not Bad Lieutenant, his previous killer combo of horror and catholicism.

With some girl she just bit:


Body Snatchers (1993)

Watched this on a whim since it was on netflix streaming, not expecting much from Ferrara’s studio horror remake (the movie he forgot about when criticizing Werner Herzog for remaking Bad Lieutenant), but it was great – excellently creepy and so stylishly shot – one of the few times throwing a big-budget thriller remake at an artistic filmmaker has paid off (sorry, The Departed). Paid off for me anyway – if IMDB is to be believed, it was a royal bomb in theaters. In competition at Cannes though, beaten unfairly by The Piano (and fairly by Farewell My Concubine). Third of four Body Snatchers movies. I knew about the Kevin McCarthy and the Nicole Kidman, but not about the one with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy.

All Things Horror points out: “Sure, it’s not perfect. There’s a bit of annoying narration that seems completely unnecessary, some unfortunate blue screen, a goofy big explosion-filled ending,” all valid points. I’d like to add that the scene where suspicious doctor Forest Whitaker is driven to suicide by approaching aliens was pretty over the top, and if I didn’t already know Whitaker is a great actor, I would not have guessed it from this scene.

Awesome move setting the story on an army base, a location where everybody is trained to act like a pod person anyhow. R. Lee Ermey is looking good with his little mustache as the local general. Young Marti (Gabrielle Anwar of Flying Virus and iMurders) reluctantly moves onto the base with her boring dad (he’s so boring) Terry Kinney (founding member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater), evil stepmother Meg Tilly (Psycho II) and observant little stepbrother. Marti immediately stars hanging out with a couple bad influences: hot, emotionless chopper pilot Tim (Billy Wirth of The Lost Boys) and general’s daughter Jen (Christine Elise of Child’s Play 2). Once the snatching starts, Tim’s post-traumatic stress disorder proves extremely useful in blending in with the aliens. Particularly creepy was the wide-mouthed pointing scream the baddies used as an alarm once the base had been mostly snatched.

Soon after that starts, Marti’s dad goes in search of help. And suddenly Guy Pearce is on an airplane? Then some Lebanese guys welcome Don Cheadle to Toronto?? Oh man, netflix has started playing the movie Traitor instead, probably to make a funny movie-snatchers joke. It’s hilarious, but I had to go rent a proper DVD of Body Snatchers and watch the last half hour a few nights later.

Writing assistance by both Stuart Gordon and Larry Cohen – along with Ferrara that’s an entire unholy trinity of 80’s cult filmmakers. No wonder I liked it.

Welcome to a special SHOCKtober edition of The Last Ten Minutes, in which I find horror movies on Netflix streaming which I may have actually been tempted to watch (because I am stupid and will watch any trash some days), and remove that temptation by seeing how they end.

Howling VII: New Moon Rising (1995, Clive Turner)
A made-for-TV inspector is clumsily explaining the entire movie to priest John with copious flashback scenes. Ted (played by the director, who was also a producer on Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace) is a longhair biker rebel suspected of killing all the townsfolk, but the inspector is saying it wasn’t Ted. Later, a girl named Cheryl is even more clumsily explaining to Ted that she’s the werewolf. Does the whole movie consist of long explanations by terrible actors? Oh no, here’s a heinous morphing effect, then the townsfolk shoot the Cheryl-wolf to bits, and a county band plays us out, first apologizing to Ted that the whole town thought he was a werewolf. The music was the best part, all extended guitar solos, doing its own thing in a way reminiscent of Rollergator. This is the last Howling movie to date, though I’m sure they’ll remake the original any day now, since they’ve already done Pirahna.

Ghost Ship (2002, Steve Beck)
Cool music. First words I heard: “Murphy’s dead.” Shit, Murphy was Gabriel Byrne, and he’s the only reason I’m watching this – not for Julianna Margulies, beach-blonde Ron “Deep Impact” Eldard or a possessed-by-evil Desmond Harrington. Yay, blondie shoots the evil guy… but evil cannot be killed with a shotgun, as proven by a dodgy computer morph. Boat explodes, Julianna escapes, but a metal song indicates the evil is still alive. Director Steve Beck (13 Ghosts remake) went on to make… nothing. Good.

Day of the Dead Remake (2008, Steve Miner)
A room full of attractive young people led by Mena Suvari (Stuck) are in a bunker. Wow, the zombies can dodge bullets in this one. “He’s smarter than the others.” Oops, Nick Cannon got eaten. Makeup budget must have been low because whenever they show zombies, the camera goes all freakity flop. A zombie shot a zombie, and the kids rig a giant flamethrower that infernoes the whole place except for their little room. Whatever, looks bad all over. From the director of House and Lake Placid and the writer of Final Destination.

Shrooms (2007, Paddy Breathnach)
Lindsey Haun, I suppose, prowls a spooky house with an axe. Now they’re in a forest. I know from the netflix description that they all took killer shrooms so maybe nothing that is happening is really happening. Ah indeed, in the hospital Haun realizes that she was the killer all along. She took shrooms and killed all her friends! Haute twist.

Machine Girl (2008, Noboru Iguchi)
Hoo, some silly-ass special effects. Serious-looking schoolgirl Ami with machine-gun arm and her friend Miki with chainsaw foot kill yakuzas in the woods. Ami is badly bloodied by ninja lady with steel drill bra, then bisects the heads of the baddies. Naturally from the writer/director of RoboGeisha.

American Psycho 2 (2002, Morgan Freeman)
Netflix say: “Patrick Bateman is dead, but his evil legacy continues with Rachael Newman, the only victim who managed to escape Bateman’s grasp. Rachael will get rid of anyone who threatens her chances of becoming teaching assistant to the infamous Dr. Daniels.” Hmm, Mila Kunis is telling William Shatner (via answering machine) that she loves him. In flashback, she steals some girl’s identity and talks to herself all the time. I think this is supposed to be a comedy. I wonder if Bret Easton Ellis got paid for this. She kills herself in a car… or does she!!… followed by a news montage, then the infamous Daniels (dude from a couple vampire TV series) giving a lecture and she shows up. Looks stupid, but it might’ve been less stupid if it hadn’t pretended to be an American Psycho sequel. Freeman is sadly not the great sad-voiced actor but some nobody with the same name, and the writers of this movie fortunately never worked again.

The Signal (2007, Bruckner/Bush/Gentry)
Bad guy is beating up good guy. IMDB calls it “A horror film told in three parts, from three perspectives,” so I guess this is the last ten minutes of the third perspective. Everyone’s face is awfully bloody. Bad guy, with a voice like Patton Oswalt’s, is having an argument with his wife-in-a-coma, then both guys have identity crises and Patton punches through one of many TVs showing “the signal,” electrocuting himself to death. Then I think there’s a fake epilogue but I don’t get it. I thought this one would actually be cool (I dig the premise) but the ending looks somewhat worse than Ghost Ship.

Subspecies (1991, Ted Nicolaou)
Two girls (the Demi Moore one and the Catatonic Blonde) break free from prison but oops, Catatonic Blonde is a vampire. The evil vampire (Radu?) is a terrible ham, and what’s with his fake plastic fingers? Ooh, a shotgun-toting vampire hunter and a quick spot of stop-motion. Your standard swordfight ensues, along with a falling chandelier and some beheadings and everyone’s a vampire in the end. I think the bad guy has been in some Lars Von Trier movies, and I’m not sure who the vampire hunter was but he looked like a wannabe-Toulon. I also checked out the first couple minutes because I ain’t watching Subspecies without seeing Angus Scrimm in a Ludwig Von wig. Looks better than most of the Puppet Master movies, if that’s saying anything.

Subspecies 2: Your Sister is a Vampire (1993, Ted Nicolaou)
Michelle “daughter of Kirk” Shatner has come to fetch another girl from the castle. An old man sloooowly tries to stab a vampire, and his lack of haste is repaid by getting stabbed by a puppet. Evil vampire Radu is alive again and hammier than ever, until he’s stabbed repeatedly by the imprisoned girl amongst some sub-Evil Dead (sub-Subspecies, for that matter) puppet creatures. The original looked grudgingly watchable, but obviously sequels yield diminishing returns. Nicolaou, who helmed the ridiculous TerrorVision, would make two more Subspecies sequels then Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, all for the sinister Charles Band and his Full Moon Pictures.

The Astro-Zombies (1968, Ted V. Mikels)
Ted V. Mikels is maybe the only filmmaker I’ve ever met, but the only movie of his I’d seen was on Mystery Science Theater. Yay, John Carradine! He and crony William Bagdad (The Black Sheik in Head) are working on astro-zombie (read: dudes staggering around wearing rubber skull masks) brain transplants when Tura Satana and some actor from Agent for H.A.R.M. interrupt. The sound, lighting and editing are uproariously bad. Oh, I learned that bullets cannot stop a machete-wielding astro-zombie. Some people in suits tell us the moral of the story, and all was quiet for thirty-four years until Mikels and Satana made a sequel.

Now that I’ve seen some exciting, excellent/horrible Argento movies from his peak period (Suspiria, Inferno) and some depressing, horrible/horrible movies from his more recent period (Giallo, Pelts), it’s safe to say I never need to watch these three all the way through (although I’m still undecided on Mother of Tears), so here’s The Last Ten Minutes of them:

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005, Dario Argento)
First thing I see is a black-gloved hand. First thing I hear is an unconvincingly delivered line. It’s an Argento movie, all right. Looks like I’ve stumbled into a crap remake of Rear Window. Police chase the black-gloved girl onto the rooftop, where she falls, hanging Vertigo-style from the gutter while the crippled Giulio (Elio Germano of musical Nine) watches across the alley. But a minute later everyone is friends? So there was no killer? Down on the street a shopping cart lady puts on a wig. Huh? Anyway, months later, Giulio watches a hot nude girl across the alley and enters a confusing flashback montage. One of the girls was Elisabetta Rocchetti, who later appeared in something called Last House in the Woods (oh Italian movie industry, how you amuse me).

The Card Player (2004, Dario Argento)
“I’m sorry, I had to kill him,” says a dude with a cellphone (and disappointingly, no long mustache to twirl) who has tied a girl to the train tracks. He cranks up a CD of funky electro music and lies on the tracks with her playing cards on his laptop, while she taunts him instead of smashing the computer into his face like it seems like she should do. He gets run over by a train, and she shoots out his car stereo, mercifully stopping the electro music. Someone in the movie was Liam Cunningham of Wind That Shakes The Barley – hopefully not the card-playing killer, because that guy was terrible.

Phantom of the Opera (1998, Dario Argento)
Oh no, it’s a period piece. Asia Argento is pretty convincing as an opera star until a sewer troll interrupts the performance and handsome Julian Sands (Warlock himself – the description says he’d not physically disfigured in this one, but was “raised by telepathic rats”) sweeps Asia away. It is very dark, and a man with a funny mustache stumbles upon an enclave of dead bodies. Long-haired hero Andrea di Stefano (star of a Marco Bellocchio movie) shoots Julian and escapes the bloodthirsty search party (wasn’t he part of the search party), as Asia screams in horror (she’s good at that sort of thing). This looks a ton better than the last two movies, though it has the lowest rating. Maybe that’s from people thinking they were getting the Joel Schumacher version. The rat-squealing sound effects over the finale got my birds very excited.

First Snow (2006, Mark Fergus)
This dude Vince says he still considers Guy Pearce his best friend, but says that Guy has fucked up and pulls out a gun. Vince goes off with a long, tortured speech then tries to kill them both but only manages himself. Guy Pearce is sad, flashes back to a pretty girl in a cowboy hat as it starts to snow. The writers/director worked on Children of Men and Iron Man, so I suppose this should’ve been good. Didn’t look awful, but I’m not saying I wanna see 90 more minutes of it.

Noise (2007, Henry Bean)
Tim Robbins’ car is making a ton of noise and William Hurt is angry, then he makes it stop, then start again, then he has some kind of noise-epiphany as judge Chuck Cooper smashes his car with a golf club. A Baldwin tackles the judge, who is arrested under suspicious of being Tim Robbins’ anti-noise vigilante. A way unrealistic court scene follows, in which Tim helps Chuck win in order to set precedent that noise can be considered assault and battery. High on his success, Tim considers joining a pimply militant in blowing up city eyesores but chooses not to. He smashes cars Michael Jackson-style as the credits roll. Overall the movie looks pretty fun, if kinda silly. From the writer of Basic Instinct 2.

Lakeview Terrace (2008, Neil LaBute)
Controversially interracial couple Patrick “Little Children” Wilson and Kerry “Last King of Scotland” Washington come home to a mess of a house, then dude goes out back to thank Samuel L. Jackson for helping him for a break-in. But Jackson knows that Wilson knows that Jackson knew the guys who broke in, and now Jackson’s on the attack. Much punching and many gunshots ensue. I wish Samuel L. had the integrity I always imagine he had. Ugh, his character name is Abel. Cops shoot Sam a bunch, the couple turns out semi-okay and family values are protected. Besides rogue cop Abel, the rest of the LAPD force is portrayed as remarkably restrained and competent. Follow-up to The Wicker Man by Neil LaBute’s doppelganger – the one who killed the real Neil and replaced him in 2000, halfway through production of Nurse Betty.

Obsessed (2009, Steve Shill)
Beyonce catches Ali Lartner (Resident Evil 3) in bed surrounded by rose petals, presumable waiting for Idris “Stringer Bell” Elba. Girlfight ensues! So which one of these girls is “obsessed”? I think it’s Lartner, who plays it weirdly affectless. Generic thriller music, fight scene, camerawork and everything. Lartner is killed by a falling chandelier and family values are protected. Idris Elba comes home just in time for the credits, dammit, the only reason I watched this was to see him.

It’s Alive (2008, Josef Rusnak)
Thought I’d peep tha remake since I recently saw the original and more recently saw Splice. Oh it’s the ol’ flashlight-into-the-camera trick from X-Files. This is taking place in a very dark house, not a sewer – the movie probably couldn’t afford a sewer. Father Frank (TV’s James Murray) catches the baby (how? we don’t know) in a trash can and creeps off to a very dark outdoor area, then unwisely opens the can and gets savaged by the baby (played by an out-of-context CG effect). Motherly Bijou Phillips (of Hostel II, here with the horror-in-joke character name Lenore Harker) catches up with them and takes the baby into a burning house where they both perish… or DO they?? Hmmm, no cops – the movie probably couldn’t afford cops. That seemed longer than ten minutes.

Simon Says (2006, William Dear)
Key phrase from the description: “Simon and Stanley (both played by Crispin Glover), backwoods twin brothers with a fondness for booby traps.” That’s all you needed to tell me! Helpless Stanley is being groped by some girl – but he’s got a knife!! She’s got a bigger knife! Did he just headbutt a corpse? Now he’s screaming with a fake southern accent in the woods, wounded and toting a scythe. Could this be the end of Crispin Glover? Yep, got a knife in the skull by a girl who I assume is Margo Harshman (good name). Where’s the twin brother? Maybe there never was one. Oh Crispy is still alive and gets the girl, twist ending. They said “you forgot to say simon says” about four times. I missed the epilogue bit since someone knocked on the door, but I saw a bunch of mirrors and I’m guessing there was never a twin brother, which is disappointing. William Dear, also the writer, once made Harry and the Hendersons.

“The class of people who comes here seems to get worse every year… and this year we seem to have next year’s crowd already.” Lubitsch movies always have such great dialogue, but he didn’t write ’em and English wasn’t his first language, so why is it?

It was a bad week for staying awake all the way through movies. Shout out to Gold Diggers of 1933 (I hardly remember anything) and Ninotchka (some awful Russian spies who reminded me of the encyclopedaeists in Ball of Fire were cashing in when I checked out), both of which Katy finished after I’d fallen asleep, and Hollywood Canteen which she didn’t feel like finishing after it got repetitive (army man and buddies are fawned over by actors, including huge star Joan Leslie (who? the girl from Yankee Doodle Dandy?)). I liked this one the most, at least its first half, so I came back the next day to watch the ending.

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Opens with a racy scene about sleeping in and out of pajamas. Bank owner, cheapskate and stickler for everything Gary Cooper meets Claudette Colbert whose father the marquis is trying to hold onto his status despite being flat broke. CC falls for Gary and they’re to be married when he confesses he’s had seven ex-wives. Angry as hell, she signs a lucrative pre-nup agreement, marries Gary then spends his money while trying her best to provoke a divorce. Hilarity ensues.

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Gary Cooper’s gruff phonetic pronunciation of French words adds to the humor. He’s actually not bad as a comic actor. Apparently a remake of a Gloria Swanson silent film. That’s David Niven on the beach above as Colbert’s friend (and a bank employee) whom Colbert sets up as a fall guy in her divorce plot. And the great E. Everett Horton as the marquis. Great looking movie with a perfect cast.

Nicolas Cage’s first good part since Lord of War and Val Kilmer’s first good movie since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Cage hurts his back rescuing a prisoner, starts taking lots and lots of drugs and racks up gambling debts. He robs kids outside clubs, gets a violent dude mad at Cage’s hooker girlfriend and loses a key witness. Surely he is a bad lieutenant, but he has a few principles, and Cage’s charismatic intensity keeps us on his side even as he’s waving guns at grammas (lovable Irma P. Hall of the Coens’ Ladykillers). Ultimately he takes down a drug baddie (Exhibit, fifth-billed in the second X-Files movie), saves his girl (Cage’s Ghost Rider costar Eva Mendes) and pays off his bookie (Awwww Brad Dourif is getting old. Life is too short).

Nic, Brad and red beans:
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The story (from a lead writer on Cop Rock) isn’t great, and the idea (remaking Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant) is awful, but Herzog pulls it off with flair. The occasional weirdness (extreme closeups of reptiles, including an iguana music video – what is it about drug movies and visions of reptiles? See also Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas), the sense that Cage is having too much fun to take anything seriously, and a lovely tacked-on ending where Cage meets the ex-con he saved and they get philosophical at an aquarium rescue this doomed movie and turn it into something I’d actually recommend. Can’t wait to see Werner’s other 2009 movie (star Michael Shannon, the contagiously crazy dude in Bug, shows up here as a police property guy).

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Cage pulls up at a building I think I saw in Wild At Heart. Maybe lots of buildings in New Orleans look like that. Jennifer Coolidge (Pootie Tang), Fairuza Balk and other names I know or faces I’ve seen pop up regularly. Surprising that so many actors wanted to be associated with a cheapie indie remake of a cult film, but I guess you can’t discount the Herzog factor.

Salon:

Your ending really defies expectations. I’m not quite sure what to think about it, in fact. We expect one of two possible endings — the bad lieutenant triumphs, or he is punished for his misdeeds. And you really don’t give us either one.

Herzog:

In my opinion, it’s a very beautiful and very mysterious ending. You see, according to the screenplay, it ended with a false happy ending that became a real abyss of darkness. And I thought, no, we should not dismiss the audience like that, out into the street. There should be something vague, something poetic, something mysterious.

I’m behind on the ol’ movie blog, but nobody ever notices. If I watch a John Ford movie on video and I write about it a few minutes later, or four months later, nobody will know the difference. But posting on the Star Trek Remake three weeks after it came out seems like such ancient history. There’ve already been five or six blockbusters in theaters since I watched this – I’d be surprised if Trek is still playing.

Decent movie, anyway. Already one of thee greatest films of all time according to IMDB users, but I preferred Mission Impossible III. A bit wearying in its length and intensity, with an exasperating number of dialogue references to the original shows and movies (“dammit Jim I’m a doctor” was especially forced).

Good to see John Cho looking badass with a sword (his actual action is shot from so far away, it’s doubtful Cho went through months of fencing training to prepare for the role), and I enjoyed comic relief actors Charlie Bartlett as Chekov and Simon Pegg as Scottie. Eric “Hulk” Bana played the sneering Romulan (not Klingon) bad guy, and neither of us realized that Winona Ryder was Spock’s human mom. L. Nimoy is still a commanding presence, but his role amounts to being young Kirk’s destiny tour guide.

Movie gets its Kirk origin story out of the way (angry young man because of dead father at hands of time-traveling rogue Romulan, joins starfleet on a dare from captain Bruce Greenwood, happens to team up with random group of the best and brightest young crew in fleet history) before making Spock the focus of the movie. Future-Spock failed to save planet Romulus from black-hole destruction, so evil Rom wants Spock to watch him destroy planet Vulcan. Rom gets a 3-for-1 bonus, since both Spocks witness planet destruction and Spock’s mom dies in front of him, prompting a Wrath of Khan-esque action-revenge climax.

The filmmaking is super stylish but it’s not my favorite style… constant handicam motion, fast cutting, lens flare in every shot. Nice to watch planets implode and the torpedo fights and transporter effects. Pleasant enough diversion but I wouldn’t have felt bad to miss it entirely. Katy is annoyed that she had to watch this as a loyal Abrams fan and hopes he doesn’t make part 2.

JUDGE PRIEST (1934)

Something like John Ford’s 80th film, if IMDB can be trusted. Contemporary with L’Atalante and the silent Story of Floating Weeds. Set in 1890’s Kentucky – a couple decades past Civil War, which was still on everyone’s mind. And after all, the war wasn’t all that long ago… older audience members watching this film would’ve had parents who participated in it. Strange to think about now, a few more generations removed – my dad wasn’t born yet when this came out.

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Humorist cowboy and populist philosopher Will Rogers plays the titular good-ol’-boy judge, and controversial sleepy-eyed black actor Stepin Fetchit is his sidekick. Priest is a former confederate soldier (“I kinda calmed down”) who is endlessly proud of Dixie, but respects the law and modern reality, or seems resigned to them anyway.

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The judge’s nephew Jerome (Tom Brown) comes back to town and you can tell he’s supposed to end up with the neighbor girl Ellie May (Anita Louise) but he keeps ending up on dates with a dark-haired temptress instead (Rochelle Hudson, who voiced MGM cartoons and later appeared in Strait-Jacket and Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors). Of course they do end up together after wasting plenty of screen time we’d rather be spending with Will Rogers, but first there’s some problem about Ellie May not having a father.

Our generic romantic leads… everything else in the film is more interesting than these two:
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Trouble starts in town when the mysterious new guy in town, a blacksmith (the Walter Matthau-looking David Landau of Horse Feathers) punches out Flem the barber for making a crack about Ellie May. He is to be tried in court before Judge Priest, but meddling, villainous-looking senator Horace Maydew points out that Priest was present at the incident and took the blacksmith’s side, so Priest agrees to step down and let someone else (Henry Walthall, in the movies since 1908, costarred in Birth of a Nation and London After Midnight) preside. Priest stays involved by offering to defend the blacksmith, finally, triumphantly revealing him to be an ex-con, a confederate war hero, AND Ellie May’s father.

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I found less stirring emotion in the overlong “dixie”-soundtracked heartfelt courtroom ending than in a scene early on with the judge talking to a photo of his dead wife. He’s supposed to be a lonely man, but with the young lovers and the big trial, and with Priest’s jovial nature, Ford doesn’t dwell on that aspect too much… just gives us that one lovely scene providing Priest with a deep enough soul to last the rest of the film.

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Otherwise things stay pretty light, and there’s plenty of worthwhile diversions like the outrageous performance of Stepin Fetchit, and Hattie McDaniel (as Priest’s maid) singing “the sun shines bright in my old kentucky home.”

Look far-left for Hattie:
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Screenplay written by Atlantan Lamar Trotti (American Guerrilla in the Philippines) and Dudley Nichols (Man Hunt, Scarlet Street). Based on a series of books by Irvin Cobb, author of McTeague (Greed), who hosted the Oscars the following year (1935 – this wasn’t nominated). Will Rogers had hosted in ’33. Time was unkind to the lead actors… Rogers, Walthall, and Landau all died within two years of the film’s release.

Sneering villain Horace Maydew:
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THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (1953)

I’d thought this would be a remake of Judge Priest, but not exactly. Sure, at the beginning a young man comes home and starts romancing a young girl with a conspicuously missing parent, and sure Judge Priest (now played by Charles Winninger, the captain in Show Boat) is our central character and Stepin Fetchit (the same actor!) is his slow, slurred-voiced sidekick/servant, but things take a turn from there.

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Priest is still a likable soul, but now he’s an alcoholic on the verge of losing his seat to slick Horace Maydew. Priest doesn’t seem like he runs this hick town anymore – he’s an increasingly irrelevant member of a rapidly growing city. He’s a wise and engaging character, but he’s no Will Rogers. And while the first movie showed us the judge’s loneliness at the start then cheered us up for the next hour, this one gives the judge a rocky start (waking up and yelling for his negro servant to bring him whiskey!), builds him up more and more, then fires off a devastating visual ending, the judge silently retreating into his house alone.

Horace Maydew isn’t as cartoonish a bad guy in this movie:
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The twist this time: young Lucy Lee’s mom, a prostitute who left town so her daughter wouldn’t grow up in shame, returns home to die. Lucy Lee finds out about this, and about her grandfather, the solitary wealthy General Fairfield (James Kirkwood, a director in the silent era, and the farmer in A Corner In Wheat), a former confederate who has distanced himself from his past and won’t talk before the veterans group which Priest leads each week.

The judge and the general share a tender moment:
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Before LL’s mom died she asked brothel madam Mallie Cramp (Eve March: the little girl’s teacher in Curse of the Cat People, Hepburn’s secretary in Adam’s Rib) to give her a proper funeral and burial and strong-willed Mallie would like to, but she’s met with resistance by the townsfolk, who of course support the brothel but bristle at the idea of those women having public lives or even deaths.

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The rest of the plot is more complex than in Judge Priest. No big climactic court case, but a few overlapping issues. First, Priest is up for re-election and it’s a close race with Maydew (Milburn Stone, a detective in Pickup On South Street the same year), who paints Priest as old-fashioned and out-of-touch. Young lover Ashby (stiff, cliff-faced John Russell, the main bad dude in Rio Bravo) wins a whip-fight (!) with slimy rabble-rouser Buck Ramsey (Grant Withers, who killed himself a few years later) over Lucy Lee (Arleen Whelan of Young Mr. Lincoln), and Ramsey returns leading an angry mob hoping to lynch young black harmonica player U.S. Grant Woodford suspected of raping a girl out of town. Priest is already politicking around town, leading his confederate group, and dealing with the Lucy Lee situation when he decides to risk his life by blocking the lynch mob and risk his reputation by being the first to follow the prostitute funeral procession through the streets. Priest closes those matters out (U.S. Grant is proven innocent and released, actual rapist Buck is shot trying to escape, Lucy Lee reconnects with her grandfather) just in time to cast the decisive vote re-electing himself. In the end he’s a hero of the town, and everyone stops by his house to wave and sing praises… but he still goes home alone.

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There were 30+ John Ford films between Judge Priest and this (including Rio Grande and The Quiet Man) and he had nearly 20 more left in him. This one, unlike the original, can definitely not be called a comedy. It has some comic relief though, in the form of drunken hick sharpshooter duo Francis Ford (his 32nd and final appearance in one of his brother’s films) and Slim Pickens (a decade before Dr. Strangelove and Major Dundee). I wanted to like the 30’s movie more, with its lighter tone and a Judge Priest character who is affable without having to humbly heal the whole town’s social wounds while saving a boy’s life, but I think the latter movie impressed me more deeply. No doubt they’re both excellent and make for a lovely double feature though.

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Jonathan Rosenbaum:

Today The Sun Shines Bright is my favourite Ford film, and I suspect that part of what makes me love it as much as I do is that it’s the opposite of Gone with the Wind in almost every way, especially in relation to the power associated with stars and money. Although I’m also extremely fond of Judge Priest, a 1934 Ford film derived from some of the same Irvin S. Cobb stories, the fact that it has a big-time Hollywood star of the period, Will Rogers, is probably the greatest single difference, and even though I love both Rogers and his performance in Judge Priest, I love The Sun Shines Bright even more because of the greater intimacy and modesty of its own scale.

I should add that in between Judge Priest’s stopping of a lynching and his triumphant re-election brought about in part by the potential lynchers is the act that the Ford regards as his key act of moral and civil virtue – arguably far more important in certain ways, at least in this film’s terms, than his prevention of the lynching. I’m speaking, of course, of his joining a funeral procession for a fallen woman on election day, thereby fulfilling her dying request that she be given a proper burial in her own home town. Once Billy Priest joins this procession, he is followed by almost every other sympathetic member of the community, starting with the local bordello madam and her fellow prostitutes, and continuing with the commander of the Union veterans of the Civil War, the local blacksmith, the German-American who owns the department store, Amora Ratchitt (Jane Darwell), Lucy Lee, Ashby, Dr. Lake, and finally – after the procession arrives at its destination, a black church – General Fairfield, Lucy’s grandfather, who has up until now refused to recognised his daughter under any circumstances.

There are actually two protracted and highly ceremonial processions in the film, occurring quite close to one another – the funeral procession for Lucy Lee’s mother and the parade of tribute to Judge Priest – and the fact that these two remarkable sequences are allowed by Ford to take over the film as a whole is part of what’s so extraordinary about them. Retroactively one might even say that they almost blend together in our memory as a single procession – despite the fact that the first is an act of mourning and the second is an act of celebration – and this undoubtedly contributes to the feeling of pathos in the film in spite of its overdetermined happy ending.

Ultimately, what the film may be expressing is neither celebration nor lament, perhaps just simply affection for cantankerous individuals who exude a certain sweet pathos because history has somehow passed them by – as someone says in the film, I believe in reference to the Confederate veterans, ‘the doddering relics of a lost cause’, which also suggests The Southerner as Everyman. This implicitly suggests a certain darkness as well as lightness – which is why the local blacks serenade the judge with ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ the first line of which is, ‘The Sun Shines Bright’ – and yet this is a film bathed mainly in the melancholy of twilight. For to emphasise and focus on lost causes as opposed to causes that still might be won assumes a certain abstention from politics associated with defeatism – one reason among others, perhaps, why the Civil War plays such a central role in American history as well as in Ford’s work.

Someone can tell me if I’m out of line in quoting too heavily from this, but it’s so nice to see long, well-thought article devoted to an obscure classic film. If only EVERY film had as thorough a write-up on these internets. Maybe some day.

Our generic romantic leads. Once again, everything in the film is more interesting than these two, but this time Ford seems to realize it.
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Merian C. Cooper’s name is on the title card – first time I’ve seen him mentioned in a non-King Kong context. I guess he exec-produced a bunch of John Ford movies. Shot by Archie Stout, who won an oscar the previous year for Ford’s The Quiet Man.