QuikReview: The Light of The Western Stars (1940)

Primarily a romance. Also note the prominent, witnessing presence of the dumb sidekick, because those always make romances better.

 

So I also watched The Light of the Western Stars from 1940, a Zane Grey adaptation that stars absolutely no one you’ve heard of except possibly Victor Jory, who was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and yes okay fine, also The Shadow serial from 1937 and no I haven’t watched that yet, I’m saving it. This movie couldn’t have done his career any favors, though, because it’s pretty terrible. (It also has a pre-stardom Alan Ladd in a bit part, but you won’t notice him unless you’re looking pretty darned close.)

Now, I’ve also started the book. The book is basically a romance, and it’s correspondingly scanty on plot, but what there is so far (I’m at about the 1/3 mark) goeth thusly: Madeline Hammond, an independently and inheritedly-wealthy celebrated socialite, goes west to visit her wastrel brother, who has been disinherited for his weird and unfashionable ideas such as “earning money,” “doing hard work,” and “associating with commoners like cowboys, how droll.” 

Madeline promptly smacks into one such cowboy, the basically good-natured but also completely drunk and notably hell-raising Gene Stewart, who has made a bet to marry the first girl who comes into town. Madeline and the local padre both get strong-armed as far as the “Si,” before Stewart gets to the business of asking her name–and stops dead in his tracks at the reply. Alfred Hammond, you see, is highly regarded by his men, and report of Alfred’s beautiful, accomplished, and athletic sister “Majesty” Hammond has particularly reached to Gene Stewart. The duo agree to say nothing of what happened, ever, and it seems to be resolved when Stewart promptly gets into a fight with the corrupt local sheriff and heads over the border to join the Mexican rebels. 

Madeline, who in the book at least is a heroine that excels in brains as well as in beauty and virtue, not only finds that Western life agrees with her, but decides to invest her money into expanding, modernizing, and improving her brother’s failing ranch operation. Things go splendidly for a while, especially with such improvements as less wanton cruelty to animals. Gene Stewart eventually reappears, having won fame in the fighting but also having started to drink himself seriously to death. Madeline persuades him to straighten himself out and work as her foreman. The sexual tension thus remains high but the plot remains low, mostly provided by the suspicious Mexican rancher Don Carlos and his revealed aims to smuggle arms to whatever side  is currently buying…and so on and so forth, plus or minus random outlaw raids on the ranch because by golly if you have a heroine she needs to get rescued. Simple facts of life.

The book is pretty purple, but remains easy reading for two simple facts: one, I skim-read any paragraphs of dialogue that could be summarized to the first or last sentence; and two, the characters are compelling. Madeline (in the book) is as close to the ideal heroine as a writer could sit down and plan out point by point: incredibly beautiful and a great rider (trusted with Gene Simmons’ own beloved horse), intelligent enough to own and run her own business, tactful enough to manage “twenty-seven incomprehensible cowboys,” twenty-six of which are in love with her and the last of which proceeds to elope with her maid; and, also, needing to be rescued but suitably calm during the process and grateful to her rescuer afterwards. The slice-of-life sections of the book–Madeline adjusting to the Western life and dealing with the cowboys, sometimes with the sly guidance of old-timer Stillwell–are actually the highlights thus far. 

Now, the movie: the movie is quite short (just over an hour, it seems), and even this effort was beyond the capabilities of the writers. With the exception of a few bits taken directly from the book and thus built on a much better framework than the scriptwriters were capable of producing, the movie lurches from scene to scene in a manner that can’t really be dignified with the term “plot,” because there’s no coherence or continuity between each aside from the names of the characters or the actors playing them. More distractingly yet, the script lurches from line to line within each scene, and some of the lines are rather good, and the rest of them aren’t.

Back to Victor Jory. He plays Gene Stewart, who in the books is a rather distant and mysterious figure as befits the male love interest. Since the movie shifts protagonists from Madeline to Gene, he’s on screen most of the time, and he’s electric. He’s really great. He’s the reason any of the scenes work by themselves. Now, credit where credit is due: Madeline is played by someone named Jo Ann Sayers, and when she has even the slightest semblance of material to work with, she goes for it, too, and she’s watchable. Everyone else is just…there.

Oh, and there’s a fistfight that to my eye was actually pretty exciting and realistic, as it as it’s mostly two really angry guys grappling and trying to get the distance to swing a punch. Alas, it is also just about the only action scene in the movie, with the exception of a horse chase filmed at a very, very long distance. (Was that Trigger? It might have been Trigger. It was definitely a palomino.)

Anyhow. I definitely am going to finish the book, even if I have to skim-read it.

Rated: Well, it was an hour of my life that I would have also spent unproductively if I had done otherwise, so….

 

Dune (2021) – Movie Review

dune-poster-06oct20Overall: incompetent.

The movie is able to evoke emotions, but not set up plot points. The movie attempts spectacle, but can’t handle larger than life characters or epic situations. It can’t handle even moderately-lifelike characters, either, but that’s equally the fault of the actors–but then why didn’t you cast better actors? The movie attempts to adapt the book faithfully, in parts, but every single scene that is lifted directly from the book was honestly, legitimately done better in the gonzo 1984 version. No, I mean for real, without exaggeration and/or nostalgia filters: the 1984 version did every single specific scene better, from the gom jabbar to Duke Leto’s death to Jessica and Paul reacting to the death! It’s…it’s so poorly done, wow.

That being said, I can count on one hand the scenes which this movie does well: an original scene where Duke Leto accepts the Emperor’s decree; Paul saying good-bye to Caladan; Paul and Jessica escaping from the Harkonnen thugs in the ornithopter; and Paul’s knife-fight with Jamis. Those are good. I will also give it props for the ornitopters, which are extremely neat; and there is also no random pug dog (for the good guys) or cat-milking (for the bad guys.) If you don’t know what either of those things are, count your blessings and stay away from the 1984 version. Just read the book.

chani-dune-2020Well, this movie sets its own distinctive stamp on the procedings immediately: it’s narrated by Chani, instead of by Irulan. Very original. Chani plus the background action gives a brief (although with all the slow-mo it seems longer) overview of the situation on Arrakis. All I’m thinking is that this is 3 minutes in including credits and I am not impressed.

We cut immediately to Paul waking up and this immediately reinforces how the slow-mo of the past three minutes could have been replaced with “Tell me of the waters of your homeworld, Usul,” setting the groundwork for Paul and Chani’s relationship, subtly worldbuilding Arrakis, and a) being less annoying, b) being more accurate to the book. Incidentally, if Liet-Kynes is Chani’s (now) mother, and she’s very black, why is Chani merely pale brown? Dude, I just continue and continue to not be impressed by this girl as Chani. Put her as Irulan if you must cast for brown skin somewhere in your movie. You need someone who is actually lean and tough-looking (like the actress cast as her mother!) as a Fremen girl. They also try wayyyyy too hard to make her a STRONK FEMALE CHARACTER. Hint: she was cool, clever, well-rounded, interesting, badass, and compelling in the books, without forced antagonism towards Paul.

But movies are different than books! Why should movies TRY to be accurate to the books? Because filmmakers are morons, making entertainment for morons, directed, written, staffed, acted, and produced by morons. Prose writers might not be much better, but lacking the crutches that visual media offer, are forced to put a little bit of thought into their works. Movies should hew closely to the books whenever possible in order to borrow the thoughtfulness, internal logic, and worldbuilding that the original authors provided.

dune-delay-rebecca-ferguson-2714968Goddamnit, at 3 minutes and 50 seconds into this movie I AM DETERMINED TO APPROACH IT WITH A NONHOSTILE ATTITUDE. I woke up this morning with a hankering to watch it, I am going to watch it. This looks like Jessica. Jessica is my favorite character in all of science fiction. Let’s see what happens. (Ok, promising, promising, they have the painting of the Old Duke hanging up in the dining room.)

Movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak. For instance: rescuing the spice miner crew –in the book, the rescue ship simply doesn’t show up, having been sabotaged or bought off already. Here, it fails on “one point of contact,” oh noes!….and then buggers off. Not even a direct sabotage or hostile attack, something which would give the Judge of the Change legitimate pause for thought and give Leto’s already-heroic rescue of the crew additional polish. It just…buggers off, and the fact that it’s SINGLE point of failure precipated the whole scene makes Leto attempting to call Liet-Kynes on this makes him come across as blustery and weak.

I have said before and will say again: modern movies are obsessed with making their heroes weak and their actions ineffectual, not to mention letting anybody have badass deaths. Yueh, having been a complete nonentity for the length of the movie, doesn’t even get the courtesy of his defiant last lines to the Baron, showing that he understands completely what he did buy for his Wanna. Duncan Idaho has to effectively come back from the dead in order to make his legendary last stand be effective, because Paul and Jessica JUST STAND THERE while he’s fighting TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE, MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT OF HIS FIGHTING TO BUY THEM TIME TO ESCAPE. Liet-Kynes almost manages to have a cool death, though it’s too rushed to have impact.

The director is largely to blame for most of the flatness of this movie. Yes, he’s good at slow-mo and there’s excellent set dressing and here and there he actually manages to inject sneak some color into the costumes (Jessica’s orange dress is so lonely and alone out there, it promptly goes away again and it looked bloody impractical anyway, but IT WAS THERE, wow!) What he’s not good at is, apparently, casting good actors; or drawing competent performances out of mediocre (looking at you, Timothee with two E’s) ones, or poor (looking at you, Zendaya) ones.

I’m not sold on this Jessica, or on her methods, but….Yeah, overall I’m not sold. She has an uncomfortable amount of chemistry with her on-screen son and it a) comes at the expense of her scenes with her actual husband, b) continues throughout the movie, c) IS CREEPY. She’s also far, far too emotional, for a noblewoman, a Duke’s consort, or a Bene Gesserit adept. However, I will say that (albeit with the copious help of ADR special effects on The Voice) she handles the escape scene excellently. This is how you adapt a scene from a novel: make it dynamic.

oscar-isaac-wollte-in-dune-ursprunglich-keinen-bart-haben-980x400-1 I am COMPLETELY unsold on Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto. A subplot of Paul wanting to accompany Duncan on the advance scouting mission has been added, which segues from characterizing Paul for the audience (and this makes him different from in the book, yes, and yes I know why, and yes I’ve already put my thoughts out about that) to providing more exposition for and characterization of Leto. And if you thought that a focus on Leto would showcase his arrogance, determination, family pride, or charisma, guess again.

Josh Brolin, whom I originally thought was Discount Kurt Russell, is….GURNEY HALLECK? The ugly, scarred minstrel guy with the big grin and bigger knives? Really? I always imagined him as blond. Jason Momoa, of course, playing SpaceArmor-Momoa, well, is playing SpaceArmor-Momoa. WITH A MAN BUN. The dude who plays Thufir Hawat drawls like some dude from Brooklyn and is utterly underwhelming. HEY THAT’S JIU CHENG THE GOD OF WAR AS DOCTOR YUEH! I guess it works to have Yueh be comparatively a younger, good-looking guy. Oh gods…was the spider-thing….? Thankfully, this movie glosses right along over that plot point.

Javier Bardem, someone has already noted, is riffing off Lawrence of Arabia’s Bedouin chieftain, and as such is miles ahead of everyone else in this movie.

Overall, the set dressing is great. It’s clean-looking, with just the kind of retrofuturism that works perfectly for this genre. But then you get little disruptive touches like…shiny beetle faceplates that just…don’t…work. Like: the ceremony of accepting the Emperor’s decree, spaceship landing, robed party walking down the ramp blah blah, all excellent scifi-y stuff. It’s immediately ruined by the shot of the robed people having giant curved opaque faceplates. It’s just off enough to throw you out of immersion.

The soundtrack is trash. I mean, like wow it’s trash. It’s legit just a collection of drones, tones and the occasional thump/bwaaaaa; it adds nothing to the scenes that it overlays. I am not exaggerating, these are scenes that are teetering on the edge of decent and could be elevated by better music.

So, it looks like many of the pure-spectacle scenes, and the majority of original-content scenes, are done well for a given value of “well done.” No one really knows how to do pure spectacle these days. Where this movie suffers is where it tries to take things from the book….because these are very poorly handled. Like, WOW the scene with Shadout Mapes and the crysknife was shot, acted, framed, choreographed, adapted terribly. Why not just make an epic scifi movie and say “inspired” by Dune? And then, also steal from a bunch of other scifi classics, like Foundation, The Star Kings, etc, mash them together and lay claim to the result? Instant success, I promise.

Misc:
– OK, I legit cracked up: Gurney Halleck starts quoting poetry when they first land on Arrakis, but the preceding shot makes it look like he’s cheating and looking up the words beforehand. AND THEN SOME GUY, NOT GURNEY, WALKS PAST WITH BAGPIPES.
– Oh boy, ok. We get another original scene, of Salusa Secondus and the Saudaukar rituals, which apparently involve Tuvan Throat Singing and human sacrifice.
– So anyway, about one hour and 15 minutes in, the Harkonnen/Saudaukar attack, and just to emphasize how much the Atreides were caught with their pants down, there’s the obligatory “men running across an open space with fire in the background and getting blown up occasionally” shot. WITH BAGPIPES.
– Ye gods.
This is SO DUMB. No wonder people make fun of space movies with swords and magic powers.
Ye gods.
– (Jason Momoa JasonMomoas around with his man-bun a bit.)
– OH MY GOD GO GO POWER RANGER PAUL WHAT THE HELL. SERIOUSLY? SERIOUSLY???? SERIOUSLY?!?!?!?
– Ew. SERIOUSLY, EW. MOVIE GO BACK TO INCOMPETENTLY ADAPTING SCENES DIRECTLY FROM THE BOOK.
– Just read the book. Really, even though it’s long it’s worth it. It’s engrossing, exciting, and it has all these really cool ideas and characters that are so much more interesting in the book and your own head than in this movie.

Rated: Just read the book.

QuikReview: The Kid (2019)

the-kid-2019An honest attempt at an old-school, old-fashioned, worthwhile Western movie, with bad bad guys, good bad guy, good good guy, a kid who has to choose which role model he’s going to follow, and a girl to rescue. And if it had followed through the good guy thing, it would have stuck the landing, too. 

Is it a 10/10 movie? No. (It’s an 8.5/10, it’s honestly worth the watch, despite what I’m about to say about it.) There are far too many anachronisms and cringe-inducing dialogue options. But those are honestly the least of this movie’s failings, and the greatest is: failing to understand that there can be more than one hero for whom the audience sympathizes and roots for, and that there is allowed to be more than one triumphant success per a story arc. Ultimately, this movie is about the kid and while he does mature from a frightened boy into a young man over the course of the story, his story beats come at the expense of the actual good guy, Pat Garrett (or the fictional facsimile thereof) 

The kids are the protagonists: teenage Rio and his slightly older sister Sara, on the run from their monstrous uncle after Rio kills their father, who has just finished beating their mother to death. Yes, it’s an unpromising beginning, but it gets better. They bump into Billy the Kid and his bunch (good bad guys), who are nice enough to them–Billy in particular easily sussing out that they have some guilt on their consciences and blood on their hands, not to mention clothes–but very shortly after this, Pat Garrett and the posse arrive. After some exchange of gunfire, Billy et al surrender and the kids tag along with the posse to Santa Fe.

This is really the strongest part of the movie, as Garrett and Billy, subtly, vie for Rio’s attention and trust. Billy talks about how people blame other people for things that those people just happened to have done, or had to do, or were blamed for doing just because. Garrett talks about how sometimes a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…such as fess up and face the consequences. Rio seems swayed by Garrett, but his sister convinces him to keep still and not confess. 

Unfortunate for them, probably, because when Garrett and Billy high-tail it out of Santa Fe ahead of a lynch mob (I think this was supposed to be an exciting or suspenseful scene, but it was only exceedingly underwhelming), their uncle gets them instead. Rio manages to escape, but Sara…doesn’t. Rio heads to Lincoln County, meets up with Billy in the county jail, and then via a series of vaguely-historically accurate plot happenings, ends up escaping with him, hiding out on the ranch for a while, and learning to shoot. But he also learns soon enough that charming as Billy is, he’s not going to be a help. Billy is not out for anyone except Billy. 

And later that night, Pat Garrett arrives and shoots Billy from a distance without giving him the chance to surrender. See, Hollywood is saying: heroes don’t need to be heroic, principled, more skilled, faster, or better shots. Mind you, there is also an element of suicide by cop here, so…this one I give a pass to. 

The movie gets distinctly weaker after this, but it is also almost over. Basically, Rio confesses all to Pat Garrett and begs his help getting his sister back from the evil uncle. There’s a showdown in a saloon, (in which Pat Garrett gets tackled by a bad guy and beaten with a chairleg until sister Sara shoots the guy off him) and then a quasi-showdown at high noon (in which Pat Garrett gets outdrawn but then Rio shoots his uncle in the head.) 

The kids ride off into the sunset with Garrett’s blessing, and now Rio is the one taking charge, reassuring his sister, and being the man of the family.

It’s much better than I thought it would be–enough so that I am much more disappointed in the places where it failed, than I would be if it was just another brainless Hollywood piece. 

As demonstrated by his very strategic sidelining at the climax of the movie, Ethan Hawke is not really provided with the opportunity to ride off with the entire show. This is OK, on paper. This movie is about the kid(s), and so it should be them who take vengeance into their own hands, which they do. However good all these things are–and believe me, I’m 100% in favor of an old-fashioned bildungsroman, a boy and his horse and his gun plus or minus a dog–they should not have come at the expense of the guy who provides a) the moral center of the story, b) the action hero of the story.

It’s easy to have have a character say that “There is still good in him,” or, “You’ve got a lot of good left in you.” But what does that entail, exactly, in context? When the plot is about an impressionable kid sizing up the options and deciding which way he’s going to go, there needs to be a model for him–not for his benefit, but for the audience’s. What are the paths, exactly? What are the options? What are the rewards?

The last third of the movie is weak: here’s how it could have been improved. Rio walks up to Sherriff Garrett plus a handy judge and confesses to the self-defense killing of his father. He is taken into custody and a trial commences. Rio has one other witness but is unable to produce said witness: his trafficked sister Sara. Garrett and the deputies, keeping Rio in “special custody,” ride off to go rescue the girl. You can have the exact same action beats–Sara shoots Chairleg Thug, Rio gets to shoot Pimp Uncle–but then there’s a denouement as the trial recommences (see, you can even go for additional irony by having it start and end in a bar with the judge pouring drinks, or something.) Rio is pronounced not guilty and awarded all the money in Pimp Uncle’s pockets. Now, when the kids ride off into the sunset, they can do it with the knowledge that it’s a ride to the future, and not a run from the past. The line has been clearly demarcated–for the characters, and for the audience–as to what is legitimate violence, and what is not; and it proves that the Law isn’t evil, or unreasonable, and that lawmen aren’t monsters by nature. 

But then, Hollywood doesn’t want you to think about things like that, do they?

That being said: the casting is greatchris-pratt-as-grant-cutler-in-the-kid-2019. Christ Pratt is completely unrecognizable as the bad bad guy. Like, even without the giant beard, he just isn’t recognizable, he’s that nasty. Likewise, Dane DeHaan has the look of tintype-photo Billy Bonney down pat, despite being 10 years older than the character historically. (Welp, that never stopped Audie Murphy, so, you gotta give it a pass regardless.) Ethan Hawke, well, good as he is with what he has to do, still kinda, well, um, looks like Discount Kurt Russell-from-Tombstone. And I LIKE Ethan Hawke, HE JUST DOES!

The young hero is also, for the most part, watchable, even when he’s blurting out quasi-period dialogue and crying a lot. His sister cries even more, so. 

That being said, the directing is underwhelming, bordering on terrible. It’s not easy to make a gunfight siege in a wooden cabin, a daring escape from an attempted lynch mob, or even a frigging multiplayer gunfight in a saloon be boring….but somehow, Vincent D’Onofrio managed. That, my friends, takes skill all of its own kind. It also needs to be noted that there is no good horse photography, and just about zero landscapes. That’s OK, but what really kills this movie is the fact that it’s a Western and it doesn’t have any good gun or fistfights, or horse chases or cattle. Or Injuns.

That being said, there are some scenes which all on their own are really, really good. “How far do you think you’re gonna get with a dead Charlie chained to your ankle?” “….not very far at all.” Garrett telling Rio the story of the first man he ever killed; Billy having enormous fun being interviewed while Garrett is trying to get him away from a lynch mob; Garrett’s deputy being wracked with guilt over his–completely and legally justifiable–shooting of Rio, and their discussion; Billy’s address to the crowd after escaping from the Lincoln County Jail; and Billy’s death scene. All these are very good. 

Overall, I stand by my 8….although maybe I’ll knock the .5 off of it. It’s a decent enough movie, if you don’t notice Hollywood’s contempt for heroism, hatred of women, hatred of the audience, and weird loathing for the legitimate use of violence to defend one’s self or others. Sheesh, and this is me trying to say something nice about this movie.

Rated: ¿Quién es? ¿Quién es?

Movie Review: Fort Defiance (1951) (repost)

fort_defiance-606622612-largeFort Defiance – 1951, Ben Johnson as Ben, Dane Clark as Johnny, and Peter Graves as Ned.

This is a movie with a simple plot. Lots of things happen because of that plot, but when you break it all down, it’s all because of this:

There’s this guy (Ben Johnson as Ben Shelby) whose brother was killed. He goes to the ranch home of the guy responsible for the death(s) (Johnny) but finds only that guy’s blind brother. Johnny is presumed dead and in the absence of a worthwhile target for it, Ben buries the hatchet. At this point, Injuns. Meanwhile, there’s a guy in town whose brothers were also killed by Johnny, and who wants to kill Johnny’s brother in revenge. And then Johnny shows up…

Meanwhile, I am left with my family issues making me wonder why everyone’s so almighty fired up about their brothers. So it’s possible a good chunk of this went straight over my head. This is a straight-up B-movie, but it tries hard, and it mostly even succeeds.

Rated: The best brother is a dead brother who leaves you a lot of money.

Thoughts:
– This has a very good-looking Young Ben Johnson in it. (Not obsessed).
fortdefiancejohnson– The other, other good news is that Dane Clark and Peter Graves, when they show up, are good enough in their roles to make me go look up their names and include them in this list.

– So Ben, as Ben Shelby, is a gunslinging ex-Army man who shows up at a family ranch, saves the lives of blind Ned (from a rampaging horse) and Uncle Charlie (from rustlers), and claims that he’s a friend of missing big brother Johnny.

– Ben is actually, obviously, after Johnny for revenge of some sort. Johnny is revered by Ned, but Uncle Charlie himself knows or at least suspects the truth. Uncle Charlie is also strangely OK with the thought of a stranger coming to kill his nephew.

– Huh, Ben’s actually married and his wife has sent him a letter begging him to foreswear the vengeance and come home. If my studies of the genre are correct, what this means is that by the time he does go home, his wife will have either married someone else or moved to California.

– Ned doesn’t have the slightest clue that big brother Johnny is an outlaw loose and running. Until just now, that is, when Uncle Charlie told him Johnny got killed robbing a bank.

– Johnny was supposed to bring news to the Company that they were being outflanked; he (allegedly) surrendered instead. The Company was wiped out almost to a man and Ben lost his younger brother.

– So, with no quarrel with Ned or Uncle Charlie, Ben departs in peace for Fort Defiance.

– Ben comes back: he has decided to settle in Arizona, but there might be some complications turning up down the line…

– AHAHA THE IRONY. This new guy also lost two of his brothers in the battle, and now also blames Johnny. Ben has buried the hatchet and adopted Ned, but this guy wants to kill all Tallon brothers. I think Uncle Charlie is going to die covering the retreat…

– Yup.

– Oh screw you, mister. You killed Uncle Charlie, burying him “Christian” ain’t going to do nothing.

– …so who’s this….OH IT’S JOHNNY I BET! He met up with the burial detail! OH BOY. Yep, it’s Johnny. Well, good-bye for the burial detail…since there’s only one man needed for taking a message, he’s just offered them the chance to draw lots…and then he turned his back….

– Mind you, having his buddy keep them covered was just a smart move.

– And now they meet.

– FISTFIGHT! Johnny is cheating, because his buddy still has a gun. Get ‘im, Ben!

– Injuns!

– Johnny admits he did surrender, but won’t explain why. Ned, meanwhile, is panicking on Ben’s behalf. And running out into the open screaming during a gun battle. You know, normally this behavior would be reserved for the Damsel.

– Johnny did it because he knew the war was over and didn’t feel like risking his neck for anybody else.

– Ned: “Don’t do it, Ben, he’s fast, he’s too fast.”
Ben: “Yeah, I know, like a snake.”
Johnny: “And twice as nasty!”

– Johnny is heading for San Francisco and intends to take Ned with him.

– Good grief. Competitive coat-giving. And another fistfight. And they managed to wake Ned up, so what did that gain you?

– Ya know, if it’s cold, you could always just cuddle up together….(this is probably why Ben has an offscreen but very definitely real and human wife coming in on the stage).

– OH NO ITS THE STAGE AND THE INJUNS ARE CHASING IT AHAHAHA

– YYYYyyyyep ITS A GIRL (Ben hasn’t noticed yet)

– Oh, wait, it’s NOT his wife, she’s some girl who got run outa town. (Oh, she’s gonna be Ned’s girlfriend probably).

– She’s hoping to start a business in San Francisco….seamstressing, probably.

– “I found out she ain’t married.” “I reckon not.”

– Dude, you are probably about to DIE (well, as far as you know, you are. I know there’s still about twenty-five minutes to go). Asking a girl if you’re someone able to be loved should not be really high on your priority list.

– OH SERIOUSLY THEY’RE RIDING IN CIRCLES AROUND THE WAGON. Well, that’s a time-honored Injun tactic, at least, and we’ve got to stick with tradition.

– THE CAVALRY HAS ARRIVED!

– Johnny is taking the stage, Ned, and Miss Julie, leaving a knocked-out Ben and the stage driver one horse between them. Julie has managed to smuggle a gun on board, which Ned promptly appropriates. But Ben is soon on his way after them.

– Ned, like the idiot he is, attempts to pull said gun on Johnny. Ned, as we mentioned, is also blind. But it’s the only thing that can get through to Johnny, apparently.

– Aww, Johnny is going to raise some money….honestly.

– (Semi-honestly.)

– (Well, not all that honestly at all, but he will have provided both bills of sale and receipts.)

– Johnny really took over the last part of this movie, didn’t he? I would say he stole it from Ben, but Ben is more handsome so there’s really nothing to worry about.

– “Well, I guess Parker won’t bother us anymore.” Well, that was stone-cold murder, Ben.

– Awwww, and now Ben’s wife got there. The End. That was a little abrupt. And also didn’t Johnny just sell the ranch out from under you? And also you’re only able to be on that ranch because the government forcibly rounded up the Indians with whom you used to live peaceably, and your cattle still got rustled, but hey who’s overthinking it?

– Rated: Damn, Ben Johnson was fine when he was young. (Still not obsessed).

Movies with My Mother and Aunt and Uncles) – Maverick (1994)

poster-780REPOST REVIEW

“You’re taking notes? On what?”

“Something’s gonna crawl out of that bag…I guess.”
“Oh, it’s a snake.”
“OH. MY. GOSH.”
“Awww, lookit the li’l snake.”

“OK, I’m liking the scenery.”

“Mel Gibson? Thirty years ago? Ten years ago?”
“Thirty.”
“The man is old now!”
“He is not old…”

“Teehee, he’s on the donkey?”
“I’m surprised it’s going where he wants it to go.”
“Oh, it went.”

“He gave THEM the dollar?”
“And the mule.”

“Jody?”
“Yep.”

“They’re watching all the money he’s bringing.”
“A whole bunch of crooks.”
“I wonder when the hour is up, what then?…Ooo, she’s giving signs. Look, she’s giving signs.”

“Uh oh…uh oh….UH OH!” (my aunt).

“Is that the guy?”
“John Wesley Hardin?”
“What did he say his name was/”
“Maverick.”
“No, the gun guy.’
“Johnny.”
“Oh, it was him.”

“Uh oh!” (my mother)

“Should we–you should tell them what happens!”
“No.”
“No.”
“No!”

“Why did he tell the boys they could shoot him?”
“Cause he didn’t like getting beat up.”
“But the whole thing was staged!”
“NNnnghph!”
“SORRY. Was that part of it?”
“…Yes.”

“Jody’s in love!”
“….but…”
“I thought she was married?”

“Ok, that was something. She got him already?”
” ‘May I’…what?”

“She’s so good.”
“Jody Foster is so good!”

“She took his wallet again!”

“Uh oh!”
“A real bank robbery! Heh!”

“He had a thousand!”

“He took the dollar!”

“Crook!”
“They gave him more?”
“Probably. Here’s your 17, 30, 8…”
“He ripped them off!”

“Uh oh!” (my uncle).

“The thief and the old guy! Did you hear that? This is funny!”

“Oh boy.” (my mother).

“Uh oh.” (my aunt.)
“He’s dead!”

“For real-for real?”

“She in his wallet again!”

“…that saved a wretch like me?”
“Are you singing?”
“No.”
“No.”

“Rrr! Heheheh.”

“Bet you a dollar she’s stealing.”

“That is SO DUMB.”

“She took it? She stole the money?!”

“Did he call the horse Ollie?”

“Is that the same guy?”

“James Coburn! That’s James Coburn!”
“Oh! That’s him, I couldn’t remember his name!”

“That’s Denver Pyle.”
“Whoever that is.”
“…he was Uncle Jesse on Dukes of Hazzard?”
“He’s gonna jump!”

“He’s all outa money.”
” ‘But I was so close!’ ”

“This thing is a setup.”
“Which thing?”
“What?”
“Which thing?”
“This thing. This whole thing.”
“….why would you say that.”
“It’s a setup.”

“What’s she want from him now?…oh.”
….
“He’s as bad as she is, he’s hiding his stuff.”
“She’s just gonna reach over and take it. With her skinny hands.”

“Uh oh.”

“That was Waylon Jennings!”
“Who?”
“The singer!”
“But who?”
“The guy they just threw overboard, who is a singer who was just singing the song just now!”

“Who did that?”
“Either her or James Coburn. James Coburn looks like a crook.”

“Four more bongs…one…”

“Uh oh!”
“HEY!”
“Is that the dealer cheating?”
“The dealer is dealing for the Indian-looking guy.”
“He’s dealing off the bottom.”

“A full house?”
“Looks like.”

“UH OH!”
“CHEATER!”

“With your Pappy nonsense again? Pappy says it’s an ace!”

“Look at those big blues…”

“He tricked him!”

“All these people supposed to have no guns, where’d that gun come from? Everybody’s got guns!”

“Uh oh!” (my aunt.)
“Uh oh!” (my mother.)

“It’s a little put-put boat!”

“Uh oh!”

“Something’s behind all this, I know it.”
“It’s her and James Coburn!”

“It’s a shame those dresses don’t come back in our time period.”
“They too much.”
“They’re beautiful!”

“He’s counting the money?”

“TOLD YOU!”

“OH. MY. GOSH.”

“The man won the money fair and square! Why you gonna take it from him?”

“Uh oh.”
“Gonna drown him?”

“What! What! Oh my gosh!”
“That’s his FATHER?”
“Did you see that?”

“Uh oh!”

“OH MY GOSH IT”S THE GIRL!”

The Tattered Dress (1957) ((repost review))

film-poster-the-tattered-dress-1957-bpabrgThe Tattered Dress is a 1957 noir-slash-courtroom drama. And it’s an excellent little movie.

The opening scenes show a smiling woman in a torn-up dress waltzing home, not particularly concerned about this, but, in a nicely framed sequence (the camera remains outside the house, looking in through the opulent glass doors, without sound), the wind gets taken abruptly out of her sails when her husband grabs a gun. They ride back into town, and her husband coldly shoots down the man who ripped her dress.

Enter Jim Blane, a hotshot trial lawyer from New York (the setting is small-town Nevada). He’s damn good and he knows it. When the Restons (the couple from the opening scenes) wanted the best damn sleazeball criminal lawyer they could get, they went out and got him. But Jim, for better or worse, is isn’t merely a total heel, only mostly one. The next twenty-odd minutes are Blane setting up for the trial, making the acquaintance of the avuncular-but-way-smarter-than-he-looks Sheriff, Nick Hoak, making the much closer acquaintance of Mrs. Reston, and dodging the verbal jabs of his old friend/nemesis, a reporter who Has A Conscience and doesn’t mind tweaking Jim’s a little. (pwahaha, sometimes these old movies are adorable.)

Jim, an attack dog on the stand, interrogates Sheriff Hoak mercilessly, and manages to create enough of a doubt about Hoak’s credibility and the deceased’s character.  He gets the Restons off, and wow, he’s worth every penny they paid him, because that was textbook first degree murder.

Nevertheless, this is when the trouble really starts. See, Nick Hoak wasn’t pleased to be made a fool of on the witness stand. He’s especially not happy to have it done by an out-of-towner whom he made friendly overtures to earlier in the picture. He’s probably also not happy that the murderer of his friend got off scot-free, but mostly, it’s just the dent to his own prestige and power that smarts. A grand jury has subpoenaed Jim for bribing a juror–and with Hoak on the team doing the investigating, it seems incredibly unlikely to turn up any exculpatory evidence. Jim, to put it bluntly, is screwed unless he can (spot the irony) find a really good lawyer to defend him.

Spoiler: You know that old saying about a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client?  Yep. Jim’s closing statement (after his aggressive tactics blow up in his face…twice) boils down to a naked plea to the jury: “Yes, I am a slimy criminal defense lawyer. I know it. I’m not proud of it. (Anymore). Also, I’m not guilty of the crime I am accused of, and you guys know it; please don’t put me in jail just because I deserve it on account of my other actions.” Another reviewer pointed out that he probably got off only because everyone in town knew how crooked the Sheriff was already. Nevertheless.

This is a movie driven by its performances: Jim, a mostly-heel who gets the wind knocked out of him and is forced to confront who and what he is, is well-portrayed by the chiseled Jeff Chandler (also see: Sign of the Pagan, Flame of Araby, Female on the Beach, although come to think of it, he’s a heel in all of those. I believe Chandler was somewhat more heroic in his Westerner roles). He’s someone who has enormous gifts, who has worked for them, and takes their rewards for granted–until they get him into trouble and there is no sign of them getting him out.

jeanne-crain-george-tobias-jeff-chandler-the-tattered-dress-1957-bp9pyc

Nick Hoak (Jack Carson), the genial and corrupt ex-football player Sheriff is really good.–he’s exactly the mix of good-ol’-boy playing dumb, geniality, and concealed nastiness to make it clear from the outset that he’s way smarter, way tougher, and way more dangerous than he seems.

The third outstanding performance in this movie is by Jeanne Crain, as Diane Blane, Jim’s estranged, long-suffering wife. She won’t stand for her husband sleeping around on her, but she will stand with him to protect his future and their children’s. She’s really an excellent example of what Caroline Furlong designated a Type 3 heroine (click through for discussion on types 1-2 also): one whose power is in her emotional strength, and whose influence on the plot comes indirectly through her influence, rather than directly, through her actions (or action scenes.) Diane keeps Jim’s ego in check, encourages him, and gives him hope and strength when he needs it.–and does it all without sacrificing a shred of her self-respect, or once raising her voice or her hand. (At one point, Jim, hoping he’s going to get lucky, reminds her that they are still legally married. Diane matches his bedroom eyes and murmurs calmly back: “Did that stop you with Charleen Reston?” Burn unit, stat.) And, if that still sounds like faint praise, let me add that the proof might be in the viewing. I ended the movie with a resounding admiration for Diane Blane, because she is one strong, classy lady in a way you don’t often see.

Also playing her part quite well (but with only a few scenes to do it in) is Gail Russell (also see: Wake of the Red Witch), who mostly has to look frightened, and then also to look (spoiler!) murderous. Also of interest: the trampy Mrs. Reston was played by Elaine Stewart, who played Audie Murphy’s good-girl love interest in Night Passage. Okay, maybe not that interesting, but interesting that’s a good little movie, too. It also has Dan Duryea and Jimmy Stewart. Man, we used to have actors, didn’t we…

Rated: Five rigged poker games out of five.

Wolves (2014) – Movie Review

So a while ago I watched Wolves, which TVTROPES helpfully describes as a 2014 throwback to old-fashioned monster movies. It’s a throwback of some kind, but, and y’know what, it’s wins Best In Show to my eye. It’s got monstrous–but charismatic–villains, quirky side characters who are allowed to be characters, a heroic hero who matures and changes; a damsel who might need rescuing, but only once and only from the big bad, not the mooks, which I feel is a totally fair scenario. Also, I really needed something decent and non-brain-challenging to watch today.

Anyhow, in my book, a good movie, regardless of genre or ultimate letter grade does several things:

– Leans into it’s concept and lets the story build on the ideas inherent into it. Werewolf = super strength = I can throw these haybales into the barn loft single-handed. Compare and contrast this to Outlander (2008), which does do not a single stinking thing with it’s concept. You’ve got space marine plus vikings vs alien monster! And it did nothing with it! The space marine loses his space armor and space guns immediately; the vikings never go sailing, pillaging, or really get to do any effective fighting, let alone with bearded axes; and the entire movie could have been transplanted somewhere else, such as the modern day, with only changes to the dialogue–not the plot, not the characters, not the setup. Hell, it could just as easily have been Cowboys ‘n Injuns vs Alien Monsters. Admittedly, I’d watch that movie, but only if it starred Ben Johnson.

– Allows characters other than the main leads to have personalities. A lot of stories fall into the trap of having secondary characters exist only for the sake of helping and bolstering the hero’s story. Hero falls off a cliff? The mentor is hanging around at the bottom to pick up the pieces, for no other reason than the plot needed them to be there. Hero has lost clothes and guns in a freak boating accident? A kindly old couple by the lakeside have nothing else better to do with their deceased son’s clothes and guns than provide them to some naked rando who just swam ashore. Hero breaks into the vet’s office to steal medicines? The veterinarian stitches him up free of charge, and let me tell you that is the most unrealistic version yet. At best, you’re getting half off on the tranquilizers, and we had to wake up the tech for X-rays, so you’re paying full price for those. In this movie? When the heroine meekly asks if his wife might, perhaps, have a spare blouse, John promptly gives a squint-eyed grin and hollers for his wife to take off her shirt. Or the heroine’s drunk sister loudly declaring that she knew it, she recognized Cayden’s scent the first time she smelled it…okay, fine, we all did, but I DID IT FIRST! Or the town wolves’ subdued resentment against Cayden for…existing?

Lets things happen promptly. The very most basic thing that separates good of any grade, any genre, any kind or type, from bad is: the plot keeps moving along the correct path, without either random digressions or extraneous padding.

Then there are the more minor–but still important–things this movie does right. And all of these are worth expounding on, but I’m getting hungry, so suffice it to say that I really appreciate:

– This movie allows for the fact that your audience is human, and wants to see law-abiding / morally-sound humans win and dangerous animals (or criminals who look and act like them) lose.

– The mere and simple fact that rifles and ANFO bombs beat werewolves, and it’s without the kind of ridiculous escalation you’d see in a higher-budget movie or a Monster Hunter Nation story (GUN! OTHER GUN! BIGGER GUN! ANOTHER BIGGER GUN WITH BIGGER BULLETS! ANOTHER WEREWOLF WITH BIGGER JAWS! FLAMETHROWER! SMALLER GUN WITH SILVER BULLETS! MORE GUNS! And then by that time you have to beat the poor thing over the head a couple of times to put it out of your misery. Unnecessary and excessive.) I like this take a lot better. A healing factor is a healing factor, not a restore-life-from-last-save-point factor when you’ve just gotten a major artery punctured by high velocity lead injection, or your brain has been scrambled by a hollowpoint to the eyesocket. Or your arms and legs have been torn off and the stumps cauterized by explosives. (Note: this movie is rated, at most, PG-13. There is no excessive gore, nudity, or costly violence.)

– A heroic hero. Cayden starts out conflicted. He makes mistakes and hurts people–but regrets it and struggles against his darker nature. He also makes mistakes when he tries to fight without going all the way–and learns that sometimes, you have no choice but to fight to kill. And even then, being a hero, Cayden offers his enemies one last chance out. Caden is allowed to use violence, and he becomes, through the course of the movie, someone who can use it responsibly.

The miscellaneous: there’s smoking in this movie. Tollerman and Connor both smoke Cool Guy pipes and Wild Joe puffs on a wild-boy cigar. Somehow you don’t see that very much, these days.

The bad: honestly, the worst I have to say about it is that the transformed werewolves (humans in slightly-ripped but generally bicep- or midriff-baring clothing + furry wolf masks) look silly, and the fight scenes are correspondingly underwhelming.

The cast: Lucas Till and Stephen McHattie are both excellent. Till plays a square-jawed yet fresh-faced and cowlicked hero with enough conviction to make me mostly overlook the fact that he’s…not an actor with a great range. On the other hand, he’s well-written, and he’s got enough nuance in his voiceover / narration performance to pull it off. McHattie, though, steals the show in every scene he’s in. On paper, he’s the standard mentor/paterfamilias figure…in practice, he’s sly, cool, dignified, clever, and completely in command of both his pipe, the camera, and his southern drawl. Jason Momoa is his standard gruff-voiced alpha (huh) male. The guy might have good abs but you will not convince me he’s a good actor. Also, the guy who plays Wild Joe, whose name I did not remember to look up on IMDB before writing this, is very good, although honestly all he has to do is ham it up and go RRRAAA once or twice. He hams very well.

Merritt Patterson, as the female lead…doesn’t get as much from the script as Till does, as is therefore a lot blander. Still, she does her best at a moderately thankless damsel / love-interest, and as such isnt’t bad. Her semi-alcoholic sister was a lot more entertaining to watch and arguably cuter, but never mind. It’s bad show to have alcoholic love interests, and love interests don’t necessarily need personalities, anyway. And…honestly, that’s about it.

The plot: So things are good for Cayden Slaughter (subtle, movie, subtle.) He’s a football QB, aka local demigod, in a small town; has loving parents and a hot girlfriend–and yet things are somehow wrong. His parents are worried about his recurring nightmares; his flashes of inexplicable strength and dramatic rage cause outright injury to a football rival…not to mention that no girl likes being bitten full-on, in the face, or viciously clawed during a makeout session. The idea he’s losing his mind seems to be promptly proven right when he wakes up one morning to find blood on his hands and his parents….slaughtered. Oh, and a patrol car rolling up since his now-ex girlfriend reported him for assault.

It takes all of five minutes for this to happen. See what I said about things moving promptly?

Cayden is horrified, terrified, and grieving. But pragmatic. He goes on the run for an unspecified amount of time, trying to stay ahead of his terrible killer instinct–or abilities. This lasts for all of one scene, at which point we the audience are reassured that, yes, Cayden is the hero here. He wolfs out again–semi-voluntarily, to rescue a truck stop lot lizard from a couple of abusive bikers–leaving them dead, her alive and running away screaming, and himself with a new ride and leather jacket. (Also incidentally, we and Cayden learn from a TV broadcast that he was adopted.)

But we’re dealing with a young, clean-cut hero here. Cayden isn’t the kind of grizzled, weary anti-hero who can or intends to live this kind of life for his entire, well, life. We, the audience, get to hear his narrated thoughts. He has been looking for a solution….it’s just that there seems to be one way out: suicide.

Fortunately (or so it seems) for Cayden, at this point he meets Wild Joe, a loner werewolf who points him in the direction of Lupine Ridge (SUBTLE, MOVIE), where most of the werewolves live and the most vicious secretive pack on God’s green Earth are, before vanishing to the roof to watch him go. (I just noticed that Cayden apparently motorcycles through St. Louis on his way to Lupine Ridge. Okay, random way of showing he’s traveling through the midwest, especially since he’s supposed to be keeping a low profile on the run, but sure.)

So anyhow, Cayden finally arrives in Lupine Ridge and instantly finds himself the center of attention at the only bar in town. Which might be a good thing when the attention is coming from the hot bartender, but is less so when it’s also coming from the rough-looking type at a table in the back (Jason Momoa: Connor [wait for it] Slaughter), or from the calm old guy at a corner booth who smokes a pipe and watches what goes on without speaking (John McHattie: John Tollerman). Or the shifty guy who tries to pick a fight (some actor.) Or the other shifty kind of guy who just stares a lot (some actor: some shifty guy who will meet no good end. I think his arm gets bitten off.)

Tollerman offers Cayden (aka Danny) a job on his farm and things seem to be going well for a while (read: for the space of one scene.) A home is offered, no prying is done, and no questions are asked, even with Cayden hauling gigantic rocks out of the ground by hand and hurling 50-pound haybales into the hayloft without tools and scaring the animals just by walking past. Oh, and chopping wood shirtless. That’s always a good sign.

Cue Connor-Momoa showing up to ask said questions instead. Tollerman covers: Danny is his nephew, whom he originally didn’t recognize at first; and incidentally, Danny, stay out of Connor’s way.

The next morning, there’s a slaughtered (GEDDIT), gutted sheep in one of the pens. Tollerman, however, seems to blame hungry wolves from up in the hills…what else could it be, Danny boy? OH HAH, THEY’RE HAVING LAMB FOR SUPPER BUT CAYDEN CHOOSES TO START WITH SALAD LOL HOW DID I MISS THAT BEFORE. Good one, movie.

Anyhow, Cayden also pursues a closer acquaintance with the hot bartender (Merritt Patterson: Angelina), in defiance of the advice given him by the shifty-eyed guy–who warns him to get out of down before he gets them all killed. He doesn’t know who Cayden is, but he’ll figure it out and when he does, man….(cue both of them noticing that Connor is on the other side of the parking lot, smoking a pipe and watching, uh oh.)

Hot Bartender Angel and Cayden bond over both being orphans, as people tend to.

Meanwhile, shifty-eyed guy is executed by wolf after a brief interrogation. Honestly, I realize that running is really the natural reaction, but surely there’s a point at which someone is going to try and climb a tree…or put their back to it and try to fight. Oh well. Angel and Cayden stumble over the evil wolf camp in the woods, where the pack is, well, they’re eating him.

Angel reveals that, yes, she knows about it; she knows Cayden is a wolf; and the Tollermans also reveal that they (HAH) TiVo’d the news report about him. Mr. Tollerman is a wolf, too. In fact, most of the townspeople are, and Cayden really is his nephew. His mother, Lucinda, was his sister’s daughter–a pureblooded werewolf of the old lines. Connor raped Lucinda; the Tollermans took her in, faked her death, and then adopted Cayden out…only for Lucinda to commit suicide and Connor to run completely off the rails.

There’s been an arrangement for years: the wild pack runs in the hills (and has been steadily devolving, spending less time in human form and more time as animals); the town wolves tend to live totally as humans, intermarrying with them (“I just like men with chest hair”) and both sides are supposed to keep a low profile and maintain the secret. Problem is: Connor’s getting older, and he wants a pure-bred son. With Angel–the last remaining pureblood. And Angel, lest her remaining family be murdered, perforce has to go along with it.

Our hero and heroine bond some more over being orphans…Caden self-made, and Angel’s via murder-suicide. She and her sister have never managed to decide whether it was the wolf, the man, or the alcohol that did it. Angel tries to reassure him that he doesn’t have the soul of a killer, and also that being a wolf can be kind of a sweet deal, actually. Especially if your girlfriend is also a wolf as well. (Tollerman is very careful to announce his presence before he enters the barn, one discrete timelaps later.)

Next on the agenda is a council of war….but the town wolves aren’t very sanguine about their chances against the wild ones–especially if Connor finds out that his destined babymama has been fooling around with the stranger from out of town. Some of them are basically fully human and haven’t changed shape in years. (“Yeah, I can barely grow my sideburns anymore. Just a little fuzz. Hic!”) They’re totally willing to overlook livestock going missing, children going missing, and Angel being given to Connor…

…Cayden isn’t. “Stay in your homes tonight. And lock your doors.” See what I said above, about heroes. I like this one. [Oh boy, I’m visualizing my next attempted watch party…]

Unfortunately, since we’re only about halfway through the movie, what happens is a) Connor finds out that Cayden is Lucinda’s son, b) doesn’t care, c) Cayden gets his ass kicked and d) barely manages to throw himself off a cliff to presumed-certain death but actual safety. In his defense, he’s fighting an entire pack of people in biker vests and fuzzy masks sorry, wolves. Also, e) Caydenwolf has a poofy cowlick just like the human form does, lol.

Anyhow, who should turn up at this point but Wild Joe, a barely less undesirable alternative to the actual pack of veral wolves. But he does provide Cayden enough impetus to get up and limp back home to Angel and Tollerman, and, once Cayden regroups (seems that wolfing out + vigorous wolfy exercise is the secret to instant healing), the council of war reconvenes. It’s a council of two, and they’re the only people who can or will fight. They have no choice but to, at this point! But at this point, they’re going to fight smart.

Cue ANFO and shotguns, and needless to say, I officially love this movie. Mind you, this movie doesn’t appear to actually know what ANFO is, because the bombs appear to be made of cow manure and gunpowder from shotgun shells stuffed into burlap sacks, but at least they tried.

But Connor moves faster than expected, snatches the home folk, and leaves a cordial wedding invitation written in what’s either blood or very smeary red ink. Huh. Which is it? I consider this a decent question because all parties, when we see them that night at the, uh, party, appear to be in one piece–including Clara and John. So…where did the red ink come from? Were those invites printed off ahead of time or written ahead of time? I mean…that would kind of make more sense than carrying around a bottle of liquid ink, right? Or did one of the pack wolves cut themselves and write it?

Anyhow. Party. Connor, it might be added, is wearing a gigantic pimp coat + hat. One wonders if that’s what Momoa showed up in and they just had to roll with it, because it looks even stupider than his usual outfits. ConnorMomoa is playing this off a bit weirdly, too, actually–he’s been fairly intense and straightforward so far, but at this point he’s going for a bit of broad comedy and it’s weird. Funny, but weird. I guess he’s supposed to be drunk and playing to the crowd. Nevertheless.

(Angel is dressed up in a strategically-shredded white dress and she’s also tied to a tree and drugged.)

So, by the way, remember that shifty guy from the beginning who I thought got his arm ripped off? My bad, he actually gets his throat cut when Cayden takes out the sentries. Nice.

Anyhow, Cayden arrives in time to object to the wedding, fling Connor’s delusions of wolfhood in his face, and then….not get his ass kicked, because this time he’s fighting the way a hero should fight when the time comes to fight: all-out. No, that’s not the point of this scene. The point is, BIG FIGHT, MUCH RARRR, and this time even Angel gets in on the action. She breaks Tollerman out of the cage–to go enact part B of the plan AKA things go explodey down at the farm–but stays with the human Clara and her almost-human sister Gail to guard them. (That’s actually very smart play on the filmmakers’ part, since it allows for the heroes to run around and do hero menfolk things with the focus on the action, without crowding the battlefield and storyline with excess characters.)

Cayden, like a hero does, gives his enemies one last warning. Then some things go boom and a bunch of wolves get killed, including one who gets shot in the head while he’s standing in the middle of the front yard arguing with Connor, oh that was delicious. NICE. Then they get lured into the barn and the barn blows up all explodeylike, except that Connor leaps out of the flames and tears off his vest which would be a lot more interesting if he wasn’t all FurryMomoa at the moment, MOVIE.

Anyhow, FurryMomoa fights Cowlickwolf. Much GRR. Shwoosh arrrr vrrrr. Etc. And if you’re wondering why John Tollerman, with his rifle, isn’t just shooting the villain, it’s because a) Cayden tells him not to, b) he was reloading. Connor, with his dying breath (I presume it’s dying, anyway, because he turns back into a shirtless Jason Momoa, and OF COURSE THE CAMERA STAYS STEADFASTLAY ABOVE HIS CLAVICLE) protests that he actually loved Lucinda and had to take the fall for her getting pregnant so her father wouldn’t kill her.

At this point, Wild Joe turns up to taunt Connor a bit. Turns out, Wild Joe was exiled from town by Connor’s father (for being too wild…the mind boggles)…and now, poetic irony, the son destroys the father whose father destroyed the son and also who ate the brother, how the table turns, best served cold, etc, except that in Wild Joe’s case he probably just bashes it against a rock so it quits wiggling and blows on it a couple of times. Joe is, in fact, so busy gloating that he lets slip that he actually killed Cayden’s adoptive parents.

(“You did what?”
“What?”)

So Cayden attacks Wild Joe and gets punched in the face, at which point Connor attacks Wild Joe and Wild Joe rips his throat out. Joe then turns his attentions back to Cayden, but then Tollerman shoots him nonfatally a couple of times or at least until he runs out of ammo and Joe falls over. (“You were never too wild for this town, Joe–just too crazy.”)

Wild Joe then has the nerve to say that wolves–real wolves–only kill for food, or defense. Woooh boy, where to start with that one. a) not true, b) even if so, it doesn’t help your case, c) you’re a moron who just admitted you killed the hero’s adoptive parents in order to manipulate him, killed his biological father, attacked and brutalized him, twice, and then begged for help. And we get the most satisfying line in the movie: “I’m not a wolf, Joe. I’m a human being.”

It’s at this point Joe realizes he’s standing on a bomb, and Cayden is holding a lit match.

So now it’s all over but for burying the bodies in the soybean field and getting breakfast and loading up the motorcycle for a long ride, destination: Dunno, Uncle John, Angel wants to go ANYWHERE THAT IS OUTSIDE OF LUPINE RIDGE. Uncle John bids them goodbye and warns them to be careful of sequel hooks, uh, I mean, werewolves.

So, yeah. That’s this movie. It’s actually pretty good.

Rated: AWOOOOOOOOO

Twins of Evil (1971) – Attempted Watch Party

“So Riders, what are we watching?”
“Okay, so, there’s this movie about this man, who is a man of God and he smites evil.”
“Sounds good!”
“And then his nieces show up and he ends up driving them to evil and then he regrets it.”
“Still sounds good….let’s start it!”
“Why are you grinning like that, Riders?”

“Is this old-timey kind of movie?”
“Yes.”
“I mean, is it set in old times, or does it have old actors?”
“….yes.”

“Puritan?”
“I guess.”
“Puritan, right?”
“Yeah, but they have crucifixes and they make the sign of the cross. I think the filmmakers just got confused.”

“Just like that?! Just like that they burning her?”
“Was it like that really?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, in America they did have vigilantes, and they did go around and accuse people and they did burn witches.”
“This isn’t America.”
“….what?”

“Are those real twins?”

“I saw a black man.”

“So who is this man? Him who is fooling around with the girl? Is he a Puritan, too?”
“NO!”
“He is in black and white, too, look.”
“That’s ’cause he’s in his underwear!”
“Oh.”
“That’s a lot of underwear.”

“Oh! They are going to become bad girls. So thus they are twins of evil. I get it now, ahhh.”

“OHHHH HE BETTER NOT GO IN THERE WITH THEM!…phew! He evil, man! He’s the one who needs to be burned at the stake.”
“Well, he’s trying to smite evil.”
“HE EVIL.”

“I mean…I’d personally not be all that fired up about pleasures beyond the grave.”

“He gon’ kill her?”
“….”
“He gon’ kill her? Riders. Put the other one on”
“Yes, Riders what is that other one you said with the soldier who has to rescue his daughter?”
“Aww you guys, we didn’t even get to the bit with the vampires yet!”
“There are vampires in this movie?”

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) – Movie Review

v88jsf9oc4vd2egwhgclagfs87So I have been a fan of Peter Cushing for a long time, and who hasn’t? He’s been the Grand Moff Tarkin, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Blyss (aka, Dr. Syn, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh), Van Helsing….and….Victor Frankenstein. (Also, apparently, Mr. Darcy in a TV Pride and Prejudice miniseries? Hah. I’d pay money to see that. Can you even begin to imagine the snideness?) Christopher Lee–not that you would recognize him, or want to–also got his start in this movie, because, I guess, if you’re 6’5 and really good at shambling and glaring, you’ve got it made. And then there’s also Robert Urquhart as Paul Kempe and a couple of miscellaneous 60s-era Hammer Horror babes as the love interests. Obviously, though, the show belongs to Cushing and Lee.

Basically, I don’t have a lot to say extra about this movie. It’s perfectly cast, it’s fast-moving, it’s scary (or at least horrifying, or at least it is to me), it’s got thrills and kills and, if you have about 90 minutes of your life and nothing else worthwhile to do, it’s a pretty good way to fill that time.

So the movie begins with a minister paying a visit to the imprisoned Baron Frankenstein, who, even knowing he is within a few hours of the gallows, is more intent on insisting to the impassive padre that he listen to his side of the tale. This leads us directly into flashback-land. Turns out, Victor was an arrogant–and highly intelligent–twerp from puberty on up, with a keen interest in biology and a keener sense of his own importance.

He, together with his once-tutor and later co-discoverer, Paul, bring a drowned puppy to life. Exactly why this involves things as many bubbling and/or gently steaming beakers in as many colors as it does is kind of a mystery, but science! I suppose. Frankeinstein 2Paul is jubilant at the thought of the practical medical and scientific knowledge they can share….Victor, on the other hand, is all for keeping their newfound powers, er, I mean, scientific discoveries, to himself. Ourselves, I mean. Until they’ve perfected it! Until they create the perfect man! The man with the hands of the artist and the mature brain of a genius!

Now….just to be clear, Paul takes some convincing. Just….not a lot. And you’d think that outright gibbet-robbing would take more than a single “we are like unto gods” monologue, but it’s with barely more than a dubious expression he helps Victor collect a body. And then we get a brilliant line: “What are you going to do with that?” “Take the head off. It’s no use to me, anyway.”

The giant, open-topped vat of acid in the back room, however, could potentially be exceedingly important, er, I mean useful.

Victor, struck by a sudden flight of scientific inspiration, dips out. I will take a moment to say that no one other than Peter Cushing could play this role this way: someone completely devoted to their vision of science! (and also personal gratification therein,) utterly lacking in morals, but also deeply steeped in polite behavior and gentlemanly manners and as such, completely at ease within the standards of admittable behavior in society. Also, he looks really good in a cravat (why did those things go out of style in the first place?)

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Oooh, Mister Darcy!

This is perhaps why he has not one but two love interests: the housemaid Justine, with whom he is already having an affair; and Elizabeth, his cousin, with whom he has an arranged marriage upcoming. Elizabeth arrives somewhat early, and there’s what would be, in less competent hands, a wonderfully awkward four-way, eight-sided discussion when she, Justine, Paul, and then Victor all meet up in the doorway.

Then Victor dips straight out again, because he’s, well, got to go put his new stolen hands into a bubbling beaker before they start to go bad or something.

Paul tries to impress on him that it’s about time to stop. Why, you might ask? Is it because going cross-country to steal a dead artist’s hands off his body is the action of a crazy person? Nope. Is it because it’s illegal? Nope. Is it because by meddling with Things Man Was Not Meant To Know is intrinsically harmful to sanity and humanity? Nope. Is it because that vat of acid definitely doesn’t meet OSHA standards? Of course not.

It’s because a) the hot girl who just walked in would be pretty disturbed to find that her fiance is trying to resurrect the dead, you are interested in hot girls, Victor, right? Right? Victor, are you listening to me? Victor? Oh, and also, b) I’m interested in hot girls and also my sanity.

So Paul attempts to persuade Elizabeth to leave. Unfortunately, she’s attached to the idea of marrying Victor.

Victor, meanwhile…

Yeah.

Anyhow, Paul sidles up to the laboratory (did you pronounce that with five syllables?). Victor attempts to gloat to him a bit, but is put back on the defensive by his erstwhile tutor’s insistence that what he’s doing is evil and reckless. Once again, not that he really recognizes it as defense, he’s mostly just hurt and puzzled that his brilliant ideas aren’t being recognized and lauded the way they should be. Well, yes, true, the Creature is hideous. And yes, he’s been robbing graves (“What doctor or scientist doesn’t?”–the man has a point), but as far as the actual mind, he’s planning on implanting only the best! in his Creature. The brain of a genius. Of superior intellect. Of a lifetime of knowledge!

Also, he’s just invited the illustrious, elderly Professor Bernstein for a visit.

Yyyyyyyeahhhhhhhhh.

So naturally, about thirty seconds later, Victor is down in the vault prying the lid off the coffin. He’s just gotten the brain into a glass jar when Paul wanders in. Y’know, got to wonder about Paul: he absolutely knows what’s going on is beyond wrong–for reasons apart from the approval or disapproval of hot girls–not to mention illegal; but he really isn’t doing anything about it. He attempts to apprise Victor of the wrongness of this path, but he never actually uses any persuasive tack that Victor would actually recognize, such as: society will never recognize your genius; or, you will get in trouble for this and your work will be destroyed and ignored. Not to mention, the only time he raises an actual finger to stop Victor is now…and he half-asses it utterly, too.

Paul succeeds in smashing the glass jar against the wall–causing Victor to show the first actual emotional distress in the entire movie–and then follows up by….leaving the room. He then goes to Elizabeth and tries to convince her to leave, too. But, note, without using any words to the effect of, “Victor is doing immoral and illegal acts up in his laboratory (FIVE SYLLABLES), he’s not gonna stop, we need to get out of here before everything blows up in his face and ours.” In fact! When Elizabeth asks what is up in that laboratory (FIVE SYLLABLES!) he specifically denies that it’s “Wicked or insane.”–merely that Victor is blind to the consequences of his actions.

DUDE, YOUR PROBLEM. IT’S RIGHT THERE. IT IS WICKED AND INSANE BY DICTIONARY DEFINITION AND ALSO CRIMINALLY ILLEGAL, HELLO.

Elizabeth, as any woman would who is hearing bad things about the man a man she is dependent on and also desperately wants to be in love with, throws him out.

(Victor is fishing glass shards out of the Professor’s brain and apparently doesn’t like the odds on snagging another genius brain, because he’s started procedures going in the Tank of Bubbles.) Needless to say, there’s also a thunderstorm going on. Having started the flywheel at full speed ahead and all supplementary flasks at Maximum Bubble, Victor goes off to ask Paul for help….only for a direct lightning strike to supercharge the generators while they’re still downstairs arguing.

(Victor has the most amazing fraction-of-a-second almost-smile before the Creature reveals his face and then tries to strangle him, but I can’t freeze-frame quickly enough to get a screenshot of it.)

And then by the next morning, it’s escaped into the woods, where an old blind man and a cute young boy are gathering wood by the side of a river, and, interestingly, the Creature is wearing clothes now. It–he?–also seems at least as much discombobulated by the terrified blind man as he is of him….at first, anyway.

Anyway, the safari catches up with the Creature pretty soon, and then Paul shoots it in the face with a shotgun, which can’t be good for what’s left of it’s (his??) brain, either. And now he’s dead and they bury it.

What?

Man, these guys. These guys! AS THEY ARE BURYING THE BODY OF A STITCHED-TOGETHER CORPSE MADE OF PARTS THEY HAVE ACTIVELY ROBBED FROM GRAVES, Paul is still going on about how Victor has done “monstrous acts”, “monstrous,” I tell you! Done with that shovel yet? No? Tamp down that end of the mound a little bit more, ‘kay? And Victor, for his part, is going “I’ll never forgive you for this. Evah! Wait, where are you storming off to? COME BAAAACK!” YOU GUYS ARE MORONS.

Naturally, the next scene is Victor in his laboratory (five syllables), and Paul walking in to bid his farewell. He’s no longer needed there, after all, of course. NOT THAT HE DID A DAMN THING WHILE HE WAS THERE, MIND YOU, but whatever. His work is done. You know, after having helped raise and educate this man, and stood beside him while he started his work, and then stood back while he continued it, done. Whatever lets you sleep at night, man.

Victor, meanwhile….

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Name a more iconic duo.

Yeah.

So, no matter what else you can say about this movie, it’s got multiple things going for it: the actors, their performances, the tight scripting and fast pace…and by golly, it’s got the very freakiest of freaky designs for The Creature. Apparently Christopher Lee had to eat his lunches alone, because no one else on set wanted to sit anywhere near him. Dude.

Victor is a fairly simple creature, really. All he wants to do is be left alone (with the occasional other person to come by now and again and tell him how brilliant he is) to work on his projects, and also screw over conduct household affairs in peace. Whyyyy?! this can’t just happen is something of a mystery to him. And to him only. The former (Paul) source of gratification has gone, and the latter is about to blow up in his face, as Justine reveals that she’s pregnant, jealous, and desperate.

Thing is, despite his single-mindedness and arrogance, Victor isn’t actually stupid, and he’s a fairly adept manipulator when he wants to be and when he actually can understand what people want and are motivated by. Unlike Paul, who has always been wishy-washy, Justine doesn’t make any bones of the fact that she wants Victor to marry her or else she’ll turn him over the authorities.

Now, here’s another thing to say about this movie: it moves fast. There really isn’t any wasted time: things happen. For instance: we skip directly from ahead ahead to the wedding rehearsal. Or at least, to some guy rehearsing his wedding toasts before his wife drags him off.

Contrast this with Victor’s brush-off of Elizabeth as he heads straight back to the laboratory. (FIVE SYLLABLES!) Paul arrives, gormless as ever, and heads up to the laboratory (FIVE SYLLABLES!), where oh my gosh, Victor is preparing some food for the Creature?! OH MY GOSH. THIS MOVIE.

OKAY, I’m not sure whether it’s my lunch sitting queasily or it’s really just this movie hitting home the way it does, but this is genuinely disturbing to me. Like, seeing the Creature tied up, and then it hides its face, it’s creeping me the hell out.

Victor has to have a gloat, naturally, and then has to display his mastery over the Creature for Paul’s benefit. Oh ye gods. Credits to Christopher Lee, it’s really genuinely disturbing to watch it flail around to obey while he orders it up and down like a dog. (Although I also think that curry mix was expired.) And, naturally, Paul isn’t impressed with this–especially when Victor points out that the damage to the superior brain was his fault to begin with.

But! The final straw! Is when Victor admits that, well, try and try again. And again. And again! if need be. With superior brains each time, naturally. Paul storms out to notify the law for real this time….WALKING DIRECTLY PAST ELIZABETH AND OUT THE DOOR AT WHICH POINT VICTOR ALSO RUSHES PAST HER AND OUT THE DOOR ALSO.

Did we mention that the laboratory (FIVE SYLLLABLES) is unlocked and standing open right now?

ARGH. Also, B-T-DUBS, there is a grand total of five minutes left in this movie. Wow.

Anyhow, all parties (except Paul, who has buggered off again, NATURALLY), end up on the roof, Elizabeth gets shot, the Creature gets set on fire and did we mention that giant vat of acid? Yeah.

We cut back to the jail cell, where Victor is trying to persuade the preacher and then Paul turns up to…be completely passive-aggressive and refuse to utter a word about this whole business, leaving Victor–you know, the man he TAUGHT FROM A, yes, indeed, snotty and obnoxious and arrogant, KID–there to scream incoherently and die with everyone believing he’s an insane criminal murderer.

Well, I mean, yeah, it’s true, but it’s true for the wrong reasons, and Paul’s still a little bitch.

AND IT TURNS OUT ELIZABETH IS STILL ALIVE OKAY WHAT?!

And then Baron Frankenstein is led to the guillotine, THE END.

A sequel, you say?

DNF Movie Review – Occupation: Rainfall (2020)

Operation-Rainfall-600x873 TLDR: it starts of really quite well, and then it lost me about thirty minutes in, just about when the plot killed any good will I had towards an action-heavy, low-cringe opening.

So.

The blurb–and the opening voiceover narration–tells me that this movie is set two years after an alien invasion struck Earth in two waves, first by a drone bombardment from orbit, then by actual invasion. The invasion was thwarted, as these tend to be, by a “handful” of brave men and women rather than, y’know, the combined might of the world’s militaries; but the second wave is proving harder to deal with.

Right off the bat, this movie gets on my right side, because it gets straight into the business of us watching a handful of “brave men and women” fighting aliens…like, right into it, and it’s got things I like, like air support, and helicopters, and radio chatter, and lasers, and less than seven minutes in someone says the mission is a go, which is always fun. (pause here to note that someone, presumably our hero, flips off an alien with a grenade pull-ring on his finger. HAH.) With one very brief exception, there has been no exposition so far and actually, as of ten minutes, no cringe.

But that may change. Oh, and it’s also set in Australia.

There are also some aliens who don’t want the war to continue, and are helping, supplying, or fighting with the humans. They aren’t very well regarded by the humans who have lost friends and family members to, y’know, alien warfare.

There is also a hot Asian chick and a slightly less hot Australian chick who flies a fighter jet. Both of them show rather more cleavage than is professional in an apocalyptic military situation. I mean….are uniform dress codes really going to go that far downhill after the apocalypse? The guys aren’t going around shirtless. They seem to be in decent order. Odd and also, come to think of it, universal in the lower class of post-apocalyptic movie. Terminator (the good one) did not have this–the soldier girl was wearing pretty much an identical uniform to Kyle. Hm. Mad Max (the second one) didn’t have this, either. The Warrior Woman wore the same kind of cobbled-up hockey pads as the guys. Uh…The Blood of Heroes (that movie with Rutger Hauer, you know. The one I haven’t actually watched yet)–that one didn’t have excess cleavage, either, but it was about professional touring athletes, not soldiers. Well, semi-pro. Well. Kinda.

Anyhow.

So! At the briefing, the squadron leader guy (who is less handsome than the flipping-off-aliens guy and therefore less a) important, b) heroic) is in favor of evacuating Sydney along with all civilians. Some older guy with an indescribable accent points out that they’re still finding civilians. Also, something something, send a ground recon, any volunteers? (Hot Soldier Guy volunteers. I have a feeling he prepared for this role by watching Black Rifle Coffee Company videos, because he’s got that exact attitude and beard.) The other person going along is one of the alien defectors, and they’re riding space horses. What, were regular horses too expensive to film? Were ATVs too expensive to film? Sheesh.

Y’know, now I want to see a movie with the heroes riding tactical side-by-sides into battle.

Black Coffee Soldier Guy continues to act with consummate unprofessionalism towards his alien ally, but never mind, the evac is beginning and jets go vroom and doors go slam, and it’s actually very exciting until it stops happening one brief montage later, hmph. The unprofessionalism continues when the civilian Grays–females and juveniles–are also left behind/refused to be let on the transports, despite Hot Asian Chick speaking up for them.

Anyway, Sydney goes boom.

OK, honestly, I’m bored at this point and don’t really know or like any of the characters except Gary the Alien (Lawrence Makoare, AKA Lurtz, Gothmog, and the Witch King of Angmar). Not that they’re poorly written!–everyone so far is pretty distinct. But they are unlikable.

This movie needed to strip down, go bare-bones on the plot, go small-scale. Take us minute-by-minute on the evacuation. Go house to house rescuing the civilians. Show our heroes going down to the last bullet. Or something like that. That’s how it kind of started out, and being down at the ground level is an interesting and new perspective on an alien invasion (Battle: Los Angeles the only other example I personally could name), without pretending that your heroes are going to make a massive difference in the outcome of the war all on their own–but acknowledging that they can make a difference by saving some lives right here, right now. A ragtag band of brave men and women successfully getting a convoy of refugees out of a warzone? That’s interesting. Saving the entire world and winning the war at one cunning stroke? Dude…it’s been done before and it was boring and unconvincing every single time after the first.

Yeah, and at this point I wandered off.