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Reviews

Elvis: That's the Way It Is
(1970)

"The Way It is" ISN"T the way it WAS!
Sadly, some people feel that they know better than the director how a film should be. Since director Denis Sanders is now deceased, he cannot comment on the "special edition" DVD of his film, which basically removes the heart and soul from his movie--the people who loved Elvis and made him the phenomenon that he was (and still is, for that matter!) I have no problem with creating a concert-only version-the concert footage is superb and shows Elvis at one of the high-points in his career; just a few years before his death, but before his sad decline. It's great fun to watch him rehearse and horse around. However, it seems wrong to me to palm this off on the public as the film "Elvis: That's the Way it Is" when much of the footage has been removed! Denis Sanders wanted to show several aspects of Elvis World, reaching from the kitchen of the International Hotel all the way to Luxembourg. To be able to view the original version, I had to wait until an aging Laserdisc came available for purchase and then I realized how removing the non-Elvis material lessened the importance of the film, as the documenting of an important cultural icon. Hopefully, someone at Warner Home Video will realize the error of this and make BOTH versions available, if for nothing else than to right the wrong done to the film's director.

Midnight at the Old Mill
(1916)

Digging up the dead with Ham & Bud
Ham and Bud will never be given the accolades that Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, or even Clark & McCullough have garnered. Their comedy is from a much different time, before the coming of Hal Roach and a more "sophisticated" form of slapstick. And while they may lack subtlety, and their laugh-making power has somewhat diminished, I find their films quite enjoyable, much more than contemporary Keystone comedies of the same era. "Midnight at the Old Mill" has some nice "Guignol" touches with mysterious doctors in black and Ham having to play a corpse at one moment. In a rather fancy touch, the original nitrate release prints have the outdoor scenes (at the Old Mill) tinted a dark blue. So it seems that Kalem thought a bit more of this outing than some other Ham & Bud films to go to the added expense of tinting. 8mm prints of this film were made available by Blackhawk Films many years ago, and occasionally show up on eBay, which is where I found mine!

The Blundering Blacksmiths
(1917)

Ham and Bud, but mostly Ham
Lloyd Hamilton became one of the most popular silent comics of the late twenties, largely forgotten today due to the dearth of available films, coupled with his early death in 1935. His incarnation as "Ham" was his first popular character, a fairly disheveled tramp figure. After parting with Bud Duncan, Hamilton developed the "meek" character that he became associated with. This entry in the series kind of hints at things to come as "Ham" is definitely the "star" while "Bud" is shoved into the background. It also dates near the end of the series. The story goes that after the end of "Ham & Bud," Lloyd Hamilton would have little or nothing to do with Bud Duncan.

This film does have a fairly coherent story and a funny boxing scene at the end, making it a fairly good Ham & Bud outing, one that can hold up to repeated viewings. Blackhawk Films released this on 8mm "back in the day"--heaven know where you might find it now.

Mary's Merry Mix-Up
(1917)

A Delightful Romp!
This funny and charming film took me totally by surprise. Supposedly "ghosted" by Al Christie for Strand Comedies, it is a clever domestic comedy, devoid of any of the all-too-common "slapstick trappings", such as baggy pants, bricks, and pies. In fact, it seems rather mature for being made in 1917. Jay Belasco plays his part of the bewildered boyfriend and husband with aplomb and his fits of controlled rage are classic. The second half of the film is devoted to a great sequence where Jay keeps changing his appearance for different members of his new family: sideburns for Brother, moustache for Father and bushy eyebrows for Mother. He does this using a pair of paste-on mutton chop sideburns acquired from a roving film crew. Blackhawk Films did release this on 8mm way back when, so if you can find a copy, take a chance on it. It's a shame that Belasco & Rhodes didn't do many comedies together; they made a good pairing, although this film is completely Belasco's.

Busy Bodies
(1933)

My Introduction to Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy
'Round about 1971, when I was nine, my dad brought home a projector from school and some 16mm films from the public library. One of those films was "Busy Bodies" and the antics of Stan and Ollie hooked me immediately. This has to rank as one of their finest, since it is just THEM, no silly romantic subplots or intrusive musical numbers: just twenty minutes of unrelenting mayhem. Before taking my nephew, who is the same age now as I was then, to a Sons of the Desert meeting, I showed him "Busy Bodies" and now he has the same interest in L&H as I did (and still do!). Thanks Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy--you made the world a little better place.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
(1968)

A Blast from my past!
This is one of the first films I remember seeing in the theater,

away back in 1968--I would've been five or six. The friends I went

with afterwards named their new poodle "Truly Scrumptious!" Well,

some 30+ years later and it has not lost any of its charm--a fun

movie "for the entire family", as it were. In retrospect, it is quite a

dark tale, which may be explained by Roald Dahl's name as one of

the scriptwriters. Robert Helpmann's wonderfully oily turn as the

Child Catcher is still creepy and Benny Hill is, well, Benny Hill!

Gert Frobe is silly and malevolent as the Ruler of Vulgaria, and his

number with Anna Quayle is a sadistic treat. Funny, I did notice

that when I was five...The songs by the unstoppable Sherman

Bros. and the kinetic energy of Dick Van Dyke make this a real

treat. SADLY, the DVD has only been released in a PAN & SCAN

format, utterly destroying some of the nicest widescreen

compositions ever. If you can find it, grab the MGM/UA Laserdisc!!

The Struggle
(1931)

A Last Hurrah
By the time he made this film, Hollywood had D.W. Griffith right where they wanted him; a broken man. His studio was gone and he was selling out his UA shares--to make this film, I think. It's a shame that things went so wrong for him at this time, for it is evident in "The Struggle" that he was figuring out how to use this new sound gizmo. I was very impressed by his use of sound, almost Altman-like at times with overlapping dialogues. But, sadly, Hollywood had moved beyond DW, and didn't need or want him around anymore. This film is not the calibre of "Broken Blossoms" or "Intolerance", but it's a fine effort on a small scale from one of filmdom's greats.

Shrek
(2001)

Bleck! What a waste of hard drive space.
Before I saw this film, a friend mentioned that if all the fart jokes were removed, the film would be about five minutes long. I figured, he being the cynical fellow he is, that he was kidding. He wasn't. John Lassiter and the folks at Pixar have nothing to fear from the adolescents that crafted this "thing". Possibly one of the worst films I have ever seen, made all the worse by people telling me how great it is. This may have started out as a great script--it is a great premise and Wm. Steig has always been one of my favorite cartoonist/authors. It seems that somewhere along the line "the powers that be" decided it needed to be "pepped up" a bit and wherever there wasn't a funny bit (which is most of the film, come to think of it), a fart, or a reference to a fart or a bodily fluid or odor would be added. Even "Monty Python & the Holy Grail" or "Blazing Saddles" had more restraint! I notice that an entry for Shrek 2 has been posted. Swell. Now they can use all the fart jokes they left out last time.

Run, Girl, Run
(1928)

Only for Carol(e) [and Daphne!]
This little two-reeler manages to insult overweight people and African-Americans before the first reel is over! One of the "gags" concerns Daphne Pollard, as the track team coach, hunting for Carole down in "Cupid's Alley", the local make-out spot. She approaches one car with dark windows and flings the door open to reveal a black man, seen earlier as a handyman, sitting in the car with half a dozen live chickens. He does a huge "I'm caught" double take. Ouch. The film's only interest is that Carole Lombard is in it. She and Daphne Pollard make quite an unusual team--coming from complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Sadly, by the time this film was made, the Sennett Studio had pretty much run out of steam.

Gone in 60 Seconds
(1974)

A Real Independent Film
In this day of "so called" independent film making, the majority of

which is backed by big studio money and ruined by the meddling

of "suits", it's so refreshing to see a truly independent film! "Gone

In 60 Seconds" was written, produced, directed and distributed by

the same man, H.B. Halicki, who also stars AND did most of the

stunt driving! This is truly a film the likes of which we will never see

again, thanks to our over-protective, sue-happy, society of wimps

and victims. Several comments are made about the acting in this

film. I would say that for none of the cast being professionals, they

handled themselves very well. And as for this being Halicki's first

film as a director, he must've known a few things and/or had some

great tech people working with him because the film is cut

together so wonderfully. Then too there is the sheer guilty

pleasure of see cars obliterated. I wish I could've seen this on the

big screen. So, if you're looking for a film with a lot of meaning,

skip this one. If you just want to enjoy a well crafted little film, and

see lots of Plymouth police cars get crunched--run out and get

GONE IN 60 SECONDS (but drive safely, please)!

Noah's Ark
(1928)

A Bible story from the Book of Zanuck!
Kudos to all involved for restoring this screen epic, Michael Curtiz's American Directing Debut. He definitely pulls out all the stops on this one! For those familiar with the Biblical account of Noah and the Ark, some extra bits of information are included such as Noah's son Japheth being blinded and forced to push a huge stone mill as punishment for attempting to rescue his lady-friend from being sacrificed. And God appearing to Noah as a burning bush and telling him of the flood via a huge book of stone tablets--a very cool scene, by the way. These parts of the story are only found in the rare "DFZ" version of the Bible. These variances do nothing to hurt the film however, as it's strong anti-war message comes through. How ironic though to see them speak of WWI as the last war, and that the covenant of peace would now shine throughout the world. A wonderful sentiment, one that too few people seem to hold dear.

Murders in the Zoo
(1933)

Definitely worth a look!
While not on the creepy level of Edgar Ulmer's "The Black Cat", this film shows that a studio OTHER THAN Universal was trying to make horror films in the early thirties. I will agree that Charlie Ruggles' tipsy clowning tends to diffuse the genuine horror of the situation, but this seems to almost have been a requirement of horror films of thirties, as this same type of character is found in "Mystery of the Wax Museum", and "Doctor X", both films starring Lionel Atwill. Maybe they just wanted to offset Atwill's natural creepiness, eh? At any rate, A big kudos to MCA/Universal for even releasing this film on home video, and for using one of the most beautiful prints I've ever seen! Now, if we can just get them to put out MURDER BY THE CLOCK...

Shadow of the Vampire
(2000)

Did we all see the same movie?
While reading through the 70 plus comments for this film, I was struck by the wide and endless variety of comments. It's hard to believe that everyone saw the same film. "Malkovich was great"--"Malkovich was awful"; "The credits were too long"--"The credits were fantastic"--"The film is a great tribute to a great film"--"Murnau must be spinning in his grave"--just amazing. To one review in particular I must take exception--silent film directors often DID talk their actors through their movements while filming, which is one reason that so many of them, Murnau included, were not pleased by the coming of sound. Murnau said that he would have nothing to do with talkies--his sudden death prevented our finding out if he would've remained true to his word. Also, cameras were often cranked at different speeds. Most of the film techniques, except maybe the night shooting, were very accurate. I don't believe they had a fast enough stock for night shooting in 1921, and all the night shots in "Nosferatu" are "day for night", shot in daylight then tinted blue to resemble nighttime. I thought a fine job was done creating the world of 1920's German filmmaking, a heady time if there ever was one. I didn't really mind that the accents drifted in and out at times--I feel if you notice that kind of stuff up front, you're not paying attention to the film--it hasn't "caught you up." I had that watching "X-Men", but that's another review. All involved in "Shadow..." are to be complemented for a job well done, including Eddie Izzard, who seemed to have the most stable and positive response from almost all the review. Embarrassingly, I had never heard of him before seeing this film! He was quite excellent, though and missed from the ending scene (which that character is in in the Murnau original). The ending scene is the only part I have some trouble with. It seems as if they just ran out of steam and relied on a bit of "shock" to end it. I can't think of how it could have been done better, but it just needed something.

The Fatal Glass of Beer
(1933)

A misunderstood classic
When this film was released in 1933, the majority of reviews were negative and even hostile. The film was hated and vilified; audiences and theatre owners found it tacky and cheap. They missed the whole point. The film is a sharp satire of both the Mellerdrammers of the early twentieth century and of studio filmmaking. Fields and Bruckman were too incisive as comics not to have done everything in this film very deliberately. From the overly obvious sets to the absolute WORST background projection ever seen, the film is a sly poke in Hollywood's eye and that's where its humor comes from. I just about wet myself the first time I saw Fields go out to "milk the elk". He stands in front of a background projection of elk in the snow and begins calling to them. When they start to run, they grow larger and larger, dwarfing the non-plussed Fields. Sadly, since this is a public domain title, it's hard to find a good copy of it. About the best I've seen is on the "6 Films by W.C. Fields" LD or DVD

1776
(1972)

A Classic, despite J.L.'s meddling
"1776" was Jack L. Warner's swansong and I'm sure, as with his purchasing of "Music Man", "My Fair Lady", and "Camelot", that his intentions were good. However, his old studio mentality would not let the film, pretty much filmed to match the stage production, alone. So, he trimmed a bit here, cut a verse there and completely excised the "Cool Considerate Men" number in deference, so I've heard, to his good friend Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon, who found it distasteful to Republicans. He also decided that there was no reason for a stereo track so the film was released with both it's wings, visual and aural, severly clipped. Fortunately, one of the assistant editors carefully hid away the removed sections from the workprints (J.L. had the removed negatives burned, as was his won't) so they could be discovered by the gents who lovingly restored the film for the Pioneer Laserdisc release. If you can get a hold of one of these LDs, you'll see the best version of this film, practically complete and in widescreen and stereo. Columbia/Tri-Star also released this version on LD, but without director's commentary. A wonderful gem from a rather sparse and dry period in American film history that should be watched and loved over and over!

Curiosity Shop
(1971)

A "lost" children's classic
Probably one of the best shows ever made for Saturday morning TV, not the usual animated dreck but a fun show that was also informative and educational. I remember best a show about horror, done for Halloween, where I first saw the unmasking scene from "The Phantom of the Opera". I even had a Curiosity Shop lunchbox! Hopefully, with the ever growing hunger of the cable/satellite TV monster, this show will someday resurface.

Highlander II: The Quickening
(1991)

Why bankers make poor filmmakers...
I heartily agree with those who feel that H2: The Sickening is one of the worst films ever made. I saw it in the theatre in it's initial run and was absolutely appalled. My friends and I left the show saying, in our worst Christopher Lambert voices "There Can Beeee Only Waaaan!" Anyway, I recently bit the bullet and watched the "Renegade" version and was very surprised at how good it actually was! There is now a coherent story, the flying wires have been hidden (for the most part), and it has a good ending! Along with the film is a short documentary about what happened to the film. Seems that the producers' idea to shoot in Argentina "went south" financially and the film was taken from the the creators and given to the Completion Bond company to finish. To paraphrase Erich Von Stroheim, "the man who cut that film had nothing on his mind but a hat." So, be brave--give H2 another chance--you might just like it.

Deluge
(1933)

A Highly unusual film! See it if you can!!
I have always wondered about the disappearance of "Deluge". Why for so many years, seemingly since it's release in 1933, this film vanished from the face of the earth. After seeing it, courtesy of the efforts of Mr. Wade Williams & Co., I'm still puzzled, but I have a theory. In 1933, "the code" was enacted that pretty much took care of sex and violence in Hollywood. While not an explicit film by any means, "Deluge" does deal fairly frankly with sexuality, lust and rape. I wonder if RKO discovered they had a film that they could not re-release, much like the fabled lost Warner Bros. comedy "Convention City". It's a shame for, while it is a dated film, I find it quite unique and surprising for it's era and a fairly successful attempt to create something different in an era when films were already becoming cookie cutter by-products of the studio machine (not that many of those cookies aren't tasty, mind you). And even though the only available copy at this writing is dubbed into Italian, I don't find that a hinderance. An excellent job was done in subtitling the film, and much of the film is visual anyway. One thing that is somewhat bothersome: IMDb lists the running time as 70 minutes--the tape's running time is 59 minutes. What's missing?? Something so heinous that even the Italian censors couldn't let it be shown? The mind boggles! By the way, I have recently heard that the French film archive holds a copy of this film as well...I wonder....in Anglais, mais non?

Fantasia 2000
(1999)

A truly wonderful film!
I think that Disney should receive some accolades for such a daring experiment. The added cost of the IMAX production must being weighing on them heavily, especially now when the company's fortunes are lower than usual. A great assemblance of talent is showcased here, and the variety of animation is quite nice. The only part of the film which really suffers is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" which, although "Digitally Restored" (whatever that might mean), looks horrible. The animation has become jerky and the picture looks "pixelated" to coin a word. I think it might have been better to go back to the original filmic elements and attempt a direct optical enlargement rather than this "digital enhancement" which has left one of Disney's shining stars looking like tarnished brass.

This is a small complaint, however, for the other seven segments are highly enjoyable, particularly "Rhapsody in Blue", referred to as a tribute to Al Hirshfeld, but owing much more to Chuck Jones and Friz Freling, "Pomp & Circumstance", one of the few times Donald Duck gets to have a tender moment, and "The Carnival of the Animals", a very brief, but wonderfully silly moment. I highly recommend everyone to get your tickets before it leaves the IMAX venues, for I doubt that you'll ever see anything like this again!

By the way, the interstitial segments are not as bad as some have said, although Bette Midler referring to Salvador Dali as "That droopy watch guy" was a little much...

The Iron Giant
(1999)

Shame on Warner Bros!
The Iron Giant is a great work of art and entertainment. From the first frame, the amount of love and hard work that went into making this film is highly evident. That's why I say shame on Warner Bros. for making this great movie and not doing EVERYTHING in their corporate power to insure its success! One of the few good movies in 1999, and it gets buried. Go figure.

Charade
(1963)

"Charade" is reborn
I must concur with the majority of comments. CHARADE is a wonderful film with a great script, a fabulous cast and a truly inspired director. Might I recommend Criterion's new CHARADE DVD? The film is presented in it's proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is sharp, bright and colorful. Along with that is a wry and witty commentary track by Stanley Donen and Peter Stone. It's a bit more expensive than the average DVD, but worth it if this is a film you love to watch over and over.

This Is Elvis
(1981)

"The King" as a human being...
I remember when this film first appeared on HBO in the early eighties. I was never a huge Elvis fan, but found myself watching this film every time it came on. It is a fascinating portrait of a man thrust into overwhelming fame and fabulous wealth and how it eventually destroys him. The "recreations" are very well done and the film as a whole is very balanced in it's view of Elvis' life. It neither canonizes nor trashes him, but shows him as an ordinary guy dealing with extraordinary fame. The longer version now available on video is nice, but I miss the late concert performance where Elvis, sick, overweight, and bathed in sweat, forgets the lyrics of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and nervously "wings it". Maybe that was too much truth, even for this documentary.

Forgotten Silver
(1995)

A loving and comic tribute to the Silent Screen
Peter Jackson has a big heart, I think. Even for all the gore and grossness of his films (i.e.; Dead Alive aka Braindead) he always has a very heartfelt moment of sentiment. In this film, it's the loving way McKenzie is treated and the seriousness of his death scene, captured on film. While much of the film has very tongue in cheek chuckles, this part is played very seriously.

Also, as someone who works every day with "forgotten silver", I admire his treatment of the whole subject. For, while McKenzie and his films may be bogus, the plight of old movies is not. I'm amazed at how much footage shows up in attics and basements and garden sheds every year. In just the eight months so far of 1999, we have received at least 30 "new" films; rare and unique items all. And we have films done by people very much like Colin McKenzie. Private, personal projects, most of which never saw the light of day or vanished quickly after their initial release. So much "forgotten silver."

The Sixth Sense
(1999)

"Is there something you want to tell me?"
I quote the line from the film above because that moment in the film has stuck in my mind. I first want to offer a HUGE "Thank You!" to M. Night Shyamalan, the director. He has succeeded in making a modern "horror film" without resorting to gore and CGI. This is a ghost story in league with The (original)Haunting (1963), The Uninvited, The Changeling, etc. It relies almost solely on the power of the actors to render its chills. There are still some genuine jolts--my wife practically broke my arm at one point as a mysterious figure swished by the lens. Bruce Willis is his most un-Bruce like, and he's great: soft spoken, gentle, emotional. Haley Joel Osment is the real thing--not a "child actor" but a warm, human, frightened little boy. And finally, a denoument that caught me off guard like a slap in the face by a hand from the grave. So don't sit here reading this drivel--go see it!! In the theatre, if possible, surround by several hundred others.

The Haunting
(1963)

Robert Wise proves that "Less IS More!"
There are few films that can conjure up in the viewer's mind such dark dread. The "face in the wall" scene is a major example. No blood, no gore, not even much movement, but what a chilling moment. Don't except imitations--demand the original!! And if you can see it in it's widescreen glory, by all means do--so much is lost when it's panned and scanned.

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