JohnSeal

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Reviews

Dreams to Remember (The Legacy of Otis Redding)
(2007)

First-rate documentary
How is it possible that this excellent Otis Redding documentary has been out since 2007, and until now has had NO user reviews? For anyone interested in soul music or the history of Stax Records, this is absolutely essential viewing. Interviews with widow Zelda Redding, Stax co-founder Jim Stewart, and musicians Steve Cropper and Wayne Jackson are blended with performance footage and contemporaneous footage of Otis chatting with Dick Clark. It would have been nice if sources of the performance footage had been more clearly identified, but that's a minor quibble: unlike many similar films, Dreams to Remember gives us full songs rather than brief excerpts.

Squad Car
(1960)

That's B-E-C-K
Hard to believe second features were still being churned out in the early '60s, but here's the proof. When a Phoenix aircraft mechanic (Norman MacDonald) is gunned down on the job, hard-bitten detective Beck (Paul Bryar, in one of the few credited appearances in his long, busy, and entirely unstoried career) is on the case. A portentous narrator tells us the feds are eager to solve the crime, while singer Cameo Kincaid (Vici Raaf) belts out her latest hit, 'Ooh! Ooh! Wow!' in a third-rate 'night club'. It all adds up to what now plays like an unsung camp classic, highlighted by the crusty Beck straddling a miniature 'Ride-A-Matic' tractor for no apparent reason. Don't take it seriously, and you'll have a great time.

Die Rechnung - eiskalt serviert
(1966)

Mells Fabo
The fourth Jerry Cotton adventure benefits from some decent New York City location footage and a lively (if sometimes inappropriate) Peter Thomas score, but generally looks and feels cheap. In a plot that reminded me a bit of Henri Verneuil's 1969 classic The Sicilian Clan, an armored car full of US currency is hijacked by baddies, and it's up to Jerry (avuncular George Nader, solid if unspectacular) to recover it. The car is operated by the 'Mells Fabo' company, which is probably cockney slang for Wells Fargo. Shot in flat and unattractive black and white, this is not the best Cotton film. No, I'm not sure which one is best, but it's definitely not this one.

Aleksandr malenkiy
(1981)

More music, please!
With the passing of Ennio Morricone, the title of greatest living film composer has been passed to Eduard Artemyev, whose incredible score graces this routine postwar melodrama about kindly Soviet soldiers helping German orphans in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Artemyev's score is in turn deeply moving and unsettling, but unfortunately it's only heard during the film's scene-setting prologue. Once the story gets going the music stops, and the film suffers as a result. Though well-acted, Little Alexander stretches credulity at times, though its humanistic outlook is a welcome change from most war movies.

Let Me Come In
(2021)

Can the song
I'm a huge fan of Bill Morrison's Decasia (2002), but Let Me Come In - while largely cut from the same cloth - is burdened by an unpleasant and unnecessary song. It's a wonderful watch, but the song is a terrible distraction from the images - which, of course, is what we want to experience in a Morrison film. At least it's short.

The Ringer
(1972)

Amazing!
Filmmaker Jeff Lieberman predicted the future! The Ringer anticipated a time when gullible youth would be persuaded to wear ridiculous rings in their noses and urinals would appear on LP covers. It's a hilarious and shockingly accurate depiction of marketing that hasn't aged a bit. Look for a cameo from unsung musical genius Eliot Chiprut (Ohio Express, 1910 Fruitgum Company) as a jingle writer. Twenty minutes of pure genius.

Whatever Happened to Susan Jane?
(1982)

Above average indie effort
Marc Huestis' mini-feature (clocking in at precisely 56 minutes) may look crude and suffer from technical shortcomings, but it does one thing most indies of its ilk struggle to do: tell a coherent story. Cleverly built around a 1950s educational film, Whatever Happened to Susan Jane? Sees old schoolmates Marcie (the brilliant and perfectly cast Ann Block) and Susan Jane (the equally fine Francesca Rosa) reunited in early '80s San Francisco. Marcie is a straight-laced housewife whose eyes are opened to a whole new world of avant-garde art, drag queens, and punk rock, while Susan Jane - now going under the name Susanja - puts up with her old friend's surprise visit. For those of us familiar with The City in those far off days, this is a wonderful reminder of how things used to be before Silicon Valley workers overwhelmed the place.

Long Hot Summers: The Story of the Style Council
(2020)

All things considered, not bad
I am a fan of The Jam. I have been a fan of The Jam since I was 16 years old in 1978. This documentary is not about The Jam: it's about the musical project that brought down the curtain on that incredible band. Needless to say, The Style Council were a hard sell for me, who judged them a very soft pop confection indeed: beyond Speak Like a Child and Money-Go-Round, I never cared for their recordings. So it is with some surprise that I found Long Hot Summers a very satisfying documentary indeed - short and to the point, it does an excellent job of encapsulating the Council's career. I will never forgive Paul Weller for breaking up my favourite band (and stubbornly insisting he'll never play with Buckler and Foxton again), but even I couldn't get angry watching this excellent little film.

The Lifetaker
(1975)

Good heavens, no, my stylus will be ruined!
You know from the off that this a Serious Work of Art when the credit 'written for the cinema by Michael Papas' pops up on the screen. Further seriousness is signaled by a series of artily composed and lighted sex scenes featuring teenage Richard (Peter Duncan) and woman who really should know better Lisa (Lea Dregorn). Alas, the arrival home of hubby James (Terence Morgan) throws a spanner in the works for young Richard, who soon - and unsurprisingly - falls victim to the unhappy (and very sweaty) cuckold's machinations. Despite the suggestive title, this is no exploitation flick: The LIfetaker is more reminiscent of a Peter Shaffer play than an Andy Milligan joint. It takes some getting used to, and Papas tries too hard to add clever cinematic touches to what is really more of a chamber piece, but for a completely unknown and forgotten film it's not bad. A digital brush-up would doubtless burnish its non-existent reputation.

The Gods Must Be Crazy
(1980)

success beyond understanding
I well remember this film playing for months on end during its initial run, but never went to see it because something felt off about it to me. Having watched it recently via FXM Retro, now I know what was 'off': The Gods Must Be Crazy is an offensive and patronizing piece of apartheid propaganda dressed up as a gosh-aren't-the-natives-cute travelogue. To make matters worse, the film's white characters are horribly dubbed with trans-Atlantic accents. It's not funny, it's not clever, and I'll never watch it again.

Rivals
(1981)

After school not-so-special
Rivals was apparently released theatrically in 1981 - two years after its production - but it plays strictly like a made-for TV movie. The biggest clue: built-in 'commercial breaks' at regular intervals. The smaller clues: no violence, no sex, no bad language, no drugs, and only a hint of alcohol. Perhaps this played in the Bible Belt; it's hard to imagine it earning a dime above the Mason-Dixon line. As for the story, it's standard 'new kids at school are unpopular with the big men on campus' stuff. It's a pleasant enough time-killer for those who still have a functional VCR and need some late '70s/early '80s nostalgia.

Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein
(1957)

The Big Bad Kiddie Film
This tedious late '50s West German childrens' film was released in the United States in 1966, after which it probably played Saturday matinees for a few years until being blessedly forgotten. Something Weird Video brought the film to home video in 1996, and now AGFA (the American Genre Film Archive) has made it available for cinema obsessives such as myself. If your idea of a good time is an hour's worth of people in bad animal costumes parading across the screen while delivering platitudinous warnings about avoiding wolves and other strangers - and singing the occasional terrible song - this is definitely the film for you. If that doesn't entice you, and you don't feel a compulsion to see every last movie ever made, you can safely skip The Big Bad Wolf.

The Legend of Frank Woods
(1977)

Which came first...the crummy movie, or the crummy video transfer?
This review is based on Direct Video's 1989 VHS release, which is truly horrendous. The print is washed out, muddy, blurry, apparently and indiscriminately pan-and-scanned, and colorless. Which, come to think of it, also describes the movie, an incredibly low-budget western with a dull story about a frontier badman masquerading - poorly - as a preacher man. If I'm going to watch a movie about a phony preacher man, I'll opt for Albert Viola's Preacherman (1971) which at least tries to be funny. Would The Legend of Frank Woods be improved by a digital remastering? Probably - but probably not enough to earn it a recommendation.

The Battle of Elderbush Gulch
(1913)

Manipulative AND racist, or racist AND manipulative...take your choice
I try very hard not to judge old films through 21st century eyes: instead, I try to consider the context of the times and society in which they were made before I form an opinion. Most of the time I succeed, but The Battle of Elderbush Gulch pushed me beyond my limits: heck, I read the plot summary ("The fact that an Indian tribe is eating puppies starts an action packed battle in a western town") before watching the film and thought it was a distasteful joke that had slipped past the IMDb gatekeepers. No film could be based on such a ridiculous premise, I thought, but as the film unreeled it all proved horribly true: yes, there are puppies, and yes, we see Native Americans indulging in a doggie din-din.

Another reviewer states that some Native American tribes did indeed eat dog meat. Fair enough, but the provenance of the sweet wittle puppies who fall into the Indians' hands in The Battle of Elderbush Gulch suggests an ulterior motive on Griffith's part. He's not just interested in portraying a strange aspect of Indian life: he's interested in heightening viewers' sensitivities by highlighting the owners of the cute pups, two white orphan sisters. Newly arrived in town, the girls are informed by their landlord that dogs are not allowed in the house...so they are left outside in a basket...from which they escape...only to run straight into the arms of a pair of hungry Indians...which results in a full-scale battle...I am sorry, but beyond the obvious racism, this is simply one of the stupidest plot devices ever concocted.

Griffith made many excellent shorts for Biograph, some of them intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful, and open-minded. Then there's this one. Avoid.

Liebesnächte in der Taiga
(1967)

Dull but unique
There's not a great deal to recommend this talky tale of intrigue and imprisonment in the furthest reaches of Siberia, but the film does feature one memorable and unique scene. I refer, of course, to the 'death by lumberjack' sequence, which seems like an awfully labor-intensive form of execution. If the Soviets really did rely on this method, it's no wonder they lost the Cold War.

The Fox Affair
(1978)

Prop up those eyelids
Mondo Digital's review of this film - included on Code Red's Deliver Us From Evil disc - suggested The Fox Affair wasn't worthy of re-release. I'm usually very leery of such pronouncements, but after sitting through it, I can only agree. The film is impossibly bad from start to finish, with horrendous acting and a plot that you will simply not care about. It makes its double bill partner, the aforementioned and bizarrely structured Deliver Us From Evil, look like a masterpiece in comparison. If I could give this film less than a '1', I would.

Der Tiger Akbar
(1951)

Akbar and Johnny
There isn't an ounce of drama or suspense in this circus set feature about a love triangle between a man, a woman, and a big cat. The first hour consists of stars Harry Piel (almost 60 at the time) and Friedl Hardt (a little over 30) making goo-goo eyes at each other in between extended big top set pieces; once something happens, the film suddenly skids to its bizarre conclusion. Perhaps the problem is the American cut of Der Tiger Akbar: IMDb lists the film at a robust two hours and two minutes, while the Alpha DVD clocks in a little over seventy minutes. Did something get lost in translation, or end up on the cutting room floor at US distributor Banner Pictures? No idea, but what's left is a nonsensical mess.

Blondy
(1976)

Nobody treats me like a kleenex!
How do you make a completely boring and pointless film about the threat of bacteriological warfare? I'm not sure, but director Sergio Gobbi accomplished the task in Germicide (delightfully misspelled 'Germacide' twice on the Prism Entertainment VHS box). You'll see big names Rod Taylor and BIbi Andersson earn their pay checks and smaller name Catherine Jourdan (sporting a most unflattering hairstyle) get butt naked, but you will learn nothing about bio-warfare. Tedious in the extreme and a total disappointment.

Kaibyô nori no numa
(1968)

Every bit as good as NOTLD
There are only two entries in the '1968 horror films shot in black and white' sweepstakes, and they're both stone cold classics. Likely, though, you've only heard of one of them, a little flick from Pittsburgh entitled Night of the Living Dead. Ghost Cat of the Cursed Swamp is the other, a Japanese feature from Toei Studios set in the Shogunate Era and relating the difficulties encountered by the locals after a woman commits suicide in a swampy marsh. It doesn't sound like much, but as long as you can put up with some court melodrama you'll be richly rewarded by Ghost Cat's incredibly spooky atmosphere and parade of shocks, some of which are...genuinely shocking. Not to be missed.

Faccia di spia
(1975)

Worth a look
It seems that most IMDb reviewers of this film have come to it because of its reputation as a 'mondo movie', but Faccia di spia is actually a serious attempt to tell the story of American foreign policy since the Second World War. It works periodically, but is let down by an overlong 'dramatic' section in the middle of the film about a reporter covering a Central American insurgency. At its best, Faccia di spia blends documentary footage of the CIA-funded coups against Jacobo Arbenz and Salvador Allende with dramatic recreations of those events. Some of the casting is remarkable: the actors depicting Allende, Augusto Pinochet, and Allen Dulles are impressive lookalikes. The film ends with a chillingly prescient animated sequence that may disturb some viewers as much as, if not more than, the (realistic and unexaggerated) torture sequences that earned this film a place in the Mondo Hall of Fame.

Manson Family Movies
(1984)

Sadie I don't love it
This is a terrific concept for a film, and at times it works. Unfortunately, it founders whenever Rick the Precious Dove is on screen 'performing' as Charlie Manson. With his pug nose and laughing eyes, Rick presents about as much danger and magnetism as Mr. Green Jeans. I'm sure Rick worked for peanuts, but no one would have killed for his Manson: at best, they might have made him a tuna salad sandwich. Sorry, Charlie.

Young Americans
(1967)

Risible propaganda
It's 1967, and American adults are desperate to believe their teenage children are simply smaller versions of themselves and that nothing is going to change any time soon. Enter Young Americans, a clearly staged 'documentary' that details the roadshow adventures of a group of square beyond belief youngsters who sing and dance their way through everything from The Hallelujah Chorus to Dixie. The kids all look like they haven't updated their wardrobes or hairstyles since 1964 and there's nary a hint of discord, Vietnam, or civil rights to muddy the waters (there are a few African-American kids in the group, but this is never commented on, even after the aforementioned performance of Dixie). Even considering the low bar set by the Academy Awards, it's hard to believe this corn pone was awarded an Oscar.

The Pickup Game
(2019)

The horror, the horror
I've seen a lot of 'scary movies' but this is perhaps the most disturbing and unpleasant of them all. Men: what a disgusting, pathetic gender (I can say that because I am one).

Përjetësi
(1974)

Përjetësi
Albania's World War II dead are acknowledged in this flag-waver from the Enver Hoxha era. The film was banned immediately upon completion; apparently its soundtrack - consisting primarily of heartbeats - deemed reactionary by the Hoxha government. Finally restored and made available in 2016, the film is revealed to be what it was all along: a respectful salute to those who fought Nazism and to those who would defend 1970s Albania from outside forces (Albania was not a Warsaw Pact country, and likely feared the Soviet Union as much as it did NATO). The uncredited orchestral pop song that concludes the film is a real gem that will be appreciated by fans of Scott Walker and Mina's 'Se Telefonando' - who is the performer?

A Modern Marriage
(1950)

Frigid Wife
In the film's first scene, a frustrated wife confesses to her therapist that she is, indeed, frigid - and so , so ashamed of it. "The sexual side of marriage chills me", she intones as director Paul Landres ladles on the stage smoke, after which she tells her husband "all you ever think about is sex". Men!! Yes, that's the same Paul Landres who went on to direct The Vampire and The Flame Barrier a few years later. As for the film's analysis of the problem, it takes a decidedly mid 20th century approach, with the woman bearing most of the responsibility (one doctor intones that frigidity is strictly a phenomenon amongst females). This is the sort of film you can pop in the DVD player next time your camp-appreciative friends come over, assuming friends can ever come over to your house again (if you're reading this in 2045, look up the Great Pandemic of 2020). On hand for the film's central tale of sexual woe: Sally Field's mother Margaret as one of the unhelpful women stifling their future spouse's libido and the legendary Robert Clarke (Hideous Sun Demon, Frankenstein's Island, and many many more trash classics). All in all, A Modern Marriage (re-released, helpfully, as Frigid Wife) at least tries to look like a real film and tell a real story, which is more than you can say about a lot of its competition.

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