IMDb member since January 2000
    Lifetime Total
    Lifetime Filmo
    Lifetime Trivia
    Lifetime Title
    IMDb Member
    20 years


The Mystery of D.B. Cooper

An interesting angle on what keeps the public interested in this famous case
This HBO doc may be the umpteenth look at the famous 1971 Hijacking case, but, Director John Dower takes an interesting enough to keep one watching. While the basics of the case are laid out (including interviews with the stewardess and a co-pilot on the flight), Dower is more interested in fleshing out how some of the suspects in the crime have effected their family and friends left behind. Others who have investigated the case on their own are also profiled. The Documentary focuses on four suspects (all deceased) from the many who have had the finger pointed at them over the decades. While their stories are all different, what unites them is that those who were close to them are all convinced that their husband/uncle/friend/acquaintance is THE D.B. Cooper (one even took a lie detector). None of the investigators seem convinced that there is one correct answer, including one who believes Cooper died because of the rough terrain he would have landed in. Dower isn't really interested in finding out who did it (or, even in debunking the claims of the interviewees), but more in the psychology of the various witnesses: What makes them keep the story alive? Why do they feel compelled to tell their story? Why do they insist that you believe their version of events? None of these questions is fully fleshed out, and that lack of answers will frustrate many viewers (others will be puzzled why the several other suspects aren't even cited). THE MYSTERY OF D.B. COOPER isn't the definitive Doc on the subject, but, it's a casually interesting look at how the story has remained in the consciousness for close to four decades.

Trick 'r Treat

Some style, but not enough treats
A disappointing and grisly Halloween tale. It has developed a cult following after essentially being dumped straight to video after playing the Festival circuit. The opening is an obvious homage/rip-off of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN. And, the rest of the film can be seen as a distillation of Carpenter's FOG with the nautical past coming back to haunt the present. Not sure why this one has been billed as an "anthology" since it really is an interconnected screenplay which takes place in one place on one night (save for a flashback). TRICK 'R TREAT is no more an anthology than something like LOVE, ACTUALLY or any of dozens of disaster films where the film followers several subplots along the way.

Writer-Director Michael Dougherty has a few decent bits here and also has an eye for composition (due credit to cinematographer Glen MacPherson), but, the screenplay has inconsistencies and an outright gaffe or two (one character has supposedly 'disappeared' yet has stayed in the same town for decades). There are some colorful and moody sets which adequately represents a small town in Ohio (but shot in Canada, naturally), even if the pumpkin decorations are a bit over the top. A few suspenseful moments but the bludgeoning score (Douglas Pipes) and unnecessarily gruesome violence don't add as much as subtract from the already lackluster storyline. Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker and Brian Cox add a little class to the average supporting cast.

It really isn't that surprising that Warner Brothers buried this one, even if does have a thrill or two (a sequel is belatedly being planned).

Harry and Tonto

Wistful road movie
Paul Mazursky's wistful film about an elderly widower, Harry (Art Carney), who takes to the road and see his three adult children ( Philip Bruns, Ellen Burstyn, Larry Hagman) who are scattered across the country. His faithful companion is Tonto - his cat. HARRY AND TONTO is very much a road picture, with maybe a nod to Ozu's masterpiece TOKYO STORY. It's lighter, more serio-comic look at the elderly as they visit their offspring. Carney gives the performance a tender touch and the parade of characters he and Tonto meet along the way give the film an oddball frisson. Kudos to Melanie Mayron, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Josh Mostel, Barbara Rhoades, Chief Dan George and Muriel Beerman (a real cabbie in her only film performance) among others. They all bring something special to even the tinniest of roles. Sadly, the film itself has gotten overshadowed over the years because of Carney's upset win for Best Actor beating Al Pacino (GODFATHER II) and Jack Nicholson (CHINATOWN) (not to mention luminaries Albert Finney and Dustin Hoffman!). That's unfortunate, HARRY AND TONTO is worthy to be remembered for its own graces - and, yes, Carney.

When Stand Up Stood Out

Insider look at the Boston Stand Up Comedy scene in the 70s & 80s
Comedian Fran Solomita's look back at the Boston Stand-Up Comedy scene of the late 70s and early 80s amounts to a collection of his home movies (much of it captured on VHS quality tape). Solomita was part of a group ranging from Steven Wright to Jeneane Garofalo to Lenny Clarke, the latter is portrayed as the ringleader of an unruly herd which ran wild in places like the Ding Ho and the Comedy Connection. There isn't much of a neutral perspective on the scene, but, the clips and interviews are of interest. Other than Wright and Garofalo, others like Denis Leary, Paula Poundstone and Bobcat Goldthwait also sustained careers after leaving for 'Hollywood', while others remained local (with various degrees of jealously and acceptance). Jay Leno is barely mentioned, but he was technically the first to break out.


Good Direction and Cast overcome a compromised script
Don Siegel's adroit Direction and a fine Cast lifts this somewhat routine police drama. The script went through a number of hands and both principal writers (Abraham Polonsky and Howard Rodham) both quit the project at various times and Rodham even used a pseudonym to emphasize his displeasure with Producer Frank Rosenberg's interference (Siegel, too, battled with him).

Richard Widmark plays the title character with his trademark wiry screen presence. Henry Fonda plays the aloof Police Commissioner who's longtime buddy is his Chief (James Whitmore). Partnered with Harry Guardino, Madigan is on the trail of a seedy killer (Steve Ihnat; very creepy). Others in the strong cast include Susan Clark, Inger Stevens, Michael Dunn and Don Stroud. The compromised script does border on cliche, but, it does have a gritty NYC feel which Cinematographer Russell Metty captures well. There is an air of the more permissive late 60s in terms of the handling of infidelity that could have been suggested just a few years earlier. The concluding shootout scene is tautly handled by Siegel*.

Other than the mezza-mezza screenplay, the biggest detriment to the completed film is Don Costa's score - one which makes the whole film feel like a one hour TV episode than a feature film (of course, the Madigan character did get spun off into a series just a few years later with Widmark reprising the role). What a difference a Jerry Fielding soundtrack could have made. Siegel and the cast still make MADIGAN an above average watch, with the Madigan character being sort of a dry run for the superior DIRTY HARRY.

Let the Good Times Roll

Really fun 50s rock nostalgia
Really fun package of 50s rock and pop acts brought back together by promoter Richard Nader for a series of concerts in the early 70s. It's an interesting time capsule as enough time had passed for these shows to be nostalgic, but the artists themselves were mainly only in their 40s, so it wasn't entirely a last-gasp oldies program either (especially when you look at today with McCartney and Jagger headlining stadiums in their 70s). And, the evidence is on film - most of these artists still had the chops. Bookened by headliner Chuck Berry (who had a #1 song in '72) the concert footage is quite good with supporting acts like Bill Haley and the Comets, Fats Domino, the Coasters (introduced by Rob Reiner!) and The Shirelles all turning lively short sets backed by Bobby Comstock's band. But, it's when Bo Diddley hits the stage that the show really ratchets it up. Electrifying. And, then enters the self proclaimed "King of Rock & Roll" Little Richard -- and he manages to live up to his diva preening. When sings 'Rip It Up' he isn't kidding as he mounts a stack of speakers and...well...you'll just have to see it yourselves! Directors Robert Abel and Sidney Levin frame the film with lots of footage and photos from the 50s, including bits of the artists in the film from their heydays. Taking a page from Michael Wadleigh's WOODSTOCK, they also use split screens to capture the action (and to show the vintage material side by side). Both techniques are a bit over-used here. You have Chuck Berry wielding his ax in his late prime - why cut away to footage of politicians, malts shops and TV episodes? That minor critique aside, LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL is a terrific time capsule - even if folks didn't quite appreciate it at as such at the time. It's an integral contribution to the 50s retro boom of the early 70s (Grease, Happy Days, AMERICAN GRAFFITI). A darn shame that, apparently, song and film clip rights have kept it off of DVD. A Soundtrack album exists (sans Berry, unfortunately) and it can be found sometimes on the internet. Find it.

Escape from Alcatraz

Solid prison picture and the final collaboration between Siegel & Clint
The fifth and final collaboration between Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood is a sturdy prison drama about the infamous title event in 1962. The film unfolds slowly at first, and Richard Tuggles' script invokes all the usual prison film signposts. But, once the movie moves on to the planning and execution of the prison break, things tighten up considerably.

Siegel focuses on the details of the inmates escape plan with his usual unfussy, but, precise direction*. Clint and the cast which includes Patrick Mcgoohan as the placidly oily warden, Paul Benjamin as a sympathetic fellow inmate and a very young Fred Ward as one of the escapees, all ably follow Siegel's matter of fact presentation. Bruce Surtees' cinematography is standout, brilliantly capturing all of the action.

It was appropriate that ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ turned out to be Siegel's last major success, for his first was also a Prison picture - the marvelous RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11. For his entire career, Siegel exhibited an admirable craftsmanship that is on full display here. No wonder Clint cites him as his mentor.

* If one wants to see an even more minutely detailed prison escape picture check out the superior Jacques Becker's LE TROU (1960).

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story

Castle really knew how to put the 'Show' in Show Business
Few in Hollywood understood more what the "show" in Show Business meant than William Castle. Despite the fact that his films were rarely very good, he promoted his pictures and himself so well that he even elicited comparisons to Hitchcock. Jeffrey Schwarz' Documentary mainly focuses on the period between MACABRE (1958) and I SAW WHAT YOU DID (1965). Castle went heavy on promotional stunts like Death Insurance, nurses in theaters, Emergo's flying skeletons, Percepto's seat buzzers, Illusion-O's 3D-like ghosts, Punishment Polls and Fright Breaks to sell his films. It worked, and Castle was able to distinguish his low-budget movies from that of his competitors such as Roger Corman (who is interviewed). The movie clips, vintage newsreels and photographs are well-chosen to document Castle's career (too bad Schwarz chose to have everything presented in the same aspect ratio which cuts off the heads, text and other visual information in a number of them). Castle's daughter Terry gives family insight into his personal and professional life along with some of the filmmaker's friends and colleagues like Bob Thomas, actor Darryl Hickman and actress Jacqueline Scott (who just recently passed ). John Waters has some gleeful stories to tell among the the other interviewees like Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin, Michael Schlesinger and Bob Burns. Castle's reign may have been fairly brief, but, his career stretched all the way back to Columbia Pictures' B unit in the early 40s. It's too bad more time isn't spent on the films for there are a few like the original THE WHISTLER (1944) and JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON (1949) that are on a par with his best known work like HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) and HOMICIDAL.

While Castle enjoyed his exploitation success, he wanted to get more respect as a filmmaker, and two stories bookend his career that must have rankled him to his grave. In 1947 Castle found the book that would become LADY FROM SHANGHAI (1947). Castle's version is that he asked Orson Welles to pitch the story to Columbia honcho Sam Cohn with the proviso that Castle Direct. Of course, Welles ended up with the assignment himself. Castle's version probably would have made more sense, but, it would never have had Welles' baroque stylings. In the 60s Castle managed to read and purchase the rights to the galleys of Ira Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby and then flipped those rights for a healthy profit to Paramount Pictures. Again, Castle intended to Direct, but, Paramount's Robert Evans instead hired the the up & coming Roman Polanski. Here again, there is no way to imagine that Castle's Direction could have matched Polanski's bravura style that also captured the zeitgeist of the swinging 60s (to the tune of over $200M in today's dollars). Castle had to settle, again, for a Producing credit. Castle managed to Produce and/or Direct a few more films (including 1975's BUG) before passing away at only 63 (his lifelong smoking of cigarettes and enormous cigars no doubt contributed).

SPINE-TINGLER! is a pleasurable look back at one of the great cult figures of cinema.

Here Comes Tobor

Timmy & Tobor
The pilot episode is entitled, "Tobor And The Atomic Submarine" has a completely new cast from the feature film (save for Robot...er...Tobor - always get these things backwards). It's actually fairly elaborate for a kiddie show pilot with Missile Launches, Ocean scenes, Atomic Submarines, Battle Ships, Air Force Jets and Pirates! Of course, it's mainly done on the cheap with stock footage and budget sets - Professor Adams' (Arthur Space) work area looks more like a hobby garage rather than a military research center. The kid, Tommy (Tommy Terrell - who apparently never worked again in Hollywood), isn't nicknamed 'Gadget' as he was in the feature. Terrell is bearable as these child actors go. Bruce Cowling is the Professor's assistant (I suppose he's a re-written version of Charles Drake's Dr. Harrison from the original film. At 26 minutes there certainly is enough incident to keep it watchable, although never really much more than that. In an odd way it's maybe too ambitious for a pilot. Tobor didn't do much more than ride a jeep to Griffith Park in the original and here it's flying on a Missile, saving an Atomic Submarine, performing Bomb removal and beating up Pirates. How were the producers going to top that week after week? Of course, as with the original movie, it's little more than a harmless children's program. Sort of a 'Timmy & Lassie' type show -- 'Tommy & Tobor'.


Fun Documentary about invention and the human spirit
Howard Smith's fizzy Documentary assembles dozens of newsreel style clips of all kinds of contraptions and oddball behavior into a highly entertaining stew. The basic idea here is a tribute to invention - whether by contraption or by physical feats. And, the motto is that even if one doesn't succeed, the effort is worth the risk of defeat. Of course, a large source of the enjoyment here is watching how spectacularly they often fail (although none of the footage seems to depict anything truly life-threatening). Transportation in it's various modes seems to be the invention of choice here (especially, attempts at flying). Milt Moss narrates in his wry thick New York City accent. Loose dialogue is dubbed over some of the clips along with a large selection of songs (including a Randy Newman composition) and music, adding to the breezy lite tone. In some ways GIZMO! resembles a visual compilation of Ripley's Believe It Or Not and Guinness Book of Worlds Records by way of those 60s Mondo films (not to mention a predecessor of World's Funniest Home Videos). But, Director Smith (who won a Documentary Oscar for MARJOE) gives the film a more unified vision here of the indomitable human spirit. And, a darn delightful one at that.

That Guy Dick Miller

A valentine to a B Movie Legend
Elijah Drenner's (AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE) movie is like a love letter to famed character actor Dick Miller. Seeing it a year after Miller's passing gives it even more poignancy. Miller racked up almost 200 film and TV credits over his six decade career, but, with rare exceptions early on, they were mostly in supporting and bit roles. Miller's ability to make his few minutes on screen memorable was both a blessing and a curse. His career sustained for all those years, but, it he relegated to the background. At one point, Miller is quoted as giving a backhand compliment to a "nice small" role. Emphasis on small. Miller reveals that at a low-point, he earned all of $1,500 one year. Even in the 60s, hardly a livable salary. Miller is extensively interviewed and doesn't reveal much bitterness, and seemed accepting of his lot in Hollywood. His co-star, literally, is his wife Lanie Halpern Miller. An actress herself, Lanie gives as good as she gets (she is still alive). Roger Corman testifies for Miller, and other interview subjects include filmmakers like Joe Dante, Jonathan Kaplan, Jack Hill, Jon Davison and Fred Dekker and they relate stories of how Miller always made his scenes (or scene, singular) count. Fellow actors Mary Woronov, Belinda Balaski, Corey Feldman, Robert Forster (who talks about being another "that guy" type) and others give insights from the in front of the camera POV. Miller's brothers, Leonard Maltin, Larry Karaszewski, Michael Schlesinger, Chris Walas and more provide additional commentary. Drenner's movie isn't a formal investigative Doc as such (Miller's wife is a co-producer), but it does highlight a lesser known aspect of Miller's career - that of a writer. Indeed, Miller intended writing to be his calling card with Corman, but, sort of 'fell' into acting. Still, Miller did get a few scripts produced including an ill-fated collaboration with Jerry Lewis (WHICH WAY TO THE FRONT). His script was drastically re-written and Miller had to fight to get a credit. Even though I know quite a few of the people interviewed here, I only got to personally meet Miller once - at a party at Director Fred Olen Ray's house (Ray is interviewed). When that door opened and in walked Miller, it definitely was...Look! It's THAT GUY DICK MILLER! RIP

Tobor the Great

Tobor into the great beyond!
TOBOR is one of the handful of familiar 50s sci-fi titles I had never seen. Didn't seem to get much airplay for whatever reason.

The film has an interesting angle with the discussion of whether the space exploration should begin with manned missions or not. And, here the concept of going with a robot is pretty forward looking, to boot. Of course, much of the deeper exploration of this theme is brushed aside once it becomes apparent that this is kiddie matinee stuff featuring a boy and his 'bot (foreshadowing THE INVISIBLE BOY by three years).

The design of Tobor is pretty cool. A definite step up from the usual Tin Man approach with some sleek lines and other interesting design elements. For some reason, they had to add in a form of ESP into its operating system (COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK went one step further and even made that 'bot psychic!). I guess one could be charitable and consider it an early A.I. form of machine learning. Not much really happens once Tobor is introduced, and the main conflict revolves around the old commie spies routine. The elderly scientist's (Taylor Holmes) security is so tight that he can't remember if he invited 12 people or 13 to the unveiling! Thank god for the kid, Brian (Billy Chapin) - aka Gadget - and his gun! The nefarious Russkies are then scared off by a sound effects record! Once the spies are introduced, it's pretty clear what the climax will be, although the sight of Tobor in a jeep and then applying a knuckle sandwich to one of the baddies are pretty amusing. It's also a tad surprising that for a juvenile oriented film that the kid has shirt torn off and threatened with a blow torch.

Veteran writer Philip MacDonald (REBECCA, THE BODY SNATCHER) keeps the plot moving within the confines of the story (Carl Dudley). Lee 'Roll 'Em' Sholem's direction is plain and straightforward. The art direction by Gabriel Scognamillo (also credited with Tobor's basic design) is good for the budget. Howard Jackson's score is standard stuff and falls prey to the old 'lite-hearted' sit-com like backing when the kid is introduced.

TOBOR is average 50s fodder, but, it does have an intriguing notion or two. And, the ending is really fantastic and lifts the whole film up a notch. Tobor into the great beyond!

Score: A Film Music Documentary

Decent intro to current day film composing
SCORE isn't a formal Documentary, it's more of a collection of interviews and brief profiles on film composition. Director Matt Schrader gives a quick nod to some past masters of the form like Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and Max Steiner, but, this is really about the here and now. The subjects range from veterans like Hans Zimmer (Chris Nolan's composer of choice), Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Danny Elfman (Tim Burton's) to less well known but established names like John Debney (PASSION OF THE CHRIST) and Mychael Danna (LIFE OF PI) to relative newcomers Heitor Pereira (Despicable Me series) and Tom Holkenborg (MAD MAX FURY ROAD). Curiously, perhaps the most accomplished active composer, two time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat is given very short shrift here with just a couple of minutes of coverage. What's interesting here is the emphasis on creating new sounds with electronics and exotic instruments and how these current day composers blend traditional styles with a more modern sound. The segments are too short to really go in depth, but, it's a reasonable enough overview of what's going on with film music today. A more comprehensive Doc awaits.

The Undercover Man

Stylish filmmaking and solid acting lift this Crime Drama
Director Joseph H. Lewis brings his trademark stylishness to what is, ostensibly, a straightforward crime drama. Glenn Ford plays Warren, a Treasury Department agent who uses his knowledge of book-keeping to take a novel approach to take down the mob.

Assisted by Pappas (James Whitmore; in his film debut) and Wolfe (James Weinberg) and supported by supportive but strong wife (Nina Foch), Warren has to weave his way, methodically, to his ultimate prize - "The Big Fellow" (think Al Capone). Of course, the road to The Big Fellow is paved through low life street thugs (including Anthony Caruso as Rocco) and O'Rourke (Barry Kelley) - the crooked lawyer for "The Syndicate." O'Rourke relishes be able to rub his ill-gotten wealth in the lawman's face.

What lifts UNDERCOVER MAN is Lewis' street level view of New York City. You can practically taste the melting pot as Burnett Guffey's camera prowls through the crowded streets and into the shadowy corridors of the tenements they live in. George Duning's stark score adds to the tension. The acting is fine throughout, even if some of the ethnic touches in the screenplay get laid on a bit thick. We only hear the word 'Mafia' uttered in relation to original Sicilian roots. Here, it's always just the amorphous "Syndicate".

UNDERCOVER MAN is a B crime picture with some Noirish elements, but, it's a strong example of what good filmmaking and acting can do to take it up a notch.

Final Curtain

Ed Wood's suspense pilot
It's basically a radio drama with pictures. Duke Moore stumbles around a large empty theater while Dudley Manlove drones Ed Wood's dialogue on and on and on. When the Duke finally comes across a 'surprise' behind a door (Jeannie Stevens) it looks like dialogue might break out.............but, no. Duke closes the door and Manlove drones some more. Cinematographer William C. Thompson gives it a better look than it deserves. The music and sound FX aren't bad, but, again, those latter two elements would have worked just as well on radio. It's no surprise that even in an era with shows like Lights Out and Tales of the Unexpected, there were no takers for this talky nothing of a pilot. At least Wood got to recycle some of it for NIGHT OF THE GHOULS.

Hi, Mom!

DePalma's righteous take on 60s revolution
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was a phrase used in the black rights movement of the 60s (popularized by Gil Scott Heron in song). Director Brian DePalma's film takes out the word "Not" in HI, MOM!

This follow-up to GREETINGS again follows Jon Rubin (Robert DeNiro) who stumbles into an idea of making a peep show film (the seedy Producer is perfectly played by Allen Garfield). For a while the film resembles a cross between Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW and Jim McBride's then contemporary DAVID HOLTZMAN'S DIARY as Rubin woos a neighbor he's spied on Judy (Jennifer Salt in her first significant role). One of the Jon's other Rear Window style voyeuristic subjects Gerrit (Gerrit Graham) leads Jon to the film's centerpiece - a Documentary on the Black experience, culminating in an audience participation experimental theater piece entitled "Be Black, Baby".

Even fifty years later, "Be Black, Baby" is still corrosive with it's Black Face/White Face role reversals and confrontational use of the N-word. The Documentary within the film is portrayed as being by the NIT (National Intellectual Television, sort of an unfiltered underground version of PBS; the service had it's roots as NET (National EDUCTATIONAL Television). One's reaction to HI, MOM! almost certainly rests with how the viewer reacts to this long sequence. It's brutal and confrontational. It stings.

Watching the film now, it's hard not to see DeNiro's Jon as a prototype for Travis Bickle in TAXI DRIVER just six years later (Scorsese and DePalma being long-time friends, of course). Charles Durning has an amusing cameo as does Paul Bartel. Robert Elfstrom's Cinematography is gritty and appropriate and Eric Kaz' music gives the film some bounce.

DePalma has made many bigger and more successful pictures in the decades since, but, he never made another so immediate. It's rude, crude and full of (righteous) anger.

Strangers in the Night

Fun little B-movie
Anthony Mann's brief (56 mins!) is a lightly enjoyable thriller that is more old house mystery than strict Noir (even if it's often pitched as one). William Terry plays Sgt. Meadows, a WWII vet, who returns stateside to finally meet the girl of his dreams who he's only known through the letters they exchange while he was in the South Pacific. Virginia Grey plays a -- (better sit down for this) WOMAN doctor named Dr. Ross! They meet cute on a train. When the Sergeant gets to the secluded cliff side mansion of his pen pal, she's not home. Instead, he is met by her grumpy mother Hilda (Helene Thimig) and a mousy live-in housekeeper (Edith Barrett). At under an hour, there isn't much time for true intrigue (and the mystery isn't all that difficult to decipher), but Grey, Thimig and Barrett all deliver entertaining performances. Mann keeps it moving, the script based on a Philip MacDonald story is dotty fun and Reggie Lanning's camerawork is suitably moody. Mann made much better true Noirs like RAW DEAL and BORDER INCIDENT, but, STRANGERS isn't a bad time killer. And, a pretty good title song by Sinatra to boot. :)

My Name Is Julia Ross

Psychological thriller is effective, if too brief
Sometimes tabbed as a noir, ROSS is more of a psychological mystery thriller. Joseph L. Lewis' film stars Nina Foch as the title character and Dame May Witty and George Macready as the mother and son pair who lure her into a trap. The performances are good enough that go along with a highly melodramatic plot. At 65 minutes, there isn't enough time to flesh out the psychological angle (it would have been far more intriguing if Julia Ross actually started to doubt her own sanity - even for a few moments). It's a decently mounted B movie, but little more. Even though Director Lewis would go on to direct such fine Noirs as THE BIG COMBO and his masterpiece GUN CRAZY, ROSS still falls short of true noir territory.


Enjoyable intro to Punk
UNK (Epix, 2019) - A four hour Documentary co-Produced by Iggy Pop does an okay job of outlining the history of the music sub-genre from it's earliest roots in the late-60s to the grunge boom in the 90s. Director Jesse James Miller and his writing team break down the Doc into four chapters: 1. 60s and early 70s Proto-Punks like the MC5, New York Dolls and Iggy's The Stooges. 2. Mid-70s NYC's CBGB's with the Ramones and London's scene including the Sex Pistols. 3. 80s California's Hardcore bands like The Circle Jerks and Black Flag. 4. 90s with Nirvana and Green Day. The interviewees range from Marky Ramone to Blondie to Johnny Rotten to Penelope Spheris to Henry Rollins to, of course, the patron saint of Rock Docs, Dave Grohl. As will all these survey shows, one can always argue about which artist deserved inclusion or not, or which bands got too much or too little attention, but PUNK has a genuinely large chapter missing - the late 70s/early 80s 'Post-Punk' movement which included such major stars as Elvis Costello, The Jam, Sonic Youth and Rotten's own band Public Image Limited. It seems like Miller and the Producers wanted to focus on harder edged bands, which is fair enough. Still, if lighter groups like Blondie, Television and the Talking Heads are covered why not Joy Division, Wire, Devo and The Fall? It's a major missing chapter and feels somewhat arbitrary. PUNK is an entertaining enough sampler with some obvious gaps. If nothing else, it's kind of interesting to see the interviews and hear disparate voices like Jello Biafra, Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna, Legs MacNeil, Flea, Exene Cervenka and Joan Jett look back at that era in music.

The Go-Go's

The rise and fall (and rise?) of the Go-Gos
Alison Ellwood's (Laurel Canyon) Documentary does a pretty fair job of covering the story of the all-girl band who made good in the early 80s. It's an authorized Doc with the full participation of all five main members, but they do speak pretty openly of their the squabbles and feuds which led to their breaking up after only three albums. Two founding band members who were fired before they hit the big-time are also given time to speak their minds, as is the group's original manager who was forced out when they were at their peak of fame. Still, there are obvious gaps in the storytelling (including a major lawsuit by bassist Kathy Valentine that kept her out of the band's reunion shows for a few years), and while the two guitarists, Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey, talk openly about their personal issues, singer Belinda Carlisle is very circumspect. Gina Schock is refreshingly candid. As someone who was a big fan of the band when they hit the scene, there's a sense of sadness about band's story. For a band who's music and public image was all big and bouncy, one comes away feeling that they didn't enjoy their couple of years of fame. Sure, the sex, drugs and booze standard rock 'n roll rise and fall story applies to many bands, but, the Go-Gos rise and fall tale seems to have happened on speed dial. Indeed, the unspoken message here is that it was their comet-like rise to the top that caused them to crash and burn even that much more rapidly. They were the first all woman band to play their own instruments to have a Number One album (and still are!!), but the pressure to cash-in on that newfound fame caused jealousies and divisions within the band and accentuated Wiedlin and Caffey's personal demons to the breaking point. Still, for all the turmoil, Ellwood shows that the women have patched things up. The band also shows personal photos of the good times they had together. They do seem to be, if not content now, at least more at peace with themselves - and each other. And, their new song, 'Club Zero' ain't half bad, either.

Idi i smotri

You must Come And See this brilliant film
Right from the opening scene Director Elem Klimov captures the viewer's attention as if to say, "Watch this." Actors stare right into the camera and seem to address the audience. Still, as the story unfolds we soon realize that this isn't an invitation, but almost a dare - Come and See....IF you Dare.

The early scenes play out in a, more or less, straightforward fashion as a young teen boy, Flyora (Aleksey Kravchenko) joins the Belarus military against the wishes of his family. It is WWII and the Germans have advanced into the then Soviet republic. The older soldiers send the boy back home as too young, thinking they are doing the right thing.

Flyora soon stumbles in a German bombing run. The shell-shocked boy encounters an equally young girl, Glasha (Olga Mironova) and they make it back to his home. He has been caught in a no man's land - neither fighting with the army, nor able to defend his village. The lengthy sequence plays out as a surrealistic horror show, the boy's mind unable to discern reality from his imagination. It's a brilliantly vivid and haunting passage that ends with a lingering shot of the moon in the sky.

As if mirroring the phases of the lunar object, the film moves into the next act. Even as Flyora regains his senses, his nightmare has only begun. He get separated from Glasha and wanders from place to place, one hair-raising situation to another. Whenever a respite from his journey seems to occur, something even more foreboding confronts him.

The film culminates in a grotesque display of Nazi atrocities. Klimov doesn't cut away. And, we he does it's to fixate on the intense stare of Flyora. His eyes absorbing all. Your eyes. When one casts a first time child actor, one never really knows how they will perform in front a camera - especially, when surrounded by an epic war set. Klemov was fortunate here to have a Kravchenko who could evoke both his chronological youth, but also the maturity beyond those years (he was 13 at the time). Kravchenko was old enough to probably understand at least the basics of the situation, while still being able to convey some innocence. His shocking transformation during the course of the film is chilling (he didn't return to acting for another decade).

It's only during this final sequence where Klimov makes a slight mis-step. The Russian born Director's hatred of WWII Germany, while completely understandable, borders on old Soviet Propaganda for a few moments (the film's original title was "Kill Hitler"). This tiny quibble aside, COME AND SEE is masterful. There's an unflinching ferocity that never lets up. Cinematographer Aleksey Rodionov's compositions are unfailingly precise. The film is framed in the old fashioned 1:37 aspect ratio. No widescreen here. No pretty pictures or landscapes to soothe the viewer. No letting one's eyes wander to the edges of the frame so as not to have to look at the grisly sights. COME AND SEE -- if you dare, indeed.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell

Hammer Films' Frankenstein saga comes to an end
The swan song for Hammer Films' Frankenstein saga (and Peter Cushing's finale as the Baron Doctor). It was also Terence Fisher's final film as a Director. Unfortunately, it's a rather wan epitaph. By this point the once proud British studio was on it's dying gasps, budgets had been slashed and there was little new blood on the creative end. MONSTER FROM HELL sat unreleased for over a year and barely made a ripple when it emerged.

Anthony Hinds' script is such that the audience is far ahead of the filmmakers. Once the young scientist (Shane Briant; as Simon) is introduced to Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing; as "Dr. Victor" - as silly a pseudonym as 'Alucard'), the viewer knows where the story is going, yet it's not until past t he half-way point when the Monster is finally introduced (David Prowse). Assisted by the pretty mute (Madeline Smith; Sarah), a new improved monster is created.

Prowse as the pitiable creature is quite good here. It's too bad he rarely got a chance to do more than 'look big and strong' on camera. Cushing, looking extremely gaunt, gives a solid performance including doing his own stunts. Briant and Smith haven't much to do, but are decent enough. The production values are fairly meager with almost the entire film taking place in an asylum set. The exterior miniature wouldn't have passed muster in the 50s, let alone the mid-70s. The creature makeup looks okay in long shots, but, increasingly rubbery as the camera gets closer. The design hardly makes sense, for while we never see the human that the body came from, are we to believe he looked like the missing link when alive? The good Doctor's surgery skills may have been in decline, but still!

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL isn't that bad an ending for the saga (and, you can argue more distinguished than how the Universal series devolved in the monster rallies), but, it hardly went out on a high note. In the end, it was inevitable. THE EXORCIST was still playing in theaters, as was Andy Warhol's FRANKENSTEIN - in graphic 3D, no less! By the end of the year, Mel Brooks took a banana to Frankenstein myth with his comedic YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN*. The Gothic Hammer approach was passe and their attempts to 'modernize' a la DRACULA A.D. 1972 were 'dated' -- even upon release. It was over. No amount of bloody body parts could mask their old school image. Of course, MONSTER FROM HELL has an open ending, leaving open the possibility that there would be more adventures of the mad doctor.

* Interesting that MONSTER FROM HELL broaches the idea of mating the Creature and a woman, but doesn't 'go there'. Both Mel Brooks and Andy Warhol did, further cementing the old fashioned image of the once mighty studio.

Laurel Canyon

A three hour tour of the Laurel Canyon music scene
This three hour epix Documentary does a pretty solid job of covering the story of the famed Hollywood Hills enclave's music scene from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. The California Sound as it later became known as.

In this Doc's telling the beginnings of the Laurel Canyon scene flowed through The Byrds and The Buffalo Springfield into the super-group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The tribal leader seemed to be David Crosby, who not only was a member of all three bands, but, also helped nurture singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne (the sad irony being, as Crosby says in the Doc about him, REMEMBER MY NAME, is that none of the artists he ever played with will even speak to him now). As the scene grew, so did the number of musicians who drifted through including The Doors, Love and The Eagles.

Still photographers Henry Diltz and Nurit Wilde are here to share their vast vaults of pictures they snapped along with the stories that went with them. Director Alison Ellwood and her team also cobbled together a good array of film clips to illustrate, along with healthy doses of the actual music (licensing rights permitting, I assume). I'll leave it to those with a more encyclopedic knowledge to argue over which artists got enough/not enough coverage here or over which bands and singers were overlooked. My only quibble is that Ellwood occasionally lets her interviewees dictate where her focus goes. It's not important to archive each and every band member's comings and goings, and others who never even lived in the Canyon seem to have just attended a party or two. It's all interesting stuff, but, unless you are doing a Ken Burns style 15 hour series, the focus should have stayed on the scene proper. Still, overall, LAUREL CANYON is quite good (and a heck of an improvement over last year's cliquish ECHO IN THE CANYON).

Messiah of Evil

Moody offbeat horror by American Grafiiti writers Huyck & Katz
A moody low budget horror piece that is best remembered as the first feature film collaboration of Oscar nominated (AMERICAN GRAFFITI) screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz (who were married). Shot in 1971 but not widely released until 1974-5, by which point AMERICAN GRAFITTI was already in theaters.

The Huyck Directed film has a very basic plot. A young woman, Arletty (Marianna Hill) travels to an isolated coastal village called Point Dune (a play on Point Dume which is near where the film takes place in Malibu) to search for her missing artist father. A traveling trio of free-spirits also happen upon the scene and they all end staying at the father's abandoned seaside home. Michael Greer plays Thom and his two companions are Laura (Anitra Ford) and Toni (Joy Bang). The small town's inhabitants seem to be exhibiting signs of cult-like behavior.

But, the formal plot isn't really the focus of Huyck and Katz' screenplay. It's a slow burn with the Hill character slowly becoming more and more unglued. The story seems to have been inspired by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (which hadn't been remade yet) with, perhaps, a bit of a ghost story inspired by Brigadoon/TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. There's also something of an Italian Giallo feel to it. The Manson murders were also in the Southern California air. The two set pieces involving Laura and Toni are well staged, and the photography and music have a certain offbeat vibe, but, it is Jack Fisk's (DAYS OF HEAVEN, THE REVENANT) Art Direction that gives the viewer the creeps. The main house is festooned with wall-sized graphic art and the few furnishings are well chosen, as are the sparse locations. What adds to the atmosphere here is that the 'isolated village' setting is on the coast, as opposed to the usual wooded area. It seems like such a nice placid setting (it is Malibu after all!), which makes the horror that much more out of 'normal' place. Hill, Ford and Bang make for a gorgeous trio of actresses, but they all acquit themselves well. Veterans Elisha Cook Jr. and Royal Dano have brief but memorable supporting roles. Bennie Robinson as a mysterious towns-person won't soon be forgotten once seen here (and he kind of foreshadows Tony Todd in CANDYMAN).

The film supposedly ran out of money leading to some re-editing and a rushed conclusion, the climax of which takes place largely off-screen. Still, while not entirely successful, MESSIAH OF EVIL isn't some skeleton in the closet for the famed screenwriting couple. In addition to MORE AMERICAN GRAFITTI they also collaborated on LUCKY LADY, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM along with, yes, the infamous HOWARD THE DUCK (they supposedly also had a hand behind the scenes on the original STAR WARS).

The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films

Heartfelt, if authorized version of Cannon Films' Golan & Globus
GO-GO BOYS: THE INSIDE STORY OF CANNON FILMS (2014). This authorized Documentary on Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus was, in typical Cannon Films fashion, rushed into production to be completed before a competing film was released - the decidedly UN-authorized ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS. It not only beat that film into release it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. The French debut was fitting since Cannes was the place where the legend of Golan and Globus was made back in the 80s. Director Hilla Medalia spends the first portion of the movie showing how the two cousins established a beachhead in their native Israel in the 60s producing movies which were commercial and critical successes. Remarkably, the duo also got four of their films nominated for Best Foreign Language Film including one Directed by Golan himself (OPERATION THUNDERBOLT) - something that has gotten little notice over the years. Their first English language movie, TRUNK TO CAIRO (with George Sanders!), didn't fare so well. Israel proved to be too small a pond for the Go-Go Boys to fish in, so they set off for Hollywood in 1980. Their first pictures didn't make much of a splash, but they soon got some notice for hiring the likes of Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris to lead their budget action pictures. But, it was one of their cheapest and most hastily produced low low budget pictures which boosted their finances, BREAKIN', which grossed almost $100M in adjusted dollars. Golan was always the creative partner, while Globus was the money guy. As is said in various ways during the Doc - Golan spent money as quickly as Globus could raise it. At Cannes they would make deals for films that were not only uncompleted, but often unwritten and even without a title. Golan famously signed Jean Luc Godard to a 'contract' on cloth napkin. What's noteworthy here is that what we think of as "Cannon Films" really lasted only five years. By the end of the 80s their lavish spending (including buying movie theater chains and EMI studios) put them on the verge of bankruptcy. Golan was essentially forced out of his own company and founded the short-lived and only modestly successful 21st Century Corporation (Full Disclosure: I worked on two of their films*). Globus hooked up with Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti to not only save Cannon, but, also to purchase MGM studios. That partnership ended in scandal, and 21st Century didn't even last until the end of the 20th. Both Cousins (who were at that time no longer on speaking terms) ended up retreating to Israel. GO-GO BOYS takes a much more personal approach to telling the story of Cannon films than the chatty gossipy ELECTRIC BOOGALOO. The latter Doc is more entertaining and it gets into more of the downside of the partnership. Still, GO-GO BOYS has its merits. Some of the interviewees like studio exec Tom Pollock and Director Boaz Davidson give insight into the business end and actors Michael Dudikoff and a, very colorful and enthusiastic, Jean-Claude Van Damme give us some behind the scenes details. The cooperation of the two principles (which they denied to the competing film) gives the viewer a more personal look at the men and their careers. Director Medalia does push them on their failures and gets a few morsels from Globus, but Golan was intransigent to the end (he passed away less than three months after the Premiere). He refused to talk about the colossal bomb with SUPERMAN IV and only discussed the slightly less embarrassment of OVER THE TOP in terms of bragging about Sylvester Stallone's paycheck. It's a heartfelt Documentary, if not a fully frank one.

* I worked with Menahem on two films. Both shot in Moscow in the fall and winter of 1991-2. Menahem Directed the second picture himself (HIT THE DUTCHMAN). He was still full of energy and still quite the salesman.

See all reviews