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Alien Nation
(1988)

"Your mother mates out of season."
In the "future" year of 1991, an alien race arrives on Earth. After a period of quarantine has passed, the aliens - dubbed "Newcomers" - are being integrated into regular life on Earth. However, this merely causes a new form of intolerance and bigotry to emerge, as some humans REALLY don't care for this species, dismissing them and calling them "Slags". One such human is weary veteran police detective Matthew Sykes (a solid James Caan), who decides to work with his units' first Newcomer detective (an engaging Mandy Patinkin, as "Sam Francisco") because he believes that the alien will naturally have an inside track into the killing of his previous partner (Roger Aaron Brown).

"Alien Nation" takes what is a fairly standard cop movie plot - with a standard sort of hero - and gives it a degree of freshness by blending in the science-fiction genre and infusing it with some social commentary. Some of the fun also lies in the details that screenwriter Rockne S. O'Bannon comes up with: Newcomers get drunk on sour milk, what constitutes a powerful drug to them merely tastes like detergent to us, the males' vulnerable spot is NOT between their legs, and their fatal weakness is likewise unusual. But at the core of the films' appeal, what we have is simply great odd-couple chemistry between Caan and Patinkin. They're surrounded by a rich variety of character actors playing both human and Newcomer roles: Kevyn Major Howard, Peter Jason, Conrad Dunn, Jeff Kober, Brian Thompson, Francis X. McCarthy, Earl Boen, Frank Collison, et al. Leslie Bevis is sexy as a Newcomer who dances in a club.

The alien makeup by the people at Stan Winstons' studio is well done, and it's worth noting just what an excellent pace this story has. Clocking in at a reasonable hour and a half, the film is over before you know it. The under-rated filmmaker Graham Baker ("The Final Conflict", "Impulse") is in the directors' chair here, and he does a capable job, cutting to the chase quite nicely. The script certainly has its amusements, such as humans giving the Newcomers human names like the aforementioned "Sam Francisco" and "Rudyard Kipling".

This concept definitely endured for a number of years, as "Alien Nation" led to a TV series a year later as well as several TV movies.

Seven out of 10.

Gallipoli
(1981)

A tale you'll never forget.
"Gallipoli" is easily one of the most affecting films from any decade or any nation to deal with the horrors of war. Taking place (initially) in West Australia in 1915, it shows how young Archy Hamilton (the under-rated Mark Lee), despite his great promise as a sprinter, is determined to serve his country and enlist in the military - even if he is under-age. Making the acquaintance of the amiable Frank (a typically charismatic Mel Gibson), he sets off towards his destiny, and won't let anything deter him, even a LONG walk through the outback. Archy and Frank and their other mates end up in Turkey, taking part in a crucial attack on the enemy.

You don't see a *lot* of battle action in "Gallipoli", but what do you see suffices quite well. The film largely focuses on the human element, on camaraderie, and the quieter (and more humorous) aspects of our protagonists' lives before all the young men head into action. David Williamson scripted, based on a screen story by director Peter Weir, and he comes up with some great moments for all the central characters. Gibson, Lee, Robert Grubb (as Billy), Tim McKenzie (as Barney), and David Argue (as Snowy) couldn't be more engaging. These are characters who hold your attention from beginning to end, and these young men receive sterling support from Bill Kerr (as Archy's uncle Jack), Bill Hunter (as the weary Major Barton), and John Morris (as the coldly efficient Colonel Robinson).

Every technical aspect of this is first-rate, from the use of various classical compositions, to the widescreen photography by Russell Boyd, to the use of the locations. Weirs' direction is exceptional, bringing out all of the emotion and sense of loss from the tale being told. The ending is truly devastating, hitting home with a great deal of force.

"Gallipoli" stands tall, 40 years later, as a memorable depiction of the futility of war. Like a lot of good stories, it begins quietly, sinking its hooks into you and earning your undivided attention before it ultimately piles on the intensity.

Eight out of 10.

Room Service
(1938)

No classic, but still a good, funny comedy.
Groucho is as priceless as usual as Gordon Miller, the leader of a theatrical troupe who currently occupy a ritzy hotel. Alas, they're in desperate need of money, but may soon have a backer to help them out in the production of a play by earnest young Leo Davis (Frank Albertson).

Naturally, things often go very, very wrong in the tradition of farce. While there may be no real comedy fireworks with "Room Service", the Marx brothers are still in fine form, and the material is performed to breathless perfection by a solid and talented cast. Among other complications, characters will have to feign illness, Harpo will run around trying to catch a runaway turkey (who actually FLIES out a window, ha ha), and Groucho, Harpo, and Chico will try to avoid the presence of a new efficiency expert at the hotel, played as the ultimate flustered (and loud) straight man by character actor Donald MacBride.

The film does betray its stage origins, as director William A. Seiter and company never do try to make it particularly cinematic. One of the best moments involves the brothers greedily devouring a meal after they have gone hungry for a while. There are some great lines here and there, and supporting players like MacBride, Cliff Dunstan, Albertson, Philip Loeb, and Philip Wood do their able best to counter some Marx brothers wackiness with their frustrated reactions. Unfortunately, the script gives the major female players (Lucille Ball as the boys' friend Christine, Ann Miller as hotel employee Hilda) with precious little to do; neither of them get to do much to help move the story forward.

All the same, "Room Service" is a welcome alternative to blander contemporary comedies. Even if it's not peak Marx Brothers stuff, it shows you a pretty good time for a well-paced 79 minutes.

Jumping butterballs! Hail and farewell!

Seven out of 10.

The Sopranos: College
(1999)
Episode 5, Season 1

"What you guys do for twelve hours? Play 'Name That Pope'?"
Tony and Meadow go on a college-scouting trip in New England during which she decides to ask him point blank if he is a part of the Mafia. He goes so far as to admit that some of his money is obtained illegally, and as they converse Meadow hopes that they will be more honest with each other. She even admits that she'd recently taken speed. Also during this trip, Tony spots a guy who may very well be a notorious rat, and spends every moment he can trying to verify the guys' identity so he can take him out. Meanwhile, back at home, Carmela receives a visit from nice-guy priest Father Phil (Paul Schulze), and she confesses to him that she's been expressing some deep regret about what her husband may be doing and the life she's chosen to lead.

A true standout episode among the first five, 'College' doesn't feature much in the way of violence. There is one showcase killing, but it's done with a garrotte, so not much blood is involved. No, 'College', written by James Manos Jr. & series creator David Chase, is about honesty in relationships, and the script is simply superb. All of the acting is excellent, especially from Mr. Gandolfini, Ms. Falco, Mr. Schulze, Ms. Sigler, and the effectively antsy Tony Ray Rossi as the snitch "Fred Peters", who is quick to notice interest in him and rightfully begins to fear for his life. Director Allen Coulter ("Hollywoodland") handles it all in style, and delivers a great suspense sequence late in the episode. The fact that no music score is used for this sequence makes it all the more effective. (This shows just how stealthy Tony can be, and it marked the first onscreen killing by this character during the series' run.)

Father Phil is notably portrayed in a realistic way. He clearly is attracted to Carmela, but in the end his faith and discipline prevent him from making a mistake.

In a memorable turn of events, Dr. Melfi becomes sick with the flu and calls the Soprano home to reschedule the next session. Well, Carmela, who takes the call, knew that Tony was seeing a therapist, but not that the doctor was female. This leads to more tension at the end of the episode.

Nine out of 10.

How to Make a Monster
(1958)

For those of us who find monsters better company than humans.
American International Pictures, that famed home of countless delightful B flicks, takes self-referential aim at its own filmography with this knowing script (by the legendary producer Herman Cohen and his frequent collaborator Aben Kandel). It can work as a follow-up to the two A.I.P. "Teenage Werewolf" and "Teenage Frankenstein" classics, with two young actors, Gary Conway (the actual Teenage Frankenstein) and Gary Clarke ('The Virginian'), working on the studios' final monster movie. You see, the new regime at the studio have decreed that the current monster movie cycle is over, and they want to concentrate on upbeat diversions like musicals.

This doesn't sit well with veteran makeup effects designer Pete Dumond; unsung character actor Robert H. Harris ("Valley of the Dolls"), in a rare case of top billing, plays the unstable Dumond. He can't abide the thought of his career possibly being over, so he takes revenge on the new executives, using a new formula in his makeup to make Tony and Larry (Conway and Clarke) very suggestible. Once they are all made up, they make for handy murderers. Dumond and his weak-willed longtime assistant Rivero (Paul Brinegar, "High Plains Drifter") must then dodge frequent questioning by some very determined police.

The landscape is dotted with a variety of familiar character actors - Harris, Brinegar, Malcolm Atterbury ("The Birds"), Morris Ankrum ("Earth vs. the Flying Saucers"), Paul Maxwell ("Aliens"), Thomas Browne Henry ("Beginning of the End"), and Robert Shayne ('Adventures of Superman'), as well as the various creations of real-life monster maker of the era, Paul Blaisdell. These creations also figure into a final sequence that is filmed in color in order for us to properly appreciate them. John Ashley (the later "Blood Island" film series) does a brief musical number.

Overall, the movie offers quite a bit of fun. It is capably directed by Herbert L. Strock, who'd done "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein", as well as other flicks like "Gog", "Blood of Dracula", and "The Crawling Hand". It will have the most resonance for "monster kids" of all decades, but particularly those who originally got to see these efforts in theaters. No, it doesn't sport a lot in the way of atmosphere, suspense, or major scares, but it's pretty hard to resist, just the same.

Seven out of 10.

Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam
(1920)

Excellent entertainment.
Superior atmosphere and wonderful visuals abound in this memorable German silent. Taking place in Prague in the 16th century, it uncomfortably depicts persecution of Jewish people by the Emperor (Otto Gebuhr) and his followers. So what our protagonist, a Talmudic rabbi named Low (Albert Steinruck), does is to create a clay monster called The Golem (played by co-director Paul Wegener) to function as a warrior. The Golem serves its purpose, but Low is unable to foresee the machinations of his sleazy assistant (Ernst Deutsch), who lusts after the rabbis' daughter (Lyda Salmonova).

The special effects remain very impressive for a film that is now over a century old. And the storytelling is efficient and to-the-point, with Wegener, his co-director Carl Boese, and screenwriters Wegener and Henrik Galeen wasting no time. They do a very nice job of period recreation and oppression. The acting is more naturalistic than you would find in some silents, with very few of the actors giving in to flamboyance. Steinruck is appealing in the lead, and Deutsch is amusing as a self-serving jerk who sends The Golem after the amiable squire (Lothar Muthel) whom the daughter really loves. Wegener himself is quite good as the Frankenstein Monster-like, lumbering creation of the title. (The Golem even has a nice moment near the end with a child who appears not to fear it.)

This is a very fine example of early German filmmaking, even if Wegener himself never really considered it "Expressionism". It's well worth seeing; the monster has figured into a number of other genre films over the decades, including a previous effort from Wegener and Galeen that is now considered to be a "lost" film.

Eight out of 10.

The Man Who Would Be King
(1975)

Grand, epic-scale entertainment.
Here, master filmmaker John Huston adapts (with Gladys Hill) the Rudyard Kipling story of two British scoundrels attempting to create their own kingdom. Daniel Dravot (Sir Sean Connery) and Peachy Carnehan (Sir Michael Caine) are former soldiers who make it their mission to undergo an arduous journey to the remote land of Kafiristan (where no white man since Alexander the Great has set foot) to set themselves up as rulers. This they will do by helping the locals to defeat their enemies. But, not unpredictably, Daniel ends up taking his position rather seriously.

With the equally great Christopher Plummer appearing as Kipling, this story takes hold immediately, engrossing the viewer while giving them a solid, old-fashioned Hollywood adventure. The production values are first-rate (this was largely shot in Morocco), the music by Maurice Jarre is affecting, and the teaming of Connery & Caine (good friends in real life) ensures some great chemistry in what could be seen as an earlier example of the "buddy film". Some real tension is derived from Connery possibly being exposed as an average flesh-and-blood mortal, and not a god as the locals start to see him. While watching, the viewer knows that this may not end well, in the tradition of any tale of a character or characters "playing God", but it's a journey well worth taking.

Connery and Caine offer their incredible charisma and screen presence to these shameless but ingratiating characters. Offering excellent support are the briefly seen Plummer (seen mostly in the first act and then briefly at the end), Saeed Jaffrey as Daniel and Peachys' amiable countryman "Billy Fish", and Larbi Doghmi as the character Ootah. Caines' striking real-life wife Shakira, playing a lovely lass named Roxanne, is mostly a scenery attraction and doesn't really have to do much acting.

The atmosphere is wonderful, the storytelling keeps its grip throughout, and Daniel & Peachy make such a memorable pair, from their introductory scenes to their scheming to their incredible journey across the mountainous Asian countryside.

If you want to see the stars at their best, "The Man Who Would Be King" is the film for you.

10 out of 10.

Hill Street Blues: Blood Money
(1981)
Episode 2, Season 2

Todays' lesson is NEVER mess with Belker!
Former gang leader Jesse John Hudson (Danny Glover) is suspected of masterminding a massive weapons theft. A hooker is murdered, and her pimp falls under suspicion; an informer (John Dennis Johnston) on whom Washington relies swears that he saw blood on the pimps' clothes one night. Goldblume insists on helping in an undercover operation when various cab drivers are brutalized by a disguise-happy miscreant. In so doing, he develops a connection to a pretty lady (Karen Austin) who's a hard-luck case. After realizing that he is attracted to her, the possibility of an affair with this woman does enter his mind.

We also get more of the lighter side of 'Hill Street Blues' due to Esterhaus' ongoing woman problems. Grace Gardner (Barbara Babcock) is determined to let him know that he's letting a good thing slip out of his fingers. This opens up an opportunity for an uncharacteristically awkward Hunter (James B. Sikking is as hilarious as ever) to ask her out on a date. To add to the hilarity, that purse-snatching orangutan from the previous episode is still hanging around! Apparently the men and women of Hill Street Station can't find someone to take this ape off their hands. One of the brightest moments occurs when Belker tells "Baby" to assume the position.

But it's not all fun and games. There are some effectively poignant moments here: between Joe Spano a.k.a. Goldblume and Ms. Austin, and with guest star Johnston, who's believable as an utter loser so pathetic that he does earn some sympathy. His final scene is pretty sad.

All in all, another riveting corker of an episode.

Eight out of 10.

Valentine
(2001)

Roses are red, violets are blue. They'll need dental records to identify you.
A loose adaptation of a novel by Tom Savage, the 21st century, post-"Scream" slasher "Valentine" offers adequate entertainment, but not much more. It doesn't offer much that is fresh or interesting. Of course, it may still appeal to die hard lovers of this time-honored formula, especially the way that it concentrates on a very attractive, largely female cast. A bunch of friends start to get threatened and then killed by a mystery murderer who wears a creepy cherub mask. It just MIGHT be that geek whom the girls spurned back in junior high, but they can't know for sure.

Amusingly, many of the male characters are portrayed as being smarmy, self-serving jerks. Even nice guy Adam (David Boreanaz) has a character flaw; he's a sportswriter with a weakness for the bottle. It is because this particular slasher is so female-centric that it works to any degree. Some horror fans may appreciate the fact that director Jamie Blanks ("Urban Legend", "Storm Warning") downplays gore (for the most part, there are still some violent moments) in favor of straight suspense. All in all, the film is slick, and watchable, but hardly inspired, going through its paces with some competency but no nuance.

The cast doesn't rise above their material, but the gorgeous ladies (Denise Richards, Jessica Cauffiel, Katherine Heigl, etc.) and the hunky Boreanaz are entertaining enough to watch. Marley Shelton is the main focus as Kate, herself a journalist who is trying to learn to trust Adam (Boreanaz) again. In an amusing twist, even the requisite detective on the case (Fulvio Cecere) turns out to be a lech.

There is a prominent plot point involving nosebleeds that had some veteran horror fans recalling the 1982 thriller "Alone in the Dark", which did the same thing more memorably. The story plays out in a way familiar to any "Friday the 13th" series fan, where you have a final girl discovering various dead bodies during the final act.

You could certainly do better than this, but you could also definitely do worse.

Six out of 10.

Les amazones du temple d'or
(1986)

Amusing in its own absurd way.
A missionary named Simpson (Jean-Rene Gossart) becomes hungry for gold, and he and his wife pay the price when targeted by tough-as-nails, topless Amazonian babes. Their daughter is raised in the jungle, away from civilization, and grows up to be a "Sheena" type named Liana (Analia Ivars), albeit one with an impressive perm. As an adult, Liana decides that the time is ripe for revenge, and accompanied by characters like an archaeologist, his hot-to-trot wife, a witch doctor, and a jungle guide, she treks into the land of the "blue mountain" where a golden temple does indeed await.

Officially directed by Alain Payet, with uncredited work by "presenter" Jess Franco (who also wrote the screenplay), this is no great example of the jungle adventure genre popularized by the Italians. There's not much gore, no cannibalism, and other than the nudity, there's nothing that would be highly objectionable to a mainstream audience. Overall, the movie delivers *some* entertainment, at least for the viewer who can't get enough of this sort of thing. All the acting, dubbing, and set design tend towards the utterly cheesy; much of the dialogue is rather unintelligible, although that's probably no real loss. The electronic music score by Norbert Verrone is overbearing.

Despite the title, this clearly takes place in Africa, and there are admittedly some very cute scenes near the beginning of Liana interacting with the wildlife - chatting with a giraffe, hitching a ride on an elephant, etc. (The animal sequences are actually pretty good.) And there is also a fairly well trained chimp who the human characters call "Rocky". Of the main cast members, Eva Leon appears to be having the most fun, playing the evil, sadistic, eyepatch-wearing Rena. Co-starring are familiar faces such as William Berger, Antonio Mayans, and Olivier Mathot. Francos' wife Lina Romay has an uncredited bit as a temple guard.

If you're looking for an 85-minute cheese fest that won't get too unpleasant and won't tax your brain, "Golden Temple Amazons" kills time in a passable way.

Five out of 10.

Two Lost Worlds
(1951)

An entertaining B flick.
The same year that he played the rampaging alien in "The Thing from Another World" a studly young James Arness is our jut-jawed hero in this agreeable adventure. Arness plays Kirk Hamilton, a mate on a 19th century clipper ship who, after a skirmish with pirates, spends some time in Australia getting his wounds treated. After helping the locals deal with this pirate problem, he and several other characters end up marooned on an uncharted island that is frozen in time, complete with oversized lizards.

This film is a little misrepresented by ad copy. Much more of an adventure film (dividing its time between action on land and action at sea) than sci-fi, it only spends its final third on this island. And we never get to see very many prehistoric animals, only the aforementioned lizards that are stock footage from "One Million B.C." ("Two Lost Worlds" didn't shoot any of its own creature scenes.) Also, while a fair amount of time is spent with Australian characters, NONE of them have Australian accents!

Still, this minor but agreeable feature shows its audience a reasonable time. At the very least, it has a very brief running time of 62 minutes. Much like many a fun B movie, it doesn't waste too much time. That is, except for portraying a love triangle between Kirk, Queensland native Elaine Jeffries (Kasey Rogers), and a resentful rancher named Martin Shannon (Bill Kennedy). The supporting cast is filled out by capable character actors such as Pierre Watkin, Tom Monroe, Michael Rye as the evil pirate leader (you'll have a good time hating this guy), Fred Kohler Jr., Tim Graham, and Richard Bartell. Young co-star Gloria Petroff is the daughter of producer Boris Petroff (a.k.a. Brooke L. Peters). Co-star Tom Hubbard (who plays John Hartley) also helped to adapt the story by Petroff and wrote the screenplay.

The movie does give its viewers an exciting finish with a volcanic eruption (more stock footage), and features some hilariously florid narration written by Bill Shaw and spoken by Dan Riss. All in all, it's amusing stuff.

Six out of 10.

Curse of the Undead
(1959)

An inventive little film.
Australian actor Michael Pate ("Hondo") is devilishly fun as a gunslinger with a unique affliction in this enjoyable B flick, which marked a then-novel mixing of the Western and horror genres. The audience will immediately pick up on Drake Robey's secret, and wait for the other characters to get caught up to speed. But it's a journey worth taking, and the genre mash-up ensures some great atmosphere. There are some genuinely creepy moments here.

Eric Fleming of TVs' 'Rawhide' co-stars as Dan, the town preacher who will be the main thorn in Robey's side. He can't help but come off as stiff when compared to the more dynamic Pate. Lovely Kathleen Crowley ("Target Earth") is an appealing leading lady, while the supporting cast contains a handful of top character actors: John Hoyt ("When Worlds Collide") as the kindly doctor, Bruce Gordon (Joe Dantes' "Piranha") as slimy rancher Mr. Buffer, Edward Binns ("12 Angry Men") as the no-nonsense Sheriff, and Jay Adler ("The Big Combo") as a flustered bartender.

Some people may take issue with the variations on vampire mythology here, while others may find them refreshing. For one thing, Robey CAN walk around during the daytime, although too much sun is not good for his eyesight. This character is a cool one, all right, and not *completely* unsympathetic. As he says, he didn't ask for this accursed "life" he now leads.

Written by cult director Edward Dein ("Shack Out on 101") and Mildred Dein, this is a sharp movie that has great respect for both vampire and Western lore, complete with excellent, moody cinematography by Ellis W. Carter ("The Incredible Shrinking Man"). It's obviously one of the lesser known Universal-International genre productions of the period, but deserves a wider audience.

Eight out of 10.

Battlefield Earth
(2000)

A reviewer gaining leverage? That'll be the day!
Regarded as one of the biggest movie mistakes of its time, this adaptation of the L. Ron Hubbard novel concerns a Planet Earth of the year 3000. Very little of humanity remains. The people left over are thoroughly dominated by evil, business-minded aliens called "Psychlos", who colonized Earth long ago. John Travolta plays Terl, a pathologically greedy Psychlo security chief who is hungry for gold. He gets the bright idea to have scrappy human, or "man-animal", Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (an underwhelming Barry Pepper) lead an effort to mine for gold. But Jonnie and others lead a revolt instead.

"Battlefield Earth" is very much an expensive misfire, with all the razzle-dazzle visuals that money can buy, but no story that's really interesting or involving (or believable). Roger Christians' fumbling misdirection should have torpedoed his film directing career, while the writing and the acting tends towards the cheesy. Overall, this is a silly way to spend two hours, although it picks up marginally in its second half with its time-honored theme of mistreated individuals rising up to strike back at their cruel tormentors (and facing a time limit, to boot). The design of the alien villains is largely unimpressive.

The cast (including such familiar and reliable performers as Forest Whitaker, Richard Tyson, Kim Coates, and Michael Byrne, et al) has definitely been better utilized in other things, although this viewer can't say that some of them didn't give their roles the old college try. Travolta, also one of the producers here, manages to survive with some dignity intact; if the movie has a bright spot, it's his scenery-devouring, amusing performance. His late wife Kelly Preston has a brief cameo as a devious Psychlo secretatry.

The outdoor scenes were filmed in Quebec, Canada, and at least the scenery is nice. Faint praise, however, for a movie that gets so much wrong.

Three out of 10.

Star Trek: Where No Man Has Gone Before
(1966)
Episode 3, Season 1

"There's some hope for you yet, Mr. Spock."
The approved pilot for the legendary series - albeit aired third, after 'The Man Trap' and 'Charlie X' - is noteworthy for dealing with universal concepts and provocative ideas. It has a plot somewhat similar to that of 'Charlie X', in which there is a central character (guest star Gary Lockwood, as Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell) with incredible powers who gets out of control. Mitchell has potent ESP abilities, which only get enhanced when the Enterprise gets wind of the fate of a previous starship that had encountered a magnetic force field.

While various crew attempt to repair the Enterprise, Kirk must contemplate something unthinkable for him: dealing expeditiously with Mitchell, who has been a friend for 15 years. The latter shows that his power has started to warp his thinking. It is Spock, ever the voice of cold reason, who advises Kirk not to let emotions get the better of him. And Spock just may be right. Enterprise psychiatrist Elizabeth Dehner (guest star Sally Kellerman) is a little too intrigued with the guy to be completely helpful.

We meet Scotty (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei) for the first time here, not that either of them get real showcase moments this early in the series. The performances are all on point, from character actor Paul Fix as the original medical officer (Bones is not to be seen here) to Paul Carr as Lieutenant Lee Kelso to Lloyd Haynes as Alden. As usual, the interplay between Shatner and Nimoy is a source of amusement and entertainment as logic & reason vs. emotional responses are discussed.

Good action scenes, reasonably effective sets, and some solid visuals make this a good jumping-off point for the further adventures to follow.

Written by Samuel A. Peeples, mostly known for work on Western TV series, and directed by James Goldstone ("Winning", "They Only Kill Their Masters", "Rollercoaster", etc.).

Eight out of 10.

Three's Company: Roper's Niece
(1977)
Episode 3, Season 1

"If there's one thing I hate, it's the silent treatment."
Mr. Ropers' niece Karen (a lovely Christina Hart) comes for a visit, and Mrs. Roper doesn't think that he's showing her a good enough time. So Roper gets the bright idea to have Jack take her out, thinking that she'll be safe with him. Jack is resistant to the idea, until he sees what the young woman looks like. Frustrated with Jacks' lack of amorous attention, however, Karen ends up pretty much throwing herself at him. When Roper catches them kissing, he automatically throws Jack out of the apartment.

Here, we get more of an idea of what a shameless horn dog Jack can be, with Janet quipping that "his head was born on a swivel". Roper gets in plenty of comments on the nature of "people like Jack". Janet & Chrissy feel some resentment over Jack missing Janets' birthday party, but this also leads to a fairly frank conversation over how they would react to Jack if he weren't living with them. Jack, of course, ultimately proves that at heart he really is a good guy when he uses the money Roper gives him for an unexpected purchase.

While not quite as uproarious as this show could get, this is a very good episode with some great lines. Some of the best moments happen when Jack decides to have some fun with the small-minded, old-fashioned Roper and deliberately freak him out. Norman Fell is priceless during these moments.

Overall, a good episode.

Eight out of 10.

Glen or Glenda
(1953)

You are society. Judge ye not!
Edward D. Wood Jr., a filmmaker renowned for his lack of finesse or panache, nonetheless created films that have a compulsive watchability about them. Here, he indulges in a heartfelt plea for acceptance as he explores the male fetish of dressing in women's clothing. A psychiatrist (Timothy Farrell) relates to a police inspector (Lyle Talbot) two stories, the primary one being that of Glen (Wood, acting under a pseudonym), who needs to work up the courage to tell his fiancee (Dolores Fuller, Woods' real-life squeeze at the time) that he'd like to wear her outfits. Meanwhile, a demented old scientist (star attraction Bela Lugosi) sits in an Old Dark House, forever uttering things like "Pull ze string!", "Bevare!", and "A new life has begun!"

I'll give Wood some credit here: for whatever slickness he did not possess, he makes this classic B as artful as he can make it. Granted, it fades a little in the stretch, with a bit too much padding, but "Glen or Glenda" is overall an interesting oddity, an appealing mix of the sincere and the sordid. It attempts to shine light on males with different inclinations (including a kid who is referred to as a "pseudohermaphrodite") and implores that the viewer not judge these characters until they hear their whole stories. And they do have back stories that offer some insight into why they grew up the way they did.

Going in, most people know to expect less-than-stellar acting in a Wood epic, although the cast, up to and including Wood himself, do earn points for earnestness. Lugosi is just a total hoot, and seems to delight in some of these quotes that he utters. He has one great moment early on during use of split screen where he comments on denizens of an unnamed city and their lives.

There is nothing quite like an Ed Wood film; while they may not be considered "good" by most peoples' standards, they have an unmistakable, quirky charm.

Five out of 10.

The Sopranos: Meadowlands
(1999)
Episode 4, Season 1

"Always with the scenarios."
Tony is becoming very concerned about being discovered as a psychiatric patient, knowing it won't be good for images. Christopher discovers his friend Brendans' corpse and becomes paranoid, ultimately determined to wage some sort of war with Uncle Junior. Jackie succumbs to cancer, which will mean someone else will need to ascend to his just-vacated position. Tony takes this death particularly hard, knowing it could just as easily have been him. Anthony Jr., after repeated scuffles at school, realizes that a classmate is scared of him, and is mystified by this fact. It is Meadow who educates the blissfully unaware Anthony Jr. on just what their father REALLY does for a living.

Also among the story threads is the fact that Tony has decided to learn whatever he can about Dr. Melfi, and tasks a corrupt police detective (veteran actor John Heard, making his first appearance in the role) with tailing her. This enables us to see more of the doctors' personal life, and adds to the drama when the unstable detective oversteps his bounds and decides to beat up the doctors' date (Mark Blum). So now we have more than just Christopher as an on-the-edge character who wonders what will become of him; the date can tell he's being shadowed and is now afraid to venture outside his home.

'Meadowlands" has moments both utterly affecting - Tony reacting to hearing of Jackies' death - and humorous - as Tony administers some punishment to Mikey Palmice using a stapler. The air is thick with tension during crucial confrontations between Tony and Uncle Junior, but Tony realizes that it will be better for him if it is his uncle who fills the power vacuum.

Light on violence this time around, but containing some powerful passages, this sizes up as another engrossing episode of this popular series.

Eight out of 10.

Cult of the Cobra
(1955)

It will *pierce your flesh*!
Six amiable servicemen, on leave in Asia, have the temerity to sneak into a top secret ceremony conducted by cultists who worship snakes. They're naturally discovered, and a curse is placed upon them. Before they can even get home, one of them perishes, a result of a cobra bite. Back in NYC, the body count continues, while one of the men, Tom (Marshall Thompson, "It! The Terror from Beyond Space"), falls in love with a new neighbour, Lisa Moya (Faith Domergue, "It Came from Beneath the Sea"). We, of course, automatically realize that there is something Not Right with her.

Punched up a bit with its themes of tragic romance, its decent effects work, and some nice touches (like the "cobra vision"), "Cult of the Cobra" is engaging, silly, campy nonsense, played to the hilt by its solid cast. Domergues' aloof beauty is utilized well, and her performance is actually not bad. She's surrounded by entertaining performers: Richard Long ("House on Haunted Hill"), Jack Kelly ("Forbidden Planet"), a pre-stardom David Janssen ('The Fugitive'), William Reynolds ("The Land Unknown"), Kathleen Hughes ("It Came from Outer Space"), etc. The script, concocted by Jerry Davis (also story author), Richard Collins, and Cecil Maiden, does a good job at exploiting that old concept of metamorphosis - people with the ability to transform into another species. Granted, "Cult of the Cobra" *is* a far cry from "Cat People", but it serves the viewer an amusing diversion for a decently paced 80 minutes. Director Francis D. Lyon ("Destination Inner Space") handles things quite capably, delivering some fun jolts. As the yarn is played out, we have one character who may falter in their mission by developing genuine feelings for their victim, and another who may be too stupidly stubborn to accept the true nature of their new love.

As far as Universal-International product of the 1950s goes, this is not top-tier, but it does have its pleasures.

The Chief from 'Get Smart', a.k.a. actor Edward Platt, has mere seconds on screen as the cult member uttering the death threat.

Seven out of 10.

Hill Street Blues: Hearts and Minds
(1981)
Episode 1, Season 2

Some memorable comic bits of business in this episode.
It's Franks' 40th birthday, and while he does get moments here and there to celebrate this milestone, things are always very busy on the Hill. In the opening minutes, a criminal in the station actually manages to get hold of a gun, and is brought down by some of the boys in blue. A seven-year-old goes missing, and resources are pooled to canvas the kids' neighbourhood. An ex-convict, Jesse John Hudson (guest star Danny Glover) seems to want to do good for his own neighbourhood, but Frank has his doubts about the guy. Officer Coffey, having survived the shooting at the end of the first season, is itching to get back to active duty.

Once again, the cast is uniformly excellent, with an especially praiseworthy turn by series star Daniel J. Travanti. Michael Conrad is wonderful as the weary Esterhaus, bemoaning (to Hunter) the fact that he's always seemed to be irresistible to women! Guest star Barbara Babcock burns up the screen as his hot-to-trot girlfriend. James B. Sikking has some fun moments as Hunter attempts to coax a suspect out of a car trunk. Bruce Weitz is priceless as ever-gruff Belker, who proves that he can apprehend just about any suspect, including an orangutan who's been snatching purses! (He has another of his funny scenes with Nick Savage as Pickpocket (who this time uses the name of Sam Sneed).) The sequence in which Goldblume gets a kid to come clean is a powerful highlight of the episode, but this is followed by an equally potent scene as Frank, fed up with the status of his relationship with Joyce, urges her to make a decision - one that she's apparently not ready to make. It throws some doubt on the future of this relationship.

The writing is typically sharp, and amusing and poignant in equal measure; series producer Gregory Hoblit was also the director here.

Familiar faces in small roles include Trinidad Silva (in his recurring role of gang leader Jesus Martinez) and Martin Ferrero as a robber.

Eight out of 10.

Bakterion
(1982)

What you have seen might really happen...perhaps it already has!
"Panic", a.k.a. "Bakterion", a.k.a. "Monster of Blood" comfortably relies on two familiar genre plots: the outbreak yarn and the monster-on-the-loose yarn. Here, an accident at a lab (which was supposedly working on vaccines but may have actually been involved in germ warfare) results in a murderous creature that appears to be also carrying some new plague. A top police detective named Captain Kirk (!) (ever-cool David Warbeck of "The Beyond" fame) teams up with an attractive scientist (Janet Agren, "City of the Living Dead") to track down the beast. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking until the authorities resort to a desperate measure.

Personally, this viewer doesn't see what's really so atrocious about this one. In terms of story, it IS pretty derivative, the filmmaking isn't that slick, and there may be some obvious continuity problems, but I still can't help but feel that this little Italian / Spanish co-production would benefit from some sort of restoration. Not that it's any sort of lost gem, but it does entertain in adequate-enough fashion. The story is easy to follow, the acting / dubbing aren't terrible, the makeup effects are decent, the music score is fine, and there's an effective finale in the British sewer system. As cheesy-B movies go, one could do worse than this.

That's definitely due in large part to cult actors Warbeck and Agren (the latter sporting an amusing perm), who remain as watchable as ever.

Even with its flaws, this shows fans of the genre a reasonable time, complete with your standard dispatching of various victims (a couple making out, a gal taking a shower, a drunk, a heroic priest, etc.). The sequence where the rather pathetic monster runs amok in a movie theatre is a hoot.

Six out of 10.

The Demon
(1979)

Watchable, but hardly inspired.
In the opening minutes of this movie, a girl named Emily Parker (Ashleigh Sendin) is abducted by a hulking, heavy-breathing psycho. Her distraught parents (Peter J. Elliott, Moira Winslow) call in a character we presume to be some sort of private investigator. He is Colonel Bill Carson (Cameron Mitchell, the films' star attraction), a retired military officer with psychic abilities. Meanwhile, the villain continues to claim random victims. This perpetrator may be something less, or more, than just a "man".

Details as to the killers' true nature and reason for killing are never delineated in this script by producer / director Percival Rubens, presumably to keep things mysterious. He / it wears gloves tipped with razors on the fingers, yet tends to murder some people with the old "plastic bag over the head" routine. Overall, the film is watchable enough, but never has much in terms of scares and suspense, and it's so poorly filmed that it's hard sometimes to see what's going on, or understand what characters are saying. The picture, at least, does have some atmosphere, and there is nudity from leading lady Jennifer Holmes (as young schoolteacher Mary) and Zoli Marki as her cousin / housemate Jo. Unfortunately, too much time is wasted on uninteresting supporting characters. There's a lot of footage devoted to the budding relationship between Jo and nice rich guy Dean Turner (Craig Gardner); the film plods as a result. Gore hounds will be quite disappointed, although anyone looking for a routine "Halloween"-inspired knock-off may not be too mindful of "The Demon"s' lack of interesting features. Most unexpected was the final scene between Carson and Mrs. Parker.

Mitchell is once again professional enough to give "The Demon" some needed credibility, although in truth we don't really see a lot of the Carson character. He's NOT as major a player in the course of events as one would think. Holmes and Marki have some appeal, and while the cast is fairly nondescript, they're at least reasonably competent as actors.

"The Demon" is not a total waste of time, but it's still going to leave some viewers wanting more.

Filmed in South Africa.

Five out of 10.

Night Gallery: Green Fingers/The Funeral/The Tune in Dan's Cafe
(1972)
Episode 15, Season 2

Fun stuff for 'Night Gallery' devotees.
'Green Fingers'. Teleplay by Serling himself, based on a tale by R.C. Cook. Directed by John Badham. Cameron Mitchell plays Saunders, a stereotypically greedy developer who keeps trying to bribe an old woman (Elsa Lanchester) to leave her property; her land is essential to his plans. He's not above paying a goon (George Keymas) to throw a scare into her. But things go bad - in a very interesting way. The effects are good, and things do get fairly violent. Both Mitchell and Lanchester are very, very good here, especially her, as she plays this eccentric but endearing old biddy with an obvious talent for growing things; her garden is truly a wonder. This segment has the best twist ending of this episode.

'The Funeral'. Comic hijinks, courtesy of Richard Matheson, who adapted his own story. Directed by John Meredyth Lucas. A strange man named Asper (Werner Klemperer) goes to a funeral home to arrange a service; the proprietor (Joe Flynn) is happy to accommodate him, but is thrown for a loop when Aspers' big secret comes to light. Things get particularly wacky when the service takes place, and all of Aspers' ghoulish acquaintances attend. Needless to say, the house practically comes down. This is all pretty goofy, and silly, but it IS amusing, and hard to truly dislike. 'Night Gallery' series producer Jack Laird appears on screen here as Igor.

'The Tune in Dan's Cafe'. Teleplay by Gerald Sanford and Garrie Bateson, based on a story by Shamus Frazer. Directed by David Rawlins. Pernell Roberts and Susan Oliver play a couple going through a rough patch. Late one night they stop at a roadside cafe where only one annoying country love song ever plays on the juke box. In conversing with the owner (James Nusser), Roberts learns why this might be the case: it has to do with a doomed romance between a young man and woman (James Davidson, Brooke Mills). This segment eventually consists of quick cuts wherein we get just enough story to put the pieces together. Overall, the segment isn't *bad*, but it's resolved in a fairly unsatisfying way. Good atmosphere, in any event.

Seven out of 10.

Riot
(1969)

Worth a look for fans of Hackman and Brown.
"Riot" is a decent prison film, produced by William Castle (known as a director of things like "House on Haunted Hill") and directed by Buzz Kulik ('Brian's Song'). It stars Jim Brown, as cool as ever, as inmate Cully Briston, who realizes that the men of the isolation block have taken over that portion of the prison. Led by Red Fraker (Gene Hackman), they intend to pull off an escape, while pretending to the outside world to be petitioning for better conditions.

Ad copy may try to sell this as some kind of action film, but in truth it's more of a drama with some thriller elements. And it's NOT as violent as some people may fear, with some little bits of gore here and there. It doesn't attempt to show the lives of most of these inmates before their "riot". Cully has his misgivings about the whole thing, but gets caught up in it just the same, trying to talk some sense into Red.

The main asset of "Riot" is a degree of realism. It was based on a novel by Frank Elli, which was itself inspired by a real-life riot in a Minnesota prison. It features a number of inmates in supporting roles and bits, and even casts tough-as-nails real-life warden Frank Eyman to basically play himself. While it may not be truly action-packed, it has some great moments, especially the escape scenes near the end which are fraught with tension. The whole thing is professionally packaged, and nicely scored by Christopher Komeda.

Hackman is fun as the confident ringleader, while Brown remains highly watchable in his more even-keeled portrayal as a convict with some principles. Mike Kellin (who would return to the prison genre a decade later with "On the Yard"), Ben Carruthers (as the volatile, violent "Joe Surefoot"), and Clifford David (Beethoven in "Bill & Teds' Excellent Adventure") co-star as various inmates. Gerald S. O'Loughlin is good as a guard who's tried to dominate Cully for years, then turns weak after being used as a hostage.

"Riot" won't take a place as one of the great prison films, but it does entertain solidly for 97 minutes, which is all you can really ask for sometimes.

Seven out of 10.

Back to the Future
(1985)

1.21 gigawatts worth of entertainment.
Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox, in his first starring role) is a typical teenager of the 80s, albeit a kid with a friendship with a kooky scientist / inventor named Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). One Saturday, very early in the morning, Doc unveils his latest invention: a time machine (fashioned out of a DeLorean) that actually works! When Marty is forced to get inside and take it for a spin, he is transported back to 1955. While temporarily trapped in the past, he manages to interfere in what would have been the fateful union of his parents (Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover). So now his problems are twofold: getting back to his own time AND making sure that his parents get together. Otherwise, HE won't exist!

"Back to the Future" is one of the great, iconic 80s films, a blissfully wacky time-travel comedy that gets a lot of mileage out of plunging the affable Marty into a different time period. Here, he has to learn how to blend in so he doesn't stick out so much. The ingenious script is courtesy of director Robert Zemeckis and his writing partner, Bob Gale, which comes up with plenty of great scenes and some hilarious lines. "Why are things so "heavy" in the future? Is there a problem with the Earths' gravitational pull?" The period recreation, done on the Universal backlot, is tons of fun, the music score by Alan Silvestri is tremendously good and memorable, and fairly decent makeup transforms a few of the actors into alternate "past" and "present" versions of their characters. Although running a little long at just under two hours, "Back to the Future" wastes little time, managing to hold your attention while it gets up to its top speed.

The cast couldn't be better. Fox is extremely engaging as our flustered hero, and Lloyd is just a delight as the guy who gets the ball rolling in terms of plot. Thompson and Glover are endearing, even if the latter can't help but inject some of his standard eccentricities into his role. Thomas F. Wilson is a riot as swaggering bully Biff. "Why don't you make like a tree...and get out of here." The supporting cast is full of familiar faces: Zemeckis regulars Marc McClure and Wendie Jo Sperber as Marty's siblings, Billy Zane and Casey Siemaszko among the members of Biffs' gang, George DiCenzo and Frances Lee McCain as Lorraines' parents, James Tolkan as slacker-hating principal Mr. Strickland, Will Hare as old farmer Mr. Peabody, Buck Flower in one of his many hobo roles, etc. Music star Huey Lewis, who performs the films' hit song "The Power of Love", has a cameo as a teacher who tells Marty that his bands' music is "too loud".

With a high energy level, a large amount of humour that actually works, and excellent visual effects by those pros at Industrial Light & Magic, "Back to the Future" has proven to have real legs in terms of its enduring entertainment value.

Followed by two sequels and an animated TV series.

Eight out of 10.

Mako: The Jaws of Death
(1976)

One of William Grefes' best films.
Veteran actor Richard Jaeckel makes the most of a juicy, top-billed role here. Sonny Stein is a lover and protector of sharks, and has been ever since sharks actually saved his life during a Vietnam War incident. Now he looks out for the oceanic predators, and dispatches various unlucky humans should they have the temerity to hurt or exploit Sonny's finned friends.

Florida-based filmmaker William Grefe came up with the idea for this one himself, but it wouldn't be until the Hollywood blockbuster "Jaws" had its great success that investors saw potential in Grefes' story concept. Much like Grefes' own "Stanley", itself inspired by "Willard", this is a tale about a lonely, maladjusted main character who feels a kinship with a certain species of animal. And it's a solid, entertaining story. Right up front, there is text telling us that the scenes in this film were done with real human beings interacting with real sharks. Grefe and company didn't have the luxury of being able to create their own mechanical shark, but in the end realism serves them quite well.

A striking, fairly unusual music score by William Loose & Paul Ruhland works as perfect accompaniment to this film. The Florida locales also give it a lot of atmosphere. One of the best bits is the finale wherein Sonny flees from the cops during a hurricane; it's pretty exciting.

Jaeckel is fantastic as our sympathetic antagonist, and is ably supported by a good cast. Jenifer Bishop plays a swimmer who functions as entertainment for a bar. Buffy Dee is her husband / boss who smells a business opportunity when made aware of Sonny's status as a "shark whisperer". Harold 'Odd Job' Sakata and John Davis Chandler are effectively loathsome as sleazy, shark poaching creeps. And Ben Kronen is amusing as a nerdy scientist who informs Sonny that if he doesn't cooperate with him, his beloved buddies could end up with bounties on their heads.

"Mako: The Jaws of Death" is good fun for any fan of the "Nature Strikes Back" genre, with good death scenes, a bit of humour, and an appropriate respect for nature. Grefe handled the excellent underwater scenes himself, having performed the same duty for the James Bond adventure "Live and Let Die".

Seven out of 10.

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