Wuchakk

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Reviews

Hot Rod
(2007)

Andy Samberg plays an Evel Knieval wannabe in this fun flick
A brave-but-klutzy moped stuntman with a fake mustache (Andy Samberg) plans his most death-defying stunt, jumping 15 buses, to attain the money needed to save his father-in-law with a weak heart (Ian McShane). Isla Fisher, Sissy Spacek, Bill Hader and Danny McBride costar.

"Hot Rod" (2007) is quirky with goofy humor, but good-hearted. There's thankfully no raunch to be found. Samberg is effective as the protagonist while Isla is always a winsome pleasure. There's not much else to say except this stunt comedy fills the bill when you just wanna turn off your brain for some silly fun.

The movie runs 1 hour, 28 minutes, and was shot in the general Vancouver area, British Columbia.

GRADE: B-/B

Demon Seed
(1977)

If HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey" were grounded in Los Angeles
Married to a computer scientist (Fritz Weaver), a child psychologist (Julie Christie) finds her home invaded by an autonomous supercomputer named Proteus IV, created by her husband at his futuristic lab in Thousand Oaks. What does it want?

"Demon Seed" (1977) is a techno-thriller that mixes "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) with "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), "Colossus: The Forbin Project" (1970) and "The Stepford Wives" (1975). Unlike "2001" the story is entirely Earth-bound, but the self-conscious supercomputer with a HAL-like voice, the psychedelic visual interludes and the sound effects are straight out of "2001."

Julie looks great in a challenging role and the cutting edge effects (for that era) hold up. Furthermore, the movie creates a disturbing vibe concerning menacing, out-of-control technology. But the story's just too one-dimensional with the bulk of it taking place in the couple's house that Proteus has taken over.

The film runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and was shot in Thousand Oaks & Los Angeles, California.

GRADE: B-/C+

The Hidden
(1987)

Ferraris, 80's rock/metal, Los Angeles and an out-of-control... thing
An FBI agent (Kyle MacLachlan) from Seattle teams-up with an LAPD detective (Michael Nouri) to apprehend an unstoppable menace in Los Angeles that seems to switch bodies(?).

"The Hidden" (1987) is a kinetic sci-fi action/thriller in the mold of "The Terminator" (1984), but not quite as exceptional. It's captivating with a kinetic 80's metal/rock/punk soundtrack featuring bands like Shok Paris, Concrete Blonde and The Truth. But, for me, the flick's hampered by the one dimensional vibe of the gritty concrete jungle.

Voluptuous Claudia Christian stands out on the female front as an exotic dancer who gets caught up in the chase.

The movie runs 1 hour, 37 minutes, and was shot Los Angeles.

GRADE: B+

The Last of the Cowboys
(1977)

Comedic road flick about a Trucker's final run with Henry Fonda
A dying trucker (Henry Fonda) throws caution to the wind by stealing back his repossessed semi and venturing his last haul across the country with a Bible-spouting sidekick (Robert Englund), a madam (Eileen Brennan) and her six girls.

"The Great Smokey Roadblock" (1977) was originally titled "The Last of the Cowboys" and was presumably changed to take advantage of the success of "Smokey and the Bandit." While this one focuses on a trucker and a band of prostitutes, it's just as entertaining as that more popular road farce and maybe a smidgen more.

The movie repeatedly points out that Fonda's character is 60 years old, but he was actually 71 during filming and looked it. Don't get me wrong, he looked good for his age and had his usual charisma, but he didn't look 60, unless he had lived a very hard life.

Curvy Daina House is the highlight on the feminine front, but I strangely found grumpy Alice (Mews Small) notable too. Susan Sarandon is also on hand before she made it big. Actually the entire female cast is entertaining because they're fleshed out as individuals.

The geography is disingenuous as Northern California is passed off for places like Missouri, the Smokey Mountains and the Carolina coast. Yet even big budget movies back then did this, let alone small flicks like this one.

The film runs 1 hour, 44 minutes, and was shot in Oroville, California.

GRADE: B-

Agnes of God
(1985)

Melodramatic havoc at a rural Canadian Convent with Jane Fonda, Anne Bancroft and Meg Tilly
After a bloody scandal at a Convent outside Montreal, a court-appointed psychiatrist (Jane Fonda) investigates to determine if a devout, but hysterical young woman (Meg Tilly) is fit to stand trial, but she'll have to get past the intractable Mother Superior (Anne Bancroft) to find the truth.

"Agnes of God" (1985) is a psychological drama revolving around a Convent with a few scenes of Montreal thrown in. What we have here is a mystery: Was the innocent & naïve Agnes (1) impregnated by God, (2) by some dude in the barn or wherever, or (3) a kind of spontaneous cloning or twinning. Concerning that last possibility: There are nine documented virgin births on record and the offspring were all girls who looked like their mothers. The idea that Agnes calls the baby "she" augments this possibility, plus the fact that she seemingly has enough faith to put holes in her hand, aka stigmata, why couldn't she split a cell in her womb?

I'm not going to say what conclusion the ambiguous film points to, if any.

"Stigmata" (1999) covers some of the same ground but is from the thriller/horror genre whereas "Agnes of God" is more mundane. "Stigmata" is all-around more compelling while "Agnes" is rather one-dimensional with women constantly confronting each other with a lot of screaming and crying. Yes, there are heavy reasons for these emotional dialogues, and those reasons are interesting to explore, but the story just wasn't gripping for me. Too bad, because Fonda, Bancroft and Tilly bend over backwards to pull it off.

While the movie didn't really work for me, it's a passionate and noble effort centering around faith, logic and ultimate reality (truth). And I have no doubt it has a cult following. Give it a try if the themes trip your trigger, but you might be a little disappointed.

The movie runs 1 hour, 38 minutes, and was shot in Rockwood & Toronto, Ontario, with establishing shots of Montreal.

GRADE: C

Bone Tomahawk
(2015)

Slow-burn Indie Western with a quality cast builds to a potent climax
In the 1890s, four men in the Southwest-a sheriff (Kurt Russell), his aged deputy (Richard Jenkins), a gunslinger (Matthew Fox) and a wounded cowboy foreman (Patrick Wilson)-set out to bring back captives kidnapped by a mysterious nameless tribe that lives several days ride away. Lili Simmons plays the cattleman's wife while David Arquette plays a trashy outlaw. Sid Haig has a small role in the opening.

"Bone Tomahawk" (2015) has a surprisingly good cast for an Indie Western that only cost $1.8 million and shot in 21 days. It was the first film written/directed by S. Craig Zahler and reveals a master filmmaker in that he was able to make a quality movie on such a low-budget. The film has the confidence to take its time with interesting characters and entertaining mundane dialogues, which is reminiscent of Tarantino. There are flashes of violence, but this is a slow-burn Western that builds to a rewarding climax.

It's a unique Western that meshes the Tarantino-style with realistically mundane Westerns like "The Homesman" (2014) and horrific gritty Indies like "Cry Blood, Apache" (1970). It's superior to the latter two, especially "Cry Blood," but it's not quite in the ballpark of Tarantino due to lack of funds. Yet it ain't far off either.

The movie runs 2 hours, 12 minutes, and was shot at Paramount Ranch, Agoura, California.

GRADE: B+/A-

Western Union
(1941)

Adventures while setting up the telegraph line on the Great Plains
As the Civil War breaks out in 1861, a former outlaw (Randolph Scott) joins the team wiring what is now Nebraska and Wyoming for telegraph service. Dean Jagger plays the executive of the project while Robert Young is on hand as a "tenderfoot" from back East. Meanwhile Virginia Gilmore plays the potential romantic interest of the good-badman (Scott) and the heroic newcomer (Young).

Directed by Fritz Lang and based on the Zane Grey book, "Western Union" (1941) was a pretty big Western in its day and effectively mixes intrigue, action, romance and comedy. While Barton MacLane's villainy as Jack Slade is too silent movie-ish and the geography is disingenuous, this ranks with the better Western epics of its era. The color and cinematography are wonderful and the AmerIndians are depicted in a non-cheesy, authentic manner.

The film runs 1 hour, 35 minutes, and was shot in Utah (Zion National Park & Kanab), Arizona (House Rock Canyon, Arizona) and 20th Century Fox Studios, Century City, Los Angeles.

GRADE: B

Drága Elza!
(2014)

Well done Hungarian WW2 flick with low-key supernatural overtones
On the Eastern Front during WW2, a disheartened Hungarian soldier is constantly refused furlough (Gábor Makray) and captured by the Soviets wherein he's used as a "trampler," a POW used to secure mined German-occupied areas for Soviet combatants; his mastery of several languages helps extend his life.

"Dear Elza!" (2014) is a Hungarian production that meshes "Enemy at the Gates" (2001) with Indie-styled filmmaking à la "Straight Into Darkness" (2004) along with spiritual underpinnings in the mold of "The Devil's Nightmare," aka "The Devil Walks at Midnight" (1971).

The paranormal angle is slight, so don't let that turn you away. If you like WW2 flicks that emphasize the harsh conditions of fighting in the snowy European woods, you should appreciate this. The colorful action is superbly done and makes you feel like you're in the midst of the combat. Man's inhumanity to man is emphasized (and by 'man' I mean male and female; speaking of which, there are a few female militarists in this, which keeps things interesting).

The theme revolves around reality vs. hallucination and the moralistic tension between faith, instinct and reason. Some elements leave you scratching your head, including the ending. Meanwhile some of the editing early on is puzzling and almost derails the film, but if you don't mind ambiguity and relentlessly downbeat, brutal war flicks, give this one a watch.

The movie runs 1 hour, 36 minutes, and was shot in Hungary.

GRADE: B

Barefoot
(2014)

Evan Rachel Wood is angelic in this quirky Indie road movie
The black sheep loser of an affluent family (Scott Speedman) is forced to mop floors at a mental facility while on probation wherein he meets an angelic patient (Evan Rachel Wood). He takes her to Louisiana to meet his family and misadventures ensue. Treat Williams plays the dad and J.K. Simmons the director of the asylum.

"Barefoot" (2014) is an entertaining enough romcom misadventure and part-road movie. Wood is stunning in an innocent, celestial way, but needs to eat some hamburgers. There's a Prodigal Son angle and the movie leaves you with a warm feeling despite some debaucheries in the first half.

The film runs 1 hour, 30 minutes, and was shot entirely in Louisiana.

GRADE: B-

Porky's
(1981)

Horny teens in the Miami area and a redneck bar in the swamp
In 1954, several high schoolers in southeast Florida pursue sex while tangling with the owner of a sleazy nightclub in the Everglades and his sheriff brother.

"Porky's" (1981) is iconic in early 80's cinema, but it's a half good/half bad piece for me. It's too unpleasantly sleazy with corny sex-related jokes and the sexually "liberated" tone doesn't fit the mid-50s. I can't believe Susan Clark lowered herself to play the prostitute Cherry Forever; likewise, Kim Cattrall gets stuck with a (supposedly funny) humiliating scene. Furthermore, the young actors are clearly in the 24-30 range, not high schoolers. It would've made more sense to make this about college juniors/seniors.

But there are some good parts, like the 50's southeast Florida setting, the coming-of-age element, a few attractive females and an honest attempt to flesh out these youths with conflicts and so forth.

Unfortunately, the raunchiness leaves the viewer feeling dirty. For a much more palatable movie of this ilk check out the excellent "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," which came out five months later.

The movie runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and was shot entirely in southeast Florida (Miami, Miami Beach, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale and North Bay Village).

GRADE: C/C-

Love Me Tender
(1956)

Elvis' first movie, a Western, with Richard Egan and Debra Paget
At the end of the Civil War the three Reno brothers come back home with loot from a Union train heist, which they originally intended to give to the Confederate cause. The eldest brother (Richard Egan) is shocked to discover that the youngest brother, who stayed home (Presley), is now married to his sweetheart (Debra Paget) because they thought he died in the war.

"Love Me Tender" (1964) was Elvis' 1st movie of the 31 in his acting filmography. The title of the film and Elvis' addition were last-minute decisions. His role was originally slated for Cameron Mitchell and the part had to be hastily beefed up for Presley, including his performances of several songs. In light of this, it's not surprising that Elvis' role is secondary.

Both Egan and Paget are highlights as impressive examples of cool masculine strength and exquisite feminine beauty respectively. Meanwhile Elvis does fine in his acting debut and is second-to-none in his musical performances (or pantomimes). While critics might complain that no one back then moved like Presley, you could say that the movie explores the possibility of someone of Elvis' talent & charisma performing during that era. And the flick pulls it off IMHO.

The story's compelling enough but starts to lose its mojo in the last act. This isn't helped by the flat B&W photography or the laughably disingenuous geography. (Tell me, do the opening landscapes look anything close to Louisiana?)

The movie runs 1 hour, 29 minutes, and was shot at 20th Century Fox Ranch, Calabasas, and Bell Moving Picture Ranch, Santa Susana Mountains, both in Southern Cal, as well as studio stuff done in Century City.

GRADE: B-

Tom Horn
(1980)

The passing of the Old West with Steve McQueen
The legendary Tom Horn was a cowboy, a scout, a stage coach worker, a soldier assisting with the capture of Geronimo, a Pinkerton, a range detective and he fought at The Battle of San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. In 1901 we rides into the Wyoming Territory at 40 years of age where he is hired to kill rustlers, but is eventually accused of shooting a 14 year-old shepherd boy, a crime for which most authorities believe he was framed.

"Tom Horn" (1980) was reportedly a troubled production. Steve McQueen in the title role had a passion for the project, which took three years to bring to the screen. He did much research, but was diagnosed with fatal mesothelioma in late 1979. McQueen wasn't able to work with several directors, including Clint Eastwood's mentor Don Siegel and "A Man Called Horse" director Elliot Silverstein; he ended up unofficially taking the reins, although William Wiard is credited in the position.

While some critics say the movie comes across as a mess and base this on the fact that McQueen was working from two different scripts, I never felt lost watching it. The story's pretty simple, really, with a few flashbacks to Tom's relationship with a love interest (Linda Evans). The film's fittingly funereal with flashes of great violence and a bit o' low-key humor. It has authenticity in its favor, no doubt due to McQueen's research. It just FEELS like the way it really was in the Old West at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, it wasn't shot in Wyoming, but rather about 800 miles southwest of the real-life locations.

In Jail, Horn wrote his autobiography "Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter," which was published after his death in 1904. Horn was one the few people in the Old West to have been executed by a water-powered gallows, known as the "Julian Gallows," which is depicted in the movie.

The film runs 1 hour, 37 minutes, and was shot entirely in Arizona (Patagonia, Sonoita, Portal, San Raphael Valley, etc.). The cast includes Western notables like Slim Pickens, Richard Farnsworth, Geoffrey Lewis, Roy Jenson and Elisha Cook Jr.

GRADE: B-/B

Paradise, Hawaiian Style
(1966)

Elvis as a helicopter pilot in Hawaii with Marianna Hill
Relieved of his duties as an airline pilot due to amorous activities, Rick Richards (Presley) starts a helicopter business in Hawaii with his Polynesian pal.

"Paradise, Hawaiian Style" (1966) was Elvis' 21st movie of the 31 in his acting filmography. It was the third and last of his three flicks shot in Hawaii, after "Blue Hawaii" (1961) and "Girls! Girls! Girls!" (1962). While it's nowhere near as good as "Blue Hawaii" it's superior IMHO to "Girls! Girls! Girls!"

The vibe is strange in that there's unnecessary exposition in the first act or so which bogs down the story, but things pick up during the amusing dog sequence and, later, when Rick takes Lani (Marianna Hill) to a remote beach in his helicopter.

Aside from the spectacular Hawaiian cinematography and the King himself, this one's worthwhile for the three main females, especially Marianna Hill, who's known for being the most beautiful woman to appear on the original Star Trek in the 1st season episode "Dagger of the Mind," which debuted the same year as this flick.

Meanwhile blonde Suzanna Leigh is no slouch in the beauty department as Judy; she has a great bikini scene, which shows off her fitness. Julie Parrish is also on hand as Joanna; she can be observed in the aforementioned dog sequence. Julie played Miss Piper in the 1st season episode of Star Trek "The Menagerie."

The film runs 1 hour, 31 minutes, and was shot in Hawaii (O'ahu, Maui, Kaua'I & The Kona Coast), Torrance Airport, California and Paramount Studios, Los Angeles.

GRADE: B-

Speedway
(1968)

Elvis as a stock car racer harassed by an IRS agent played by Nancy Sinatra
A successful racer is generous with his earnings and naïve about his best friend's handling of his finances (Bill Bixby) when an IRS agent comes sniffing around (Nancy Sinatra).

"Speedway" (1968) was Elvis' 27th movie of the 31 in his acting filmography.

How much you appreciate this one will depend on how much you like stock car racing and Nancy Sinatra. Presley looks his best and has his usual charisma; you wouldn't know he was taking diet pills at the time to keep his weight down or struggling with his desire to put out more serious films. Nancy doesn't do much for me physically, but I like her mane and she's likable enough, plus her singing is great. Meanwhile Elvis and Bixby have great chemistry in their shenanigans.

It's a fun and serviceable Presley entry highlighted by the swinging 60's vibe and the generous naiveté of the protagonist, yet "Speedway" doesn't stand out in Elvis' oeuvre.

The film runs 1 hour, 34 minutes, and was shot at Charlotte Motor Speedway, North Carolina; Riverside International Raceway, California; and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Culver City, California.

GRADE: B-/C+

Harum Scarum
(1965)

Elvis goes to a hidden Middle Eastern kingdom to fight assassins
An American actor and martial arts expert (Presley) is kidnapped and forced by a sinister group of assassins to execute the king of a secret kingdom in the Middle East (Phillip Reed). During the course of events he falls in love with the King's daughter (Mary Ann Mobley) and hooks up with an entertainment troupe that are thieves on the side.

"Harum Scarum" (1965) was Elvis' 19th movie of the 31 in his acting filmography. Many say it's his worst, but it's not. It's a tuneful frolic and sendup of Middle Eastern swashbucklers, like Sinbad or even Conan, but more amusing, cheaper and without the sorcery & monsters. You're supposed to roll with it and have fun, not take it seriously. For a ballpark parallel, think Star Trek's "Plato's Stepchildren" but with a comedic flair and songs.

Speaking of the original Star Trek, Michael Ansara is on hand as the king's brother; he of course played the Klingon Kang in "Day of the Dove." The colorful cast also includes Jay Novello as little person Zacha. Aside from winsome Mobley, the feminine department features the stunning Fran Jeffries and several other beauties. Too bad their lovely forms are largely hidden by Arabian-styled apparel, but that's to be expected.

I'm glad "Harum Scarum" is in Elvis' oeuvre. It's fun and not the same-old, same-old.

The film runs 1 hour, 25 minutes, and was shot on the set of Cecil B. DeMille's 1925 version of "King of Kings" at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Culver City, as well as location shooting at Iverson Ranch, Los Angeles; and some scenes done at Earl Carroll Theatre in Hollywood.

GRADE: B-

G.I. Blues
(1960)

Elvis as a G.I. stationed in Germany trying to score with a hot German nightclub dancer
An American tank specialist serving in Deutschland (Presley) dreams of running his own nightclub and bets that he can win the favor of a hard-to-get German performer with legs from here to Frankfurt (Juliet Prowse). Robert Ivers is on hand as the protagonist's soldier pal.

"G.I. Blues" (1960) was Elvis' 5th movie of the 31 in his acting filmography. The highlights here are the German locations, the tank action and Juliet Prowse, especially her two sizzling dance routines. Letícia Román (Tina) and Sigrid Maier (Marla) are also featured in the feminine department.

While this is one of the more obscure Presley flicks, it has its own uniqueness and delivers the goods as an entertaining Elvis vehicle.

The film runs 1 hour, 44 minutes, and was shot in Germany (Hessen & Barvaria) and Paramount Studios, Los Angeles.

GRADE: B-/B

Easy Come, Easy Go
(1967)

Elvis as a Navy Seal who hangs out with the hipsters and seeks treasure in the deep
A naval frogman (Presley) becomes a treasure hunter off the coast of Southern Cal in the swinging 60s.

"Easy Come, Easy Go" (1967) was Elvis' 23th movie of the 31 he did. It was one of his first films to really flirt with the growing counter-culture movement of the mid/late 60s, which can also be observed in "Clambake" (1967) and "Live a Little, Love a Little" (1968). As such, there are entertaining sequences featuring go-go dancing, yoga, eccentric artists and a reference to beatniks, who would immediately be re-christened hippies.

Another thing that distinguishes this one is the lack of romancing, aside from a kiss at the end. It's more plot-driven with a good mix of drama/comedy, sea action, upbeat music and pretty girls.

Speaking of the latter, Dodie Marshall plays the main female character, Jo, with Pat Priest not far behind as Dina (Pat, of course, is known for her role as Marilyn Munster). While these women, and others, are agreeable enough they're not on the voluptuous level of Anne Helm from "Follow That Dream" (1962), Ann-Margret in "Viva Las Vegas" (1964) or Michele Carey in "Live a Little, Love a Little" (1968).

Skip Ward is notable as the impressive Aryan rival while Pat Harrington Jr. (the handyman on One Day at a Time) and Frank McHugh are also on hand. I suppose the flick could've done without McHugh's Captain Jack, but it's just silly fun.

At the end of the day this is an obscure Elvis flick, but it shouldn't be. It's unique in his filmography with an entertaining emphasis on the 60's counter culture offset by Elvis' role as a military man.

Around the time of its release, Presley was starting to struggle with his weight and turned to diet pills. He was also disenchanted by the fluff Col. Parker was steering him to do and wanted to do more serious pictures. But you wouldn't know that from his performance here as he never looked better; very lean, beaming with his cheery charisma.

The film runs 1 hour, 35 minutes, and was shot at Long Beach Naval Station, San Pedro, and Paramount Studios, Los Angeles.

GRADE: B-/B

Follow That Dream
(1962)

Elvis goes to backwoods Florida to set-up a makeshift home & business
A family of hicks from rural Georgia run out of gas on the northwest coast of the Florida peninsula and decide to homestead there. They have to deal with annoying bureaucrats and gangsters who run a mobile gambling ring. Elvis Presley, Anne Helm, Arthur O'Connell, Simon Oakland and Joanna Moore are all on hand.

"Follow That Dream" (1962) was Elvis' 9th movie of the 31 he did. I didn't like it the first time I saw it because of the (seemingly) eye-rolling premise. Viewing it again after many years, I appreciated it more because (1) I knew it wasn't supposed to be taken too seriously and (2) the movie, albeit farcical, does reveal interesting data on the concept of homesteading with the corresponding establishment of civilization, government, laws and lawbreaking.

Moreover, the film is an interesting commentary on the naiveté & goodwill of backwoods types in contrast to the corruption of big city people. Of course, "Deliverance" (1972) would change this perception forever, but "Follow That Dream" is closer to reality.

Anne Helm is easily one of the top females to costar in a Presley flick along with Ann-Margret in "Viva Las Vegas" (1964) and Michele Carey in "Live a Little, Love a Little" (1968). She's all-around winsome and fills out a pair of jeans exquisitely.

While the film is overlong at 1 hour, 49 minutes, I didn't mind. It was shot completely in Florida at Crystal River, Inverness, Yankeetown and Ocala.

GRADE: B-/B

Live a Little, Love a Little
(1968)

Elvis works two jobs in groovy Southern Cal while pursuing a batty babe who lives on the beach
A photographer (Presley) meets a free-spirited eccentric woman (Michele Carey) on the beaches of Malibu and is eventually forced to get two jobs, one for a Playboy-like mag and the other for a conservative advertising firm, both jobs being located in the SAME Los Angeles building. Dick Sargent plays another guy smitten with the mysterious woman.

"Live a Little, Love a Little" (1968) was Elvis' 28th movie and he would only do three more before leaving cinema for good. What distinguishes this one is the way it tries to make Elvis' character more 'hip' with the swinging 60s. For example, his love interest propositions him to "make love" within mere minutes after meeting him. Thankfully, the woman offers a somewhat interesting character study for those interested.

Despite her character's nuttiness, Michele Carey is actually one of the most voluptuous women to star in an Elvis flick, along with Ann-Margret. There are also a few peripheral women just as beautiful, such as Celeste Yarnall, the woman in white at the groovy party that Greg kisses. Elvis and Celeste incidentally became good friends. They viewed the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. together in his trailer over lunch. Celeste has stressed how warm & loving Elvis was and how he had an intense desire to please people.

Elvis started to struggle with his weight around this time and had to take diet pills to keep slim; he wasn't happy about doing musical fluff when he really wanted to do more serious stuff. While he could no longer demand his usual $1 million per movie, he did make $850,000 plus 50% of the profits on this one. Despite all this, Elvis looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He certainly still had his charisma.

The film runs 1 hour, 30 minutes, and was shot in Malibu, Marineland of the Pacific & Los Angeles, California.

GRADE: B

Clambake
(1967)

Elvis goes to Florida to water ski and compete in a boat race
The rich son (Presley) of an oil tycoon (James Gregory) takes off to Florida. On a lark, he trades places with an amusing man of low status (Will Hutchins) to see if he can find a woman who loves him just for himself rather than for his wealth. Shelley Fabares plays his love interest, Bill Bixby his rival and Gary Merrill a boat entrepreneur.

"Clambake" (1967) was Elvis' 25th movie and he would only do six more before leaving cinema for good. After the release of this film he only had 10 more years to live.

It's a fun flick and shows that not all of his late 60's movies sucked. While it's not on the level of "Blue Hawaii" (1961), "Kid Galahad" (1962), "Roustabout" (1964) and "Viva Las Vegas" (1964), it's entertaining as an innocuous half-serious, half-campy drama/musical. It's certainly more compelling than "Fun in Acapulco" (1963), "Kissin' Cousins" (1964) and "Spinout" (1966).

Elvis' sidekick Will Hutchins helps make this one so fun and it's always good to see Bixby and Merrill. Meanwhile Fabares is winsome, but too shapeless to hold my interest. On that note, there are several notable women in the periphery, like Angelique Pettyjohn and Marj Dusay.

The clambake song & dance scene is a highlight in a swinging 60's way; it's just all-around well done and iconic of the era. The playground sequence with the kids and the quirky song "Confidence" is cute and warmhearted.

Elvis started to struggle with his weight around this time and wasn't happy about doing musical fluff when he wanted to do more serious stuff. To add insult to injury, the less-than-stellar performance at the box office ensured that this was the last movie he could insist on his $1 million price tag. Despite all this, Elvis looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. There's no doubt he still had his charisma.

The film runs 1 hour, 39 minutes, with the second-unit scenes shot in Miami, the Florida Keys & the Everglades, Florida, while all the Elvis scenes were done at Universal Studios & Van Nuys, California.

GRADE: B-/B

Blue Hawaii
(1961)

Elvis goes to Hawaii
After a two-year enlistment in the service, Chad Gates (Presley) returns home to Hawaii, but prefers the genuineness of the Polynesians and blazing his own trail to being the heir to his parents' pineapple plantation. With his half-Caucasian/half-Polynesian girlfriend (Joan Blackman) he tries his hand as a tour guide. Angela Lansbury is on hand as the amusingly snooty mother.

"Blue Hawaii" (1961) was the first and easily the best of three Elvis flicks set in Hawaii, followed by "Girls! Girls! Girls!" (1962) and "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" (1966). Actually, it ranks with his better movies, like "Kid Galahad" (1962), "Roustabout" (1964) and "Viva Las Vegas" (1964).

Several things make this one work: The magnificent locations, the trivia about Hawaii & Hawaiians, the compelling story, the serious-but-fun vibe and, of course, the music. Speaking of which, this one has more songs than usual.

On the downside, the female cast could've been better, although winsome Blackman is a'right. Nevertheless, the subplot about Chad (Elvis) being the tour guide of an attractive school teacher (Nancy Walters) and five teenage girls is entertaining, especially the shenanigans with the curmudgeonly lass (Jenny Maxwell).

The film runs 1 hour, 42 minutes and was shot in Hawaii and Paramount Studios, California.

GRADE: B

King Creole
(1958)

Elvis living on Bourbon St. in New Orleans
In New Orleans, Danny Fisher (Presley) fails to graduate high school for the second time and so uses his singing talents at nightclubs to provide for his destitute father and sister. Walter Matthau plays a shady nightclub baron while Carolyn Jones plays his floozy.

"King Creole" (1958) mixes the Elvis formula with B&W film noir. Despite the name, don't expect any bayous; the story takes place entirely in and around the Bourbon St. district of New Orleans.

Touted as one of the best Presley flicks because it's a relatively dark & serious Big Easy drama meshed with a few of his musical performances, it's not as compelling or believable as Elvis' better dramas, like "Kid Galahad" (1962) or "Roustabout" (1964) nor as entertaining as his more farcical movies, like "Viva Las Vegas" (1964).

The story, which came from a book by Harold Robbins, feels contrived. You have rival club owners (one good/one bad, of course) with a "sing for me or else" element and an eye-rolling subplot involving Danny's father, a pharmacy, back alley toughs and black mail. The B&W photography doesn't help. Hottie Liliane Montevecchi as the banana showgirl, Forty Nina, is the best part.

How anyone thinks this is the best Elvis flick is puzzling.

The film is overlong at 1 hour, 56 minutes; it was shot in New Orleans and Paramount Studios, California.

GRADE: C

Roustabout
(1964)

Elvis joins a carnival
A talented drifter with no family and an attitude joins a carnival in Southern Cal and soon becomes the main attraction. Barbara Stanwyck plays the owner of the carnival, Joan Freeman the love interest and Pat Buttram a rival in the biz.

"Roustabout" (1964) is easily one of the better Elvis flicks (for me, at least), probably because the setting is the carnival & carnies, but also because the story is serious (rather than farcical) and more captivating than most. Presley's character, Charlie Rogers, makes for a great protagonist with whom to identify. Meanwhile, the presence of the towering Stanwyck is always compelling, plus Buttram's character is perfectly suited for him. A plus is the many attractive showgirls in the periphery.

I'd put it on par with "Kid Galahad" (1962) and "Viva Las Vegas" (1964), although the latter is more of a fun farce; "Roustabout" is a serious drama with some musical sequences.

The film runs 1 hour, 41 minutes, and was shot in Potrero Valley, Thousand Oaks, California, & Paramount Studios.

GRADE: B

I Walk the Line
(1970)

How a man becomes a loaf of bread
Not to be confused with the 2005 biopic of Johnny Cash (although the soundtrack features several Cash songs), "I Walk the Line" (1970) stars Gregory Peck as a taciturn Appalachian sheriff who suffers a mid-life crisis and falls for some pretty young thang (Tuesday Weld), the daughter of a generational moonshiner. The sheriff turns a blind eye and everything's fine, but for how long?

You can't go wrong with Gregory Peck. Although I've only seen about a dozen of his movies over the years he's always been an unvoiced favorite of mine. He's tall, (seemingly) noble, masculine, likable, determined and just has an unshowy star quality. Here he plays his usual self with the exception that, facing a mid-life crisis, he makes dubious choices and hurts those connected to him.

Tuesday Weld was 26 years-old during filming and is easy on the eyes. Her character maintains a naive quality even though what she does is wrong. I suppose you could say she's more ignorantly amoral than malevolently immoral.

The film was shot in the beautiful Appalachian hills of North-central Tennessee. The courthouse square scenes were shot in Gainesboro, but the dam scene that opens the movie (and is shown again later) was shot at Center Hill Dam. The Drive-In movie sequence where they are watching the 1969 Jerry Lewis movie "Hook, Line and Sinker" was shot at the Green Hills Drive-in in Carthage (hometown of Al Gore), about 45 minutes from Gainesboro. During the production Gregory, Tuesday, director John Frankenheimer and other cast & crew members stayed at the Holiday Inn in Cookeville, TN. All the buildings in Gainsboro are still there (including the pool hall) except the first store that was cattycorner to the courthouse (which the sheriff shops at, which was torn down. A small portion of the film was also shot in Northern California, in a little town called Colusa, the seat of Colusa County, but I can't tell which specific scenes. Much of Colusa's architecture has a very Southern influence and has been featured in a number of movies.

I like the moral of the story: One's actions have a ripple effect -- foolish choices will inevitably hurt not only you but those linked to you, just as right choices bless you and others. On that same note, the film effectively shows how a formidable upstanding man can be reduced to a loaf of bread simply by unwisely falling prey to the temptation of some young cutie.

The story plays out in an ultra-realistic manner like other films of the 60s and 70s before the brainless "blockbuster" came into vogue. This isn't a negative to me because I actually prefer realism but others might not appreciate it, especially the flat vibe of of the first act, but the story picks up steam in the second act and holds till the end.

Some don't like the film because the usually-noble Peck is playing a sad and lonely transgressor. This is against type and perhaps explains why Peck took the part; he was 53 at the time and likely saw the role as a challenge. Here was an opportunity to play a character who is neither a hero nor anti-hero, a character who feels trapped by routine and meaninglessness, who makes a desperate and ill-fated attempt to drag himself out by means of his lust for beauty, the one thing that makes him feel alive again. Peck rose to the challenge admirably but this naturally has the negative effect of stirring disrespect, even loathing, in the viewer.

"I Walk the Line" is a good flick that was never acknowledged and seems to have been lost over time. It's along the lines of the contemporaneous "Deliverance" albeit without the sexual perversion and more on the dramatic & mundane side and less of a adventure.

The film runs 1 hour, 37 minutes.

GRADE: B

My Stepmother Is an Alien
(1988)

Weird 80's comedy in the silly mold of "Earth Girls are Easy" and "Coneheads"
A low-paid widowed scientist (Dan Aykroyd) makes contact with aliens and they send an agent (Kim Basinger) to meet him. She has a one-eyed serpentine counselor in her purse and ends up marrying the physicist, even though the counselor's intention is to destroy the planet (!). Alyson Hannigan plays the winsome daughter while Jon Lovitz is on hand as the researcher's annoying brother.

"My Stepmother Is an Alien" (1988) is cut from the same cloth as the contemporaneous "Earth Girls are Easy." Although it's not as good and has a strange off-kilter vibe, it's vastly superior to future duds "2001: A Space Travesty" and "What Planet Are You From?" (both from 2000). While I'm not a fan of Basinger (I don't NOT like her either), she does comedy surprisingly well, better than you would expect.

This was the feature film debut of future "stars" Alyson Hannigan and Juliette Lewis, as well as one of Seth Green's early movies. The roles of the latter two are almost unnoticeable. Meanwhile, whoever wrote the script loves Jimmy Durante.

There's a surprising scene involving porn that, while it doesn't get outrageously out of hand (and I could care less about its inclusion), it seems out of place for a warm-hearted family flick.

The film is considerably overlong at 1 hour, 47 minutes. It was shot at Studio City and points nearby in the Los Angeles area.

GRADE: B-/C+

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