Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Brewster's Millions (1945)

Montague “Monty” L. Brewster (Dennis O'Keefe), a newly discharged U.S. soldier, comes marching home from war into the arms of his sweetheart, Peggy Gray (Helen Walker) and her mother, Mrs. Gray (Nana Bryant).

He also brings along his wartime buddies, Hacky Smith (Joe Sawyer) and Noppy Harrison (Herbert Rudley).

Monty and Peggy want to get married right away, but there's an unexpected hitch. A lawyer appears at the door and advises him that he's heir to a large estate of $8 million tax free. He's a multi-millionaire! But wait, there's a catch. He has to spend a million in two months before his 30th birthday and show no assets. Among other conditions, he can give only 5% to charity, it has to be a secret, and he can't be married.

In other words, he has to end up broke with nothing to show for it. That messes things up with Peggy, big time, but she capitulates. And that's how Brewster & Company is born, with Jackson (Eddie Anderson, "Rochester" on The Jack Benny Show) at the front desk, Peggy and his pals on the payroll.

A little encounter with socialite Barbara Drew (Gail Patrick), daughter of Monty's banker, Colonel Drew (Thurston Hall), whose bank is failing, upsets Peggy.

He's happily making bad investments. Buy they suddenly begin paying off big. He's making money hand over foot. After just one week, he's up $25,000. Desperate to lose more money, he increases his investment in a money-losing play he'd dumped $75,000 into, and makes showgirl Trixie Summers (June Havoc) the star. She's horrible. And that also upsets Peggy.

Women trouble: Barbara and Trixie are after him; Peggy's giving up on him.

Brewster's Millions is okay. Actually, a little meh. But it's a good early-evening diversion with a few chuckles.

Originally cast as Monty Brewster was Garry Moore, a highly successful radio personality who would later gain fame as a television game host in the '50s-'70s; but he didn't make it past the first day of filming.

Brewster's Millions received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music Scoring. It is the fifth of ten film adaptations of George Barr McCutcheon's 1901 novel of the same name. A 1985 remake starred Richard Pryor as a minor league baseball player.

Dennis O'Keefe reprised his Brewster role in a 30-minute radio adaptation on The Screen Guild Theater that was broadcast on March 31, 1947.

Grade: C+

Monday, July 28, 2014

R.I.P.D. (2013)

The Rest In Peace Department (RIPD) is an agency of the Boston Police, and is manned by former police officers. Not just any old police officers, but dead police officers. They keep "deadoes," dead criminals who still wander the Earth, under control.

Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds), a BPD detective sergeant, is one of them. He and his wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak), are happily married, and then one day, he backs out of a deal with his partner, detective lieutenant Bobby Hayes (Kevin Bacon), to keep some gold from a recent bust. Bye, bye, Nick. Bobby kills him.

Then, something strange happens. He finds himself still "alive," in a manner of speaking, being sucked up into a hole in the sky. Next thing, he's sitting on the other side of a desk from Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), commanding officer of the RIPD Boston division. Every good thing he does will help him when his Judgment Day comes around.

Nick is partnered with Roycephus "Roy" Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges), a former (now dead) Wild West U.S. Marshal and veteran RIPD officer. He goes to his funeral, but Julia doesn't remember him. To everyone else, he looks like Grandpa Jerry Chen (James Hong), an old balding Chinese man. Unlike Roy, whose avatar is the gorgeous and sexy Opal Pavlenko (Marisa Miller).

Their first case together – check out Stanley Nawlicki (Robert Knepper), a deadoe in denial. Nasty business. Simply nasty. And why is Nawlicki hiding big hunks of gold in his stomach? This calls for an R.I.P.D. investigation. It turns out his ex-partner Bobby is involved with the deadoes.

It seems all those pieces of gold can be assembled into the "Staff of Jericho," which does something or other to reverse dead human soul descendancy. Or something kind of strange like that. It's murky and somewhat confusing.

Good lead cast. Not-so-good performances, save for Bridges occasionally. And the script is rather predictable. But the final scene is funny, I'll give you that.

Sometimes, it seems R.I.P.D. Is trying to emulate/rip off Men in Black. Special agents trying to take down strange people whose true personalities (alienalities? deadoenalities?) are hidden from the general public and can only be seen by them ... most of the time. But it's not as good as Men in Black. And there are hints of Ghostbusters as well, what with the stormy hole in the sky.

The Roy Pulsipher role originally belonged to Zach Galifianakis, but he had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts. Jodie Foster was originally considered for the role of Mildred Proctor.

R.I.P.D. Is based on based on Dark Horse Entertainment's comic book, Rest In Peace Department by Peter M. Lenkov. It was a box office disaster, bringing in only $78.3 million against its production budget of $130 million.

Grade: C-

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Al Capone (1959)

In 1919 Chicago, Alphonse "Al" Capone (Rod Steiger) arrives from Brooklyn and gets a job as bodyguard/bouncer and right-hand man for Four Deuces gambling hall operator Johnny "Papa" Torrio (Nehemiah Persoff) just before Prohibition becomes law.

Torrio gets his marching orders from his uncle, Big Jim Colosimo (Joe DeSantis), who's got molto influence in town.

When Capone has to use his muscle on the job, he goes a little too far and is targeted by Chicago Police Sergeant Schaefer (James Gregory). He would be spending time behind bars if not for the efforts of Mac Keely (Martin Balsam), a corrupt newspaper reporter who works for Torrio.

Torrio brings Capone into a meeting of Northside Gang leaders that includes murderer Dion "Dini" O'Banion (Robert Gist), triggerman Earl "Hymie" Weiss (Lewis Charles), and ex-convict and bank robber George "Bugs" Moran (Murvyn Vye). Torrio's plan is to consolidate under Big Jim's leadership.

The others don't like taking orders from Big Jim, and Capone implores Torrio to "get rid" of him. Capone takes care of it and when Chicago is carved up, becomes Torrio's partner and enforcer. A new Chicago mayor is elected, putting a crimp in their plans. So, they move their headquarters to neighboring Cicero, where an election is on tap. They rig the election and take over the town.

Capone develops a thing for Maureen Flannery (Fay Spain), the widow of a man who was killed during the Big Jim elimination. Although his attentions are spurned, he persists, even setting up a false confession. It works; she comes around.

When O'Banion sets Torrio up for owning his former illegal brewery, he's murdered. In a revenge hit, Torrio ends up in the hospital himself. A year later, he's released, serves his time, and leaves Chicago to retire. Good thing too, because a gang war is underway with bullets flying all over the place. Weiss is one of 139 gangsters eliminated; he gets his at a hot dog stand.

Sergeant Schaefer is now a captain in charge of cleaning up the corruption. The crooked mayor is re-elected, and Capone moves back to Chicago, turning "legit" and setting up a network of businesses and a "protection" service. He's a very big man now. On "vacation" in Florida, Capone arranges the St. Valentine's Day massacre of Bugs Moran's men.

And here come the Feds ... y'know, Elliott Ness.

The "incurable disease" that the narrator (James Gregory, who played Schaefer) talked about at the end was the sexually transmitted disease (std), syphillis.

Al Capone is a tough movie and Rod Steiger is the quintessential Al Capone. He turned down the role three times, until the producers got it right. Excellent all around.

Grade: A

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

A film crew headed by journalist Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) is filming a documentary in Glen Echo, Maine, where the slashers in famous horror films are real (Crystal Lake, Elm Street and Haddonfield are supposedly located here).

Her cameramen – Doug (Ben Pace) and Todd (Britain Spellings) – record the preparations of Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesel in his first feature film), the next slasher to emerge. Having no supernatural powers, Leslie must use conventional murder tactics, and stay in top physical condition.

Leslie is supposedly dead, killed by the townspeople, so he can't really be seen in public. He explains the philosophy, terminology, and techniques of the slasher genre to Taylor. He's also picked out his victim for the documentary – 17-year-old coffee shop waitress Kelly Curtis (Kate Lang Johnson) ... a virgin (a requirement).

The crew is taken to meet Leslie's friend and mentor, retired slasher Eugene aka Gino (Scott Wilson) and his wife, Jamie (Bridgett Newton). Gino fills Taylor in on why he retired when the slashers became immortal.

Meanwhile, the intended victim, Kelly, is researching the tragic history of the Vernon family, with the help of town librarian Mrs. Collinwood (Zelda Rubinstein, in her last movie appearance). She discovers how the Vernons were murdered by their bastard son, Leslie.

Just as Mrs. Halloran is about to be decapitated, Kelly is saved by Leslie's childhood psychiatrist Doc Halloran (Robert Englund).

As the documentary progresses, the crew learns Leslie's real name and begins to have second thoughts about the whole thing. After all, aren't they now complicit in the crime? They abandon the documentary on the night of the murder, and then all hell breaks loose.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is actually good, mostly because of its witty script and the performances of Nathan Baesel and Angela Goethals, who play it as though it's real. The movie is also bolstered by the inclusion of Scott Wilson, who played Hershel in AMC's hit television series, The Walking Dead.

Three iconic horror film actors appear in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon – Robert Englund, who played Freddy Kruger in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise; Zelda Rubinstein, the medium Tangina Barrons in the Poltergeist series; and Kane Hodder, who played Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th film series, appears in the closing credits.

The character Doc Halloran’s appearance channels Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis from the Halloween film series.

In part a mockumentary, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon won several minor awards and made Fearnet’s “Ten of Horror’s Most Disarming Psychopaths” list. A sequel is being contemplated.

Grade: B

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

Astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) returns to Earth after a three-man mission to Saturn on Scorpio 5. Unfortunately,while they're orbiting Saturn, the astronauts get bathed by the outreach of a solar flare.

Back on Earth, Steve is the only survivor; he's being treated secretly in a hospital by Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) and Dr. Loring (Lisle Wilson) for what appears to be a bad case of hamburger skin (okay, I admit, I made that one up).

Steve gets loose and begins munching others, prompting Dr. Nelson to call General Michael Perry (Myron Healey). Perry orders him to find West, who's wandering and decapitates a fisherman, then scares some kids (Julie Drazen, Stuart Edmond Rodgers and Chris Witney). Steve's right eye falls out.

Armed with a Geiger counter, Ted finds Steve's ear hanging on a tree. Saundra the Model (Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith) discovers the headless fisherman in the bushes. Steve wanders more.

Ted's wife Judy's (Ann Sweeny) mother Helen (Dorothy Love) and her friend Harold (Edwin Max) are a comic relief; theirs is perhaps the only intentionally comedic (albeit corny) sequence in the movie. They encounter Steve while stealing some lemons from a grove to bring as a gift to the Nelsons' dinner. Munch, munch. Sheriff Neil Blake (Michael Alldredge) finds some of their remains.

Future famous director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs), plays Matt Winters, one of Steve's victims. His wife, Nell (Janus Blythe), cuts off Steve's left arm. Poor Steve: he's missing an eye, an ear, an arm, all of his skin, and most of his flesh. He's just melting away.

One audience reviewer gave this synopsis of The Incredible Melting Man: "Astronaut melts." And that's about the size of it.

The Incredible Melting Man's French title is Le monstre qui vient de l'espace ("The Monster that Came from Space"); its Italian title is L'Uomo Di Cera ("Wax Man"); its Spanish title is Viscosidad ("Stickiness"); its German title is Der Planet Saturn lässt schön grüßen ("Best regards from Planet Saturn").

Shot in only 14 days, The Incredible Melting Man is a bit of a ripoff of 1959's First Man into Space. It started out to be a parody of horror films, but ended up having its comedic direction yanked. That put a damper on its potential for success.

The dialogue is hilarious, and not in a good way. The soundtrack is blaringly bad. The cinematography is nothing to write home about. Feel free to skip this movie.

Grade: D

Monday, July 21, 2014

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

You remember the old German Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, don't you? Brother and sister are abandoned in the dark forest, nibble at a witch's house and have to deal with the consequences?

You remember they came out of their ordeal okay, right? Right. But what you didn't know is that Hansel developed diabetes from eating so much sugar fed to him by the ugly witch. Or, that 15 years after their famous incident, Hansel (Jeremy Renner, Cedric Eich as child) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton, Alea Sophia Boudodimos as child) have grown up to become witch hunters extraordinaire.

When a young woman of Ausberg, Mina (Pihla Viitala), is accused of witchery by Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), Hansel and Gretel, who have been hired by the town's Mayor Englemann (Rainer Bock), come to her rescue. The sheriff isn't happy.

The blood moon (lunar eclipse) is nigh, and the fate of some missing children is dire. A powerful grand witch, Muriel (Famke Janssen), visits four of the sheriff's own witch hunters at their campfire and teaches them a lesson. In her cabin, Muriel's helpers and the troll Edward (Derek Mears, voiced by Robin Atkin Downes), are preparing the missing children; six boys and six girls will be sacrificed on the night of the blood moon.

Meanwhile, Hansel and Gretel are accosted by Benjamin "Ben" Wosser (Thomas Mann), a big fan and aspiring witch hunter. He comes in handy as the story progresses. Gretel keeps getting busted up, but Edward, like Ben, helps her, making mincemeat (almost literally) of the sheriff and his men (smoosh, yuck).

When Hansel and Gretel finally have it out with Muriel, they find out something interesting about their father (Thomas Scharff) and mother Adrianna (Kathrin Kühnel), Mina, and even Gretel herself. But I'm not going to tell you. Rent the movie and discover it yourself.

The troll Edward was played by Derek Mears, who also played Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th. Also considered for the role of Gretel were Noomi Rapace, Diane Kruger and Eva Green. It was a reunion of sorts for Famke Janssen and Gemma Arterton ... both were Bond girls. Janssen has said she took the witch Muriel role because she had to pay off her mortgage.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters was the fourth most-successful graphic novel and franchise release of Paramount Pictures in 2013, surpassed only by World War Z, Star Trek Into Darkness, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

It is the most successful "fantasy reboot" film ever, in spite of its smaller budget when compared to Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, Jack the Giant Slayer, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and I, Frankenstein. The film's production budget was $50 million, but it brought in a box office of nearly $226 million.

Work on a sequel is underway.

I rather enjoy these modernizing reboots of fairy tales. Of course they drop the “F bomb” every now and then, but still, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is good entertainment, easy to follow, even sensible as far as fantasy goes. Even the closing credits are entertaining.

Grade: B+

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Panic in Year Zero! (1962)

The Baldwin family – Harry (Ray Milland), his wife Ann (Jean Hagen), and their son Rick (Frankie Avalon) and daughter Karen (Mary Mitchell) – are off on a family vacation when there's a bright flash of light and their car radio starts sputtering.

They stop to check their trailer and are startled by a few more flashes from the direction of Los Angeles. No radio or phone lines open from Los Angeles, just a huge mushroom cloud. Emergency radio reports LA and its suburbs have been destroyed by nuclear attack.

Harry takes a level-headed, pragmatic view of the whole thing. Instead of turning back for home and the problems that are sure to arise in the city, he's rather move on away from the hordes of panicked people. Ann takes a more idealistic view that things are going to be okay.

The first priority is food; they detour to a small, out-of-the-way town and stock up with non-perishables at Hogan's (O.Z. Whitehead) grocery store, a bunch of tools at Ed Johnson's (Richard Garland) hardware store ... and a gun and two rifles, albeit not exactly in a friendly way.

There's panic. Lots of cars, people protecting their towns, scalping, and violence.

Enter some young hoodlums – Carl (Richard Bakalyan), Mickey (Rex Holman), and Andy (Neil Nephew) – who try to take what they have. But one shot from Rick and they're back on their way.

The Baldwins make it to Shibe's Meadow, their original destination, and hide out in a large, concealed cave after collapsing a bridge along the way to protect their rear. They keep updated on news through the radio. The current dark days have been designated “Year Zero” by world governments.

Ed Johnson from the hardware store shows up; he'd been hiding in the area as well. One day, hearing shots, Harry and Rick find the Johnsons murdered. It appears those young hoodlums are back, occupying a neighboring farmhouse. The thugs are eliminated, but not before Karen is raped and a young girl, Marilyn Hayes (Joan Freeman), the farmer's teenage daughter, is freed from bondage as the boys' sex slave.

Panic in Year Zero is a Cold War "what if" film that deals with the social consequences of a nuclear attack. It's pretty realistic, full of doom and gloom, in my opinion. I'd often wondered how I would maintain in a post-apocalyptic world. I'd be strong, I hope.

For car buffs: The Baldwins' car is a 1962 Mercury Monterey; their trailer is a 1962 Kenskill model 17½.

Panic in Year Zero is loosely based on two Jay Simms stories: Lot (1953) and Lot's Daughter (1954). The first film directed by Ray Milland, Panic in Year Zero was re-released in the Los Angeles area as The End of the World in 1965.

Grade: B