Saturday, April 21, 2012


Here is a GIF for the sleazy Brazilian exploitation movie:

Violence and Flesh is basically like the ultra sleazy Italian Last House on the Left-ripoff House on the Edge of the Park, but less brutal and more of a goofy, misogynistic soap opera.  Here are pics and that is all you get, because that is all you deserve you naughty person you.

THE RED HOUSE (1947) - if you want kids to keep away from a house in the woods, tell them it is filled with textbooks

 Here is the entire movie in crappy quality.  You're welcome.

Poor Meg (Allene Roberts) is an aww shucks high school student caught in a rather unfortunate position. First of all, her stepdad (Edward G. Robinson) appears to be hiding some horrible secret, and he also has a wooden leg. I gotta assume that if you’re dad has a wooden leg, you’re gonna get teased in high school; “hey, isn’t your dad technically 15% wood? HA HA HA”, or “is your dad Captain Ahab or just a pirate? HA HA HA”, or whatever. She also has a crush on fellow classmate Nath (Lon McCallister), but he’s dating the conniving but hot Tibby (Julie London). She’s hoping that Nath will leave the evil and attractive girl and hook up with her, the nice girl, instead (this was back in the 40’s when such a concept wasn’t completely laughable). She convinces her stepfather Mr. Morgan to hire Nath to help out on their farm, as he is in desperate need of employment and doesn’t mind working up a sweat in a barn. 

 However, Nath ends up becoming an intruder of sorts into this close knit family. Nath, Meg, and Tibby all get curious about the mysterious red house in the woods on Morgan’s farm. Morgan is constantly warning the kids to never go exploring the woods looking for the house, but of course, kids always do the opposite of what their parents tell them to do. So, what’s the big deal with the red house? Does an axe murderer live there? Is it red because it’s covered in blood? Is the house filled with treasure stolen form a pirate ship? Does Morgan have a younger brother with two heads living there? If you have one two-headed brother, don’t you really have two brothers that share the same body? Is this one of those Freudian deals? The possibilities are endless, and I for one refuse to give the secret away. 

The Red House seems to have its roots in gothic melodrama. Morgan is hiding a sinister family secret, and his stepdaughter is attempting to discover this secret. He is haunted by years of guilt and repression, and the sins of the father are coming back to haunt his daughter as well. However, the setting is transplanted to a farmhouse instead of the usual crumbling mansion. The two innocent teenagers trying to find a red house hidden away in the woods feels like a particularly Freudian fairy tale. There are also horror elements, especially in the scene where Nath attempts to take a shortcut through the woods during a foreboding wind storm, made all the more foreboding by the “no trespassing” sign and the shadowy figure who stalks him through the woods. Having said that, I’ve most commonly heard the movie described as a noir or a thriller, and you could sort of fit it into those categories too if you wanted, but any noir or thriller elements seem rather tangential. 

One thing that stood out to me about the script was that so much character development and subtext comes out of such a simple plot device. There’s a house in the woods that people keep talking about but is never seen (until the end), and that alone drives the entire story forward while managing to stay interesting throughout. It’s the classic gothic “hidden secret”, but it never feels like a cheap device or an obvious symbol. 

 Robinson owns in the lead, as you might imagine, conveying all of the inner turmoil and the growing insanity and what-have-you. Allene Roberts is also completely adorable and sympathetic as Meg. The swirling and haunting score by Miklos Rozsa is also great, a bit reminiscent of his score for Hitchcock’s Spellbound, especially with the use of a theremin (which would soon become a staple of sci-fi scores in the 50’s). My only complaint is that the movie is a bit long for such a simple setup (100 minutes), and might have played a little better if it was more streamlined, maybe losing some of the subplot involving Tibby and her boyfriend on the side (Rory Calhoun). But what do I know. 

P.S. I have a review for the Blu-ray over up at Planet Fury.  I didn't want to open up a can of worms by beginning to discuss picture quality and what-have-you on my blog.  Yes, I'm a complete idiot.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

TOP 30 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2011 (1-15)

15. Hugo (dir-Martin Scorsese)

A wonderful fable that evokes a child-like awe of the machinery of clocks and robots, and in turn the machinations of cinema. The Melies on-set segments and film clips were pretty magical for me (being a movie geek and all), aided by the perfect choice of using Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre”. The teal-based 3 strip Technicolor looks beautiful, and was perhaps influenced by Scorsese favorite Leave Her to Heaven (just a guess), which uses a similar color palette. 

14. A Serbian Film (dir-Srdjan Spasojevic) 

In an era of completely jaded horror fans (and the internet, where every perversion becomes a possibility), here is a genuinely transgressive horror film. The movie works because the taboo smashing acts of perversion within are anchored by the destruction of an innocent family. The movie-within-a-movie construction combined with the flashback structure is effective in breaking down the audience’s comfort level in being able to safely establish the reality of the film, amping up the horror without collapsing into confusion. 

13. Certified Copy (dir-Abbas Kiarostami) 

Juliette Binoche is captivating and reason enough to watch this mostly two-person conversation about love, life and art through the streets of Tuscany. Certified Copy is a bit like Before Sunset, but digs deeper (not that there’s anything wrong with Before Sunset), both in terms of getting closer to the actor’s faces and becoming a closer examination of identities in relationships and truth in art, complete with a Bunuelian twist that calls into question all that came before. 

12. Red White & Blue (dir-Simon Rumley) 

 I heard good things about this one but forgot any of the details, so I went in completely cold and got a much welcomed kick in the nuts (a “kick in the nuts” is a good thing when it comes to horror films but usually bad otherwise). As with many great horror films, this is set up as if it wasn’t a horror film, as the world and characters are completely realized, and we wait for things to break bad. And lordy do they, as one AIDS infection causes this small fabric of characters to completely unravel in a series of horrors both tragic and realistic. 

11. Blackthorn (dir-Mateo Gil) 

Butch Cassidy (a fittingly gangbusters Sam Shepard) doesn’t die in the shootout in Bolivia, but survives to live a quiet life until he is forced to go on one last score. This “old man” western completely avoids the obvious cheeseball moments and instead goes for something more realistic, detailed, and elegiac. It’s a throwback, not to hackneyed western plots, but more so to some of the 70’s revisionist westerns (think Bad Company or McCabe and Mrs. Miller). It’s also maybe the best showcase thus far for a western shot digitally. 

10. Contagion (dir-Steven Soderbergh) 

Maybe the most impressively edited film of 2011 (courtesy of Stephen Mirrione), a rapid fire assemblage of events and media from around the world that realistically accounts what might happen if a deadly virus did indeed spread. A sprawling apocalyptic chiller that presents a plausible world disaster, instead of the typical Hollywood-ized disaster flick you normally get. 

9. Sleeping Beauty (dir-Catherine Breillat) 

Not the movie where what’s-her-face gets naked, this is instead another take on a classic fairy tale by Catherine Breillat after 2010’s Bluebeard (which made my top 5). Instead of cutting back and forth between a young girl reading the story in modern day and the actual story played out in the past, here a young girl wanders through a magical fairy tale land that is odd, beautiful, and frightening. Unlike most fairy tale movies, this one is appropriately dark (and not in a Tim Burton kinda way), and the world itself feels tangible and authentic.

8. Road to Nowhere (dir-Monte Hellman) 

A movie-within-a-movie about a director obsessed with making his masterpiece, another determined Hellman existential hero, and how his reality and the reality of the film co-mingle. Reality is slyly edited together with scenes from the film without it becoming a simple gimmick where art imitates life directly. The film is also a great document of how films are made nowadays using computers and digital technology. 

Dominique Swain as the "movie blogger"

7. The Skin I Live In (dir-Pedro Almodovar) 

A variation on Eyes without a Face that is nevertheless very Almodovar, with humanity cutting through a melodramatic story, including some Almodovar-esque out-of-left-field “trashy” plot developments (like the rapist wearing a skintight tiger suit). Antonio Banderas and the ever-beautiful Elena Anaya go emotionally toe-to-toe, completely rooting what could have been a simple mad scientist movie in lesser hands. 

6. Love Exposure (dir-Shion Sono) 

An epic love triangle with three oddball heroes scarred by various sexual perversions, fleshed out as if each were the star of the movie, completely justifying the four hour runtime (and making it feel more like 2 ½ hours). Review coming soon! 

5. The Last Circus (dir-Alex de la Iglesia) 

Maybe my favorite circus-sploitation movie ever, besting the likes of Nightmare Alley and even Big Top Pee Wee. Review here

4. Jane Eyre (dir-Cary Fukunaga)

 My favorite adaptation (although not the most faithful), with both my favorite performance of the year (Mia Wasikowska in the lead) and my favorite cinematography (Adriano Goldman), with a breathtaking use of natural light. The movie gives us a darker Jane, where the horror of repression leads to true tragedy, instead of the more token costume dramas with their bland notions of love and passion. 

3. Drive (dir-Nicolas Winding Refn) 

Nobody does postmodern hodgepodge better than Refn, and here he does his combination of Michael Mann’s Thief and Walter Hill’s The Driver, juggling tense genre character drama and cinematic pop art, while giving it a modern European sensibility. The surprisingly killer synth pop soundtrack adds emotional layers instead of conveying simple 80’s nostalgia. 

2. Amer (dir-Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani) 

I know this has a release date of 2009 on IMDB, but I’m counting the U.S. DVD/Blu-ray release in 2011 as the release date since it was difficult to see before that. Anyway, as a big Argento fan, this “Argento homage” was one of the few times in recent years where I highly anticipated seeing a movie well before its release date, and this one didn’t disappoint. And I use “Argento homage” very loosely; Amer is the very rare film that uses another director’s style as a jumping off point to create something totally unique, taking the psychosexual subtext of the giallo and running with it. 

1. Tree of Life (dir-Terrence Malick) 

As a huge Malick fan, I could’ve called this ahead of time. Even so, the movie surprises with flights into the cosmic (literally and figuratively), as almost some kind of inversion of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It also literally presents a world fragmented by memory and the human pull between nature and modernization, rather than simply being a theme like in his previous films. Jessica Chastain feels like the movie’s true centerpiece, like a beacon of humanity and motherhood that holds the movie together.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

SNOW WHITE: A DEADLY SUMMER (2012) - mirror mirror on the wall...who's the least Snow White-ish Snow White cash-in of them all?

Fairy tales are a fun, fantastic, and sometimes scary (well, invariably scary) way to impart lessons, relay the rules of society, and even manifest the subconscious. As societies change, these tales evolve to fit each new generation. With that in mind, let’s look at David DeCoteau’s variation on a classic fairy tale, Snow White: A Deadly Summer

As Mr. DeCoteau is best known as an exploitation filmmaker that inserts beefcakey dudes wearing nothing but their underwear into his films (side to side with the usual breasts, beasts, and blood), we might expect his variation on Snow White to feature seven dwarves who are all beefcakes standing between 5’3” and 5’6” (for a beefcake, that is pretty much dwarf proportions) who only wear matching speedos and pointy hats, with each "dwarf" being a different color. Snow White forces them to work up a sweat performing important menial tasks, like repeatedly bending over to pick up widgets. Now, I know exactly what you’re asking yourself; surely they would whistle while they work? Yes, surely. The evil witch seeks revenge because Snow White’s calves look better in high heels than her own, or some other such fashion crime. Now, you’re probably wondering what kind of lesson a story like this might impart to children. I think the answer is obvious; even women (or gay men) want to watch dumbass movies where attractive members of the opposite sex (or the same sex) get nekkid for no reason whatsoever. 

Well, it seems I’ve jumped the gun folks. Snow White: A Deadly Summer is nothing like I imagined. Maybe because it has fuck all to do with Snow White. In fairness, the lead girl is named Snow, and she has an evil stepmother that talks into a mirror. However, both of those plot points seem completely forced in and have nothing to do with the rest of the movie. It’s as if you took Slumber Party Massacre and renamed the final girl Ahab, inserted a scene of her fishing, renamed the killer “Mr. Whale”, and then retitled the movie “Moby Dick: A Slumber Party Massacre”. I guess they don’t call ‘em exploitation films for nothing. 

Anyway, Snow (the engaging Shanley Caswell) is one of those bad girls who distrusts authority, and when she rides shotgun while her boyfriend gets pulled over for speeding in a stolen car (always go the speed limit after you steal a car dumbass), this gives her parents (Eric Roberts and evil stepmother Maureen McCormick) an excuse to send her to off to a military camp for asshole kids (“Camp Allegiance”). The camp is run by an ex-Navy Seal named Hunter (Tim Abell), and this guy is truly not fucking around. His approach to youth reform is to simply yell as the kids to do situps, pushups, or run laps. He even tells Snow that he will “beat the white off of (her) snow white ass” if she ever speaks without first being spoken to. If that doesn’t qualify as irony, it’s close enough for me to say “kudos, my good man”. 

Check out the tree stump wearing the red boots.  When you've hit the big time like Eric Roberts, you can afford to throw bagfuls of money away on cutting edge art.

Of course, with the subtitle of the movie being "Deadly Summer", people start to get killed off. So, who’s the murderer? Is it the camper who cuts his hand with a stone for no reason? How about Hunter’s beefcake assistant (Jason Shane-Scott, strangely clothed from head to toe) who likes to play with a hunting knife for no reason? What about the crazy old lady who lives in a shack? How about the druggie redhead (Kelsey Weber) who looks uber-metal with her lip ring, black tank top, tight jeans, and Converse hi-tops? I hope it’s her. She’s vomiting from heroin withdrawals in a camp for naughty high schoolers and suddenly decides to start killing people for no reason. That’s so metal. 

 "Kiss my converse!"  YES MA'AM!

However, we don’t get a typical stalk and slash camper flick, except for one scene where a couple runs off to make out in the woods before getting killed. The plot is largely driven by exposition, like when the drill sergeant informs everyone that one of the “campers” died after stealing his car and crashing it, even though we don’t see any evidence of this no doubt too expensive bit of potential action excitement. The plot does move quickly, but neither is there a basic mystery that plays fair, which is what the movie initially seems to promise. It’s constantly cutting to various dreams and visions Snow is having, but they just mostly seem to jumble up the narrative, rather than provide real clues or add some psychological weight. It feels like a typical forced slasher script, where plot points are just shoved in there in order to justify scenes of stalking and slashing and maybe a shocking twist, but minus the stalking and the slashing and the shocking twist (there’s a twist, but horrific it is not). I’ve said it before and I’ll say I again; if you’re gonna make a stupid movie, make sure it isn’t boring. Taking a stupid movie and making it boring does not make it less stupid. It just makes it more obvious how stupid it is. This is rule #1 of the screenwriting workshop that I teach. If you want more advice, you’ll have to sign up and pay a low low fee of $129.95. Incisive brilliance isn’t free folks.

 that there is a shot
Snow White: A Deadly Summer is so low budget is feels like most of it was filmed during a single weekend in a 100 square foot campsite in Griffith Park. A lot of the movie takes place at night, so they simply tint the movie blue using Final Cut Express and throw in some cricket sounds. Now, I’m all for shitty day for night in small doses. It can add disorientating atmosphere to a movie if done right (or done wrong), but here it just looks like they are camping out on a strange planet where the sun casts a piercing blue light at night that messes with the camera exposure. This is amusing for maybe 3 minutes, but after that, it just completely undermines any potential atmosphere or menace. 

 filmed in "blown out tinted blue-o-vision"

The 1982 campground slasher Madman used a similar “blue tinted woods as day-for-night” approach, but that actually worked pretty well, so it’s not inherently impossible to accomplish. Maybe it’s the cheap digitalness that undermines the attempt. So, if they ever come out with a state-of-the-art day-for-night expansion pack for Final Cut Express, DeCoteau can go back and fix Snow White: A Deadly Summer for a theatrical release, and maybe throw in some CGI nudity and gore, like a naked hentai-style animated camper chick who gets impaled by a trident. I’m just trying to help. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

TOP 30 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2011 (30-16)

Runners up: X-Men: 1st Class, Melancholia, Meek’s Cutoff, Outrage, Warrior, Bellflower, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Beginners, Senna, Terri 

Haven’t seen: The Artist (!), The Descendents, Into the Abyss, A Dangerous Method, Tyrannosaur, etc. 

Here ya go…numbers 30-16, with the top 15 coming later this week. I have my own system for deciding if a movie is classified as being a 2011 release. Basically, if I first had a legitimate chance to see it in 2011, it’s 2011. I make the rules around here, so that’s the way it goes. 

30. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (dir-Apichatpong Weerasethakul) 

Mr. Uncle is dying, so he decides to spend some time with family in the countryside, enjoying the simple, tactile company of family members and the lush nature that surrounds them. Similarly tactile ghosts of his dead wife and missing son join them as guests from Uncle’s future, I guess. This scene is the centerpiece of the film, a cryptic and haunting Buddhist parable about a family dealing with death. The ghost scenes are perfectly creepy and among the most realistic ever seen in a film (if ghost scenes could ever be said to be “realistic”). 

29. The Muppets (dir-James Bobin) 

Squarely pitched as a kids movie, this nevertheless contains sly humor for the older crowd (my favorite line is when that kid asks Kermit if he’s one of the Ninja Turtles) and catchy songs in the classic Muppets mold (not some modern autotune bullshit). Also…it’s the fucking Muppets! How do you not like the Muppets? Even a heartless bastard like me enjoys the Muppets. 

 28. Spork (dir-J.B. Ghuman Jr.)

The dark horse of this list, Spork looked like it might be potentially insufferable at first glance (essentially Napoleon Dynamite molded to please the High School Musical crowd), yet completely surprised me by being an inventive and hilarious early 90's (like, pre-grunge) answer to John Water’s Hairspray, despite the hackneyed plot (essentially the same half baked plot as Napoleon Dynamite; a total nerd girl finally gains confidence by kicking butt at the school talent show). A constant barrage of trashy pop culture minutia that is giddy and celebratory, rather than merely emblems of hipness (although the line between the two is admittedly thin). The group of 12 year old faux-Heathers that constantly insult Spork are perfectly rendered (in terms of hair, clothes, and attitude), and I can’t help but love a movie that culminates with our heroine triumphing above all by performing an electro rap dance while wearing 3-D glasses and a Nintendo Power Glove. Oops. I gave it away. Sorry.  Anyway, the lesson is: don't talk into a hamburger phone because it's cool and quirky; do it because it's awesome to talk into a hamburger.  So you see my point.

27. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (dir-Eli Craig) 

Tyler Labine (as Dale) pulls off the most thanklessly difficult performance of the year (think Jerry Lewis via Larry the Cable Guy), supplying both the humor and humanity that anchors what could have been a one-joke premise. Tucker and Dale are unwittingly pegged as mad redneck slashers through a series of misunderstandings, and this isn’t done as a cheap parody of slasher movies (as if slashers need to be parodied further), but as an innovative extension of the classic comedic premise of two schmucks having a bad day that keeps getting worse (think Laurel and Hardy). 

26. Le Quattro Volte (dir-Michelangelo Frammartino) 

A static and contemplative chronicling of the cyclical nature of life, including vignettes about an old man dying, a goat getting lost from the herd, the chopping down of a tree, and the making of charcoal. Sound boring? Well, I guess it is, but I like stuff that is boring for the right reasons, and I guess the movie is asking the viewer to contemplate four different phase changes that occur in nature, with this being the only tenuous connection between the vignettes. This is mainly on the list because of the goat segment, one of my favorite scenes of the year, and a sort of achingly beautiful distillation of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar

25. Win Win (dir-Tom McCarthy) 

More like director Tom McCarthy’s previous film The Station Agent than the token sports comedy it was advertised as, here is a lovingly observed character portrait of a sad sack lawyer and wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti, kicking ass and taking names acting wise) who becomes involved in the life of a kid who is a very good wrestler and also the estranged son of one of his clients. Funny but always human and never obvious or melodramatic. 

24. Attack the Block (dir-Joe Cornish)

A kinetic and fun variation on the alien invasion flick that crosses street culture with the early apartment scenes in Dawn of the Dead. Even the aliens are a wonderfully fitting and simple design that feel vaguely street art/pop art while remaining perfectly menacing. The overblown Spielberg rip Super 8 could’ve learned a thing or two by watching Attack the Block (if alien attack movies watched other alien attack movies and took notes and improved themselves accordingly). 

23. Hobo with a Shotgun (dir-Jason Eisener)

Wings Hauser once sung about Neon Slime on the soundtrack to Vice Squad, but he might as well be describing Hobo with a Shotgun. Rutger Hauer is fucking Rutger Hauer (well, not literally…never mind), and he’s been pushed over the edge; the streets are filled with garbage and he’s decided to take out the trash, and he’s too old for this shit and this shit is getting old, et al. Somewhere between Street Trash and a movie from Troma’s glory days (stop snickering), the film adeptly handles social commentary not as ham handed preaching, but as visceral pop trash symbolism; a world where entitled douches crush the dreams of innocent urban dwellers with their douchey fists, and the resulting human wreckage washes away in a hopeless sewer of broken promises. Did I mention that Rutger Hauer shoots people with a shotgun? Oh yes he does. 

22. Marwencol (dir-Jeff Malmberg)

Succeeds where In the Realms of the Unreal faltered, this portrait of outsider artist Mark Hogancamp chronicles his obsession to create a full fledged fictional town out of dolls after he suffers brain damage during a bar fight. Sensitively cuts back and forth between Mark’s real life and his fictional life without tying everything into a neat package. Or, as the tagline says, “when his world was stolen, Mark Hogancamp made a world of his own”. Basically, it’s about a real artist making real art, regardless of how silly it seems on the outside. 

21. Take Shelter (dir-Jeff Nichols)

A parable of male suppression, Michael Shannon swallows the financial downfall of his family on screen to perfection, while his subconscious bubbles up in the form of dreams and visions. Jessica Chastain matches him wonderfully as they slowly drift apart, the emotionally open yang to his emotionally suppressed yin. 

20. Buck (dir-Cindy Meehl)

His name is Buck and he like to…work with horses, you pervert. Buck Brannaman, a partial inspiration for the book “The Horse Whisperer”, is a true cowboy who trains horses with a zen touch rooted in western myth. Horse training not only becomes a metaphor for life, but a way for Buck to exorcise demons from his childhood. Even if you hate horses (maybe a horse once kicked your life-size cardboard cutout of Debbie Gibson, breaking it in half, and you’ve despised their kind ever since), this beautiful doc will still appeal to you, because it’s really about LIFE! 

19. Submarine (dir-Richard Ayoade)

If Juno made you want to shove a pencil into your nose and give yourself a poor man’s lobotomy (although in fairness, even a lobotomy performed by a professional using state-of-the-art tools is probably a bad idea), check out Submarine, maybe a darker, much Welsh-ier Rushmore. This is quirk done right, borne out of human absurdity instead of hipster posturing, and it also doubles as an amusing homage to early Godard. Oh, and it’s fucking funny, unlike a lot of movies just trying to be hip and alternative and all flannel and whatever (editor’s note: author stopped watching MTV in the mid-90’s). 

18. The Interrupters (dir-Steve James) 

An emotionally potent portrait of several “interrupters” (people who go out on the streets to curb gang violence) in the most crime ridden parts of Chicago. From the director of Hoop Dreams, this film is more episodic and lacks that film's dramatic arc, but instead the “cure” for gang violence is presented from several different view points and different one-on-one approaches. Contains one of the most emotionally devastating scenes of the year, when a 17-year-old gets out of jail after three years for armed robbery and attempts to ask forgiveness of the woman he robbed in order to rehabilitate himself as part of the “interrupter” program. 

17. Midnight in Paris (dir-Woody Allen)

The setup is pure latter day Woody hackery, but once Owen Wilson travels back to 20’s Paris, the magic begins. Pitch perfect supporting performances left and right, especially Corey Stoll’s Hemingway, and even Adrien Brody rocks as Salvador Dali. I was enchanted much like Owen was, to where the twists and semi-weighty themes crept up on me, even though they should’ve seemed obvious and ham handed. Not only do I wonder why Owen would even consider coming back to reality, I wonder why Woody doesn’t just stick to period pieces from here on out, instead of recycling the same stock New York wasp characters who have the same interests (old jazz!) and utter the same dialogue (I shouldn’t drink!) and have the same existential crises (I need to create something that outlives me!).   Not that I'm complaining.

16. Moneyball (dir-Bennett Miller)

Misused sports statistics annoy me for some reason, and I worried about that in this adaptation of a book I haven’t read (boy, I should really be worrying about shit more important than that). However, the film correctly glosses over the details, and makes it a story about Brad Pitt, a failure of a ball player who redeems himself as a general manager (with the help of his nerdy assistant who actually does all of the work) by completely going against the grain to turn a team on the brink of disaster into a big ass winner. Never less than riveting, without completely Hollywoodizing the importance that statistics play in the team’s turnaround (although certain information is discreetly glossed over for dramatic purposes, but hey, I expect outright lies from Hollywood). 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rare Westerns on Netflix Instant Watch Capsule Reviews, vol.23

The Phantom Plainsman (1942) 

The Three Mesquiteers (Bob Steele, Tom Tyler, Rufe Davis) are enjoying life as cowboys as always, albeit in 1937. However, this simple and innocent life is turned upside down when they find out that the owner of the ranch they work for is selling horses to the Nazis!  I don't know that a few horses is really gonna speed up Hitler's plan for world domination, but even so, you don't tug on Superman's cape, and you absolutely do not help out the Nazis, even if it's to help an old Nazi lady cross the street.  No matter, the Mesquiteers will see to it that the ranch owner loses and justice wins and Hitler gets another well deserved kick in the pants. Not the camp classic it sounds like it might be, this is instead a bland B-western story about shady horse trading inexplicably transferred to the World War II era. Really, the only differences are that the villains have a slight German accent, and there is a pretty rad horse and car chase instead of the usual horse and wagon chase. Still amusing though, with some cool stuntwork, and Rufe providing comic relief that is actually amusing and not broad like you would expect.

Excellent black and white transfer, and never released on home video. There are a bunch of Three Mesquiteers movies, but the characters and actors changed along the way. John Wayne even starred in several in the late 30’s. here are the rare ones on Netflix instant, which were never released on home video, except for Riders of the Black Hills, which saw a VHS release. 
Riders of the Black Hills (1938) 
Cowboys from Texas (1939) 
Pioneers of the West (1940) 
Pals of the Pecos (1941) 
Shadows on the Sage (1942) 
Raiders of the Range (1942) 
The Blocked Trail (1943) 

The Laramie Trail (1944) 

Bob Livingstone comes to a town to claim a ranch, but encounters a man who was accused of murder, but Livingstone believes he is innocent and investigates. A surprisingly complicated B-western mystery, this is interesting and unpredictable, carried by the stoic but charismatic Livingstone, but suffers from convolution and a plot conveyed too much through exposition. Still, a valiant and never boring attempt to make an extremely twisty mystery out of a familiar B-movie plot. Some occasional borderline hard boiled dialogue, too: 
Lawyer justifying taking a case because he needs the money: Lawyers have to live, don’t they? 
Livingstone: Why? 

Excellent video transfer, although the audio is pretty scratchy, which caused me to stretch my earholes to hear some of the dialogue. Never released on home video, and there are two more rare westerns on Netflix Instant starring Bob Livingstone that have never been released on home video: 
The Big Bonanza (1944) 
Beneath Western Skies (1944) 

Outlaws of Santa Fe (1944)

Don “Red” Barry (sort of a deadly serious cowboy version of Red Skelton) robs banks with his father, but dad is shot during a robbery attempt. While dying, he tells Red that he actually isn’t his father, but that his real father was actually a lawman who was killed in Santa Fe. Red immediately reforms and decides to become a hero. I guess he really wants to take after his father, whether his father is a crook or a saint. Anyway, he saves Helen Talbot and her little sister Winky (who manages to be bossy without being completely annoying) on the way to Santa fe, where he intends to return the money he stole from the robbery, as well as taking out whoever killed his real father. He has a broad comedic sidekick that gets a little annoying, but there are a few amusing scenes with a funny old man deputy. A better than usual Republic cheapie, and Red Barry is actually pretty good in the role, especially considering that he manages to somewhat pull off an immediate about face from crook to hero. 

The transfer is pretty soft, and there are vertical damage lines during the first reel or so. Still, it’s fairly watchable. Never released on home video, and here are other Netflix Instant titles starring Red Barry that have never been released on home video: 

Frontier Vengeance (1940) 
One Man's Law (1940) 
Texas Terror (1940) 
Death Valley Outlaws (1941) 
Carson City Cyclone (1943) 
California Joe (1943)