Monthly Archives: January 2004
A Video Review of “Regarding Henry”
Copyright 2002 Glenn Walker
Harrison Ford is one of the best living actors today. Everything he appears in bears a certain standard of quality and his skill as an actor is always top notch. Such is the case with Regarding Henry.
Unlike other actors in similar roles; Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Tom Hulce in Dominick and Eugene, Sean Penn in I Am Sam, Adam Sandler in all his films; there’s an unwelcome urge to laugh at the mentally challenged. Here, with Harrison Ford, that doesn’t happen. Here you can only marvel at his performance.
Ford stars as Henry Turner, an evil lawyer (is there any other kind?), who is shot in the head and goes into a coma. Upon awakening and rehabilitation he becomes a new man, a kinder, gentler and much better husband and father. We watch him confront his past and his sins and make a new start.
Annette Bening as Henry’s wife and Mikki Allen as his daughter hand in equally excellent turns. Bill Nunn as Bradley the physical therapist gives the performance of his life and makes you wonder why we haven’t seen the like since.
This is an excellent film that should not be missed.
“POSTER GIRL FOR PSYCHOPATHS”
Reviews of “Return to Oz” and “The Craft”
Copyright 2002 Glenn Walker
Tired of renting Moulin Rouge for the umpteenth time when you can’t find anything good to watch at the video store and you’re bright enough to know better than to ask a clerk what’s good? Here’s a good themed double feature for a night of popcorn, cuddling and good movie entertainment; two wonderful performances of the princess of psychotherapy, Fairuza Balk.
RETURN TO OZ
First thing you’ve got to do is forget everything you know about the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. This isn’t a musical and Fairuza Balk is no Judy Garland (hell, most of the time Judy Garland was no Judy Garland – without a handful of pills and a swig of vodka, that is). Now there are elements of that film in Return to Oz like a head trauma leading Dorothy to a dream of Oz but that’s about it. It is more based on the works and images of L. Frank Baum than the 1939 musical. It begins with Dorothy going off to the nuthouse because of her obsession with Oz and during a rainstorm she escapes into Oz. Most of the Kansas scenes and the Nome King, the Wheelers and Mombi might be too frightening for the little ones (might send ’em off to the nuthouse with Fairuza) but still a must see.
She goes from running away from witches to becoming one. Not an unexpected step however considering Fairuza is a Wiccan and owns a witchcraft shop in LA. The Craft solidifies her career as an adult actress and unfortunately is probably her best work to date. She plays a disturbed young girl, who along with three equally outcast friends, uses witchcraft to get what they want out of high school. Eventually getting boyfriends and hurting taunting classmates escalates to murder and more. Fairuza is especially frightening here – she’s the ultimate psycho girlfriend. Watch it with the lights on.
Check them out, it’s a good night’s entertainment… much better than that damned musical… again.
WE’LL NEVER KNOW
A Video Review of “The Cat’s Meow” (2001)
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
This is the stuff of Hollywood legend. The Cat’s Meow is the story of a yachting trip in 1924 where movie producer Thomas Ince dies of mysterious circumstances. The legend holds that super-publisher William Randolph Hearst, whose yacht it was, shot Ince and then used his considerable wealth to cover it up.
The yachting trip was to celebrate Thomas Ince’s birthday and other notable guests included Hearst’s mistress actress Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin and Louella Parsons. It’s quite a cast of characters and played by quite a cast of actors.
Edward Herrmann is Hearst. He’s a longtime character actor well known for playing mostly real people and also most disastrously Herman Munster. He plays the power mad millionaire with human emotional flaws despite the man’s almost demonic Citizen Kane reputation. It is a considerable performance. The only thing that ruins it is the occasional lapses into that fake Herman Munster laugh.
One person who impressed me was Eddie Izzard as Charlie Chaplin. I had previously only known him for his stand-up comedy act that he usually performs in drag. In The Cat’s Meow he is skilled and very serious, quite a turnaround from how I normally perceive him. Anyone else out there with similar pre-perceptions might want to check him out in Shadow of the Vampire and The Secret Agent from 1996.
Kirsten Dunst as Marion Davies shows yet another side of her formidable skills. What on the surface appears to be a silly girl Dunst always proves each part she plays to be much deeper and substantial. Ince is done by a restrained and subdued Cary Elwes in a masterful piece of work. It’s rare that an actor can show such skill with so little room. Also blink and you’ll miss Joanna Lumley from “Absolutely Fabulous.” She’s mostly background but when she speaks she shines.
Jennifer Tilly’s Louella Parsons appears at first ridiculous and sad. She thinks highly of herself but offers little to show she’s anything but shallow and stupid. After the dirty deed occurs she shows an inhuman degree of wile in obtaining a lifetime position with Hearst’s newspapers through blackmail. Tilly plays evil quite well.
The Cat’s Meow represents director Peter Bogdanovich’s return to real movies rather than lesser projects for television and cable. He had a rash of quality hits in the 1970s with PaperMoon, one of my all-time favorites What’s Up, Doc? and the Oscar winning The Last Picture Show although most people nowadays probably know him as Dr. Melfi’s therapist on “The Sopranos.” It’s good to have him back.
The script is by novice writer Steven Peros who is currently adapting “Around the World in 80 Days” for a new try at the big screen. He certainly shows a lot of promise here. The story as purported by The Cat’s Meow has Charlie Chaplin having an affair with Marion Davies and Thomas Ince shot by Hearst who mistakes Ince for Chaplin.
It’s certainly a possibility but the facts have never come out as to what really happened on that yacht. Most of the folks who were there are gone now and they never really talked about it except in insinuation. Perhaps Hearst’s power still rules from the grave. We’ll never know. The Cat’s Meow is only speculation but it’s good speculation. Check it out.
A TRAILER PARK FULL OF TALENT
A Video Review of “Mule Skinner Blues”
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
Mule Skinner Blues is the story of Beanie Andrew and his quest to make a horror movie in his Florida hometown using the talent pool of his neighbors to put it all together. His efforts are documented by director Stephen Earnhart.
Inspired by a film crew that came to his town to shoot a music video Beanie found an old video camera and became a self-taught movie director. Together with peculiar hometown writer Larry Parrot he comes up with “Turnabout is Fairplay” in which Beanie gets to live out his fantasy of crawling through the mud in a gorilla costume. I’m not making any of this up.
The cast is rounded out by Miss Jeannie who is a aspiring yodelling country singer and two rival guitarists Steve Walker and Ricky Lix. Mule Skinner Blues takes us inside their lives and those of many more trailer park residents as the horror film comes together. Most of them seem like they have sprung live from the heads of either John Waters or Richard Linklater but believe it or not they are real.
The movie travels the road from amusement to sadness to triumph as we follow these folks over a few years and finally see the debut of “Turnabout is Fairplay.” This must be seen to be believed and it’s pretty entertaining too. Proof positive that anyone can make a movie.
A Video Review of The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
The third screen version from 1941 of Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” is quite possibly the best film noir ever made. Not only is director John Huston’s screenplay nearly word for word identical to the novel the film has a nearly perfect ensemble cast.
The famous story involves private investigator Sam Spade on the track of both his partner’s killer and an elusive jeweled statuette called the Maltese Falcon. Where the 1941 version succeeds over its predecessors is in the casting. Hammett’s work is about off the wall, colorful characters that just weren’t properly brought to life previously.
Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade. He plays it with a cynical disconnection almost giving the effect of not actually living his life but watching and enjoying the ride. The female lead is Mary Astor one of the few actresses to make the leap between silents and talkies successfully. Her Brigid O’Shaughnessy isn’t as tough as she should be but still exquisitely done.
The skill demonstrated here is immaculate. Gladys George as Spade’s partner’s sexy wife Iva, Barton MacLane as big time prick Dundy, Peter Lorre in one of his most famous roles as Joel Cairo – all wonderful and flawless in their parts. I didn’t care much for Lee Patrick as Effie but that’s just my personal preference. I found her foxy but unconvincing at times, not as charming as previous Effies.
The parade doesn’t stop there. Sydney Greenstreet is the sinister fat man Kaspar Gutman perhaps his most memorable role, Ward Bond famous for TV’s “Wagon Train” plays amiable cop Tom Polhaus and film noir veteran Elisha Cook Jr. known as Hollywood’s lightest heavy is the decidedly evil Wilmer Cook. Blink and you’ll miss the director’s dad Walter as Captain Jacoby. As I said this is a perfect ensemble cast.
It’s rare that such a combination of perfect script and cast happens but when they do it’s a joy. Add in the beautifully fitting score by legendary composer Adolph Deutsch and you’ve got possibly one of the best film noirs ever made and probably one of the best of that decade. 1941’s The Maltese Falcon is a masterpiece.
“IS CLIFF ROBERTSON RELATED TO ADAM SANDLER?”
A Film Review of “13th Child: The Legend of the Jersey Devil: Volume One”
Copyright 2002 Glenn Walker
Oh boy. Oh. Boy. Where do I start? Let’s go from the title. 13th Child: The Legend of the Jersey Devil: Volume One is just so short and concise it just rolls off the tongue perfectly. Sarcasm mode off. But only for the moment.
“13th Child” actually relates to the real legend of the Jersey Devil, of which there is precious little in this movie. According to the legend, Mrs. Leeds (or Shourds, depending on which version you believe) gave birth to a thirteenth child. So sick of childbirth was she that she cursed the baby to be a devil. Lo and behold it was and promptly flew up the chimney and out into the south Jersey wilderness known as the Pine Barrons. There it has roamed for well over two hundred years. No mention of that makes it into the film.
The thirteenth child here is a non-sensical reference to an ancient Native American (Leni Lenape, to be exact, at least they got the name of the tribe that roamed the area right) curse about a thirteenth child being a shape-shifter. Like I said, nonsense.
Why ruin a perfectly good centuries-old horror story with crap like that? The other thing about the title that bothers me is “Volume One.” It mocks us with its arrogant intent for sequels. The last movie that tried that was Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins and I think we all know how many sequels that one had.
Other than professionals (and I use the word loosely) like Robert Guillone and Cliff Robertson (who unbelievably had a hand in writing and producing this mess) the acting is horrible. It’s the worst. I can act better than these idiots and anyone who’s seen me act (check out “Standard Issue” or “Elbow Talk” at http://www.whitevioletpictures.com) knows what a terrible insult that is.
Not only does the acting suck the directing is slipshod and the story is a sloppily written flasbacked mess. At some points it hurt to watch. I really want to slap Cliff Robertson.
There are good parts. At times it seems like an early Roger Corman work with Ed Wood sensibilities. With some Band-Aids here and there it could (maaaaybe) have been good. It does have an old school 1970s horror flick vibe going for it.
The music is superior, better than most of the crap we get in horror movies lately. It’s very suspenseful and builds wonderfully. It even punches up scary scenes that might normally have been dull without it thanks to what passes for actors in this mess.
The best part for me, and it’s only a novelty for myself and other folks who actually live in south Jersey, is that it’s filmed here. A majority is filmed at Batsto, an old historical village that is now a park. The town made cannonballs for the American Revolution, it doubles for a creepy old man’s property. Very cool, for some of us at least.
The special effects aren’t bad, the Jersey Devil seems to owe quite a bit to Alien and is genuinely scary until we get a close-up in the light – bad move. Lit up, it just looks cheap.
More bad than good. Let’s hope we never see “Volume Two.”
THE ORIGINAL SPUNKY GIRL REPORTER
A Video Review of The Adventures of Jane Arden
Copyright 2003 Glenn Walker
This gem from 1939 is typical B-movie filler for the period. At barely less than an hour long The Adventures of Jane Arden is based on the girl reporter comic strip by Monte Barrett and Russell E. Ross.
“Jane Arden” the comic strip began in 1927 and had moderate success in the United States but was huge in Canada and Australia. It is predominantly remembered for the cut out paper doll outfits included every Sunday for use on your own cardboard Jane Arden doll. And I thought superhero comics were sometimes bizarre.
This movie that seems like a brutally short serial was directed by film veteran Terry Morse who would go on to do other offbeat classics like The List of Adrian Messenger, Robinson Crusoe on Mars and the 1956 American version of Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.
Girl reporter Jane Arden is played by Rosella Towne who suffered from a very short career of little note which is unfortunate because she showed promise. William Gargan is quite good here as Ed Towers. He gained fame later on as TV’s “Martin Kane, Private Eye.” Dennie (not Demi) Moore is a delight as the lovelorn editor Teenie. Moore is probably best known for her small bit in The Women as the tattling manicurist.
She might seem like a third rate Nancy Drew at first but Jane Arden has her own style and spunk. You might say she’s the original spunky girl reporter. The story of The Adventures of Jane Arden has our girl going undercover to snag jewel smugglers is pretty simple for this mini chapterplay but it’s enough and plays out well for under an hour.
Jane Arden was the precursor to Lois Lane and Brenda Starr who has become lost in our time. She was the spunky girl reporter prototype, a role model for girls everywhere who liked paper dolls. Check out The Adventures of Jane Arden. It’s a nice entertaining time capsule.