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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Love at first bite (1979)

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Date: Apr 29, 2015 4:13 PM
Subject: Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge
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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

#1,717. Love at First Bite (1979)

Posted: 29 Apr 2015 12:46 PM PDT

Directed By: Stan Dragoti

Starring: George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin

Tag line: "Your favorite pain in the neck is about to bite your funny bone!"

Trivia: This movie had the same make-up artist as 1931's Dracula: veteran William Tuttle

One day, in the spring of 1979, we were visiting some family friends, and we all decided to take in a movie. The film we settled on was Love at First Bite. The theater, as I remember it, was fairly full, and people (myself included) were laughing throughout the movie. Before today, that was the last time I laid eyes on a single frame of this film. It never played on cable TV when I was growing up, and if it was available to rent on video, I didn't bother to do so. There have been other instances when long gaps of time passed between my first and second viewings of a film, but I don't recall another that stretched 36 years!

Though he has lived there for centuries, Count Dracula (George Hamilton) is being evicted from his castle. It seems the Romanian Communists want to convert it into a gymnasium for loyal party members, and have given the Count and his faithful servant, Renfeild (Arte Johnson), one day to get out. So, with no time to make any plans, Dracula decides to follow his heart to New York City, where Cindy Sondheim (Jill St. John), the girl from the fashion magazines, lives. After a slight mix-up at the airport (his coffin is re-routed to a Harlem funeral home), Dracula and Renfeild get a room at the Plaza Hotel. Before long, Renfeild tracks Ms. Sondheim down, and the Count meets her in, of all places, a discotheque. Almost immediately, the two begin a passionate affair, with Dracula placing the first bite on Cindy's neck during their initial night together (it'll take 3 bites to turn her into a vampire, which is Dracula's ultimate goal). Their happiness is threatened. However, when Cindy confesses all to her psychiatrist (and sometimes boyfriend), Dr. Jeff Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin), who, as fate would have it, is the grandson of none other than the Count's arch-enemy, Dr. Van Helsing! With the help of Lt. Ferguson (Dick Shawn), one of New York's finest, Dr. Rosenberg makes several attempts to destroy Dracula and sever the hold he has on Miss Sondheim, but what he doesn't know is that the Count and Cindy are genuinely in love, and plan to spend eternity together.

Many of the jokes in Love at First Bite, especially in the opening scene, would have gone right over the head of my 9-year-old self in 1979, mostly because at that point I hadn't yet seen the original Dracula, which this movie pokes fun at (and quite effectively, I might add). I laughed when the Count, playing the piano in one of the dark, foreboding rooms of his castle, got fed up with the constant caterwauling of the wolves outside his window and shouted "Children of the Night! Shut up!" Funnier still was Arte Johnson's take on the character of Renfeild, mimicking that creepy laugh Dwight Frye let out when they found him, half-mad, below decks of the abandoned ship in the classic '31 film. Every moment of this brief Transylvanian sequence had me smiling ear-to-ear, and that smile turned to chuckles once the two arrived in New York City, where, in the late '70s, not even the sight of Count Dracula walking down the street was enough to draw someone's attention (the scene where Dracula, looking for sustenance, transforms into a bat and flies around the city features some of the movie's funniest moments). George Hamilton, doing his best Bela Lugosi impersonation, is at his absolute finest, paying tribute to the actor while, at the same time, satirizing his mannerisms. He makes for a suave Count Dracula, and we can see why Jill St. John's character, a hip New York model, would fall for him as quickly as she does.

Then, at about the halfway point, things start to go very, very wrong. It's around this time that Richard Benjamin's Dr. Rosenberg makes his grand entrance, and while I don't lay the blame for the movie's lackluster second half solely at his feet, he doesn't do much to help his own case, either (his portrayal of this key character is far too quirky to be effective). The main problem, I think, is that, as the film continues, George Hamilton isn't featured nearly as much as he was at the beginning. Instead, we see Rosenberg interacting with Cindy and making half-hearted attempts to kill Dracula. Without Hamilton, Love at First Bite flounders badly, and neither Benjamin nor the usually solid Dick Shawn provide enough laughs to make up for his absence.

Sure, a few of the scenes with Dracula are as corny as those without him, but somehow Hamilton makes them work. When he's not around, the jokes fall flat, and Love at First Bite suffers as a result.

#1,716. Dead Men Walk (1943)

Posted: 28 Apr 2015 09:03 PM PDT

Directed By: Sam Newfield

Starring: George Zucco, Mary Carlisle, Nedrick Young

Tag line: "Devil's sorcery, as a dead man returns for vengeance!"

Trivia: Originally distributed by PRC in 1943, this film was reissued in the USA in 1948 by Madison Pictures Inc

We open with a close-up of a book titled "History of Vampires", which is resting on a table. A hand then reaches in, picks the book up, and tosses it onto a fire. As we watch it burn, the face of a man suddenly appears on-screen, saying "You creatures of the light, how can you say with absolute certainty what does or does not dwell within the limitless ocean of the night?" He continues for a minute or two, talking of "witches and warlocks, werewolves and vampires, and all the spawns of hell". It's a wordy, flamboyant introduction to 1943's Dead Men Walk, a Poverty Row production notable for its cast, namely veterans George Zucco (playing two different characters) and Dwight Frye (a supporting actor, and an important one, in both Dracula and Frankenstein).

The face from the opening scene of Dead Men Walk belonged to Elwyn Clayton (Zucco), who, as the movie begins, is already dead. A student of the occult who worshipped the Devil himself, Elwyn was a menace to society, so much so that his own brother, Dr. Lloyd Clayton (also Zucco), murdered him when he threatened to convert their niece, Gayle (Mary Carlisle), into a follower of the dark arts. Now that Elwyn is dead, Gayle is free to live a normal life and marry Dr. David Bentley (Nedrick Young), an up-and-coming physician who occasionally assists Dr. Clayton. Unfortunately for them all, Elwyn Clayton learned a thing or two about dark magic over the years, and with this help of his hunchback assistant Zolarr (Frye), he returns to life as a vampire. Looking to avenge his own death, Elwyn visits his brother and vows to turn Gayle into a vampire as well. Over several nights, Elwyn slowly drains the blood from Gayle's body, putting her life in jeopardy. Refusing to believe Dr. Clayton when he says his brother has returned, Dr. Bentley accuses his mentor of trying to kill Gayle, and threatens to do the same to him if she should die. Can Dr. Clayton defeat Elwyn and save his beloved niece, or will he himself be blamed for a murder he didn't commit?

Released by PRC, the same poverty row studio behind 1940's The Devil Bat, Dead Men Walk is a low-budget horror / thriller that, at times, reminded me of the classic monster films produced by Universal in the 1930s (the scene where Zolarr exhumes Elwyn Clayton's casket is particularly well-staged, with plenty of shadows and a low-hanging fog that envelops most of the set). Aside from its atmosphere, Dead Men Walk also boasts some impressive performances. George Zucco (The Cat and the Canary, The Mummy's Hand) shines in the dual role of the kindly Dr. Clayton and his sinister brother Elwyn, but what drew me to Dead Men Walk in the first place was that it featured Dwight Frye, who, as he did in Dracula and Frankenstein, plays an assistant willing to obey his master's every command. While he doesn't quite match the intensity he brought to the earlier films, it was good to see Frye again all the same.

Despite a handful of deficiencies, including a few slow patches in the middle and an over-abundance of dialogue (at a key moment, the resurrected Elwyn is standing over Gayle's sleeping body, but instead of going straight for her throat, he delivers a speech to…. well, himself, seeing as he was the only one who could hear it), Dead Men Walk is a fun '40s flick that fans of classic horror won't want to miss.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ichabod and Mr. Toad

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From: "2,500 Movies Challenge" <>
Date: Apr 25, 2015 4:07 PM
Subject: Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge
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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

#1,712. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Posted: 24 Apr 2015 10:11 PM PDT

Directed By: James Algar, Clyde Geronimi

Starring: Bing Crosby, Basil Rathbone, Eric Blore

Tag line: "Two Tall Tales by the world's top story-tellers in one hilarious All-Cartoon Feature!"

Trivia: Brom Bones later became the inspiration for the character of Gaston in Beauty and the Beast

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a 1949 animated Disney anthology featuring two short films: an adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's children's book The Wind in the Willows and a telling of Washington Irving's classic story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Narrated by Basil Rathbone, The Wind in the Willows segment introduces us to J. Thaddeus Toad (voiced by Eric Blore), a wealthy eccentric whose wild ways have pushed him to the brink of bankruptcy. The situation is so dire, in fact, that his friend Angus MacBadger (Campbell Grant), who's attempting to put Toad's accounts in order, fears he may lose Toad Hall, the spacious estate that's been in his family for generations. With the help of Rat (Claude Allister) and Mole (Colin Campbell), McaBadger tries to subdue the out-of-control Toad, who, along with his new horse Cyril Proudbottom (J. Pat O'Malley), is tearing up the countryside. Things go from bad to worse when Toad is arrested for stealing a motor car. During his trial, Toad (representing himself) sets out to prove that a pack of shifty weasels actually stole the car, which he then bought from them (having no cash, he instead signed the deed to Toad Hall over to the weasels). In spite of the evidence, Toad is found guilty and sentenced to many years in prison, but Rat, Mole, and Cyril refuse to take this injustice lying down, and hatch a scheme to both spring their friend from jail and, if possible, win back Toad Hall form the weasels.

Next up is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as told by Bing Crosby (who sings a few songs along the way). Teacher Ichabod Crane rides into the small New England town of Sleepy Hollow, where he's to serve as the schoolmaster. Shortly after his arrival, he meets Katrina van Tassel, the beautiful daughter of a rich landowner, with whom he immediately falls in love. This incites the wrath of local bully Brom Bones, who also has a thing for Katrina. During a Halloween party thrown by the van Tassels, Bones tries to frighten his romantic rival by telling him the story of the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a soldier that rises from the grave every Halloween to search for a new head. After the party, as the overly-superstitious Ichabod is on his way home, he encounters the dreaded Horseman, who pursues the schoolteacher through the dark woods, determined to make him his latest victim.

Though I'd never seen the movie before, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad wasn't an entirely new experience for me; years ago, I was able to check out The Legend of Sleepy Hollow when it played on TV. That said, I was very impressed by Disney's take on The Wind in the Willows, which is a lively tale with likable characters and a few exciting situations (a late sequence, where the four friends try to get the deed back from the weasels, is a lot of fun). The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, on the other hand, doesn't hold up quite as well. The middle portion of the short drags terribly, and not even the smooth sounds of Bing Crosby singing tunes like "The Headless Horseman" ("Now, ghosts are bad, but the one that's cursed is the Headless Horseman, he's the worst") can save it. The moment Ichabod Crane rides into that forest at night, however, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow springs to life in a big way, providing more thrills (and scares) than we're used to seeing in a Disney film. This sequence alone makes The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad a worthwhile experience, but combine it with the breezy entertainment of The Wind in the Willows and you have a lesser-known Disney effort that deserves a much wider audience.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

STEVE MARTIN in The Man with two Brains

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Date: Apr 10, 2015 4:51 PM
Subject: Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge
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Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

#1,697. The Man with Two Brains (1983)

Posted: 10 Apr 2015 05:40 AM PDT

Directed By: Carl Reiner

Starring: Steve Martin, Kathleen Turner, David Warner

Tag line: "So funny you'll laugh your head off"

Trivia: In 1987, DC Comics created a Superman villain named Hfuhruhurr after Martin's character in this movie

The last time I saw The Man with Two Brains, a 1983 comedy from the creative minds behind The Jerk and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, I thought it was absolutely hilarious. Of course, that was 30 years ago, so as I sat down to watch it again, I found myself wondering if it was as funny as I remembered. Would I still laugh at all the pratfalls, sight gags, and double entendres (the humor is a bit on the broad side)? More to the point: was the film ever as uproarious as I remember it being?

The answer to both of these questions is a resounding "yes"!

Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin), the world's most brilliant brain surgeon, must put his talents to the test when he accidentally hits Dolores Benedict (Kathleen Turner), a gorgeous but mean-spirited gold-digger, with his car. Thanks to Dr. Hfuhruhurr's steady hands, Dolores survives the ordeal, and before long the two are husband and wife. The couple's wedded bliss takes a nosedive, however, when, while honeymooning in Vienna, Dr. Hfuhruhurr discovers that Dolores is just as promiscuous now as she was before they were married. It's around this time that Hfuhruhurr meets Dr. Alfred Necessiter (David Warner), a scientist who's found a way to keep the human brain alive even after it's been removed from its body. To Dr. Hfuhruhurr's surprise, he can communicate via telepathy with one of the brains in Necessiter's lab, which once belonged to a woman named Anne Uumellmahaye (voiced by an uncredited Sissy Spacek). Over time, Dr. Hfuhruhurr falls in love with Anne's brain, but things get a bit complicated when Dolores asks him for another chance. Will Hfuhruhurr attempt to reconcile with the stunningly beautiful Dolores, or will he instead take advantage of Dr. Necessiter's research, which has proven it's possible to transfer one brain's thoughts and memories into the body of another person?

Much like Airplane!, the laughs in The Man with Two Brains come fast and furious, thrown at us at a rate of about half a dozen per minute. The good doctor's inflated opinion of himself is a source of comedy early on (when being interviewed for an upcoming article, he asks the reporter to read back the last statement he made, to make sure it doesn't sound too pompous. "My brilliant research in brain transplantation is unsurpassed, and will probably make my name live beyond eternity", the reporter says, reading from his notes. "No, that's all right", is Dr. Hfuhruhurr's response). I also found myself snickering at one of the love poems Hfuhruhurr reads to Dolores to try and win her heart, a brief little piece titled "Pointy Birds" ("O pointy birds, o pointy pointy, anoint my head, anointy-nointy").

Despite the insanity of it all, Steve Martin remains deadly serious throughout the The Man with Two Brains, which only makes him funnier (the scene in which he's administered a lengthy, not to mention quite difficult, roadside sobriety test is unforgettable), and Turner, looking drop-dead gorgeous, does a good job lampooning the femme fatale persona she perfected in Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat, released two years before this movie. Some of the sillier jokes do fall flat (a late scene, in which Martin is thrown around the room as if he was in a life-sized pinball machine, never worked for me), but even with its handful of duds, The Man with Two Brains delivers a ton of laughs.

Along with reminding me how hilarious the movie is, this most recent viewing of The Man with Two Brains proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that my sense of humor is just as juvenile as ever.

And I thank God for it!

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Friday, April 3, 2015

News Reviews at for the week of April 03, 2015

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Date: Apr 3, 2015 11:18 AM
Subject: New Reviews at for the week of April 03, 2015
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This is your weekly update of new reviews on, the world's preeminent destination for movie criticism, commentary and community.

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Life Itself, the acclaimed movie about Roger Ebert, is now available on Blu-ray. Click here to get your copy.

New Reviews at for the week of April 03, 2015

Here are reviews of this week's newest movies from For these and more, including blog posts on everything from sci-fi and low-brow comedy to forgotten masterpieces of cinema, please visit our site and join the conversation.

Furious 7 Poster

Furious 7

Review by Odie Henderson

Furious 7 is a glorious overcompensation, a film so concerned about its rampant machismo that the casual viewer might miss how it Tokyo-drifts atop soap opera bubbles.

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Cheatin' Poster


Review by Simon Abrams

Cheatin' is a highlight of Plympton's robust body of work because motion—not the journey, or the destination—is always its creator's priority.

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Last Knights Poster

Last Knights

Review by Christy Lemire

Last Knights is so thoroughly mediocre, so dully empty, that it's difficult to summon the enthusiasm to trash it. And yet, duty calls.

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The Girl is in Trouble Poster

The Girl is in Trouble

Review by Brian Tallerico

It's tightly directed and well-performed, particularly by Columbus Short and a career-redefining turn from Wilmer Valderrama.

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Lambert & Stamp Poster

Lambert & Stamp

Review by Godfrey Cheshire

A sharply crafted, highly entertaining portrait of two young Londoners who made their names and fortunes by managing a fledgling band called the High Numbers, who became The Who.

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Effie Gray Poster

Effie Gray

Review by Dan Callahan

A handsomely designed period film with a screenplay by Emma Thompson that seeks to dramatize John Ruskin's unhappy marriage to a younger woman as a kind of feminist fairy tale.

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Cut Bank Poster

Cut Bank

Review by Brian Tallerico

A shockingly dull affair, almost made more disappointing by the talent it wastes.

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5 to 7 Poster

5 to 7

Review by Glenn Kenny

A romantic comedy written and directed by Victor Levin and set in a New York City where its protagonist/narrator tells you in the first five minutes or so, "you're never more than twenty feet away from someone you know, or…

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The Hand That Feeds Poster

The Hand That Feeds

Review by Odie Henderson

An uplifting, suspenseful documentary about undocumented workers who formed a union and took on their employer for better pay and conditions.

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Woman in Gold Poster

Woman in Gold

Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Not only does it have more than enough narrative to go around. It is blessed with Helen Mirren, lusciously luminous even with aging makeup as Maria Altmann.

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Ned Rifle Poster

Ned Rifle

Review by Brian Tallerico

It gives one hope that closing the door on these characters will invigorate Hartley to consistently make great films again. Ned Rifle reminds me how much I missed him.

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