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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#2,347. The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Posted: 30 Apr 2017 09:08 AM PDT


Directed By: Matthew Robbins

Starring: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Keith Gordon




Tag line: "The last thing she ever expected was to become a hero"

Trivia: A dance rave sequence was filmed, but cut from the final finished version of the movie








The Legend of Billie Jean is a teenager's fantasy. Well, maybe an '80s-era teenager; there's a good chance that kids nowadays will roll their eyes at some of what happens in this movie, much like I myself did as I was watching it today. I'm not saying this 1985 film is totally worthless. In fact, there were things about it that I really liked. But for the most part The Legend of Billie Jean was pretty damn silly.

Billie Jean Davy (Helen Slater) and her younger brother Binx (Christian Slater) live with their mother (Mona Lee Fultz) in a trailer park in Corpus Christi, Texas. They are harassed on a daily basis by Hubie (Barry Tubb) and his pals, who go so far as to steal Binx's beloved moped and vandalize it. In a fit of rage, Binx runs off to get his revenge, causing a concerned Billie Jean to head straight to the police. Though sympathetic, Det. Ringwald (Peter Coyote) says there's not much he can do at this point, and tells Billie Jean to go home and wait for her brother.

But when Binx returns battered and bloody, Billie Jean decides enough is enough, and confronts Hubie's father, store owner Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford), demanding that he pay to repair her brother's moped. Instead of helping, Mr. Pyatt tries to rape Billie Jean, resulting in a confrontation during which Binx pulls a gun and fires it. Now wanted criminals, Billie Jean and Binx hit the road along with their friends Ophelia (Martha Gehman) and Putter (Yeardley Smith), with plans to leave Corpus Christi once and for all.

But something happens when the local media gets hold of the story. While the adults in town want to see the siblings locked away for good, the kids of Corpus Christi take an instant liking to Billie Jean, and begin to idolize her. Their standing as cult heroes is further solidified when, one evening, Billie Jean, Binx, and the others break into a mansion belonging to Lloyd (Keith Gordon), a wannabe filmmaker and the son of the State's District Attorney (Dean Stockwell). Instead of turning them in, Lloyd agrees to become their "hostage", and during their travels together, he shoots video of Billie Jean, which is then delivered to various news organizations in Corpus Christi. In the videos, Billie Jean says she only wants justice, and for Mr. Pyatt to pay for the damages to Binx's moped. But will Billie Jean get what she's after, or will she and the others end up in jail for a very, very long time?

The best thing about The Legend of Billie Jean is its cast. Helen Slater brings a genuine likability to Billie Jean, giving the movie a hero you can root for; and a 15-year-old Christian Slater (making his big-screen debut) is equally good as her hot-headed younger brother. Along with the two Slaters (despite playing siblings here, they are not related in real life), Yeardley Smith (the voice of Lisa in The Simpsons) is memorable as the boisterous Putter, who joins Billie Jean and Binx on their adventure, and Keith Gordon, playing their friend and hostage Lloyd, proves that the exceptional work he did in Dressed to Kill and Christine was no fluke. As for the adults, Richard Bradford is awesome as the villain (I really wanted to punch his character, Mr Pyatt, who is a slimeball in almost every scene), but the finest performance is delivered by Peter Coyote as Det. Ringwald, the kindly cop tasked with bringing the young fugitives to justice.

In addition to the cast, The Legend of Billie Jean has a kick-ass '80s soundtrack, headed up by Pat Benetar's "Invincible" (the film's official theme song); and director Matthew Robbins handles the initial scenes (the moped's destruction and Billie Jean's attempt to collect the repair money) quite well, getting the movie off to a great start.

It's the second half of The Legend of Billie Jean where things begin to fall apart. I had no problem with the movie making Billie Jean a sort of folk hero, but instead of taking this aspect of the story and using it as social commentary (misunderstood youth lashing out) or even a criticism of the media's role in glorifying lawbreakers (a la Natural Born Killers), the filmmakers give us a series of absurd scenes that transform Billie Jean into a bona-fide superhero! In what is easily the most ridiculous sequence, Billie Jean is led by a group of kids she never met before to the house of a young boy who is being abused by his alcoholic father. What does Billie Jean do? She marches into the house and demands that the father turn his son over to her! Intended to be inspirational, this scene was so heavy-handed that it actually made me chuckle. And while most motion pictures, to one degree or another, require a suspension of disbelief, The Legend of Billie Jean wants us to stick our collective heads in the sand by accepting that its lead character can interact with every kid in Corpus Christi (who crowd around her by the dozen) while at the same time avoiding the police, who are out in force looking for her.

I give Robbins and the screenwriters (Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner) points for their earnest attempt to make The Legend of Billie Jean a Bonnie and Clyde for youngsters, and had I seen this movie in 1985 I probably would've loved it; being a teenager myself at the time, its message of youthful rebellion would have undoubtedly won me over. But I'm well past fitting into this film's ideal demographic, and my adult sensibilities wouldn't allow me to ignore its weaknesses, no matter how hard I tried.

It's a shame we have to grow up, isn't it?







Saturday, April 29, 2017

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#2,346. Tarzan and His Mate (1934)

Posted: 29 Apr 2017 08:12 AM PDT


Directed By: Cedric Gibbons

Starring: Johnny Weissmuller, Maureen O'Sullivan, Neil Hamilton



Tag line: "Johnny Weismuller is back again!"

Trivia: The "African" elephants were actually Indian elephants fitted with prosthetic tusks and ears








A sequel to the immensely popular Tarzan the Ape Man and the second in the Johnny Weissmuller / Tarzan series, 1934's Tarzan and his Mate contained as much action and excitement as its predecessor while, at the same time, giving pre-code audiences a few extra thrills they probably weren't expecting.

A year has passed since Jane Parker (Maureen O'Sullivan) disappeared into the jungle with her new beau, Tarzan (Weissmuller). Yet try as he might to forget her, Harry Holt (Neil Hamilton), a former business partner of Jane's father, is still very much in love with her, and is planning another expedition to the elephant graveyard in part to try and talk Jane into returning to civilization. Harry is joined this time around by his old friend Martin Arlington (Paul Cavanagh), an aristocrat who is flat broke, and is hoping to retrieve enough ivory from the graveyard to rebuild his fortune.

Soon after their journey begins, Harry and Martin do indeed meet up with Tarzan and Jane, and to Harry's disappointment, Jane says she has never been happier, and is quite content to spend the rest of her days at Tarzan's side. The expedition is further complicated when Tarzan, who is guiding the two explorers to the elephant graveyard, tells Harry and Martin that under no circumstances are they to remove any ivory from this sacred spot. But Martin has come too far to go home empty-handed, and concocts a plan that, if successful, will get Tarzan out of the way once and for all.

Like Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan and his Mate is jam-packed with action; before their initial encounter with Tarzan and Jane, Harry and Martin must chase down fellow explorers Pierce (William Stack) and Van Ness (Desmond Roberts), who stole the map Harry made during his excursion to the elephant graveyard a year earlier. Harry and Martin do eventually recover the map, only to find themselves immediately surrounded by a bloodthirsty tribe of cannibals! The excitement continues once Jane and Tarzan show up, with Weissmuller's Tarzan again fighting off lions and crocodiles in an effort to keep Jane safe; and a late run-in with another hostile tribe results in what is easily the film's most intense battle sequence (which, before it's over, will pull gorillas, lions, and even a few elephants into the fracas).

Along with the action, Tarzan and His Mate features a number of risqué moments that likely had the censors seeing red. Martin, who is also infatuated with Jane, makes several aggressive passes at her and at one point stares at Jane's nude silhouette while she's in a tent trying on clothes. Yet the movie's most erotic sequence comes a bit later, when Tarzan and a completely naked Jane perform what appears to be an underwater ballet. Though tastefully shot by director Cedric Gibbons, this scene nonetheless drags on longer than it should have, and we see much more than Jane's bare ass as she and Tarzan playfully swim in circles (these nude scenes were handled not by O'Sullivan, but her underwater stand-in, Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim).

As you might imagine, this brief bit of nudity didn't go unnoticed; Joseph Breen, the P.R. director for the MPPDA, refused to give Tarzan and His Mate a seal of approval because it showed a girl "completely in the nude", and within a few weeks of its release, an order was sent out that all prints of the film had to excise this scene prior to any further public exhibition (for the DVD, this sequence was edited back into the movie).

Without its more suggestive elements, Tarzan and his Mate is still a rip-roaring action film, and one of the best sequels ever made. With them, it stands as a shining example of just how far pre-code Hollywood was willing to push the envelope. Either way, it's well worth seeking out, and together with Tarzan the Ape Man would make for one hell of an afternoon double feature.







Friday, April 28, 2017

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge

Dave's 2,500 Movies Challenge


#2,345. The Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969)

Posted: 28 Apr 2017 08:10 AM PDT


Directed By: Al Adamson

Starring: John Carradine, Paula Raymond, Alex D'Arcy



Tag line: "HORROR BEYOND BELIEF... LIES WAITING FOR ALL WHO DARE ENTER THE VAMPIRE'S DUNGEON!"

Trivia: The introductory sequence was shot at Marineland, located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County






At this point, I know what to expect from an Al Adamson film; along with their shoddy production values, his movies usually feature actors and actresses who aren't quite up to snuff. Like most of the director's flicks, 1969's The Blood of Dracula's Castle was produced on a shoestring budget, and as a result the set pieces and make-up effects fall well short of the mark. This time out, though, Adamson was able to assemble a decent stable of actors, all of whom do their best to make The Blood of Dracula's Castle a tolerable motion picture.

I'd even go so far as to say I had a good time watching it.

The Count (Alex D'Arcy) and Countess Townsend (Paula Raymond), aka Dracula and his bride, are centuries-old vampires, and for the past 60 years have been living in a California castle with their longtime butler George (John Carradine) and a deformed mute servant named Mango (Ray Young). To satisfy the Townsend's thirst for blood, Mango roams the countryside, capturing nubile young women and dragging them to the castle, where George chains them to the wall and, each night, draws blood from them. Thus far, this set-up has worked well for the Count and Countess, and they welcome the recent news that another of their faithful servants, the handsome but psychopathic Johnny (Robert Dix), has just escaped from prison and is on his way back to them.

But the good times might be coming to an end sooner than they think. It seems that the owner of the castle the Townsend's call home has died, and left the property to his estranged nephew, Glenn (Gene Otis Shayne), a fashion photographer engaged to be married to his voluptuous model, Liz (Jennifer Bishop). The Townsends' attempts to reach an agreement with Glenn fail to generate any results, and before long the new owner announces that he and Liz intend to move into the castle as soon as possible (meaning the Count and Countess must go). As Glenn will discover, however, the Townsends and their domestic staff are an ornery bunch, and they have no intention of leaving the premises peacefully.

John Carradine, a Hollywood veteran who spent his later years dabbling in low-budget schlock, is predictably solid as George, the moon-worshiping butler whose chief job is to draw the blood that keeps his employers alive; and Robert Dix proves he can play a psychopath as well as anyone (his Johnny even turns into a werewolf some nights when the moon is full, an aspect of the story that, for some bizarre reason, is never fully explained). The real stars of The Blood of Dracula's Castle, though, are Alex D'Arcy and Paula Raymond, who, by bringing an air of sophistication to the Count and Countess Townsend, single-handedly transform the film into a dark comedy. While introducing themselves to Ann (Vicki Volante), the newest addition to their plasma supply chain, the Townsends reveal to the frightened young lady that they're vampires, and they need her blood to stay alive. Ann, of course, scoffs at the notion that these two are, in reality, the living dead. "Well, I know we may seem to be a novelty", the Countess replies matter-of-factly, "but there are a few of us left". Acting at all times like a pair of rich snobs on their way to a high-society ball, D'Arcy and Raymond are genuinely funny, and the scenes in which they appear are, without question, the film's strongest.

Its cast aside, The Blood of Dracula's Castle features a threadbare storyline that runs out of steam at about the halfway point (even a sacrifice to the Moon God falls flat), and the make-up used to depict Mango's deformity looks like it's always about to slide off his face. Thanks to D'Arcy and Raymond, however, this particular Al Adamson monster flick has its moments.







#2,344. The Hearse (1980)

Posted: 27 Apr 2017 05:32 PM PDT


Directed By: George Bowers

Starring: Trish Van Devere, Joseph Cotten, David Gautreaux



Tag line: "There is a door between life and death and now, that door is open!"

Trivia: William Bleich originally devised this movie as a more teen-oriented slasher outing when he was first hired to write the script






The Hearse, a 1980 horror film, harkens back to an earlier time when a haunted house and a creepy mystery were all that was required to give an audience a good scare. Unfortunately, director George Bowers and his crew forgot that one basic element that even a classically-styled horror movie can't do without: imagination. From start to finish, The Hearse is a routine fright flick, and never once does it bring anything new to the table.

In need of a change, recently divorced schoolteacher Jane Hardy (Trish Van Devere) decides to spend the summer at a country house that belonged to her late Aunt, who died 30 years earlier under bizarre circumstances. The house has been abandoned for decades, and Pritchard (Joseph Cotton), the lawyer who handled the aunt's will, was hoping to buy it from Jane's family. Needless to say, he's none too happy that Jane is suddenly interested in the old place, and does what he can to discourage her from staying. 

But Pritchard isn't the only one in town who treats her badly; aside from Paul (Perry Lang), a lovestruck teenager Jane hires to work as her handyman, the rest of the townsfolk want nothing to do with their newest resident, especially when they discover whose house she's living in.

According to local legend, Jane's aunt spent her final days romancing a man who worshiped Satan, and in so doing made an unholy pact with the devil. Jane dismisses these stories as rumor and innuendo, but after a while begins to experience some strange phenomena of her own, including a black hearse that follows her wherever she goes. Things improve temporarily for Jane when she meets Tom Sullivan (David Gautreaux), with whom she falls in love. But is Tom really who he claims to be, or does he know more about the house's history than he's letting on?

Trish Van Devere delivers a solid performance as the strong-willed Jane, who won't let anyone or anything (living or otherwise) run her out of town, and Perry Lang is also good as the young man who develops a crush on her. In addition, The Hearse marked the big-screen debut of Christopher McDonald (Requiem for a Dream. Happy Gilmore), who plays one of Paul's friends, and while I can't find him listed anywhere in the credits, I'm 99% certain that Dennis Quaid makes a cameo appearance in the film (as a repairman who is on-screen for about 10 seconds). As for Joseph Cotten, the role of Pritchard won't be remembered as one of his finest screen portrayals, but it's always fun to see him in this sort of movie.

Alas, try as they might, the cast of The Hearse can't save it from the throes of mediocrity; the scares are of the generic variety (banging doors, quick glimpses of a ghost in a mirror, etc.), and while Jane is, indeed, a determined, strong-minded woman, she also isn't very bright (she doesn't go to the police when someone breaks into her house one evening). Yet the film's worst aspect is its central mystery, which is anything but mysterious. In fact, it's as predictable as they come, making the "big reveal" at the end a major disappointment.

Even in 1980, when slasher films were all the rage, it was still possible to make a decent haunted house movie; The Changeling (which also co-starred Van Devere, playing opposite her real-life husband George C. Scott) was released that year and is a damn scary motion picture. But then, The Changeling wasn't afraid to try something new, whereas The Hearse gives us nothing we haven't seen before.







New Reviews at RogerEbert.com for the week of April 28, 2017

This is your weekly update of new reviews on RogerEbert.com, the world’s preeminent destination for movie criticism, commentary and community.

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New Reviews at RogerEbert.com for the week of April 28, 2017

How to Be a Latin Lover Poster

How to Be a Latin Lover

Review by Susan Wloszczyna

Eugenio Derbez's attempt to seduce U.S. audiences with a cheesy bilingual spoof of an ethnic stereotype long past its expiration date.

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Obit Poster

Obit

Review by Godfrey Cheshire

Nothing here deserves to be characterized as morbid. Indeed, quite the opposite.

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Sleight Poster

Sleight

Review by Christy Lemire

An ambitious genre mash-up about a young street magician that pulls off a nifty bit of trickery itself.

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Casting JonBenet Poster

Casting JonBenet

Review by Brian Tallerico

Whereas crime docs typically seek to offer everything that is known about a crime, Casting JonBenet proves how little we will ever understand about that night.

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Buster's Mal Heart Poster

Buster's Mal Heart

Review by Glenn Kenny

A genuinely noteworthy picture that deserves an audience.

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One Week and a Day Poster

One Week and a Day

Review by Nick Allen

An incredibly tactful tragicomedy from debut writer/director Asaph Polonsky.

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Natasha Poster

Natasha

Review by Tomris Laffly

Bezmozgis manages to summon something richer out of this tale you might temporarily feel you've been told before.

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Small Crimes Poster

Small Crimes

Review by Sheila O'Malley

A genre film hampered in a muddy underwater mood, and while there are some startling twists and turns, it never quite lifts itself out of its malaise.

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Rupture Poster

Rupture

Review by Glenn Kenny

It's not involving; it's not scary; it's just kind of miserable.

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Voice from the Stone Poster

Voice from the Stone

Review by Susan Wloszczyna

The hazy narrative is about as compelling as one of those overwrought designer perfume commercials starring an overdressed brand-name actress.

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