Got an assortment of short films to cover today. Rather than give each of them individual full-length reviews — I find it hard to justify giving a 20-minute film an entire day to itself — I thought I would cover the three of them in a single post. Two are comedies, one is science-fiction; two are effectively silent films, one is a talkie; and all are black and white and older than 1950.
The three films? The Three Stooges short Brideless Groom, Georges Méliès’s famous A Trip to the Moon, and the Charlie Chaplin Keystone short The Rounders. Continue reading →
Released in 1937, The Shadow Strikes is the earliest film based on the pulp fiction and radio hero, the Shadow. In fact, it may just be the earliest film based on any superhero — if we can apply the term to the Shadow. Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to do so, as he’s certainly a forefather of the genre and has plenty of thematic similarities, but it’s a little more difficult to apply the term in this particular film.
See, to some extent it’s unclear as to whether director Lynn Shores and the writers were fully aware of who the Shadow is. While it’s based off an actual Shadow story, “The Ghost of the Manor”, it doesn’t feel entirely like a Shadow adventure. Continue reading →
“X Marks the Spot.” It’s a phrase that has become a cliche, an easy way to designate certain locations as being of significance. It immediately conjures up visions of treasure maps and hidden secrets. Given its inherent declaration of exciting adventure, it’s perhaps surprising that only two feature films have ever used the title — this one from 1942 and an even more obscure one in 1931. (IMDb lists this film as a remake of the other, but as the plots are dissimilar, this seems erroneous.) It may be even more surprising that the title seems to have little to do with the film. There is no hunt for a treasure, although there are certainly secrets, and there is no X revealing the location of what’s hidden. The “Spot” is just a nightclub, albeit a significant one.
The film is by director George Sherman, a prolific “second feature” (i.e., B-movie) filmmaker whose biggest title as a director was Big Jake. Sherman directed a vast number of westerns, but X Marks the Spot is a noir mystery set in the era immediately following the repeal of Prohibition. Continue reading →
Note: Due to spending some time on other projects (such as dealing with my spotty internet connection again), I didn’t have time to write an article for today. Instead, I’m digging up another old review of mine from my pre-blog days when I would occasionally write these on forums I was a member of. In this case, the review is from 2006, of a 2005 film entitled Edison Force, directed by first-time director David J. Burke. It was originally going to be a theatrical release called Edison, but a strongly negative reception at the Toronto Film Festival led to it going direct-to-video. Had I known that, I may have avoided it — but at the time I tended to watch first, investigate later. Admittedly, I still do; how else is one to discover hidden gems? Not that this is one. The review is left unaltered save for a few minor adjustments, so it may lack some of my current polish… though my snideness is in full abrasive force.
I’ll start my review with a bit of disappointment, as the movie doesn’t involve a science-fiction task force run by Thomas Alva Edison, which would probably have made a better movie. Edison Force is about a wannabe journalist (yes, not even a full-fledged journalist) who uncovers corruption in the Edison city police department’s “First Response Assault and Tactical” team. The lead is played by Justin Timberlake, of all people, and… his acting is about what you’d expect, which is to say, not much. Which is really disappointing considering the rest of the cast consists of such worthies as Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, LL Cool J (who plays the other lead, one of the cops, and does a good job), and Dylan McDermott, who steals the show as the truly psychotic cop Lazaroth. Bit parts are filled out by Cary Elwes, Piper Perabo, and other generally-recognizable actors. Continue reading →
Logos is an independent film directed and co-written by first-time director Michael Sorokorensky. It’s a new film for 2013 — so new, in fact, that as of this writing I can’t even give it a star rating on its IMDb page. Its official video release date according to IMDb is June 11, but it has already been released on Amazon Instant Video and possibly other sources as well. The story concerns James Carroll (played by Sorokorensky’s co-writer Paul Hine), a computer science student who has become obsessed with finding a mathematical formula for certainty since his father’s death in the 9/11 terrorism attack.
Though the film is new for this year, the footage apparently is not. Reportedly Sorokorensky shot the film over the course of four months, and then spent nearly 10 years editing it, feeling that it was unwatchable in its original form and making digital alterations in post-production. I obviously can’t vouch for how the original footage looked, but I have to say the final result isn’t all that great either. Continue reading →
Blow is a film that was released in 2001, starring Johnny Depp as real-life drug smuggler George Jung. It was directed by Ted Demme, whose body of work I am largely unfamiliar with, but the premise sounded like it had potential. Jung was one of the most prolific drug runners in American history, an associate of Pablo Escobar, and largely responsible for fueling the cocaine craze of the 70s and 80s. With that real-life background, and A-list stars Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz, one could be forgiven for expecting this to be an interesting movie.
Sadly, as this film meandered its way through 124 minutes, I nearly found myself nodding off a couple of times. And since I stayed up for about three hours afterward organizing my music files, I don’t think it can be blamed on fatigue. Continue reading →
As I’ve noted before, I’m not a big fan of stoner comedies and other comedies that are entirely about people acting stupidly. There’s a tendency to go straight for vulgarity and to go to the extremes of low-brow humor. There’s nothing wrong with being a little low-brow (one of my favorite films is Three Amigos, after all), but a comedy about stupidity has to be written intelligently in order to be funny. All too often it’s easy to sacrifice the cleverness while reaching for a joke that’s basically just “Ha ha, this guy’s dumb.”
Still, I do like to give things a chance. So I thought I’d check out the elder statesmen of the stoner comedy, Cheech and Chong, in their film Nice Dreams. Besides being written by Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, and starring the duo as their usual same-named characters, it was also directed by Chong. It should therefore be about as Cheechy and Chongy as a Cheech and Chong film can get. Sadly, although I consider their record “Dave” to be tremendously funny, that wit is not on display here. Continue reading →
Watching the first movie in a franchise — when the series has moved on to having several entries by the time you first check it out — can be an odd situation. You’re aware the film was successful, and that several of its sequels were, but the quality of those sequels can be a mystery. This is particularly true when the original film occupies that tiny little quality tier which consists of films that aren’t great, but aren’t bad either, and which show the potential for both improvement and deterioration. Such was the case when I watched Underworld a few weeks back. I enjoyed the film, but it was unquestionably a flawed and in some ways stupid film. But it was fun, it had style, and the concept had some potential for an interesting, if not fantastic, action series.
So I decided to watch the second film, Underworld: Evolution, while it was available to me. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from it, but was hoping it would take the good points of the first film, and bolster the weak points, even if only slightly. The first film had entertaining action sequences, but when it came to plot and characterization it was rather thin. I felt that if Underworld: Evolution showed improvement in those regards, it would be a better film overall. This was a fairly low bar to step over. Underworld: Evolution gracefully limbos under that bar. Continue reading →
Memory can be a little funny sometimes. I’ve mentioned before that this isn’t the first time I’ve read this series — up to a point, anyway. I had read up to a certain book in the series, found it severely lacking, read the next and didn’t find it as bad but still not quite good enough. I decided then to wait until the series was finished before going back to it. The series is now concluded — at least, assuming there have been no last-minute delays, the last book was published just a week ago. I started my re-read back in May, wondering when I would get to the book that bothered me before, and what I would think then. Now here’s where the memory part comes in. The titles of the books, after the first few, don’t give a very good idea as to the events in the books. So with fuzzy memories at best, I had thought the book that bothered me was earlier in the series than this. As it happens, it was this book, the tenth, which I had disliked before, and the last book I read in my initial read was the 11th, which was also the final one Robert Jordan finished before his death.
I had also thought it was a lot longer ago that I read this, but it seems it was only published in 2003; that’s only 10 years ago, which I guess is a little while ago, but doesn’t seem as long as I had thought. Continue reading →
The overlap between Christmas Cinema and the Morbid Curiosity Files is fairly small. Sure, Hallmark and Lifetime produce hundreds of “Christmas” movies every year that are nothing but saccharine romantic comedies and pedestrian musicals featuring people who never should have been allowed to sing, but there aren’t very many Christmas films that look as though they’ll have that special cheesy kind of badness to them that makes me curious enough to check them out. But when I saw there was a spin-off of Christmas Vacation, one of my favorite Christmas films, but not starring Chevy Chase and instead focusing on Cousin Eddie, I knew it was one I had to check out.
The movie was released in 2003; I initially thought it was direct-to-video, but some research reveals it actually debuted on television first, carried by NBC. It’s directed by Nick Marck, whose previous and subsequent credits consist almost entirely of episodes of television shows. The writer on the film is Matty Simmons; he actually does have a prior association with the Vacation franchise, in that he’s been a producer or executive producer on all of the films. He was not, however, a writer on any of them. His previous writing credits include the Baby Huey Easter special, Two Reelers and Delta House. You might recognize those last two as projects you’ve never heard of; both are failed TV series. Delta House is notable in that it was an attempt to spin Animal House into an ongoing television series (with John Belushi as Bluto replaced by his cousin “Blotto”). So Simmons does have prior experience making spin-offs of hit National Lampoon movies that lack the qualities that made the originals hits. Continue reading →