Serial Review: Zorro Rides Again (1937)

Release Date: November 20th, 1937 (first chapter)
Directed by: William Witney, John English
Written by: Franklin Adreon, Morgan Cox, Ronald Davidson, John Rathmell, Barry Shipman
Based on: Zorro by Johnston McCulley
Music by: Alberto Colombo, Walter Hirsch, Eddie Maxwell, Lou Handman
Cast: John Carroll, Helen Christian, Reed Howes, Duncan Renaldo, Noah Beery Sr., Richard Alexander

Republic Pictures, 212 Minutes total (12 episodes), 68 Minutes (film), 26 Minutes (6 TV episodes)

Review:

Zorro Rides Again has a few notable things worth mentioning. It was the first film collaboration for directors William Whitney and John English. Also, it was the eighth of Republic Pictures’ 66 serials. It was also just the third western themed serial that Republic did. Additionally, this was the first of five Zorro serials produced by Republic Pictures.

This Zorro serial was influenced by the singing cowboy trend of the time, so there are some musical numbers. I’ve never been a fan of that particular genre so what could have been a great serial adventure for a great and iconic hero suffered from its musical hokiness.

The casting was mediocre and no one really stands out or has a strong presence. Zorro, as a character, always stands out but he just seemed stripped of his coolness. He just didn’t feel like the Old West Mexican Batman that he normally is.

This serial doesn’t have much to boast about, unfortunately. Being a Zorro fan, I wanted to love Zorro Rides Again but I was mostly bored throughout it. Visually, it is average. The direction is fine for a serial but Witney and English hadn’t yet found their rhythm.

In any event, it did spawn four sequels and I’m hoping that they improve upon this weak initial outing.

Film Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

Release Date: August 24th, 1979
Directed by: Allan Arkush
Written by: Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, Joseph McBride, Allan Arkush, Joe Dante
Music by: The Ramones
Cast: P.J. Soles, Dey Young, Vince Van Patten, Clint Howard, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, The Ramones

New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

Roger Corman always liked to capitalize on whatever pop culture trends came along. Initially, he wanted to make a film called Disco High School. However, with the end of the film being capped off by the high school exploding behind dancing students, one of his collaborators said that the ending would fit much better with rock and roll. Corman agreed and after being pointed in the direction of punk rock legends The Ramones by Paul Bartel, a regular Corman collaborator, the rest is history.

Rock & Roll High School isn’t a good film but it is a ridiculous and fun motion picture that features the great tunes of The Ramones and the insane and infectious enthusiasm of its star, P.J. Soles.

The film also stars the always great Mary Woronov as the villainous principal and Paul Bartel as a music teacher that converts to a fan of The Ramones after getting doped up at a concert. We also get a good cameo by Dick Miller and get to enjoy a few scenes with the enigmatic and entertaining Don Steele. A young Clint Howard is also in this.

This movie is mostly a high school teen sex comedy with a heavy emphasis on The Ramones music. It isn’t quite a musical but it plays like one at times. The Ramones have a lengthy concert segment within the film but outside of that, we see P.J. Soles lead a group of girls singing in gym class, as well as the big finale which sees the students and The Ramones march through the school halls as they trash the place to the horror of the administration, their parents and the police outside.

Rock & Roll High School is highly entertaining but probably only for those who love the actors involved or who have a love for The Ramones. I’m not sure how it would resonate for others. It’s definitely a movie that is still well regarded by many because of its ties to punk music, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, P.J. Soles and because it has a massive nostalgia factor.

Film Review: The Horror of Party Beach (1964)

Also known as: Invasion of the Zombies
Release Date: June 1st, 1964
Directed by: Del Tenney
Written by: Richard Hilliard, Lou Binder, Ronald Gianettino
Music by: Wilford L. Holcombe, Edward Earle Marsh, The Del-Aires
Cast: John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allen Laurel, Marilyn Clarke, The Del-Aires, Charter Oaks M.C.

Regal Films, Dark Sky Films, 20th Century Fox, 78 Minutes

Review:

Beach party movies generally suck donkey balls. This one, however, is worse than that. Although, it isn’t as horrible as Catalina Caper because it at least features a horror element and some goofy monsters.

One thing that does set this apart from other beach party flicks is that it was filmed in black and white and it was shot on the Atlantic Coast. The entire film was shot at Shippan Point, the southernmost neighborhood in Stamford, Connecticut.

The film starts with a boat dumping toxic waste into the ocean near the beach town. The waste covers a sunken ship where it reanimates dead sailors. They don’t become traditional zombies however, due to the aquatic setting. What we end up with is some wonky looking gillmen in some of the worst costumes ever made for film. As can be expected, the zombie gillmen attack the beach party where the victims bleed chocolate syrup.

While this was billed as a musical, it mostly features tunes that are part of the score and six songs sang by the pop band The Bel-Aires. It isn’t a traditional musical, even though it was sold as one.

The film was promoted as being able to scare people to death and theaters were encouraged to get theatergoers to sign a release form saying that the theater wasn’t responsible for people dying from fright. The film was also released on a double bill with another Del Tenney film The Curse of the Living Corpse.

In regards to the monsters, there were two suits made. Once they dried, after construction, the suits had shrank and the stuntman could no longer fit in them. To solve this problem, the producers gave the role of the monster to a sixteen year-old kid.

Despite the charm of the awful monster suits, the movie is damn near unwatchable. It isn’t interesting, the acting is dog shit and it is really just a waste of 78 minutes. Well, unless you watch the riffed version courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Being that this is a shitty motion picture, I feel the need to run it through the trusty and always accurate Cinespiria Shitometer. So here we go. A-ha! Let’s see the results. The Horror of Party Beach is classified as a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Serial Review: The Phantom Empire (1935)

Release Date: February 23rd, 1935 (first chapter)
Directed by: Otto Brower, B. Reeves Eason
Written by: Wallace MacDonald, Gerald Geraghty, Hy Freedman, Maurice Geraghty
Music by: Hugo Riesenfeld
Cast: Gene Autry, Frankie Darro, Betsy King Ross, Dorothy Christy, Wheeler Oakman

Mascot Pictures, 245 Minutes total (12 episodes)

Review:

Marketed as “The most astounding serial ever made!”, The Phantom Empire is quite a bizarre piece of work even for serials. It combines the western, science fiction and musical genres, which was pretty risky, at the time. It also was the first starring role for Gene Autry, who was the quintessential singing cowboy.

Regardless of it being a strange mixture of genres and singing, The Phantom Empire was a successful serial for Mascot Pictures and Gene Autry, who would go on to be a pretty big star.

The story sees Gene Autry playing himself as a singing cowboy who runs a dude ranch where he also does radio broadcasts. The place is called Radio Ranch. Autry’s sidekicks, Frankie and Betsy lead the Junior Thunder Riders, a club featuring kids who dress like knights and ride around on horses. Gene, Frankie and Betsy are kidnapped by the real Thunder Riders, who come from a highly advanced subterranean empire called Murania. Above the surface, a group of criminals plans to rob Murania of its radium, while under the surface a group of revolutionaries plots to overthrow Murania’s evil queen Tika.

The genre mixing alone isn’t the weirdest thing about this picture. As the plot unfolds it gets stranger and stranger.

While this isn’t the best looking serial, it was fairly well shot for its time. It isn’t as exciting as the odd premise would make you hope but it is still a pretty entertaining experience.

Gene Autry was a love him or hate him kind of guy. I was never really a fan of the singing cowboy thing but this serial provides so much else outside of that popular gimmick that it isn’t bogged down by it.

The Phantom Empire is unique and it is a noteworthy body of work in film history due to giving Gene Autry a stage to prosper and for taking some risks that paid off and paved the way for creativity in future serials.

Film Review: Labyrinth (1986)

Release Date: June 27th, 1986
Directed by: Jim Henson
Written by: Dennis Lee, Terry Jones
Music by: Trevor Jones
Cast: David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly

Henson Associates Inc., Lucasfilm Ltd., TriStar Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to relive the theatrical experience of Labyrinth for the first time since I saw it at seven years-old.

The film is a classic of children’s cinema and also one of the coolest things that Jim Henson did, even though everything Jim Henson did was beyond cool. It was also produced by George Lucas and Lucasfilm just after they became household names with the original Star Wars trilogy and a few Indiana Jones movies.

The film also stars a very young Jennifer Connelly in the role that first introduced her to the boys that fell in love with her in the 1980s. It also stars messiah-like space alien David Bowie, who has never not captivated audiences in anything. Bowie literally is a god but we saw him downgraded a bit here to the role of goblin-ruling wizard or Jareth, the Goblin King. But when your goblin army is made up of Jim Henson Muppets, you may actually surpass your status as a god.

While the film is fantastic for all the right reasons, thirty-plus years later, it does feel quite dated. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but I don’t feel as if it would be effective for the children of today’s film market. It’s not the children’s fault but when everything they have been brought up seeing is CGI festivals of gigantic proportions, it is hard for something like Labyrinth to compete with that.

However, it does greatly excel at fun, creativity and heart and those are the keys to unlock a child’s imagination. It is hard for me to say how it may effect kids, as no one in the theater was a child. My experience watching this now, involved sitting in a dark room with other people in their thirties. It would have been cool to gauge a child’s reaction to the film on the big screen because I know how it effected those of us in the 80s.

The film is well shot and the cinematography is mostly pretty good. There are sequences that don’t look great, however. The scene with the Fireys didn’t necessarily look good at the time the film was made and it looks even worse now, as the imperfections are much clearer when the mind can’t help but compare it to films today. There are also scenes were you do see puppet strings, which weren’t as easy to hide in 1986. All thing considered, the strings never bothered me though; I know that this is really just a puppet show and it doesn’t really take you out of the magic of the film.

Despite the talents of Bowie and Connelly, the acting isn’t superb. Granted, this is one of Connelly’s first big roles and she was very young. Also, Bowie was playing it up for the subject matter but was still alluring and mesmerizing as Jareth, the Goblin King. The real issue with the acting probably falls more on the script and the directing of Jim Henson, who is more a maestro of puppets than human beings.

With Labyrinth, the postives far outweigh the negatives and it isn’t a film you see for superb acting and pristine cinematography. It is a film about imagination and fun. It accomplishes what it sets out to do and it is still a worthwhile experience.

Film Review: Catalina Caper (1967)

Also known as: Never Steal Anything Wet
Release Date: April 26th, 1967
Directed by: Lee Sholem
Written by: Sam Pierce, Clyde Ware
Music by: Jerry Long
Cast: Tommy Kirk, Brian Cutler, Venita Wolf, Ulla Stromstedt, Lyle Waggoner, Del Moore, Sue Casey, Peter Duryea, Jim Begg, Mike Blodgett, Robert Donner, Little Richard

Crown International Pictures, Warner Bros., 84 Minutes

Review:

This was one, if not the last, of the traditional 1960s beach party movies. That’s about the only really important distinction this film has though. Well, except for the fact that the movie features Little Richard rocking out on a boat for a bunch of spastic white kids.

Catalina Caper is a hard film to follow. I’ve seen it a few times, thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I never have any idea what the hell is happening in this film. Things don’t make sense in this picture and frankly, it’s too much of a bore and a chore to try and spend any time whatsoever trying to decipher it. There is nothing to decipher, it isn’t one of those really intellectual artsy films, it is basically a doggy bag full of doggy shit instead of leftover pesto risotto.

There are boats and dancing teens and a caper involving the theft of a scroll and again, Little Richard. Poor, poor Little Richard having to be associated with this boring dud. I hope he got paid but looking at the production value of this movie, he probably just got a slice of Hawaiian pizza and a foot rub. At least he got to find more serious roles after this like that episode of Full House where he played Michelle’s friend Denise’s uncle.

Awful would be one way to describe this film but that is kind of vague and truly an understatement. Catalina Caper is what happens when a bunch of talentless hacks decide to make a movie in a genre that was already dying. Now you can’t say that it is a movie that missed the boat. It is barely a movie and even though there are boats in Catalina Caper the people behind this steaming pile of mongoose diarrhea pretty much just walked off of the dock, blindly and without a life vest or the ability to swim. I hope their corpses are still under that shallow water, getting their skulls smacked by asshole Chubbie-wearing dude brahs Sea-Dooing doughnuts while tossing crushed cans of Bud Light Lime into the ocean.

I don’t hate Catalina Caper because I refuse to allow it to have any sort of power over me. I just view it in the same way I view an overflowing dumpster behind the food court; I plug my nose, shake my head and walk by full of disgust while trying not to trip over the Shih Tzu-sized rats rushing towards it.

Film Review: La La Land (2016)

Release Date: August 31st, 2016 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Written by: Damien Chazelle
Music by: Justin Hurwitz
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt

Summit Entertainment, Black Label Media, Imposter Pictures, Gilbert Films, Marc Platt Productions, 128 Minutes

lalalandReview:

Everyone and their mom loves this film. Especially their mom. To be blunt, I thought it was shit. Not just shit, actually. I thought it was the sort of self-obsessed showbiz nostalgia masturbatory flick that the industry insiders and all the committees who vote on awards will go nuts for.

But to be honest, I hate musicals. So while I may have some bias there, I really tried to give this a shot. I mean, I’m usually pretty happy with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling and I’m not so closed minded that I haven’t discovered musicals that are actually worth a damn.

La La Land is beyond dull. The characters are minimalist caricatures of cookie cutter lovers in a showbiz movie. There isn’t enough meat on the bones to really sink your teeth into. I didn’t care about these characters at all and frankly, they were both kind of self-absorbed and unlikable. Also, half of their problems could have been resolved easily if they owned cell phones. I mean, who the hell communicates or doesn’t communicate like its the 1930s. Actually, they own cell phones but they are just conveniently used to propel their showbiz careers and to not communicate with one another.

Apart from the dullness of the characters, the story is also pretty bland. Showbiz girl likes showbiz guy, careers take off, shit falls apart. But I guess this is all people want from these sorts of movies. But jokes on you, no happy ending! I guess that is what makes La La Land a shocking and surprising risk taking masterpiece within the genre.

The dialogue is also bad. For a good example of how poorly this movie is written, just go to the scene where Ryan Gosling attempts to explain jazz to Emma Stone.

There is some good though. I enjoyed the cinematography, as far as the use of colors and lighting. Some of the musical numbers looked good in a visual sense.

The songs weren’t great or memorable though. Emma Stone has a passable voice but it isn’t anything exceptional. Ryan Gosling is a bit better but he doesn’t get the spotlight in the same way that Stone does.

It is strange to me that this movie is winning all the big awards. But it really shouldn’t be so surprising. I mean, critics and Hollywood big wigs love these showbiz pictures. They’re like a two hour advertisement about how cool and great they are. And if you don’t like it or don’t get it, well that’s just because you’re not in the industry.

Therefore, I can only assume that La La Land is going to dominate at the Academy Awards. These awards shows are nothing but bullshit industry politics, a lavish display of self-importance and insider circle jerks. La La Land is the perfect golden goose to circle jerk around.