Film Review: The Strange Woman (1946)

Release Date: October 25th, 1946
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Hunt Stromberg, Edgar G. Ulmer, Herb Meadow
Based on: The Strange Woman by Ben Ames Williams
Music by: Carmen Dragon
Cast: Hedy Lamarr, George Sanders, Louis Hayward, Alan Napier

Hunt Stromberg Productions, Mars Film Corporation, United Artists, 100 Minutes

Review:

“[Giving a sermon, quoting from Proverbs 5:3] The lips of a strange woman drip honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil… But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword!” – Lincoln Pittridge

I’ve really come to enjoy Edgar G. Ulmer as a director. As I’ve been watching a lot of film-noir, in recent months, I was thoroughly impressed with his film Detour and also really enjoyed his earlier pictures The Black Cat and People On Sunday, which was a collaboration with other German and Austrian born noir directors, Robert Siodmak and Billy Wilder. Also being a fan of Hedy Lamarr, as an actress and a person, I had to give this film a shot.

It also stars George Sanders and Alan Napier has a small role in it too.

While this does fall into the realm of film-noir, it is very much a character study that showcases the bizarre behavior and traits of Hedy Lamarr’s Jenny Hager, a conflicted and complex woman who at first seems mean, selfish and irrational but you see her portrayed in such an honest and intimate light that you get the feeling that she isn’t always in control of her actions, as if some uncontrollable force is driving her. Nowadays, we call this stuff “mental illness”.

The film and the character of Jenny work so well because of how damn good Hedy Lamarr was in this role. She humanized a person that could have easily just been a monster or a one-dimensional femme fatale. Despite her wickedness, you feel something for her and like George Sanders’ John Evered, you want to help her. It’s easy to see why the men in the film get so wrapped up in her despite her natural beauty. I really need to work my way through Lamarr’s work again but this is my favorite performance she ever gave us.

Ulmer had a talent for taking something as common as a noir picture and giving it a little something extra. Detour was a harsh and high octane noir that is unique and exceptional. This film sort of does the same thing but it is less “in your face” about it. It’s got this underlying darkness that you don’t quite understand until the narrative evolves into something more personal and complex. But where Detour is like a wrestler in a no holds barred cage match to the death, The Strange Woman is more like a pretty girl that gives you a kiss but you don’t know you’ve been poisoned by her until its too late. Both are rough and brutal but in very different ways. Regardless, the end result is still pretty effective and final.

The Strange Woman isn’t the best film-noir and I do like Ulmer’s Detour more but it is still an intimate experience and a wild ride through a crazy woman’s mind. It’s well shot, stupendously acted and offers up something more than a typical noir picture.

Film Review: Batman Forever (1995)

Release Date: June 9th, 1995 (Mann Village Theater)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar, René Auberjonois, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, En Vogue, Ed Begley Jr.

Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?” – Alfred Pennyworth, “I’ll get drive-thru.” – Batman

People like to trash Batman & Robin as one of the worst films ever made. It’s far from one of the worst ever. But most people haven’t really dug as deep into the shit barrel as I have. And truthfully, this movie is much worse.

People also love trashing the Schumacher Batman films as a whole but typically say that Batman Forever is okay. No, it absolutely is not okay. It is one of the worst comic book adaptations of all-time. It doesn’t understand the source material at all and it is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions capped off by horrible characters, horrible acting, ugly as hell sets and a hefty helping of several awful ’90s tropes.

Generally I like Val Kilmer. He’s horrible in this and either severely miscast or had such a bad script and direction that he just showed up, read his lines dryly and went back to his trailer to bang babes. I’m going to say that it is both of those things. It’s like no one that made this movie gave a shit about it at all and they just did a bunch of cocaine and then took a shit ton of downers before going on set.

Well, except for Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, they acted like they were on cocaine mixed with speed. And really, their versions of Two-Face and the Riddler made no sense within the context of who those characters are.

Tommy Lee’s Two-Face was like a crazier version of the Joker and turned up to 11. He was a coked up gorilla dressed like a circus performer. Carrey’s Riddler was another crazier version of the Joker mixed with his Fire Marshall Bill character from the sketch comedy show In Living Color. But I’m also someone that never got Jim Carrey’s appeal and always thought of him as an annoying asshole, excluding Dumb and Dumber and his dramatic work after the ’90s.

Nicole Kidman is completely wasted as the overly horny psychiatrist trying to get into Batman’s head and pants. Chris O’Donnell wasn’t necessarily a bad Robin but the character is a kid, not a thirty year-old. It’s like they took their casting cues from Beverly Hills 90210, a show synonymous for trying to pass off thirty year-olds as high school students.

Well, at least Pat Hingle and Michael Gough are back as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred but really, I just feel bad for them. Hopefully they got paid well.

The film also features nipples being added to the Bat-suit, I’m not shitting you. Plus, it has gratuitous Bat-butt and Bat-crotch action shots.

Lastly, the beautiful Danny Elfman score has been replaced by an awful brassy explosion that never lets up, courtesy of Elliot Goldenthal, who was apparently trying to destroy our eardrums. The Elfman theme and scores were a magnificent part of the Burton films but I guess if Warner Bros. wanted to distance themselves from quality and align themselves with a foot long double meat shit sandwich, than this was a necessary change.

This movie is a steaming pile of neon accented bear droppings. It most certainly needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Film Review: Radar Secret Service (1950)

Also known as: Radar-Geheimpolizei (West Germany & Austria)
Release Date: January 28th, 1950
Directed by: Sam Newfield
Written by: Baryl Sachs
Music by: Russell Garcia, Richard Hazard
Cast: John Howard, Adele Jergens

Lippert Pictures Inc., 61 Minutes

Review:

“G-Men . . . T-Men . . . and now . . . R-Men!” – film tagline

Man, where to start with this turkey?

It was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason. It’s pretty dreadful but not completely unwatchable. It works well within the context of the MST3K episode and its films like this that are the best for riffing.

The story is about criminals who steal some uranium. So the government brings in these agents to track it down using new radar technology. It’s even more boring than it sounds but there is a sort of hokey charm about the film.

It obviously wanted to tap into the success of the James Cagney’s 1935 picture G-Men and the 1947 film-noir T-Men, which was a film made in a semidocumentary style. The film’s marketing presented the picture with a tagline calling these heroes “R-Men”.

It is interesting seeing the post-World War II paranoia that was normal at the time of this film’s release. Also, it tapped into the fears surrounding atomic material. Although, this doesn’t have the benefit of giant insects and a lot of awful forced perspective shots.

Radar Secret Service is pretty boring and uneventful. Yeah, it is a shitty film, there’s no denying that but it can be salvaged by watching it with the MST3K riffing of it.

So considering the awfulness of this picture, it needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

And no trailer on the Internet for this one, so I guess I’ll treat you to the MST3K episode that features the film.

Film Review: Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)

Release Date: February 27th, 2010 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: James Nguyen
Written by: James Nguyen
Music by: Andrew Seger
Cast: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster, Colton Osborne, Adam Sessa, Tippi Hedren (archive footage)

Moviehead Pictures, Severin Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Squaaah! Squaaah! Squaaah!” – every bird in the movie

Birdemic: Shock and Terror is one of those movies that is famous for being absolutely terrible. In a way it is similar to The Room in that regard but it is actually a much worse film than that Tommy Wiseau accidental masterpiece. In fact, Birdemic is like a remake of The Birds directed by Wiseau but if he had half the talent. Yeah, it’s that bad.

The worst thing about this film isn’t the awful effects and atrocious acting, it is the over the top preachy bits about global warming and environmentalism. While it makes sense to tap into that to some degree, it is displayed and handled so terribly that the message loses its impact.

But then again, nothing in this film is really done in an effective manner and the only impact this movie made was in its extreme level of awfulness.

While some movies are so damn bad that they become enjoyable, this one really isn’t. I had to watch the version with RiffTrax riffing, as Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett at least made it tolerable enough to get through. I can’t imagine sitting through this without the riffing, as the opening credits sequence alone made me turn off the original version of the film when I tried to power through it.

This film has the worst visual effects I have ever seen. I’d rather the filmmaker use taxidermied eagles on fishing line than to ever attempt his brand of CGI effects again. But I guess he made a sequel to this, which I will probably eventually watch with great reluctance.

Man, this film is friggin’ godawful.

And yes, this turd is getting tossed into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: Fist of Fury (1972)

Also known as: The Chinese Connection (alternate), Ching Wu School (Canada), Tekken (Japan)
Release Date: March 22nd, 1972 (Hong Kong)
Directed by: Lo Wei
Written by: Lo Wei
Music by: Joseph Koo
Cast: Bruce Lee, Nora Miao, James Tien, Jackie Chan (cameo)

Golden Harvest, 108 Minutes

Review:

“Have pity? Who had pity for Huo Yuan-Chia?” – Chen

Fist of Fury, also known as The Chinese Connection, is the second major role that Bruce Lee had. This quickly followed his smash hit The Big Boss and it was just the second in a string of films pumped out to take advantage of his immense star power, at the time.

While his films were produced and released quickly, they still have a real level of quality to them, especially in comparison to the other Hong Kong kung fu films of the day.

In this movie, we meet Bruce Lee’s Chen as he arrives home just in time to witness the end of his teacher’s funeral. We learn that his teacher was murdered and there’s a conspiracy afoot. His school is then harassed and bullied by a rival school of Japanese karate students. Chen can’t stand down, even though his school and his new teacher demand peace and pacifism. What results, is Lee being a total f’n badass and taking on all comers but his actions also come with consequences and threatens those he cares for. It’s a story about revenge and how that path can lead to worse outcomes but it is also about standing up for oneself.

Lee was excellent and even though he essentially just felt like Bruce Lee in every role, he still owns it and has a presence that shines like a bright beacon. Lee was an exceptional talent and man, does it really show in this film. Not that it doesn’t in others but I don’t think people can really understand or appreciate the phenomenon that was Bruce Lee without actually watching him come alive in a motion picture.

Fist of Fury has some fantastic cinematography and fight choreography that work hand-in-hand. The sequence where Chen confronts the Japanese school and challenges them one-on-about two dozen, is glorious. Just after that, the big battle between the Japanese and Chinese schools is also a perfectly choreographed rumble of epic proportions.

Lee was a strong influence on those he touched and I feel like that rubbed off on the filmmakers he worked with. His fluid motions and exacting execution seems to translate to the filmmakers themselves, as his pictures have the same level of quality and perfection that Lee personally strived for. Sure, they were pictures limited by budget and resources but there isn’t really anything better that came out of Hong Kong in the 1970s and this isn’t a knock against other kung fu films, as many of the ones without Lee are also great pieces of filmmaking. Lee’s films just exist on a pedestal that is very real and not just some mythical structure built by legend and held together with nostalgia.

Fist of Fury isn’t Lee’s best picture but it is damn good. Then again, everything Lee did that came out before his death was solid gold.

Film Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1946
Directed by: Tay Garnett
Written by: Harry Ruskin, Niven Busch
Based on: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Music by: George Bassman, Erich Zeisl
Cast: Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 113 Minutes

Review:

“You know, there’s something about this that’s like, well it’s like you’re expecting a letter that you’re just crazy to get, and you’re hanging around the front door for fear you might not hear him ring. You never realize that he always rings twice…” – Frank Chambers

The Postman Always Rings Twice was the highest grossing film-noir picture of the classic era. Also, it was a departure from what MGM typically put into theaters, as crime thrillers weren’t really their cup of tea.

The film stars Lana Turner and John Garfield, both of whom are at the top of their game in this. While they had great careers, there was a real grittiness to them here, even if Turner’s Cora Smith carried herself as an opulent and gorgeous upper class type. Garfield came with a hard edge that was impossible to deny. But most importantly, their chemistry was quite spectacular and they are one of the best noir duos of all-time.

The film was directed by Tay Garnett. He wasn’t known for noir but he was still able to create a classic in the genre with this picture. But much of that can be attributed to a good script by Harry Ruskin and Niven Busch, as well as the crisp and smooth cinematography of Sidney Wagner, who kept things pretty straightforward but used the lighting to his advantage. Plus, the talent of the cast, not just the two main stars, was a big contributor to this film’s quality. I especially enjoyed Hume Cronyn in this but then again, when don’t I enjoy the guy?

The plot of the film follows a drifter, Frank Chambers, who takes a job at a roadside cafe. He quickly falls for the owner’s wife, Cora Smith. There is tension between the two but it quickly fades and we get in to a web of lies, deceit and murder. Like many film-noir pictures, the story is told to us by the main character in hindsight. While the overall narrative could be considered derivative, most noir movies were, it certainly stands tall in spite of it retreading very familiar territory.

The Postman Always Rings Twice is an iconic picture and for good reason. It was even remade in the 1980s with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange playing the roles that Garfield and Turner gave life to. I like this version of the story best but I’ll probably have to revisit the ’80s take on it soon.

Film Review: The Shape of Water (2017)

Release Date: August 31st, 2017 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer

Double Dare You Productions, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 123 Minutes

Review:

*Warning: there will be spoilers!

“You may think, “That thing looks human.” Stands on two legs, right? But – we’re created in the Lord’s image. You don’t think that’s what the Lord looks like, do you?” – Strickland

I was fairly excited for The Shape of Water, as it isn’t very often that we get movies with Gillmen or some variant of one. The Creature From the Black Lagoon is one of my favorite movies of all-time, so I have always had a soft spot for aquatic humanoid monsters. Plus, Guillermo del Toro is pretty much the godfather of the modern dark fairy-tale.

It should probably go without saying that this film was a visual delight and that it boasted incredible cinematography and great lighting. All of this was enhanced by the great care and attention to detail in the set design and the overall early 1960s setting. It was like the flip side of a Mad Men world, where instead of light and cheeriness, there is a looming darkness and a cloud of depression over these characters and their world.

This isn’t a straight up reinterpretation of The Creature From the Black Lagoon though. It is actually closer to that film’s sequels, which saw the Gillman in captivity and being experimented on by human scientists. But even then, this is more of a Beauty and the Beast story than anything else. It just so happens that the beast is an aquatic creature from the Amazon and that he is a prisoner of evil men.

Beauty in this case is Sally Hawkins’ Elisa. She is a cleaning lady that works at a big government institution where they are doing experiments on the monster. She has an immediate attraction to the creature, as both are outsiders who have been treated badly by others. You see, Elisa is a mute and she is constantly treated differently because of her handicap.

As the story rolls on, Elisa falls in love with the creature, as he doesn’t see her as someone with a handicap. While the story generally works well it is a bit forced and overly sappy. Del Toro lays it on real thick.

Eventually, Elisa frees the creature from the institution and keeps him at her home where the two do get it on. Maybe I’m old fashioned but the sex element to the story was a bit bizarre and brings up questions of bestiality whether or not the creature is intelligent or not. In the film, this just seemed to be an afterthought because love is the focus. Well, I’ve loved all my dogs over the years but I never fucked them and one of them was intelligent enough to open doors.

The sex with the creature angle would be okay in some twisted grindhouse picture that’s made to shock people but here it happens in a film that carries a message of love and is well made, well produced and will probably be up for a lot of big awards in a few months. And the issue just felt like an afterthought. It’s not just some plot point to accept within the context, it’s a pretty big moral curveball. But I guess most of the other critics are okay with Beauty banging the Beast before he returns to human form. But this film isn’t cheap fantasy erotica… or is it? Is this just Fifty Shades of Beast Cock?

The film also keeps beating its audience with how much these people are outsiders. It doesn’t take much to figure out and it could have been done much more subtlety. I feel like del Toro is falling into the same trap as a lot of contemporary filmmakers, where he feels the need to spell everything out and then keep reinforcing those points throughout the movie.

The film is also two hours but it felt like it was three. The first half moves fairly quickly but once the monster escapes the clutches of the evil humans, everything just drags to a crawl. We get a big showdown in the end but ultimately, the film was pretty predictable. Well, except for the bestiality curveball. Glad I didn’t take my mum or one of my aunts to this. I never would’ve heard the end of it, “Oh, Robbie… the fish man is nice but why would you have sex with him? He’s a fish man!”

I liked this movie from a technical and visual standpoint but I was letdown by the story and its execution. I thought the acting as exceptional but that can’t save a poor script and clunky narrative.