Black Patch (1957)

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Black Patch is a dark and serious film, which is why it has an adorable little line drawing of the marshal and his badge on the poster.   Directed by Allen H. Miner, known primarily for his television work, Black Patch (1957) is a strange and wonderful little Western, a true independent film that took the kind of risks one rarely sees in this particular genre. Conceived by Leo Gordon, a hard-working character actor who also appears in the film as co-star Hank Danner, it seems the development of the script happened almost by accident. Gordon had never sold a script before when he casually mentioned he had an idea for a TV show: “When Charles Marquis Warren was directing the pilot for “Gunsmoke,” I told him I had an idea for an episode. ‘Don’t tell me, write it,’ he answered. I went home and the next thing I knew I had 110 pages. I showed it to my agent. Next thing I know, George Montgomery wanted to buy it. That was ‘Black Patch’. Gene Corman negotiated the deal. That’s how I came into contact with him and Roger Corman.” – Leo Gordon (from here / quoted here in a fine review by Toby at 50 Westerns From The 50s) Gordon would go on to write deliciously schlocky B-movie classics like Attack of the Giant Leeches and The Wasp Woman, which, in conjunction with his distinctly non-writerly demeanor, may account for the dismissive attitude many hold toward Black Patch. Leonard … Continue reading

It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

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It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) is your standard, teen-oriented, low-budget space flick with its narrative roots firmly implanted in the paranoia of the Cold War. It’s the kind of film where all the strings and zippers show, yet still manages to be not only entertaining, but effective. Helmed by Edward L. Cahn, the same director behind The She-Creature (1956), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), It! has come to be known as more than just an old-school science fiction classic, but as the inspiration behind Alien (1979), one of the most important science fiction films in recent history. That said, as much as Alien “borrowed” from the plot, It! seems to have been conceived as a knock-off of The Thing from Another World (1951), right down to the title. Further, It! wasn’t the sole inspiration for Alien, as Planet of the Vampires (1965) also provides quite a bit of the story that ultimately ended up in Ridley Scott’s film. That Alien was just a big-budget version of an old B-movie is no surprise, given so many films of that era, including Star Wars (1977) and Jaws (1975), were as well. In It! The Terror From Beyond Space, it’s 15 years in the future, and the United States has sent its first manned rocket ship to Mars. But as we learn in a press conference, held in the standard bare grey-walled room so familiar to fans of 1950s low-budget cinema, everyone in … Continue reading

42nd Street (1933): Now Out on Blu-Ray From Warner Archive

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In 1933, at the height of the Depression, a nation in desperate need of distraction broke box office records for the lavish Hollywood musical 42nd Street. This unabashed slice of wish fulfillment is an undisputed cinematic classic, the granddaddy of all Hollywood backstage musicals, and now out on Blu-ray courtesy Warner Archives. Theater director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) has one last shot at creating a hit on the stage. Despite a lofty career, the recent economic downturn has tapped his resources; moreover, he’s in ill health and on the verge of another nervous breakdown. He gets financing for a play called “Pretty Lady” which he hopes to turn into a smash hit, and at the demands of Abner Dillon, a horndog old financier (Guy Kibbee), the beautiful Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) is brought in as the lead. Dorothy has taken up with Abner — hey, a girl’s gotta survive — but she’s also seeing her old flame Pat Denning (George Brent) on the side. Abner’s cuckolding threatens the production; if Dorothy isn’t his and his alone, he has no interest in financing “Pretty Lady.” The love triangle is all but a subplot, as most of the action in 42nd Street is backstage and during the rehearsals, focusing on the naïve young Peggy (Ruby Keeler). A member of the chorus thanks to the unlikely assistance of two wise-cracking chorus girls, Lorraine (Una Merkel) and Ann (Ginger Rogers), Peggy attracts the attention of the juvenile lead, Billy Lawler (Dick Powell)… and also … Continue reading

The Velvet Touch (1948)

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“Boy,” I can hear you saying now, “I can’t believe no one made a movie that was a cross between Laura, Mildred Pierce and All About Eve.” Well, folks, I am here to make your day: The Velvet Touch, the 1948 drama starring Rosalind Russell, is indeed a mix of murder-based melodrama, set in the witty and urbane world of the theatre (pronounced: “thee-ay-TAH”). Though it possesses less of the sophistication and psychological angst of the other films, Velvet Touch is still a fine movie, lovely to look at and with some really solid performances. When Valerie Stanton (Rosalind Russell), one of the biggest comedy stars of the Broadway stage for the last decade, decides to branch out into serious drama, she incurs the wrath of her agent Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames). He doesn’t believe she has the acting chops for Ibsen, but more importantly, he wants to control her every move, as he has always done; Gordon and Valerie have been in a dysfunctional relationship for most of her career. Gordon forces her hand by telling columnist and social gadfly Jeff Trent (Dan Tobin) that Valerie has accepted a role in a comedy that she, in reality, has turned down. When she confronts him, he tells her in no uncertain terms that if she doesn’t do what he wants, he’ll tell her architect boyfriend Michael (Leo Genn) that they were once an item. Actually, it’s worse than that: Gordon makes it clear that he will tell Michael disgusting and … Continue reading

Skin Trade (2014)

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Skin Trade ★★✫✫✫ Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham Magnet Releasing (Official Site) 96 Minutes Release Date: May 8, 2015 (limited) – Newark police officer Nick (Dolph Lundgren) has spent years hunting down the Serbian family responsible for a large human trafficking operation. On the other side of the world, officer Tony Vitayakul (Tony Jaa) is after the same thing, only he has a very personal stake in the case: his girlfriend Min (Celina Jade) is one of the women forced into sex work by the Dragovich family. When Nick corners patriarch Viktor Dragovich (Ron Perlman) and his son Andre (Michael G. Selby) at a New Jersey dock, a shootout ensues, and Andre is killed. In retaliation, Viktor sends his men out to murder Nick and his family, but Nick survives. With justice the furthest thing from his mind, Nick heads to Southeast Asia to get revenge of his own. Skin Trade boasts an impressive cast, with Peter Weller and Ron Perlman putting in solid supporting turns, and Michael Jai White carrying much of the film. Maturity and experience suit Dolph Lundgren well; his acting has improved exponentially over the years, and his aging, fatigued police officer Nick had the potential to be a really interesting character. Unfortunately, Skin Trade features a hoary old chestnut of a plot, little more than an excuse to get some action on. The main attraction here is the action, which Skin Trade delivers in spades. Jaa is fantastic in his action scenes, and Dolph does world-weariness well. … Continue reading

Barbary Coast (1935)

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The Flying Cloud, a ship out of New York, lands in San Francisco after over 100 days at sea. The sole female passenger, one Miss Mary Rutledge (Miriam Hopkins), is cynical and aloof, and upon her arrival in the town, it’s no wonder: she’s essentially a mail-order bride sent to marry a man she doesn’t love. But he was a man who struck it rich during the gold rush of the 1850s and had plenty of money, or at least had money, before he was killed in a duel. Determined to stay and even more determined to find a rich man, Mary immediately sets her sights on the crooked gambler who killed her fiance and took his gold, the notorious Luis Chamalis (Edward G. Robinson). Chamalis, aware that women were so rare in San Francisco, especially in the red light district known as the Barbary Coast, that they were practically commodities, hires Mary on as the hostess at his roulette table. Barbary Coast (1935) was based on Herbert Asbury’s Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld, published in 1933. Directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Sam Goldwyn, Barbary Coast is a lush costume drama with a somewhat undeserved reputation for having only used Asbury’s title while disregarding the real meat of his book. While it’s true that many concessions were made to appease the Production Code Administration, much of Barbary Coast takes Asbury’s novel far too literally. See, for example, the first few paragraphs in this … Continue reading

Private Number (2015)

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Private Number ★★★★✫ Director: LazRael Lison Arc Entertainment (Official Site) 95 Minutes Release Date: May 1, 2015 (limited) – Thirty-somethings Michael and Katherine Lane are, on the surface, a perfectly normal couple. Michael (Hal Ozsan) is a writer of fantasy fiction with one moderate seller under his belt, Katherine (Nicholle Tom) runs a small boutique, and they fight about the usual things: having kids, their dull friends, and how long it takes them to get ready to go out. Michael’s troubled past seems to be behind him, thanks to no-nonsense AA sponsor Jeff (Tom Sizemore) and Katherine’s steadying influence, but when Michael struggles with writer’s block and cracks in their relationship start to appear, Katherine realizes Michael is hiding, at least a little, behind a façade. Before either of them can process the situation, though, they start receiving a series of unnerving, late-night prank phone calls. Only Michael gets these calls, however, all from an unlisted number, and from a variety of people who say just one thing: “Remember me?” Private Number (2014), the latest from LazRael Lison, seems at first to be your standard indie horror flick, up to and including a main character who one suspects is a bit of a stand-in for the screenwriter. But just when the film really settles into focusing on the identity of the callers, the strangest thing happens: a knight in full plate mail appears in Michael’s office. He’s the product of a hallucination, surely the result of Michael’s tenuous sobriety and … Continue reading

Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

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Sketch comedy films, the spiritual descendants of 1930s cinematic musical extravaganzas and 1960s television variety shows, hit their peak popularity in the 1970s. Monty Python’s And Now For Something Completely Different, Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, and the inaugural Zucker-Abrams-Zucker outing Kentucky Fried Movie captured the free-wheeling irreverence of the decade. But the genre didn’t die out with the ’70s; Amazon Women on the Moon and The Meaning of Life were two notable genre entries released in the 1980s. Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle (1987) is perhaps one of the best of the sketch comedy films, featuring on-point social commentary, solid humor, and amazing production values for a film that reportedly cost less than $100,000 to make; further, your humble host would like to add that Hollywood Shuffle wins a lot of points for being a sketch comedy film that has a title that is not only perfect, but of reasonable length. Actor and comedian Robert Townsend plays struggling thesp Bobby Taylor, a black man desperate to break into an industry that offers him only racist and demeaning roles. Living at home with three generations of his family — the Taylor house looks almost as though it’s in the same neighborhood as the Mildred Pierce home — Bobby knows his family needs him to get a big break, and soon. But the racist dialect of the scripts, the instructions to shuffle and roll his eyes, the directors’ pleas to “act more black” wear on Bobby, and … Continue reading

24 Days (2014)

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24 Days (24 jours) ★★★★✫ Director: Alexandre Arcady Menemsha Films (Official Site) 110 Minutes Release Date: April 24, 2015 (limited) – It’s Paris, 2006, and handsome young Ilan Halimi (Syrus Shahidi) has been kidnapped, his family tortured by angry phone calls demanding €450,000 for his release. If the Halimis were a rich family, this might make a kind of perverse sense, but Ilan’s parents Ruth (Zabou Breitman) and Didier (Pascal Elbé) have been divorced for 20 years, and both are of modest means. When the police become involved, they discover a large network of kidnappers who use attractive teen girls as bait, and who specifically target Jewish males. Yet the police refuse to consider this a hate crime, and their methods of dealing with an obviously unstable gang leader are questionable. Based on a true story, 24 Days is a harrowing affair that unfolds slowly, often frustratingly so. Bookended by narration from the mother, who addresses the audience directly, 24 Days seems at first to approach the topic almost as a documentary, but soon turns into a taut, sleek police procedural. Alternating between scenes of the extended family at home and at the police department are shots of the kidnappers themselves, a large group of people whose motivations and rationalizations are unclear. 24 Days is a fine-looking film, its quieter moments full of striking symmetry, comforting angles and pleasant apartments in a warm, low light. In stark contrast are the scenes of the kidnapping and aftermath, though the reliance on … Continue reading

Firewalker (1986)

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Everyone loves a good bad movie, but not every bad movie works as a late-night laugh-a-thon. As the crew of “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ explained in Wired‘s oral history of the show, they couldn’t just pick any old bad movie to riff. The films couldn’t be “boring and really, really talky,” and they had to be up to a certain visual and audio standard; after all, there’s no use trying to watch a bad movie if you can’t actually watch that bad movie. The same standards apply to those of us looking for just the right awful movie to watch for a fun night at home with friends and beer — or, for many of us, a fun night at home with Twitter and beer. Firewalker, a 1986 action-adventure flick that is astonishingly light on both action and adventure, seems like the perfect shlock to spend an evening with, but it just barely meets the minimum FDA guidelines for daily consumption of cheese. A knock-off of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Romancing the Stone, Firewalker is frequently cited as the primary reason its production company, the (in)famous Cannon Group, would declare bankruptcy just a few years later. However, Cannon’s best year was 1986 — not because of, but in spite of, Firewalker, which took in nearly $12 million at the box office over its first three weekends. Chuck Norris is Max Donigan, a character with so little personality that one feels it’s a waste of good font … Continue reading