Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Some scientist guy is traveling to a resort town in Switzerland at the foot of the Trollenberg mountain. He meets two women on the train ride there, including one who is apparently psychic and senses something very wrong about the place. Turns out climbers have been dying and their bodies being found without heads. Guess what? A radioactive cloud of unknown origin is the cause of this. Somehow. I’m not sure. Aliens or something. Eventually, there are giant eye-like monsters crawling around that get killed with fire.
Alan Brooks: Forrest Tucker (AKA that guy from F Troop) plays some scientist guy with vague ties to the government and United Nations. He’s on vacation, yet somehow ends up at this location that features a strange stationary cloud clinging to a mountain that is suspiciously similar to one he encountered in South America some years before. Hmmmm… He’s technically our hero, but doesn’t really do a whole lot.
Sarah Pilgrim: Jennifer Jayne plays the elder Pilgrim sister, who happens to be the not psychic one. She’s supportive of her sis, rather hot and that’s about it, really.
Anne Pilgrim: Janet Munro (who was also in Darby O’Gill And The Little People) plays the hot psychic girl. She’s actually rather interesting here as the only one who gets a vibe that SOMETHING HORRIBLE IS GOING ON. Sure, she tends to fall into a swoon after her visions, but let’s face it, for having psychic powers that the filmmakers don’t even TRY to explain, she’s the cute little badass of the film.
Philip Truscott: Laurence Payne is a reporter at the resort when all this stuff happens. By the end, he and Anne become an item because… Well, I guess because that’s just how these things go.
Professor Crevet: Warren Mitchell is the heavily accented scientist working at an observatory on the mountain. He’s very much aware of the cloud and…that’s about it.
Brett: Andrew Faulds is a mountaineer and guide who falls victim to the cloud. After murdering a geologist and some guys sent up to look for him, he comes back to the resort, visibly messed up, then tries to kill Anne when he sees her, then falls over, doesn’t bleed when cut, tries again to kill her later and is shot. When the others examine the body, it dissolves, leaving a skeleton. I’m not making this up.
Directed by Quentin Lawrence (who apparently held a degree in physics) the movie is fairly standard fare in most scenes, with a couple good moments here and there. The beginning, with one climber killed (off camera) and his two buddies powerless to help him is actually rather good at setting the mood. Sadly the movie really drags after a while, but then we get CRAWLING EYES!! Which are laughably horrible. Their bodies are giant orbs but the actual “eye” itself is about the size of a baseball. No real idea why they have tentacles but whatever. The special effects guys get a B for effort but an F for failure. One thing though, the climax is definitely memorable.
Story by Peter Key and script by Jimmy Sangster. The writing really falls into the standard B movie pitfall of not a whole lot of stuff making sense. Why is Anne psychic? What do the creatures want? I mean, sure, there are some decent ideas in there, but the writing is just clunky schlock.
The score by Stanley Black is fine. Nothing really amazing or anything, but its not BAD or anything.
Whether you call it The Trollenberg Terror or The Crawling Eye, this is not a good movie. While there are decent elements, the actors aren’t trying to hard with the pretty lame material they’ve been given and the effects by the end are pretty damn awful. Still, you can’t look at those stupid eyeball monsters with hate in your heart…
Monday, April 26, 2010
Well, a petty thief in New York stumbles into an acting audition while trying to avoid the police and ends up doing well enough to get taken out to Hollywood, where his new agent hooks him up with a real life detective to show him the ropes of the business. Then the two stumble into several murders and our hero tries to figure out what’s going on while also reconnecting with an old flame from high school. Did I mention this takes place around Christmas? And that doesn’t even begin to cover what happens in this movie.
Harry Lockhart: Robert Downey Jr. is awesome in this movie. He’s the narrator, but an incredibly self-aware one who knows he’s not very good at it. He’s also kind of a big screwup in general here and just keeps getting the crap kicked out of him throughout the movie.
Gay Perry: Val Kilmer is the badass of the film, no question. Perry’s an actual private investigator who’s life is quite boring under normal circumstances. Until Harry drags him along into a messed up world of twists and turns. Perry doesn’t really like Harry. At all, and the banter between them is outstandingly amusing. Also, Perry’s gay, which isn’t a surprise.
Harmony Faith Lane: Michelle Monaghan is an old friend from Harry’s home town who left to become an actress (and get away from her terrible father). Harmony’s an interesting character. Deeply flawed, but incredibly likable. And I’m not complaining about the outfits she wears. No sir.
Harlan Dexter: Corbin Bernsen plays a washed up actor who went on to become an entrepreneur. Its his house where the beginning party scene takes place and where Harry meets all the major characters.
Shane Black, in his directorial debut, and Michael Barrett was director of photography, and I’ve got to say, the movie looks good. Slickly presented and incredibly well lit. Its not at all noir in a visual sense, but the film does have a moody style to it when its time to shift gears into some pretty serious scenes. Best scene is probably the one where Harry shoots a guy for the first time. Its played completely straight and the build up to it is just so incredibly well done from both a character development and audience empathy standpoint.
Shane Black on script duty, and sort-of, kind-of based on a novel by Brett Halliday called “Bodies Are Where You Find Them.” The film oozes wit and charm from every pore, and the nature of being a hard-boiled detective parody means you have to pay attention to what’s going on in order to understand the movie by the end. Insanely quotable and both irreverent and loving of the standard film noir tropes, Black’s script just breezes by effortlessly. The movie also breaks its sections into chapters named after Raymond Chandler books. Not bad for the American commando who got killed first in Predator.
Original music by John Ottman and a bunch of mostly-Christmas themed songs. There’s an overall jazzy feel to the soundtrack with the occasional other sounds, and the movie sounds great.
This movie blew out the back of my skull from the sheer force of awesomeness. Seriously. If I do another “biggest surprises” at the end of 2010, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a definite contender for the top three, easily. Find this movie and watch it.
Not that good of a trailer, actually, but you get the basic idea.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
Ok, so on an ancient and distant world called Thra (which is very much not Earth because it has 3 suns and no humans), there was a race of beings called urSkeks, who ruled benevolently for centuries until, 1000 years ago, during the Great Conjunction of the suns, they cracked the Crystal of Truth (which gave them their power) and a shard of it went missing. Turns out this was a very bad thing, because the urSkeks split into two new races, the tyrannical, lizard/bird-like Skeksis and the gentle, peaceful and pretty much useless Mystics. The Skeksis hearing a prophecy that they will be undone by a Gelfling (basically elves), decide to genocide their asses to prevent it. (you know, a kids movie).
Unfortunately for the Skeksis, one Gelfling lad is still alive, and raised by the Mystics so that the prophecy can be fulfilled. ADVENTURE! ensues.
Jen: Performed by Jim Henson and voiced by Stephen Garlick, Jen is our Hero. An orphan raised by the Mystics for whom a great destiny awaits, he’s pretty much your standard fantasy hero. This isn’t exactly terrible, since Jen isn’t smash-your-own-face-in annoying, but he’s also just kind of there. Not bad, but not awesome, I guess is the gist of him. He’s got the missing shard of the Crystal and its up to him to keep it safe.
Kira: Performed by Kathryn Mullen and voiced by Lisa Maxwell, Kira is another Gelfling that Jen stumbles upon along the way. Yes, turns out the Skeksis weren’t actually that efficient in their campaign of genocide. Kira’s a little more experienced in the ways of the world and becomes a useful ally for Jen, and a little more… (well, they are the last two survivors of their people, so its pretty obvious)
Fizzgig: Performed by Dave Goelz and voiced by Percy Edwards, this little fuzz ball is Kira’s pet. He’s okay in my book.
Aughra: Performed by Frank Oz and voiced by Billie Whitelaw, Aughra is a crazy old soothsayer, wise woman and general “keeper of secrets.” Jen is told to seek her out to find out how to save the world, and while he finds her and learns just how much is at stake, he also doesn’t learn as much as he’d like, since the Skeksis’s goons crash the place.
The Chamberlain: Performed by Frank Oz and voiced by Barry Dennen, this guy is the Skeksis the movie follows, and he’s pretty awesome. Not because he’s badass, but because of the opposite. He is a sniveling, weasely douche who makes a claim for the throne when the Emperor Skeksis dies, loses, gets stripped of his rank and exiled, and happens to run into Jen & Kira. You bet its awesome, because he’s just so damn creepy. And he’s got a verbal tic that has him going “hhmmm?” all the damn time, which is both annoying and awesome at the same time. Its not even something you can put in onomatopoeia.
The General: Performed by Dave Goelz and voiced by Michael Kilgarriff, the General is pretty damn badass. After the death of the Emperor, he’s the one who wins the ordeal of Trial By Stone to become the new ruler. He’s also got an army of Garthim at his command, which…well, they’re basically umber hulks. Dude’s hardcore.
Directed by Jim Henson, Frank Oz and (uncredited) Gary Kurtz, the movie is masterfully shot. Not only is it ambitious, but they really work around the limitations of puppets to really make it seem plausible. And the effects have aged very, very, very well. The pacing does slow down a bit in the middle after Jen meets Kira, but its nothing serious.
The overall look of the film was a collaboration between Jim Henson and Brian Froud (who also worked with Henson on Labyrinth) and the world these two built is simply stunning on a conceptual level.
Story by Jim Henson and screenplay by David Odell, the plot is…well, its nothing complicated and trundles along predictable lines. There’s not a whole lot to Jen & Kira’s characters and the Mystics are, to be honest, really boring. Although this movie also gives us the Skeksis, which are constantly entertaining when they’re on screen because of their decadent villainy. The plot does stray into some pretty dark corners here and there too, which is both pretty cool and creepy at times. This is a good thing, since family movies should never condescend toward the audience.
The score by Trevor Jones is big, sweeping, majestic and a little eerie. The main theme is incredibly memorable and the whole sound fit’s the movie perfectly. The sound effects are outstanding as well, which is no surprise because it was headed up by Ben Burtt, who’s so good at his job that he can get nominated for sound awards in his sleep.
So yeah, The Dark Crystal is one hell of a film. Its strange, sure, and lacking the lighter tone of the later Labyrinth, the movie tracks its own path to display Henson’s extremely ambitious vision. It gets weird, yes, but it embraces that aspect and avoids ever getting too cheesy, even if it does tread familiar story trails. All of these are good things, especially since a sequel has been rumored for years at this point.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
All right, so a sleazy jazz band leader who owes the mob a lot of money and doesn’t have any friends at a charity benefit on a luxury boat/casino and gets murdered in the night while trying to steal from the till. Nick & Nora, who were guests at the party where this guy was murdered, eventually get wrapped up in figuring out what’s going on and get swept up in a late night world of jazz music and murder.
Nick Charles: William Powell looks pretty old in this one (time will do that), but he’s still as charming as ever. Not forced to be a teetotaler this time, there’s a running gag of him always getting thwarted from taking a drink. Not bad, but not quite the same. Still badass though.
Nora Charles: Myrna Loy is still awesome and lovely, and she gets quite a bit to do, even facing peril on her own in one of the movie’s darker scenes. Still badass.
Nick Charles Jr.: Dean Stock well (who should be familiar to you, considering he played Al on Quantum Leap when he grew up, among a lot of other things). He’s not a major figure in the film, and even comments to his parents that they don’t do anything with him anymore.
Tommy Drake: Phillip Reed is the jerk of a bandleader who gets offed at the beginning of the movie. He’s just an all around sleaze who’s got plenty of enemies with suitable motives for wanting him dead. Even his bandmates don’t like him.
Buddy Hollis: Don Taylor is the star clarinet player in Drake’s band and the ex-boyfriend of the lead singer (who left him for Drake). Buddy’s also got himself a problem with a vaguely explained substance that has him disappearing for days at a time. After the murder, he disappears from the scene.
Fran Ledue Page: Gloria Grahame is the girl that got between Buddy & Tommy. She definitely regrets leaving Buddy, but does she regret it enough to KILL??
Clarence “Klinker” Krause: Keenan Wynn (son of vaudeville legend & comedian Ed Wynn) is another clarinetist in the band who ends up helping Nick & Nora look for Buddy. Pretty resourceful as far as sidekicks go.
Phil Brant: Bruce Cowling is the guy who pretty much organized the event on the boat, and Drake owed him money too. When Drake is killed, he’s the prime suspect.
Janet Thayar Brant: Jayne Meadows (the wife & widow of comedian and original host of “The Tonight Show” Steve Allen) is a headstrong young woman who elopes with Phil against her father’s wishes. Naturally, her motives are in question.
David Thayer: Ralph Morgan is Janet’s father and a collector of antique pistols, one of which was used to shoot Drake. Hmmmm.
Mitchell Talbin: Leon Ames is a promoter that Drake was going to sign on with and do a tour for. Drake needed money from him badly.
Al Amboy: William Bishop plays a shady racketeer that Drake owes money to. He tries to strongarm Nick & Nora for information.
Edward Buzzell (who directed one of the Marx Brothers' later films, At The Circus) and director of photography Charles Rosher give the film a moody, rather noir-ish look. There’s even some touches of German Expressionism in the architecture in some scenes. Its an interesting shift, and understandable since noir proper was in full swing by 1947.
So, we’ve got story by Stanley Roberts, screenplay by Steve Fisher & Nat Perrin and “additional dialogue” by James O’Hanlon & Harry Crane (it’s a safe bet that they handled the jazz lingo) and things get interesting. Nick & Nora still sparkle and Klinker’s actually not a bad addition as the sidekick. What’s interesting is that things actually take a pretty dark turn.
The score by David Snell continues to be solid but not that remarkable. There’s also, understandably, a lot of jazz music blowing around the film.
Song of the Thin Man is definitely different, taking things in a slightly darker direction, but after the anemic The Thin Man Goes Home, its actually not a bad way for the series to go out. Still, it doesn’t really match the comedic genius of the first four Thin Man films. Still, if you’re watching the last couple films, that means you’ve got the boxed set, and since you’ve come this far, you might as well watch. I mean, the series is just damn great overall, really taking Dashiell Hammett’s characters and making them shine, and that’s a major credit to the chemistry between Powell & Loy. Nick & Nora are quite possibly my favorite screen couple of all time.
Monday, April 12, 2010
So Nick, Nora & Asta are on their way to Nick’s hometown of Sycamore Springs to visit his family. Nick Jr. is written out as being with a nanny or whatever. The plan is to have a quiet vacation at home, but the locals, all aware of Nick’s reputation, assume he’s on a case. Then somebody gets shot on the family’s doorstep and the game’s afoot. If it sounds like a comparatively weak plot in comparison to the first four, you’d be absolutely right.
Nick Charles: William Powell Nick is still as lovable as ever, and its fun seeing him on edge because his father, a teetotaler, is difficult to please. And this leads to one of the least welcome changes of the movie: Nick is stone cold sober the entire time. They try to play it up by having all sorts of slapstick moments where Nick does something clumsy and people automatically assume he’s had too much to drink, but, honestly, the shift doesn’t work. Nick’s still badass though.
Nora Charles: Myrna Loy actually does a lot regarding the main plot of the film in this one. She’s trying to impress Nick’s dad with stories of his incredible detective work and when that doesn’t really work, she’s the one who shoves Nick into investigating who’s killed who and goes off on her own investigations. Nora’s still badass.
Dr. Bertram Charles: Harry Davenport is Nick’s dad, a respected small town doctor who’s trying to get a new hospital building built for the town. An upstanding citizen who’s not all that thrilled with Nick’s colorful past.
Mrs. Charles: Lucile Watson is Nick’s mother, and a kind, likable woman.
Peter Berton: Ralph Brooks is a local painter who ends up dead on the doorstep from a gunshot wound. Who killed him and why is the driving action of the plot.
Crazy Mary: Anne Revere (curiously enough a descendent of Paul Revere) is appropriately named as the town eccentric. She lives in a shack on the outskirts of town, mutters crazy things and has more to do with the central plot than first impressions would indicate.
Sam Ronson: Minor Watson plays a local factory owner who’s the big man in town. He’s also kind of a jerk who isn’t thrilled about Nick’s investigation and tries to lean on Dr. Charles, threatening to “delay” the hospital project if things continue.
Laura Ronson: Gloria DeHaven is Ronson’s daughter, a bit of a rebel who’s been involved with Peter Berton on and off before his death.
Edgar & Helena Draque: Leon Ames & Helen Vinson are a couple of art dealers/buyers from out of town that are very interested in buying one particular painting of Berton’s.
Dr. Bruce Clayworth: Lloyd Corrigan is an old friend of Nick’s and the town coroner. The two go way back and Bruce accompanies Nick on several of his investigations.
Brogan: Edward Brophy (who had a really small role in The Thin Man as a different character) is one of the many reformed crooks that Nick sent up the river. He happens to be on the same train as the Charles’s and essentially decides to tag along from a distance. There’s actually quite a few good jokes involving him, from him essentially camping in the bushes of Dr. Charles’ lawn to him being a very obvious red herring that Nora follows around town one night.
Directed by Richard Thorpe, the film is competently shot, but taking the series out of the big city takes a lot out of the movie. Its hard to say exactly how, but things seem to bog down a lot in various places.
The screenplay by Robert Riskin & Harry Kurnitz has quite the complicated plot by the end of the movie, and it does hit the standard plot notes (setup, murder, Nick slowly gets more involved, more murders, serious detective time and then he gathers all the suspects into one room for the finale), but in a lot of ways, the film just lacks the energy of the previous outings. Its not as hilarious, and its not as, well, edgy, really.
The score by David Snell (and uncredited Lennie Hayton & Bronislau Kaper) gets the job done nicely but its nothing to write home about.
The Thin Man Goes Home is a definite downturn in the series. Its not a failure or anything, and some stuff works really well, but compared to the first four, its an inferior result.
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
So, Nick & Nora are back in San Francisco (again) and happen to arrive at a race track just as a whole bunch of cops swarm the place investigating the murder of a jockey who squawked about fixed races. Nick tries to stay out of it, despite the urgings of an eager reporter and friend and the deputy director of the racing committee. Well, Nick gets caught up in it anyway when the reporter gets arrested for the murder of another reporter, and by now you should be familiar with the drill.
Nick Charles: William Powell again, who’s ability to know when its time for a cocktail borders on the supernatural at this point. Still awesome and still likable.
Nora Charles: Myrna Loy is more proactive in this one, needling Nick into taking her to a wrestling match (where the next murder happens). She and Powell are still awesome together. How awesome? They made fourteen movies together, counting the six Thin Man films.
Nick Charles, Jr.: Richard Hall is a minor presence in the movie and doesn’t get in the way of the plot. The one scene where the Charles family sits down for a meal and Nicky orders his father to drink milk instead of a cocktail is priceless.
Paul Clarke: Barry Nelson is the reporter friend who gets framed for murder. Your standard ‘30s-‘40s supporting character male.
Molly: Donna Reed (yes, THAT one) is Paul’s fiancee and the secretary for Link Stephens, the crook who runs the gambling rackets in town.
Major Jason I. Sculley: Henry O’Neill is trying to put a dent in the local crime scene and unhappy that Nick refuses to help out at first.
“Whitey” Barrow: Alan Baxter is a crooked reporter in Stephens’ pocket, whitewashing stories involving the racketeer. Whitey’s also blackmailing Link’s girl and owes some people money, so its no major surprise that he ends up dead.
“Link” Stephens: Loring Smith is a crime lord who runs most of the shady gambling businesses in town.
Fred Macy: Joseph Anthony is Link’s lieutenant, a smug little bastard who’s alibi isn’t as air tight as it seems.
Claire Porter: Stella Adler is Link’s girl who’s been fooling around with Whitey on the side. Turns out she’s hiding more than she lets on too.
“Rainbow” Benny: Lou Lubin is a small time bookie working for Link and Whitey owes him a lot of money. He’s pretty much the guy everybody’s looking for.
Lieutenant Abrams: Same Levene is back as the cop on the scene. His comic mugging for the camera makes a welcome return.
Maj. W.S. Van Dyke II for the last time on a Thin Man movie. Solid as always, though sadly “One-Take Woody” would commit suicide in 1943 while suffering from terminal cancer. Poor guy.
This time it was Harry Kurnitz & Irving Brecher on screenplay duties and things progress along as usual. By this point, the formula of the films was really entrenched and you’d have to try hard to screw it up. I also liked the gag about how Nick’s ability to sense alcohol nearby was essentially supernatural by this point.
David Snell’s score does the job and that’s about all I can remember.
Shadow of the Thin Man marks the end of the W.S. Van Dyke era of Thin Man films. Myrna Loy would take a break from acting to support the Red Cross during World War II and it would be a few years before the next film. Things get shaken up a little bit.
Monday, April 05, 2010
“I knew there was only one woman in the world who could attract men like that. A woman with a lot of money.”
So Nick & Nora are back in New York, this time with a baby boy, Nicky Jr. in tow. They get called up to visit a Colonel MacFay, who was the financial manager of Nora’s assets, up at his country estate. They get there to find the Colonel’s extremely paranoid about his safety after a crook claiming prophetic dreams saw him dead three times. Well wouldn’t you know, the Colonel ends up dead and the search is on to find out whodunnit. Hilarity ensues.
Nick Charles: William Powell as usual, only this time, his presence at the scene of the crime ends up making him one of the suspects too. Fatherhood hasn’t slaked his thirst any.
Nora Charles: Myrna Loy, beautiful as usual. The Charles couple continues to be quite badass despite having a baby boy at this point.
Colonel Burr MacFay: C. Aubrey Smith is the Colonel, and an old acquaintance of Nora’s late father. He was taking care of the books, but it seems he’s got a shady past of his own. One where some people might want to see him killed.
Lois MacFay: Virginia Grey is the colonel’s daughter. She doesn’t react well to his death, getting sick a few times.
Dudley Horn: Patric Knowles is Lois’ fiancee and somewhat of a douche, though he would do anything to protect her.
Freddie Coleman: Tom Neal is the Colonel’s secretary and a generally soft-spoken guy who’s got a thing for Lois.
Mrs. Isabella Bellam: Phyllis Gordon is the MacFays’ housekeeper and someone who’s also hiding something.
Phil Church: Sheldon Leonard is the villain. He’s got a past with MacFay and is trying to shake the colonel down for money. A smart guy, he seems to have an alibi for everything.
“Diamond Back” Vogel: Don Costello is a shady character who’s keeping an eye on Church, though to what end remains in question.
H. Culverton “Smitty” Smith: Muriel Hutchison is Church’s girl, though she’s not quite divorced from her husband. She carries a little gun around in a leg holster.
Dum-Dum: Abner Biberman is Church’s right hand guy, and pretty handy with a knife.
“Creeps” Binder: Harry Bellaver is one of the many, many smalltime crooks that Nick sent up the river who don’t hold it against him. Creeps is the one who decides it would be a great idea to throw a birthday party for Nicky Jr. and invites a bunch of his pals to bring their kids (or somebody else’s kids) to the party. Shemp Howard being one of those individuals.
Lieutenant John Guild: Nat Pendleton returns as the lantern-jawed New York cop who’s on Nick’s side.
Assistant District Attorney Van Slack: Otto Kruger (from Dracula’s Daughter and Murder, My Sweet) is in charge of the investigation of the Colonel’s murder, and he’s very inclined to put the squeeze on Nick since its very convenient that the detective was around at just the right time.
W.S. Van Dyke (now with II at the end of his name) returns and the film’s got all the standard “One-Take Woody” touches from the first film; a light and breezy style that shifts into “noir-mode” when detecting is done.
The husband & wife team of Albert Hackett & Frances Goodrich are back, and the banter flows as good as always. The plot itself goes into some interesting territory, what with the “prophetic dreams,” a law officer who kind of thinks Nick committed the murder, and the denouement, but to their credit none of it feels out of place or forced, which is nice.
The score by Edward Ward is appropriate and fine, just not that memorable.
Three movies in and the series is still going strong at the halfway point. Another Thin Man adds a lot of interesting touches, brings back some familiar faces, AND its got Shemp! If you’ve seen the first two, definitely see this one.