4 Shots From 4 Films: Madam Satan, Safe In Hell, Rasputin and the Empress, and Search For Beauty

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films.  As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

All of the scenes below come from films that were made and released between the introduction of sound in the late 1920s and the adoption of the infamous Hays Production Code in 1934.  This was truly an exciting time for film as an art form.  Not only were filmmakers intoxicated with discovering what they could accomplish through the medium but they were also unhindered by censorship or regulation.  The end result was some of the most visually imaginative and narratively daring films to ever be released by the major American studios.

There’s a reason why film lovers continue to eagerly seek out pre-code films.  And if you want to experience what made the pre-Code era so memorable, you could not do any worse than to start with the four films featured in this post.

Madam Satan (1930, dir by Cecil B. DeMille)

Madam Satan (1930, dir by Cecil B. DeMille)

Safe in Hell (1931)

Safe in Hell (1931, dir by William Wellman)

Rasputin and the Empress (1932, dir by Richard Boleslawski)

Rasputin and the Empress (1932, dir by Richard Boleslawski)

Search For Beauty (1934, dir by Erle C. Kenton)

Search For Beauty (1934, dir by Erle C. Kenton)

Coogler, Jordan, and Stallone return with Creed!

The first trailer for Creed was released earlier today!  Now, I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of boxing.  Nor did I exactly love Rocky when I watched it on TCM.   (That said, I’ve always secretly felt that I was a bit too glibly dismissive of it in my review.)

But you know what film I did really admire?  Fruitvale Station.  Ryan Coogler’s directorial debut was a powerful and disturbing look at race relations in America.  It had its flaws but overall, Coogler crafted one of the best films of the decade.  Equally impressive was the film’s star, Michael B. Jordan.

So for me, my interesting has been piqued because Creed is another chapter in the careers of both Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan and I can not wait to see where they go.

However, I think a lot more people will want to see the film because it is another chapter in the story of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky.  So, before seeing Creed, be sure to check out our own Jedadiah Leland’s look back at the history of the Rocky franchise!

And watch the trailer for Creed below!

Double Your Pleasure With Two Tom Hardys in Legend!

Will Tom Hardy finally get his Oscar nomination this year?  Well, he has already starred in one of the best films of the year, Mad Max: Fury Road, though I would argue that Charlize Theron is the one who deserves to be nominated for that film.

However, Hardy may have a chance of scoring a nomination for his performance in the fact-based gangster film, Legend!  Not only is Hardy playing a real-life killer (which always seems to be a good way to get nominated, just ask Steve Carell) but he’s also playing twins!

That’s double the Tom Hardy!

Legend will be released in October.

Film Review: The Stranger (dir by Guillermo Amoedo)


Who cares?

That was my main reaction to watching The Stranger, a film from Chile that, for some reason, is set in Canada.  (There’s absolutely nothing about the film that brings to mind Canada.  The film was obviously shot in South America and almost all of the actors are Chilean.  And, just in case you forget, they’ve all been badly dubbed.)  The Stranger is full of atmosphere and it does attempt to do something new with the vampire genre so I guess we should give it some credit for that…

No, sorry.

Can’t do it.

Listen, I love horror movies.  I think that some of the most interesting films being made today are coming out of the South American film scene.  And, in the past, I’ve even defended Eli Roth, who is credited as being one of the producers on this film.  But I’m sorry — The Stranger is an incredibly boring and unpleasant film.

And yes, I fully realize that the best horror films are meant to be nightmarish and, as a result, somewhat unpleasant to watch.  However, there’s a difference between the stylized violence of a good giallo and the relentless sadism of The Stranger.  There’s no real point or style to the overbearing violence and gore in The Stranger and, as a result, it gets pretty boring after just a few minutes.

Of course, another huge difference between good horror and The Stranger is that The Stranger takes itself way too seriously.  Again to return to the Italian horror comparison, the best giallo films always featured quirky characters, clever dialogue, and plot twists that took us by surprise.  They were exercises in pure style that celebrated cinematic excess.  The Stranger is so somber and grim and serious that it all becomes a bit tedious to deal with.

Also, an innocent black cat is brutally murdered about 30 minutes into a film.  Then, towards the end of the film a dog is similarly attacked and left to die in the desert.  And you really don’t get the feeling that there was any reason for these scenes, beyond the fact that the director needed to keep up with his onscreen death quota..  If you’re going to portray an innocent animal being killed by your hero, at least make sure it’s absolutely necessary to the plot.  Otherwise, it just comes across as pointless sadism.

Anyway, the movie itself is about a stranger (Christobal Tapia Montt), who shows up in what we’re told in a small Canadian town.  He’s looking for his runaway wife, who he discovers has subsequently died.  The man has secrets of his own, of course.  He hates the sunlight.  He apparently cannot be killed by ordinary methods.  His blood can heal others but it also tends to transform them into being blood-thirsty monsters.  Yes, the man is obviously a vampire but the film never comes out and admits that.

There’s all sorts of small town intrigue going on but I’m not going to talk about it because it was tedious enough just trying to watch it.  Ultimately, the whole film is basically just a collection of scenes of people threatening the stranger, the stranger looking somber, and then people threatening each other.  None of the actors are particularly memorable and very few of them speak in their own voices.  One gets the feeling that the Chilean cast could not sound properly Canadian and so a bunch of American actors were hired to overdub everyone’s dialogue.  (I say American because I heard many regional American accents but not a single Canadian one.  All of this again makes you wonder why this film was set in Canada as opposed to some place like maybe Chile.)  The dubbing is atrocious, with the voices rarely matching either the facial expressions or the body language of the original actors.

This movie is a total mess.  Sorry, Eli.  I still think that the Hostel films have a lot more to say about America’s place in the world than most people are willing to admit but ultimately, The Stranger is a disappointment.



Artist Profile: The Baseball Paintings of Graig Kreindler

With the 4th of July approaching, today’s artist profile is of a painter who celebrates the American pastime.  Born in 1980, Graig Kreindler was educated at both the School of Visual Arts in New York City and at Lehman College.  His award-winning paintings celebrate and recreate the history of baseball and have appeared in juried shows and museums nationwide.  You can see much more of his work at his site.

Birds Sweep Series

Cowd, DiMaggio Stays Hot

Ford's Effort For Naught Gehrig, Gordon, and Glenn Back Gomez Marse Joe's Jubilee Navin's Nominal Star Pitchers Once Feared His Bat Rookie Routs The Beast Bangs Gomez The Heater Makes History Yanks Win Two, Ruth Hits One Gehrig's Farewell

Just plain Xilly: Nick Adams in MONSTER ZERO

I was never a big fan of kaiju eiga movies. I watched them as a 60s Monster Kid in good standing, but much preferred the Universal classics, Technicolor Hammer horrors, and AIP/Poe epics. Those badly dubbed, fake looking Toho flicks just weren’t my cup of gruel.

I was however a fan of Nick Adams. The actor had roles in major films of the late 50s (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, PICNIC, NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS) and scored big as Johnny Yuma in TV’s THE REBEL (1959-1961). He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1963’s TWILIGHT OF HONOR. Yet a scant two years later, Adams found himself in Japan appearing in low budget nonsense like FRANKENSTEIN CONQUORS THE WORLD and MONSTER ZERO.

MONSTER ZERO begins with astronauts Glenn and Fuji landing on the newly discovered Planet X, just beyond Jupiter. A race known as the Xilians are being attacked by Monster Zero, their name for the fearsome Ghidrah. The Xilian Controller has a plan to import Godzilla and Rodan from Earth to combat  the three-headed beast. In exchange, the Xilians promise to give Earth a miracle drug that will “cure all diseases”!

Glenn and Fuji relay the message to Earth’s Supreme Counsel, who begin searching for the two monsters. Suddenly, three spaceships rise up from the lake which supposedly contains Godzilla. The Controller tells the Earthlings they’ve come in peace to help capture the monsters. They snatch up the creatures in their “nuclear bubbles” (or something) and invite Glenn, Fuji, and their boss to Planet X to observe.

Meanwhile, Fuji’s future brother-in-law, Terry, has invented a sonic disruptor devise. This draws the interest of some Xilian spies hiding on Earth, including Glenn’s girlfriend, Namikawa. The aliens capture Terry and hold him in their secret hideout.

Godzilla and Rodan are set on Ghidrah, and a mighty battle ensues. Well, as mighty as these things get. Ghidrah is sent packing, and the Xilians give our heroes a tape containing the formula for the wonder drug. When the Earthmen return, it’s discovered the tape is actually the voice of The Controller stating Earth must immediately surrender and become a Xilian colony or they’ll wipe us out. Those dirty rats!!

The monsters are brought back to Earth under the control of Xilian magnectic waves (or something) and begin doing their rampaging destruction thing, which consists of crushing a bunch of miniature sets. Glenn and Terry manage to escape the aliens clutches, and the Army uses his sonic distrupter to combat the fiends. The world’s citizens are told to crank up their radios, and the piercing noise causes the Xilians computers to malfunction. The alien spaceships blow up in mid-air! The three behemoths are freed from Xilian control, and Godzilla and Rodan vanquish Ghidrah, bringing peace back to our planet.

MONSTER ZERO is pretty bad as far as these things go. I know there are plenty of kaiju eiga who will vehemently disagree, but to me the movie’s just plain Xilly. Toho Studios had success with this one though, and continued to crank out more rubber suited epics well into the 80s.

As for Nick Adams, his life and career continued on a downward spiral. An ugly divorce, with rumors of infidelity and domestic violence, ruined is reputation. Adams found work only in TV guest shots and Grade-Z dreck like MISSION MARS and FEVER HEAT. Adams died of a drug overdose in 1968 at the age of 36. MONSTER ZERO wasn’t released in the US until 1970, as a double feature with WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, featuring another American ex-pat, Russ Tamblyn. A sad ending for a once promising actormonster zero

What Lisa Watched Last Night #125: Perfect High (dir by Vanessa Parise)

Last night, I watched the first post-Deadly Adoption Lifetime movie, Perfect High!

Why Was I Watching It?

Because it was on Lifetime and it was about a dancer, of course!

What Was It About?

Amanda (Bella Thorne) is a suburban teen who loves to dance.  But, after an injury, she gets hooked on prescription pills.  She also becomes best friends with druggie Riley (Daniela Bobadilla), Riley’s boyfriend Nate (Ross Butler), and Carson (Israel Broussard).  Soon, Carson and Amanda are dating and they become perhaps the most boring couple in history.  Of course, since this is Lifetime, the prescription drug abuse quickly leads to heroin, death, and a minute-long rehab scene.

What Worked?

The film did a good job of capturing both the excitement of dancing and the sheer terror of being injured and knowing that, as a result, you can’t do what you love.

What Did Not Work?

The whole movie was just so predictable and so slow.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that a Lifetime film about teenagers using drugs isn’t going to exactly be unpredictable.  From the start of the film, I knew that one of the four friends was going to have to die and I easily guessed which one it was going to be.  That’s just the way it works, somebody always has to die in these films.

But the problem is that we are now living in a post-Deadly Adoption age.  After seeing every single Lifetime convention skewered last week, it’s hard to go back to taking any of those conventions seriously.  The whole time I was watching the film, I kept expecting Will Ferrell to suddenly show and start bellowing, “SHE NEEDS HER MEDICINE!”

As well, Perfect High moved way too slowly for its own good.  As characters, Amanda, Riley, Nate, and Carson all fell flat.  Even before they ended up as drug addicts, they seemed like they wouldn’t be that interesting of a group to hang out with.  Before doing drugs, they spent all their time laying on the couch.  After doing drugs … well, that couch became even more comfortable.  For an anti-drug film to really work, you have to mourn what the character could have been if not for their addictions.  But, in Perfect High, everyone seemed to be just as dull regardless of whether they were high or not.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!”  Moments

The movie was about a red-haired dancer who popped too many pills in high school.  Oh my God, just like me!

Lessons Learned

Stay away from that heroin, kids.  Of course, I already knew that.  Even when I was going through my phase where I wanted to experiment with and try everything, I still knew better than to ever use heroin.  (Actually, to be honest, I should say that if I had ever had the opportunity to try heroin, I would have politely declined.  Fortunately, I never even had to deal with being offered heroin, which I guess is the benefit of going to both a high school and a college where everyone was too busy smoking weed to worry about harder drugs.)  Whenever I see a movie like Perfect High, I always wonder how the characters involved have never seen any other movies about heroin abuse.

I mean, don’t they watch Lifetime!?


4 Shots From 4 Films: Enter the Dragon, Lady Snowblood, Black Belt Jones, Three The Hard Way

Everyone, at some point in his life, has wanted to learn karate.  The films featured below are a big reason why.


Enter the Dragon (directed by Robert Clouse, 1973)

Enter the Dragon (directed by Robert Clouse, 1973)

Lady Snowblood (directed by Toshiya Fujita, 1973)

Lady Snowblood (directed by Toshiya Fujita, 1973)

Black Belt Jones (directed by Robert Clouse, 1974)

Black Belt Jones (directed by Robert Clouse, 1974)

Three The Hard Way (directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., 1974)

Three The Hard Way (directed by Gordon Parks, Jr., 1974)