Special Memorial Day Edition: Randolph Scott in GUNG HO! (Universal 1943)


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Duke Wayne wasn’t the only movie cowboy who fought WWII in Hollywood. Randolph Scott battled fascism in quite a few war dramas, and one of his best is 1943’s GUNG HO! (currently streaming on The Film Detective ). The rock-solid Mr. Scott plays tough-as-nails Col. Thorwald, an expert in guerilla warfare thanks to his experience with the Chinese army, who whips a diverse crew of Marines into fighting shape to launch the first American ground offensive against the Japanese on Makin Island.

Scott and his second-in-command, the versatile character actor J. Carrol Naish (playing a Marine of Greek descent this time around), gather up a motley crew of misfits and reprobates ala THE DIRTY DOZEN:  there’s battling stepbrothers Noah Beery Jr. and David Bruce (who’re also rivals for the affections of pretty Grace McDonald in a subplot), hillbilly farmboy Rod Cameron, murderous minister Alan Curtis , “no good kid” Harold…

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Bloody Good Show: Robert Quarry as COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (AIP 1970)


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Robert Quarry’s screen career wasn’t really going anywhere by 1970. He had a good part in 1956’s soapy noir A KISS BEFORE DYING , but mostly he was relegated to uncredited bits in movies and guest shots on episodic TV. Quarry kept busy on the stage, until being approached by producer/actor Michael Macready to star in THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA, originally envisioned as a soft core porn flick with horror elements. The actor said he would accept the job but only if it were turned into a straight modern-day vampire tale, and thus was born COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, launching Quarry into a new phase as a 70’s horror movie icon.

The plot is an updated version of Stoker’s DRACULA, with a few changes. Here, the Bulgarian-born Count Yorga is a recent transplant to California, and we first meet him conducting a séance on behalf of Donna, whose late…

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The Things You Find On Netflix: Maria (dir by Pedring Lopez)


Once upon a time, Lily (Cristine Reyes) was one of the most feared cartel assassins in the Philippines.  Working with her lover, Kaleb (Ivan Padilla), Lily killed a lot of people and she did so with the an unstoppable ruthlessness.  However, she soon grew tired of the killing.  When she told Kaleb that she wanted out, he told her that there was no way to get out.  Lily decided to prove him wrong by betraying the cartel, faking her own death, and building a new life for herself.

Years later, Lily is now knows as Maria.  She’s a wife and a mother.  While her new husband is enthusiastic about a politician who says that he’s going to do whatever needs to be done to put the cartel out of business, Maria is always careful to remain apolitical.  In fact, she does nothing that might bring attention to herself.

Unfortunately, disappearing is easier said than done.  The cartel learns of her new location and Kaleb and his men are sent to kill her and her family.  They easily manage to kill both her husband and her daughter.  However, Maria escapes.  While Kaleb is forced to deal with the machination of a rival member of the cartel, the brutal Victor (KC Montero), Maria once again enters the criminal underworld.  She now only has one mission and that’s revenge.  She’s going to kill anyone who had anything to do with the death of her family….

Earlier tonight, I watched the Filipino film Maria on Netflix.  It’s pretty much a standard revenge thriller.  The action scenes and the over-the-top violence were clearly inspired by films like The Raid and John Wick.  One could just as easily replaced the cartel with the Russian mafia and Maria’s family with a collection of house pets and then sold that film as being about John Wick’s long-lost sister.  However, Maria didn’t have any of the winking self-awareness that makes both The Raid and the John Wick films so memorable.  Really, the only thing that Maria has to distinguish itself from other action films is that the lead character is female but, at times, that’s enough.  Even though the whole “action girl” character has become a bit of a cliche in the years since Kill Bill and the original Resident Evil, there’s still something undeniably satisfying about watching a woman kick ass.  If nothing else, this makes Maria an appropriate film to watch if you’re having a bad day and you need the catharsis that comes from watching some really bad dudes not get a fair trial.

The film itself is a bit oddly paced.  The first fourth of the film is a bit-heavy on torture scenes with one in particular being drawn out to a painful degree.  Things pick up once Maria starts beating people up and Christine Reyes gives a sympathetic and highly-charged performance in the title role.  Maria is not a particularly challenging film, nor is it one that you’ll necessarily remember two hours after you’ve watched it.  That said, for what it is — i.e., a modest revenge flick, it gets the job done.  Just like Maria!

Time Well Spent: THREE HOURS TO KILL (Columbia 1954)


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I don’t think you’ll find THREE HOURS TO KILL among anyone’s Top Ten Films list, or Top Ten Westerns, or even Top Ten Dana Andrews Movies. What you will find, if you give this movie a chance, is a solid, adult themed Technicolor Western with just a hint of film noir, made by Hollywood pros in front and behind the cameras. And you can’t ask for much more than that.

Jim Guthrie returns after a three year absence to the town that once tried to hang him. Jim relates the tale via flashback to old friend and current sheriff Ben East: a big night in town had everybody drinking and partying it up. Sexy hotel owner Chris Palmer comes on to Jim, but he only has eyes for pretty Laurie Mastin, bringing out the jealous side of banker Niles Hendricks. Laurie’s brother Carter disapproves of Jim, and a fight…

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Pre Code Confidential #27: Mae West in SHE DONE HIM WRONG (Paramount 1933)


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Bawdy Mae West had scandalized Broadway with her risque humor, and struggling Paramount Pictures snapped her to a movie deal. Her first was a supporting part in 1932’s NIGHT AFTER NIGHT, where she was allowed to rewrite her own dialog, and stole the show by purring sexually charged lines like “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie”. Mae’s presence helped refill Paramount’s coffers, and raised the hackles of censorship boards across America. It wasn’t long until the Production Code became strictly enforced, thanks in large part to Mae, but before then, she was given the spotlight in 1933’s SHE DONE HIM WRONG, based somewhat on her stage success DIAMOND LIL.

Like the play, SHE DONE HIM WRONG is set in The Bowery during the 1890’s, but here Diamond Lil is called Lady Lou, because the censors wanted to whitewash all vestiges of the ribald play. Diamond Lil or Lady…

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I Watched Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown


In Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, the entire Peanuts gang (including Snoopy and Woodstock) go to camp for the summer and run afoul three bullies and a really mean cat.  Along with all the other camp activities, there’s also a rafting race.  With no adult supervision, the boys (led by Charlie Brown) end up one raft, the girls (led by Peppermint Patty) end up on another raft, Snoopy and Woodstock build their own raft, and the bullies try to sabotage the three other teams.  While Charlie Brown tries to find his voice as a leader and Peppermint Patty runs her raft by having every decision determined by secret ballot, Snoopy and Woodstock explore the wilderness.

Though Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown was released theatrically in 1977, it was made by the same team responsible for the Charlie Brown TV specials and it feels more like an extended TV show than an actual movie.  It’s still a cute production, though, especially if you’re already a fan of Peanuts.  The animation is primitive by today’s standards but it has a retro appeal and Charlie Brown is as likable as he is wishy-washy.  Not surprisingly, Snoopy and Woodstock are the film’s MVPs.  From the minute that they drive up on their motorcycle, Snoopy and his friend steal the movie.  Because it lacks both the spiritual and the philosophical themes that we usually associate with Peanuts, the movie’s not as memorable or poignant as the holiday specials and some of my favorite characters, like Linus and Lucy, don’t have much to do.  I was especially disappointed that Lucy stayed in the background and let Peppermint Patty run the girl’s team.  Whatever happened to the Lucy who could always convince Charlie Brown to kick the football?

In the end, the important thing is that the movie has a good message.  Bullies are losers, nothing’s more important than friendship, and the best team wins.

Film Review: Hamlet (dir by Michael Almereyda)


What if Hamlet was a hipster douchebag?

That appears to be the question at the heart of the 2000 film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s most famous play.  In this adaptation, a young Ethan Hawke plays a Hamlet who is no longer a melancholy prince but who is instead a film student with a petulant attitude.

As you probably already guessed, this is one of those modern day adaptations of Shakespeare.  Denmark is now a Manhattan-based corporation.  Elsinore is a hotel.  Hamlet ponders life while wandering around a Blockbuster and, at one point, the ghost of his father stands in front of a Pepsi machine.  While Shakespeare’s dialogue remains unchanged, everyone delivers their lives while wearing modern clothing.  It’s one of those things that would seem rather brave and experimental if not for the fact that modern day versions of Shakespeare have gone from being daring to being a cliché.

At the film’s start, the former CEO of the Denmark Corporation has mysteriously died and his brother, Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan), has not only taken over the company but he’s also married the widow, Gertrude (Diane Venora).  Hamlet comes home from film school, convinced that there has been a murder and his suspicions are eventually confirmed by the ghost of his father (Sam Shepard).  Meanwhile, poor Ophelia (Julia Stiles) takes pictures of flowers while her brother, Laertes (Liev Schreiber), glowers in the background.  Polonius (Bill Murray) offers up pointless advice while Fortinbras (Casey Affleck) is reimagined as a corporate investor and Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) wears a hockey jersey.  Hamlet spends a lot of time filming himself talking and the Mousetrap is no longer a player but instead an incredibly over-the-top short film that will probably remind you of the killer video from The Ring.

I guess a huge part of this film’s appeal was meant to be that it featured a lot of people who you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being Shakespearean actors. Some of them did a surprisingly good job.  For instance, Kyle MacLachlan was wonderully villainous as Claudius and Steve Zahn was the perfect Rosencrantz.  Others, like Diane Venora and Liev Schreiber, were adequate without being particularly interesting.  But then you get to Bill Murray as Polonius and you start to realize that quirkiness can only take things so far.  Murray does a pretty good job handling Shakespeare’s dialogue but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s totally miscast as the misguided and foolish Polonius.  One could easily imagine Murray in the role of Osiric.  Though it may initially seem a stretch, one could even imagine him playing Claudius.  But he’s simply not right for the role of Polonius.  Murray’s screen presence is just too naturally snarky for him to be convincing as a character who alternates between being a “tedious, old fool” and an obsequious ass kisser.

Considering that he spends a large deal of the movie wearing a snow cap while wandering around downtown Manhattan, Ethan Hawke does a surprisingly good job as Hamlet.  Or, I should say, he does a good job as this film’s version of Hamlet.  Here, Hamlet is neither the indecisive avenger nor the Oedipal madman of previous adaptations.  Instead, he’s portrayed as being rather petulant and self-absorbed, which doesn’t necessarily go against anything that one might find within Shakespeare’s original text.  Hawke’s not necessarily a likable Hamlet but his interpretation is still a credible one.

At one point, while Hamlet thinks about revenge, we see that he’s watching Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet on television.  There’s Olivier talking to Yorick’s skull while Hawke watches.  It’s a scene that is somehow both annoying and amusing at the same time.  On the one hand, it feels rather cutesy and more than a little pretentious.  At the same time, it’s so over-the-top in its pretension that you can’t help but kind of smile at the sight of it.  To me, that scene epitomizes the film as a whole.  It’s incredibly silly but it’s so unapologetic that it’s easy to forgive.