Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Silver Chalice (dir by Victor Saville)


If you ever needed proof that everyone has to start somewhere, look no further than the 1954 biblical epic, The Silver Chalice.

The Silver Chalice features the film debut of Paul Newman, who later proved himself to be a legitimately great actor.  It’s true that, unlike a lot of actors, Newman made his debut in a starring role.  He never had to humiliate himself with any one-line roles or walk-on bits.  No, Paul got to humiliate himself with a starring role.

Paul Newman was 29 years old when he played Basil, a former slave turned sculptor.  Not only did Newman bear a disconcerting resemblance to Ben Savage (of Boy Meets World fame) but he gave a performance that was so bad that it’s kind of a shock that he ever worked again.  Basil is a passionate artist, one who survived being betrayed by his adopted family and slavery.  Newman comes across like a nice, young man from Iowa.  Usually, Newman looks miserable but occasionally, he flashes a somewhat weak smile.  When Basil gets mad, Newman speaks in a squeaky voice.  When Basil is feeling reverent, Newman furrows his brow like a hungover Russell Brand staring straight into the sun.

“But me and Topanga are soul mates…”

Then again, I’m not sure that any actor could have given a good performance as Basil.  The Silver Chalice has a terrible script, one that was written by Lesser Samuels.  (I’ll avoid the obvious joke about whether or not The Silver Chalice would have been better if written by Greater Samuels.)  Apparently, before Newman was cast, the producers pursued James Dean for the role.  I’m sure we all would have enjoyed seeing Dean slouch his way through the film but I doubt that even he could have done much with The Silver Chalice.

The Silver Chalice is based on a novel, which perhaps explains why there’s so many characters and so many unnecessary subplots.  Basil follows a path that will be familiar to anyone who has seen a 1950s biblical epic.  He’s a young Greek who is adopted into a noble Roman family.  When his kindly stepfather dies, Basil’s stepsiblings sell him into slavery.  It’s not an easy life but Basil is a talented sculptor so Joseph of Arimathea commissions him to make a silver chalice for the Holy Grail.  Basil goes from poor to rich to poor again to rich again to ultimately saved by grace.  He even gets to do the same walking towards Heaven thing that Richard Burton did at the end of The Robe.

Meanwhile, Simon Magus (Jack Palance) is wowing the citizenry with his magic tricks and claiming to be the risen Messiah.  Simon’s assistant just happens to be Helena, who knew Basil when he was younger.  Young Helena is played by dark-haired Natalie Wood.  Grown-up Helena is played by blonde Virgina Mayo.  They were both good actresses but there’s seriously no way that Natalie Wood would have ever grown up to be Virginia Mayo.

Jack Palance pretty much steals the movie, mostly because he gets to wear the silliest costumes:

Poor Paul Newman has to settle for a tunic and a miniskirt, while Jack Palance gets to wear this:

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed the story of Simon Magus.  He tried to show off by flying over the Roman Forum so St. Peter said a prayer and Simon promptly plunged to his death.  Take that, you Gnostic!

Another interesting thing about The Silver Chalice is that the sets are very deliberately fake.  I don’t mean that they look cheap.  I mean, much as in the style of German Expressionism, the sets are specifically designed to remind you that you’re watching a movie.

For instance, look at the wall behind Palance:

Look at this pleasure palace:

Look at Rome at night:

The sets are extremely dream-like and yet everything else about the film is extremely slow and conventional.  One wonders if director Victor Saville was trying to make an art film, though there’s nothing else in his long filmography that would suggest that Saville was anything other than a workmanlike director.  In fact, most biblical epics of the time took a lot of pride in looking as expensive and “accurate” as possible.  Major studios in the 1950s were not known for artistic experimentation, especially when it came to Biblical epics.  It’s hard to know what to make of The Silver Chalice‘s artistic flourishes, which is why it’s easier to just focus on what a terrible performance Paul Newman gives.

That’s certainly what Paul did!  In 1966, when The Silver Chalice finally premiered on TV, Newman took out a newspaper ad in which he apologized for his performance and then asked people not watch.  Apparently, he also used to show the movie during parties on the condition that his guests mock the film while watching it.

I don’t really blame him.  It’s an amazingly dull film and Newman looks absolutely miserable in nearly every other scene.  However, because it did star Paul Newman, The Silver Chalice will always have a life on TCM.

Speaking of TCM, they last broadcast this film on February 24th as part of their 31 Days of Oscar.  (It was nominated for both its sets and its score.)  That is when I recorded it.  And, after watching it yesterday, I was more than happy to erase it.

A Movie A Day #78: Future War (1997, directed by Anthony Doublin)


“Four days ago, a fire fell from the sky.”

So says Sister Ann (Travis Brooks Stewart), the former prostitute junkie turned nun who narrates Future War.  She says it at least three times.

But what was in that fire?

Was it The Runaway (Daniel Bernhardt), the Swiss kickboxer who was kidnapped by intergalactic slave traders shortly after the writing of the King James’s Bible and who, when he finally escapes, somehow finds himself in 20th Century Los Angeles?

Was it the dinosaurs that were sent down to purse him?

Was it the Cyborg Master (played by Maniac Cop himself, Robert Z’Dar)?

Or was the fire from the sky any hope that Future War would feature consistent continuity and narrative logic crashing down to the Earth and burning up in the atmosphere?

Future War is one of the worst films ever made, which is the main reason to watch it.

Watch as The Runaway points up at the sky and proves incapable of speaking until it is convenient for him to do so!

Thrill to countless fights that take place in warehouses that appear to be full of empty boxes!

Listen as multiple plot holes and inconsistencies are explained away by Sister Ann’s voice over!

Gasp at the sight of The Runaway and The Cyborg Master having a showdown in a church, John Woo-style!

Scream as dinosaur puppets are held really close to the camera in an effort to make them look bigger!

Laugh as the late Forrest J Ackerman makes a cameo, reading Famous Monsters of Filmland before getting eaten!

Wonder why The Runaway’s chest is bloody and injured in one shot but not the next!

Future War has it all!

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: The Arrival (dir by David Twohy)


I recorded The Arrival off of Cinemax on March 3rd.  Having just watched it, I am 95% sure that it is not the same movie as the Arrival that I saw in theaters last fall.

It’s true that both films deal with the arrival of aliens and feature scenes that take place in space ships.  And it’s also true that both films involve scientists trying to figure out what the aliens want.  However, The Arrival that I recorded featured far more of Charlie Sheen than I remembered being in the Arrival that I saw in theaters.  Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner were nowhere to be seen but Charlie Sheen was all over the freaking place.

And I mean all of Charlie Sheen.  The Arrival was made back in 1996 and I guess that Charlie Sheen was still working out back then because, seriously, he is either naked or, at the very least, shirtless for the majority of the movie.  What’s funny is that, with a few minor exceptions, there’s rarely a reason for him to be naked.  I guess someone just said, “We might as well record Charlie Sheen looking fit and healthy while we still can…”

The Arrival is a relatively serious movie.  Oh, it has moments of humor but it’s all Hollywood blockbuster humor.  It’s not a comedy by any means.  It’s always strange seeing Charlie Sheen in a serious role because … well, he’s Charlie Sheen.  Plus, he was never a particularly good dramatic actor.  He walks through The Arrival with this grim look frozen on his face and that, combined with his muscular chest, makes him look like a killer robot from the future.  You keep waiting for Charlie to say, “I’ll be back.”

Of course, Charlie Sheen isn’t playing a killer robot.  He’s playing Zane Zaminsky, an astronomer who works for the government.  Or, at least, he did work for the government until he detected an alien signal coming from a nearby star.  He’s fired and blackballed by his boss, Phil (Ron Silver).  Unable to get work, Zane does what anyone would do.  He and Kiki (Tony T. Johnson), the streetwise neighbor kid, set up a DIY astronomy lab in his basement.

At least, that’s what I think he did.  I kind of had a hard time following The Arrival‘s plot.  It all seemed a little bit overcomplicated, especially when savvy viewers will have already guessed that 1) the aliens are real, 2) Phil is an alien, 3) there’s a big government conspiracy involved, 4) and Zane has stumbled across it.

What are the aliens doing on the planet?  To figure that out, Zane’s going to have to go to Mexico and meet with climatologist Illana Green (Lindsay Crouse).  However, we already know what the aliens are  doing.  They’re attempting to destroy the environment so that they can wipe out humanity.  We know this because that’s what aliens are always trying to do!  They’re always either trying to save the environment or destroy it.  My personal theory is that Bill Nye, The Science Guy is actually an alien.  It explains a lot.

Anyway, it may sound like I’m criticizing The Arrival but it was actually kind of a fun movie in its dumb way.  It’s a serious movie but it’s also kind of a silly movie.  Any film that features Charlie Sheen as anyone other than Charlie Sheen is going to be watchable just on a WTF sort of level.  Beyond that, Ron Silver makes for a rather convincing alien and director David Twohy keeps the action moving quickly.  Several of Twohy’s shots are memorably atmospheric, even if they often do feature a bearded and naked Charlie Sheen.

Is The Arrival as good as Arrival?  HELL NO!  Arrival is one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.  The Arrival is a rather minor sci-fi melodrama but it’s fun nonetheless.  Just don’t expect it to make any sense.  To quote the bard, John Lennon, “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.”

Film Review: Stalker’s Prey (dir by Colin Theys)


Before I really get into writing about tonight’s Lifetime premier movie, there’s something that I need to point out.  The movie that premiered on Lifetime was called Stalker’s Prey.  As often happens with Lifetime movies, it actually has more than one title.  Lifetime will often change the title of movies, either to make them fit into the one of the Lifetime “franchises,” (like the Perfect films or the … At 17 films) or just to make them sound more lifetime-y.  According to the imdb, Stalker’s Prey is also known as Hunter’s Cove.  Personally, I think Hunter’s Cove is a better title but Stalker’s Prey does have more of a Lifetime feel to it.

Well, whatever you call the movie, it was a lot of fun.

Stalker’s Prey opens with a real “Oh my God!  Just like me!” moment, with teenager Laura (Sharbino Saxon) getting caught staying out too late and making out with her boyfriend, Nick (Luke Slattery).  Now, Nick seems to be a nice guy but Laura’s mother, Sandy (Cynthia Gibb), doesn’t like him.  Sandy and Laura have a strained relationship.  Ever since her parents got divorced, Laura has been rebellious (though her rebellion seems rather mild compared to what some angry teenagers have done in previous Lifetime movies).   Sandy feels that Nick is a bad influence on Laura and that Laura is a bad influence on her younger sister, Chloe (Alexis Lariviere).

(While I did relate to Laura, I was also fortunate enough to be the youngest, so I never had to worry about being a bad influence on anyone.)

Sandy forbids Laura from going out so, the next morning, Laura sneaks out.  She and Nick sail out to an isolated spot.  They relax on the water.  They go for a swim.  They ignore Sandy trying to call them.  And then, of course, a shark comes along and eats Nick.  If not for Bruce Kane (Mason Dye), it would have eaten Sandy as well.

Bruce is the handsome, charming, and kind of odd son of the Mayor.  He just happened to be in the area when he saw Laura being attacked.  He saved Laura from certain death.  Soon, Bruce is a local hero.  He appears on the news nearly every night, assuring everyone that he is going to catch the shark and prove himself worthy of his famous last name.  Meanwhile, Laura has been totally traumatized, which makes sense.  Not only is Nick dead but, thanks to that shark, she’s probably going to have a permanent scar as well.

Remember how I said that Bruce just happened to be in the area?  Well, that’s kind of Bruce’s thing.  Any time that Laura goes anywhere, Bruce just happens to be right there.  He drops by her hospital room.  He drops by her house.  When Laura goes shopping, Bruce shows up in the parking lot.  When Laura stops by the police station, Bruce happens to be walking by.  When she goes back to school, Bruce just happens to be her new substitute teacher.  When she comes home, Bruce is babysitting Chloe.  When she goes to the beach, Bruce shows up with flowers.

Bruce considers Laura to be his girlfriend, despite the fact that she only gave him one pity date and only slept with him because he took advantage of her emotionally fragile state.  Laura wants nothing to do with Bruce but Bruce will not accept that.  Bruce has issues.  Bruce also has a mannequin on his boat but you’ll have to watch the movie to see what that’s all about.

Meanwhile, it appears that the most dangerous thing that you can do in Hunter’s Cove is be a friend of Laura’s.  Not only does Nick get eaten by a shark but her friend Parker (Camrus Johnson) gets beaten up by a baseball-wielding assailant.  Another friend get run over by a car while out jogging.

And, of course, that shark is still swimming around the ocean, like it owns the place…

It makes sense that, after taking over the SyFy network, the sharks would eventually move over to Lifetime.  That said, Stalker’s Prey is an enjoyable melodrama, one that is quite likable in its cheerfully willingness to go over the top to get a reaction.  Mason Dye is memorably creepy as Bruce, who I assume was named after the mechanical shark from Jaws.  What I liked best about the film was the relationship between Laura and her mother.  The mother-daughter interactions between Cynthia Gibb and Saxon Sharbino felt very real and their relationship reminded me of my relationship with my own mom.  It definitely gave the film an extra layer of effectiveness.

Whether you call it Stalker’s Prey or Hunter’s Cove, it was a lot of fun and very entertaining.

The Land Down Under: THE SUNDOWNERS (Warner Brothers 1960)


crackedrearviewer

G’day, mates! Let’s take a trek through the wilds of 1920’s Australian outback with  , Robert Mitchum Deborah Kerr, and a herd of bouncing sheep in THE SUNDOWNERS. Fred Zinnemann, generally associated with serious, tense dramas like HIGH NOON and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, lends a lighter touch than usual to this sprawling, almost John Ford-esque tale of an itinerant sheep drover and his family, and the wife who longs to settle into a home of her own.

Mitchum plays Paddy Carmody, a stubborn Irishman who has to keep moving, unable and unwilling to be tied to one place. He’s a wanderer with a fondness for booze and gambling, and Big Bob is perfect for the part. Mitchum’s penchant for dialects make his Aussie accent more than believable, and his facial expressions, especially during the sheep-shearing contest, are priceless. Deborah Kerr is his equal as wife Ida, the tough Earth Mother who’s loyal to Paddy…

View original post 322 more words

A Movie A Day #77: On Any Sunday (1971, directed by Bruce Brown)


Why pay money to see CHiPs in the theaters when you can watch On Any Sunday, the greatest motorcycle movie of all time, on YouTube for free?

Directed and narrated by Bruce Brown (of Endless Summer fame), On Any Sunday is a documentary about motorcycle racing.  Brown profiles several professional racers and takes a look at the different types of racing, everything from desert racing to street racing to ice racing.  In On Any Sunday, Brown makes riding a motorcycle look just as exciting as he made surfing look in Endless Summer.  Brown’s racing footage is often amazing and left me wondering how he got some of his shots.

Throughout the documentary, Brown emphasizes both the dedication and the humanity of the racers.  The racers are seen obsessively working on their motorcycles but Brown also points out that, in order to be successful, the racers have to trust each other.  They have to know that, if they crash during the race, the other racers will be alert and quick enough to avoid running them down.

Why, Brown asks, do they do it?  Brown says that most of the racers can’t tell you why they race.  They just enjoy it.  But, with the footage Brown shows us, we can guess why they do it.  Through the use of helmet cams, Brown puts us right on the motorcycle, tearing down a track at over 100 mph and allows us to get as close as we can to feeling the thrill of the race without actually being in the race ourselves.  Brown also makes good use of slow motion to show the skill necessary to avoid crashing and he shows us enough crashes that we understand the risk that comes with racing.  Brown emphasizes that every racer crashes and that the best of them can just brush it off.

On Any Sunday was co-produced by actor and racing enthusiast Steve McQueen.  Towards the end of the documentary, McQueen is interviewed about why he races.  McQueen, a man of few words, says that he enjoys being on the track with the other racers.  They lift him up when he’s feeling down.

On Any Sunday is 46 years old but it will still make you want to get on a motorcycle and ride like a champion.

Here’s The Trailer For Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


I can’t wait to see this film!  The title is a bit unwieldy but I’m intrigued by the combination of Frances McDormand and director Martin McDonagh.

Here’s the trailer.  It’s red band so you know it has to be good…