Horror On TV: One Step Beyond 2.1 “Delusion” (dir by John Newland)


On tonight’s episode of One Step Beyond.

A young woman (Suzanne Pleshette) desperately needs a blood transfusion.  Fortunately, the police have managed to track down one of the only people to share her blood type, an accountant named Harold Stern (Norman Lloyd).  Harold seems like a nice, rather mild-mannered guy and he has a long history of donating blood.  However, when the police approach him, Harold refuses to donate.

“What type of crumb are you!?” the police demand.

Harold explains that, whenever he gives someone blood, he develops a psychic connection with that person.  He can see their future.  And that’s simply a burden that he can no longer shoulder….

This episode of One Step Beyond originally aired on September 15th, 1959.  Norman Lloyd, who plays Harold, got his start as a member of Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater and he also played the villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur.  (Speaking of Hitchcock, Suzanne Pleshette played the doomed school teacher in The Birds.)  When Lloyd appeared in this episode of One Step Beyond, he was 44 years old.

Today, Norman Lloyd is 103 years old and guess what?  He’s still acting!  He had a role in Trainwreck and still occasionally appears on television.

Enjoy!

Tears of A Clown: Charles Chaplin’s LIMELIGHT (United Artists 1952)


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Charlie Chaplin was unquestionably one of the true geniuses of cinema. His iconic character ‘The Little Tramp’ has been entertaining audiences for over 100 years, enchanting both children and adults alike with his winning blend of humor and pathos. But by 1952, the 63-year-old Chaplin had been buffeted about by charges of immoral behavior and the taint of Communism during the HUAC years, and filmgoers were turning against him. It is at this juncture in his life and career he choose to make LIMELIGHT, a personal, reflective piece on the fickleness of fame, mortality, despair, and most prominently, hope. It could be considered Chaplin’s valedictory message to the medium he helped establish, even though there would be two more films yet to come.

“The story of a ballerina and a clown…” It’s 1914 London, and the once-great Music Hall clown Calvero arrives home from a drunken bender. Fumbling with the…

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Sweet Land of Liberty: Alfred Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR (Universal 1942)


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The Master of Suspense puts the pedal to the metal once again in SABOTEUR, another “double chase” spy thriller that doesn’t get the attention some of Alfred Hitchcock’s other films do, but should. I’ve always enjoyed the performance of Robert Cummings as the “ordinary man caught in an extraordinary situation”; his naturally laid-back, easygoing charm makes him perfect playing Barry Kane, accused of sabotaging a wartime aircraft plant and killing his best friend in the process, who winds up on a cross-country chase alongside reluctant heroine Priscilla Lane . SABOTEUR is certainly an  important film in Hitchcock’s body of work for one important reason: it’s the director’s first film for Universal Pictures, a studio he’d have a long and profitable association with, and where he’d later create some of his finest movies.

SABOTEUR is in many respects a loose remake of Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS , transplanted to America and…

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A Movie A Day #182: FM (1978, directed by John A. Alonzo)


Hey, California!  Are you ready to soft rock!?

That is the question asked by FM, a movie about rock that tries to stick it to the man with some of the safest, least revolutionary music ever recorded.

FM is centered around Q-Sky, an FM radio station in Los Angeles.  Because the laid back station manager (Michael Brandon) allows his DJs to program their own music with little commercial interruption, Q-Sky has become one of the most popular radio stations in California.  The corporate suits, though, demand that Q-Sky play less music and air more commercials, especially one that is specifically designed to get mellow Californians to join the Army.  When Brandon refuses, he is fired.  Outraged, Q-Sky’s motley crew of DJs (who include Martin Mull, Cleavon Little, Eileen Brennan, and even former football great Alex Karras) barricade themselves in the station and lead a protest by playing their music without commercials.

That would all be well and good except that the DJs spend most of their time playing songs by such noted rockers as Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel, and REO Speedwagon.  A major set piece of the film is Q-Sky’s attempt to secretly broadcast a Linda Ronstadt concert that is being sponsored by a rival station.  At a time when Johnny Rotten was still singing Anarchy in the UK,  Q-Sky’s idea of rebellion was to go from Bob Seger to James Taylor with limited commercial interruption.

The always reliable Martin Mull is always good for some laughs and this was the only movie directed by award-winning cinematographer John A. Alonzo so, if nothing else, FM always looks good.  With its ensemble cast and episodic narrative, FM tries hard to be an Altmanesque satire but, ultimately, it fails because the revolution is not going to sound like The Doobie Brothers.

(Even though The Doobie Brothers clearly rock.)

“Who likes The Doobie Brothers?”

Because Michael Brandon looked like Gary Sandy and Martin Mull possessed a passing resemblance to Howard Hesseman, some reference books state that FM was the inspiration for WKRP in Cincinatti.  However, the first season of WKRP was already in production before FM was released to theaters and FM was such a financial flop that it is doubtful it inspired anything.

Add to that, while Venus Flytrap probably could have made it work, Dr. Johnny Fever would never have fit in at Q-Sky.  Johnny’s frequent acid flashbacks would have unnerved the mellow Q-Sky vibes.  Herb Tarlek, on the other hand…

“It must be a struggle to match the belt with the shoes.”
“Sometimes, I can’t do it.”

 

The Fabulous Forties #3: The Black Book (dir by Anthony Mann)


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The third film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was 1949’s The Black Book, which was also released under the title Reign of Terror.

The Black Book takes place during the French Revolution.  It is, to quote Dickens, both the best of times and the worst of times.  Actually, mostly it’s just the worst of times.  The Black Book portrays revolutionary France as being a dark and shadowy country, one where the only things that hold the people together are paranoia and terror.  It’s a country where anyone can be executed at any moment and where power mad tyrants excuse their excesses by saying that they are only doing the people’s will.  Considering that the The Black Book was made in 1949, its vision of revolutionary France can easily been seen as a metaphor for Nazi Germany or Communist Russia.  Or perhaps even America at the start of the Red Scare.

(It’s probably not a coincidence that the Nazis also had a document known as the Black Book, one that listed everyone who was to be arrested and executed if Hitler succeeded in conquering Great Britain.)

Maximilien Robespierre (Richard Basehart, giving a disturbingly plausible performance that will make you think of more than a few contemporary political figures) is on the verge of having himself declared dictator of France.  Unfortunately, his little black book has disappeared.  Inside that black book is the name of everyone that he is planning to send to the guillotine.  If the book ever became public, then Robespierre would be the one losing his head.

Robespierre summons a notorious prosecutor named Duval (Robert Cummings) to Paris and gives him 24 hours to track down the book.  He gives Duval the authority to imprison and interrogate anyone in France.  He also informs Duval that, if the book is not found, Duval will be the next to lose his head.

However, what Robespierre does not know is that Duval is not Duval.  He is Charles D’Aubigny, a rebel against the Revolution.  Charles murdered Duval and took his place.  Now, Charles has to find the book without his own identity being discovered.  Not only do some of Robespierre’s allies suspect that Duval may not actually be Duval but some of Charles’s former allies also start to suspect that Charles may secretly be working for Robespierre, even as he claims that he’s trying to bring him down.  At times, even the viewer is unsure as to who is actually working for who.

Oh my God, this is such a good film!   In fact, it was so good that I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before watching it last night.  The chance to discover a hidden gem like The Black Book is the main reason why I continue to take chances on Mill Creek box sets.

The Black Book was definitely made on a very low-budget but director Anthony Mann (who is best known for directing several landmark westerns) uses that low-budget to his advantage.  There’s little spectacle to be found in this historical epic but then again, there was little spectacle to be found in the reign of terror.  This is a film that takes place in shadowy rooms and dark, almost claustrophobic streets.  It’s a historical film that looks and plays out like the most cynical of film noirs.  Despite the fact that all of these well-known French figures are being played by very American actors, the cast all does an excellent job of capturing the fear and desperation of people living under oppression.  The subtext of The Black Book was undoubtedly clear in 1949 and it’s just as clear today.  Fanaticism remains fanaticism, regardless of when it happened or what ideology is used to justify it.

There is a somewhat awkward moment towards the end of the film when a French army officer is asked for his name.

“Bonparte,” the officer replies, “Napoleon Bonaparte.”

“I’ll remember that name,” someone snarkily replies.

But, other than that one moment (which immediately made me think of Titanic‘s infamous “Something Picasso” line), The Black Book is an intelligent and effective thriller.  And because it’s in the public domain, you watch it below!

 

Playing Catch-Up With 6 Mini-Reviews: Amy, Gloria, Pitch Perfect 2, Sisters, Spy, Trainwreck


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Amy (dir by Asif Kapadia)

Amy opens with brilliant and, in its way, heartbreaking footage of a 14 year-old Amy Winehouse and a friend singing Happy Birthday at a party.  Even though she’s singing deliberately off-key and going over-the-top (as we all tend to do when we sing Happy Birthday), you can tell that Amy was a star from the beginning.  She’s obviously enjoying performing and being the center of attention and, try as you might, it’s impossible not to contrast the joy of her Happy Birthday with the sadness of her later life.

A star whose music touched millions (including me), Amy Winehouse was ultimately betrayed by a world that both wanted to take advantage of her talent and to revel in her subsequent notoriety.  It’s often said the Amy was self-destructive but, if anything, the world conspired to destroy her.  By focusing on footage of Amy both in public and private and eschewing the usual “talking head” format of most documentaries, Amy pays tribute to both Amy Winehouse and reminds us of what a great talent we all lost in 2011.

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Gloria (dir by Christian Keller)

The Mexican film Gloria is a musical biopic of Gloria Trevi (played by Sofia Espinosa), a singer whose subversive songs and sexual image made her a superstar in Latin America and challenged the conventional morality of Catholic-dominated establishment.  Her manager and lover was the controversial Sergio Andrade (Marco Perez).  The movie follows Gloria from her first audition for the manipulative Sergio to her arrest (along with Sergio) on charges of corrupting minors.  It’s an interesting and still controversial story and Gloria tells it well, with Espinosa and Perez both giving excellent performances.

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Pitch Perfect 2 (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

The Bellas are back!  As I think I’ve mentioned a few times on this site, I really loved the first Pitch Perfect.  In fact, I loved it so much that I was a bit concerned about the sequel.  After all, sequels are never as good as the original and I was dreading the idea of the legacy of the first film being tarnished.

But the sequel actually works pretty well.  It’s a bit more cartoonish than the first film.  After three years at reigning ICCA champions, the Bellas are expelled from competition after Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) accidentally flashes the President.  The only way for the Bellas to get the suspension lifted is to win the World Championship of A Capella.  The plot, to be honest, really isn’t that important.  You’re watching the film for the music and the interplay of the Bellas and, on those two counts, the film totally delivers.

It should be noted that Elizabeth Banks had a great 2015.  Not only did she give a great performance in Love & Mercy but she also made a respectable feature directing debut with Pitch Perfect 2.

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Sisters (dir by Jason Moore)

It’s interesting how opinions can change.  For the longest time, I really liked Tina Fey and I thought that Amy Poehler was kind of overrated.  But, over the past two years, I’ve changed my opinion.  Now, I like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey kind of gets on my nerves.  The best way that I can explain it is to say that Tina Fey just seems like the type who would judge me for wearing a short skirt and that would get old quickly, seeing as how I happen to like showing off my legs.

Anyway, in Sisters, Tina and Amy play sisters!  (Shocking, I know.)  Amy is the responsible one who has just gotten a divorce and who wants to make everyone’s life better.  Tina is the irresponsible one who refuses to accept that she’s no longer a teenager.  When their parents announce that they’re selling the house where they grew up, Amy and Tina decide to throw one last party.  Complications ensue.

I actually had two very different reactions to Sisters.  On the one hand, as a self-declared film critic, it was easy for me to spot the obvious flaw with Sisters.  Tina and Amy should have switched roles because Tina Fey is simply not believable as someone who lives to have fun.  Sometimes, it’s smart to cast against type but it really doesn’t work here.

However, as the youngest of four sisters, there was a lot of Sisters that I related to.  I saw Sisters with my sister, the Dazzling Erin, and even if the film did not work overall, there were still a lot of little scenes that made us smile and go, “That’s just like us.”  In fact, I think they should remake Sisters and they should let me and Erin star in it.

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Spy (dir by Paul Feig)

There were a lot of very good spy films released in 2015 and SPECTRE was not one of them.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with the latest Bond film.  It’s not so much that SPECTRE was terrible as there just wasn’t anything particular memorable about it.  When we watch a film about secret agents saving the world, we expect at least a few memorable lines and performances.

Now, if you want to see a memorable spy movie, I suggest seeing Spy.  Not only is Spy one of the funniest movies of the year, it’s also a pretty good espionage film.  Director Paul Feig manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and action.  One of the joys of seeing CIA employee Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally get to enter the field and do spy stuff is the fact that there are real stakes involved.  Susan is not only saving the world but, in the film’s best scenes, she’s having a lot of fun doing it and, for that matter, McCarthy is obviously having a lot of fun playing Susan and those of us in the audience are having a lot of fun watching as well.

Spy also features Jason Statham as a more traditional action hero.  Statham is hilarious as he sends up his own macho image.  Seriously, who would have guessed that he could such a funny actor?  Here’s hoping that he, McCarthy, and Feig will all return for the inevitable sequel.

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Trainwreck (dir by Judd Apatow)

There’s a lot of great things that can be said about Trainwreck.  Not only was it the funniest film of 2015 but it also announced to the world that Amy Schumer’s a star.  It was a romantic comedy for the 21st Century, one that defied all of the conventional BS about what has to happen in a romcom.  This a film for all of us because, let’s just be honest here, we’ve all been a trainwreck at some point in our life.

But for me, the heart of the film was truly to be found in the relationship between Amy and her younger sister, Kim (Brie Larson).  Whether fighting over what to do with their irresponsible father (Colin Quinn) or insulting each other’s life choices, their relationship is the strongest part of the film.  If Brie Larson wasn’t already guaranteed an Oscar nomination for Room, I’d demand that she get one for Trainwreck.  For that matter, Amy Schumer deserves one as well.

Seriously, it’s about time the trainwrecks of the world had a film that we could truly call our own.

In Memory of Robin Williams #1: Dead Poets Society (Dir by Peter Weir)


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Last Monday, after I first heard that Robin Williams had committed suicide, I struggled to find the right words to express what I was feeling.  Finally, I ended up posting this on Facebook:

I keep trying to write something about Robin Williams but the words aren’t coming to me. It’s all too big and strange and sudden and I can’t find the words to sum up my feelings. I feel like a part of my childhood died today. So, instead of trying to be more eloquent or wise than I actually am, I’m just going to say R.I.P., Robin WIlliams.

Finally, a little over a week later, I still don’t know what to say.  How do you sum up a life in just a few words?  I don’t think that they can be done for anyone.  It certainly can’t be done for as iconic a figure as Robin Williams.  So, instead of trying to do the impossible, I’ve spent the last few days watching and reviewing a few of Robin Williams’ films.

And, of course, one of those films had to be the 1989 best picture nominee Dead Poets Society.

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Now, a quick warning.  The review below is going to contain spoilers.  I’m going to talk about some very important plot points.  But surely you’ve seen Dead Poets Society already.  And even if you haven’t seen it, surely you’ve heard what the film is about and surely, you know what happens.  After all, who doesn’t?  But if you are one of those people who does not know or who has not seen the film — well, why haven’t you?

The first time I ever saw Dead Poets Society was in a high school creative writing class.  Our teacher — who, it quickly became apparently, considered herself to be the real-life version of the teacher played by Robin Williams — showed it to us, over the course of three class periods, as an introduction to writing poetry.  I enjoyed the film but the rest of the class absolutely loved it.  Especially the guys.  For the rest of the class year, I would listen to those guy as they bragged about how they were seizing the day.  I remember one day, the classroom was empty except for me and one of the boys.  I can’t remember what led to him doing it (and it could very well have been my suggestion that he try) but he eventually ended up standing on top of a desk just like the students at the end of the film.  Unfortunately, public high school desks aren’t quite as sturdy as private school desks and my friend soon ended up crashing to the floor as the desk slipped out from underneath him.

Ah, memories.

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Yes, Dead Poets Society is one of those films.  It’s a film that everyone seems to have seen, loved, and found to be inspirational.  And I have to admit that I’ve grown to appreciate it more over the years since I first saw it back in creative writing class.  With each subsequent viewing, I find myself less critical of the film’s melodramatic and predictable moments and more willing to accept the film for what it is — a celebration of life, poetry, and teaching.  Dead Poets Society, from the very moment that Robin Williams makes his first appearance sitting at the end of a line of stodgy old men and flashing an unapologetically impish smile, is a film that defies easy cynicism.  It’s a film that embraces you and you have to be very hard-hearted not to embrace it back.

Dead Poets Society, of course, tells the story of a private school in the 1950s and what happens when a new teacher (Robin Williams, naturally) encourages his students to celebrate creativity, to “seize the day” as the saying goes.  Not surprisingly, just about every other adult thinks that the students would be better off not seizing the day but instead preparing for a life of WASPy conformity.  This leads to a few of Mr. Keating’s students forming a secret society where they can read poetry, talk about their feelings, and basically do their best to honor the memory of Walt Whitman.

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There are seven members of the Dead Poets Society:

There’s Gerard Pitts, who doesn’t really make much of an impression.  The main thing that I always notice about Gerard Pitts is that he looks like a young version of Sam Waterston.  This made sense when I checked the end credits and I discovered that he was played by James Waterston, son of Sam.

Stephen Meeks (Allelon Ruggiero) is another one who doesn’t actually get to do much (beyond boast about the fact that he has a genius I.Q. and create a makeshift radio) but, with his cute glasses, unruly hair, and friendly manner, it’s impossible not to like him.

Of the three main villains in Dead Poets Society, none of them are quite as loathsome as Richard Cameron (Dylan Kussman).  The stern headmaster (played by Norman Lloyd) and the judgmental father (played by Kurtwood Smith) at least have the excuse of being old and set-in-their-boring-ways.  Cameron, however, starts out as a member of the Dead Poets Society but still has absolutely no problem betraying them.  As opposed to the adults in the movie, Cameron is someone who still had a chance to be something more than a worm. That being said, Dylan Kussman makes Cameron into a memorable worm.

Then there’s Knox Overstreet (played by Josh Charles, who appears to have only aged a year or two in between this movie and the first season of The Good Wife).  We know that Knox is rich because his name is Knox Overstreet.  Knox has a crush on a girl who goes to the local high school.  Knox’s subplot doesn’t really amount to much but it’s impossible not to like him because Josh Charles was (and is) simply adorable.

Charlie Dalton (played, quite well, by Gale Hansen) is the one who most enthusiastically embraces the idea of seizing the day.  He’s the one who pretends to get a tattoo, who demands to be known by a new name, who attempts to protest the school’s out-dated traditions, and who ultimately is punished with expulsion after he physically attacks Cameron.  (And, as sorry as I was to see Charlie leave the movie, Cameron totally deserved it.)  For a few months in 2008, Gale Hansen was a very active participant on the IMDB message boards, answering questions, giving advice, and generally just being a very gracious guy.  However, he suddenly stopped posting and, just as mysteriously, all of his previous posts were subsequently deleted.  Hansen, himself, hasn’t acted since 1998 and that’s a shame because he really did do a good job as the enthusiastic, idealistic, and not-quite-as-worldly-as-he-thinks Charlie Dalton.

Neil Perry (played by Robert Sean Leonard) is the one who, inspired to seize the day, appears in a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and, as a result, earns the wrath of his overbearing father.  Seen now, in the shadow of Robin Williams’ tragic death, the scene where Neil commits suicide takes on a terrible poignance and it no longer feels as melodramatic as it did the first time that I saw it.  Whereas, originally, it seemed hard to believe that a character played by the energetic and charismatic Leonard would end up committing suicide over a play, we now know that energy and charisma do not necessarily equal happiness.

And finally, there’s Todd Anderson (played by a very young Ethan Hawke), who is pathologically shy and who, at the end of the film, finally finds the strength to climb up on his desk.  After years of seeing in him in various Richard Linklater films, it’s strange to see the usually verbose Hawke playing such an introverted character.  But he does a good job, turning Todd into the film’s moral center.

Robin Williams In DPS

And then there’s their teacher, John Keating who, quite frankly, might as well be named Robin Williams.  That’s not to say that Williams doesn’t give a good performance as Keating.  Indeed, Williams is the glue that holds the film’s ensemble together and his performance so dominates the entire film that, every time that I’ve seen it, I’ve always been surprised to discover just how little screen time he actually has in Dead Poets Society.  As embodied by Robin Williams, John Keating becomes the type of teacher that everyone wishes they could have had just once.  The power of his performance comes from the fact that he not only inspires the viewers to “seize the day” but he actually makes you believe that the day is worth holding on to.  Without Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society would be easy to dismiss as just being a film about a bunch of privileged teenagers reading poetry and pretending to be rebels.  With Williams, however, the film becomes a celebration of life.

Robin Williams, R.I.P.

RW in DPS