Archive for the Melodrama Category

THE CALL (2013)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Melodrama, Serial Killers, Thrillers, Women in Jeopardy with tags , , , , on March 18, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE CALL (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

thecall_1

(THE SCENE: The trunk of a moving car. MICHAEL ARRUDA is trapped and talking on his cell phone to a 911 operator, who just happens to be L.L. SOARES)

LS: So what seems to be your problem?

MA: For starters, I dialed 911 and you answered the phone.

LS:  Tell me your problem or I’ll friggin hang up on you.  I don’t have all day. Happy Hour starts soon.

MA:  I’ve been abducted and I’m in the trunk of a car.

LS: Sure you are. Why don’t you just admit that you didn’t want to review the movie this week.

MA: No, I’m serious. You’ve got to help me.

LS: Hold on a minute, I’ve got another call.

(LS puts MA on hold for a few minutes, listening to the Muzak)

LS: You still there?

MA: Of course I’m still here. Where am I going to go?

LS: Well, since you’re such a captive audience, I might as well start this week’s Cinema Knife Fight review of the new Halle Berry movie THE CALL.

MA: I guess I don’t have a choice.

LS: No you don’t.

THE CALL is the new thriller starring Halle Berry. She plays Jordan Turner, a 911 operator who, early on in the movie, gets a call from a teenage girl who is home alone and a prowler is trying to break into her house. Jordan tries to talk the girl through it until the police can get there, but she makes a bad mistake. When the call gets disconnected, she calls the girl back. The prowler, who appeared to be leaving, stopped in his tracks when the phone rang and was able to track his victim down because of it.

MA: Not a smart move on Jordan’s part.

LS:  When the girl, Leah Templeton (Evie Louise Thompson), is found dead days later, Jordan is horrified and feels like it’s her fault that she wasn’t able to save the girl.

MA:  Well, it kinda was.  I’m surprised she didn’t lose her job.  She should have at least been suspended for a while.

LS:  When another girl calls her six months later, a victim of the same serial killer, Jordan is determined not to let this one end the same way.

MA:  Hmm, six months later, and Jordan is there to take the call again. Gee, that’s believable!

LS:  Well, a newbie operator gets the call first, and Jordon takes it over. If Jordan had been the one to originally answer it, then I would have found it unbelievable. As it is, the fact that she happens to be nearby when the new girl gets the call strains credibility enough. There’s a whole “hive” here of operators, and calls can be answered by anyone. But enough of that.

MA:  So, you find the fact that she just “happens” to be standing nearby when the new girl gets the call more believable?  I still don’t buy it.

LS:  How are you holding up in there? Must be pretty scary trapped in the trunk of a moving car, with a violent serial killer driving you to your certain death. I’m sorry I’m not doing more to help the police find you.

MA: Sure you are.

LS: You’re not scared at all?

MA: It is a little cramped in here. But I’ll live.

LS: You sure are taking this well. I’m proud of you.

MA: Can we get back to the review?

LS: Sure.

This second victim is Casey Welson, played by Abigail Breslin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE herself, from the 2006 indie favorite). When Casey first calls 911 after being abducted and locked in the trunk by a psycho, she’s pretty much hysterical. But Jordan is able to calm her down and tell her various ways to draw attention to herself (like kicking out a tail light to make a hole in the trunk she can see out of), so the cops have a better shot at finding her. One big obstacle is that the phone Casey is calling on is a disposable one and doesn’t have the chip in it that can be tracked by GPS.

At one point, an innocent fellow driver, Alan Denado (Michael Imperioli), notices something odd about the trunk and tells the driver. This turns out to be a very bad time to be a Good Samaritan (and it’s interesting to see Imperioli, who was so great as tough guy Christopher on the classic HBO series THE SOPRANOS, playing a victim this time around).

The thing is, Jordan isn’t kidding around when she tells Casey she is going to save her. This time, Jordan refuses to let it go. Like she tells Casey “We’re both Capricorns and Capricorns fight.”

MA:  And again that’s just not believable.  I simply don’t see a 911 operator becoming personally involved with a victim, and to think that Jordan would actually become more involved than the police later on in the movie is ludicrous.  Then again, based upon the incompetent police officers in this one, I’m not surprised she takes matters into her own hands.

LS: It’s a movie, Michael. And a dumb “thriller,” at that. Of course Jordan is more effective than the complete police force. It’s called suspension of disbelief. Then again, for SOD to work, you have to be firmly rooted in the story, and obviously you weren’t.

One interesting aspect of this movie is how we get a behind-the-scenes look at “the Hive,” the headquarters where a bunch of 911 operators work. We see firsthand how stressful the job is (they even have a “Quiet Room” to go to when they’ve had an especially stressful call). Also, even though they do what they can during 911 calls, most of the time they will never know the outcome of what they do. They won’t know whether a person will be saved by the police or not. Which ratchets up the stress factor even further, especially when Jordan feels that she fails Leah in the first call.

MA:  I liked this aspect of the movie. I definitely enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at the 911 headquarters, mostly because it was a refreshing locale and interesting profession that we simply don’t see very often in the movies.

However, the screenplay by Richard D’Ovidio doesn’t finish the job.  It gives us a compelling setting, the “Hive,” a place ripe for a serious thriller, but then throws us into one contrived situation after another, resulting in a story that is anything but riveting.

For example, before the second phone call, Berry’s Jordan is leading a tour for some newbie 911 operators, and they just happen to be standing near the young operator who takes Casey’s call, and then this young operator has a panic attack, sitting there crying, “What do I do?  What do I do?”  What the hell kind of training does this place have?

LS: She’s new, and it’s not a normal call. And Casey is in panic mode. It’s believable that a new operator would panic as well. Even if there are clear rules, you’re bound to get flustered when you’re in an extremely emotional situation and you’re new at it. So that didn’t bother me.

MA:  She’s a 911 operator!  She can’t handle an emotional call?  That’s nuts!

LS: Your level of empathy is astounding.

The-Call-Movie-Poster

MA: So, anyway, Jordan takes over the call, which is simply a contrivance to have her deal with the same serial killer again.  I didn’t buy this at all. Had this story been about one phone call, or had the two calls not been related, then those things I could believe.  This set-up is right out of a good old-fashioned soap opera.

LS:  Berry is actually pretty good here. Most times I like her as an actress, but she has had a lot of ups and downs in her career. THE CALL is not A-level material, but she does a good job with it.

MA:  Yes, I enjoyed Berry’s performance as well.  It’s just too bad the story didn’t give her character a realistic way to deal with her pain.

LS:  Breslin is also good as Casey, who alternates between being in a complete panic and being strong.

MA:  Agreed.  And my favorite scene in the movie is where Breslin’s Casey asks if the 911 call is recorded, and then, thinking she’s going to die, leaves an emotional message for her mother.  It’s the one scene in the movie that grabbed me on an emotional level, that worked on all cylinders, and it’s superbly acted by Breslin and Berry.

LS:  The highlight of the movie for me, though, was Michael Eklund as the uber-creepy killer, Michael Foster. Eklund does a terrific job as a volatile guy who’s behavior is often unpredictable. And I liked his strange facial expressions throughout, too. Whether he’s stabbing someone with a screwdriver, setting a gas station attendant on fire, or putting fresh scalps on mannequin heads, Eklund is very unsettling, and exudes menace.

MA:  I completely disagree here.  I couldn’t get into Eklund’s performance at all, and I thought his killer Michael Foster was one of the worst parts of the movie.  He wears this crazed expression on his face that is supposed to be scary, but to me he looked more like a deer in the headlights.

LS: I think the “deer in the highlights” comparison is apt. But it worked for me. I thought he seemed like a guy constantly in turmoil because of his inner demons.

MA: I thought he seemed like a guy who needed to use the bathroom real bad.

LS:  He wasn’t calm and collected and sure of himself. He was completely a slave to his compulsions, and it got him into one bad situation after another. It’s amazing he was ever successful at this abducting-and-killing-people stuff.

MA: I’ll say!  He kills everyone in his path, leaving a trail of carnage right up to his doorstep.  I thought serial killers were supposed to be clever and elusive.  He might as well be wearing a sign on his back that reads “I’m a serial killer.”

LS: Well, there are reasons why he does those things….but, yeah. He’s not a smart guy. Not by any stretch. But who says you have to belong to Mensa to be a serial killer? If this was his first time abducting someone, it would have been more believable, but he’s done this before, and somehow gotten away with it. Even without Halle Berry on his trail, this guy was not destined for a long career as a serial killer. Yet, despite that, I found his performance very entertaining.

MA: And getting back to the screenplay, Eklund’s character is poorly developed.  We eventually see some silly background story involving his sister which is supposed to explain why he does what he does, but it’s touched upon so briefly it doesn’t resonate.

I thought the killer Michael Foster in this one was a huge disappointment.

LS:  Whoever created the movie trailer for THE CALL didn’t do the movie much of a favor.

MA:  That’s an understatement!

LS:  In the trailer, pretty much the entire story is revealed, and you almost feel, after watching it, that you’ve already seen the movie. I hate these kinds of trailers. After seeing the trailer for THE CALL several times over the last couple of months, I was dreading seeing the actual movie, because I figured I knew what was going to happen, and I thought I’d be pretty bored. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case at all.

MA:  What?  Are you serious?  I have to hear this.

LS:  THE CALL starts with that first phone call with Leah right off the bat, and moves at a brisk pace throughout. Even though the trailer did give away some spoilers, I was so engrossed in the actual movie that I just sat back and enjoyed it.

MA:  Again, I have to completely disagree here.  The trailer shows both phone calls, both confrontations that killer Michael Foster has with people who try to save Casey, and not only that, but it shows how Foster dispenses with these people. The trailer also showed the tricks Casey used to draw attention to herself in the trunk, and showed Berry’s Jordon telling her to do these things. It also showed us that Jordon will at some point confront the serial killer face-to-face.

What the hell is left?  The outcome—and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who’s going to live or who’s going to die in this one.

It was a horrible trailer that completely ruined the movie for me.  Honestly, sitting in the theater, I felt as if I were watching the movie for the second time.  On the other hand, even if I hadn’t seen the trailer, I still would not have liked this movie because I found it so unbelievable and contrived.

LS: I am not arguing at all about the trailer. The trailer was horrible. It gave everything away. It was three minutes of nothing but spoilers! But, that’s not the movie’s fault. The movie is a separate entity, and I liked it. Whoever did the trailer was an idiot; it left nothing to the imagination. How about making a trailer that keeps the audience in suspense about what is going to happen next, so we actually want to go see it?

For me, THE CALL was a guilty pleasure. I’m not saying its a brilliant movie. But for the time I was in the movie theater, I enjoyed myself.

MA:  It’s actually kind of a dumb movie.

LS: Agreed. The screenplay, by Richard D’Ovidio, can be ludicrous at times, but somehow that doesn’t keep it from being entertaining. This is probably in large part to director Brad Anderson, who previously gave us movies like SESSION 9 (2001), a haunted mental asylum movie that I thought was underrated when it came out, and THE MACHINIST (2004). He also worked on some great television shows like HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, THE WIRE, and THE SHIELD.

MA:  I will agree with you here about director Brad Anderson.  I thought he employed some nifty camerawork in this one.  I enjoyed the tight camerawork on Casey in the trunk of the car, although honestly, even these scenes could have been better.  While I certainly got the feel for the terror Casey felt being abducted by a serial killer, I never quite got any real sense of claustrophobia.  In fact, being stuck in a trunk doesn’t seem to bother Casey at all.  It should have.

LS:  Speaking of which, how are you doing?  You must be feeling pretty claustrophobic by now.

MA: No, I’m fine.

LS:  You mean you don’t feel as if you can’t breathe, as if the walls are closing in around you, as if you can’t stand the pressure any longer and just need to blow your brains out?  You know, if you look hard enough, you might find a weapon in there to use on yourself.

MA:  What the hell kind of a 911 operator are you, anyway?

LS:  The Cinema Knife Fight kind!  (laughs).

MA:  I think I’ll hang up and call for a pizza instead.

LS:  You stay on the line!  We have a movie to review!

MA:  Sure, although a pizza sounds mighty appetizing right now.

LS:  You can eat when we’re finished.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.

Even when THE CALL is predictable, Anderson keeps it riveting throughout, which pretty much won me over. After that awful trailer, I dreaded seeing the movie. But once I actually sat down and got into it, I enjoyed THE CALL much more than I thought I would. It’s goofy, but it’s fun.

Also, concerning the very last scene in this movie. I didn’t find  it believable at all, and yet I have to admit, I liked it.

I give it two and a half knives.

MA:  I’d give it a re-write.  I disagree with you on this one, and I’m surprised you liked it as much as you did.  For me, the biggest weakness here is the writing.  So many things throughout this film just didn’t ring true.

Let’s start with the police.  I kept thinking of those scenes from old police TV shows where the police would instruct the grieving parent to keep the kidnapper on the line so they could trace the call, and no matter how long the poor person kept the bad guy on the phone, the scene would invariably end the same way, with the now cliché line “He wasn’t on the line long enough for us to trace the call.”

In THE CALL, Halley Berry’s Jordan instructs Abigail Breslin’s Casey to kick out the tail light and pour paint onto the freeway so someone can see it.  We cut to scenes of police helicopters flying up above, and police cars racing on the freeway, but the only result is the guy in the police helicopter saying “We don’t see any white paint,” which prompted me to ask, “Are you looking at the road?”  I mean, there are police everywhere, and yet not a single officer ever gets close to Foster’s car.  They even have the license plate number of the car, and they still don’t see him!

The police are always two steps behind serial killer Michael Foster, which has less to do with the ingenuity of Foster and much more to do with shoddy police work.  When the police learn where Foster lives, they send a gazillion cars racing to his home, as if he’s going to be there.  And then, while Casey is still trapped in the trunk of the car, they slowly and methodically take their time going through the house looking for clues.  Now, sure, on one level this makes sense.  I mean, they have to find as much information about Foster as they possibly can.  I get that.  But I certainly would have preferred scenes of the police frantically working to find Casey out there on the freeway.

Later, when the police discover the location of a second property owned by Foster, this one in a desolate location, they race there and ultimately deduce that it’s a false lead, that it’s abandoned and Foster and Casey are not there.  Yet, Jordan later goes there herself, and finds major clues the police overlooked.  I’m supposed to believe that the police couldn’t find these things, but 911 operator Jordan could?  I just don’t buy that.

And serial killer Michael Foster is nothing short of an idiot.  Like I already said, he kills everyone in his way as opposed to quietly eluding them.  Nice way not to attract attention to yourself, buddy!

Then, he’s got Casey in the trunk of his car, and she tries to escape, multiple times.  For some reason, it never occurs to him that he might want to tie her up.  Even worse, at one point, he discovers the cell phone on her, and—get this—he doesn’t take it!  He puts her back in the trunk with the phone.  What kind of a dolt does that?  A poorly written one!

That’s not to say I hated THE CALL, because I didn’t.  I definitely enjoyed the performances by Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin, and I liked the setting, the 911 headquarters and enjoyed getting an inside look into the way they operate.  But that’s about it.

Had this story had the right gimmick, it could have used the 911 setting as a springboard to an innovative compelling thriller, but unfortunately, all the drama here stems from situations that are so contrived and forced they seem like plots lifted from some very dated and very poorly written 70s TV shows.  I half expected Charlie’s Angels to show up and give Halle Berry a hand.

I give it two knives.

LS: So we both agree it was dumb. It was contrived. But it was well-acted, and I found it suspenseful. We’re not arguing over whether the script was dopey or not; we’re arguing over whether or not it works as entertainment. And I found it very entertaining.

MA:  Hey, wait a minute.  I think the car just stopped.  I think I hear the guy getting out of the car.

LS:  At least he had the courtesy to wait until we finished the review.

MA:  He’s opening the trunk.

(Trunk opens, and MA looks up and sees LS standing outside trunk with a cell phone to his ear.)

MA:  Huh?  You were driving the car?

LS:  I have to admit, the idea of doing a review with you stuck in a trunk was just too good to pass up. And you didn’t see me coming at all when I chloroformed you.

MA:  Very funny.  Now, that we’re done, I’m looking forward to—.

(LS slams trunk shut.)

LS: Why spoil a good thing?

MA:  Hey!  Are you going to let me out of here?  I can’t breathe you know!

LS: You didn’t seem too concerned before.

(To camera) Don’t worry.  He can breathe.  And if he looks hard enough he’ll find the button which will pop open the trunk.  Anyway, we’ll see you all again next week.  (Walks away).

MA:  Gee, I wonder what this button does.  (Presses button, and the car starts to roll. Camera pans to show the car is on a cliff. The car goes over the edge.)

LS:  Woopsie! Wrong button.

MA (unseen):  Hey, the trunk popped open!

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Rate the Rating: This one is rated R for language (just a few instances) and a little bit of gore. No major bloodletting. No nudity. In other words, it might as well have been rated PG-13.

Michael Arruda gives THE CALL ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE CALL ~two and a half knives.

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THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (2012)

Posted in 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Bad Acting, Blockbusters, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Just Plain Bad, Melodrama, Twilight, Twist Endings, Vampire Movies, Werewolves with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A cemetery. L.L. SOARES has just finished filling up a grave. He rests on his shovel and looks at the tombstone with says “TWILIGHT.” MICHAEL ARRUDA arrives in a long black car and gets out.  He’s wearing a party hat and carrying balloons.  DRIVER of hearse steps out, appalled.)

DRIVER:  Balloons?  This is a funeral!  This is most inappropriate!

MA:  No it’s not.  This is a funeral for the TWILIGHT series.

LS (calling over):  Did you bring the vampire strippers?

MA (looks at Driver): And you think I’m inappropriate?

DRIVER:  I’m appalled!

MA: Don’t lose your shirt, Taylor Lautner.  (to LS) I didn’t bring any strippers.

LS: No strippers? Damn!

MA: We need to review a movie after all.  I didn’t think we needed the distraction.

LS:  Who asked you to think?

MA: Sorry.  Well, at least it’s over.

LS: You got that right.  We can finally put the damn TWILIGHT SAGA to rest. Best grave I ever dug. I made this one extra deep.

MA: All we have to do is to review BREAKING DAWN PART 2, then it will be over for good!

LS: True enough. (He is on the verge of tears). And then we’ll finally be done with this series. I thought this day would never come.

MA: Me, neither. I thought we’d be going to see these awful movies forever.

LS: If there’s a hell, then I’m sure someone is being forced to watch a never-ending marathon of these movies.

MA: So why don’t you give us a synopsis of this last movie.

LS: BREAKING DAWN PART 1 ended with the feisty, perpetually sneering heroine of the TWILIGHT series, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), finally getting what she’s been wishing for since the first movie — she finally got turned into a vampire like her beloved Edward (Robert Pattinson). We could tell because her eyes were bright red! Spooky!

As BREAKING DAWN PART 2 opens, Bella is trying to learn how to control her unquenchable thirst for blood. Edward takes his newly-vampiric bride into the deep woods so she can feast on a deer’s blood, but a mountain climber makes an unexpected appearance, and when he cuts himself, Bella goes nuts. Suddenly, that measly little deer doesn’t seem so filling.

MA: This series is so bad even “hunting” scenes like this are dull and boring, especially with Edward watching his new bride with that goofy grin on his face, as if we’re supposed to think, “Aww, isn’t she cute?  Bella’s hunting.”  Gag!

LS:  The big question was, would she be able to control herself and not bite a human, or would she just go nuts like a lot of “newbie” vampires do when they first get “turned.” Somehow, Bella is able to pass the test.

MA:  Because vampires in the TWILIGHT world would never feed on a human, or at least not vampires in the Cullen clan, the most mind-numbing vampire family you’ll ever meet.  Vampire family.  (Shaking his head)  That kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

LS: Speaking of which, Bella is then brought back to the home of the Cullens — the vampire clan that Edward belongs to, and now Bella does to — to meet her new baby, Renesmee. What kind of name is that anyway?

MA: An annoying one.

LS: Turns out everyone is afraid Bella will turn her newborn baby into dinner, since the girl is half human and has human blood running through her veins. If you remember from the previous movie, Bella got pregnant immediately after a wild bout of sex with Edward, and the baby threatened to kill her. Which is why Edward finally relented and turned her into a vampire— he pretty much killed her in order to save her life, if that makes any sense.

MA (mockingly nodding):  Of course it does.

(A couple of MOURNERS arrives, crying into their handkerchiefs)

MOURNER 1: Oh my God, it’s over! How will we ever go on with our lives?

MOURNER 2: This is just the saddest day ever. I don’t know if I want to live anymore!

MOURNER 1: I have an idea. Let’s make sure it never ends. Let’s go see BREAKING DAWN PART 2 again. And again. And then go back and read the books again and watch the DVDs again and then it will seem like the story goes on forever.

MOURNER 2: Oh my God, that sounds wonderful!

(LS suddenly raises his shovel and chops both of their heads off, with blood squirting everywhere)

LS: I’m sorry Michael, but I had to put those two poor, tortured souls out of their misery.

MA (grinning as blood spatters his suit): Totally understandable, although I was thinking more along the lines of a stern reprimand.

LS:  Anyway, in this new movie, the hateful Irina (Maggie Grace) spies Bella and her new baby and runs to tell the Voltari – those vampire overlords who act like the Vatican of bloodsuckers —because this is a big no-no in the tenants of vampire law. You see, in the past, babies and children who were turned into vampires were nothing but trouble, since they immediately stopped growing and stayed at their age (mentally and physically) forever. Suddenly, with a lust for blood and incredibly strength, they were huge threats to the human world (you don’t want to see a super-strong vampire baby have a tantrum!) and also threatened to expose the adult vampires who are always trying to stay a big secret to humankind. Thus, vampire babies are immediately destroyed. After Irana goes and finks on Bella (what a rat!), the Voltari are convinced that Renesmee is a baby turned into a vampire and the leaders of the group, especially big kahuna Aro (Michael Sheen), declare the child must be slain and those involved with her “creation” punished.

But, as we already know, they’re wrong, since Renesmee wasn’t “turned,” she was born a vampire/human hybrid because Bella was human during the child’s conception. Thus, the child is a rare creature and has started growing at an alarming rate. Like, she’s grown several years older in a matter of days!

The Voltari, however, have no interest in allowing a fair trial. If they could just talk it out, there would be no movie. Besides, Aro and his cohorts have had it in for the Cullens since the second TWILIGHT movie, NEW MOON (2009), and this is just the excuse they need to wipe out of the clan completely.

MA:  This is all so interesting.

LS:  I have to admit, it’s a little painful to remember all this stuff. I want to block it out of my mind.

The Cullens, in turn, find out about their impending doom when Alice Cullen (Ashley Greene) has a vision that the Voltari are coming to get them. This puts a plan into motion where the Cullens travel the globe to gather friends and allies as “witnesses” to demand that the Voltari listen to reason. These same witnesses might also have to fight if the Voltari won’t listen to them.

Also along for the ride are Bella’s other love interest, Jacob (Taylor Lautner), and his pack of werewolves. Jacob has sworn to protect Renesmee with his life, partly because he has “imprinted” himself on the child (something that happened in PART 1). It seems that werewolves automatically “imprint” a bond with someone when they have found their true soul mate. It’s completely out of their control. And the fact that Jacob has imprinted with a baby is kind of creepy, except when you realize that Renesmee will probably be a full-grown adult in a few months, based on how fast she’s growing.

MA:  Werewolves are really nannies.  Who knew?  Why didn’t someone tell Lon Chaney Jr.?  Larry Talbot would have made the perfect baby guardian. Look, it’s Uncle Larry!  Of course, when the moon was full, he’d have eaten the kid, but he would have been good for a little while, anyway.

Werewolves protecting little kids?  And people want to know what’s wrong with this series?  Sheesh!

LS:  And don’t forget the imprint thing. Sounds like a certain shirtless werewolf might end up on a sex offenders website if he isn’t careful. He better wait until she’s at least 18….er, days…old before he consummates their passion.

So the Voltari are coming to slaughter the Cullens. The Cullens have gathered allies to speak on their behalf, or fight for them if necessary, and the werewolves have pledged to help. And that’s the story in a nutshell.

MA:  In a nutshell?  It must belong to a coconut.  That’s one detailed synopsis.  Do we really need to know that much about this movie?

LS: Are you knocking my synopsis?

MA:  No, it’s a terrific synopsis.  It’s just making me relive some things I’d rather forget— like the entire plot.

LS:  You mean you weren’t intrigued by questions like: Will the Cullens survive? Will the Voltari listen to reason? Will Jacob take off his shirt? Well, I can answer the last question: Jacob will definitely take off his shirt! And simpletons in the audience will “ooh” and “ahh” like they always do.

I thought BREAKING DAWN PART 2 was very telling. I have now sat through five TWILIGHT movies, and you would think that, after all this time, I would have grown to care about these characters, and be concerned about what happens to them. But the truth is, I hate all of these characters just as much as I did before. BREAKING DAWN PART 2 is not going to win over any new fans.

MA:  That’s a good point.  These characters have been so annoying for so long throughout this series that I can barely stand to look at them, let alone watch a movie about them.  And I didn’t find the three lead characters to be quite as an annoying in this movie, yet, it didn’t matter.  Based upon the previous movies, I just didn’t care about these folks.

That’s pretty bad.   As you said, you’d expect characters in a series to grow on you, not grate on you.

LS:  Of course, that doesn’t really matter, because the fans of the series who already exist are more than enough. I actually got my ticket online before the showing, because the past few times a TWILIGHT movie has come out, all the showings on the first day sold out immediately. But even though I bought my ticket in advance this time, I still had to stand in a long line before they let us into the theater (even with tickets!) and the place was pretty packed. So this series has just as many—if not more— hardcore fans as ever.

But in all seriousness, I thought this movie was excruciating to sit through. We’ve seen worse movies this year—the latest RESIDENT EVIL movie comes to mind—but TWILIGHT is the only series that consistently bores the hell out of me every time I sit through another chapter. I still think Bella is irritating and I have no clue what Edward or Jacob see in her. I think Edward and Jacob are morons. I think the Cullen family is a snooze. And I really hate the Voltari—who are lame-ass villains—even though their number includes Dakota Fanning as Jane and Michael Sheen as Aro, two actors I normally like.

And there’s some new stuff this time around. It turns out a lot of these vampires have super powers. As if being a super-strong, blood-drinking vampire wasn’t enough! One guy can shoot fire from his hands. Another one can shoot out tendrils of darkness that can blind or suffocate someone. Other ones can foretell the future, create electric shocks or create shields around themselves.

Who knew these sparkly vampires were really THE X-MEN!

I actually found this “look at my cool powers!” aspect to be extra annoying, since there’s no logical reason for these extra powers.

(THE SCENE suddenly SHIFTS to a field of colorful wildflowers. BELLA and EDWARD are sitting in the flowers, snuggling and giggling)

BELLA: Oh God, I love you so much.

EDWARD: And I, you.

BELLA: I love you so much it hurts. I love love love you.

EDWARD: Oh, how I love the word Love.

BELLA: It’s is a lovely word, isn’t it? And it’s so wonderful to be this much in love.

(SHOT moves to JACOB and RENESMEE, sitting in a different part of the garden)

JACOB: And I love you, too, little Renesmee. You’re just a toddler now, but soon we’ll be lovers and I’ll sweep you up in my arms and we can have long-winded conversations about love, like Edward and Bella.

RENESSEE: Uncle Jacob, you’re really starting to creep me out, man. Besides, I hate the name Renesmee. It sounds stupid. I much prefer to be called HONEY BOO BOO.

JACOB: Anything you wish, oh love of my life. Oh joy of my jowls. Oops, I spilled some Kool-ade on my shirt. Would you mind if I take it off? This stain offends me so.

RENESMEE A BOO BOO: Oh boy. Do what you gotta do, buster.

(THE SCENE returns to the graveyard. LS is off to one side, vomiting)

MA: Ahem, the camera is back on us again.

LS: Oh, sorry (wipes his mouth)

I’m also sick of the exaggerated emotions and affectations of the main characters here. Everyone is in love in big CAPITAL LETTERS. The characters are pretentious, sappy, and stupid. At least Bella and Edward get to have some sex in the BREAKING DAWN movies. After three movies before that where the two of them were forever locked in torturous abstinence, it’s nice to at least see them go at it, even if it’s all very sanitized and romanticized. What a tasteful nibble of a neck. What a very safe interlocking of naked limbs with not a glimpse of any naughty bits…

The audience I saw it with was so emotionally invested in these dumb characters that it was embarrassing. They had reactions that were as exaggerated as the characters on the screen. And they laughed at everything – even things that weren’t funny. Like everything out of Bella (and Edward and Jacob)’s mouth was the most clever, witty dialogue ever written. Let me tell you a secret – it wasn’t. The only scene that struck me as even mildly amusing was one where Jacob takes  his clothes off in front of Bella’s father, Charlie (Billy Burke) to show him how he turns into a big CGI wolf, and Charlie looks very uncomfortable, wondering if he just stepped into a scene from MAGIC MIKE. But otherwise, it wasn’t as clever or as emotionally charged as the audience pretended it was.

MA:  Yes, that was a funny scene.  Hey, after five movies, they got a scene right!

LS:  I really, truly hate this series. And seeing the saga finally come to an end filled me with joy. I give this movie one knife for the fact that the story is finally over alone! Otherwise, there’s nothing here I can recommend. It’s complete crap.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  Well, the best thing I can say for this movie is that it’s the first TWILIGHT movie that didn’t bore me to tears, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.  It means that for once, things actually happened in this movie.  They may have been stupid things — like lame vampire superheroes— but they were things.  See, usually, these movies are so dull I start chomping on my fingernails once the popcorn is gone.  My fingernails survived this installment.

Another positive is BREAKING DAWN PART 2 gets all of its whining out of the way early.  Bella whines at Jacob because he imprinted on her baby daughter.  Now, in past movies, we’d have to suffer through multiple scenes of Bella’s angst.  She’d talk about it with Edward.  She talk about it with Jacob.  She’d go back and talk to Edward some more.  Edward and Jacob would talk.  Blah, blah, blah.  But here in BREAKING DAWN PART 2, it’s one and done.  That’s a good thing.

They also got the boring “Bella talks to her dad” scenes out of the way early as well.

That’s because in this movie, there’s actually a plot and things actually happen.  There’s a build-up to a big battle showdown.  Did I enjoy this build up?  Not really. But somehow this one just wasn’t as painful.  And of course there’s a big bloodbath at the end— not really.  It’s a pretty lame battle.  You’ll find more intense stuff in a Disney movie.

The acting is what you’d expect, although I have to admit the three leads didn’t annoy me as much this time around.  I think it’s because they spoke less in this movie.  The closest thing I came to enjoying a performance was watching Michael Sheen ham it up as Aro.  His over-the-top performance is one of the movies few highlights.

LS: He actually has a couple of funny scenes this time. I can’t blame the guy for wanting a decent paycheck.

MA: Director Bill Condon could have easily filmed BREAKING DAWN as one movie as opposed to dragging it out into two parts.  PART 1, basically a wedding, could have been condensed in about 15 minutes of screen time.  PART 2 is definitely better, but again, this isn’t saying much.

Melissa Rosenberg wrote the screenplay, and she wrote the screenplays for the entire series.  Not something I’d want on my resume.

LS: But I’m sure she’s happy it’s on hers. These movies made a shitload of money!

MA: It’s funny, here we have this paranormal romance, this love story, this love triangle between Bella, Edward, and Jacob, but what is the series finale about?  Vampires with superpowers and the meddling Voltari.  The love triangle was resolved movies ago.

LS: And it was never much of a triangle. We always knew Bella had the hots for Edward. Her relationship with Jacob was always just an intense friendship. She never returned Jacob’s feelings like he wanted her to. So the triangle angle was almost kind of forced, don’t you think.

MA: Yep. To me, this just shows that this love story wasn’t much to begin with.  You’d think this series would be driven by a tale of unbelievable love, but it’s not, which just reinforces the ridiculousness of building a “saga” around these characters.

But, hey, at the end of the day, the TWILIGHT series will long be remembered for featuring the cutest werewolves ever!  One day, when Disney buys the franchise, we’ll see little Jacob-werewolf-nannies on the shelf next to Winnie the Pooh.

It goes without saying, but I am overjoyed that this series is finally over.  That being said, this last installment, TWILIGHT BREAKING DAWN PART 2, didn’t torture me with mind-numbing boredom, and as you said at the outset, we’ve seen worse movies this year.

I give it two knives.

LS: Fair enough. You’re much more generous than me this time around. Maybe you’re just relieved it’s finally over…

Or maybe your heart has finally let the love in…

MA:  I don’t think so.

LS:  Of course, the way it ends, the storyline could always be continued. And there could be spin-offs…and you know the studios will seriously consider it…but for now, this moment in time, let’s pretend like TWILIGHT is really over. That we never have to see another TWILIGHT movie again. And, for the moment, let’s sparkle with happiness.

MA: Now let’s go somewhere and celebrate!

LS:  Sounds good.  (Looks at TWILIGHT tombstone.)  It’s hard to believe.  We’ve buried the TWILIGHT movies forever.

MA:  It’s about time.

LS:  That celebration is long overdue.  Let’s get out of here.

(MA & LS exit.  From behind a gravestone appear a young man and his hunchbacked assistant. The young man carries a shovel, the hunchback a camera. They dig up the grave.  The young man holds a TWILIGHT DVD in his hand.)

YOUNG MAN:  It’s just resting.  Waiting for a new life to come!

HUNCHBACK:  Yes, master.

YOUNG MAN:  We shall give it life again.  We shall re-make them!

(Loud groans and wails are heard off-camera):  Nooooooooooooooooo!!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 ~one knife!

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets SWAMP GIRL (1971)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Fugitives, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SWAMP GIRL (1971)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

The mercury went all the way up to 104 degrees today, and the humidity rose right along with it.  Therefore, we’re continuing with our swampy movies marathon, with a look at a drive-in classic from 1971, SWAMP GIRL.

In a hauntingly beautiful opening shot, a young blond girl rows a small boat through a brightly colored, sunset-laden swamp to the accompaniment of sad guitars.  When night falls, a couple of poachers show up and discover the boat she left behind along with a man nearly dead from cottonmouth bites.  They catch a glimpse of the girl as she creeps away.

Ferlin Husky, the great country western singer and star of HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967) is the Swamp Ranger, and he’s introduced singing a lovely song about the girl on his porch.  His rich baritone rings out,

“Or can it be, you really live, that the stories told are true,

Out in that dark and mysterious swamp, there’s an angel such as you?

Swamp Girl, Swamp Girl, run away,

But there will come a day when your heart will say that it’s time to go,

When your heart will tell you so.”

The ranger interviews the men who discovered the body, and these guys are certainly real life locals.  This isn’t acting; it’s tragic verisimilitude with scary rural accents.  After they claim they’ve seen the elusive swamp girl (who is she, Bigfoot?).  The ranger takes out his airboat to find the mysterious girl.  Is it me, or does everyone in every swamp movie have an airboat?

That Ferlin Husky sure sings up a storm in SWAMP GIRL!

Cue five minutes of well-shot nature footage, lots of scenery and dangerous-looking reptiles.

Eventually, Ferlin Husky spots Swamp Girl, and he follows her.  Luckily, she’s wearing a bright pink and white dress and her hair is so shiny, you just have to wonder where she buys her hair care products out there in the boonies.  Our stalker gets his foot caught in a bear trap, and the girl has to help him.  “If I could find all these traps,” she says, “I’d just throw ‘em all in the water.”  He’s slightly injured, so she takes him to her cabin where she makes him dinner and introduces him to her “Pa,” an African-American man who takes care of her.  The warden tells her that the swamp, that nature itself, is disappearing and one day she would have to go out into the real world.  The thought terrifies her.  He swears to return the next day to hear if she wants to live in the civilized world.

Swamp Girl, or Janeen, is played by the lovely Simone Griffeth when she was about twenty years old.  I adore Simone Griffeth, and not just because we share a birthday, but she’s a pretty good actress in some favorite movies of mine.  She went on to star in DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), HOT TARGET (1985), and television shows from HART TO HART to STARSKY AND HUTCH to a recurring role on TJ HOOKER.  In SWAMP GIRL, she’s playing a fragile innocent, and she plays it very well.

Pa (played nicely by Lonnie Bower) tells her he isn’t her actual “Pa,” that he needs to tell her a story and his name is actually Nat.  Begin exposition.

Turns out, he was lost in the swamp, and he was rescued by a doctor who performed illegal abortions in the middle of the wilderness.  Janeen’s Ma was too far along, so he let her stay until she had the baby.  See, old Doc would send the boy children back with their Mammas, and the girl babies were sold into white slavery to Arab sheiks!  WHAT?!!  Okay, pass the popcorn.  Turns out, Janeen was special to Doc and Nat.  She was also a friend to the animals and all nature (MESSAGE!  MESSAGE!).  Doc sent Nat to visit Lake Turner, who runs a snake farm and procures young girls.  It’s a living.  While Nat’s gone, Doc tries to sell Janeen, but he gets drunk and greedy and asks for double the usual amount.  The white slavers kill Doc and shove the girl into a croaker sack.  Nat slaughters the two men with a hatchet and the girl gets dropped and bitten by a rattlesnake! Luckily, Nat’s there and he sucked out the poison.  After that, he raised her as his own.  Now, she must decide whether to remain in the Okefenokee Swamp, living illegally with her Pa, or should she go with the ranger and find her way in the world?

Simone Griffeth in SWAMP GIRL.

Two bank robbers on the lam, a man and a woman,  abandon their car and attempt to trek to the next state through the swamp.  They discover Pa and Janeen’s cabin, and they make themselves at home after blasting Pa with both barrels in a shockingly violent scene.  They force Janeen to guide them out of the swamp to Florida, so she leads them, forgetting to meet poor love-struck Ferlin Husky.  Swamp Girl has her own plans for this couple, and she knows all the pitfalls and deadly animals in the area.

Meanwhile, one of the robber’s parents just happen to show up, looking for their daughter!  The swamp rats, who hate the sheriff and his pinko liberal environmentalist ways of taking care of the wildlife refuge, accompany the robber’s father into the Okefenokee to search for the missing thieves.  Don’t ask how, but this leads to a guy being swung over a pit of cotton mouths until he tells them where the old cabin in the swamp is located.

Will Janeen lead the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes out of the swamp into safety?  Will the sheriff get to her in time?  Will she head for civilization or remain in the wilderness? Before we know the answers, there will be quicksand, gory deaths, an anti-gun speech (Ya ain’t so tough without yer shotgun, are ya?”), a catfight in the mud (!), two alligator attacks, a cotton mouth trap, and more singing by Ferlin Husky.  And wait till you get a load of the insane twist ending!

Ferlin Husky as the “Swamp Ranger.”

The music, which is so integral to the mood of the movie, is by Gene Kauer, who composed the scores for scores of movies, including THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975), THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961), MONSTER (1980), and all three FACES OF DEATH movies (1978, 1981 and 1985).

SWAMP GIRL was directed by Donald A. Davis, who also made FOR SINGLE SINGERS ONLY (1968), THE MUTHERS (1968), MARSHA: THE EROTIC HOUSEWIFE (1970), and the delightfully named DIAL-A-DEGENERATE (1972).  Most of his films were “nudie cuties” or adults-only sex comedies, so SWAMP GIRL is fairly unusual in that it’s rated PG, despite the hatchet murders, abortions, child prostitution, murders, alligator killings, snake bitten children, etc.  It was obviously made for the Southern Drive-In circuit, and it works well for what it is.  There’s so much going on that there’s never a dull moment, and the swamp photography is quite beautiful and must’ve looked great on those giant outdoor screens.  Those authentic accents also add to the fun, creating a nice, if fairly mild hicksploitation hit.  In a few more years, Claudia Jennings would star in the similar, and much more exploitive (and therefore much more popular) GATOR BAIT (1974).

SWAMP GIRL is a fun little movie with no pretensions, a good little performance from the super sexy Simone Griffeth, pretty scenery, and more plot than you could usually fit into five flicks.  Something Weird DVD has it on a terrific double bill with SWAMP COUNTRY (1966), starring Lyle Waggoner.

I give SWAMP GIRL two and a half Arab white slavers out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Available as part of a DVD double-feature with SWAMP COUNTRY from Something Weird Video.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes a Swim in SWAMP WATER (1941)

Posted in 1940s Films, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Fugitives, Killers, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SWAMP WATER (1941)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-till-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

It’s ninety-five degrees outside as I write this, and it’s so humid you could cut the air with a knife.  Therefore, the weather is dictating my summer choice of a trilogy of swamp movie reviews over the next month.  What better time to remember the great swamp pictures than when they used to be shown at the local drive-ins, complete with terrier-sized mosquitoes (unless you bought one of those coiled smoke thingies)?

Jean Renoir was the son of famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, and he was also considered France’s greatest living director in the 1930s.  He directed, and most often wrote, one masterpiece after another, films that would still be studied and adored in the next century, films like BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1932), THE LOWER DEPTHS (1936), LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937), and LA BETE HUMAINE (1938).  In 1939, he made THE RULES OF THE GAME, a comedy of manners and a harsh indictment against the bourgeois and pretty much any other class system.  The film infuriated the French, who truly take their cinema to heart, and it also disturbed the Nazis, who occupied the country at the time, with its left-wing politics.  The film was a flop, and Renoir decided if he was going to keep making movies, he would immigrate to America, thus escaping the Nazis’ condemnation, while still retaining his director’s chair, only this time in Hollywood.  He arrived in New York City with his wife and the author of “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  Within weeks, he was in Hollywood, signed to Twentieth Century Fox by Francophile Darryl F. Zanuck.  What would be his first film in the United States?  A great war film?  An ant-Nazi drama?  A brilliant, elegant comedy?  No, it was a swamp picture: SWAMP WATER (1941) written by Dudley Nichols, who had just had several hits like BRINGING UP BABY (1938) and STAGECOACH (1939), and based on the Saturday Evening Post pot-boiler by Vereen Bell.

In the Okefenokee Swamp, 700 miles of marsh and cypress, Dana Andrews (LAURA – 1944 and CURSE OF THE DEMON – 1957) is Ben, a young man who loses his dog, Trouble (uh-oh, foreshadowing?) while searching for a couple of missing trappers on the edge of the swamp.  Not finding him, he returns home to his father Thursday (Walter Huston of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE – 1948 and THE FURIES – 1950) and his stepmother Hannah, played by Mary Howard (LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY – 1938 and ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS – 1940).  Trouble hasn’t returned home, but when Ben says he’s going into the swamp to find Trouble, his Pa goes plumb crazy, shouting and telling him if he goes into the swamp he shouldn’t ever come home again.  He would be disinherited (from what, I wonder, the old shack they live in?)  On his way, he runs into Mabel, his girlfriend, a high-falutin’ woman who yearns for a better life, played by Virginia Gilmore of THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942).  He gets supplies at the general store, where we meet the rest of the town . . . Marty, who owns the store (the great Russell Simpson of THE GRAPES OF WRATH – 1940 and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS-1954), two nasty characters, the Dorson Brothers, on their way to drown a bag of kittens (!) played by Ward Bond (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – 1946 and THE SEARCHERS – 1956) and Guinn Williams (a heavy in many Westerns, including THE ALAMO – 1960) and a beautiful, wild young woman, the ward (or slave) of the shopkeeper.  Played with a great naiveté by Anne Baxter (ALL ABOUT EVE -1950 and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS– 1956), Julie is a wildcat, a girl abandoned by her father: a convicted murderer who fled into the swamp and is presumed dead.   It’s a rough bunch.

The haunting opening shot from SWAMP WATER (1941)>

Our hero goes on his search for his missing dog into the heart of the swamp, and Renoir actually filmed this on location, unheard of in a film of this time.  The cypress trees, the algae, the water, the sweat, the alligators, and the beautiful play of light on everything is simply gorgeous and stifling.  I can almost feel the fecund air until Ben comes across, who else, Julie’s father, the escaped killer Tom Keefer, played by three time Oscar winner Walter Brennan (STAGECOACH – 1939 and THE WESTERNER – 1941.)  Trouble, it seems, has taken a shine to old Tom, who is hiding out in the deep swamp from the law, but the old man can’t let Ben go back to civilization and reveal where he is.  He ties the boy to a tree and prepares to kill him, but he’s bitten in the face by a cottonmouth, and he falls unconscious.  Ben decides to bury the man, the only proper thing to do, when the old escapee revives.  “If I’da let them things kill me,” he says.  “I’da been dead a long time ago.”  For the young man’s kindness, Tom shows Ben the way out of the swamp.

Fugitive Walter Brennan hiding in the SWAMP WATER.

Meanwhile, local horndog Jesse Wick, played by John Carradine (hundreds of movies) is hitting on Hannah while her husband’s looking for Ben.  His father beats the hide off of him, so Ben takes up in a shack near the general store, where he starts to become closer to the wildcat Julie and makes a living by trapping furs in the Okefenokee.  This, of course, infuriates Mabel, who decides to go to a dance with a Dorson Brother.  Ben accompanies Julie, who cleans up really well!  Ben informs her that her father’s alive, so she starts keeping house for him.

Jesse tries to rape Hannah, but is almost caught by Thursday, who blames his wife.  She can’t say who it is, because she knows Thursday will kill him and she doesn’t want the guilt.  Thursday goes on a quest to find out who his wife is protecting.

It doesn’t take long before the wicked Dorson Brothers and the jealous Mabel get Ben in a headlock and try to drown him, until he tells them Tom is hiding out in the Okefenokee.  Turns out, they know more about the murder than anyone thought, and they go into the swamp to kill Tom Keefer and shut him up.  They’re followed by the sheriff and a posse as well as Ben and Jesse.  The manhunt through the darkened swamp is creepy and quite terrifying.  Will Ben get to Tom in time to warn him?  Will Tom believe the young man or blame him for the men tracking him through quicksand and gator nests?

I won’t give away the ending, but after ninety minutes of dark drama and suspense, it comes out of left field to please wartime audiences.  Zanuck didn’t think anyone would want to see a realistic ending, so he tacked on a sunny bit that seems awfully unrealistic, but it does still work.  Zanuck must have known what he was doing.  Despite his tampering and Jean Renoir’s dissatisfaction with his whole Hollywood experience, SWAMP WATER was one of the five top grossing movies of the year.  Renoir would return to some of the same themes in THE SOUTHERNER (1945 ) and get nominated for an Oscar.

Even with all the cornpone dialog, SWAMP WATER is filled with terrific performances, especially the luminescent Walter Brennan, who just owns every scene he’s in and Anne Baxter, who plays the feral Julie in a way that makes you want to protect her yourself.  Dana Andrews is a bit hopeless at the beginning as an innocent young man, but he evolves into a full grown adult whose heart is too big for the small town he lives in.  The transformation is subtle, but quite wonderful.  John Carradine turns in a performance full of terror and shame, a man who can’t help what he is and is too frightened of life to change.

Dana Andrews comes across an angry Walter Brennan in SWAMP WATER.

The photography is brilliant black and white, with long depths and wavering firelight or dappled sunlight on everything.  Cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (HOUSE OF WAX-1953 and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES-1939) uses Renoir’s trademark long takes and constantly moving camera.  As beautiful as it is, Marley was a replacement for original photographer Lucien Ballard (THE WILD BUNCH and TRUE GRIT – both 1969), who was fired.  It looks like an art film but it has the Tobacco Road plot of a Southern exploitation hit, so SWAMP WATER is an odd flick, but extremely moving and beautiful piece of Faulkneresque Southern gothic.

Twilight Time has released a limited edition Blu-Ray of this classic swamp picture, and it’s a lulu.  You can see every bead of sweat on every characters mug, every bug flying near the fires in the swamp, every grain of wood on the sad-looking shacks.  It’s a magnificent restoration, and you can even isolate the musical score by David Buttolph (KISS OF DEATH -1947 and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS – 1953), which samples the haunting Red River Valley.  They only made 3,000, so if you want one, you need to hurry.

I give SWAMP WATER three and a half kittens in a bag out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (2003)

Posted in 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Comedies, Melodrama, Midnight Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on April 12, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (2003)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-til-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

In film terms, ‘camp’ is defined as movie-making and acting which is deliberately exaggerated and theatrical in style, typically for humorous effect.  This is usually found in an unintentional form, such as Bette Davis’s overwrought histrionics in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962); the utterly hilarious sexual hijinks in SHOWGIRLS (1995); or the terribly written, overacted VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967).  It’s much more difficult to create an intentionally camp movie.  John Waters has pretty much perfected the camp medium, showcasing insane situations, arch acting styles, and colorful pop visuals to great effect.  Other than Waters, it is hard to find a good intentionally camp comedy.  That is, until GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS (2003), the campiest of the campy camps.

Seventies B-Movie actress Evie has fallen on hard times.  Think of Joey Heatherton or Lola Falana.  Ever since she drunkenly lost control of her car and plowed into a family of six, but only killing four (“Who has a picnic in their own backyard?”), she’s spiraled into a drug-fueled, alcohol-tinged, nymphomaniac, smoke-hazed nightmare.   Studios won’t return her calls; her best friend/maid, Coco, is thinking about leaving her and having a baby; and her glass eye keeps rolling back into her head during sex.  With the mortgage due, she accepts a young hopeful starlet as a third roommate, Varla Jean, right off the bus from Arkansas.  Coco says, “I just hope she’s not too loud.  Or happy.  Happy people make such a racket.”  Turns out, Varla Jean was the daughter of Marla Jean— star of a summer spin-off of C.P.O. Sharkey and Evie’s arch nemesis, who killed herself after not getting the lead role in Evie’s biggest movie, ASTEROID! (The ASTEROID! Scenes are hysterically dead-on for 70s disaster flicks, even to the line “Maybe I was so busy saving all the world’s children, that I forgot to be a woman.”)   Varla quickly moves from prostitute to infomercial spokeswoman to commercial actress.  Her rise to ‘stardom’ infuriates Evie.  Varla even starts an affair with Evie’s tragically endowed, ambulance-chasing lawyer son, Stevie.  Coco searches for her one true love, Dr. Perfect, the man who gave her an abortion when she was going to Vassar.  Evie gets worse and worse as Varla’s success continues until she gets the lead in TARANTULATROPOLIS and Coco is raped while under morphine in the hospital.  Evie decides to mortgage the house again to fund a musical revue television special starring herself.  But, is it all a plot by Varla to wreak revenge on Evie, the woman who caused her mother’s suicide?  It all culminates on the night of the musical revue and involves drugs, drugs, flashbacks, guns, and more drugs.

The gimmick here is that all the women in the movie are played by men in drag.  Frighteningly well played by men in drag.  Even the celebrities on magazine covers and billboards are drag queens.  This ups the camp level up to eleven, as if it wasn’t high enough with that plotline.  Don’t think, however that this is just a drag show on film.  These guys are actually acting and are amazingly funny in every single scene.  Varla Jean is played by full-figured Jeffery Roberson, who in one scene devours an entire can of cheese-whiz while singing opera.   Coco is played by svelte and doe-eyed Clinton Leupp who has guest starred on ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER, and WILL AND GRACE.  The funniest, by far, is Jack Plotnick as Evie. Plotnick starred in movies like DOWN WITH LOVE (2003), RUBBER (2010), and GODS AND MONSTERS (1998) as well as appearances on UGLY BETTY, WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE, ELLEN, and RENO 911.  His comedy timing is impeccable and he brings all his lines to delightful camp life.

The sets are gloriously tacky, full of candy-colored wallpaper and drapes, and the costumes are bright and cheerful, even when the “girls” are doing terrible things to each other.  Honestly, however, the biggest joy comes from the actors and the terrific, vulgar, tasteless screenplay by director Richard Day, who cut his teeth on TV shows like ROSEANNE, ELLEN, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT.  Quite a resume there.

The Girls (l to r) Varla, Evie and Coco

Some favorite lines:

Coco:  Have you had an abortion?

Evie:  Coco, I’ve had more children pulled out of me than a burning orphanage.

***

Evie:  Speaking of fake sets, how you like my boobs?

***

Coco: Let me help you with your duffel bag.

Varla: [confused] My things are in the Cabriolet.

Coco: Oh, I’m sorry. That’s just your ass

***

Coco: Were you drunk?

Evie: It was twelve noon.  Of  course I was drunk.

***

Evie:  So I said, why am I laughing? We’re doing it doggy-style and your name is Barker!

***

Varla: Feelings are like treasures, so bury them.

***

Coco:  It doesn’t make sense. There’s no connection. And I cry for no reason and blame myself, and I’ve been slowly cutting off my toe with a nail file and I have no idea why.

***

For anyone who gets a kick out of John Waters’ trash epics, this is a one-of-a-kind comedy that gets the camp elements just right.  There are more laughs in ten minutes of GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS than in five entire typical Hollywood comedies.  Plus, you get it all in drag!  And great news, the “girls” will all be back later this year in GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS 2012.  I can hardly wait!

I give GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS three and a half ASTEROIDS! Out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

The original theatrical poster (2003)

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932)

Posted in 1930s Horror, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Melodrama, Pre-Code Films, Vengeance! with tags , , , , , , , on March 15, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

In the pre-Hayes Code days of 1932, you could get away with an awful lot in motion pictures.  Hollywood films were rife with prostitutes, glorified gangsters, adultery, murder, child abuse, rape, and nudity.  One film of that year, however, proved so salacious that Warner Brothers cut it from 74 minutes down to a meager 59 minutes in length.  Rumors of graphic killings, homosexual affairs, and gun-fighting women on trains persist to this day, but sadly, this footage is all lost.  What is left of the film, THIRTEEN WOMEN (1932), is a miracle of crazed, trashy, pulp filmmaking, and it still maintains its shock value when seen today.  One can only imagine what it would have been like in its entirety.  I believe it would be hailed as a classic of its kind, standing alongside the film versions of Fu Manchu and the early dramas of James Cagney.

THIRTEEN WOMEN begins with the Raskob Sisters getting ready for their trapeze act at the E. Marvel Circus.  June has just received her horoscope from the mysterious Swami Yogadachi, and it informs her that because of something she will do, someone very close to her will die and she will end up in an insane asylum.  In walks Hazel, an old friend from school days long past, played by Peg Entwistle, an actress who actually killed herself two days after the release of THIRTEEN WOMEN by throwing herself off the ‘H’ in the Hollywoodland sign!  The two women are frightened by these ominous letters, but Hazel informs June that it must be some kind of prank, and the show must go on.  The trapeze artist, tormented by the words in the letter, becomes more and more nervous.  She and her sister swing high above the crowd in a pretty terrifying, silent sequence.  Each time June grabs for her sister, she nearly misses, until at one point, she jerks her hands back at the wrong time and her sister falls to her doom.

In the office of Swami Yogadachi, we find 1930’s villain character actor C. Henry Gordon (SCARFACE-1932, MATA HARI-1931) speaking with his “secretary” (oh you know what she REALLY is), Ursula Georgi, played by a pre-Nora Charles Myrna Loy (THE THIN MAN – 1934, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES-1946, and MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE – 1948).  Myrna’s all made up in a fabulous dress made from copper coins and wearing slanted Asian eye make-up.  She slinks over to the Swami, who has just completed a horoscope for another woman.  He maintains that it only shows happiness for this woman, Hazel.  Ursula stares him down and informs him that twelve women, all related by a round robin letter and their days in school together, must not lose their faith in the occult.  She kisses him, explains they were lovers in a previous life, and then asks about what he sees in the stars for her future.  He says, “It is death I wrote for you…not pleasantly.  Your body, mangled like that.  An accident, the stars say.  A railroad, perhaps.”  She says, “Strange.  So are you to die, like that.”

The great Myrna Loy in THIRTEEN WOMEN.

She hypnotizes him into sleep, takes his happy horoscope, and changes it to inform the recipient that she will commit murder and go to prison.  It is Hazel, who proceeds to fulfill the prophecy, screaming as she brutally stabs her husband.

We are then introduced to sensible single mother Laura Stanhope, played by Irene Dunne (THE AWFUL TRUTH-1937, A GUY NAMED JOE-1943, I REMEMBER MAMMA-1948, and many others great films).  Laura calls Helen, who has recently lost a child and is receiving horoscopes claiming she will soon kill herself.  Laura has also received a letter, stating that her son will die before his next birthday.  She says it’s all a bunch of hooey, and she is going to prove it.  She invites Helen to her house, where all the remaining girls from their sorority will meet, thus proving the Swami a fake.  Helen agrees and books a train ticket.

Meanwhile, Grace, another gal from the sorority, tells Laura that they are all doomed, that she believes everything the letters say.  The Swami has just sent her a letter stating that he, himself, will die before July 1st.  On June 31st, Swami Yogadachi unwisely tramps to Grand Central Station with Ursula, who makes him leap in front of a train in a stunningly edited sequence.  She then hops on her own train, the very one transporting the grief-stricken Helen to California.

On the trip, she speaks with Helen, who says she regrets the way Ursula was treated at school, then she shows the Eurasian woman a gun she keeps with her to prove to herself that she won’t kill herself.  Not exactly a good plan!  Ursula lurks behind her, nudging her closer and closer towards suicide until the sobbing Helen shoots herself through the head while Ursula listens at her door, smirking with satisfaction.

The suicide is investigated by Police Sergeant Barry Clive (Ricardo Cortiz-THE WALKING DEAD-1936, MR. MOTO’S LAST WARNING-1939), and the trail leads to Laura Stanhope and her son, whose birthday is fast approaching.  Ursula, now in California, is sleeping with the Stanhope’s chauffer, Burns, played by tough guy Edward Pawley (G-MEN-1935, EACH DAWN I DIE-1939).  First, the crazed woman tries to poison the little boy with candy.  Then she gives Burns a rubber ball filled with explosives, saying “Give this to Bobby with all your love.  And don’t drop it!”  When he refuses, she comes on to him, wearing another revealing and fabulous dress, and convinces him to give the boy the lethal present.  “He won’t know anything,” she whispers into his ear.  “He’ll bounce it.  Children always bounce rubber balls, don’t they?”

Myrna Loy terrorizes Irene Dunne in THIRTEEN WOMEN.

The next fifteen minutes contain many tense moments as the rubber ball is placed in various precarious positions (the film is alarmingly easy-going about putting a four-year-old child in mortal danger), a wild car chase with an out-of-control limousine, a harrowing sting operation, a chase through a train, and the big confrontation between Ursula and Laura.  Ursula was a half Hindu, half Japanese girl who was sent by a missionary to school.  She had to “learn to be white”, because if you were Asian and a man, you were a thug.  If you were Asian and a woman, you would become a prostitute.  The girls of the sorority learned that she was passing for white and made her life so miserable she had to leave the academy.  Thus, her lust for revenge was born, a desire to see every one of the women in that sorority to either be killed or tormented by loss.  It’s a plea for tolerance, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for Ursula, even though she’s just attempted to blow up a little kid.  Loy is so adept with her acting, especially her eyes, she brings real sorrow to the plight of this “half-breed.”  The attempt at sympathy for other races, however, is muddled completely by the fact that this woman is a monster through and through, so the whole progressive point of the movie becomes moot.

THIRTEEN WOMEN barrels along at a furious pace, all the more so for its missing scenes.  Stylishly directed by the prolific George Archainbaud (BLONDE TROUBLE-1937, THE DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND-1946), the movie has at least five action/horror sequences that are all the more exciting by the lack of music, especially that trapeze plummet opening.  A shout-out must go to the costume designer, whoever that may be.  There is no credit for the person responsible for the wild outfits worn by Ursula Georgi, sexy and daring and exotic, the perfect gowns for the murderous half-caste.  They would almost be acceptable in a FLASH GORDON  serial!  The movie also includes an early score by the brilliant Max Steiner (GONE WITH THE WIND-1939, KING KONG-1933, NOW VOYAGER-1942, CASABLANCA-1942, and 237 others).  Although sparingly used, the music is quite effective and understated.

The film was based on a salacious novel by Tiffany Thayer, the Harold Robbins of the 1920s and 1930s.  He wrote books filled with murder, sex, and violence, rife with misogyny and racism.  F. Scott Fitzgerald once called his books “Slime…in drug store libraries.”  Dorothy Parker stated, “He is beyond question a writer of power; and his power lies in his ability to make sex so thoroughly, graphically, and aggressively unattractive that one is fairly shaken to ponder how little one has been missing. Thayer died while writing a 21 volume (series) about the Mona Lisa, which was never completed.  Many have called his works literary potato chips, not good for you, but hard to stop eating once you’ve started. .”  Wow!  Where can I find a copy of one of his novels?

Even in its truncated 59 minute form, THIRTEEN WOMEN casts a weird, dream-like spell.  If only we had the missing fifteen minutes, it could have been a pre-code classic.  As it stands, it’s still a wonderfully campy, shocking, and exciting relic with an amazing performance by the lovely Myrna Loy.  Warner Archive has put out a nice copy of THIRTEEN WOMEN, and it deserves to be seen by a whole new generation.

I give THIRTEEN WOMEN three explosive rubber balls out of four.  Just don’t bounce it!

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SATAN IN HIGH HEELS (1962)

Posted in 60s Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Hot Chick Movies, Melodrama, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on November 10, 2011 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

SATAN IN HIGH HEELS (1962)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

“They all went where the heat was hottest!” read the tagline for 1962s fabulously trashy musical/comedy/noir/sex/drama SATAN IN HIGH HEELS.  For the early Sixties, this really was pretty hot stuff, although it’s surprising just how entertaining this grindhouse classic truly is.  Chock full of wild and steamy situations and hateful dialogue and (gasp) good acting, this one screams to be rediscovered by someone like Quentin Tarantino, and rereleased upon an unsuspecting public.

Grayson Hall (as "Pepe") admires her newest singer, Stacey Kane (Meg Myles).

Our story opens on a cut-rate carnival, Stacey Kane is a burlesque dancer played by the pneumatic Meg Myles (COOGAN’S BLUFF-1968, and she had roles on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, ALL MY CHILDREN, and THE GUIDING LIGHT—quite the soap opera diva).  Stacey lethargically bumps and grinds in front of a leering crowd of men, thrusting out her torpedoes.  She returns to her trailer to find her no-good drug dealer ex-boyfriend lurking, after getting out of prison.  He tells her how he’s given up the dope just for her, and he has nine hundred dollars a magazine paid him for “a piece about junkies,” plus he has a taxi waiting to take them to New York.  Being the sweetheart she is, Stacey promptly steals the money as well as his cab and leaves him high and dry.

Once in New York, she seduces the guy in the seat next to her on the plane, and he gets her an audition at a nightclub called Pepe’s, owned by, who else, “Pepe”—played by Grayson Hall, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in 1964’s NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, but is probably better known as Dr. Julia Hoffman on DARK SHADOWS.  Here, as Pepe, she’s a predatory lesbian (was there any other kind in 1962?) and she gives Stacey the once-over, then the job, as a singer at her fancy night club after her torch song audition.  Hall plays Pepe as a butch, bossy-pants wearing men’s suits and chain smoking.  And who is that answering the phone at the club and accompanying on piano, but blond and handsome Paul, played in fey/gay mode by Del Tenney, who stopped acting and produced/directed exploitation greats I EAT YOUR SKIN and THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (both 1964).  After Stacey’s audition, an onlooker, Arnold Kenyon, played by Mike Keene (Dr. Norman Prescott on SEA HUNT) asks if Stacey is available later that day.  She replies she is available “all day . . . and all night.”  Kenyon is the owner of the club and has an odd relationship with manager Pepe.  With no place to stay, what’s a predatory lesbian to do but offer Stacey her own apartment to live in, and Stacey is willing and able to shack up with her Sapphic supervisor.  So let the flirting and innuendo begin!  Pepe says, “Sleep’s a waste of time.”

Stacey Kane will turn on you when you least expect it!

Arnold ditches his wife, under the spell of Stacey Kane, but even though she has a fling with him, she’s much more interested in his son and heir, Larry, played by scrawny Robert Yuro (SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST – 1968, and a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart).  Enter Stacey’s rival, the gorgeous but terrible actress, Sabrina, sort of playing herself.  Sabrina was an awful actress; she wasn’t hired for her thespian skills, but for her 41-inch bustline.  She was known as “Britain’s Jayne Mansfield,” and she does look great in her hourglass dresses accompanied by her white greyhounds.

In her debut at Pepe’s, Stacey wears an S&M corset, thigh-high boots, and a riding crop.  She proceeds to belt out a wild song while whipping and taunting all the men in the audience.  “I’ll beat you, mistreat you, till you quiver and quail.  The female of the species, much more deadly than the male!”  It’s a crazed scene, dripping with suggestion, and Myles dives into it full force, lashing out at paying customers and gyrating like her carny days are coming back.

Stacey goes after Larry, but Pepe disapproves.

Stacey: I need fresh air . . . and a man.

Pepe: Larry isn’t a man.

Stacey: Then, I’ll make him one.

Arnold dates Stacey, Larry dates Stacey, Pepe exchanges lustful glances with Stacey, and Stacey just loves Stacey, even taking time out to have a nude swim in the woods, which probably raised a few eyebrows in 1962.  And then, the drug dealer boyfriend reappears with a switchblade to get what’s owed him.  This isn’t gonna end well.

SATAN IN HIGH HEELS is a fun romp as written by John Chapman and Harold Bonnett and briskly directed by Jerald Intrator (STRIPORAMA-1953, ORGY AT LIL’S PLACE-1963).  The black and white cinematography is crisp and full of appropriate shadows.  Other than the abysmal (but hot) Sabrina, the cast is quite good.  Tenney vamps it up in full-on queen mode (Stacey calls him ‘Paullette’), and Grayson Hall is quite wonderful, dropping double entendres faster than she can light her cigarettes.

Pepe: This is my last season.  I’m buying a rocking chair and keeping a cat.

Sabrina (enters in low cut gown): Hello, Pepe!

Pepe: I’ve changed my mind.  Who wants a cat?

But the acting prize goes to the wonderful Meg Myles, who really puts her all into the role of Stacey Kane.  With her long hair displayed in at least ten different hair-dos, she’s sexy, funny, and a sheer delight as the bad girl who uses everybody to further her own career.  She makes wicked look like a hell of a lot of fun!  Thank you, Ms. Myles!

SATAN IN HIGH HEELS soundtrack album by Mundell Lowe

And the music calls out for a special mention.  This is easily one of the best jazz scores ever produced.  I even own it on a CD.  The be-bop was scored by famed jazz guitarist Mundell Lowe, who also did the scores for BILLY JACK (1971) and Woody Allen’s EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (1972).  Lowe worked with greats like Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Charlie Parker and Carmen McCrae, as well as touring with the Andre Previn Trio.  This is one of my favorite scores ever, bouncy be-bop and slinky stripper themes featuring blaring trumpets, xylophones, and great ensemble sax work.  For a sample, watch the opening credits here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IktXk2PhwMk.  You won’t regret it.

SATAN IN HIGH HEELS is a well-made exploitation melodrama that will make you “quiver and quail.”  It’s fast moving and deserves to be better known, as does Meg Myles.

It gets three and a half predatory lesbians out of four.

I got my copy from the good folks at Something Weird Video.

© Copyright 2011 by William D. Carl