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Showing posts from September, 2022

Film Review: Julie (1956)

Julie is an edge-of-your-seat suspense thriller featuring Doris Day in one of her few dramatic roles. Day plays the title character of Julie Benton, a woman who is trapped in a volatile marriage to a insanely jealous man, Lyle Benton (played by Louis Jourdan). The first half of the film is about Julie's harrowing escape from her husband. Having being threatened that she would be murdered if she ever tried to leave him, Julie risks her life to get away. The second half of the film sees Julie return to her former career as a flight attendant, only to find herself on a plane with her homicidal husband as a passenger. As he reaches his breaking point and shoots the flight crew, there's no one left to land the plane except for Julie. The climax of this strange but thrilling movie was a precursor to Karen Black's iconic performance in Airport 1975 (who also plays a flight attendant who has to land a plane in the middle of crisis). It's a shame that Day didn't make more d

Film Review: The Black Phone (2021)

The Black Phone , a supernatural horror film directed by Scott Derrickson ( Hellraiser: Inferno , The Exorcism of Emily Rose , Doctor Strange )  and adapted from a short story by award-winning writer Joe Hill, has a lot to say. In a single movie, The Black Phone is many things. Sometimes it's a family drama (a drunk father raising two children after his wife dies). Other times it's a psychological thriller (will a young victim of kidnapping find an escape from his evil captor?). And then there's the supernatural element (ghosts guide the main character to eventual safety and younger sister having visionary dreams related to missing children). Collectively, these story ingredients make the perfect blended recipe for one heckuva fun film. Sure, there's flaws along the way (our villain has very little backstory leaving us questioning why he does what he does). Yet, these minor issues are easy to overlook because they're eclipsed by brilliant cinematic storytelling, po

Film Review: It Should Happen to You (1954)

The always-charming Judy Holliday gives a brilliant performance in this romantic comedy from 1954. Produced four years after her career-making and Academy Award winning performance in Born Yesterday , Holliday proves (yet again) in It Should Happen to You that she was a force to be reckoned with. The fact that she's one of my favorite actors from classic films is no secret. As many have mentioned before, I will echo the sadness that her life ended way too soon (she died at the age of 43). It's a cinematic tragedy that she didn't make more movies. Here, Holliday plays fame-obsessed Gladys Glover, a down-on-her-luck woman who has recently been fired. To her luck (and his), Gladys meets a documentary filmmaker in Central Park named Pete Sheppard (played by Jack Lemmon in his first major screen performance). The plot focuses on Glady's climb to fame. Along the way, Gladys discovers that being famous is not as easy as it looks, experiencing many pitfalls in her humbling jou

Film Review: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

An American Werewolf in London is a brutal and brilliant film. Paying tribute to the great monster flicks of yesteryear, director John Landis serves up a terrifying cinematic homage to the creature feature genre, while breaking new ground in the process. The concept of the story is simple, reminding the audience of legends and lore related to a fateful attack by a werewolf. In this case, the victims are two American men backpacking their way across the moors in Yorkshire. Jack (played by Griffin Dunne) is killed and David (played by David Naughton) survives despite his injuries. As the film moves forward, David's insistence that his transformation into a werewolf is imminent is what fuels the movie. We, the audience, are aware that his change is coming and we wait for it with edge-of-your-seat anticipation. And what a change it is. It's worth noting this film received the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup and that accolade is well-deserved. The transformation scene in w

Film Review: Aliens (1986)

I recently had the chance to see Aliens on the big screen, specifically at the historic (and beautiful) Crest Theatre in Sacramento. When the movie premiered in July of 1986, I was a sophomore in high school. I saw the movie five times (at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland) within the first two weeks of its release. Yes, I loved it that much. And, after my recent viewing, I can say I still love it that much. Aliens holds up really well. So much of this is due to James Cameron's expert directing. The set up here is intentionally slow-moving so the second half of the film feels like the ultimate thrill ride it is. The action sequences are some of the best ever filmed. Yet, the film really belongs to Sigourney Weaver, whose powerful and nuanced performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress (the first time a leading actress in a sci-fi film had been acknowledged by the Academy). Weaver's performance is history-making for many reasons. Before this film, audien

Film Review: Village of the Damned (1960)

Movies don’t get much creepier than this fantastic classic from 1960. Director Wolf Rilla takes his time introducing us into the strange world of this sinister tale. In this case, we are in the British village of Midwich, where something strange has just happened: the residents of the village lose consciousness for four hours. When they awake, several women have been impregnated. Even more bizarre, all of the women give birth on the same day. The children themselves possess telepathy, all have a similar look (large eyes, blonde hair) and speak as of telling a cautionary tale. The children become the objects of fear and speculation by their fellow villagers. What follows is chilling to the point of terrifying. Peeling back the many layers (include the symbolic ones), Rilla masterfully creates beautiful suspense on the screen with help from cinematographer Geoffrey Faithfull, whose aesthetical choices are stunning. Visually this film has become iconic, known for its glowing eyes effect.

Film Review: The Screaming Skull (1958)

A lot can be said about The Screaming Skull . Is it over the top? Yes. Is it a great film? No, not really. Is it fun to watch? Definitely. The concept of the movie is fairly simple: a second wife is a victim of gaslighting by her new husband who is guilty of murdering his first wife, who haunts everyone she can. This low-budget gothic horror film from 1958 was directed by Alex Nicol, who up to this point in his career was known for his work as Broadway actor. Peggy Webber, the star of the film whose performance is nothing short of brilliant, loathed the movie stating it made it her want to throw up after viewing it (because of the quality, not because of any gore). Yet, Webber is a power house in her role. Her considerable acting skills are demonstrated in scene after scene as her character Jenni Whitlock is convinced by those around her (including by herself) that her sanity is slipping. Playing the scheming, homicidal husband, John Hudson gives an equally impressive performance. Adap

Film Review: I Saw What You Did (1965)

I love most films William Castle directed in his nearly forty year film career. This cinematic gem from 1965 is no exception. This low-budget no frills thriller is centered around a clever concept: two young woman prank call strangers one night leading them into a web of danger when they accidentally cause a murderer to panic when they inform him “I saw what you did, and I know who you are.” Believing what they say to be true, killer Steve Marak (played by a menacing John Ireland) is intent on finding the young women (played by Sara Lane and Andi Garrett who are believable as na├»ve high school friends, unaware of the consequences of their actions) to silence them. Castle knows how to create suspense on the screen. Here he gets the most out of a single idea, filling each connected moment with subtle terror before bringing us to the edges of our seats with a nail-biting ending. The film features Joan Crawford in a supporting role. Castle’s only misstep here is not making her part larger.

Film Review : Mermaids (1990)

Adapted from the novel by Patty Dann, this coming-of-age family dramedy from 1990 is an adorable film, filled with charm, terrific and very quotable dialogue, and career-best performances. Set in 1963, the film follows the lives of three women, specifically a single mother and her two young daughters. Told from the perspective of Charlotte, the oldest daughter (played by Winona Ryder), Mermaid s is endearing from start to finish. Director Richard Benjamin creates an intimate connection between Charlotte and the audience by allowing her inner thoughts to be shared through often hilarious voice overs. It's through these one-liners and monologues that our fondness for Charlotte grows, drawing us into the often-turbulent navigation through her young life. The characters of this film feel like people we know: you have the larger-than-life mother (played by Cher in her best role yet), her antithesis in the form of a conservative daughter, and the wild youngest child (a very young but im

Film Review: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

From the opening frame when the iconic title is splashed across the screen in blood red letters, you know you're in for a wild ride with Amy Jones's cult slasher classic The Slumber Party Massacre . Set in sunny Southern California, the 1980's aesthetic of beautiful surroundings are juxtaposed with a terrifying murder spree thanks to a power drill wielding maniac. Shot on a next-to-nothing budget, this mighty film went on to make millions and become a three-film franchise, similar to other successful slashers of the same era. This one stands out as being different from the pack. Sure, all the genre expected tropes are there. We have beautiful women being hunted by a serial killer. We have brutality and blood. There's a lot of T and an abundance of A. And, most importantly for my fellow horror film aficionados, we have a high body count. Yet, there's a stylishness to the movie that isn't always as prevalent in comparable films. Much of this is apparent in Jones&#

Film Review: The Invitation (2022)

The Invitation , a new horror film from director Jessica M. Thompson, wants to be many things. At times, the film feels like a wonderful tribute to gothic horror romance novels of the past (there's even a Jane Austen reference in the movie for Northanger Abbey fans) and other times it feels like a solid entry in the cinematic canon of great vampire flicks. While watching the film, I caught intentional echoes of Dracula , True Blood , Interview with a Vampire , Midnight Madness , and even Downton Abbey . These influences and tributes are apparent, but there's so many of them they inadvertently create a strange hodgepodge of a film. It's as if the film is suffering from an identity crisis and isn't quite clear what it wants to be. Is it a ghost story? A movie about a haunted house? A supernatural horror film? A film about how far best friends will go to help each other? Instead, you're left unsure and confused. The film is enjoyable and fun, but it could've been

Film Review: The Gilded Lily (1935)

From the opening scene on a bench outside of the New York Public Library in which Fred MacMurray’s character (Peter Dawes) tries to convince Claudette Colbert’s character (Marilyn David) that she’s capable of more in her professional life, this romantic comedy from 1935 is brimming with sweet charm and a big dose of female empowerment. There’s much to enjoy in the story, including a commentary about journalism threaded seamlessly throughout. Colbert is especially appealing in her portrayal of an earnest, hopeful woman who’s trying to balance her quest for success with her search for love. Her comedic timing is razor sharp here and director Wesley Ruggles gives her the breathing space on screen she deserves to demonstrate her considerable range as an actor. Known more for her dramatic work, it’s refreshing to see Colbert in such a fun role. There are echoes here of the stellar, Academy Award work she did one year prior in the classic film  It Happened One Night . Both MacMurray and Colb

Film Review: The Midnight Story (1957)

This dramatic film noir from 1957 is a fun watch. The plot is pretty layered, allowing for a few nice twists along the way. The story centers around a San Francisco traffic cop intent on solving the murder of a priest who was a father figure to him. He goes undercover, falls in love with a female cousin of the suspect, and comes up with a strategy to get a confession. Thanks to the screenwriters (John Robinson and Edwin Blum), the film is more character-driven, rather than relying on action. The character development is rich here, demonstrated in the writers choice to give the cast of characters complicated lives, including those of the police officers involved in the murder case. The acting is top-notch, including one of Tony Curtis’ best performances. Marisa Pavan and Gilbert Roland also shine in their roles, each bringing an intensity and beautiful desperation to the screen. Filmed on location in San Francisco, director Joseph Pevney keeps the story moving forward at a great pace. A

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