Long’s Short Takes (and one not so brief)

~Harry H Long

FELIX THE CAT
1922-30 / Alpha Video / 73m / $6.98 / NR
Created in 1919 at the Pat Sullivan animation studio (though actual credit is usually given to Otto Messmer) Felix was initially a rascally stray generally involved in promoting a meal for himself, as often as not by sneaky means. One short presented here (of the hundreds produced) has him trade babysitting chores for a meal but he was rarely so aboveboard. Aiding him in his schemes is his magical tail, which he could detatch and transform into anything he liked; in one toon collected here he transforms it into a lasso that takes on the shape of a horse and then becomes said equine – yes, there’s a high dose of the surreal here. Like Chaplin his name on the theater marquee was enough to bring in patrons (Sullivan had earlier done a series of Chaplin cartoons and certain aspects of the Little Tramp’s personality made their way into Felix). His popularity was such that his likeness was reproduced on hundreds of products from plush toys to that well-known wall clock in what may have been the first example of mass marketing tied in to a movie character; Walt Disney would later take a cue and now it’s nigh impossible to find a film or TV series that doesn’t have some sort of product tie-in.

The Irrepressible Felix the Cat, 1924–1928 | Silent Film Festival - ClipArt  Best - ClipArt Best

Felix’s popularity waned with the arrival of sound; Sullivan resisted doing Felix talkies initially, which lessened the cartoons’ appeal; when he finally did make he transition the cartoons were not popular. A mid-1930s attempt to resurrect the character went nowhere (though a comic strip continued well into the 40s) but an early 1950s syndicated batch of shorts – where a bag of tricks that could transform into anything the feline wished replaced the magical tail – was produced with some success (260 shorts were produced). It is likely boomers know the character from these adventures that pitted Felix against a mad doctor type and others desirious of obtaining the magic satchel. Felix was made more warm and fuzzy; only his likeness is similar to the cunning stray personality evinced here. While the Sullivan era shorts are smoothly animated everything is a simple line drawing (with some gray shading) and the silent film approach of everything seen in long shot is taken; close-ups are rare. There is a certain charm lent by the technique and the films are fun – I particularly liked the one where the town cats go on strike – hut be aware several contain offensive racial stereotypes common to films of that era.

MINUTE BODIES: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith
2017 / Icarus Films Home Video / 53m / $34.98 BR-MOD / NR
Naturalist, inventor and pioneering British filmmaker F. Percy Smith (1880-1945), working in a north London studio in the first half of the 20th century, developed time-lapse and micro-photographic techniques to study nature and unlock its secrets. From the growth and budding of tiny plants (or even their movements as they track the sun) to single celled organisms, Smith explored – and captured on film – the smallest of nature’s creations. Working with both the Royal Navy and British Instructional Films, Smith was apparently fiendishly devoted to his pursuit, reportedly often working on several films at the same time. Divorced from their scientific function and gifted with a delicate, nigh ambient score by Stuart A. Staples of the alternative rock group tindersticks, collaborating with Thomas Belhom and Christine Ott (Staples also directed the film), it becomes trippy, as we used to say back in my youth (when we probably would have enjoyed it with a certain herbal substance). These black and white images become transfixing, possibly all the more so because we have at best only a general idea of what we’re observing. I’m torn between thinking subtitles explaining what is onscreen would have been a nice touch and thinking it’s best these images remain somewhat unknown. As it is this could just as easily be footage from the Mars Rover; the result is mesmerizing.

Small wonders: the tiny world of F Percy Smith | Documentary films | The  Guardian

WIFE OF MONTE CRISTO
1946 / Alpha Video / 79m / $6.98 / NR
By now it’s probably known that I’m fascinated by the work of director Edgar G. Ulmer and so I’m self-indulgently going to devote more space than ususl to this title. For years I’d only seen his more readily available films – “The Black Cat” (of course), “Detour”, “The Man from Planet X”, “Bluebeard” – courtesy TV showings (I thank a northern PA public television station for broadcasting “Club Havana” a couple times). Back when I was reviewing for Filmfax a company called AllDay put out a number of his titles on DVD and I was introduced to “Strange Illusion” (a modern retelling of “Hamlet”), the extraordinary “The Strange Woman” and the equally astonishing “The Pirates of Capri” (both of which display what Ulmer could do when working with a decent budget). Given they only dealt in Ulmer’s work AllDay served a distinctly fringe market and soon went out of business before getting to this title that was part of the director’s tenure at Producers Releasing Company, considered the bottomest of the barrel of Hollywood Studios. Ulmer was a kind of artistic and technical director for PRC (he started out as a set designer) and so directed his fair amount of schlock to fill out the schedule (“Girls in Chains” anyone?), but unlike fellow Poverty Row studio Monogram (which was all schlock) PRC dabbled in more artistic endeavors from time to time and Ulmer was the one responsible for those both as director and likely for getting them on the schedule, sometimes despite misgivings by studio head Leon Fromkess, who only allowed “Bluebeard” if it was made in a single week. It is important to remember that all his PRC films were made in just one week.

THE WIFE OF MONTE CRISTO - 1946 - JOHN LODER - LENORE AUBERT - RARE DVD

With Monte Cristo – or more accurately Edmund Dantes – his kith and kin doing well with audiences, Fromkess determined he too needed a relative and tasked Ulmer (probably the only director at the studio capable of realizing a period swashbuckler on PRC’s parsimonious budget) with coming up with a story and directing the production. Said story involves Dantes now taking on the role of The Avenger, clad like Zorro and interrupting the shipments of a bogus plague cure that consists of mostly water and a few poisonous colorings (Hmn… Hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin anyone? Who knew a budget programmer from the mid-40s could be so relevant?) The prefect of police (John Loder) is in financial cahoots with the manufacturer (Charles Dingle) of this potentially lethal snake oil so he desperately wants to unmask The Avenger. When Dantes (Martin Kosleck) suffers a wound that would give away his identity he hies off to his hunting lodge, but events transpire that force the missus (Lenore Aubert) to don the black cape and slouch hat. It’s very much a programmer but Ulmer invested everything he had to make it stylish with his trademark dramatic closeups and chiaroscuro nighttime scenes. There are some online comments that the day for night scenes are too dark to see what’s going on but that’s not the case here; this is a beautiful print. And who knew Ulmer could stage sword fights that rival Michael Curtiz? (Okay, I did, but I’ve seen “The Pirates of Capri”.)

The Wife of Monte Cristo (1946) / AvaxHome
(Drapes can solve otherwise expensive construction problems.)

Ulmer knew his Dumas pere; Haydee, the woman who nurses Dantes back to health after his escape from the Chateau d’if, is ignored in nearly every adaptation of the novel; it makes some sense that Dantes would marry her rather than his erstwhile fiance (who has married another in any case) and the novel does end with Haydee declaring her love for him. The corrupt prefect, Villefort, and drug manufacturer Danglars are ported over from the novel, their fates there simply ignored so they can be struck down again. The film looks lavish but its constrained finances are betrayed by certain “marble” columns reappearing in various sets and a large window unit in at least three sets suggests redressing and revamping of the same set (but who save the likes of me notices such things?). Ulmer and Hammer’s Bernard Robinson would have got along famously. Also behind the scenes is composer Paul Dessau replacing Ulmer and PRC’s usual Leo Erdody who thankfully must have been otherwise occupied. Dessau was a German emigre who turned out a handful of Hollywood film scores (including the Dracula segment of “House of Frankenstein”) during the 40s.

Forgotten Actors: John Loder

The cast is impressive for a Poverty Row though admittedly not stuffed with A-listers. Loder and Dingle come close. The former was most often the second male lead or a supporting character in A features such as “Now Voyager,” but at the 40’s waned he was more often in B films, though there at least he played the lead (his turn in “The Brighton Strangler” – a precursor to “A Double Life” – is worth checking out). Usually a good guy he’s excellent as the charming villain whom will shoot a collabortor in the back when threatened with exposure. Dingle was always a character actor but usually in such tony A films as “The Little Foxes”. His people-will-die-but-I’ll-be-rich conniver here is another memorable portrait; both he and Loder portray characters who seem to purely enjoy their malevolence. The diminutive (5’7”) Kosleck is an unlikely choice for Dantesl another German émigré he spent much of his Hollywood career playing villains, especially Nazis, including Goebbels on five occasions. Casting him as the hero was an odd decision but he’s quite convincing in the role. Aubert is possibly best known for being thrown out of a window by the Frankenstein Monster’ her nearly two decade career rarely handed her a role of any consequence. Adding to the foreign accent melange are Eva Gabor (yes, Eva Gabor) Virginia Christine and Eduardo Cianelli (I love Eduardo Cianelli). Aside from its inadvertent relevance it’s a lovely romp with Ulmer suppressing his usual dark side.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

GANGS OF LONDON, Season 1
2020 / RLJE Films / 544m (3 discs) / SRP $34.97 BR / NR
It seems our friends across the pond have discovered our fascination with underworld types and violent action involving automatic weapons – though for all I know this might not be a recent development in their TV programming. Still it’s difficult not to see this as a Brit response to “The Sopranos” or even “The Godfather” in its depiction of a crime family. But that’s not to take anything away from a series that riveted me from it’s opening sequence of Sean Wallace (Joe Cole) dangling some luckless fellow by his ankle from a high rise then dousing him with gasoline and setting him alight. The rope inevitably burns through sending the still screaming guy plunging to the street. I was hooked – and this to a series whose very subject matter tends to disinterest me. The bulk of the story then goes into flashback (the series is nothing if not complex in its flashing back and forward in time) to the murder of Finn Wallace (Colm Meany) who has headed up a loose coalition of underworld gangs seemingly by sheer will, though much of the enforcement has apparently fallen to his right hand man, Ed Dumani (Lucian Msamati) and his son Alexander (Papaa Essiedu). This arrangement is in some danger of coming undone when some of the participants question whether Sean has what it takes to run things.

Gangs of London is a revoltingly inventive crime series | Financial Times

Of course the viewer has seen just how ruthless Sean can be. And Sean will be just as unflinching in dealing with those who decide to go rogue and do business he has forbidden when he declares all will cease until his dad’s killer is identified. When one leader decides to sneak heroin into the country and move it to the streets he sets fire to the pallet of money she’s made. But the power struggle also involves one gang willing to use former military personnel with assault weapons to wipe out entire enclaves (not that Sean is averse to such actions). And unknown to Sean one of his most trusted allies is an undercover cop (Sope Dirisu). The action – both the fight scenes and the gun battles – are over the top violent and gory. You’ve been warned. But there’s little if any attempt at realism in this tale of a crime family that operates out of a skyscraper with its name emblazoned on it (hmn). This is essentially a fantasy (but without supernatural aspects) and an epic tale in which Sean becomes a tragic figure by the last couple episodes, essentially baffled by how his father’s empire has unraveled. This is an extraordinary series – and remember I hadn’t expected to be much taken by it – superbly acted and directed. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Gangs of London: US Premiere Review - IGN

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, Season Three
2020-21 / CBS Home Entertainment, Paramount / 666m (4 discs) / SRP $45.99 / NR
In the cliffhanger ending of season two Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) used her mother’s time-travel device to launch herself and the Discovery through a worm hole and nine centuries into the future. Initially separated from her crew she joins forces with Booker (David Ajala), a “courier” who deals in stolen cargo, and discovers that the Federation barely exists after some unexplained event that caused all starships powered by dilithium crystals to explode, instantly killing millions. Well, at least Control was unsuccessful in its bid to eliminate organic life from the galaxy, but those crystals are now in short supply and a black market product. (Brief sidebar: Booker has a gorgeous longhaired cat and isn’t it odd that, given crewmembers essentially live aboard the Federation’s ships, this is only the second time in all these series that a character has had a pet?) With all reunited (along with some new characters) the Discovery heads off in search of what’s left of the Federation but initially finds a less than warm reception once they locate it. The order is even given for the crew to disperse amongst other assignments so they can acclimate to life in 3188. Well, you know that’s not gonna happen and instead Discovery gets its technology upgraded – which was already far advanced beyond what was on display in the original series (lest you forget, this show’s first two seasons were taking place just slightly before Christopher Pike helmed the Enterprise). I get that going back to the original Matt Jeffries designs would have been quaint, even compared to what technology we’ve got today, but it still jars a tad – at least to us old farts.

Star Trek: Discovery | Netflix Official Site

What I really love is the ethnic diversity of the current cast. The “classic” series was hailed for its integrated crew (and TV’s first biracial kiss) but a single African American, a single Asian and a single alien was mere tokenism compared to what we’ve got here (even “Next Generation”, “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” were lacking in Technicolor by comparison). And at long last there’s LBGTQ characters in a TV series (Sulu was finally outed in one of the films but not initially conceived that way): Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber (played by out actors Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz) and Jett Reno (out actress Tig Nicotero). And as Stamets and Culber are lovers you will see two men kiss. You have been warned. I’m not sure if it’s in the writing for the character or Rapp’s portrayal but Stamets is the heart of the show, representing Starfleet’s compassion. Additionally Reno’s snarky repartee with him is a hoot. Other pluses are a decent dose of Michelle Yeoh (and an intriguing story arc for her character) and an episode where Doug Jones is not covered in prosthetics, as seems to be the case with every character he’s ever played. The entire cast is quite good and I was glad to see some character growth for Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman); no reflection on the actress but the character was just plain annoying. Martin-Green and Jones have surely had enough praise lavished on them that I need not expend more verbiage on them. While I was only lukewarm toward the second season (and I’ve never seen the first) I’m quite enthusiastic about the show this time around. It feels as if it’s hit its groove and I suspect the cast is stabilizing (and now includes Oded Fehr and David Cronenberg – yes! David Cronenberg!). The production team seems to be past the shakeups leading into and during last season. More so than before the show feels like a “Star Trek” series. It’s been renewed and I’m looking forward to the fourth season.

Star Trek Discovery Season 4: What to Expect - Den of Geek

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

DEVIL IN THE FLESH (Il diavolo in corpo)
1986 / Icarus Films Home Video / 110m / $26.98 / NR
This modernized version of Raymond Radiguet’s novel “Le Diable au corps” is less based on than inspired by. High school student Andrea (Federico Pitzalis) becomes obsessed with the beautiful Giulia (Maruschka Detmers), leaping out his classroom window to follow her to what turns out to be a trial of political terrorists. Her fiance, Giacomo Pulcini (Riccardo De Torrebruna) is one of the accused, all of whom are ensconced in a large white cage in the courtroom. For some reason Guilia finds the proceedings hilarious; she laughs with an intensity bordering (and maybe not just bordering) on hysteria even before two of the activists decide to make the beast with two backs, disrupting the proceedings. Andrea and Guilia enter into a passionate affair during which she continues to laugh in a most unsettling manner, possible signs of mental imbalance that the young man just ignores, besotted by her beauty or possibly just with getting laid. Eventually Giacamo is released after turning states evidence, complicating matters; Guilia must decide between the teenager and a fiance with whom she might be getting bored.

Devil in the Flesh (1986) | MUBI

Director Marco Bellocchio’s films are concerned with family dynamics and the individual’s relation to what the director perceives as a repressive society. Tellingly Giacomo’s mother discovers young Andrea naked in what is intended as the marital bed in the apartment being prepared for Guilia’s marriage to Giacomo and approaches Andrea’s father to convince him to pull out (sorry) of the affair. Said paterfamilias is a psychiatrist and Guilia is one of his patients – and perhaps a former lover (suggesting that Andrea may be just the latest and possibly not the last of Guilia’s conquests). But Bellochio gets to the heart of his concerns with a speech by Giacomo who, after being freed of charges that include murder, he confesses he longs for a normal domestic life; it’s a beautifully written speech (judging from the subtitles) and beautifully delivered. It’s Detmers who handles the most daring moment of the film when she performs unsimulated fellatio on Pitzalis, dimly lit but in closeup – it was controversial at the time as it was not the kind of thing normally found in mainstream films (and still isn’t for that matter, the likes of “Shortbus” notwithstanding). It’s an unnecessary inclusion that merely makes the implicit obvious and further unbalances an already uneven film.

HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide, Hercules at the Conquest of Atlantis)
1961-63* / The Film Detective / 95m / $24.95 BR / NR
Perhaps a few words about peplum films should be offered before dealing with this particular example. A peplum is one of those miniskirts worn by soldiers in films set in ancient Greece and Rome though not all such movies are peplums. The term is specific to movies that detail the exploits of legendary supermen such as Ursus, Samson, Goliath and Maciste and, of course, Hercules. Italian cinema had turned out 27 features involving Maciste (a fictional strong man) beginning with 1914’s “Cabiria” (a loose adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s “Salaambo”) before talkies came to Italy; the character wouldn’t return to the screen until after a bodybuilder with Broadway and Hollywood bit credits named Steve Reeves made a low budget epic yclept “Hercules” and the peplum was well and truly born. Maciste would be pressed back into service for another 25 films but redubbing and retitling for foreign consumption turned him into other strong men, including Hercules (though that is not the case here).

Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (1961) | Free Movies Cinema - Watch  Free Movies and Films

The popularity of the peplums (pepla? pepli?) lasted from the late 1950s to the mid 60s when either the craze gave way to spy movies after “Dr. No” was a surprise hit. Certainly Italian moviemakers quickly churned out plenty of thriftily made espionage flicks (and westerns were gaining in popularity there as well). Another possible reason that’s rarely mentioned is the overturning of obscenity laws in the U.S. Prior to that there was of course hardcore pornography but it was illegal and not easy to find; even full frontal nudity was verboten. For gay men the closest thing to erotica were the so-called physique magazines where buff young men were on display in the nigh altogether, only a cache sex (that’s g-string to you less refined types) covering their genitalia (though like the trousers in “All You Need is Cash”, things were often obvious). Many of the mighty sons of Hercules did posing strap photo sessions (Ed Fury and Richard Harrison were big favorites and even Reg Park, star of this opus, doffed his duds for the camera). Now gay men (and questioning teens such as myself) comprised a certain percentage of the audience for these often cheesy and usually ludicrous films as well, not only to see the minimally attired bodybuilders therein but also for those moments, usually during action sequences, when the peplums (what the deuce is the plural anyway?) would flip up providing quick glimpses of the tight briefs beneath (Park, within the first few minutes of his screen time gives a decidedly not momentary “Basic Instinct” view). But with obscenity laws being struck down the physique magazines disappeared and so did the peplum genre. Who needed such quaint entertainment when full nudity (and more) was available? Or maybe the genre had simply run its course coincidentally. Or maybe it was aliens.
But I digress.

Hercules and the Captive Women Pulls You Into a Sword-and-Sandals World -  Zombies in My Blog

Strange atmospheric conditions seem to foretell that some foreign power is preparing to wage war on Greece (the soothsayer is alarmingly vague on who or even if) so Androcles, king of Thebes, sets sail to strike first (how he even knows where to point his ship is not addressed). His good friend Hercules (Park of course) is averse to joining this dubious mission but Androcles solves that by drugging him and loading him onboard along with the demigod’s son, Hylas, the king’s trusted companion, a dwarf named Timoteo, and a questionable crew. Those who know their classical mythology will already spot the merry mixing up of tales and personae – more is to come. Our quartet of good guys gets stranded and separated on an island after a shipwreck. Hercules discovers a young woman, Ismene, not only chained to a rock but being engulfed by it, a sacrifice to a shape-shifting monster that our buff hero defeats. The young woman is daughter to Antinea (Fay Spain), the queen of Atlantis, who is creating an army of blond supermen to take over the world. The character is lifted from the novel “L’Atlantide” by Pierre Benoit who was clearly inspired – to put it mildly – by H. Rider Haggard’s “She” in creating his tale of an immortal matriarch of a lost civilization. Herc dallying with Antinea (not the first hunk to cheat on his spouse with a queen) is a situation borrowed from the book but the inclusion of Herc and the Third Reich allusion is the movie’s own.

Hercules and the Captive Women

It’s the sort of wonderfully preposterous mash-up that could never be taken seriously by anyone over the age of 12. Park is more mature looking than Reeves (who was actually a decade older!) and this is an older version of the character, married with a teenage son and mostly interested in napping (if only I could get that body in my sleep). He’s dubbed so it’s fruitless to judge his acting – but that’s not what he was hired for in any event. B movie bad girl Fay Spain is typecast as Antinea (though that does rather tip things off that she’s yet another one of those evil queens the genre was so fond of) but at least she had enough credits (most of them undubbed) that we know she was a competent thespian (and with quite a long career – Park by contrast made 5½ films). The production values look high, but then I don’t know how much of the decor is from standing sets or how many costumes came off the rack. The Atlantis exteriors were certainly built for this show, given they had to crumble away at the finale; while they’re extensive they’re rather crudely realized. This isn’t Eisenstein – or even Bava for that matter (I’ve only encountered one other thing from director Vittorio Cottafavi, who also co-wrote this loopy nonsense, but per IMDb he was a very prolific film and TV director from 1943 to 1985). It’s typical sword and sandal stuff and if that’s your cup of Oolong you’ll have a blast. (No, you don’t have to be gay or preteen.)
*Italian & US release dates

YOUR HONOR
2020-21 / Showtime Entertainment, CBS DVD, Paramount / 565m (3 discs) / $25.99 / NR
Based on the Israeli series “Kvodo”, this limited series stars Bryan Cranston as Michael Desiato, a judge whose son Adam (Hunter Doohan) is involved in a hit and run accident. An asthmatic, he is trying to grope for his inhaler and takes his eyes off the road with the result he crashes into a motorcycle, sending its rider flying across the street. He calls 911 but is unable to speak because he can’t breathe and the young motorcyclist dies. Panicking Adam drives off. The bad news for dad gets worse when he further learns that the deceased young man is the son of the city’s most notorious and ruthless crime boss, Jimmy Baxter (Michael Stahlbarg). Michael realizes Adam’s troubles with the law are minor compared to what Baxter would do to his son and he begins trying to cover up his son’s involvement. First he gets a not entirely upright mayoral candidate to “steal” and disappear his car. That doesn’t quite go as planned and driver Kofi Jones (Lamar Johnson) ends up being killed in prison by Baxter’s surviving son (Jimi Stanton) – this, by the way, is arranged by Baxter’s wife played by the truly scary Hope Davis. An attempt to deal with a blackmailer similarly results in a fatality. The title proves to have a double meaning as Michael sacrifices his honor bit by bit – even, ultimately, rigging a trial in a desperate attempt to save his son. Playing out like a modern-day Jacobean tragedy it’s clear that things will somehow end badly as everything Michael attempts goes awry.

Your Honor Recap, Episode 2: 'Part Two'

While the acting is terrific (with one exception) this is Cranston’s show all the way and he is phenomenal. I find it astonishing to reflect on the fact that this is the same actor I first took notice of in a comedic role in “Malcom in the Middle”. (And if you haven’t seen him in the Dalton Trumbo biopic you really must.) Stahlbarg, Davis and Stanton are rounded out by Lilli Kay as the one member of the crime family who is entirely ignorant that her father is not simply a successful restauranteur. Carmen Ejogo and Amy Landecker as an attorney representing Kofi (even after he’s dead) and a police detective are excellent as their investigations get them perilously close to the truth despite Michael’s attempts to steer them astray. Not so impressive is Doohan, though that may not be entirely his fault. The symbolically named Adam is less a character than a collection of bad decisions: He’s sexually involved with his high school art teacher; he flees the scene of an accident, and then gets romantically involved with the dead lad’s sister, which suggests he’s both rather dim and has never had to face the consequences of his actions. Aside from that he’s a cipher. This admittedly could have been part of the plan – it is after all very much Michael’s story – but a tad more character shading would have etched an entitled white boy coasting through life without having to consider his actions. It’s a minor flaw in an engrossing series full of plot twists and turns.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

THE BOONIES
2021 / Indican / 97m / NR
streaming on all major platforms
To judge by the movies the rural areas of the US of A are populated nigh exclusively by moronic, inbred cannibals whose diet subsists primarily of city folk who unwisely choose to experience the wonders of nature. In this latest addition to the horror subgenre beloved by producers because it can be made on the cheap (primarily outdoors, so no set building or studio rental costs and no pricey star names) we have three fellows heading off to the forest primeval for one’s hiking and camping bachelor party, to be joined at the campsite by a married couple of their acquaintance. You can already deduce how realistic this scenario is by a bachelor party a) held in the Appalachians, b) with a married couple in attendance and c) without a stripper. Things only stretch credulity as they progress. Even before the movie gets properly started one luckless fellow with a sack over his head is bludgeoned to death (below frame save for some splattered blood – for that matter the gore is fairly restrained for this kind of effort, though that’s what the fans are looking for) and a young couple is murdered not very graphically.

The Boonies (2021) - Rotten Tomatoes

This particular cannibal family must be stocking the larder for an anticipated hard winter once you add the five campers and a local couple who will also be stalked and killed (because picking most of the cast off one by one is how these things work); there’s gonna be a lot of meat to be butchered and stored (not that the family in question here seems to have electricity… maybe they’re expecting an early snow). Things only lift themselves out of clichesville with the arrival of Mama (Christine Mancini) a smiling loonie who plans on mating one of her severely challenged sons with the surviving male to perpetuate the family line. No, really! And said son, who is going to do the… er… impregnating wears a wedding dress for the marriage ceremony. (I do have to give some credit fo0r this last part of the film going full out bonkers.) While the rest of the cast is agreeable enough – and even rises somewhat above the lame material – Mancini walks off with the show. She’s almost worth wading through the preceding 80 minutes. Almost. The film is decently photographed and director Lance Parkin keeps things moving at a decent clip but he has only himself to blame for the clunky dialogue he co-authored based on his own story – said story no doubt inspired by watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and every other rural horror ever made since.

BRING ME A DREAM
2021 / Indican / 86m / NR
streaming on all major platforms
There’s precious little new in the horror genre (or really any genre, I suppose); the best that’s to be hoped for is some interesting variation on the old tropes. Writer/director Chase Smith’s film begins with a young woman being pursued through the woods by two (very slow moving) cops. She bangs on the door of a sorority where a party is winding down to the last guests, begging for help. Once inside she holds the handful of revelers at gunpoint; she’s accused of multiple murders but insists she’s innocent. Her case isn’t helped much when she shoots a couple of the partiers dead, however, so she summons the Sandman, the supernatural entity she claims is responsible. He (it? – we have to be careful with pronouns these days) promptly kills her and starts working on the collegiates and a deputy sheriff (Jesse Kove) who’s been added to the mix, who must face their worst fears or die in the process. The prom queen, whose fear is that her looks will inevitably fade, claws her face off; a black man fears that his white girlfriend doesn’t see him as a person but only a black stud, and the deputy fears he can’t live up to the reputation of his law enforcement father (Martin Kove – yes they are related).

Bring Me a Dream (2020) - IMDb

There’s a smidgen of Clive Barker here, particularly in an S&M sex session that apparently didn’t establish a safe word (details are so important in social interactins), but mostly we’re in Freddy Kruger territory, particularly the third episode of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series. The Sandman even sports knifed fingers so I doubt it’s mere coincidence. Mostly back-lit and slightly out of focus he’s a creepy presence in his long coat and wide-brimmed hat. There’s a cool CGI thing going on that makes his face seem lit from within and sporting a pattern of tree branches. This is a low budget affair from a fairly busy Georgia production company but aside from audio that could use some sweetening the production works within its financial constraints. The cramped sets (likely existing locations) actually lend a claustrophobic atmosphere that’s conducive to the mood. The acting is acceptable from a cast that must be the world’s oldest college students (but we’ve come to expect that). The meh dialogue is the chief deficit in this above average horror entry that won’t become a franchise.

HOLLYWOULD
2019 / Indican / 80m / R
streaming on all major platforms
Mark Travis (Pete Postiglione) is a successful (as in celebrity) writer who’s returned to his hometown to refresh his creativity. He’s on the verge of a major financial windfall resulting from a television project for which he has to write the pilot, the show bible and, ultimately a handful of episodes. Unfortunately he’s got writer’s block and his agent (Torrei Hart) pressuring him about his unmet deadlines isn’t helping. She sets him up with a mysterious man who passes him some red, crystaline powder (it looks exactly like the stuff in the Wicked Witch of the West’s hourglass) that gets him chugging along nicely. At a party celebrating his latest novel (for which the publisher is hot for a sequel of course) he meets Holly (Caitlyn Fletcher) who insists they’ve met before though he can’t recall it. Nonetheless he enters into a hot sex relationship with her (which kiboshes his attempt at reconciling with his estranged wife). Holly urges Mark into more and more outrageous behavior, such as robbing a convenience store by threatening to shoot his “hostage” (who else but Holly?). Meanwhile Sheriff Leon Davenport (Eric Roberts, the indie filmmaker’s best friend) is investigating a series of overdoses from a powerful new opioid – presumably the same stuff Mark is snorting – and that brings him ever closer to Mark.

Trailer for crime thriller Hollywould starring Eric Roberts, Caitlyn  Fletcher and Pete Postiglione

Co-writer/director Joshua Coates has helmed a film that’s impressively ambitious for an independent production with a budget IMDb estimates at a mere quarter of a million (by comparison your average Marvel flick is a hundred million – which when you think how many homeless people could be housed for that is obscene… but I digress). Still there are stunning aerial shots reportedly made by camera bearing drones (no need to rent a helicopter for those puppies anymore) and inventive camerawork for when Mark is most affected. Despite Roberts’ top billing he has a clearly supporting role – though not as limited as his sometimes being hired for a day just to get his name on the posters. The film has Postiglione front and center in a film seen from his perspective – and he may not be the most reliable narrator given his growing reliance on the red powder and on Holly, who he keeps telling to leave even while not doing much to force the issue. Coates has crafted a very complex film that trades as a thriller but is a whole lot more. Just how much more isn’t apparent until the final scene – but I’ll say no more so as not to spoil things, except that a second viewing would be a very different experience. It’s refreshing to encounter an indie thriller that pushes its genre envelope.

STAR TREK LOWER DECKS, Season 1
2020 / Paramount, CBS Studios / 251m / $25.99 / NR
I requested this series out of morbid curiosity because I just wasn’t sure how keen I was going to be on a light-hearted animated take on Gene Roddenberry’s creation. As it turns out I was whelmed but not overly so. The main characters are the crew members who do the grunt maintenance work on the starship Cerritos, which conducts Second Contact missions (in other words follow-up to the more glamorous First Contact gigs). Generally they screw up their assignments and have to work at correcting their mistakes to such a degree I think Starfleet would have ditched them long ago. In addition several of the crew, including the captain are prone to the kind of emotional binges that make me suspect they never would have passed the psych evaluation to get into service. The captain and Ensign Beckett Mariner are secretly mother and daughter and the latter is constantly finding truly inventive ways to screw up (only to come out having found the solution to the problem). The captain’s rage rants at her daughter’s behavior suggest a truly unhinged personality. But then the head of security is an even bigger nutcase.

Star Trek: Lower Decks' review: An animated series explores a sillier side  of the Trek frontier - CNN

Mariner’s colleague Ensign Brad Boimler is a neurotic by-the-books type so naturally she drives him to distraction… extreme distraction (no one here has normal emotional reactions). Possibly unknown to her she has a romantic attraction to him (it’s certainly unacknowledged), so when he gets a girlfriend Mariner is convinced she’s really a shape-shifter and goes to outrageous lengths to unmask the woman. Okay, I get that it’s a comedy but so much of it feels forced. The subtle things – references to other Trek episodes (with guest voices Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis and John Delancie) – worked best for me. A late episode features a lengthy tour around the exterior of the Cerritos that references a similar sequence in the first Trek movie. I loved the main titles that riff on “Voyager” (the ship breaking off the top of an ice cap as it passes over) – and this might be the time to mention the terrific main title music (and episode scoring) of Chris Westlake, which is on a par with anything Jerry Goldsmith ever wrote. That it’s so elegantly epic might make it the funniest thing about the show. Trekkers will get the most good out of the show but whether they’ll all like it is an open question.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

ABANDONED: ANGELIQUE’S ISLE
2018 /Magnolia Home Entertainment / 90m / $26.98 / NR
If something intense and grim but perfectly realized is your cup of oolong I direct you to this excellent drama from directors Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Michelle Derosier. Set in the Canadian copper rush of 1845 and based on historic events it stars Julia Jones as Angelique, an Anishinaabe (or Ojibway) woman who along with her brand new husband, fur trader Charlie Mott (Charlie Carrick), sets off with an expedition to Isle Royale, an island in Lake Superior, in search of the metal. An enormous rock of it is found, too large to remove with the equipment that’s been brought – not to mention the barge on which they traveled – so the leaders head back, leaving Angelique and Charlie to guard the find until they return in a few weeks. Angelique is of the opinion it should be left where it is because it has sacred carvings on it. But the others don’t return and the couple is left to endure the brutal winter with minimal provisions on an island that has no game and with only a tent for shelter. They find an abandoned cabin that, after Charlie does some work on it, offers more shelter from the elements but food is not as easy to procure. Charlie, who would seem the sturdier of the two, sickens and the two face almost certain death either from the intense cold or starvation.

Watch Abandoned: Angelique's Isle | Prime Video

Jones commands the screen, alone and mostly silent for a good bit of the running time. It’s a splendidly realized performance whether she’s the new bride, bedazzled by her handsome (and impressively bearded) husband or the resolute helpmate once the couple is stranded or the fiercely determined and powerful woman of the film’s final third, left totally alone with the horrid memories of school where “good Christians” would beat the Indian out of Indians and memories of the warnings her grandmother gave of the marriage. (Tantoo Cardinal as Thunderbird Woman is outstanding in limited screen time. I wanted more of her.) Praise must also extend to Carrick whose performance is informed by grace notes of the tender exchanges between a couple very much in love even while they struggle to endure. The co-directors do not shy from explicitly depicting the harsh conditions the couple faces without banging you over the head with them. And it may be my imagination but I swear the winter landscapes become more and more gorgeous even as conditions become more and more dire. This is a stunning film bui not, I confess, always an easy one to watch.

INSIDE AMY SCHUMER, The Complete Series
2013-17 / Comedy Central, Paramount / 841m (7 discs) / $39.98 / NR
I was no fan of “Trainwrecked,” the film starring and written by Amy Schumer, so I wasn’t sure I would be much taken with her series. I did like it better than I expected and I suspect I’d have liked it even better if I had watched it broadcast rather than bingeing it. Schumer’s main topic is sex and the relations, both amorous and platonic, between the sexes. (Fair warning: the dialogue is frequently raunchy.) It’s her only subject in the stand-up segments of the show and of something like 90% of the sketches and her interviews. Once a week is one thing but watching episode after episode it just gets tiresome. The sketches that deal with inequality between the sexes are the best ones (there’s a true gem with guest stars Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss – and it should be mentioned there are a slew of surprising guest stars, some showing up for just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo). The majority of sketches, however, don’t so much end as stop and sometimes on a WTF? note. I smiled a lot but didn’t laugh out loud (a possible drawback of watching alone). I also suspect the show resonates more with women that it does with men.

Is 'Inside Amy Schumer' Canceled? | Hollywood Reporter

MARKIE IN MILWAUKIE
2019 / Icarus Films / 88m / $24.98 / NR
I don’t know when I’ve watched a sadder documentary or a more compelling one. In the opening footage Markie Wentzel has given up on her decade long quest to transition and is in the process of destroying all evidence of his time as a woman, putting photos of herself from that period through the shredder, essentially eradicating Markie in order to become Mark again. Interviews and personal videos take us back to when Mark was an evangelical minister but secretly experimenting with makeup and wearing women’s clothing. The discovery of her basement box of dresses and suchlike by one of her children led to her coming out and in the process being rejected by her family and her church. (Fair warning: Given Mark/Markie slips back and forth between out and not I may switch back and forth between pronouns.) Being honest about herself leaves her totally alone (there are some groups she belongs to but she seems not to have built any real friendships); being dishonest had given her family and, presumably, friends; being honest leaves her alone. On the verge of gender reassigning surgery she opts to return to identifying as a man, hence the destruction of photos and packing up clothing and jewelry for the thrift store seen at the beginning. He is seen being welcomed back into his church, a welcome predicated on his dishonesty, and having a sort of reconciliation with some of his children (though apparently not his wife), similarly based on his denial. This is an astonishing and very sad film because, as the ending reveals, Mark/Markie is never going to be entirely happy in either identity and has once again resumed secret transvestism. Director Matt Kliegman met Markie by chance ten years ago at the airport where she worked (and kudos to them for supporting her transition) and has been documenting her story ever since. What lifts the film out of the ordinary is the remarkable candor of its subject, the willingness to share photos and videos and be totally open in the interviews.

New Documentary Chronicles Transgender Wisconsin Woman's Life Over 10 Years  | HuffPost

10 DAYS WITH DAD (10 jours sans maman, 10m Days Without Mom)
2020 / Icarus Films / 104m / $24.98 / NR
I once remarked about another film of a very different genre that it may have been a collection of cliches of that genre but it was so well executed that it qualified as a very good production. This French comedy falls into that category; there’s nothing new here but it’s very well done. The plot has Antoine Mercier (Franck Dubose), head of HR for a Walmart-like chain of stores, allow as how his wife, Isabelle (Aure Atika), can take a week and a half vacation to Greece because he can easily manage doing her stay-at-home-mom stuff on top of his very demanding job. (And yes, underestimating homemaking is still a thing. It’s not only in the movies.) Of course he’s a disaster at it, not helped by the fact that the children are uncontrolled monsters and compicated by such things as his backing over the housekeeper, sending her to hospital. Meanwhile at work a new hire, Thierry Di Caprio (a deliciously oleaginous Alexis Michalik), who claims to be related to a certain famous actor about whom he is just full of anecdotes, seems poised to take Antoine’s promised promotion away from him. Given what little love former lawyer Antoine has for his job you wonder why he cares.

10 days with dad US Trailer - YouTube

It isn’t cutting edge cinema and there’s no deep message (except that husbands need to stop being boneheads about stay-at-home moms). It’s an enjoyable romp with agreeable performers and director Ludovic Bernard keeps things moving at a decent clip; he even manages a smooth detour into serious territory before returning to the fun with a disasterous employees’ day at the beach that takes Jaques Tati’s accidental setting off of fireworks and supersizes it (though the most extravagant display is at the film’s start). Co-writers Ariel Winograd and Mariano Vera supply an unending series of calamities for the in-over-his-head Antoine (as they include the eldest son reporgramming dad’s phone with profanities those of you with young-uns might want to preview the flick before deciding whether or not to share). A preview of just how much he’s underestimated his task is seen in the disastrous aftermath of the first breakfast that may have the housekeeper preferring being in hospital. That the kids start cooperating with dad after they realize he really is trying after years of being absorbed in his job may be a bit of a stretch, given what hellions they are initially once mom’s gone off to Greece, but it is a comedy and an upbeat ending is a must.

WONDER SHOWZEN, The Complete Series
2000-07 / MTV, Paramount / 341m / $29.98 (4 discs) / NR
If your taste in humor runs to the puerile, the sophomoric, then this is a show for you. Using old kiddie shows as its inspiration, mixtures of old educational films and cartoons and bridged with human hosts and puppets, this series aims for audacious satire but only achieves the moronic. There is no wit here; the creators think just mentioning a private body part or sex position or the act of elimination is automatically hilarious. I’m no prude but I am not automatically convulsed with laughter on hearing 69. For that matter, the very concept of taking a kids show format and making it raunchy – an old, old idea – is not automatically and on its own funny. Footage of children saying the darnedest things courtesy dubbing is not ipso facto a hoot. The idea of Mother Nature having a sex change is amusing but how about some punchlines? One needs actual jokes, folks. Other than audacious, even blasphemous ideas, most of which are not nearly as cutting edge as Vernon Chatman and John Lee – yes, I’m naming names – think there’s nothing substantive. Making fun of Nazis goes back to “The Great Dictator” (1940) and “To Be or Not to Be” (1941). And of course we can’t forget Mel Brooks, can we? Other targets are equal paper tigers. This isn’t “adult content” as the warning states, it’s infantile. The puppets are cheesy, artless Muppet knock offs (though the multi-eyes newscaster is downright Dada) and the cartoons are so crude they make “Huckleberry Hound” look like “Fantasia”. The only thing this series excels at is being awful. I don’t know when I’ve had a bigger waste of my time. Frankly I gave up after sampling a few episodes.

Watch Wonder Showzen Season 2 Episode 3: Science - Full show on Paramount  Plus

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

ALL TOO HUMAN
2018 / Random Media / 96m / $14.95 / NR
I’m not certain I got the point (or that there was one) of writer/director Travis D. Brown’s and co-director Mandy Stockholm’s film but I was never less than engrossed and that was chiefly due to the performance of Jeffrey Arrington as Mark, a man who has determined to end his life. He’s suffered from years of depression, his girlfriend has taken up with his best friend and, to judge from the late notices on the bills piled up on his table, he’s currently without income. But his efforts to snuff it are in vain; in the course of the film his pistol jams, a passerby yanks him back onto the sidewalk when he tries to step in front of a bus and when he throws himself off a tenth story balcony he merely lands on the one below. Now this idea is rife with possibilities for black –stygian black – humor. But Brown is having none of that it would seem (though the ending might suggest otherwise – maybe I should give the film a second look). Rather as each of Mark’s attempts goes awry his savior expounds on the reason for living based on one faith or another (I kept expecting the film to resolve as Christian propaganda but thankfully that isn’t the case).

All Too Human | Indiegogo

What we have here strikes me as the cinematic equivalent of a term paper on comparative religions with the conclusion that none if them are worth a lick if your life sucks. (True believers in whatever credo they follow would of course disagree that faith is a comfort in times of trouble and if your life is woebegone your faith is weak.) That is voiced in Mark’s comment, “Human beings have no reason to live outside biological function. Anything beyond that is simply fabricated.” I was glad to discover, per IMDb that Arrington is a very busy performer because he’s the best thing in this movie; hopefully some fame and quality projects will come his way. Some of the other acting here is just plain awful and the best I can say for Brown’s directing is that he got it in the can. Given this is his debut effort (and he was probably working with a short schedule and a miniscule budget) that alone is an accomplishment. But maybe until he’s got that part down he should let other people do the writing.

FACELESS
2021 / Indican / 97m / NR
streaming on all major platforms
Back in what must have been 1963, based on when my parents started allowing me to go unsupervised to the movies (and when all the theatres were still downtown), a double bill of “The Manster” (an undeservedly neglected film) and “The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus” arrived in town. Horror movie loving kid that I was I attended. I had probably already seen “Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Curse of the Werewolf” at that point but I was in no way prepared for the crucial scene in “Faustus”, a dubbed and slightly edited version of Georges Franju’s “Les yeux sans visage” (“Eyes Without a Face”). The story concerns a a surgeon who is trying to repair his daughter’s countenance, disfigured in an auto accident, by grafting the faces of kidnapped young women onto hers. Midway through, the surgery is depicted in a scene that was so graphic for the time (and remains quite startling) that some audience members fainted (for the record this 12 hear old did not and may have sat through the film for a second view). I mention this because Michael Sarmiento’s film owes something to Fanju’s (available from Critereon and worth seeking out); it even features a similar, but far grislier, face-lifting scene.

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His story involves a fellow named George (Brendon Sexton, III) who is on the run from gambling debts (there is a scene of dog fighting I found far more disturbing than the surgical procedure) and gets a new face. Theoretically these are from deceased donors (who no doubt signified their intentions when they renewed their driver’s license) but some doubts arise when, upon release from the hospital, George is stalked and ultimately assaulted by a hoodie-wearing man who has no face. George is also being pursued by men who want to collect the gambling debts, or exact some other payment. But George has no memory, only disorienting flashbacks, something he is told is sometimes a side effect of the procedure, though he’s promised his memory will return. He is given a few clues, such as that he had worked in a bar, but supposed former acquaintances shun him. He’s befriended by a mysterious woman named Sophie (Alex Essoe) who is his only – and only briefly – visitor in the hospital. This is a tight, well-acted little thriller whose ultimate revelation I doubt you’ll see coming (I didn’t). If you can get past the gruesome visuals, you’ll find it absorbing.

GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN
1958 / The Film Detective / 77m / $24.95 BR / NR
Perhaps the passage of years has given some sort of nostalgic gloss to the low budget horrors of the 1930s and 40s that those of the 1950s have yet to acquire. Or perhaps it’s time to admit that, with rare exceptions until the arrival of Hammer Studios, independent genre productions were mostly crap. Those of the preceding decade at least tried to emulate the look of major studio product by being shot primarily on soundstages; those of the 50s were a lot of outdoor affairs like the cheapo cowboy movies. Indeed they were sometimes referred to as “backyard” productions. Take this little opus about a depraved and gigantic resuscitated Spanish conquistador wreaking havoc in a small mountain town filmed entirely in a small mountain town. The only interior is a diner and it’s a real one. Now this is not the absolute worst of the decade’s indie genre flicks – it’s not even director Richard Cunha’s worst film – but it doesn’t transcend its budget limitations (it’s no “It! The Terror from Beyond Space”) and the script is a snore; commentator Tom Weaver has plenty of time to offer background info because nothing much is happening.

Giant From the Unknown (1958) - Rotten Tomatoes

It takes a good long time before our slumbering giant (Buddy Baer) awakens (a very effective moment) even though there’s been a horrible murder and cattle mutilations (could it have been… aliens?) before that happens. And there’s a surfeit of him merely lumbering about the mountains afterward, relieved by a couple (mostly offscreen) murders. The cast is good though you’ve likely never heard of most of them; the best known is Ed Kemmer who, at he time of filming, had played Commander Buzz Corry for five years on TV’s “Space Patrol”. He also starred in Bert I. Gordon’s “The Spider” the same year but his career was primarily in television and, ultimately, in soaps. Former oater star Bob Steele has a significant role and Morris Ankrum (you’ll know his face but odds are you’ve never known his name) has a meatier role than usual. Cunha directed four horror/sci-fi cheapies the same year but he was primarily a cinematographer and serves that function as well here so the film looks good… very good in fact. Speaking to its short shooting schedule is that cast and crew woke up to a surprise snowstorm on the final day and soldiered on anyway. It actually adds a nice touch to the finale.

THE INCREDIBLE 25TH YEAR OF MITZI BEARCLAW
2019 / Indican / 96m / NR
streaming on all major platforms
Incredible may be meant ironically because nothing – well not much anyway – out of the ordinary happens to the titular character (MorningStar Angeline) during the year that passes after her quarter century natal day. She’s in the big city (Toronto) and set on getting into a fashion design school so she can create hats that will “save the world.” A letter from her father (Billy Merasty) sends her home because it suggests her mother is dying. Once there – a fictional island reservation represented by the gorgeous Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation Reserve in Ontario – she discovers that mom (Gail Maurice), the nastiest, most unsupportive mother ever, may be ill and soon in need of dialysis but scarcely at death’s door. Still, dad is clearly overwhelmed and she discovers she’s needed more than she realized so she extends her stay, much to the bafflement of her aspiring photographer and boyfriend Ringo Leaves No-Shadow (Vance Banzo). She finds herself attracted to ferryman Honeyboy Yellowdog (Ajuawak Kapashesit) to the consternation of a childhood enemy who considers him her boyfriend.

Now that basic set-up might remind you of a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie where the young woman returns home from the big city to her wackily dysfunctional family and finds romance and all her dreams in the place she couldn’t wait to get away from (which is sort of the plot of the film of “The Wizard of Oz”, come to think of it). But the honesty of the writing by director Shelley Niro (with two story editors credited, something I’ve never seen before – but if it’s responsible for a film this clean, with no wasted moments there ought to be more use of them) as well as the inclusion of, for lack of a better term, dream sequences where Mitzi enters the spirit world. Despite the sometimes grim material (there are two deaths, one of a major and very likeable character) and the understated evidence of poverty, the tone is seriocomic. It’s an intimate film of small moments – some nigh non-events such as Mitzi bringing her father a sandwich so they can watch TV together – and tiny details acutely observed. You get to known these people and when one says, “I’m dying and it hurts”, it affects you. I don’t know that Mitzi’s year is incredible but her film surely is.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Season Two
2020 / CBS DVD, Paramount / 385m (3 discs) / $39.98 / NR
Some years back I was at a bar with friends and the subject of the original TWZ came up leading to a veritable orgy of remembering various episodes. Remember the one of the young woman getting plastic surgery?… Remember the one where the aliens had a book called “To Serve Man”?… Remember the one where the kid wished people into the cornfield?… and so on. I think an hour must have passed as we recalled episode after episode. And this gathering was a good 30 years after the show was broadcast. A week after sampling my way through the second season of this new incarnation I was hard pressed to remember anything except one of them starred Christopher Meloni. Not that some of the stories aren’t interesting. The one with Meloni had him and his wife packing up their late daughter’s things when an alien creature appeared in their basement and took on the likeness and memories of the young woman. Another is about a bank robber who suddenly is able to switch bodies with other people and thus avoid capture. The opener posits a man who starts to “hear” a woman’s thoughts in his head. He becomes obsessed with her and, on finding out she has an abusive husband, he determines to rescue her.

The Twilight Zone' Season 2 Episode 10 Review: “You Might Also Like” | The  Workprint

The main reason Rod Serling’s original is so memorable is because – at least in it’s first four seasons – of its half-hour format (half hour dramas were a thing back in the day). The twist endings were a real surprise (such as alien tome being a cookbook as you probably know). When CBS forced Serling to expand to an hour (because half hour dramas were no longer a thing) it faltered and the network soon wished it into the cornfield (and has ever since been trying to resurrect it). With an hour’s running time (including commercials of course) there’s plenty of time to suss out the resolution well before the show actually gets there and so the element of surprise – and memorability – is missing. There’s also an ironic slyness to Serling’s delivery that makes it clear no matter how philosophical his musings he’s also presenting a grand joke with the O’Henryesque resolutions. This is entirely missing in producer Jordan Peele’s commentary; maybe it’s just his deeper voice but the guy used to be a comedian for gosh sake. (I also am bothered in a way I can’t quite articulate that Peele takes an onscreen credit as The Narrator, something Serling didn’t deem necessary.) But why flog a defunct equine? CBS has decided once again to cancel TWZ.

LONG’S SHORT TAKES

~Harry H Long

AVIVA
2020 / Strand Releasing / 116m / $24.99 BR / NR
Boaz Yakin’s romantic musical drama strikes me as too many ideas in search of a point.
The story itself is not a new one. Aviva and Eden begin a transatlantic relationship through emails, she eventually comes from Paris to visit him in Manhattan and ultimately moves to the states; they marry, drift apart, try to reconcile, etc. The two lovers, however, are each portrayed by both a man and a woman (Zina Zinchenko and Or Schraiber portray Aviva while Eden is played by Bobbi Jean Smith and Tyler Phillips). All four are dancers (as are all the participants) because while the film, we are told, is not a musical, dance is so integral that it was determined dancers could handle the acting better than actors could handle the dancing. Yes, we are told that at the beginning by Zinchenko stretched entirely nude a cross a bed. In fact all the players are introduced nude (and all save one fully frontal). I suppose it also makes sense to use dancers if a film is going to require extensive nudity – in both dancing and lovemaking sequences – as they have splendid bodies. (Let’s be honest: Who wants to see ugly naked people?)

AVIVA (2020)

Now the double casting allows Yakin (who also scripted) the opportunity to dramatize the little arguments we have in our heads with ourselves – though I don’t buy that such discussions are our male and female halves. Actually I don’t even buy the discussions presented here because the writing is so unimpressive. And speaking of unimpressive there’s the choreography. Duets are uninteresting and ensemble efforts resemble an edited collection if dance moves rather than something that organically flows. None of the numbers builds to a climax but rather just ultimately stops. (Bear in mind I had the same problem with “La La Land”.) The execution is terrific but the material is not (and I’d rather not weigh in on the songs themselves). Now before you get the wrong impression, I didn’t hate this film but I certainly was not whelmed by it either. The disparate elements never gel but seem to interrupt each other But, hey, the film has an 84% rating with critics and 100% with viewers on Rotten Tomatoes so clearly I’m in the minority. And I promise I will give it another chance in the near future.

BETTY BOOP Cartoon Classics
1934-36 / Alpha Video / 130m / $6.98 / NR
Max and David Fleischer’s flapper remains the only cartoon character to run afoul of the Hays Office, the censorship board created to enforce the Production Code in the mid-1930s. She was somewhat underdressed, in a little black dress (well, I assume; all but one of her toons was in black and white) that clung to her breasts and the skirt was short enough to reveal a garter on her right thigh. But it was apparently her walk that the bluenoses found salacious; the lass just couldn’t keep still; even pausing on a streetcorner she was bouncing up and down to some jazz ditty playing in her head. But she really wasn’t bad, she… er… was just drawn that way. Intriguingly when she debuted (in “Bimbo’s Initiation”, a typically surreal production from the studio) she was a dog – or rather a pooch’s head on a human body and intended as a girlfriend to the Fleisher company’s Bimbo (also a humanized dog). But she was popular enough that her features were modified, her long, droopy ears becoming earrings and she soon surpassed her boyfriend in popularity. He, along with KoKo the Clown – another early Fleisher creation – were soon playing support in her adventures before they eventually disappeared. (A now human Betty having humanized dog Bimbo as a boyfriend is as kinky as her toons got.)

Betty Boop - Wikipedia

But thanks to the censors Betty’s skirts got longer and eventually she became just another hausfrau in a suburban cottage with a pet dog or sometimes a baby (where’d that come from?), demurely dressed with no bare skin between the neck and the knees. Her adventures became less surreal (as in fact did all the studios’ work) and more sitcom, though anything involving the new character Grampy (a nutty inventor) were pretty outrageous. Several here involve elaborate domicile destruction as Betty brings home a new, and very naughty, kitten to play with her pup, Pudgy, or tries to kill a pesky fly. The earliest entry here is “Betty in Blunderland”, a crackpot reflection on Lewis Carroll (which was at about the same time being subject to an equally crackpot live action adaptation by Paramount, the studio that released the Fleischer product). The longer skirt is in place but there’s a flash or two of Betty’s garter. Betty is in Technicolor (and it turns out her hair is red, which suggests one of the inspirations for Betty was Paramount’s It Girl, Clara Bow) in a screwy version of Cinderella (though not nearly as loony as their Alice). This adaptation displays one (of many) of the Fleischer brothers’ innovations: three dimensional, forced perspective backgrounds built on a turntable which, when rotated behind the animation cells, gave the illusion the cartoon characters were moving through a landscape of real depth.

PRISONER OF ZENDA
1922 / Alpha Video / 115m / $6.98 / NR
Back in the silent era every studio had to have a Latin Lover of its own after Rudolph Valentino took the film world by storm. It didn’t even matter if – like Ricardo Cortez (nee Jacob Krantz) – they were manufactured (Hollywood after all is a land of illusion). Second to Valentino in popularity was MGM’s Ramon Novarro, an actual Mexican if you please, who in this third telling of Anthony Hope’s novel swiftly rose to stardom (a mere three years later he’d be playing the title role in “Ben Hur” for $10,000 a week instead of the $125 he banked here). Novarro is obviously not the title hero here nor even the chief antagonist (that would be Lewis Stone and Stuart Holmes respectively) but rather the villain’s chief thug, Rupert of Hentzau. It’s a role that allows the right performer to all but walk off with the movie (despite a superlative cast in the 1937 version – Ronald Coleman, Raymond Massey and Mary Astor for starters – it’s Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who is the most memorable). The lead here is taken by Lewis Stone who’s most familiar to film fans as such fatherly figures as Andy Hardy’s dad but was a leading man during the silent era and even into the early talkies with productions such as “The Mask of Fu Manchu” providing a transition.

Alice Terry and Lewis Stone in The Prisoner of Zenda (1922… | Flickr

Stone portrays British nobleman Rudolph Rassendyll who is on a hunting vacation in Ruritania when he has a chance encounter with members of the about-to-be king’s entourage who are gobsmacked by Rassendyll’s resemblance to the future monarch (also portrayed by Stone). When the king is drugged and unable to attend the coronation Rassendyll is persuaded to impersonate the monarch so the kingship doesn’t devolve onto wicked, scheming Duke Michael (Stuart Holmes). During the ceremony the duke’s thugs, led by Rupert, kidnap the insensate king and Rassendyll must continue the impersonation. This throws him into close contact with Princess Flavia (director Rex Ingram’s wife, Alice Terry), the king’s intended. And even though it’s clear both Flavia and the kingdom would be better off with Rassendyll than the oafish prince, an attempt to rescue the king from Michael’s castle is mounted. It’s a gorgeous looking production but a somewhat lethargic one – the ’37 production is far more efficient at introducing the characters and setting up the situation. This one doesn’t really get going until the raid on Zenda castle.

THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS (aka The Helter Skelter Murders)
1971 / The Film Detective / 81m / $29.95 BR with CD / NR
This cinematic rendition of Charles Manson’s cult and their homicidal spree has the distinction of being the very first attempt to get the story on screen It is likely also the cheapest and most undistinguished. Director Frank Howard had never before made a movie and has not done so since and this is the only credit for nearly all of the cast. Most of it appears to have been shot silent because dialogue is nearly always spoken by a character who’s not onscreen. Documentary footage is mixed with re-enactments (some staged in the actual locations) that seem patched together from footage made with little or no plan for assembling it. The first part bounces back and forth between Spahn ranch scenes and a depiction of the trial, then testimony prompting the reenactments. There are also sequences devoted to Sharon Tate, including the only color footage in the production supposedly representing her filming a movie scene.

The Other Side of Madness Blu-ray Release Date November 24, 2020 (Blu-ray +  CD)

I will grant that the long sequence depicting the murders is quite riveting; here the patchwork assembly works in favor of the nasty subject matter (and seems more preplanned as to its assembly). The brutality of the event is difficult to watch because of its intensity, not because of copious grue (and despite some godawful acting). But this represents only a third of the running time and the rest is a mess. Surprisingly we get very few glimpses of an actor purporting to be Manson and what little he has to say is dubbed over reaction shots of his followers. The film does utilize one of Manson’s songs (the dreadful “Mechanical Man” which is also included on the bonus CD). For that matter he is never referred to (and then only once or twice) as anything other than Charlie – no Manson… and for that matter the name Sharon Tate is never uttered nor are the names of, well, anyone involved. I guess because the film was being made even while the trial was occurring made for some caution. This is a prime example of exploitation filmmaking: shot quickly, cheaply and inexpertly directed and then tagged with a Don’t Do Drugs message at the end to give it faux social significance. It is very nicely photographed however

YOU GO TO MY HEAD
2017 / First Run Features / 116m / $24.95 / NR
Following an automobile accident in the Sahara a young woman (Delfine Bafort) wanders off and, practically on the verge of death, is discovered by Jake (Svetozar Cvetkovic), an architect who inexplicably spends lots of time driving about in the desert. He takes her to a medical facility where she is diagnosed with post traumatic amnesia and mistaken for Jake’s wife. The error is something Jake decides to maintain; he’s instantly besotted by her beauty and tells her that her name is Kitty and that they are married, hoping that her amnesia will be permanent – or perhaps that by the time she recovers her memory she will have fallen in love with him. Actually Jake’s motives are a tad murky, or maybe just not thought through, but however sleazy they may be he does help “Kitty” recover physically from the accident. (The actors may have invented inner lives for these two characters but they are not accessible to the viewer; Kitty is a blank, unable to recall even her name, and Jake is inventing a whole new life on the fly.) Naturally Kitty has endless questions about their life together, hoping to generate the memories she doesn’t possess, and Jake has to be endlessly inventive – such as explaining a lack of photos as due to a fire at their storage facility.

You Go To My Head | Film Threat

But things, as they must, unravel. The maintenance man tells Kitty that despite the supposed length of her marriage he has never seen her before and, inevitably, shards of her memory return unbidden. The ending delivers a twist that I hadn’t expected and which I will not reveal here. If I have any qualms it’s that it may take a mite too long to get there. “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” would have delivered up this scenario in 45 minutes (plus commercials); at nigh unto two hours the film often feels padded – and much of that padding involves Bafort gratuitously nude. But I’m aware that cutting might also destroy the carefully wrought rhythms of scenes that go nowhere on their own but that do add up emotionally. The film is gorgeously photographed by Stijn Grupping and cowriter-director Dimitri de Clercq (in his feature debut) has a feeling for using landscape and architecture that’s downright poetic. The minimalist approach may have caused others to read more into the film than I think is there but it’s very impressive nonetheless. Be aware you must surrender to its laconic rhythms and let it flow over you. This is not a thriller in the normal sense.

ZOMBIE BRO
2020 / Indican / 83m / NR
streaming on all major platforms
I dislike giving bad reviews and I suspect that is true of most critics. Oh, there may be a few wretched types out there who crave any opportunity to trot out their nastiest snark but I suspect most are like me, hoping every time they sit down to a film it will be in some way a rewarding experience they can’t wait to alert others about. That said, this home movie aspiring to be a feature for the younger folk is about as hopeless a production as I’ve encountered. Ineptitude – not merely mediocrity, mind you – abounds on every level. It actually is painful to write this review – in no small part because that entails remembering the movie. Young Francine has a younger brother, Teddy, who’s become a zombie though her parents are oblivious to the fact and even dote on him even though he only emits a kind of growl instead of speaking. If mom is a dimwit dad is also, as well as abusive – Francine is regularly locked in the garage for minor infractions and for trying to point out that Teddy is trying to snack on his parents. Nonetheless Francine dotes on her pop. She’s also bullied at school – this young woman clearly has a future of abusive relationships. That dad ultimately comes around and adores her sends a seriously wrong message.

Zombie Bro': Film Review

I’m not sure just who thought there was a need for a kid-friendly zombie film (writer/director May Grehan I suppose). I’m pretty sure if there are young fry who like zombie films the blood and guts aspect is part of the attraction (horror films were my gateway to film appreciation and I obviously kept watching them because I liked being scared when I was still a pre-teenager). Grehan has eschewed any grue – in fact when Teddy’s arm comes off at one point the detached limb is a pathetic stuffed white tube ending in a sort of Mickey Mouse hand. Surely something more realistic that didn’t involve spurting blood and protruding arteries might have been used – say a department store dummy’s extremity? Maybe this was supposed to be funny because the more obvious attempts (repeat “attempts”) are really lame, such as a bit first played in the bathroom where Francine and Teddy struggle over an item. They tug one way then the other then fall on the floor out of frame. Grehan apparently thought this is hilarious – and maybe it is if you’re six – because the bit is repeated twice. It gives me no joy in saying this because this is a tyro effort probably put together with friends and limited funds and in the clips intersperced with the credits it appears as if they had fun making it, but you will not experience the same level of enjoyment.

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

Only one title this time but it took me a while to wade through seven years of this show.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, the original TV series
1966-73 / CBS DVD, Paramount / 8625m (46 discs) / $144.99 BR / NR
Back in the 1960s, following the surprise success of a little film yclept “Dr. No”, spies were suddenly everywhere in print, film and television, hoping for a ride on the Bond bandwagon. The frenzy wasn’t just limited to the US; Britain – from whence Ian Fleming’s, original and its adaptation hailed – was big on espionage adventures and France and Italy contributed their fair share of movies. But US TV seemed absolutely overrun with counterespionage. One of the cleverest was (and frankly remains) this Bruce Geller creation for Desilu Productions – and before we go further perhaps a few words about Desilu are in order. Created in the early 1950s by Lucille Ball and her then husband Desi Arnaz for their sitcom “I Love Lucy” the company expanded its physical holdings to include a facility called the Motion Picture Center and then the RKO Studios lot and the RKO-Pathe lot (where King Kong once terrorized a native village and David O. Selznick once burnt down Atlanta). This gave the company 33 sound stages (more than either MGM or 20th Century Fox had) and an extensive backlot. In addition to its own productions, which included “The Untouchables”, the company rented space to other shows, such as Andy Griffith’s and Dick van Dyke’s sitcoms.
But by the late 1960s the company was losing prestige as a creator; most of its business was the rentals with Ball’s current show being its only production. A man named Herb Solow was brought in as head of production and he midwifed this show, “Star Trek” and, a year later, “Mannix” into production. While “Trek” struggled in the ratings (only to ultimately become one of the most successful big and small screen franchises ever), “M:I” and “Mannix” were big hits and all three established Desilu as being capable of major, expensive and complex projects. Ball, about halfway into the first season of “Mannix”, sold the studio to Paramount for a tidy sum.

Mission: Impossible: The Original TV Series' Blu-Ray Review - Beloved Series  Gets A Wonderful HD Upgrade In 46-Disc Set

While “M:I” may have been unique to television it owed a little something to Jules Dassin’s “Topkapi”, wherein a team of specialists each contributes his or her particular talent to executing a complex heist. Here the team is an ultra-secret organization (or maybe just a loose collection of agents) whose actions will be disavowed by “the Secretary” (are we to assume a cabinet member?) if they are discovered, caught and/or killed. Apparently as initially conceived only the team leader would have been an ongoing cast member but I guess it was determined that having a core group for every episode was more economical and less of a casting nightmare. In the first season the team was headed up by Dan Briggs (Steven Hill), with fashion model Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain) – who initially served as little more than a sexy distraction while the guys did their stuff (lots of lingering shots of her legs in the first season) – technical whiz Barney Collier (Greg Morris) and bodybuilder Willie Armitage (Peter Lupus) forming the basic team. (Bain’s and Lupus’ roles would be expanded beyond sex object and muscle as time went on.) Magician and “Man of a Thousand Faces” Rollin Hand was played by Guest Star Martin Landau in the pilot and after the initial few episodes became a regular, though he continued being billed as a Guest Star until the second season.

Mission: Impossible: The Original! — Jane Voigts

Hill was gone by the second season – one reason was that he was an observant Jew and the producers were finding it difficult to film around holidays and his need to depart late Friday afternoon to be home by sundown. (In one instance Bain even replaced him as the agent receiving the instructions at the beginning if the show; the only time anyone other than the team leader would do so.) Enter Peter Graves as Jim Phelps who would remain with the show until the end of its run and even repeat the role when the series was briefly revived in 1988. The decision must have been made late in then day because in the first episode of the second year Phelps is using Briggs’ apartment (he also inherited Briggs’ car, or an identical one, which he’d drive for the rest of the show).

Binge Watchin' TV Review: Mission Impossible

The cast continued to fluctuate during its run. Bain and Landau (who were married at the time) left just before the start of the fourth year over a dispute; Bain’s role was taken by a series of guest stars (only Lee Merriweather would make more than a single appearance) while the new magician and master of disguise was the mono-cognomened Paris (Leonard Nimoy fresh off the cancellation of “Star Trek”). Lesley Anne Warren –still billed without her middle name – took over the distaff agent duties in season five (the producers missed a bet not retaining Merriweather but I guess they thought a hippie chick was needed for the youth demographic). In another surprising move a very young Sam Elliott was brought in to replace Lupus. The actor would show up periodically through the fifth and sixth year but Lupus was quickly brought back when it was realized how popular Willie was (no wise cracks now). Linda Day George took over for Warren – and to an extent for Nimoy as she was also a makeup artist – in the sixth and seventh season, occasionally spelled by Barbara Anderson, late of ”Ironside”, in the sixth. Phew! I wonder if any other TV series has gone through as many cast permutations in its run. Only Morris and Lupus remained of the original cast by the end.

John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV: Mission  Impossible Intro (1966-1973)

The opening of the show is iconic. A hand (Geller’s own until the final year) lights a match and touches it to a fuse; there’s a rapid montage of scenes from the episode underscored with Lalo Schiffrin’s hot, hot jazz theme (the very best music for driving on a highway – trust me on this). No other shows at the time – and few ever – were as dominated by their music as this one (only Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn” comes to mind – also excellent driving music, by the way). There are long, dialogue-free sequences of Barney and Willie setting up their gizmos with Schifftin’s music (and that of others such as Gerald Fried) in support. The actual episode would open with the team leader going to some often odd locale (a merry-go-round in one instance) where he would receive a packet of photographs and recorded instructions for the impossible mission ahead (should he choose to accept it – which of course he always did).

US military funds 'Mission: Impossible' vanishing devices | Jordan Times

The show is most famous for the reel-to-reel tapes (remember those?) that went up in smoke but in some instances the tapes had to be “disposed of in the usual manner” (which in one case was being dropped in a water cooler full of acid!). And in the first season LP records (remember those?) conveyed the information; these, by the way, would “decompose in five seconds” rather than “self-destruct”, which I just think is a way niftier phrase even if the latter apparently was coined here and has since become omnipresent. Next the team leader sifted through a briefcase of photos to select his agents (by the last couple years this was often dropped because, hell, he always picked the same people). Then there was the briefing of the crew in a set that was primarily black, white and gray (with some light browns) and the cast similarly attired.

beyond star trek: Leonard Nimoy in 'Mission: Impossible' – coffee,  classics, and craziness

Then the assignment itself which had to be accomplished with split-second timing and often a race against the clock (in at least one episode a mere 24 hours from when the recorded instructions were delivered). While Barney and Willy beavered away in sewers or other unattractive locales, rigging electronics or the like the other agents carried out an elaborate con involving impersonations – sometimes of their very target – in order to topple some banana republic wannabe dictator or drug kingpin or free a political prisoner (in later years, with budget cuts they concentrated on domestic baddies to save on building exotic sets). Strangely while the likes of Cinnamon, Rollin and Paris are supposed to be quite famous they go unrecognized in their assumed personas. My favorite episodes, all from the first three years, include the crew impersonating a circus (with a surreal ending where the crew drives off with Barney in clown get-up playing a calliope hooked to the rear of the truck) and another where Cinnamon in Marlene Dietrich mode and Rollin as a red-masked MC doing avant-garde monologues put on a cabaret.

Mission: Impossible - Barbara Bain nightclub number - YouTube

The series remains fun and exciting to the end even if then formula starts wearing thin, despite efforts to modify it, such as starting with an assignment already in progress or having it personally involve one of the team members. It’s also worth watching for the guest stars; some such as Anthony Zerbe and Sid Haig showing up with frequency and holy cow! that’s Cicely Tyson as Barney’s girlfriend! Still my feeling is that the recurring cast never recaptured the chemistry of the original lineup after Landau and Bain departed (certainly having it change every year couldn’t have helped). It may have improved with Graves’ arrival (I find in revisiting the series that I’m less keen on Hill than I was back during the original broadcasts). If you’re thinking of revisiting the series it’s worth your time and investment; it’s held up very well. And if you’ve never seen it, you’re in for a treat.

Paramount: Mission Impossible The Original TV Series Heading to Blu-ray  (UPDATED)

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

LUCREZIA BORGIA
1922 / Alpha Video / 129m / $6.98 / NR
The Borgias are the most infamous family of the Renaissance; papa Rodrigo became Pope
Alexander VI despite keeping several mistresses and having sired multiple children – hardly the celibate prelate. It’s difficult to ascertain what is truthful about him and his kiddies and what has been invented by his enemies (including the radical priest Savonarola, who was eventually burnt for heresy), some of whom hated him merely for being a Spaniard on the papal throne. Historians seem to agree that the charges of having poisoned his enemies are groundless. But the salacious legend is so much more dramatically interesting and that’s where Richard Oswald’s silent German film locates its scenario. Alexander, as wily and adept a politician as ever was, is scarcely present however. Things focus mostly on his famous children, Cesare and Lucrezia, and despite the title the focus is much on the former, thanks in no small part to a riveting performance by Conrad Veidt (his sister is portrayed by Liane Haid, another silent film performer whose name has passed into the mists of history). Veidt may be best remembered as the Nazi Maj. Strasser in “Casabalanca”, the wizard Jaffar in “Thief of Bagdad” or the somnambulist in “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” but he was a versatile performer who could also essay sympathetic roles – but he was so danged good as unpleasant types.

Lucrezia Borgia (1922) – Conrad Veidt Forever

Veidt is in full throttle deranged evil mode here, lusting after his own sister (which appears to have some historical validity) and even after his brother Juan’s beloved (there was no Juan Borgia by the way – the character seems modeled on Giovanni). When she rejects him he has her tossed to the lions in the coliseum (were they still doing that during papal times?) but she is rescued by Juan, whom Cesare later has murdered (it has been surmised but never proven Cesare was responsible). He also kills off one of Lucreia’s former husbands and a spouse-to-be. Director Richard Oswald, one of the less well-remembered leading lights of German silent cinema turned out several horror films – and in the lighting and camerawork of this production things are very reminiscent of a horror film – but also some big budget spectaculars, such as an adaptation of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days”. And in the battle scene that climaxes the film things reach epic proportions, rivaling the seige of Babylon in “Intolerance”. That other German horror actor Paul Wegener also appears, hamming shamelessly as one of Cesare’s thugs and future director William Dieterle (still billed as Wilhelm) has a minor role. The film was seen as an attack on the Catholic church and so went unseen in the US for several years, and then in a severely truncated form. Alpha’s print (a very nice one, too) is the full, original version.

PAPICHA
2019 / Icarus Films / 108m / $26.98 / NR
This Algerian film is set in the late 1990s when fundamentalist Islamic terrorists were seeking to establish a state based on religion. Women in particular were oppressed; vicious – sometimes murderous – mobs would attempt to force the wearing of hijabs and being subservient to men. Nejma, aka Papicha (Lyna Khoudri), is an aspiring dress designer and creates frocks for her fellow students to wear when they go clubbing (they slip out of the dormitory in more drab attire and don her creations in the rest room). She seems both aware and yet oddly unconcerned about the threat of the fundies, even when one shoots her sister to death in front of their mother’s house or when a group of them barge into her dorm room because they hear laughing and singing (this is one entitled bunch who think they have a perfect right to impose their values on everyone else – remind you of anyone?). One of her clubbing friends is beaten by her boyfriend when she expresses an inclination toward freedom – ironically it is the most devout of the young women who becomes pregnant out of wedlock… and to a man who has not been chosen to be her husband.

Cannes Film Festival 2019 - Day Three - Kouhi Films

Papicha is the only one of her group who doesn’t see Algeria as a “waiting room” that everyone is itching to get out of; she wants to help create a new dream for the country, starting by holding a fashion show of dresses created, without cutting, from the enormous swaths of cloth in which women are supposed to drape themselves. It’s unclear if she realizes this makes her results a political statement and not just a creative challenge, but that others do is demonstrated in a horrific denouement. It seems she doesn’t fully realize the growing threat to freedom represented by such things as the posters increasingly appearing on the walls of her city and her school. Mounia Meddour’s feature debut is less a plotted story than an accumulation of small details, made of such small things as props that recur such as a bracelet initially worn to the club and a bowl used to bathe her sister’s corpse (preparing the body for burial is women’s work). This is one closely observed world and the director is aided by sensitive cinematography by Léo Lefèvre and a magnetic turn by Khoudri. The final act may be a tad overloaded with incident to be fully effective but this is still an impressive film.

RESCUE ME
2020 / Random Media / 63m / NR
ME, MY DOG AND I
2020 / Random Media / 63m / NR (PG is suggested for both)
streaming on all major platforms
For lighter documentary fare you can’t beat these two documentaries unless of course you’re totally phobic about canines. The meatier of the two – which actually isn’t saying very much – Is “Rescue Me”, which deals with individuals and organizations that rescue dogs and the people who have adopted rescue dogs. Some of the organizations also deal in cat rescue – indeed one was founded for that very purpose – but feline presence is scarce. The stories of the adoptive dog parents (let’s be very clear: you do not OWN animals; they are your companions) are all positive, though I’m sure there must be fails – and some of the fails might be very instructive – but you won’t find a hint of them here. “Who rescued who?” is the operative phrase. “Me, My Dog and I” is a collection of interviews with dog people. They all love their canine housemates. That’s really about all there is to it; the phrase “unconditional love” gets a heckuva workout. And in both you get to see a lot of adorable pooches. Well, what could be better than that?

Me, My Dog, and I (2019) - IMDb

STAR TREK: PICARD – Season One
2020 / CBS Home Entertainment, Paramount / 388m (3 discs) / $39.99 / NR
Oh, I have been looking forwards to watching this series. Sir Patrick Stewart’s Picard is my favorite “Star Trek” captain and having him revisit the role many moons later was something that seemed intriguing (Stewart has been making excellent choices post “Next Generation” so it seemed unlikely that a disaster was possible), When I found out Alison Pill (who I’ve adored since first encountering her in “Scott Pilgrim vs the World”) would have a recurring role in the show I knew I had to see it. This new series, in keeping with the times I suppose, is far darker than “Next Gen”. Picard has resigned from Star Fleet some years prior after it reneged on the promise to rescue the Romulans from a star that was going nova. (What is it about the reboots that insist on wiping out large swaths of characters from the original series? The big screen reboot destroyed the Vulcan home world – and don’t get me started on the new “Dr Who” and Gallifrey.) This new series also mostly eliminates androids as there has been a ban on synthetic life after a group of them wiped out a relocated Romulan colony on Mars. And then there’s the release into the vacuum of space of a cube full of Borg who are being reclaimed from their semi-mechanical status. Lots of genocide here.

Star Trek: Picard Review | TV Show - Empire

Stewart is excellent (when is he not?) as the now 90 year old admiral who is made aware by his doctor that a certain medical condition is going to prove fatal probably sooner rather than later. He discovers that synthetic twins have been made from elements of Data’s positronic brain (Brent Spiner returns in what he states will be his absolutely final turn in the role and Jeri Ryan, Martina Sirtis and Jonathan Frakes – who also directed a pair of episodes – also put in appearances). Having failed to save one from destruction by a vigilante Romulan group, Picard makes it his mission to save the other before she is found. He engages Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a former Starfleet officer and his ship to follow the clues to her location. Joining are Dr. Agnes Jirati (Pill), an expert in artificial life, Raffi (Michelle Hurd), another former Starfleet officer, Elnor (Evan Evagora), a Romulan refugee Picard was forced to abandon when a boy and eventually Seven of Nine. The cast is terrific but a special shout-out needs to go to Cabrera who also portrays a clutch of holographic staff on Rios’ ship. A late episode has all of them gathered is a scene that’s comic gold. The pacing is a tad slow but the writing is top-notch. I’m too much of a Trekker to know whether this will appeal to the general public but sci-fi buffs shouldn’t pass it up.

URSULA VON RYDINGSVARD: INTO HER OWN
2019 / Icarus Films Home Video / 57m / $26.98 / NR
Perhaps I should begin by disclosing that I have little appreciation for modern art, painting and sculpture in particular (though I find some of the music interesting) and so while I don’t get the point of what Ms. Von Rydingsvard is about in her mammoth pieces I can certainly admire the amount of labor that goes into creating them. Most of them – at least the ones this documentary focuses on – are enormous circular creations that taper outward toward the top and are referred to as “bowls”. These are created from blocks of cedar (more recently she is having the result cast in bronze) and stand – at a guess – 20 feet high or so. She seems obsessed with creating essentially the same piece over and over; whatever it is she’s trying to communicate it seems she has to repeat herself and say it over and over. Per one critique her work evokes her experiences growing up in a Nazi labor camp. As the war ended when she was three I find that a stretch. I just find them intriguing formations of shape and texture but they don’t convey anything more than that to me. The smaller works, shown here in passing I find more interesting. Still, as one of the few women working in monumental sculpture – ironically built up out of relatively small wooden blocks – she’s a fascinating figure, as is the documentary.

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own' is a movie you want to reach out and  touch | Features | yoursun.com

Long’s Short Takes

~Harry H Long

ALBERT EINSTEIN: STILL A REVOLUTIONARY
2020 / First Run Features / 80m / $17.99 / NR
Even for those almost old enough to remember when he was still alive (I was very, very young) the image that is conjured of Albert Einstein is that of the rumpled genius, so absent minded he’s forgotten to comb his hair. If we strain we might recall something about the Theory of Special Relativity (most of us forget the Special) and E=MC2 (I’m sure there’s a way to make Word do that squared thing but damned if I know how). That breakthrough, scorned at first, led to Quantum Physics, which no one really understands and which I once read caused Einstein to state he wished he’d become a plumber. An anti-war pacifist from the time he was young (and a draft dodger), he came to believe that the monstrous evil of Adolph Hitler’s fascist Germany needed to be opposed with force but was saddened that his work in physics led to the creation of the atomic bomb. But in his spare time (and how is it he had any?) he was a tireless crusader for social progressiveness.

Learn the rules of the game: Famous quotes by Albert Einstein on his  birthday to inspire and instruct

His anti-war convictions led him to depart Germany for relatives in Italy during World War One and, having returned to his homeland he emigrated to the USA when the Nazis rose to power (he’d become a Swiss citizen in 1896 and remained so throughout his life). Having experienced anti-Semitism as a youth he was vocal in his support of equal rights for women and people of color (he once hosted Marion Anderson overnight when no hotel would accommodate her after a concert appearance). Through a few too many talking heads, rare archival film footage and (best of all) excerpts from his letters we get a fuller picture of the man than most of us had (I was certainly unaware of the social activism). But the biggest takeaway for me was the film of Einstein arriving in New York, greeted at the docks by a crowd that rivaled what would greet The Beatles decades later. Yes, there was once a time when we not only listened to the scientists and other experts but revered them. Quite a difference from today’s (to paraphrase Isaac Asimov) “My ignorance is equal to your knowledge” attitude.

THE BAT
1960 / Alpha Video / 60m / $6.98 / NR
Mary Roberts Rhinehart’s classic mystery has been filmed three times, first as a silent and then (as “The Bat Whispers”) as a very early talkie, both times by director Roland West and both times boasting enough visual panache for several movies (West deserves to be better remembered than he is). It was visited again in 1959 in a pinchpenny production that is a bit of a snore despite featuring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorhead (in a rare starring role). And then a year later this severely reduced (in terms of running time) version was broadcast as the opening entry in a series yclept “The Dow Hour of Great Mysteries”. Curiously the show was hosted by Joseph N. Welch, notable for confronting Joseph McCarthy, asking if he had “at long last no shame.” (And how he went from the law to TV host must be quite a story. Dow considered him so essential to the show that it ended when he died.) The story involves mystery writer Cornelia van Gorder (Helen Hayes) and her maid Lizzie (Margaret Hamilton) spending the summer in the mansion of John Fleming, a bank executive who has pinched a million dollars of securities and then shuffled off his mortal coil whilst on a hunting trip with his doctor (Shepperd Strudwick).

The Bat (1960) | Silver in a Haystack

He is presumed to have hidden them somewhere in the house and amongst those wanting to get hold of them is the daring criminal, The Bat… so called because he dresses like one and once left one nailed to the wall at the scene of one of his crimes. A take-charge detective (Jason Robards) arrives in response to reports of someone trying to break into the mansion but Cornelia is determined to solve the mystery – both of where the securities are stashed and who The Bat is – herself. Despite a running time half that of the play and apparently being shot live on video Rhinehart’s script with its secret panels, lights going out and masked criminal suffers not in this adaptation. And what a cast. Hayes was considered the queen of Broadway and any TV appearance was considered an event. I’m not as keen on her acting as some are but snagging her for any show that wasn’t “Hallmark Hall of Fame” was quite a coup. Hamilton is a joy as always and Robards (still being billed as Jason Robards, Jr., so as not to be confused with his father) is impressive, as is Strudwick (a rather underrated performer). Nothing compares to the 1926 and ‘30 films (and if you haven’t seen them, you must) but I’ll take this over the 1959 film any day.

Penny Dreadful: CITY OF ANGELS
2020 / Showtime, Paramount, CDS DVD / 569m (4 discs) / $39.98 / NR
I was glad I had the opportunity to give this series a second look. I was very impressed with the first “Penny Dreadful” series – which took a premise that seemed absurd and spun gothic gold from it – and creator John Logan’s work in general. My initial problem was that it started by presenting two supernatural sisters, Santa Muerte and Magda; the first conveys the spirits of the dead to heaven while the other thrives on chaos and destruction. They are not exactly opposites; Santa Muerte seems powerless to intervene in human events while Magda actively creates carnage (in the very first sequence she starts a brush fire that claims the life of the paterfamilias of the central family. Where the initial series was full-out supernatural this one didn’t seem to have much of it despite the opening. What I didn’t catch first time round was that the same actress who portrays Magda (Natalie Dormer) also essays three other characters, all of whom balefully propel the plotlines; Magda is a shape-shifter (and able to be in multiple locales simultaneously) who can also extrude a malevolent boy when the occasion demands.

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The profusion of storylines and characters commences with the murder and groteque mutilation of a wealthy family that is investigated by homicide detectives Lewis Michener (Nathan Lane) and Tiago Vega (Daniel Zovatto), the latter being the first Latino on the LA police force (the series is set in 1938) and on his first day on the job. Vega’s family is at the core of the series with his two brothers each involved in different kinds of activism, a sister who joins the “church” of an Aimee Semple McPherson-like radio preacher, Sister Mollie, (Kerry Bishe) and a mother (Adriana Barraza) who works as the housekeeper to wealthy doctor Peter Craft (Rory Kinnear). The latter is seduced by Magda in one of her guises and goes from a Bund leader preaching America First isolationism to full blown Nazi. Vega embarks on an affair with Sister Mollie while Michener, in his spare time, is keeping tabs on a wealthy German businessman who’s actually a high-ranking Nazi. And there’s a city councilman (whose assistant is another of Magda’s personas) pushing a freeway project that will run right through the Chicano community. Phew! All these subplots – fictional but historically accurate – intersect and all too frequently reflect our current sociopolitical landscape. It’s a fascinating and intricate series, not easily digested on first viewing. It will also remain unresolved as Showtime, without explanation, declined to renew the show despite critical praise and high ratings.

THE GIRL WITH A BRACELET (La fille au bracelet)
2019 / Icarus Films Home Video / 96m / $26.98 / NR
The bracelet of the title isn’t jewelry but one of those monitoring devices worn on the ankle and the girl is Lise, a teenager on home arrest, awaiting trial for the brutal stabbing murder of her friend. Or maybe the young woman was a former friend after having posted a video of Lise performing fellatio on social media. This is a low key affair that leaves much unresolved as it focuses on the strained relationships at home and Lise’s trial. Much as in real life drama never comes to a head; confrontations are broken off or simply abandoned. In the courtroom scenes the attorneys stay by their chairs; they don’t get up clpse with witnesses as in TV shows and movies. (And I was fascinated to see that in French jurisprudence it is the judge who asks the preponderance of questions before turning things over to the prosecution and the defense.) While we learn the outcome of the trial we never know with certainty if Lise is guilty or not (she was the last to leave the party but, possessing no keys to the house, could not lock the door – thus anyone could have committed the murder). And yet, if you pay very close attention, there are clues scattered throughout that point to a suspect.

The Girl with a Bracelet (2019) – MUBI

In keeping with the documentary-like approach of snippets of life the camerawork and editing are prosaic. This is not a venue for bravura camera angles and flashy cutting; the emphasis is on the actors and the camera is unflinchingly focused on them. Now these thespians may be very well known in France for all I know but I’m quite sure I’ve never seen them before (nor have you, probably). That and the quiet intensity of their performances let me believe in them in a way that wouldn’t have been possible had the cast been populated with familiar faces. That the drama never boils over, that the accused is oddly silent during questioning, that we never are delivered a concrete answer as to the killer’s identity may all lead some to boredom and a “So what?” reaction. But I was riveted. If this sounds like your cuppa you will be too. If a mystery where the viewer is left to determine the answer is not, then you’d better steer clear.

OCCURRENCE AT MILLS CREEK
2020 / Spruce Films / 84m / NR
streaming on Apple TV, DirecTV, Google Play, Prime Video, Fandango NOW
When a filmmaker in essentially the middle of nowhere turns out a reasonably impressive feature debut it’s time to take notice. The locale in this case is fairly close Altoona, a town for which I have some fondness, having served on the jury there in a Mafia-related arson trial some decades ago (but that is another story for another time). Not that the film is perfect – in fact I had quite a few problems with it – but there’s more good than mediocre here and if IMDb is correct about the budget the result is astonishing. The story shifts about through several time periods and between reality and dreams, sometimes jarringly – there is a moment when Carla (Ava Psoras) is futilely trying to wake her roommate (or lover, I was never quite sure) and the scene cuts to a funeral. There’s a lot of dying going on here so I thought the young woman had bit the dust, but, no, it was someone else. First to go is mom, which leads to a brief visit from dad, who abandoned the family some time ago. Then adopted sister Cassie perishes in an accident, then dad shuffles off his mortal coil and finally an elderly aunt (Psoras’ real-life mom Betsy Lynn George returning to the screen after a several decades absence). This character also shows up several other times, some of which are dream sequences (or appearances of ghosts?), to warn Carla she is “not ready”.

Occurrence at Mills Creek | Film Threat

So… not ready for what? It may have something to do with a family “curse” – more like madness that gallops in Carla’s family – that apparently is a legend known to all the small townfolk and to which Carla is at risk of succumbing. Or something like that. Director and chief writer Don Swanson seems to have been at pains to make things as vague and opaque as possible. The hopscotching about in time and reality strikes me as the kind of student or experimental filmmaking that aspires to artsiness by presenting a puzzle for the viewer to ponder. I think I got the What of this film but am uncertain about the Why or if there even is a Why. (Bear in mind I’m still not sure there’s a Why to “Cloud Atlas” – maybe this kind of filmmaking isn’t my cup of tea… or maybe I’m just dim.) Technically the film is pretty solid. While the lighting sometimes isn’t all it should be the photography is mostly impressive (Swanson serving as his own cameraman); there are some ravishing landscapes throughout and the composition of shots is always admirable. The dialogue is good – I’m particularly fond of Carla’s advice to Cassie about a young man who’s been hitting on her: “There’s a difference between being into you and wanting to be in you.” A few of the performances are weak but mostly the acting is satisfactory. Swanson just might be the George Romero of Altoona.

SPREE
2020 / RLJE Films / 92m / $27.97 / NR
I really should give this effort a second viewing because I haven’t decided if it’s a sharp satire of social media or a sophomoric one. It may well be a bit of both but I must say I enjoyed it immensely. Kurt Kunkle (Joe Keery) is a driver for Spree (think Uber) who has a negligibly followed online streamed show, Kurt’s World. That Kurt is extremely awkward and has an unexceptional life (think those FaceBook people who assume you care what they had for lunch) explains much of why he has a limited audience. But Kurt finally cons to an idea that will surely go viral: he outfits his car with multiple cameras and broadcasts the murders of his passengers. Poisoned water is one way – and he even streams a tutorial on how to introduce poison undetectably into bottled water. He’s one gleeful sociopath with nary a thought as to anything but creating his own celebrity. Some of his victims detect the funny taste and don’t drink enough to pass on, leading Kurt to dispose of them in increasingly crazy ways (one involves ferocious dogs, but I’ll say no more). By chance one of his rides is standup comic Jesse Adams (Shasheer Zamata) who has been crowned The Queen of Social Media. Kurt decides she must teem up with him; failing that he’ll achieve fame by killing her.

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It’s a wild ride if a bit of a shallow one because Kurt’s progression of kills resembles one of those one-note slasher films (though there’s no gore here). It could also be a depressing one except that Keery only hints at what a pathetic loser Kurt is, playing his manic side to the hilt and soft-peddling how dangerous he is – at least until late in the proceedings. That Kurt’s victims all just horrible people also keeps the film from being “Taxi Driver” meets “Halloween” – you actually look forward to seeing them get offed. That is until the film’s final act when Kurt relentlessly tries to murder Jesse and Keery’s performance goes full-blown maniac. (And as good as Keery is he’s matched by an equally fine performance from Zamata.) This may not be the most psychologically perceptive portrait of the Look-at-me types who use social media to puff themselves up – that would be a much darker movie and even in its final section it never loses its comedic tone. And that just might make it message easier to take.