Tag Archives: film reviews

SPIELBERG … ANNE SPIELBERG

masc graveyard smallerSteven Spielberg’s sister Anne got her start as a producer for many of the cheapjack science fiction films of Robert Emenegger and Allan Sandler. With apologies to fans of the original Doctor Who series, to me, “E-Space” will always mean EMENEGGER SPACE, as in the Emenegger-verse of his series of movies in 1980 and 1981.

Emenegger Space is full of Grade Z special effects, bad acting, a few good ideas and an overall feel of striving for Alien and Star Trek levels but falling far, far short.  

Warp SpeedWARP SPEED (1981) – Set in the far-off year 2013 (!) this movie features the crew of a spaceship sent to determine what happened to the vanished crew of a multi-year mission to Saturn. The organization they serve is called Starfleet, which serves as a reminder that by 1981 there was just the original Star Trek series, its cartoon version and one movie, not the enormous universe of spin-offs that we have today. Point being that the term Starfleet was apparently open for use by other creators. Starfleet features in another Spielberg/ Emenegger/ Sandler joint, too.

Adam West plays Captain Lofton, the leader of the now-lost mission, and has assorted offspring of Cameron Mitchell backing him up in this movie. One such Mitchell, Camille, stars as Dr Janet Trask, a psychic who is sent into the abandoned Atlas vessel to investigate the cause of the crew’s disappearance.

Trask is outfitted with tech which sends back images of the psychic visions she receives of past events on the ghost-ship. Amid assorted David Lynch-style psychosexual interludes we see disaster strike the Atlas, followed by an aborted mission and ultimately a mutiny as the crew try to get the damaged craft back to the Earth. Continue reading

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OBJECT Z (1965): FORGOTTEN TELEVISION

Object ZOBJECT Z (1965) – Directed by Daphne Shadwell and written by Christopher McMaster, this was one of the many six-episode science fiction serials from British television of the 1950s and 1960s. The Quatermass serials are among the best remembered of those programs but there were also items like The Trollenberg Terror, a serial later adapted into the B-Movie The Crawling Eye.

If you’ve seen any of the other British programs like this you’ll know what to expect and whether or not you’ll enjoy this one. Personally I find them fun AND fun-bad all at once so to me they’re more than worth watching.

The storyline in Object Z involves the sighting of a distant space object which, as it draws nearer to the Earth, is determined to be at least six miles long and made of either stone or metal. Soon it becomes clear that it is going to collide with the Earth. Continue reading

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NICK CARTER IN PRAGUE (1978): MOVIE REVIEW

Nick Carter in PragueNICK CARTER IN PRAGUE (1978) – This film seems to like to hide from the millions of Nick Carter fans in the world by also going under titles like Adele Has Not Had Her Dinner or Dinner With Adele. I originally planned to review this movie last year but the passing of actor Robert Conrad prompted me to review his telefilm The Adventures of Nick Carter instead.

Created in 1886, Nick Carter was technically a private detective in New York City but really he was less of a sleuth and more of a forerunner of crime-fighting paragons like Doc Savage and Batman. Nick lasted through the end of the Dime Novel era and well into the age of Pulp Magazines, yet by the 1970s he was a much more popular character in Europe than in his homeland. Even before Nick Carter in Prague was released there had been a French-Italian animated series about Nick’s adventures.

This Czech film was directed by Oldrich Lipsky and starred Michal Docolomansky as Nick Carter. If you want a glib “pitch-meeting” style description of this movie think of it as a tongue-in-cheek effort like Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy but directed by Tim Burton and with a surreal, European arthouse feel.

Michal as Nick CarterThe approach is wry and knowing but without stooping to the overdone camp of 1975’s Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze, starring Ron Ely. Nick Carter in Prague is often labeled a comedy but don’t go into it expecting laughs, just lots of smiles like during Dick Tracy or Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s more “comedy” as in whimsical fantasy touches, not hard belly laughs.

The film is set around 1905 judging by the automobiles, and the opening minutes provide a nice introduction to Nick Carter. He’s a world-famous detective/ crime fighter whose exploits earn him plenty of headlines. Police departments and Secret Services around the world bombard him with requests for help and he survives multiple attempts on his life by a variety of enemies as part of his daily routine at his office.

Nick has so many pleas for his services that he selects who he’ll help next at random. The “winner” is Countess Thun (Kveta Fiolova) of Prague, so our hero is off to then-Czechoslovakia. The countess has a lot of pull with her government and Carter is given a hero’s welcome. The tubby Commissar Ledvina (Rudolf Hrusinsky) is assigned to help Nick in every way. Continue reading

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DENNIS QUAID FILM FESTIVAL

dennis quaidDennis Quaid aka Furious DQ is the subject of this list of brief film reviews. Ignore Buzzfeed reports that Dairy Queen (DQ) is partnering with Balladeer’s Blog to sponsor a Dennis Quaid Film Festival in Rio. In fact, you should just ignore ALL Buzzfeed reports, period, at this point.

Let’s dive into this look at some of the films of Ed Miller himself from The Long Riders: Dennis Quaid. NOTE: These will be films in which Dennis was the male lead, hence no Right Stuff, Wyatt Earp, etc. Quaid should have been made the new Indiana Jones right after Harrison Ford’s Last Crusade in 1989. Magnificent missed opportunity.

big easyTHE BIG EASY (1986)

Role: Police Detective Remy McSwain

Female Lead: Ellen Barkin

Comment: One of the most underrated films of the 1980s. Think of The Big Easy as Cajun-blackened Film Noir, which, of course, makes it colorful and upbeat Film Noir with kickass music.

Set in New Orleans (known as the Big Easy for you overseas readers) this hardboiled mystery features Assistant DA Anne Osborne (Barkin) clashing, bickering, flirting with and falling for Quaid as Lt Remy McSwain. Remy is investigating Wiseguy murders that hint at an impending gangster war while Anne is probing police corruption.

The sparks fly between McSwain and Osborne but we viewers wonder if he’s playing her because he has too much to hide or if she’s playing him A Taxing Woman style. We also wonder if the omerta practiced by Remy and his police colleagues is simply because of the casual graft they’re into or if they’ve graduated from being crooked cops to being outright soldiers of organized crime.

Ned Beatty, Grace Zabriskie and John Goodman are in supporting roles in this enjoyable mystery/ rom-com/ travelogue for New Orleans.

great balls of fireGREAT BALLS OF FIRE (1989)

Role: Jerry Lee Lewis

Female Lead: Winona Ryder

Comment: What The Buddy Holly Story was to Gary Busey, this movie was to Dennis Quaid. Hollywood bio-pic rules apply so the emphasis is on old-school rock music and a rip-roaring good time instead of accuracy. The movie plays its story so lightly and entertainingly that the approach works. Continue reading

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THE GODFATHER CODA: COPPOLA’S RE-EDITED VERSION OF GODFATHER III: THE DEATH OF MICHAEL CORLEONE

Godfather CodaMARIO PUZO’S THE GODFATHER CODA: THE DEATH OF MICHAEL CORLEONE (2020 re-edit) – That title is almost as awkward as Can Heironymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? starring Anthony Newley and Joan Collins. In December Francis Ford Coppolla’s re-edited version of The Godfather Part III: The Death of Michael Corleone became available for viewing. This was done to mark the 30th anniversary of the original release of the much-criticized third installment of the Godfather franchise. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this item, but I’m happy to say that I found it to be an improvement of the 1990 version. Coppolla went with different takes on some scenes, trimmed a few and repositioned others, resulting in much better pacing.

I agreed with almost all of the cuts, like getting rid of the “ironic sledgehammer over the head” moment when Eli Wallach’s Don Altobello piously says “Blessed are the peacemakers” after setting up a face-to-face meeting between Vincent and Lucchesi. Continue reading

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LEO FONG: HIS BEST B-MOVIES

Leo FongThanksgiving week rolls along here at Balladeer’s Blog with this look at some of the most enjoyable – on whatever level – B-movies from the one and only Leo Fong! Leo’s been called a poor man’s Bolo Yeung cross-bred with an even poorer man’s Joe Don Baker … but I was drunk when I called him that, so make of it what you will.

All lovers of Psychotronic filmmaking worship at the altar of Fong and his many action flicks from the 1970s through today are still watchable in a very odd way and will always leave viewers smiling. We may snark away at the abundance of errors and absurdities in Leo’s movies but there’s no denying that a Leo Fong film has more heart and sincerity in it than any corporate blockbuster has in decades. 

Murder in the orientMURDER IN THE ORIENT (1974) – Leo Fong IS Lao Tsu, but not THAT one, in this lethargic treasure quest/ revenge story. Leo (He’s ALWAYS Leo to me no matter what his character is named) learns his sister has been killed by the Golden Cobra crime gang. That gang is after a pair of samurai swords on which Imperial Japanese war criminals serving in World War Two engraved a split map leading to a fortune in stolen gold.  

Leo’s sister was collateral damage in that quest, and her death brings down on the Golden Cobras’ heads the stone-faced revenge of our man Fong and his late sister’s equally deadly boyfriend, Paul Martelli (THE Ron Marchini). All the performers seem like reluctant draftees rounded up and forced to “act” at gunpoint. Even the action sequences reek of half-heartedness in this odd little honey. Continue reading

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TOP FIVE MARX BROTHERS MOVIES

Balladeer’s Blog’s usual “waiting for results to something” mode is to watch a comedy marathon. Let’s go for a vintage feel this time with a look at my Top Five Marx Brothers Movies.

cocoanuts5. THE COCOANUTS (1929) – The Plot (As if it mattered) – A hotel manager (Groucho) plots a real estate swindle during the Florida land boom while a jewel theft on the premises attracts unwanted attention from the law. Chico and Harpo sow all manner of confusion while Margaret Dumont and Zeppo are on hand in their familiar and comfortable straight roles.

Comment: Already I can hear the screams from Marx Brothers fans. How DARE I relegate to FIFTH place a movie based on the brothers’ Broadway hit written by THE George S Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind! 

Easy. No matter how good the play was The Cocoanuts movie suffers from too many of the typical weaknesses of early talkies. The tinny sound, plus the way the maps, telegrams and newspapers handled by the characters are obviously water-logged to keep the crackling from being picked up on the late 1920s sound equipment.

mascot sword and gun pic

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And most importantly the inclusion of pointless music and dance numbers in the “hey, we have sound now, so let’s REALLY show it off” spirit of early talkies. The hopelessly dull romantic couple slow things down, too.

I find myself fast-forwarding through this flick more than any other Marx Brothers movie. Even The Big Store. We need a Fan Edit of this flick including ONLY the comedy routines, which I agree are all classics. “Did anyone ever tell you you look like the Prince of Wales?” Continue reading

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THE KINDRED (1987) MOVIE REVIEW

Kindred largerTHE KINDRED (1987) – This monster movie was the third horror project from the writing and directing team of Stephen Carpenter and Jeffrey Obrow.

The duo got started while they were film students at UCLA and released the regulation 1982 slasher movie Death Dorm aka Pranks aka The Dorm That Dripped Blood. Next came The Power (1984), about a cursed Aztec relic.

Neither of those works were exceptional nor were they trying to redefine the genre, but there was noticeable improvement between the 1984 project and the 1982 debut film. The Kindred continued that professional refinement and is the most watchable of “Carpbrow’s” early horror efforts.

THE Kim Hunter is in a few early scenes as Amanda Hollins, a biochemist who was engaged in some ethically questionable research before a car accident left her in a coma for years. She has just emerged from that coma and wants her son John (David Allen Brooks) to go to her old beach house and destroy all of her work, including her notes.

Rod Steiger, just one year away from his outrageous tour-de-force performance in the slasher film American Gothic (with YVONNE DE CARLO), plays Dr Phillip Lloyd, the villain of the story. The mad Dr Lloyd has been trying his own hand at the kind of research that Amanda Hollins excelled at. To that end he’s been paying an unscrupulous ambulance driver to covertly provide him with accident victims to use as human guinea pigs.   Continue reading

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COMIN’ AT YA! (1981): MOVIE REVIEW

Comin at Ya 2COMIN’ AT YA! (1981) – Directed by Ferdinando Baldi, Comin’ At Ya! is often credited with starting the pointless and bizarre 1980s revival of 1950s-style 3D movies. The film stars Tony Anthony, famous to us Spaghetti Western fans for the movie series in which he played a gunslinger called the Stranger. He appeared in others, as well, some reasonably good and others, like Blindman, so bad as to be virtually unwatchable.

Tony’s standout feature is the way he always looks like he’s ready to burst into tears, which always set him apart from the countless tough guys in Italo-Westerns. That feature stands him in good stead in Comin’ At Ya!

Tony Anthony

Tony Anthony IS Tinsley – I mean H. H. Hart – in Comin’ At Ya!

Anthony stars as gunfighter H.H. Hart. No, not H.H. Holmes, which would be an entirely different type of movie. Hart has, like many a fictional gunman, decided to leave his past behind and settle down with his one true love – a female gambler called Abilene aka the Cajun Queen. Abilene is portrayed by European actress Victoria Abril.

On their wedding day, H.H. and Abilene are separated when the ceremony is crashed by a gang of white-slavers led by brothers Pike and Polk Thompson. Our story inverts the setup of Louis L’Amour’s western The Shadow Riders, in which two brothers who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War set aside their differences to recover female family members from white-slavers headed for Mexico. 

In Comin’ At Ya! it’s the villains who are such a pair of brothers. Pike served on the Union side and Polk on the Confederate side. The duo command an enormous gang made up of veterans from both sides of the war in addition to renegade Indians and Mexican pistoleros. They steal the lovely Cajun Queen from her new husband and add her to the rest of their haul of young women to sell into slavery down in 1870s Mexico.

comin at ya - cinema quad movie poster (1).jpgOur main character, Triple H, ain’t havin’ it and sets out to recover his new bride and set free the other unfortunate women seized by the Thompson Gang. Needless to say he’ll also kill every member of the gang as well as some of the snobbish, upper-class Mexican aristos – male and female – who buy the ladies at an elegantly-appointed mansion/ former convent now used for slave auctions.

Even though this is really just a Spaghetti Western, albeit with slightly better production values, releasing a film titled Comin’ At Ya! clearly means you want it to stand or fall purely on its gimmick: 3D. First I’ll address the 3D effects and then examine the movie as a whole. Continue reading

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TOM SAWYER – 1973 MUSICAL

Tom Sawyer

Tom Sawyer

TOM SAWYER (1973) – The TOM SAWYER I’m referring to here is the 1973 musical version which is unforgivably forgotten by many people. This musical has some incredibly catchy songs, memorable dialogue portions and terrific performances from all cast members, young and old.

Most importantly the film nicely distills the essential elements of Mark Twain’s popular story in a nearly seamless way. Anything you loved from the book when you read it is to be found here: Tom’s tall tales to Aunt Polly to explain why he’s late for supper or didn’t show up at school, Tom tricking other kids into paying him to whitewash a fence for him, Tom and Huckleberry Finn witnessing Injun Joe’s murder of Ol’ Doc, Tom chivalrously taking a thrashing for Becky Thatcher, Tom and Huck running away and being given up for dead and of course Tom attending his own funeral.

masc graveyard newAll that and a great musical number during an excellently mounted 1870s Fourth of July Celebration. Injun Joe gets a much more merciful end in this movie than he did in the book, so that’s a plus, too. 

Johnny Whitaker, known to generations of us as “that kid on those Family Affair reruns”, plays Tom in his best incarnation ever. Jodie Foster portrays Becky Thatcher, and in this version Tom shoots Judge Thatcher to  prove his love for Becky (I’m kidding!). Continue reading

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