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Reassessing Shirley Temple

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I adore old films–the older the better.  However, I’ve come upon a problem with Netflix–I have seen just about every Hollywood film they have that was made before 1960.  So recently I did something I was not proud of at the time–I broke down and rented a few of the Shirley Temple films.  For years, I deliberately avoided them as I saw them as saccharine and just plain awful.  Well, imagine my surprise when I found that I actually enjoyed most of them and have even gone so far as to put ALL her films on my Netflix queue!

While I will admit that a few of the films are bad (“The Blue Bird”, as it terribly miscasts Temple), most are amazingly good–AMAZINGLY GOOD.  Twentieth Century-Fox really knew how to get the most out of these films.  Plus, Miss Temple was simply fabulous–even when you see these films today.  Not only could she sing, dance and act, but even the most jaded will find her tugging at your heart.  Now I am not a super-sentimental guy, but I found myself tearing up at a few of them.

The only serious negative is when it comes to race.  In so many of her films, it was very, very obvious that Hollywood and America had horrible notions about black people and a few of the films will make you cringe.  Stepin Fetchit, one of the most famously negative black stereotypes in film history, appeared in a few of her films.  But what is REALLY hard to take is seeing Shirley herself in black-face in “The Littlest Rebel”–a film where the slaves all seem VERY happy and actually work to help the Confederacy defeat the dreaded Yankees!!  As for her work with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, these were always great–with Temple and Robinson making a very appealing duo, as well as the only mixed race dancing team at the time!

Of all the Temple films I’ve seen so far, my favorite is definitely “Bright Eyes”.  It has so much going for it and is able to wonderfully balance Temple’s sweetness with Jane Withers’ delightfully nasty performance!  And, in addition to a terrific plot (have your kleenex nearby), it features perhaps Temple’s greatest song “The Good Ship Lollipop”.  I gave this one a 9 on IMDB and when it comes to entertainment for the entire family, you can’t do much better than this.

So, I strongly recommend you try a few of her films (but avoid “The Blue Bird”….ugh, it’s bad!) and don’t worry about how incredibly sweet and old fashioned the films are.  And, if you are embarrassed by watching them, see the films alone when the family is gone!  But do indeed see them–she was a brilliant little actress and STILL the best there ever was!

 

Oh, and if you get a chance, a few of her adult performances are very much worth seeing.  The best is probably “Since You Went Away” (one of the best wartime films you can find) and “Fort Apache” (a wonderful John Ford/John Wayne saga of the west).

 

If you care to look, this is the official Shirley Temple page.  It’s mostly for buying Temple related stuff–like DVDs and dolls.  However, Miss Temple also talks very openly about her battle with breast cancer and she was one of the first celebrities to talk openly about the disease.

http://www.shirleytemple.com/

 

Al Adamson…a director at least the equal of Ed Wood!

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Al Adamson is a name not familiar to most readers.  Much of it is luck.  In the 1970s and 80s, bad movie fans rediscovered Ed Wood and his ‘masterpiece’, “Plan 9 From Outer Space”.  However, they just as likely could have chosen Adamson and his films…they were THAT bad.  Also, in one way he was more than Wood’s equal–with titles that rank among the worst of any director.  Titles include: “Psycho A Go-Go”, “Satan’s Sadists”, “Hell’s Bloody Devils”, “Horror of the Blood Monster” and “Brain of Blood”—just to name a few!

 

 

My favorite Adamson film, though, has a relatively normal title, “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”.  Here is my review of the film:

This is a very painful movie to watch if you love old horror films. That’s because both J. Carrol Naish and Lon Chaney, Jr. both starred in this film shortly before their deaths. As for Naish, he was so sickly that he acted in a wheelchair. Additionally, he had lost an eye and could not remember his lines, so he read from cue cards–and you could literally watch his one good eye darting back and forth while the glass one remained still. A sad and creepy effect, I must say. As for Chaney, he was killing himself with booze and he naturally looks bloated and a shadow of his former self.

Not surprisingly, these performances reminded me of Bela Lugosi in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Like Naish and Chaney, Lugosi was dying and many rather pointless scenes were dumped into PLAN 9 by director Ed Wood, Jr.. Like Wood, Al Adamson seemed to just dump film randomly into the film, as he took scenes from a planned sequel to SATAN’S SADISTS (a biker film) and dumped them into this horror of a film. Additionally, he hired a lady who looks like a stripper to play lead.

So is there any reason to watch this film? Well, if you want a quality film, then keep looking!! However, if you enjoy laughing at incompetence, then this film has it in spades. There’s a Dracula who looks nothing like the familiar Count (perhaps he looks a bit more like a gay porn Dracula–you be the judge). There’s also a Frankenstein that looks more like a mushroom man from ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE and his face is just,….well,…impossible to describe, though comparing it to Frankenstein is NOT possible! And, if that’s not bad enough, the dialog and acting are horrid and the film just screams “crap” from start to finish! So overall, the film is horrible and it begs the question “was Al Adamson perhaps a worse director than Ed Wood, Jr.”? With such great films to Adamson’s credit as THE NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES, LASH OF LUST, BRAIN OF BLOOD, HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS and PSYCHO A GO-GO, if he ain’t the worst director ever, he sure is a runner up!!

 

 

So what happened to Adamson?  Well, the story gets rather sad. Only a few years after his leading lady and wife (Regina Carrol) died, he himself was murdered and buried under a concrete slab by some scum-bag who then tried to impersonate him but was apprehended.   A horrible filmmaker, but I certainly wouldn’t have wished this sort of end for him.

Eva Saks’ film “Colorforms” is a delight!

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hDXiGyqPrQ

 

This is a sadly neglected film, since I was the first to review it on IMDB–five years after it debuted. I truly hope that this short film gets wider distribution, as it is really cute and you can’t help but like this film.

COLORFORMS begins with an adorable little girl playing with finger paints. Her enthusiasm is really great to watch, but somehow her mother isn’t particularly pleased when the child begins painting the dog and her bed! Next, you see the child being forced to take harp lessons with a dreadfully dull and stodgy teacher–at which point the child rebels at the structure and just starts having fun. Later, at dinner, she has a ball with her pasta and her very uptight parents are angry at the child behaving like a child! So, they call in reinforcements–the ultra-stodgy and strict grandfather!! What happens next, I really don’t want to discuss, as it would spoil the film. However, you have got to see it–it’s simply a joy to watch.

By the way, since seeing this film, I have seen more work by the same writer/director, Eva Saks, and it is all wonderful!! Look for more of her films–you’ll be glad you did! This film is included on a DVD entitled “Shorts: Volume Three” and can be found at the link above on YouTube.

Ed Wood wasn’t necessarily THE most inept filmmaker of all time–he had a lot of company!

 

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In the next few months, I am planning on discussing several filmmakers and films that were so incredibly bad that they at least rival Ed Wood and his epic failure “Plan 9 From Outer Space” in awfulness.  I will be discussing such auteurs as William Grefe, Larry Buchanan, Al Adamson and others–as well as weird genres such as the late 70s/early 80s sci-fi musicals!

This brings me to an important distinction for bad films.  Some are simply bad–boring, dreadfully tedious and inept.  These films are generally hard to watch and the films seem to go on and on and on and are just painfully unfun to watch.  So, while “The Conquerer” and “Cracking Up” are horrible films, they are NOT particularly pleasant watching for bad movie buffs.  Others are stupid–so stupid that they make you laugh.  Of course Ed Wood’s films are often in this category but so would films like “The Apple” (already mentioned in an earlier post), “Zontar, Thing From Venus”, “Sex Madness” (from the makers of “Reefer Madness”) and “Blood of Ghastly Horror”.  These films are a pleasure to watch with friends and you can laugh and comment about the sheer silliness and awfulness of the acting, direction and production values.

So, hold on tight–I have some amazingly silly suggestions for you.  And, I’d love suggestions from you as well, because I am ALWAYS looking for a bad film!

Sometimes, just because a movie wins the Best Picture award doesn’t mean it’s worth your time.

Here are a few reviews for some Best Picture Oscar winners that just seem insanely overrated.  Watch them if you like, but you might just want to avoid them as the films are tedious and awful.  What do you think?

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The Last Emperor–It’s hard to like a film when you couldn’t care less about the central character.

This film is a wonderful example of the Best Picture Syndrome. A dull film receives many Oscars (including Best Picture) and suddenly it’s considered a “masterpiece”. My theory is that the year the movie premiered, it must have been a very bad year in general OR it confirms that many on the Oscar committee LOVE to vote for giant epic films that are visually stunning (but unwatchably dull). I also wonder if many who voted never actually saw the film–if they had, many would have died of boredom and couldn’t have voted for the film!

My biggest problems with the movie are the turgid pacing as well as the general unlikability of the main character. When the Communists imprisoned this deposed emperor, I could sympathize with the revolutionaries and was shocked they didn’t put him to death! His life was lived in complete self-indulgence and he didn’t seem to care one bit for “his people”. So, for the only time in history, I found myself rooting for the Chinese Communists! If you DID actually enjoy this film, I can suggest several other epics that are dreadfully dull and overrated: “The English Patient”, “Gandhi”, and “Ryan’s Daughter”.

This is NOT to say that I hate epics or long movies–just not ones where you could care less for the characters (with the exception of Gandhi) and where the pacing is so slow. If you are not a glutton for punishment, try watching” The Big Country” (one of our greatest Westerns), “Ben Hur” (wow), “Dances with Wolves”, “Chariots of Fire”, “The Best Years of Our Lives”, etc. Make them LONG and BIG but give them characters you care about and pace them better!!!!!!

 

Gandhi (Ben Kingsley)

Gandhi—Superficial and often inaccurate

“The Last Emperor”, “The English Patient” and “Gandi”–three recent movies that won tons of Oscars but were ultimately pretty boring and unappealing to the common people. You may not appreciate me for saying this, but it is a fact that all three films were not exactly box office draws and the average bloke would rather see most anything other than these LONG films. And, I say long not due to their length, but to their slow and plodding pacing. And, of course, they are rewarded for this by the Oscar. So, in recent years Oscar = Dull or overblown film. While I certainly didn’t hate the film like many of my students, I could understand their feeling that the whole thing was a bit too long and slow going.

This film is a pretty decent general overview of the life of Gandhi. However, as a history teacher, I gotta admit that there were a lot of liberties taken with the truth. While the overall message is true, some details are not and many aspects of Gandhi’s strange personal life were omitted (such as his attitudes towards parenting, his sleeping habits, etc.–all VERY odd indeed). While I hate to see films that trash good people and focus on the weird, this film nearly elevates this man to godhood–making him seem super-human, not just a great man. After you see the movie to do an internet search or pick up a biography on the man to get a more 3-dimensional view of this extraordinary character.

PS–I know I will be hated for demeaning the name of Gandhi, but I strongly agree with the other posts that preferred or at least recommended the movie UHF because of its parody on GANDHI–“GANDHI II–he’s back and he’s looking for revenge”! Funny stuff, indeed!

 

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The English Patient–It’s about as romantic as a case of the clap!

Years ago, I saw an episode of SEINFELD in which Elaine described this movie as a colossal bore that seemed to go on forever (though less than 3 hours long, it did seem to go on for an eternity). I should have taken her advice and avoided this movie like the plague. The first tip-off that it would be a bore-fest was that it had won so many academy awards. In recent years, several amazingly dull films have been the recipient of arm loads of awards but were box office poison because the public couldn’t stand them (another example of this would the the sterile LAST EMPEROR).

My wife and I were amazed at how much we disliked the film. The “love” affair between the leads was completely unbelievable and stupid. One minute, they hate each other and the next they are copulating like crazed weasels! And, to top this off, these were perhaps the ugliest stars ever seen naked on the screen. I kept wanting to shout “put it BACK on–PLEASE”. In fact, they were such an unappealing couple that I strongly recommend parents send their teenagers to watch this film. The sight of their naked bodies is perhaps the strongest enticement towards abstinence known to mankind!

However, the ugliness of the film doesn’t end there. Towards the end, in order to try to save his lover’s life, the male lead makes a deal to help the Nazis….yes, Nazis!!! Who cares that they were trying to take over the world and liquidate a few million?! All his character cared about was his sweetie. Oh, and did I mention that along the way they ended up killing her husband? Nothing says romance like this film!!

FYI–About the top reviewers on IMDB….

While this list is not completely current, this is a breakdown of the top reviewers on IMDB.  Wow….

 

http://www.freewebs.com/bobthemoo/

A couple recent sweet ‘little’ films from Europe….

 

Of all the films I love, among my very favorite are those I might call ‘little’ films.  I mean this because they have relatively simple plots, are underplayed and natural, and they really are NOT trying to be blockbuster or Hollywood style films.  Two of the best that I have recently seen are “My Afternoons With Margueritte” from France and “Letters To Father Jacob” from Finland.  Because they are little films, they’ll probably be seen by very few people–and it’s a shame, as they are incredibly touching and really have a lot of heart.   If you decide to try either of them, first try “My Afternoons With Margueritte”, as it’s just slightly better.  However, have a kleenex nearby when you watch–the ending might just start the tears a flowing!  Below are copies of my IMDB reviews:

Margaritte

Very, very touching….and quite sweet. I simply loved this film., 28 June 2012
Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida

Gérard Depardieu stars in this film as an oafish man named Germain. Germain is not a bad man–just a VERY socially awkward and uneducated man of about 60. When he happens to meet a very elderly woman, the title character played by Gisèle Casadesus, they strike up a very unlikely friendship. They both visit each other in the park and she reads to him–and from very difficult works such as a novel by Albert Camus. However, Germaine has some difficulty following her, as he’s uneducated and practically illiterate. But, over time, he grows and becomes more self-confident–and really grows to love Margueritte. What comes next, I’ll leave for you to see–I’d hate to spoil it, and there are so many wonderful and lovely twists and turns.

While this is NOT a blockbuster sort of film packed with excitement, chases and sex, it is a magnificent little film if you are patient and give it a chance. The script is NOT what you would expect based on what I told you above–there are many unusual twists that threw me off guard. There also were MANY wonderfully touching moments that brought me to tears towards the end. Despite a VERY strong career with some magnificent films to his credit, this is my favorite Depardieu film–and I’ve seen far more than you’d ever expect from a non-Frenchman. There is a gentleness and depth that is captivating and the script gives him and other characters a lot of chance to explore their characters and act. The film also has some wonderful things to say about love that make it one of a kind. And, in a VERY odd way, the film is somewhat reminiscent, believe it or not, of “Harold and Maude”–though clearly “My Afternoons with Margueritte” is NOT a comedy and lacks the overall weirdness of “Harold and Maude”. But, it more than makes up for it with charm. See this film!

By the way, Casadesus was in her mid to late 90s when she made this film and she just celebrated her 98th birthday! I love that such a vibrant older actress hasn’t just been left to rot and waste all her talents–and I hope to see more from her.

 

father jacob

Sweet, simple and well worth your time.

2 May 2013 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

Have you ever seen a movie that just sneaks up on you? You find yourself watching a film that seem okay and then suddenly you realize that it’s really a magnificent and moving picture? Well, I sure have and I wish it happened more often, that’s for sure. Like “My Afternoons with Margueritte”, “Letters to Father Jacob” is one of these sweet pictures. But, because it sneaks up on you, be sure to pay attention and fight that urge to turn it off–it’s a terrific little film.

The film begins in prison. Leila has been pardoned for her crime but she refuses to leave! It seems she has no where to go and is content to stay in prison. However, an old blind priest named Father Jacob has requested that she be paroled to him–as a housekeeper. She is not thrilled but has no other options and moves in with the guy. Her job is to do light housekeeping as well as read letters to him. Apparently, he’s received thousands of letters from people requesting his advice and prayers and that is his ministry. Leila seems pretty bored by this and even begins tossing many of the letters away and contemplates running. However, she stays and then it happens–the film really goes right for the heart. I won’t say more–it would spoil it. However, suffice to say it was NOT predictable, many questions are answered and you should have some Kleenex nearby.

The bottom line is that this film is exceptional–great writing, wonderful natural acting by folks who do not appear to be professional actors (though they are–especially Heikki Nousiainen who has had many film appearances) and the direction was just wonderful. If you don’t mind a film without explosions, super-stars or glitz but just want a great film about people, give this one a try—you’ll be glad you did!


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An overrated ‘classic’….”2001: A Space Odyssey”.

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Why is this movie so overrated? It almost always is listed among the greatest movies ever made and I once again ask WHY? First, I need to point out that I am a bright, well-read and highly educated person. So, yes, I did understand the imagery and “hidden significance” of the movie. Despite this, I still MUST point out that the first 9 hours (yes, I know it WASN’T that long–but it seemed like it was) of people dancing around in primordial human/ape costumes was awful and the end was an artsty-fartsy mess (one minute Keir Dullea was flying through space, the next he was an old man in a sterile room and the next he was a giant embryo–wow, how stupid can you get?).

Despite my warnings, I seem to be one of only a few voices who hated the movie  on IMDB (though it does get 5 stars from me for SOME of the music and great special effects). I don’t understand everyone’s fascination with Stanley Kubrick. Yes, “Paths of Glory” was excellent as were “Spartacus” and “Dr. Strangelove”, but movies like “2001” as well as “Barry Lyndon” (STERILE, LONG and DULL) and “Clockwork Orange” (a smart plot but also an over-indulgent and sick film that portrays rapes and violence too brutally) make me think about the story of the ‘Emporer’s New Clothes’. In essence, people fall over themselves praising his “artistic genius”, while the average person finds some of his films often give them headaches!

The only positive about the film that make it a possible must-see is that it helped to raise the genre of sci-fi to a new and more artistic level.  The special effects were brilliant and groundbreaking, but it certainly DIDN’T make sci-fi fun or interesting!

 

With all my choices for overrated films, I am sure I’ll ruffle a few feathers.  What do you think and why?  Let me know.

 

Huh?!

Granny - Yellow jeanette macdonald

So, what do the two photos above have in common.  Of course, they are both actresses….but that’s NOT all.  Actress Marie Blake (also known as ‘Blossom Rock’) was famous for playing Grandmama on TV’s “The Addams Family” as well as bit roles in various films such as the Dr. Kidare series with Lionel Barrymore.  The other lady is Jeanette MacDonald–the operatic singing actress who starred in a bunch of films with Nelson Eddy as well as with Clark Gable in “San Francisco”.  She was no bit player and was one of the highest paid and most respected actresses of the 1930s and 40s.  She was also, believe it or not, Marie Blake’s younger sister!  Really….I am not making this up!

One of the strangest but most original shorts I have ever seen

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Rabbit, by Run Wrake

Click on the blue tab above to see a VERY strange but brilliant little film.  This is a short animated film with a horrible plot–one that is just too bizarre for words and confusing beyond belief!! Two children catch a rabbit and tear in in half–revealing a bizarre little god who, though powerful, has really stupid powers. It can turn bugs into jewels, so the kids begin killing animals with reckless abandon to attract more bugs in order to become wealthy. Disgusting, yes, but you have to admire the kids for their ingenuity and capitalistic zeal!

Now I am sure my description sounds sick beyond belief, but the animations make this little parable about greed work and work well. Heck, the animations are the best reason to watch this thing–it sure ain’t the “make your brain rot” story which is funny but too weird for words! The animations appear to be a children’s basic primer from the 1940s or 50s come to life. They all look like moving examples of this art style AND every item in the scenes have the name of the object written next to them (so as to teach the little ones to read).

Considering how gross and inappropriate this all is, that makes for one sick and funny joke–though certainly NOT for every taste. I liked it and truly admired its animation and twisted and nonsensical storyline. I sure wish my reading books had been like this one when I was a kid–I sure would have loved reading even more than I do now!

After reviewing this movie, I showed it to my family who sat in horror–at least until they got the joke and began to enjoy the film. As for me, I liked it even better the second time (and so I updated my initial score of 8 to 9).  And, after the third time, I even considered giving it a 10–it was THAT original and should be seen.