Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Blob (1958)

"Beware of The Blob" is right.

Give this film plenty of room.

This 1958 horror film moves as slow as the human eating space creature it depicts.

Yes, there are some spooky moments in one of the few movies directed by Irvin Yeaworth, Jr. But, overall, The Blob (1958) drags. Attempts at humour, including one of a firefighter and civil defense volunteer trying to figure out what to do when both alarms sound, are painful to watch.

Hey, I've enjoyed watching Steve McQueen in other films reviewed on this site, including Hell is for Heroes. But seeing a nearly 30-year-old man play high school senior Steve Andrews is painful to watch. His girlfriend, Jane Martin (Aneta Corasut) is a little better at 25.

Steve and Jane are enjoying some quiet time in the woods. They see a meteor crash not too far from where they're parked. Steve's curious. So is Old Man (Olin Howland). Said meteor crashes by his home. A little poking and prodding add up to his demise. There's something in that space rock, alright, and it loves to feed on human flesh.

Dr. Hallen (Stephen Chase) figures some sort of parasite has attached itself to The Blob's first victim. He and his nurse, Kate (Lee Payton) also meet their fates.

The Blob (1958) is hard to figure out. It seems to either move a) very slow or b) very fast.

How residents of the American small town react to The Blob is also, ah, unusual. Doc Hallen wants Steve and Jane to return to the old man's home and check for clues. That's a pretty important job, but Steve still finds time to jaw away, with no urgency, to some high school classmates. A driving contest follows. Hello! You kids just saw a gooey red mass envelop a man's hand. That's the priority. Wouldn't you share this news with the other kids?

Teens believe in monster, or are at least willing to entertain Steve and Jane's suggestion something is killing people. Adults, including police, are cool to the suggestion. So, The Blob keeps killing and gets larger.

This film does have the odd inspired moment. Having The Blob make an appearance at a midnight horror screening at the local movie theatre is inspired. I could rant about The Blob aiming to take out the projectionist first instead of a packed theatre, but I won't. But watch for The Blob's appearance in the theatre proper. That's pretty cool as is the panic when movie-goers discover the real horror isn't on the screen.

The Blob may be the only creature in film history to be felled by fire fighting equipment. Not that the audience gets to see that. Instead, we watch as a screen filled with towns folk do their civic duty and put The Blob in a deep freeze.

Best thing about The Blob - it looks great. Steve McQueen, in his first leading role, would be a major star in a few short years with The Great Escape out in 1963. And, The Blob is only 86 minutes long.

RATING: 4/10

FUN FACTS: You might recognize Aneta Corasut as Helen Crump from The Andy Griffith Show .

Olin Howland was a carpetbagger businessman in Gone with the Wind.

Stephen Chase was Dr. George Frye in When Worlds Collide.

John Benson, Sgt. Jim Bert in The Blob, was a salesman in Vertigo and guard in Spartacus.

Robert Fields, one of the teens in The Blob, also appeared in Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Hey, this kid can dance.

Mention James Cagney's name and chances are it's his gangster roles that people will remember - white heat , The Roaring Twenties, The Public Enemy.

But give a chance for this fine biopic by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Sea Hawk) from 1931 of American composer George M. Cohan.

Granted, it's a glowing look at the amazingly prolific career of the Rhode Island native. He wrote more than 300 songs including The Yankee Doodle Boy, Mary is a Grand Old Name and You're a Grand Old Flag. Cohan was known as 'the man who owned Broadway' in the early 1900s because of all his shows that were on the boards. President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal in 1936. Wow. Cohan lived quite the life.

Yankee Doodle Dandy is great entertainment - good music, fine dance and some wonderful performances from the likes of Cagney, as Cohan, Walter Huston and a very young Joan Leslie.

Cohan grew up performing, and travelling widely, with The Four Cohans. The family act featured his parents and sister. Cohan oozes confidence, but his cocky ways irritate promoters and Broadway producers. He gets his break with Little Johnny Jones in 1904 and his career takes off.

Talk about a multi-tasker. Cohan wrote his songs, produced and starred in his many shows.

Cagney is a joy to watch here, especially when he decides to woo stage hopeful Mary (Joan Leslie), who thinks he's a much older man. Watch his dance moves when he's still in full makeup.

Yankee Doodle Dandy celebrates America and its people. See this film.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: From Cagney by Cagney, published in 1976

"Psychologically I needed no preparation for Yankee Doodle Dandy, or professionally either. I didn't have to be a song-and-dance man. I was one."

Cagney read the script and wasn't impressed by the film's lack of humour. He wanted Julius and Phil Epstein (Strawberry Blonde, The Bride Came C.O.D.) "to liven it up and inject humor."

He studied dance with Johnny Boyle, who appeared in The Cohan Revue of 1916.

Cohan, who died five months after the film was released, gave Yankee Doodle Dandy his blessing.

Yankee Doodle Dandy was nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture and director, and won three (actor, sound, recording).

Joan Leslie is still alive at this writing. Her television appearances include The Incredible Hulk and Charlie's Angels!

Eddie Foy, Jr., is yet another actor who appears in Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood. I have to see this film.

Douglas Croft appears as a young George M. Cohan. He also played Lou Gehrig as a boy in The Pride of the Yankees and was Robin in a 1943 version of Batman.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (2003)

Master And Commander
starts with a bang, but can't keep pace with the intensity of its first half.

Peter Weir (The Year of Living Dangerously, The Mosquito Coast) is one of my all-time favorite directors. It's too bad he seldom works anymore, with only one feature since this good 2003 release.

It's April 1805. Napoleon is master of Europe. Capt. Jack Aubrey is commander of a British frigate, HMS Suprise. The British captain is well-accustomed to success, but his ship gets pounded twice by a powerful French opponent, Acheron. That doesn't make Aubrey very happy.

His best friend, and ship surgeon, Dr. Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany) is Bones to Aubrey's Capt. Kirk. Should Aubrey be demanding to track his foe down, far beyond the orders from his government? Will his men break because of the physical and mental strain they're under to make Aubrey's goal of destroying the French ship happen?

Good questions, for sure, as is the film's depiction of the younger members of Aubrey's crew.

But this film starts to go off the rails about an hour in when Master And Commander brings in a subplot about a midshipman, Hollom (Lee Ingleby), who isn't respected by the crew. Some suggest it's Hollom who has cursed the ship to the beatings by the French ship and dearth of wind and hot weather. Then we get Maturin eager to spend time at the Galapagos Islands to find what animal species exist there. So, Maturin gives Aubrey a hard time for putting his men in danger on a military mission, while Maturin wants to get glory for himself as the British seaman who discovers new life. Discuss.

Two major battle scenes are gripping as ships exchange cannon fire. There's hand-to-hand combat too. Be prepared to get a little queasy.

Russell Boyd (Crocodile Dundee, Phar Lap) won an Oscar for best cinematography. There are some very fine images here. Too bad the film itself wasn't a little better.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Lee Ingleby was Gustave in Ever After: A Cinderella Story.

Paul Bettany starred alongside Russell Crowe is A Beautiful Mind.