Poverty Row April: The Phantom Express (1932)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old Poverty Row April post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically depending on the theme. Enjoy!

The Phantom Express (1932)

As I read and downloaded titles I noted the proclivity for the word phantom in titles. It must’ve scored well in marketing research of the day, it gives an air of mystery and intrigue. Sadly, no film I saw with the word phantom in it had either featured a ghost or been any good. This one at least accomplished the latter and is a highly entertaining tale. It’s not a whodunit so much as a “howdunit” as the perpetrators are revealed early. The film concerns a man who derails a train attempting to make an emergency stop causing many fatalities. He claimed there was an oncoming train he wanted to avoid, there was no record of this supposed train so it was dubbed “The Phantom Express.” The investigation into the mystery, the repeated incidents, the reveal along with explicatory closing monologue are all great. The effects work, mainly miniatures, may look primitive now, but is well done for the time and budgetary constraints. It’s really captivating stuff.

10/10

Mini-Review: The Green Hornet

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Green Hornet (2010)

I truly shudder to think at what this movie would’ve been like had it not been for the creativity and flair that Michel Gondry brings to it. Yes, there is plenty of competition between action and comedy elements of the tale and both serve the film and story well but there’s also a lot of both and the film gets a little long in the tooth. As an origin story it’s not the most gripping based on how its handled not just based on the empirical facts of the character such that the flair and verve that Gondry brings is desperately needed.

The name Seth Rogen in the same sentence as the word superhero still does seem a little funny to say, however, it does kind of work for this character because it’s not a case of his being superhuman and his sidekick, well-played by James Chou does contribute quite a bit to the equation.

6/10

Mini-Review: The Rite

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Rite

The Rite is a rather surprising entry in the possession/exorcism subgenre of horror. There’s not a lot of new ground to tread so far as this kind of tale is concerned, however, the one thing this film, does right off the bat is acknowledge the existence of the subgenre with a reflexive joke about The Exorcist.

This film, of course, is a little like that one: there’s an old priest and young priest, here is the subject of doubt and it is in turn more about the exorcist than the exorcised, as a matter of fact, the exorcised are typically rather glossed over. However, what this film does do is deal with the mundane aspects of exorcism, it deals with many possessions and brings it down to earth a little from where its been.

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The examples it uses as proof are simple and well-thought out. There are very good flashbacks in this film that allow more doubt to be created about where the tale is going then you’d ever expect.

Then there’s Anthony Hopkins. Just the fact that I am mentioning his name this late is an indication that this is a quality film worth seeing. Without saying too much there are shades of Hannibal Lecter in his performance which are great. Teh acting overall in fact really props this film up. It is definitely worth viewing.

8/10

Mini-Review: Saving Mr. Banks

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks does have its surprises in it, especially if you look closely enough. First of all, without getting too spoiler-y I do not think it paints an overly generous picture of Walt Disney. Sure, it’s a Disney film about the man himself, in part, and one of the studio’s classic films, so it may not be the most impartial but there are certain plot points that come up that you would’ve expected would be sanitized that aren’t quite as much as expected.

Perhaps the film’s most surprising aspect is really its bifurcated structure splitting its time between the story meetings between P.L. Travers and the Disney staff and reminiscences of her childhood.

The film tells the Travers’ story, and it’s one that’s a harrowing, tragic one that is rather un-Disney-like. In light of that, and Disney’s persistence and insistence, it’s not a wonder she’s a stickler even with a personal connection notwithstanding. The film avoids Disney understanding her in the end, and in some ways I think too avoids portraying Travers as being at peace with her decision, but rather willing to move on.

8/10

Mini-Review: Day and Night

As has become standard with Pixar releases they whet the audience’s appetite for Toy Story 3 with its rendition of what is in danger of becoming a lost art form: the animated short. Pixar, however, does more than its share to preserve this artform by not only producing these shorts but proliferating them on television and on DVD.

The short that preceded Up, called Partly Cloudy was one of the best films of last year and Day & Night which precedes Toy Story 3 is even better.

What you get in this tale is an even more ingenious tale than offered previously but with execution that is of surpassing genius. Day and Night are represented in the tale by specter-like beings with sky-scenes appearing through their seemingly transparent person.

The fact that they are Day and Night is introduced wordlessly in a temporarily dislocating and fantastic pull out. In fact, the only words uttered in the film are picked up when they pass a radio station and highlights why these two, and thus we also, should get along.

This short is so good its worth the price of admission and obviously earned itself its own review. Do yourself a favor and show up early to watch Toy Story 3 so you don’t miss it.

10/10

31 Days of Oscar: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

This film sets itself up so well and does things that work in its favor constantly. It deals with xenophobia, with regards to its ghost character; it deals with the stranger-in-a-strange-land trope brilliantly, with its protagonist; however, it also makes the paranoia felt in this town so palpable the lead is instantly on the defensive, such that you’re left unsure as to what his business in town is. It’s a cloistered and oddly claustrophobic tale, in what looks like an inhabited ghost town that’s well worth watching.

Score: 10/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 3/0

31 Days of Oscar: Seven Days in May (1965)

Seven Days in May (1965)

The old expression is that “The world will end with a whimper rather than a bang,” and this film treats a coup d’etat in much the same way, which is really what makes it so effective. This is a film written by Rod Serling, and if I wasn’t informed beforehand, I may have guessed. It certainly bears his indelible mark of great dialogue, taut situations and Twilight Zone brand eerieness, made even more effective by how plausible it all seems, especially set against the backdrop of the upheaval in the 60s and the cold war panic that resurged in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s a highly effective tale of political intrigue that is engaging precisely due to its restraint.

Score: 8/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 2/0

31 Days of Oscar: Way Down South (1939)

Way Down South (1939)

This is a film that’s another re-screening. I first saw this film as a rental, quite a while ago from Movies Unlimited when they were still in the brick-and-mortar rental game. I also believe it was the first Bobby Breen film I saw, and one of his last at that. Breen was one of those musical stars that had films custom made for him. How good or bad the films he was in usually hinged on how naturally the opportunities for him to unleash his voice were folded into the plot. In thematic terms, it may be the most dated of his films dealing with a boy who loses his father, a “benevolent” plantation owner, the executor of his father’s will is now to sell off all the families assets, slaves included. In this context the lead acts heroically, trying to save the first whose threatened with being sold, when they’re all threatened, and families will be split up; other remedies must be found. Perhaps what’s most surprising in this viewing was I had forgotten how chillingly amazing Breen’s rendition of this spiritual is. It may not be the best film he was in, I’d argue the melodrama Make a Wish was, but it may be the best showcase of his singing talent.

Score: 8/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 1/0

31 Days of Oscar: Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane (1941)

Now before you go into a tizzy, yes, I have seen Citizen Kane. I have an old review of it I may post, but that’s not what I’m going to do here. Since I’ve seen it, and just saw it for the first time on Blu, I wanted to address some common talking points about the film.

1. I love Citizen Kane. It’s one of my favorite films. I viewed it on my own before I studied film formally and no one “made me like it.” I connect to it. I can distinguish between what I like and important and or well-crafted works and grudgingly acknowledge some films as important, or milestones, though I personally dislike them. That is not the case with me and this film.

2. It is not shocking to dislike this film, you won’t get a rise out of me if you say so. Aside from the fact that everyone’s taste is their own business, I can see how this one may not impress you, but save it.

3. Don’t hold Citizen Kane against How Green Was My Valley because it won Best Picture not Kane. How Green Was My Valley is a very good movie indeed. It is not Citizen Kane, because it has not desire to be so. Please try to gauge that film in a vacuum and don’t hold its Oscar win “against it.” The fact of the matter is Welles made a lot of enemies, which made the rest of his career a struggle and I’m sure there are myriad Oscar stats that will show you films that only won for Screenplay and who got a boatload of nominations and are virtually shutout. And in conspiratorial terms, Hollywood wasn’t about to crown Welles “king of the world.” In other words, something was gonna beat Kane that year, and in the estimation of many it was a loaded field.

Those are probably the three biggest ones. With regards to 31 Days, since I saw it before adding it to the total is kind of cheating but I’m on good pace and hope to be well clear of 31 films and 100 nominations, and I hadn’t see the blu-ray transfer yet. P.S. If you are a fan buy it, it’s a great box.

Score: 10/10
Oscar Nominations/Wins: 9/1

Mini-Review: Be My Valentine

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Be My Valentine

Yet again, the prerequisite comments that TV movies do count in my world and they have won awards and been nominated in the past in categories both flattering and dubious. Having said that, it doesn’t mean I didn’t venture into this holiday-themed romcom with some trepidation. However, what it does well is not only build its relationships well but it also doesn’t get contrived in adding necessary complications. It also rightly resolves its significant subplot of puppy love prior to the climax allowing that to proceed unfettered. It features good to strong performances from the whole cast most notably Lisa Berry, Natalie Brown and Christian Martyn.

8/10