This Week in Rixflix #15: June 16-22, 2017

As I predicted in last week's column, my revived interest in westerns due to the online film course in which I was taking part found me continuing my deep plunge back into the genre. While I purposefully avoided them for the first three days of the week in question, six of the last eleven films I watched were in the western genre, including my 84th John Wayne feature, Dakota, as well as The Hangman, The Last Frontier, Comanche Territory, and The Kentuckian. I had planned to watch the Duke in The Undefeated (and had announced it last week too), but it fell by the wayside at the tail end of the week when I ran into a 1946 Jacques Tourneur film called Canyon Passage.

With but a single viewing, I already have to count Canyon Passage amongst my favorite films in the western style (though it is more of a "pioneer" film and mostly takes place in a forest area). Tourneur, who directed many of my favorite horror films from the Golden Age such as Cat People, Night of the Demon, I Walked with a Zombie, and The Leopard Man, as well as the noir classic Out of the Past, is always on my must-see list, and being able to track down another one of his westerns had me diving into the film the moment that I found it online. For that matter, being a fan of Dana Andrews' acting too, it was grand to see him outdo himself in one of his finest performances here. Helpful, too, was the inclusion of Susan Hayward in the female lead, in a place where I would not have expected her. The best role was that portrayed by songwriter Hoagy Carmichael as a neighboring business owner who seems to end up in the middle of everything while roaming about playing his ukulele and singing songs (and getting an Oscar nomination to boot). Fully loaded with tough guy fist-fighting, swirling gun action, sordid business dealings, a romantic triangle bound for trouble, and those swell Carmichael tunes, I am most certain that Canyon Passage will get watched again by me rather soon.

I found myself with some unexpected downtime this week, and as a result, my numbers were really up overall. I had hoped by this time of the year that I would be tailing off and perhaps get down to just one or two films per day, but I have been far more focused on watching things lately than writing about them, or even in doing other projects. That will have to change – in fact, I rather demand that I change it by force – but with the TCM Hitchcock online course just starting (as of this writing), in which I will be most likely attempting to watch all 42 features (and two short films) of Hitch's they are spotlighting through the month of July, it will be interesting to see what happens. I also have some time on the road to see family coming up soon, and thus I will have no access to my normal channels for viewing in that span (though I will have an iPad with me). The two events should even each other out, but then again, with my ability to cram in film viewings at any given opportunity, you never know. (Hmm... maybe I will get my dad to watch Canyon Passage with me. That's right up his alley...)

The Numbers: 

This week's feature-length film count: 26; 19 first-time viewings and 7 repeats.

Highest rated feature-length film: The Big Sleep (1946) – 9/9
Lowest rated feature films: Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (2016) – 2/9
Average films per day in June so far: 3.13
Average films per day in 2017 so far: 3.03
Consecutive days with at least 1 feature-length film seen per day: 191

The Reviews:

Raiders from Beneath the Sea (1964) Dir.: Maury Dexter – I record an awful lot of films simply because I hope that there will be a shark scene or two inside one of them. Quite often it is because I have heard there might be such a scene, but mostly, I look at the premise of the film or the shooting location or, in the case of this film, merely the title, and see promise that I might be graced with the presence of toothy, finny friends. A low budget creaker from "B" movie vet Maury Dexter (The Day Mars Invaded Earth, Surf Party, Hell's Belles), Raiders from Beneath the Sea is a true snooze-fest about four Neanderthals planning the dumbest armed robbery in the history of dumb armed robberies, specifically, holding up a small bank on Catalina Island while walking all the way from the pier and back in full scuba gear. Yeah, it doesn't go smooth, and while you only have to wait about an hour to get to the heist, that hour seems to take about fourteen. Sure, these raiders do indeed come from beneath the sea to do their crimes, but they barely hit the water in the buildup to those crimes. The bad guys certainly talk about diving a lot, but most of their time on the water is spent timing out their trips to the island via its famous ferry and working out how to make off with the loot afterward. (As it turns out, a magnetized plate that they slap to the underside of the ferry.) When they finally do get in the water, it is for the briefest, murkiest underwater footage this side of Catalina Caper, another 1960s heist flick that at least made some attempts at intentional humor, however hackneyed. (And if you've watched Caper as it was tortured on MST3K, it then became truly fantastic.) This one, though, has no such such saving grace; poorly made, poorly filmed exploitation, but apart from some peeping tom shenanigans on the part of the lead character's creepy, drunken brother as he gets off to Merry Anders, Raiders' tank barely allows it to make it offshore. And by the end, there is not one damn shark to be seen. At least Catalina Caper had an animated one in its opening credits.   – TC4P Rating: 3/9

S if for Stanley (2015) Dir.: Alex Infascelli – Hardly a week goes by that I am not surprised by the appearance of some new documentary on Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix about the making of a particular film or the work of a filmmaker. Last week, it was Becoming Bond; this week, there are two such films that I will cover, the first being S Is for Stanley, the story of Emilio D’Alessandro, Stanley Kubrick's driver and personal assistant for a thirty-year period beginning in the early '70s when Kubrick was making A Clockwork Orange. It seems that Kubrick was impressed by Emilio's demeanor when he showed up as the delivery man for that certain, massive ceramic phallic piece that is used in one of the attack scenes in that epic of ultra-violence, and instantly hired the man to be his Man Friday. The film takes us through each Kubrick film all the way through Eyes Wide Shut and Kubrick's death in 1999, mostly told by Emilio himself, a former race car driver who suddenly found himself immersed in Kubrick's obsessive nature. (His wife also plays a big part in relating events to us.) It is clear, at least from the material given here, that he and Kubrick formed a close bond that could not be shaken, even when Emilio left his employ for a handful of years. Usually, I find that a film documentary that is not rife with clips from the films under discussion is usually to be found lacking in flavor, but that is not the case here. There are enough behind the scenes details and set photographs to keep one interested throughout, and it is almost enough that Emilio has plenty of marvelous vignettes about his life spent catering to Kubrick's every possible whim that the film never gets tiresome. D'Alessandro is an engaging interviewee with a rather introspective way of looking at life, and it is perhaps that very quality that kept him at Kubrick's side for so long. I do wish someone from Kubrick's family had weighed in here and there, but overall, an enjoyable look at a side of filmmaking well off the set most of the time. – TC4P Rating: 6/9

A Canterbury Tale (1944) Dir.: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger – With every film by the Archers that I check off my list, I feel my cinematic knowledge and eye becoming purer and sharper. Such is the way that the films of Powell and Pressburger play off of me, always elegant, always studied, always balanced deeply with wit, irony, grace and heart. In A Canterbury Tale, while it starts out with a visual nod to the older work by Chaucer, this tale swiftly transports itself to then-modern times – during World War II in the British countryside – as we are introduced to a trio of "pilgrims" all making their way to the same location, or thereabouts, for differing reasons. We are given army sergeants both British (Dennis Price, the lead from one of my all-time faves, Kind Hearts and Coronets) and American (actual U.S. Army sergeant John Sweet) and a "Land Girl", a term used for women hired during the war to replace men on farms who were off serving in the army, here played charmingly by Sheila Sim. The three bond almost instantly over a mystery that they encounter when they reach the fictitious town of Chillingbourne (though supposedly set near Canterbury), when Sim has glue poured into her hair by a shadowy assailant. The mystery will consume most of their time and direct their actions during the film, during which they encounter the fourth major character of the film, the local magistrate played by Eric Portman, who will prove both daunting and helpful in turn during their investigations. Films by the Archers are almost always more than merely the sum of their parts, and that is the case here. There is so much going on in every scene, that it is easy to lose the plot because the characters and scenarios are each individually engaging enough to make you want to live inside the film for days. Especially effective is the non-actor Sweet, whose off-the-cuff but oddly effective delivery of his lines make you wish he had found greater acting opportunities on the screen elsewhere. (His IMDb resume only lists one other film, both biographical details do say he did some theatre in the ensuing years before he died in 2011 at the age of 95.) A very worthwhile and lovely experience, as is nearly every film by Powell and Pressburger. – TC4P Rating: 8/9

Unearthed & Untold: The Path to Pet Sematary (2017) Dir.: John Campopiano and Justin White – This is the other film documentary that I mentioned briefly above in the S Is for Stanley review. Popping up on Amazon Prime at the exact moment that I really needed this type of film to fill some open time, Unearthed and Untold is a pretty detailed look at the production of the late '80s horror classic (yeah, I said it) Pet Sematary. While I was never a huge fan of the film at the time (though I liked it just fine), I have grown fonder of it over the years, during which I have had the opportunity to see it a couple of times more. Unearthed and Untold gathers just about any artist and actor who worked on Pet Sematary that was willing to recount their tales of working on the film, and despite there not being any actual final film footage from the production (probably because they didn't have the budget for it), this film is pretty thorough with its excellent use made of behind-the-scenes photos and video that gives us a neat glimpse into how it all went down on the set. Visits to the location sites in Maine are an added and sometimes rather creepy bonus. Even Marky Ramone, the sole main member of the Ramones left alive today, gets in briefly to talk about how they were brought in to provide songs on the soundtrack and record the title song. The big question is whether tiny Miko Hughes had turned into a murderous psycho after being subjected to some truly horrific scenes as a two-year-old (they even talk about being worried about at points in the film), but no... Miko is just fine and still acting at age 31, and seems a normal guy here in his interview scenes. The doc is sorely missing the inclusion of a fresh interview with King himself about the film, but I don't know that they didn't try to get one, so I will leave that as a stray thought. I am certain that somewhere in the near future, my writing partner Aaron and I will be re-reading Stephen King's original novel and watching Mary Lambert's film freshly to review and compare both for our Stephen King site, We Who Watch Behind the Rows. (Yes, this is an unabashed and unashamed plug.) – TC4P Rating: 6/9

Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (2016) Dir.: Sean Patrick O'Reilly – There are many things that I really hate in films, but two of them are very evident here in Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom. First, I hate badly done computer animation. I can live with a single bad CGI shot or two in a larger film if their harm to the film is contained to a few seconds, and I can be accepting of a limited animation budget if the film in question is a mere few minutes and at least has a clever premise or voice performance to counter it. The other thing I hate is "Muppet Babying," where a franchise or character is cleaned up and/or dumbed down from its original form to appeal to a younger audience. This video feature is pretty much just "What if H.P. Lovecraft was a kid?" and has him having all sorts of misadventures on another dimensional plane with a monstrous tentacled pal that he names Spot, not knowing the creature is actually a younger form of the Elder god Cthulhu himself. I am a fan of Lovecraft's writing, but I am fairly certain that I am happy with the proper age for discovering his writing being approximately around the same as when I did, as a middle teenager, and not when young readers are six or seven, which seems to be the target audience for this film. It's not so much the existential dread and horrific implications of his words that causes me to state this, but rather the more than casual racism that also lurks within his stories, perhaps not in all of them but lightly throughout most and pretty hard in some. Such words might fly over the heads of many younger readers, especially since the style of his writing is itself antiquated enough by today's standards that his stories may seem rather dull to a generation that banks upon immediate thrills and not slow-boiling suspense and atmosphere. This is all for the better, and I find it fairly hard to believe that watching this animated crap pile will inspire anyone to seek out anything written on paper except perhaps to carefully edit their own self-penned suicide note.

This video pretty much jettisons anything worthwhile in Lovecraft's writing and mostly co-opts character and place names along with the occasional magical spell and slams them into a stiffly animated, witless, cliched children's film. The look of some of the goblin guards from Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty are also swiped for that of the villainous henchmen throughout the film as well. I have not read the graphic novels that form the basis for this film (nor for the planned sequel and the inevitable third production, since there are three comics in total), but taking a quick look at the first few pages of the Frozen Kingdom volume reveals that hewing closer to the style of the comic would have been a far more intriguing direction. At least in a visual sense, the comic doesn't look half bad (though a little generic). Instead, in the film version we get a design that pretty much made me feel like I was watching the truly atrocious Food Fight again, and goddamnit, I never needed to have that feeling! I've lived through it once. The only compliment I can give is that at least the story made a little more sense scene to scene than Food Fight, and for that I am truly thankful. The other thing that got my notice in Frozen Kingdom is that there are hammerhead sharks in the tank of the villain's fortress. Sure, they swim the same exact way, over and over again, in every single shot in which they appear, but there are at least sharks here. Otherwise, this video is a bloody mess. But without the blood, of course... this is for the kiddies, after all. Poor, poor kiddies... – TC4P Rating: 2/9

Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies (2016) Dir.: Dominik Hartl – Oh, it is Wednesday? Must be time for yet another goddamn zombie movie... OK, despite my living dead ennui here in 2017, I will say that if I had encountered Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies in 1988, I would have loved it without any reservations. However, it is 2017 and I am where I am at currently, having seen so many zombie films by now that I think I might be one. Sure, Jen and I love iZombie and watch it reverentially (it thrills me to no end that Jen loves a zombie show), but for me, that reverence might be mostly out of obeisance to Ms. Rose McIver. And I still love all the old zombie flicks that I grew up with in the '70s and '80s, and even many of the newer ones, but there are just so many out there now, and they just keep coming... almost like a zombie apocalypse. And everyone thinks they have the greatest, newest twist on the genre, and really, nearly all of them don't. But would I want everyone to stop trying? Of course not. That would block even the occasional innovation, and I don't want that. Lederhosen Zombies is a full-on slapstick gore comedy filmed at a ski resort in the Alps of South Tyrol where someone stupid has the idea to use this untested formula to create instant snow, but of course, what the formula really does is make someone sick enough to turn into an instant zombie instead and the fun begins. Crazy, non-stop action, Rube Goldberg-style gags involving snowboards and skiing equipment, a genuinely insane Austrian barmaid with a fully stocked arsenal for fightin' the undead, and some pretty noxious moments that even had me thinking about blowing chunks early on in the action... that sounds like fun to me. However, many of the jokes are too stilted and don't land with the impact that the filmmakers thought, the editing is pretty haphazard, and the (dubbed) acting is fairly wooden on occasion. Still the insanity is as infectious as a zombie plague, and the film goes by incredibly smoothly at under 80 minutes. A good film for a party night of horror heads. Not that I have been around one of those for, oh, far too many years. (I miss my horror peeps...) I can't rate this one too highly due to its many faults, but I will no doubt watch it again for kicks. – TC4P Rating: 4/9


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