Film Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Release Date: June 25th, 1962 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Music by: Edwin Astley
Cast: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I am going to teach you to sing, Christine. I am going to give you a new voice! A voice so wonderful that theatres all over the world will be filled with your admirers. You will be the greatest star the opera has ever known. Greater than the greatest! And when you sing, Christine, you will be singing only… for me.” – The Phantom

My memories of this film were much fonder than they probably should have been. Granted, I love Hammer horror, especially the films directed by Terence Fisher. Plus, this had Michael Gough in it and that guy’s typically fantastic.

I still like this film and I thought that the look of it was great and akin to what one would expect from a Hammer horror movie of this era. I also love the look of The Phantom and thought that his mask is one of the best the character has ever had in this story’s long history and countless adaptations.

My biggest issue with this film, though, is that it is really slow and kind of boring, as some segments just drag along at a snail’s pace.

Also, the alterations to the plot didn’t really seem to benefit the story and I have to question why this deviated so much. I mean, that’s something that Hammer did often, as they wanted to tell their own story while using these famous literary characters but The Phantom of the Opera is already a pretty one-note story with a pretty one-note monster. This is probably why there weren’t a slew of Phantom sequels in the classic horror runs of Universal Studios and Hammer Films, which saw several Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies.

Still, this is a good, competent film. It’s just not Hammer or Fisher’s best and it sort of feels like it was half-assed at the production stage. Maybe Hammer kept striking oil with all of Fisher’s other films based on classic monsters and all parties involved just phoned this one in.

I used to think of this as one of my favorite film adaptations of the story but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Lon Chaney or Claude Rains versions.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer films of the late ’50s through early ’70s, especially those directed by Terence Fisher.

Film Review: UHF (1989)

Also known as: The Vidiot From UHF (working title)
Release Date: May 26th, 1989
Directed by: Jay Levey
Written by: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Jay Levey
Music by: John Du Prez, “Weird Al” Yankovic
Cast: “Weird Al” Yankovic, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Victoria Jackson, Fran Drescher, Billy Barty, Gedde Watanabe, Emo Philips (cameo)

Cinecorp SAC, Imaginary Entertainment, Orion Pictures, 97 Minutes, 150 Minutes (rough cut)

Review:

“Oh, Joel Miller, you’ve just found the marble in the oatmeal. You’re a lucky, lucky, lucky little boy. ‘Cause you know why? You get to drink from… the FIRE HOOOOOSE!” – Stanley Spadowski

This was one of those movies I used to put on when I was an adolescent because it was pretty mindless, really fun and it featured a guy who I wish had made more movies: “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Known primarily for making parody pop tunes, Yankovic is a pretty talented guy all around and the fact that he wrote and starred in this “loser gets lucky” flick is impressive. Sure, this is a vanity project but Yankovic didn’t just phone in his performance and rely on a big studio to do all the work and foot the bill.

Now I can understand that this won’t be a film that most people will enjoy, especially in 2020, but it truly displays and showcases the guy’s immense creativity. This also feels like a practice run of what could have been if he continued to make motion pictures. In the long run, he’d just need to refine them a bit more and tell a more cohesive story.

That’s not to say that the story is hard to follow, it isn’t, but the film plays like a series of gags and skits with a really simple narrative just there to try and give them a larger purpose. And that’s fine for what this is.

UHF isn’t just a straight forward, ’80s comedy; it also features music videos by Yankovic, worked into the film through dreams and daydreams. His character here is a real dreamer and he spends a lot of time existing within the fantasy of his own head. Luckily, a lot of that is able to get out and into the real world, as he has to use his creativity to run his uncle’s failing UHF television station.

Over time, the station becomes a big hit, as Yankovic and his group of close friends are able to build something pretty remarkable.

Speaking of his friends, they are made up by a really good cast that includes a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards, a pre-The Nanny Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Barty and David Bowe.

I think that Yankovic fans will definitely dig the film. Others, maybe not so much. But this is still a lighthearted, positive film that has some hysterical moments. Granted, some of these gags wouldn’t fly today in our overly sensitive and easily offended modern society.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other loser gets lucky comedies: Brewster’s Millions, Chairman of the Board, Tapeheads, Freddy Got Fingered, The Pest, etc.

Film Review: CB4 (1993)

Release Date: March 12th, 1993
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Chris Rock, Nelson George, Robert LoCash
Music by: John Barnes, various
Cast: Chris Rock, Allen Payne, Deezer D, Phil Hartman, Chris Elliot, Charlie Murphy, Khandi Alexander, Art Evans, Theresa Randle, Willard E. Pugh, Rachel True, Richard Gant, Stoney Jackson, J.D. Daniels, Tommy Davidson (uncredited), Shirley Hemphill (cameo), Issac Hayes (cameo), Ice-T (cameo), Halle Berry (cameo), Ice Cube (cameo), Flavor Flav (cameo), Shaquille O’Neal (cameo), Eazy-E (cameo), Butthole Surfers (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“You ain’t tough. There are real some kids out there that are going to kick your narrow ass. You ain’t from the street, I’m from the street. And only somebody who wasn’t would think it was something to glorify.” – Albert, Sr.

When I reviewed Fear of a Black Hat several months ago, I brought up how similar these two movies were and how one may be ripping off the other. I also said that I preferred that one slightly but now, after revisiting CB4 for the first time in quite a long time, this picture just slightly takes the cake.

I think that over time, my memories downplayed how clever this movie was. While Fear of a Black Hat is more gritty and certainly more indie, CB4 feels like it has a better grasp on the material and it is much more refined and is a better complete body of work.

While some of the jokes and gags, almost thirty years later, may be over some people’s heads now, I still think that this aged well and it carries a good positive message. The gist of what the film tries to communicate is still very apparent, despite outdated references to a time when rap music was much better than whatever this modern mumble rap garbage is today.

Chris Rock was great in this and I have to say, it’s my favorite picture where he is the star. He’s relatable, he’s likable and his character is very human despite getting lost in the glamour, glitz and bullshit of trying to make it in the early ’90s rap game. Ultimately, even if his spirit is corrupted, it’s the goodness within himself (and his two best friends) that wins out and makes things right in the end.

One thing I really loved about this movie was the music. While most of it is parody of what was the gangsta rap of its era, it’s all really damn good. I actually owned the soundtrack in my teen years and used to bump it quite regularly.

Even though this came out very early in Chris Rock’s career, I still feel as if it is his magnum opus as an actor, comedian and writer. Sure, he’s always been funny but something about CB4 just felt like it was real personal for him and it’s something that truly comes out when you watch the film.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: a movie that’s very similar, Fear of a Black Hat.

Vids I Dig 282: Chris Van Vliet: Billy Corgan Interview

From Chris Van Vliet’s YouTube description: Billy Corgan chats with Chris Van Vliet at the NWA Powerrr tapings in Atlanta, GA. He talks about why he bought the NWA, the decision to make Powerrr look at feel the way it does, his fallout and lawsuit with TNA, what Smashing Pumpkins fans think of his love for wrestling, the future plans for NWA, why he says the NWA is in the same conversation as WWE and AEW and more.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

Also known as: Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster (US recut version)
Release Date: July 24th, 1971 (Japan)
Directed by: Yoshimitsu Banno
Written by: Yoshimitsu Banno, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Riichiro Manabe
Cast: Akira Yamauchi, Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Keiko Mari, Toshio Shiba

Toho Co. Ltd., 85 Minutes

Review:

“There’s no place else to go and pretty soon we’ll all be dead, so forget it! Enjoy yourself! Let’s sing and dance while we can! Come on, blow your mind!” – Yukio Keuchi

This is probably the weirdest Godzilla movie of the original Shōwa era. There are a few reasons as to why and I’ll get to that.

But first, I have to admit that this is one of my favorite films in the franchise. It’s also pretty divisive, as people either seem to love it or hate it. My reasons for liking it is its weirdness and because its visually striking, does things outside of the box, creatively speaking, and it is very musical.

The film also carries an environmental message, which is important. Especially, to the Japanese people of the time, as there was a lot of industrial pollution that was creating problems and having an adverse effect on the natural beauty of the country.

What makes this movie so unique is the fact that it had a very different creative team than the other films. This was a Shōwa era film that wasn’t directed by either Ishirō Honda or Jun Fukuda. In fact, out of the fifteen Shōwa films, only one other was directed by someone else: 1955’s Godzilla Raids Again, which was helmed by Motoyoshi Oda. The reason why this is significant is due to that rarity, as well as Honda and Fukuda both having a consistent style.

This film’s director Yoshimitsu Banno made some creative changes that set this film apart. However, I wouldn’t say that this movie becomes inconsistent, it just has some neat artistic flourishes, such as hand drawn animated scene transitions, switching from black and white to color in an effort to emphasize liveliness and music, as well as a heavy use of music itself while showcasing the Japanese club scene of the early ’70s. In its own way, this is probably the most hip Godzilla picture of the Shōwa period.

The film is also visually darker, as both major battles between Godzilla and Hedorah, the Smog Monster, happen at night amidst a pretty smoggy atmosphere. But I like the tone and it still doesn’t deter from the upbeat and lightheartedness of the youthful, hippie-like characters and the pop music.

I also really love the monster in this and he’s gone on to become one of my favorite kaiju baddies of all-time. Additionally, I like that the monster has different stages of evolution throughout the film, which I feel somewhat inspired the new Godzilla in the Shin Godzilla reboot from a few years ago.

This movie also has a cheeky sense of humor to it and it could really be looked at as the stoner’s Godzilla movie between the music, the club scene, the outdoor party and Hedorah vegging out on top of a factory, inhaling the smoke stacks like a hookah. I guess the cool animated scenes would add to this as well.

Banno was slated to direct a sequel to this film but the heads of Toho hated the final product and ended up only working with Honda and Fukuda for the remainder of the Shōwa series.

After this film, we were going to get a picture called Godzilla vs. Redmoon. That was scrapped and eventually became the film Daigoro vs. Goliath. Then the studio switched gears and planned Godzilla vs. The Space Monsters: Earth Defensive Directive, which would have been similar to the style of the Ultraman television series. That was also canned and retooled to The Return of King Ghidorah, which was also cancelled and then further retooled into the actual followup, Godzilla vs. Gigan. Luckily for Ghidorah fans, he returned in that film anyway.

As for Hedorah, the monster wouldn’t be seen on the big screen for another 33 years, as one of dozens of monsters in the over the top Godzilla: Final Wars. Despite his lack of big screen love, he’s grown to become a cultural icon and has appeared in tons of video games, comics and television, primarily featured multiple times in Godzilla Island from 1977-1998.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla movies from the ’70s: Godzilla vs. MegalonGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla vs. Gigan.

Film Review: Girls Town (1959)

Also known as: The Innocent and the Damned (reissue title)
Release Date: October 5th, 1959
Directed by: Charles F. Haas
Written by: Robert Hardy Andrews, Robert Smith
Music by: Van Alexander, Paul Anka
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Mel Tormé, Ray Anthony, Paul Anka, James Mitchum, The Platters

Albert Zugsmith Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 89 Minutes

Review:

“This is Chip’s father.” – Michael Clyde, “You killed my son!” – Mr. Gardener, “I’m sorry for you, Mr. Gardener, but you’re dialing the wrong number.” – Silver Morgan

This movie was the focal point of the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000‘s sixth season, the first full season to star Mike Nelson. It was also the last episode that I needed to cover for that season, as I had watched and reviewed the rest of the pictures from that lot. In fact, I have one episode left in season four and then a handful or so in season five.

So on this journey of reviewing every film featured on MST3K, I have come across a lot of ’50s delinquent movies. While this one is equal to the quality of the rest of the lot, which doesn’t say much, this may be the most star-studded of them, as it features rising star Mamie Van Doren, as well as musicians Mel Tormé, Paul Anka and The Platters. It also has James Mitchum in it but James’ career never rose to the heights that his father’s did.

Sadly, despite the musical flourish, Girls Town is a pretty boring movie.

The story follows Van Doren’s Silver Morgan, who is sent to a Catholic reform school, where she doesn’t quite fit in. Additionally, Silver has been accused of killing a rapist but the girl that actually did the killing was Silver’s sister. The sister is then blackmailed by a creep who is into “hands-off drag racing”. The same creep has plans of selling the sister off to some Tijuana slave traders.

Yes, that’s really the plot. I didn’t pull any of that out of my ass. It’s fucking insane, I know.

And well, the film itself is just a baffling mess that deals with heavy subjects like rape, sex slavery and swooning over Paul f’n Anka. That’s pretty hardcore shit for 1959!

Anyway, there’s nothing all that noteworthy about the film, other than its cast and how nuts the story is.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other delinquent movies featured on MST3K.

Film Review: Black Angel (1946)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1946
Directed by: Roy William Neill
Written by: Roy Chanslor
Based on: The Black Angel by Cornell Woolrich
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford, Constance Dowling

Universal Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Now may I have the box and the letter? Remember Catherine… you promised me to be a good girl.” – Marko

This is a pretty highly regarded classic noir picture. I had never watched it until now and despite the fanfare for it, I still wasn’t prepared for how good this movie is.

It stars a pair with great, great chemistry: Dan Duryea and June Vincent. They were perfect together in this and it was nice seeing Duryea not play an evil asshole.

The film also stars Peter Lorre in one of his best performances. In fact, this may be my favorite role he’s played after M.

Now the plot is complicated to explain but it all flows really well in the movie itself.

In a nutshell, Dan Duryea’s wife is murdered but the man wrongly arrested for it is June Vincent’s husband. Initially, Vincent suspects Duryea and confronts him in an effort to clear her husband. She discovers that he couldn’t have done it and the two pair up in an effort to find the real killer and to free Vincent’s husband before execution. The man they suspect is Peter Lorre, who owns a swanky nightclub where the pair get a gig as the house musicians.

What’s neat about the film is that it is one hundred percent noir but it has a lot of music in it and the performances by Vincent and Duryea’s characters are fantastic.

From the first frame to the last, the film looks perfect. The cinematography is top notch but the real life within the picture comes from the set design. The world feels real and genuine in a way that wasn’t typical with big studio films of the ’40s.

The shot framing is also really good. One moment that especially comes to mind is the scene where Lorre is opening his safe with Vincent just over his shoulder, watching him dial in his combination.

The opening sequence is also pretty well done in how it uses miniatures and shot transitions. While it’s not perfect, I don’t know how you could do it any better in the era when this film was made.

As good noir films go, this has a big twist and reveal at the end of the film. You don’t really see it coming and it is three parts heart-wrenching and two parts a punch to the gut. Basically, it was effective… damn effective.

I love this film and it’s a classic noir that I’m sure I will revisit again, much sooner than later.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other classic noir pictures like Fallen Angel, The Dark Corner, Phantom Lady, The Blue Dahlia, etc.

Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.

Documentary Review: Gimme Danger (2016)

Release Date: May 19th, 2016 (Cannes)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Music by: Iggy Pop, The Stooges
Cast: Iggy Pop, Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton, James Williamson, Steve Mackay, Mike Watt, Kathy Ashton, Danny Fields

Amazon Studios, Magnolia Pictures, 108 Minutes

Review:

This has been in my queue forever but I’m glad I finally got around to watching it. Being that it was in the queue for so long is why I kept forgetting about it, as it was way, way down the list.

Anyway, I usually like Jim Jamrusch as a filmmaker. While he typically does dramatic features, I don’t think I’ve seen a documentary by him. Being that this one is on Iggy Pop and The Stooges is really what peaked my interest. Iggy has been a favorite artist of mine pretty much my entire life, since I first heard “Lust for Life”, and The Stooges made what I consider to be one of the best albums of all-time with their 1969 self-titled debut.

This immediately gets right into their breakup and troubles but it’s all a set up, as the credits roll after a few minutes. Following the credits, the story goes back to the beginning to fill in what happened before the real drama.

This also goes well beyond the break up of The Stooges, focuses on Iggy’s solo career, his time in London with David Bowie and what his former bandmates were up to. Eventually, we get to see The Stooges, older and wiser, reunite and reignite their friendship.

Gimme Danger is pretty compelling and just a good rock and roll story starring a legitimate living legend.

It moves at a good, brisk pace without any wasted moments.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent music biopics: Joan Jett: Bad Reputation, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Whitney, A Band Called Death, Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’, Mayor of the Sunset Strip and David Bowie: The Last Five Years.