Film Review: All-American Murder (1991)

Release Date: December 1st, 1991
Directed by: Anson Williams
Written by: Barry Sandler
Music by: Rod Slane
Cast: Charlie Schlatter, Christopher Walken, Josie Bissett, Joanna Cassidy, Richard Kind

Greenwich Films, Enchantment Pictures, Trimark Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“She’s some bunny isn’t she? Great to see her again, it’s been years. But I never forget a face… especially, if I’ve sat on it.” – Decker

I actually didn’t even know about this movie until the scene I’ve linked below came across my YouTube suggestions while I was looking for some other Christopher Walken clips for something else completely unrelated.

That scene is pretty incredible and maybe the most Walken thing that Walken has ever done. Once I saw that this long lost flick also featured Charlie Schlatter and Josie Bissett with small roles for Joanna Cassidy and Richard Kind, I knew that I had to check it out.

This was a straight-to-VHS release and while it’s not a very good movie, it’s pretty entertaining for those who love Walken and late ’80s/early ’90s crime thriller schlock.

All-American Murder also dabbles into horror due to the dark nature of its plot, the crimes committed and a few sequences that almost play more like a slasher flick than a hard-nosed, gritty crime picture.

The plot is damn clunky and it became predictable pretty early on but it’s still fun to watch the absurdity of the story unfold.

Ultimately, I loved Walken in this and being that he’s one of my all-time favorite actors of his generation, I could see this bad movie becoming one of those guilty pleasure flicks that I feel compelled to revisit every few years or to show others that come over for a movie night that want some solid cheese and over-the-top Walkenisms.

Most people may be bored shitless with this movie. But those are the type of people I don’t talk to about film.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other crime thrillers from the era.

*instead of the trailer, I’ll just share this scene, one of the best in Christopher Walken’s decades-long career.

Film Review: The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

Release Date: July 9th, 1942 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Orson Welles
Based on: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Cast: Joseph Cotton, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins, Erskine Sanford, Richard Bennett, Don Dillaway, Orson Welles (narrator)

Mercury Productions, RKO Radio Pictures, 88 Minutes, 148 Minutes (original cut), 131 Minutes (preview version)

Review:

“Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Minafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him.” – Narrator

While this is considered to be one of Orson Welles’ all-time classic motion picture masterpieces, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it.

The main reason is because it felt like it needed more meat and potatoes. The story was a bit skeletal and I felt like I needed to know the characters on a deeper level to be more invested into the story and their lives.

However, this problem with the film isn’t really the fault of Welles, as his original cut was 148 minutes, not the 88 minutes that this ended up being. Had this film had that extra hour, I think it would’ve been a much richer, more intimate and more complete body of work that could’ve possibly lived up to the iconic status of Welles’ previous film, Citizen Kane.

Still, most professional film critics today seem to have a very positive view on this film and apart from the issue I already mentioned, it’s easy to see why.

The film is absolutely stunning and beautiful. This “magnificent” world looks authentic and lived in. The sets are perfect but even more than that, the lighting, cinematography, shot framing and general mise-en-scène are stupendous. But coming off of Citizen Kane, Welles’ had already proven himself as an absolute maestro of cinematic craftsmanship and artistry. This honestly just adds even more credibility to the man’s legendary, iconic status as a filmmaker and visionary.

Additionally, the picture is superbly acted with Welles’ regular star, Joseph Cotton, taking the lead but also having solid assists from Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Agnes Moorehead, Ray Collins and others. Also, Welles’ narration adds an extra level of magic to the film.

All those solid positives aside, though, it still suffers from a lack of depth and context. The film is full of many characters, all of whom are interesting, but only a few really get explored at length. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Welles’ intent but the finished film is somewhat diminished but this.

Ultimately, this is still a very good, almost great, motion picture. But it also makes me yearn for what could have been had Welles’ intended vision actually made it to the silver screen.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other early Orson Welles pictures.

Film Review: Cinderella (1950)

Release Date: February 15th, 1950 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson
Written by: Ken Anderson, Perce Pearce, Homer Brightman, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Erdman Penner, Harry Reeves, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, Maurice Rapf (uncredited)
Based on: Cinderella by Charles Perrault
Music by: Oliver Wallace, Paul J. Smith
Cast: Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Rhoda Williams, James MacDonald, Luis van Rooten, Don Barclay, Mike Douglas, William Phipps, Lucille Bliss

RKO Radio Pictures, Walt Disney Productions, 74 Minutes

Review:

“[to the clocktower chiming] Oh, that clock! Old killjoy. I hear you. “Come on, get up,” you say, “Time to start another day.” Even he orders me around. Well, there’s one thing. They can’t order me to stop dreaming.” – Cinderella

Cinderella was the first full-length, non-anthology Disney feature film in nearly a decade. It also kicked off what many have considered to be the greatest era in Disney history.

Getting back to feature-length storytelling, Disney was able to tell a better, more fleshed out, cohesive tale. Additionally, the company’s animators and conceptual artists didn’t have to stretch themselves too thin, as all their focus got to go into one story.

While I don’t know if more man hours went into this or the anthology films before it, the animation, here, is a step up from what Disney has done previously.

You really notice it in regards to the facial features and movements of the characters. Emotion is conveyed so well and everyone in the film wears their thoughts on their face, even if they don’t say anything. While that might not seem like a big deal in 2020, seventy years later, it’s really noticeable if you go back and watch all of these movies in release order, as I have been doing.

Now the plot is kind of a paint-by-numbers fairy tale but being that this was the first real “princess” movie, this is the film that really created the tropes and what has become the patented Disney style with their “princess” features.

The story is pretty basic but it’s also very effective. You feel for Cinderella and her situation and you want to see this pure soul find a much better life for herself. Her optimism and her attitude shine through and this is a story about never giving up hope and trying to be the best person you can be in spite of difficult situations.

A lot of people have come along over the years and talked down Disney movies like this for creating a culture where young girls are just waiting for a prince to come and save them. I’ve always thought that was bullshit and people who think that way just don’t understand films like Cinderella and just project their own world view on it. Besides, they obviously didn’t pick up on the optimism part and would rather play victim and blame a seventy year-old cartoon for their problems. But I digress.

Cinderella isn’t quite a masterpiece and Disney, in my opinion, has made much better films in their classic animated style. However, it is an important and historically significant one in setting the stage for what was to come from one of the greatest studios to ever exist.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Disney animated films of the 1950s.

Film Review: Fun and Fancy Free (1947)

Also known as: Fun and Fancy Free, Featuring Mickey and the Beanstalk (VHS title)
Release Date: September 27th, 1947 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Hamilton Luske, William Morgan (live-action)
Written by: Homer Brightman, Eldon Dedini, Lance Nolley, Tom Oreb, Harry Reeves, Ted Sears
Based on: Little Bear Bongo by Sinclair Lewis, Jack and the Beanstalk
Music by: Oliver Wallace, Paul Smith, Eliot Daniel, Charles Wolcott
Cast: Cliff Edwards, Edgar Bergen, Luana Patten, Walt Disney, Clarence Nash, Pinto Colvig, Billy Gilbert, Anita Gordon

Walt Disney Animation Studios, RKO Radio Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Once upon a time, long long ago…” – Edgar Bergen, “Funny, nothing ever happens nowadays.” – Charlie McCarthy

The fourth of six films in Disney’s 1940s package/anthology series is a return to form of what the first two were. It actually plays very similarly to Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, except it’s not pushing Latin American tourism as its main objective.

This one is an anthology film that features a few short animation tales that come together with a series of live-action bits featuring a guy and his ventriloquist dummy telling the tales to kids. The guy and his dummy also narrate the short films.

Honestly, my only real issue with Fun and Fancy Free was the narration. It’s not bad but the guy talking to his dummy gets tiresome after awhile and it felt like more of a distraction by the time you reach the great Mickey and the Beanstalk story.

That Beanstalk cartoon is the most memorable bit to come out of this film and it has lived on beyond this movie as a whole. I think most kids, even today, have seen or at least heard of Mickey and the Beanstalk but not a lot of people would know what Fun and Fancy Free is. That’s probably due to that short film appearing on its own over the years in a variety of places.

In the end, this is mostly okay but it’s not up to the level of what Walt Disney Studios was capable of at their best.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s other 1940s package/anthology films.

Film Review: Casablanca (1942)

Also known as: Everybody Comes to Rick’s (original script title)
Release Date: November 26th, 1942 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch
Based on: Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett, Joan Alison
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre

Warner Bros., 102 Minutes, 82 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” – Rick

As much as I love Humphrey Bogart, noir-esque pictures of the classic era and the films of Michael Curtiz, I’m still going to be that oddball that says that this film is slightly overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, I still adore Casablanca and it has left the universe with possibly more famous lines than any other motion picture but it’s not perfect, even if I still see it as a cinematic masterpiece.

I also can’t fully quantify or elaborately explain why I don’t view it as “perfect” but I kind of just put that on the fact that it’s not a film I really want to revisit all that often. In fact, as much as I do actually like it, I put off reviewing it for a long time because I just wasn’t ever in the right mood for it.

Full disclosure, I was also waiting to revisit it on the big screen but it’s one of those all-time classics that hasn’t played on the big screen in my area since before I started Talking Pulp. If my local theater plays Gigi one more time over anything else, I’m going to throw popcorn bucket at the theater director.

Moving on, as much as I like Bogart, I wouldn’t call this his best performance. It’s absolutely exceptional but I still think it falls below his acting in 1950’s A Lonely Place. Bogart was always on his A-game though, and this film is no different and it still ranks up towards the top of greatest acting performances of all-time from any era.

I also really liked Ingrid Bergman in this and it made me realize that I need to go back and watch some of her other films, as this is the first thing I’ve reviewed with her in it. Her performance in Notorious was also top notch and that may be the first one I revisit.

The film also features Conrad Veidt, a guy mostly known for his work in the silent era. In fact, his role in 1928’s The Man Who Laughs was so chilling and iconic, it inspired the creation of The Joker, Batman’s top nemesis. In Casablanca, it is really neat hearing him speak and seeing him have to act in a different style, as he plays a Nazi commander and primary antagonist in the story.

Claude Rains and Peter Lorre also show up and both men are legends of not just the horror genre but of motion pictures in general, as their range is far greater than just playing silver screen monsters.

More than just the stupendous acting and fabulous story, the film’s greatest asset was its director, Michael Curtiz. The man is a legend and it definitely shows in this picture from his ability to get some of the most iconic and replicated shots in history, as well as getting performances out of his actors that eclipse even their own greatness. He also shows that he had the right crew working to achieve his vision just based off of how perfect and majestic the general cinematography, lighting and set design were.

Casablanca is a special film. It definitely deserves its historical status, even if I don’t see it as a pillar of absolute perfection. It’s still significantly better than some of the other films in history that are debated over as the best of all-time.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: other Bogart starring pictures of the ’40s and ’50s.

Film Review: The Pirates of Blood River (1962)

Release Date: May 9th, 1962 (Denmark)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Gary Hughes
Cast: Christopher Lee, Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corebett, Oliver Reed, Peter Arne, Marla Landi, Desmond Llewelyn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[to the elders] I am not guilty. The cause of Maggie’s death… was fear. Fear of her brutal husband. Yes, fear is your weapon, and it’s a dangerous weapon because one day it will recoil on your heads.” – Jonathan Standing

Well, since I recently watched The Devil-Ship Pirates, one of the few Hammer Films swashbucklers, I figured that I’d also check out this film, which came out just before it and also stars Christopher Lee.

I actually liked this a wee bit more than The Devil-Ship Pirates, as it seemed to have more going on. I really enjoyed the plot of the other film but this one seemed to have more layers and more at stake. Regardless, they’re both enjoyable for those who like classic swashbuckling tales.

In this one, we see Lee play an actual pirate, where he played a Spanish naval commander in Devil-Ship. It was cool seeing him with the traditional garb and eye patch. He also got to use his sword, which is always a bonus. I don’t think people know that Lee actually has the most sword fights in motion picture history. I think that’s a cool fact that gets lost because he’s primarily known for being in horror movies and not action pictures.

I really enjoyed Kerwin Mathews in this, as well as Hammer regulars Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper. We even get to see Desmond Llewelyn, which is always a treat when he appears outside of his most famous role as Q in the old school James Bond movies.

All in all, this is a pretty decent swashbuckler from a studio that probably should’ve made more than they did. But I get it, horror was Hammer’s real bread and butter. 

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other swashbuckling/pirate movies by Hammer like Captain Clegg a.k.a. Night Creatures and The Devil-Ship Pirates.

Film Review: Leap of Faith (1992)

Release Date: December 15th, 1992 (Dallas premiere)
Directed by: Richard Pearce
Written by: Janus Cercone
Music by: Cliff Eidelman
Cast: Steve Martin, Debra Winger, Lolita Davidovich, Liam Neeson, Lukas Haas, Meat Loaf, Philip Seymour Hoffman, M. C. Gainey, Delores Hall, Troy Evans

Paramount Pictures, 108 Minutes, 95 Minutes (Ontario cut)

Review:

“Look, I run a show here. It’s a lot of smoke and noise and it’s strictly for the suckers. I’ve been pulling one kind of scam or another since I was your age, and if there’s one thing I know it’s how to spot the genuine article because that’s what you’ve got to watch out for. Not the cops, you can always get around the cops. But the one thing you can never, ever get around is the genuine article, and you, kid, are the genuine article.” – Jonas

I saw this movie once a really long time ago but I really liked it and had been meaning to revisit it at some point. It’s just one of those films that slipped down the memory hole. But when I reviewed My Blue Heaven, I discovered that I hadn’t yet reviewed any of Steve Martin’s work, which was surprising due to how much I love the guy. So when I went down the list of his films, this one immediately popped out as one I needed to revisit as soon as possible.

I’m really glad that I did, as it’s held up pretty well and I’m honestly not sure why this isn’t considered one of Steve Martin’s best from the general critical consensus.

This is a film that really shows Martin’s dramatic range while still allowing him to be comedic. But this is a more serious picture than his most popular ones. Just being a few years removed from Parenthood, however, Martin was able to kind of build off of that film’s more serious tone and deliver another well-balanced performance that is both campy and real.

In this, he plays a professional conman that is running around America as a faith healer. He tries to justify his massive con by pointing out that his work, despite its dishonesty, does in fact help people because he makes them believe it. But ultimately, the story and the people he encounters on this stop of his journey, make him see himself and his work differently.

Martin is surrounded by a solid, very capable cast made up of Debra Winger, Liam Neeson, M. C. Gainey, Meat Loaf, a very young Philip Seymour Hoffman and an even younger Lukas Haas. But everyone in this film brings it. Plus, seeing the relationship blossom between Neeson’s Sheriff character, who wants to expose Martin’s preacher as a fraud, and Debra Winger, Martin’s trusted assistant, is really well orchestrated and executed.

The film lets you know that Steve Martin’s Jonas Nightingale is a pretty scummy guy from the get go but it still allows him to win you over and lure you in regardless of how he capitalizes off of very poor people’s naivety. You still fall for the guy even knowing the con and once you actually get to know him, you understand that his life has been pretty shitty too. It doesn’t excuse his poor life decisions but it allows you to understand where they came from and hope that he somehow finds a better path because he does touch people and could actually do some good in the world.

In its simplest form, this is a movie about redemption and I love redemption stories. It’s far from the greatest redemption story ever told but it is still a very enjoyable one that features a complex and charismatic character that you kind of want to root for in spite of his selfish, predatory nature.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies with a high emphasis on drama.

Film Review: Lucas (1986)

Release Date: March 28th, 1986
Directed by: David Seltzer
Written by: David Seltzer
Music by: Dave Grusin
Cast: Corey Haim, Charlie Sheen, Kerri Green, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Winona Ryder, Tom Hodges, Guy Boyd, Jeremy Piven, Garrett M. Brown

Twentieth Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“You can’t ever make me quit, ever!” – Lucas

In the ’80s, coming of age teen movies, whether they be drama, comedy or both, were a dime a dozen. And while I can’t consider Lucas to be one of the better ones, it still has real heart and it’s damn near impossible to not feel for the kid, as he experiences his first heartbreak when the girl he loves, also his best friend, falls for the cool guy that is like a big brother to him.

I think that the story is something everyone can relate to regardless of gender or situation. At some point, we’ve all had to deal with heartbreak for the first time. And since this movie actually tells that story pretty well, it’s a pretty worthwhile picture.

Corey Haim was really young in this and it was only his second starring role. He showed great promise as a young actor, as did the rest of the cast, who also made this sort of hokey picture into a real human, emotional drama.

This is a strange film in that it does sort of get buried by its outdated ’80s cheese but the important stuff still gets through to the audience in an effective way.

There are certainly a dozen or more ’80s teen movies I’d recommend over this one but if you’ve seen the cream of the crop and never watched this one, it’s definitely worth your 100 minutes.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other coming of age high school movies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)

Also known as: Smash-Up (working title, alternative title)
Release Date: March, 1947
Directed by: Stuart Heisler
Written by: Frank Cavett, John Howard Lawson, Dorothy Parker, Lionel Wiggam
Music by: Frank Skinner
Cast: Susan Hayward, Eddie Albert, Lee Bowman, Marsha Hunt

Walter Wanger Productions, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes

Review:

“I just remembered, I have an appointment with a headache.” – Martha Gray, Elliot’s Secretary

I’ve heard good things about Smash-Up from multiple sources and books I’ve read on film-noir. Unfortunately, it didn’t resonate that strongly with me and just came across as fairly meh.

That’s not to say that the performances weren’t good. I’ve liked Susan Hayward in everything I’ve seen her do but even her performance didn’t really keep my interest for too long.

The story is about a woman that hits rock bottom and gets burned in a fire after her daughter almost burns. It’s one of those noir stories that starts at the end and then recounts the events that led the main character to their terrible fate. Granted, this one does have a more positive and hopeful outcome than say, Double Indemnity.

It’s also nowhere near as great and iconic as Double Indemnity.

While this came out in 1947, at the height of film-noir cinema, by that point it already seemed derivative of other movies like it. It feels like the plot of a half dozen Joan Crawford flicks but without the Crawford magic and intensity. Frankly, it feels like a lighthearted and thin copy by comparison.

In the end, I did like the music and Hayward was still good. I also liked Stanley Cortez’s cinematography but there are dozens of better noir pictures that deal with similar subjects.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic film-noir of the ’40s and ’50s.

Film Review: The Theory of Everything (2014)

Release Date: October 7th, 2014 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: James Marsh
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Based on: Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking
Music by: Jóhann Jóhannsson
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, Simon McBurney, David Thewlis, Stephen Hawking (computerized voice)

Working Title Films, Dentsu Motion Pictures, Fuji Television Network, 123 Minutes

Review:

“I have loved you.” – Jane Hawking

I really wanted to see this in the theater back when it came out. I missed it but then I had it in my queue on one of the streaming services where it eventually disappeared and then fell down my memory hole. But it popped back up on something recently, so I decided to give it a watch before the opportunity passed me by again.

I’ve always been a fan of Stephen Hawking and I read A Brief History of Time back when I was in middle school and probably not fully able to grasp it. However, I’ve read it multiple times since and he’s been one of my favorite science writers alongside Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene and Michio Kaku.

The film is adapted from Jane Hawking’s book about her life alongside Stephen. While they were married and she was by his side for years, things eventually dissolved but they remained close, trusted friends despite their marriage ending and both finding love in other people.

Honestly, this is a pretty beautiful story, even if it is romanticized for a film. But it does a good job of showing how love can evolve and change over time, as people grow through life and sometimes grow apart. And sometimes one type of love can turn into a different type. I really like how this film expresses these hard truths, shows us the pain of both characters at different points but allows you to remain hopeful, as neither are bad people, they just evolve into different people with different needs. And that doesn’t mean that they have to hate one another, they can continue to love each other even after letting one another go. It’s truly sad but there is a real positive lesson and worldview within that.

The acting in this film is absolutely incredible and I’m not trying to be hyperbolic, here. Everyone in this film brought their A-game and the performances greatly enhance the end result and made this somewhat exceptional in how it handled the emotionally difficult material. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were especially great and it’s hard to not love both of them.

In stories about love dissolving and changing, it’s really hard not to paint someone as the bad guy. In that regard, this film succeeds in making you care equally for both people and what it is that each one needs.

Apart from that, this film was good in every technical area. It’s well shot, perfectly edited and paced and boasts some incredible cinematography. The score was also quite great.

Overall, I like this movie a lot. I don’t consider it a classic or anything but it achieved what it set out to do and probably exceeded it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other recent biographical dramas.