Film Review: Never Take Candy from A Stranger (1960)

Also known as: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (UK)
Release Date: March 4th, 1960 (London premiere)
Directed by: Cyril Frankel
Written by: John Hunter
Based on: The Pony Trap (play) by Roger Garis
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford, Felix Aylmer, Janina Faye, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This isn’t an ordinary crime like burglary or a holdup.” – Martha

Similar to a lot of the other Hammer films I’ve been watching and reviewing lately, courtesy of a sweet, beefy box set I bought, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie.

I was pretty shocked and impressed with this, however. So much so, I’m surprised that I never knew about this picture and that it’s seemingly been lost to time.

The film is about a small town with a pedophile that is the old, senile patriarch of the town’s richest family. With that, no one really wants to do anything about this predator, as they don’t want to draw the ire of the family, who have lots of money and connections and essentially own everyone and everything in the region.

This is pretty heavy, serious subject matter for a movie that was made in 1959 but I thought that the material was well handled and even if the film feels like it’s leaning into exploitation, it classily reels itself in just enough to be respectable.

Additionally, this is well crafted, well shot, well acted and the picture’s climax of the elderly pedo chasing two young girls through the woods had similar, creepy vibes to some of the best moments from the exceptional film, The Night of the Hunter. In fact, this movie kept making me think of that classic, Robert Mitchum starring film.

I have to say that the main girl in the movie acted great and handled so many tough scenes like a seasoned pro. Gwen Watford, who played the girl’s mother was also really exceptional in this.

Also, Hammer regular Michael Gwynn had a role in this as the young victim’s lawyer. He was also solid and convincing and really shined in the courtroom scenes.

This is a dark, tragic film that most people will find upsetting. However, it’s also a great piece of work and one of the best things that Hammer Films has ever made outside of their more famous monster movies.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films that are more grounded in reality.

Film Review: The Princess Bride (1987)

Release Date: September 18th, 1987 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Directed by: Rob Reiner
Written by: William Goldman
Based on: The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Music by: Mark Knopfler
Cast: Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Robin Wright, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane

Act III Communications, Buttercup Films Ltd., The Princess Bride Ltd., Vestron Pictures, 20th Century Fox, 98 Minutes

Review:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” – Inigo Montoya

I’m going to be honest, this wasn’t a film that captivated me in my childhood like it did most people from my generation. However, I have still always liked it and it’s one of those things I’d leave on if I was flipping the channels in my teen years.

This was the first time I had seen this, though, since probably the ’90s. At least, in its entirety. So revisiting it was kind of a treat and I actually think I’m more fond of it now, simply because they don’t make movies like this anymore.

At its core, this is just a wholesome fairytale. But it’s also full of several characters who have become iconic over the three and a half decades since this was released.

I think that these characters became so iconic because this movie was so well cast, from top-to-bottom.

I also really underappreciated the swashbuckling bits and the camaraderie between the characters, which was so good and natural that one would have to assume that all these people genuinely clicked and enjoyed working together.

As a big wrestling fan, especially the ’80s era, I love seeing Andre the Giant in this. He’s absolutely superb and it makes me wish that he got to do more films before he died, shortly after this.

The Princess Bride is just a really entertaining and fun movie that should work for anyone, regardless of age, gender or generation. It’s kind of perfect in its wholesomeness and its adventurous spirit.

While it’s not what I personally consider a classic, I can see why so many people are immensely fond of it.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s family friendly fantasy movies.

Film Review: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Release Date: December 10th, 1962 (London – Royal premiere)
Directed by: David Lean
Written by: Robert Bolt, Michael Wilson
Based on: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, Omar Sharif, Peter O’Toole

Horizon Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 222 Minutes (premiere), 202 Minutes (theatrical cut), 187 Minutes (1970 re-release), 228 Minutes (1988 restoration) 

Review:

“I killed two people. One was… yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was… well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.” – T.E. Lawrence

My grandmother used to watch this movie a lot when I was a kid. It was always on her television and I’d catch big chunks of it from time-to-time. While I was always enthralled by it, especially its epic scope and cinematography, I never actually watched it in its entirety from start-to-finish until I was in my late teens.

From that point on, this became one of my all-time favorite films. Granted, it’s not something I can revisit too often, as it’s incredibly long and it doesn’t need to be revisited frequently, as its effect is almost otherworldly and sticks with you pretty deeply.

That being said, I’m not sure what it is about this that makes it pretty damn close to perfect and a bonafide masterpiece. But if you look at every element of this picture, there really isn’t anything one can pick apart. I guess some modern filmgoers might think that the pacing is too slow but I feel like the whole story is sort of a slow burn towards the end and once you get there, the payoff far exceeds the time invested in the picture.

Earlier, I mentioned its cinematography. For me, this is probably the first film that I saw that made me start paying attention to these sort of details and craftsmanship in motion pictures. I wanted to be a filmmaker, as a kid, and while I was more inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas back then, it was films like this, Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus that really opened my eyes to the actual art of filmmaking and what was possible using just the beautiful real world outside your door.

This movie also introduced me to Peter O’Toole, who I would go on to love in every role that I saw him in after this, except maybe King Ralph. I thought that one was well beneath his talent level (and also beneath John Goodman’s).

Lawrence of Arabia is an exceptional masterpiece. It’s one of those movies that everyone should have seen at least once. Honestly, even if you don’t think that it’s your cup of tea, you should give it a shot.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other all-time classic films. Specifically those that are true epics.

Film Review: Stop Me Before I Kill! (1960)

Also known as: The Full Treatment (original title)
Release Date: October, 1960 (UK)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Val Guest, Ronald Scott Thorn
Based on: The Full Treatment by Ronald Scott Thorn
Music by: Stanley Black
Cast: Claude Dauphin, Diane Cilento, Ronald Lewis

Falcon, Hilary, Hammer Films, 108 Minutes, 93 Minutes (cut), 107 Minutes (Screen Gems print)

Review:

“Tesoro, I’ve lied for you but never to you.” – Denise Colby

This is a very noir-esque horror flick from Hammer, who were mostly known for their colorful, opulent adaptations of classic literary monsters.

Films like this weren’t outside of Hammer’s area of expertise, however, as I’ve discovered multiple films like this over the years and most recently, in a beefy Blu-ray box set I purchased a few months back.

So the story follows a married couple that had just survived a car accident. The husband, at one point, loses control and tries to strangle the wife. He then decides to get help from a psychiatrist to figure out why he has this impulse to murder her.

After some time, it’s revealed that there was a moment during the car crash where the husband believed he had killed his wife and since then, he’s subconsciously had this urge to fulfill what he thought was reality for a brief moment in time.

The doctor then visits the home of the couple the next day. The wife is missing and it appears that the husband murdered her even though the doctor considered him cured. However, the doctor is a total bastard that is in love with the wife and is now using the husband’s greatest fear about himself to make him actually go insane, so the doctor can swoop in and take the man’s wife.

It’s a complicated plot with many layers and some solid twists but I wouldn’t call it unpredictable or anything. Still, it’s entertaining and engaging.

Additionally, the performances are pretty good and the film has a good atmosphere. I also found the climax to be pretty satisfying.

Now this isn’t Hammer’s best film in this style but it’s still a cool movie that is worth a watch if you’re into these sort of stories.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films that are more grounded in reality.

Film Review: Angus (1995)

Release Date: September 15th, 1995
Directed by: Patrick Read Johnson
Written by: Jill Gordon
Music by: David E. Russo
Cast: George C. Scott, Chris Owen, Ariana Richards, James Van Der Beek, Charlie Talbert, Kathy Bates, Kevin Connolly, Irvin Kershner

Atlas Entertainment, BBC, New Line Cinema, 87 Minutes

Review:

“As for what anybody else thinks, always remember these words and live by them: screw ’em!” – Grandpa

Angus had a pretty big impact on me when I saw it back in the late ’90s. I thought it was one of the best movies of the teen coming-of-age genre. Something about it felt more pure and realistic than the dozens of other films like it and having now seen it, a quarter of a century later, I’m really pleased to discover that not only has it held up but it’s still relevant and even better than similar movies that came after it.

I think that this movie flourished in that it used a cast of mostly unknown teens. Sure, it had Academy Award winners George C. Scott (who refused his Oscar for Patton) and Kathy Bates but they just sort of added legitimacy to the film and probably helped get it in front of audiences that might have otherwise missed it. Plus, they’re both damn good in it and even if their roles are smaller than the teens in the movie, they really have a profound effect on the overall story and Angus’ character arc and personal growth.

The story is about a smart but awkward fat kid who is voted homecoming king as a joke. However, it gives him the opportunity to at least have a dance with the girl he is crushing on, as well as allowing him stand up against the bullies trying to break him down.

It’s a pretty fresh take on the awkward kid trying to win over the popular love interest trope and it’s done remarkably well, which I think has to do with superb writing but also the great performances of the young cast. Frankly, there isn’t a weak link among them and the film’s title character, played by Charlie Talbert, is just great in every scene.

Talbert was a newcomer and this was his first professional credit. Still, this kid held his own sharing scenes with George C. Scott and Kathy Bates and it’s pretty damned impressive.

I think another thing that adds a lot to the picture is the music. The film is full of great tunes from ’90s alternative rock bands and even if it dates the movie, it still sets the tone and allows the viewer to sort of sink into this kid’s world.

Angus is something I should probably revisit more often. It’s absolutely one of the best motion pictures of its type and it’s still good with a message that will always be relevant.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other teen coming-of-age movies of the ’80s and ’90s.

Film Review: Krull (1983)

Also known as: Planet Krull, Dragons of Krull, Dungeons and Dragons, Krull: Invaders of the Black Fortress, The Dungeons of Krull (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 29th, 1983
Directed by: Peter Yates
Written by: Stanford Sherman
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Ken Marshall, Lysette Anthony, Freddie Jones, Francesca Annis, Trevor Martin (voice), David Battley, Bernard Bresslaw, Alun Armstrong, Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane

Barclays Mercantile Industrial Finance, Columbia Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“We all risk our lives on this journey. My risk is no greater than yours.” – Ynyr

While I saw Krull a few times as a kid, as it was on either HBO, Showtime or Cinemax, I haven’t seen it since then and most of it was wiped from my memory, other than its visual aesthetic and the sequence with flaming horses that run at super speeds across the wilderness.

It’s a pretty cool film, though. I actually dug it quite a bit and while some special effects look pretty dated, it’s really top notch shit for the time. I was actually impressed by a lot of it and the general aesthetic and vibe of the movie was truly magical in that unique ’80s fantasy flick sort of way.

I also enjoyed the lead, Ken Marshall, quite a lot and wished he had gone on to be a bigger star than he was. He had charisma and conveyed a real sense of adventure that really should’ve seen him get more roles like this. Hell, even a sequel or two to this would’ve been cool.

The film also has several other talented actors, such as Freddie Jones. But what’s really neat is that it features two guys I wouldn’t have known when seeing this as a kid, as they were still pretty unknown and that’s Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane.

The movie also feels like a sort of hybrid between Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian, as it features science fiction elements mixed with sword and sorcery. It’s a nice mix that works well and I’ve always like movies that sort of cross genres this way.

There’s a lot of fun stuff in this from the villain, the villain’s teleporting fortress, the spider-lady, the cyclops ally and a lot of the creatures and big action sequences. There’s so much awesomeness in this movie that it’s easy to see why I loved it so much as a kid. Plus, the hero has a really f’n cool weapon.

The acting is on the level one should expect, as it’s not great but it’s good enough and the actors hammed it up in the right way while also being convincing as badasses fighting all sorts of threats in a sword and sorcery realm.

Krull is a cool picture if you’re into these sort of things. It seems to have been somewhat forgotten over the years but it is one of the better sci-fi and fantasy movies of its time.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery or fantasy adventure films of the ’80s.

Documentary Review: Life After the Navigator (2020)

Release Date: November 9th, 2020 (UK)
Directed by: Lisa Downs
Written by: Lisa Downs
Music by: Toby Dunham
Cast: Joey Cramer, Veronica Cartwright, Cliff De Young, Howard Hesseman, Randal Kleiser, Matt Adler, Raymond Forchion, Albie Whitaker

Life After Movies, Spare Change Films, Strict Machine, 91 Minutes

Review:

A few years ago, I heard about what had happened with Joey Cramer, the former child actor that was a favorite of mine because of how good he was in The Flight of the Navigator and his few scenes in Runaway.

For those that don’t know, Cramer robbed a bank out of desperation due to his bad drug habit. Upon discovering this, I also learned about his history with prison and drugs and how his life had spiraled out of control in the years since he left acting behind.

Sadly, this isn’t a story that’s too uncommon with child actors who grow up, don’t get work and have to return to a normal life that’s never going to be truly normal due to the level of fame they once had.

I’m happy to say that Joey did turn his life around and this film chronicles that tough journey. You meet his family, friends and get to hear from those who starred alongside him in The Flight of the Navigator. 

This documentary is really two things merged into one. It’s primarily about Joey, his issues and his battle to get better. However, it’s also about the Navigator film and reflects on it, all these years later, as it has become an iconic film, beloved by more than just the Gen Xers that saw it in the theater back in 1986.

All in all, this was a sad but ultimately feel good story. It was cool seeing everyone support Joey and still share their love of the film, as well. I just hope that he can now stay on the right path and keep building towards a better life than the one he lived for the last few decades.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Flight of the Navigator, as well as the documentary Life After Flash.

TV Review: The New Statesman (1987-1994)

Original Run: September 13th, 1987 – December 30th, 1994
Created by: Laurence Marks, Maurice Gran
Directed by: Geoffrey Sax, Graeme Harper
Written by: Laurence Marks, Maurice Gran
Music by: Modest Mussorgsky, Alan Hawkshaw
Cast: Rik Mayall, Marsha Fitzalan, Michael Troughton

Yorkshire Television, Alomo Productions, ITV Studios, Fremantle, 26 Episodes + 3 Specials, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Out of the three shows that Rik Mayall starred in, The New Statesman seems to be the least known, at least from an American standpoint. While I have friends that love The Young Ones, Bottom and Mayall as a comedic actor, none of them knew about this show until I introduced them to it. 

It’s been a favorite of mine for years and I actually discovered it on a tape sent to me from a friend in the UK, who I used to tape trade with in the ’90s.

The show is a satire of British politics in the opulent ’80s. It features Mayall as Alan B’Stard, a Conservative Party backbencher in Parliament that schemes his way to more power, as the show progresses.

B’Stard commits terrible crimes and has no morals whatsoever and while that may sound like the recipe for a completely unlikable character, with Mayall playing him, he brings to life the show’s despicable main character with his charisma, charm and stupendous ability to make it all work.

Alan B’Stard is an iconic character even if modern audiences aren’t aware of him, especially in the States. While it’s easy to see how UK conservatives of the ’80s would’ve been offended by the show’s over-the-top critique of them, I think it’d be really hard for any fan of comedy and political satire not to laugh. Mayall is simply perfect.

Each episode over the four series is pretty good and has a purpose behind it. The writers hit a lot of topical issues from ’87 through ’94 and even if this feels like it’s only showing things from one side of the political spectrum, it’s still entertaining.

Also, my view could be skewed because I’m American and I’m not really a fan of any political party or mainstream political ideals. They’re all authoritarian fascists in my book.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other British sitcoms starring Rik Myall.

Film Review: Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

Also known as: Fanatic (original title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1965 (UK)
Directed by: Silvio Narizzano
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Nightmare by Anne Blaisdell
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Maurice Kaufmann, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Stephen? Stephen? She’s here in this house, my darling… but of course you know… you know…!” – Mrs. Trefoile

So this was another Hammer film that flew under my radar for years. I didn’t discover it until I recently got this twenty film Blu-ray box set.

For a straight up Hammer style horror flick, this was really damn good and enjoyable as hell. It doesn’t feature any of the classic literary monsters, so it had to rely on good storytelling, good direction and solid acting.

The story is interesting and engaging while the performances by Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers were damn exceptional. So much so, I was enthralled and pulled in by their acting and I easily ignored all the missed opportunities the victim had at escaping or defeating the villain.

You have to suspend some disbelief in how easily this woman is held captive by a cranky, crazy old lady and her hired help around the house. But regardless of that, this is still superb in its execution and man, you just want to see that old lady get her just desserts.

Tallulah Bankhead was intense and sinister. She gave a top notch performance and what makes it even more impressive is that she got really sick during production. So much so that she had to forego her salary and promise to finish the film, regardless, just so her role wasn’t recast. In the end, she pulled off something remarkable.

It’s also worth mentioning that a young Donald Sutherland plays one of the villain’s minions. However, he’s kind of an innocent character, as he’s mentally handicapped and doesn’t really understand the reality of what’s happening around him.

Die! Die! My Darling! is much better than I assumed it would be. It’s a mesmerizing thriller that sucks you in rather quickly and holds your attention until the final frame.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer pictures of the ’50s through ’70s, especially ones like this that don’t feature the more famous literary monsters.

TV Review: Spaced (1999-2001)

Original Run: September 24th, 1999 – April 13th, 2001
Created by: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson
Music by: various
Cast: Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Julia Deakin, Katy Carmichael, Lucy Akhurst, Anna Wilson-Jones, Bill Bailey, James Lance, Peter Serafinowicz, Michael Smiley

Big Talk, London Weekend Television, Channel 4, 14 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Marsha, they say that the family of the twenty-first century is made up of friends, and not relatives, and if that’s true, then you’re the best aunty I’ve ever had!” – Tim

I’m not from the UK so I didn’t know about this show until about a year after it aired. I discovered it when a friend from the UK sent me the first season to check out because he thought I’d like it. I did and it actually became one of my favorite shows of all-time and still is. But since I haven’t watched it in nearly a decade, I wanted to dust it off and revisit it. Especially, after I just revisited and reviewed the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy.

The show is directed by Edgar Wright and stars two of his long-time collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It also stars Jessica Stevenson, who co-wrote the show with Pegg. The two of them had previously worked together in a short-lived show called Asylum, which Wright also created and directed.

Seeing this now, it’s very ’90s but at the same time, it’s absolutely timeless. This isn’t something I would’ve picked up on in the past but the struggles of these twentysomethings is pretty damn real and I think it’s still relatable. In fact, I guess I didn’t realize how much I related to it in my mid-to-late 20s.

While I’m younger than the cast and the age they represented when I first watched this, it was only a few years later before my experiences lined up with theirs. Also, being someone in a creative field that is both an artist and a writer, I think I relate to both of them even more, looking back at where I started and where my career and hobbies led me over the last two decades.

All that being said, I almost love this show even more now, as I realize how much heart and soul went into it and how genuine and authentic it truly is. And I think it comes from the fact that these people are also creatives and were probably going through similar struggles as the characters they wrote and played.

Beyond that, this was a unique show in how Wright didn’t shoot it like a standard sitcom but he used techniques typical to horror and sci-fi films. He went for extreme angles and quick motion, as opposed to fixed, static cameras focused on a set. Quite a bit of the show was also shot outside and Wright employed the same techniques outdoors, giving the Spaced world more energy than that of a typical show. 

Also, everyone in this is perfect. It’s just really well cast and that’s not just the six core characters but also the reoccurring ones that pop in and out.

The show also goes for pretty surreal situations and humor but it works well, fits the style and isn’t overdone to where this becomes a bizarre “brainy” show that dolts pretend they like because they don’t want to appear as if they don’t “get it”.

Unfortunately, the show ended at least a season too early, as you kind of pick up on the fact that the two leads are going to fall in love, as the story rolls on. By season two, it’s regularly hinted at and even though the ending to that season was satisfying to that season’s arc, I feel like the show and its fans deserved at least one more seven episode helping before everyone moved on to things like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.

Man, I knew I loved this show but I guess I forgot how much. And now, that love has grown even more, as I appreciate Spaced on new and deeper levels thanks to how well it has held up and how technically savvy it is. Plus, the experiences and issues these characters face are timeless and they’re presented in a way that’s kind of pure, which transcends generations and cultural changes.

Spaced, to me, is a near perfect show. I can’t call every episode a classic but they all have something really worthwhile and they all do a superb job of building up these characters, their lives together and the audience’s love for each of them.

In the end, even after two decades and a dozen watch throughs, it’s hard to say goodbye to them in that final episode.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, as well as Pegg’s other comedy series before he became a film star.