Wednesday, September 29, 2010

'Castle of Fu Manchu' is Jess Franco at his worst (and his usual is already pretty bad)

The Castle of Fu Manchu (aka "Assignment Istanbul") (1969)
Starring: Richard Greene, Christopher Lee, and Tsai Chin
Director: Jess Franco
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

The immortal Dr. Fu Manchu (Lee) launches yet another nefarious scheme--this one involving a weapon that will freeze the world's oceans--and only Sir Dennis Nayland-Smith (Greene) can stop him. But will Sir Dennis save the audience from dying of boredom?

I think "The Castle of Fu Manchu" has got to be one of the absolutely worst movies ever released. Even by the low standards to which one has to hold Jess Franco--a director far worse than just about anyone who's still making movies today that you could mention--this is an awful, awful movie. It is so bad that it was one of the first movies that I slated for inclusion in the forthcoming 150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See book, and it I never considered dropping it for some other film.

This is one of those movies that you have to have seen in order to be pass value judgements about what is and isn't "the worst movie ever made."

There's about 20 minutes worth of plot in this movie, with over 60 minutes of dull filler garbage. What's worse, the fight and actions scenes are so lame and cheap that the filmmakers didn't even bother adding sound effects in post production--so all we get are actors swinging at each other, falling over logs, and rolling around on the ground. And we have the embarrassing experience of watching adults tumble around like 9-year-olds playing Cops & Robbers instead of being able to surrender our imagination to the illusion that a movie should conjure.

I was tempted to give this movie One Star--and in fact when reviewed it several years ago on my Rotten Tomatoes blog, I did--because Christopher Lee once again gives a great performance as Fu Manchu. He even almost rises above the crap-fest he is surrounded by. But it's only almost, and even if he had given the best performance of his life, it still would have only earned this film a single of the smallest of small Stars. So, it gets Zero, in the interest of clarity and fairness to what an abominable effort this film is.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You should electrocute yourself
before seeing 'Crank 2'

Crank 2: High Voltage (2009)
Starring: Jason Statham, Bai Ling, Amy Smart, Efren Ramirez, and Dwight Yoakam
Directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Rating: One of Ten Stars

Chev Chelios (Statham) wakes up after three months in a coma to discover that his heart has been stolen. He goes on a rampage across the city in an attempt to retrieve it while using any means necessary to get enough electricity to keep the mechanical heart he's been stuck with functioning.

The original "Crank" was a crazy, ultra-violent film that unfolded like a live-action video game. The sequel is more of the same, but with an emphasis on truly ugly and gory violence and twisted, off-color humor. Both of these were present in the original film, but they have been emphasized even more here.

So, not only is this an ugly film full of ugly violence--such as the loving close-ups of a character cutting off his own nipples--but it lacks the originality of the first film. The humor isn't even as funny, with the filmmakers seeming to think that a Chinese hooker who can barely speak English and characters repeating over and over and over "Fuck You, Chelios!" is the height of hilarity.

A more pointless and disappointing sequel will be hard to make.

Click here to read my review of the orginal "Crank" at Watching the Detectives.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

You may wish to be murdered watching this

Murder By Television (aka The Houghland Murder Case) (1935)
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Charles Hill Mailes, Huntley Gordon, and June Collyer
Director: Clifford Sanforth
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

In the mid-30s, the promise of television had captivated the imagination of Americans. Experimental broadcasts were being conducted, and science fiction and fantasy writers of all stripes were inventing all sorts of adventures about the wonders and dangers that this amazing new media would present.

And that brings us to "Murder By Television", a 1930s techno-thriller that uses the fantastic new medium of televison as its jumping-off point. Sadly, the film doesn't live up to its promise, especially given the cast of noted mystery/sci-fi genre players.

In "Murder By Television", independently wealthy, eccentric, and independent-minded inventor James Houghland (Mailes) has created the perfect television broadcast system. Every corporation that has has been working to commercialize the new technology, and an array of governments ranging from the United States to certain sinister foreign powers want to have control of Houghland's wondrous invention, but he has rebuffed them all. The air is thick with plots and schemes as Houghland gathers friends and fellow inventors--among them criminologist and medical pioneer Dr. Scofield (Gordon)--demonstrates the power of his creation by receiving and rebroadcasting images from around the world, without the use of broadcast towers. His triumphant demonstration is cut short, however, as he is murdered during his live broadcast, for all viewers to see. It seems one of the many factions trying to get their hands on the invention deciced to end the compeition by eliminating the prize.

As a police commissioner who had been among Houghland's guests investigates the murder--which is made all the more mysterious by the fact that Houghland simply dropped dead--all suspicion stars to fall on Arthur Perry, Houghland's newly hired assistant (Lugosi). But when Perry is found murdered, it seems that the detective has been outwitted... at least until members of Houghland's household start seeing Perry's ghost.

"Murder By Television" has at its heart a great idea, and it could actually have been a neat cross between a murder mystery and a sci-fi thriller... if only the filmmakers had shown even the slightest idea of how to enliven a film, or perhaps even the slightest grasp of how to approach the visual medium that the story revolves around.

Instead of being an exciting, "Murder By Television" plays like a bad radio play that someone made a halfhearted attempt at translating into film. Most of the film consists of the actors standing around delivering bad expository dialogue, and it seems that only the comic relief characters (a wide-eyed black cook/maid (played by future Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel), and a self-parodying Chinese houseboy (with secrets of his own) seem to be the only actors who are putting any energy into their parts. Even Lugosi--who can usually be counted on to chew every bit of scenery into tiny pieces--seems to have phoned in his performance.

It also doesn't help the film that one of the story's twists is set up in such a ham-fisted way that it ends up not being a twist at all. I kept hoping for a double-reversal, but it never came. Worse, there's an ongoing nonsensical bit with a comic relief character who is constantly trying to break into the house, but it's never explained why.

In fairness to the film, the copy I viewed was severely degraded, with many missing frames and at least one scene that seems to be missing almost entirely. Perhaps that is where the "I've got business in the house" character is explained. But, even allowing for that, "Murder By Television" is a dull, badly done B-movie... and I say this having wanted to like it alot. There was so much potential here, and I think it a shame that it was wasted so badly.

Earlier this month, I put up the website intended to support the 150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See book releasing in November. It occurs to me that some of you might be interested in checking it out, especially since there's an opportunity to watch a Bela Lugosi movie on it. (He's my Bad Movie Personality of the Month for September.) Click here to visit the website.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The most uneventful monster movie ever?

Night Fright (aka "ETN: The Extraterrestrial Nasty") (1967)
Starring: John Agar
Director; James Sullivan
Rating: Zero of Ten Stars

A strange object crashes to Earth, and soon a mysterious monster is stalking and killing in the woods near a small Southern town. It's up to Sheriff Clint Crawford (Agar) to stop the beast before it claims the lives of too many of the bland characters being portrayed by horrible actors.

"Night Fright" is about 20 minutes worth of third-rate monster movie stretched an additional hour with scenes of aimless driving, aimless wandering in the woods, and pointless "character development" scenes where the cast of truly awful actors get to show how little talent they have. Adding to this is some of the worst dialogue ever written for a movie in the English language, awful editing, and an even worse soundtrack, and you have a movie that even the robots on "Mystery Science Theater 3000" couldn't make entertaining. To finally make the movie completely worthless, the monster is virtually not in the movie at all. (This is sort of blessing in disguise, I suppose, as the monster is almost as goofy looking as its explained origin.)

There is no reason to watch this movie. It's too bad and bloated with padding to even be amusing.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who knew the ocean was that deep?

The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1956)
Starring: Kent Taylor, Kathy Downs, and Michael Whale
Director: Dan Milner
Rating: One of Ten Stars

When dead fishermen and skin-divers start washing up on the beach near a small university, with radiation burns on their bodies, marine researcher and scientific genius crack-pot Dr. Ted Stevens (Taylor) senses that maybe it is his theories that have been put to nefarious use. He hooks up with the beautiful Lois (Downs), the daughter of a marine researcher who is at the very least Stevens' equal in the scientific genius crack-pot department, Prof. King (Whale). Can it be that King has accidentially (or purposefully) created a super-weapon using oceanography and atomic radition? The agents of sinister foreign powers and the square-jawed Defense Department investigators think so... and the bizarre sea creature lurking in the waters off the coast tends to agree with the theory as well.

"The Beast from 10,000 Leagues" is a Z-grade example of the 1950s-style sci-fi/monster flick where a scientist successful proves that we won't have better living through science, and that there really are Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know.

Unfortunately, the extreme low buget (much of which was probably spent on a rather nicely done special effect toward the end of the movie--assuming that wasn't footage borrowed from some other movie), tragically bad and dull camera work, the same rowboat used in every shot that requires a boat, a goofy-looking sea monster whose preferred method of attack seems to be hugging his victims to death, and a script that's even more illiterate than the film's title might imply add up to a disaster of a movie. Its only saving grace is that it moves along fast enoug, and offers enough moments of unintetional comedy, to not send the viewer completely into a boredom coma.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Maybe I fell asleep, but what was the point?

The American (2010)
Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen, and Thekla Reuten
Director: Anton Corbijn
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

A freelance assassin and gunsmith (Clooney) finds that he himself may be targeted by assassins. He retreats to a small Italian village where he sets about making one last weapon before retirement... and gradually starts to reconnect with humanity.

This is probably the best-looking, best-acted film that will ever be featured on this blog.

Every single shot is absolutely perfectly composed and gorgeous to look at. George Clooney is better here than even in the films he did for the Coen Brothers. The rest of the cast likewise show themselves to be masters of their craft--they have to, because much of this film is conveyed through body language and subtle facial expressions instead of dialogue. To call this movie "quiet" is almost an understatement... there is barely even soundtrack music.

But for all the good things here, it is lacking one very important element: A story.

As gorgeous as this movie is and as great as the acting was, nothing of any consequence happens in this film. Sure, there's a little action. Sure, there's a gorgeous babe who spends most of her time on screen completely naked. Sure, George Clooney makes a gun for a mysterious hit-woman. But what passes for the plot here adds up to a whole lot of nothing.

Not having a strong plot isn't necessarily a bad thing for a film that is first and foremost a character piece. But what is bad here is that it's a character piece where we never go below the surface of the characters. The actors are giving the script their all, but nothing is brought to light with those performances because the story goes nowhere. Hell, we barely learn anything about their daily lives, other than the most superficial things. (I referred to Clooney as an assassin in my summary, but I'm not convinced that's an accurate description. The preview for the film refers to him as an assassin, there are moments in the film where I believe he's an assassin--especially in the opening sequence--but he seemed more like a master gunsmith who sometimes takes to the front lines to me. Maybe I missed a key exchange?)

Maybe I nodded off during a key moment of the film; as I said, this is very quiet movie... perhaps the most quiet I've ever seen that involves gunplay and killing. I don't think that I did, because the visuals were mostly engaging. However, it's fairly early in the film that it becomes apparent that things are going nowhere... and no matter how beautiful the scenery is, it gets dull watching it when you know there's no point. Heck, even the Big Sex Scene seemed like it went on and on and on and on and on.

I really wish I liked this movie more than I do, but I think the Two Stars may be even too generous a rating. They are being awarded for the great acting and beautiful visuals, because in all other areas, this movie is a complete failure.