Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

Currently Showing at Cinema Steve

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Celebretard and the Media Moron

As I've said previously, I think Jesse James is an asshole and a diwmit. However, there's no reason for the idiocy that's been stirred up around this picture:

Click here to see the hysterical gossip article that was written to go with the above photo. Apparently, for the writer, the photo raises the following question: "Is James -- who has since checked into rehab -- a neo-Nazi?"

How does one draw that conclusion from that photo? Looks to me like James is trying to be funny rather than respectful of Hitler and Nazis. To me, that photo looks like the sort of thing any number of people might do if they were among friends and trying to get a laugh.

A more interesting question would be why the "friend" who took that picture would leak it to the media.

I suppose similar dimwits might draw the conclusion that I'M a neo-Nazi because of my upcoming observance of the destruction of the Third Reich, or because I always played the German when we played soldiers as kids because I owned a toy Luger.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Nazis Quit Mini-Blogathon Participants

A couple of other bloggers have expressed an interest in participating in my "Nazis Quit!" blogathon! If I get a few more interested parties promising to post Nazi-related reviews during the weeks between April 5 and May 7, it won't be a mini-blogathon. The following blogs will be participating in addition to my own:

I Like Horror Movies

Motion Picture Gems

If others decide to join in, I'll announce their particpation here as well. Maybe you'll like to post a review or two about pop-cultural Nazis in order to mark the anniversary of their well-deserved defeat? Click here for details on how you can participate.

Dick Giordano dead at 77

Influential American comic book artist and editor Dick Giordano passed away this past Saturday at the age of 77. Among his many noteworthy achievements was helping to reestablish Batman as one of DC Comics' premiere superhero titles, illustrating the very best comic book adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula", and providing sleek finishes for just about every top artist who has worked for a major comics publisher since the mid-1960s. Much of Neal Adams' popularity during the 1970s can be attributed to Giordano's inks, I believe. Giordano provided a focus and clarity to Adams' art that no other inker (including Adams himself) has been able to do.

Another artistic giant has left us. The world is poorer for it.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Coming Soon:
The 65th Anniversary of Nazi Defeat
(plus Oliver Stone and Unknown Hitler)

Starting next month, I'll be conducting a celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Nazi Germany being bombed into oblivion by the United States and its allies. By way of a preview and to show that I'm not the only observing this milestone....

Oliver Stone's next project will open our minds and show us that Hitler and Stalin are people to the empathized with. Stone will show showing us Hitler really wasn't such a bad guy after all. You can read about it here.

I applaud Oliver Stone for giving Hitler the fair shake he's been denied by everyone except the likes of Americans in the early 1930s (many of whom regretted having said nice things about Hitler's Germany later on) and Hamas and Yassir Arafat and Saddam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and any number of neo-Nazis leaders. The same goes to Stalin and Mao; they've been vilified by everyone save Barack Obama's advisers and Hugo Chavez, near as I can tell.

I wonder, though, if Oliver Stone will be able to match the well-deserved respect that Mel Brooks' gave Hitler in his classic song "The Hitler Rap." If Stone and Showtime are serious about giving such a great man the respect he and his movement deserve, they will be licensing Brooks' song for use in their series.

If Mel Brooks' song is too expensive, maybe they can secure this one:

While we wait for Oliver Stone to show us the Hitler we never knew (but should not vilify, because there is no person is "bad" or "good" according to Oliver Stone), here's my attempt at a documentary putting Hitler in context.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shades of things to come?

Hugo Chavez continues to silence his opposition....

Owner of Anti-Chavez TV channel arrested

Here in the US, Our Glorious Leader and his cronies have been directly targeting media outlets and media personalities who have dared to be critical of him. Next time some of you out there decide to support the government cracking down on what is and isn't acceptable political speech and commentary, keep in mind what goes on in Venezuela and other dictatorships that don't have protected Freedom of Speech.

And, no matter what idiots like Sean Penn say, Hugo Chavez is a dictator. Obama has the personality and bearing of a dictator and only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are keeping him in check. (Not that the Constitution seems to mean a whole lot to him and his fellow travelers.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Robert Culp passes away

Robert Culp, the veteran actor best known for starring with Bill Cosby in the classic 1960s espionage-adventure series "I Spy" and for playing Bob in the 1969 movie "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," died Wednesday morning. He was 79.

Culp fell and hit his head while taking a walk outside his Hollywood Hills home. He was found by a jogger who called 911 and was pronounced dead at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Lt. Bob Binder of the Los Angeles Police Department. An autopsy is pending.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Revival of Cinema Sparks Debate in Saudi Arabia

For the Muslim Maniac file....

The "debate" isn't over too much violence or too much sex or too much obscenity or too much smoking in movies. The "debate" is over whether movies should be seen at all.

Revival of Cinema Sparks Debate in Saudi Arabia

(Oh... and the reason debate is "debate," is because the pro-movie side is writing editorials while the anti-movie side is threatening to kill people. As usual.)

'The Forbidden Kingdom' is worth visiting

The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Michael Angarano, Yifei Liu, Colin Chou, and Bingbing Li
Director: Rob Minkoff
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

A nerdy American teenager (Angarano) is transported to mythical ancient China where he must free the immortal Monkey King (Li) by returning his magical fighting staff to him and engineering the defeat of the Jade Warlord (Chou). He is aided in his quest by a drunken warrior-scholar (Chan), a taciturn monk (Li, again), and a vengeance-seeking young bard (Liu).

"The Forbidden Kingdom" is a martial arts fantasy extravaganza that the entire family can enjoy. It's got action, humor, fantastic set and costume design, interesting heroes, flashy villains, and some pretty nifty martial arts scenes. The storyline seems to have been arrived at by a thorough blending of 30 years of martial arts movies, Asian mythology, western fantasy fiction and movies. The film plays both as its own stand-alone work and as a loving tribute to all the many sources it draws from.

On a technical level, I was in awe over the incredible attention to detail shown by the production staff on this film. Particularly impressive was the costuming and make-up of the Monkey King and the bird-like, whitehaired Witch (who is a character bound to creep out the young kids in the audience and who is played with chilling iciness by Bingbing Li) and the continuity between shots and scenes in sequences such as the battle between Chan and Li's characters in an abandoned temple, or the effects on Liu's Young Sparrow character from the fight with the Witch. If there is an award for continuity control, this film deserves one!

If you're a parent who loves Asian mythology, martial arts and fantasy--or perhaps even just fantasy-- and you want to share that this is a film you should share with your 10-14 year-old kids.

And if the family enjoys "The Forbidden Kingdom", allow me to recommend my favorite obscure anime "Mask of Zeguy" (aka simply "Zeguy". It's a similar tale where a teenaged girl is transported to a mythical kingdom in the clouds and must save both it and our world from an evil sorceress. It may only be available via services like Netflix these days, but you won't regret chasing it down.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Portrait of the Celebretard as a Raging Idiot

A blog entry titled "Sean Penn is Not a Smart Man Or a Patriot" has been posted at Aside from the fact that whoever wrote that headline isn't very smart either (or at least not a fan of proper English), it's not a bad article. It preserves in amber a perfect portrait of the moron who is Sean Penn. Click here to check it out.

The writer did leave out one of Penn's most idiotic statement, but one the illustrates why he gives head to Iranian mullahs and Hugo Chavez whenever he can see his way clear to it. Sean Penn, American patriot that he is, believes that free speech is only for him and those who agree with his viewpoint. Everyone else should be imprisoned.

On Bill Maher's HBO show, Penn stated, in yet another expression of his undying love for the dictatorial, terrorism-supporting socialist president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez, "Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it. And this is mainstream media. There should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies."

Maybe if Chavez would stop shutting down newspapers and broadcast companies in his country that criticized him, American journalists would stop calling him a dictator. (Although Penn may soon get his wish. Our own government appears to be increasingly moving increasingly in that direction, what with Our Dear Leader targeting media companies and individuals from his bully pulpit.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

'Time Bandits' is timeless fantasy classic

Time Bandits (1982)
Starring: David Warnock, David Warner, Sean Connery, John Cleese, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, and Ralph Richardson
Director: Terry Gilliam
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

Young David (Warnock) is sucked up in an adventure across time and space as dwarf-like assistants to the Supreme Being (Richardson) steal a map of Creation and use it to enrich themselves. Meanwhile, the Evil Genius (Warner) is hot on their trail, hoping to get his hands on the ultimate secrets.

"Time Bandits" is a true classic that stands firmly against the passage of time. In fact, it compares very favorably to the modern CGI extravaganzas, generally blowing them out of the water with its gritty, low-tech feel. (As far as on-screen portrayals, I'll take the Ancient Greece of "Time Bandits" any day over that in "300".)

"Time Bandits" is a wild absurdist sci-fi comedy that fully brings the feeling of a dream and the true sensibilities of old-school fairy tales to the Big Screen like no movie has ever managed to do. Although ostensibly a movie for kids, the humor, action, and messages are things that adults will be able to enjoy with equal pleasure.

The acting and writing is top-notch, the special effects--although decidedly low-tech--are all very effective, the sets tremendously detailed and they actually manage to convey the feeling of what the historical locales visited in the film were probably like. The twisted presentation of historical figures (like the publicity hound Robin Hood and a Napoleon suffering from the ultimate case of Short Man's Complex) are things that every viewer will get a kick out of, and every viewer will likewise feel Kevin's sorrow and pain when the Time Bandits drag him away from the perfect father--in the form of King Agamemnon in Ancient Greece.

"Time Bandits" is a true cinematic classic. It should be seen by all movie lovers, particularly those who love sci-fi flicks and well-made comedies.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A cool post series at Carfax Abbey

Matthew Coniam has been posting some very interesting and informative material about long-defunct movie studio Monogram. Some of their movies from the 1930s and 1940s helped rekindle my love for film, after suffering burn-out following my stint as a paid reviewer in the early 1990s, and Comiam's postings during his "Monogram Month" have given me all sorts of information about this long gone entity I never knew.

Click here to read this informative series.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How to tell a guy is a moron

He's married to an attractive, smart and RICH woman... and he STILL sleeps around. This is Mrs. Jesse James, aka Sandra Bullock.

First, there was just an allegation that Jesse James was an idiot. That was yesterday, as reported here.

Then, today, Jesse James confirmed that he is indeed an idiot. We're not quite sure how big an idiot, but I suppose that will come out eventually as well. You can read his "apology" to his wife and children here.

Anyone who cheats on their spouse is counted among the lowest form of human being, but a guy like James is both a creep and dumb. (Or maybe he's just been sleeping with his dogs?)

You can read reviews of movies featuring Sandra Bullock at the Watching the Detectives blog by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A watch that truly is a piece of crap

Switzerland-based watchmaker Artya is set to release an expensive watch that isn't made gold or titanium but rather a more earthy material--dinosaur dung.

Designer Yvan Arpa said Monday the fossilized feces came from a plant-eater that died about 100 million years ago in what is now the U.S. The strap is made from the skin of American cane toads. It will sell for around $11,000

Sunday, March 14, 2010

'You ever seen a grown man naked?'

I wonder if that's the sort of line Peter Graves thought he'd be best remembered for when he started his acting career.

Peter Graves passed away today at the age of 83. He died at his home in California's Pacific Palisades. Over his career, he starred in dozens of B-movies (like "The Beginning of the End") and several television series (like "Mission: Impossible" and as the narrator of "Biography", but nothing he did was as funny as his role in "Airplane!" one of the first and still the greatest "spoof" films.

Some of the humor in "Airplane!" is too dated to be funny or even comprehensible when viewed 30 years later, but it's still a milestone of madcap hilarity that it should be seen every so often just to remind ourselves that there USED to be madcap comedies better than "Disaster Movie!" and "An American Carol."

And to see Peter Graves with a straight face ask a young boy, "Joey, do you like gladiator movies?"

Thursday, March 11, 2010 Removes Buy Buttons from Diamond's Publishers Removes Buy Buttons from Diamond's Publishers had a strange problem that causes bizarre discounting on graphic novels distributed by Diamond. A number of these are for sale through links at the bottom of a number of my reviews. I hope some of you out there were able to take advantage of the super-good deals!

(Strangely, the FUBAR'ed sales prices on Diamond titles seem to be sperading to other online retailers, at least according to gossip on a couple of comic book industry blogs.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

'The Trouble With Harry' is worth getting into

The Trouble with Harry (1955)
Starring: John Forsythe, Edmund Gwenn, and Shirly MacLaine
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

One fall morning, a mysterious stranger (identified as Harry by an envelop in his pocket) dies in the forest near a small Vermont town, and several of the citizens think they accidentally killed him. The retired sea captain (Gwenn) thinks he shot him while aiming at a rabbit; the single mother with a sketchy past (MacLaine) thinks she killed him by striking him with a milk bottle, and the spinster thinks she killed him after beaning him with a hiking boot. They all want to cover up the murder they think they've committed, and free-spirited, game-for-anything painter Sam Marlowe (Forsythe) is more than happy to lend his assistance at grave-digging. But Harry doesn't stay buried, and as the group of conspirators struggle to find the best way to put the trouble with Harry behind them, the local deputy sheriff receives a report of a dead man in the forest... and his investigation quickly leads him to the four grave-digging friends.

"The Trouble with Harry" is a fun little black comedy about a group of people who act on assumptions rather than fact. It has an odd juxtaposition of light-hearted, romantic comedy with grim murder and death, as romances form over Harry's dead body. This, along with the fact that none of the main characters really seem all that concerned about Harry being dead is where much of the film's humor comes from.

The actors all give great performances, and MacLaine was really cute when she was young. There are some very clumsy moments--such as a couple complete failures at slapstick at a couple of occasions, and the times where characters are just a little too oblivious for sake of plot--and the film takes on a bit too much the feel of a stage play at times, but it's still pretty good. The excellent score by Bernard Hermann gets a full Star by itself; "The Trouble with Harry" score is perhaps the best music he did.

Although one of Hitchcock's personal favorites, "The Trouble with Harry" isn't the best movie he did, but it is an enjoyable, quirky effort with a strange sort of charm.

Click here to read reviews of early Hitchcock films at Shades of Gray: Reviews From a Place Where Everything is in Black & White.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 - Senate Staffers Warned to Stay Clear of Drudge Report - Senate Staffers Warned to Stay Clear of Drudge Report

Posted using ShareThis

This is all good and well. An employee at one of the offices I manage downloaded some Malware while visiting Yahoo or Craigslist to a terminal. It was a pain in the ass to get rid of. But I have to wonder why the warning didn't just go out about ALL news aggregators... or even sites like Daily Kos? Is the Drudge Report really that different from or the main page?

Tales of the Thin Man

Perhaps the greatest on-screen marriage of all times is that of Nick and Nora Charles, the sleuthing partiers-turned-parents that were originally created by legendary mystery writer Dashell Hammett. The films they appeared in have been collected in a DVD boxed set that is worthy of them.

Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops for "The Thin Man Collection", a seven DVD set that presents near-flawless transfers of the "Thin Man" comedies from the 1930s and 1940s and such a huge selection of extras that most other DVD sets you buy after this one will feel overpriced.

For around $40 (if you buy the set through, you get all six classic Thin Man comedies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, excellent documentaries on Powell and Loy, and a wide selection of cartoons and short features. In fact, every disc in the set can be used to replicate an "old time night at the movies," with short films to watch before the feature presentation. Each every one of them is fascinating and great fun, with the "Tell-Tale Heart" adaptation included is particularly excellent.

If you haven't seen the Thin Man flms and have any appreciation for classic comedies or the detective films of the 1930s and 1940s, you absolutely must, at the very least, see "The Thin Man". If you need a gift for someone who loves classic movies, you can't go wrong if you get them "The Thin Man Collection". I guarentee they will love every minute of it.

As for the Thin Man movies themselves, read on for my take on each of them.

The Thin Man (1934)
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Maureen O'Sullivan, Nat Pendleton, Edward Ellis, Mina Gombell and William Henry
Director: W.S. van Dyke

When the return to New York City of retired ace private detective Nick Charles (Powell) coincides with a former client (Ellis) disspearing while under a cloud of suspicion of murder, everyone from cops to crooks assumes he's on the case. Nick, however, wants nothing to do with crime-solving, preferring instead to celebrate the Christmas holiday with his loving wife Nora (Loy) in a drunken stupour. When bullets start flying in his direction, and a police detective (Pendleton) starts drawing conclusions that are obviously wrong to Nick, he takes up the case with his terrier Asta on a leash in one hand and a drink in the other.

"The Thin Man" is one of the best comedy/mysteries ever made. It's got a strong mystery driving the plot, it's got incredibly funny dialogue of the sort that very few writers are capable of creating today and even fewer actors are capable of delivering properly, and it features one of the funniest, warmest martital relationships to ever appear on film. I think this is also probably the only movie where the detective spends the entire story--which spans several weeks--drunk as a skunk!

Although it was filmed by the low-budget division of Warner Bros., "The Thin Man" was the most popular film of 1934 and it was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor (for William Powell). It's easy to see why. Powell and Loy's onscreen chemistry and high-energy bantering gives the impression of a very believable couple who are deeply in love and equal partners in their relationship, even if she's from a background of wealth and he's come up from the street. They're equally witty, equally adventerous, and equally hard-drinking.

Another aspect of the film that is hilarous is the spoofing of detective fiction mainstays.

Like Sherlock Holmes, it seems that every other person in Nick Charles' circle of friends and acquaintances is a crook he sent to jail at one point--most of the guests at the Christmas party held by Nick and Nora are of the criminal class--and most of the people he has chance meetings with are of the same type. (Yet, Nick is so charming and likable that even criminals he sent up the river end up being his pals.)

Even funnier is the spoofing of the typical Agatha Christie climax where the detective gathers all the suspects together to reveal who the murderer is. Here, Nick and Nora throw a very expensive dinner party and Nick has his police detective friends bring the guests wether they want to come or not. Nick playing host while unspooling his theory of the crime at the same time leads to some very funny misunderstandings at the table.

With William Powell and Myrna Loy providing the film with a solid center of charm and wit, and a cast of excellent supporting actors including Maureen O'Sullivan and Nat Pendleton orbiting around them, "The Thin Man" is a comedy classic that is as fun and entertaining today as it was when it first premiered nearly 75 years ago. It's a movie that is well deserving of the label "classic."

After the Thin Man (1936)
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Elissa Landi, Joseph Calleia, Sam Levene, Polly Singleton, James Stewart and George Zucco
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Nick and Nora Charles (Powell and Loy) return to San Francisco hoping to spend a quiet New Year's Eve alone at home. But they arrive to find their house full of revelers who are there for a surprise party in their honor and Nick is quickly (and reluctantly) drawn into a scandal brewing around Nora's wealthy relatives: It starts with the gold-digging husband of her cousin (Landi) vanishing and gets worse when she becomes the prime suspect in his murder.

"After the Thin Man" is a fast-paced mystery movie that lovers of classic films will enjoy quite a bit. It delivers a solid story portrayed by a talented cast and filmed with a high degree of skill. It's good, but it's nothing rises to the dizzying heights of hilarity as "The Thin Man", nor is the back and forth of loving putdowns and snappy comebacks between Nick and Nora as free-flowing.

This is still a very well done comedy mystery that captures the feel of San Francisco's high society during the Roaring Twenties, and if it wasn't the follow-up to a masterpiece, I might have felt a little less dissapointed in it. The fact is, though, that it's not until the final ten minutes of running time that the movie fully exhibits the qualities that made "The Thin Man" such an amazing film.

William Powell and Myrna Loy are as charasmatic here as they were in the first movie, even if the script isn't quite as good. They aided by a great supporting cast of talented actors who present a gallery of quirky and suspicious characters, with a young James Stewart giving a particuarly good performance. In fact, James Stewart's performance is a key element of the ending being as effective as it is. (The very cute denoument will also leave you with a smile on your face and thinking about checking out the sequel, "Another Thin Man".)

Another Thin Man (1939)
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Otto Kruger, Nat Pendleton, C. Aubrey Smith, Virginia Grey and Tom Neal
Director: W. S. Van Dyke
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

One-time party-circuit mainstays and trouble-magnets Nick and Nora Charles (Powell and Loy), now the proud parents of a baby boy, have resolved to put their wild lives of partying and crime-solving behind them. However, when the manager of Nora's investments (Smith) is murdered under mysterious circumstances, the pair are drawn into solving a mystery where the only apparent suspects either have air-tight alibis or end up dead themselves.

It is said the couples mature once they have a child and Nick and Nora seem to be holding true to that in their third cinematic adventure, "Another Thin Man". There's no partying--with the exception of just about everyone Nick ever "sent up the river" in New York bringing babies to the Charles' residence to help celebrate Nicky Jr.'s first birthday--very little boozing (even if Nick sneaks a drink every chance he gets) and while a visit to a night-time hotspot shows that Nora can still wrap any man around her finger, it ultimately serves to give another illustration of the deep affection that she and Nick have for one another and to underscore their newly discovered maturity.

Although the tone of "Another Thin Man" is a little different than the two previous movies, it's still very funny. The humor now revolves mostly around Nick and Nora's marriage (and Nick's rough-and-tumble past) and their relationship with one another remains as playful as ever even without the free-flowing booze. The mystery featured is also very fascinating although it gets a little too tangled for its own good and comes across as just a little too far fetched, something I suspect even the writers were aware of since they had a character comment that she feared the scheme was too involved.

The cast all do an excellent job, and I think letting Nick and Nora "grow up" was a wise decision, not just because they have a child now, but because it seems believable; William Powell and Myrna Loy were starting to show the fact they were well into their middle years, so it seems right that the most beloved characters they ever portrayed should age and mature as well. The only dissapointment I felt with this second sequel to "The Thin Man" was that the now-expected round-up of all the suspects and Nick ultimately fingering the murderer was not as funny as the one in the original film, nor as dramatic as the one in "Another Thin Man". (The twist revelation of the killer's identity is undermined in part by the performer in the role not having the talent of James Stewart--the shift in personality and demeanor simply isn't as convincing or shocking.)

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Sam Levene, Lou Lubin, Barry Nelson, Donna Reed, Henry O'Neill, Stella Adler, Loring Smith and Joseph Anthony
Director: W.S. Van Dyke
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

When a friend is accused of murdering a shady journalist, Nick and Nora Charles (Powell and Loy) are drawn into an investigation of a large racketeering and gambling operation.

"Shadow of the Thin Man" is the fourth installment in the Thin Man series, and it is the weakest entry so far. Stars William Powell and Myrna Loy display the same on-screen chemistry they've shown since the series' beginning, and Nick and Nora's relationship is as fun and interesting to watch unfold as ever, but the script they are working with here is average fare for the comedy/mystery genre of the day. The only unusual touch is Nick and Nora's son, Nick Jr. It's rare to see a wise-cracking movie detective like Nick Charles wrapped around the finger of a four year-old kid.

Although light on plot and jokes, the film still features a fine cast, a brisk pace, and a nice mystery that unfolds mostly in the open so the attentive viewers can solve the crime along with Nick if they choose. The humor and the great chemistry and charm of William Powell and Myrna Low make this film as entertaining today as it was in 1941. The only reason I felt a little dissapointed in the film was because it follows such a trio of excellent films that it feels like it represents a severe drop-off in quality.

The Thin Man Goes Home (1944)

Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Harry Davenport, Lucile Watson, Gloria DeHaven, Edward Brophy, Lloyd Corrigan, Helen Vison and Leon Ames
Directors Richard Thorpe and Norman Taurog
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

While Nick and Nora Charles (Powell and Loy) are vacationing in the small town where Nick grew up, a man is assassinated, literally in the doorway of the home of Nick's parents. Nora thinks this is a perfect opportunithy for Nick to show his father he isn't the drunken lout he believes him to be, and she pushes Nick to investigate the crime.

"The Thin Man Goes Home" is a change of pace and scenery for the classic "Thin Man" series of comedy-mysteries. Instead of being set in the swanky rooms of the wealthiest in America's largest cities, it takes place among the rich and powerful citizens in a picturesque small American town... and they are revealed to be every bit as vicious and self-centered and potentially evil as their supposedly more urbane counterparts.

The mystery in this film is more multi-faceted and involved than the one Nick was confronted with in the installment of the series immediately prior to this one ("Shadow of the Thin Man", review here), making the film more interesting. The jokes and physical humor in this film are also funnier and more finely honed than they've been since the first movie in the series, making this the best sequel since "After the Thin Man", review here).

Another difference in the film is that Nick actually solves the multiple mysteries that are tangled together in this film stone cold sober! Nick doesn't touch a drop of alcohol for the entire movie, because he is trying to impress his father (and also because in 1944, liquor was being rationed due to the war effort).

What is the same, however, is the wonderful onscreen chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy, and the continued portrayal of the pefect married relationship shared by the Charleses. I really can't think of an on-screen married couple that are as fun as these two and the back-and-forth between these two characters are as important to these films as the mysteries. (Relationship highlights in this film include a fun exchange over Nora's failed attempt to set up a lawnchair; Nora buying a birthday present for Nick thinking it is tied to fond memories and later discovering that she didn't get the full story when it came to his childhood reminicing; and Nick stranding Nora at a charity dance with a jitterbugging sailor so he can go on an investigation. Actually, the scene at the charity dance is one of the highlights of the entire Thin Man series!)

It maybe nearly 65 years since "The Thin Man Goes Home" was made, but the humor is still fresh and story is as good, and even better, than the vast of majority of films that have been made since.

Song of the Thin Man (1947)
Starring: William Powell, Myrna Loy and Keenan Wynn
Dierctor: Edward Buzzell
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Socialites Nick and Nora Charles (Powell and Loy) find themselves fish-out-water as they navigate a different type of party scene--that of jazz clubs and beatniks--to clear a hood-gone-straight of a murder charge.

The second to last line that William Powell speaks as Nick Charles is, "I'm going to retire."

Almost every aspect of "Song of the Thin Man" seems to be geared toward underscoring the point that the Charles' are getting a bit long in the tooth and that it is, indeed, time to retire.

Their one-time freewheeling party life has become focused on charity dinners and similar events, Nick is no longer recognized and welcomed everywhere he goes by cops and robbers alike--they all seem to have already retired--and when they do venture into the roaring jazz scene of the late 1940s, they are confused and disconcerted by what they find. To top it off, a real threat is launched against young Nick, Jr. as the couple are off on their investigation.

More than in any other of the Thin Man films, we see Nick and Nora out of their element, and we see that they're uncomfortable. While this occured in earlier films, they usually charmed their way through any possible discomfort, but they can't quite pull that off here. They are well into middle age, and the world is starting to accelerate past them.

While Myrna Loy is as gorgeous as ever, despite clearly being about a decade-and-a-half older than when the first film was made, William Powell looks tired in this film and even older perhaps than his 58 years. He looks like someone who would be uncomfortable around weird jazz musicians, and it's a shame, because Nick Charles shouldn't be uncomfortable around anyone.

Despite the fact that Nick and Nora feel like they are past their prime, Myrna Loy and William Powell still show the tremendous on-screen chemistry that carried this series from the very beginning. In fact, because the characters seem older and calmer, the chemsistry between the actors comes through even stronger. The true love that Nick and Nora have for each other is obviously one that will last until death do them part.

Aside from being saturated with the feeling that Nick and Nora's day has come and gone, the script for "Song of the Thin Man" is one of the weaker ones in the series. It's better than the one for "Shadow of the Thin Man", but it's a long way from the one that launched the series or even the one that immediately preceeded it, "The Thin Man Goes Home". The "big reveal" is particularly weak, almost as if the writers didn't quite know how to handle the Agatha Christie-style "gathering of the suspects" climax that had become part-and-parcel with the series. I almost wish they'd broken with convention, because they do a very poor job of trying to work it in.

Despite the fact that I felt a slight melancholy while watching the film, because of the sense that these two beloved characters were over-the-hill, "Song of the Thin Man" is still a funny comedy mystery with a plot that you aren't likely to figure out all the components of until Nick forces the truth into the open in the film's last minute. It may not be as good as early entries in the series, but it's still a film that holds up extremely well and that is as enjoyable now as it was sixty years ago.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Mandroid Duology

In the mid-1990s, while virtually all of Band's productions were being filmed at studios and locations in Romania, a pair of comic-booky features issued forth. One quite good, the other pretty bad. They revolved around a remote-controlled robot known as the Mandroid.

Mandroid (1993)
Starring: Brian Symonds, Jane Caldwell, Brian Cousins, Patrik Ersgaard, Michael Della Femina, Curt Lowens and Ion Haiduc
Director: Jack Ersgaard
Producers: Charles Band, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

As the Soviet Union collapses, Dr. Zimmer (Symonds) decides to sell his remote-controlled, industructable robot--the Mandroid--and the wonder-materials that power it to the United States of American. But, as an American CIA agent (Ersgaard) and a dashing young scientist (Cousins) arrive to close the deal, Zimmer's collegue Dr. Drago (Lowens) decides to seize the robot in order to forge a deal of his own.

"Mandroid" is basically a live action comic book. It's full of one-dimensional characters, nonsensical science, and violence of a sort you only find in cartoon and comic books. (A car slams into a wall high speed and the occupant is barely dazed, a character is shot in the chest at point blank range is he barely bleeds, and the villain is horribly burned by experimental chemicals and all that appears to happen is that he developes a horrible rash and weird facial features. Oh... and an experimental treatment doesn't heal a character but instead turns him invisible.)

It may be nonsense, but it's fun nonsense. It moves along at a fast pace, with the 71 minute running time zipping by like no time at all. You'll have to park your brain at the door, but if you like old style mad scientist movies, you'll like this one. It's the sort of thing Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, George Zucco, Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill would have been featured in.

(An interesting bit of triva: The poster for "Mandroid", from which the image at the top of this post was adapted, features a concept that doesn't appear until the sequel.)

Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (1994)
Starring: Brian Cousins, Jennifer Nash, Michael Della Femina, Curt Lowens, Aharon Impale and David Kaufman
Director: Jack Ersgaard
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Two scientists (Cousins and Nash) are working on finding a cure for a friend who was turned invisible during a lab accident (Della Femina) while continuing to develope the futuristic war-robot Mandroid. But their old enemy Dr. Drago (Lowens) is still lurking in the shadows, and a corrupt police commisioner (Impale) has decided he wants the Mandroid for his own purposes.

"Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight" is a Full Moon action extravaganza where the tiny budget is definately visible on the screen. There are several car crashes, car chases with running gun-fights, and two really feiry explosions.

Unfortunately, the explosions are the only fireworks in this film. The film suffers first and foremost from a lack of focus. While the villainous Dr. Drago's perverted lunatic minions are creepy, they don't fit with the tone of the rest of the movie... nor are any of the subplots tied to Drago effectively resolved. A more appropriate villain is the corrupt police chief who decides he wants the Mandroid robot for his own purposes, but not enough time is spent developing him, because Drago and his minions. (The highlight of Drago's involvement in the film is that it leads to him a sword-fight with Zanna while she is dressed in a skimply bellydancer's outfit. And, yes, it makes about as much sense as you think it does.)

Worse, the Mandroid is a complete waste of time and space in the film. Not only is nothing interesting done with it, but it seems smaller than it did in the previous film. I don't know if the guy in the suit is smaller or if they redesigned it, but it's just not as impressive as it was before.

Not nearly enough is done with the concept of Benjamin Knight's invisibility, nor is even that particularly central to most of the story.

In fact, nothing is particularly central to the story. The film is loose collection of ideas that never really coalese into anything that matters. The end result is a forgettable, empty movie that the only thing you'll remember about is the swordfight... just because it's so out of place. (Well, that and Jennifer Nash looks great in that red bellydancer outfit.)