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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

SANTA FE STAMPEDE -- Movie Review by Porfle


Originally posted on 4/14/21


Currently watching: SANTA FE STAMPEDE (1938), starring John Wayne, Max Terhune, and Ray "Crash" Corrigan as "The 3 Mesquiteers."

This horse opera is no better or worse than a lot of Duke's "B" westerns from the 30s, which means it's mildly enjoyable while also being wholly unremarkable.  

(I won't mention the fact that there aren't even any cattle in the movie, and thus no titular "stampede.")


The plot is the usual stuff about a town bigwig with a sinister plot to make a bundle of easy money at the expense of innocent townsfolk, with Duke getting wrongly accused of murder in the bargain.

The thing that sets it apart is that something happens midway through that's so shocking, and such a horrific downer, that it casts a pall of tragedy over the rest of the film from which it never recovers.

It's so bad, in fact, that seeing the main villain get punched unconscious by our hero at the end doesn't even begin to give us the vengeance we crave.


Nor does the traditional weak bit of comedy relief at the fadeout seem in any way appropriate for characters who should still be in a state of profound grief and outrage.

Probably the most noteworthy thing about it is that only a scant year later, John Wayne would finally become a major Hollywood star in John Ford's classic STAGECOACH.

But just as the horrific passenger plane crash in DIE HARD 2 lingered over that film's attempts at a feelgood ending, SANTA FE STAMPEDE's mid-film shocker plunges a hot branding iron through its modest enjoyment value.


Monday, January 30, 2023

THE PEANUT BUTTER SOLUTION -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Originally posted on 12/17/19


Imagine one of those ABC After School Specials in which the scripter slowly went insane during the process of writing it. If you can picture that, you'll have a pretty good idea of what it's like to watch the 1985 Canadian children's film THE PEANUT BUTTER SOLUTION (Severin Kids).

Michael (Mathew Mackay, LITTLE MEN, THE BOOK OF EVE) is a normal kid who likes to play soccer, and his sister Suzie (Alison Podbrey, THE SUM OF ALL FEARS) is struggling to take over the "Mom" role in the family while their real mom is away. Meanwhile, their eccentric dad Billy (Michael Hogan) is a successful painter working in the attic studio of their home.

When a nearly abandoned house burns, killing some homeless people trapped inside, Michael and his friend Conrad "Connie" Wong (Siluk Saysanasy of "Degrassi High" in a wonderfully likable performance) decide to explore it.

But when Michael goes inside, he sees something so frightening that, after a close-up in which he resembles a pint-sized Yahoo Serious, he goes into shock and then loses all of his hair, turning completely bald. 

So far, this is just like any other kids' show you might've tuned in to watch after school back in the 80s, and it might've even had Scott Baio in it. But when the ghosts of two dead "winos" appear to Michael in the dead of night and share with him a secret formula for restoring his hair (one involving, as you might guess, peanut butter), then that's when we fear the writer has started going progressively coo-coo.

Actually, a group of writers worked on the script, which takes us through Michael's painful first day back at school as a "baldy", effectively portraying a kind of emotional turmoil that most kids can identify with. His family and faithful friend Connie are shown trying to comfort the stricken lad, each in his or her quirky way, but to no avail.

Then Michael becomes even more of a freakish outsider when, after using too much peanut butter in the solution, his hair begins to grow at an alarming rate--several feet per hour, in fact--which is depicted in such bizarre terms that the film begins to take on much the same feel as iconic surrealist Fernando Arrabal's only children's film, THE EMPEROR OF PERU.

(I'm not even going to mention that part where Connie tries out the hair-growing solution on his...err, never mind. Suffice it to say, it's something you don't expect in your standard kids' film.)

With six feet or so of hair trailing behind him, Michael can't even walk to school without the wind twisting his flowing mane around a nearby hedge. It's here that he is kidnapped by the villain of the story, taken to a hidden location where there are several other recently abducted children, and made part of an insidious plot that's like something out of Ian Fleming during a flush of fevered imagination.

The story by this time has made a determined foray right into mind-bending fantasy territory to such an extent that it should delight both children and likeminded adults.

This involves magical paintings that one can enter, rendered with magical paintbrushes made from human hair (guess whose), and is all presided over by Michel Maillot as the delightfully sinister Signor Sergio, a frustrated artist recently fired from his teaching position at Michael's school for being, well, too damn weird.

Mathew Mackay and Alison Podbrey do a fine job as a relatably normal brother and sister, while Siluk Saysanasy often steals the show as Connie. Connie's own little sister Mai Ling (cute-as-a-button Nadka Takahataki) shows up as one of the kidnapped children.  The adult members of the cast are equally good, with special honors going to Maillot as The Signor.

Severin Films' new kids label, Severin Kids, is well-served by this good-looking entry which is both subtitled and closed-captioned with mono English sound.  Severin's usual well-stocked bonus menu includes an extended U.S. theatrical release version with extra footage, an easygoing commentary with producer Rock Demers and actor Mathew Mackay, a seperate interview with Demers, an interview with Siluck Saysanasy, a look at Canadian kids' films, and both Canadian and U.S. trailers. The Blu-ray's cover art is reversible.

THE PEANUT BUTTER SOLUTION is just the sort of kids' entertainment that places young viewers into a recognizable environment before taking a wondrously entrancing detour into the surreal.  I wish I'd been able to see it as a child, although my current inner child had a fantastic time.

Special Features:

    Extended U.S. Theatrical Release Version
    New Commentary with Producer Rock Demers and Actor Matthew MacKay, Moderated by Filmmaker Ara Ball
    Human Beings Are The Same All Over: An Interview with Producer Rock Demers
    Conrad’s Peanut Butter Solution: An Interview with Siluck Saysanasy
    Tales for All: Paul Corupe on Rock Demers and the Canadian Kids Film
    Canadian Trailer
    Original U.S. Trailer
    Reversible cover

Alternate cover art:


Sunday, January 29, 2023

AFTER.LIFE -- DVD review by porfle


Originally posted on 8/10/10


After a promising start, AFTER.LIFE (2009) gradually starts to resemble its protagonist--you're never really sure if it's alive or dead.

Christina Ricci is ideally cast as a grade school teacher named Anna Taylor, whose unhappy past makes it hard for her to love or accept love from others.  This gums up her relationship with fiance' wannabe Paul (Justin Long), and after a senseless argument Anna drives off into the rain and has a bad crack-up.  But instead of waking up in a hospital, Anna finds herself lying on a slab in a funeral home, whose creepy director, Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) tells her she's dead and that he will now guide her into the afterlife.

This is director Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo's feature debut, and her film is beautifully photographed.  There's a formal composition in some shots that reminded me of Kubrick, and she creates a strong Gothic atmosphere inside that gloomy, spacious funeral home.  She also makes the most visually of her leading lady (whose "Wednesday Addams" vibe remains undiminished), framing and posing her with an artist's eye as the camera lingers over her fascinating face and often-nude form.

But what could've been a deliriously dark chiller along the lines of PHANTASM, with a dollop of DEAD AND BURIED's autumnal morbidness thrown in, never really establishes a compelling mood or manages the kind of scares that it tries so hard to deliver.  The mystery of whether or not Anna is really dead loses steam when the film begins to drag about halfway through and can't decide if her predicament is supernatural or merely part of the deranged Deacon's bizarre fantasy world.

Some of the curiously ineffective horror scenes end with a character waking up as though it were all a nightmare, while other unexplained occurrences, such as a bobble-head doll whose gaze seems to follow Paul and other inanimate objects behaving strangely, appear to be real.  In some films, depending on how it's handled, such ambiguity might actually be effective, but here, it feels indecisive and misleading. 

Ricci does her best to sell it all as no one else could and is both convincing and fun to watch.  (Seeing her naked for about a third of the film definitely doesn't hurt.)  Neeson is a bland boogeyman and is pretty much the same throughout the film, never developing into the figure of fright that he might have--in other words, he's no Angus Scrimm.  As the haunted boyfriend Paul, who's convinced that Anna's still alive although nobody believes him, Justin Long is just bland.  I like him in films such as GALAXY QUEST and LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD, but here he seems miscast.

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director's commentary, a making-of featurette, and a trailer.  One curious thing about director Wojtowicz-Vosloo's comments on the film is her mention of various visual "clues" a la THE SIXTH SENSE, which is odd since the two films are nothing alike.  The latter has a clearly-defined game plan for the viewer to play by, while this one's pretty much all over the place.

Probably the most disturbing thing about AFTER.LIFE is Deacon's wall filled with Polaroids of the people he's ushered into the next world.  All are lying in coffins, but while some are clearly dead, others are wide-eyed, immobile, and aware.  Being buried alive is a potent fear for horror films to exploit, but this one doesn't seem real enough to make us feel as though it's actually happening.  By the time we've hashed over all the inconsistencies of the story and have sorta decided whether or not it's all just somebody's nightmare, it's too late to feel much about it.


Saturday, January 28, 2023

SHARKTOPUS -- DVD review by porfle


Originally posted on 3/3/11


"Dumb" has a new name, and that name is SHARKTOPUS (2010).  This highly-rated SyFy Original Movie, produced by legendary filmmaker Roger Corman and his wife Julie, will either make you giddy with bad-movie excitement or leave you utterly stupified.  Maybe even both.

After the success of DINOSHARK, SyFy contacted Corman about doing this film as a follow-up.  As he relates in the commentary, he initially turned it down because, while "dinosharks" might conceivably have existed in prehistoric times, the idea of a half-shark, half-octopus just seemed a little too farfetched.  (Unlike, say, giant crab monsters.)  He eventually gave in, on the condition that the creature be a product of genetic engineering rather than a freak of nature. 

Thus, we have scientist Nathan Sands (Eric Roberts) and his daughter Nicole (Sara Malakul Lane), whom he affectionately refers to as "Pumpkin", creating the dreaded Sharktopus for the military.  Pumpkin naively hopes Sharktopus will be used for good, but her sneaky dad has designed it to be a ruthless killing machine, which it demonstrates when its electronic restraints are damaged during a test and it starts eating people all up and down the coast of scenic Puerto Vallarta.  With the Navy breathing down his back, Sands hires fun-loving aquatic mercenary Andy Flynn (Kerem Bursin) to reel the big fish in and bring it back alive.

With this set-up quickly established, the film now treats us to an endless series of Sharktopus attacks with lots of tourists getting snared by the creature's tentacles right there on the shore and dragged into its toothy maw.  Several of these kills begin with an establishing montage of festive beach images and ample footage of bikini-clad babes cavorting around like monster appetizers.  When Sharktopus suddenly appears, the various bit players must then hop around screaming as the SPFX guys wrap bad-CGI tentacles around them and make with the spewing digital blood. 

The big, cartoony shark head which pops out of the water to chow down on them is highly effective--at generating laughs.  Seeing the entire mismatched monstrosity perched on a guardrail or the roof of a bamboo hut in all its writhing, snarling glory, treating the fleeing humans like a sushi buffet, is a sight you won't soon forget.  Special mention goes to the bunjee-jumping scene, which Corman tells us got the biggest response from audiences and is one of the movie's few genuinely effective moments.  (Roger and Julie's daughter guest-stars as the bouncing bait.)

With few exceptions, the performances range from awful to not-really-trying.  Mostly the actors just seem anxious to knock off their scenes and get back to partying in Puerta Vallarta.  Blake Lindsey isn't bad as Pez, a fisherman who leads TV newswoman Stacy Everheart (Liv Boughn) and her dopey cameraman Bones (Héctor Jiménez, who played Lonnie Donaho in GENTLEMEN BRONCOS) to wherever Sharktopus is likely to appear next.  As a pirate radio DJ, Ralph Garman of "The Joe Schmo Show" seems to be having fun.  Bursin and Lane make a dull main couple as Flynn and Pumpkin and could probably use a few more acting lessons. 

As for Eric Roberts, he's one of my favorite actors and I'd watch him in anything, which is fitting since these days it looks like he'll show up in anything.   Going from THE DARK KNIGHT to this must've been like falling out of a yacht into a swamp.  (Look for Roger Corman himself in a cameo as a beach bum.)

On a technical level, SHARKTOPUS is slapdash at best.  Things like camerawork, editing, and scene transitions are a dizzying jumble of ineptitude, while the subpar direction makes it hard to believe Declan O'Brien is the same guy who did such a solid job with WRONG TURN 3: LEFT FOR DEAD. 

The script, which seems to have been written on a Big Chief tablet, obviously doesn't take itself very seriously, as when Flynn offers this warning to the patrons of an open-air restaurant by the beach: "Excuse me, everyone.  There's a killer shark-octopus hybrid headed this way.  Please leave the marina in a timely fashion."  The thing is, movies like this are funnier when they aren't trying to be, so the scenes that actually mean to shock or excite us invariably provoke the most giggles. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a commentary with Roger and Julie Corman plus the film's trailer. 

Any movie containing Eric Roberts, bikini babes, extras doing the imaginary-tentacle-tango, the guy who played Lonnie Donaho in GENTLEMEN BRONCOS, and one of the dumbest monsters in film history can't be all bad.  And SHARKTOPUS doesn't let up for a minute--it keeps assaulting us with undiluted stupid during its entire running time.  That's a claim some of this year's Best Picture nominees can't even make.


Friday, January 27, 2023

BEACH PARTY (1963) -- Movie Review by Porfle



Originally posted on 5/16/21

Currently watching: I bought a DVD set with 8 of the original Frankie and Annette movies so I could relive a fun part of my childhood, and the first movie on the menu tonight is the one that started it all, BEACH PARTY (1963). 
Just this once, the two stars aren't Frankie and Annette, but grown-ups Bob Cummings and Dorothy Malone. 
Bob plays an eccentric bearded anthropologist studying teenage behavior and its similarities to the pagan rituals of primitive tribes, with Dorothy as his gorgeous female companion. 

Meanwhile, Frankie's miffed that Annette won't fool around until marriage so he tries to make her jealous by getting cozy with the statuesque Eva Six. 
Annette retaliates by making moves on straight-laced Bob and helping him shed his square ways and get more into the groove.
Regular cast members John Ashley, hip-shaking Candy Johnson, and functioning moron Deadhead (Jody McCrea) are introduced, as are Harvey Lembeck as cycle stupe Eric Von Zipper and his loyal gang of idiots.

Morey Amsterdam plays an aging hipster, and even Vincent Price pops in for a cameo as "Big Daddy." Dick Dale and the Del Tones are on hand for some surf music, while Frankie and Annette take turns crooning a few sappy love songs.
BEACH PARTY's plot is pretty thin but that doesn't matter, since the purpose of this breezy comedy is to have a good time, ogle some bikini babes and/or beach hunks, groan at a lot of bad gags, and forget your troubles for an hour and a half.