Xanadu (1980)

XANADU (1980)
Article 3532 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-22-2011
Posting Date: 4-16-2011
Directed by Robert Greenwald
Featuring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck
Country: USA
What it is: I don’t know, but I hope it’s curable

An artist and a former jazz musician join forces and, with the help of a muse named Kira, open a roller disco nightclub called Xanadu.

First off, I like the Electric Light Orchestra. Second, the movie opens with a fun little riff on the Universal logo of the early thirties that is actually kind of fun. Thirdly, I admire the movie’s love for an earlier era of music, and the scene where a modern rock band and a forties dance band merge into a single entity gets a few points for being audacious. But I’ve never been a fan of Olivia Newton-John, the script (which was being written as the movie was being shot) is vapid, the acting is horrid, and it’s incredibly depressing to see Gene Kelly appearing in such an embarrassment for his final movie. I may like ELO, but they’re working way below par here. The end result is like watching story not worth catching in the first place being interrupted by a series of obnoxious music videos. It’s been claimed that the movie is a remake of DOWN TO EARTH, though that appears coincidental; in fact, DOWN TO EARTH (another movie I loathe) is really starting to look much better to me now.

This movie is about making your dreams come true. Me, I just need something to make the nightmare go away.

Coleridge should sue.

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Rentadick (1972)

RENTADICK (1972)
Article 3531 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-21-2011
Posting Date: 4-15-2011
Directed by Jim Clark
Featuring James Booth, Richard Briers, Julie Ege
Country: UK
What it is: British comedy

A detective agency is hired to guard a secret paralysis gas. However, some of the detectives at the same agency have been hired to steal the formula for the gas. Hilarity ensues.

When I heard that the movie was co-written by John Cleese and Graham Chapman, my expectations went up in the hopes of enjoying some Python-style humor. My first clue that all was not well should have been the opening credits, where the names of Cleese and Chapman do not appear; in fact, the only writing credits are for “additional dialogue”. It turns out that upon seeing the movie (based on a script of theirs with the less racy title RENTASLEUTH), the pair asked that their names be removed. I don’t blame them; this is a desperately unfunny farce, confusing, unfocused and messy. The only gag that even approached being funny was having one of the detectives become trapped inside a mansion and being thwarted in his every attempt to escape. The fantastic content is a nerve gas that paralyzes people from the waist down, but it’s used mostly as a Gizmo Maguffin, and given the bawdy title, I was surprised that the concept wasn’t used once for a suggestive joke; in fact, outside of a couple of near-naked shots of Julie Ege, the movie is surprisingly tame. The basic premise could have resulted in an interesting and fun comedy, but I’m afraid this one is a disaster.

The Prey (1984)

THE PREY (1984)
Article 3530 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-20-2011
Posting Date: 4-14-2011
Directed by Edwin Brown
Featuring Debbie Thureson, Steve Bond, Lori Lethin
Country: USA
What it is: Slasher film

Teens go out to woods. Maniacal killer lives there. Teens meet maniacal killer. Carnage ensues.

Let’s see… poor acting… threadbare plot… rotten script… token name actor Jackie Coogan in cameo that opens with him flushing the toilet… plot mostly involves teens having sex… movie gets hijacked by a thirty-minute backstory that mostly involves gypsies having sex… movie sets itself up for a sequel that never happened… director’s other films mostly have titles like A THOUSAND AND ONE EROTIC NIGHTS and HOTTEST PARTIES… tagline was “It’s not human, and it’s got an axe!”… tagline not particularly accurate, as it is human and only uses an axe once…

Conclusion: This is one of those movies that amply demonstrates why slasher films don’t get that much respect.

Our Man Flint (1966)

OUR MAN FLINT (1966)
Article 3529 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-19-2011
Posting Date: 4-13-2011
Directed by Daniel Mann
Featuring James Coburn, Lee J. Cobb, Gila Golan
Country: USA
What it is: Bond-style spy thriller

When a cabal of scientists discovers a way to control the weather, thereby gaining the ability to cause worldwide destruction, an outside agent known as Derek Flint is recruited to find and defeat the scientists.

For my money, the Flint movies were the best James Bond knockoffs to follow in the wake of that phenomenon. If anything, I may even like them better. This movie is more overtly comic than the Bond movies without becoming merely farcical. It’s less stunt-oriented than the Bond series, but since I’m no big fan of stunts for the sake of stunts, I’m fine with that. I also like the twists that Flint has to the superspy prototype; he also has a lightning speed deductive ability similar to that of Sherlock Holmes, for example. It’s also nice to see a spy movie of this type that doesn’t try to confuse you with the plot; never did I find myself confused as to what was going on. It takes a quick, direct jab at James Bond when Flint encounters agent 008. All in all, I found this one satisfying and fun. My favorite joke – Flint is introduced to Dr. Wu and Dr. Schneider.

Die Nonne von Verona (1973)

DIE NONNE VON VERONA (1973)
aka Le monache di Sant’Arcangelo, The Nuns of St. Archangelo
Article 3528 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-18-2011
Posting Date: 4-12-2011
Directed by Domenico Paolella
Featuring Anne Heywood, Luc Merenda, Omella Muti
Country: France / Italy
What it is: Nunsploitation

On the death of the mother superior, a nun of the convent uses political manipulation to gain her position. However, the convent has attracted the attention of the Inquisition…

I’m a bit mystified by the appeal of the whole “nunsploitation” genre, but because it doesn’t of necessity end up in the genres I’m covering, I’ll probably only be watching a fraction of them. In this case, the only reason for its inclusion in this series is the presence of a handful of torture sequences, nudging it in the direction of horror. By the standards of the genre, this one is pretty mild; there’s sex, nudity and torture, but less than I expected. Most of the movie is actually concerned with the plot, which is based on a true story, and the story itself is fairly decent until it decides to get all preachy with its message (that the judges of the corruption at the convent are equally corrupt themselves). Still, the movie occasionally gets a little too desperate in employing its exploitation elements; when one nun is dying of poison and rips open her clothes so we can see her breasts, I get the sense it’s a cheap attempt to work in one last bit of nudity before the movie closes. Granted, that’s probably what fans of this genre want.

Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)

DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE (1976)
Article 3527 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-17-2011
Posting Date: 4-11-2011
Directed by William Crain
Featuring Bernie Casey, Rosalind Cash, Marie O’Henry
Country: USA
What it is: Blaxploitation horror

A black doctor works on a serum designed to rebuild damaged livers, but is unable to solve the problem of its side effects without human guinea pigs. He tries the serum on himself, and turns into a superhuman crazed white man with a penchant for killing hookers.

Well, the movie is sincere, features some authentic locations, has some good acting moments from Bernie Casey, and has one good jump scene. The script, however, is horribly uneven and inconsistent, particularly in its portrayal of the Mr. Hyde character and the nature of his powers. For one thing, the movie is simply not consistent in just how much in control of himself Hyde is; sometimes he seems coherent and focused, other times he seems like an inarticulate animal. Furthermore, the side effects are way over the top; having him turn white and become a crazed killer is one thing, but endowing him with superpowers really strains credibility. And they aren’t even consistent with that; sometimes he’s invulnerable to bullets, other times not. When the script actually gives Bernie Casey something to play with (such as when he tells the story that explains his desire to cure liver ailments AND his distrust of hookers), he does a fine job, but the script all too often leaves him foundering. Somewhere in here, there’s a better movie waiting to get out, but the script was in need of a few more revisions.

Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)

NOSFERATU: PHANTOM DER NACHT (1979)
aka Nosferatu the Vampyre
Article 3526 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 3-16-2011
Posting Date: 4-10-2011
Directed by Werner Herzog
Featuring Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz
Country: West Germany / France
What it is: Adaptation of DRACULA

Jonathan Harker undertakes a journey to the castle of Count Dracula in Transylvania in order to close a deal on some real estate. He soon discovers that Dracula is a creature of evil with designs on his wife, and he must try to escape the castle and return home to save her.

The original NOSFERATU was an unauthorized adaptation of “Dracula”, and I do find it a bit odd that Werner Herzog chose to title his version of the Dracula story the same. Having seen it though, there is a reason; he obviously wanted to tap into certain aspects of that version of the story, and I think he actually does a fine job at it. It’s certainly one of the quietest versions of the story, with much of the music subdued and unobtrusive, but this adds quite a bit to the subliminal sense of dread, despair, and sadness that permeates this version. As always with versions of DRACULA, I find it fascinating to see how characters are reworked and modified; as in the Murnau version, the real hero in the story is Lucy, who must make the supreme sacrifice. In this one, Van Helsing is the skeptic; it’s not until too late that he takes any action. Dracula himself is tragic, sad and tortured, and Klaus Kinski’s performance in the role is excellent. Some of the visuals are fascinating; I love the way the movie emphasizes the plague subplot, especially when Lucy makes her way through the near-deserted town to discover the remaining people celebrating as best they can in the knowledge that they have the plague and will soon all be dead; most jarring is a dinner scene with all the diners surrounded by hordes of rats. Though it’s not quite as important as the Murnau version, this is definitely a worthy remake of the story.