Author: Derrick

Who Wears It Better? Tina Or Beyonce?

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Suddenly, Last Summer

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1959

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Produced by Sam Spiegel

Screenplay by Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams

Based on the play “Suddenly, Last Summer” by Tennessee Williams

Elizabeth Taylor is an actress who I’m just now finding who new levels of respect for. Oh, sure, I’ve seen “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” “Cleopatra” “Butterfield 8” and “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” but it wasn’t until this past summer when I watched “Reflections In A Golden Eye” and SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER back-to-back that I realized that this chick really could act her well-shaped moneymaker off. You’ve probably read my review of “Reflections In A Golden Eye” so you know how twisted that movie is. Well, believe it or not, SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER is even more twisted.  In fact, for my money, this movie qualifies as a full-blown, all out deep fried Southern Gothic Horror Movie that should be watched every Halloween.  Don’t believe me? Then what else would you call a movie whose major themes are insanity, lobotomies, implied incest, pedophilia, cannibalism and ritual murder/sacrifice? A movie that takes place mostly in an asylum?

Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) is fed up with the poor working conditions at the state hospital and he’s ready to quit. But then a lucrative offer is dangled in front of him by the hospital’s alcoholic, sleazy administrator (Albert Dekker) This offer involves Dr. Cukrowicz meeting with the obscenely wealthy and eccentric Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn). Violet Venable will finance a brand spanking new wing of the hospital with state of the art equipment if Dr. Cukrowicz will do a favor for her.  Seeing as how he’s a brilliant surgeon who is considered the leading pioneer in the field of lobotomy, Violet will come across with the filthy lucre if Dr. Cukrowicz will lobotomize her niece Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor)

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Quite naturally, Dr. Cukrowicz wants to know why such a radical procedure has to be done. Especially after he meets the extraordinarily beautiful Catherine.  It’s his opinion that she has suffered from a severe emotional shock but she’s not lobotomy material.  But it cannot be denied that Catherine’s cousin Sebastian died under highly mysterious circumstances while he and Catherine were on vacation in Europe last summer. Circumstances so frightening that Catherine suffered a nervous breakdown and has blocked the memory of what really happened.

In fact, after having some really bizarre conversations with Violet, Catherine’s mother, Grace (Mercedes McCambridge) and Catherine’s brother George (Gary Raymond) Cukrowicz discovers that they all have reasons to want Catherine to be lobotomized so that the truth about Sebastian’s death can never be known.

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Why did Sebastian suddenly leave his mother behind last summer and take Catherine along with him on that fateful vacation?  During her talks with Cukrowicz, Catherine hints of a possible incestuous relationship between Violet and Sebastian and that Sebastian used his mother on previous vacations to procure underage boys for him to satisfy his pedophiliac lust.  A job that Catherine suggests Violet was a more than willing participant in. A job that Sebastian hoped Catherine would be willing to take over.

Dr. Cukrowicz finally decides to use a combination of truth serum and hypnosis to unlock Catherine’s suppressed memories of what happened the day Sebastian died.  Cukrowicz assembles the family members in an almost Agatha Christie-like gathering where he puts together the clues he’s gotten from all of them and along with the frightening story that Catherine at last remembers and tells he is able to solve the mystery of what happened to Sebastian.

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SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER to me qualifies as a Horror Movie because of not only the subject matter but halfway through the movie I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to know what had happened to Sebastian Venable. And trust me, when I finally did find out what happened to Sebastian, I wish I hadn’t.  His horrific fate is revealed in a tour de force scene described by Catherine that Shirley Jackson herself would be proud of.

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The acting in SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER is absolutely first rate. After all, we’re talking about Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Katherine Hepburn here. The only one that let me down in this movie is Mercedes McCambridge.  But that’s only because I’ve seen her play kick-ass women in movies such as “Giant” “Johnny Guitar” and “All The King’s Men” and I really don’t like seeing her play such a wimpy character. But otherwise, you couldn’t wish for better.  Especially Elizabeth Taylor who demonstrates fully the range of her acting ability and more than holds her own in her scenes with Katherine Hepburn.

Take my advice and put SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER on your list of movies to watch. For the first twenty minutes it may not seem like a horror movie but keep watching and by the time you get to the last twenty minutes, I think you’ll agree with me that it is.

114 Minutes

Reflections In A Golden Eye

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1967

Warner Bros/Seven Arts

Directed by John Huston

Produced by John Huston and Ray Stark

Written by Gladys Hill and Chapman Mortimer

Based on the novel by Carson McCullers

I never fail to be astonished, amazed and downright gobsmacked by the movies of the 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s.  Those three decades produced movies of such astounding fearlessness and raw frankness in the subject matter they tackled with delirious glee.  Subject matters that most major studio filmmakers today either stay away from or sugar coat.  It’s been left up to television to give us nuanced characterization and mature exploration of adult subjects and themes. And to think that back in ‘70’s and ‘80’s most television programs were regarded as timewasting garbage.

Take REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE for instance.  This is one truly weird movie made in 1967 about the darkest of damaged characters struggling with adultery, repressed homosexuality, self-mutilation, eroticism, voyeurism, suicide, perversion and depression. Try naming a movie made in the last ten years that can beat that for adult subject material. It’s a movie that’s worth seeing just for the performances of Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Brian Keith and Julie Harris alone.  As well as for Robert Forster making his major motion picture debut.  Forster doesn’t burn up the screen with his performance but he is the character that is the focus of attention for not only us but some of the movie’s main characters as well.

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Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando) appears to be the perfect soldier, serving on an unnamed Army base somewhere in Georgia in the 1940’s. A highly decorated soldier with years of distinguished service, he’s a man quietly and slowly going insane due to his near inhuman emotional self-control that will not allow him to display his unhappiness with his life.  Not only is he aware of the affair going on between his lusty, hyper-sexual wife Lenore (Elizabeth Taylor) and his friend/commanding officer Lt. Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith) he’s struggling to control his awakening homosexual yearning for Private Williams (Robert Forster)

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The effort of keeping all those repressed emotions inside of him is affecting Penderton’s work. He makes excuses for Williams to come over to his house to do busywork and has all his fuses blown when while out horse riding he spies Williams riding bareback and bucky-tail nekkid. Williams appears to have a special bond with all the horses in the stables.  Williams also has a special bond with Lenora although it’s a one-sided one. Williams sneaks into the Penderton house at night to watch her sleep and fondle her negligees.

Next door, Langdon has his own problems dealing with his neurotic wife Alison (Julie Harris) who has been drowning in depression for three years since the death of their newborn child. How depressed is she? So depressed that she cut off her nipples with pruning shears.

Yeah, you read that right.

Alison is fully aware of the affair and has banished her husband to the guest bedroom permanently. Her only real friend is her openly and flamboyantly gay Filipino houseboy Anicleto (Zorro David) with whom she shares an elaborate fantasy life which infuriates Langdon to no end.  All these characters have their lives intertwined into quite the snake pit and while I can’t say that REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE is a fun movie to watch it is immensely engaging and after about thirty minutes I had to keep watching just to see how this was all going to turn out as I couldn’t possibly imagine any scenario where this story could have a happy ending.  And I was right. It doesn’t.

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John Huston decided to film the entire bizarre movie in a golden hue as if we are indeed watching the events reflected in a golden eye that I’ve read movie audiences back then hated but certainly gives the movie a distinct look. Elizabeth Taylor flings herself into the character of Lenore with a reckless fearlessness that easily matches her performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Suddenly, Last Summer” where she also played damaged women whose sexual appetites and the darkness of their souls threaten to consume everybody around them. Marlon Brando does some interesting things with his character that kept me guessing as I was never quite sure at any point of the movie what Penderton was going to do next. Brian Keith does his usual dependable, solid acting and Julie Harris has some really good moments where she gets to explore the desperation of her character.

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So should you see REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE? If you’re a fan of John Huston, Elizabeth Taylor and/or Marlon Brando I should certainly say so. This movie is considered to be one of John Huston’s lesser films and I can understand why even if I don’t agree with it. The movie isn’t exactly an enjoyable one to watch but if you want to watch a truly harrowing trip into the collective hearts of darkness of some really miserable, unhappy people acted and directed by real professionals, give REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE a viewing.

108 Minutes

 

The Family

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2013

EuropaCorp/Relativity Media

Directed by Luc Besson

Executive Producer: Martin Scorsese

Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla and Tucker Tooley

Written by Tonino Benacquista based on his novel “Malavita”

If you’ve seen the trailer for THE FAMILY then perhaps like me, you were expecting a mob/crime comedy with plenty of laughs and inside jokes at Robert DeNiro’s expense, poking fun at the numerous gangster roles he’s played with able backup from Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones who have made more than a few crime/mob movies themselves and know the genre.  And yes, there are some laughs in THE FAMILY at the beginning of the movie.  But the longer the movie goes on, the fewer the laughs and by the time it gets to the end there’s an appalling no holds barred bloodbath with a platoon of mob hitmen shooting it out with a pair of teenagers wielding automatic weapons like Rambo on his best day while Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer are locked in a hideously vicious fight to the death with a killer roughly the size of Richard Kiel.

Giovanni Maznoni (Robert DeNiro) was once one of the most powerful mob bosses in Brooklyn and as such became a threat to The Boss of Bosses, Don Luchese (Stan Carp) who orders a hit on Maznoni and his family that fails. Giovanni turns snitch and Don Luchese goes to jail.  The Maznoni family enters the Witness Protection Program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and relocated to Normandy, France.

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This assignment is far from being easy duty for Stansfield. In fact, the Maznoni family are a collectively big pain in his ass due to the fact that they simply cannot stop being what they are: a mob family.  Giovanni has…anger management issues, let’s say and he’s easily irritated by such things as his tap water coming out brown and nobody taking it seriously. Wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t take kindly to the stereotypical comments that she overhears by pretending she doesn’t speak or understand French. Her response to such is…explosive, shall we say. Daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) is a sweet, soft spoken girl who falls in love with a substitute teacher who tutors her in math. She also has a ferociously violent streak that a Klingon would envy. Son Warren (John D’Leo) is a grifter/forger/hustler who in no time at all has his own junior mafia in his new school.

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The situation is complicated by Giovanni writing a tell all book about his life in the mob. A book that both Maggie and Stansfield tell him can never be published. And through a really bizarre coincidence I just couldn’t buy, Don Luchese finds out where the Maznonis are hiding out and sends a hit team to whack ‘em out and that takes us to the blood-soaked final showdown between the mob and the Maznoni family.

Here’s what I liked about THE FAMILY: The performances are first rate but I wouldn’t expect anything less from old pros like DeNiro, Pfeiffer and Jones.  But the kids step up to the plate and hold their own with the seasoned pros.  Dianna Agron I know from “Glee” and I was surprised to see how well she inhabited this character. The movie was actually almost over before I finally remembered where I knew her from. Judging just by this movie I’d say she has a career in movies if she wants it.  John D’Leo is also a lot of fun to watch as he maneuvers his way towards running his school with the finesse and cold-bloodedness of a Michael Corleone.

I also liked how the movie doesn’t have the kids or the wife BMWing about how they want to have a normal life and why can’t they just be a normal family.  This is a mob family who have accepted and embraced their lifestyle.  They’re criminals and they don’t make any excuses for it. For them this is their “normal” life

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The direction by Luc Besson is also first rate as I would expect from the writer/director/producer of some of my favorite action movies such as “Leon: The Professional” “The Fifth Element” the “Transporter” series “Taken” “Taken 2” and “District 13.”  And I think that’s the problem with THE FAMILY. Luc Besson is an action director and he seems uncomfortable with the comedy in this movie which puzzles me as I’ve seen “Angel-A” a couple of times and I know he can do comedy. Maybe what threw me off is the level of violence in THE FAMILY which is really bloody and brutal and really doesn’t mesh well with the comedy. Oh, there are are funny scenes and funny lines, don’t get me wrong. But right after that we’ll get a scene like the one with DeNiro and the plumber.  It’s a scene that would have been more at home in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” than in a movie that is billed as a comedy.

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So should you see THE FAMILY? I say Yes. There’s really nothing wrong with THE FAMILY except for what I feel is an uneven tempo and off center mix of really violent violence with humor.  It’s as if Luc Besson really wanted to make this a full blown thriller but every once in a while an AD poked him with the script and reminded him he had to throw in a joke here and there.

112 minutes

Rated R

Riddick

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RIDDICK

2013

Universal Pictures/Entertainment One

Written and Directed by David Twohy

Produced by Vin Diesel, Ted Field and Samantha Vincent

Based on characters created by Jim Wheat and Ken Wheat

When we pick up on RIDDICK it is five years after the events of “The Chronicles of Riddick” and he has learned what many a king before him has learned: it is easier to seize a crown than hold it. You may remember that at the end of that movie, Riddick slew The Lord Marshall (Colm Feore) and thereby himself ascended to the throne of The Lord Marshall, leading The Necromongers, religious fanatics who either convert or destroy entire planetary populations. “The Chronicles of Riddick” left us on quite a cliffhanger wondering what the most dangerous man in the galaxy would do with his own army.

Turns out not much at all. Riddick is double-crossed by Commander Vaako (Karl Urban) who tricks Riddick into going to a desolate planet that may or may not be Riddick’s homeworld of Furya. Riddick is left to die on that planet. A fate that he himself thinks he deserves because in those five years he allowed himself to get soft, to lose his edge. As this is a hostile planet full of hideously dangerous lifeforms that appear to do nothing but eat anything and everything, Riddick sees this as the perfect opportunity to get back the edge he’s lost, strip away the surface veneer of civilization and return to what he once was: the perfect killing machine.

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I can’t help but wonder if after the ambitiously baroque excess of “The Chronicles of Riddick” David Twohy and Vin Diesel sat down to plot out this story and themselves wondered if they had lost their edge as well. Maybe they had taken Riddick too far from the character they had established with such overwhelming success in “Pitch Black.” Maybe they felt they had to pull Riddick back to his roots and for that reason RIDDICK plays out a lot like “Pitch Black 2.0” in the third act.

And for the record, I like “The Chronicles of Riddick” a lot. I approve of an ambitious failure much more than a play-it-safe success. The only problem I have with that movie is that it’s actually two movies in one. Once Riddick leaves Helion Prime and gets to Crematoria it’s an entirely different movie with its own supporting cast of characters that have nothing to do with the cast back on Helion Prime. That’s not to say it’s not exciting stuff to watch and if you haven’t seen “The Chronicles of Riddick” yet then consider that your homework assignment for the weekend. But let’s get back to RIDDICK.

Riddick is enjoying his life on this godforsaken planet, regaining his killing edge but the real test is to come when two separate groups of mercenary bounty hunters show up to capture Riddick dead or alive. One group is led by Boss Johns (Matthew Noble) the father of William Johns (Cole Hauser) from “Pitch Black.” He wants answers from Riddick as to his son’s fate. The other group is led by Santana (Jordi Molla) who simply wants Riddick’s head. The cat-and-mouse game of blood between Riddick and the mercenaries quickly develops into an all-out war for survival when the humans are attacked by a horde of savage monsters and must work together to stay alive long enough to get off the planet.

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RIDDICK doesn’t add anything to the mythology of Richard B. Riddick and his universe the way “The Chronicles of Riddick” did and to me it feels like a movie whose only purpose is to re-establish Riddick as the character he was in “Pitch Black” before sending him off on further adventures. I hope so as I’m looking for a proper resolution of the Necromonger storyline in the next Riddick movie as there is still a lot of potential there to be explored.

The acting in RIDDICK is nothing to write home about but neither is it anything to sneer at either. It’s the type of acting that serves the need of the story. No more and no less. Jordi Molla walks off with the acting honors here. Santana is a delightfully goofy character that wouldn’t be out of place in a spaghetti western. Fans of Katee Sackhoff require nothing of her except to stand around looking hot, talk plenty of shit and beat the piss outta guys and so they will be more than satisfied with her performance here.

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As for Vin Diesel himself, he slips back into Riddick’s skin with no problem and he again reminds us that when he wants to, Vin Diesel can act really well. I loved the first half hour or so of the movie which shows Riddick on his own, learning how to survive on the planet. I would have loved it more without the voiceovers but I appreciated the reminder that Riddick isn’t a thug or an ignorant killer. He’s actually very intelligent and perceptive with an inner life he shows to nobody.

So should you see RIDDICK? Yes. Even though to me it feels like a placeholder and not a complete movie. It feels to me like a warm-up before Twohy and Diesel tell a Riddick story that they really care about. It’s not a terrific nail-biter like “Pitch Black” or a pulse-pounding planet-hopping space opera like “The Chronicles of Riddick” but it’s an honest and respectably entertaining entry in the series with hopefully more to come. Enjoy.

118 minutes

Rated R

Better In The Dark# 152.5: BITD’S On The Box Office Grosses Of Destruction

In this messy show, Tom and Derrick looks at the rather epic levels of carnage in this year’s summer blockbuster and wonders…is it too much?  Are we being desensitized to all this damage?  Is it fair for Hollywood to call back to 9/11 for lazy affirmation of their plot developments?  And why is Guillermo Del Toro’s PACIFIC RIM a more responsible film than Zack Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL?  All this, plus the Superman sequel Tom really wants to see!  You know you don’t want to wander Tokyo carrying a red shoe, so get to clicking (and don’t forget to Twitter us at @BITDShow!)

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Intermission

First of all, my thanks to those of you who emailed me and queried via Facebook and IM if everything was okay as you noticed that I appeared to have stopped writing reviews. It was most thoughtful of you and I don’t take your continued interest and support in my work for granted.

And no, I haven’t stopped writing movie reviews. Matter of fact, in the next couple of days you’ll probably be seeing reviews of two Elizabeth Taylor movies I’ve watched recently; REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE and SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER. Those are two movies that are so psychologically screwed up and downright horrifying (indeed, SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER should be classified as a horror movie) that they should be seen just so that today’s movie fans should see the kind of films that were being done back in the 50’s and 60’s that people were going to see without blinking an eye. Movies like these would be considered ‘independent’ films now but back then, this was mainstream fare.

But enough of that. You’ve heard me go on about that subject enough. I’ve seen my share of movies this summer: PACIFIC RIM, which along with 2 GUNS were the best movies I’ve seen this whole summer. PAIN & GAIN which surprised me a lot considering Michael Bay directed it. It’s the best movie he ever done and has an Oscar worthy performance from Dwayne Johnson.

THE BIG WEDDING was a delightful family comedy/drama and TURBO was just charming enough not to be boring.

What else? Oh, THE BUTLER. That turned out to be a lot better than I thought it would be. Who knew that Oprah Winfrey could carry being the comedy relief in a movie so well?

For some reason something or somebody didn’t want me to see THE WOLVERINE as no matter when I planned to go see it, something would come up or I didn’t get to the theater on time for the designated showing. From what I’ve heard of it, I didn’t miss much.

Worst movies I saw this summer? No contest. THIS IS THE END and ELYSIUM. I wouldn’t sit through those movies again if you paid me.

So why didn’t you see reviews of those movies? Because I just simply decided to take a break from writing reviews is all. I found myself going to a movie and halfway through the flick I was starting to write the review in my head instead of just sitting back and enjoying the experience of watching a movie. And you can’t do both at the same time. Trust me. It takes away from the pure undiluted fun of watching a movie when you’re nitpicking at the performances and special effects and cinematography at the same time.

In short, it was time for me to step back and just enjoy going to the movies again as a movie lover. You will be seeing reviews of most of the movies I’ve named as I plan on seeing them again. Especially PACIFIC RIM and 2 GUNS which I’ll probably get on Blu-Ray the day they come out and yes, they are that good.

So the reviews will be coming again, never fear. I’ve put too much work into The Ferguson Theater to just abandon it. And I love writing reviews too much to stop doing that either. But you know what they say…a change is a good as a rest. And I’ve had a good one. Once again, thank you for your patience, your support and your time.

So that’s enough about me. What movies did you see and enjoy this summer?

 

And this is a picture of the first movie theater I can remember going to: The RKO Albee that used to be in downtown Brooklyn. Saw my first Kung Fu movie there: FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH.  

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Judging by the movies being shown I’d say this picture was taken during the early 1970’s. ’73 or ’74.