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Category Archives: Celluloid

Flick Clique: July 1-7

The Big House (1930). Early talkie from MGM is famous for being the first “prison flick” with all the clichés that go with it (the naive newcomer con, the grizzled vet con, the suave player con). It actually holds up very well with fluid direction very unusual for an early sound film and good performances from the three leads, Chester Morris, Robert Montgomery and an unforgettable Wallace Beery. Frances Marion’s script details Morris and Beery’s attempts to break out of the prison life, and the weak-willed Montgomery’s trying to fit in. It’s gritty, bracing stuff – a lot of the material set up here was also explored in films like Brute Force (since we recently saw this, it was an interesting compare-and-contrast). I wonder if films like this and I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang were responsible for prison reform in the U.S.? This Warner Archive DVD was available for check-out at my local library; I will definitely get more W.A. discs from them just to give them my support.
The Makioka Sisters (1983). Idyllic, involving chronicle of four Japanese sisters in the ’30s who find themselves in a family crisis after their widower father dies. The man’s dying wish was for his second youngest daughter to have a husband so that she could acquire the dowry he set up. The sister in question, a sweet yet passive type, allows for her older, comfortably married sisters to find her a suitable mate – not easy, since there aren’t too many eligible bachelors of good social and financial standing available. Meanwhile, the more modern youngest sister sets her sights on starting a doll-making business while getting involved with the ne’er-do-well son of a department store magnate. Once I got past the initial confusion (at first I thought the two oldest sisters were the mother and aunt of the younger sisters), this was a fascinating drama that somewhat reminded me of the upper-class tribulations in Downton Abbey with the family fussing over the daughters’ marriageability while the coming world war will soon render those concerns quaint and obsolete. Both projects also have the more enlightened younger sibling who is sorta the rebel of the family. Although The Makioka Sisters is statically filmed and ponderous at times, it’s beautifully crafted and contains several notable performances (apparently all four of the actresses who play the sisters are legendary in Japan).
The Saphead (1920). This early Buster Keaton film (his first feature film role, as a matter of fact) has recently gotten a good re-release by Kino. I’m reviewing the DVD edition for DVD Talk. This one isn’t quite the same as other Keaton vehicles, since it was a stage success first – a florid family melodrama, no less – and Keaton was suggested for the film by Douglas Fairbanks, who originated Buster’s part of sad-sack rich boy Bertie on stage. The story revolves around Keaton’s character trying to prove himself with his uncle (William H. Crane), a successful industrialist, so that he can marry Agnes (Beulah Booker), the orphan girl whom the uncle raised from childhood. But wait! The man’s no-good son-in-law (Irving Cummings) receives news from his illegitimate daughter that his former flame, now dying, is threatening to expose their affair. Will he pin it on poor Bertie? Like many earlier silents, the film is pretty stagy and inert, and Keaton doesn’t have much opportunity to do the highly physical comedy he’s known for. Basically, it’s worth a peek for fans but not an especially noteworthy film for anyone else. I will have my full write-up posted this next week, hopefully in time for the DVD’s release this Tuesday.

Flick Clique: June 24-30

Céline: Through the Eyes of the World (2010). Watched out of morbid curiosity, this three-hour documentary/concert film chronicles Céline Dion’s 2008-09 Taking Chances tour through six continents, numerous costume changes, and one lost stuffed lamb belonging to her son. The film is overlong and probably would have been better served being split in two, with the behind-the-scenes stuff in one program and the music (much of which I skipped through) in another. Like most big-budget major stadium tours, it’s a tightly controlled affair with every bit of business from Céline’s onstage patter to the backup dancers’ steps pre-planned to a T (contrary to the title, she even states at one point that she doesn’t want to risk anything!). There’s also a lot of footage of Céline visiting dignitaries and celebs, shopping for high-end goods, and acting goofy with her elderly husband and young son (whose long, long hair must constitute as some sort of child abuse). The mega-production of the tour is pretty impressive, oddly, and Céline has the pipes to sell it. Her singing voice is getting more nasally as she gets older, however – during the tour’s stop in Ireland, the film briefly shows the clip of Céline from when she won the Eurovision Song Contest in the same city several years earlier. It surprised me how much purer her voice sounded in 1988. The film’s candid footage takes great pains to make Céline look like a normal person, which she isn’t. Despite all that, in the end she does come across as quite a down-to-earth, fun lady who doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Lawrence Of Arabia (1962). Spotted the two-disc DVD edition at Big Lots for a fiver, so I decided to check it out again. I first saw this on TV about 20 years ago, in a pan-and-scan edition which was probably edited to ribbons. I remember liking the photography and Peter O’Toole, but the film in general dragged and was difficult to understand. The current re-watching finds it still full of beautiful photography, and O’Toole’s star-making performance still holds up — and it’s still somewhat hard to understand, plot-wise, but Christopher (who read the autobiography of the real Lawrence) filled me in on what I couldn’t decipher. Knowing that T. E. Lawrence was gay also adds more shading to O’Toole’s interpretation, giving it more depth than the typical historic epic gets. Although the casting of non-Arabs like Anthony Quinn and Alec Guiness grates, the film is skillfully directed by David Lean with some still-impressive shots that use the abstract beauty of the Arabian desert well. I liked the selflessness and rebellious spirit of O’Toole’s character. The only part I didn’t agree with was starting the film off with Lawrence’s death in a motorcycle accident (the entire prologue could have been cut off, making a more concise/enjoyable film).
Lucy Gallant (1955). A soapy guilty pleasure which I have been wanting to watch for years (ever since it was regularly played on the AMC channel all those eons ago). I finally got to see it during some down time this week, courtesy of Netflix Instant. A mousy-looking Jane Wyman stars as the title character, an heiress on the run whose life gets handed a change in fate when the train she’s boarded conks out in a dusty Texas oil town. Meeting Charlton Heston’s randy oilman and seeing that the womenfolk in town need a style infusion, she decides to set up a local dress shop. Becoming a huge success alienates Heston, however, who goes off to Europe, fights in WWII, and marries/divorces a French model. When he returns to Texas, the now-tycoon Jane wants him back, but he won’t take her until she agrees to give up the business and pop out a few brats for him. Enjoyable but awfully sexist, and with a disappointing ending that attempts to have it both ways and fails miserably. Wyman, normally appealing in stuff like Magnificent Obsession, is so mousy and wan here, stretching credibility for the forward, fashionable gal she’s supposed to be. And Heston’s character is, simply put, a total douche. Things are enlivened considerably by Thelma Ritter as Wyman’s salty pal and a kitschy climactic fashion show hosted by Edith Head. It’s actually a well-made ’50s melodrama, as long as you take the regrettably sexist message with a grain of salt (or perhaps fine wool in a tasteful shade of grey). By the way, the Netflix version of this shot-in-Panavision film has it in 4:3 aspect ratio with a less than thrilling print.

Flick Clique: June 17-23

The Artist (2011). A film that we strangely avoided in the theaters; was fortunate enough to review it on disc for DVD Talk (I just filed it today, actually). I was expecting it to be a little cute and self-aware, which it is to some extent, but the sheer sincerity and craftsmanship on display is what ultimately won me over. Loved Jean Dejardin and Beatrice Bejo, and that little dog is quite a talent. My full review!
Brute Force (1947).This was actually quite a surprise – a gritty, unsparing noir prison drama with a great cast and an exciting story that’s kinda like the male counterpart to one of my personal faves, Caged (1950). A sullen Burt Lancaster stars as Joe Collins, a prisoner who, along with his cell-mates, plans not only to escape but to exact revenge on the sadistic assistant warden played by Hume Cronyn. This has an interesting structure with Lancaster and most of the other guys in his cell having flashbacks to what they did to get there. Lancaster was involved with the mob, another (John Hoyt) was done in by a double-crossing femme fatale, a third (Whit Bissell) embezzled $3,000 from his employers, etc. This is all done as a lead-in for Lancaster’s eventual break-out, which is nicely staged. An unexpectedly hard-edged film in which all of the participants (except a few of the women in the flashbacks) are reprehensible, weak-willed, or annoying (the calypso singer from I Walked With A Zombie, appearing here as a fellow inmate). That might make the film hard to get through, but I found it absorbing all the way. My favorite characters were Lancaster’s and Cronyn’s, but I also enjoyed Jeff Corey (who has one of the most expressive faces in all of cinemadom) as Lancaster’s ultimately disloyal cell-mate and Sam Levene (who was in the original cast of Guys and Dolls) as the salt-of-the-earth dude of the group. Fantastic film!
Circus of Horrors (1960). One of two vintage horror flicks that we checked out on Netflix streaming (now that the TV season is over, we’ve had lots more time for movies). Circus of Horrors is a wild colorfully photographed British yarn that plays something like Joan Crawford’s Berserk with better plotting and more beautiful gals. It concerns Anton Diffring as a twisted plastic surgeon who, coming across a disfigured little girl in post-WWII France, decides to help her family out by a) repairing her face, and b) buying up her family’s struggling traveling circus. As a circus proprietor, he takes it upon himself to beef up the circus by recruiting prostitutes and other undesirables, repairing their faces, training them on various circus activities, and making them stars of the ring – whew! Of course, since they eventually see opportunities to escape the circus life, Diffring devises different “accidents” to prevent them from escaping. Pure hokum, but the widescreen color photography is nice and there are several grisly/campy death scenes to recommend it. This film is also apparently known to be very influential on a generation of young boys’ libidos, with its cast-full of stacked, overly made-up ladies. This also contains the popular (in the U.K.) pop song “Look For A Star”, an early Tony Hatch composition which gets played ad nauseum throughout the movie.
Dr. Terror’s House Of Horrors (1965). The other ’60s Brit horror “masterpiece” we saw on Netflix is an anthology which revolves around a group of men who share a train compartment with a shady stranger (Peter Cushing). Tarot deck in hand, the man proceeds to tell each guy his sorry fate for the near-future, which involve a vampire, a werewolf, a voodoo cult and a killer creeping vine. More cheesy than scary, with some segments more successful than others. My favorite one had Christopher Lee as a snobby art critic who is undone by the disembodied hand of an artist that he dared to piss off. Wasn’t this one fodder for a Simpsons “Treehouse Of Terror” episode? Unlike Circus Of Horrors above, the streaming version of this one was merely okay with the widescreen film cut off into 4×3 proportions and a muddy picture.
Plan B (2009). Bland, modestly budgeted Argentinian gay flick about a guy who decides to take revenge on his ex-girlfriend by becoming friendly with her current boyfriend (who doesn’t know he’s the ex). He ends up falling for the guy, however, which is where this snail-paced film’s title comes from. Decent performances from the leads, with a nice, casual feel which verges on the snoozy at times. The story goes in strange, unexplained directions sometimes, however. Although this got some good reviews on Netflix, it’s not one of the better same-sex dramas I’ve seen.

Flick Clique: June 10-16

Chronicle (2012). In this faux-documentary sci-fi, three teen boys stumble upon a mysterious crater in the forest containing a crystal-like structure which glows into a white-hot glare and knocks them unconscious. Over the next few weeks, they gradually find that they have telekinetic powers and can move not only other objects but themselves (maybe it should have been called Dude, I Can Fly!). This actually had a lot of promise in the beginning, but it’s undone by the characters being total doofus morons. They acquire extraordinary powers, yet they aren’t too freaked about it affecting their health or psychological well-being. Instead, they go out and film themselves doing Jackass-style stunts. Also, the sensitive kid with the dying mom and abusive dad (or stepdad?) was handled in a predictable, cliché-driven manner. They seemed too blasé about doing their powers out in the open where everyone could see them – or are American teenagers really that stupid? A few decent special effects in the end, but overall not that special.
If I Had My Way (1940). Pleasant but none-too-memorable Bing Crosby musical was the last thing from my Screen Legends DVD set that I haven’t seen. This one was made with Crosby on loan-out to Universal to co-star with that studio’s mini-Deanna Durbin, a pint-sized warbler named Gloria Jean. Crosby plays a construction worker who, along with co-worker El Bendel, decides to take care of Jean when her father dies in an accident. They go to New York to find the girl’s uncle (Allyn Joslyn), but when the man refuses to take care of her (he’s a snob who has something against entertainers) they go to the girl’s ex-vaudevillian great-uncle (Charles Winninger). Needing to give the girl a solid foundation to live on, Crosby and Bendel then decide to renovate an old restaurant into a Gay ’90s-themed eatery so that Winninger and his old showbiz pals will have a place to entertain. So sweet that you have to brush your teeth after reading this, eh? Luckily Glora Jean isn’t quite the diabetes-inducing little moppet that she appears to be on paper, or else this film would be tough sledding. She’s actually quite pert and cute, while Bing does his usual smoothness delivering a bunch of perky songs. I remember being utterly puzzled by Swedish comic El Bendel in Just Imagine (1930), but he’s much more tolerable here (but you’re still wondering, why was he of all people famous?). The climax of this film reportedly contains a lot of cameos from famous vaudeville stars of yore. I suppose one could do better on the corny, nostalgic musical front – this one was just fine, nothing more. The DVD set it comes in is an excellent deal, five vintage Bing musicals currently priced at $7.72 on Amazon.com.
These Amazing Shadows (2011) and Something’s Gonna Live (2010). Two film-related documentaries we saw this week. Currently on Netflix streaming, Those Amazing Shadows details the efforts of the National Film Registry and their ongoing campaign to preserve America’s film heritage by inducting a diverse group of films into their collection every year. At times this film was a pompous puff-piece, coming across as something that might be seen at a stock holders’ meeting. Luckily the boastful aspects make up a minority of the film, since much of it goes into the actual effort of preserving fragile films (fascinating stuff) and the films themselves, the greatness of which are expounded upon by people both puzzling (Zooey Deschanel?) and smart (John Waters!). Sure, they talk about Citizen Kane and the other undisputed classics, but I really dug when the film delved into the shorts, art films, home movies, promotional and other ephemeral films that the N.F.R. periodically accepts. For those of us who dig The House in the Middle (1954) as much as To Kill A Mockingbird, those portions are pure gold. Something’s Gonna Live, by contrast, is a more subdued, contemplative effort. I’m reviewing this for DVD Talk, so a much more detailed writeup is coming soon. This film centers on the esteemed production designer Robert Boyle as, approaching the century mark in age, he looks back on his life and career. It could have been a great doc, but the actual film feels poky-paced and poorly put together. In the end, I was disappointed and more than a little bummed out.
Prometheus (2012). Our little outing to a real cinema, last Wednesday, was to see this modest obscurity which Christopher was all a-twitter over. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) was a solid slab of ’80s sci-fi action. I’m just not as enamored of the franchise as Hollywood apparently is (matter of fact, as soon as something is referred to as a “franchise,” my interest drops precipitously). Having said that, I thought the first 40 minutes or so of this film set up the premise effectively with an attractive cast, an intriguing story and great CGI effects. Once they travel to the alien planet and discover the sinister yet mysterious alien-hatching compound, however, it tailspins into one “dumb people doing dumb things” scene after another. There are a few effective moments, but for the most part it came across like a bloated, illogical mess that never came together. I enjoyed the performances of Noomi Rapace and Idris Elba, Charlize Theron was too one-note and I really don’t understand the appeal of Michael Fassbinder. Liked the supporting characters a lot, too. There is one awe-inspiring moment when Fassbinder’s robot character ventures into the alien control panel and hacks his way into a massive map of the various constellations these creatures planned to conquer (it reminded me of the Avatar scene set in the nighttime jungle, with the glowing creatures wafting around Sam Rockwell’s avatar). Perhaps the inevitable “director’s cut” release will unveil a more focused, entertaining effort, perhaps not.

Flick Clique: June 3-9

Boys of the City (1941). Silly, slight (60 minutes!) early vehicle for the East Side Kids, who were essentially the Dead End Kids with a few personnel changes – the whole saga of which is explained on their Wikipedia page. This one has the kids saddled with a delinquency charge and sent out to the country to keep them out of trouble. Their car breaks down and they end up staying in an old mansion belonging to a retired judge who is terrified that one of the ex-convicts who he sentenced to jail time is out to kill him. That would be enough to keep the boys on their toes, but the house also has a creepy housekeeper, a ghostly apparition and a secret, cobweb-strewn basement! It’s interesting to note the comparisons between this and Rebecca, including a scene in which the housekeeper (played by Minerva Urecal) compares the deceased lady of the house with the film’s pretty young heroine (Inna Guest). Another lightweight, dated/racist yet watchable offering from my Comedy Kings: 50 Movie Pack DVD set.
Tales That Witness Madness (1973). British horror-anthology film is one of the DVDs I’m reviewing for DVD Talk. This one has four stories of people who have gone mad under varied circumstances, with Donald Pleasence as a doctor who introduces each patient’s story in the film’s framing segments. The individual parts vary a lot in effectiveness, but that’s part of what makes movies like this cheesy and fun. The cast includes Joan Collins as a woman whose husband falls in lust with a dead tree, and Kim Novak as a horny literary agent whose latest client has devious plans for Novak’s ripe teenaged daughter. This film really reminded me of an old Night Gallery episode, complete with hideous fashions and cheeseball effects. My full review should be posted in a few days. Update: my review.
The Thirteenth Floor (1999). Ambitious, hugely flawed but fascinating time-travel sci-fi opus that we checked out on Netflix streaming. This one concerns a computer tycoon (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who built a massive V.R. simulation of 1930s Los Angeles. When he is murdered, police detective Dennis Haysbert goes after the man’s protogé, Fuller (Craig Bierko) as suspect #1. Fuller knows, however, that the secrets surrounding his death might be revealed in a letter Mueller-Stahl wrote and left with someone in the ’30s L.A. world, the avatar of Fuller’s co-worker, Jason (Vincent D’Onofrio). Further wrinkles are added when a woman (Gretchen Mol) claiming to be the tycoon’s daughter shows up seeking an inheritance, a femme fatale type who physically resembles another woman in the ’30s world. Kind of muddled, kind of thought provoking … this one got unfairly compared with The Matrix upon its original release. I actually enjoyed it more than The Matrix, if only for the fact that the film’s nicely researched CGI version of 1937 Los Angeles is incredibly cool. The performers are a mixed bag and the ending felt like a cop-out, but overall I found it intriguing and well-done, a sleeper.
The Tillman Story (2010). One of the better documentaries I’ve seen recently is this one, which uncovers murky circumstances surrounding the death of Pat Tillman, exalted football star turned U.S. Army solder turned casualty to the jingoistic b.s. factory churned out by the military and the American news media. I’m grateful to director Amir Bar-Lev and the Tillman family for showing Pat as he really was and exposing the damaging lies/p.r. campaign that the military orchestrated following his tragic death by friendly fire. If only for the indignant speech that Pat’s mom delivered in the Congressional hearing looking into that military cover-up, this doc is gold. It just goes to show you that people are much, much more complex than the restrictive boxes that everyone wants to shove us into.
Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (2010). Fast paced documentary on ’70s fashion icon Halston. I enjoyed parts of this (the many archival clips/interviews of Halston and his work are cool), but unfortunately the director, Whitney Sudler-Smith, decided to make it more about him than Halston. That idea would be problematic enough if the guy was likable, but throughout the film he comes across as uninformed, and the epitome of an arrogant hipster douche. See more in my DVD Talk review.
Vincent Wants To Sea (2010). This charming German comedy-drama was another DVD Talk disc, one of the offerings from their screener pool. I will reserve going into detail for my full-fledged review, but in short this was a funny, sweet film that is worth seeking out. It stars actor Florian David Fitz (who also wrote the screenplay) as a disaffected young man whose mother recently passed away. Afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, the man’s father (Heino Ferch) sends him to a clinic to be treated under the watchful eye of a chain-smoking doctor (Kathanrina Müller-Elmau). There he is roomed with a fastidious young man with OCD (Johannes Allmayer) and is captivated by another patient named Marie (Karoline Herfurth), a woman with an eating disorder. The bulk of the film’s drama comes when Fitz’s character decides that he needs to get to Italy to deposit his mom’s ashes in the ocean, and impulsively decides to steal the doctor’s car with Marie and his roommate coming along. The script is pretty smart and knowing, filled with heart-warming vignettes and real characters. I will have more in my DVD Talk review, of course, but in short you should seek this one out. Update: my review.

Flick Clique: May 27 – June 2

Warning! This week’s selection of movies are shockingly bad. I haven’t had much time for anything else, blogging-wise, so I’m afraid that this space is starting to turn into another “bad movie” weblog. Ah well.
The Cat from Outer Space (1977). I thought I was finished with all of the live-action Disney flicks any human being needs to see, but this one popped up on the Netflix queue probably out of pure nostalgia. During its original release, I actually went to see this at Scottsdale’s Camelview, which remains one of my fave movie houses for the groovy giant-sized mushroom shades that it has out front. Were that the film was as memorable as the place I originally saw it in. Cat sports what was by then a well-worn plot about an alien being that lands in California. The alien, who calls himself Jake, looks exactly like a house cat with a glowing collar that allows it to telepathically speak to whomever it wants. It eventually befriends a goofy scientist played by Ken Berry, who helps Jake get the gold necessary for him to pilot his UFO back to his home planet. It’s silly, but the cat is cute and there’s a lot of fun to be had by the human cast (which also includes Sandy Duncan and M*A*S*H co-stars MacLean Stevenson and Harry Morgan). I will likely forget all about this flick next week, which is how ’70s Disney movies generally work, but except for the ultra-ridiculous climax this was an okay film.
Flatliners (1990). A group of young, pretty medical students find a way to visit the “other side,” but greed and terrible side effects curtail their revolutionary idea – I wonder if TV psychic John Edward saw this as a young man, planting the kernel for a brilliant if cheesy career? This was a decent, overacted horror-thriller whose best asset is the atmospheric if fakey production design and outlandish lighting – a showy visual style typical of the films from director Joel Schumacher (Batman & Robin; the underrated Veronica Guerin). Schumacher strikes me as the kind of guy who would automatically OK having a hospital set dressed with red neon around the door frames, and think nothing of it. “Screw the actors, let’s take another look at that fabulous wood molding in Nelson’s apartment” may have actually been spoken during the making of this one. The cast, headed by Kiefer Sutherland (as Nelson) and a young, willowy Julia Roberts, do their best with the silly dialogue. There’s more than a few creepy, effective scenes, but for the most part it comes across like a glossy TV commercial with paranormal undertones. This was another flick that I caught in its original release, at the less architecturally interesting Centerpoint theater in Tempe. Sutherland’s look here actually shares a vague similarity to what I had circa 1990, especially in the odd moments when he’s wearing glasses – believe it or not, I too could rock the tousled-hair-and-tortoiseshell-frames look (that was a long, long time ago).
The Honey Pot (1967). Another terrible, terrible film – joy! I recorded this off our local This TV outlet merely because Susan Hayward was in it and I was curious to see how she did in this (awfully, it turns out). This “comedy” sports a premise that would be hard to pull off even by an attractive, assured cast, the fact that it stars the unlikeable Rex Harrison makes it all the more hard to stomach. Rexy plays a smug rich guy who decides to play a trick on three of his former lovers by pretending to be dying and summoning them to his estate. Hayward’s Southern belle, Capucine’s French princess and Edie Adams’ Las Vegas showgirl all believe they’re in for an inheritance, but then a guest turns up dead and things get more sinister. Could Cliff Robertson as the actor Harrison hires to pose as his assistant be behind it? I really couldn’t bring myself to care. Hard to believe this was scripted by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, since it has none of the subtlety or brilliance of his All About Eve. Since I recently read about Harrison’s douche-baggy behavior on the set of Doctor Doolittle (released the same year), I feel unfairly biased, but his performance is every bit as lazy as the script. The only positive aspect here would be Maggie Smith as Hayward’s nurse, but overall this film just stinks to high heaven.
If A Man Answers (1962). Another ’60s stinkeroo was this fakey, overly affected romantic comedy that involved much the same crew and producer (Ross Hunter) as the beloved Rock Hudson-Doris Day vehicles. This one has perky Sandra Dee as a part French, part American socialite who impulsively marries a slovenly photographer played by Dee’s then-hubby Bobby Darin. Fearing that her husband might stray into the arms of friend Stefanie Powers, she seeks advice from her mom (Micheline Presle). Mom hands her a doggie-training manual and tells her to follow it to the letter – after all, it worked with her husband, Sandra’s daddy (played by John Lund). A cringingly dated premise, and the lead actors lack the chops to pull it off. Dee had a certain sugary appeal in supporting roles; here she’s just flighty, muggy and unbelievable. Darin fares better, but one of the IMDb reviewers accurately summed him up as “what you would get if you took Dean Martin, sucked out most of his charm, talent and attractiveness and then shrunk him by about a foot.” Probably the best reason to watch this today lies in the purely visual: luxe color photography, pretty/odd set design (houseplants on the stairs?), and Dee’s darling Jean Louis-designed wardrobe. She really did look like a life-sized Campus Cutie!
Robotropolis (2011). A Netflix streaming watch, this cheaply produced sci-fi thriller concerns a utopian city served and policed entirely by robots. A TV reporter (cardboard Zoe Naylor) and her crew are granted exclusive access to the community and are able to file live reports interviewing the residents, who seem to be adjusting well with the setup. In one live report, however, the camera catches a robot killing a soccer player. This one incident leads to a robot revolt, with the city’s terrified inhabitants (including our plucky reporter) fleeing for their lives as the bots go on a murderous rampage. Not quite Birdemic terrible, but shoddily made and for the supposedly terrible things that go on, it’s bizarre how much the film lacks any edge or emotional involvement. The CGI effects on the robots are decently done, but the lighting is too flat and they lack gravity. The acting by the no-name cast turns out being almost as emotional as the robots, although there are some fascinatingly bad moments of over-the-top scenery chewing. The lamest part of the film is that first scene with the soccer player’s death, which is done in a way you’d expect from a grade-z student film cast with the director’s friends. The big revelation about the cause of the robots’ malfunctioning was no shining moment in indie filmmaking, either. I did like the architecture in the city (filmed in a gleaming Singapore multi-use complex) with its cool monorail, however.