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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Saturday, July 8, 2006
What Have I Been Watching
I haven't written much lately about the movies I've been watching. Last weekend saw about a dozen viewings drop into my lap, which is what usually occurs when Tolemite drops into town for a visit.

Tonight I saw this year's remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, which is a complete waste of time for anyone who has seen Wes Craven's original, which I wrote about for The Hub. I know everyone always says this about every remake, but the original really is much better. In fact, except for the opening scene, which is as blatant a case of "Hey, audience, we think you're stupid," as I've seen in a Hollywood movie recently, Alexandre Aja's new movie is virtually a scene-by-scene copy. Whenever Aja veers oh-so-slightly off Craven's path, it's always an inferior choice. Barely anything in the 2006 movie is an improvement over the 1977 film: some of the performances (Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan), maybe tomandandy's score (although Don Peake's was very good in the original). Whereas Craven made his villains distinctive characters with individual personalities, Aja's are merely driven by plot to show up when needed and disappear when not. None is interesting, and we aren't even told their names. I was surprised to learn that Billy Drago played Jupiter, the patriarch, as I don't think he even shows up until an hour and 35 minutes into the picture. And the deathtrap concocted by the siblings at the end is nowhere near as clever (and sick) as the one in Craven's film.

Seriously, blow this one off and check out the Wes Craven movie instead.

CYBER ZONE is a Fred Olen Ray movie starring Marc Singer (the Beastmaster!) as a "droid gunner" (aka "blade runner") that hunts androids for a living. He's hired to find four "pleasure droids" (aka hot sex robots) and is reluctantly teamed with a prim female technician with glasses (Rochelle Swanson) who--surprise, surprise--turns out to be a major hottie. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power puts in another appearance in a cheap DTV movie, as does much of Ray's repertory company, including Ross Hagen, Robert Quarry and Brinke Stevens (naked!).

STARSHIP INVASIONS is what happens when Canadians try science-fiction. Made at the peak of the 1970s' UFO craze, it stars Robert Vaughn (!) as a UFO expert who is abducted by good aliens who are trying to prevent bad aliens (led by Christopher Lee!) from conquering the earth with a suicide ray (!) that forces Earthlings to kill themselves. There's a stupid-looking robot, TV-style direction (by Ed Hunt) and scoring (by Gil Melle, usually better than this), and the aliens "speak" only in voiceover--so Hunt can shoot faster and cheaper without sync sound.

JUNGLE MAN-EATERS was Johnny Weissmuller’s last official Jungle Jim movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if 20% of this 67-minute feature is recycled from someplace else. Weissmuller fights a crocodile (again!), a lion (again!), some sailors, a bunch of natives and a Frenchman. Jim is kind of an imbecile in this movie, blundering into trouble. Chimp Tamba accidentally hits him in the head with a rock that knocks him out. Lee "Roll 'Em" Sholem directs a few serial-style fistfights that are a bit rougher than the usual Jungle Jim punchfests. There were no more Jungle Jim movies for Weissmuller, but he made three more similar features for Columbia playing a character named…Johnny Weissmuller!

In honor of Jan Murray, the comedian, game show host and actor who died last week in his 80s, I watched his first film, WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR. This delightfully sick 1965 thriller casts the Borscht Belt funnyman in a dramatic role as Dave Madden, a detective who investigates when young club DJ Juliet Prowse is the recipient of obscene phone calls. Sal Mineo is top-billed as the pervert, who works as a busboy at Prowse's club, but this movie is, along with TIGHTROPE and THE MAD BOMBER, one of the few crime dramas in which the hero is creepier than the sleazebag he's pursuing. Surprisingly frank for an independent 1965 film with a name cast (Elaine Stritch, Frank Campanella, Bruce Glover and a young Daniel J. Travanti are also in it), WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR is badly in need of a DVD release. It's a shame that Jan Murray, who told SCARLET STREET magazine how much he liked the film in a 1995 interview, is no longer around to do a commentary, but Stritch, Glover, Travanti and director Joseph Cates (father of Phoebe) are.

NIGHTHAWKS is a solid pre-FIRST BLOOD thriller for Sylvester Stallone, who was unsuccessful as a dramatic actor after ROCKY (PARADISE ALLEY and F.I.S.T. were not hits). NIGHTHAWKS is his first action-hero role. He and Billy Dee Williams are New York detectives on special assignment to track down Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer making his U.S. film debut), a ruthless European terrorist. It's nothing special, but the action scenes are suspenseful, and the performers are good. Lindsay Wagner (THE BIONIC WOMAN) is wasted in a nothing part as Sly's ex-wife. It's certainly worth viewing.

I also caught a couple of Italian westerns. I think I've already written about BLINDMAN, a strangely black-humored hit about a blind gunslinger (Tony Anthony) attempting to retrieve 50 mail-order brides from a Mexican bandit. The bandit's brother, Candy, is played by Ringo Starr, whose Mexican accent is poor, but who is okay otherwise. I don't think much of Anthony, but BLINDMAN has a strange mix of humor and sleaze, particularly the nude scenes. It's a good movie and definitely never boring.

More standard is $100,000 FOR RINGO (no relation to the Beatle drummer), in which a young Richard Harrison (um, no relation to George...) returns from the Civil War and finds himself between angry Apaches, a crazed Mexican general, and a crooked town boss. By the way, there's neither a Ringo nor $100,000 in the movie.

Posted by Marty at 10:34 PM CDT
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