Cinema Penitentiary Diaries – August 20-31

  1. The Best of Everything REVIEWED Finishing School Vulgarity triumphs as Frances Dee and Ginger Rogers thumb their noses at the snobs who enforce etiquette and morality upon their charges in an uppity private school.
  1. King of Kong Two adult males vie for the world’s high score on the Donkey Kong video game. Hilarious and pathetic, this documentary affects a serious approach to a stupid obsession.
  1. Imitation of Life (1959) REVIEWED The Pit Every bit as bad as Troll 2. A boy pushes his enemies into a pit where they are eaten by demons. A Brilliant Young Mind Pointless folderol glorifying an idiot savant whose specialty is math.
  1. All The President’s Men An inspiring bit of nostalgia that takes us back to the time when the United States had a free press, and the power of truth could depose a crooked president. How times have changed.

24.The Boy There are few things I dislike more than  artistic horror films that you don’t even suspect are horror films until their blood endings. This one stands with the family cannibal snoozer “We Are What We Are” as one of the worst.  On one hand, it is encouraging to see a horror movie made with a real film crew and not just a bunch of kids with iPhone (As Above, So Below).  If only they would stop pretending to make art films and get down to the nitty gritty.  High School  REVIEWED

  1. Love & Mercy REVIEWED
  2. Minions Fans of “Despicable Me” should enjoy this prequel. The Invisible Woman Comic follow-up to “The Invisible Man” wastes John Barrymore’s talents and the audience’s time. Orgasmo Also known as “Paranoia,” this collaboration between Umberto Lenzi and Carroll Baker starts off like the Pinter-Losey classic “The Servant,” with the rich lady being corrupted by a sexual hothead and the woman he calls his sister, and ends like Mario Bava’s inheritance bloodbath “Bay of Blood.” It stands well between those films, and never flags off into incoherence, as too many Italian giallos are wont to do, and blesses its audience with a triple twist(ed) ending. Just Add Honey The concept and the cast of this Australian farce are promising, but the aimless script lets us down.  As the plot becomes more and more inane, our enthusiasm for the situation (a 16 year old pop star stays with her average relatives while her mother serves time in rehab) flags until we wonder what we are looking at and why we don’t walk away.
  1. Knife of Ice One of Umberto Lenzi’s most audience-friendly giallos, its solid direction makes up for his conventional treatment of a standard whodunit. Carroll Baker is suitably mysterious as the deaf girl in the middle of a series of murders. Straight Outta Compton (REVIEWED)
  1. The Road to Denver John Payne gives a reliable performance as the brother of a hotheaded would-be gunslinger in this low-budget yet handsomely mounted 1955 western from Republic Pictures. The screenplay by noir novelist Horace McCoy has more substance than is usually found in this kind of thing.
  1. 29. Monkey Kingdom Disney nature movie shot in Sri Lanka is a wonderful spectacle for those of us who love watching monkeys. The movie also provides an excellent lesson in the primate’s caste system and survival techniques. The cinematography is so good that it is hard to believe parts were not staged.         The Bride Wore Red  Early Joan Crawford picture in which she plays a cheap roadhouse singer who is given an opportunity to pose as a wealthy socialite.  The standard romantic complications develop. Will she marry the rich playboy or drop her cover and ally herself with the postman?  Z for Zachariah (REVIEWED)  The Parallax View Paranoid thriller from the seventies doesn’t hold up so well.  Even the fight on the top of Seattle’s space needle isn’t as exciting as it once seemed. The idea is still intriguing, but the script is too thin. Warren Beatty, whose lack of acting talent always makes him a liability, is better than usual here, but he’s no Gene Hackman, and that’s what the picture needs.
  1. Wanda this little miracle was written, directed, and starred Barbara Loden, protégé of Elia Kazan who later became his wife. Hers is one of the bravest performances of its time, playing an utterly worthless human being who will sleep with anyone who buys her a drink, and winds up on a crime spree with a creep every bit as pathetic as herself. The cinematography is rough and  grainy, yet beautiful.  If John Cassavetes had been a woman, this might have been his masterpiece.  But it isn’t.  It is Loden’s, whose early death by breast cancer robbed us of what may well have been the most significant body of work by a female director. Howard’s End I never liked  foliage-ridden literary adaptions, but this one is different.  It is hilarious.   With a cast including Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Vanessa Redgrave, and Helena Bonham-Carter, you expect to be bored to death, but I laughed myself silly.  The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (REVIEWED)
  1. Desperado In 1992, Robert Rodriguez made “El Mariachi,” one of the world’s best action pictures, for $7,000. It grossed $2 million. Three years later, Hollywood gave him $7 million to make a sequel. It was even better, and grossed $25 million.  I have seen it several times over the last 23 years, and it keeps getting better with each viewing.  But between the bad influence of Quentin Tarantino and the bad franchise Spy Kids, Rodriguez hasn’t made a decent movie since.  It’s a shame, because here was a director to rival Sam Peckinpah, and he winds up palling around with the biggest twerp this side of Stevie Spielberg.  RIP.  Peyton Place In 1956, when Grace Metalious wrote “Peyton Place,” it was considered trash, and sold more than any other novel of the decade. I got hold of it some years later, and it was the first of several “dirty books” I read before I was fifteen years old.  It  led to a predilection for novels on the order of Harold Robbins’ “The Carpetbaggers,” Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22,” and Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita.”  By High School I had graduated to Norman Mailer, William Burroughs, and the Marquise de Sade. I would often pretend to be sick so I could stay home in bed and read such literature.  The movie version of “Peyton Place” came out in 1957, but I didn’t get to see it until 1959.  It was not as dirty as the book, but was still pretty hot for an eight year old kid, right up there with “A Summer Place,” and later “Splendor in the Grass,” “Susan Slade,” and “The Chapman Report.”  Watching “Peyton Place” today, the sordid events of the plot are eclipsed by the overwhelming love most of the characters feel for each other.   And when most of the boys in the small New England town were scooped up in an Army bus and sent to fight in World War Two, the sense of life interrupted and the impending dread of loss was  so vivid I could almost see my own father’s life destroyed.

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