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House of Mystery (1934)

It's "B" old house thriller time once again, but this one is surprisingly entertaining, partially because it's all so silly but, at least, largely played for laughs.

It almost feels like two films for the first twelve minutes or so is set in India, with an adventurer who kills a sacred monkey in a Hindu temple but gets away with a fortune. Twenty years later the investors in that fortune have tracked him down and they want their share. He agrees but warns them of a curse of the temple that will follow them and kill them if they take the money. If they still insist upon it, they must spend one night in his house with him in order to get their share of the fortune.

The characters in the house are a rather amusing collection, including a hen pecked man and his battleaxe shrewish wife, an insurance salesman who tries to sell a policy to anything that moves, the adventurer himself, now confined to a wheelchair, a Hindu maiden who accompanied him two decades before from India, and a plumber who frequently pops in for laughs who also, as it turns out, has a secret.

Oh, yes, this is a house is which an ape is hiding to kill its inhabitants, one by one, as soon as the sound of toms toms are heard throughout the place. Pretty silly stuff, as I said, but it had me chuckling a few times. There is also the usual dumb cop (played by character actor Irving Bacon). He's not so good at solving mysteries. He is good, however, at pulling out his gun whenever the tom toms sound then calling the coroner afterward to tell him that another body has been found.

Most people won't know the names of the cast (at least, I didn't), but there is George Hayes, before he became known as Gabby. With his suit and tie, clean cut hair and lack of any scruffy beard, he is almost unrecognizable. Nor does he talk like he has a mouth full of marbles.

The Hindu maiden does a short but surprisingly erotic dance in the Indian temple in the film's early minutes. Perhaps it's not such a surprise as she is played by Joyzelle Joyner (re-named Liya Joy) who, just two years before, had performed the erotic "dance of the naked moon" in DeMille's The Sign of the Cross.

This film has a seance, an ape carrying a beautiful passed out girl bit, dumb cops, dumber plot. What more could you want as an okay time waster in which to get a few laughs, all in barely more than an hour?

There's an okay print of House of Mystery available on You Tube.

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2.5 out of 4

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DICK TRACY (1990) 

Starring Warren Beatty & Madonna, with Charlie Korsmo, Dick Van Dyke, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, and Kathy Bates. 

I'm not overly impressed. I think Warren does a good job of portraying the iconic serial detective, and Charlie Korsmo is certainly endearing as "The Kid." It took me a little while (I embarrassingly admit) to realize the character of Big Boy Caprice was played by Mr. Pacino, and almost no time at all to realize that the "Mumbles" character was played by Mr. Hoffman. I enjoyed all the bright colors and some oversized props (reminds me a little bit of the whole aesthetic of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit...") Decent enough, although Madonna's attempt at nightclub singing really got on my nerves throughout the film, but alas. 

Image result for dick tracy 1990

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Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940) - 12-chapter science fiction adventure serial from Universal Pictures and directors Ford Beebe & Ray Taylor. The evil Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton) is once again the emperor of the far-off planet of Mongo. He has been sending ships to the Earth to drop "electrified dust" that causes a plague known as the Purple Death. To try and stop him, Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe), Dale Arden (Carol Hughes), and Dr. Alexis Zarkov (Frank Shannon) travel back to Mongo. There they reteam with ally Prince Barin of Arboria (Roland Drew), but they face fierce foes in Ming, his chief soldier Captain Torch (Don Rowan), and the treacherous Lady Sonja (Anne Gwynne). Also featuring John Hamilton, Herbert Rawlinson, Tom Chatterton, Shirley Deane, Lee Powell, Earl Dwire, Jean Brooks, Byron Foulger, and Chief Yowlachie as the King of the Rock People.

This was the last of the great SF serials starring Buster Crabbe, following Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938), and Buck Rogers (1939). There's a lot to enjoy here, but things are starting to wear thin, as well. The sets are obviously minor redresses of the ones used in Buck Rogers, and much time is spent in the cramped cockpits of various spaceships. Carol Hughes replaces Jean Rogers (who declined to return), and she does a decent job. Highlights of the movie include Anne Gwynne as the evil Lady Sonja, a sweet-faced blonde always ready to stab someone in the back. Gwynne is also part of a long SF legacy, as besides her appearance in this, her grandson is Chris Pine, the most recent Captain Kirk in the three latest Star Trek movies. I also liked the Rock People, who live in a desolate rocky waste known as the Land of the Dead. They wear silly rock outfits, and their spoken language is English played backward. They also get menaced by a giant lizard in footage that looks lifted from another movie. Speaking of which, there are both scenes and music borrowed from the German movie White Hell of Pitz Palu (1930). As I said, this marked the end of the science fiction serial for the most part, as the format leaned more heavily on superhero, police, and spy serials during the forties, with a brief return to science fiction in the early 50's before the format was permanently killed by TV.   (7/10)

Source: VCI DVD, on two discs, one of which is double-sided. The picture is pretty good for a VCI release. There's also a brief interview with Buster Crabbe.

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Ming creeps out Dale Arden

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Capt. Torch and Lady Sonja

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Ming's killer robots

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The Rock People

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6 hours ago, NickAndNora34 said:

DICK TRACY (1990) 

Starring Warren Beatty & Madonna, with Charlie Korsmo, Dick Van Dyke, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Mandy Patinkin, Paul Sorvino, and Kathy Bates. 

I'm not overly impressed. I think Warren does a good job of portraying the iconic serial detective, and Charlie Korsmo is certainly endearing as "The Kid." It took me a little while (I embarrassingly admit) to realize the character of Big Boy Caprice was played by Mr. Pacino, and almost no time at all to realize that the "Mumbles" character was played by Mr. Hoffman. I enjoyed all the bright colors and some oversized props (reminds me a little bit of the whole aesthetic of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit...") Decent enough, although Madonna's attempt at nightclub singing really got on my nerves throughout the film, but alas. 

Image result for dick tracy 1990

Warren did ALMOST everything right, in the look, his performance, the casting, the visual over-the-top stylizing for the sake of iconography, and the squarejawed 30's comic sensibility, and even sticking his Ishtar buddy Hoffman in for a bit part--

But then he had to turn into Director Warren Beatty, who rarely creates an action sequence when an artistic musical montage would carry the scene along so much better...I remember we were all led in by comic-strip action scenes in the trailer, only to find out that those scenes would all be covered over by a slow Madonna torch song.

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Nick&Nora34 said: DICK TRACY (1990) I enjoyed all the bright colors and some oversized props

You hit the nail on the head with this one...I was given an early script of this & it spent SO MUCH TIME describing art direction I don't think I even finished reading it. Dialogue was interrupted with paragraphs describing minute details of how this piece of clothing would match some lamp-it was ridiculous. I still have never bothered to see the movie.

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i started watching THE GREAT LIE (1941) last night as i couldn't think of anything else to do...

i've seen it before and liked it fine, it's got a great premise and strong finish (as i recall), but this time around I didn't make it to the finish line because something about it just stuck in my craw.

and it was this: about 30ish minutes in, George Brent goes to visit Bette Davis at her [fabulously decorated] farm in Virginia where she apparently is allowing a Summer Stock review of HELLZAPOPPIN led by Hattie McDaniel to crash. There is a long, INCREDIBLY PATRONIZING musical montage of, like, 30 black farmworkers shot in this highly idealized fashion which- while it might not have intended to be- is nonetheless CONDESCENDING TO AN OFFENSIVE LEVEL. This, of course, follows several minutes of Hattie McDaniel being sincere and earnest in a frankly humiliating role.

NOW, i am not saying TCM should not show THE GREAT LIE or that those of you who like THE GREAT LIE should not enjoy it, I admit that- beyond that scene, it's a solid enough movie.

But the events of the last two years have kinda broken me to where when **** like this comes up, I just can't.

I'm white as a jar of Miracle Whip, and seriously, I cannot imagine how enraging a scene like this would be to a person of color in this day and age.

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"Six Bridges To Cross" (1955) Universal 8/10

This film is a crime drama that traces the strange relationship of a street smart hoodlum (Tony Curtis) with a straight arrow cop over 20 years. The film starts out with Sal Mineo playing adolescent hoodlum Jerry Florea in 1933, robbing street vendors of fruit with his gang and doing some nighttime breaking and entering. It is fleeing after one of these nighttime burglaries when Florea is shot by rookie cop Edward Gallagher (George Nader).  Ed thought he shot an adult,  and is upset when he realizes he shot a kid, plus due to his wound Jerry will never be able to have kids of his own. Being that this is during the production code era, that is as detailed as the wound description gets. The community is in an uproar over the shooting of a child, juvenile delinquent or not, but Gallagher manages to keep his job. Gallagher's guilt does cause him to strike up a friendship with Jerry that begins as Jerry is recovering in the hospital. Jerry gives Gallagher tips on crimes that help his career, and Ed tries to befriend the boy and point him in the right direction, only to be let down time and again.

Both Curtis and Mineo were great in this. They really do seem to be playing the exact same character at different ages. As adult Jerry Florea, Curtis flashes that charming smile of his and plays the lying sociopath so well that even an audience should have a hard time determining when he is conscientious and when he is not. Florea can be violent when he needs to be, but mainly thieving and its thrill are his game. He doesn't even seem to enjoy the actual fruit of his theft that much.

An interesting piece of trivia - Sammy Davis Jr. sings the film's theme song. It was in route to the recording studio to sing this song that he had the car accident that caused him to lose an eye.

Source -youtube a couple of days ago. See it while you can before Universal has it taken down, even though I doubt they have any intention of ever releasing it.

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9 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940) -

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Thanks for the review, Lawrence. I've had the three Flash Gordon serial box set for years without watching this one. I got it primarily for the first Flash Gordon of 1936, a childhood nostalgia trip for me, with its enjoyably hokey effects, innocent sexuality, Buster Crabbe's beefy brawn and the memorable Ming the Merciless, of course. Between Jean Roger's Dale Arden and Priscilla Lawson's Princess Aura (who really knew how to shoot a ray gun) I was in heaven (okay, make that planet Mongo).

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But I really should give this third serial a whirl some time, Lawrence. Your review brings me some interest to do so (though I really suspect I will miss Aura and the original Dale).

flash-gordon-crabbe.jpg

 

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addendum to my review of THE GREAT LIE (1941)- would've been great if someone had rewritten the second act so that Bette takes Mary Astor to the Virginia farm to have the baby (instead of that shack in the desert, which has always seemed a little passive aggressive on Bette's part to me...ditto the thing with the pickles.)

while there, Mary's chic and no-nonsense Sondra could team up with Hattie to unionize the workers and grant them passage to Canada or something, anything would be better than staying there and indulging in trite racist fantasy montages while Bette ashes all over the carpet you just shook out.

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2 hours ago, LornaHansonForbes said:

i started watching THE GREAT LIE (1941) last night as i couldn't think of anything else to do...

i've seen it before and liked it fine, it's got a great premise and strong finish (as i recall), but this time around I didn't make it to the finish line because something about it just stuck in my craw.

and it was this: about 30ish minutes in, George Brent goes to visit Bette Davis at her [fabulously decorated] farm in Virginia where she apparently is allowing a Summer Stock review of HELLZAPOPPIN led by Hattie McDaniel to crash. There is a long, INCREDIBLY PATRONIZING musical montage of, like, 30 black farmworkers shot in this highly idealized fashion which- while it might not have intended to be- is nonetheless CONDESCENDING TO AN OFFENSIVE LEVEL. This, of course, follows several minutes of Hattie McDaniel being sincere and earnest in a frankly humiliating role.

NOW, i am not saying TCM should not show THE GREAT LIE or that those of you who like THE GREAT LIE should not enjoy it, I admit that- beyond that scene, it's a solid enough movie.

But the events of the last two years have kinda broken me to where when **** like this comes up, I just can't.

I'm white as a jar of Miracle Whip, and seriously, I cannot imagine how enraging a scene like this would be to a person of color in this day and age.

 

LOL. That singing scene seemed to go on forever. I switched over several times during commercials (I was watching something else, but recording Great Lie) and the singing still hadnt stopped! Reminded me of the hoedown in Jezebel..........

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I loved the Flash Gordon series when I was a kid. I was young enough to think those space ships really cool. There were two Mings ; One with an elaborate devilishly looking beard, the other a little guy that was bald. The latter gave me the creeps.

Re Dick Tracy, this was long at time ago but I remember being quite, quite impressed with Madonna. I don't remember the song but gosh I thought she was very good overall. I have no details but I seem to remember a particular scene that was especially excellent. Anyone else on the same page with that ... or am I reading a different book.

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2 hours ago, LornaHansonForbes said:

i started watching THE GREAT LIE (1941) last night as i couldn't think of anything else to do...

i've seen it before and liked it fine, it's got a great premise and strong finish (as i recall), but this time around I didn't make it to the finish line because something about it just stuck in my craw.

and it was this: about 30ish minutes in, George Brent goes to visit Bette Davis at her [fabulously decorated] farm in Virginia where she apparently is allowing a Summer Stock review of HELLZAPOPPIN led by Hattie McDaniel to crash. There is a long, INCREDIBLY PATRONIZING musical montage of, like, 30 black farmworkers shot in this highly idealized fashion which- while it might not have intended to be- is nonetheless CONDESCENDING TO AN OFFENSIVE LEVEL. This, of course, follows several minutes of Hattie McDaniel being sincere and earnest in a frankly humiliating role.

NOW, i am not saying TCM should not show THE GREAT LIE or that those of you who like THE GREAT LIE should not enjoy it, I admit that- beyond that scene, it's a solid enough movie.

But the events of the last two years have kinda broken me to where when **** like this comes up, I just can't.

I'm white as a jar of Miracle Whip, and seriously, I cannot imagine how enraging a scene like this would be to a person of color in this day and age.

Jar of Miracle Whip here too, and I agree. Besides this aspect of the film there is an angle about relationships between men and women that is pretty timeless. WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD.

Mary Astor as Sandra is very convincing as the vengeful woman who never wanted her child, but is glad to act like she does to get Pete back. And she seems to enjoy torturing Maggie as to what her next move will be. Why? You might ask. Because Sandra knows that Pete may have married her at one time when drunk, but he chose Maggie. He still chose Maggie in his heart even after he was married to Sandra. It is never said, but I think Pete wouldn't budge on the date and place for Sandra and himself to remarry because he KNEW she'd say no, that she'd put her career first. This gave him the excuse to get out of the marriage while being able to lay the blame entirely at Sandra's feet and leave skid marks on his way back to Maggie. This movie may have been made almost 80 years ago, but this is still the M.O. for most men. If they are with "miss right now" and find "miss right" they will find some way to make "miss right now" leave them, so they do not have to be the bad guy. Some things never change.
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13 minutes ago, laffite said:

I loved the Flash Gordon series when I was a kid. I was young enough to think those space ships really cool. There were two Mings ; One with an elaborate devilishly looking beard, the other a little guy that was bald. The latter gave me the creeps.

I'm not sure what you mean about the two Mings. Charles Middleton played him in all three serials.

Ming in Flash Gordon (1936)

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Ming in Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars (1938)

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Ming in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940)

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29 minutes ago, laffite said:

I loved the Flash Gordon series when I was a kid. I was young enough to think those space ships really cool. There were two Mings ; One with an elaborate devilishly looking beard, the other a little guy that was bald. The latter gave me the creeps.

Re Dick Tracy, this was long at time ago but I remember being quite, quite impressed with Madonna. I don't remember the song but gosh I thought she was very good overall. I have no details but I seem to remember a particular scene that was especially excellent. Anyone else on the same page with that ... or am I reading a different book.

Sure she has a great voice, but in the 80s she was everywhere to the point that it got tiresome. I remember a local Dallas radio station having a "No Madonna" weekend with a jingle that went like "You deserve a break today so tune in and get away from Madonna...". As for her acting, it was hit and miss, mainly miss. If you want to see Madonna do some truly dreadful acting in a dreadful film you need go no further than 1993's "Body of Evidence". And yes it is on DVD! And people are paying 47 dollars over at Amazon for a new copy that includes the unrated version! WHY??? This stuff is MST3K material.

To go back to "Dick Tracy", she wasn't bad until her final scene. SPOILER AHEAD. I MEAN IT! When she dies, I laughed. I could have told my then toddler of a nephew "Bang! You're dead!" and he would have given a similar performance. But then he was three.

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@Lawrence : Back then I didn't know they were the same actor,,, Nor did I know that until now. Thanks for the info and for the pictures.

@Calvin: I knew nothing of pop culture back in the 80s and still don't, so Madonna was mostly just a name to me. Blissfully unaware of her ubiquity, I guess. Popular music bored me and still does (for the most part). There was one song she did that got through the barrier that I actually liked but I can't remember which one now. But I really liked it.

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The Ghost Breakers (1940) - Old dark house horror-comedy-mystery from Paramount Pictures and director George Marshall. Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) has just inherited a large castle estate on Black Island, near Cuba. However, besides rumors that the place is haunted, a variety of characters seem intent on claiming possession of the place. When Mary travels down to take a look at the place, she's joined by radio personality Lawrence "Larry" Lawrence (Bob Hope) who thinks he's running from a murder rap, as well as Larry's nervous manservant Alex (Willie Best). Also featuring Paul Lukas, Richard Carlson, Anthony Quinn, Pedro de Cordoba, Paul Fix, Lloyd Corrigan, Tom Dugan, Noble Johnson, Robert Ryan, and Virginia Brissac as Mother Zombie.

Made as a follow-up to '39's The Cat and the Canary, this was also based on a stage play that had already been filmed in the silent era. It's a lot of fun, too, with both stars at the top of their game. Willie Best also does his best with a stereotypical servant role. Quinn and Carlson both look very young, and Robert Ryan makes his movie debut in a blink-and-miss-it bit as an ambulance attendant. Noble Johnson looks genuinely creepy as a zombie, while Goddard looks stunning, especially in her black gown made to resemble an ancestor's portrait. And Hope has his greatest character name ever (or maybe I'm biased).  (7/10)

Source:Universal DVD. There are some nice bonus features, including a couple of war-time shorts with Bob Hope, as well as Judy Garland, Barbara Stanwyck, Alan Ladd, Betty Hutton, Lana Turner, Humphrey Bogart, and Bing Crosby.

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Ghost+Breakers+12,+Laura,+er,+Mary.jpg

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1 hour ago, LawrenceA said:

The Ghost Breakers (1940) -

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What I think helps distinguish Ghost Breakers is that it is a handsome grade "A" production, with an impressive haunted castle set and sumptuous black and white photography which, combined with Ernst Toch's eerie musical score, makes for some genuine chills, superior, in fact, to many of those found in more "serious" horror films.

Paulette Goddard is a doll, a spunky, vivacious heroine. Who wouldn't want to rescue her, and Bob Hope is evolving in his screen persona, funny in his earlier scenes depicting cowardice but later convincing when acting as leading man. They have great chemistry in this film. One of my favourite one liners in the film occurs when they first meet. After introducing himself to Goddard and telling her that both his first and last name are Lawrence, Hope says, "Yeh, and my middle name is Lawrence, too. My folks had no imagination."

I think this film may well have the best role of Willie Best's career. He certainly has a lot of screen time, far more than in any other film that comes to mind. Not only do I think he's genuinely funny in GB, but there's a certain sweetness about him and he has the opportunity, as well, to demonstrate concern for Hope's character. Best is just plain likeable. But he's also playing a racial stereotype.

One time I showed a DVD of this film to a friend of mine, who is black. She sat in stoney silence, noticeably cringing in many of Best's scenes. Finally she walked out on the film, angered by the inherent racism in Best's manservant caricature, as well a couple of Hope's one liners regarding his skin colour. Each one liner of that nature (there were, at most, perhaps three in the film) were like little daggers in my friend's heart.

I had hoped that the many outstanding virtues of Ghost Breakers would be able to allow her to look past the political incorrectness of Best's character, but, clearly, I was wrong. So, whatever our perspective of a film may be, particularly in regard to a tolerance of racism in many studio era films as a product of their time (that tolerance may vary, of course, depending upon the degree of racism), it will clearly not necessarily be shared by many others.

This is hardly a major news flash but my friend, who had loved watching Hope and Goddard together in The Cat and the Canary just the night before (a film which has no similar racist element in it), surprised me by the degree of her hostility towards GB, a film I like, if anything, even more than "Cat." Perhaps it was naive of me to have been so surprised.

ghost-breakers1.jpg

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Go West (1940) - Marx Brothers, western-style, from MGM and director Edward Buzzell. S. Quentin Quale (Groucho) and brothers Joe Panello (Chico) and Rusty Panello (Harpo) head out west to look for gold fortunes. Instead, they end up at odds with crooks Beecher (Walter Woolf King) and Red (Robert Barrat) who want a valuable land deed that the Panellos have. Also featuring John Carroll, Diana Lewis, June MacCloy, George Lessey, Joan Woodbury, and Tully Marshall.

This is decidedly second-rate Marx Brothers, with about 1/4 the laughs of their best pictures. That's not say that this is without merit completely, as there are a number of funny one-liners, and the frenetic last act on a speeding train is amusing. It's just not up to old standards.  (6/10)

Source: Warner DVD, with a few vintage shorts.

gowest1940_678x380_02272013035728.jpg

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14 hours ago, TikiSoo said:

Nick&Nora34 said: DICK TRACY (1990) I enjoyed all the bright colors and some oversized props

You hit the nail on the head with this one...I was given an early script of this & it spent SO MUCH TIME describing art direction I don't think I even finished reading it. Dialogue was interrupted with paragraphs describing minute details of how this piece of clothing would match some lamp-it was ridiculous. I still have never bothered to see the movie.

You're not missing much. 

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14 hours ago, TikiSoo said:

Nick&Nora34 said: DICK TRACY (1990) I enjoyed all the bright colors and some oversized props

You hit the nail on the head with this one...I was given an early script of this & it spent SO MUCH TIME describing art direction I don't think I even finished reading it. Dialogue was interrupted with paragraphs describing minute details of how this piece of clothing would match some lamp-it was ridiculous. I still have never bothered to see the movie.

Tracy's worth seeing for what it could have been, but it was much better in the theaters back in '90:
Right on the heels of a brief Bat-mania comic-movie renaissance, and within a year of Disney's other unappreciated big-budget visually stylized period-indulgent would-be comic blockbuster, The Rocketeer (1991).

rocket3.jpg

Neither one is what they could have been, but I'd trust Joe Johnston with another big-budget movie long before I'd trust Warren Beatty with directing one.  

(If you want to go for the Unappreciated 90's Comic-Misfire trilogy, rent both, throw in Universal's The Shadow (1994), and wonder whatever happened to Alec Baldwin and Russel Mulcahy.)

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Talk about cringe-worthy: my family is mixed race and I can pretty much tolerate the old movie stereotypes easier than some of today's gangsta cultural affectations (like pants below the butt, teen mumblings & cutesy misspelling like "gangster")

Showboatposter.jpg

I've never seen any version of SHOWBOAT, but finally watched the 1936 James Whale production. I can't express here how much I hated it. Every time a scene offended me, another one popped up that was worse. Without even mentioning racist stereotypes, Irene Dunne playing a coy teenager was enough to send me running to the bathroom.

The next evening, I revisited the TWIN PEAKS (1990) I watched the pilot episode just to see if it was as remembered. It was beautifully shot and I liked the story arc. The acting was weird and somewhat stilted, but I'm sure that was intentional.

I cannot emphasize enough the contribution Angelo Badalamenti's soundtrack makes in this production. It was one of the first CDs I ever bought and it was played to death, leading me to buy other Badalamenti soundtracks-most notably CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. Badalamenti is a unique composer and while his work perfectly compliments moody stories, it stands up on it's own as just enjoyable, eclectic music.

The problem with revisiting a murder mystery, is we all know who "did it" & why. So I then decided to watch the big Twin Peaks revelation FIRE WALK WITH ME '92 which I had only seen once in the theater.

It started out as a promising prequel, but the "investigation" portion was dropped after the opening sequence (bye bye love Chris Isaak) and went right into a long convoluted 2 hours of Laura Palmers life before she's killed. The movie does it's best to unravel the motivations of all the characters around Laura, but I can see how many people may have left the theater confused. It spent a n indulgent amount of time on imagery, facial expressions and nonsense dialogue which in smaller doses would have been more effective.

At least we get to hear more Badalamenti music.

FWWM_US_poster.jpg

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