Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Shape Of Monsters!

Finally at last got to see The Shape of Water. I wanted to catch this modern monster flick when it first dropped last fall, but it played nowhere near me that I could find convenient. So it swam away and I figured I'd have to wait for the DVD (which I'll snatch up posthaste). But by winning the Oscar this movie was given a new life in the theaters and finally stopped long enough in my vicinity for me to sample.

Of course this movie is an unofficial sequel of sorts to the classic Creature from the Black Lagoon. The "Gill-Man" in this Guirellmo Del Toro effort is visually distinctive enough to not violate any trademarks, but for any fan of vintage monsters the comparison is inescapable. The creature in this movie was found and captured in the Amazon where it was the object of mythic lore. Snatched and brought to the United States of the early 60's, this creature is treated like an animal in a test lab and subjected to physical abuse while scientists try to glean enough understanding of its biology to assist the manned space program.

The movie is a blistering indictment of a society ruled by the whims and privileges of white men and we see how others in the society (women in general, people of color, homosexuals, and those with handicaps) are belittled and demeaned by the ascendant order. (Michael Shannon is the villain of this piece and he's magnetic and comes damn near stealing the film.)

The romance which blossoms between the creature (Doug Jones) and a mute cleaning woman  (Sally Hawkins) desperate to connect with someone worthy of her attentions is a story which redefines and broadens the definition of what is properly human and acceptable in the spectacle of human society. The ascendant order fails because it is too blind to see the capabilities of those who live in their midst, a silent majority of another stripe which will we know in coming decades increasingly demand their place in the order of society.

But at its core this is a lovely romance, a love story for the ages. It's a fable of a woman who finds another to love, someone who understands her in ways others cannot, even those she calls friends. This is a story of outsiders and those who have become alienated from their worlds and who seek to connect with someone or something who will deem them worthy. It's no less than all of us deserve and this movie affirms that truth.

Highly recommended.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Total Dick - Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc.

The final Dick Tracy Republic Serial is titled Dick Tracy Vs. Crime Inc. and later was released in the 50's under the title Dick Tracy Vs. Phantom Empire. This 1941 movie is easily the least of the four serials dedicated to the adventures of Chester Gould's comic strip hero, and that's despite a pretty good villain named "The Ghost" who can use science to make himself invisible.

The scenes in which this gimmick is used are pretty darned good and unfortunately the highlight of a serial which borrows from too many earlier movies to make a coherent effort of telling a story. Cliffhangers are borrowed from earlier Tracy serials and other Republic efforts. Maybe if I'd not just seen those I'd have been less annoyed, but all it all it felt like a hodge-podge effort as the creators twist and turn to make the yarn fit up to the already selected disasters they want to unleash. Much of the movie is spent trying to find out who the Ghost is, one of a small cadre of respected men who form a secret council that Tracy is the head of.

More Dick Tracy tomorrow.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Total Dick - Dick Tracy's G-Men!

The third Dick Tracy Republic Serial titled Dick Tracy's G-Men came out in 1939 and in many ways is the most fully satisfying of the four films. Ralph Byrd returns but none of the comedy relief characters from the earlier films is present. This time it's just Dick Tracy and his "G-Men" agents against a remarkable dangerous spy named Zarnoff (Irving Pichell) who starts off the story on death row and escapes by faking his own death.

It's a pretty grotesque and atmospheric beginning and while the serial doesn't manage to keep that tone all the way through, the plot in this one hangs together better than most serials and Zarnoff is sufficiently interesting enough to hold the stage without benefit of any other mystery. One land, sea,and air the battler is raged and the ending comes really out of nowhere and is surprisingly satisfying for a serial, which often seem to care little about the finale all that much.

One more Dick Tracy serial to come tomorrow.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Total Dick - Dick Tracy Returns!

The first Dick Tracy serial from 1937 was a big hit, so it was only logical that Republic do it again with Dick Tracy Returns in 1938. Ralph Byrd returns in the title role, but he's the only one who does show back up from the first series. This time the science fiction elements of the original serial are eschewed in favor of a more back-to-basics crime spree committed by a gang which is also a family.

Pa Stark (played by Charles Middleton, of Ming the Merciless fame) and his five boys (Champ, Trigger, Dude, Slasher, and Kid) are the enemies of the moment as they cut across the landscape committing a range of robberies and crimes of all sorts. Dick Tracy and his G-Men chase after them helped and hindered at times by Junior (Jerry Tucker), the youngster who Tracy has taken under his wing and who throughout this serial wears an ill-fitting boys school uniform. Sadly the Kid is a more of a pain than a help, but he's less annoying than was Smiley Burnette in the first serial though less effective than was James Van Atta who first played the role.

This is pretty decent serial, but the sameness of the crimes and the confrontations does make hit a bit repetitious by the final chapter which to no one surprise will end in the utter destruction of the Pa Stark gang.

Another Dick Tracy serial tomorrow.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Total Dick - Dick Tracy Serial!

Chester Gould's Dick Tracy comic strip first came to the big screen in this relatively lush  Republic Serial from 1937. The first Dick Tracy serial keeps a few elements of the comic strip, but dumps a lot of it to create a rollicking adventure that spins out over the course of fifteen weekly chapters. When this serial was filmed in 1936, the Dick Tracy comic strip had been in papers for a mere five years and much of what would define the strip in later years was not yet a firm part of the daily and weekly sequences. So when they changed Tracy into an FBI agent they were playing into the lore of the popular day with a character who could roam the landscape and confront the enemy on land, in the sea and in the air. In fact a lot of this serial is spent in the sky.

The villain in this first one is called alternately "The Lame One" and "The Spider" and the crippled mystery man lingers in the shadows and intimidates his henchmen and the public in general. Tracy and his team run and jump and sometimes spend time in the lab following clues as they chase down one threat then another. One feature of this serial which is pretty cool is the flying wing the Spider Gang uses to travel across the sky and bring death and destruction to many. The Spider's main henchman oddly is Tracy's own brother who is captured and transformed into an evil man by the villains.

As with any Republic Serial, the action is pretty non-stop with scuds of slug fests and gunfights galore. I frankly like the serials with a mystery villain and this one is a pretty good one with several decent suspects who linger on the fringes of the story. All in all, this is rousing movie adventure with an attractive star in Ralph Byrd who comes to define the role of Dick Tracy in the unprecedented three sequels. Much less successful is Smiley Burnette who plays Mike McGurk and who is as unpleasant addition to any movie as I have ever seen. He adds almost nothing to any scene and his painfully unfunny contributions hurt several.

More Dick Tracy serial action tomorrow.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Bond Lite - Dead On Target!

If you didn't know it, and I'm one of those folks who didn't know it, there's actually a third Derek Flint movie. Flint, the charismatic hero of the Our Man Flint and In Like Flint, is the star of a 1975 television movie titled Dead on Target...sort of. The movie ain't a super-spy effort and sadly it doesn't star James Coburn. Actually this is a surprisingly awful movie, a semi-professional feeling outing which is a major snooze.

Derek Flint is played by an actor named Ray Danton, and in this story Flint is a humdrum private dick in the Sam Spade tradition. About the only connection to the two Coburn movies that I can detect is the odd haircut and the penchant of the hero to wear turtlenecks. Beyond that, there is almost no sense that we are dealing with the same guy. The movie appears to have a microscopic budget and there's a dreariness to the entire enterprise which is the very opposite of what one expects from the sleek flights of fancy from the 60's. The action is lame, the acting is often painful to experience and the plot is at once obvious and vague. A businessman is kidnapped by a contingent of Arab terrorists who want a change of government in an oil-rich distant land. They are helped by the attractive Sharon Acker, who is as close to a gorgeous chick as this flick gets. Flint has a rookie helper played by Gay Rowan, but her role seems mostly to wander into danger and get captured. Flint does employ a masseuse/lover but it feels weirdly tacky, not cool.

If I didn't already own this movie on the Flint collection I bought many years ago, I'd never buy it now and cannot recommend anyone else do so either. I've owned this set for many moons, but never got around to fully checking it out until recently and found this movie nesting in the special features. As a curiosity it's interesting, but what it mostly did was remind how dreary it could be back in the 70's when the world suffered mightily from oil price shocks and run-down streets.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Bond Lite - In Like Flint!

When James Coburn had a hit on his hands with Our Man Flint, it was very likely a sequel would be made and indeed it was with the highly memorable title of In Like Flint. This movie unlike its predecessor is an out and out spoof of the spy movies of the era, more broad in its comedy and unfortunately not as successful in keeping much in the way of suspense. It does however tread very close to the themes which had been only obliquely dealt with in the first movie and that forwardness doesn't help this movie which simultaneously wants to send a message of empowerment to women but seems to undermine any such message as well.

The Derek Flint of this movie is more of the classic Bond-style womanizer and less the champion of the many girls in his life. He's just as protective, but somehow his relationship with them seems a bit more utilitarian. To begin, he has a whole new harem, just three now since by his own admission he's trying to cut down, but his first quartet of lovelies have gone on to get married. It's suggested they are happy, but marriage is implied as the proper course.

That's important since the main story has a cadre of powerful women who have arranged world events in such a a way as to lead to a matriarchy across the globe. Their scheme is vague, but it is soundly rejected by Flint, who cannot really find a strong argument against it. All of that comes to naught when the men who have been assisting the scheme turn and try to take control. The women become Flint's allies and the story really degenerates into a proper mess.

The movie lacks the scale of the first one, though it seems it has as much money or even a bit more. The textures of the wardrobe are neatly handled, but the lack of a high-drama setting like the volcano from the first movie is sorely lacking. A health and beauty spa filled with bikini-clad chicks is fine, but there's little time spent selling a location which a super-spy saga needs.

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