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The Last of Robin Hood (Blu-ray + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
The Last of Robin Hood (Blu-ray + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
DVD ~ Richard Glatzer
Price: $24.28

1.0 out of 5 stars Flynn deserved better, September 13, 2014
For 20 years Errol Flynn was one of the most popular actors in the world - “Charge of the Light Brigade” (1936), “Robin Hood” (1938), “Dawn Patrol”(1938), “Sea Hawk” (1940), “They Died with their Boots On” (1941), “Roots of Heaven” (1958). But this film is a poor tribute to his final years.

Despite a strong performance by Kevin Kline who also manages to look like Flynn, the rest of the film is more like a docudrama than a film. It fails to capture the 50s spirit and the references to Hollywood insiders like Melvin Belli will be lost on almost everyone.

Dakota Fanning plays the young girl with whom Flynn spent his final years, but there’s almost nothing in Fanning’s performance that seems attractive. Yes, she’s pretty, but Flynn could have many pretty girls, so there is little transmitted as to why he chose her. Fanning at 19 looks far too old to be the 15 year old Aadland. I thought she did a much better job in “Man on Fire” (2004) than she does here.

Susan Sarandon plays Aadland’s mother and while I am a big fan of her in general, this was not one of her best performances. She seemed to be “acting” the part rather than being the part, something that can rarely be said for this Oscar winning actress from such films as “Thelma and Louise”, “Atlantic City”, and “Dead Man Walking”

I knew I was in trouble when the credits rolled and I saw a long long list of producers. That’s rarely a good sign. And a film with 2 directors is also a red flag.

If you’re a big Errol Flynn fan you want to give this one a miss.

Nature of the Beast
Nature of the Beast
DVD ~ Eric Roberts
Offered by Solo Enterprises
Price: $6.99
24 used & new from $1.70

2.0 out of 5 stars A half hour stretched, September 6, 2014
This review is from: Nature of the Beast (DVD)
Nature of the Beast is predictable almost from the start and would have made an excellent 30 minute show on one of those series like "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" or "Tales from the Crypt". Not only is the plot more like a TV show, the production values are also pretty thin. Eric Roberts and Lance Henriksen do a good job in the Acting Dept., but this just isn't worth the longer format

DVD ~ Sean Bean
Price: $8.99
48 used & new from $1.54

2.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed, September 2, 2014
This review is from: Cleanskin (DVD)
This film is disjointed and difficult to understand. It seems to be 2 films, one of which focuses on how terrorists are developed and the other which is a classic spy thriller. The acting is OK, but the direction is tiresome, and it's difficult to follow the action between the different segments and the flash backs. Don't waste your time.

Black Fury [Remaster]
Black Fury [Remaster]
DVD ~ Paul Muni
Price: $19.01
26 used & new from $9.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting film about labor dispute, September 2, 2014
This review is from: Black Fury [Remaster] (DVD)
Paul Muni (1895-1967) stars as an immigrant coal miner mixed up in a labor dispute in the mid-1930s. Muni was nominated for an Oscar in his very first film, “The Valiant” in 1929, and 6 more times - “I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” (1932), “The Story of Louis Pasteur” (1936), “The Life of Emile Zola” (1937), “The Last Angry Man” (1959), and this film. To be nominated 6 times over a period of 30 years is remarkable (and unmatched) itself, but this achievement is all the more meaningful when you realize that Muni made only 21 films, and furthermore, he wasn’t nominated for “Scarface” (1932) or “The Good Earth” (1937) in which his performances were also exceptional.

The film from Warner Brothers was very controversial at the time, showing the illegal activities on both sides. The film was banned in several states where coal mining was prevalent. It was based on a real incident in 1929 when a coal miner was beaten to death by police.

Barton MacLane (1902-69) plays a gangster, his usual role in the 30s. MacLane is best remembered as the General from TVs “I Dream of Jeannie” (1965-70). MacLane was a favorite opposite Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon”, “San Quentin”, “High Sierra”, “All Through the Night”, and “Treasure of the Sierra Madre”.

Diminutive John Qualen (1899-1987) made nearly 200 films, 9 of them directed by John Ford and 4 with Wayne but not Ford. My favorite John Qualen role was as Lars in "The Searchers" (1956). In this film he plays a miner and Muni’s friend.

Versatile J. Carrol Naish plays a villain who tries to split the union. Naish was twice nominated for an Oscar (“Sahara” in 1941, “A Medal for Benny” in 1946). He was extremely versatile and could play an Indian (“The Whirlwind”), a Russian (“”British Agent”), an Arab (“The Crusades”), an Asian (“The Hatchet Man”) and a Latino (“The Kid from Spain”).

Look for Tully Marshall, Mae Marsh, Akim Tamiroff, and Ward Bond among the character actors.

Director Michael Curtiz (1886-1962) is best known for his 7 films with Errol Flynn. He was nominated for an Oscar for their first collaboration (“Captain Blood”, 1935), and received 2 more nominations for films with Jimmy Cagney - “Angels with Dirty Faces”(1938) and “Yankee Doddle Dandy” (1941) - and one win for a film with Bogart (“Casablanca”, 1942). Curtiz had a sense of humor about himself – he once declared “The next time I want an idiot to do this, I’ll do it myself.”

1935 was a good year for films. “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “The Informer” were box office and Oscar winners. Other top 10 grossing films included Gable and Harlow in “China Seas”, Flynn and de Havilland in “Captain Blood”, Shirley Temple in “The Littlest Rebel” and “Curly Top”, and Greta Garbo in “Anna Karenina”. Other notable films released that year included “Alice Adams” with Hepburn, “The 39 Steps”, “The Bride of Frankenstein”, “David Copperfield”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, “Les Miserables”, “Top Hat”, and “A Night at the Opera”. In Germany, Leni Riefenstahl released “Triumph of the Will”.

The NY Times called the film “a trenchant contribution to the sociological drama” and “a stirring tale of industrial war in the coal fields.” They praised Muni and Curtiz and added “the photoplay achieves a melodramatic vigor and an air of cumulative power which is rare in the Hollywood cinema. By all odds, "Black Fury" is the most notable American experiment in social drama since "Our Daily Bread."

Variety said “There are times when the footage is slow and Paul Muni’s Polish brogue too thick but in the main the general result is arresting.”

Bottom line – an interesting film marred by the inability to understand Muni’s heavy accent, and the simplistic cause for the union’s woes.

The Rover
The Rover
Price: $12.99

2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A man and his car, but It's not Mad Max, June 22, 2014
This review is from: The Rover (Amazon Instant Video)
With a dour and uninspiring script, the fabulous acting and the remarkable photography are wasted in this grim look at the future, 10 years "after the collapse." Post apocalyptic films are quite common, and many of them can be grim, but even in the grimest of films there is someone or something to root for. This films give you virtually no one to identify with. There are the bad guys, the very bad guys, and the even worse guys, with only the occasional transient character who might have some redeeming quality. The film is not enhanced by pseudo-aboriginal music that tantalizes the listener that perhaps some symbolic native magic is in store, but it never comes.

Wizard of Oz (1925)
Wizard of Oz (1925)
Price: $4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No Wizard Here, June 15, 2014
Some films are so bad they’re good, but this one is simply so bad. It has almost nothing to do with the ”Wizard of Oz” book or 1939 film, and instead is a showpiece for slapstick comedian Larry Semon (1889-1928) who wrote, directed, produced, and stars in the film, along with his wife who plays Dorothy. Semon was famous for one and two reelers in the silent days, and he is reasonably funny in the bits he brings to the film, even though they are irrelevant to the story.

Big Trail [Blu-ray]
Big Trail [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ John Wayne
Price: $9.55
39 used & new from $6.73

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Historical Value, but Little Else, April 23, 2014
This review is from: Big Trail [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Before he came under the tutelage of John Ford, John Wayne was a pretty poor actor. That’s nowhere more in evidence than his first film “The Big Trail”, and due to the film’s commercial failure, Wayne spend the next 9 years relegated to B westerns, even singing for his supper on a number of occasions. But through it all, his performances were pathetic, until Ford with financial backing from Walter Wanger, made “Stagecoach” and the rest is history. Wayne blossomed under Ford’s direction, and his acting was never better than in Ford’s films like “The Quiet Man”, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, and “The Searchers”.

Though he’s probably best known for his films with Errol Flynn, the film’s director Raoul Walsh (1887-1980) was a master of the melodrama - “Roaring Twenties” (1939), “Dark Command” (1940), “High Sierra” (1941) and “White Heat” (1949) - and westerns - "Dark Command" (1940), "They Died with Their Boots On" (1941), "Colorado Territory" (1949), "The Lawless Breed" (1953), "The Tall Men" (1955). He declined noticeably in the 50s after he left Warner Brothers, but his 50+ year career made him one of Hollywood’s most memorable directors. Here is 1930 he is at his weakest. The camera is static and the action is almost non-existent for the longest time. Later in his career he would be a master of the close-up, but here he makes due with medium and long shots.

So you have two giants of the silver screen at their worst, here in 1930, with long and distinguished careers ahead of them. It might be understandable if all the early 1930s were badly acted and poorly shot. But consider that in 1930 we had films like “All Quiet on the Western Front”, “Animal Crackers”, “Disraeli” “Big House” and “Dawn Patrol”. In 1931 we had “Frankenstein”, “Mata Hari”, “City Lights”, “Dracula”, “The Champ” “M”, “Public Enemy”, “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde”, and “Monkey Business”. Compared to any of these films, “The Big Trail” was very small indeed.

Bottom line – From an historical POV the film has some merit (First 70 mm film, first John Wayne film), but otherwise completely forgettable.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2014 3:59 PM PDT

Lost Squadron
Lost Squadron
3 used & new from $25.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Great aerial photography in a melodramatic story, April 3, 2014
This review is from: Lost Squadron (VHS Tape)
“The Lost Squadron” is a 1932 black and while drama from RKO about 3 WW 1 aviators (Richard Dix, Joel McCrea, Robert Armstrong) who work in Hollywood as stunt pilots. It was the first film produced by David O Selznick.

Richard Dix (1893-1949) was RKO’s leading man during the 30s. He started in 1917 and had made 50 films prior to talkies. He plays the romantic lead.

Robert Armstrong (1890-1973) will always be best known for his role as hunter Carl Denham in this film and the original, as well as “Mighty Joe Young” (1949) even though he performed in 160 films including “Palooka” (1934), “G Men” (1935). “Man of Conquest” (1939) and “Blood on the Sun” (1945).

Joel McCrea (1905-90) had a long career starting in the silent film era, and appeared in more than 50 films, usually as a hero in westerns – “Wells Fargo” (1937), “Union Pacific” (1939), “The Virginian” (1946), and “Four Faces West” (1948). But McCrea wasn’t limited to western films, and he gave good performances in films such as “Foreign Correspondent” (1940) and “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), although I think his best job was in “Ride the High Country” (1952).

Mary Astor (1906-87) plays Armstrong’s sister. Astor is best remembered as Mrs. O’Shaughnessy from “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), although she won the Oscar for her role in “The Great Lie” which appeared the same year and is now mostly forgotten. Astor made more than 100 films from 1921 to 1964 (“Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte”) and was a major star in the silent era.

Erich von Stroheim (1885-1957) plays a Hollywood director. Von Stroheim was a famous German silent film director (“Greed”, “The Merry Widow”) but he got into too many arguments when the talkie era started, and he turned to acting. Von Stroheim is perhaps best remembered for his Oscar nominated role as the film director Max Von Mayerling in “Sunset Blvd” (1950).

The film is directed by George Archainbaud (1890-1959), known primarily for his TV westerns (Gene Autry, Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill). This is probably his best known film.

The best feature of this film is the stunning air photography, shot by Edward Cronjager (1904-60) who received 7 Oscar nominations (“Cimaron”, “Heaven Can Wait”), but never won.

Films about airplanes were popular even in the silent era with “Wings” (1927). Films in which flying airplanes has featured prominently include “The Dawn Patrol” (1930), “Hell’s Angels” (1930), “Flying Tigers” (1942), “Wing and a Prayer” (1944), “Twelve O’Clock High” (1950), “The High and the Mighty” (1954), “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” (1965), “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1975), “Top Gun” (1986), “Always” (1989), “Air America” (1990), “Memphis Belle” (1990), and “Tuskegee Airmen” (1995).

1932 was a good year for films – Grand Hotel” was the Oscar and box office king, but Jean Harlow had 2 films in the top 10 (“Red Headed Woman” and “Red Dust”) as did Miriam Hopkins (“Trouble in Paradise” and “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) and Wallace Beery (“Champ” and “Grand Hotel”). Other notable films from that year were “I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang”, “Freaks”, “A Farewell to Arms”, “Scarface”, “Horse Feathers” and “Tarzan The Ape Man”.

The NY Times said the film has “a rich vein of originality and clever dialogue. It is an excellent melodrama, ably directed…” Variety said “The ‘behind the scenes’ of an aerial film production is the best appeal Squadron has” but lamented “the dramatics are a bit strained.”

Bottom line – Of value for the great aerial photography, but the story itself will seem dated and melodramatic.

Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid
DVD ~ John Mack Brown
Price: $12.49
32 used & new from $6.78

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Forgettable, April 3, 2014
This review is from: Billy the Kid (DVD)
Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Jesse James are probably the three most well chronicled figures from the Old West.

This 1931 version stars Johnny Mack Brown as Billy and Wallace Beery as Pat Garrett. It starts with a signed letter from the Governor of New Mexico claiming that while the film took liberties with the truth, it was a good representation of the life and times.

Johnny Mack Brown (1904-74) was one of the Kings of the B Westerns and it all began with this film, the first of nearly 100 westerns he made between 1930 and 1965. His athletic abilities, amiable smile, good looks, and singing voice made him popular and a top money maker. Brown always played the same role regardless of the film, and he plays Billy just as he played enumerable others.

Among others, Billy was played by Roy Rogers (1938), Robert Traylor (1941), Bob Steele (1940), Buster Crabbe (1942), Jack Buetel (1943), Audie Murphy (1950), Scott Brady (1954), Paul Newman (1958), J. Micvhael Pollard (1972), Kris Kristofferson (1972), Emilio Estevez (1988), Val Kilmer (1989), and Donnie Wahlberg (1999).

Wallace Beery (1885-1949) was one of the biggest villains in the silent era. His work in 1930 (“Big House”, “Min and Bill”, “Billy the Kid”) followed by the best actor award in 1931 for “The Champ” elevated Beery to the A list where he remained and made such memorable films as “Treasure Island” (1934), “Viva Villa” (1934), and “China Seas” (1935). We see him here before his break out, wearing a silly 10-gallon hat.

Russell Simpson (1877-1959) used his lanky appearance and deep voice effectively in films with Errol Flynn (“Dodge City”, “Santa Fe Trail”), Henry Fonda (“My Darling Clementine”), and John Wayne (“The Horse Soldiers”). He was a favorite of John Ford, and he gave his most memorable performance in Ford’s “Grapes of Wrath” as Pa Joad. Here he plays McSween.

King Vidor directs. Vidor was nominated for an Oscar in 1928 (“The Crowd”), 1929 (“Hallelujah”), 1931 (“The Champ”), 1938 (“Citadel”) and 1956 (“War and Peace”). He never won. He is listed in the Guinness Book as having the longest career as a film director (67 years). There isn’t much to his direction, but the photography is impressive, and the use of the moving camera is well done considering the date.

Westerns would not see their best days until 1939 with “Stagecoach” and then achieve perfection in the 40s and 50s. Part of the reason for that was the quality of these films, which was generally poor and B quality. The other reason was economics – “The Big Trail” (starring John Wayne) also came out in 1930 and was a big box office failure, so major studios were reluctant to commit to westerns for a decade.

Crime was very much on everyone’s mind in 1930, as witnessed by Warner Brothers’ films with Robinson, Raft, and Cagney. The Roaring Twenties had come to an end and the Depression was only just being felt. Other popular crime films that year were Marlene Dietrich in “The Blue Angel”, Howard Hughes’ “Hell’s Angels”, Hitchcock’s “Murder”, and “Street of Chance”. The most popular movies of that year were “All Quiet on the Western Front”, “The Big House”, “Hell’s Angels”, “The Blue Angel”, and “Animal Crackers”.

If you're looking for good films about Billy the Kid, look at "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", the great 1973 film by Sam Peckinpah starring James Coburn and Kris Kristopherson. From a totally different perspective, but perhaps closer to the truth, you might look at "Dirty Little Billy", a 1972 film starring Michael J. Pollard. Personally I enjoyed the Clu Gulager (Billy) and Barry Sullivan (Garrett) performances in the TV Series "The Tall Men" (1960 to 1982).

Bottom line – a really bad western that shouldn’t be seen, apart from it historical value, and even that is questionable.

The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg [VHS]
The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg [VHS]
5 used & new from $11.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Isn't It Wonderful to be the Prince?, February 27, 2014
“The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg” aka “Old Heidelberg” was based on the 1924 operetta by Dorothy Donnelly and Sigmund Romberg from the 1901 novel by Wilhelm Meyer-Forster.

Norman Shearer (1902-83) plays a popular barmaid who falls in love with the Prince. Prior to this film, Shearer enjoyed a reasonably undistinguished though profitable career in silent films when she got engaged to (and subsequently) married MGM wonder boy Irving Thalberg (1899 -1936) in 1927 and he put her in “The Student Prince” (1927) and then “The Divorcee” (1930) for which she won the Oscar. She went on to achieve 6 Oscar nominations for her work on films like “Marie Antoinette” (1938) and “Romeo and Juliette” (1936). I’m a big fan of Shearer but I think her performance is underwhelming here, and she shows very little of her sexiness, one reasons being her incredibly sexy voice is absent.

Ramon Navarro (1899-1968) was the “latin lover” successor to Rudolph Valentino and very popular through the mid 30s when MGM cancelled his contract partly as a result of an early “red scare”. Just before this film he achieved the apex of his fame with “Ben Hur” (1925). Navarro was a (secret) homosexual and this may account for the lack of chemistry between Navarro and Shearer. Navarro’s performance is very good in the dramatic and comedy scenes, but the love scenes leave a lot to be desired.

Jean Hersholt plays the Prince’s tutor. He appeared in more than 100 films between 1906 and 1955, including such memorable films as “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (1921), Erich von Stroheim’s “Greed” (1924), Karloff’s “The Mask of Fu Manchu” (1932), and “The Country Doctor” (1936). He’s best remembered as Shirley Temple’s grandfather in “Heidi” (1937). In this film he does his usual good work.

The film was developed by comedy master Ernst Lubitsch (1892-1947) who gave us such memorable films as “Ninotchka” (1939), “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), and “To Be or Not to Be” (1942). Lubitsch liked to say “Nobody should try to play comedy unless they have a circus going on inside”, and this film is every bit a fun circus right up until the third act when it turns melodramatic. During the silent era Lubitsch alternated between historical dramas and comedies, and left Germany for the U.S. in 1922 to work with Mary Pickford. His best work came in the talkie era.

Production values are very good. Thalberg was madly in love with Shearer and spared no expense in highlighting her.

1927 was a pivotal year in film with the production of “The Jazz Singer”. Other major films from that year were “Wings”, “King of Kings”, Abel Gance’s Napoleon, “London After Midnight”, and “Metropolis”. Clara Bow appeared in “It” and Buster Keaton’s classic comedy “The General”. In that light, “The Student Prince” has lots of competition.

Variety said – “Ernst Lubitsch took his tongue out of his cheek when he directed this special… He had to, and in doing so he also took any kick right out of the picture, if any were there in the script for him. It’s not farce and it’s not drama. Just a pretty love story of peaches and cream. The claim is that it took a year to make this feature, yet this doesn’t show. Productionally there are some rich interiors counterbalanced by a sprinkling of back drops on exteriors. But nothing can stand off Ramon Novarro’s facial makeup. This is ghastly under certain lighting conditions and at no time allows him to completely spin the illusion of the character he is playing. Shearer’s personal efforts are a highlight and Jean Hersholt stands a good chance of outlasting both in the memory.”

The NY Times said “the satirical shafts, the careful attention to telling details, the half-second notes and the keeping within certain bounds inform the spectator, even though the name of Lubitsch were not emblazoned on the screen, that it is the master from Berlin who has directed this splendid shadow story….Mr. Novarro is natural and earnest, but he is a little too Latin in appearance for the rôle. Norma Shearer is attractive as Kathi. She, however, does not seem to put her soul into the part. She, too, acts well, but, like Mr. Novarro, she does not respond, as other players have done, to Mr. Lubitsch's direction.”

Bottom line – neither a great romance nor a great drama, with little chemistry between the principals.

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