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Gary F. Taylor "GFT" RSS Feed (Biloxi, MS USA)
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Kiss Me Deadly (The Criterion Collection)
Kiss Me Deadly (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Ralph Meeker
Offered by MightySilver
Price: $20.77
15 used & new from $16.55

4.0 out of 5 stars They’re the nameless ones who kill people for the great whatsit, January 23, 2015
KISS ME DEADLY is a low budget film noir released by United Artists in 1955. Vaguely based on a Mickey Spillane novel and directed by Robert Aldrich, who is perhaps most famous for WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE, it offers the story of low-rent but hard-hitting private detective Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), who picks up a terrified young woman (Cloris Leachman, her film debut) on the side of the road. They are kidnapped, the woman is tortured to death, and they are sent over hillside in Hammer’s car—but Hammer survives and determines to unravel the mystery, partly because he’s tired of working “penny ante cases” and partly because he seems to feel some responsibility toward the dead woman.

The first fifteen minutes of the film are gripping—but it thereafter runs into a series of character sketches as Hammer tries to trace the background of the young woman, who she was and what she had that would make someone kill her so brutally. The performers (including Maxine Cooper, Gaby Rodgers, Albert Decker, and Paul Stewart among others) give first rate turns, but the script merely leads from one character to another without going anywhere in particular … until about last fifteen minutes of the film, when KISS ME DEADLY suddenly gathers itself into one of the most bizarre plot turns imaginable. For some years only a cut version of the film’s original ending was available, and quite a savage ending it was. Now the original ending is available, and while it softens the ending a bit, it doesn’t soften it by much.

Although the center portion of the film is uneven, it is well performed, and the whole thing moves with such speed that, while you might be confused about who is who and why they are there, you never really question it—at least not much. It is also interesting to note that KISS ME DEADLY was heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s concept of “the MacGuffin,” and that the MacGuffin in the film influenced everything from RADERS OF THE LOST ARC to MULHOLLAND DR to REPO MAN to PULP FICTION.

At the time, KISS ME DEADLY ran into all sorts of censorship problems, what with its mixture of cold blooded violence and women of easy virtue, not to mention a profanity that, mild by today’s standards, is surprising to hear in a 1955 movie. But ultimately, KISS ME DEADLY isn’t in the top tier of film noir. It’s too uneven and too loosely structured to compete with the likes of, say, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. But it’s an interesting watch, and fans of the genre—especially the gritty style of noir—will enjoy it. Criterion Collection does a nice job of the film with a good restoration and several bonuses, most notably a audio track. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Golden Classics
Golden Classics
Price: $14.27
29 used & new from $2.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars White Bread Delux, January 21, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Golden Classics (Audio CD)
Born in 1940, Anita Byrant began singing as a child, and she launched her career by winning the title of Miss Oklahoma in 1958. Although she would record well into the 1970s, her most successful single came early in her career with “Paper Roses,” which went to number five in the Top Forty in 1960. Bryant built her career on being a patriotic and Christian American, and in 1969 she found her true niche when she became a product spokeswoman for The Florida Citrus Commission. An entire generation grew up hearing Bryant singing “Come To The Florida Sunshine Tree” and declaring that “a day without orange juice is a day without sunshine!”

Bryant’s success arose in part because many white Americans felt frazzled by rock and roll of the 1950s and 1960s and turned to what can only be described as “white bread” girl singers. Some of these singers were quite gifted—Teresa Brewer, Leslie Gore, and Patti Page to name but three—but many were less gifted than safe. At times, Bryant’s voice recalls Patsy Cline, particularly with “Paper Roses;” at times she seems to echo Peggy Lee (“The Wedding.”) With a few exceptions, her material is somewhat weak, often sounding rather like a throw-away Doris Day might have recorded as a theme song for one of her popular 1960s comedies (“Not a Child Any More” is a good example.) Whatever the case, it’s obvious that Bryant never really found her own sound.

It is a pity she didn’t, for if she had, she might have been satisfied in her career and not drifted into the role of political agitator. Bryant’s image was that of a very patriotic, very Christian woman, and as early as 1969 she had denounced the vulgarity of popular music acts. In 1977 she embarked on an campaign to overturn a Dade County, Florida law that made it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals—and while she and her supporters were ultimately successful in overturning the law, she destroyed her career in the process. Rightly or wrongly, she has since become a byword for rabid homophobia, and a later divorce undermined her status as a fundamentalist Christian. Her attempts to recover her career resulted in bankruptcy.

The best of this particular collection is, I think, “Til There Was You,” a much-recorded song from the Broadway musical THE MUSIC MAN—Bryant does it with considerable charm. “Paper Roses,” “My Little Corner of the World,” and “Pretty Lies” are also very nice examples of both Bryant’s voice and the “girl singer” style of the time. But Bryant also tosses off a few horrors, most particularly the unspeakably vile pseudo-country novelty song “A-sleepin’ At The Foot of the Bed,” which not even Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton could have carried off. The rest—they are okay, they just aren’t memorable. GOLDEN CLASSICS is essentially a recording for those who remember Bryant fondly—or for those who want hear her voice and make up their own minds about it.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 12, 2015 4:09 AM PST


The Legend of Lizzie Borden
The Legend of Lizzie Borden
DVD ~ Elizabeth Montgomery
Price: $14.99
29 used & new from $12.12

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly Powerful Stuff, January 17, 2015
This review is from: The Legend of Lizzie Borden (DVD)
Daughter of actor Robert Montgomery, actress Elizabeth Montgomery (1933-1995) began her professional career in 1950s television and was soon well-regarded in the industry. In 1964 she was cast in the role of Samantha Stephens, a supernatural witch with a fondness for “mortals,” in the television comedy BEWITCHED, which had an extremely popular eight-season run. After the series ended, Montgomery sought out significantly darker roles in an effort to stretch her talents and expand her career. In 1974 she appeared as the lead in NBC’s television movie A CASE OF RAPE, a highly controversial but well received drama in which she played a rape victim. In 1975 she followed it with ABC’s THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN.

The Borden case was and is notorious. The Borden family of Fall River, Massachusetts consisted of Andrew Borden, his second wife Abby Borden, and his two daughters by a previous marriage, Emma and Lizzie. The family was wealthy, but Andrew Borden was known to something of a miser, and there rumors of emotional strain, particularly between the step-mother and daughters. On 4 August 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were viciously murdered with an ax or hatchet. Lizzie was accused of the murders.

THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN is often described as the most accurate film version of the case. That is true in the sense that the courtroom scenes make use of the actual transcript—but LEGEND is often precisely that: legend, the story as the average person may have heard it, distorted by passing time and changing opinions. The film also has a rather unexpected feminist slant, which was unlikely for 1892 but very much top of mind in the mid-1970s. But be it fact or fiction, it is remarkably compelling, and it has survived the passing of time with a strength most made-for-television movies of its era lack.

The overall cast is very, very strong, with Katherine Helmond as sister Emma and Fitz Weaver as father Andrew particularly memorable. The script and production values are also very strong, and the cinematography, which often has the quality of a sickly hallucination, is unexpectedly good for a television film of the period. Oddly, the one off-note is Elizabeth Montgomery herself, who is much too modern in voice, body language, and attitude to be entirely believable as a thirty-ish spinster of the 1890s. But strange to say, this actually adds to the film’s shuddery sense of unease: Lizzie is presented an increasingly neurotic woman who is different from everyone around her, and period-appropriate or not, Montgomery gives a powerful performance.

The movie is very much of its era: Montgomery’s make-up includes eye-liner and heavy mascara and her hair, when worn loose, is styled in a razor-cut, elements which are sometimes distracting and sometimes amusing. Television movies of the 1970s were also filmed on the cheap, and that occasionally shows as well, but director Paul Wendkos (who had an extremely long career in television) gives the film a solid but unexpectedly dreamy pace. Will we ever know the truth of what happened in Fall River on that hot August day in 1892? Probably not. But THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN is unexpectedly powerful stuff.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Le Corbeau (The Criterion Collection)
Le Corbeau (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Pierre Fresnay
Offered by Brand New Rarities
Price: $64.97
2 used & new from $64.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Wings of the Raven, January 16, 2015
Loosely based on an actual incident that occurred in 1917, LE CORBEAU (translated as THE RAVEN) concerns a small French town that is suddenly beset by anonymous letters of an especially nasty variety. Although they attack many different people, their primary target is one of the town doctors, who is accused of everything from illicit affairs to abortion—and when one of the letters drives a townsperson to suicide, all hell breaks loose.

The performances are sharp and the film moves at a rapid pace, but what really makes it interesting is a comparison to what the United States was doing in film at the time. In many ways LE CORBEAU anticipates the gritty 1950s style of American film noir, but more significantly its material includes illicit affairs, abortion, suicide, a slightly ridiculing attitude toward the church, and a criminal that escapes justice, subjects Hollywood wouldn’t be able to handle directly for another twenty years.

The film is also historically interesting, an early effort by French director Henri-Georges Clouzot, who would be most famous for his later LES DIABOLIQUES. Clouzot, who was something of a starving artist at the time, made the film in France for the German-controlled Continental Films at the height of World War II. The Germans disliked the film, which they thought of as a swipe at French informers, but after the war French patriots attacked Clouzot for working for a German film company, and they too disliked the film, which they thought of as an attack on small-town French life. Clouzot was barred from working in the French film industry for several years as a result.

As usual, Criterion does a beautiful job: the film elements are excellent and there are a few bonuses of genuine interest. But ultimately the film must stand on its own, and it does so very well: dark, strange, and unwinding at a frightening tempo with strong performances, LE CORBEAU may not be among the obvious classics, but it is a classic just the same. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter (The Criterion Collection)
The Rolling Stones: Gimme Shelter (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ The Rolling Stones
Offered by westcoastmedia
Price: $16.99
17 used & new from $11.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's Just A Kiss Away, January 6, 2015
Albert and David Maysles were brothers who partnered on numerous documentaries, perhaps most famously the 1976 GREY GARDENS. The brothers were noted for working in a style they called "direct cinema"--they did not interview their subjects; they instead turned on the cameras and observed without intervention or comment.

In 1969 The Rolling Stones agreed to allow the Maysles and their various camera crews follow them as they finished up a tour of the United States. Although the Maysles shot some concert footage, they were more interested in the personalities of the band members--and in the difficulties that began to arise in connection with the band's planned free concert in California, where The Rolling Stones would headline an all-star line-up that included Santana, The Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane.

The first half of the film alternates between The Rolling Stones, both on and off stage, and California attorney Melvin Belli, who struggles to pull the details of the free concert together. After several venue changes, Altamont Speedway--a motor racetrack in northern California--agreed to host the event, and the remainder of the film focuses on the concert event itself. Within minutes of their arrival, a bystander hit Mick Jagger in the face as he walked to his trailer, and the concert was repeatedly plagued by acts of violence around the stage. A particularly savage breakout occurred during the Jefferson Airplane's set, with Marty Balin knocked unconscious and Grace Slick trying to calm the crowd from the stage. The violence only increased when The Rolling Stones went on, with Jagger frequently stopping the performance to alternately pleading with and haranguing the crowd. His efforts are ineffective, and he ultimately elects to grit his teeth and go on with the show, even when dogs walk across the stage, he is stared down by a Hell's Angel, and he performs within a few feet of wildly triping LSD user.

The Maysles brought in frequent partner Charlotte Zwerin to review, edit, and shape the film, and the result was deeply disturbing, ranging from drug-induced psychosis to Hell's Angels beating audience members with pool cues. And, of course, a man drawing a gun near the foot of the stage--and being knifed to death on camera while The Rolling Stones played on. GIMME SHELTER, with its hand-held cameras, lingering camera shots, bouts of slow motion, and bursts of violence was a rock and roll horror show, and Mick Jagger was so disturbed by the film that some time passed before he could be coaxed into signing off on the film's release.

The Criterion DVD is magnificent, handsomely remastered and with a must-hear commentary track that includes Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, a handful of outtake clips, and photographs. Is this a concert movie? No, and if you're looking for that you should go somewhere else. GIMME SHELTER is uneven, uncertain, and unnerving, the dark side of rock and roll in 1969. Worth seeing--and seeing again.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
The Man with the X-Ray Eyes
DVD ~ Morris Ankrum
Price: $8.83
23 used & new from $2.49

4.0 out of 5 stars I Can Still See!, January 5, 2015
This review is from: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (DVD)
Roger Corman is best known for a series of eight inexpensive yet unexpectedly effective films vaguely based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and released in the 1960s. All but one of these starred Vincent Price; THE PREMATURE BURIAL, the third film in the group, starred Ray Milland. Corman and Milland worked well together, and Corman quickly cast Milland in a non-Poe film, X—THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES. Shot in about three weeks on a slim budget, the film became one of Corman’s most widely praised works, receiving positive words from “the serious critics” and raking in some fairly big bucks at the box office, too.

Dr. Xavier (Milland) is experimenting with solutions that will allow the human eye to see normally invisible spectrums of light. At first, the results are amusing: when he attends a party, he discovers he can see right through their clothes. Later, the results seems to be potentially beneficial: he is able to correctly diagnose a child’s illness and save her life. But when he accidentally kills a co-worker (Harold J. Stone), Dr. Xavier goes on the run, sinking to performing a “psychic” act in a carnival and then coerced into acting as a “healer” by a vicious blackmailer (Don Rickles, in his first film role.) A fellow scientist and possible love interest (Diana Van der Vlis) attempts to pull him back from the void—but has Dr. Xavier gone too far to return?

The cast is very attractive, with Rickles giving a surprisingly nasty performance and Diana Van der Vlis, an actress most often seen on stage and television, is both charming and effective. But most interesting are the special effects. As Dr. Xavier’s use of the drug progresses, the appearance of his eyes change—and the audience often sees things from his point of view. This is the pre CGI world, and by today’s standards the effects are technically clunky … but that doesn’t prevent them from being interesting.

Some DVD releases of this film include a director’s commentary by Corman, which is interesting, but if you’re wondering if the rumor about a famous line that was supposedly cut from the film—well, you’ll have to keep wondering. Corman has remembered this several different ways over the years. Whatever the case, X—THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES is a fun film, an often interesting film, and worth watching.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


X - The Man With The X-Ray Eyes
X - The Man With The X-Ray Eyes
DVD ~ Ray Milland
Offered by Van Buren Boys Entertainment
Price: $14.99
47 used & new from $4.43

4.0 out of 5 stars I Can Still See!, January 5, 2015
Roger Corman is best known for a series of eight inexpensive yet unexpectedly effective films vaguely based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and released in the 1960s. All but one of these starred Vincent Price; THE PREMATURE BURIAL, the third film in the group, starred Ray Milland. Corman and Milland worked well together, and Corman quickly cast Milland in a non-Poe film, X—THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES. Shot in about three weeks on a slim budget, the film became one of Corman’s most widely praised works, receiving positive words from “the serious critics” and raking in some fairly big bucks at the box office, too.

Dr. Xavier (Milland) is experimenting with solutions that will allow the human eye to see normally invisible spectrums of light. At first, the results are amusing: when he attends a party, he discovers he can see right through their clothes. Later, the results seems to be potentially beneficial: he is able to correctly diagnose a child’s illness and save her life. But when he accidentally kills a co-worker (Harold J. Stone), Dr. Xavier goes on the run, sinking to performing a “psychic” act in a carnival and then coerced into acting as a “healer” by a vicious blackmailer (Don Rickles, in his first film role.) A fellow scientist and possible love interest (Diana Van der Vlis) attempts to pull him back from the void—but has Dr. Xavier gone too far to return?

The cast is very attractive, with Rickles giving a surprisingly nasty performance and Diana Van der Vlis, an actress most often seen on stage and television, is both charming and effective. But most interesting are the special effects. As Dr. Xavier’s use of the drug progresses, the appearance of his eyes change—and the audience often sees things from his point of view. This is the pre CGI world, and by today’s standards the effects are technically clunky … but that doesn’t prevent them from being interesting.

Some DVD releases of this film include a director’s commentary by Corman, which is interesting, but if you’re wondering if the rumor about a famous line that was supposedly cut from the film—well, you’ll have to keep wondering. Corman has remembered this several different ways over the years. Whatever the case, X—THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES is a fun film, an often interesting film, and worth watching.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Premature Burial
Premature Burial
DVD ~ Ray Milland
3 used & new from $15.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Entry in Corman's "Poe Cycle", January 3, 2015
This review is from: Premature Burial (DVD)
Roger Corman is perhaps most famous for eight films—seven vaguely based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe and one based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft—made during the 1960s. Although they were quickly and cheaply made, these films were generally admired for their style, and several were unexpectedly successful with both critics and at the box office.

Vincent Price starred in all but one of these eight films, with THE PREMATURE BURIAL the single exception, which stars Ray Milland. Price was under contract to American International Pictures, which produced and distributed Corman’s films—but Corman had a dispute with API and took BURIAL to a different studio. API would not release Price to appear in the film and Corman hired Milland as a result. Ironically, API essentially bought out the competing studio before the production started, so BURIAL turned out to be an API film whether Corman liked it or not.

The movie is not so much based on the Poe story as it is suggested by it. Guy Carrell (Milland) has developed a psychotic fear of premature burial, so much so that he calls off his impending marriage to Emily (Hazel Court.) She convinces him that he love is strong enough to save him, and they marry—during a violent thunderstorm, no less—but the vows are barely spoken when Guy’s paranoia breaks forth in a number of bizarre ways. This being a thriller, there are several twists, but most of them are rather obvious. The real appeal is in the excessive performances, the fog-shrouded sets, the gothic sets, and the lavish costumes, all of them filtered through a 1960s sensibility.

THE PREMATURE BURIAL isn’t the best of Corman’s Poe films, but it’s fun and worth watching. The film has been released in several DVD editions, some with bonus material and some without. Perhaps the most readily available is a release that also includes Corman’s X—THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (also starring Ray Milland) or in a release that also includes Corman’s THE MASK OF THE RED DEATH. Not a masterpiece, but enjoyable.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


The Hobbit: Pocket Edition
The Hobbit: Pocket Edition
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.39
74 used & new from $6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Preface to THE LORD OF THE RINGS, December 29, 2014
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit—a fantasy creature of short stature, big feet, and love of comfort—who finds himself forced into an adventure by the wizard Gandalf, who assigns Bilbo to act as a professional thief for thirteen dwarves on a dangerous quest: they seek to travel to the Lonely Mountain to kill the dragon Smaug, who many years ago drove their people from the area and stole their treasure.

Published in 1937, J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT was written specifically for young teenagers. It is not a long book—most editions run a little over two hundred pages—and the vocabulary is in line with what young teenagers were expected to be able read in that era. The book was greatly praised when it was first published, and although its popularity has been somewhat cyclical, it has never been out of print.

I have several problems with the novel. For one thing, it does not seem to me that Tolkien has found his tone of voice, the narrative is often a little clunky and a little graceless, and I was particularly annoyed by Tolkien’s habit of addressing the reader directly. Tolkien spends little time on description or detail: the encounter with Gollum, for example, is a single chapter, and the Battle of the Five Armies is chiefly remarkable for the fact that we miss most of it. As for the story, it is extremely, extremely episodic, skipping from one unrelated event to another so bluntly that I was reminded of L. Frank Baum’s OZ novels, which do the same.

Even so, Tolkien does two things that make the novel an essential. He creates the outlines of a fantasy world that he will revisit with considerably more success, and he creates an object that will become the focus of that later story: a ring, a ring with vague antecedents and remarkable powers, a ring that will become known as the One Ring, the ring to rule them all. Ultimately, THE HOBBIT is perhaps best regarded as a long preface to Tolkien’s masterpiece, THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost
Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost
DVD ~ Scott Innes
Price: $5.00
74 used & new from $0.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Parental Preview May Be Required, December 23, 2014
Released in 1999, SCOOBY-DOO! AND THE WITCH’S GHOST is the second in the “feature length” (sixty-seven minutes) cartoons created specifically for the home market. This particular outing has the gang in small-town New England, where the ghost of Sarah Ravenscroft, a legendary witch, has been sighted. The gang—especially Velma—works with Sarah’s descendent Ben (voiced by no less than Tim Curry) to debunk the ghost and to find Sarah’s diary, which Ben says will prove she was not a witch but a Wiccan healer who was wrongfully persecuted by the town. Along the way the gang meets rock-and-rollers The Hex Girls, a trio scheduled to play at the harvest festival and who become unwillingly involved in the mystery.

Nobody would describe the Scooby-Doo series as high art, but it is well imagined. The characters are updates on the original 1960s Saturday morning cartoon characters, the animation is very good, and the story is interesting—and as in many of the “feature length” releases there really are some unexpected supernatural forces at work, which gives everything an added twist. But I did have a bit of a problem with one particular plot point, in which the story (a) seems to describe Wiccans as a specific race, which they are not; and (b) seems to define Wiccans as benign healers of an older age, which they were not; and (c) last but not least states that Wiccans and witches are not the same, which is a highly contentious issue that pretty much depends on who you ask.

Ultimately, this is one of the few Scooby-Doo flicks that I would say parents need to preview before allowing it to be seen by your children. It’s not that it is unusually scary, but the Wiccan issue may be something parents would prefer to avoid—or at least postpone until a later date.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer


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