SEPTEMBER 5 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : DEATH OF A SOLDIER
When Gen. Douglas MacArthur and thousands of American troops landed in Australia in 1942, the welcome mat was out. Hit songs welcomed the Yankees, USO dances were hot tickets for socialites and Australian men grumbled that they couldn't get a date without a GI uniform. But then, according to "Death of a Soldier," the situation turned ugly when three Melbourne women were found strangled, and all of the evidence suggested that the killer was an American soldier.
The movie opens with the announcement that it is based on real events, and before long we're knee-deep in them. We meet an American lawyer (James Coburn) who is a major in the military police, and then we meet Edward Leonski (Reb Brown), a big, open-faced GI who likes to get drunk on Saturday nights. He has a knack for sweet-talking women with his polite, down-home manner, and then he strangles them while repeating "I want your voice." The movie never develops any suspense over the identity of the killer. Indeed, we see him commit some of his crimes, and he confesses to his tent mate and best buddy that he's the man the whole city is looking for. All the same, he remains free for an amazingly long time.
American authorities first deny that one of their soldiers could be guilty and then try to hush up the case because of worsening relations between U.S. soldiers and the Australian locals. Bad feeling runs so high that a trainload of American GIs gets into a bloody shootout with Australian soldiers waiting on a station platform. Dozens are killed, but a security lid is slammed on the incident.
The frustrating thing about movies "based on fact" is that you never know how much is factual and how much is made up. Did this shootout really take place? The movie is fuzzy. A postcript at the end ties up all the knots of the Leonski case, but makes no mention of the massacre. Also, the movie probably strays from fact long enough to provide Coburn with a local love affair with Belinda Davey. She has one of the most sensual mouths I've ever seen, even if her character is completely irrelevant to the movie.
The movie further muddles its story line by assigning an actor to play Douglas MacArthur and then not allowing him to talk, except for one sentence. It uses those irritating kinds of scenes where the general stands silhouetted, puffing on his corncob pipe, while other people talk. Or we see him through doorways or striding out of hotels.
Every single foot of the MacArthur material is an unnecessary distraction.
Meanwhile, Coburn finds himself at the center of the murder controversy, first leading the investigation and then, after the killer finally is arrested, switching sides and joining his defense team.
Eventually he realizes, as the movie has been directing us to realize all along, that poor Leonski is nuttier than a gallon of peanut butter.
Yes, he has murdered those three women and tried to murder some others, but he has a schizophrenic personality. When he is not murdering he is weeping with contrition, confessing to anyone who will listen and almost begging to be arrested. His last words before the gallows are, "It's just as well, isn't it?" For the first part of this movie, we think it's going to be a murder mystery, or maybe a police procedural. It's neither one. It's simply a straightforward docudrama about a historical event that led to (as are told in the postscript) changes in the U.S. Code of Military Justice. Well and good, but what is the real purpose of this movie? It isn't suspenseful, it isn't really very romantic and although Leonski is a pathetic case, he is not a fascinating one.
SEPTEMBER 5 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : RIDING WITH DEATH
Okay, loyal readers, we have managed to go about a month with no sort of movie review whatsoever, so the time is finally come to review the hottest movie of the summer, The Dark Knight. Wait a second, actually, I am not going to review that movie, because anyone who does is an idiot. If I were to review this movie, it would probably go something like this:
"Hey everyone, remember that awesome movie, Batman Begins? Well, remember how they set up the Joker at the end of that movie, and it was awesome? And then all the viral marketing for The Dark Knight started, and it was awesome? And then the teaser trailer came out, and it was awesome? And then they released the first six minutes of the movie in IMAX, and it was awesome? And then the actual trailer came out, and it was awesome? And then the reviews started coming in, and everyone said it was awesome? And then everyone in the world went to see the movie, and all of the reasons we thought it would be awesome were awesome and it culminated in an awesome movie? Yeah, well, it was pretty.....good."
Instead, I am going to review the hottest movie from the summer of 1998. That's right.....GODZILLA. First of all, this movie is, was, and forever will be, a pile of used band-aids with some fingernail clippings stuck to them. Does anyone even realize this movie is OVER two hours? Is that what that whole "SIZE DOES MATTER" marketing campaign mean? That there is a direct correlation between the length of the movie and the size of the hole you blow in your head? Why do they think all French people have names that start with "Jean" and love coffee? I am pretty sure this is the ONLY opinion the movie makers had of the French. If you haven't seen this movie, don't. It is so long. Seriously, this movie is so long, it's like watching the unrated version of 40 Year Old Virgin or something. It seems like a good idea, but when you get an hour into it, you start contemplating how you can make your eyeballs fall out of your head just so you have a good excuse to not watch it. Why was EVERY segment of this movie twice as long as it needed to be? The scene where they use a home pregnancy test to find out that "Go-ji-ra" is pregnant was ten minutes....DID WE REALLY NEED TO TAKE TEN MINUTES TO EXPLAIN HOW TO USE HOME PREGNANCY TESTS TO DISCOVER THAT RADIOACTIVE NUCLEAR REPTILES ARE ASEXUAL?! Good God. I take it back, EVERYONE should go see this movie, so that when you watch Independence Day, you appreciate how incredible it is and what it is like to have a nerdy main character that is NOT Matthew Broderick. The only redeeming qualities of this film are that both Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer are in this movie, and there are times when you can close your eyes and pretend that Moe Szyslak and Principal Skinner are fighting Godzilla.
On another note, how dumb is the phrase "more or less"? I mean, how can people honestly use this response and pretend they are being helpful whatsoever? This response means one thing....it means that whatever information someone is trying to gather by asking you a question to which you respond "more or less", that whatever amount is assumed is definitely NOT adequate, and the only sufficient amount is either more or less. More by how much, you wonder? Doesn't matter. Less by how much? Who cares! As long as it isn't the exact amount that you just inquired about! This interaction could even be deadly. Take this interaction, as an example:
Patient - "Doctor, how much of my medication should I take?"
Doctor - "Well, how much do YOU think you should take?"
Patient - "Uhhh....well, would three times a day be sufficient?"
Doctor - "More or less"
Patient - "So which is it, should I take more or should I take less?"
Doctor - "Doesn't matter, as long as you take either more, or less, and definitely NOT the amount you originally asked me about"
Patient - "You are an idiot"
Doctor - "At least I am not the one thinking medication can cure cancer"
And on a final note, anyone who has a webpage that uses white text on a black background should stab forks into their eyeballs and rotate until their pain equals mine when I try to read their page. Welcome to the internet, people!
SEPTEMBER 5 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
Years ago, there was a golden age of horror films that people didn’t have to leave the comfort of their homes to experience. The 1970s was a decade that featured movies made for TV by like Dan Curtis and his Trilogy of Terror, the Stephen King adaptation of Salem’s Lot, Wes Craven’s Stranger in Our House, and other titles like The Initiation of Sarah and the immortal Devil Dog: Hound of Hell. One such small-screen thriller is still spoken of in some quarters in hushed and nervous tones; 1973’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, starring the then grown-up star of John Wayne’s True Grit, Kim Darby, as a housewife with some undesirable roommates.
Nearly forty years later, we have a big-screen version of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark with a few changes. The most notable of these is that the main character, Sally, the film’s heroine, is now a small child. Dumped on her other custodial parent when her mother no longer feels like taking care of her, Sally’s father and girlfriend must find a way to welcome the unhappy youngster in the midst of a major renovation of a Gothic mansion they are overseeing. Alex barely has time for his daughter as the project could make his name in the architecture world, leaving an uncomfortable gulf between Sally and new love, Kim. What’s a little girl to do with all this house and no one to play with? As Sally goes wandering, she finds a previously undiscovered studio with a nice, securely bolted fireplace. Childlike whispers from behind the bars coerce Sally into some redecoration of her own, and once she opens the grate, the voices inside begin to make their way through the house at night and proceed to show Sally a little something less than gratitude.
As in the original 1973 TV-movie, the thing that triggers Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’s frights is the primal fear of what happens when the lights go out? What is the thing that goes bump in the night? Are you sure there’s no boogeyman under the bed? Sally finds out the answers to these questions the hard way, setting forth a tiny, malevolent army of long-lived nocturnal critters with a taste for milk teeth. Because of her age and her lack of closeness with her own father, Sally isn’t believed when she tries to warn Alex and Kim about what’s living in their house. The poor thing is totally isolated and alone: Despite Sally’s desperate cries to fly home, her mother won’t take her back, wanting to relive her single years without her kid getting in the way. Sally’s father, Alex is more concerned with trying to win kudos for the mansion renovation and navigating the waters of his new relationship with Kim. The new couple wasn’t exactly planning on this sulky, sad child who is growing more difficult in her nightmares and delusions to add pressure to the mix. Sally’s delight in having anyone to talk to, in this case doll-sized critters that seem to actually want to be around her is understandable, as is her self-sufficiency when the creatures reveal their true intent. One of my favourite scenes shows Sally getting the hint early on about what the little monsters want to do to her and the girl slings her backpack and trudges off down the road before dad drags her back to the mansion. Along the way, Sally begins to confide in Kim, who sees from the outset that the little girl is suffering from her slapdash upbringing by both parents and it’s touching that this woman who may become Sally’s stepmother eventually becomes her champion. Not so great at saving the day is Sally’s dad, who is completely caught up in his own affairs and clueless to see the danger happening literally right under his nose. Once Sally understands the creatures don’t exactly enjoy brightness, Kim arms her with an old One-Step Polaroid camera. During a showdown with the critters in the mansion’s library, this innocuous weapon comes in mighty handy as Sally tries her darndest to flashbulb them into oblivion.
Directed by comic book artist Troy Nixey and produced by horror maestro Guillermo Del Toro, it’s surprising that Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is rated R as there are maybe three brief scenes of sparing, obviously CGI-blood and definite PG-13 restraint. The chills are mostly psychological as we don’t get to see the little monsters in full all that often. In its use of ominous lighting and music, eerie sound effects and hints at things moving where they shouldn’t, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is under-the-skin-creepy. The biggest key to selling the film is in its star, the amazing Bailee Madison, who was nine at the time of shooting. Madison, who single-handedly stopped the show in Jim Sheridan’s 2009 drama, Brothers, is perfect as Sally; all sulks and resentfulness at first and then quick on the uptake once the danger begins. The relationship between Madison’s Sally and Katie Holmes as Kim, the not-at-all-evil potential stepmother, is a novel one in that they grow together and form a real family bond that exceeds the one Sally shares with her “real” parents. Poor Guy Pearce hasn’t a thing to work with in the thankless role of the hapless Alex, and as if to crown the character’s shame, they stick a toupee on him that looks as if it’s been mouldering in a closet since 1973. There’s a lot of Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and even a bit of the Del Toro-produced El Orfanato in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark; mostly in subjecting a female character to a world that appears to be one thing, but is something they must escape at all costs. Besides the fractured fairy tale premise, this film also shares the others’ rich visuals and moody production values.
While this version of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark might not make viewers forget the television original they grew up with, it’s an entertaining thrill for those unfamiliar with that film or simply looking for a good fright at the movie theatre.
~ The Lady Miz Diva