Monday, 29 July 2013

No.199 : Who is Clark Rockefeller ?

Who is Clark Rockefeller? at the IMDb
Good old true life TV movies - they’ve always got questions in the titles and those interrogative pronouns are solid gold for all we ‘W’ movie bloggers.

The film tells the tale of the longest scam in FBI history - a kind of ‘Catch me if you can’t’. We open as a distraught mother tries to get right her televised plea for her daughter. It’s not clear what is happening but we’re sure we’ll get back to that later. We cut to the seemingly wealthy Clark Rockefeller on the way to his club. He remembers everyone’s name and his easy charm has the ladies swooning. He seems like a solid dude and we know he’s not a fly by night as his name is painted on a board of former presidents of the club.

All is not as it seems however when he tells his driver an elaborate tale about someone stalking him and the chauffeur pitches in when the baddie seemingly tries to grab Clark’s daughter during their custody visit. We soon learn that the ‘stalker’ is in fact a chaperone and that Clark has kidnapped his own child. Clark’s ex-wife shows up and after a bit of flapping about over a dropped teddy gives the police a statement. This forms the main part of the film’s narrative flow as the 12 year marriage is scrutinised by a cop keen on gossip.

The lady detective, played by Jonas’ annoying wife out of ‘The Unit’ is a bit of a pain and all judgemental over the wife not spotting the subtle clues that Clark wasn’t all he said he was - the lack of cash for one. Luckily the ex-wife, Sandra, is loaded as she has a high flying job. This allows Clark to carry out his philanthropic acts which mainly consist of buying wine and talking bull shit. As Sandra’s tale gets nearer the present day and her televised plea for her daughter - remember that? - the police start to piece together Clark’s life.

Clark started out as a German exchange student but soon learned of peoples’ gullibility and set him self up as European royalty. After losing his accent he spins through several jobs and possibly a couple of murders. The film isn’t too explicit on this point as it was still pre-trial when it was made but Wikipedia tells us that he totally did it!

While the wife is sounding off and the police are doing those magical internet searches you only get in films we also see Clark enjoy a few days with his daughter. Will her new tomboy hair grow out and will the bumbling cops finally nail their man after 20 years?

I’ve seen a few of these TV movies lately and this is certainly the best of them. The production values were pretty good with Will out of ‘Will & Grace’ in the lead. I’ve never watched the show but he was a compelling and likable actor in a role where he could just have been a real shit. That was well judged as everyone else got suckered so why not the viewer too?

There weren’t any explosions or car chases but at least they went to the expense of recreating Clarks jobs as a surgeon and scientist and that flashback German mullet wig must have cost $20 at least! The film is a trim 86 minutes and it covers a lot of ground in that time. The story was well told and it certainly held my interest throughout.

Best Bit : I’m saving the economy of Liberia!  ’W’ Rating 15/23

Monday, 22 July 2013

No.198 : Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends at the IMDb

Some gritty film noir cop drama from 1950 now as some heads get cracked and some dames get kissed. We know this is going to be gritty from the off when the film’s title is chalked onto a pavement - none of your sissy titles here!

Our hard bitten hero is New York police detective Mark Dixon who, as the son of a now dead criminal, is trying a bit too hard to show what side of the law he’s on. He’s just been demoted for smacking up the suspects by his by the book commander, Karl Malden. Meanwhile a card game is going wrong. The gangster have a sucker in tow but the mark turns the tables and tries to make off with twenty large. Huge mistake. The mobsters rub him out but one of their molls fails to play along and gets a smack for her trouble.

The cops show up after everyone has split and Mark is soon on the trail of the main suspect. The suspect who’s had a few takes a swing and gets slapped on the chops for his troubles. Alas he’s a war hero with a plate in his head and promptly drops dead. Mark has a problem - call it in or hide the body. With his roughhouse reputation likely to give him bother he decides to hide the stiff.

His elaborate plan to dress up as the dead man and buy a train ticket wearing his hat goes well at first but soon circumstance and some solid police work start to unravel his scheme. Unfortunately the gangster’s moll, to whom Mark has taken a shine, gets involved when her taxi driver father starts to get the police’s attention. Mark tries to fit up a local mobster for the crime but soon his own lies come back to haunt him.

Will he do the right thing and come clean or can the frame hold? Is sending a bad man down OK even if it’s for a crime he didn’t commit? and will anyone get some sleep?

Set over one long night this is a superior police procedural with all the grime and backstabbing of an Ed McBain novel. The hero played by Dana Andrews (that’s a man’s name BTW!) is excellent as the driven and ruthless detective. I wasn’t convinced by his motivations especially when these changed after one small peck with the taxi driver’s daughter - still it was in black and white times.

There were plenty of fist fights with the violence realistic and bone crunching. The bad guys were suitably evil and the thin line between them and the cops was expertly drawn by director Otto Preminger. I liked how the perfect alibi was slowly unwound with Malden great in the scene where the eye witness went from convinced to sceptical in five minutes.

It was clear from the off that the bad boy detective would need some redemption but it was hard won and mostly convincing as his hard held beliefs were brought into sharp focus when the innocents started to suffer.

With no top stars, a limited budget and bleak plot this may not be the sort of film you’d look out for but it’s expertly made and has some stand out performances. Well worth looking up!

Best Bit : Punchbag at the Gym ‘W’ Rating 20/23

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

No.197 : Wholly Moses

Wholly Moses at the IMDb

Dudley Moore stars in this alleged religious comedy that boasts a few star cameos but lacks any laughs whatsoever.

We open with a bus tour of the Holy Land with Moore recovering from recent heartbreak. He talks to a girl and helps find her hat when it blows off. Needless to say it blows into a cave and they find a lost gospel - ‘The Book of Herschel’. As luck would have it Moore is an expert in ancient languages and as he reads the script we dissolve into the past where his words are acted out. All that in the first five minutes - we’re not talking a bout a slow burning labyrinth plot here!

The first bible tale to be lampooned is a lift from ‘Life of Brian’ with Hershel almost having the life that Moses had. As baby Moses is set adrift on his boat made from reeds another child is similarly dispatched. While Moses is found by a princess Hershel is brought up by a family nearby with his own father acting a a slave so he can keep watch. Not surprisingly the baby grows up to be Dudley Moore - the man has range! - and he haplessly finds his way up the social order. In one massively familiar scene a group of conspirators say ‘we need a real idiot to do the job’ just as Moore sticks his head through the curtains. We all saw that one coming! I think it was even old in biblical times!

What follows are risible scenes where Moore, as the Royal Astronomer, talks at length with a jive talking pharaoh who for some reason is a black teenager. He also acts as food tester but sadly the poison is not present. He later survives a massive battle with literally several troops on either side. The disconnected scenes are interlinked by Moore’s tiresome narration and the whole enterprise seems solely geared to shoehorning in as many B list celebrities as possible - oh look there’s Dom Deluise.

Wee Dud is then cast out into the desert and soon gets a job as a shepherd. He meets a beautiful girl - it’s her from the bus! - and is annoyed at having to keep up with the Moseses. His big chance comes when he stumbles across Moses getting his instructions from the burning bush and thinks the mission is for him. He sets off to Egypt to free the slaves and starts to believe he can perform miracles due to other unrelated events such as thinking he can part waters due to a dam being built upstream. If it started bad it gets worse as the curing of the unwilling beggar from ‘Life of Brian’ is performed in full.

As Dud nears the end of the ancient script you have to wonder why his agent didn’t throw the movie version straight in the bin. It’s not just that it totally unoriginal and devoid of any wit or merit it’s just so lazy and obvious that it’d be an insult to an ‘The Only Way is Essex’ viewer. Dudley has never laid claim to being a great actor but he’s basically just himself in both timelines. This can be funny if it’s a big and engaging personality but he’s not funny and can’t carry a small bucket never mind the whole film.

The script is appalling with loads of bible references piled up alongside jokes on the ass = bottom scale of funniness. The production values are also poor with California ‘doubling’ for the Holy Land. This is done with a couple of matte paintings and some costumes that look like they’ll be due back at the fancy dress shop by 5pm.

As you may have gathered ‘Wholly Moses’ was a god-awful mess and perhaps God should have rested on the day this was excreted out too. © Spinal tap.

Best Bit : The orgy of soddom was remarkably tame but we’ll take what we can get. 7/21

Friday, 12 July 2013

No.196 : Wake of the Red Witch

Wake of the Red Witch at the IMDb
Sorry fans of the supernatural there is no actual witch in this film - it’s the name of a boat - albeit a boat with a grudge! It also has John Wayne and the best rubber octopus fight you’re ever likely to see so it must be great right? Mmmmm…

Wayne stars as Captain Ralls. We know he’s a bit loopy from the off when he punishes men caught fighting by making them have a big fight. That’ll learn them. You do have to be sympathetic though as the ship commanded by Wayne is a stock footageship and a poor one at that - every time we see it in an establishing shot it’s doing the same turn - he must have been going around in circles for years!

Anyway it’s the 1860s and Wayne is running a cargo of $5 million of gold bullion. No sooner has he welcomed a new officer on board that he decides to crash the ship and tell a tale to the board of enquiry. Suspicious insurance types will thinks he’s after a payoff or plans to go back and salvage the gold when no one is looking but c’mon - it’s John Wayne!

Narration is taken up by his new officer Sam Rosen who has a thin moustache and is easily lead. The scallywag sailors hire a boat and sail about a while trying to shake off the insurance men who don’t believe the false co-ordinates the rascals gave for the wrecked ship’s location. After buying a treasure map at a bar, as you do, the lads arrive at a remote island inhabited by some pearl divers and a couple of dubious Frenchies.

We soon learn in narration and flashback that the trap is nothing of the sort and Wayne has orchestrated things to get back to the island and reclaim his girl, We learn that seven years before Wayne fought a big octopus for a box of pearls and in return was given the captaincy of the Red Witch. He’s rather have the girl however and despite losing her to the nasty Frenchman decides to win her back. Sadly she snuffs it and although his first mate gets a squeeze of another lady in a big frock Wayne agrees to go back to the wreck of The Red Witch to get the gold - can he find the cargo or does a greater prize await him?

This was an over long and needlessly complex bit of nonsense but I actually quite enjoyed it. It made no concessions to John Wayne being cast as a maverick seafarer and he certainly didn’t bother with any accent or characterisation - he is John Wayne after all. Although set in the South Seas it looks like Wayne never left the studio with one memorable scene showing him walking by a projection of men who appeared to be watching a projection of Islanders in their canoes. Not so much you can see the joins as the joins are all there is to see!

The characters were as you’d expect - villainous and broadly sketched. The evil French overlord had no redeeming features although for some reason he was sad when Wayne was mistakenly thought dead despite trying to kill him throughout. The best bit was of course the underwater octopus fight. Wayne was really fat and puffed his way down about ten feet to retrieve a chest that the locals had failed to capture for many years. Not satisfied with this he jumps back and rolls about with the beast in a scene terrifying to anyone with a phobia of vulcanised products.

The ladies had nothing much to do apart from look pretty and Gail Russell certainly managed this im a series of low cut tops. Seemingly she and Wayne hooked up after this film and you can see he got a better return than the audience! The finale which sees Wayne in a massive diver’s suit plundering the wreck is good for a few laughs as every gold bar lifted causes it to see-saw violently - who stored them exactly in the middle! The slightly shock ending added an extra tick and overall this was a fun outing with a couple of standout scenes that could have been lifted straight from the Marx Brothers.

Best Bit : Put that tentacle there John
‘W’ Rating 14/23

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

No.195 : White Feather

White Feather at the IMDb

 ‘Number 2’ Robert Wagner stars in this 1955 western which, as far as I can gather, isn’t related to the Marillion song of the same name.

Wagner does a bit of pre-credit narration in which he tells us that this is a true story, but the Indians speak English so we can understand them. Thanks for making us feel stupid from the off Number 2!

Wagner plays Josh Tanner, a young surveyor looking to plan some towns in gold rich Indian country. He finds the body of a prospector with an arrow in his back and after pocketing his gold he heads to the army fort. He does a bit of exposition for the Commander and hands over the gold so we know he’s a solid fella. He heads to the store to get a room (and he treats us like we’re thick!) just in time to hear the racist storekeeper give it to some Indians. The bigot sends our man to the back room whereupon our hero meets the sexy daughter fresh out of the bath - a whole shoulder is on display!

We learn that tensions are running high with the Indians, with some ready to sign a treaty but others, notably the Cheyenne, refusing to lay down before their masters - the dogs! Wagner takes a laissez faire approach and on a date with the store keeper’s daughter impresses the Cheyenne Chief’s headstong son with his diplomacy and comb. He’s so impressed that next day he delivers a nice squaw for him - that must have been some nice comb!

He take his new date back to the camp and is worried to note the Indians are practicing shooting on some dummies made up like soldiers - this can’t end well! Wagner tries to chum up with the Indians by giving them knives but all he gets in return is a hot horse that spells trouble with the neighbouring tribes from whom it was stolen. Meanwhile the old Chief has decided to smoke um peace pipe to the chagrin of his hot headed son.

As things get hot on the diplomatic front so do they also in Wagner’s storeroom bed as the squaw sets up home - but isn’t she promised to the warrior, American Horse? Can the battles in love and war be settled so that we can all live nicely together and open casinos?

Once again the ‘W’ movie quest produces a western and quite a po-faced one at that. Normally we get a bit of action and a few drunken laughs but here it’s all business. Wagner acts as a conduit between the two warring peoples and, to be fair, the film gives a balanced view, even highlighting the injustices faced by the natives. The familiar character of the hot headed son is used to bring in a bit of conflict but when he’s impressed by a comb you know he’s not going to be much of a threat.

The film looks impressive and is mostly shot on location. The characters are a bit thin and too clich├ęd and there’s not a lot to get invested in. Wagner is too non-committal and his lack focus brushes off on the viewer who gets to the stage where he’s lost interest about halfway through.

The love story seems tacked on and, although we get some naked back, it’s largely pointless especially as the spurned loved gets handed his ass in a low rent fist fight.

Overall the film is more worthy than it is watchable and I was looking for a white flag rather than a white feather 30 minutes before the credits.

Best Bit : Indian Takeaway Shows Up in the Store Room
‘W’ Rating : 10/23

Monday, 8 July 2013

No.194 : What Just Happened

What Just Happened at the IMDb

Another title missing some punctuation now as Hollywood has a good old laugh at itself - but are the viewers invited?

Robert De Niro stars as Ben, an A-list Hollywood producer who has problems piling up, both business and domestic. His new film ‘Fiercely’ starring Sean Penn has tested badly, mainly due to a dog being shot, and his English director is not keen on a re-cut. The studio boss, Catherine Keener, who was so nice to that virgin, is ready to take her scissors to the film while the director is about to fall off the wagon, a week short of his anniversary cake.

Meanwhile Ben’s next production is also sailing choppy waters as Bruce Willis is refusing to cut off his luxurious beard therefore losing his sex appeal and the studio’s support. Ben tries to get Willis’ agent John Turturro to rein in his star but he’s too much of a pussy to confront his biggest client. If that weren’t enough screenwriter Stanley Tucci may be shagging Ben’s ex-wife and an agent who recently killed himself may have been messing with his daughter, Kristen Stewart. It all sounds like some implausible bad movie!

The film opens as Ben takes his place at a Vanity Fair photo shot celebrating the most powerful producers in Hollywood. We have the familiar narrative device of some narration from the lead before we dissolve into the previous week’s events which are helpfully captioned ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’ etc. - a bit like my underpants.

Things start badly for Ben as his test screening elicits comment cards with less than complementary statements and indeed diagrams showing how much the film displeased the audience. Ben then has to smooth things out with the star, director and studio head in scenes unique to anyone who has never seen another film about the Hollywood system. In truth there are a few laughs especially with the OTT English director, played with a terrible accent by the Canadian Michael Wincott. Keener is good too as the studio head who is happy to take calls while on the throne but she was a bit too nice to convince as a heartless bitch, ready to spike any project that failed to meet her standards.

The second plot about Willis’ beard was less successful as it didn’t convince at all. I know it was meant to be an extreme perversion of reality, but at no point did Willis seem anything other than himself hamming it up. Away from the studio the home life stuff such as the running the kids to school and trying to get back with the ex-wife were a bit dull and I wasn’t really invested at all. I suppose when he’s getting easy sex from horny starlets it’s hard to be too sympathetic!

As the film played towards the Vanity Fair shoot where we joined the action not much had changed and I guess this was the intention of this ‘week in the life’ movie - it’s just always this crazy in Hollywood folks!

DeNiro is as likeable as always but you got the impression this was something cobbled together when he and a few pals found some time in their diaries - no doubt the Cannes scenes also matched their promotional schedules. It wasn’t too self indulgent however and the running time was kept at a bearable 90 minutes.

There are obvious comparisons to be made with ’The Player’ but it falls short of that in terms of humour and depth and is far below, on both counts, my favourite ’inside Hollywood’ flick ’The Big Picture’. Watch that instead - it’s got David St Hubbins in it.

Best Bit - Rob gets a reminder of the forgotten night before.  W Score 16/23