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Many films have gotten into the ring with the legend of Tobe Hooper's Texas Chainsaw Massacre in the last few years. Most pale by comparison, no matter how much they try to imitate itcertainly the TCM remake is the best example of how a supposed homage can go oh-so-wrong. Probably the only film to measure up so far has been Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, even though it was almost a cartoon version of the original Chainsaw, one of the least cartoonish horror movies ever. Wolf Creek is another cinematic shrine to Hooper's American nightmare, and while of course it doesn't surpass it (for one thing, it doesn't try for the same genius balance of realism and symbolism), it's a worthy reworking of the blueprint. Like Hooper, writer-director Greg McLean uses a "based on a true story" opening to give the audience an extra shockbut also like Hooper, he has mixed and matched various facts and legends so much that it's obviously meant as an act of showmanship rather than documentary. Still, what he manages to hold on to is the documentary feel, as likable and everyday characters in a naturalistic setting are suddenly thrust into violence beyond what most of us could imagine. A word of warning: this is a film that really punches you in the gut; like TCM, it has no interest in being a "fun" horror flick. The thrill, like the movie's tag line says, is the huntbut the audience is the hunted. (SP) (R; 99 min.) Three twentysomethings, Brits Liz (Cassandra Magrath) and Kristy (Kestie Morassi) and Aussie Ben (Nathan Phillips), road-trip through the Australian outback. When their car stalls at the rim of a giant crater, a bushman (John Jarratt) "rescues" them, brings them back to his remote digs and proceeds to torture and/or murder them. Oddly, director Greg McLean keeps dropping little surprise mousetraps throughout, taking the plot in unpredictable directions, but the brain-dead characters continuously fail to use their heads, wandering willy-nilly through the crafty plot, as if they'd never seen Scream or any other movies about serial killers. Most of this "true" account comes from the testimony of one survivor, whoaccording to the filmwasn't even around to see much of it. (JMA)
(1941/1948) "Even a man who's pure at heart/and says his prayers by night/can become a wolf, when the wolf bane blooms/and the moon is pure and bright." Stars Lon Chaney Jr., very mournful as a British squire who is turned into a lycanthrope. With Bela Lugosi, good and canny in a Gypsy part. BILLED WITH Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. A pair of dim-bulb Florida shipping clerks (Bud Abbott and Lou Costello) receive a variety of unlucky crates, including the coffin of Count Dracula (with one very vigorous vampire inside) and a box containing Frankenstein's monster. Then the Wolf Man shows up, occasioning the famous exchange: Wolf Man: "You don't understand. Every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf!" Costello: "You and 50 million other guys!" Lugosiin his last performance as Dracula per seis teasing and avuncular (and all the creepier for it: "Vat ve need around here iss some new blood"). Glenn Strange is large and lumbering"a very big mute," as Gene Wilder said in Young Frankenstein, and Chaney Jr. plays it straight and full of pathos. Far more inspired than it sounds. With a cameo by Vincent Price's voice as the Invisible Man. (RvB)
(1933) Liberty Magazine assigned 10 of the best-known writers of the time to collaborate on a murder mystery. Such authors as San Francisco's own Gertrude Atherton, Irvin S. Cobb, Zane Gray and Vicki Baum helped assemble a tale of a shipboard murder. Nancy Carroll plays an actress whose estranged ex-lover (Louis Calhern) is found dead, clubbed to death with an Oscar. Grant plays the other man in this trifle, which also stars John Lodge, who later became the governor of Connecticut. (RvB)
The series concludes with a screening of Entre Nous (1983), a French film based on the life of director Diane Kurys' mother. Curator of the series and UCSC film professor Shelley Stamp Lindsey introduces the film.
(1941/1940) What an entrance Joan Crawford makes in A Woman's Face. Seen from the back, in her padded shoulders, black raincoat and slouch hat, she strides into the courtroom where she's about to be tried for her life. A reporter leans in and snaps her photo with a flashbulb. Her guard admonishes him, "You know she's afraid of fire!" Disfigured by her drunken father, Anna Holm (Crawford) grew up to be the leader of a ring of blackmailers. The only man interested in her is a Swedish aristocrat (Conrad Veidt) with fascist yearnings. During one of her blackmail assignations, Anna encounters a plastic surgeon (Melvyn Douglas), who volunteers to repair her ruined face. Beauty, he believes, will lead Anna to goodness, but Anna is still enthralled by evil, represented in double exposure by Veidt's Orlac hands playing on the keyboard of a piano. Director George Cukor works well with dark material that might well have attracted Alfred Hitchcock. Though Cukor wasn't known for his action sequences, the last third of A Woman's Face demonstrates superior visual storytelling. A taut suspense scene in a cable car over a waterfall is followed by a high-speed sleigh chase that owes a lot to the chariot race in Ben Hur. Yet the forces of good barely put up a fight; they're represented by the portly, self-righteous and exquisitely boring Douglas. And screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart has only a hazy idea of how decadents live their life. But the flaws of A Woman's Face are worth tolerating, just to see Crawford exulting in her bad side as the proprietor of a crypto-brothel "roadhouse," hat brim shading her scars, black clad from tip to toe, automatic pistol in hand and obviously a job for Batman. BILLED WITH Susan and God. Crawford plays a socialite who considers herself not just divine, but a divine. Basedgingerlyon a Broadway play that starred Gertrude Lawrence, the film also features Fredric March as Crawford's luckless, hard-drinking spouse. (RvB)
(1939/1931) The mother of all bitch fests: Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine and the tedious Norma Shearer (as the good wife, naturally) star in The Women, a freeform battle over men. You couldn't dream of calling it feministexcept in the Cosmopolitan sensebut it's as unique as it is long. The Technicolor fashion show is a psychedelic delight. BILLED WITH Girls About Town, a rarely seen adaptation of a story by Zoe Atkins, better known for The Greeks Had a Word for Them, a similar tale of gold-digging gals. Kay Francis, Lilyan Tashman and Joel McCrea co-star. (RvB)
(1945) Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes undergoes hypnosis to help find a serial killer who has been stealing the fingers of his victims. Henry Daniel plays Professor Moriarty, who is still at large. (RvB)
(1944/1949) Thanks to the old Manhattan custom of wives leaving for the country in the summer, a settled-down married man (Edward G. Robinson), is struck with a case of the seven-year itchand is left open to the depredation of silk-stockinged evil (Joan Bennett), the model for a painting he's been admiring. Fritz Lang directs; nitrate print from the UCLA archives. BILLED WITH Caught. That glib comment "I've been poor and I've been rich, and rich is better" gets pulled apart in this completely absorbing and undeservedly neglected Max Ophuls drama. Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes), a young girl from the sticks, is coached on how to find a quality (wealthy) man; she ends up affianced to a millionaire who's as rich as Lucifer and every bit as proud. Smith Ohlrig (the amazing Robert Ryan) marries Leonora just to piss off his psychiatrist. Thus begins a made-in-hell marriage, with the woman ignored, drugged and bullied. She flees for a job as a low-wage secretary but ends up working for a doctor (James Mason) who's every bit as peremptory as her husband. The title seems to refer to the social fork Leonora's caught in, stuck as she is between being a punished courtesan and working hard for low wages. The film was a box-office failure. That might be because of the then shocking (and still disquieting) ending or Lee Garmes' luscious, dark-as-sin photography. But the lack of success may be because of Bel Geddes, who seems slightly upper-class for the part. Mason's perfect, though he's a little raw and estrangedit was his first American film. But Mason melts at just the right rate. At a jostling nightclub, Ophuls' famous gliding camera captures happiness at the exact moment it surprises and overtakes this dogged slum doctor. Curt Bois is delightfully oily as Ohlrig's gay companion and pimp. As Leonora's venal pal, Natalie "Lovey" Schaefer shows off the millionaire-hunting skills that probably helped her land Thurston Howell III. But it's Ryan, the soul of neurotic violence, and the essence of the film noir antagonist, who makes the biggest impression. His spoiled, half-mad, self-devouring Ohlrig is based, it's believed, on the equally monstrous Howard Hughes, a chronic abuser of women who crossed both Ophuls and Bel Geddes in his day. Don't miss this. (RvB)
(1928) Greta Garbo in the film version of a once-notorious roman à clef impugning the wealthy and promiscuous heiress Nancy Cunard. It's much censored from its source, Michael Arlen's The Green Hat, where syphilis is the key. What remains is a story of a wealthy and promiscuous woman (Garbo) who can never have the man she really loves (John Gilbert). With Clark Wilson at the Wurlitzer. (Plays Sep 21 in Palo Alto at Stanford Theater.) (RvB)
(R; 83 min.) Penelope Cruz stars as a talented Brazilian chef whose cooking has the power to seduce.
Collection of films all on the theme "The Color of Violence: Violence Against Women of Color" in a three-day film festival presented in memory of Christina Marie Williams. Also includes Q&A sessions and workshops with filmmakers, live music, dance and theater performances, a reception and open-mic finale. (In Santa Cruz)
(R; 85 min.) Plotless, jokeless comedy about a girl named Woo (as in "Woooooo!"), an attitudinous Manhattan filly who decides to give a straight-laced buppie (Tommy Davidson) a very hard time on a blind date. Director Daisy von Scherler Mayer, late of Parker Posey's debut film, Party Girl, tries to duplicate that movie's charm with lead actor Jada Pinkett Smith. But the script by David C. Johnson (whose previous credit is the Spike Lee-produced Drop Squad, which he directed) doesn't have any feel for the heroine. Actually, the script gives the impression that it was written by someone who dislikes women and their moods, instead of understanding those moods as a reaction to contradictory signals from men. Woo isn't exactly crude, but it is very inept, and the only real laughs are the TV references. Davidson, a fine lightweight comedian, is badly used hammering home big reactions to the dumb jokes. The title character's desperation to attract attention makes you pity her instead of responding to her unused potential. (RvB)
(R; 106 min.) Another teenage hormone riot, set in a safe and sanitized version of Inglewood (a.k.a. "The Wood"), the predominantly African American L.A. suburb beneath the LAX flight paths. A twentysomething buppie (Taye Diggs) bolts from the altar on his wedding day; his two homeboys from junior high pursue him. They reminisce about their horndog days in junior high; hence the double entendre in the film's title. Their deliriously good-natured memories of boyhood in the 'hood include a pair of gangbangers as virtuous as Eagle Scouts. Despite one now-obligatory vomit gagThe Exorcist lurks behind this summer's teen comediesThe Wood is an affectionate shambles. One 10-minute deflowering scene generates more sweet clumsiness and genuine skin friction than two hours of Eyes Wide Shut. (DH)
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(R; 87 min.) Nicole Kassell's film stars Kevin Bacon as Walter, a recently released sex offender trying to fade into the scenery as he works at a lumberyard. During the day, he is harassed by a secretary (Eve) who keeps her eye on him. In the evening, a plainclothes cop named Sgt. Lucas (Mos Def) lets himself into Walter's apartment whenever he wants. Carlos (Benjamin Bratt), his brother-in-law, is the last piece of Walter's life before prison. Then Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick, Bacon's wife) comes into Walter's life. In Vickie's arms, Walter faces the possibility of sloughing off his old life. But self-loathingthe sex addict's best friendleads him back out into the city parks. Kassell and scriptwriter Steven Fetcher underline their symbolism as if with a yellow highlighter. The sparrows that Walter feeds show his gentleness, but also reference the little girls he stalks. Sniffing around a deserted schoolyard, Walter is startled when a red ball bounces out of nowhere. The referential ball rolls in from Fritz Lang's M. Charlie Chaplin once called M's star, Peter Lorre, "the best actor alive." Lorre made you sympathize and care for a child murderer, caught between the police and the underworld. M isn't a movie The Woodsman should have referenced, since it is far less brave and barbed. The fake upbeat ending compromises the film, raising the suspicion that what this all really about was finding a hot button topic to push. (RvB)
(1948/1940) The Rodgers and Hart story with Mickey Rooney as Hart and Tom Drake as Rodgers. The songs include Mel Torme doing "Blue Moon"; Rooney, with Betty Garret, performing "I'll Take Manhattan"; Lena Horne singing "The Lady Is a Tramp"; and Garland and Rooney combining on "I Wish I Were in Love Again" (great verse: "When love congeals/it soon reveals/the faint aroma of performing seals"). BILLED WITH Andy Hardy Meets Debutante. One hears so much about dysfunctional families. Here's a film about probably the only functional family that ever existed, and wouldn't you know it, they're imaginary. The deb is Diana Lewis, who quit showbiz to marry William Powell. Mickey Rooney stars, as always. Judy Garland sings "I'm Nobody's Baby." (RvB)
(PG; 110 min.) A drama about the struggles of a Mormon family in the early days in upstate New York.
(PG-13; 127 min.) Shameless but irresistible. Anthony Hopkins plays real-life motorcycle racer Burt Munro, a past-60 codger from Invercargill, New Zealand. In the early 1960s, Munro took the voyage of a lifetime to race his home-engineered Indian motorcycle on the Bonneville Salt Flats. It's a calculatingly feel-good movie, but Hopkins sells it. For that matter, Hopkins could sell sun lamps to the Tahitians. Whenever the movie gets fulsome, that lordly actor dries it up by going Mr. Magoo on it: repeating himself, muttering or doing something to make him look sweetly vulnerable. Particularly in the early scenes, where he's puttering around in his shed, hand-casting titanium machinery, Hopkins has the gentle abstraction he sought in vain for in Hearts of Atlantis. Roger Donaldson, who planned this film for 30 years, includes a colorful cast of Yanks—a transvestite, a Chicano used-car dealer (Paul Rodriguez), a desert widow (Diane Ladd) and Peter's son, Chris Lawford, as San Jose-based motorcycle racer Jim Moffet. A fictional character? Moffet doesn't leave any footprint on Google; records of Moffet, official or otherwise, are hard to find. Munro, on the other hand, kept his hard-won title; the older you are, the more you'll love this. (RvB)
(R; 88 min.) Goran Dukic's debut feature took a while to find distribution, presumably because of the subject matter, but it is really an old-fashioned road-trip romantic comedy. Zia (Patrick Fugit) commits suicide and winds up in another place, much like earth but grimmer and more hopeless. No one can smile, and litter is everywhere. The light makes things look brighter and more saturated, as if baked. Zia meets Eugene (Shea Whigham) and hits the road to find his ex-girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) but meets Mikal (the delightful Shannyn Sossamon) along the way. There's a camp where people work minor miracles and a self-appointed messiah (Will Arnett). This territory is wide open for all types of ideas and commentary, but Dukic keeps it simple—and funny. Tom Waits co-stars. (JMA)
Leslie Nielsen plays Ryan Harrison, an orchestra conductor who is sent to prison after being accused of murder. The prison bus slips on a banana peel and crashes; Harrison is freed to hunt for the real killer while a dogged police inspector (Richard Crenna) hunts for him. It's a parody of The Fugitive, but somewhere it was thought that Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games ought to be added to the mix. Wrongfully Accused was directed by Pat Proft, who was the co-scriptwriter for The Naked Gun and the other Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker films; as a result the best jokes, all four or five of them, are Nielsen's peculiar fake-Bogart patter. Interrogating a villain: "OK, Slappy, let's pull out the ball of cotton and get right into the bottle of aspirin." Greeting a treacherous girl: "Here comes something that even the cat wouldn't drag in. Pull up a bucket of nightmares and siddown." And renouncing her: "This little nutcracker's not dancing to your suite anymore, princess." The film is mostly a waste of time, but it is noteworthy for two other items: Bill Conti's symphonic score, which gives the mess a little class, and head villain Aaron Pearl, who is formidable and funny as the "one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed man." (RvB)
(R; 90 min.) Following close on the mangled, bloody heels of Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses is yet another retro foray into a time when horror movies mattered. With its story of monstrously inbred cannibals who attack road-tripping younguns (including Eliza "Faith" Dushku and Jeremy Sisto) in the West Virginia mountains, Wrong Turnlike Corpsescashes in on the legacy of '70s exploitation horror. References abound, not just the obvious similarities to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes (as in Zombie's film, the disturbing, surrealistic set design of TCM is stolen outright) but also little things like the fact that star Desmond Harrington listens to the Dream Syndicate song "Halloween" (which is said to have been written about Michael Myers) on his car stereo. Weirdly enough, though, Wrong Turn isn't tongue-in-cheek in any waynary a wink is exchanged as the plot formula unfolds, chases ensue and gore begins to fly (and oh, how it does fly). The end result is that while it is on the one hand a comparatively hollow exercise in style over substance, Wrong Turn is also tenser and scarier than the delirious House of 1000 Corpses and, for fans of this kind of horror, possibly even more fun in a guilty-pleasure kind of a way. (SP)
(1939) Laurence Olivier later credited William Wyler as teaching him how to act on film; under Wyler's direction, Olivier makes a fine, peremptory Heathcliff in this Samuel Goldwyn productioneven if the Southern California locals are more sunny that wuthering. Merle Oberon plays Cathy; as her milksop mate, David Niven was perhaps more devastating about the film in his memoirs than he was devastating on screen. (Niven's The Moon's a Balloon tells how, in the Golden Age, a tube of camphor was used to precipitate tears from an actor unable to weep.) (RvB)