This Movie Will Make You Say It – Yum, Yum, Yum! (1990)

All you have to do is take one look at me, and it’s obvious that I love food, And if you’ve been reading my writing for awhile, it’s also obvious that I love movies about food. Thus I was immediately drawn to Les Blank’s Yum, Yum, Yum! A Taste Of Cajun And Creole Cooking.

When I was in college, I had a roommate who was from Louisiana, and he really turned me on to authentic home made cajun-style cooking – Jambalaya. etouffee, and the rest, and one of the things which he taught me, which is also emphasized in this doc is that while many people think of this style of food as simply hot, the real goal is not to burn your mouth with pepper, but to find the right blend of spices to compliment but not overpower the actual flavor of what you are serving.

There’s actually an analogy to be made here between this facet of cajun cooking and Les Blank’s film. He manages to fin just the right blend of interviews with both cooks and devotees of the food, local music which forms the soundtrack for the film, and shots of the food itself – both its creation and the final product – to make a quite appetizing concoction.

So whether you’re a fan of food, food films, cajun music, or simply of documentaries, Yum Yum Yum!, with a short running time of just over thirty minutes, should definitely whet your taste buds for more..

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Say “Cheese” 005 – The Last of The Belles (1974)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

Back to the 70s this time around with movie three of disk one 1974’s F. Scott Fitzgerald and “The Last of the Belles”. (to give it its full on screen title).

There was a time when Richard Chamberlain was the king of television  miniseries an movies. Centennial, Shogun, The Thorn Birds, he was all over the place, and was one of those acts who, if you could get him for your show you were pretty much guaranteed a hit..

However there was a time before he became this ratings juggernaut, and it was during this time that he starred in this sleeper of a film. And just to be clear, I don’t use “sleeper”to ean “stealth” or “unknown hit”. No, I mean it as in I had to back this film up about half way through because I had taken an inadvertent nap while it was running.

Seriously, I’m considering keeping this one handy for those nights wh insomnia strikes.

Okay, I’ll admit here that I’ve never really bee a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories. I ‘t really say why, but they’ve just never clicked with me. So I’ve never rea his story “The Last of the Belles”, and can’t comment on how good an adaptation of the story the “movie within a movie” presented here is. Nor do I know enough about life of the author to comment on the accuracy of the biographical details. Insteadi I simply have to take the presentation at face value.

Still, even with all of that said, I decided to approach this simply as a movie, without any additional baggage.

Well, you can infer the results from what I said above about it turning nto nap time.

I’d love to at least be able to say that there are performances within the movie that redeem it, but honestly, even with the presence of Blythe Danner as Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda and the usually at least entertaining Susan Sarandon as her younger fictional avatar, there’s still just nothing to make it stand out at all.

I will give the film makers one positive point. For a while it seems as though the eventual outcome of this exercise is going to be a redemption of Fitzgerald or some sort of reconciliation between him and his emotionally estranged wife through this journey through the past, but the writers and producers at least have the guts not to go for the happy ending.

Okay, I’ve spent enough time and words on this one. Let’s just put it in the “I watched it so you don’t have to” file. You’re welcome.

Up Next: The Excellent 80s  Disk 1 Movie 3: Second Sight: A Love Story– To see or not to see: Is that the question?

Sight and Sound Top 250 #246 – The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)

Once again we continue our journey through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Movies of All Time list, we come to #246 Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. And as always I’ll note that for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, just head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up. Trust me, if you’re not following one or the other (or both), you’re not getting the full Durmoose Movies experience.

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From the silent era on, Fritz Lang has been one of Germany’s most celebrated and interesting film makers. Most film fans likely know him for his ingenious silent science fiction epic Metropolis, or from his classic Peter Lorre-starring noir M.

One of Lang’s lesser known, but no less ingenious works is his second sound film (M being his first), The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.

The movie is actually a direct sequel to an earlier silent film of Lang’s, 1922’s Dr. Mabuse the  Gambler. Running a total of roughly four and a half hours an released in two parts,the earlier film introduces the character of Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind, doctor of psychology, and master of disguise, who has powers of hypnosis and mind control and is in control of the counterfeiting and gambling rackets of the Berlin underworld. The character was taken from a series of novels written by Norbert Jacques.

At the end of the earlier movie, Mabuse was confronted by the ghosts of his victims, and driven insane. As Testament opens, the evil doctor is still locked away in the insane asylum to which he was taken.

The film opens in a noisy print shop where we find disgraced police detective Hofmeister attempting to uncover a criminal conspiracy. After a shoot out with the criminal gang, Hofmeister escapes and calls his former boss, Inspector Lohmann. While he is attempting to explain what he has discovered, Hofmeister’s home is broken into and after shots are exchanged, the detective disappears, only to later turn up in the same asylum as Mabuse, somehow driven inexplicably insane.

We then cut to a lecture hall where Professor Baum is teaching his class about the case of Dr. Mabuse, thus giving us, the audience a quick recap of previous events and a succinct introduction to the character. Ten years have passed since the events of The Gambler, and Mabuse has spent most of that time in a near catatonic state sitting bolt upright upon his be. At first, Mabuse didn’t move at all, but then the doctors noticed his hands beginning to twitch and eventually they noticed he seemed to be writing in mid air. Finally given  pencil and paper, Mabuse began scribbling, until words began to form, then sentences, then eventually entire treatises, mostly having to do with ways to continue his criminal empire to eventually institute what he comes to call “The Reign of Crime”.

Interestingly, it seems that despite the mad doctor’s incarceration, his criminal gang is still active and is still carrying out crimes just as outlined in Mabuse’s writings, a fact noticed by Baum’s colleague, Dr. Kramm when he stumbles upon pages of Mabuse’s writing which he inadvertently knocks from Baum’s desk.

We eventually find that not only is Mabuse’s criminal gang still active, they appear to still be receiving orders from the criminal mastermind. From behind a curtain in their hideout, Mabuse’s voice instructs them in each step of his evil scene. Unfortunately for Dr. Kramm, part of those instructions include his murder.

Meanwhile, Inspector Lohmann has become suspicious that Mabuse may somehow be connected to the crime which is running rampant through the city, so he goes to the asylum to see what he can perhaps learn from the doctors or even from Mabuse himself. However, upon arriving, Lohmann is informed that Mabuse died earlier that very morning. Lohmann is shown the body and is assured that Mabuse is not only certainly dead but that there is no way that the body can be any other than that of the doctor.

Still, the crimes continue, and the criminals still seem to be receiving their orders from the unseen doctor. Moreover, as Dr. Baum seems to become more and more obsessed with Mabuse’s writings, he suddenly sees a horrifying  apparition of the dead man who sits across the desk from him and explains his theory of, and plan for, the reign of crime. We then see Maabuse’s spirit rise from the chair, give the psychologist more papers, then seemingly inhabit his body.

From this point on, all bets are off as the crime spree continues and the increasingly harried police inspector does his best to figure out exactly what is going on and who can possibly be the master of the criminal gang.

There are many aspects of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse that keep it from being simply a run of the mill crime thriller. The first, and obviously most important is Lang himself and the German film making sensibilities he brought to the work. No, this is not the Expressionism of something like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, but there is still a certain atmosphere to the movie that speaks of a similar flavor.

Also, there is the possible supernatural aspect that suffuses the film. I say “possible”, because even though we see what seems to be Mabuse’s ghost confronting Dr. Baum and perhaps even possessing him, the option is also there that these events are taking place only in Baum’s increasingly fevered imagination. As a matter of fact, Lang later stated that one thing he wished he had left out of the film was that touch of the supernatural. Without that, however, the film would be missing a touch of genius.

Lang would return to the world of Dr. Mabuse one more time in his career, for his final film, 1960’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse. I’ve yet to see that film, but considering Lang and the skill and imagination he brings to all of his films, it’s one I’m very much looking forward to catching up with.

I couln’t find a properly embeddable English-language trailer, so instead here’s a short clip of Baum studying Mabuse’s notes which gives an excellent feel for the atmosphere and tension of the film.

Saturday Double Feature: Proud Mary (2018) and…

Another Saturday means another Saturday Double Feature!

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

Let’s talk 70s blaxploitation movies for a minute, shall we?

Yes, I know, in today’s world the concept might seem more than a bit odd, but back in the day it was definitely a thing, One f the things that you have to keep in mind is that during this time period many movies were not given the huge national release that seemingly every film has today, nor were they expected to bring in huge audiences from all across the spectrum. Nor were all theaters the vast multiplexes with 824 screens that litter the landscape today. (And no, I’m not going to diatribe about how those 824 screens all seem to be showing the same seven movies – at least not today, anyway. We’ll save that for some other time.)

Instead, most theaters were small, one-screen affairs locate in various neighborhoods throughout the city, and ofttimes those theaters (many independently owned and programmed) would show movies that they thought would appeal to the local clientele. Quite often, for those theaters located in predominantly African-American neighborhoods, this meant movies which featured black actors in the lead role. Films such as Shaft, Uptown Saturday Night, and, yes, Blacula, are all examples of what became known as the blaxploitation genre.

By the way, I feel I should point out that for lovers of the films of the period, blaxploitation is not meant as a derogatory term. Instead, it’s more of a play on the broader exploitation cinema genre which was huge back then.

Anyway, even before I saw the first trailer for the new movie Proud Mary, upon just seeing the poster, I was immediately taken back to those days and that genre.

You see, there was even a further sub-genre within the blaxploitation realm which featured the bad-ass black woman who not only had to fight against racial prejudice, but also against male supremacy. Often these movies would feature the lead taking revenge against gangs or other people who had wronged her or someone close to her.

The undisputed queen of this sub-genre was Pan Grier, who starred in many movies including Foxy Brown, and is perhaps best known today as the lead in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 Jackie Brown. She’s also the lead in the flick I picked for today’s double feature, Coffy.

In Coffy, Grier stars as a nurse who sets out to seek revenge for her sister’s drug addiction and to fight the drug relate violence that is infecting her town, This leas to her taking on both gang lords and the mob, an eventually sees her going undercover as a prostitute and eventually taking out a number of drug dealers in increasingly violent ways.

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Proud Mary? Leave your thoughts in the comments, along with ideas of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

Out Of Control (1985)

What would happen if you took the kids from The Breakfast Club and stranded them together on a deserted island with only a backpack full of Spam and vodka? Oh, and what if the island also turned out to be the meeting place for gunrunners looking to make a connection?

Well, that’s not quite the premise for 1985’s Out Of Control, but it’s pretty close.

Actually, it’s probably not fair to call the kids in Out Of Control an echo of those in The Breakfast Club, because while they do, at first, resemble the well-worn stereotypes of high schoolers portrayed in TBC, (the jock, the prom queen, the punk princess, the outsider, etc.) they eventually actually manage to at least somewhat break free from those molds and have personalities of their own.

I have to admit that I approached this movie as a kind of guilty pleasure revisited. I remember watching it way back when, when it first came out on VHS, and I don’t think I’ve watched it in full since. As a matter of fact, I don’t think the movie ever made the transition to DVD and as  far as I know it has been out of print since that original VHS release until the recent blue-ray conversion by Code Red which isn’t even available on Amazon.

Okay, so, the plot: It’s prom night, (or, actually I suppose it’s actually graduation night, though the party seems more prom-ish) and post-dance, a group of friends board the plane of rich kid Kevin to head to a weekend of debauchery on a tropical island. Unfortunately for them, the plane is caught in a storm, and crashes into the sea. Though the kids all survive, the pilot is killed in the wreck. They manage to fin a lifeboat an make it to shore on what appears to be a small deserted island.

With the rising of the sun our band of intrepid adventurers set out to explore the island, seeking food, shelter, and to make a signal fire to attract the attention of any passing rescue planes or boats. Oh, and they also run across an inland lake where the girls can have a quick dip. Because that’s important, too.

Along with some berries which will provide sustenance for awhile, the kids also find a backpack filled with cans of Spam and vodka. They also find some sort of ruin which will provide at least a limited amount of shelter.

So let’s see: We’ve got eight horny teenagers alone, and a lot of booze. Of course nothing untoward is going to happen, right? Yeah, right. It’s not too long before what begins as an innocent game of spin the bottle turns into strip spin the bottle. However, as the inhibitions and clothes are left behind, old resentments and tensions come to the fore. There are arguments and fist fights, hook ups and break ups.

Nonetheless, the kids make it through the night and the next day they see a boat off the shore. Good news, right? Rescue! Again, yeah, not so much.

It turns out that the boat belongs to a group of gun runners who are awaiting the arrival of their buyers. Upon seeing the kids waving to them from the shore, the bad guys decide the best bet is to pretend to be there to rescue them, bring them aboard their boat, then have some “fun” with them. And yes, by “fun”  I mean exactly what you think I mean.

Eventually the kids manage to escape their captors, killing them, but also inadvertently blowing up the boat.Now on higher alert, the kids do their best to prepare and fight back when the evil partners arrive.

Part of the fun of Out Of Control is seeing some of the young performers featured. The lead is played by Betsy Russell, who would play many of the same type of role during the eighties, but is probably best known to audiences today as one of the leads in the later films of the Saw series. Martin Hewitt is Keith, still riding on his fame from costarring in Endless Love with Brooke Shields. Andrew J. Lederer features as Elliot, who starts the film as the token, somewhat obnoxious “fat kid”, but one of the pluses of the movie is that he is allowed to move beyond that stereotypical role (which, in any typical horror flick of the era would have seen him killed off very early) to become a stronger than expected character who participates in the ensuing heroism as much as the rest of the more buff male cast.

Perhaps most surprising among the young cast, though is a very young Sherilynn Fenn who is given an “introducing” credit here even though she’d already had a couple of films released by this time, Fenn is, of course, best known especially to genre fans for her role as Audrey Horne in David Lynch’s enigmatic television series Twin Peaks..

Now don’t get me wrong here, I am not suggesting that Out Of Control is some kind of lost classic. I’m not even suggesting that in the end it’s that particularly good of a movie. Still, as far as 80s teen actioners (which is actually more of a genre than you might think) go, you could certainly do a lot worse. The movie has a certain charm, and a cast that manages to rise somewhat above the material they are given. I’d say it’s at least worth a watch, perhaps late at night when there’s nothing more compelling on.

Here’s a trailer:

Say “Cheese” 004 – Intimate Agony (1983)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

Okay, confession time: Back in the early eighties, I was a huge fan of General Hospital. For those of you who were not around at the time, it might be surprising to know the cultural impact that a daytime soap opera had.

For some reason, the romance between Luke Spenser and Laura Webber (the main characters in the show at the time, played by Anthony Geary and Genie Francis) had caught something in the cultural zeitgeist and led to the show expanding beyond the typical soap opera audience. Their marriage ocurred on the show on November 17, 1981; and was watched by 30 million viewers. To this day it remains the highest-rated hour in American soap opera history.

Of course it didn’t hurt that at the time the show also moved away from its focus on the day-to-day goings on at the hospital and the typical storylines that followed from that and instead became more of an adventure.spy show featuring the couple and various other characters fighting villains intent on taking over the world.

All of which is to say that it’s easy to see why Anthony Geary was chosen to play Dr. Kyle Richards in the TV movie Intimate Agony. He certainly had enough of a background in delivering the necessary medical information to play the role while at the same time being well qualified to handle the more melodramatic aspects of the film.

And trust me, the melodrama abounds. Fortunately, Geary is not alone in having to shoulder that burden. Judith Light, best known from TV’s Who’s The Boss? is Geary’s love interest. The Man From Uncle himself, Robert Vaughn, is an unscrupulous real estate developer who doesn’t want word of the spreading infection getting out lest it compromise his new condo plans. Of course once his daughter Katy (Cindy Fisher) finds herself infected, he may have to change his point of view. Or not.

The movie also prominently features Mark Harmon and his terrific 80s porn ‘stache as the island’s resident tennis pro and womanizer who, upon finding out that he, too has the dreaded disease, wonders just what the future may hold for him since he feels reduced to, as he puts it, an overpaid tennis shoe salesman.

Even more melodrama is heaped on when a young man named Nick finds out that he, too, has herpes. The problem here is that Nick’s wife is pregnant, and she doesn’t understand why he suddenly won’t make love to her. Is it because of her pregnancy or is there some deeper problem?  Rather than admit to her what the real problem is (thereby also admitting that he’d been unfaithful to her, Nick eventually acquiesces, a decision which he will live to regret as he also infects her, and they lose their baby due to it picking up the disease during childbirth,

 

I mentioned at the start that Anthony Geary was particularly suited for this role because of his role as a doctor on General Hospital. This is especially true because throughout the film he is required to lecture his patients (and anyone else he can get to give him an ear) about not only the angers of the disease, but also possible treatments and the best way to get on with living a “relatively normal lifestyle”.

Because herpes is a virus, we learn, there is no cure, and those who are infected are subject to recurring outbreaks. The trick, we are told, is to be aware of the potential dangers and to inform any potential sexual partner of the problem. Of course, this movie came out just before the HIV epidemic became a national concern and would turn things like herpes into relatively minor concerns.

In the end, Intimate Agony is not exactly a bad film, but it does come across as something of an Afterschool Special for grown-ups. With Geary’s frequent lectures on the disease (culminating in a community-wide meeting for those suffering from the disease an/or wanting to learn more) it works overtime to get its message across. Still, there is enough going on in the community and enough good character work that it is not completely bogged down by its subject matter.

Of course, there is one question that the movie left me with and never quite answers: Should Mark Harmon’s mustache also be considered an infection, an if so, is it in any way related to whatever caused Anthony Geary’s epic white-guy-fro mullet?

Up Next: The Swinging 70  Disk 1 Movie 3: The  Last of the Belles – F. Scott Fitzgerald writes a story! Woo hoo!