The Birthday Haul

blurays and comic books

As I mentioned in today’s bootleg post it is my birthday. Birthdays aren’t a big deal to me, so we didn’t do anything too exciting. We had plans to see Bill Frisell in a little club, which would have been awesome, but the budget has been tight of late, so that wasn’t in the works.

Instead, the wife bought me a few gifts and it was a lovely day and we went to the park. The daffodils were blooming and they were wonderful.

Thanks to everyone who wished me a happy day, it was a good one.

Westerns in March Stars: in My Crown (1950)

stars in my crown poster

Jacques Tourneur directed one of the great Film Noirs Out of the Past (1947), and one of the eeriest horror movies of all time, Cat People (1942). I’ve seen a few of his other films and they are all good, so I was excited to see what he could do with a western. Stars in My Crown isn’t bad, but it’s not all that great either. It is a slice-of-life film that’s a bit too sentimental and feels like it borrows a little too heavily from To Kill a Mockingbird. Though that can’t be true as it came out years before that book was written. In fact, Harper Lee has noted that she was partially inspired to write her famous novel after watching this film. But she did it much, much better.

Joel McCrea stars as Josiah Doziah Gray who shows up in the little town of Walesburg just after the Civil War, walks into a saloon, announces he’s the new preacher, and starts his first sermon. When the saloon customers laugh at him, he pulls out his pistol and makes them listen.

Soon enough he becomes well-loved in the community. The film watches him as he gets married, has a child, and enjoys inviting the local atheist to church.

The town doctor dies just as his son (James Mitchell) comes back to town, having just graduated from medical school. He has none of his father’s bedside manner and feels people ought to just do what he says because he’s got the schooling to know what he’s talking about.

When typhoid breakout the preacher inadvertently passes it on to the schoolchildren and gets yelled at by the Doctor for not taking precautions (I’ll leave you to ponder how very familiar that sounds).

Later a free slave (Juano Hernandez) is harassed by some miners who are also Klansmen. This is where the film feels like a half-baked Mockingbird but it is much more sentimental than that story.

McCrea is enjoyable, in fact, everyone is good. The story is fine and the direction alright. It’s like an episode of Little House on the Prarie or some such thing. Fine enough to watch, but nothing particularly special.

Last Weekends Pickups

photo of some books and dvds

We hit up a couple of second-hand shops last weekend and I got some good stuff.

The Retaliators was actually something that arrived randomly in my mailbox. Normally the review material I get for Cinema Sentries comes by request, but every now and again PR people will just send me random stuff in hopes I’ll cover it. I did write a review of this one and you can read it here.

Batman is probably my favorite comic book character (although I might also say that of the X-men). I’ve read more of his comics than any other line. Knightfall introduces Bane as an enemy and he immediately makes things interesting by opening Arkham Asylum up, releasing most of Batman’s Rogues Gallery onto the city. I’m about 1/3rd of the way through the book right now and so far I’m loving it.

Sometime in the late 1990s the American Film Institute released its top 100 list of the best American movies ever made. They did a big television show about it with lots of cool talking heads discussing why those movies were chosen.

I was in college at the time and just becoming a true cinephile so that show was like catnip to me. It introduced me to all sorts of films I’d never heard of. I printed out the list and began seeking out as many of those films as I could find and watching them.

Yankee Doodle Dandy came in at number 100 and it is one of the few films from that list that I still haven’t seen. I found it on sale for $1 and figured it would make a good blind buy.

Sports Night was the first TV series created and run by Aaron Sorkin. It isn’t as good as The West Wing but it has a lot of that show’s DNA in it. There is lots of great, sparkling dialogue and the actors are just wonderful. I’m not a sports guy but I still like this.

I think I’ve mentioned my love of Maigret, the great detective created by Georges Simenon before. Every time I go to a used bookstore I always look for more books from him. This time I found two.

What have you picked up lately?

Yeeshkull Is Closing

If you haven’t heard the great Pink Floyd site Yeeshkull is closing its doors very soon. So you might want to run over there and grab what you can while you can.

I know I had an account with them at some point, but have long since lost my username and password. They aren’t accepting new registrations nor do they give out old passwords which means I cannot grab anything from them. But if you still have an account now is the time to use it.

My Weekend in Movies

pat garrett and billy the kid

I watch a lot of movies over my weekends. I watch movies during the week, but with work and family, and other obligations, I don’t always get to watch one every night. But on the weekends, I squeeze in as many as I can.

I don’t really have the time or energy to write full reviews so I thought it would be fun to do a weekend wrap-up.

A Virgin Among the Living Dead (1973)

After watching Hellraiser (2022) Friday night I had a little more time before sleep came crashing down so I threw on this little French horror flick from Jess Franco. It is surprisingly good, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. A young woman comes home when she learns her father has died. There she finds an assortment of oddballs and freaks who either want to seduce her or kill her or both. I hope to have a real review of this for my Foreign Film February segment later this week.

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973)

On my way to the convenience store Saturday morning for my usual 32 ounces of Dr. Pepper, I heard Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” playing on the radio. Realizing it was from the soundtrack to this Sam Peckinpah film and that I happened to own a copy of it on DVD, and that I had never seen it caused me to rush home and pop it in.

It’s terrific. There are actually a variety of cuts of this film out there, and I’m not entirely sure which one I saw. This is one of those revisionist westerns that were popular in the 1970s. Pat and Billy are old friends, but Pat Garrett (a wonderful James Coburn) can see how the county is changing and has decided to be on the right side of the law, whereas Billy (a fascinating Kris Kristofferson) can’t do anything but be an outlaw. Neither of them wants the inevitable confrontation to come, and the film prolongs it for as long as it can in the most interesting ways. Dylan not only did the wonderful soundtrack but he has a small part too. It is a lot of fun watching him on the screen.

Fist of Fury (1972)

The Criterion Collection put out an excellent little boxed set of Bruce Lee Blu-rays sometime ago and I bought a copy last year. But I’ve been putting off watching them for one reason or another. So I decided to watch this one this weekend. I was disappointed in it. The story is forgettable. A gang of Japanese dudes keeps harassing Bruce Lee’s club. Naturally, Bruce Lee has to kick their asses. The action sequences are mostly great, but there is a lot of dull padding to get through between each fight scene.

Cujo (1983)

When I was a young teen we didn’t have cable television. Or maybe we just didn’t have the pay channels like HBO and Cinemax. Whatever, my mom’s friend Beverly had everything and she was willing to tape anything I wanted on VHS and give it to me. Each week I scoured the TV Guide looking for interesting movies for her to tape for me. One time she taped Cufo for me. I only remember this because I let my friend Justin borrow the tape and he raved about the film. I can’t remember now if he never gave me the tape back or if I just never got around to watching it, but it went unseen by me until this weekend.

I actually bought a special edition DVD of the m movie last year based on that memory. I don’t know why I decided to put it in this weekend but I did and I’m glad for it.

Like a lot of Stephen King books this film takes its time getting started. It gives us a feel for its setting. It spends time with its characters, letting us get to know them. Unlike a lot of Stephen King books this film never makes me care for any of that. I just kept waiting for the rabid dog to trap the lady and her kid in that junky old Pinto. Once the dog does trap the lady the film gets pretty terrific, but it takes it a long time to get there.

Mr. Wong, Detective (1938)

Boris Karlof plays Mr. Wong, a Chinese detective that was clearly invented to cash in on the Charlie Chan craze at the time. There is absolutely no other reason for him to be Chinese in this film, which makes it doubly unfortunate from a modern perspective. The story is rather dull.

Dark Alibi (1946)

Another white guy playing a Chinese detective. This time it is Sidney Toler playing Charlie Chan, a role he would play more than 20 times to great success. This one is actually quite good. The mystery is standard stuff but Toler is fun as the brilliant detective who throws around a lot of silly bits of wisdom and constantly puts down his son and chauffeur.

A Study in Scarlet (1933)

I guess I couldn’t get enough detective movies this weekend. This is an extremely loose adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story. So loose in fact that it has nothing at all to do with the book other than the title. Apparently, the producers could only afford to secure the rights to the story’s title and the use of the characters, but not the actual story. Reginald Owen is so forgettable as Holmes I kept forgetting which actor was playing the character while watching. I only put it on because Anna May Wong is second-billed, but she appears in it for less than ten minutes. Completely and utterly forgettable.