Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Showing posts with label 2001. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2001. Show all posts

Thursday, July 31, 2014


ONE NIGHT AT MCCOOL'S (2001). Director: Harald Zwart.

Bartender Randy (Matt Dillon) rescues a young lady, Jewel (Liv Tyler of The Incredible Hulk), from an abusive man outside the bar where he works, and soon finds himself entangled up in her life as she moves in with him. Jewel has an immediate mesmeric and sensual effect on most of the men she encounters, which includes Randy's married, S & M-loving cousin, Carl (Paul Reiser) and the portly, potato-faced Detective Dehling (John Goodman of Speed Racer), both of whom are instantly smitten. The three men tell their stories to people they know: Randy sounds off to Burmeister (Michael Douglas, who also produced) in a bingo hall; Carl tells his troubles to his shrink, Dr. Green (Reba McIntire); and Dehling confesses to an associate that Jewel reminds him of a lost love . The performances are okay, with Douglas [Behind the Candelabra]  -- with a puffed up mullet hairdo -- having the most fun. The trouble with this black comedy is that it's frenetic but not all that funny. The most interesting thing about it is some of the casting.

Verdict: Not so cool -- and not so hot, either. *1/2.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Max von Sydow and Stefano Dionisi
SLEEPLESS aka Insomnio/Non ho sonno/2001). D: Dario Argento.

"I haven't slept for seventeen years."

A maniac called the dwarf killer goes on the rampage in Turin in 1983, then seventeen years later his reign of terror begins again -- even though he's supposed to be dead. Moretti (Max von Sydow), the original detective on the case, although retired, begins an informal investigation with Giacomo (Stefano Dionisi), the now-grown boy whose mother was one of the first victims. Turned off by the demands of one of her clients, a prostitute, Angela (Barbara Lerici), accidentally grabs a folder containing incriminating information regarding the "dwarf" murders, but the killer somehow catches up with her on the train she is fleeing on, and she is only the first of many victims; the deaths seem to be related to nursery rhymes. Like the best of Dario Argento's thrillers, Sleepless mixes together a lot of elements on its convoluted but suspenseful path to revealing the truth about what's going on, and there are many effective sequences, such as the aforementioned train murder. Sydow is excellent, Dionisi credible, and Roberto Zibetti scores as his friend, Lorenzo. Sleepless is almost as good as Trauma and has plenty of gruesome moments; one of his better latter-day movies.

Verdict: If you're an Argento fan, this is macabre fun -- others beware. ***1/2. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013


VAN JOHNSON: MGM'S GOLDEN BOY. Ronald L. Davis. University Press of Mississippi; 2001.

It's hard to figure out exactly where author Davis was coming from when he wrote this book on Johnson [seven years before Johnson's death at 92]. When you write a book on a Hollywood legend for a university press it usually means you admire that performer [even while not being blind to his or her flaws] but this book seems more borderline contemptuous of its subject than anything else. It's hard to say if Davis is chiding Johnson for spending most of his life in the closet, or if he simply has trouble with his subject's homosexuality. [Johnson's ex-wife told Davis that she was pressured to marry Johnson by studio head L. B. Mayer after her marriage to his buddy Keenan Wynn fell apart, because Mayer threatened to drop the latter's contract.] Davis' chief sources for his book seem to be this embittered ex-wife and a wannabee former stepson of Johnson's with drug problems and other issues who wrote his own book about his screwed up family (Davis quotes some fairly homophobic passages from that book). Van Johnson: MGM's Golden Boy does provide details of Johnson's life and career, and how important and famous he was during his heyday, but there always seems to be -- something -- between the lines. Johnson's marriage did produce a daughter whom -- according to this book -- he neglected after the divorce. Davis should be commended for not doing a white-wash, but his prissy disapproval seems to radiate from every page. Perhaps the tell-all tome would have been better-suited to a commercial press than a university publisher, although Johnson was undoubtedly not considered "B.0." enough for the former. Davis also wrote a much better biography entitled Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream, which is recommended.

Verdict: Interesting and readable but just a little too odd. **1/2.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS COMPANION. Martin Grams, Jr. and Patrik Wikstrom. OTR Publishing; 2001.

This is a thick entertaining, informative reference work that pertains to all things Hitchcock and television, but also has sections on Hitchcock's anthologies of mystery stories, other suspense shows of the period, Psycho and lots more. There is an entry for every single episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and the color remake Alfred Hitchcock Presents done in the 80's with cast and credits, production notes, plot synopses, and comments from cast members, director/actor Norman Lloyd, and other people who worked on the shows. There are lots of notes, interesting factoids, and a wealth of material for the Hitchcock-TV fan. Not to quibble, but the book, as good as it is, sometimes reads like a rough draft that was not only not proof-read, but wasn't even edited by the authors, let alone a copy editor. But while this is occasionally distracting, it doesn't really take away from the book's readability and value. I have to thank the authors for one thing. Thanks to them I'm finally getting to read Ethel Lina White's short story "An Unlocked Window," the basis for one of the best Hitchcock Hour episodes. [I mean, I even emailed the late author's agent in England to try to find a copy of this story, but Grams and Wikstrom provide the names of not one but two anthologies it appears in -- which the agent apparently wasn't aware of!]

Verdict: Despite flaws and some awkward syntax, the book is a treasure trove of info and an obvious labor of love. ***1/2.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


DONNIE DARKO (2001). Writer/Director: Richard Kelly.

"You're weird."

An already somewhat disturbed teenage boy, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), becomes even stranger after an airplane engine mysteriously crashes into his bedroom. He sees an imaginary friend named Frank (James Duval), who dresses in a big furry outfit and encourages Donnie to commit acts of vandalism and arson. Interesting supporting cast: Drew Barrymore [ who was executive producer] is a quirky teacher at the school; Mary McDonnell is Donnie's mother; Patrick Swayze is an author and motivational speaker; Noah Wyle is a science professor who discusses time travel [which somehow figures in the "plot"]; and Katharine Ross is Donnie's psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman. The movie is very much the product of a 25-year-old mind [which writer/director Kelley was at the time]. Although it's full of some interesting ideas, characters, and images, they are all under-developed, and the picture is rambling and eventually quite dull, despite the odd goings-on. The kind of movie that a teen would probably find "profound." Gyllenhaal, whose performance is very good [as is the case with most of the cast] later starred in the much more interesting Brokeback Mountain. The director's cut runs half an hour longer! More torture?

Verdict: Face it -- there's less here than meets the eye. **.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


COMIC BOOK NATION: THE TRANSFORMATION OF YOUTH CULTURE IN AMERICA. Bradford W. Wright. John Hopkins University Press. 2001. NOTE: This is the original version.

NOTE: As it has been noted that comics are a visual/script medium that closely resemble films, Great Old Movies will on occasion review comics and books about comics.

Wright writes intelligently [and without that awful, deadly, pretentious “academic” tone that ruins so many books from university presses] about the comic book industry, from the birth of the comic book to how they developed in WW 2, the controversy over gruesome crime comics such as Crime Does Not Pay, the comic book during the cold war, the re-ascendancy of super-heroes in the late fifties, the changes in the industry in the sixties and seventies, up to the emergence of comic book shops and direct sales to the fan since 1980. The book is both informative and entertaining, and Wright makes interesting observations, such as the way DC Comics would run brotherhood-type ads decrying prejudice in the 40's and 50's but all of the characters in their stories remained lily-white.

Verdict: Absorbing and a good read for fans and others. ***1/2.

Thursday, December 31, 2009


AND NEVER LET HER GO (2001 telefilm/2 part, 4 hour mini-series). Director: Peter Levin.

Based on Queen Ghoul Ann Rule's true-crime book, this is the story of Thomas Capano (Mark Harmon) and his lover Anne Marie Fahey (Kathryn Morris of Cold Case), who disappeared one night after an argument with Capano. Rachel Ward of The Thornbirds and Night School plays a mistress that the married Capano had for twenty years; both she and Capano's wife were unaware at first of his involvement with Fahey. Olympia Dukakis is Capano's mother, who gets angrier at her other sons for telling on Capano than she is with the son who committed murder. Paul Michael Glaser is the detective on the case. Morris is excellent, Harmon is much better than usual, and the large supporting cast is mostly on the money. They probably didn't need four hours to tell this sad and sordid story, however.

Verdict: Reasonably absorbing true crime drama. ***.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


SNOWBOUND (2001). Director: Ruben Preuss.

After she is attacked by a man in a parking garage, Liz (Monika Schnarre) tells her best friend, Barb (Erika Eleniak) that her abusive ex-husband, Dale, is out to get her. Showing little common sense, the two take off for an isolated cabin when a serious storm is coming on. Although the basic premise of two women alone fighting off who-knows-what is workable, the script is stupid and the movie is badly-acted by the two female leads, who show as much emotion as department store dummies. The film sustains some suspense due to its twists, and there's an exciting climax, but the ending isn't much of a surprise. Peter Dobson turns in a solid performance as Barb's boyfriend, Gunner, but the leading ladies simply aren't actresses. Canadian.

Verdict: Get these women into fashion shoots -- quick! **.


JUST ASK MY CHILDREN (2001 telefilm). Director: Arvin Brown.

Brenda and Scott Kniffen (Virginia Madsen; Jeffrey Nordling) get caught up in every person's worst nightmare when they are accused of molesting their own children and wind up convicted and sentenced to jail due to overzealous prosecutors caught up in witch hunt fever and influenced by over-coached children who merely say what they think everyone wants them to say. Based on a true story that happened in the 80's, this is both heartbreaking and horrifying. The innocent couple spend years separated from their children, struggling to vindicate themselves. The chilling post script suggests that victims of this witch hunt are still sitting in prison. Very well-acted by Madsen and Nordling and the entire cast.

Verdict: Now this is one scary movie. ***.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001). Writer/director: Victor Salva.

Darry Jenner (Dustin Long) and his sister Trish (Gina Philips) are driving past a dilapidated old church when they think they see a creepy figure dumping what might be a body into a pipe. Against his sister's advice the kind-hearted Darry decides to go and see if he can help the possible victim. Bad idea, unfortunately, as if brings them into contact with a demonic figure [of unknown origin], the Creeper, who comes out of hiding every 23 years to feast on the flesh and innards of innocent humans. Jeepers Creepers' plot may not stand up to scrutiny, but it's best to take it as a nightmare where anything can and does happen. Eerie and well-done, the movie is entertaining, fast-paced and well-acted. A cast stand-out is Eileen Brennan in a notable turn as a somewhat dotty cat lady. There is humor in the grisly film but it never quite descends into out and out camp. Very down-beat and gross ending. Followed by Jeepers Creepers 2.

Verdict: Creepy all right. ***.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


THE SHAFT (aka Down/2001). Written and directed by Dick Maas.

Writer/director Dick Maas has taken his 1983 dutch thriller The Lift and remade it for the frat boy generation. The premise of the film has one of the elevators in New York's Millennium building acting funny, causing mayhem and then hideous deaths. A repairman, Mark (James Marshall) and a reporter, Jennifer (Naomi Watts) investigate the weird goings-on. More familiar faces in the cast include Dan Hedaya, Ron Perlman, Michael Ironside (as a sort of mad scientist), and Ed Herrmann, who lends some distinction to a film that doesn't deserve him. The film does have some interesting concepts, such as the idea of computer chips reproducing themselves and becoming, in essence, a living thing, but otherwise the script is fashioned not for logic but for coming up with increasingly gross sequences. One scene, when the floor of a high-rise elevator drops out, spilling the passengers into space, is horrifying. The movie will hold your attention, but the characters are unlikable (no one ever expresses the slightest sympathy for all of the innocent victims) and the film is distinctly unpleasant.

Verdict: Slick and cold-blooded moron movie. **1/2.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008



This is a profile of the great director and his films; there isn't much about his personal life, which might have enriched an already fascinating program. However, this is still a solid look at the man behind the helm of such films as The Crowd, The Big Parade, The Champ (with its moving performance by Jackie Cooper); Our Daily Bread, which Vidor financed himself when MGM found the subject matter too unglamourous; Show People (with Marion Davies); The Citadel; all the sepia sequences in The Wizard of Oz; Solomon and Sheba with its great "mirror" battle scene; and The Fountainhead with Cooper and Neal. Vidor discusses the tragic life of James Murray who starred in The Crowd, and even talks a bit about the much-maligned Beyond the Forest, which doesn't deserve the scorn heaped upon it if for no other reason than Vidor directed it and his direction is as vivid as ever. He even talks about working with David Selznick on Duel in the Sun (Vidor was co-director) which started out as a small, unusual western and ballooned into an epic that Selznick hoped would rival Gone With the Wind.
Verdict: Quite entertaining and informative. ***.