Inland Empire (2006) Review

Director: David Lynch

Genre(s): Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller

Runtime: 180 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Inland Empire just might be director David Lynch at his Lynchiest. Take note that I didn’t say “at his best.” This surreal, three-hour endurance test starts off well enough before letting its stream-of-conscious storytelling get the better of it. The plot, if there is one, is about married actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) getting a leading role in a Hollywood romance film (which may have a cursed production) and possibly developing feelings for her leading man, Devon Berk (Justin Theroux).

It’s not really about the story, though, as this is largely a mood piece. It soon becomes a dreamlike mish-mash of random scenes that test the patience. For a surrealist feature of this length, I think David Lynch dropped the ball by mostly focusing on vignettes of people walking through doorways or talking to each other. Yes, there’s a good scare or two, but the movie is largely forgettable due to its occasionally boring set-pieces. Compare and contrast this with the oneiric masterpiece Un Chien Andalou (1929), which packed more haunting imagery into sixteen minutes than this one did into three hours.

Dream logic is strong with this one, and the mood radiates marital anxiety and insecurity. Don’t develop those romantic feelings for your co-leading actor, or you’ll just end up another “bad girl!” The iconic image of Inland Empire is perhaps that of the eerie sitcom featuring people in rabbit costumes, complete with laugh-track. These scenes are some of the best in the picture, but they appear too few and far between to have much of an impact on one’s viewing experience.

I like the idea behind Inland Empire: three hours of Lynch experimenting with surrealist, elliptical storytelling. The problem is that it’s too talky to be effective. Dreams are fast-paced things, not drawn-out conversations between several people. The imagery should’ve been more striking than just a guy standing next to a house with a lightbulb in his mouth. I can’t recommend this, even to fans of quirky, dreamlike cinema. There are better movies of that style out there.

My rating is 4 outta 10.

Drum Beat (1954) Review

Director: Delmer Daves

Genre(s): War, Western

Runtime: 111 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Alan Ladd and Charles Bronson in a war-western together? What could possibly go wrong? During the Indian Wars of the late 1800s, an experienced fighter of Native Americans named Johnny MacKay (Alan Ladd) is dispatched to the Wild West to bring peace between White settlers and Modoc Native Americans led by “Captain Jack” (Charles Bronson). This movie may have helped Bronson establish himself as an actor, but it’s still rubbish.

When film historians talk about old western flicks that were racist against Native Americans, Drum Beat is probably one of the pictures that they’re referring to. According to this production, “good” natives went to their shitty reservations with big smiles on their faces, while the “bad” natives challenged the Whites’ attempts to steal their lands. The work’s prejudice is pretty blatant, some of the worst I’ve seen in the genre.

To add insult to injury, Drum Beat is just plain boring. The action scenes aren’t terrible (there is a big battle or two), but Alan Ladd doesn’t find himself in the middle of the mayhem as much as he should. The movie seems to have had a respectable budget, but it’s all wasted. The picture should’ve run only about ninety minutes, but, in an effort to make it more epic, it drags on for a little over 110 minutes. President Ulysses S. Grant (played by Hayden Rorke) appears on a couple of occasions, but nothing memorable comes from this.

So, that’s two major strikes against Drum Beat: racism and tedium. Normally, I’d try to come up with a third strike to complete the baseball analogy, but this movie isn’t worth the time. You’re out! The film is more likely to make you want to go to sleep than it is to excite you. Nope, this one is not recommended. If you need a flick to watch that touches on the Indian Wars, check out something like Winchester ’73 (1950) or Ulzana’s Raid (1972), instead of this turkey.

My rating is 4 outta 10.

The Iron Mistress (1952) Review

Director: Gordon Douglas

Genre(s): Biography, Drama, Western

Runtime: 110 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

A movie where Alan Ladd plays Jim Bowie may sound like a home-run, but the 1952 bore The Iron Mistress proves this not to be the case. Ending before the outbreak of the Texan War of Independence, this film concerns itself with the early life of legendary American knife-fighter Jim Bowie (Alan Ladd) as he duels his way across the American South. It barely counts as a western, considering its geographic location, but I’ll let it slide and categorize it as one anyway.

The Iron Mistress (named after Bowie’s iconic Rambo knife) is dismally low on action. There is one sword-versus-knife duel illuminated only by lightning that’s fairly interesting, but there’s little other excitement. As I stated earlier, this flick ends before the Texan War of Independence, so don’t expect a depiction of the Battle of the Alamo.

The second act here is almost guaranteed to put you to sleep, and the first and third parts aren’t anything to write home about either. Alan Ladd plays Jim Bowie as just another Alan Ladd character. The runtime is too long, and the whole thing is about as memorable as a day spent entirely inside the confines of your own home. The way slavery is shown here is problematic, but, being a picture released in 1952, you already knew that, right?

Even Ladd aficionados will find this one a trudge. It’s hard to think of positive things to say about a flick that you almost dozed off while watching. I guess the budget seemed reasonable, giving it respectable production values. Is that a compliment? I don’t even know anymore. Well, there’s not much left to say, other than “avoid the The Iron Mistress.”

My rating is 4 outta 10.

The Buccaneer (1958) Review

Director: Anthony Quinn

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

During the War of 1812, pirate leader Jean Lafitte (Yul Brynner) has to choose sides from between the United States and Great Britain in fighting near New Orleans. Anthony Quinn is best known as an actor, but this work finds him in the director’s chair. This is actually a remake of The Buccaneer (1938). Unfortunately, neither film is any good.

This is loosely based on a true story (Jean Lafitte was an actual high-seas brigand who became involved in the War of 1812), and Andrew Jackson (Charlton Heston) makes several appearances. There’s not really much worth reporting on the action front, as it’s pretty mediocre throughout. The movie contains a reenactment of the Battle of New Orleans, but don’t get your hopes up. It feels limited in scale and low in intensity. There are some nice pyrotechnics involving British rocket artillery, though.

The Buccaneer never feels all that authentic, with the whole production looking stagebound. A forgettable and undercooked romantic subplot turns out to be pretty important to the picture, with this melodramatic element dragging out the flick’s runtime, even after the Battle of New Orleans is over. The overall feature also feels a little too cutesy to be considered a hard-boiled war film.

So what goes right? Well, Elmer Bernstein’s musical score is quite good. It’s probably the best part of the whole thing. Sorry, Anthony Quinn, this one’s a dud. I’ve seen worse, but I still can’t recommend it. Sure, it reunited Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner after The Ten Commandments (1956), but that’s not enough for me to enjoy it. If you do happen to watch this misfire, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for Woody Strode, playing pirate Toro.

My rating is 4 outta 10.

China Sky (1945) Review

Director: Ray Enright

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 78 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Of the innumerable war-time propaganda movies that Hollywood cranked out during World War II, 1945’s China Sky must be one of the lesser ones. One of the intentions of this picture was to foster a friendship between the American and Chinese peoples in the face of Japanese aggression, but that message is overshadowed by a soap opera of plot. You see, Dr. Gray Thompson (Randolph Scott) is aiding a remote Chinese village during the Second World War with its medical needs, when a romantic triangle develops between him, his colleague Dr. Sara Durand (Ruth Warrick), and his wife Louise Thompson (Ellen Drew).

There’s a good story tying to get out of China Sky, but the melodramatic romance does it no favors. Rather than focus on the nitty-gritty of warfare in the Chinese countryside, this work is more concerned with Ellen Drew’s character’s jealousy of her husband working closely with a female coworker. The end result is a dull film with a largely non-combat-related plot that I didn’t care how it resolved.

Fortunately, Anthony Quinn arrives, playing Chinese guerrilla leader Chen-Ta, which brightens things up (yes, Quinn plays a Chinese person in this feature…it’s one of those kind of movies). There is some occasional action, and the war-related part of the story is concluded by a firefight in the streets of a Chinese town. Even Randolph Scott’s Dr. Thompson gets in on the action, mowing down a few Japanese soldiers with a Thompson submachine gun. He just loves healing and killing people.

China Sky is a relatively short flick, but it is not a memorable one. I was pretty checked-out for several scenes in the middle. Even the movie’s star, Randolph Scott, wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about it, with Wikipedia currently saying that he found it “disappointing.” I suppose it had good intentions, but the outcome of the picture was somewhat boring. China (1943) is a far better World War II film with the word “China” in the title.

My rating is 4 outta 10.

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963) Review

Director: Robert Mulligan

Genre(s): Drama, Romance

Runtime: 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Love with the Proper Stranger was just one of three movies starring Steve McQueen to be released in 1963, and it’s the weakest of the trio. It also just so happens to be the second McQueen film to have both the words “Love” and “Stranger” in the title (the other being Never Love a Stranger [1958]). Anyway, the picture that this review concerns is about aspiring musician Rocky Papasano (Steve McQueen), who is confronted by a woman named Angie Rossini (Natalie Wood) who says that she’s carrying their child.

Maybe this just isn’t my type of movie, but I found it to be a bore and a chore to get through. Love with the Proper Stranger toys with some interesting topics, like some moral issues (that I won’t spoil here) and the importance of asserting one’s individuality, but it sinks into a mire of talkiness. I would also fault it for having a false climax or two.

“I don’t care what happens to these people” (referred to as the Eight Deadly Words by the website TV Tropes) is a saying that can stop a film dead in its tracks. This was the reaction that I had to this feature. For most of the runtime, I was pretty apathetic to the outcome of the plot. Like any bad flick, I just wanted the whole thing to end (at 102 minutes, it certainly could’ve been worse, though).

In my opinion, the Elmer Bernstein musical score is just about the only thing to go right in Love with the Proper Stranger. The critics thought differently at the time, and it was nominated for five Academy Awards (although it didn’t win any). I guess I’m in the minority on this call. I find little redeeming value here, so I’d say that you can safely skip this one unless you’re a Steve McQueen completionist.

My rating is 4 outta 10.

A Town Called Hell (1971) Review

Directors: Robert Parrish and Irving Lerner

Genre(s): Action, Western

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

A Town Called Hell, which was titled “A Town Called Bastard” in some places (no, that’s not a joke), largely lives up to its reputation of being a piece of crap. The plot is about a wandering widow named Alvira (Stella Stevens) searching for the person who murdered her husband, offering a gold reward to anybody who will point her in the right direction. Done in a spaghetti western style, this incoherent movie offers little in the way of actual entertainment.

Okay, before we get started I should point out that the version of A Town Called Hell that I watched was the one on Amazon Prime…and it was sub-optimal to put it kindly. It was a rubbish-quality print of the film with poor audio and presented in fullscreen, without any panning or scanning. It was also several minutes short of the standard runtime of 95 minutes, I believe. A Blu Ray has been released of this picture, and maybe that is of superior quality, but I’m certainly in no hurry to go buy it.

How could a western with such a badass title go so wrong? I feel like I know less about the flick now that I’ve watched it than before. It’s a confusing and, more importantly, boring mess with just enough gunplay to prevent audience members from nodding off. Why are these people shooting at each other? I couldn’t tell you, but at least it’s better than people talking to each other with almost inaudible dialogue. Also, where’s Telly Savalas? The guy gets top-billing, yet is barely in the movie at all.

Armed with what I think is a flashback that goes on forever, this is a film that seems barely concerned with actual storytelling. Of course, the trashiness of the feature may have been amplified by the crumby version of the picture that I viewed. Rather than watching A Town Called Hell/A Town Called Bastard, I’d recommend coming up alternate titles for it, like “A Town Called Shit” or “A Town Called Sumbitch.” Yeah, that’s more amusing than just about anything in this movie. I’ve seen worse, but this is still pretty bad.

My rating is 4 outta 10.