Guillermo del Toro

Guillermo del Toro has three movies on Netflix and one where I’m cheating a bit (he is a producer on the Orphanage). His trademark is wildly inventive visuals. I’m not a big fan of his Hellboy films – the animated ones really do seem to suffer from the “Direct to DVD” mentality and the 2 theatrical films had incredible visuals but lacked in the plotting and writing departments but Pan’s Labyrinth is an absolute masterpiece and I’m very much looking forward to his adaptation of the Hobbit.

Mimic

1. Mimic (1997) – “In this cinematic kissing cousin to the giant-radioactive-ant flick Them, etymologist Mira Sorvino eradicates disease-carrying cockroaches only to create a new breed of lethal, man-sized insect in the sewer systems of New York City. Co-starring Charles S. Dutton, Jeremy Northam and a nest of creepy, computer-generated bugs, Mimic will send you running for the Raid”

Mimic is a really creepy and atmospheric monster movie – I highly recommend this movie as long as you don’t mind horror movies about giant bugs. This also stars Giancarlo Giannini, Josh Brolin, and F. Murray Abraham but the real stars are the subway, the bugs and Guillermo Del Toro’s visual style. Mimic spawned two sequels which aren’t available on instant Netflix but you aren’t missing much there.

Pan's Labyrinth

2. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – “Living with her tyrannical stepfather (Sergi López) in a new home with her pregnant mother, 10-year-old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) feels alone until she explores a decaying labyrinth guarded by the mysterious Pan (Doug Jones), an ancient satyr who claims to know her destiny. If she wishes to return to her real father, Ofelia must complete three terrifying tasks in director Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning fairy tale for grown-ups”

Ok once again Guillermo Del Toro’s visual style is simply spectacular and is not restricted to real world locations as in Mimic. This is a rich dark fairy-tale set during Spain’s civil war. The only problem you will have is paying attention to the subtitles while all the amazing visuals are going by. This won 3 well-deserved Oscars (Makeup, Art direction and Cinematography) yet lost Best Writing and Best Foreign Language.

Hellboy Blood & Iron

3. Hellboy animated – Blood & Iron (2007) – “When a vampire destroyed by professor Trevor “Broom” Bruttenholm decades ago is resurrected, supernatural agents Hellboy, Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien must stop a demon uprising. As the team battles hordes of ghosts and hellhounds, a showdown brews between Hellboy and Hecate, queen of the witches. Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Hurt and Cree Summer provide the voices in this animated adventure based on Mike Mignola’s comic-book series”

I’m not sure why but I did not really care for this. It didn’t gel very well and the animation seemed pretty much by the numbers.

The Orphanage

4. The Orphanage (2007) – “Fueled by fond memories from her childhood, Laura (Belén Rueda) persuades her husband (Fernando Cayo) to help her revamp a seaside orphanage into a facility for disabled children. But soon after the couple moves in, their son, Simón (Roger Príncep), begins exhibiting disturbing behavior. As Laura tries to understand Simón’s increasingly malevolent actions, she becomes drawn into the house’s terrifying secrets in this unnerving chiller”

This is one where I’m cheating a little. Guillermo del Toro is a producer on this – Juan Antonio Bayona is the director and this is probably the best film I’ve seen this year. The tone is definitely Spanish, the writing is in the vein of M. Night Shyamalan, and the visuals are excellent (if not as fanciful as del Toro’s). There are subtitles but this is a tight little thriller.

Charlton Heston

I haven’t posted in a week as my beloved Grandmother passed away and then my wonderful in-laws were up to visit. Charlton Heston was one of my mother’s favorite leading men so this post is for her. This post will be a long one as Netflix has 12 (!) of his films available on instant play – I’ll cover the first 10 as I haven’t watched the remaining two – The Lord Protector and The Little Kidnappers.

The Big Country

1. The Big Country (1958) – “James McKay (Gregory Peck) retires from sea life and heads west in this frontier drama directed by William Wyler. McKay finds himself in the middle of a water-rights feud and wins no friends when he chooses to stay neutral. The cast includes Charlton Heston and Oscar-winner Burl Ives, but the true star of The Big Country is the Western plains’ magnificent landscape”

This epic western (back when epic and western weren’t necessarily separate genres) is quite good though Gregory Peck is the protagonist and Charlton only gets a supporting role. Burl Ives won Best Supporting Oscar and of course steals the show as one of the patriarchs.

Ben-Hur

2. Ben-Hur (1959) – “Charlton Heston plays Judah Ben-Hur, a proud Jew who runs afoul of ambitious boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) in this 1959 epic that boasts an unforgettable chariot race and earned 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Heston) and Best Director (William Wyler). Condemned to life as a slave, Judah swears vengeance against Messala and escapes, later crossing paths with a gentle prophet named Jesus.”

One of the roles Charlton is best known for, Ben-Hur still impresses today. The chariot scene is still astounding and the film features one of the rare glimpses of ship-to-ship combat in Roman times. Did Charlton Heston star in more epics than any other actor? His epic status is echoed in more recent times by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s blockbuster status.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

3. The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) – “Swedish actor Max von Sydow made his English-speaking debut in this gargantuan retelling of the life of Christ from Giant director George Stevens. The much-ballyhooed all-star cast includes Charlton Heston as John the Baptist and John Wayne as The Centurion at The Crucifixion. Filmed in Death Valley and in Utah, Nevada and Arizona locations, this dazzling epic garnered five Oscar nominations, including Best Special Effects and Best Score”

Yet still another of Charlton Heston’s epic roles. this time he takes a backseat to Max von Sydow as Jesus. The all-star cast features a miscast John Wayne, Carroll Baker (far from her Baby Doll days), Jose Ferrer, Van Heflin, Martin Landau, Angela Lansbury, Pat Boone, Roddy McDowall, and more but the most amusing performance is Donald Pleasance as Satan. This movie is worth recommending simply for star-watching alone but sadly that is about the only recommendation for this epic. It is bloated, overlong and dour – not a bad movie but stick with Ben-Hur.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes

4. Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – “Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) crash-lands on Earth and journeys to Ape City to rescue the vanished Col. Taylor. Meanwhile, simians and subterranean human mutants are bent on destroying each other and the world in this sequel to the original sci-fi hit. Charlton Heston reprises his role as Taylor, and Linda Harrison plays his mute mate, Nova, who accompanies Brent on his mission. Ted Post directs”

Ok obviously Planet of the Apes was an incredible classic – a first rate science fiction adventure as well as a great commentary on race relations with a knock-your-socks-off ending. Beneath the Planet of the Apes is very enjoyable but it really looked as if the execs said “Ok we want to you to make this exactly like the first movie, we don’t have Charlton so let’s get someone who looks like him and acts gruff and tough like him only maybe doesn’t cost so much. Why cast a new female lead – let’s just use the lead from last movie and make it a romantic triangle with that cameo Charlton agreed to do, throw in a shot of New York’s subway that’s got to be better than what we did last movie, and hey people liked that the last movie had a downer ending so let’s make the ultimate downer ending and we’ll make a bundle”. Still though it’s a fun movie and Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes are also available on instant play

The Omega Man

5. The Omega Man (1971) – “Charlton Heston plays Robert Neville, one of the last “intact” survivors of a biological war that’s ravaged Earth’s population in this Boris Sagal-helmed sci-fi thriller based on Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. Armed with an experimental vaccine for the disease that’s turned everyone into light-averse zombies, Neville roams the empty streets of Los Angeles by day and fights off the mutated “subnormals” at night”

This is the second of three adaptations of I am Legend. Vincent Price was “The Last Man on Earth” (1964) in a cheaply made yet atmospheric Italian production and more recently Will Smith assayed the title role in “I am Legend” (2007). Omega Man is very very 70s from the hair and clothes to the *gasp* African-American leading lady. The antagonists have all turned their backs on technology and are weird albinos dressed in robes who call each other “Brother”. Despite being a total cheesefest, it is a lot of fun.

Airport 1975

6. Airport 1975 (1974) – “When a Boeing 747 loses its pilots in a midair collision, lead flight attendant Nancy (Karen Black) is forced to take over its controls. As passengers grow frantic, flight instructor Alan (Charlton Heston) coaches Nancy by radio, helping her avoid the grave dangers looming ahead. Co-starring George Kennedy, Gloria Swanson and Linda Blair, this over-the-top disaster movie inspired the hilarious spoof Airplane”

After the age of the epic, the best place to star watch became the disaster genre. Ever wonder what became of Gloria Swanson, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Sid Caesar, Myrna Loy, Roy “The Invaders” Thinnes, and Dana Andrews? They are all here along with TV stars Erik Estrada, Norman Fell, Jerry Stiller and Larry Storch. The movie is exciting and realistic to an extent (something they abandon with the silly Airport 77 – let’s remake the Poseidon Adventure with a plane! – and the execrable Airport 79 – the Concorde).

Two-Minute Warning

7. Two-Minute Warning (1976) – “An assassin lies in wait for the president at a football playoff game, and when he goes on a killing spree, it’s up to two cops (played by John Cassavetes and Charlton Heston) to calm the chaos and catch the madman. The all-star cast of this 1976 disaster film includes Martin Balsam, Beau Bridges, David Janssen, Jack Klugman, Gena Rowlands and Walter Pidgeon”

An interesting premise (police try to stop a sniper at a football game) undone by a bunch of ephemeral subplots. Instead of being a tense police procedural, it plays out like a disaster movie with too much lead time pre-disaster. Skip this one and see 1977’s Black Sunday with Robert Shaw instead.

Midway

8. Midway (1976) – “A sprawling war film, Midway stars nearly every actor who wasn’t in A Bridge Too Far. Charlton Heston, Toshirô Mifune, Robert Mitchum and Henry Fonda are among the familiar faces depicting the American and Japanese forces in a naval battle that became the turning point of the Pacific war. Using some real wartime footage, Midway provides an exciting view of a gigantic battle”

This is a by-the-numbers (Now in Sensurround!) war epic. If you like World War 2 epics then you will like this one. If you don’t care for military history then give this one a pass. This is well-done but certainly not exceptional.

Gray Lady Down

9.  Gray Lady Down (1978) – “Gray Lady Down tells the gripping story of the nuclear submarine Neptune (the titular “gray lady”), which is rammed by a Norwegian freighter and sinks 1400 feet before coming to a precarious rest on a sliver of sea shelf. Using his untested two-man sub, Captain Paul Blanchard (Charlton Heston) attempts a daring rescue. Co-stars Stacy Keach, Ned Beatty and David Carradine”

A plausible scenario, claustrophobic sets and believable performances elevate this disaster movie above the standard fare. This is not a great movie but it is tense and enjoyable.

Nairobi Affair

10. Nairobi Affair (1984) – “In over his head while hunting poachers in Kenya, Rick Cahill (John Savage) must seek help from the man who is now dating his ex-wife Anne (Maud Adams). That man is also his father, stubborn safari guide Lee (Charlton Heston). As they seethe over past betrayals, father and son team up to stop greedy ivory poachers from killing elephants in this TV adventure drama, also starring John Rhys-Davies as camp manager Simon”

A made-for-TV movie that is only worth recommending if you are a big Charlton Heston fan or a big fan of African safari movies. The one thought that comes to mind when watching this is ‘meh’.