Monday, May 26, 2014

Bette Davis Month Bonus: 'Kid Galahad' (1937)

There's an impressive grittiness to the early scenes of Kid Galahad, essentially ending once the title character gets introduced. Before that, director Michael Curtiz offers a tour through the seedy underbelly of the boxing world, with Edward G. Robinson as a sleazy manager and Bette Davis as his girlfriend and right-hand woman. They may be unscrupulous, but they're not as bad as the crime boss played by Humphrey Bogart, who's always undermining their efforts to groom a new champ. After their latest prospect goes down in flames, they retire to a hotel suite for an epic blowout before finding a new fighter to groom, and Curtiz shoots the debauched party in a series of long tracking shots that are almost Altman-esque in their use of overlapping characters and dialogue.

Unfortunately that party marks the introduction of upstanding farm boy Ward Guisenberry (Wayne Morris), a bellboy with natural boxing talent whom Robinson's Nick Donati decides to take under his wing. After Davis' Louise "Fluff" Phillips dubs him Kid Galahad, he's on his way to becoming a champ, but he's so wholesome and honest that he's completely immune to all the nasty dealings going on around him. Morris gives a bland, one-dimensional performance, which is especially disappointing to watch opposite Davis as the angst-ridden Fluff, who's loyal to Nick but longs for a calmer, more traditional life. She watches while Ward falls in love with Nick's fresh-faced sister, completely ignoring the experienced woman silently pining for him.

The problem is that Ward doesn't seem like he's worth pining for, and the drama surrounding the rivalry between Nick and Bogart's Turkey Morgan is as underwhelming as the love story between Ward and Nick's sister. Davis adds some dimension to her character (far more depth than you'd expect from someone named Fluff), but the movie itself is as insubstantial as Morris' performance. It was remade in 1962 starring Elvis Presley, who can at least add some singing to his bland, one-dimensional acting.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Triskaidekaphilia: 'Witchcraft 13: Blood of the Chosen' (2008)

On the 13th of each month, I write about a movie whose title contains the number 13.

I'm pretty sure this is the only movie I'll be able to watch for this project whose titular number comes from being the 13th movie in a series. Yes, Witchcraft 13: Blood of the Chosen is the 13th (and so far final) movie in the seemingly unkillable Witchcraft low-budget horror franchise, which started with the original Witchcraft in 1988. I may be a conscientious critic most of the time, but I did not feel the need to watch all 12 previous Witchcraft movies before tackling this one, so some of the plot details may have gone over my head, although I doubt anything here is complicated enough for that. The main character here is Will Spanner, aka Will Adams, aka Will Stocton, who has been a central character in the series since its beginning, but it doesn't really seem essential to know that in order to follow the rudimentary plot.

Star Tim Wrobel is the eighth actor to portray Will over the course of the series, according to IMDb. I'm not sure how the previous actors fared, but Wrobel does not give off the vibe of "powerful, feared warlock." Instead he's more schlubby office worker, and much of the film takes place in Will's office, where he now works as a lawyer, content to keep his mystical powers at bay and use his legal expertise to help people in need. But he's called back into service when a coven of witches starts killing other warlocks and ripping out their hearts, in hopes of fulfilling a prophecy that connects back to Will's convoluted past.

That sounds way more interesting and exciting than the actual movie, which was clearly made for virtually no money and suffers from terrible acting, bargain-basement special effects (looking like the demos on a free graphics program) and basic technical problems. The picture is often too dark to make out the action, and the sound mix makes much of the dialogue indistinct. Not that the writing deserves to be heard loud and clear, of course; it's a mix of horror-movie cliches, awful softcore sexploitation banter and occasional random absurdities ("If I wanted to make love to a glass of water, I would've gone in my kitchen!" yells some mystical guru right before getting sex-murdered by an evil witch).

Even the requisite nudity and sex scenes are desultory and poorly lit, and it's pretty laughable to watch every female character in the movie throw herself at Wrobel, who looks like a slightly younger, slightly more rumpled Ray Romano. The climax promises an epic confrontation with a character who connects back to the series' origins, but it's just as shoddily constructed and ineptly acted as everything that leads up to it. So far, there has been no word of a Witchcraft 14, but thankfully, I would have no reason to subject myself to it anyway.