July 12th, 2009

THE GIRL IN LOVERS LANE (1959) **

A whiny brat named Danny (Lowell Brown) leaves his life of privilege and wealth behind so he can be a hobo.  Danny isn’t a very good hobo though and gets manhandled by a bunch of thugs fairly early in the film.  That means vagrant extraordinaire Bix Dugan (Brett Halsey) has to take Danny under his wing and show him the ropes of drifting.  The homeless duo wander into a jerkwater town and Bix falls in love with a homely waitress named Carrie (Joyce Meadows) who is relentlessly leered at by a creepy stalker (Jack Elam).  After Carrie is murdered by the loathsome lothario, Bix is blamed for the crime and a lynch mob comes after him.  After 80 minutes or so, Danny finally does SOMETHING right and catches the real criminal.

 

The Girl in Lovers Lane is a sluggishly paced B Movie melodrama that offers more insights into the ins and outs of being a hobo than anything else.  The drama is ineffective and the script is clumsily plotted.  There are no surprises whatsoever and you can pretty much see where this thing is going from the get-go.  The cinematography is dreary at best and Charles Rondeau’s direction is painfully wooden.

 

The good news is that the acting is more or less solid.  Elam is pretty memorable as the lecherous loverboy with a taste for homicide.  I also thought Halsey did an admirable job, all things considered.  He went on to star in the much better Return of the Fly later in the year.

RACKET GIRLS (1951) ***

I love character actor Timothy (Glen or Glenda) Farrell and I love women’s wrestling, so it should come as no surprise to you that I dig Racket Girls.  It’s slow moving and pretty stupid but it features plenty of scenes of Farrell being smug and seedy as well as lots and lots of footage of women wrestling, so what’s not to like?

 

Farrell plays Umberto Scalli, a greasy racketeer who uses a wrestling gymnasium as a front for his various underworld dealings.  He hires a vibrant new wrestler named Peaches Page (who plays herself) who instantly falls for Scalli.  When Scalli wants the reigning champ Clara Mortensen to throw her big match against Rita Martinez, Clara gets upset and refuses because wrestling is the only “clean” sport left.  After Scalli blows the whistle on “Mr. Big”, he finds himself on the run from both the gangsters AND the police.

 

Now a lot of people will say that Racket Girls has far too many scenes of women putting each other into headlocks and writhing around.  Not me.  I couldn’t get enough of these dated scenes of women rassling.  Sure, these women might not be GLOW girls (some of them are downright butch) but they can definitely throw down.  

 

Most of the gals may be pretty rough looking but Peaches is kinda cute and definitely has a smattering of star presence.  I absolutely loved the gratuitous training scene where the jiggly Peaches jogged, jumped rope, and tossed a medicine ball around.  It’s Farrell who steals the show though.  His scenery chewing turn is the best thing about the flick and keeps you watching throughout the film’s slower sections.  Farrell also starred as the sleazy Scalli in The Devil’s Sleep and Dance Hall Racket.

 

Martinez gets the best line of the flick when she says, “You forget that I am the champion of ALL Mexico!”

 

Racket Girls has enough scenes of sexy sirens in strangleholds to put it on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of the Year for 1951 at the Number 7 spot, placing it in between Alice in Wonderland and Comin’ Round the Mountain.

 

AKA:  Blonde Pickup.  AKA:  Pin Down Girl.  AKA:  Pin Down Girls.  AKA:  Wrestling Racket Girls.

KNOWING (2009) **

OK so when Knowing came out it was universally panned by everyone on God’s green earth EXCEPT for Roger Ebert who gave it ****.  My tastes are usually about on par with Ebert so I figured that the flick might actually be somewhat decent.  Then I remembered that this is the man that gave Die Hard ** here, so I should pretty much just disregard his review.  

 

The funny thing is; the first half of Knowing IS worthy of **** (or at least *** ½ anyway).  The problem is that the second half is an absolute train wreck.  To add insult to injury the final “twist” ending is so completely out of left field that you just have to go “HUH!?!”  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

Nicolas Cage stars as an alcoholic widowed MIT professor with an annoyingly precocious son.  The kid’s school opens up a time capsule that contains a bunch of random numbers and Cage becomes obsessed with trying to find out what they mean.  After downing a bottle of whiskey, he learns that the numbers are really predictions of every major disaster of the past 50 years.  There are only three more sets of numbers left; which means that we're only three more disasters away from the end of the world. 

 

The first half of Knowing is semi-brilliant.  Director Alex (The Crow) Proyas slowly builds up the tension and suspense and keeps you squarely on the edge of your seat.  The movie also asks some pretty lofty questions too.  There’s a classroom scene early on in the film where Cage teaches a lesson on determinism vs. randomness which more or less sets up the whole premise of the movie.  Can Cage stop the catastrophic events or are they pre-determined?    

 

It’s a pretty interesting notion.  Unfortunately, Cage’s answer to his class is simply, “Shit happens”.  Boy does it ever.

 

Man this movie ended up sucking.  After a pretty mesmerizing first half, Knowing drops it’s transmission in record time.  (BEWARE MAJOR SPOILAGE TO OCCUR)  The movie’s problems start when these gaunt looking albino motherfuckers begin hanging around Cage’s house.  They start talking to Cage’s kid through his hearing aide and show him haunting visions that freak him out.  If this wasn’t goofy enough, we eventually learn that these guys are actually ALIENS who already know the world is going to end but want to take Cage’s kid and another little brat back to their home world so they can play Adam and Eve while the rest of the Earth gets blowed up when the sun collapses.  Like I said, “HUH!?!”

 

The CGI is also all over the place.  The scenes where masses of people (and wildlife) get burned alive are pretty impressive and the airplane crash is startlingly realistic.  But the CGI subway train run amuck looks akin to something you’d see on the Sci-Fi (excuse me, SY FY) Channel.  Speaking of Sci-Fi, the CGI aliens in this movie are some of the worst CGI aliens I’ve seen since The Day the Earth Stood Still Remake.  

 

And I won’t even mention the extremely stupid ending that rips off Deep Impact where the main character reconnects with a loved one seconds before dying a horrible death (except that this horrible death is by fire instead of water).  Oh wait, I said I wouldn’t mention it but I did.  Oops sorry about that.

 

So I guess the question we should all ask ourselves is, “Was Knowing DETERMINED to suck, or was it just an unavoidable random occurrence?”  If you answered, “Shit happens” then you get an A+ from The Video Vacuum Institute for Bad Nicolas Cage Movies.  Someone needs to bury this flick in a time capsule and not bother to dig it back up.

 

Knowing gets *** ½ for the first half.  ½ * for the second half.  That makes a ** average.