TO BE OR NOT TO BE HAS MOVED


title: TO BE OR NOT TO BE
year: 1982
cast: Mel Brooks, Anne Bancroft, Tim Matheson, Charles Durning
director: Mel Brooks
rating: **

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THE RETURN

title: THE RETURN
year: 1980
cast: Jan-Michael Vincent, Cybill Shepard
director: Greydon Clark
rating: **

Two children, a boy and girl, and a farmer witness a UFO in a small rural town (where else?) and then... years later... one of the kids, now a grown up played by Cybill Shepard, returns to the hick town (she was only passing through originally) where she hooks up with Jan Michael-Vincent, a local handsome cop who turns out was the other kid who saw the spaceship. This is a bad movie but it's quite a treat seeing Vincent Shavelli, as the farmer who, unlike the other two witnesses, became a psychotic killer with an atomic double-edged flashlight that mutilates cattle and people... who Jan and Cybill have to kill before he kills anyone else. And the special effects make Sid & Marty Krofft seem like George Lucas in comparison, but overall, it's somewhat entertaining.

THE FIRM

title: THE FIRM
year: 1993
cast: Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Wilford Brimley, Hal Holbrook, Gary Busey, David Strathaim, Holly Hunter, Jerry Hardin, Steven Hill, Ed Harris, Paul Calderan, Tobin Bell, Terry Kinney, Paul Sorvino
rating: ***

Tom Cruise is the best fighter pilot. Tom Cruise is the best bartender. So why not be the best lawyer (actually, one person got a higher score on the bar exam, but he probably cheated). This film, directed by Sydney Pollock and based on yet another dolphin-lawyer-swimming-in-shark-filled-water book by John Grisham, is stylistic, classy, and perfectly vapid. Cruise, straight out of Harvard (yet he had to work hard to make it through, and, like all of Cruise's characters, has a troubled past he must make up for), gets a lucritive job at a firm that not only caters to the mob, but is part of their own crime syndicate. After he and wife Jeanne Tripplehorn (in an effective performance aimed at opening night audiences) are given a new house, a new car, and a great new paycheck, Cruise, after realizing the firm's corruptness, slowly figures out a loophole to beat them at their own game. What he does to strike back is confusing and would probably take a lawyer to understand (or someone who read the book), but it doesn't matter. Fun is fun, and this movie, if taken too seriously, could be thoroughly despised. Especially if you ask certain questions: Why would the firm's lead hitman be over six feet tall with shockingly blonde hair and albino eyes (Tobin Bell) i.e. easy to remember? Or why is Cruise's character able to do acrobatic sommersaults (in perhaps one of the silliest moments in film history)? So just give in to this handsomely filmed lightweight thriller with a straight-through piano score and some great actors dumbing down for the sake of being in a Tom Cruise blockbuster. Gene Hackman, as Cruise's personal mentor... a charming, womanizing lawyer who loves the vacationing aspect of his job... David Strathaim, as Cruise's glibly laidback jailbird brother... Terry Kinney, as a seemingly innocent lawyer who initially puts Cruise at ease... And Gary Busey as a fast talking private eye help elevate things: at least for as long as they're on screen. But the show belongs to Cruise, who, as usual, delivers this pizza with tons of cheese and, unless you're expecting steak or caviar, it'll fill you up as needed.

STAR TREK

title: STAR TREK
year: 2009
cast: Chris Pine
rating: **

While this was better than the NEW Star Wars prequels (episode 1, 2, and 3), I had the same problem in the continuity factor. In other words, when watching the original Star Wars: A New Hope, seeing Obi Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) and imagining him doing all the things Ewan McGregor did in the first three films... was impossible. And when I go back and watch the original Star Trek TV show, or the movies starring the original cast, I will now have to wrap my brain around the fact that Captain Kirk, as a preteen, listened to The Beastie Boys. And that Spock dealt with bullies on his home planet - which weren't very different from the ones cookie-cutter teen flicks (I realize, this is mentioned on the original show, but the way they carried it out was so... after-school-special). Or that Uhura had a green martian roomate who Captain Kirk, before he was Captain, was trying to bang in an apartment that looked straight outta Melrose Place. I realize the William Shatner "Kirk" is known to be quite a ladies man - but seeing Jim in a trendy nightclub with rave music thumping in the backdrop just doesn't fit in the Star Trek canon... at least not mine. The first ten minutes, involving Kirk's father saving the lives of 800 people, including his wife who was pregnant with you-know-who... right before intrepidly dying on a monitor viewed by his weeping wife... was pure melodrama straight out bad made-for-cable sci-fi. The villain looked and acted like a WWF wrestler. And I'm not sure what the plot is other than "blow the big bad thing up that destroys planets" (kinda like The Death Star, huh?). Chris Pine looked perfect for the role of a young Kirk but seemed too much like a jocky lughead than anything else. And the special effects... going back to my problem with the new Star Wars... was just too much. I always dug the cerebral-led aspect of the original series (and movies)... mind over action... kind of like a chess match... And, so, having these youthful, energetic characters being part of a high-octane thriller... And the Enterprise darting through space like a Tie Fighter... just didn't fit with me. I'll take corny acting, dated special effects and a slow moving plot to exploding eye-candy any day.

BETRAYAL


title: BETRAYAL
cast: 1987
cast: Debra Winger, Tom Berenger, John Mahoney, Ted Levine, John Hurt, Richard Libertini, Albert Hall
rating: ***1/2

BETRAYED HAS MOVED HERE

THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES

title: THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES
year: 1996
cast: Jim Varney, Erika Eleniak, Deidrich Bader, Lily Tomlin, Dabney Coleman, Cloris Leachman, Lea Thompson, Rob Schneider, Mickey Jones, Dolly Parton, Buddy Ebson
director: Penelope Spheeris
rating: **

Hail the late Jim Varney. With the exception of Erika Eleniak, he's the only actor playing a "Clampett", those rags-to-new-rich hillbillies, like a real person and not a hammy imitation of the original characters. Deidrich Bader, with fake gapping grin, who I really liked in OFFICE SPACE, plays the dim-witted cousin Jed like a cartoon from hell. Cloris Leachman goes overboard as granny; then again, that's her style: in-keeping with her Mel Brooks roles. Of the outsiders, Lily Tomlin's take on the tightwad bankmarm "Ms. Hathaway" is worse than Bader. And Dabney Coleman, as the bank president, merely collects a paycheck. Cult Director Penelope Spheeris tries her best to help the convuluted story, of the Clampetts being swindled by two gold diggers (Rob Schnieder, annoying as ever, and Lea Thompson), work... and it does at times, again thanks to Varney and Eleniak for, as already mentioned, "keeping it real". But compared to something like "The Brady Bunch Movie", this is nothing more than a fast moving bullet to the head: in one ear, out the next. And, at times, it feels like one too. PS With a Dolly Parton cameo, it's almost a complete 9 TO 5 reunion.

PERFECT

title: PERFECT
year: 1986
cast: John Travolta, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jann Wenner, Laraine Newman, Marilu Henner, Carly Simon, Doug Campbell
normal movie rating: ***
bad movie rating: *****

This movie is perfect. A lean (and somewhat strung-out looking) John Travolta is a writer for Rolling Stone magazine (you know, the one with 90% ads) perched on a controversial, and dangerous, story about a computer mogul accused of drug dealing, and in the meantime centers his periphrial (but soon to be full) attention on "Sports Connection" (i.e. "Sports Erection"), an exercise club/singles hangout where he falls for Jamie Lee Curtis, who runs the best darn aerobics class on earth, and... This movie is perfect. You just have to see it for yourself. Gay men pretending to be straight and straight men seeming oh so gay. Horrible music, hilariously addicting dialog, and Rolling Stone Magazine's Jann Wenner playing himself but with a different name and aware-of-the-camera bad acting that's beyond description. The eighties in all its wonderfully colorful, corny splendor and then some... It's all here, folks. And through the awesome stupidity you'll find yourself amazingly involved in the moronic, sweaty fun. Unfortunately, the last twenty minutes, when Travolta's first story reemerges, turning the neon fluff into courtroom melodrama, things peter out. But no matter, this is an airhead classic you can watch a million times; the epitome of what's called a "guilty pleasure".

HEROES HAS RELOCATED


title: HEROES
year: 1977
cast: Henry Winkler, Sally Field, Harrison Ford, Val Avery, John Cassavetes, Ron Rifkin, Al Rubin
rating: **1/2

REVIEW HAS MOVED TO THE NEW SITE

REAL LIFE

title: REAL LIFE
year: 1979
cast: Albert Brooks, Charles Grodin, Francis Lee McCann, J.A. Preston, David Speilberg, James L. Brooks, Johnny Haymer, Matthew Tobin
writer/director: Albert Brooks
rating: **

The worst thing about this Albert Brooks film where Albert Brooks (supposedly) plays Albert Brooks is Albert Brooks, going completely overboard developing and directing a reality TV show. Brooks sets up camera and crew inside a middle class suburban house in Arizona, and things fall apart quickly, to the point where there's not much of a story arc. Charles Grodin and Frances Lee McCann are fun to watch as the uptight patriarchs, and both seem blandly realistic, as is intended. The concept here is smarter than the outcome: to show not only the reality show participants (years before the genre became commonplace) but also the REAL people who film that show and how both collide. Unfortunately they collide a bit too much, too soon, and when other elements are introduced - like a news station following up on a story by a disgruntled psychologist (J.A. Preston) who quit the film in progress - or Brooks having several nervous breakdowns and eventually committing arson... what could have been light and funny ends up completely irritating and ironically unREAListic, although there are a few funny moments. Brooks would really find his niche a few years later with LOST IN AMERICA.

FALLING IN LOVE

year: 1984
cast: Robert DeNiro, Meryl Streep, Harvey Keitel, Jane Kaczmarek
director: Ulu Grosbard
rating: **

Robert DeNiro and Meryl Streep are two married, successful New York suburbanites who, after seeing each other on the same train, meet in a store where they start a conversation ("Don't we ride the same train?") and accidentally take each other's gifts. On Christmas Morning, DeNiro's wife gets Streep's husbands gift (a book on boating); and Streep's husband gets DeNiro's wife's gift (a book on gardening). That's the most clever aspect of this bland romance full of mumbling dialog and uncomfortably-silent conversations between two people who, although they have perfect marriages and beautiful children, should know better: but just can't help themselves. The major love scene is as sexy as mom and dad humping on a rainy afternoon, but, at times, the snail-paced build-up has a sort of mellow voyeuristic quality liken to French cinema, only without any depth or purpose. Harvey Keitel plays DeNiro's recently-divorced buddy, and it's strange seeing the wily thugs from "Mean Streets" as upper-class Manhattan yuppies. The movie sort of happens for a while, and then it's done.

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT


title: THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT
year: 1940
cast: George Raft, Ida Lupino, Humphry Bogart, Ann Sheridan, Alan Hale
rating: **1/2

Strange seeing Humphrey Bogart play second fiddle in any film (unless it stars James Cagney), this came out only a year before he become a top-billed sensation. George Raft and Bogart are truck driver brothers (who REALLY look like brothers) bullied by a mob syndicate... or something... causing trucks to crash and men to die. The special effects are really cool for 1940, including trucks driving off cliffs and exploding (models do wonders). If you can get past not seeing Bogart but for twenty minutes (and in a somewhat filler role), or trying to sustain disbelief that gorgeous gals like Ann Sheradin and Ida Lupino could be so in love with blockhead Raft - you'll enjoy this mildly entertaining "old movie". Ida Lupino steals the show after killing her millionaire husband (Alan Hale i.e. Skipper's Dad) and trying to frame Raft for it. She then goes bonkers in prison and thinks the doors (not the band, the things) want to kill her. Fun melodrama. Kick back and enjoy.

WALL STREET


title: WALL STREET
year: 1988
cast: Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, Hal Halbrook, Daryl Hannah
rating: ****

Oliver Stone had the perfect opportunity to mouthpiece his politics into this film about the greedy Wall Street traders, but he didn't... at least not in an obnoxious or obvious way. Perhaps because his father (whom the film's dedicated) was one, or that he wanted to make a movie that showed both sides equally, even though one side is pretty evil. Michael Douglas must be given credit for turning the villain into not only a likable character, but a logical one... given that you're hypnotized enough to think the way he does... That the more power you acquire, not matter who you have to screw, the better. Charlie Sheen, fresh from Stone's PLATOON set, plays a young wall street cold-call climber who, freshly under Douglas's wing, cuts corners and breaks the law in order to feed his new mentor information to get himself rich, and Douglas even richer. When Sheen gives Douglas inside information on an airline where his father - played by real life pop Martin Sheen - is on the board of directors, his soul is sold. And that's where the adventure begins. While Douglas won the Best Actor Oscar for the famous (or infamous) "Greed is Good" speech, the more subtle moments, as he tweaks Sheen into his puppet, are what truly shapes his now iconic character. Martin Sheen plays not only Charlie's dad, but Douglas's blue collar counterpart with perfect stubborn pride, and a scene involving father and son arguing about what Douglas's intentions are is quite intense. I think this is Oliver Stone's best film. While it can be, at times, somewhat silly and far-fetched, it's intense, involving, and fun as hell.

YOU'VE GOT MAIL

title: YOU'VE GOT MAIL
year: 1999
cast: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Steve Zahn, Jean Stapleton, Dabney Coleman, John Randolph, Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey
rating: ***

Okay guys, if you really wanna pick up on a beautiful chick, one that looks like, say, Meg Ryan, trick her into thinking you're someone you're not on the computer via email, manipulate her mind and have her fall in love with the image of you as a writer sharing your innermost thoughts and daily routines after you, as your real self, shut down her family business and all her dreams along with it. Well, it worked for Tom Hanks, so why not? Pretty good chick flick overall, a remake of "The Shop Around the Corner" about two people who email each other without getting too personal; one (Hanks) owns a new big bookstore that sells discount books, the other (Ryan) owns a small old bookstore across the street that sells specialty books that cost a ton (still not sure if they're used or not); and as the Westerns say "There's not enough room for the both of us." The best moments are before Tom knows Meg's Meg as they're emailing back and forth, completely unaware of each other's identity and loathing one another in their business "non-net" lives. During the scam in which Tom manipulates Meg after finding out she's his web girl, things get too plot-heavy and complicated, and then at the end, after he comes clean, Meg falls in love much too easily. Hanks' performance is a bit constrained: he seems OVER the whole comedy thing at this point, which is kind of a bummer. I dug him in the eighties when he was lean and goofy, and not considered beyond such trivialities.

LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD

title: LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
year: 2005
cast: Albert Brooks, Fred Thompson
writer/director: Albert Brooks
rating: ***

Post 911, Albert Brooks, playing himself - a borderline-has-been comedic-actor who really needs that "great role" - is hired by Washington to find out what makes Muslims laugh... to help bridge the gap between "us and them". He's sent to India (where there are hindus but also many muslims) to interview people, asking them what they think is funny. Well the movie isn't very funny but it is involving, as Brooks interviews people on the streets and sets up a comedy concert where he performs his improvisational routines that no one in the audience gets. That is, they understand English, but don't find him funny. He then goes to Pakistan, illegally through the border, and entertains hash-smoking soldiers who, unlike the Indians - and stoned out of their minds - love his routine. The Iranians catch wind of this and a war almost breaks out: a pasted-on b-story that never comes to fruition, and frankly is a distraction that doesn't need to be there. By the end, when Brooks is back home with a fictional wife and daughter, what have we learned? Nothing much, but for a bland mockumentary, it's decent enough; Brooks' signature non-polarizing yet completely obvious indifference to the natives providing the sole "punchline" throughout. Albert is older but not much wiser. His character - who is himself in this case, which makes no difference - hasn't changed. He still doesn't know what he has to offer, and is trying to discover himself and his purpose: the "mission" i.e. plot here is but a platform for him to do so, as usual. Not up to par with "Lost In America" or "Defending Your Life" but leagues above "Mother", "The Muse", and "The Scout".

BRUNO

title: BRUNO
year: 2009
cast: Sacha Baron Cohen
rating: ***

Putting aside the fact that every situation is contrived, and all the "participants" are obviously in on the joke, this is actually a funny movie about a gay Austrian wannabe fashionista's odyssey to become not just famous, but VERY famous. He does just about anything it takes, including becoming straight, for this seemingly impossible goal, and while the situations aren't always hilarious they are entertaining, and throughout the "skits", some of which are jabs at celebrities, like adopting a black child for publicity, and religion, like meeting with pastors who "make men straight", there is an actual love story that, bizarre as it seems in the buildup, becomes the very thing that bookmarks the film into something that feels legit despite the platform of setup, strikingly bogus interviews and confrontations. Just forget it's trying to seem real and you'll find yourself addicted to the main character's "stranger in a straight land" dilemma. The real humor lies in our hero Bruno's stubborn drive to keep his hectically flamboyant focus intact despite it working against him.

ORANGE COUNTY


title: ORANGE COUNTY
year: 2002
cast: Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Chevy Chase, Jane Adams
rating: *1/2

This movie suffers from what many modern (post 2000) slacker comedies are stricken with: the "Anything Goes" syndrome. There are few bounds in this independent film directed by Jake "Son of Lawrence" Kasdan, featuring cameos from Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin and Lawrence's own stock actor, Kevin Kline. The story centers on a young man from... yep, Orange County, California (where I live), who spends his careless youth surfing and partying; then reads a book that "changes his life" and, along with a dream to become a writer, really wants to attend Stanford University to meet the book's author who works there. Along the way this desire (i.e. the plot) is outshined by the wacky side-characters, including two Beavis and Buttheadish surfer pals; a drunk mother (Catherine O'Hara) married to a crippled old man; a selfish father (John Lithgow) married to a gorgeous young "trophy"; and a stoner brother played by Jack Black (who's not in the movie as much as is promoted) - all vying to outdo each other on screen. When the main character - played by bland Colin Hanks, son of Tom - finally arrives at the college of his dreams, within ten minutes he's accidently given the dean of admissions (a portly Harold Ramis) enough "X" to blind a horse, and to top it off, his zany drugged-out brother (using every stoner cliche in the book including the usual "WOW!") burns the admissions building to the ground. Nothing really matters at this point, and yet we have another (drawn-out and totally useless) half-an-hour to go. All the things that should have been peripheral eccentricities, which end up leaping to the foreground of every scene, are symptoms of that disease I already mentioned: "Anything Goes"... Which can be, as in this case, fatal. That is, without that one cure, substance... Something this movie has very little of.

2010

title: 2010
year: 1984
cast: Roy Scheider, Bob Balaban, John Lithgow, Keir Dullea
director: Peter Hymans
rating: *

Someone castrated HAL 9000! In this horrendous, preachy mess, Roy Schieder plays the role of "Dr. Heywood Floyd" in a cold war sequel to the Kubrick classic, and here we learn that Russians and Americans CAN get along... Pretty dated, huh? The unintentionally hilarious scenes involving astronaut "Dave Bowman" (Keir Dullea) returning to earth as a philosophical wraith, invisibly combing his mother's hair on her deathbed and speaking through a television set in place of newscaster Larry Carroll, are far more interesting than the ninety-minutes in space as the Americans and Russians "band together" above Jupiter, trying to figure out the purposely-confounding elements from the first film, that which was never intended to make sense, but rather, to imply. This turkey takes all those implications and throws them into an overlong, overblown mess that made us yearn to be wonderfully confused rather than preached at.

IN THE HEAT OF PASSION

title: IN THE HEAT OF PASSION
year: 1992
cast: Sally Kirkland, Nick Corri, Michael Greene, Jack Carter
rating: ***1/2

Sure there's a lot of steamy scenes, but this early-nineties Roger Corman production has a lot more going for it. Like Oscar-nominated actress (for 1987's ANNA) Sally Kirkland playing the bored trophy wife of rich man Michael Greene. While at a gas station, she meets hunky mechanic Jsu Garcia (then billed as Nick Corri). The two hit it off and really want to connect; especially Garcia, who makes every effort to do so. And by posing as a cable TV repairman, he talks his way into the bedroom where sexy Kirkland awaits. But what really excels this to greater heights is an action sequence involving Garcia, who's an actor on the side, being chased by mobsters and using this motivation in a scene from a movie (within the movie) with a similar plot line. But back to reality: what Garcia doesn't know is Kirkland (who's a personal friend of yours truly), like any effective Film Noir moll, hides a deep dark secret fueling a hidden, and perhaps lethal, agenda. And it takes a grade-A actress and actor to provide enough intrigue and intensity to make a B-movie really work.

THE GRAND CANYON

year: 1991
cast: Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Mary McDonnell, Jeremy Sisto, Steve Martin
rating: *

For those who think the horrific MAGNOLIA is the most pretentious movie ever made; as Richard Dreyfuss tells Robert Shaw in JAWS: "I got that beat." This movie, about rich and poor people in Los Angeles whose lives intertwine, all discussing their own philosophies of life, takes the pretentious nasal-gazing gold medal. The otherwise talented Lawrence Kasdan penned this do-gooder doozy with his wife, Meg. Kevin Kline's car breaks down in Inglewood and is almost killed by gangsters; Danny Glover, as a tow truck driver, saves him (the best scene herein); they become friends and we follow each of their (and their friends and families) lives and basically learn: we're in different sized boats in the same raging sea.  A Hollywood guilt movie, and godawful at that. Every sentence has a POINT; every camera angle an AGENDA: "I dare you to watch this and NOT LEARN SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR LIFE", is in parentheses throughout. As one character says: "People who excel at one thing think they know about everything." I think Lawrence and Meg might have been projecting here.

SLUMBER PARTY '57

title: SLUMBER PARTY '57
year: 1976
cast: Deborah Winger, Rainbeaux Smith, Raphael Campos
rating: *1/2

This ultra low-budget drive-in flick, set in the fifties about five girls who meet in a mansion and discuss their first time, desperately needed a serial killer to pick them off one-by-one. Unfortunately, he never showed up. I'm sure Debra Winger isn't proud of this doozy. Some interesting camera work though. Great music. And pretty girls. Each loss-of-virginity story is shown in flashbacks. All are boring.

BABY BOOM

title: BABY BOOM
year: 1987
cast: Diane Keaton, Harold Ramis, Sam Shepard, James Spader, Sam Wanamaker, Victoria Jackson, Pat Hingle, Paxton Whitehead, Mary Gross
rating: ***

Classy late-eighties fare about a hard-driven business-woman played by Diane Keaton who has everything to gain in the corporate world until she inherits a baby, and then must juggle her executive life with that as a new, and quite reluctant, mother. After losing her yuppie boyfriend (Harold Ramis) and eventually her job (to an ass kissing weasel played by James Spader), she and baby move to a country home where the usual "nothing works in this house" havoc ensues, and she ends up making baby food with a plethora of apples in her spare time. Her hobby becomes a business and she's an overnight success, and then must choose between the simple life or returning to the big city. The best parts lie within the first half as she struggles with the baby, but the country story has its charm thanks to Sam Shepard as a genuinely nice Veterinarian providing a blossoming love story that never gets corny. Basically, it's a chick-flick that men won't mind being spoon-fed.

HOT DOG: THE MOVIE...


title: HOT DOG: THE MOVIE...
year: 1984
cast: Patrick Houser, David Naughton, Tracy Smith, John Patrick Reger, Shannon Tweed
rating: ***1/2

When an oversexed comedy centering on a particular sport has no real story or interesting characters, what do you have? The polar opposite of this totally entertaining ski/party flick, where the main character, a handsome young farm boy with dreams of glory, picks-up a gorgeous free-spirited hitchhiker on the way to a big competition, where they meet a bullying German who's a shoe-in for the coveted main prize; an "Otter" (from "Animal House") clone played by David "Just Getting A Paycheck For This role" Naughton... The Dr. Pepper guy who sang "Makin' It" and starred in the greatest (American) werewolf (in London) movie ever... And Shannon Tweed as a more-than-flirtatious sexpot. Amazing ski footage, endless parties and lots of skin never distracts from the plot... winning the big race... or the plight of the two central characters: to stick together no matter what temptation gets in their way.

CASUAL SEX?

title: CASUAL SEX?
year: 1988
cast: Leah Thompson, Victoria Jackson, Mary Gross, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Stephen Shellen, Jerry Levine
rating: **

Sometimes I wanna slap Woody Allen for popularizing the first person narration (character looking into the camera and narrating the movie i.e. breaking the fourth wall) because, even though he - and a few other filmmakers - did it well, it's often misused: like in the case of the John Cusack's "High Fidelity" and this sex comedy centering on two completely different girls: one a slut (Leah Thompson) the other a whiny baby-voiced prude (Victoria "One Trick Pony" Jackson). The slut doesn't know she's a slut and the prude doesn't want to be either. The movie attempts originality - both girls narrating not only during actual scenes but in sequences set against a black backdrop, almost seeming as if they're in outer space. After we learn both girl's do's and don'ts (Thompson's "Do", Jackson's "Don't") our heroines go to a special single's resort to hook up with their "dream men". There they meet some obnoxious losers, like Andrew "Dice" Clay in a somewhat funny turn as a... you guessed it... sleaze-bag from New York... and both eventually fall in love with two handsome too-good-to-be-realistic instructors seemingly made for each of them. This is the main problem... If we dealt with the girls continuing to put up with various single men who are in the same boat and as messed up as they are, it'd be much more interesting - and a true study of the film's title (giving the question mark purpose). But things get much too predictable after we know who they want and who wants them. Then it's all about fate, destiny, and all that other chick-flick drivel. "Teen Wolf" fans will enjoy seeing Jerry "Stiles" Levine as the nice-guy instructor who digs Victoria Jackson, only he doesn't wear T-shirts with coffee mug catch-phrases, sorry.

PRETTY IN PINK

year: 1986
cast: Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer, Annie Potts
rating: **

After John Hughes died I brushed up on his work, and stumbled upon the one I never really cared for. Why? Two main reasons: Class envy and a flitting metrosexual named after a water fowl who I still think preferred Andrew McCarthy to Molly Ringwald. I'm not exactly sure who this movie's for... girls without money who love themselves or girls with money who hate themselves. Or was Hughes inventing his own dream-chick before he had two nerds do it for him? The characters were cliched, the plot nonexistent, and the corny scene where Andrew McCarthy hacks into Molly Ringwald's computer — providing her pictures and a glimpse into the future of Instant Messaging — literally almost killed me. I was near the end... I saw a white light... I heard Annie Potts' grating voice... The light grew larger...

FUNNY PEOPLE (2009)

The title isn't misleading, it's ironic. Such a fine line, isn't it? Plot centers on a famous comic played by Adam Sandler, who went from raunchy standup to starring in bad-yet-successful movies (playing himself?)... and he's diagnosed with a fatal disease. Sick and dying, he seeks refuge in struggling standup Seth Rogan, whom he hires as writer, sidekick, and eventually, best friend. Sandler and Rogan have okay chemistry; their humor bounces back and forth nicely at times, awkwardly at others. And their standup routines are like something from an open-mic night in hell. The main problem is, you never really feel Sandler's fatal plight. It might be his performance, or the direction, that takes so much time centering on poop jokes and his sexual escapades with groupies. We only experience his health diminishing through collage scenes set to really loud music. When Sandler learns his disease has miraculously just... gone away, and that he's got a second chance, the film takes a bad turn. That which wasn't on a straight path to begin with veers into a flaming col-de-sac. Rates: **

A CHORUS LINE

title: A CHORUS LINE
year: 1985
cast: Michael Douglas
rating: *

"I hope I get it... I hope I get it... I hope I get it..." Well I didn't. I was HOPING for some so-good-it's-bad pre-Showgirls fun but got nothing but a group of dancers singing their thoughts and frustrations, and the tunes were awful. And I was also hoping Michael Douglas's character, a producer who berates the dancers, would be, at best, entertaining. He wasn't. I guess I should have stuck with "Staying Alive".

CRITICAL CONDITION

title: CRITICAL CONDITION
year: 1987
cast: Richard Pryor, Garrett Morris, Rachel Ticotin, Bob Dishy, Randall "Tex" Cobb, Joe Mantegna, Silvia Miles, Bob Saget, Joe Dallesandro, Jon Polito, Wesley Snipes, Brian Tarantina
director: Michael Apted
rating: ***1/2

A very skinny, somewhat riddled looking yet highly energetic Richard Pryor is a con artist who, instead of going to jail where he'll surely be killed by a mobster who thinks he set him up, fakes crazy and is shipped to a mental ward, located in the basement of a large general hospital. The hospital loses it's power during a big storm and Pryor ends up posing as a fly-by-night head doctor. He and the rest of the ensemble cast has to keep the electricity going during the storm-caused blackout and the patients alive, while Pryor alone must sustain his ruse, which isn't easy since he can't operate or even read charts. More of an edgy-action with humor than a comedy; a side-plot involving a psychotic killer (Joe Dallesandro) on the prowl builds effective tension. No wonder they played this on HBO all the time in the late eighties: it's a perfect time-filler.

LIFE STINKS

title: LIFE STINKS
year: 1991
cast: Mel Brooks
director: Mel Brooks
rating: **

Mel Brooks is a corporate billionaire who wants to buy a lucrative piece of land for an upcoming project that happens to be slums. He needs to purchase the remaining share and in order to do so has to be part of a bet, more of a dare, that he can live almongst the homeless for three days. He does, and through various adventures, learns about the other side. Not a bad movie but it isn't funny. Seems like an idea Mel wrote down and then, the next morning upon re-reading the notes, would think "Nah." Well he didn't say "Nah" and we're left with a two-hour concept. I'm not sure where this fits within the Mel Brooks canon. It's entirely different than any of his other films, not so much a parody... more of an made-for-cable movie that happened to be in theaters... for a short time, I'm sure. If you have a flu and need something passable to watch, you could do worse. The first half, where Mel adapts to his new situation, is better than the last half where he - with his new homeless pals and one scruffy but pretty girlfriend - seeks revenge on the guy he made the bet with in the first place. A 1988 film made by the Unknown Comic (sans the paper sack) and co-starring Linda Blair titled UP YOUR ALLEY tackles this concept, of a person going undercover into the slums, much better.

THE OTHER SISTER

title: THE OTHER SISTER
year: 1999
cast: Juliette Lewis, Giovanni Ribisi, Diane Keaton, Tom Skerritt
director: Garry Marshall
rating: *

I realize it's politically incorrect to use the term retarded when describing people, so I won't use it to describe the characters played by Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi, but this movie is totally retarded. The characters, one minute, are barking like dogs and throwing tantrums for no reason, the next minute completely understanding sarcastic inside humor, living in their own apartments and eventually getting married. Garry Marshall made being a hooker a dream for young girls everywhere, just as long as they meet their millionaire Richard Gere. So I guess he's making being "slow" lucrative for... I'm still not sure who this film caters to. But if you like watching over-actors pretending to be... you know... the R word... this is just what the doctor ordered. The side-story involving Lewis' relationship with her uptight conservative mother, Diane Keaton, slows down the unintentional hilarity of this preposterous calamity. And like Leonardo DiCaprio's overrated performance in the horrendous "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", Lewis and Ribisi sound more deaf than anything else. If you want to see an actor portraying a "mentally-challenged" person realistically, W. Earl Brown in THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY takes the prize.

THE DARK KNIGHT

title: THE DARK KNIGHT
year: 2008
cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine
rating: *
My reviews usually insert a brief description of the plot, but since there's about a thousand plots I'll start with the man of the hour, the late Heath Ledger who, as said in interviews, was inspired by Malcom McDowell's performance in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but seems more like Rip Taylor channeling Paul Lynde imitating Johnny Depp impersonating a demented circus clown. Now a violently gay joker I don't mind, but he should at least have a backstory or purpose. Then again this entire film - set in a Gotham City that looks like Manhattan - has no purpose at all. Christian Bale delivers his lines like a porn star Hal 9000; and Mayor Harvey "Two-Face" Dent goes from friendly, highly-energetic politician to sinister villain for no other reason than getting blown up and deformed - REASON being another thing this film lacks... although there's tons of expensive flash to keep rabid "graphic novel" fans wide-eyed, mouths gaping for more. But for someone who likes a coherent storyline no matter what the genre, it's two-and-a-half hours of PURE TORTURE.

GOIN' SOUTH

title: GOIN' SOUTH
year: 1978
cast: Jack Nicholson, Mary Steenburgen, John Belushi, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Morris
director: Jack Nicholson
rating: ***

Jack Nicholson doing a Strother Martin imitation (stuffy-nose voice and scruffy dog persona) in a comedy/western Nicholson himself directed centering on an outlaw who, to avoid being hanged, marries a tough, classy, stubborn gal with a heart - and mine full - of gold. She uses Jack to do the menial labor, basically putting him through a sort of boot camp, in which they eventually fall in love. "Women love outlaws like little boys love stray puppies", he tells her. It's a nifty character-driven romantic comedy till the last half hour when Jack's old gang returns to steal the gold and, although trying for action, things get somewhat standard and dull. The budding romance between the lady and the tramp is what makes this movie work. The late John Belushi appears in a glorified cameo as lawman Christopher Lloyd's screaming Mexican deputy.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL 3D

title: A CHRISTMAS CAROL 3D
year: 2009
cast: Jim Carrey, Bob Hoskins
director: Robert Zemekis
rating: **

Amazing how much a modern 3D movie can put you RIGHT THERE, like you're experiencing every nook and cranny as a nearby observer. But that's also the problem. Everything happens as if being spied upon - taking away from any story being told... much less a classic one. I never felt the journey - of a grumpy, stingy old man being shown his past, present and future by three ghosts - had any other reason to change Scrooge from a nasty coot to the nicest guy in the world other than the fact he got the piss scared out of him by formidable CGI specters. It had little to do with his neglected childhood, his selfish present state or outlook on Christmas, his doomed future... or a little crippled boy named Tim. (Being shrunk to the size of a walnut and chased around by the Grim Reaper and his demonic black horses would have turned Hitler into a Care Bear too.) Nothing was special about Scrooge's redemption other than the fact he was forced on a trip through hell and was glad to be alive at the end. The point of the Dicken's tale is that Scrooge is SHOWN these things that alter his outlook, not force-fed them. While director Robert Zemekis got his money's worth of CGI, he overlooked everything else.

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE

title: SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE
year: 2003
cast: Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, Keanu Reeves
rating: ***1/2

A pleasant surprise about two baby boomers, one a music producer playboy who only dates young girls - Jack Nicholson as himself with a different trade - the other an uptight playwright, Diane Keaton, who's thirty-year-old gorgeous daughter, Amanda Peet, is dating Jack and through miscommunicated fate all three are staying at Keaton's home for the weekend. Jack and the young trophy are about to have sex when he has a heart attack - after he's saved at the hospital, Diane Keaton is stuck with the chore of nursing him back to health. Keanu Reeves plays a doctor, sporting teenage-skater bangs and his usual dormant delivery - although his performance isn't that awful. Reeves, a fan of stage plays, has a crush on Keaton. But Jack and Diane (no this wasn't written by John Cougar) become an item and discover true love neither have experienced. This movie is wonderfully involving but then the last half hour, after the two leads break up, drags on and on. Basically a really nice symphony that doesn't know when to end. But for the most part, as far as romantic comedies go, this one is almost perfect.

HEARTBURN

title: HEARTBURN
year: 1986
cast: Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Jeff Daniels, Stockard Channing
rating: *

In preparation for a movie about two successful Manhattan columnists who quickly tie the knot and have a string of marital problems, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep rehearse random monologues written for their characters. That's what this movie seems like. The title is what it feels like.

BORN IN EAST L.A. (CHEECH MARIN)

year: 1987
cast: Cheech Marin, Daniel Stern, Jan-Michael Vincent
rating: ***

The cinematic version of Cheech and Chong's Weird Al-esque parody of Bruce Springsteen's BORN IN THE USA, sans Chong, is considered a comedy, of course, but without being very funny. The adventure of an American-born Mexican... Cheech Marin in his first solo outing - mistaken as an illegal immigrant and shipped to Tijuana... doesn't need the overkill of slapstick: like Cheech teaching a group of Japanese dorks how to be Mexican; teaching a Mariachi band how to play rock n' roll; altering a convict's tattoo; or any of the scenes involving Paul Rodriguez. These attempted avenues of misfired humor sidetrack our hero's dilemma: to find a way back across the border. That alone, with an intense Jan-Michael Vincent on his trail, would be entertaining and involving enough without all the silly detours.

THE EVENING STAR

title: THE EVENING STAR
year: 1996
cast: Shirley MacLaine, Bill Paxton, Natasha Richardson, Juliette Lewis, Jack Nicholson, Marion Ross
rating: **

This movie assumes we're a lot more into the story than the story tries to be a good one. Has the same problem as "Texasville", the sequel to the iconic masterpiece "The Last Picture Show"; this being the sequel to another classic "Terms of Endearment" (all four based on novels written by Larry McMurtrey). Takes a lightweight approach continuing from the original wonderfully tragic story of Shirley Maclaine's character, who lost her daughter, Deborah Winger, to cancer, and now has to deal with the grandkids: all grown up and doing... horribly. The youngest son drives a tow truck, the oldest son is in jail, and the precocious daughter, played by Juliette Lewis (overracting as usual), is a moody suicidal college student with a cheating white trash boyfriend. MacLaine tries her best but there's just no story here. When her endearingly grumpy character insults particular family members it's not very funny because we don't know them enough to understand (or care about) her loathing. And whenever needed, she looks through albums with pictures of the original film, thus paving the way for Jack Nicholson, returning in a cameo, which doesn't help things one bit. He and Shirley have the chemistry of two dead sea slugs as they wander around chatting about life, death, and love: which they didn't have to talk about since they EXPERIENCED these things in "Terms". Bill Paxton adds some silly bumpkin flavor as a councelor who has an affair with MacLaine, doing the best young Jack Nicholson impression he can muster. Natasha Richardson as "Patsy", who was Winger's laidback plain-looking pal in "Terms" (played by another actress), here is a spunky beautiful rich divorcee, providing a somewhat weak foil for MacLaine. And Marion Ross as the faithful maid is probably the best performance of the bunch... at least she has something to do.

STRANGER THAN FICTION

year: 2006
cast: Will Ferrell, Tom Hulce
rating: ***

Will Ferrell has his very own THE TRUMAN SHOW, centering on a mild-mannered, rut-dwelling accountant who hears a narration in his head. Someone is narrating his own life, and predicts his up-coming death. Turns out the person is a writer whom invented a character exactly like Ferrell and he has to stop her before she finishes the book. But before that Ferrell deals with the voice by visiting shrink Dustin Hoffman, who isn't as shocked as he should be about this situation. Ferrell meets a proud liberal gal who bakes cookies and refuses to pay some of her taxes (the 13% that will go to the military) and as their relationship grows (she thaws and he gets more laidback) the voice seems to lessen, as does the intensity, and initial premise, of the film. But things get back on in line when he has to track down the author before it's too late. Ferrell has a couple funny moments doing his usual I'm-just-a-tad-behind-everyone-else-but-above-them-at-the-same-time signature character, but here, unlike some of his other outings, there's an interesting enough story to give him purpose. Plus the B-side involving the eccentric author, played by Emma Thompson, who can't find a suitable death for her character, adds some vitality. And it's always nice seeing Dustin Hofffman again. NOTE: For all you Generation X'ers - if the plot to this movie seems familiar, then you, like myself, may have grown up reading Sesame Street's THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK, which involves Grover trying to stop the story... HIS story... from ending. "Don't turn the page!!!"

ASSASSINATION

title: ASSASSINATION
year: 1987
cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Randy Brooks, Billy Hayes, Jan Gan Boyd
rating: ***1/2

Mainly an excuse for Charles Bronson to co-star alongside wife Jill Ireland (who usually cameos or co-stars but here is an equal partner). Ireland is a bratty, brash, bitchy First Lady and Bronson the tough-as-nails secret service officer who has to protect her from assassins who might be working for the president himself. The music is worse than a porno, the pacing is slow at times and the dialog seems written for the USA channel; but when the THINGS BLOW UP AND GO BOOM action occurs, you'll forget the flaws and have a pretty good time. And with all the frenzied, flowing, overboard action, the most unrealistic scene is when young and sexy Asian agent Jan Gan Boyd all but rapes the sixty-something leathery bobcat. Otherwise, just go with it.

THE EIGER SANCTION

title: THE EIGER SANCTION
year: 1975
cast: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Jack Cassidy
director: Clint Eastwood
rating: ***1/2

Clint Eastwood's eighties action film FIREFOX is boring for an hour and a half; then the last thirty minutes as he's flying the plane is awesome. This movie involving a retired assassin/art professor/mountain climber (one eclectic dude) brought back to kill two men, one of whom is climbing the giganic Eiger Mountain, is the complete opposite. The hour and a half involving Eastwood travelling around like James Bond, bedding down babes, killing double-crossers and training for his mission is fantastic. But when we get to the mountain the film's named after (sanction means assassination by the way) things go... DOWNWHILL. But most of the movie is a fantastic ride.

RV

title: RV
year: 2006
cast: Robin Williams, Jeff Daniels
director: Barry Sonnenfeld
rating: **

Feels like a NyQuil nightmare. Plot centers on a family going on a road trip vacation in a rented RV, and the problems that arise, including another family who basically stalks them and are very vapid and simple-minded. Why? Because they're Middle Americans! Unlike NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION, where the kids and wife are subjected to their dad's corny cross-country agenda, here father Robin Williams has to cater to his son's wigger/rapping lingo, his daughter's environmentalist-spouting tantrums, and his wife's "I'm An Equal Partner in this Marriage" lectures. It seems the more PC the world gets, the less a place there is for good ol' dad. This is a pretty bad film, but somewhere along the way it gets somewhat involving as Williams tries saving his job while trying to please his bratty clan and keep the RV rolling at the same time, literally.

EYE SEE YOU

title: EYE SEE YOU
year: 2002
cast: Sylvester Stallone, Tom Berenger, Charles Dutton, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Prosky, Robert Patrick, Rance Howard
rating: **1/2

This Sly Stallone straight-to-DVD action/suspense with one of the stupidest titles in history isn't that bad. A mysterious cop killer follows a cop (Sly) to a remote snow-laden outpost rehabilitation center and kills off the patients one by one. Stallone's workmates and his beautiful wife were slaughtered by this unseen madman - which sent Sly on a drinking binge that caused him to seek the rehabilitation. Now he has to not only get in touch with his feelings but as the body count continues in the gray, spooky corridors of the hospital (once a government outpost), he must stop the killer - who's very good at lurking in the shadows. What starts out as a dime-a-dozen action flick with way too many close-ups and MTV-like flashbacks turns into a decent ripoff of John Carpenter's THE THING. The mystery of who the murderer is will keep you interested till the end.

BUFFALO '66

title: BUFFALO '66
year: 1998
cast: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara, Angelica Huston, Kevin Corrigan, Jan-Michael Vincent, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette
writer/director: Vincent Gallo
rating: ****

This is like one of those eerie nightmares you have as a grownup that is strangely enjoyable and completely involving. Beginning with a guy played by actor/writer/director Vincent Gallo fresh out of a five-year prison stint who REALLY needs to take a piss but can't find a bathroom anywhere. Then he kidnaps a beautiful (and somewhat willing) young tap dancer Christina Ricci (in a building where he almost finds a toilet), brings her to his family and poses her as his wife. We then get a wonderful half-hour in which Gallo, Ricci and his parents, Angelica Huston and Ben Gazzara, have the most complicated anti-bonding dinner in history. After which Gallo and Ricci... who's now totally into being abucted by this insult-spouting, tantrum-throwing, goblin-chinned freak... go bowling, then go to Denny's, then get a Motel (but not having sex)... After which Gallo ventures off alone to a strip bar owned by a retired kicker of the Buffalo Bills - to kill the kicker for losing the Superbowl in which Gallo lost money on a bet in which, to make up for the debt he had to serve five years in prison for a crime he didn't commit (remember now, the film begins with him getting out). This indie gem is downright brilliant with wonderful imagery, antique film stock, strategically placed camera-angles and split-screen flashbacks that all work to embody the delightfully nightmarish quality. Vincent Gallo is at his peak as the troubled, woman-hating ex-con and Christina Ricci is basically a pretty piece of meat, but that's EXACTLY what she's supposed to be. The climax involving Gallo facing off with the Bills kicker at the Strip Joint is one of the best filmed purposely-overly-violent scenes ever, reminiscent of early Scorsese and, a year later, "borrowed" by the directors of "The Matrix".

ONE HOUR PHOTO

title: ONE HOUR PHOTO
year: 2002
cast: Robin Williams
rating: *

This film, the TAXI DRIVER for the TEVO generation, is one of the worst movies ever made. A straight-laced seemingly-normal extremely lonely psychopath working at a "SAV-MART" in the, yep, ONE HOUR PHOTO center stalks a picture-perfect family which includes a husband (always donning a superb 5 O'Clock Shadow), a wife (Anne Archer of the Emo set) and son (with cute shaggy hair) who all look straight out of a Starbucks ad. We know Robin Williams CAN act seriously (as "The World According to Garp", "Dead Poet's Society" and "Good Will Hunting" will prove) but his performance as "Sy Parrish" (can you get a more symbolic name?) is downright laughable. The first half, centering on "Sy" working within the store and taking his job way too seriously (delving into the punctuating technicques of processing photos and comparing it to humanity in general), collecting run-off photographs of the targeted family and following them around the connected shopping center, far exceeds the second half wherein "Sy" is being chased by the "Threat Management" after finally taking things too far. "Sy" goes from a quiet spooky Norman Bates type into a cross between Freddy Kruger and any villain in a Bruce Willis action flick. His performance from hot to cold is downright embarressing, but not as much as the writing and directing, which tries VERY HARD to weave within a crazy person's mind but ends up scratching the surface... with nothing beneath. I'm still waiting for this movie to get the "so-bad-it's-good" credit it deserves.

THE VALACHI PAPERS

title: THE VALACHI PAPERS
year: 1972
cast: Charles Bronson
rating: **

You'd think a Charles Bronson flick involving prison, mafia hitmen, gun fights and car chases would be sure-fire, but this is a jumbled mess. Seeming like a cheap Italian import with looped dialog, the story's confusing and frantically leaps from one situation to the next. Although there's narration (Bronson telling his story to an FBI agent who has him in protective custody), it's still difficult to know where the story's at, where it's going, or where it's been. And after a while you just don't care. Bronson's acting is (as usual) on par (his character more "Vince Majestyk" than "Paul Kersey") but he's simply running in circles. A dizzying maze prologuing better films such as the Michael Winner "trilogy" THE MECHANIC, THE STONE KILLER, and DEATH WISH.

THE GNONE-MOBILE

title: THE GNOME-MOBILE
year: 1968
cast: Walter Brennan
rating: *

I've been on a Disney kick lately, watching (or rather, re-watching) all those live-action gems I grew up being amazed by. Within ten minutes of this vapid doozy about a bunch of "little people" in the forest being threatened by a big bad environmental corporation, when the three leads all broke into song... my addiction went belly-up. To quote John Cleese's character in SILVERADO: "Today my jurisdiction ends here".

MEET DAVE

title: MEET DAVE
year: 2009
cast: Eddie Murphy
rating: **

The plot is... um... an alien sent to earth that looks like a man but is really a vessel/spaceship. Inside is a crew and they control the man... or, spaceship, or... vessel, whose name becomes Dave... around New York - searching for an orb that landed in a fish bowl that was supposed to land in the ocean and will take all the water from earth and save their planet. This is a terrible movie that somehow, with all it's craziness, gets you involved... and I'm still not sure how. Eddie Murphy plays both the title character/vessel and the Captain Kirk-like leader within the humanoid, leading a crew that, like the Sperm segment in Woody Allen's "Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask)", all takes part in controlling the exterior "human" functions - from his bowels to his brain to everything in-between. This allows Murphy, as the vessel (Dave), to be goofy and silly - a victim of whatever's needed to pass as a human: basically doing a rubberfaced Jim Carrey imitation throughout. Meanwhile the Captain inside takes the more serious role. I'm not sure which Murphy is better or worse - or how, at one point, you actually find yourself addicted to the silliness with an embarrassing desire for an outcome... But it does happen and you might not forgive yourself for watching this turkey till the bitter end.

WHATEVER WORKS

year: 2009
rating: *

A hotdog consists of rejected parts of a pig all thrown together and picked up off the butcher's floor. This is Woody Allen's hotdog. Many of the elements are borrowed from past films, like his fourth-wall-breaking first-person-narrating philosophy of life being meaningless and love being luck and everyone is dying and... all that stuff that was once entertaining when Woody Allen was younger, and funny. His patented neurotic-Jewish-Intellectual character is given to Larry David as a chess-instructing codger who marries a gorgeous teenager, Evan Rachel Wood. This entire concept is funnier than any line in the movie; not ha-ha but "Am I actually supposed to buy this" funny. And there are plenty of one-liners but nothing seems to matter: the characters all frolic stupidly before David so he can put them down. Proving again and again he's no Woody Allen. And as a writer, either is Woody Allen anymore.

THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES

year: 1968
rating: **

The first of three Disney "Dexter Riley" films starring Kurt Russell as the head of a group of eavesdropping science students at an always financially-strapped University is too plot-heavy. Dexter gets electracuted by a computer and his brain becomes one, allowing him to pass tests with ease and excell and anything having to do with facts or memorization. There's a boring blonde kid named "Pete" who, in later Dexter films, is replaced as Dexter's sidekick by Michael McGreevy as "Schuyler". McGreevy is in this movie but hasn't become Archie's Jughead yet. And there's too much emphasis on Ceaser Romero, William Schallert and Joe Flynn and not enough of the kids. This film isn't a students-strike-back team effort like the other two. It's mostly all about Dexter and the grown-ups and the premise gets pretty tired quick. "Now You See Him Now You Don't" is much better.

NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T

year: 1972
cast: Kurt Russell, Joe Flynn, Michael McGreevey, Richard Bakalyan, Ceaser Romero, Mike Evans, Jim Backus, William Windom, Joyce Menges
rating: ***

If there were a "Dexter Riley" TV series (based on the characters from "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes"), centering on the title character and his science class University cohorts, this would be the best episode; the worst being the follow-up "The Strongest Man in the World". Although Kurt Russell looks more like a jock than a geek you forget he's anyone else but the energetic young man who starred in many live-action Disney films of the sixties and seventies (before becoming John Carpenter's Clint Eastwood). He and goofball buddy Schuyler (Disney staple Michael McGreevey, a human cartoon) use a spray Dexter invented that turns things invisible to win a science contest (and to free the school from debt) - but first must be excepted into the running. So they follow their dean Joe Flynn to the golf course, a non-golfer trying to impress a millionaire golf nut who runs the contest. An invisible Dexter helps all Flynn's shots go in the hole - this is the funnest part of the film... after which that string of purposely-frustrating "Disney-letdowns" occur: the things that once worked now fail because of a villain's tampering. The spray is stolen by Ceaser Romero, a crime boss with plans to turn the campus into his own Las Vegas. He and cohort Richard Bakalan (always a Disney thug and the cop who kills Faye Dunaway in "Chinatown") make themselves invisible, rob a bank and turn their car invisible. The last twenty minutes involves a chase between the students, the police, and the invisible car. Here things give up creatively but are still entertaining. Above-average Disney fare.

THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE

title: THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE
year: 1984
cast: Rob Lowe, Jodie Foster, Beau Bridges, Seth Green, Lisa Banes
rating: *

An oddball family running various Hotels in New Hampshire, Vienna, New York and then back to New Hampshire. The film adaptation of John Irving's novel centers on the eccentric nomadic Berry clan but focuses mainly on the teenage son (an elvish Rob Lowe) and daughter (Jodie Foster, during the purgatory of her career) of a man (Beau Bridges) who runs the hotels with an ever-optimistic look on life no matter how many bad things happen. The book delves with casual irony into subjects like terrorism, rape and incest, getting away with turning a glib cheek to all things taboo (including homosexuality, which wasn't as discussed in the early/mid eighties). The overly obvious symbolism (like a dog named Sorrow) works in the novel because it's strictly thematic and never forced. But this movie... I just can't begin to explain how bad it is. It was made because of the success (and brilliance) of Irving's "The World According to Garp", a much easier narrative to translate - it's at least about something, or rather, someone. And while "Garp" centers on a mainline story with tragic weirdness surrounding it, this centers on weird tragedy with no real story to be found. Might possibly be the worst adaptation ever made.

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