THE JACKSONS: AN AMERICAN DREAM


title: THE JACKSONS: AN AMERICAN DREAM
year: 1992
cast: Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Angela Bassett, Billy Dee Williams
rating: ***

A decent biopic miniseries that could have been great had they put as much into the stardom of the Jacksons (and Michael in particular) then they did the struggle to get there. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who hasn't been in much since "Welcome Back Kotter", plays the dominating patriarch, Joe Jackson, and while his performance is decent enough, there's not enough reasons explained behind his sometimes overly temperamental methods of making (forcing) his five kids to practice their singing and dancing in order to "make it big". Since they did make it big, one can say... Joe did alright. But since he made them call him "Joseph" instead of father, cheated on his wife, didn't want them to have girlfriends, and wasn't very friendly... perhaps fame wasn't worth the price of having a very controlling dad. And it's not exactly clear whether we should love him, hate him, or just put up with him... like the family. The first half of the miniseries, beginning with Joe and his wife (played by Angela Bassett) meeting, having many children, living in poverty, practicing to become a band and then being signed by Barry Gordy's Motown label, is quite entertaining. All the kids, especially the younger Michael, do a fantastic job acting, dancing and singing. But then when they get famous things are on fast-forward, eventually cutting from 1976, after the Jacksons drop out of Motown records and go on their own, to 1983... a year after Michael's megaton album Thriller had already been released (yet he's working on Thriller-tracks in the studio, which is confusing). We never see the leap Michael goes through with Thriller - still the biggest album of all time - catapulting him into an icon - and what this instant titanic stardom did to his brothers (c'mon, they HAD TO be jealous). The actor playing the adult Michael, unlike the younger actor, seemed to be doing a mere imitation. And then, showing the Jacksons during their 1985 "Victory Tour", it all seems to wrap up much too quickly, leaving out a lot of important things having to do with success and it's ramifications. But the first half, as the family works to make it big - is good enough. At least for some awesome Motown music and a little bit of history - even though it is, for the most part, Jackson propaganda. But, being that Michael had enough bad things centered on them, why not? After all, despite the plethora of quirky (and bizarre and allegedly perverted) habits, he did have talent. And even though his vehicle eventually derailed, for a while there, the kid had quite a drive.

CAPTAIN RON

title: CAPTAIN RON
year: 1991
cast: Martin Short, Kurt Russell
rating: **

Martin Short's greatest role was in "Three Amigos". He played a man who looked like a boy who acted like a teenager. Very fitting. But when he plays a husband/father, i.e. a typical guy, it just doesn't wash. This is one of many movies where a successful, hard-working but uptight businessman (Short) learns how to become a flake in order to be liked by his family. Kurt Russell (resembling a goofy-stoner Snake Plissken) is the title character who pilots a boat Short was left by his dead uncle. Short and his family has to sail from the Caribbean to Florida in order to sell the boat for a lot of money because it once belonged to Clark Gable, or something... And the scraggily, hopeless Ron is their only hope. Along this journey our heroes encounter smugglers, bad weather, and a bevy of semi-chuckle situations that keep this boat floating, but only in shallow waters.

FLIRTING WITH FORTY

title: FLIRTING WITH FORTY
year: 2008
cast: Heather Locklear
rating: **

The plot centers on a newly divorced mother who goes to Hawaii and has an affair with a hulky hunky surfer, who resembles Kirk Cameron on steroids. There should have been more situations with older ugly guys picking up on her before she meets her superman... I mean, superboy, but it happens much too quick. They have sex and everything is wonderful, but he's more into the enviornment than making money. And she has to either come around to think like him, or move on with her life. Not bad for complete fluff.

CROSS OF IRON

year: 1977
cast: James Coburn, James Mason, Maximilian Schell, David Warner
rating: *****

Follows a war-weary German corporal named Steiner, played wonderfully by James Coburn, who goes up against a pretentious commander played by Maximilian Schell, who wants nothing more than a cross of iron: a symbol of bravery in battle. And Schell, hiding in a bunker giving orders from under a table during attacks, will do anything to get one... that is, except fight. A scene involving Coburn's character suffering hallucinations after getting a concussion is perhaps the most incredibly edited scene in film history. There is plenty of action and a ton of Bloody Sam's famous slow-motion deaths, but what really stands out are the characters, dialog, and overall theme: that war is hell. This is Sam Peckinpah's last true classic film. He did so much with so little money. The mark of a true, legendary genius.

THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE

year: 1970
cast: Jason Robards, Stella Stevens, David Warner, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones
rating: ***

A little Western fable about an old drifter named Cable Hogue (Jason Robards) who is left for dead in the desert by two criminals (L.Q. Jones and Strother Martin) who steal his water. Cable wanders around mumbling to God to save him, and then finds water bubbling under the earth. David Warner plays a promiscuous travelling preacher who happens upon the waterhole. Cable leaves him there to guard his find, goes into town to put a claim on his new land where he meets wary bankers and a hooker with a heavenly body and a heart of gold, Stella Stevens. It's somewhat mediocre for a Sam Peckinpah film, but above-average for a mellow anti-Western... That is, if it weren't a Peckinpah piece carrying-in those kind of pre-set expectations, it would have possibly fared better to fans of the Western genre. Then again, since it's so different and non-violent, perhaps without the Peck stamp it would have vanished entirely.

MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE

year: 1975
rating: ***1/2

The downside to this movie is there's not enough of that red beenie taking off heads, but in its place we get a whole lotta kung fu in a contest: one-on-one fights to the death, much like "Enter the Dragon", only here we get guys with elongated arms (very cool) and men who can walk on walls. Plot centers on a one-armed karate teacher who's being sought out by an old blind bearded assassin - the Master of the Flying Guillotine - who wants him dead for killing two of his friends, and he twirls his blade-cap at anyone else with one arm. There's an uneven sporatic mix between English subtitles and the classic mismatched dubbing, flickery lighting and other such technical "flaws" happen frequently but only add to the cult appeal. The music is fantastic, the direction incredible, and there's a bevy of kung-fu fights, tons of killing, and a pretty nifty plot making this one of the greatest - if funnest to watch - martial arts fantasies ever produced.

MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON

Year: 1984
Cast: Robin Williams, Elya Baskin, Maria Conchita Alonso
Score: ***1/2

Plot centers on a Russian saxophonist, part of a Russian circus troupe, who defects on a trip to New York in, of all places, Bloomingdale's. The first thirty minutes center in the Soviet Union where we experience the horror and hopelessness of living under communist rule, and then the last hour or so centers on America, where there's a lot of poverty too, but unlike Russia, there's a glimmer of hope. Elya Baskin, who plays Williams Russian buddy - a clown in the circus - who implanted the desire to defect but then gets sidetracked at the last moment, all but makes the film. His initial catapult is omnipresent. And Williams is cool and natural as a Russian, with an accent that never falters. This is more proof that the beloved funnyman can be a terrific actor when he's got the right script.

HOWARD THE DUCK

title: HOWARD THE DUCK
year: 1986
cast: Leah Thompson, Tim Robbins, Jeffrey Jones
rating: *

Okay, so, the first part isn't that great... it isn't even good... but it's watchable, somehow: so bad it's good as Howard the Duck is thrust from his planet onto ours. Meets a beautiful rock star and then things go downhill as they find a professor, Tim Robbins, who calls in an important scientist, Jefferey Jones. Jones is possessed by an evil alien and tears apart a diner in one of the unnecessarily longest scenes in history. The movie — based on the Marvel comic books that were a lot more risque and humorous — takes too much time centering on an actual plot: the evil scientist trying to kill the cigar chomping duck. An addictive element of the comic is that it didn't center on one particular tale but instead went berserk with various zany, wonderfully stupid adventures. But this disaster dwells too much on one element — that's very boring.

SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME

year: 1978
rating: ***

After John Carpenter shot to stardom with the groundbreaking horror film "Halloween", a made-for-TV movie was the next step... Huh? But it's not bad. Plot centers on a director played by Lauren Hutton - the David Letterman of supermodels - who is, as the title implies, being watched by someone in the building across from her own. Some of the dialog is silly and the characters aren't fleshed out, but the pace keeps flowing, the tension mounts well, and there's that neat Carpenter steady-cam throughout (although sadly there's no spooky-synth Carpenter score). At times this feels like a theatrical thriller edited-for-television; other times it's like watching a TV movie that, with more work, could have made it to the big screen. All in all it's a Hitchcock homage, but looks more like a Brian DePalma-doing-Hitchock. Either way, "Someone's Watching Me" is not too shabby for a small screen effort. Hardcore JC fans shouldn't be dissapointed.

MY SCIENCE PROJECT

year: 1985
rating: **

Hippie-burnout Dennis Hopper plays a hippie-burnout but as an ex-political science teacher who is about to flunk a slacker student played by John Stockwell, who'd rather fix cars in auto shop than to create a science project. Stockwell joins a nerdy girl and his confident Italian buddy Fisher Stevens and they find a contraption in a shut-down army barracks: that just happens to be created by aliens and dumped by the military in the fifties. With the devise they head back home and, because of it, Stockwell's car breaks down and so does the movie: becoming a cold-war science-fiction yawner that makes little to no sense, and involves time travel that, in most cases, is an intriguing concept... but not here. The only place I wanted to travel back too is the first twenty minutes as the film was being set up: that was at least entertaining.

THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI

title: THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI: ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION
year: 1984
cast: Peter Weller, John Lithgow
rating: ***

Some movies are so bad they're good. Others are so strange they're interesting. This is the latter. So much happens, and with such originality and outrageousness, that's it's tough not to at least enjoy Buckaroo. It centers on a doctor in the future who has found a way of travelling through a mountain, thus entering the 8th dimension. Aliens find out about this and want him to save their race; other aliens find out and want to kill him. Buckaroo's band (literally a music group) consisting of strangely dressed men playing really bad music, have to save the day... while escaping the bad guys. The music is so bad it's funny, but most of Banzai centers on action and it's done quite well. It won't bore you. But alas, at a certain point, villain John Lithgow chews so much scenery there's hardly anything left for the rest of the eclectic cast.

THE CLONES

year: 1972
cast: Michael Greene, Michael Greene, Otis Young, Gregory Sierra
rating: **1/2

Who knew there was a genre called "Psychedelic Action". There isn't, technically, but this 1972 science/fiction chase film can be described no other way. The camera angles and music alone give it the "psychedelic" tag; and there is plenty of action. The entire film, in fact, is one long chase involving a scientist who's been cloned... or is he a clone who thinks he's the scientist. Michael Greene stars and plays duo-roles. Greene is best known as Albert Brooks' boss in "Lost In America". He played Robert Downey's uncle in "Less Than Zero" and a biker who beats up Woody Allen in "Play It Again Sam". He's tall, kind of storky looking, a unique character actor... and this is his only starring role. Gregory Sierra (who played the Puerto Rican goat-owning next door neighbor in "Sanford and Son") and Otis Young (Nicholson's buddy in "The Last Detail") play F.B.I. agents on Greene's tail. And what more can I say... if you like trippy camera angles, weird music, and a two hour chase scene, this is your cup.

ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO

year: 2008
cast: Seth Rogan, Elizabeth Banks
rating: ***

The latest "romp" by Kevin Smith about two platonic friends - a guy and a girl - who decide to make a porno because they can't pay the rent is basically an uninhibited "When Harry Met Sally". The jokes aren't hilarious but smiles are aplenty. Seth Rogan plays "Zack", a dryly sarcastic fat plain looking guy (not a stretch) who knows exactly what and who he is; and Elizabeth Banks plays "Miri", the dream girl template that adorns most of Smith's films: she's not only hot, she's really cool. Basically, all the over-the-top sexual material is a masquerade for a very familiar romantic comedy plot: "two friends become lovers, fall in love, and complications arise". And in that, it's not too shabby.

THE AVIATOR


title: THE AVIATOR
year: 2004
cast: Leonardo DiCaprio
director: Martin Scorsese
rating: *1/2

The history of this man, Howard Hughes, was open game. We all know he was a kooky guy, but no one knows exactly what he did when he was alone. So Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio could go crazy with it. Urine jars lining a messy room where Howard won't touch anything, having locked himself inside, writhing bloody on the floor watching his own films. Or Hughes snapping off the grid and repeating the same word over and over in front of his employees. Or madly washing his hands with his own soap in public restrooms. None of this stuff fits within any interesting plot. It seems a distraction. And DiCaprio tries hard, but simply doesn't seem like a grownup, much less a famous one. Meanwhile, what the movie's about and why Scorsese worshiped Hughes in the first place was his aerial directorial shots from HELLS ANGELS: scenes so C.G.I. it hardly seems related to anything about when special effects were practical, and brilliant.

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

year: 2008
rating: *

The plot is liken to that of a porno: two hot women travel to Barcelona, Spain and meet a studly artist Javier Bardem, and this big lug invites them to bed. One of the friends, Vicky, who is inhibited and structured, doesn't want to hop in the sack with this guy after knowing him for a good twenty seconds. But wild free-spirited Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) has the hots for him. They all travel by plane to his villa (how does this freewheeling artist in a socialist country have so much money without a real job?) and as fate would have it, Cristina gets sick, thus leaving the reluctant Vicky and the artist alone, and eventually they have sex in a park after he woos her by taking her to listen to a Spanish guitar player and Bardem's dangerous ex wife Penelope Cruz, who he had been talking about throughout the movie, and who'd just attempted suicide, and is now going to live in the same house. So now do we finally have a plot? Hardly. This is a complete mess from beginning to end.

MELVIN PURVIS G-MAN

title: MELVIN PURVIS G-MAN
year: 1974
cast: Dale Robertson, Harris Yulin, Steve Kanaly, Margaret Blye
rating: **

John Milius's "Dillinger" (1973) has everything you'll ever want in a gangster flick with a thousand bullets to spare. Warren Oates plays Dillinger and Ben Johnson plays Melvin Purvis, both to perfection. A year after the 1973 theatrical hit, Milius figured Purvis's story needed more coverage, and we get it here with this TV-movie written by Milius and starring Dale Robertson in the title role. But there's not enough Purvis and too much of the bad guys, who are, as opposed to John Dillinger: Machine Gun Kelly and his gang of bickering villains. So this is more or less a prequel to "Dillinger", and being that it was made for TV, it falls flat on many levels. While Harris Yulin is a dependable actor, his portrayal of Kelly borders on silly. Although the climax before the climax - a shootout between the G-Men and the thugs, is fairly good, reminiscent of the Milius film. All-in-all there's nothing gained/nothing lost here, 'cept an hour fifteen minutes where you could have watched something better.

METEOR

title: METEOR
year: 1979
cast: Sean Connery, Brian Keith, Natalie Wood, Martin Landau
rating: *

This shows us how a meteor could destroy the earth... kind of. Almost every scene takes place in a stuffy underground technical room. While latter-films "Armagedden" and "Deep Impact" had astronauts blasting off to blow things up, all the actors here stand around and talk about it. A scene involving Russian and American missles flying side-by-side to attack the meteor is one of the unintenionally funniest scenes in history. Otherwise worthwhile actors like Connery, Brian Keith (as a humble Russian Czar... kind of a Soviet Teddy Rosevelt), Natalie Wood (as Connery's sorta love interest), and Karl Malden overact to the hilt... especially Martin Landau as an evil American General (aren't all American Generals evil in Hollywood films?). If you like horrendous big-budget disasters, this is just what the doctor ordered.

ZARDOZ

title: ZARDOZ
year: 1974
cast: Sean Connery
director: John Boorman
rating: *

If you want to see Sean Connery wearing nothing but red bikini underwear and long boots, and grunting his dialog, this is your cup. The movie is set in the future that resembles the middle ages. Centers on a gruff gladiator "outlander" who kills for his god, "Zardoz". He then hitches a ride on the giant statue head that flies around, which is worshipped by the "outlanders" and whose name is... you got it, Zardoz. During the flight he unintentionally kills the wizard who mans the flying-head, and then he lands in a place where beautiful women and sterile men (also beautiful) live in a big white castle. It's here Connery becomes an imprisoned banal stud in a world of ruling-class intellectual softies. This is a John Boorman film, and a bad one at that. Bill McKinney raping Ned Beatty in "Deliverance" - Boorman's only masterpiece - was less uncomfortable than watching this embarressing travesty. One wonders why it was even made, or why Connery agreed to it. It's supposed to have a deep message about religion and its followers, but the only message I got was that Connery would do anything for a buck.

NIGHT TIDE

title: NIGHT TIDE
year: 1961
cast: Dennis Hopper, Linda Lawson, Luana Anders, Gavin Muir
director: Curtis Harrington
rating: ***1/2

Many early sixties movies had quick, choppy dialog, a million dissolves (scenes fading in and out), and didn't know exactly what they wanted to be. But this, an independant 1961 low-low budget film, knows exactly what it is, even if the audience isn't sure. In Venice Beach a sailor meets a women in a bar who works at a carnival as a mermaid in what seems like a fake attraction. But she might really be a mermaid, i.e. a siren... and men she's dated have turned up dead. A young cupid-faced Dennis Hopper is fun to watch as the gullible love-sick sailor. He won't listen to all the warnings he's given about her track record. Let's face it, the guy is hooked. It's nice seeing Hopper as a normal person, not a burn-out, weirdo or psychopath. The B&W cinematography is gorgeous, the dialog is tight, and the other performances are also very good, including the lovely Linda Lawson as the seductive vixen who might be a water nymph, or murderess, or both.

CLUB PARADISE

title: CLUB PARADISE
year: 1986
cast: Robin Williams, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy
rating: **1/2

There are certain comedies, most of them from the eighties, that aren't very funny. But they're worth watching because the story evolves, the characters are witty, and a lot of things happen to keep you interested. You have a fireman played by Robin Williams (in a surprisingly subdued role) who gets blown out of a window, collects insurance, and moves to a tropical island. He bums around there a while until he, in aiding his friend who is about to lose his hotel, revamps the place as Club Paradise... which is really a dump. Director Harold Ramis throws enough stuff out there, so some are bound to land. And some things do... at least enough to make it worth watching. Especially a misplaced Peter O'Toole in another desert, but with a nicer climate and softer sunshine. 

BREWSTER'S MILLIONS

title: BREWSTER'S MILLIONS
year: 1985
cast: Richard Pryor, John Candy, Peter Jason, Pat Hingle
director: Walter Hill
rating: ***

In this Walter Hill comedy (who's usually known for action), a whole lot happens, but not much lands. Although it doesn't seem to matter. The stuff that happens is entertaining enough, and things move as briskly and fast-paced as if this were an action film. An action-comedy. I don't mean "action-comedy" in the "Midnight Run" sense - meaning there's no actual adventure going on - but the comedic timing, the delivery of lines, and the running-around-frenzy of the characters provide enough movement to cover up the main flaw: that it's not very funny. Richard Pryor plays a minor league baseball player who inherits a lot of money and has to spend a million dollars a day for thirty days without having any assets to show for it, and then he'll inherit 300 million. The plot itself will keep the viewer drawn: will he reach the end of the rainbow with success?

GUNG-HO

title: GUNG-HO
year: 1986
cast: Michael Keaton, George Wendt, Gedde Watanabe
rating: ***1/2

An epic-scope small town comedy, "Gung Ho" centers on a Japanese car company that moves into a shut-down underwear factory. Michael Keaton plays the guy who set it all up and made it happen (in a great rudimentary sequence in Japan), and whose reputation relies on saving the town from going bankrupt. Dating alpha female Mimi Rogers, working with buddy George Wendt and trying hard to continue working for Gedde Watanabe as an imported Japanese plant manager, the laughs aren't plentiful but it's still a decent comedy. While individual jokes don't make it work, the situations Keaton gets in... digging himself deeper and deeper in a hole and his reactions along the way, are what pulls it all through. Vastly underrated, albeit a little uneven, it's one of director Ron Howard's best. 

EAST OF EDEN

year: 1981
cast: Timothy Bottoms, Jane Seymour, Sam Bottoms
rating: ***1/2

Although flawed, this is a sometimes delicious soap operetic version of the novel, covering almost everything in the book in three parts. Timothy Bottoms plays Adam Trask, Warren Oates his father: they both do a wonderful job as both are wonderful actors. Oates gives the movie a great jump-start, and Timothy Bottoms takes the reigns nicely. Bruce Boxlitner as Charles Trask... well, let's just say he wasn't great, but wasn't bad either. He can pull-off the sexy-lonely-stud aspect in the bedroom scenes, but doesn't seem mean enough, scary enough, or tough enough for the other scenes involving the sibling rivalry. But the story is classic and this adaptation sticks to it nicely. And it was a nice treat seeing Timothy Carey in a cameo: playing a screaming tent-preacher. Carey, one of the greatest cult actors of all time, played a bodyguard in the original film who beats up James Dean, star of the 1955 film that, centering on the last quarter of the novel, pales in comparison.

YES MAN

title: YES MAN
year: 2008
cast: Jim Carrey
rating: ***

While it isn't fulla huge belly-laughs, it's provides some light chuckles. Carrey's glib, surly, bitter character goes to a motivational speaker (Terrance Stamp) to get more out of life: he isn't hypnotized but rather, is told to simply say yes: and that if he says no, bad things will happen. So he says yes and ends up meeting the girl of his dreams. Getting the job of his dreams. And finding fulfillment in taking on life instead of avoiding it. But he also lands in a lot of trouble. And it's all a very entertaining rehash of "Liar Liar", but seems completely new somehow.

THE BREAK-UP

title: THE BREAK-UP
cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Aniston, Judy Davis, Peter Billingsly
year: 2006
rating: *

The only thing more uncomfortable than an actual breakup is watching this movie. We get five minutes of Vince Vaughn doing his best... Vince Vaughn imitation, picking up on Jennifer Anniston at a Cubs game using that dependable wily, lovable-slob charm he's built a career on. The entire movie, about a couple that breaks up (duh!), drags like a dying elephant with nowhere to go, not even a decent burial ground.

D.A.R.Y.L.

title: D.A.R.Y.L.
year: 1985
cast: Barrett Oliver, Michael McKean, Mary Beth Hurt, Josef Sommer, Colleen Camp
rating: **

Daryl has some sort of amnesia and very special powers. He can play piano without having played before, and most importantly, he can hit a baseball right out of the park. The scenes involving Daryl (played nicely by Barrett Oliver), his foster parents, and his buddy "Turtle" - who's the comic relief here - are wonderful. Then, something happens. Fifty minutes through - just as the audience is getting into the rhythm of a very laid-back fish-outta-water story... Daryl is picked up by his "real parents", who turn out to be the scientists who "created" him. Daryl's name is actually spelled D.A.R.Y.L., which stands for "Data Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform" (imagine his teacher reading that name off in role-call). At this point it's all downhill and keeps going down, further and further till you just don't care if little D becomes a pile of scrap metal or if he finds a new life as a "real boy". More family fun and less formidable military evil and this would have been a terrific movie.

THE FISHER KING

title: THE FISHER KING
year: 1991
cast: Jeff Bridges, Robin William, Mercedes Ruehl
rating: ***

This is a magical film... that works. Nothing compares to its weird bravado and chaotic characters and no movie, in taking this big a risk in merging so many aspects, has succeeded as well. The plot centers on a shock jock radio guy played by Jeff Bridges (basically playing Howard Stern without the charm or humor) whose advice to a lonely man causes this man to kill people in a restaurant. Bridges sees the news report of the deaths (mentioning that he is the cause), mutters the f-word, and the film skips forward several years as he's working for his girlfriend in a video store (that rents VHS movies... ever heard of those?). His girlfriend is played by Mercedes Ruehl, in what I consider one of the best supporting roles ever. She firmly stands by her man as he slumps around hating the world and tries pushing him to succeed at the same time. She never goes over-the-top but she gives a very, very dramatic, charismatic performance which, in the hands of a less dependable actress, could have easily gone hammy. Director Terry Gilliam is at his best: not too kooky, not too normal; but normal enough and kooky enough to create a brand new genre of film: "urban fantasy"... and giving it a good name.

MEET WALLY SPARKS

title: MEET WALLY SPARKS
year: 1996
cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Cindy Williams
rating: *1/2

Rodney Dangerfield died in 2004, but his movie career died after "Back to School", which was his crowning cinematic achievement. He helped turn "Caddyshack" into a classic . His next venture, "Easy Money", although flawed, had some great moments. And "Back to School" was the peak. Then something happened. Or didn't happen. In 1992 he starred in "Ladybugs", a kid's movie about a cross-dressing teenager playing on a girl's soccor team. Then, four years later, he made this film about a controversial talk show host: a cross between Geraldo Rivera, Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and... Rodney Dangerfield. The plot centers on the title character "Wally Sparks", as he offends sensors, producers, religious groups and a put-upon governer with the same kind of one-liners that "Al Czervick" used on posh country club elits and grungy caddies; that "Monty Capuletti" used on his family and drinking buddies; and that Thornton Melon used on just about everyone... but the lines in "Sparks" just aren't funny. Either that, or Rodney had reached the age where they didn't seem real. It's as if all the barbs were merely written down and memorized.

EXPLORERS

year: 1986
cast: Ethan Hawke, River Phoenix
rating: *1/2

Joe Dante was a good director before this movie, and River Phoenix and Ethan Hawke were good actors after. There in-between lies a science-fiction fantasy about three dull young boys who build a spaceship out of garbage and with some kind of computer creating a forcefield around it, they fly around. There's plenty of tricks but no magic. Joe Dante seems as if he were trying for another "Gremlins", but perhaps without Steven Speilberg producing, doing a Speilbergian film doesn't quite work. It's at least somewhat entertaining until the bottom falls out and the spaceship (named after the Bruce Springsteen song "Thunder Road") graduates past crashing into drive-in theaters and goes to another planet inhabited by big silly looking monsters. Then all goes to hell; that which wasn't heaven to begin with.

THE RAZOR'S EDGE

year: 1984
cast: Bill Murray, Brian-Doyle Murray, Theresa Russell
rating: *1/2

Years before Bill Murray got "Lost in Translation" with an Oscar nod, thus being taken seriously as a serious actor, he was at the peak of his comedic talents in the early eighties, and he forced the studio into allowing him to star in "The Razor's Edge", the story (based on a novel by M. Somerset Maugham) about a turn-of-the-century slacker who winds up - after a stint as an ambulance driver in war overseas (ala Ernest Hemingway) - getting tired of high society and seeks wisdom in the mountains of Tibet. What you just read was a run-on sentence, and this is a run-on movie. The rich people are self-absorbed and unlikeable, and the working-class are nice and snuggly. The only decent part of the film has Bill's brother Brian-Doyle, who proves worthy of a character-actor who can act dramatically with ease, playing a rough-and-tumble sergeant during the war segment. Murray wouldn't do "Ghostbusters" unless the studio funded this for him... so at least we got to enjoy that film. This one's a dreadful bore with no enlightenment in sight.

FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR

title: FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR
year: 1986
cast: Joey Cramer, Cliff DeYoung
director: Randall Kleiser
rating: **

You'd think a movie about a boy who flies around in a giant silver bean dip bowl would be completely awful, but it's only partially awful. The first fifty minutes is quite good actually. A boy is wandering in the woods, he falls down a ravine, and when he wakes up, it's eight years later. His parents are older, and his little brother is his big brother. He ends up being taken to a NASA outpost where they do tests on his brain. He has the intellect of a brilliant alien. They give him a room and then he gets "called" to, that's right, the giant silver bean dip bowl - actually a space ship - that the government is keeping in a hanger. He escapes from his room riding in a robotic butler, goes to the hanger, and climbs aboard the ship. At this point the good half of the film has run its course. Inside the vessel is a metallic... something-or-rather, kind of a steering wheel with a personality, which begins speaking to him... and get this... it's Pee Wee Herman's voice. Imagine Mel Blanc providing the voice of "Hall 9000" and you'll get the concept.

SAN QUENTIN

title: SAN QUENTIN
year: 1946
cast: Lawrence Tierney
director: Gordon Douglas
rating: *

"Reservoir Dogs" introduced me to Lawrence Tierney. Like Tim Roth's character says about him (pp): "He looks like The Thing". So true. The old Tierney does in fact look as if he were made of giant stones. But when you go back fifty years, you find another kind of superhero altogether: a thin, good looking one that's still tough as nails. In the forties, Tierney starred in many classic low-budget noirs: including "Dillinger", "Devil Thumbs a Ride", "Kill or Be Killed", "The Bodyguard", and "Born to Kill", and unlike those mentioned, this one stinks. First off, the title is misleading. This has almost nothing to do with "San Quentin". It's not a prison flick. Wouldn't it be great if it centered on Tierney playing a tough convict (which he was in real life)? That's what most would assume with the title and the star. But Larry plays an ex-con who's a really nice guy who's tracking down a couple escaped cons - not nice guys - who are giving other ex-cons a bad name. This film noir entry (or in this case, film snore) is a complete dud. Lock this turkey up and throw away the key.

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