WAITRESS

title: WAITRESS
year: 2007
cast: Keri Russell, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith, Adrienne Shelly
writer/director: Adrienne Shelly
rating: ***

After learning of HEXED actress Adrienne Shelley's murder, I rented her only directorial effort (in which she also co-stars and wrote). For a chick flick it delivers. The main character, a waitress, played by cute Keri Russell, is a great pie maker and creates pies for every event in her life, sometimes for real and other times in her mind. She has an abusive husband and has a surprisingly lustfull affair with a nice married doctor. She puts up with an old crabby customer, played by Andy Griffith, who happens to own the diner, and after awhile our heroine wins him over. It's a pleasant film that at times suffers from its own contrived oddity, but in the end there's no bad aftertaste. It's quite sweet actually if that's what you're after.

END OF THE WORLD

aka: Apocalypse Terre
large earth disruption year: 1977
cast: Sue Lyon, Kirk Scott, Kathe Cunha
seismograph reading: ***1/2

Christopher Lee as a cloned priest who's really a bug-eyed alien. He lives in a monastery with cloned nuns and are planning the end of the world. A scientist (Kirk Scott, the buried lead) discovers something is off in his read-outs, which says Large Earth Disruption, and takes his pretty dingbat blond wife Sue Lyon out to investigate the monastery where the mysterious data originates. This is a sci-fi road movie that's dull, and yet is not too bad; that is, it's fun to relax and enjoy the nothingness of it all. And it's a helluva step-up from Sue Lyon's other seventies sci-fi MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD. This film is a time-waster when you have nothing to waste but time, and the ending is very predictable, especially if you keep the title in mind.

THE OCTAGON


title: THE OCTAGON
year: 1980
cast: Chuck Norris, Lee Van Cleef
rating: ***

Twice now I've rented eighties Chuck Norris flicks because of the curiosity factor concerning two dead actors. "Lone Wolf McQuade" because of David Carradine and this one because of Lee Van Cleef, famous for "Angel Eyes" in "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly". Cleef isn't in it much but Norris sure fights a lot of really quick Ninjas, and that's all that really matters here. The plot gets a bit convoluted but doesn't slow things down. There are good enough character-actors (other than Cleef) who make up for Norris's ever-wooden acting, and fists abound. The low point is a very cheesy inner-thought dialog that Norris has with himself, sounding like something from a bad science-fiction spoof. Other than that, we have action, we have Norris, and for the most part... it is good.

MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD

alt title: CLOCKWORK TERROR
cast: Sue Lyon, Christopher Mitchum
year: 1973 rating: *1/2

Beware of this film that considers itself an Italian A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, ironically starring Stanley Kubrick's LOLITA, Sue Lyon, as a nurse set in the future where young people drink a blue liquid and go on killing sprees. The film itself mentions A CLOCKWORK ORANGE on a TV show, which is supposed to make it seem as if the violent society of the film itself is so into the controversial cult phenomenon that they're imitating it. A weak yet creative enough ploy to make it seem as if it's not a blatant ripoff. It's bad. Bad, bad, bad, and then some. Also known as TO LOVE, PERHAPS TO DIE, check out END OF THE WORLD for a decent if far more original Sue Lyon futuristic-exploitation flick. 

STRICTLY BACKGROUND

title: STRICTLY BACKGROUND
year: 2007
cast: Terry Bolo, Tafan Nieves
director: Jason Connell
rating: ****

A lot of documentaries centering on people trying really hard for something that seems unattainable will secretly poke fun at its subjects, but not this film, which in a completely unbias manner centers on a handful of Hollywood extras as they struggle to get work in a very tough industry; and along the way, dreaming of a possible "discovery" that will shoot them above the fray. If you ever thought "background artist" was just a politically-correct name for "extras" (like "custodial arts" for janitors), after watching this you'll realize just how fitting the term is. Clips of each subject is shown in the films they appear; each film is in black and white and the extra in color so you can find them easily, ranging from "Carrie" to "The Shawshank Redemption". "Strictly Background" is a celebration of the working-class members of Hollywood as they shed blood, sweat and tears to remain SOMEWHERE in the camera lens. You end up not feeling sorry for the protagonists, but like you're struggling - and celebrating - right along with them.

THE SERPENT'S EGG

title: THE SERPENT'S EGG
year: 1977
cast: David Carradine, Liv Ullman
director: Igmar Bergman
rating: *1/2

Since the death of David Carradine I've been catching up on the films I've never seen. This particular effort directed by the iconic Igmar Bergman ("The Seventh Seal") isn't something I'd recomend for Carradine OR Bergman fans. It's a boring, ponderous examination of Germany right before the full-scale Nazi rule; hence the title, relating to the egg before it's hatched the serpent, Hitler. Carradine's acting is wooden. He speaks in the same slow manner as "Caine" in "Kung Fu", which fits that show but not this movie. Carradine, a jewish trapez artist, wanders from one sad situation to the next in the wake of a friend's suicide, and soon realizes, as the Nazi reign progresses, that suicide wasn't such a bad idea. Too bad the audience feels the same way.

ACROSS 110th STREET

title: ACROSS 110TH STREET
year: 1973
cast: Anthony Quinn, Yaphet Kotto, Paul Benjiman, Ed Bernard, Antonio Fargas
rating: ****

Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Kotto play two cops as contrary as can be: Quinn an aged, street-smart veteran Captain and Kotto as a politically-correct Lt. ready to take over Quinn's charge. After butting heads the duo end up working together to find three junky theives before the mob - lead by Anthony Francisco in hammy glory - finds and kills them. The camerawork is top-notch as is the acting, especially Paul Benjiman, Ed Bernar, and Antonio Fargas as the junkies, in way over their heads. The Quinn/Kotto story is really second-tier to that of the crooks and the mob, but it's a strong foundation: holding together a frantic, often compulsive film that holds back very little. And a strong soundtrack by Bobby Womack is a plus (the title song used by Quentin Tarantino in his own "blaxploitation" film "Jackie Brown"). And on the black/white urban-to-city sidelines, gravelly-voiced Richard Ward as a bookie-type with info, and put-upon mob brother-in-law Anthony Franciosa who needs info, fast, butt heads wonderfully.

LONE WOLF McQUADE

title: LONE WOLF McQUADE
year: 1983
cast: Chuck Norris, David Carradine, Robert Beltran, L.Q. Jones, R.G. Armstrong
rating: ***1/2

Borrowing the Spagetthi Western whistling music ala Ennio Morricone gives Chuck Norris a pass; he doesn't have to act, he can just BE the badass with a few close-ups and that familiar music, which embodies blood, guns, and tons of action (in this case, martial arts style). The head baddie David Carradine doesn't say much but we get to see him doing some real kung fu. All in all this is one of the best Chuck Norris films. It flows terrifically from tight, simple dialog to dropkicking action; and the quick-punch editing gives a Sam Peckinpahesque quality: the quicker you get back to the fighting, the better.

JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK

year: 2003
rating: *

I can't imagine "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" without Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn), or "Animal House" without John Belushi, but having films centering solely on those characters probably wouldn't fare as good as the films in which they serve as iconic mascots used sporadically. The same thing can be said of Jay and Silent Bob, the two stoners from "Clerks" and a bevy of other Kevin Smith films, in which they're used whenever needed, for "comic relief", as it were. Put them in a film of their own and look what happens: a complete mess, ending up even worse than Smith's disaster "Mall Rats". The duo go on a road trip to Hollywood, meeting the unfunniest characters in history along the way, and once they arrive, it gets even worse, if that's possible.

THE WRESTLER

title: THE WRESTLER
year: 2008
cast: Mickey Rourke
rating: *

The director doesn't know whether he's making a documentary-type film or a underdog story with a documentary style. The documentary style doesn't work because the subplot involving Rourke and his daughter seems too "movieish" and cliche-ridden, as does his relationship with stripper Marissa Tomei: dialog out of a late night cable movie. Meanwhile, every other actor, like his boss, his opponents in the ring, his managers, all seem out of a droll documentary: boring, uninteresting, and seemingly purposefully mundane. With all its trying for originality, this is basically a wannabe "Rocky", but there's no Burt Young or Burgess Meredith or Carl Weathers to carry our hero: a professional wrestler past his prime who loves bad hairband heavy metal music, and has a life without purpose, like the film itself.

LAST CHANCE HARVEY

title: LAST CHANCE HARVEY
year: 2008
cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson
rating: ***1/2
In this nifty indie gem the great Hoffman's given new life, perhaps because of the neat, tight little script and unpretentious directing... sort of a modern fable... about a jingle writer who travels to England for his somewhat estranged daughter's wedding and meets the girl next door type, Emma Thompson. Together these two lonesome characters realize love isn't about lust and passion, but having someone there. "American Beauty" paved the way for these mid-life fables and they don't always work, but this does beautifully. I'm hoping "Last Chance Harvey" is a new path for Hoffman; perhaps his niche lies in indie films from now on... I'll keep my fingers crossed.

COACH OF THE YEAR

title: COACH OF THE YEAR
year: 1983
cast: Robert Conrad, Erin Gray
rating: **1/2

TV movie with Robert Conrad as an ex. football player turned Vietnam vet who becomes paralized from the waist down and wants to coach for his old team the Chicago Bears. They want to give him a soft job doing PR work but he won't have it, he wants to coach. His nephew is a bad seed and ends up at a slightly harsher juvy hall and Conrad ends up coaching football to the bad kids. Cliche-ridden, sure... but this underdog story has enough good points, and its heart in the right place, to make it decently entertaining.

BEDTIME STORIES

title: BEDTIME STORIES
cast: Adam Sandler
year: 2008
rating: ***

The difference between an Adam Sandler film produced by his own Happy Madison and one produced by Disney is, in this case, the Disney film flows a little better, is cleaner, and has a CGI hampster as one of the main characters. Film centers on a guy who reads bedtime stories to his neice and nephew and they end up coming true; at least the theme and plot elements... and in turn better his horrible life: he works as a custodian at a posh hotel that his father once owned when it was small and ran into the ground. There are good guys and bad guys and some pretty decent laughs, but nothing hilarious happens; although this doesn't matter because it's a bedtime story of a film: relaxing, laidback and unassuming, on purpose.

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