RED LINE 7000

title: RED LINE 7000
year: 1965
cast: James Caan
director: Howard Hawks
rating: ****

The greatest banal film ever made. I enjoyed every damn minute of it. It's dated, it's silly, and it's awesome. Cutting back and forth from stock car racing shots (never sure who's in the lead) to the "behind-the-scenes" dramas as the fickle, egotistical racers play upon a bevy of gorgeous, and troubled, female admirers. The funny thing is, you actually get into the life of these guys (and gals) more than most of the big-budget car race flicks made since. Howard Hawks does a whole lot with very little (no surprise!). And James Caan is a treat in a very natural performance, so laid-back you forget he's in an "old movie": reminiscent of the non-acting-acting style of Marlon Brando (who would be his "(god)father" a few years later). Terrific, unpretentious fun, worthy of its endearing cult status. And I realize that most women are beautiful in movies - which is WHY they're in movies - but these girls are SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY.

THE ODD COUPLE 2

year: 1996
rating: *

The sound of a trumpet played by a pro: rich, vibrant, and beautiful. The sound of the trumpet's mouthpiece, no matter who's playing it, sounds like a... raspberry. That's exactly what this film, the sequel to the symbolic "trumpet" THE ODD COUPLE, is. Plot has Felix Unger (Lemmon) and Oscar Madison (Matthau) on a car trip to the wedding of Oscar's son and Felix's wife. Neil Simon throws in all the road-comedy cliche and then some - basically everything you saw in TRAINS, PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES but without the humor. Well there's humor but it isn't funny. The main problem is, Felix isn't really a futz and Oscar isn't really a slob... or maybe we just can't tell because they're on the road overcoming "obstacles" instead of living together. The duo are hardly at ODDS because they're in the same boat (car) and have to rely on each other: thus killing the premise of not getting along because of contrasting personalities. A better idea for a sequel would have been: Oscar and Felix living in a rural town spending idle time ice-fishing and then fall in love with a woman who... oops, that's been done (GRUMPY OLD MEN). Really though, all joking aside... this could very well be the worst sequel ever made.

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY

year: 1993
cast: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Peter Vaughan, Christopher Reeve
rating: ***

There's a funny/clever scene in Kevin Smith's CLERKS as the characters are debating whether the construction workers of the second Death Star (in STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI) were in cahoots with the Empire. After all, one guy points out, they're just hired labour. Does the same thing go for the butler of a Nazi sympathizer? He's just working there, right? This is an interesting film for about twenty-five minutes as we see the inner workings of the "help" in a British Mansion owned by Lord Darlington (James Fox), who, we learn - as the film progresses - is in cahoots with the Nazis (he wants England to deal with Germany on their terms, not fight them on England's). Anthony Hopkins, as the main character, plays the butler who remains (get it?) at Darlington's service no matter what kind of pro-German/anti-Jewish conversations arise during lunch or dinner. He's there to work, not pay attention. The audience isn't that lucky, having to be thrust into politics instead of learning more about the people the film is supposed to be about: how they work, what their lives are like - their ups, downs, and arounds. This entire pre-war main story is really a flashback - as the "present day" post-war story has Hopkins, now working for the mansion's new owner - an American dilpomat played by Christopher Reeve - going on a "vacation" to find Emma Thompson, who had worked alongside him. When they finally meet there's an awkward, dull conversation about the grand years before Lord Darlington sided with the Nazis... the only problem for the audience is: we didn't get to live in that world very long before the Nazi subplot, which much too quickly becomes the main plot, took over. The good old days meant very little since we only got a glimpse; and what REMAINS, as it were, are two characters remembering more than the audience ever got to experience.

WHITE LINE FEVER

title: WHITE LINE FEVER
year: 1975
cast: Jan-Michael Vincent
director: Jonathan Kaplan
rating: **

If only someone whispered into director Jonathan Kaplan's ear "Lighten up buddy" while making this preachy film about the plight of independent truckers, all who have chips on their shoulders bigger than a... mack truck. Within ten minutes I was rooting for the bad guys. At least they were smiling.

DAREDEVIL

title: DAREDEVIL
year: 2003
cast: Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner, David Keith, Colin Farrell, Jon Farvareu
rating: *

Tell me Ben Affleck is a superhero, okay... I'll buy it because I have to. Tell me Ben Affleck is blind with powers to hear what no man can see and can fight villains using this ultra-sensory... okay, I'll buy that too. But tell me that Ben Affleck was raised by a brawling ex boxer father in Hell's Kitchen, New York, and had to fight to survive and I'll throw a pie in your face. So by the time you're reading this you've cleaned off the pie but I don't have much to say about this disaster of a film based on the legendary Marvel superhero, one of the most creative superheroes ever. We get SOME backstory of Daredevil as a kid and how he got blind, but nothing about how he become a lawyer and the beginnings of his crime fighting. He meets Electra after a few really lame scenes involving he and smartass buddy Jon Farvareu discussing pop culture... Daredevil (Matt) and Electra don't hit it off; then fight each other in what seems like an MTV dance contest (the entire film has an MTV video feel, and is dizzying at that)... and the next scene DD and Electra are an item. Then they're misunderstanding each other. And Colin Farrell is to villains what the Village People were to music; no offense to the Village People: at least their songs are memorable. This is a horrible, disjointed review of a horrible, disjointed... you get the idea.

HOUSE CALLS

title: HOUSE CALLS
year: 1978
cast: Walter Matthau
rating: ***

The main character, a newly widowed doctor whom every woman in town, young and old alike, is crazy about, must have been originally written with someone else in mind. Burt Reynolds perhaps. Walter Matthau, who looks a cross between Richard Nixon and Fred Flintstone, is the gigalo doc who makes a lot of money (perhaps this is the reason he's a chick-magnet: doctors were like rock stars in the seventies) and after shagging a bevy of young hotties meets a cold old sickle of a gal, british Glenda Jackson, who, despite spells of forced-smiles makes Nurse Ratched seem like Lambchop - and they have a romance that works despite itself (Bill and Hillary, anyone?). That is, until Matthau comprises their trust and has to win her back at the end. This is a decent romantic comedy made during a time when looks didn't matter, only story-line: the basic plot centering on a grade-b hospital run by senile Art Carney, while Matthau and fellow doctor Richard Benjamin try their best to keep it going... with the love story providing the base. You'll be entertained once you get past the fact Matthau is impersonating Cary Grant from the forties, somehow. Love is blind; as were most romantic comedies from the seventies: era of the "sensitive guy meets the hardened feminist with the heart of gold."

THE BEDROOM WINDOW

year: 1987
cast: Steve Guttenberg
rating: **1/2

A man, Steve Guttenberg (not too bad in a serious role), and his boss's wife, Isabelle Huppert, have sex in his apartment. Later in the night, Huppert, looking outside the BEDROOM WINDOW, witnesses a man beating a woman (Elizebeth McGovern): basically trying to kill her. Huppert screams and the man runs off; McGovern is aided by some neighbors and lives. Here's the rope: If Huppert goes to the police as a witness, her husband will find out she was at Guttenberg's pad. So we cut to the next day: the newspapers report another woman who was killed - and Guttenberg and Huppert realize it was the man who got away... and decide that Guttenberg should be the witness (even though he was in the bathroom at the time). Things flow neatly for a while as Guttenberg (with Huppert in the shadows) continues the ruse. But eventually the police realize (through a nifty courtroom scene involving Wallace Shawn as a defense attorney) that Guttenberg has lied... and, still trying to cover for Huppert - even though the cops think he might have committed the crime - with the aid of Elizabeth McGovern tries clearing his name, i.e. he MUST catch the killer before he's locked up. This is where the film, straying from its original and surprisingly clever premise, turns into a wrongfully-accused run-of-the-mill actioneer. A scene involving Guttenberg and Huppert talking in an aquarium is an obvious NOD to Orson Welle's THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (perhaps director Curtis Hansen's way of distracting us from the main influence: Alfred Hitchcock). In fact the whole piece has a film noir flavor, but the flavor only lasts while the initial plot runs its course, after which we're left scrambling desperately for an end.

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL

year: 1978
cast: Lawrence Olivier, James Mason, Gregory Peck, Steve Guttenberg, Jeremy Black
rating: ***1/2

Decent thriller about "modern" Nazis (in the seventies) hiding out in South America with a plan to kill a string of civil servants all within the age-range of 61 to 65. The mystery builds till we learn that pre-teen clones of Adolf Hitler exist and their fathers are the targets: Hitler lost his father, a civil servant, at a young age and the children will experience the same loss. But before the clones are discovered things builds nicely with over-the-top but eventually bearable acting by Lawerence Olivier as a semi-retired Nazi Hunter brought back on a tip from a creative upstart Steve Guttenberg, who's eventually the kind of "Janet Leigh in PSYCHO" initially important character killed by Nazi scientist Joseph Mengella played by Gregory Peck. From Guttenberg's lead... he calls Olivier right before he dies and tells him about the plot... Olivier visits the houses of the deceased men's widows and notices the cloned children: all artistic, black haired, blue eyed brats... the only thing missing are little mustaches. Once we learn the spoiler the film quickly ends, a good thing because the build-up is everything. Apt direction keeps the pulse on a steady beat throughout. A thriller wherein the body count aspect, who dies when and how, works best. And though Gregory Peck's performance was maligned from the film's opening to this day, he's not bad at all. He was hammy in MOBY DICK but keeps his cool here... for most of the time. 

JAWS

title: JAWS
year: 1975
cast: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Jeffrey Kramer
director: Steven Speilberg
rating: *****

Okay fine, I'll admit it: the shark looks fake... but - the situation is real. Or seems so real the fake-looking shark doesn't matter. And we don't see the plastic beast till later on: and which point we're hooked. There's not much to say about a perfect movie except this one does what no other horror/thriller has before, giving us two separate films: the first a "monster movie" with the monster mostly unseen gulping up victims; second a deep sea adventure straight out of Melville. Both stories coincide using a hand-off method of characterization. Starting out with Roy Scheider as Brody, the new sheriff of the island beach town Amity; then adding Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper, a young shark expert helping Brody solve the "mystery" (what kind of shark is it and was the right one killed?). Then the best character is saved for last (although he's introduced earlier with a classic speech, his real part comes later)... Enter Robert Shaw, all but stealing the show as Quint, a salty dog who, it turns out, survived the U.S.S. Indianapolis in World War 2... he's gonna help Brody and Hooper kill the shark deep at sea on his vessel THE ORCA, and unlike these two, Quint's objective is personal. The famous speech as Shaw recounts the Indianapolis story involving fellow sailers being eaten by sharks - not in the original Peter Benchley novel and conceived by director Speilberg then written by pal John Milius - is perhaps the greatest scene in film history. (And Shaw didn't even get nominated for an Oscar!) Murray Hamilton adds an excellent fourth tier as the mayor in denial; and Lorraine Gary as Scheider's faithful wife provides a steady anchor for our hero as he takes on something that wasn't in the job description. And least I forget Speilberg's sublime, ever-flowing direction, rolling off the screen like a visual symphony... speaking of which, would there even be a film without conductor John William's main theme and score (the same can be said of STAR WARS and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK)? This is one of the best movies ever made, and that's no exaggeration. It's got everything and then some!

MURDER BY CONTRACT

year: 1957
cast: Vince Edwards
rating: **1/2

Metronomic character-study of a professional hitman is interesting at times, dull at others. Scenes with a calculating yet creative professional killer played by handsomely bulky Vince Edwards offing folks with hypnotic jazz (a baritone guitar version of THE THIRD MAN theme) in the background is quite a treat. Having proven his worth with clean, efficient hits he's given a big job in L.A. to terminate a woman who will appear in court, and has a couple days to do it. Two men, who work for the main crime boss, tag along and try figuring out how he works. Edwards takes his sweet time without preparation: hanging out on the beach, deep sea fishing and playing golf... and the two tagalongs don't quite understand his habits: and why he isn't getting the job over with. These two paper-tiger thugs seem to have been created to fill empty space with dialogue. If this were made twenty years later we'd probably go deeper into the killer's brain; instead, having been made in the fifties when there were limitations on anti-hero films, and this not being a paramount vehicle within the groundbreaking genre, we're left with what seems like half a movie.

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP

year: 1971
cast: James Taylor, Dennis Wilson, Warren Oates
director: Monte Hellman
rating: ****1/2

James Taylor and Dennis Wilson's non-acting doesn't matter as they're part of the car and feel as the car feels on a first-person i.e. first-vehicle narrative through America. To counter-balance the purposeful non-acting there's legendary Warren Oates, providing not only the baseline but acting as both catylist and antagonist as two cars: the Chevy (Taylor, Wilson) and the GTO (Oates) "race" cross country for pink slips; stopping along the way in various small towns for local races. Laurie Bird is a pretty, dim-bulb hitchiker whose acting's on par with Wilson more than Taylor; yet if real actors sat in Taylor, Wilson, or Bird's seats perhaps the documentary real-life aura would be gone. What we have is an ueber-realistic, organically textured, subtly spellbinding journey with one basic (if primal) objective: to keep moving.

AMERICANA

alt title: AROUND
year made: 1973 year released: 1983
cast: David Carradine, Babara Hershey
producer/director: David Carradine
rating: ***1/2

Beautiful low-budget film about an ex military drifter played by KUNG FU drifter David Carradine who happens upon a small town with an abandoned merry-go-round (originally with a more aptly title ROUND) in an empty field, and how he goes about fixing it up and getting it working again. But it's no easy feat as he has to overcome more than manual labor to get the thing running, like the town sheriff and local bullies. The movie flows in a spontaneous nature and while some of the non-professional acting (other than the three leads) can be distracting at first, it's eventually overcome by the purposefully laidback aura: everything fitting into an uncontrived organic template about real life and real Americans.

BODY HEAT

year: 1981
rating: *1/2

Pointless light-porn film noir exercise written and directed by the usually capable Lawrence Kasden has a beautiful woman Kathleen Turner and her stud lawyer lover, William Hurt, planning to kill her rich husband, Richard Crenna. Sex and violence has something in common; if there's no reason for it, it seems downright silly on screen. There's a whole lotta silliness going on here as we weave back and forth from frothy sex scenes to plodding dialog. The small dusty town seems to have no air conditioners as everyone is hot and sweaty and miserable, as was I. Ted Danson as a flitting jewish lawyer (with a black hair piece), Mickey Rourke as a bomb expert who sings along with Bob Seger on the radio, and even Richard Crenna himself when he enters forty minutes in cannot save this overlong, tedious film.

OBSESSION

year: 1976
cast: Cliff Robertson
writer: Paul Schrader
director: Brian De Palma
rating: **

Weaving dreamlike maze with an over-dramatic musical score that makes anything and everything seem bigger than it really is. There are moments when you're drawn into the story but never long enough to care. Brian De Palma is doing his usual Hitchcock imitation and the camerawork is lovely, as are the sets, and the actors are good but the acting is just okay. The script is the problem. And the title's very misleading. Fits a perfume better than this movie.

THE SUNSHINE BOYS

title: THE SUNSHINE BOYS
year: 1975
cast: Walter Matthau, George Burns
writer: Neil Simon
director: Herbert Ross
rating: ***

Neil Simon stage play adaptation about two retired codgers who were once vaudeville performers with a chance to do one of their skits on a prime time variety show... if only they can get along long enough to do it. Walter Matthau is the grumpy lead whose acting is good but borders on a performance: at times you can tell he's acting. George Burns, playing his age, is the mellower of the two and the role fits him to a tee. Richard Benjiman, as Matthau's agent and nephew, does everything he can to get "Lewis and Clark" together for the show... it will help his career and perhaps give Matthau some dignity. But Matthau wants nothing to do with Burns and vice versa. By the time we see them auditioning and then performing their skit the film has pretty much run its course. Matthau's character is a little too neurotic and you just want him to go away. The skit involving a doctor (Matthau), a tax collector (Burns), and a busty blonde (Lee Meredith) seems like a mediocre SCTV bit and leaves the viewer wondering why they were popular in the first place. But Neil Simon's dialog flows neatly and the transition of stage play to film is well balanced by director Herbert Ross. And keep an eye out for F. Murray Abraham, years before he kills Mozart, as an edgy auto mechanic.

IN & OUT

title: IN & OUT
year: 1997
cast: Kevin Kline, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon, Joan Cusack, William Duell
director: Frank Oz
rating: **

Matt Dillon's character, a straight actor playing a gay man in a war film, wins an Oscar and outs his teacher, Kevin Kline, who isn't aware he's gay; in fact he's about to get married to Joan Cusack. The first half is funny as Kline tries his best to prove against Dillon's theory; but the second half, after Kline comes out publicly, is pure Hollywood propaganda as it tries way too hard to dispose of small town prejudice: battling "homophobia" at every turn and and forgetting what it is... a light comedy.

$ (DOLLARS)

title: $ (DOLLARS)
year: 1971
cast: Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Scott Brady, Robert Webber
writer/director: Richard Brooks
rating: *

Insufficient funds. I needed seasick pills from the endless running around. Nothing mattered, little connected, at least that I cared about. I couldn't even tell you the plot. Don't invest in this one.

THREE MEN AND A LITTLE LADY

years: 1990
cast: Tom Selleck, Nancy Travis,  Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson
rating: ***

THREE MEN AND A LITTLE LADY has our bachelors are now full fledged fathers living with the woman (the British actress who was impregnated by Danson), and the "little lady": the child from the first film now five years old. The sequel is mostly centered on Selleck's character (who's hairdo looks like a toupee-Frisbee) secretly in love with Nancy Travis, the baby's mom... and all the stuff he and Guttenberg (Danson is out of country but joins them eventually) go through to stop her from marrying the wrong guy in England... a conceited director who's phony and not nice to the little lady. The sequel is almost as good as the original in its own way, although things are reversed: the first film is best during the first half, and the second film is best during the second half (in England). Selleck finally wins Nancy Travis and they marry... a good thing because no child should be raised by three men who paint their images in a penthouse lobby.

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING

title: The Man Who Would Be King
year: 1975
cast: Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer
director: John Huston
rating: **1/2

What I assumed would be a "Lawrence of Arabia" meets "Wind and the Lion" turned out to be "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" meets "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels". I enjoyed the first half hour the most as Michael Caine and Sean Connery (as two con men) and Christopher Plummer (who plays writer Rudyard Kipling: literally vanishing into the role... I didn't even recognize him) are first introduced. Then when the adventure to seek a hidden city of gold where both men (Connery and Caine) could easily become wealthy kings begins (leaving Plummer behind), the movie hits a snag. They hike a formidable snow-covered mountain with four mules; then end up with one mule; then an avalanche falls; and then they find reach their destination. Sound easy? Well it was: MUCH TOO easy. (The scenery was gorgeous but looked, and seemed, like stock footage). When they reach the city... more of a wasteland... there's a few good scenes involving our daring-duo training the natives to fight (although many of the “foreign” actors are annoyingly hammy); then a fairly decent epic battle occurs where Sean Connery is shot in the chest with an arrow, which really hits his bandolier but the people think he's overcome death. And he becomes a god and then a king (or did I get that backwards?). Connery becomes enthralled in power and madness way too suddenly. This reminded me of Bogart going gold-loco in Huston’s masterpiece "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" but unlike that film, there's very little story arc from fortune-hunter to tyrant. After one argument about Connery's "new attitude", Connery quickly realizes he's gone a bit too far but still wants to remain in power –, the two make up, there's a "royal wedding", the people find out he's NOT a god when he bleeds, and, well, he basically becomes Wile E. Coyote without the help of ACME. Huston offers a beautiful film but I didn't feel INTO it. John Milius, who wrote and directed "The Wind and the Lion" (co-starring Huston), did a much better job with big sets, lots of sand, and Sean Connery. With that film I felt PART OF the adventure; here I was merely a witness.

DONNIE DARKO

title: DONNIE DARKO
year: 2001
cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Patrick Swayze
rating: *

This is one of those "If you don't like it, you don't get it" movies. I don't get it, and I don't like it. So there! Well I figure, the Emo Generation needs to FEEL weird because life can be so damn ordinary. Then this will do them JUST FINE. (I realize many older non-Emos dug this flick, but allow me my indulgences... it's MY SITE!). Personally, I was bored silly. While it does go to STRANGE places the mundane aspects soar: the kids speak in cliche movie-talk and we get to know all about who the director wanted to win the Presidential election of 1988 (the "Lisa Simpson" sister reminds us SEVERAL TIMES who SHE'D vote for, and she's a lot cooler than that stupid uptight father, therefore...). The plot involves... shit, I'm still not sure. I just wish the ENTIRE airplane would have landed on the movie set before filming started, taking out the script to boot. And that dumb rabbit, meant to be "so silly it's SCARY!". Oh and Patrick Swayze (who died today) plays a motivational speaker hired by the stick-in-the-mud principle (or was she a secretary?) to speak to the kids. Swayze's character is SO shallow the main character has to INFORM the students (i.e. the audience) of his shallow absurdness, but did we really need to be REMINDED that a character who was created to suck, sucks? Okay, I'll admit, I'm out of touch. And I thank God on high. For a film to combine science-fiction with art-house depth and teenage angst, I at least should give it SOME credit. But I'm all out at the moment.

PLANET TERROR

title: PLANET TERROR
year: 2007
cast: Rose McGowan, Josh Brolin, Rose McGowan, Nicky Katt
writer/director: Robert Rodriguez
rating: ***1/2

The first (and only good) segment of the theatrical film GRINDHOUSE teaming Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino doing their own "cheap" horror films. Plot centers on a group of survivors during an outbreak brought back from Iraq. The military is at fault (like most "outbreak" films) not for preachy reasons but because it's a sendup of the zombie genre... yet it also stands on its own merits. The characters are fantastic; standouts being Josh Brolin as an evil doctor turned "sicko" and his beautiful, beaten, closet-lesbian doctor wife (Marley Shelton). You'll see a lot in the promotion with Rose McGowan as a stripper with a machine gun leg, but this happens in the last five minutes. Jeff Fahey is also quite good as a sloppy, tough cafe owner: a cross between Vic Tayback and Clint Eastwood; as is Michael Biehn as his sheriff brother. And Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews ("Lost") and Quentin Tarantino make effective cameos. Writer/Director Rodriguez never lets up with action but still finds time for story, and the character-development is placed perfectly within all the running around, gun-fights, car chases, and killings. Bad sound, screen blotches, and missing reels are purposely added to cement the GRINDHOUSE experience (theaters that'd play several B movies in a row using cheap projectors). This makes little-to-no sense since it's a big budget CGI film, but the flaws, contrived or otherwise, don't hinder this rollercoaster ride one bit. Oh and Freddy Rodriguez (no relation to Robert) does well in the lead male role despite his semi-wimpy appearance (which takes a few minutes to get used to). Overall THIS IS the good child of "Grindhouse"... the second segment, Tarantino's "Deathproof", should be put in time-out... FOREVER!

COMA

title: COMA
year: 1978
cast: Michael Douglas, Genevieve Bujold, Richard Widmark, Tom Selleck, Lance DeGault, Rip Torn, Lois Chiles
rating: **1/2

Michael Crichton-directed films "Westworld", "Looker", and this one suffer from "Post-Hour Syndrome". A fantastic sixty-minute build-up with terrific scientific intrigue and then a big bad guy (or machine... or both) chases the main character around and we're left with an average thriller. Crichton (a far better novelist than director) sets things up so well that the chase, no matter how intense, is a let-down... and goes on way too long. Plot of this film (based on a novel by Robin Cook with a script by Crichton) involves snooty feminist doctor Genevieve Bujold wondering why so many healthy patients (including best friend Lois Chiles), undergoing run-of-the-mill procedures, are slipping into comas. She investigates till hospital bigwig Richard Widmark catches wind and he - or someone in charge - sends a tall scary thug to kill her. This is where things get bland and ordinary as the baddie (Lance DeGault) stalks her through the ward like Michael Myers in (the original) "Halloween 2". Then she investigates a separate clinic where comatose bodies hang like puppets on strings; and has to dodge security guards and escape. Which finally leads back to the main hospital for confrontation with Widmark - and the last stretch involving our heroine going through surgery (after being drugged) and it's now up to Michael Douglas, her skeptical doctor boyfriend, to finally figure things out and save the day. Tom Selleck, a few years before MAGNUM P.I. (and a starring role in Crichton's 1983 thriller "Runaway"), makes a cameo as a patient who slips into a...

LOOKIN' TO GET OUT

year: 1982
cast: Jon Voight, Burt Young, Ann Margaret, Angelina Jolie
director: Hal Ashby
rating: **1/2

The first fifty minutes with Jon Voight and Burt Young as two unlucky gamblers talking about life and losing (one in the same for these guys) is very entertaining. They go from L.A. to Las Vegas, get set up in a Vegas Suite, and the freestyle fun continues as the fish out of water live it up. Then the bottom falls out when the film becomes a stupid "chase" film as our two lovable losers spend the last half of the film running away from the two fat silly thugs they shook in L.A. with a really bad electronic score in the background. Should have remained a character-study, and dropped the pointless action, which wasn't suspensful anyhow. Mostly known for a cameo by Voight's real-life daughter Angelina Jolie as his fictional one.

MADE IN AMERICA

title: MADE IN AMERICA
year: 1993
cast: Ted Danson, Whoopie Goldberg, Will Smith, Jennifer Tilly
rating: *1/2

A truly bizarre and downright impossible to believe real-life love affair between then married Ted Danson and Whoopie Goldberg was the prelude to this romantic comedy about a young black girl who wants to find her real father, a sperm donor, and it turns out to be white obnoxious car salesman Ted Danson. Whoopie, as the girl's mother, spends half the film enraged that she was given a white man's sperm.The actors, including Will "I haven't become a big star yet but give me time" Smith, try WAY TOO HARD to make every moment hilarious, memorable and endearing. This is a convoluted mess that can be entertaining if you don't expect anything but mediocrity, or less.

STARTING OVER


title: STARTING OVER
year: 1979
cast: Burt Reynolds, Candace Bergen, Charles Durning
director: Alan J. Pakula
rating: *

James L. Brooks wrote the script and the guy who Hollywood (and many others) adored for "All the President's Men" directed. The pace is slow and the film is totally pointless. I have nothing more to say other than this movie's title is how you'll feel after the first fifteen minutes: like STARTING OVER with another movie... perhaps one about Watergate... or something. ANYTHING but this.

HUSBANDS

year: 1970
director: John Cassavetes
rating: **

In real life people often forget what to say – or have nothing to say. They reach around for the right word at the right moment and there are many uncomfortable silences. Real people rarely look each other straight into the eyes when talking (or listening to someone else talking) as happens in movies. There's no script in life and often no point, but when we watch a movie we WANT a point because our lives are often pointless; or at least FEELS that way. And life can be very annoying. Which brings me to the case at hand. This film IS annoying, like life... but the problem is it really doesn't go anywhere interesting. At least not for me. There are some WONDERFUL moments when the story – of three men who just lost their best friend having drinking binges from New York to Europe – rears its head and the camerawork is often quite brilliant. But most of the time we're stuck with too many pointless bouts of talking and singing, or singing and talking, or drinking and talking and vomiting and singing and talking and gambling and talking and singing and more and more talking, during which I feel a little TOO aware of the obvious improvisation from otherwise brilliant actors John Cassavetes, the leader, sort of; Ben Gazzara, sort of a jerk; and Peter Falk, being himself... sort of. Or something...

LOCH NESS

year: 1996
cast: Ted Danson
rating: **1/2

A scientist who spent many failed years trying to find Bigfoot (thus ruining his career like "McGee" in "The Incredible Hulk") is sent to Loch Ness, Scotland to find "Nessie", aka The Loch Ness Monster. But he's really there to PROVE the monster DOESN'T exist so he can put all monster-chasing behind him forever. Tension builds decently during the "hunt" - boat on lake trolling for the "beastie", much to the chagrin of Ian Holm, who is basically the Sheriff - and in the "Jaws" fashion the monster is IMPLIED, not shown. The characters within the little town are very likeable and the chemistry between wary American Danson, tough yet pretty Joely Richardson (as a pub owner) and her cute daughter is sweet without being corny. Then when Danson finally SEES what he's been after (following the little girl into a cavern) it's a let-down because the TWO "beasties" (that's right, two "Nessies") are CGI just like ANY "Jurrassic Park" dino, which we've seen a hundred times already. Gone is the "awwww" factor as we now enter into the last strech of the film, which is a big letdown. But for the most part this is a decent ride.

DEATHPROOF

alt title: GRINDHOUSE  
year: 2007
rating: *

Originally segment 2 of a double-feature horror send up GRINDHOUSE, Tarantino collaborated with buddy Robert Rodriguez doing their own low-budget films. Robert's zombie effort "Planet Terror", with wall-to-wall CGI, is anything but low-budget yet the story's good as are the characters. This film is the complete opposite. Plot SUPPOSEDLY centers on a lunatic named "Stuntman Mike" (Kurt Russell) who has a "deathproof" car: the driver's side protected from crashing but if seated anywhere else you're toast. Unfortunately for body-count-horror buffs there's very little toast - one victim gets snuffed in the very killer car the film's named after while four others are killed BY the car (all deaths occur ten minutes from each other). Imagine cinematic killers Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, or Michael Myers only killing two times per movie. And now imagine them actually CRYING LIKE BABIES, as happens to the "monster" in this movie: An embarrassment from start to finish. 

THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS

alternate titles: Counterfeit Commandos, Deadly Mission, G.I. Bro, Hell's Heroes, Commando Bastards, The Dirty Bastard
cast: Bo Svenson, Fred Williamson
director: Enzo G. Castellari
year: 1978
rating: ****

A group of American World War II grunts turned convicts attacked on the way to a prison roam freely with machine guns around Germany behind enemy lines; they're placed accidentally (purposely on accident, that is) on a mission to blow up a train. Cool stuff! An Italian production starring aryan-white Bo Svenson and blaxploitation king Fred Williamson as tough guys leading the soldiers through thick and thin, it's a war flick that doesn't take itself too seriously and lets you have fun "blowing shit up," feeling like what a cool and creative kid would imagine playing with his favorite toy soldiers.

WHOLLY MOSES

year: 1982
cast: Dudley Moore, Laraine Newman, James Coco, Richard Pryor, Paul Sand, John Ritter
rating: ***

I like this much better than "History of the World Part 1", the Mel Brooks spoof about the Old Testament. While not entirely hilarious the characters are interesting enough to carry things along. Dudley Moore is a guy on an Israel bus tour which then takes a lunch break. He and new found friend Laraine Newman find a cave and some ancient scrolls, and Moore reads about an infant who, while floating down stream in a tiny ark, is pushed aside by another infant in another tiny ark... this luckier more wily infant reaches destiny first, and he's Moses... while the other baby floats further downstream, is raised by a poor family, and as an adult (Dudley Moore) chisels pagan idols with his father (James Coco) who's posing as his slave (guilty for having gotten rid of him). As the story continues Moore is thrust into various situations following the Bible including Sodom and Gomorrah, the Burning Bush, etc., and Newman is his love interest. The lightly amusing, flowing storyline and the bevy of "special guests" (Richard Pryor, John Ritter, Dom Deluise, and many others) make for a watchable, time-passing parody.

REAL MEN

title: REAL MEN
year: 1987
cast: James Belushi, John Ritter
rating: ***

Neat odd-couple pairing of James Belushi as a tough CIA agent who does things his own way and John Ritter as a wimpy family man who can't defend his son from bullies. Belushi has to take Ritter across country (by car, for some reason) to Washington because Ritter is a dead ringer for a CIA agent who was killed and has to impersonate the agent for an exchange. Good stuff. The only real problems are the abusive way James Belushi treats John Ritter in the beginning, as Ritter's character isn't annoying enough to deserve it. There's not many big laughs, which doesn't seem to matter with road films, which have enough distractions to keep you occupied.

WALK LIKE A MAN

year: 1987
rating: **1/2

Now you'd expect a movie where stand-up comedian/comedic actor turned game-show host Howie Mandel plays a guy named Bobo raised by wolves trying to adjust to life back in civilization to be downright awful and not very entertaining. Well this is both bad and entertaining. Christopher Lloyd is his brother who wants (more like, needs) his new found brother (who luckily doesn't act like a dangerous wolf killing for food but rather a slobbering playful puppy) to sign a paper to give him the inheritance left by their father. The "chemistry" between uptight villainous Lloyd and goofy Mandel is standard odd-couple fare but the real heart comes from Amy Steele (the survivor of "Friday the 13th Part 2" and the "older girl" who took Michael J. Fox's virginity in "Family Ties"... yeah, THAT Amy Steele) who plays a wolf researcher hired by Lloyd to teach Bobo how to write (i.e. sign his name) (she also discovered him in the wild). Steele not only teaches him to write but to speak, hang out in the mall (where the only funny scenes take place), and accidently fall in love... with her. It's all very banal but that's no surprise. It's decent, silly, stupid fun, and not much worse than the comedy blockbusters with Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler or... you name 'em.

FAILURE TO LAUNCH

year: 2006
rating: **

The concept is good, if intriguing. A 35 year old guy (Matthew McConaughey) who still lives his parents, hence the title - "failure to launch" referring to leaving the "nest". But the film suffers from plot-amnesia, as we forget all about the concept very soon. The main character's not a pathetic guy who we can laugh at, or even laugh with. He's a perfect looking chap with a dream job and lots of beautiful girlfriends who basically has a really hard time with commitment - and the fact he lives with his parents is merely a way for boy to meet girl. His parents (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw... talk about a mismatch!) want him out, and hire a young lady (Sarah Jessica Parker, basically doing what Jennifter Aniston does in every film... being herself) who's job is to help parents get their full grown adult sons out of the house (talk about a niche market!). The twist is that she has to make him fall for her and then he'll move out, or something. The funniest scene involves the main character getting bitten by a chipmunk, which has nothing to do with the plot... but what the hell, they had to get laughs somewhere. And hey, what's the plot again? I think a movie about slackers who can't "flee the nest" would be interesting, if done right. Or done at all. This movie doesn't even ATTEMPT showing us a character with real problems, or who is too lazy to live on his own. Instead we get a weak romantic comedy that goes in every direction, except an interesting one.

NIGHT GALLERY (SEASON 2)

title: NIGHT GALLERY (SEASON 2)
year: 1970
cast: Various
producer: Rod Serling
rating: **

First off I don't like Rod Serling's hair on Season 2. I know that's trite but a graying perm on Mr. Serling bugs. I like my Serling frost-perm free. And now a short review. I really can't stand politics in TV shows, and I am a big fan of old shows and sometimes I have to cringe watching as political elements are peppered in, but in "Night Gallery" Season 2 politics not only pepper the episodes, they envelope them completely. "Want salad with that dressing?" ("The Boy Who Could Predict Earthquakes" and "Class of 1999" are two examples). Serling grew tired of NG quickly and I'm not sure for the same reasons I am. He said it started out well (season 1 is pretty decent) but that it became "Mannix in the Cemetery", for which he's probably referring to the show becoming more mainstream or action oriented. Crime and action I wouldn't mind. It's the sign-of-the-times-that-are-a-changing politics that not only date particular episodes, but ruin them entirely. A TWIST ending shouldn't be a cork-screw that opens something; in other words, keep the agendas to yourself and entertain me. I thank God "The Twilight Zone" stuck with the supernatural, not the super political. But I shouldn't just blame politics on Season Two. Some of the episodes suck because they're not that good, or bizarre, or interesting. Only a few are mildly entertaining. And I have to admit - it's always cool seeing those classic character-actors no matter.

SMOTHER

title: SMOTHER
year: 2007
cast: Dax Shepard, Diane Keaton, Liv Tyler, Ken Howard
rating: ***

I've always preferred Diane Keaton's cynical/neurotic character in "Manhattan" slightly over the optimist/neurotic in "Annie Hall", and here she plays both and a little bit of the nosey next-door neighbor from "Bewitched" thrown in. A fine little indie comedy about an affable fellow (Dax Shepard) who lives with his way-too-hot girlfriend (Liv Tyler) and her brother, a wannabe scriptwriter, in a small apartment. Then mom (Keaton), who has just split from dad (Ken Howard, who looks quite different from his "White Shadow" days), moves in and makes his already tortured life more troublesome. Dax has that sensitive seventies guy thing going much like John Ritter and Richard Benjiman - you feel safe enough with him to laugh at his insults which aren't meant for cruelty but as cat-jabs to get him out of corners, mostly painted by his mother who just can't leave him alone. It's all great fun and the glib humor never lets up. And although his relationship with mom is the focal point, scenes involving Shepard and his stuffy, bullying, perverted boss at a carpet store are probably the funniest.

SUNSET

year: 1991
cast: Bruce Willis, James Garner, Malcolm McDowell, Dermot Mulroney 
director: Blake Edwards
rating: **

Not bad, not great. James Garner is the real life legendary Marshall Wyatt Earp and Bruce Willis is cowboy actor Tom Mix who is portraying Earp in a movie, and they both get together to solve a murder in old Hollywoodland. Kind of reminiscent of those episodes of "Rockford Files" where Garner teamed up with the classier "prettier" (younger) Tom Selleck, but since there's really no clashing between the REAL cowboy and the FAKE one there's not much chemistry either. It's like watching two friends agreeing upon everything - what's the fun in that? But there are some decent performances and you'll have light fun watching. Bruce Willis is passable doing his ever-charming-reaction acting style and James Garner keeps the ball rolling at a comfortable pace. Although in the end you'll forgot you've seen anything: except maybe cult icon Malcolm McDowell's final moments as a bizarre, classy and then monstrous villain. Overall, it's basically in one eye, out the next.

WATCHMEN

title: WATCHMEN
year: 2009
cast: Jackie Earle Haley
rating: *

An agenda-ridden film-noir-wannabe pretentious bore. And that was just the opening credits. And then the rest of this catastrophe has us believe that superheroes were "used" by the government to win the BIG WAR (against Hitler) and then the BAD WAR (Vietnam)... but my question is - if we had superheroes on our side, how would Hitler, or Pol Pot, have even gotten as far as they did in the first place? Style over substance has taken over plot and character-development. Images. That's what has taken over plot nowadays. Lots and lots of "REALLY COOL" images.

KING KONG (THE LEGEND REBORN)

year: 1976
cast: Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Charles Grodin, Ed Lauter
rating: ***1/2

Directed by John Guillerman, the first half of this movie is great. A terrific set-up with the famous story changed so that an oil speculator (Charles Grodin) is seeking the island surrounded by fog as a possible teat for that gushy stuff that keeps cars running. Jeff Bridges plays a hippie stowaway on the ship and he knows the island has a big secret - but is not sure exactly what. And Jessica Lange is gorgeous as the monkey's moll/damsel in distress, and things flow very nicely. But the movie hits a wall when the Ape arrives. Things get bogged down by dated special effects and overall slow pacing, and the "relationship" between Lange and Kong is very corny.

BOUND FOR GLORY

year: 1976
cast: David Carradine
director: Hal Ashby
rating: ***1/2

I love the late David Carradine as an actor but in many films he seems to be sort of... not trying very hard. Well this might be because he often played characters who were cool enough to NOT HAVE TO try very hard but rather to be themselves: cool dudes who can kick ass if need be. But here he's really acting and at the same time is completely natural and doesn't seem to be trying at all: but with excellent results. And that's him singing and playing the guitar, as you need to be a REAL musician to portray folk music icon Woodie Guthrie: the man who did to music what John Dillinger did to the depression. Hal Ashby in his Robert Altmaneque style of letting nature take its course allows everything to fall into place JUST RIGHT, and the film - although centering on a very political man - never gets too preachy. If it were made today, I doubt political-subtlety would prevail.

VALKYRIE

year: 2009
rating: **

Okay, Tom Cruise is... Tom Cruise. That's it. Gone are the days of "Taps" when he could actually be another person, a character PLAYED BY Tom Cruise not TOM CRUISE as himself AS another character. This film is no different. He's Tom Cruise playing a guy who wants to overthrow Hitler. Now the intentions of this man (based on real life) and his comrades, all part of the Nazi party, in this film are to rid the world of Hitler to save lives, but historically they wanted to save Germany and Socialism (their brand of it anyway) and not LOSE the war but instead to END IT with their party intact (without being run by a madman). It's okay to turn these fellows into superheroes because killing Adolph would have been a super-duper thing... and director Bryan Singer has made a great superhero film (XMAN) and a really bad one (SUPERMAN RETURNS) so he can't be blamed for over-the-top heroics, right? A lot of the time, though, the modernized high-octane action just doesn't fit this film, which tries to be a "suspense packed with everything".

GET ON THE BUS

title: GET ON THE BUS
year: 1996
cast: Ossie Davis, Albert Hall
writer/director: Spike Lee
rating: ***1/2

I hate most Spike Lee films and I hope I'm not arrested for a "hate crime" to admit that I think he's very overrated. His "joints" seem like student films to me, and not very good ones. But this movie was great. It's not so much a road-trip as a character-study and it does both perfectly. Funny how it's slipped under the radar in the Spike canon... it's the only one I enjoy. The plot centers on a group of black men going cross country to the million-man-march and their "adventures" along the way, which consists of bickering and probing into each character's personality-traits as they all sum up a little bit of this and a little bit of that: thus defining one entire human being in the end. The final shot involving a chain falling to the ground in front of Lincoln's statue would seem forced or corny or heavy-handed, but it's brilliant.

FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF

year: 1986 
rating: ****

This is a beautiful and brilliant teen flick about a popular everykid highschooler who takes a "day off", i.e. fakes illness/tricks his parents and has one hell of an afternoon. The most endearing and/or memorable characters aren't Ferris, but his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and the villain/principle Ed Rooney (Jeffery Jones), who's the B side to the film as he tries thwarting our hero's plan (other great characters are Jennifer Grey as his jealous older sister and Edie McClurg as Rooney's secretary). Ferris's Woody Alleneque monlogs straight into the camera (breaking the "4th wall) work perfectly and the adventure never slows down - well, not really. Towards the end things get a bit "dramatic" (as do many Hughes films when they hit upon "the moment of truth") as Cameron discovers himself by totaling his father's car. I also felt some of Ferris's opinions-through-narration about Cameron were kind of... cruel and didn't seem befitting to a kid his age... And perhaps Mia Sara was way too hot for Broderick? Or anybody? The late John Hughes did some terrific work in his day, and while I think "The Breakfast Club" is his masterpiece, and "Uncle Buck" is his funniest... this one sums up Hughes, the writer. The script was scribbled in six days. Not too shabby.

BLIND DATE

year: 1987
cast: Bruce Willis, Kim Basinger
director: Blake Edwards
rating: *

If you make a comedy where the funniest part is a Rick Dees radio bit played in the background, you're in big, big trouble. This is a tedious rollercoaster ride centering on a blind date between a yuppie (Bruce Willis) and a beautiful woman (Kim Basinger) who gets really weird when she's drunk. Everything goes awry for him while she remains untouched since she has no real purpose but to eventually drive this poor bastard's life down the drain. She has an ex-boyfriend (John Larroquete) who's stalking them and he adds to the chase. This is not only an out-and-out ripoff of Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" but feels like a dull neverending nightmare, one of those where every character exists to annoy you and you can't wake up. Awful. One of the worst movies ever made.

DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES

title: DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES
year: 1962
cast: Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, Jack Klugman
director: Blake Edwards
rating: ***

Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick play a good looking young couple who meet, get married, and then become hopeless drunks, especially Remick who doesn't want to change no matter what. Not bad directing by Blake Edwards and the acting is decent, although it tends to get extremely hammy. And it's funny seeing Jack Lemmon on screen with Jack Klugman, the original "Felix Unger" with the TV "Oscar Madison", but they're not such an odd couple as one is a drunk and the other a recovering drunk/AA sponser, which is what this movie turns out to be: a searing two hour ad for Alcoholics Anonymous.

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