WHATEVER WORKS

year: 2009
rating: *

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

THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES

year: 1968
rating: **

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

NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON'T

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

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

THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED FLYING ODDBALL


title: UNIDENTIFIED FLYING ODDBALL
year: 1979
cast: Dennis Dugan
rating: **

At one time Dennis Dugan annoyed me but after "The Howling" I began to appreciate him. He's not too bad here (as a cross between Don Knotts and Dean Jones) playing duo roles: a scientist and a robot-astronaut clone of himself. Both go up in a rocket (the scientist accidently) and land in King Arthur's court where our wimpy hero battles Sir Mordred (Jim Dale, a Disney staple) and woos a beautiful farm girl while teaching King Arthur and Merlin about the history of America. What begins as a semi-intriguing sci-fi comedy gets weighed down by the setting of the book, Mark Twains "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court", wherein the adaptation value of a modern man in Arthurian England being mistaken for a wizard, the best aspect of the novel, is all but lost within silly swordplay and meandering, unfunny hijinks. Overall this is a Disney dud.

SHOWGIRLS

title: SHOWGIRLS
year: 1995
cast: Elizabeth Berkley, Gina Gershon
normal movie rating: *
bad movie rating: *****

One of the greatest bad movies ever made, this was directed by a bigwig and written by another bigwig (who previously teamed up for "Basic Instinct") and was supposed to be a blockbuster of epic proportions and turned out to be the biggest bomb on the planet, but since has gained a "Springtime for Hitler" like adoration and a gaggle of rabid fans for which I am one. Movie starts out with a tall girl who resembles an ostrich (or llama... or both) who gets picked up by an Elvis impersonator in a raised truck. They go to Vegas and within minutes he steals her stuff, leaving her in Sin City where she promptly meets a black girl who will become her own personal Laverne... or Shirley. Then she gets a job at a dive strip club and not long after becomes a... yep... showgirl in a big-time musical-striptease perhaps even cornier than "Satan's Alley" from STAYING ALIVE. The nudity's about as sexual as an issue of National Geographic; purposely proving that naked girls in a Vegas stripshow are par for the course (and who can argue?). The acting (especially by Berkley) is unintentionally hilarious and the plot is so vapid one can't NOT realize the truly miraculous marvel that is SHOWGIRLS.

FREEJACK

year: 1991
cast: Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Jonathan Banks
rating: ***

Mick Jagger's aware-of-the-camera acting leaves something to be desired in a pretty undesirable but guilty-pleasurable sci-fi future film centering on a city where big corporations rule over ragged bums (no middle class, as is usual with Hollywood sci-fi). Emilio Estevez, as a race car driver brought into the future (as a "freejack") to be used in a body-changing experiment, is in his usual cruise control mode. Mick's character is more fun, and for an antagonist, pretty cool. But as far as great actors go, Anthony Hopkins collects a paycheck as the dying millionaire who wants Estevez's body (don't get the wrong idea) and Rene Russo struts with her big chin in the air, as usual. There's plenty of stupid action and dated nineties almost-CGI special effects for ninety minutes. And Jonathan Banks is always good as a villain. On the other hand, Amanda Plummer, as a foul-mouthed nun, will make you want to punch your television screen. This is one of those theatrical films that seems like a made-for-cable movie, and for that, it's not too shabby. That is, if you dig that kinda thing.

LAND OF THE LOST (2009)

year: 2009
cast: Will Ferrell
rating: *1/2

In most cases when Hollywood revamps an old TV show and turns it into a film, it seems the stars of the film are intruding upon the show's template but trying to keep the basic plot intact while altering things for their particular style. In this case the (side) character's of the classic Sid and Mart Krofft's LAND OF THE LOST are intruding upon a really bad Will Farrell science-fiction action comedy mess... and don't seem too happy about it. Enik The Altrusion, Grumpy the Dinosaur, the Sleestaks, and Chaka seem like prisoners conforming to Farrell and his two co-stars raunchy hijinks, which are as funny as lung cancer (Ferrell delivers a few lines well, but has nothing to do with the storyline being funny... it's just him). The action is pretty much non-stop like a person with nothing to say never shuts up. And the CGI looks like a cartoon. JURASSIC SOUTH PARK would be a more fitting title (no offense to either). Well the good thing is, the film bombed, big time. Let's hope Hollywood learns that we Generation Xers love our old shows (no matter how corny they were) and would rather celebrate than parody (i.e. ruin) them. Get your hands off our childhood you unoriginal bastards, and start thinking up new ideas that can be demolished in thirty years by someone else. Then again, nothing in the last ten years would probably merit a remake. So I guess that explains all the remakes.

FROGS

title: FROGS
year: 1973
cast: Ray Milland, Joan Van Ark, Adam Rourke, Sam Elliott, Lynn Borden, Judy Pace
rating: ***1/2

It's kind of a misleading title as the FROGS are the instigative generals who only attack at the end. REPTILES would be more fitting as it embodies snakes, lizards, gators... and, yes, the frogs... who are surrounding a big mansion in New Orleans owned by a rich industrialist (Ray Milland) who's bad to the environment, making a lot of noise and pissing off his family who can't sleep. Sam Elliott is a "green" photographer who happens upon the bratty clan who all eventually get picked off one after the other during a holiday family gathering. Adam Rourke is a standout as Milland's playboy son, as is Lynn Borden as his beautiful, but aging, primadonna wife. This is actually a very well photographed film (with amazing natural shots) with a Tenessee Williams aura and not a cheesy B-movie as the title (and poster) implies. Overall it's quite RIBBITING!

MRS. COLUMBO (TV)

title: MRS. COLUMBO
year: 1979-1980
cast: Kate Mulgrew
rating: **

Well no wonder Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) would always talk about his wife; she was a pretty twenty-five year old woman, not an Italian gal in her forties like most fans imagined. Casting Kate Mulgrew as Columbo's wife was ludicrous and after a while the title was changed to "Kate The Detective". So I'll review that show, since "Mr. Columbo" was always on a case and never at home anyway (Falk had nothing to do with this show that came out a year after "Columbo" went off the air) while Kate raises a young daughter and solves murders, working as a journalist in one of those free newspapers you see outside supermarkets. Kate doesn't badger her culprits while acting the fool like her hubby; instead she charms and coddles them into submission. The same device of the audience seeing the murder in the first ten minutes is continued but doesn't mean much since there's really no trick to her solving crimes other than being smart, curious, and somewhat creative. Kate Mulgrew's acting is good though, and perhaps if the show began as "Kate The Detective", keeping everything EXCEPT the fact she's supposedly married to a fifty year old man who resembles a dirty sock, it might have had a chance. Then again...

THE DOORS: OTHER VOICES (album)

band: THE DOORS
title: OTHER VOICES
year: 1971
rating: ***1/2

An underrated album, the first (and best) of two that came out after Jim Morrison took a permenent vacation to Paris. The first track EYE OF THE SUN sounds like LET IT ROCK by Chuck Berry but with more "spaceage" lyrics, and has some nifty slide guitar; Ray sings in his husky bluesy black man voice, and it opens up the album with a subtle charge. Track 2: "Variety is the Spice of Life", Robby's nasally voice leading a purposely goofy party-tune. My favorite track follows, "Ships W/ Sails", a Samba "Riders of the Storm" with flowing (sailing) guitars and hypnotic organ throughout; Ray's vocals mixed with Robby's is good yet the lyrics get a little corny ("Well, you asked how much I love you... Why do ships with sails love the wind?"): but the spontaneous jamming wins things over. "Tightrope Ride" shows Ray's vocal range and is one of the more rocking tracks. Side Two fares decently with "Down on the Farm", the album's ballad; "I'm Horny I'm Stoned", the slightly better, more catchy sequel to "Variety is the Spice of Life"; Robbie again having a musical freewheeling party with awesome leads and some honky tonk bar-room piano liken to "You Make Me Real". "Wandering Musician" is the album's clunker, going absolutely nowhere and very slowly at that. And we end with "Hang On To Your Life", which is most likely about Jim Morrison... what he didn't do... the tune leading with an African Rhythmic vibe and some really neat guitar licks join in (a poor man's "Sympthay for the Devil", but sounding great). Basically this is The Doors Lounge Lizard album - something you'd hear in a hotel bar in the Bahamas... but with a good tall drink. It doesn't live up to even the worst Morrison-Doors tracks (which there aren't many), but it's a fun ride overall. And quite a curio.

RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN

year: 1978
cast: Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann, Bette Davis
rating: ***1/2

The original, ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN, centered too much on Eddie Albert, his RV, and the villain and not enough of the kids. I realize the kids were the stars but it didn't seem as much their movie as this sequel in which the alien brother and sister take a visit to L.A. and things go wrong really quick. The boy is kidnapped and brainwashed by evil Christopher Lee, his henchman Anthony James, and Lee's seemingly-bad counterpart Bette Davis (who turns good later on). The girl escapes and joins a gang of ten year old street urchins and they plan to rescue the brother. Good versus evil is a lot funner this time around since there are more kids involved. I also enjoyed the climax pitting brother and sister against each other. Chalk this up as another example where the sequel trumps the original. At least for me.

SIX PACK

title: SIX PACK
year: 1982
cast: Kenny Rogers, Diane Lane, Erin Gray, Anthony Michael Hall, Terry Kiser, Barry Corbin
rating: **

When people think of acting it's usually how a performer speaks his or her lines. But acting is just as physical as verbal. How a person walks, runs, sits, stares in repose/reflection, is just as important as line delivery, and Kenny Rogers does it all horribly. Witnessing a fat Kenny (with an always perfectly combed shaggy dog beard) playing a car racer who every woman on earth is nuts about (including Erin Gray) hanging out with a bunch of orphaned freewheeling car thief kids (including Diane Lane and Anthony Michael Hall) is as entertaining for bad movie fans as a bad movie gets. Just sit and stare at Mr. Rogers, who fully realizes there is a camera pointing at him, and you will be thoroughly entertained on a level impossible to explain till you experience it for yourself. For those who live for cinematic torture, I recomend this highly.

SUPERDAD

title: SUPERDAD
year: 1972
cast: Bob Crane, Kurt Russell, Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Dick Van Patten
rating: *1/2

Creepy. The intro has Bob Crane (famous for the title role in "Hogans Heroes" and his sex video hobby that eventually led to his murder) running around on a beach with his teenage daughter, and his daughter is telling him that he, her dad, is the only man for her... or something just as sickening. Bob tries winning her, and her childhood-friend-turned-boyfriend (Kurt Russell), and all their beachy pals (including Bruno Kirby and Ed Begley Jr.) over by surfing and waterskiing and partying and basically being a "cool hip dad". Bob, looking more like Porky Pig than Hogan, eventually cross-country stalks his daughter who's gone off to college, making sure no man gets near her. And eventually battles an evil San Fransico Beatnik she's taken up with — thus proving he's really a super dad afterall. Creepy.

THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE

title: THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE
year: 1978
cast: Ken Berry
rating: ***

Domestic cats seem like they're from outer space to begin with; with their haughty mannerisms alone they're merely looking down on we mortal humans. So having a cat be from a more intellegent highly developed planet isn't much of a stretch. The tabby cat hero in this averagely entertaining live-action seventies Disney film merely has to act like a cat, and with the aid of a collar full of lights that glow when it's allowing humans to fly or horses to win races, it's totally believeable that this creature is better than us. For the most part the cat, Jake (voiced by Ronnie Schell), is better than the film itself, which isn't too bad but kind of meanders along at times; the first half set-up as the cat adapts to Earth, helps his friends bet horses and win a pool match against mobsters fares better than the last part outwitting government agents. Ken Berry does a decent job replacing the usual Disney staple Dean Jones (Berry is to Jones what Buddy Ebson is to Eddie Albert). It's interesting seeing both M*A*S*H colonels McClean Stevenson and Harry Morgan in a film together. And Jake's spaceship, which looks like the head of an space alien grasshopper, is kinda cool lookin'... at least from the outside.

THE HUEY WILLIAMS STORY (book)

title: THE HUEY WILLIAMS STORY
author: Andy Kaufman
rating: *****

This is a pseudo-autographical novel written by the late comic/actor/performer Andy Kaufman from 1977 to 1983. Most of the book centers on a young Huey's adventures climbing a mystical mountain at an amusement park and the further up he goes, the more adventures he finds himself involved in - basically it's a journey into "other lands", very dreamlike in its nature. The story will then go back and forth to Huey growing up "on earth" (i.e. in reality) and eventually becoming a comedian and actor. When things get too normal we return to the mountain: back into dreamland again (although it's never said to be an actual dream; and the "normal" story's character learns from the mountain experiences). The writing flows beautifully and the book even keeps in grammer and spelling mistakes just as Kaufman typed it. The story concludes suddenly with a description of a random building in New York; Kaufman was in the midst of the disease that would kill him and obviously couldn't continue (there are dates, like in journal entries, before each "chapter", and this last segment ends only months before his death). The first couple chapters before Huey climbs the mountain - centering on he and his kindergarten pals wandering the neighborhood and being chased by tract bullies - is as realistic and involving as any coming-of-age prose I've read. It's a shame that this story, and HIS story, had to end so soon.

KRIEGER/MANZEREK (concert)

artists: ROBBY KRIEGER/RAY MANZEREK OF "THE DOORS"
date: October 9th/2009
venue: The Grove, Anaheim
rating: *****

I don't think Jim Morrison, the singer, is overrated. As a singer I think he's underrated. As a sex symbol - his shirtless image outshining the other members of THE DOORS on posters, books, etc., he's overrated... either that or guitarist Robby Krieger, organist Ray Manzerek and drummer John Densmore are underrated, not only as musicians but as members of this iconic band. Well I got a chance to see two outta three: Robby and Ray... and now it's confirmed - not only is their part in THE DOORS legacy just as important as Morrison but they can still play... INCREDIBLY. The bassist and drummer were good (as expected), and the "replacement singer" had a nasally voice and looked more like Horseshack from "Welcome Back Kotter" than The Lizard King, but this was okay (and perhaps intentional)... he wasn't trying to replace Morrison but was simply carrying the vocals so Robby and Ray could do their stuff. The peak of the set was Krieger's unbelievable five minute flamenco guitar solo, which then lead to an awesome "Spanish Caravan". Ray took the role as MC, talking between songs (sounding like the plant in the eighties film version of "Little Shop of Horrors") and sometimes even during them; instigating people to get high during "Break On Through" and to revive the Summer of Love in 2010 before "Light My Fire": which, he reminded the audience at least five times, was written entirely by Krieger. Both R's look pretty aged (Ray with spiky gray hair and Robby looking more like "Seafelt" from "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" than his former "twin", comic Steven Wright) but both still have the same stage presence and haven't slowed down as performers: Ray the concentrative crouching praying mantis over the keys while Robby paints wonderfully weaving pictures with his Gibson SG (many of them actually). "When The Music's Over" was a highlight, carrying a ton of lighting bolt/thunder clap intensity; "The Changeling" was a sweet surprise; "The Soft Parade" was perhaps the only "bathroom song" (the singer forgetting some of the lyrics); "Back Door Man", "Break On Through", "Waiting for the Sun", "Peace Frog", "Blue Sunday" and "L.A. Woman" were wonderfully tight and colorful; while "Love Me Two Times", "Love Her Madly", "Touch Me" and "Light My Fire" were passable... but still quite a treat. Bummer they didn't do "Riders On The Storm" or "Roadhouse Blues" (both were on the set-list, which was stolen from the stage by a friend of mine SECONDS after the band left the stage)... but overall it was an incredible show.

THE WILD BUNCH

title: THE WILD BUNCH
year: 1969
rating: ***

The first half hour thrusts you into a really cool place you don't return to again. This was a purposefully anti-Western agenda: putting what would usually be a climax up front... but things seem to meander for most of the film, especially when the Bunch goes to Mexico and loses their youngest member in a death scene that nearly lasts an hour (or at least feels that way). Warren Oates and Ben Johnson, two of my favorite actors, act like Heckle and Jeckle in some scenes. William Holden holds things together dependably. And Ernest Borgnine is... Ernest Borgnine. But my favorite character is Bo Hopkins, who plays a rogue lunatic that only lasts through the opening (seen in intense flashbacks). I wish his character would have remained throughout. This Bunch needed more Wild, and he epitomized that perfectly.

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA

year: 1974
cast: Warren Oates, Isela Vega
writer/director: Sam Peckinpah
rating: ****1/2

The bizarre journey of a loser and his guitar-playing heart-of-gold whore girlfriend, driving across Mexico to cut off the head of a (dead and buried) gigolo named Alfredo Garcia and return it for money, is offbeat like a bum is untidy. Everything makes its own sense and there's a lotta neat violence, slow-motion deaths, and best of all, Warren Oates, giving the performance of a lifetime. Isela Vega is the epitome of a supportive role, and while this isn't Sam Peckinpah's best film, through all the tortrous insanity it definitely FEELS like his most personal.

JUNIOR BONNER

year: 1972
rating: ***

It's The Getaway team Sam Peckinpah/Steve McQueen in sleep mode. Not too bad but doesn't seem fitting to either the director or star. And gets a little too preachy about the haves and the have-nots, distracting what could have been a lean, clean character-study. Junior Bonner (McQueen), a bronco/bull rider, returns to his hometown for a competition and gets back in touch with his has-been father (Robert Preston), his put-upon mother (Ida Lupino), and his materialistic entrepeneur brother (Joe Don Baker) who's basically turning the small town into a real estate goldmine... for himself. Robert Preston's acting style (he always seems ready to break into song) fits more on stage than a "modern" film and distracts from McQueen's slowburn cool. Things are more interesting while centering on the bull riders as opposed to the family. Nothing really clicks when combining these two storylines, but the images, like any Peckinpah movie, are quite good: including Peck's slow-motion signature shots but without any deaths this time around.

PARADISE ALLEY

year: 1978
cast: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Kevin Conway
writer/director: Sylvester Stallone
rating: **

A movie that begins with a song sung by Sylvester Stallone has to be good... for something. If not simply for laughs. This is Sly's followup to ROCKY and has the feel of a film noir comic book and the dialogue of a pulpy dime novel. Sly plays a fast-talking role he'd have written for Burt Young or a more versitile character-actor, but doesn't do too bad a job... his acting is better than his directing herein. Plot centers on three brother (named in order up top): the main one a flaky rogue; one a crooked thug; one a very large, dumb lovable oaf... and there's barroom wrestling. It's no surprise which brother manages, which one wants all the money, and which one wrestles? Well Sly's not the fighter this time, and Armand Assante is both big brother and semi-antagonist (Funhouse star Kevin Conway the main heavy). This was Stallone's sophmore jinx after ROCKY rocketed him to stardom. The film has heart, but is, overall, a pointless mess.

CANNONBALL

title: CANNONBALL
year: 1976
cast: David Carradine, Belinda Balaski, Robert Carradine, Bill McKinney, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Scorsese, Dick Miller
director: Paul Bartel
rating: ****

Not as beloved as Roger Corman's "Deathrace 2000", the car-race film also starring David Carradine and directed by Paul Bartel, but is, in its own way, better. No funny-violent sideplot here, just a straight-out cross-country race based on the real life (and very illegal) Cannonball Run; yes, the same one Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham would take on a few years later... but this is more raw, rough and ragged. Each group has their own quirks and motivations, allowing the viewer to care about the outcome and feel part of the action, which is pretty much non-stop. Sylvester Stallone, who played Carradine's arch-enemy in "Deathrace 2000", makes a cameo as a mobster (along with Martin Scorsese).

PRESCRIPTION: MURDER

title: PRESCRIPTION: MURDER
year: 1968
cast: Peter Falk, Gene Barry
rating: ***

Columbus discovered America, and I've discovered Columbo, one of the best crime shows ever made. The perfect murder almost pulled-off by usually high class high brow society members thwrated by the epitome of "the little guy": a sloppy glass-eyed remora cop who eventually gets his man or woman by slowly figuring out what we, the audience, already know by sticking to them like crazy glue: each episode beginning with a creative homocide - the audience sees who the killer is and it's up to Columbo to figure things out from there. That was the series that came out in 1971, but this, the 1968 TV movie, not even called COLUMBO: PERSCRIPTION FOR MUDER but simply PERSCRIPTION FOR MURDER, isn't that great because, for one, Falk hadn't completely found the character yet. He only wears his trademark trenchcoat (the reverse superman cape) halfway through the episode, in the beginning donning a somewhat nifty suit. He's not clumsy and unassuming but precise, clean-shaven with a neat short haircut, not looking much different than the classy psychiatrist he's out to bust for killing his wife: aided by his lover, a beautiful actress. Columbo is more of a snarky tough guy than an accidental, neurotic genius here... although he does underrate himself somewhat and badgers people - only it's not as fun or entertaining. The third episode (actually, the second episode, not including this movie which ISN'T a pilot) MURDER BY THE BOOK (1971), directed by Steven Speilberg, REALLY gets the ball rolling. And it's all uphill from there. "Oh, and one more thing..."

DRESSED TO KILL

year: 1980
cast: Angie Dickinson, Keith Gordon, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen
writer/director: Brian DePalma
rating: ****

The best part of a symphony, often unheard on a record or CD, is the orchestra tuning: that strange, hypnotic sound that exists for a short time - which then becomes something wonderful. This film builds to a wonderful symphony but without losing the eerie embryonic "tuning-up" that formed it. The plot and direction owes a great deal to Hitchcock's PSYHCO. The main character ... so it seems... is a troubled middle-aged woman (Angie Dickinson) who, right as we're getting into her dilemma/story-line, is suddenly butchered by a "female-like-person" (Michael Caine), actualy a man who acts normal but - it turns out - is a murderous cross-dresser. Nancy Allen (as a hooker/witness) and Keith Gordon (the brainy son of Dickinsen) are the Vera Miles and John Gavin who carry the film the rest of the way. We even get a psychiatrist's explanation liken to the one delivered by Simon Oakland; not one but TWO shower scenes; and what's missing with Martin Balsam's pesty investigator we get in grumpy police sergeant Dennis Franz (who doesn't fall backwards down a stairway). This is proof that remakes can be done-away-with entirely by taking the basic storyline of a classic film and morphing it into something completely original. I guess that's not an easy feat - which is why they'll probably remake this one day.

THE BUNKER


title: THE BUNKER
year: 1981
cast: Anthony Hopkins, Richard Jordan, James Naughton
rating: **

Too much emphasis on making Anthony Hopkins LOOK like the infamous German dictator while his acting is either too little or too much: mellow one minute, over-the-top the next. The mellow Hitler seems constrained by the make-up while the screaming Hitler is trying to break out of it. Richard Jordan as Hitler's faithless confidant keeps some kind of balance going on, but not enough. Hopkins as Hitler fares better in a photograph than a performance.

OUT TO SEA


title: OUT TO SEA
year: 1997
cast: Walter Mathau, Jack Lemmon, Hal Linden, Brent Spiner
rating: ***1/2

Nifty follow-up (not sequel) to GRUMPY OLD MEN with the dynamic-duo Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon playing, you got it, old codgers, this time posing as employed dance-partners on a cruise ship for wealthy old lady passengers: a sort of tricky Three's Company style of "don't get caught" ruse comedy. Mathau's character is an endearing gambling slob and Lemmon is a shy, passive neat-nick... sound familiar? There's a few runaround cons involving poor folks pretending to be rich then realizing they don't need money for love. The trickery and hijinks will keep you mildly entertained, which is all this movie asks for. The scene-stealer, though, is jerky antagonist Brent Spiner as their boss, seeming a cross between Peter Sellers and a human rodent.

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS

title: HEARTS IN ATLANTIS
year: 2003
cast: Anthony Hopkins, David Morse
rating: **

I could have sworn that Anthony Hopkins was supposed to be the kid as an old man who went back in time to help the kid (a younger version of himself) cope with life and to score with the little girl who ends up dying in the middle storyline wherein David Morse is ACTUALLY the kid grown up and looks exactly like a young Anthony Hopkins. Are you confused? Not as much as I was watching this movie. It begins with David Morse (in the present time) going to a funeral for one friend and then finding out another has also died. Then he visits his dilapidated house and remembers when he was young - in the late sixties - living with a bitchy single mother and an old lodger, played by Hopkins, who helps him with... I think I already covered this part but... This is really just a mediocre coming-of-age tale; a "Stand By Me" (also by Stephen King) but without any purpose. I'm still not sure what happened or what I just wrote about it.

KILL BILL DIARY (BOOK)

title: KILL BILL DIARY
year: 2005
author: David Carradine
rating: ****1/2

David Carradine obviously had a few demons in his life, but none appear in this uplifting and somewhat purposely lightweight book chronicling his work on Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL. The journal/journey begins as Tarantino has a falling out with Warren Beatty, originally cast in the role given to Carradine (Quentin then changed the Bill character from a suave James Bond-turned-bad to a tough-as-nails flute-playing rogue). There's a lot of what some would call "ass-kissing" about Tarantino, but this is understandable as David's career wasn't exactly tops... he'd been on a long, slow decline since "Bound For Glory" in 1976 which came right after his groundbreaking stint on the iconic TV show "Kung Fu". But Carradine doesn't put himself down too much: in his perspective this comeback was long overdue. In his opinion, he and Tarantino working together is more synergy than charity (which I totally agree). He writes non-fiction like others write prose; precise, interesting, and completely involving. For fans of KILL BILL, this is a plus. You get to experience all David's scenes (and then some others that he witnessed) but without any gossip - just the facts about what he went through for a rather greuling shoot going from China to L.A. The only drawbacks are about ten pages (scattered throughout) written by the fat goofy self-absorbed founder of aintitcool.com and his perspective/teasers (which only really mattered before the film came out). The book has everything, including dabs of David's existential philosophies (often comparing the Bill Murray film "Groundhog Day" to Zen Buddism... strange but cool), a sprinkle of politics (bashing Bush and then giving Reagan full credit for ending the cold war), and tons of romance: some centered on his wife Annie; some on fellow KB cast members (Uma Thurman, Vivica Fox, Daryl Hannah); but mostly on Tarantino, whom, at one point, he considers a superhero sent to earth to free the world... no joke. Carradine is such a good writer you don't feel as if you're reading, but rather, like you're hanging out with someone's really cool hippie dad.

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