PRETTY IN PINK

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

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

FUNNY PEOPLE

year: 2009
rating: **

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

A CHORUS LINE

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

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

CRITICAL CONDITION

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

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

LIFE STINKS

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

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

THE OTHER SISTER

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

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

THE DARK KNIGHT

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

GOIN' SOUTH

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

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

A CHRISTMAS CAROL 3D

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

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

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE

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

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

HEARTBURN

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

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

BORN IN EAST L.A. (CHEECH MARIN)

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

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

THE EVENING STAR

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

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

STRANGER THAN FICTION

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

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

ASSASSINATION

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

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

THE EIGER SANCTION

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

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

RV

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

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

EYE SEE YOU

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

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

BUFFALO '66

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

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

ONE HOUR PHOTO

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

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

THE VALACHI PAPERS

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

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

THE GNONE-MOBILE

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

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

MEET DAVE

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

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

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