released: 2009
line-up: Dave Grohl (drums), John Paul Jones (bass), Josh Homme (guitars, vocals)
rating: *1/2

When I heard that Dave Grohl, one of my favorite "modern" drummers, who banged the skins on Nirvana's last two studio albums and then helmed his own outfit, FOO FIGHTERS, playing drums (along with guitars and singing) on the first two studio albums before allowing the Taylor Hawkins to take over completely... And John Paul Jones, bassist/keyboardist for the greatest band of all time, Led Zeppelin, had formed a band together... I was (to use the title of one of my favorite Foo Fighter's tunes) ECSTATIC! Grohl on drums, Jones on bass... and the lead singer from QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, a band I never liked, provides not only lead vocals but lead (and rhythm) guitars as well. As most people can figure, a singer gets the last word while the guitarist paints the real picture. So in the case of this particular supergroup, the guy who paints the last word, Josh Homme... sounding like a wannabe Scott "Stone Temple Pilots" Weiland and creating riffs that are both repetitive and boring... turns what could have been a powerhouse band into... to quote Captain James T. Kirk... "Standard Orbit". You heard one song, you heard them all. And none are very good.


year: 1963
genre: animation
studio: Disney
rating: ***

This has as much to do with King Arthur as The Phantom Menace does with Darth Vader, as a clumsy pre-teen squire named "Wart", working for a mean step-father and bullying brother, befriends the wizard Merlin, more goofy than wise, and his talking pet owl. Merlin turns the kid into several animals including a fish, squirrel and bird, teaching him more about natural selection than anything that'd aid him in his future position as King of England, which is only shown for the last five minutes after "Wart" pulls the titular sword from the stone with inevitable ease. The songs aren't too annoying, the animation looks good, and it definitely won't bore the kiddies.


year: 1967
cast: Beau Bridges, Tony Musante, Martin Sheen, Ed McMahon, Jack Gilford, Donna Mills, Brock Peters, Ruby Dee, Gary Merrill
rating: ***1/2

Ensemble cast of characters in New York City, from thugs to soldiers to an assortment of loners and couples (old and young, black and white), are introduced in various locations on a late Sunday night. When they arrive on the same subway, in the same car, the stage is set. The problem is the same thing that works. The play-like atmosphere weaves in and out of realistic intensity and the acting, at times, goes overboard, especially the leader of two thugs played to the hilt by Tony Musante who, through threats and machismo and along with his strange and dangerous partner Martin Sheen, hold the passengers hostage: driving each to individual breaking-points. But the movie really belongs to Beau Bridges as a seemingly docile soldier from Oklahoma. With genuine confidence and a palpable inner-strength he gives hope to a seemingly hopeless situation and brings the movie to a more realistic (and less dated) level acting-wise. Sheen's performance is also top-notch, foreshadowing his role in BADLANDS a few years later.


year: 1991
cast: Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Robert De Niro
director: Ron Howard
normal movie rating: *
bad movie rating: ****

Ron Howard, former child-star turned overrated film director, throws anything and everything into the pot and ends up creating the worst "blockbuster" ever made, and grandiosely so. While focusing on the lives of two brothers, seasoned fireman Kurt Russell and new-recruit William Baldwin, who lost their firefighting dad years before in an, um, fire, the story really centers on a succession of explosions that kill seemingly random victims like something from a horror movie. There are good guys and bad guys; the good guys are blue collar, the bad guys wear suits (the same as the producers of this movie, most likely). Kurt Russell's acting is so hammy it's hilarious, and every shot of William Baldwin screams: "Aren't I a cutie pie?" Scott Glenn, J.T. Walsh, Rebecca DeMorney and Jennifer Jason Leigh collect a paycheck. Robert DeNiro, as a Merlin-like arson investigator trying to "out think" the fire - treated as a living/breathing vengeful entity - gives Russell a run in the bad acting department, trumped only by Donald Sutherland as a deranged yet helpful incarcerated arsonist (liken to Hannibal Lecter). But it's Ron Howard - attempting to turn every frame into something that'd awe opening night audiences everywhere - who really deserves the blame. Although in making a completely over-the-top disaster, he does succeed, splendidly.


title: ELVIS
year: 1979
cast: Kurt Russell
director: John Carpenter
rating: *1/2

I usually really love made-for-TV bio-pics. And I love early John Carpenter. I like Kurt Russell. But this was total junk. Russell's acting isn't bad but he looks nothing like Elvis, who gained fame not only from an immense talent but he was pretty, whereas Russell, although not bad looking, seems more like an Elvis impersonator impersonator, and never have I witnessed worse lip-syncing in my life. There's no flow whatsoever, and the storyline hardly delves into anything above surface level i.e. what we've already read or heard about the late icon. John Carpenter's direction is lazy and dull. The camera, at times, just sits there and waits... and waits for something interesting to happen. Where's that glide-cam, John? It's needed here. And so is a better script. And another actor.


year: 1945
cast: Lawrence Tierney, Anne Jeffries, Marc Lawrence, Elisha Cook, Edmund Lowe, Ralph Lewis, Eduardo Ciannelli, Constance Worth
rating: ****

This was obviously a way to cash in on a big name. At that time John Dillinger was a slain folk hero as much as a villain. It'd been ten years since his death and perhaps many people didn't remember the particularities of his story - or the producers didn't care. But this film noir starring Lawrence Tierney in the title role is a lot of fun anyway. After the stage is set - a young JD goes to jail for robbing a store for beer money - he and a group of crooks chat in prison about busting out and robbing banks. Eventually this happens, and the heists are terrific, one including smoke bombs on a rainy street. Tierney plays the stone-faced-thug so well that he never really got out of it. Even his "comeback" many decades later in "Reservoir Dogs" has his tough-as-nails character muttering the line "Dead as Dillinger", a nod to this classic that, although historically inaccurate, is a terrific ride where every scene has something going for it: almost like a bunch of really neat skits pieced together.

KING KONG (1933)

title: KING KONG
year: 1933
cast: Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, James Flavin
directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
rating: *****

If you love a movie enough and consider it flawless, a review will simply be propaganda. Well here comes some propaganda, which won't merit a great, or even a good, review, but more like... preaching. KING KONG is an historic film, and like anything tagged "classic" or "groundbreaking", it's often misunderstood as to what made it stand-out or, to use another cliche, "timeless". The special effects/stop-motion animation is, in today's standards, quite dated - but it's how close we are to (and move along with) the action that still makes it work. Every swing, every bite, every scream, every roar, and all the chasing-around puts us in front row seats. The sparse dialog is corny at times, and the actors aren't exactly Gable and Lombard. But there are no wasted words; every syllable leads to the main destination, Skull Island. And once we arrive we leap right into dealing with the situation (with some terrific eye-candy, especially those dinosaurs) and then, in the final third taking place in New York, we're given a climax that cannot be done today. Kong was a monster. A native-chomping, subway-breaking, woman-dropping, cold-blooded beast. And while you genuinely feel for the big guy, he's a killer, not a sympathetic Vegetarian driven to madness by evil exploitative humans, like both remakes. And in that, we can enjoy both loving and battling him at the same time. No message is needed. An anti-hero monster movie without any bullshit. That's why it cannot be outdone with political-correctness or CGI. Amen.


year: 1989
cast: Whoopi Goldberg, James Belushi, Karen Black, John Waters
rating: **1/2

Road movies usually, no matter what, have the same thing going for them: if they get boring there's always something else up the... road. In this film, a retarded man - because of an injury where a baseball hit him on the head - takes to the highway for no other reason than his curiosity of something outside his small town, and, after getting robbed, meets his polar opposite, a streetwise black woman who, at first, seems like a funny spontaneous crook but as the film progresses we learn she has a terminal brain tumor. She enjoys not only robbing stores at gun point but eventually killing people. The goofy interplay between the duo is hard, almost impossible to take during the first half (not helped by some horrible jump-cut editing), but when the violence begins, the film gets more interesting though never realistic. Belushi's performance embodies the typical Hollywood template when dealing with the mentally-challenged, displaying selective endearingly-childlike simplicity until a sort of "alternate wisdom" occurs: teaching us how we all should be. And Whoopi is being Whoopi, for better or worse.


year: 1972
cast: Robert Mitchum, Ken Hutchison, Victor Buono, John Colicos, Frank Langella, Rita Hayworth, Paula Pritchett
director: Ralph Nelson
rating: ***

This Sam Peckinpah meets Sergio Leone in this 1920s-era anti-Western with a confident young Irish rogue (STRAW DOGS's Ken Hutchison) smuggling alcohol that turns out to be guns in the badlands of Mexico. He's then forced to join with a boozy priest (Robert Mitchum, old yet still handsome, not having reached his praying mantis stage) and the con-man who set him up (Victor Buono) to kill the dictator of a small town. The mini-adventures leading to the prolonged final act: consisting of car chases, shootouts, and a near-death experience with a firing squad make a solid action/adventure with some humor thrown in (although constant reminders of Mitchum's priest being not-so-holy gets old). When the trio reach their destination, and plot to kill target-at-hand Frank Langella, it's a sluggish trail with way too much dialog. Although things pick up again in a WILD BUNCH style climax via machine-guns and slow-motion deaths. Noteworthy as Rita Hayworth's final performance as Langella's passive mother.


year: 1986
cast: Gene Wilder, Gilda Radner, Dom Deluise, Peter Vaughan
director: Gene Wilder
rating: **

Gene Wilder unsuccessfully morphs YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN into the Wolfman genre, adding a Sherlock Holmes fog-shrouded mystery vibe and all taking place at a spooky castle. He plays a famous radio star (ala 1930's Orson Welles) who brings his fiancee, real life wife Gilda Radner, to his family's estate for their wedding and honeymoon. It's haunted, sure; not by ghosts but someone trying to scare him off by dressing as a werewolf. Unfunny, though not a complete howler.


year: 2009
cast: Vince Vaughan, Jon Farvareu, Jason Bateman, Jean Reno
rating: *

Four couples go to an island for fun and relaxation, which turns out to be a new age counseling nightmare. The only people having a worse time than the couples is the audience. There is the same problem that exists between screen and viewer that occurs in a bad relationship. No connections; at least none that count. And it's not funny. Vince Vaughan and Jon Farvareu should have stayed single doubling-down in Vegas. Both were relatable back then. But dealing with marriage, their dry, accidental wit seems uncomfortable and contrived. I want a divorce.


year: 1978
cast: Anthony Hopkins
rating: *1/2

Misleadingly billed as a "horror", this limp suspense yarn, directed by the usually dependable Richard Attenborough, imitates Hitchcock, poorly. Plot involves a magician/ventriloquist played by a young Anthony Hopkins who, on the verge of fame, can't live without his advice-giving dummy. He runs away from his New York City agent who's about to sign him to a contract, goes to the mountains where he was raised and connects with his childhood crush, Ann Margaret, who's married to tough Ed Lauter. And the love triangle begins: after Lauter's killed. A few suspenseful scenes can't save a wooden script. What isn't predictable is completely pointless. And a horribly lame "twist" ending seals this coffin tight.


year: 2006
cast: Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum
writer/director: Barry Levinson
rating: *

Director Barry Levinson ran for president. Everything he believes in is here, and his mouthpiece is Robin Williams. Or is it the other way around? I know Barry wrote the script, but I'm still not sure how much was ad-libbed. Not enough to merit a good movie, or a decent premise, which builds shit-through-a-goose-quick during the opening credits: a Bill Maher/Jon Stewart type talk show host is told by an audience member he should run for President of the United States. He does, and wins. Kinda. Williams' hyperactive stand-up routines, one happening spontaneously during a planned Presidential debate, are nearly impossible to hear, and maybe that's good because what is audible isn't funny. A side-story involving a woman (and possible love-interest) who knows too much about a computer-voting glitch becomes the main focus, and Levinson juggles his dull documentarian-style comedy with a Redford-esque seventies-era political espionage drama, and fails miserably on both counts - at the same time.


year: 2009
cast: Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Justin Bartha
rating: **1/2

Such a great initial investment with likable, often hilarious characters and a clever premise: four buddies journey to Vegas for a bachelor party and three wake up hungover, not remembering anything. The groom-to-be is missing and there's a tiger and baby in their suite. So they must find their friend by figuring what they did the night before. The first half, as the mystery unfolds, is fantastic. The last half, as the clues get solved and more and more seemingly impossible over-the-top situations involving a gay Asian drug lord, a police taser demonstration, and ex-champ Mike Tyson pan out, it loses any and all charm. The characters seemed too realistic and relatable to become comic book fodder. They deserved better.


cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey rating: ***

There's a guilty pleasure watching, for nearly a half an hour, a thinned-down Gene Hackman as New York's iconic tough cop Popeye Doyle being force-fed heroin in a Euro-slum and then kicking it cold turkey, squirming, vomiting, and screaming about Mickey Mantle. We begin in France and this time remain there. Hackman can't get a decent whiskey buzz, finds it impossible interrogating perps, and is without partner/anchor Roy Scheider (although French partner Bernard Freeson, who resembles Vic Morrow, does a great job). The maze-like cat-and-mouse between the ragged good guy Doyle and classy villain Charnier (Fernando Rey) is more blind crippled dog vs lazy lion this time around. Perhaps because Charnier (who speaks English, ruining his mysterious quality) is too comfortable while our hero has nowhere to turn. This grungy sequel, which does merit some excellent handheld camerawork, feels like a visitor game without much of a home team. But at times the claustrophobic journey is somewhat interesting. Perhaps it wasn't meant to be enjoyed, but rather, experienced. And the last frame (five or so seconds) is, I have to admit, much more satisfying than the original's benign cliffhanger.


year: 1950
cast: Lawrence Tierney, George Coulouris, Marissa O'Brien, Rudolph Anders, Veloso Pires, Mira Lobo
rating: ***1/2

Simplicity at its finest. A low-budget adventure-based film noir about a building constructor played by badass-heavy Lawrence Tierney as a good guy this time around (actually singing and dancing in one scene), returning from the jungle to a South American nightclub to collect a debt for installing air conditioning units. The boss doesn't wanna pay and Tierney tells an employee "If he doesn't pay I'll kill him". Well guess who dies and who gets blamed for it? Tierney escapes and stowsaway on a river boat with a rich woman who's husband lives in a plush mansion within the jungle squalor. He joins a crew and, realizing the haves are screwing the have-nots, lets the husband/bossman - responsible for the initial murder which Tierney is blamed - know he's not happy. The cold-classy villain tries to get the handsome, peskily idealistic intruder - who's also in love with his wife (and vice versa) - to bathe with a riverful of piranhas c/o henchman George Coulouris (Thatcher from CITIZEN KANE). And that's about it. The scant plot and short run-time work in its favor: everything that happens completely matters.


year: 1988
cast: Heather O'Rourke
rating: *1/2

Carol Anne Freeling (Heather O'Rourke) is now living with her rich aunt (her mother's sister) and uncle in a glass-structured skyscraper that harbors not only apartments but offices and an extended shopping mall. She goes to a special school for kids with... problems and is considered a charlatan for having "tricked" people into believing, basically, everything that occurred in the previous films. So we're back to (and remain at) zero as a Julian Beck ("Preacher Kane") lookalike appears now and again while ghostly "doubles" of the lame new cast sneak around any and every interior, providing no chills whatsoever.


title: ROCKY III
year: 1982
cast: Sylvester Stallone, Taila Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith, Mr. T, Hulk Hogan, Tony Burton, Frank Stallone, Stu Nahan
writer/director: Sylvester Stallone
rating: ****

Taking away the dated and often preposterous factors, including an over-the-top battle against Hulk Hogan that makes us believe professional wrestling isn't scripted, and the casting of eighties icon Mr. T as the mega-villain rival Clubber Lange (who's performance isn't bad, but the character is blatantly one-dimensional), this, the third outing in the ROCKY series, is a terrific ride. The first two films were seemingly-realistic studio-driven-indies while this is the big budget mainstream peak of the franchise: for better or worse, it's all here. The opening credit sequence (after two back-to-back montages), as Burt Young's sloppy and desperate (and often comic-relief-providing) "Paulie" wanders the streets in a drunken stupor, we're reminded of the street-savvy original. And during both of Rocky's training sessions... the first where he's not taking things seriously (an inside-satire of the franchise's corporate megalomania) before going up against his formidable opponent - and then, after getting knocked-out and losing his beloved "Mickey", teaming with former rival/new trainer Apollo Creed in urban downtown Los Angeles - there's a genuine base delivering the goods to near-perfection. Just turn off and have fun.


year: 1999
cast: David Carradine, Michael Bowen, Bob Balaban, Stephen Root
rating: *1/2

The theme, not plot, is a cross between "Natural Born Killers" and "From Dusk Till Dawn", perhaps explaining why Quentin Tarantino calls this "Brilliant". It's ain't. Enveloped around an independent filmmaker's pseudo-documentary on a mailman serial killer, Michael Bowen, and an FBI agent i.e. Monster Hunter, David Carradine, who's more messed-up than his target-at-hand. The main problem is the over-abundance of interviews with friends, family (of the killer and his victims), workmates, shrinks, authors, and cops, showing how banal white trash (and/or authority) is, distracting from much-needed linear intensity, which does rear its head involving a Bowen/Carradine face-off (real life brother-in-laws and both appearing in QT's KILL BILL), teasing old school exploitation cinema promise but ending too soon, which, alas, the movie doesn't. It seems to last forever.


year: 1986
cast: Craig T. Nelson, Jobeth Williams, Julien Beck, Heather O'Rourke
rating: *1/2

Although a lot more entertaining than EXORCIST II, this first sequel of the haunted house classic suffers the same futile attempt at explaining the origins of the initial ghostly infestation, and with that there's too many cooks: and the soup tastes pretty sour.

Vapid Indian incantations with extremely horrible and overdone special effects, killer tequila worms, a kid's braces becoming monsters, and a lot of really forced, awful dialogue from characters so natural the first time around... Craig T. Nelson in particular is overboard and hammy beyond belief, and beyond. Not to mention a barrage of blasphemous flashbacks to the original, not only reminding the audience of what was a much better film, but what should have remained untouched, unscathed, and unburdened: And the burden's all on Heather O'Rourke's still cute little Carol Anne, who was a victim before and now holds magical answers like some kind of corny fairy tale...

The only good thing is the casting of Julien Beck as "Kane", the old man preacher/wraith donning a black hat and wicked smile, his looks alone providing the only real chills. Before and after him, it's all flash and... you know the rest.


title: Thunder and Lightning
cast: David Carradine, Kate Jackson, Charles Napier, Claude Earl Jones
producer: Roger Corman
rating: ***

Those fan boats (the ones made famous on TV's Gentle Ben) jamming around the Everglades are cool. As is the boat chase that encompasses the first twenty minutes. Some car chases too. And a decent plot about moonshiners getting revenge on a corporate soda producer who moonshines in his warehouse at night after sabotaging independents by day, one being David Carradine who, protecting two old men who run a tried-and-true rural "still", and with girlfriend Kate Jackson at his side (who happens to be the daughter of the corporate villain) there's plenty of sticky situations to get in-and-out of, and that means action. But after an hour any reason for the running around runs its course and all seems exercise. Overall a neat Roger Corman outing for the seventies. And Carradine even provides some kung fu for good measure.

BIG HOUSE U.S.A. (1955)

Howard Koch directs this Bel Air Productions crime-prison film-noir with everything. Ralph Meeker "happens upon" a rich kid with asthma in the mountains, who'd escaped from a camp before getting a shot, takes him to a tower and tells him to stay put. Then makes a phone call to the kid's rich father, demanding ransom. After the kid dies accidentally (or is he really dead?), Meeker coldly throws the body off a cliff, then collects the ransom and stashes it. Soon after Ralph is busted. No one can prove he actually kidnapped the boy, so he gets an easy five years for extortion. Ralph is called "Ice Man" because he won't admit what everyone knows, and now he has to face a group of cell mates, all experienced criminals who, using their new tenant, escape to the mountains find that ransom. There's plenty of intrigue and just as much action, and the story takes us to several locations, outdoors and in, and doesn't feel claustrophobic like many old prison movies: the title, although pretty neat, is somewhat misleading. Broderick Crawford, Lon Chaney, William Tallman, and a young muscular Charles Bronson play the hardened convicts wielding Meeker as a cog in their wheel, one that never stops rolling till the climactic shootout. A narrating FBI agent, investigating the nurse who caused the kid to initially run off - perhaps not accidental - provides a nifty peripheral to this forgotten fifties gem.


year: 1978
cast: Sonny Carl Davis, Lou Perryman, Doris Hargrave, Eric Henshaw
director: Eagle Pennell
rating: ****

The CLERKS of the late '70s has two poor white-trash Texas losers, Frank and Loyd, hanging out, drinking beer and trying to get rich quick. Loyd, played by lanky Lou Perryman (resembling a rockabilly Tom Waits), is the idea man with some pretty bad inventions till one, a self-loading mopping device, finally sells for a quick payoff... not realizing the contract left out any gross profits. But the true star of this dusty B&W classic is Frank, played by Sonny Carl Davis (the short bald guy who, years later, was promised a 100% Guaranteed Breakfast in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"), as he neglects his wife, ignores his son, and seems to enjoy himself anyway. The best scenes involve the undynamic-duo sitting around Loyd's dusty office discussing fruitless pie-in-the-sky dreams. The only drawbacks occur when filmmaker Eagle Pennell, who shot this entirely on weekends for over a year, tries overdoing himself with fight scenes (or anything involving fast action) i.e. stuff that costs money to seem realistic. Fans of ultra-low-budget indie films, this is your CITIZEN KANE. It's nitty, gritty, eavesdropping realism you'll rarely - if ever - witness on screen. And the soundtrack, consisting of an acoustic guitar played by Eagle's brother Chuck, is like a character in itself.


year: 1977
cast: Dean Jones, Don Knotts, Eric Braeden
rating: **1/2

A more fitting title would be THE LUST BUG, as Herbie can't concentrate on qualifying for the big race in Monte Carlo because of a cute little light-blue sports car. Herbie driving off-course to catch his prize becomes a bit distracting, as does a side-plot involving a stolen diamond hidden within the bug's gas tank sought after by two bumbling (and unfunny) crooks. If more was centered on the race: Herbie ala Dean Jones and Don Knotts verses Eric Braeden in his Grand Prix hotrod, it'd be a far more interesting ride. Funnier too.


year: 1977
cast: Jessica Harper
director: Dario Argento
rating: *

It's as if the devil himself made a horror film. The problem is, he ain't subtle. Each time something bad's about to happen, grandiosely wicked music blares, the camera pans crazily, and women start screaming. The character build-up i.e. downtime, involving an American ballerina in Europe living with a group of dancers in a big evil boarding-house, is sluggish and dull. Then that hellishly-loud, torturingly-monotonous wall of thundering music sounds and another pointless character is about to die. And on and on it goes.


year: 1977
cast: Carroll Baker, Perry King, Susan Tyrrell, Lawrence Tierney, Joe Lambie
producer: Andy Warhol
rating: ***

A tough middle-aged woman, Carroll Baker, does electrolysis out of her home and runs a female-assassin service on the side. Enter a studly male lodger, Perry King, who joins the band of cold-blooded vixens and... this intoxicating indie follows the nightlife of the sick and twisted throughout New York city as they: drop a car on a mechanic, beat up an old man and his dog, toss a crying infant out a window, plan the murder of an autistic child, and hang around talking about nothing. This isn't a great so-bad-it's-good flick, but then again it's not a terrible b-movie (or rather, d-movie) either. Produced by Andy Warhol, the real actors deliver lines professionally, making you forget the anemic budget.


year: 2010
cast: Julia Roberts, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner
director: Garry Marshall
rating: *

The Robert Altman style of having a bunch of characters all seemingly unrelated and following their various stories within the same "location" eventually connecting ("Nashville", "A Wedding", "Short Cuts") has been ruined so many times, by so many directors, that yet another lame attempt may not seem a big deal, but this star-studded mess about troubled couples on VALENTINES DAY is not only a preposterous stab at the mazey genre, but one of the worst movies I've ever witnessed. The entire thing feels rushed and pieced together. Although Garry Marshall, the king of hit-or-miss, is at the helm, it feels like no one's in charge; like a crashing plane on auto-pilot or a car on cruise-control driving off a cliff. And just when you think it can't get any worse, it does. To center on each story and pick apart the mistakes would merit a review the size of a Tolstoy novel. But the sappy Ashton Kutcher flower shop tale involving Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner and George Lopez is the worst. The Julia Roberts/Bradley Cooper ditty of two strangers on a plane is the weakest. The Anne Hathaway story of a phone sex girl (stolen from SHORT CUTS) is the most annoying. And it all equals one giant mess.


year: 2007
cast: Malcom McDowell
director: Rob Zombie
rating: **

Rob Zombie serves up human beings as fodder, most of them so overly vapid, annoying or evil they're just begging to die. The legendary Michael Myers gets a forty-five minute back-story as a little boy who's about as scary as Jodie Foster in those old Coppertone ads. He's picked on by bullies, has a stripper mom and a white trash cliche-spouting step-father, and eventually goes on a killing spree, gets locked up in an insane asylum, and fifteen years later resembles Cousin It on steroids. He breaks out after slaughtering more deserving-victims, returns to the dilapidated house of his youth, dons his trusty (and iconic) William Shatner mask, and like the John Carpenter film in which this is based: wanders the suburbs in search of his long-long sister. Malcom McDowell's Dr. Loomis is a greedy capitalist who, after having treated Myers for years, pens a best-seller and becomes like a double-agent in a CIA film: find Myers or lose everything. The character Laurie Strode, the focal-point of the original, is but a side-character. And her banal teenage friends, all written to be massacred with no interesting or memorable personality traits (each spouting forgettable filler dialog), become more pudding in the pie. How many times can one stab a human being, and how is this scary? Rob knows a thing or two about shock and gore, but doesn't build an eerie enough stage to merit genuine (implied) horror. Too much lightning without thunder.


year: 1973
cast: Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Keith Carradine, Matt Clark
director: Robert Aldrich
rating: **

This film has us believe that, during the great depression when hobos made their way jumping trains, the railway workers were about as evil as the Stormtroopers in STAR WARS and Darth Vadar, played by Ernest Borgnine, kills any and all vagrants with a hammer and when Lee Marvin successfully leaps a train, along with young "climber" Keith Carradine, Borgnine has to live up to his reputation and thus a battle between good and evil, Marvin and Borgnine, ensues in this Robert Aldrich actioneer that's directed and edited wonderfully but is as far-fetched and confusing as can be. The actors are great but much of the dialog is pulpy and downright embarrassing. Some terrific fight scenes occur even though the plot derails less than halfway through. A handsome wreck.


year: 1942
cast: Robert Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Ann Sheridan
rating: ***1/2

There's something thoroughly hypnotic and intoxicating about this melodrama centering on a handful of unlucky individuals growing up in a strange dusty town the film's named after. Ronald Reagan, never known for his terrific acting ability, has enough charm to make you forget his limited range, and Robert Cummings is his perfect corny counterpart, always seeming ready to break into song - usually a sad one. The best performances are from the ever-competitive envy-ridden women either going insane or just about to. The camera sweeps to all the right angles, the music flows beautifully, but by the end, since most of the storyline jumps to and fro at a rather quick pace, it seems like a condensed epic, raising the enviable question: Where's the rest of it?


year: 2008
cast: Jason Segal, Kirstin Bell
rating: *

That sarcastic yet vacant way of repeating-the-question in order to question-the-answer that "Hurley" does successfully in LOST is done horribly here - about a million times over - by glib dullard Jason Segal, who somehow, despite looking like Peter Berg and Garry Shandling's lovechild... after breaking up with (and being broken-hearted over) the most gorgeous blonde on earth (named Sarah Marshall) beds down with a handful of other hotties and then meets the most beautiful brunette in the universe and we're supposed to actually feel for this guy? I guess when you're in Hollywood, being a loser is much different than real life. This SWINGERS FOR DUMMIES might possibly be the worst film I've seen in a very long while. Judd Apatow, I'm begging you, buy your soul back!!!


year: 1950
cast: Lawrence Tierney, Anne Jeffreys, Lowell George
rating: ***

Lawrence Tierney plays mean and sinister so naturally it's odd seeing him as a friendly guy who travels around with a cute little doggie. Toned and shirtless on the beach, he meets a pretty girl (Anne Jeffries, his DILLINGER moll) who turns out to be a pawn in the murder of a politician and then Larry, the dog, and the girl, falsely accused, drive around to find the real killers... Or are being chased by the real killers... Aided by a helpful old Motel owner who really loves the camera. It's a lean, fluffy, fun ride - the perfect antidote for the usual dark and shady Tierney outing.


title: tick...tick...tick...
year: 1970
cast: Jim Brown, George Kennedy, Don Stroud, Mills Watson
rating: *1/2

Imagine, if you will, the plot of BLAZING SADDLES: a newly elected black Sheriff unwanted in a town full of redneck racists. Now imagine it without any humor or purpose other than to show how horrible white people are down South. Whitesploitation at its worst. Some good actors are in it but none're acting too good. Although I do like the title, which is, ironically, the sound coming from what perfectly describes this movie.


year: 1984
rating: **1/2

If Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Paul Schrader, and John Waters had a baby, it'd grow up to attend the same college as Ken Russell's CRIMES OF PASSION. The title derives from a term of committing legal murder against a wife or husband who's cheating, but is tweaked, in this case, to passion i.e. sexual intercourse being treated like a criminal act i.e. prostitution and what's considered taboo. Enter Kathleen Turner, a fashion designer by day, anything-goes hooker by night... crossing paths with sexually frustrated family man John Laughlin, who's hired by Turner's daytime boss to shadow her nightlife (the boss thinks she's stealing his prototypes). Laughlin learns of her trade and, curious, becomes one of her most loyal, and beloved, customers. On the peripheral is Anthony Perkins, resembling a dilapidated muppet and doing an over-the-top impersonation of what people expect of his post-PSYCHO purgatory career, playing a wacky street preacher out to "save" Turner - only he wants some on the side, and steals a bad movie like a bank manager rips his own bank. 


year: 1976
rating: ****

This episode, during one of the final seasons where the writers knew exactly what to deliver, epitomizes everything great about the popular detective series: as scruffy Lt. Columbo busts high class people who think they've pulled off the perfect crime - which the audience sees in punctuating detail in the first fifteen minutes - by pestering them into submission and, while complementing their abilities to aid him at his job, underrates himself as being totally incapable without their help i.e. the bad guys basically screw themselves. William Shatner plays a TV detective, a "fictionalized" Columbo, who kills a woman (Lola Albright as a beautiful cougar) who's taking control of half his paycheck. The murder-motivation is somewhat thin but how Shatner provides his alibi, using Bert Remsen, spiked booze, and an early-model VCR, is quite clever. Several gloriously long scenes involving Falk and Shatner going back and forth with various theories is downright hypnotic: Falk doing what he does best and Shatner pontificating with his iconic halting-speech style which, since he's playing a bad actor, seems like intentional self-parody. Timothy Carey as a cafe owner, and Walter "Chekov" Koenig, provide nifty cameos.


year: 1971
cast: Sean Connery, Val Avery, Martin Balsam, Christopher Walken, Ralph Meeker, Dyan Cannon
rating: **1/2

Very cool set-up as a gaggle of ex-convicts rob an apartment building (in the future?) replete with wall-to-wall videotapes. How the heist is planned as Sean Connery gathers his gang including a young Christopher Walken, a flaming-gay Martin Balsam, and several others, fares better than when the rushed caper goes down. Despite an annoying score, sounding like BOOKER T & THE MG's on Prozac, there's some terrific visuals; Noir staple Ralph Meeker is fun to watch as an overly-goofy Irish cop; and a side-story involving Val Avery as a doomed mafioso adds needed residual suspense that ultimately, along with the overall conclusion, is somewhat of a let-down... But it's an interesting ride.


year: 1982
cast: Ed Flanders, Norman Lloyd, Denzel Washington, David Morse, Howie Mandel, David Birney, Cynthia Sykes, Terrence Knox, Christina Pickles, William Daniels, Kim Miyori
rating: *****

Putting aside the horrendous fact that the entire show could be the imagination of an austic boy (as implied in the last episode), I see ST. ELSEWHERE... at least in its primal stage... as a show about a REAL LIFE hospital stuck in purgatory and constantly badgered by a determined, pesky demon called Fate. The first season sets up how each character deals with that demon and adjusts into the purgatory setting. Ed Flanders as "Dr. Donald Westphall" gets everything loaded upon him; in his always saddened owlish eyes embody the pains of not only the patients, but the young doctors under his meek, yet always respected, leadership. What doesn't hinder "Westphall" will encroach upon his youthful version, David Morse as the heart-felt, thoroughly involving and ueber-sensitive "Dr. Jack Morrison"... trying to make things better even though that unseen yet always formidable "curse" resides throughout the hallways of "St. Eligus" i.e. "St. Elsewhere", a hospital where people "end up", seemingly without choice. Denzel Washington, as "Dr. Philip Chandler", the only actor to have, after the show's run, make it REALLY big and to win a couple Oscars, keeps his head cool with acute professionalism and, as the only character seemingly immune of the demon, is also an example to the other young doctors by always being in control. You'd think Howie Mandel, as the playful jokey "Dr. Wayne Fiscus", provides only comic relief, but his acting - and character - is on par with the others; his upbeat personality, while distracting the demon, is often made to wrestle with it head-on. Ed Begley Jr., as nerdy yet capable newbie surgeon "Dr. Victor Ehrlich", is connected with the show's protagonist, the uppity chief-surgeon "Dr. Mark Craig", played wonderfully by William Daniels, who, if it were another actor, could have easily been an over-the-top, unrealistic character... both young and old surgeon are perfect loggerheads, keeping each other in check at every turn. Terrance Knox as "Dr. Peter White" begins as a family man but then shows his darker side - this dough-eyed, spacey, robotic and often clumsy doc becomes more and more "possessed" in every episode. David Birney, who only lasted a few seasons, as the handsome, charming ladykiller "Dr. Ben Samuels", who listens to really bad covers of Bruce Springsteen and Police songs while in surgery, does a decent job as the show's sex symbol, but doesn't really fit like the others... the stranger the show gets, the more he's out of place, belonging in a more "normal" hospital. Least I forget the women: the tough-yet-not-overbearing, and downright gorgeous Cynthia Sykes as "Dr. Annie Cavanero", who never backs down to what she believes are the best decisions, even when she's wrong; Kim Miyori as Cavanero's young version - who seems like she could also become another Dr. Craig with her stubborn, often uptight perfectionism; Christina Pickles as the head nurse who becomes somewhat of an overall baseline... And rounding things out is Norman Lloyd as the show's Yoda, the seventy-two year old liver specialist ironically dying of liver cancer who gets a repreive by chemotherapy... making him wiser and a constant advisor to Westphall. (And least I forget some of the special guest stars including the then-non-famous Tom Hulce, Ray Liotta, Tim Robbins, and Michael Madsen... And G.W. Baily as the semi-regular head of the psych-ward, who, like Birney, didn't last long but did a decent enough job). All in all, this is one of the best-acted TV dramas I've ever experienced. All these doctors keeping their sanity intact within the halls of a bustling, eerie hospital where that Demon Fate not only lives, but thrives.


year: 1988
cast: John Candy
rating: **1/2

Though only providing a few light chuckles, the non-stop adventure of the title character going from place to place i.e. situation to situation slowly figuring out who kidnapped the beautiful daughter of a rich man while learning he's not that incapable filling the shoes at his family-owned detective agency, but always screwing things up, is a decent time-filler. It's John Candy's FLETCH and, while paling to that particular classic starring Chevy Chase, both flicks taking the Film Noir "snoop" genre into the realm of '80s comedy, the late tubby star is given a few moments to shine even if the script is, for the most part, pretty lackluster. But the characters interact well, especially Candy and Shawnee Smith as the younger sister of the kidnapped. You'll be entertained.


year: 2004
cast: Jon Hedder
rating: *

The Antichrist of modern comedies, this popular, beloved indie assumes we all adore the title character enough to allow anything and everything to be funny simply because... it's there. If you desire a legitimately moving and thoroughly entertaining slice-of-hellish-small-town-life experience centering on a really ugly kid out-of-step with classmates and family, watch the '90s flick WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, where the put-upon hero (or in that case, heroine) isn't let off the hook by dancing in front of the campus, one of the biggest cop-outs in underdog-teen-film history. Never before have I witnessed a more "loaded" movie - as if Napoleon himself is creating his own propaganda. And the side-characters are so extremely "odd and quirky", placed like contrived miniatures within an equally-forced bizarro-world setting, they soon become typical and ordinary, and downright tiresome.


year: 1975
cast: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle
director: Mel Brooks
rating: *1/2

Loving the first two 1930's Frankenstein movies directed by James Whale, there's one segment I enjoyed that parodies those classics, wherein various scenes dissolve in and out quickly (which happens in a lot of old movies - individual scenes lasting only five seconds before fading into a new one) involving a man running into a tree while cautiously creeping through the fog. I think that might have been the only time I laughed out loud. Gene Wilder can be a nifty comedic actor and this movie looks terrific - almost like a Whale production in itself - and quite often I'd forget it was a satire at all. It seemed as if everyone involved in the cast and crew were so happy working together that a really tight script, or really strong punch lines, simply didn't matter. Aided by the gorgeous black and white cinematography and because of the talent involved (including Wilder in the title role, Peter Boyle as the Monster, and Maeline Kahn, as the volt-haired Bride, once again given way too much freedom to adlib), the magic would win out in the end. And I guess, since this is not only considered Mel Brooks best and funniest film (Blazing Saddles is so much better) but one of the premiere comedies ever made, everyone but me gets the last laugh. But for the most part it felt like being at an office party where I didn't work or stuck at someone else's class reunion.


year: 1978
rating: ****1/2

Being that it's a film about an ex-convict just outta jail and back on the streets, it could be argued that a seemingly "tougher" actor play the main role...

Only STRAIGHT TIME centers on the determined-stubbornness of the career criminal as opposed to how strong he is. Dustin Hoffman, as scruffy hedgehoggish Max Dembo, portrays the con as someone who, though he may try at first, simply cannot change. At first it has to do with his bullying parole officer, played with subtle villainous perfection by M. Emmet Walsh (who's just as stubborn on the other side of the coin), who pushes Max over the edge...

But then its the fact he just can't hold a job unless it has to do with sticking up liquor stores, robbing pawn shops, banks and eventually a jewelry store...

Max realizes, even though he has a dream girl played byTheresa Russell, that the life of crime is the only thing he does well...

Hoffman has played many eclectic roles, disappearing into most; but here he's right up front as an urban loser who sees only what he's after. Hoffman's criminal isn't a muggy goon, but rather, a selfish jerk (with some "brat" thrown in) - things usually left out of con flicks and replaced with muscular tattoos.

Hoffman's Max is working class as opposed to badass: wielding with wormlike precision the skills of a trade that could possibly merit a big payoff, which isn't easy; as a bonus we experience the meticulous planning for each caper. Gary Busey and Harry Dean Stanton, as his ex-convict buddies, both, like Hoffman, are more badger than wolverine, fitting with the realistic aura of the piece...

But what makes this movie truly shine is how each scene dealing with Dembo's progression (or regression) keeps the viewer not only entertained but thoroughly engrossed in the outcome (Hoffman taking his time while robbing the bank and jewelry store will put you on the edge of your seat, and just as frustrated as partner Harry Dean Stanton... It was Hoffman's choice to drag both scenes, adding tension I've never experienced during any cinematic heist). And of course, much credit can be given to writer Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue from "Reservoir Dogs), the real life/lifelong convict-author who co-wrote the script based on his first novel NO BEAST SO FIERCE. It's a terrific read but I like the movie even better.


year: 1943
cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya
rating: **

Find a way to get two interesting characters together and see what develops could be the setup for either a stage play or a porno film. Here, in what I assumed (at that time) was a much anticipated meeting of the monsters, The Wolf Man seems to be alive - that is, he's not in his grave - and "Frankenstein" is frozen in ice. Wolfie, chased by an angry mob, finds Frank, thaws him out, and now they're both being hunted. Weak doesn't begin to describe it. Lon Chaney is a bag of hammers and plaster-masked Bela Lugosi's doing a Boris Karloff impression, and badly.


year: 1941
cast: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, Maria Ouspenskaya
rating: ***

Moody and atmospheric sums this up wonderfully; alas, there's not much more. Gorgeously hypnotic to look at and a somewhat involving experience but there's not enough adventure, or... um... scary parts. Lon Chaney Jr. is, they say, a classic actor... but he reminds me of "Sam the Butcher" from "The Brady Bunch", only taller (no offense to Allan Melvin). The poem about the wolf bane is (annoyingly) repeated more times than the word "sex" in PORKY'S and... well it's wonderfully photographed and Chaney's rudimentary transformation is cool (the neat collage right before the tip-toed wolf boots)... but overall, in the Universal Picture's Monster Movie canon, this one's a bit of a howler. Claude Rains is good, like always, and Maria Ouspenskaya (try saying that five times quick... or even one time slowly) as the prophetic gypsy, all but steals the picture. And one particular scene, involving Chaney, already a marked man, entering church to the chagrin of the congregation, is nothing short of miraculous.


year: 1947
cast: Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor, Walter Slezak, Philip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook, Esther Howard
director: Robert Wise
rating: ***



cast: Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, Keenan Wynn, Linda Ridgeway
director: Michael Winner
year: 1972
rating: ***1/2

The first fifteen minutes, as Charles Bronson, a professional hit man i.e. Mechanic, elaboratly sets up a score planting explosives in an apartment across the street from where he's holed up in a shabby motel... then eventually succeeding in his endeavor... is truly incredible. The rest of the movie, as Bronson takes Jan Michael-Vincent as a student-assassin under his wing, is HIT and miss, the misses occurring as Bronson ponderously philosophizes about why hit man do what they do and what drives them (and an incredibly bad scene involving real-life wife Jill Ireland as a love-struck lush). But when the action happens... dirt bike chases are always great... and then as we approach a conclusion, realizing Bronson's student may have learned too much too soon... Things fall into neatly place as we're poised to learn which killer truly knows best.


year: 2002
cast: Tom Cruise, Jamie Fox
director: Michael Mann
rating: **1/2

Not really a fan of Jamie Fox, sometimes a Tom Cruise fan and haven't liked a Michael Mann flick in ages (and despised "Heat"), so I didn't think I'd enjoy this movie but I really dug the first hour. Tom Cruise, with a frosted buzz and robotically-adaptive intensity (he hasn't been this good in ages) is Vincent, a hit man who hires a dreamer cabbie Max (Fox) to drive him to each of his kills... with a gun to his head Max complies on this odyssey and it's a skillfully-paced cat-and-mouse game until half-way through when things morph into a typical big-budget high-octane "pumping action thriller" with an stunningly unrealistic shootout in a crowded rave-nightclub and a drawn-out climax involving Vincent (who, at this point, has become Freddy Kruger) going after Max's dreamgirl. It's a damn shame. Things were genuinely amazing for that first hour, providing a laidback, dialog-driven, psychologically-intense neo-noir mob flick by Michael Mann who, I guess, felt he had to channel Michael Bay to drive things home... And it takes a long time to get there.


year: 1974
cast: Charles Bronson, Al Lettieri, Lee Purcell, Paul Koslo, Linda Cristal, Jordan Rhodes
director: Richard Fleischer
writer: Elmore Leonard
rating: ****1/2

Charles Bronson as a smart-alack is a neat change... as most of Elmore Leonard's heroes do run off at the mouth... yet he still kicks ass like only Bronson can, but this bravado has brains as a watermelon farmer (yes, you heard that right) is being hunted by a professional (and famous) hit-man after a successful prison break gone-bad... for the kill. I'm leaving a lot out here because it's a movie you have to watch fresh to truly enjoy. One of the few times we're graced with the presence of the late great Al Lettieri, best known as "Solotzo" in THE GODFATHER and "Rudi" in THE GETAWAY, and who unfortunately died shortly after production. Al's the thug, Lee Purcell is his gorgeous moll, and the "Tuco" (third banana) of the film, Paul Koslo as "Bobby Koppas", rounds out the cast as a shifty loser caught in-between. While Bronson tries hard to keep his melon crop going despite the odds... he eventually leads the dangerous but rurally-naive city thugs into the mountains where, like John J. Rambo in "First Blood", he holds all the cards. Action, adventure, and some terrific dialog make this a thinking-man's man's-man movie.


title: AVATAR
year: 2009
cast: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver
writer/director: James Cameron
rating: *1/2

The first twenty minutes, although we're quickly force-fed the plot of a crippled marine going to a planet called Pandora where his counterpart "Avatar", clone to the indigenous natives, will seek trust in these tall blue Na'vi (all this happening while he, in human form, lays a tanning booth and guides the creature) in order to abduct a mineral to take back to earth (symbolizing oil, of course)... isn't bad, seeming as if a young James Cameron, who directed "Aliens", "The Terminator" and "The Terminator 2" with flowing precision, is at the helm. We're on a terrific adventure and it looks pretty neat: like a Roger Dean "Yes" album cover with motion. But then something happens: Once within the forest, separated from his fellow troops, the Avatar discovers he digs the peace-loving natives more than stupid humans, falls in love with the hottest of the tall blue elf-folk, and after taming a flying dragon and bedding down the babe, he's "one of the gang" way too quickly. Most of the action of the film's first half, pitting our hero against forest-dwelling predators, is (in a visual and directorial sense) straight out of JURASSIC PARK; the thrills eventually taking a backseat to drawn-out new-age ceremonies and cheesy dialog too horrible to repeat. And when the big battle ensues... The Honest Natives Vs The Greedy Americans... the vague, undeveloped characters get lost within the expensive flash. AVATAR, filmed in 3D but with 1D everything else, in trying to blend science-fiction, fantasy, romance, and a big bright moral message, ends up mirroring Cameron's view of the American Military: overwrought, overpriced and completely brain-dead.

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