AVATAR


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.

JUNIOR

title: JUNIOR
year: 1994
cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Danny Devito, Emma Thompson, Lawrence Tierney
rating: *

One of the most unnecessary films ever made, this lame and lazy production, a reboot of the Billy Crystal comedy RABBIT TEST in which a man gets pregnant, is plain awful. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a scientist and Danny DeVito a baby doctor, and together, in order to save their serum which will aid in pregnancy, or something, make Arnold pregnant by drinking medicine and then, as he comes to term he gets in touch with his feminine side. The only problem is, his character in this movie is sensitive from the beginning, so there's no character-arc and the joke is completely futile: like the rest of the movie.

THE TWELVE CHAIRS

title: THE TWELVE CHAIRS
year: 1970
cast: Ron Moody, Frank Langella, Mel Brooks, Dom Deluise, David Lander
director: Mel Brooks
rating: **1/2

In Russia, after the revolution, a woman is dying and tells a relative, Ron Moody, of 12 chairs, left in their old home, one of which has jewels inside worth a lot of money. He goes in search of that one chair and along the way meets... to his chargin... a charming (and very young and actually good looking) Frank Langella as a drifter/womanizer/con-man who learns of the chair, ex-servent Mel Brooks (ultra wacky, as usual) and last but not least a shockingly thin Dom DeLuise as a crooked priest acting on his own (the "Tuco Ramirez" of the film). Everyone wants the loot and it's a lot of scrambling around, several scenes done in fast motion which gets pretty annoying. The cast, especially Langella and Moody, are talented enough to where, at certain times, you wish it was a drama or adventure. As a comedy it's just not that funny, and bouts of slapstick interfere with the overall mission. But the characters are likable and the premise is interesting enough. A semi-decent time-passer.

HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES


title: HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES
year: 2002
cast: Sig Haig, Michael J. Pollard, Erin Daniels, Karen Black
writer/director: Rob Zombie
rating: *

I enjoyed the purposely-cheesy dialog in the beginning, with Sig Haig and Michael J. Pollard as two hicks in the middle of nowhere. Haig is "Captain Spaulding", a cocky trickster in clown garb who runs a gas station/oddity-museum/freak-show and... well... Pollard sort of disappears after a robbery occurs, blood is spilt in a Tarantino fashion and then two couples (who seem from the nineties yet it's set in the seventies) happen upon this odd little town and are very deserving to be butchered, you know, like in all horror movies. But these folks are simply BEGGING for it - and the hick family who takes them in seem more than willing to oblige. Rob Zombie really knows his stuff; though I'm still not sure what it is. Along with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE I'm sure he was inspired by Troma's MOTHER'S DAY, which has murderous hillbillies pointlessly torturing and killing innocent city folk in a lot more coherent fashion, and without random images flashing like a music video. There's too much going on to be scary; too much gore to be fun. The oddball clan (of which veterans Karen Black and Dennis Fimple are members) are more cartoonish than creepy. The main baddie resembles a concert pianist possessed by Beetlejuice. And the prop-saturated town in which the targeted victims are hunted feels like Tim Burton's version of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, with entrails. If only the entire film took place in Captain Spaulding's bizarro lair... It was a lot cooler, scarier and way more inspired than anything that followed...

COMMANDO

year: 1985
cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger
rating: ****

What makes a fun-to-love-dumb-as-hell-action-picture really great is how well it carries from one scene to the next, all the while the just-easy-enough-to-follow plot (a retired commando trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter) remaining intact as the main character kicks more and more ass killing more and more bad guys leading to an out-and-out climatic glory where, in this particular case, one man kills about a thousand heavily-armed soldiers without batting an eyelid. This is one of the best vapid action flicks ever made, and Arnold has never been more addictive in his simplistic tough guy persona. B-master Mark L. Lester's direction keeps you thoroughly involved in who'll try snuffing Arnold next and, more importantly, how he'll return the favor, permanently. Top notch, brilliant idiocy from beginning to end.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN

title: BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN
year: 2005
cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway
director: Ang Lee
rating: *1/2

Politically-correct types, in their usual knee-jerk manner, defending anything having to do with homosexuality, will shout these words if any related subject is brought up: "IT DOESN'T MATTER". So if someone is to say: "There's a film about two young men who fall in love", they'll shout: "IT DOESN'T MATTER". And in that, I totally agree. Yet if someone just happens to point out: "This movie is weak with no real plot and two shallow characters with no reason to be attracted to each other, other than both being attractive and alone on a lonely mountain"... I guess "IT DOESN'T MATTER". But it does to me, because any romance - whether centered on a man and woman - woman and woman - or man and man - has to be more than just "groundbreaking". There needs both chemistry and reason for that chemistry, so that the relationship, continuing to grow despite the odds, will truly and genuinely... MATTER!

AN AMERICAN CAROL

title: AN AMERICAN CAROL
year: 2008
cast: Kevin Farley, Kelsey Grammer, Robert Davi, Dennis Hopper, Jon Voight, Leslie Neilson, Gary Coleman
director: David Zucker
rating: **

Since Hollywood's primary-default is on a permenent left wing setting (more implied than preached, but usually quite obvious), it takes right wingers to kick and scream in a childlike "Listen to me" manner - that is, they have to make the most of their two seconds in the spotlight. Well they got their chance to shine, bagging on Michael Moore and his I-dress-poorly-but-am-worth-a-billion-bucks hypocrisy, but, other than a few good jabs about the supposedly pristine Cuban healthcare system and Hollywood fat-cats gorging themselves during a charity dinner for starving children... This comedy, about a left wing documentarian being shown how great America is by three ghosts, ala Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, falls completely flat. Kevin Farely, brother of Chris, although a dead ringer for the obese Oscar winning target-at-hand, overacts in the main role, seeming more like a sloppily wayward party animal than a shifty documentarian with an agenda. CAROL makes the mistake that occured in NAKED GUN 3 - dealing too much with the characters and situations as each individual joke gets more and more stale. Until, at the end, we just don't care about the parody or the characters (in these kind of AIRPLANE! type movies, the jokes have to carry the characters; without which, there's a house built of sand). Nice try, guys. But you'll have to do a lot better when you're given another chance - in twenty or thirty years.

HEAVY METAL

title: HEAVY METAL
year: 1981
rating: ***

The sexually explicit, violently-glorious cartoon is tops for about an hour, and then, during the last thirty minutes involving the searing, pointless journey of a gorgeous sword-wielding chick who flies a giant turkey (which is the movie/album/poster/VHS/DVD image), the animators get carried away by their own visual talents, abandoning the energetically flowing pace of the first hour involving wanton babes shedding their clothes and monstrous heads being hacked-off with some cool tunes (few of them actually heavy metal) as we follow the handoff-journey of a murderous space-born green orb through the lives of characters such as a Film-Noir-esque cabbie (voiced by Robert Romanus i.e. "Mikey" from MEAN STREETS); a nerdy kid who becomes a bald strongman on another planet; zombies making a WWII flying ace's life a living hell; and several other deliciously weird tales. John Candy, providing voices for a few characters, takes you out of the escapist-factor just a bit... but no matter. It's still a dynamic visual treat. And then some. 

CUTTER'S WAY

year: 1981
cast: Jeff Bridges, John Heard
rating: *1/2

John Heard, who'll either play a really nice guy or a complete jerk, is miscast as a crippled Vietnam war Vet named "Cutter," who'd have fared better with Frederic Forrest or Nick Nolte donning an eye patch and long hair. Heard seems to have a lotta fun spouting tons (and I mean, TONS) of drunken devil-may-care dialog, but still seems like he's being a pirate for Halloween. Jeff Bridges as "Bone" is a bit more natural as Cutter's yacht-selling playboy buddy who, one night after a one-night stand, witnesses a rich, powerful man (this we find out later) throwing away a dead woman's body into a trash can. And then, as fate (or really bad writing) would have it, the next day he JUST HAPPENS to see the same man as the head of a parade. Then it's up to Cutter to talk the reluctant Bone into doing the underdog thing... to turn in this powerful, greedy killer... after which our grungy heroes, with the moral badge of hippiedom screaming from their shoulders, fight to survive. Rarely have I seen so many actors trying to outdo each other: And all lose the race.

I CONFESS

title: I CONFESS
year: 1953
cast: Montgomery Clift
director: Alfred Hitchock
rating: **

I confess, I'm a big time Hitchock fan. I confess, I had never seen this movie until yesterday. And I confess, this one didn't do it for me. The Master seemed on sabbatical - I didn't feel his presence at all. I must also confess... I didn't even watch the entire movie. I guess I should now review the dream I had while sleeping through most of it...

DISH DOGS

Shawna Anderson Dish Dogs

title: DISH DOGS
rating: 2000
cast: Sean Astin, Matthew Lillard, Brian Dennehy, Shannon Elizabeth, Shawna Anderson
rating: **

Two guys wash dishes and philosophize about life. Sean Astin, the one who really wants to be a philosopher by quoting... philosophers all the time; the other, Matthew Lillard, likes hanging out with Astin but is more into chicks and good times, and eventually gets back with his girlfriend and then, to the chagrin of Astin - who's quest is to always search but never find - wants to get married. The first half is entertainingly dumb fun as the two buddies drive around, wash dishes in various restaurants, talk about life (sometimes with their fat hippie guru, Brian Dennehy), surf, and go to a strip club... where Astin meets the girl of his dreams, Shannon Elizabeth. And we're supposed to believe that she falls in love with him, but that's alright. By the time this happens, you'll wanna press eject anyway, because the last half of the movie - after Astin and Lillard "split up" after a really stupid argument - falls under the weight of its own pretensions by trying too hard to be deep. (And the reason I rented this straight-to-video turkey was to see a girl I was in a Christian elementary school with as a stripper... For that, it was worth the money.)

EVICTED

year: 2000
cast: Michael Tierney, Lawrence Tierney
rating: *

Two... no, three guys drive around L.A., drink beer, and throw their cans out the window. Wait, it's a convertible - there's no window. Did I mention, two of them live in an apartment and are about to get... what's the name of the movie again? So to go out in a blaze, they throw a party. Here's where we hit a very long snag. The party itself doesn't flow like a party should. And then, during the bash, scenes involving the main character, after dropping acid, dreaming in a bathtub about running for President while rapping in front of an American flag... Wow. Actually, this part drew me back into the so-bad-it's-fun aspect that's lost during the party. This indie-indie was written-directed-produced-scored by Michael Tierney, son of little-known actor Ed Tierney, the brother of iconic film noir legends Lawrence Tierney and Scott Brady (Terence, Scott's son, co-stars). Uncle Larry (DILLINGER, BORN TO KILL, RESERVOIR DOGS) appears as "Bob", an old man who gives Michael advice on life. "Get A Job... Buy New Shoes... Don't Do Drugs". If the film stuck with the three young slackers hanging and drinking cheap (generic) beer, without the party (or a very confusing side-story involving a gangster with a briefcase) to encapsulate a reason or... dare I say, plot... the losers-with-nothing-to-lose theme would've served a better purpose of having no purpose at all (and deeper, more involved dialog with Lawrence Tierney would have been helpful). Scenes involving a Vietnam vet landlord playing with toy soldiers doesn't help things any (although he is a real actor). And the performances of the three young leads, well... let's say they don't try very hard... and they're not good enough for that to be intentional.

THE GETAWAY (SAM PECKINPAH)

year: 1972
rating: *****

The opening credit sequence alone, a montage of Steve McQueen as "Doc McCoy" in prison, shows more of the loneliness, solitude and torture of being locked up than some films that take place entirely behind bars. When he's set free on a "special parole"... he's got an assignment to rob a bank. Along with his wife and two thugs, both working for crime boss Ben Johnson... the goons played by Al Lettieri and Bo Hopkins... the heist is a success and failure both. That is, they got the money but there was a murder of a guard - and now all three robbers - Hopkins being killed by Lettieri - are on the run. This is, to me, the best action film ever made, flowling smoothly from one little adventure to the next... all enveloped within the main goal - to get to the border with the loot: our heroes having to avoid being caught by cops, killed by Lettieri, and keeping their relationship intact. The only drawback are the acting of... or rather, the non-acting of Ali McGraw... who most of the time delivers her lines as if she were heavily medicated on barbiturates; and Sally Struthers, playing Al Lettieri's moll, grates heavily on the nerves. But that stuff doesn't hinder the outcome. THE GETAWAY is pure Peckinpah perfection all the way. "Punch it, baby!"

MONSTER-IN-LAW

title: MONSTER-IN-LAW
year: 2005
cast: Jane Fonda, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Vartan
rating: *1/2

Most blame Jennifer Lopez and her big butt (which she makes fun of here) for this movie not being good, but it's Jane Fonda, who simply doesn't have the chops to play a love-to-hate character. Jane has always amazed me how, in every film, she delivers each line perfectly, has the moves down just right, seems to really know how to perform but without being ENTIRELY lost in character (like a fish half out of water). And being completely in-character's what was really needed here, and just doesn't happen. Fonda is the mother of a dapper, really skinny, permanent-five-o-clock-shadowed guy (Michael Vartan) who Lopez is about to marry, and tries to keep that from happening by faking insanity and thus driving Lopez away. But there's nothing to make us thirst for Lopez and hubby to be punished, much like, for example, in watching FATAL ATTRACTION, the audience gets thoroughly addicted to Glenn Close making Michael Douglas and Anne Archer's life hell. I realize this is a comedy and that isn't... but it's the same template - and there's simply not enough reasons for Fonda's "monster" to gulp up her victim - or, more importantly, for the audience to enjoy it. Both Fonda and Lopez, as loggerheads, have zero chemistry. And as for husband Michael Vartan... dude, EAT SOMETHING!

SIN CITY

year: 2005
cast: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Brittany Murphy, Nicky Katt
rating: *

The look of this movie and THE SPIRIT, both written by "Graphic Novel" guru Frank Miller, is the same: scantly hand-drawn, purposely cheap looking discolored backdrops. Whatever this "new look"...feeling as if a punchdrunk Roger Rabbit molested cheap Japanese anime while giving birth to a braindead Matrix wannabe... is called, it should be forever done away with. This vapid, tacky mess, directed by Robert Rodriguez and with a "special director credit" to Quentin Tarantino, both who've gotten mossy in their middle age... is simply horrible. Porno-esque slowly timed acting and gloriously lame violence all seems like a lonely comic book reader euphorically visualizing his melodramatic dream-film.

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