HALLOWEEN (2007)

title: HALLOWEEN
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.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH

title: EMPEROR OF THE NORTH
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.

KINGS ROW

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?

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL

title: FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
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!!!

STEP BY STEP

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.

TICK...TICK...TICK...

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.

CRIMES OF PASSION

title: CRIMES OF PASSION
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. 

FADE IN TO MURDER (COLUMBO)

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.

THE ANDERSON TAPES

title: THE ANDERSON TAPES
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.

ST. ELSEWHERE (SEASON 1)

title: ST. ELSEWHERE (SEASON 1)
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.

WHO'S HARRY CRUMB?

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.

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE

title: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE
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.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN

title: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
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.

STRAIGHT TIME (NO BEAST SO FIERCE)

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.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN

title: FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN
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.

THE WOLF MAN

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.

BORN TO KILL RELOCATED


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

CLICK HERE FOR THE NEW BORN TO KILL REVIEW AT THE NEW CULT FILM FREAK SITE

THE MECHANIC

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.

COLLATERAL

title: COLLATERAL
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.

MR. MAJESTYK

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.

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