THE INCIDENT

title: THE INCIDENT
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.

BACKDRAFT

title: BACKDRAFT
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.

ELVIS

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.

DILLINGER (1945)

title: DILLINGER
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.

HOMER AND EDDIE

title: HOMER AND EDDIE
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.

THE WRATH OF GOD


title: THE WRATH OF GOD
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.

HAUNTED HONEYMOON

title: HAUNTED HONEYMOON
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.

COUPLES RETREAT

title: COUPLES RETREAT
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.

MAGIC

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.

MAN OF THE YEAR

title: MAN OF THE YEAR
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.

THE HANGOVER

title: THE HANGOVER
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.

FRENCH CONNECTION II


title: THE FRENCH CONNECTION II
year: 1975
cast: Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey, Ed Lauter, Bernard Fresson
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. 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.

KILL OR BE KILLED

title: KILL OR BE KILLED
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.

POLTERGEIST III

title: POLTERGEIST III
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.

ROCKY III

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.

THE MONSTER HUNTER

title: THE MONSTER HUNTER (NATURAL SELECTION)
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 mail man 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.

POLTERGEIST II

title: POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE
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.

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING

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.

THE WHOLE SHOOTIN' MATCH

title: THE WHOLE SHOOTIN' MATCH
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.

HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO


title: HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO
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.

SUSPIRIA

title: SUSPIRIA
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.

BAD (ANDY WARHOL)

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.

VALENTINES DAY

title: VALENTINES DAY
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.

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