WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION

year: 1957
rating: **1/2

Another extremely overrated classic, and this one always compared to Otto Preminger's Anatomy Of A Murder, and Billy Wilder's stagey direction of an Agatha Christie stage-play mystery of Witness for the Prosecution couldn't be more different if it centered on purple unicorns traipsing through Iceland: The first is an existential courtroom drama about a man who's entirely guilty of murder, and here it's obvious someone's not telling the truth. Either a horribly aged once-perfect-looking Tyrone Power (with a gorgeous trophy in the wings played by Ruta Lee, pictured below): he's accused of killing a rich old lady befriended for need of a loan on an egg-beating invention, or the title character in Marlene Dietrich, who gives the best performance overall, especially having to do with a twist that really only works in repose...

Meanwhile, the always great acting team of Charles Laughton, as the flawed defense consul of the English Court, and real life wife-beard Elsa Lanchester, are only pretty good here, going back and forth more like another kind of stage play. Comedy, perhaps. Which simply doesn't fit here, and with everything mounting to the last five minutes, like mysteries do, this isn't one for rewatching: another major difference between Anatomy Of A Murder, a true classic that really needs a divorce from this otherwise semi-decent courtroom melodrama.

BARRY LYNDON (STANLEY KUBRICK)

article: Hating Barry Lyndon
year: 1975 rating: ****1/2 

Given how many takes the infamously picky and in some cases reportedly sadistic filmmaker Stanley Kubrick put his actors through — in watching any of his films, you're not only seeing what he's directed but what he's selected...

Any and every scene or moment was by his choice to fit within the, in this particular case, gorgeous landscape of a period piece/costume drama that is actually the antithesis of an Epic feature film: bordering on what feels like, after numerous viewings, a kind of subliminal parody on what would usually be a fulfilling fictional (adapted from classic-era literature) biopic on a person that, to spend hours on their existence, would eventually lead to a significant purpose...

But keep in mind when watching BARRY LYNDON it's a motion picture that takes the epic form and intentionally throws it both out the door and in the viewer's face...

Famously renown as merely an aesthetic masterpiece, filmed with natural lighting and a region dotted with castles only dreamed up beyond even a picture book's rendition...

The real twist is the revelation of a truly despicable man, played wonderfully selfish by Ryan O'Neal, who cunningly antagonized otherwise good people long before he became the chief antagonist against, basically, everyone: despite starting out as a sympathetic hero simply because he's the main/title character being centered on.

GYPSY (NETFLIX SERIES)

Year: 2017
Rates: ****1/2

This original Netflix series has had very negative comments and reviews and is now dead as dishwater, with no second season to continue GYPSY, which was falsely promoted as a kind of thriller, or something...

But it's actually the sexiest and in that, most lustfully suspenseful show that ever dealt with bisexual women... Or what some refer to as "lipstick lesbians." Because that's really all this is about, and everything else is merely background... wallpaper...

While Naomi Watts is a pretty older woman, Sophie Cookson is perhaps THE most beautiful young actress that ever lived... and there have been quite a few... living and dead...

The basic premise is that Watts, a married shrink, goes behind her patients' backs, tooling around with the people in their lives they'd shared about in private AND legal confidentiality. And yet, what everything really boils down to is when Watts and Cookson (the wild ex of melancholy young male patient) will eventually connect i.e. hook up. When they do, it's unfathomably awesome. But is nothing compared to the repressed longing that occurs for the first five episodes to reach that point, so, if you're into this kind of thing... GYPSY, although no longer a series, can now be referred to as an extremely sexy and genuinely sensual 10-hour older-younger lesbian movie. 

OUT OF THE PAST

year: 1947
rating: **

Jacques Tourneur is a personal favorite director, but not because of OUT OF THE PAST, considered his very best work for those who didn't pay close attention to the unique, intricate details of CAT PEOPLE, THE LEOPARD MAN, CANYON PASSAGE or CURSE OF THE DEMON...

Those movies had tiers to climb, and obstacles to cross. This movie, like Robert Mitchum's character, sleepwalks from scene to scene where everything is just too easy: Find the pretty girl who stole Kirk Douglas's money. No problem. She's in Mexico and in a matter of scenes she's found, and quickly swept off her feet. After all, Mitchum is handsome and Jane Greer's really pretty. But this is a hollow, mannequin romance, and there have been more intriguing, risque affairs on daytime soaps. Not even Tourneur's direction rises above the dull script, so full of contrived, forced-quotable one-liners, there's hardly a complete sentence uttered: it's a random collection of snapshots that aren't even postcards.

THE WALKING DEAD: STRADIVARIUS

Worst episode of Season Nine, 2018: Centers on the title violin and a dog, and only one survives. THE WALKING DEAD sans Rick Grimes is THE LOVE BOAT slashed by an iceberg...

Usually there are conversations about what happened yesterday, or last week, but now the dialogue centers on six years ago. Meanwhile, these new characters are very dull, and hilariously they cover the entire PC spectrum: a black kid; a deaf woman; a white woman; a nerdy white guy. All of them rambling on and on, and even with an annoying device of subtitled sign language there's too much dialogue. For god's sake, at this point, this show's propaganda machine, THE TALKING DEAD, should either switch titles or share one since there's far more talking than walking, or any dead. PS One-note Daryl Dixon's dog can act circles around him. Rating is One Star. And hardly even that.

KEY LARGO

title: KEY LARGO
cast: Humphrey Bogart
year: 1948 rates: **

Locked inside a Florida Keys ocean-front hotel during a hurricane, war vet Humphrey Bogart, ingenue Lauren Bacall and her endearing crippled father spend so much time running-down and chewing out, lecturing and even heckling mobster Edward G. Robinson, he hardly has time to steal a picture that desperately needs stealing... HIS way...

GATOR BAIT

year: 1974
rating: ***

There are revenge flicks where the protagonist/hero seeks revenge on the villain/villains. Then there are those reverse revenge flicks where the antagonist/villain seeks revenge on the hero/protagonist. This film has both as a Cajun hottie played by b-movie vixen Claudia Jennings gets falsely accused for murdering a man attempting to rape her, and his family, and the local cops, take to the swamps — her territory — to find her. Along they way they murder her younger sister and now it's Claudia's turn for vengeance. She leads them further into the swamps — where she has the upper hand — and kills them off one by one. It's that basic, folks. And believe it or not, some of the acting isn't horrible. The camera moves around nicely and gets you involved with the action. And there's Claudia Jennings wearing close to nothing. Need I write more?

HIGH ANXIETY

year: 1977
cast: Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Ron Carey
rating: ***

Mel Brooks sends-up all things Hitchcock in a film that's more entertaining than funny. You can't help but to get involved in the story of a new head shrink (Brooks) of a crooked insane asylum who has an extreme fear of heights. From one situation to the next, this parody encompasses "Vertigo", "Psycho", "The Birds", "Frenzy", and all the (other) Hitch-flicks that has the main character being falsely accused of murder. Homage-driven jabs at Alfred H's signature camera shots and dramatic musical scores are the funniest. Somewhere between "Blazing Saddles" (as the high-point) and "History of the World" (as a low-point), this movie has a cozy place within the Mel Brooks canon. Nothing gained, nothing lost. But you should enjoy the ride.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

year: 1983
cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin
producer/music: John Carpenter
writer/director: Tommy Lee Wallace
rating: ****

Creative and intriguing, a more suspenseful science-fiction than horror-centered plot centers on a doctor (Tom Atkins) who teams up with a pretty young woman (Stacey Nelkin) who's father was murdered by some kind of suited government agent. They wind up in a small town that's owned by a billionaire who runs a giant novelty corporation, specializing in three simple but scary Halloween masks: a witch, a pumpkin, and a skull, each with special powers and, when a commercial plays (the creepiest jingle in history), basically, this particular TRICK is no TREAT for the kiddies. The best aspect concerns our two heroes investigating the small town and factory: leading up to the conclusion which has a few neat twists within a factory chock full of 'em: one involving Stacey Nelkin becoming what she was supposed to be in BLADE RUNNER. All in all this is a classic; only few people regard it as such since there's not Michael Myers (instead, this is a world wherein the Halloween films exist... as films). Too bad because it's really quite good. And above is my Tom Atkins' signed Blu Ray. Noice.

THE GLOVE

aka: BLOOD MAD
year: 1979
cast: John Saxon, Rosey Grier
rating: ****

They don't make them any better than this. A big black guy (Rosey Grier) wears a riot glove that was used on him by brutal prison guards and donning the glove kills all the guards one-by-one. The main character isn't Grier but John Saxon, as a narrating bounty hunter who hunts him down. Most of the film consists of Saxon's adventures: going after various criminals... which then leads to the climax verses Grier, who really isn't a bad guy and can play the guitar really, really good. It feels a lot like McQueen's THE HUNTER. All in all there's never a dull moment. This is modern noir mixed with blaxpolotation style violent melodrama and in a nutshell, everything fits like a...

SEARCH AND DESTROY

year: 1979
cast: Perry King, Don Stroud, George Kennedy, Tisa Farrow, John Kerr, Bill Starr
rating: ***1/2

In Vietnam a company of American soldiers try saving a South Vietnamese man from "Charlie" and fail. He is captured by the enemy and now we cut five years later and the Vietnamese man is back in the States for revenge. He kills one of the vets and this peaks the attention of Perry King, an auto shop worker, as he is next in line. Along with fellow vet Don Stroud, a happy-go-unlucky drunkard boat captain in Niagara Falls, they try first finding who the killer is, and then stopping him. But he's trained in killing and is almost unstoppable. Great action scenes all set in the gorgeous Niagara Falls area, and lots of violence makes this a real treat: a fun ride that never derails. George Kennedy adds a little something as a small town cop who winds up allowing Perry King to take care of matters his own way.

FEMALE JUNGLE

working title: THE HANGOVER
cast: Lawrence Tierney, Burt Kaiser, Kathleen Crowley, John Carradine, Jayne Mansfield
year: 1955 rating: ***1/2

Anvil-faced tough guy Lawrence Tierney is a cop who, drunk in a bar, escorts a lovely lady to her cab. She's killed and left on the street, and now he has to wander around, with a bad headache, town retracing his steps. Meanwhile we're introduced to more bar-folk, in an urban Agatha Christie style, including a lovely waitress played by Kathleen Crowley and her husband, unassuming Burt Kaiser (who also wrote and produced), a frustrated artist who draws caricatures for little pay. Then enter John Carradine. When our ingenue's alone in his house, a foreboding, accusational score pounces forth. Of course you know he's but a red-herring... And so the question remains: who done it and who'll get it next? This is sort of a mystery, sort of a Film Noir, with a totally misleading title, but a lot of fun with the poster's starlet, Jayne Mansfield, providing a glorified but scene-stealing cameo.

HERCULES IN NEW YORK

year: 1970
cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger
rating: ***1/2

Having grown up on the dubbed version... Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice replaced by a guy who sounds like he should be doing FM radio voice-overs... I was sort of thrown by this new DVD which has the REAL THING. We all know, Arnold is Arnold no matter what film he's in... so the fact he's actually speaking kind of takes away from the cheesiness of the original. But it's still quite fun seeing Arnold as Hercules, bored of Mount Olympus and his father Zeus throwing metallic lightning arrows, venturing to New York city where he takes up with nerdy Arnold Stang, who manages his pal "Herc" in a wrestling career, all the while befriending James Karen and his lovely daughter Deborah Loomis, punching-out burly sailors, battling a horribly-costumed bear in Central Park, and fighting not only the mob but the evil god Pluto. Like in all great/bad cult flicks, there's never glue on the feet: things go from one situation to the next without slowing down. And then, before you know it, the movie's done. And you're a much better person for having survived it.

HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS

year: 1967
cast: Adam Roarke, Jack Nicholson, Sabrina Scharf, John Bud Cardos, Jack Starrett
rating: ****

You'd expect a positive review of what seems like a cookie-cutter 60's biker film to stem from the fact that a young pre-Easy Rider Jack Nicholson delivers a terrifically subtle performance as a mellow but tough gas station worker who joins ranks with the Hell's Angels, but the real credit must be given for the star, cult actor Adam Roarke, and how natural he is on screen. His slowburn, devil-may-care attitude is just right as the leader of the Hell's Angels. While he's not big and burly, his wily-assured cockiness makes him the perfect centerpiece of a biker flick that delivers much more than you'd expect from the usually vapid genre. He and Jack have terrific chemistry: and with Sabrina Scharf in-between it's a spontaneous ride, full of the road, random parties and even some decent dialogue with overall development in-between. Too bad, in the future, Adam couldn't follow Jack into at least a quarter of his success. He deserved better... Although FROGS is a classic.

THE GAUNTLET

year: 1977
cast: Clint Eastwood, Sondra Locke, Bill McKinney, Pat Hingle
director: Clint Eastwood
rating: *1/2

Imagine "Dirty Harry Callahan" replacing his morning coffee with a flask full of booze. Would that make him meaner, tougher, or blander? The latter describes not only Eastwood's character... an alcoholic Arizona cop sent to Las Vegas to pick up a prostitute the mob wants dead... but the entire film. This is one of Clint's worst action flicks, full of cliched characters and horrendous dialog. Even the shootouts are boring. And Sondra Locke... Clint's girlfriend and co-star of many of his films, who I enjoyed in "Sudden Impact" and "Bronco Billy"... as the hooker with the heart of gold and mouthful of sass: couldn't be more annoying. You'll want Clint to turn from protector into hitman just to shut her up.

THE OUTFIT

year: 1973
cast: Robert Duvall, Joe Don Baker, Karen Black, Timothy Carey, Robert Ryan
rating: ***1/2

A bank robber, having done two years after being set up, gets out of jail, learns his brother was killed (the first scene in the movie) by the same mob that fingered him and, with the help of his former partner and a very cranky gun moll, hit the road, killing all the encroaching thugs and sometimes take out the baddies in their homes, fortresses, banks, and even a church. The two main characters played by Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker seem protected by the gods. Nothing can stop them, and it's pretty unrealistic in that they get away with everything with ease, but then again, who cares? It's a cool ride... and what a cast!

MIDNIGHT

year: 1982
cast: Melanie Verlin, Lawrence Tierney, John Amplas, David Marchick
rating: ***1/2

A teenage girl runs away from home, and with good reason. Her overweight, alcoholic policeman step dad tried to rape her, and he’s played by Noir legend Lawrence Tierney, ten years shy from his revamp in Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS. The girl hitches a ride with two dudes in a van that eventually veers off on a back road – and like any low-budget horror film, this is a very bad mistake for the characters, but heaven to the viewer. Eventually our heroine faces a psychotic hillbilly clan ala TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Plenty of violent, gory murders served up by makeup guru Tom Savini creates an eerily hellish daytime nightmare – ultimately peaking with a satanic ritual at, you got it, midnight. Despite the anemic budget, and with the exception of Tierney and horror icon John Amplas (along with his psycho siblings), there are a few meager performances, but no matter: Here’s an exploitation that entertains from the bloody beginning to the bloody end.

STAYING ALIVE

year: 1983
cast: John Travolta, Cynthia Rhodes, Finola Hughes
bad movie rating: ***1/2

This is not a John Travolta film. It belongs entirely to writer/director Sylvester Stallone, rehashing the Rocky storyline of a dimwitted diamond-in-the-rough Italian fighting to survive... only in this case it's a dancer, not a boxer, and unlike Rocky, it's a bad movie. Travolta fights to make it from his former struggling strutter to lead dancer in what's perhaps the gayest Broadway musical ever created (named "Satan's Alley," inspired by Sly's "Paradise Alley"). Playing the character he made famous in "Saturday Night Fever", our man's in great shape, but look too thin, gaunt, strung-out. He charms his way into the bed of a beautiful Broadway star (Finola Hughes) who turns the tables and plays him... and there's an overabundance of Travolta getting his just-deserts: the player being played, played to the hilt while he's using his pretty, gullible girlfriend (Cynthia Rhodes) who can't help but to love the handsome devil. Her love for him is even more annoying than his lust for the femme fatale. And eventually, of course, like Rocky, our hero ends up champion of a game he never thought he'd had a chance in to begin with. Overall, it's terrible fun. Terrible yet fun. Terrible. Fun. Terribly fun. 

KILLER FISH

aka: NAKED SUN
year: 1979
cast: Lee Majors, Karen Black
rating: ***

The famously bad low-budget Brazillian import isn't so bad after all. Centers on a group of diamond thieves in South America who, after blowing up a big outpost during the opening credits and nabbing a cache of jewels, hides the goods in a lake that becomes inhabited by killer fish i.e. piranha, all pets of shady millionaire James Franciscus to weed-out any takers. A couple of the thieves are killed attempting a premature recovery and because of this, Lee Majors and Karen Black, both leaders of the heist, are pitted against each other: Black joins with Fransiscus and beautiful Margaux Hemingway, as a fashion model on a location-shoot, beds the Bionic Man. Eventually a boat is stuck in the inhabited lake and the surviving cast attempts to get ashore without becoming piranha burgers. The title body count element ultimately trumped by the Noir aspect that, overseas, is titled Naked Sun... cool, huh? 

THE THRILL KILLERS

year: 1964
cast: Ray Dennis Steckler, Gary Kent, Herb Robins, Joseph Bardo
rating: ****

The best thing about this glorious drive-in exploitation b-movie is its precise combination of two kinds of psychopaths, both acting completely on their own for the same results. One: the lone killer and two: the band of killers. The first is played by director Ray Dennis Steckler i.e. Cash Flagg as Mag Dog Click, a guy who travels around in a car he stole from a family man nice (and dumb) enough to try giving him a ride. Then there's three escaped loonies from the mental ward, the biggest, toughest and most dangerous played by Gary Kent, using wide crazy eyes to full effect... and then some. A happy but ultimately unlucky couple are nightmarishly badgered by the trio; and then another couple, sort of the main characters, deal with the same gang and eventually with the solo act. From the frying pan into the fire back into the pan with flames all around it, this addictive celebration of enthralling violence never lets up.

BLUE CITY

title: BLUE CITY
year: 1986
cast: Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, David Caruso, Scott Wilson, Anita Morris, Paul Winfield
rating: ***1/2

The dark horse Brat Pack outing won a bouquet of Razzie Awards, but for what exactly? It's a decent action/thriller about the son of a beloved slain mayor returning to a Florida town, Blue City, now run (from inside a roadhouse bar) by seedy Scott Wilson. Looking for clues, misunderstood basketball-in-hand bad-boy Nelson gets back in touch with his old drinking buddy David Caruso, now sober, paranoid, and running a fishing boat; and Caruso's pretty sister, Ally Sheedy, the obvious love-interest. It's a colorful Eighties-Style Film Noir with plenty to keep you entertained including fist fights, gun fights, stuff exploding, and a nifty side cast including sexy Anita Morris and the always watchable Paul Winfield. Walter Hill co-wrote the script and in many ways, this feels like his film, although more STREETS OF FIRE than 48 HRS.

AMERICAN BOY

title: AMERICAN BOY: A PROFILE OF STEVEN PRINCE
year: 1978
cast: Steven Prince, George Memmoli, Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin
rating: ***1/2

Steven Prince, who played the gun-dealing babblemouth "Easy Andy" in the Martin Scorsese classic TAXI DRIVER, has his hour to shine. This, a documentary involving Prince, Scorsese, and actor George Memmoli (the really fat dude in MEAN STREETS and the guy who reluctantly allowed Stallone to ice-skate in ROCKY) sitting around a living room, is really a gloriously-glorified home movie, inserting images of the subject as a child between his bantering - with a more grating voice than Horseshack from WELCOME BACK KOTTER - about drugs, bagels, family members, working for Neil Diamond, and a lice-seeking gorilla. Few of the diatribes are interesting and some seem a bit forced. But it's during the last fifteen minutes, as he shares about killing a man in Arizona by shooting his six times, where things pick-up. The standout tale of madness involves Prince saving an overdosing girl's life by injecting her in the chest with an adrenaline shot while reading instructions on how to do so. Sound familiar? Neil Young's obscure track "Time Fades Away" envelopes the piece nicely.

TRILOGY OF TERROR


title: TRILOGY OF TERROR
year: 1975
cast: Karen Black
creator: Richard Matheson
director: Dan Curtis
rating: ***1/2

Seeing Karen Black play four roles (or rather, three roles and four characters) in a TV-movie showcasing three Night Gallery style stories is a great thing. The first involves an uptight spectacle-wearing college teacher who's seduced by her handsome bad-intention-driven honor student. Without giving away the twist, it's a great episode because Karen's playing someone she's not, and you'll have to watch it a second time to truly get it. The next deals with two sisters: one a crotchety sourpuss, the other a sexy blond. The twist is way too obvious: they're the same person. Blame the writer for this, not Karen, for she plays both roles well. The third and best is what the movie's known for, dealing with Black's character who purchased a foot-high spear-donning Zuni Fetish Doll. If the waist-sash falls off the doll, it comes to life. Guess what falls off the doll? The little bugger chases Karen around the apartment sounding like the Tasmanian Devil on PCP; imagine Animal from the Muppets gone loco. It's beauty and the doll at this point, a battle that doesn't let-up. This is the most entertaining and scariest of the bunch - dealing with a thing you just can't kill that can get you from beneath: the fear of snakes or spiders on hyperdrive. But the first story's where Black's acting (as opposed to reacting) really shines, making it my personal favorite.

GOING HOME

title: GOING HOME
year: 1971
cast: Robert Mitchum, Jan-Michael Vincent, Sally Kirkland
rating: ***

This film centering on a war hero, Robert Mitchum, who violently murders his wife witnessed by his four-year-old son, who's now grown-up in the form of brooding rebel Jan-Michael Vincent, is passably entertaining fare. Mitchum lives with young trailertrash girlfriend Brenda Vaccaro, attempting to steal every scene while Jan-Michael, having just returned home, seems either bent on revenge or forgiveness for his aged yet still tough pop as they hang out bowling and drinking: making up for lost time. The best moments involve jarring situations that seem vividly real but aren't really happening (seen in Vincent's mind) (one being Mitchum destroying a pick-up-truck with a tire iron) or flashbacks viewed in present-time locations ala IN COLD BLOOD. It's an easy-to-watch character-study without much character-development, neither Mitchum or Vincent becoming fully realized or their past fitfully resolved, but it's nice seeing the two steely mavericks together either way.

THE FOREST

title: THE FOREST
year: 1982
cast: Gary Kent, Corky Pigeon

rating: ***

The set-up to this woodsy body count low budget slasher: the slaying of two couples arriving at the forest... The women first and their boyfriends later... Is merely a platform for something else involving the ghosts of two children and a crazy, cannibalistic father played by director Don Jones's stock actor Gary Kent, who kills, then eats, all females that cross his path. A lot of activity, including a backstory involving the then-normal dad, kids, and a cheating wife, keeps you interested enough to forget it's yet another FRIDAY THE 13th ripoff, but with a unique personality all its own.

SATAN'S SADISTS

year: 1969
cast: Russ Tamblyn, Gary Kent, Richard Dix, Scott Brady, John Bud Cardos
director: Al Adamson
rating: ***

At times feeling like a snuff film on the verge of payoff, other times sublimely embodying exactly what it is: a low-low-budget drive-in odyssey pitting a gang of scruffy bikers, who call themselves SATAN'S SADISTS, against anyone in their path: headlining at an off-highway diner harboring tough guys Gary Kent and Scott Brady . The leader, played by Russ Tamblyn... looking more Phil Spector than Sonny Barger... get violent and his gang rides off and the marine and waitress go after them. For the next hour each Sadist, all uniquely odd and perfectly irritating in their own style (or lack of), gets picked off. But that's not before these ragged mutts enjoy raping unlucky female campers, smoking pot, dropping acid, and being gloriously despicable. After all, it's their movie!

HOT TOMORROWS


title: HOT TOMORROWS
year: 1977
cast: Ken Lerner, Ray Sharkey, Vic Argo, Orson Welles
rating: **

A Gothic WHO'S THAT KNOCKIN' AT MY DOOR has two twenty-something-year-old men, Ken Lerner, who's writing a cathartic novel about his dead aunt, and Ray Sharkey, who's more spontaneous than deep, hanging out and doing close to nothing. They go to a bar where Danny Elfman is singing cabaret, meet Victor Argo and Herve Velechez, then visit a funeral home, have coffee, take a tour, return to the bar, then to a diner, drive around and talk some more... mostly about death; Lerner's obsessed with it and Sharkey doesn't care either way. At the end of the night the two friends part: Lerner writes more about his aunt (we see clips of his characters as he's writing) and gets news Sharkey has died. After which our grimy hero drives around alone, and at this point the film, having lost its catylist, isn't interesting. Not like it ever really was, but at least there was a cozy camaraderie between the two leads. Martin Brest wrote and directed this B&W low-low-budget indie right before hitting mainstream with GOING MY WAY, BEVERLY HILLS COP, MIDNIGHT RUN, and eventually his Waterloo disaster, GIGLI. Orson Welles provides the radio announcer's voice for the cemetery.

LIFE OF THE PARTY

year: 2018
rating: **1/2

There are way too many remakes, especially of Eighties flicks, so Melissa McCarthy and actor/director husband Ben Falcone remade the Rodney Dangerfield classic Back To School and took all the credit — despite having the same basic premise: after a divorce, a parent decides to go to college with her kid. In that case it was a large funny dad and skinny serious son and here it's a fat (though skinny for her) almost-funny woman with a standard-size semi-cute daughter. But Melissa McCarthy trades in her usual blunt and gross self deprecation for a character much too optimistic and cheerful to relate to, or to feel for, providing absolutely no obstacles along the way. A much too easy/breezy comedy with no real laughs. On the plus side, it's a relaxing time-filler delivering 90-minutes of brainless entertainment. That's also what's wrong with LIFE OF THE PARTY, which does live up to its name, several times; party after party; sameness. More a divorced middle-aged mother's fantasy since McCarthy — taking one more year of Anthropology in the same college she dropped out of years earlier — hooks up with a handsome college kid. The only suspense is in the utter disbelief.

RETURN OF THE JEDI

alt title: STAR WARS VI  
year of release: 1983
cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher
rating: ****1/2

Realizing that Lucas, although not the director, was fully in charge of EMPIRE and this: the last of the original trilogy, the more I can see hired director Richard Marquand's input. Being a director of "Eye of the Needle" and other spy thrillers, he adds an particular British element of meticulous, pinpointed, philosophical intrigue and suspense, mostly centered on the lead-up and climax involving Luke Skywalker and Darth Vadar meeting the Emperor in the almost-completed bigger/better Death Star. One shot in particular, now iconic, of an elevator door quickly slides open, revealing Vadar and Skywalker, is a personal favorite moment (image) of the trilogy.

Mark Hamill, better than ever, along with Darth Vadar and IanMcDiarmid as the Emperor owns this one while Harrison "Han Solo" Ford and Carrie "Princess Leia" Fisher provide the working-class action of the B story...

Having landed on the Forest planet of Endor (where lives too-adorably-contrived creatures called Ewoks who, along with overlong expository scenes, slow down the pace until they prove their underdog defense tactics), they have to shut down the Death Star's shields so that Lando, with the aid of Wedge and other pilots, blow up the Death Star... in a dogfight like no other. And the first act, back on Tattoine, in and out of Jabba's Palace, proves that Jim Henson's puppetry does wonder over CGI, a blend of noir and pirate lore kicking things off with a pulpy roar.

MR. LUCKY

year: 1959—1960
cast: John Vivyan, Ross Martin
creator: Blake Edwards
rating: ***1/2

Most episodes of the one-season-wonder television series directed by creature-feature turned BRADY BUNCH director Jack Arnold, the coolest, most surprising aspect of Blake Edward's MR LUCKY is it takes two complete episodes for the story of an honest gambler running a casino on a boat, three miles away from the law's reach, to establish itself (with the boat!), and without being a two-part pilot with a set-up agenda: Like Edwards' PETER GUNN star Craig Stevens, LUCKY lead John Vivyan is a perfectly good-enough actor for the twists and turns to occur around his well-suited charm. Resembling a Cary Grant b-side (or Lloyd Bochner a-side), he's flanked by a faithful sidekick, Andamo, played by Ross Martin, who'd become famous as another faithful second on WILD WILD WEST. With a fickle Spanish accent that hardly matters anyway, he keeps their combined energy fresh and engaging: along with the usual Blake Edwards wallpaper of gorgeous women, often as unpredictable and spontaneous as the mazy plot-lines in which they're caught: the good episodes serious and breezy while the mediocre entries play semi-comedic (as Mancini scores along jovially) upfront. Either way, at 24 minutes per, LUCKY is great bet. 

DRAGNET

year: 1987
cast: Dan Aykroyd, Tom Hanks
rating: ***

Plot involves a group called P.A.G.A.N. who worship the devil and burn buildings and then leave their business cards behind after each scorching. Dan Aykroyd not only gets to ramble in his monotone to his partner Tom Hank's chagrin, but also, like the famous TV series, provides the straight-forward narration throughout. It's a little bit painful for a while - Aykroyd playing the character as someone as annoying as the original Friday seemed to baby boomers, at least until the plot comes together, and Friday gets a love interest (Alexandra Paul), then you actually feel something for the characters. Hanks lands a couple funnier lines, the bad guys become revealed, and the car chases aren't too bad. In no way is this an endorsement to rent or buy this flick, but if you accidently happen on it on cable, it won't kill you like other Aykroyd ventures such as "Loose Cannons", "My Stepmother is an Alien" and the worst film ever made, "Nothing But Trouble".

I FEEL PRETTY

Year: 2018
Cast: Amy Schumer, Lauren Hutton, Michelle Williams
Rating: **1/2

In SHALLOW HAL Jack Black saw all women as beautiful, even and especially ones who weren't. In this copycat, overweight and this time, not-so-proud-of-it Amy Schumer finds herself to be gorgeous, hence I FEEL PRETTY, and basically becomes as confident as a plain looking girl that a plain looking girl with confidence would be in a normal situation, and that Amy is in other movies, like TRAINWRECK. The only acting occurs when her character is so pathetically shy, it just doesn't seem natural so, when the transition occurs, it all seems contrived, forced. That said, it's not bad for a sick day movie to pass the time, and since all girls feel ugly deep down... hence Amy's fame as a younger, partying Melissa McCarthy... Amy's really teaching a two-hour lesson, one so obvious it repeats itself throughout the immensely predictable romantic comedy where the film's sensitive "sweater wearing" nice guy mars what the TRAINWRECK sensitive guy did there, slowing Amy down from the blunt persona that made her... semi-famous.

SMALL TIME CROOKS

Year: 2000
Rating: **1/2

Without giving credit, Woody Allen basically remakes LARCENY INC. where, in that Edward G. Robinson B&W crime-caper, thieves dig from underneath their strategically purchased suitcase store to a bank: The store winds up making more money than they'd have stolen, and Woody changes the business to cookies while SMALL TIME CROOKS plays so with many old movie cliches it seems more a parody than a remake...

Woody shifts from his usual neurotic movie-loving intellectual to a contentedly simple-minded ex con (the biggest stretch is when he thinks Humphrey Bogart's gold seeking SIERRA MADRE set classic is titled TREASURE ISLAND). And he's definitely not alone: Wife Tracey Ullman (the cookie-maker) provides the buried lead, especially during a very abrupt second-act shift as LARCENY morphs into MY FAIR LADY as Hugh Grant plays an intellectual art dealer doubling as a very subtle shyster...

Perhaps too genuine to be genuinely crooked, or all that interesting beyond good looks to fool a street savvy dame, he's constantly holding his proper, pompous tongue, giving loaded etiquette lessons to the new-rich ex-stripper, who has no education and even less taste in clothes, furniture — you name it. And while, overall, SMALL TIME CROOKS is a guilty pleasure, there's genuine heart in director/actress Elaine May as Ullman's kooky cousin...

Whether strolling along waterfront walkways from ANNIE HALL and HANNAH AND HER SISTERS or watching TV while admiring James Cagney's Cody Jarrett for loving his infamous mother — Elaine and Woody have far more chemistry (and funnier one-liners) than the frenzied marrieds, whose HONEYMOONERS banter gets annoying, quick. And good news/bad news: Woody and Elaine returned years later, as a married couple in the Amazon Series, CRISIS IN SIX SCENES. But it made this movie seem like MANHATTAN by comparison, or, more fitting, TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, Woody's first and funniest role as a criminal.

THE L WORD

Year: 2004
cast: Jennifer Beals, Mia Kirschner, Erin Daniels, Malaya Rivera Drew
Rating: ****

A perfectly cast ensemble of different personalities that both clash and connect with an equal balance and, like any soap operatic series it keeps the viewer interested in the characters that are all stuck in the quagmire of maze-like relationship purgatory. The only problem is how political the show can get, targeting only Right Wing Christians when the more-gay-hating Muslim faith is never mentioned (throughout the series are many harsh critiques on President George W. Bush while, ironically, it's also mentioned that The Bush Administration doesn't allow criticism).

The "worst" character is also the most important, at least initially, providing the white rabbit into the wonderland of lesbians... save for Pam Grier, sister of control freak Bette played by Jennifer Beals, in a relationship with a lip-less, whining bisexual named Tina. And they're not the only couple on board. Jenny's married in the first season, and has an affair that brings her into the fray and then, by season two, she becomes the most preachy and, intentionally, pretentious, by the end basically the villain "Joan Collins" of the series, where she's bad on purpose (aided by a cute, sneaky Malaya Rivera Drew, pictured above, on the left, and below).

Alice is the smart ass: providing (albeit whiny and polarizing) not really "comic relief" but a relief of being vulnerable and funny through good (Erin Daniels as a pro tennis player who dies in the third season) and bad relationships (getting dumped by said athlete), all posted on her website. Meanwhile, an androgynous Shane is the token player (but Shane is not butch). A Joan Jett of the Runaways era-looking grunge chick, any and every (outside the group) girls, gay, straight, bisexual, are after her, and it's fun how the more monogamous lesbians react to her wild lifestyle, which is what most people expect them all to live... giving the L WORD a glimpse not just into a lifestyle but into a group of friends that struggle with love and loss without juggling too many cliches.

BLOCKERS (LESLIE MANN)

In BLOCKERS, three parents try messing up... or attempt to block... each daughter from partaking in the plot of almost every 80's sex comedy, especially LITTLE DARLINGS since this particular "lose our virginity by the end of the movie" movie is about the girls, who all act in what's usually the cinematic "guy minded mode," wanting it more than their dull, reluctant dates and especially (and of course) their parents: Never has a comic-relief-within-a-comedy been as horrendously ineffective as screwy-toothed Ike Barinholtz, whose five-o'clock shadow hardly covers up the fact he's also terribly miscast — resembling more of a college fraternity clown, which doesn't make it all that ironic when he crashes a high school prom, and then a few parties: Though he's not alone as muscular "White Dwayne Johnson" John Cena is a realistic looking parental, getting more emotional than expected of such a giant, while mom, played by the usually-hilarious Leslie Mann, leads this complete disaster where instead of cocks being blocked... due to an awkward pace, stilted one-liners and a horrible lack of chemistry between actors... the laughter is, again and again: So avoid this Rooster — it's a real Turkey!

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