SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

When much-too-wordy-for-a-dead-guy narrator William Holden tells us about the dark ominous mansion he's happened upon, the direction and atmosphere doesn't match up. He could be walking up to a local tavern and it'd be equally as suspenseful...

The best thing about SUNSET BOULEVARD is it's really a monster movie/creature feature and in that, a terrifyingly creepy Gloria Swanson makes up for a bland and overly glib Holden who, outside the main location, has a flirtatious affair with super-cute Nancy Olson as part of a soapy Hollywood-satire melodrama that simply isn't thrilling enough to be called a thriller...

And it's definitely not a Film Noir: If anything, SUNSET is a satire on Hollywood created and adored by Hollywood with built-in gripes that aren't very universal: a lot like another show biz satire (considered a classic as well) decades later, also starring William Holden, called Network: Both are vastly overrated. But Gloria Swanson's tour-de-force is far less forced than Peter Finch, and she's impossible to not be intrigued with. It just seems the audience has more interest than her smug leading man. GRADE: B

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995)

John Carpenter attempted a horribly hokey science-fiction tale, and in that, succeeded. The cast includes actors known for franchise films: Christopher "Superman" Reeves, Mark "Star Wars" Hamill, Kirstie "Look Who's Talking" Alley, Michael "Eddie and the Cruisers" Pare, and Linda "Croc Dundee" Kozlowski as residents of a town hit by a blackout that mysteriously impregnates the women, nine months later giving birth on the same night to alien children who, a few years later, become albino megaminds.

But despite the good adult cast, most of the acting is subpar, especially Mark Hamill who, as a preacher, delivers lines as if he too were possessed. The children, on the other hand, perform decently enough, but are held back by cheesy FX as their eyes radiate, taking away any real threat they might've had otherwise.

STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979)

Having dismissed this famously maligned movie aka the spectacular late-seventies STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE so long for the more action-packed, mainstream, fan-adored sequels, it's become a personal favorite, experiencing the majestic visuals along with the crew, who all kind of sit around stunned, mesmerized as the gorgeous, multi-layered, formidable foe unfolds outside and well... how can you blame them?

THE LONER (1965-1966)

Could have been a cool show, especially with Rod Serling as the writer. But he's wearing politics on his sleeve, and while many Twilight Zone episodes are cautionary tales, they relate universally.

This show, fitfully titled THE LONER, about a former soldier on an endless road happening upon various human varmints who love the thought of war without having been through it... or without having learned from what they did experience while in it... takes away from what each story could have given the viewer other than a message, which overrides each plot-line and buries the theme: to where our wandering hero seems more like a brooding know-it-all than someone making the perfect pawn upon each eclectic adventure. In other words, he has so much to teach he never actually learns anything...

And worse yet, he never seems in danger so there's little to no urgency in his would-be, world-weary travels. He simply winds up lecturing everyone not as enlightened as he is...

A lot like the political side of Hollywood, which Rod Serling was much, much better and deeper than. But he had more of a sermon to tell her than a story. See the early Gunsmoke episodes for how a great Western series should be. GRADE: C

A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)

Charles Chaplin said this is the best film about (not set in, but about) America, and with all the one-dimensional class envy stereotypes, it makes sense since old Charlie didn't care much for America. Just like the movie. 

Film centers on the dreary nephew (raised on the evils of Christianity) of a rich and powerful businessman. The kid falls in love with beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, who plays a beautiful society girl. But before that he (eventually learns he) knocked-up a working girl even more cliché than the rude-rich snobs being she's so pitifully somber, discontented, shabby and neurotic.

As for the gorgeous-looking couple the audience is supposed to care about: Literally within ten minutes of knowing each other, Taylor tells Montgomery Clift she's fallen in love with him, and while love happens fast in old movies, this was a record-breaker, and in that, a shark-jumper. Followed by the semi-intriguing Film Noir style murder plot/morality tale that's too little too late in this highly-regarded "classic" that not only doesn't stand the test of time, it lays down and falls asleep in the process. GRADE: D+

SUPERMAN RETURNS (2007)

You got to give credit to X-MEN director Bryan Singer for, in 2007, trying to make his SUPERMAN RETURNS literally that: returning from the 1978 original (with the same opening credit look) and starting out after the fantastic sequel SUPERMAN II, basically Brandon Routh is really, literally supposed to be Christopher Reeve and not just Superman who's Clark Kent up front...

If there's any one thing Reeve did best in the title role is playing Kent in an endearing underdog manner. Something Routh just can't pull off: Instead of clumsy for the part he seems awkward in the role, and while on paper Kevin Spacey's the dream Lex Luther, he seems like he doesn't want to be there, and with the same exact world-damning land-deal goal as Gene Hackman's Luthor, it makes the arch villain feel even more bland, unoriginal, familiar and basically a frustrating afterthought...

Meanwhile, an otherwise witty (in Christopher Guest movies) Parker Posey is perhaps the weakest moll in film history... But worse yet is Lois Lane... Played by a much too young Kate Bosworth, not only is she too inexperienced an actress but the character lacks Margot Kidder's charm, screen presence and, in having been in her thirties, and while looking older than Reeve, Margot really did seem like what she played: a reporter who's been in the game and knows more in the area of reporting and taking risks: The latter giving Kent turned Superman a reason to protect her, constantly...

But the biggest shame here is James Marsden's throwaway role as Lois's seemingly too-perfect boyfriend, trying too hard to be "dad" to a horrible child actor who's really Kent's Superboy. And come to think of it, Marsden, under Singer's direction as Cyclops in X-MEN, would have made a much better Superman: Being the right age he seemed more in tune with the natural fit Reeve had in the part, and he's great looking, has a properly muscular build, and to play the clumsy Kent, he's a good actor... How could Singer not know what/who was staring him in the face? GRADE: F+

BOOK CLUB (2018)

Old age is handled funny in movies. These people have had children and grandchildren, and in this case, the generation that was all about sex during their Sexual Revolution, wind up acting like silly old folks who seem to be discovering sex, and, even though the movie is intentionally showing that they are in fact rediscovering it, they sound like 13-year-olds who've never had it at all...

In that, BOOK CLUB is not a bad film. That is, it's not completely unwatchable. It's an older persons' date flick that uses the niche of its four stars: Bergen a kind of strong lioness who is insecure deep down; Jane Fonda is basically the same thing but slightly more confident and experience up-front, and prettier now than Bergen, who looks her age the most here; Keaton's her usual quirky neurotic that Woody Allen invented for ANNIE HALL; and Mary Steenburgen is the least well-known and not an iconic actress like the others, and also, like Fonda, has aged nicely (and tap dances to rock music like MELVIN & HOWARD)...

Their men are paper mache and the book being read, Fifty Shades of Grey, is promoted in what seems like a 2-hour commercial masquerading as a rom-com.

But this propaganda fades out after the first act when the usual problems arise. Followed by a pat Hollywood ending. Either way, this is vapidly enjoyable viewing for those who aren't expecting anything actually good or solid. Let's call it, passable time-filling emptiness. Or as Woody Allen said (while married to Keaton) in LOVE AND DEATH: an empty void. MAINSTREAM GRADE CURVE: C

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