8/26/2014

SCREEN CAPTURED MOUSEKETEER: SHERRY ALBERONI 70'S DRIVE-IN CINEMA

In the 1970's, two low-budget exploitation flicks with a similar premise... a group of lovely young ladies being politely coerced and then suddenly abducted and violently terrorized by a male antagonist... featured Sherry Alberoni, a former child starlet who began as a MOUSEKETEER and provided her voice in JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS. And now we'll go with Sherry down memory lane as she recalls two particular low budget movies...

year: 1974 rating:**
The first being TERROR CIRCUS aka NIGHTMARE CIRCUS aka BARN OF THE NAKED DEAD, where a carload of women get stranded in the middle of nowhere, and soon enough a seemingly friendly stranger named Andre, played by Andrew Prine, lends a helping hand... A hand that will soon wield a fierce, cracking whip: For Andre has his very own “circus” within a dilapidated barn where he keeps his captive ladies tied up...

Soon enough, Sherry’s character, Sheri, is part of this torturous time capsule escapade that is 90-minutes of raw, unbridled, tedious, classless, insane, inane, amazingly horrendously entertaining exploitation while Andre either beats his subjects, or sets wild cats or poisonous snakes after whoever he really despises...

Interview with Sherry Alberoni
Sherry, how did you get the role in TERROR CIRCUS aka NIGHTMARE CIRCUS?

I had gotten married in 1971 to my one-and-only husband, Richard Van Meter, who was in his 2nd year of medical school at UCLA. Since I was the “bread winner” at that time, I wasn’t particularly choosy about the parts I accepted, so when I was offered the part, I took it.

In 1972 I had done my first “horror film,” SISTERS OF DEATH, and had a fun time with the cast and so I thought it would be another fun experience (which it was for the most part). I had been working in this business since I was 4 years old so to me, it was just another gig.

You and several women are locked up in a barn and the dialogue is frantic and edgy… What was it like acting in this type of creepy setting with so many actresses caught in such a nightmare?

Well, a set is not really a creepy setting – no scary music or dim lights to put you in the mood. I was never a “method actress” (I think a few of the others were – or wanted to be!). I just read the script and said my dialogue the way it was written with and all emotions that entails.

When the scene is over, I tend to walk away without a second thought of what I said or did – if the director liked it then that’s it. If he wanted more tears or fear or laughter or whatever, we did it again and I have him what he asked for.

I guess that comes from doing so many different parts for so many years – it was always my job… not my life.

I don’t mean to be flippant or blow it off like it’s not of some value, I was just taught, from a young age, to be professional but not take it too seriously (because it could all go away in a heartbeat). Be on time, know your lines and then come home to reality. If the part called for me to laugh, I laughed. If it called for me to cry, I cried – but it was all “play acting.”

I live a very normal life because my parents taught me from day one that if I get the part, it’s not because I’m better or more talented than the girl standing next to me… it’s because God wanted me to get the part… and it worked the same in reverse – if I didn’t get the part, it wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough – God just didn’t want me to get the part.

Andrew Prine
Describe a little about working with Andrew Prine, who plays the antagonist?

He was nice enough but I never really got involved with him off screen – like I said, do your part and then walk away. I had a really solid life outside Hollywood so I wasn’t into much else. I’m sounding awfully boring, aren’t I?

Your director, Alan Rudolph, went onto bigger things... What was Alan like as a director?

I really liked him – he was the first director I ever worked with who didn’t “look” like a director! He had really long dark hair and looked like a hippie! He was very handsome in spite of the “look” and his friendly, nice personality was a pleasure. I remember we had another director at the beginning and I don’t know what the problem was but they brought in Alan to replace him. Alan was very confident, not intense, and had such a pleasant attitude.

Like I said, I wasn’t used to directors like him so it was all a bit “new age” for me, but I really enjoyed him.

There is a scene where your character, Sheri, gets horribly beaten by Andrew’s sinister Andre... What was this like, reacting to such a horrible situation?

I remember being really ticked off that he didn’t have complete control of the whip he was supposed to be whipping me with, and it scared me when he came way too close to me with it. I kept thinking, “Geez, I could loose an eye for a dumb movie!”

I don’t remember if that scene was filmed with the first director or with Alan – I think if it were with Alan, I would have gone to him and talked to him about it because he was so open.

Nowadays, with Quentin Tarantino and others celebrating exploitation movies, the genre has been glorified... But what did you think of drive-in flicks when you were doing them?

As I said, at the time it was “just another gig” but not something I was used to doing, so it was interesting to me to see how the violence, etc. was filmed...

There was a topless scene in the movie and I remember being a little “shocked” (I had led a very sheltered life – very Disney!!) I lived at home with my family until I got married at 25, and never saw this kind of scene being filmed: The set was cleared of all extraneous people, but some of the crew had put up a ladder on the outside of the barn and let me climb up to their peephole for a look – and I remember there were two girls (a blonde and a brunette) sitting on a patch of hay on the floor and I thought “No way!”

Claudia Jennings
year: 1976 rating: ***
SISTERS OF DEATH aka DEATH TRAP aka DEATH TIME aka DEATH TIME HOUSE stars Claudia Jennings as the survivor of a ritual shown in the spooky prelude. Filmed in 1972  and released in 1976, it's a cult flick that even got the Rifftrax treatment...

Plot centers on Claudia's Judy and several of her friends, including Sherry Alberoni as Francie, who are called upon for a mysterious reunion, and eventually get trapped within a rural mansion surrounded by an electric fence thanks to their captor Edmund, played by veteran actor Arthur Franz, who holds a dark secret – and a reason to torment and torture the ladies, resulting in their all-night quest for survival. 

Compared to the tedious and claustrophobic TERROR CIRCUS, this is a pretty decent drive-in venture. The characters aren't just lumped into a dire situation for the sake of exploitation. There’s enough background and set-up as we get to know each individual, and the suspense builds along with the mystery of this ominous get-together. And in this group, Sherry’s Francie is the most confident and outspoken.

Claudia and Sherry
You co-starred with the now legendary cult starlet, Claudia Jennings, in SISTERS OF DEATH... What was Claudia like to work with?

Oh, I loved Claudia! There was no Internet back then, so it wasn’t so easy to learn everything about everybody with just a push of a button… but I had heard through the grapevine that she had been in Playboy so I don’t know exactly what I expected of her but I know I didn’t think she would be as nice and down-to-earth as she was. She wasn’t as “glamorous” as I figured she would be – she was very pretty but didn’t “live” in her make-up.

She was a lot of fun, had an infectious laugh and was truly a “sweet girl.” I was shocked and extremely saddened when I heard on the news that she had gotten killed in a car crash – if I recall, she was dating Tommy Boyce (or was it Hart?) and it was all so sad to me because I knew her and really liked her.

Your character stands out from the others with her American flag hat – did you have anything to do with selecting your own wardrobe?

We wore our own clothes and yes, that hat was mine! I had made several trips to Vietnam in 1968-69 and was/am extremely patriotic and that was one of the hats I wore on stage over there (when I did a musical medley asking the audience which states they were from).

I was supposed to be the little, quirky, bubbly, more innocent of the girls so I just wore what I normally wore, and I guess the director felt it was “me” and went with it.

Like TERROR CIRCUS, this movie has a group women captured and terrorized by a man in a contained setting (albeit a much nicer setting this time)... What was like particular location like, working at the rural mansion? 

I always loved “location” filming – I had spent several months in Spain filming THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER and I loved going on location, so this one was filmed near Paso Robles at some big old house in the middle of nowhere!

I’m sure the mansion was lovely at one time, but it was a bit “tired” when we filmed there – I don’t know if the set director made it “tired” or not, but it was a great property...

It was nice to be “so close and yet so far” from L.A. because my husband was able to drive up there to see me when he got a free weekend from school.

SISTERS was a lot more organized and professional than CIRCUS and I loved the cast – all very nice people who were fun to be with and we had great camaraderie both on and off the set. 

Joe E. Tate
What was it like working with Arthur Franz, who played the antagonist/captor?

Nice man (are you seeing a theme going on here? Ha!)... I didn’t have a lot of screen time or off time with him, but I do remember him being kind and nice.

How about Joe E. Tata, who played one of the good guys– and later had an important role on the long-running BEVERLY HILLS 90210?

LOVED him! I always though of him as “Sad” and when Claudia told me his wife and child had died in a car crash, I knew why. I was very happy to see him become such a beloved and successful actor. It was one of those “I knew him when!” things.

"Smart chick..."
Your bit of dialogue (the only line transcribed on imdb, by the way) about wanting to be clean to be closer to God... a play on cleanliness is next to godliness... leads to your death in the shower/bathroom – any memories of that scene where you have a knife in your back?

Not sure if that was my last scene filmed – it never goes in order… But I was appalled when I was there was a glass shower door – milky glass, but still glass! I was supposed to be a non-see-through shower curtain!! I never did a nude scene and wasn’t planning on starting then!

My first thought was to call my agent and then the union but before I did that, I spoke with the wardrobe lady – together, we came up with a sort-of bikini made out of gaffer’s tape covered with body makeup. I wore my robe onto the set and didn’t take it off until I was inside the shower and my back to the shower door. We filmed the scene and no one ever knew what her and I had done, but I screamed bloody murder back in my dressing room when I pulled that damn tape (and my skin!) off.

Sherry was Alexandra, far right
You were Alexandra in the classic cartoon, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS... What was it like bringing characters to life with your voice compared to physically acting out a role?

I started doing voice-overs when I was pregnant with my first child… our daughter Casey, since I couldn’t do on-film in my condition. I really enjoyed it; such a happy time and I loved being with Casey Kasem (we did all those years of JOSIE plus SUPERFRIENDS and several other shows – my daughter, Casey, was named after him).

It was great and easy work because the entire cast was very professional and everyone knew what they were doing: so it was go in, quick read-through, record, and go home. Probably only 4 hours at the most.

Speaking into the microphone, there’s a lot of arm-waving, quietly jumping up and down and emoting without moving… acting standing still. If the director wanted more, he told us and we gave it to him. We recorded that show for so long and knew each other (and our characters) so well that we just did it!

As a MOUSEKETEER, you were part of a group of kids – what was it like performing with other children, and what was your favorite part of the show?

My brother, Roy, had originally gotten the casting call and he was a drummer and tap dancer. After his audition, the casting director told him that they loved him, but they already had their drummer, Cubby O’Brien, and asked if Roy played any other instruments.

Roy said “No, but my little sister can play the trumpet and tap dance at the same time!” They asked my mom to bring me to the studio the next day – I played the trumpet as I tap danced: nearly knocked out all my teeth, but got the job!

At the time, none of us realized how important and iconic the Mickey Mouse Club would become to so many people and that it would become a lifelong job (next year is the 60th Anniversary!). Cubby and I still do shows on the Disney Cruise ships and also with Doreen, Tommy, Bobby and Karen we do shows and appearances at Disneyland, Disney World and the Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.

I was on MMC for a year, when Lou Costello brought my contract from Disney for me to play “Bootsie” (his adopted daughter) in DANCE WITH ME HENRY, the last film he made with Bud Abbott. Lou used to watch the MMC with his young daughter, Chris, and she pointed me out to him on the show, and said she liked me.

Filming the MMC with other kids was great fun – we were only allowed to be at the studio for 8 hours per day: 4 filming (or in wardrobe, make-up, hair or rehearsing), 3 in school and 1 at lunch/recreation… We all loved to sing and dance and play-act so it was always fun and still is to this day!

8/25/2014

IF I STAY... REVIEWED BY A GROUCHY GROWNUP

year: 2014 rating: **
What a romantic teenage vehicle like IF I STAY has in common with a horror movie is cause and effect… Scary flicks will cause kids to scream, and they go for that reason… So it's not much different when a movie promises to jerk tears from an audience of young girls, all ready for that particular effect...

Unfortunately, for impatient adult viewers, STAY has two teen characters with  zero chemistry... She, being Chloë Grace Moretz as Mia, and he is yet another misunderstood rebel who channels his powers through Rock N Roll…

At first, Jamie Blackley plays Adam with little emotion, leaving the Afterschool Special type melodrama to Moretz’s character, in spirit form after a terrible car accident with her family – begging the purgatory question and the reason for the title… If she does stay, what’s to live for?

Scenes where Mia’s limbo ghost follows friends and family around the hospital are traded off with memories of her mom and dad, who are the kind of hip/progressive parents all kids would... die for. But the real backdrop consists of Mia, a concert cellist with a possible scholarship at Julliard, falling deeply in love with the perpetually whining Adam, whose band sounds like grungy elevator music. 

Moretz can be a decent actress, but in the purgatory state she doesn’t convey enough emotion to befit the horrendous tragedy, which is almost unfathomable given the eventual body count. And since her romance with Adam has zero obstacles… other than her own neurotic reluctance while pontificating like a 35-year-old intellectual… it’s hard to feel for the living Mia or the dying one: neither seem to care much about anything. Thankfully Grandpa, played by veteran actor Stacy Keach, shares a heartfelt scene or two to make Mia more human: thus giving her a reason, other than a quirky best buddy and a moody boyfriend, to possibly stick around.

8/24/2014

HELEN MIRREN & OM PURI IN THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

year: 2014 rating: ***
Food porn version of THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, only here a family from India moves to Europe and finds their own little paradise… and not without a few roadblocks…

Enter our leading lady who is really the main antagonist... Although Helen Mirren plays French restaurant owner Madame Mallory with such hateful precision you know she’s bound to melt. Thankfully it’s not a contrived transition as the Indian family, headlined by an optimistic yet stubbornly grouchy patriarch, Papa, played by scene-stealer Om Puri, and his talented son Hassan, the head cook for the makeshift restaurant opened right across the street from the Madam's elegant small town mainstay, become her new competition...

So the most fun is had during scenes where Mallory and Papa wage war, playing dirty tricks to mess up each other’s business: his from growing and hers’ from remaining the most popular. This story, highlighted by Puri’s subtle yet hilarious performance trumping Mirren's limited stonewall, narrows down into young Hassan’s venture from smalltime cook to a hopeful master chef. 

While American-born Manish Dayal is likeable enough as the buried lead, you might cringe as he annoyingly sideswipes Papa’s humor with constant whining, and the budding romance with Mallory’s head chef is unrealistic – French actress Charlotte Le Bon is much too pretty for the role, and the chemistry is just not there. But the main problem with Hassan’s story is it just doesn’t know when to end, making this HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY about twenty minutes too long.
 
The humorous dialogue and picturesque locations aside, what really works is what's left out: that being political or religious banter, excessive swearing or anything polarizing. It’s a universally appealing family film, for the most part, although mostly recommended for parents and grandparents who enjoy an old fashion cinematic meal with style and class... and plenty of lightweight sarcasm.  

8/22/2014

FRANK MILLER'S SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR

year: 2014 rating: ***
“I was born at night,” Josh Brolin’s gritty Dwight tells the title femme fatale. “But it wasn’t last night.”

That’s the kind of  pulpy camp delivered in Frank Miller’s graphic novel Film Noir purgatory, which is extremely graphic. But all the limbs flying and blood gushing, bathed in a surreal backdrop even stranger than Mickey Rourke’s abundant Dick Tracyesque jawbone, doesn’t seem very real, and that’s a good thing – escapism reigns in SIN CITY.

Consisting of three intertwined tales, the best has Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny, a young idealistic card shark who takes on the super nefarious Senator Roark (Powers Booth) – learning all about luck and experience the hard way. The main story centers on Brolin, who falls desperately hard for the DAME TO KILL (and/or die) FOR... Although Eva Green’s Ava isn’t entirely spellbinding, and it’s never really clear what the fuss is about. And least entertaining for last: Jessica Alba as Nancy, a stripper with a heart of golden vengeance, headed after the Senator, who has more than earned his villainy at this point... he's the Bill to Kill. Meanwhile, Rourke's muscular Marv serves as bodyguard for the vulnerable and needy.

The action scenes are fun, involving, explosive, and completely over the top. But in a world where excess is commonplace, it all makes perfect sense even though the characters, intentionally befitting their dime novel personas, aren’t as memorable or significant as the trouble they quickly get into and out of. In this particular venture, once again directed by Robert Rodriquez and creator Frank Miller, it's more about the path than the journey.

8/20/2014

REVIEW OF INTO THE STORM

year: 2014 rating: **1/2
If TWISTER and FINAL DESTINATION had a baby with a video camera, its named would be INTO THE STORM...

The device popularized in THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and legitimized in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY flicks and more recently, CHRONICLE and EARTH TO ECHO, is all the rage, and can drive you up a wall. But STORM has enough characters within the small town, ravaged by a number of menacing tornadoes, so the documentary technique isn’t all shaky: Each group of characters has their own method of recording their lives within the roving catastrophe…

The best (least annoying) group is a military unit that is much like Bill Pullman’s band of scientific hippies from TWISTER, only much less quirky... With an armoured vehicle that can plant itself into the earth without moving, their technological vantage is the most steady. Along the ride is a lady who becomes a possible love interest to a high school principle with two sons.The eldest son, in love with a beautiful high school environmentalist, provides the worst tale as the couple are stuck underwater, trapped within a building and spouting their last words. This takes us away from the action of the storm chasers, who deserve our complete attention. Then there’s comic relief in the form of two daredevil white trash idiots (wannabe JACKASS types), dying to go viral on YouTube.

The special effects are all right. Nowadays anything can look real with computers. Although there are times when the twisters look straight out of SHARKNADO sans the killer fish. But what makes INTO THE STORM a fairly entertaining disaster film is that it’s really a campy character-driven adventure that, especially during an 11th hour climax with the survivors hunkered-down in a sewer, is a decent way to spend 90 minutes with people that aren’t completely likable, but at least their cameras don’t get in the way of their stories. 

8/18/2014

REVIEW OF THE GIVER STARRING JEFF BRIDGES

2014 rating: **1/2
Think of a movie where a snowy sled represents lost youth… No not that movie… Now there’s another… And this particular youthful reverie is not only lost, but non-existent...

In the kind of future liken to those politically correct children’s baseball leagues where no one keeps score, THE GIVER is set in a perfect world utopia on what seems like an island surrounded by clouds – and King Kong is nowhere in sight. Seriously speaking, it’s a pretty neat place without any hatred, vengeance, vanity, jealousy or... freedom.

Well that last thing is what young and gifted Jonas (wielding all the powers at once ala DIVERGENT) discovers when he’s given the occupation as the community’s Receiver of Memories... His job is to ride a bike to a lonely place near the cloudy Cliffside where The Giver, played by a Kris Kristofferson looking Jeff Bridges, provides him with memories of the past to help guide the Elders, led by a monotonic Meryl Streep, with decisions, or something. Yet what Jonas learns is all about the good things absent in the steely paradise: from kissing his girl/friend (Odeya Rush), to riding that sled to some things not so nice, like flashes of war, hunger and rioting. 

The story is mysterious and builds nicely until about halfway through when the plot becomes a message so clear, the creative use of B&W cinematography, in gaining various hues, gets too preachy and predictable for its own good. Ironically enough, THE GIVER is far more vibrant without any color.

8/17/2014

REVIEW OF LET'S BE COPS

year: 2014 rating: **
There are buddy movies, and there are buddy cop movies…  Buddy movies center on two opposing friends who can’t do without each other, while buddy cop movies usually have a white guy partnered up with a black guy... And here, both sub-genres collide…

LET’S BE COPS starts with two likable 30 year old losers discussing a pact to leave Los Angeles if their dreams haven't materialized. But Jake Johnson’s Ryan, a has-been football player and the most optimistic of the duo, wants to stay put while the pessimistically neurotic Justin, played by Damon Wayans Jr., thinks it’s time to split.

Ryan doesn’t only know how to party, but he’s completely aware of the movie’s title and premise. And since Justin works at a software company, trying to get his cop videogame green-lit, he happens to have two uniforms and, long story short, the boys wind up donning the attire for a masquerade party, right down to bulletproof vests.

Soon enough they're mistaken as actual cops and treated like kings. The ruse sticks, and the partners hit the streets, winding up with a real cop car... and the laughs have just begun!

Well not exactly. The second part of the tagline: Fake Cops, Real Trouble  causes the potentially hilarious premise to be sidelined by a group of villains led by a nefarious tattooed thug straight out of… something not very humorous…

So while Johnson and Wayans have the right amount of Oscar/Felix chemistry, there’s simply too much of the violently dramatic aspect far too soon, turning these fake COPS into actual crime fighters whose only problem is staying alive as opposed to remaining funny. Thanks to the vicious bad guy, Justin's perpetual whining, and an overlong scene involving a dreadlocked gangster, the promotional trailers pack more belly-laughs than the actual movie.

8/15/2014

SYLVESTER STALLONE HEADS UP THE EXPENDABLES 3

2014 rating: ***
It wasn’t long ago when Jason Statham, Randy Couture and Terry Crews were the young EXPENDABLES… But now it seems, they’re all old timers…

Thanks to Mel Gibson’s dirty rotten Stonebanks, a founding member of the titular mercenary team who went rogue in a bad way. Following a gallant introduction of a jailbreaking Wesley Snipes, the group, blundering a mission intruded upon by our new lead villain, is considered sloppy and over the hill. So Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross seeks out a whole new group of gung-ho dynamos, all kids in comparison to the old familiar faces.

It’s always fun seeing characters being introduced in this sort of drawn-out montage fashion: With the help of Kelsey Grammer’s soldier-salesman, Barney hires the young warriors, all taking part in various fights and exercises, visually pronouncing each member’s skill...

This leads to the first of two missions to kill and/or capture a lecture-spouting Mel Gibson, thriving with energetic dialogue to make up for his initial lack of hands-on action… Most of that goes to Barney and the kiddos, wherein Statham, Dolph Lungren and the newly resurrected Snipes take a reluctant, shortlived sabbatical.

Filling out the elder positions are Harrison Ford as a benign CIA head who winds up getting dirty along with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s passive coordinator, and yet another pointless Jet Li walk-on. Meanwhile, a motormouth Antonio Banderas, trying way too hard for comic relief status, winds up even more annoying than he’s supposed to be. And yet, despite the surrounding ensemble, Ross, given his personal vengeance for Gibson's heavy, seems more in it for himself... Rambo would be proud! 

The action sequences are involving enough, and between gunplay there’s the usual pulpy banter rooted in 80’s action nostalgia when sarcastic one-liners, limitless ammo and tons of testosterone meant pretty much everything. So if mindless doesn't matter, you won't be disappointed. But anyone expecting a fleshed-out espionage thriller, which this attempts to be, should have known better. 

8/14/2014

HAROLD RAMIS DIRECTS ROBIN WILLIAMS IN CLUB PARADISE

year: 1986 rating: ***
This post was written after the death of Harold Ramis and Peter O'Toole and reblogged in memory of Robin Williams... And we begin with Ramis, best known as the brainy third banana in GHOSTBUSTERS or Bill Murray’s reluctant sidekick in STRIPES... He was also a terrific comedy writer, co-scripting ANIMAL HOUSE, MEATBALLS, BACK TO SCHOOL, STRIPES and GHOSTBUSTERS... 

Along with writing and acting, Ramis directed such quotable classics as CADDYSHACK and NATIONAL LAMPOON’S VACATION... But this particular vehicle from the mid-80's is both maligned and neglected: a dark horse comedy that never quite made a splash, or even a puddle. In fact, Robin Williams himself said he tried to "save it"...

CLUB PARADISE stars Williams as Jack Moniker, a Chicago fireman injured in the line of… you guessed it… who goes into early retirement, residing within a small Caribbean island named St. Nicholas. It’s a strange premise and an even stranger side-cast including Jimmy Cliff as local musician Jimmy Reed, owner of a run down, tax burdened hotel, and Peter O’Toole... who around this time starred in a string of quirky light comedies including CREATOR, HIGH SPIRITS and MY FAVORITE YEAR... as Englishman Anthony Cloyden Hayes, who spends most of his time at the local pub seducing a pretty critic (Joanna Cassidy).

Williams and O'Toole
Robin’s Moniker helps Jimmy renovate the hotel, and some of the more involving scenes are in montage form as our underdog hero, with the help of girlfriend Phillipa (Twiggy), turns this molehill into a slightly neater looking molehill that, through misleading ads centered stateside, resembles a luxurious haven (pre Photoshop, so they had to be creative), and thus the plot’s underway…

With an obvious attempt to tone down Robin Williams' frantic spontaneity while toning up his body, he's more of a leading man than hyper clown, and with Cliff and O’Toole aside, this is an ensemble bringing together an assortment of Second City vets including Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, and Andrea Martin  (the only one missing is John Candy, who was beachside in SUMMER RENTAL).

Moranis and Levy are the Cheech and Chong of the group although they can't seem to score: After two sexy tourists ask the boys for local ganja, the unlucky duo travel around the back-beaches, searching and searching in vain... And after this "skit" plays out, Moranis winds up windsurfing, quickly getting caught up in a hurricane. While Levy connects with a shy Mary Gross, we sporadically cut to Moranis lost at sea: A dependable, reoccurring punch-line...

Meanwhile, Andrea Martin and her uptight husband, played by NEWHART grouch Steven Kampman, can’t catch a break inside their dingy room: Through this mundane couple we learn just how bad the hotel is. And Robin Williams, whilst battling local chieftain Adolf Caesar in a semi-serious subplot, has to run around making sure everything works perfectly: of course nothing does and predictable havoc ensues.

CLUB PARADISE is a prime example of a comedy film that’s more entertaining than is actually humorous. And getting past the SCTV alumni, it’s difficult attributing this particular vehicle to the Harold Ramis canon: Lacking the memorable one-liners of CADDYSHACK, the engaging adventure of VACATION or the delicious depth of GROUNDHOG DAY, perhaps the late "Buddha of Comedy" wanted to try something new, or to get a busman’s pass, filming in the Caribbean instead of Chicago or New York... Like his main character, he could have needed a break from the routine…

Either way, this CLUB, while being far from PARADISE, isn't entirely shabby. Proving that even some of Harold's misfires were at least entertaining.

8/13/2014

WOODY ALLEN'S MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT

year: 2014 rating: **
Throughout the years, Woody Allen has made mincemeat out of faith and reigion, and yet he often treats physics and mediums with a degree of… reverence, sort of…

In eclectic films ranging from BROADWAY DANNY ROSE to CELEBRITY, lady fortunetellers are hardly the dolts of his Christians and Catholics, or even pretentious intellectual atheists. The seers often drive the plot by foretelling events, and basically know what they’re doing. So here we have a collision of The Occult and God, which, to believe in either is downright preposterous…

Well that's the opinion of one of the most cynical characters to cross into Woody cinema for years. Enter Oscar winning Colin Firth as Stanley, a man who knows a thing or two about what’s fact and fiction... With a penchant for Nietzsche and a cold distrust for all things mystical, he’s a renown magician/illusionist during the late 1920s, a dreamy aura where MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT is set, resembling an F. Scott Fitzergerald novel or the nostalgic universe from MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, only for real this time.

"This sure isn't Manhattan."
The plot is unveiled quickly after establishing Stanley’s big stage act – he’s called upon to "unmask" a possible charlatan who could be taking advantage of a rich family, including and especially a one-dimensional sap madly in love with the pretty young psychic,  Emma Stone’s Sophie. With such an incredible gift at seeing into people’s past, she eventually makes a believer out of Stanley…

Yet with all the ingredients intact, MOONLIGHT fails as a romantic comedy, twofold: Firth’s perpetual sarcasm blots out any trace of likable humor, while Stone lacks the necessary quirky charm for either character to be interesting enough for the audience, much less each other. Even during a thunderstorm, when the soaking wet duo find shelter in a stargazing observatory ala Woody and Diane Keaton in MANHATTAN, their combined MAGIC is practically nonexistent.  

The only highlight is a clever twist ending, leaving just enough time for the couple to realize what's been  apparent the whole time. If not for love, why would these dull people be in a movie at all? Or perhaps they exist to spout Allen’s philosophies, which we’ve experienced in other projects but in a far more entertaining fashion.

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