9/16/2014

AN EXTREMELY BLOODY BAGFUL OF BAD MOVIE MOVIE REVIEWS

1954 rating: ***1/2
THEM: "When man entered the Atomic Age he opened a door into a new world... What we'll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict."

Well it's mighty predictable that most of the fifties science-fiction flicks have this same anti-Nukes message intact, but no matter, this is a classic battle against giant ants that, though quite dated in the effects department, are monsters to be taken seriously.

The four main characters: a stout cop, an FBI agent, a brilliant old scientist, and his gorgeous female protege spend their time not only fighting but studying the origin (nuclear related) and whereabouts of the beasts, who could very well be gangsters on the loose...

The entire film is reminiscent of a crime melodrama in its investigative nature, only using action when completely necessary and without overkill.

year: 1958 rating: *
EARTH VS THE SPIDER: Characters walk into a cave. A giant superimposed spider, c/o special effects coordinator and director Bert I. Gordon, chases them out.

Then more (completely uninteresting) characters walk in the same cave... And a few less walk out. Again and again, and again and again, and again and again, and again and again and you're doing the Spider shuffle... right to sleep.

This is one to miss, and that's coming from a BIG Bert I. Gordon fan. It just doesn't flow like his stuff preferred by Cult Film Freak: made in the seventies.

year: 1958 rating: ***1/2
HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL: Russ Tamblyn is so good in this flick... so smooth and natural and villainiously awesome, it's hard to believe that he's really.... well that's for you to find out.

If you can get past a teenage girl being addicted to pot as if it were morphine, and all the other dated elements aside... including somewhat forced casting of Mamie Van Doren as our Tamblyn's sexy "aunt," which is unapologetic product placement for testosterone... Then this teen cult classic, about a confidently rebellious new kid in high school (Tamblyn), builds suspense with perfection and includes a terrific car race...

And provides Russ, one of the hardest working child/teen actors of the 50's and 60's, a chance to really show his chops.

year: 1959 rating: *
THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE: Take away one scene where Lon Chaney Jr., as a loco bayou local, tries raping the main character, a woman who's sought out a rural mansion where her supposedly dead husband might be hiding out, this film, about a man who is turning into an alligator thanks to a (yet another) mad scientist, is a complete dud.

The makeup is almost as silly as the sluggish pace. Although the climactic creature is worth a few laughs. But overall this gator sinks to the bottom of the swamp: and stays there.

1958 rates: *
ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN: Waiting forty-five minutes for the "monster" to appear isn't bad. In fact, it's excellent storytelling... just ask KING KONG.

This happens in a lot of other cult flicks... and makes perfect sense in a two-hour feature. But having the beast, in this case a cheated-on/put-upon woman who grew fifty feet after being touched by a giant alien with a space ship resembling a ping pong ball, appear fifty-five minutes into a sixty-five minute film... just plain sucks. As does the script, the characters, and the effects.

The titular gal, in giant form, looks like some kind of superimposed wraith. And before she goes on her five minute rampage, when they show her hand only... it seems take from a really bad paper-mache parade float. Making this truly cult film hardly a classic... as far as story is concerned, if that kinda thing really matters. 

year: 1964 rating: *
FIRST MEN IN THE MOON: The worst Ray Harryhausen film for two reasons. First, Ray's omnipresent presence when his creatures aren't on screen, isn't there: the feeling something miraculous is right around the corner.

Second, when his creatures do arrive, they're uncreative looking ant people and one giant caterpillar, all chasing the most annoying character-trio ever: all three dolts who, in 1899, using a glue-like anti-gravity matter, fly to the moon like going to the corner store.

All this after, during the first thirty minutes, they run around spouting banal dialogue liken to a bad musical in this horrendously awful flick that even the stop-motion master himself despised.

9/14/2014

MOVIE MARQUEES SPOTTED IN MOTION PICTURES: VOLUME ONE

WELCOME TO THE FIRST JOURNEY INTO POP CULTURE MARQUEE SPOTTING
When you're watching a movie, especially an older one, it's fun to spot a marquee in the background, which, for pop culture fanatics, is like archeology... Marquee hunting provides a backdrop into pop culture history, serving as a time capsule within a time capsule...

The best marquees to discover are the real thing, yet there are other examples where they're created specifically for the film... Both types are included in the list below...
"Take all the money, but no wire hangers."
MOMMIE DEAREST IN BLUE THUNDER: In the 1983 Roy Scheider action flick BLUE THUNDER, two bad guys are about to rob a store...

And if you glance to the far right you can see that MOMMIE DEAREST is playing... Although the marquee is blurry you can also see part of Faye Dunaway's name...
Sly rushes to save Dolly from Ron Leibman, not from the catastrophic film...
 THE RIGHT STUFF & TO BE OR NOT TO BE IN RHINESTONE: The late Bob Clark's RHINESTONE is one of the worst movies of all time, but it's a guilty pleasure too. Sylvester Stallone is a cab driver who's taught to be a country singer by Dolly Parton... If he can't win over an unruly crowd, Dolly has to sleep with Ron Leibman...

In this scene, as a lovestruck Sly rides a horse to rescue his damsel, a marquee for THE RIGHT STUFF and Mel Brook's TO BE OR NOT TO BE is visible. Also included is DC CAB, THE MAN WHO LOVED WOMEN, TWO OF A KIND, and something that ends with NEVER...
"We can walk down the street, or see my ex girlfriend in a movie."
Stacey Nelkin in H3
HALLOWEEN 3: SEASON OF THE WITCH IN BROADWAY DANNY ROSE: Here's a marque spotting with some significance of the romantic nature, and involves robbing the cradle... Anyone who's seen Woody Allen's MANHATTAN will remember that Mariel Hemingway played a seventeen-year old girl that Woody dates...

The character Hemingway plays is named Tracy, and her subtle performance garnered Ernest Hemingway's granddaughter a best supporting Oscar nomination. But this isn't about Mariel, it's about another young, beautiful actress named Stacey Nelkin, whom the MANHATTAN ingenue Tracy is based on...

Woody, in his forties, had an affair with the sixteen-year old Nelkin, who'd later star in HALLOWEEN III: THE SEASON OF THE WITCH with Tom Atkins... And as Allen crosses the street in his subtle masterpiece, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE, you can see the marquee of his ex-girlfriend's new flick (this being 1983) along with Larry Cohen's monster movie Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, snake logo and all.
"Forget the double feature, let's get stalked and hunted by Stephen McHattie instead."
THE BLUE LAGOON & CHINA SYNDROME IN DEATH VALLEY: In the cult horror/suspense flick DEATH VALLEY, poor Peter Billingsley has to move from New York to Arizona, and as soon as the plane lands, he and mom joins mom's boyfriend (Paul LeMat) on a road trip towards the Grand Canyon...

Before that, they pass a theater marquee where THE BLUE LAGOON is playing with THE CHINA SYNDROME... An exploitation and a political thriller to fill up the afternoon... But they have other things to do: The movies would have been a lot safer...
"I'll come back once the first movie is finished..."
HIS GIRL FRIDAY & FREAKS IN THE WORLD'S GREATEST DAD: This post is important to difarinciate two kinds of movie marquees spotted in motion pictures, as teased upon in the intro...

The best to find are actual marquees caught on film, but there are the contrived marquees made especially for the movie... Not as vintage but still kinda cool...

Like in the case of Bobcat Goldthwait's THE WORLD'S GREATEST DAD starring the late Robin Williams, a creative indie flick... And here, Robin walks by a very eclectic double bill...
"Gonna fly into the theater..."
ROCKY II & ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ IN HERO AT LARGE: In the John Ritter comedy HERO AT LARGE, where John plays an actor who takes a gig playing a superhero outside a theater, and then winds up fighting crime and becomes a, you know, hero...

During one shot several marquees are visible: one for ROCKY II and an Oliver Reed flick called THE BROOD, and below is a marquee Clint Eastwood feature ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ...
Marquee for ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ
"You talkin' to me, blurry marqee? Are you talkin' to me?" 
BUSTIN' LOOSE IN THE KING OF COMEDY: In KING OF COMEDY, Martin Scorsese and once partner in creativity Robert De Niro's most underrated and bizarre movie, De Niro's Rupert Pufkin is arguing with Sandra Bernhardt on the streets of NEW YORK...

Behind Rupert the marquee for the Richard Pryor comedy BUSTIN' LOOSE can be seen...
And now some marquees from ANGEL... starting with OCTOPUSSY
BLUE THUNDER MARQUEE
FLASHDANCE POSTER
"Why walk the streets with so many great movies playing?"
RANDOM MARQUEES IN ANGEL: The 1984 cult classic ANGEL... starring Donna Wilkes and centering on an honor student moonlighting as a hooker... takes place on Hollywood Blvd where there's plenty of marquees...

These include, as you've already witnessed: OCTOPUSSY, BLUE THUNDER, RETURN OF THE JEDI and a poster of FLASHDANCE.
"Put down that speed... Let's watch a terrible sequel!"
STAYING ALIVE IN REPO MAN: A marquee for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER sequel STAYING ALIVE is visible... Very ironic mixing two opposite genres...

REPO MAN is a movie about a punk rocker, and STAYING ALIVE is not only a sequel to a disco staple, but is the most famous disco song: and punkers detest that kind of music...
"The movie to the left seems a lot more exciting, least judging by the title..."
LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH IN PRIME CUT: As Lee Marvin leaves Chicago in the crime flick PRIME CUT we can spot, on the left, a marquee for the horror/suspense LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH...

And the marquee on the right reads EDGAR ALLEN POE'S MURDER IN THE RUE MORGUE staring Jason Robards.
The lady on the swing below the Chevy ad...
PEPSODENT GIRL IN THE ORIGINAL KING KONG: The 1933 blockbuster KING KONG is known for iconic imagery, like prehistoric dinosaurs and of course a giant gorilla and biplanes flying around the Empire State Building and a lot more, but what always stands out, before any of the other stuff, is the Pepsodent Advertisment with the girl on the swing. (For nostalgia's sake, Peter Jackson even used it in his reboot.)

And below, an ad from the James Cagney melodrama TAXI for good measure...
"You dirty rat... Let's go to the pictures."
A handsome, contrived marquee to serve the time period
THE BIRDS IN TIN MEN: Forget RAIN MAN... Director Barry Levinson's best movie is TIN MEN, a comedy/drama about aluminum siding salesman Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss battling each other, but there's a lot more to the character-driven story set in the early 1960's...

1963 to be exact as this marquee of the famous Hitchock movie clues us.
"We can stare at pizza, or go see THE EVIL DEAD."
THE EVIL DEAD & LONE WOLF McQUADE IN SPLASH: In director Ron Howard's hit rom-com SPLASH, Daryl Hannah's mermaid is given her name Madison since she and Tom Hanks are standing on that particular street corner, and that's the first thing she reads... But imagine if she'd seen the marquee for LONE WOLF McQUADE first... A double bill along with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

And as shown above, when the couple watch a pizza maker, an EVIL DEAD marquee is visible in the background, along with XTRO.
"Forget about streetlights, you dizzy mermaid... Let's watch some Chuck Norris!"
This marquee looks timeworn-blended into the urban neighborhood...
ENTER TH DRAGON IN BLOODBROTHERS: In the Robert Mulligan drama BLOODBROTHERS, starring Paul Sorvino, who'd later rule the local mob in the Martin Scorsese GOODFELLAS...Tony La Bianco, the white rabbit leading Gene Hackman to the big bust in THE FRENCH CONNECTION...

And a young and edgy Richard Gere, who takes his little brother to the movies. And what a movie!
Kerri Green with a DRAGONSLAYER poster
RANDOM MOVIE POSTERS IN SUMMER RENTAL: Okay so we'll finish up with posters inside the theaters. Sure, they're not marquees, but it's all in the same family... Speaking of which, the 1985 family comedy SUMMER RENTAL was John Candy's first starring role...

His daughter, played by the lovely Kerri Green from LUCAS and THE GOONIES, stands in a movie theater where posters of UNCOMMON VALOR, FOOTLOOSE, DRAGONSLAYER... And outside the theater, a poster of TOP SECRET! (and again FOOTLOOSE) can be spotted in the rain.
 UNCOMMON VALOR and FOOTLOOSE
STAY TUNED FOR MORE MARQUEES SPOTTED IN MOVIES...

9/13/2014

TOM HARDY & JAMES GANDOLFINI IN THE DROP

year: 2014 rating: ***1/2
With a gentle lug countenance of Marlon Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT, a voice crossed between Mike Tyson and John Leguizamo, the meticulous patience of Harvey Keitel’s crime cleaner in PULP FICTION, and the cutest pit bull puppy in town, Tom Hardy’s Bob, as well as his cousin Marv – whose character, played by the late James Gandolfini, is actually named Cousin Marv – both run a dive bar that’s a drop for funneling mobster cash.

The partners have obviously been through the mill but now, in a sort of deadpan retirement mode, they're merely used as pawns, especially Bob… Yet he’s got something to live for: After finding the puppy bloodied up in a trashcan, he raises it like a child along with ingĂ©nue Nadia (Noomi Rapace).

Promoted as a gangster style thriller, THE DROP is actually a slowburn character-study where Bob is either mildly pestered by a cop after a pivotal robbery, or is verbally bullied by a local thug who claims to have owned the dog, and wants it back... with a price.

Gandolfini’s intentions are a bit muddled further into the slowburn Neo Noir storyline, making Hardy the one to center on. He’s the kind of guy who must be hiding something, or holding back – or holding back something he’s trying to hide. And that’s what makes this cinematic sheep in wolf's clothing, centering on a wolf in sheep's clothing, eventually pay off in silver dollars.

REVIEW OF SOMETHING WICKED FEATURING BRITTANY MURPHY

year: 2014 rating: **1/2
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES was a Ray Bradbury novel turned into a dark 1980'S Disney movie. Yet the original quote came from Shakespeare. So instead of remaking Bradbury's tale, a semi horror film was derived from Shakespeare's quote – and has little to do with anything except the word WICKED…

We’re not talking witches here, and to disclose exactly who fits that description would be a spoiler in itself. Sadly, this is a weekend with posthumous releases – James Gandolfini in THE DROP playing opposite SOMETHING WICKED, co-starring the late Brittany Murphy, who passed away in 2009... And after a five year limbo, the movie has finally been released...

Although seeming patched together, the mystery and suspense are intriguing once you figure out who everyone's related to... and the bloody body count aspect is prominent following the prologue: A young couple, Christine and Ryan, played by Shantel VanSanten and John Robinson, are talked out of marriage by her rich parents during dinner and right afterwards, a horrible car accident leaves only the youngsters alive.

After suspending disbelief that anyone could survive a head on collision with a fast moving train, the busy storyline takes some getting used to: Christine, stalked by a masked marauder, is overly protected by her creepy cop brother while his wife, Brittany Murphy’s psychologist, Susan, has strong doubts about her sister-in-law while treating a young man who fantasizes about Christine… Confusing enough?!?

For fans of the late starlet, Brittany Murphy has less than a supporting role. It’s terribly sad seeing her so gaunt and ironic as her character abuses prescription meds. The bulk of the film belongs to Shantel VanSanten, who does a semi decent job as a horror film victim but starts improving once things cruise into a murky Film Noir atmosphere – scuffs added to a clean slate. At this point the story, the characters, and the title all become more clear.

9/11/2014

RICHARD KIEL BITES INTO THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

Richard Kiel 1939-2014
RICHARD KIEL played the classic villain Jaws in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, arguably the best Roger Moore James Bond film... With a stature well over seven feet, and silver teeth that can chomp through anything, especially human necks, this character is a fan favorite and remains an icon to this day...   

Here the late Richard Kiel, in a 2010 written interview, details two key scenes: destroying a truck and fighting with Bond in a train compartment...

My most outstanding memories of the truck scene would be where Barbara Bach is supposed to throw me off the van by changing gears from forward to reverse and back again. By accelerating quickly in first gear then slamming on the brakes, shifting quickly to reverse, accelerating quickly in reverse then slamming on the brakes again she would be successful in using these forces to throw me off the van, an English Ford product that required "Double clutching" to change from forward to reverse gear or vice-versa.

Commercial truck drivers would be familiar with the fact that you have to push the clutch in twice in order to synch the gearbox and change direction. Obviously Barbara Bach wasn't familiar with this although she could drive a stick-shift car (they don't require double clutching).

When she tried to go from forward to reverse without "double clutching" the gears ground miserably making a very loud gear grinding noise. Roger Moore being a most accommodating person was outside the passenger window standing on the running board next to the camera in order to give Barbara a person to look at for her lines and facial reactions.

When the gears ground loudly Barbara was totally frustrated by the loud and sharp grinding sound and this was obvious by the look on her face. Roger shot her an ad-lib line through the open window, saying: "You want me to drive?" This was not in the script that lovely Barbara had memorized and his ad-lib quip took her completely by surprise and the stunned look on her face was priceless.

Barbara told the director she was sorry but Lewis Gilbert said, "No, Barbara, it was fine!" He had ideas of his own at that point on how to use this in a humorous way. "Let's try it again" he said. Barbara did the scene again and the gears made that sharp metallic grinding noise again and this time Roger said, "Women drivers!" Barbara reacted again even more surprised to this second unscripted ad-lib by Roger and Lewis said, "Cut. Print!" with a big smile on his face.

Lewis then proceeded to get close-up shots of Roger Moore saying these lines inside the car so he could cut the scene together with both of those funny lines from Roger. Both lines and Barbara shocked reaction ended up in the movie.

All the time this was going on I was ripping the roof off the van; then started ripping the side panels off. Lewis got one of the transportation people to show Barbara how to double-clutch and they shot the scene again. This time I was standing on the back bumper of the van and Barbara was supposed to slam the van gently against the curb in front of the wall, which would throw me off the back of the van.

When she accelerated in reverse after successfully double-clutching, the gears were going so fast that when the van's real wheels hit the curb, I was thrown off so hard that I ripped the metal ladder that I was holding onto right off the van. Thank God the van didn't go up over the curb or Jaws wouldn't have been able to do another Bond film as I would be dead or at least maimed.

After I am tossed off the back of the van James Bond and Anya drive quickly off to make their get-away. Frustrated, I pick up a 2,000 pound stone block and try and throw it at them in a feeble attempt to stop them. In the close up of me lifting the massive heavy block you can see me grunting and groaning as I struggled to get it over my head so I could throw it at the van.

Early on in my career I had been told by directors to pick up heavy objects like they were nothing and when I saw the movie on the big screen it looked like the huge boulder I was picking up weighed nothing and it looked like I was picking up what it was a light-weight Styrofoam boulder. Knowing this I used my acting talents to make the huge Styrofoam block look like the real thing as I grimaced and struggled to raise the block over my head making it look like it really weighed a ton. This was a rehearsal so I decided to show the director, Lewis Gilbert, that I too was capable of injecting humor into a scene.

Struggling to get the "heavy" block over my head, you can see by the look on my face that the van is simply too far away for me to land the huge block on it, and, frustrated, I just let it fall to the ground. Then from the look on my face and the gasp of pain everyone watching knew that the "heavy" block had dropped on my foot and as I hopped around in pain people were calling out, "call for an ambulance," or "Get the nurse, quick."

Lewis was practically falling down on the ground in laughter as he knew full well that the "heavy" block I dropped on my foot was lightweight Styrofoam and weighed practically nothing.

Lewis came over to me and said, "That was hilarious, let's shoot one like that." I said, "Sure, but let's also shoot one a bit more subtle.” We shot it both ways and the final edit used the more subtle one where I look down with a slightly painful look on my face as I realize that I have dropped this two-thousand pound block on my foot. Audiences throughout the world roared with laughter as they watched the van scene.
RICHARD KIEL ON THE TRAIN COMPARTMENT FIGHT
Filming in England is quite different then filming in the U.S. Stunts are usually rehearsed with the actors and choreographed on the day, which usually causes a two to three hour delay as the stunt coordinator lays out the scene for the director, the camera man and the lighting director. In England they build a mock-up of the train set and when you are not acting in a scene they have you rehearsing with the stunt coordinator and the stunt men involved.

At first this seemed like overkill and an unnecessary drudge but as I worked out the scene with the stunt men I realized how much better this was going to make the scene.

They used a mini-trampoline for Roger Moore to bounce up in the air as I picked him up seemingly with little effort and attached him to a cable so I could bang him against the ceiling of the train. They even had an articulated dummy (its arms and legs and writs and ankles had joints, which moved making it look like a real person flailing about, whom I could slam against the train ceiling even more easily).

What started out as boring became much more interesting and fun as we all came up with ideas to make the train fight scene better. I had an idea: my hands are the biggest thing about me and I knew that and used them in photos to make it look like was crushing someone’s head like a ping pong ball. I showed the stunt coordinator, Bob Simmons, what this would look like if I grabbed James Bond's face in my huge hands and shoved his head and whole body up the wall of the train compartment… Bob Simmons loved it!

Unfortunately as they began to dress the mock train set out they put a luggage rack on the very wall we were using for me to push Roger Moore up against. Bob made them move the luggage rack to the corner so we could still do the visual gag. After dressing the set they found that Roger wasn’t going to be able to reach the lamp so he could break the light bulb and stick the metal filaments to my steel teeth shocking the living hell out of me.

Bob had them move the shelf so the lamp could be reached by Roger as I was shoving his head and body up the wall. Come day of shooting, this scene was so well rehearsed that it went like clockwork! I slammed Roger Moore against the ceiling of the train compartment like a rag doll. Of course he was either on a cable or I was slamming an articulated dummy dressed in his clothes. As I grabbed his seemingly little head in my huge hands Roger lifted himself up using his feet to make it look like I was pushing his whole head and body up the wall.

We rehearsed this for about 15 minutes while the director, the cameraman and the lighting director watched to see how they would photograph and light this scene. Forty-five minutes later the camera was in place the train compartment lighted and we began to film. The scene really “cooked” as we say in the movies.

At the end Jaws is supposed to be thrown out the train window by Bond. I wondered how they were going to do that as I knew one thing for sure they weren't going to throw me through a glass window to the ground below.

To make this even scarier the people who make candy glass (glass made out of sugar) so it wouldn’t break into shards and cut you, well, they were on strike. This meant no candy glass but rather real glass. In spite of this challenge and the scene had to be shot and there was only one stunt man in England that had the balls to do it and that was the stunt coordinator Bob Simmons. He was only about 5' 9' or 5' 10" at the most and I am 7' 2" so I doubted if it could look like me going out the window.

They dressed him identical but smaller matching wardrobe and he proceeded to use the minitram to run and jump ad hitting the minitram just right he flew right through that real glass window. The only cuts he sustained were when he landed on the mattresses below as some shards of glass had made there way ahead of him but they were just superficial cuts.

Bob was a brave man and I was sad to hear a number of years ago that he had passed away. He died not from doing a dangerous stunt but from excessive drink as I understand. He was a wonderful guy and a true friend. He certainly made yours truly look good and helped turn me into a James Bond icon.
BUY RICHARD KIEL'S BOOK ON AMAZON AND REST IN PEACE TO THE BIG MAN

9/10/2014

YET ANOTHER ECLECTIC BAGFUL OF RANDOM ARCHIVE REVIEWS

year: 1983 rating: ****
MY FAVORITE YEAR: During the eighties, epic dramatic actor Peter O'Toole, best known for LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, starred in a string of quirky comedy films including CREATOR, CLUB PARADISE and HIGH SPIRITS...

Set far apart from those is MY FAVORITE YEAR, garnering O'Toole yet another Oscar nomination and one of the best ensemble comedies involving behind-the-scene antics of a television show where the characters run around frantically, and everything's on the verge of disaster... The mayhem caused by an aging acting-legend of swashbuckling programmers (ala Error Flynn) played by a rascally O'Toole and set during the 1950's, when live TV broadcasts reigned...

Buried lead Mark Linn Baker stars as young writer Benjy Stone, who must wrangle O'Toole's Alan Swann from booze and women in order to succeed on the telecast, but ends up learning a lesson in life, love and adventure. And beyond the two stars are a terrific ensemble cast including Joseph Bolonga as an egotistical actor in charge, Jessica Harper as the brainy ingenue and Cameron Mitchell as a gun-toting heavy.

year: 1981 rating: **1/2
PENNIES FROM  HEAVEN: Chock this up as one of the weirdest films ever made, and possibly the bravest: to have the characters lip sync to old songs during the course of the linear story, that of a song salesman, Steve Martin, travelling away from home and a chilly wife to a Noirish city full of shadows and innocent-turned-sultry Bernedette Peters.

Realizing all the quirky song and dance numbers (one provided by Christopher Walken) are daydreams gives merit to a somewhat involving melodrama with ironical humor thrown in for good measure.

"I want to live in a world where the songs come true," Martin says at one point. "There must be someplace where the songs are for real." For better or worse, he found just the place.

year: 1984 rating: ***1/2
SECRET ADMIRER: A terrific ensemble sex comedy that equally involves the energetic teens and their frustrated parents as a secret admirer's love letter tangles them all together.

C. Thomas Howell is good as the central character, in lust with sexy Kelly Preston and surreptitiously fawned-over by RAD and FULL HOUSE starlet Lori Loughlin, whose performance as the woeful every-girl steals the show: after all, the film's named after her central character, the most sympathetic throughout.

Cliff DeYoung, Dee Wallace, Leigh Taylor-Young and Fred Ward are cast perfectly as the convoluted peeps, making this curio, that fell through the cracks of 80's pop culture, a thoroughly entertaining little flick. 

year: 1986 rating: **1/2
LABYRINTH: For a rock star, David Bowie is a capable actor. But having his character... the king of Goblins ruling a fantasy world where a castle lays in the center of a mazy labyrinth... continuously sing songs not only takes the viewer out of the fantasy element, but the tunes are dated and forgettable.

It's the outlandishly gorgeous Jennifer Connely who shines as the main character, a selfish young girl who wishes her crying infant to the goblins. And when her wish takes her up on it, she must figure a way through the maze to the castle: a suspenseful, creative adventure that works well... as long as there's no singing involved.

The late great director Jim Henson's puppets, still far superior than CGI, are terrific, but this is to Henson's brilliant THE DARK CRYSTAL what RETURN OF THE JEDI was to STAR WARS: a little too silly for its own good, but still pretty good nonetheless.

year: 2010 rating: **1/2
COP OUT: One-liners are usually Kevin Smith's strong-point, but in this buddy team-up cop comedy written by someone else, as director and editor he glides the action scenes nicely yet some of the wacky dialogue muddles the pace.

Certain aspects do mirror Smith's forte: for instance, the way Bruce Willis, as a seasoned cop, cherishes a prized baseball card which, after stolen, turns out to be the centerpiece aka McGuffin of the film...  And how his comedic sidekick Tracy Morgan fears his wife's infidelity, driving him to neurosis... All fitting within the grunge-era filmmaker's niche, ranging from nostalgia to bad relationships...  Not to forget the addition of Seann William Scott as the frantic wild card (think Joe Pesci from LETHAL WEAPON combined with JACKASS Johnny Knoxville).

Even when things get semi-serious... Willis needing to pay for his daughter's wedding and Morgan reeling about his wife... it becomes a much better movie than the reviews suggest. And a retro score by Harold Faltermeyer (a cross of BEVERLY HILLS COP and FLETCH) adds nicely to the overall mix: more homage than parody and surprisingly decent overall.

year: 2009 rating: *
OLD DOGS: One of the worst family films ever created, providing that always-jaunty Disney soundtrack as Robin Williams and John Travolta raise two kids Williams had with Kelly Preston: that he was completely unaware of.

Both men are successful sports agents... Travolta a meandering playboy and Williams a stuffed shirt. If Travolta was the character forced into fatherhood perhaps we might have something, but Williams is so comfortably readymade for this new task, his character's arc, and revelation that he loves his kids more than his occupation, means nothing.

The constantly forced wacky situations, horrible chemistry of the two leads, embarrassing misuse of CGI and uninteresting side-characters makes DOGS a completely forgettable howler.

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