9/29/2014

REVIEW OF THE SKELETON TWINS

2014 rating: **1/2
Begins somewhat like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE without the little miss, and not much sunshine as Bill Hader’s Milo, a gay melancholy Los Angeles "actor", attempts suicide in his bathtub…

He winds up living in New York with his twin sister Maggie, played by fellow ex SNL alumni Kristin Wiig, who, after gaining immense cinematic popularity in BRIDESMAIDS, has been doing the quirky/indie shuffle ever since.

THE SKELETON TWINS reverses what used to be the jovially cliché homosexual character, and makes the straight guy more of the smiley cookie cutter. Although Luke Wilson’s abysmally average Lance, married to Maggie, is peripheral to the story of the siblings, either discussing their gloomy childhood or dealing with present doldrums.

Hader and Wiig are far more interesting than the breezy script, gift-wrapping manic depression for a sophisticated date flick audience. And while it’s not funny enough to be a comedy, and not serious enough for a drama dealing with loneliness and suicide, there’s a genuine heart beneath the surface: where both TWINS remain despite a cursed depth plaguing them.

9/28/2014

AN EXTREMELY ECLECTIC BAGFUL OF ARCHIVED MOVIE REVIEWS

1988 ***
LESS THAN ZERO: For anyone who's read the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, wherein the title isn't a message, this is a pretty big disappointment... But as an MTV-era anti-drug flick it's not bad thanks to Robert Downey Jr. as the only character who matters, a coke addicted sheister in way over his head...

He owes fifty grand to a dealer, played by the capably villainous James Spader with the equally intimidating Michael Bowen as a muscular henchman, and is constantly rescued by his closest friends: Andrew McCarthy who, as Downey's estranged buddy returning from Ivy League college, provides an ambiguous perspective to the party-life... And Jami Gertz is their beautiful lass, a model snorting loads of coke yet is a nun compared to Downey.

The pros are anything concerning RDJ's downfall; the cons are windswept sex scenes between McCarthy and Gertz that seem out of a Madonna video.

1975 ***
ROOSTER COGBURN: John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn is back. He's playing the Oscar-winning TRUE GRIT character to the hilt: giving his fans what they paid for. Which the movie does decently enough, adding Katharine Hepburn as a minister's daughter who, in her own way, is as tough as he is.

Along with an Indian teen they head after a gaggle of baddies who killed Kate's dad and stole a stagecoach full of explosives, led by bloodthirsty Richard Jordan and including Anthony Zerbe, Jack Colvin, and Cult Film Freak favorite, Paul Koslo.

The action occurs in pockets between bouncy, subliminally-romantic banter by the two leads, and everything balances nicely, consummated by a terrific finale as Rooster takes out the villains with a literal bang.

1972 **
JOE KIDD: With an exception of one scene involving Clint Eastwood, as a gunslinger hired to catch a Mexican revolutionary, elaborately escaping from a lookout post...

This is a sluggish Western that lacks Eastwood's usual action and Elmore Leonard's wit, charm and creative twists.

The bad guys are top-notch actors including Robert Duvall, Paul Koslo and Don Stroud, but have little to do except stand around, not smiling. Fake-mustached John Saxon is laughable as the sought-after Bandito, and even the scenery is bland and lackluster.

2010 *
WALL STREET 2: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS: Michael Douglas returns as Gordon Gekko, the villainous love-to-hate stock market pirate from Oliver Stone's original outing, a lightweight classic starring Charlie Sheen as a climber who learns from Gekko how to cut corners and make a ton of money.

In that film, Gekko convinces us that greed is good. Now, eight years after being released from prison for insider-trading, he's not so sure... of anything. He has a book to sell, but heaven knows what it's about since Gekko doesn't preach good or evil. The Man is an ambiguously vacant bore, just like Shai LaBeouf, resembling a college freshman playing broker, engaged to Gekko's estranged, mopey daughter.

Douglas provides a side-character role, advising Shia on overthrowing evil Josh Brolin, whose one-dimensional baddie is a weak replacement for the young Gekko... but there's no seduction into power: just a dully conceived, revenge-driven motive without any purpose. And the stock market crash of 2008, shown during the third act, adds nothing to the overall nothingness.

1971 **
THE OMEGA MAN: For a last man on earth film, there's sure a lot of people around...

Charlton Heston either mumbles or screams his way through an apocalyptic disease-caused future with a group of fanatical white-haired albinos that, once night falls, are constantly on his back. Then he meets a dozen normal humans including Paul Koslo and sexy Rosiland Cash, and a good versus infected-evil battle ensues.

Heston's character, a doctor with the only cure, should have had more isolation from the start to feel his solitude and separation. Instead, within the first five minutes he's gunning down baddies like any sci-fi/action flick, which this is a mediocre version of.

1980 **
THE LONG RIDERS: How could a film directed by action-guru Walter Hill and starring real life brothers Carradine, Quaid and Keach not live up to its incredible reputation? A few reasons...

One, the opening feels like the middle: a bank robbery/introduction to the gang, primarily bloodthirsty, gun-happy Dennis Quaid. Perhaps this is to separate the murderer from the other outlaws, all depicted as misunderstood saints... yet another problem...

While many outlaw flicks lionize the historically depicted antagonists, this goes too far: leaving the characters completely uninteresting.

Walter Hill provides a few brief action scenes, but mostly we get alluring landscapes and dull, overlong conversations with our dusty heroes and their gals (the same problem would occur in Michael Mann's HEAT). Hill tries so hard to show the diamonds in the rough there's hardly any rough at all. 

1974 ***
I DISMEMBER MAMA: An awesome yet very misleading title. POOR ALBERT AND LITTLE ANNIE, the original name, is what the movie is about, involving a mother-spun yet dashing psycho, Albert, who escapes from a mental hospital and returns home to kill: but mommy's not around.

He slaughters the maid and afterwards, her eleven year old daughter, Annie, stops by and the rest is a field trip as Albert takes Annie on train rides, boat rides, then to a hotel after a contrived marriage.

Sound sick? Surprisingly, it isn't. Albert despises adult women because they are, in his mind, sexually evil. But Annie, being young and innocent, is beyond that "curse" and their friendship is actually quite innocent. Although, what makes this film suspenseful is the question: when will he turn against her? Then the climactic foot chase into a mannequin shop provides icing on a very bizarre cake... that isn't for everyone.

1985 rating: ****1/2
AFTER HOURS: The underrated Griffin Dunne stars in a dark comedy Film Noir homage involving a bored word processor who takes a bad luck odyssey on a lonesome evening...

He leaves his lonely apartment and following the "rabbit" (Rosanna Arquette) into artsy Soho, New York, and is eventually accused of many things he didn't do: all the while connecting with various woman, each unluckier than the next. Martin Scorsese directs with fanatic precision, but it's Dunne's ride.

Not only does he deliver some of the funniest glib humor ever, but as he's progressively unravelled his frustrated irritation turns to panicked desperation: making this one of the most entertaining performances in the history of cinema. And that's no exaggeration.

1983 ****1/2
THE KING OF COMEDY: For anyone who thinks Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese can only do thug movies together, this'll whack that theory for good...

Robert DeNiro plays Rupert Pufkin, a fervently driven autograph seeker who, after "accidentally" spending ten minutes with his hero Jerry Lewis (playing Jerry Langford, a cross between himself and Johnny Carson) fantasizes about becoming just as famous: and then some.

DeNiro's stubborn attempts to try reconnecting with Langford (to do standup on his show) at his plush office building are wonderfully awkward. Jerry's brilliance shines when he's acting within Pufkin's reveries. And the grossly engrossing Sandra Bernhart, who eventually becomes DeNiro's partner-in-crime... taking it upon herself to "seduce" the kidnapped Jerry in her condo... not only steals her scenes but owns them completely.

2001 *1/2
GHOSTS OF MARS: The first twenty minutes, as a group of soldiers ride a train into a desolate town on the Planet Mars to decipher who's decapitating people, is fairly decent, but then the action begins and there's simply too much of it.

The bad guys are vampires resembling rejects from CATS, and most of the good guys, especially Jason Statham, become annoying and cliched...

And although Ice Cube, as a badass prisoner... the red herring until the real menace is discovered... is horribly out of place, delivering his lines with no energy or realism, star Natasha Henstridge keeps the viewer interested, that is, if they choose to keep watching: which can be a chore.

1986 ***
HEARTBREAK RIDGE: What's not to like about a Clint Eastwood movie where he's a gruff, no-nonsense Marine Sergeant sent back to his old platoon to whip the new recruits into shape?

Well the recruits, for one, unrealistically acting like rebels in detention class instead of soldiers, especially Mario Van Peebles as a guitar-slinging rapper, one of the most annoying characters in film history. Although even he comes around eventually.

But it's Eastwood alone who makes this DIRTY DOZENesque flick worth watching. Especially the boot camp scenes where he whips the jerks into shape, far exceeding the rather rushed military campaign finale.

1981 **1/2
CHEECH AND CHONG'S NICE DREAMS: After filming most of this, Cheech & Chong's third film, director Tommy Chong shot more scenes involving goofball cops, bringing back Stacy Keach as Sgt. Stedanko, who was very important and downright hilariously serious the first time around.

But Keach remains in his office, smoking pot that slowly turns him into a reptile while Peter Jason and Tim Rossovitch take over as the bumbling stakeout dudes. Their comedy doesn't compare to Keach and Mills Watson; and the dialogue between Cheech and Chong is limp and for the most part, unfunny ("Cops smell like donuts and coffee"), but there's a naturally laidback quality to their escapades.

Although the last half, in a luxury hotel, plays out like a slapstick Blake Edwards film, and then the "peak" at a loony ward ends with a whimper, it's a semi-decent buzz overall.

1995 **1/2
VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED: John Carpenter attempted a horribly hokey science-fiction tale, and in that, succeeded. The cast includes actors known for franchise films...

Featuring the likable likes of 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 a bevy of alien children who, a few years later, become albino megaminds.

Despite the good 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.

1974 ***
EARTHQUAKE: A disaster film with everything, including tons of involving melodrama leading up to the big shake that has some great special effects even for the early seventies.

Charlton Heston leads an all-star cast (but without too many cooks) as Los Angeles gets destroyed. The buildings that don't fall crumble during the aftershock and what's bad turns worse, and the suspense always sustains.

One plot involving Marjoe Gortner as a demented store clerk/National Guardsman holding Victoria Principal (donning the worst wig in cinematic history) hostage adds some unintentionally fun camp to the overall catastrophe... A does SHAFT Richard Roundtree as a wannabe Evil Knievel and a cameo by Walter Matthau as a drunk.

But it's George Kennedy, as a strong willed cop, who steals the show. And beware of the horrendous final five minutes, all but crumbling everything else.  

1977 **
BOBBY DEERFIELD: Not a race car movie, but one that centers on a famous driver...

Bobby simply doesn't care much for humanity or even his own family, and only gets a personality after meeting, and then traveling aimlessly with, a beautiful woman in a hospital but his real turnaround occurs after discovering, by accident, why she was hospitalized in the first place.

The free spirited, spontaneous nature of Marthe Keller's personality makes sense after this revelation, as does the film: which still meanders quite a bit. And you've heard of pretty boy actors proving their acting talents? Well for Pacino, this is the polar opposite. But he has some good dramatic moments... after all, he is Al Pacino.

1980 ****1/2
ATLANTIC CITY: A thoroughly brilliant film centering on an aged caretaker, played by veteran icon Burt Lancaster, of an bed-ridden gangster's moll... He always wanted to be a thug but merely ran numbers, and still runs numbers, in a dying town called ATLANTIC CITY: on the verge of a revamp where the past will be erased forever.

Add to that Susan Sarandon as a casino worker and her good-for-nothing husband, Robert Joy, who wanders into town with a bag of stolen cocaine: setting everything in motion. Lancaster and Sarrandon's friendship turned romance is very nice...

But it's the chemistry between Lancaster and Joy, the wannabe mobster and the wannabe player, who gives the old-timer his first step in becoming a true heavy, that really shines, providing blunt humor and dark suspense.

1977 **1/2
THE MAIN EVENT: In this corner, Ryan O'Neal, who, after starring in BARRY LYNDON and THE DRIVER, is slumming in a romantic comedy...

And in this corner, Barbra Streisand, doing what she does best: playing a neurotic woman with a one-liner for everything... Her attempts at Woody Allen is in droves, and for the most part, this film works decently enough...

At least during the first half as Streisand, playing an executive who loses all her worth except a tax-shelter fighter far from his prime, turns O'Neal from cowardly loser to a hopeful champion: where she can get all her money back and hopefully, fall in love. 

1985 **
THE NEW KIDS: The first twenty minutes, as we're introduced to teenage sister and brother Lori Loughlin and Shannon Presby who, after military father Tom Atkins dies off screen, move to their uncle's house built alongside his off-highway carnival, is pretty good.

But when they go to the new local school things get way too over-the-top involving a group of totalitarian bullies lead by drug-dealing James Spader, psychotic John Philbin and some other jerks, none of whom seem very threatening.

But the climax, as siblings battle bullies in the vacant carnival, makes up for the muddled middle, somewhat. Directed by FRIDAY THE 13TH's Sean S. Cunninghan, these KIDS, in a cinematic sense, have a real identity crisis. 

9/26/2014

DENZEL WASHINGTON IN THE EQUALIZER

2014 rating: ***
A combination of TAXI DRIVER and the 1980’s TV-series namesake, THE EQUALIZER pits Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall against practically the entire Russian mob in Boston...

They messed with the wrong hooker, who happens to be Bob's friend at a diner he frequents after working long days at a massive HOME MART (aka HOME DEPOT). But protecting the street urchin is only an excuse, really, to bring McCall out of "retirement" from his former gig we learn of later on…

With a cool, metronomic vibe matching the steady pace of our title character, the film eases into a mundane workaday life before his true colors are violently revealed: That’s when a resilient McCall takes out bad guys like clockwork, literally. And while most of the hits are a bit too casual and easily accomplished, there's a decent match with Russian killer Teddy, played by steely-eyed Marton Csokas, resulting in a slow-motion standoff thrusting our calculated vigilante into comic book hero status...

Depending on the box office gross, this no-nonsense thriller, serving as a one-dimensional yet entertaining first issue, could jumpstart an EQUALIZER franchise... The fun part will see how many menial jobs McCall takes to cover his real identity – although a gun blazing finale at Taco Bell wouldn’t have the same punch.

9/24/2014

JASON BATEMAN IN THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU

2014 rating: **1/2
While seeming like another AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, where an eclectic lot reunites after the death of a beloved yet mysterious patriarch, both films are reminiscent inspirations of THE BIG CHILL… A collection of polar opposites gathered in one place where personalities collide, but in an ultimately optimistic, life-affirming sense… The usual.

In SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, Bradley Cooper went to the nuthouse after catching his wife having sex with another man – so let’s give Jason Bateman’s Judd Altman some credit… He keeps it all inside, and remains pretty cool, but is forced to spend a week with people he’d much rather avoid… An equal penance, maybe.

Judd is the clean slate main character, allowing the other family members to shine and/or attempt stealing scenes, especially black sheep little (yet very tall) brother Philip, played by Adam Driver, who gets all the best lines but there’s something missing. His wild card is too forced, contrived. And Bateman relies on his usual glib reactions for every unpredictable element...

Which also includes blunt advice from Tina Fey’s Wendy, his older sister and a somewhat wasted character throughout, given a quickie affair with a neighbor that amounts to little. Tina deserved better. And their famous author mom, Hillary, who has a brand new set of breasts and a secret revealed later on… Veteran actress Jane Fonda, in playing a woman too open-minded to everything around her, isn't very interesting.

While the situations are often humorous, and the dialogue is natural and laidback, this particular reunion feels a bit staged, showcasing an American family the director assumes we know more than we actually do. Never given a chance to delve into these people beyond their lusty one-liners and worldly bantler, it’s like over-hearing a party next door instead of actually attending.

9/23/2014

TWO DESERT BOMBS: SANDBLASTING ISHTAR & BEST DEFENSE

year: 1987 rating: **
ISHTAR: In one scene from the famously infamous 1987 mega-flop ISHTAR, a shy and introverted Warren Beatty admits that, in order to land chicks, he wished he looked more like Dustin Hoffman: which is funnier than anything else in the movie… 

Both big name actors are straight men without comic relief, and there isn't a touch of humor to be found, anywhere, especially not in the muddled screenplay written by director Elaine May and centering on two awful lounge singers, Lyle Rogers and Chuck Clark, who don’t seem realistic enough to be genuine failures.

Hoffman’s Clark is the most confident and intrepid, and gullible. Once the duo are sent to Ishtar for a few low-rent gigs, he quickly gets in hot water, falling for a burqa-clad yet still noticeably hot Isabelle Adjani as Shirra, who wants to free her people from tyranny, or something… She uses Clark for her own needs, transporting an important map that everyone wants... Especially Charles Grodin’s nefariously polite Jim Harrison, a CIA Agent pulling Clark in another direction…

A subliminal (though not very subtle) villainous representative of the Reagan administration, Harrison never admits to actually being Right Wing… Yet if you added up how many times he refers to his enemy, Shirra, as “Left,” you’d run out of fingers and toes, making this a legitimate political comedy... That's the attempt, anyway. 

The first twenty minutes provide the most guilty pleasure. Following an off-key venue prologue, the two Big Apple losers meet in an awkward flashback, writing songs together on a Casio keyboard – one in particular called DANGEROUS BUSINESS (which would have made a better film title), coincidentally foretelling their misadventures to come.

As a duo, Beatty and Hoffman act like two old chums showing off at a party for friends… But theater audiences weren’t so patient or understanding…

For a movie with such an immense budget, very little happens. The city scenes pan out in a series of jumbled edits, and once the duo reaches the desert… riding a blind camel and eventually squaring off against a CIA helicopter… the film seems both dragged out and rushed at the same time.

Although it's a HEAVEN'S GATE style punchline for cinematic catastrophes, ISHTAR isn't as utterly horrible as the reputation implies... it's just plain dull. Witnessing two big stars flailing around without a coherent plot is embarrassing. If the entire story centered on two talentless clowns trying to write a decent song in New York, it would be a lot more enjoyable: At least they'd have something to strive for.

year: 1984 rating: **
BEST DEFENSE: Starting with 48 HRS and following up with TRADING PLACES and then peaking with BEVERLY HILLS COP, Eddie Murphy was not only the man of the hour, he was the hour… A standout hero of the second incarnation of Saturday Night Live, the initial “Eddie Cinema Trilogy” covered a lot of ground, making the edgy black comic downright unbreakable... But that’s only if you forget about his “Strategic Guest Star” turn in a movie that’s not even his own…

BEST DEFENSE was a Dudley Moore vehicle directed and co-written by Willard Huyck and wife Gloria Katz, who attempted romantic magic abroad with FRENCH POSTCARDS after collaborating with George Lucas in the timelessly brilliant AMERICAN GRAFFITI, as well as the disappointing but highly successful INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM followed by the abysmal career-killing HOWARD THE DUCK.

DEFENSE has an obscure literary origin, based on the novel EASY AND HARD WAYS OUT, written by Robert Grossbach, which, in this reviewers' opinion, surpasses even Richard Hooker’s MASH...

In the book, Eddie Murphy’s character was a jet fighter pilot in Vietnam, and here he’s a tank driver in, of all places, the desert of Kuwait… in 1984! His part takes place two years after the mainline, in which Dudley Moore’s unoriginal tech inventor Wylie Cooper works in a fledgling laboratory base in Seal Beach, California. He has to perfect a “gyro” targeting system that will guide the tank that Murphy’s Lt. Landry uses in the b-story…

Basically, if Moore can't get the gyro to work, then Murphy, rolling into hostile enemy territory, won't have a prayer.

While Eddie's the comic relief, scenes where he and two Israeli klutzes goof off in the tank are painfully unfunny. And Moore tries his frantic "best," running around in a prolonged hotel/convention sequence, avoiding both a lethal assassin and the flirtatious advances of workmate Helen Shaver. Plus he’s got his hands on a secret “McGuffin” device that he’s taken credit for, and the bad guys want it... at all costs.

Sounds confusing; and it is, somewhat. But worst of all, DEFENSE is a sloppy uneven mess that runs around in circles – attempting political satire and lightweight comedy while sloppily juggling a tacked-on Cold War sideline… And completely failing on all counts.

9/21/2014

LIAM NEESON IN A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

year: 2014 rating: ***
Beginning with the colorfully blood-drenched aesthetic reminiscent of PULP FICTION, and taking place during the early 90’s, Danny DeVito’s Jersey Films has now produced A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTSONES…

After a gun-blasting prelude, we skip to 1999 where the grainy look wares off... But things get even more retro than the Y2K era: This is a throwback Neo-Film Noir about Neeson’s Matt Scudder, an ex cop turned private eye who converses with so many shady characters, he needn’t narrate at all.

Eventually winding up at a cemetery where the title becomes literal, the murky atmosphere feels like a purgatory of sorts...

From the time Matt’s given the task to find who killed a drug dealer's wife, he exists beneath the law and, detached from rules and mundane reality, is brought down to earth by a young black sidekick who invades Neeson’s brooding maverick persona, often turning TOMBSTONES into GUMSHOE AND A HALF.

The pace is intentionally slow; like reading a potboiler dime novel but without too many twists or complicated red herrings. And by the end we're left with a main character far more intriguing than his quest. Which might have been intentional.

9/20/2014

REVIEW OF THE MAZE RUNNER

year: 2014 rating: ***
A busy hybrid of CUBE, NO ESCAPE and even KING KONG… plus all those dystopic-future adaptations like THE HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT… THE MAZE RUNNER doesn’t waste any time, beginning with the main character, whose own name he remembers later on… Thomas, that’s it… being “delivered” to a group of young male teenagers straight from a LORD OF THE FLIES survival wasteland… Only it’s not each other their fighting, but a giant maze that, noisy and formidable behind a massive wall, changes with each and every night...

Much of the time's spent with the group of boys – and eventually one girl – trying to figure out what’s on the other side: a dangerous portal that only a select few, deemed Maze Runners, can try figuring out...

With a secret past and "gifted" beyond the others, Thomas becomes the unspoken leader after a while. He has to butt heads with the more stubborn minded of the lot, providing a few other characters to be somewhat fleshed-out. Although this MAZE mostly relies on two guys avoiding and/or battling a herd of partially robotic spider creatures that, while looking neat in a retro STARSHIP TROOPERS kinda way, don’t live up to the hyped discussions outside the wall… The beasts (called Grievers) should be smarter, more cunning, or something!

Racing in one ear and out the other, this action-packed jaunt is worth the price of a ticket, although you might feel duped once the fortress innards are revealed – at least until part 2 comes along, which, based on a collection of novels, young readers have already devoured: leaving the old timers to... as the saying goes... "Wait for the movie."

9/19/2014

KEVIN SMITH DIRECTS MICHAEL PARKS & JUSTIN LONG IN TUSK

year: 2014 rating: **1/2
“It’s such a fine line between stupid and, uh, clever,” said a member of the fictional heavy metal band Spinal Tap. And the same can be said of Kevin Smith’s TUSK, in which a snarky podcaster is trapped inside the rural manor of a crazy old man with an obsession for walruses!

The first half is pretty great, aiming headlong for horror film parody… The doomed claustrophobic setting of MISERY combined with the mad scientist agenda of SSSSSSS pits two polar opposites in the middle of nowhere, Canada…

Justin Long’s Wallace delivers the Kevin Smith dialogue with perfection. Spouting one-liners and poking fun at just about everything, and then some, he’s more a brash Jason Lee than, say, the Ben Affleck style nice guy protagonist.

His show partner, Teddy, played by a fully grown Haley Joel Osment, is the straight man of the group – and the least adventurous. With a cheating heart piercing his (way too) gorgeous girlfriend, the perpetually flawed Wallace makes for a victim who reaps what he sows: although no one deserves what's eventually coming to him...

Enter veteran character-actor Michael Parks as the "wise" old fella with many tales to tell. His eccentric Howard Howe delivers Gothic monologues while Long bends a caustic ear to every overly-pronounced syllable, often lifted from literary quotes. Their conversations could have gone on forever: If only we remained indoors...

Sadly, TUSK hits a massive wall with the introduction of Johnny Depp’s would-be rescuer, Guy Lapointe. A combination of Dr. Livingston, Inspector Clouseau and Columbo, Depp lets loose a 15-minute string that hardly progresses the story at hand. With phony makeup befitting an SNL skit, not only does he reveal an otherwise mysterious lunatic, we get a narrative flashback turning the deliciously sinister Parks into a nonthreatening clown.

It isn't Johnny's fault, entirely. Any character intruding upon such offbeat potential would have done the same amount of damage. But one gets the feeling indie director Smith was getting his big name money’s worth with this prolonged “surprise” role – damn shame all that cotton candy had to ruin such a wonderfully devious Fun House/Freak Show ride.
A very untypical aquatic cinematic double feature bill

9/18/2014

THREE REVIEWS: DOLPHIN TALE 2 & NO GOOD DEED & LOVE IS STRANGE

year: 2014 rating: ***1/2
DOLPHIN TALE 2: That’s right, two… literally… as in, there are two dolphins now… Actually, wait... Make that three…

The tailless dolphin Winter will need to bond with her potential dolphin partner in order to remain in the sanctuary where she was rescued in the first movie…

Poor Winter is downright depressed, and, with literally no Porpoise in life, she flippers-out on her best friend, teen science brain Sawyer, who has an opportunity to leave for a career in oceanography…

Along with intense gal pal Hazel, both kids put their entire souls into the matter while the adults keep more on the sidelines... And that crazy pelican is at it again, this time humorously stalking an injured sea turtle.

The first half deals with the promise of Winter being partnered up with a rescued dolphin, and yet that story, headlined by the moral dilemma of freedom verses captivity, sleeps with the fishes soon enough – and then another dolphin is saved… a rambunctious baby with the speed of a jet fighter… Thus the plot of Winter landing a new buddy ensues, again…. But for real this time...

The suspense relies on Winter and the new dolphin hitting it off… If not, for some reason, she'll be shipped to Texas... And Morgan Freeman, who invented the fake tale, is around for nostalgia's sake... In fact Winter hardly uses her prosthetic at all...

So if you love dolphins, there’s enough to keep your heartfelt attention… Thus the feel-good Disney aspect of the first venture, also directed by AMERICAN GRAFFITI actor Charles Martin Smith, is replaced with a prolonged threat to the initial happily-ever-after conclusion of the original… Which in itself compliments both films.

year: 2004 rating: ***
NO GOOD DEED: There should be a cinematic rule by now… That if you render a psychopath unconscious, he’s gonna get back up real soon… So once the madman is down,  a few grenades or even a rocket launcher would really help matters… Because injuring the proverbial bear only pisses it off…

Well now we’re skipping ahead to when things get really nasty: the best aspect of the surprisingly entertaining and suspenseful NO GOOD DEED is that the bad guy, a vengeful escaped convict, takes a while to show his truly lethal colors after ending up in the house of ingénue Terri, alone with two small children and no husband... She allows Idris Elba’s Colin Evans to remain a polite stranger before the inevitable sinister transition…

Most of the film relies on dialogue between Elba and Taraji P. Henson, especially inside the kitchen where a storm rages outside. The taut direction makes use of every expression and movement (including the risque intrusion of Terri's nosy best friend). In this pivotal scene and beyond, the two leads have the right amount of chemistry based on sexual tension, idiotic decisions and, ultimately, fear for one’s life.

Although full of clichés, it all seems brand new since the threat is real, palpable and involving…And an 11th hour twist makes everyone beforehand not only become more clear, you might even rewatch to catch what you missed… Hopefully just mentioning there’s a twist isn’t a spoiler in itself, because what the movie hides, not what it shows, puts DEED one step beyond your typical mainstream thriller.

year: 2014 rating: ***
LOVE IS STRANGE: The two best things about LOVE IS STRANGE, other than the performances of dependable character-actors John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, is that it never basks in sappy melodrama, and doesn’t have a giant chip on its shoulder…

We get right past political matters when Molina’s George is fired from a religious school where he heads the music department… Not only is he openly gay, he's married to his partner of forty years, Lithgow’s Ben, a 71-year-old “artist”…

Within the first five minutes, during the opening credits, we see their life the way it was always meant to be – both spending time in their apartment, surrounded by co-op friends and preparing for their outdoor wedding. But soon enough the couple has to relocate in separate directions: George living with a noisy party crowd and Ben with his nephew, niece-in-law, and their teenage son.

Ben’s story is the most fleshed-out and interesting. If the entire movie dealt with a quirky yet optimistic gay uncle trying to connect with his logical yet pessimistic (and downright grouchy) young nephew, LOVE IS STRANGE could be titled LIFE IS STRANGE: while the trailers promise an alternative to a mainstream romance replacing homosexual characters with straight ones, it’s a somewhat misleading premise...

Not to say Molina's character doesn't matter. He's the solid rock foundation of the married couple. But their story, it turns out, is merely peripheral.

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.

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