Walter Hill's cult classic SOUTHERN COMFORT is one of the great all-time action flicks, pitting a group of National Guardsmen against some angry Bayou Cajuns who use shotguns, big dogs and even bigger trees in this gripping thriller featuring character-actor LES LANNOM as "Sgt. Casper," the second-in-command who winds up leading the ill-prepared troop against some bad odds...
How was the scene where “Bowden” (Alan Autry) tips the canoes filmed?
The camera and sound were on boats and were there in the water with us. There was no marked difference in the number of takes required to cover the stuff. You always have cover shot from the distance and that is followed by a number of closer shots from various angles and covering varying numbers of cast members. Walter just took these shots until he felt he had the scene and action sufficiently covered. He just shot until it was right, and Walter seemed to be very good at knowing when to stop and move on to the next shot.
The one significant problem we encountered was losing a very expensive M-60 machine gun in forty feet or so of damned cold water. They looked for it but never found it. We were all wearing wet suits, so none of us were in danger of drowning (you couldn't sink!); and the most difficult part about it was making it look like it was a desperate situation. Fun stuff, though!
And when we finally waded ashore and filmed the rest of the scene, we couldn't wear the wet-suit booties. Had to wear the combat boots, as our feet would be seen. Everybody's feet were aching from soaking in the water. The water was cold (this was fairly early in the shoot) and the air temp was about 36 degrees. The socks were not much insulation when they got wet. All of us parked our feet up next to some kerosene heaters to try to thaw them out.
A little later, because this was an ongoing problem, Keith [Carradine] found out that he could peel off the sole from the booties and stuff them into a slightly over-sized combat boot and make the situation bearable. All of us followed suit, and the rest of the shoot was a lot more comfortable... if you discount the fact that every morning we arrived at the set and had to put on still-freezing damp wet-suits that had hung all night in our un-heated dressing rooms in the honey-wagons!
The part when the Rottweiler dogs attack the men… Was this as scary as it looked?
Jim, those dogs were not Hollywood dogs. They were trained attack dogs... but (and this is a BIG "but"), they were trained to go after the arm... mainly. If you resisted them they would go after damn near any part of you they could reach.
The idea was to offer them an arm and then struggle with them. They were scary. They had tried to use "Hollywood-trained" dogs, but they just didn't have the same level of ferocity Walter was looking for. I didn't really have to have actual contact with them, and was I glad.
I made it look like I was hitting the dogs, but the very last thing you wanted to do was get one of these Rotts pissed off at you. I made the mistake of making eye contact with the only female dog they were using, and she started preparing to come and get me... and I was about 40 feet away.
The dog's handler was a German woman, and she alerted me that looking at the dog was an act of aggression, and that I should refrain from doing so. The female was actually the most difficult one to work with, and they sort of put her off on the sidelines while the close work was being done. Not fun. Fortunately, nobody else pissed them off either, and the dogs did their "thing," which was to grab and shake like hell, and nobody got hurt.
Of course, some of the hairier long shots had stunt men in them. They weren't 2,000 pound trees falling at you, but they sure could have done some serious damage if they'd gotten carried away.
Were there any injuries during the falling trees scene?
One of the falling fake trees nearly cut short my career. Almost got me, and my son, who was about twelve at the time, was on hand to see his old man damn near get pile-driven into the swamp! That was invigorating, believe me! You can actually see it in the shot. It's the last two trees that are dropped.
The very last one was released by the special effects guy just a teensy bit early. I saw that thing coming and made a mad scramble up the bank. Dropped my rifle (buried the barrel in the mud!), dropped my helmet, and clawed my way out of that shit.
Lewis [Smith] ducked into the one safe hole between the branches... of course he did that every time anyway... liked to live kinda on the edge... and Carlos (now Allen Autry) went high-stepping out into the swamp!
When they cut it together, they used a couple of different takes, so you see me fall and bury the rifle barrel, but still see me come up the bank with the helmet on and the gun in my hand. My son still talks about the day he was almost made a fatherless child. Those trees were made of fiber-glass, except for the branches, and weighed a couple thousand pounds. Wouldn't have been good.
There’s a DVD cover that predominately shows “Casper” as he’s running through the swamp (right before he’s shot)… Have you seen this?
I had never seen it... didn't even know it existed! Son-of-a-gun! I sure as hell remember the day this picture was shot. It was as cold as hell. I walked out to the set and looked out at the bayou. There was a skim of ice all over it, and I just knew I was in for a real treat. Walter had me rehearse the run toward camera about three or four times.
Once I tripped and fell in the water, lost my helmet, scrambled up and grabbed it and kept on running. When you first walk out into the bayou the water is crystal clear and it's like stepping on a trampoline. You can feel the years of fallen twigs and cypress needles bouncing under your weight.
Do a couple of runs across it (or have about six or seven guys walk through it) and you break through to the soft mud bottom. Couple more passes and you've dug a trench. Water that was only shin-deep is then up to your thighs. Deviate from the path you've created and you trip on the side and down you go. Happened a lot! After a couple of takes they re-set for the close shot of me taking the bullet-hits, and I went off to wardrobe to put on the jacket they had wired up with the squibs.
And your death scene…
They had submerged a wooden platform that I had to step onto and then spring backward to simulate being shot by those buffalo guns. Everything went fine on the first take (except for the ice-water hit to the brains when I hit the water), but Walter wanted to cover himself, and, besides, they had a second jacket all rigged out for the bullet hits! Yay!
Got to freeze my cranium a second time and we moved on to the next set-up. As they say in the song: "Hi diddle dee dee, an actor's life for me!"
cast: James Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Brenda Marshall
James Cagney’s starry-eyed expression on the poster, and a glorious title like CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS involving Canadian Bush Pilots fighting in World War II, could be misleading for anyone loving the smart-alleck, womanizing Cagney: the persona that built his reputation before venturing into more serious matters – especially after the Second World War broke out. But most of this film has the pint-sized icon, playing a daredevil pilot stealing jobs from his fellow airmen using every trick in the book, acting shrewder than ever. He’s got his sites on a younger pilot's gorgeous fiancé – she too is a money-grubbing rogue and both make a fiendish pair. Brenda Marshall is the perfect mix of lovely and deceitful, wisping her long black hair while planting a soft spike into kindhearted idealist Dennis Morgan. Scenes involving Cagney teaming up with Morgan and Alan Hale in their own cargo business lead to the group joining the RAF – where Cagney’s cocky persona, training young fliers to take risks instead of following orders, gets him in hot water with the hard nosed military elites. But like all Cagney’s best characters, the ramifications mean nothing – he’s in it for the thrills and blind adventure: and the audience takes part. But the last thirty minutes, as the group fly off into the inevitable battle (accompanied by Winston Churchill’s famous speech), seems a bit rushed and doesn’t live up to the energetic first act of double-crossings and Arial scenery over plush Canadian exteriors. Director Michael Curtiz, a few years shy of CASABLANCA, wields each shot with precision so there’s never a dull moment. But Cagney being Cagney is what really delivers the goods throughout this overlooked gem, far exceeding your typical wartime propaganda.
|year: 1987 cast: Reb Brown rating: ***|
cast: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones return as Agents J and K… sort of. Before you know it, K’s wisped off as if he never existed – at least in his partner’s lifetime. The main villain is an imprisoned alien named Boris the Animal. The angry goon, resembling a mutant biker, has one arm thanks to Agent K years earlier. After breaking out of the moon’s prison, Boris goes back in time and kills K for revenge. To resurrect his partner, J leaps into the 1960’s where young K works for The Agency. For a little while the film becomes a 48 HRS replica: the hard-nosed "cop" doesn’t trust the energetic "convict" who keeps begging for a gun. Although it takes some talking into, K’s soon convinced of their basic mission: kill the bad guy to save himself and the earth won’t be taken over. Sound confusing? Well some parts are – but it doesn’t matter. There’s a few good action scenes that occur much too quickly and the counter-culture shock (including a run-in with Andy Warhol) seems a mere distraction. Josh Brolin as the young K imitates his NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN co-star dependably and has decent chemistry with Smith. But they’re joined by an annoying alien who, resembling a dimwitted college student wearing a snow cap, provides so much exposition about the “time continuum” our heroes have little to figure out on their own. The climax, set at the Apollo 11 takeoff, lacks the bombastic punch of the original. And the lesser aliens along the way are too bright and flashy and…'90’s-looking, most likely an intentional homage to the fifteen-year-old predecessors – but a better script (and villain) would have helped.
cast: Ralph Macchio
As the legend goes, Robert Johnson stood on the crossroads and sold his soul to the devil. With that contract he wrote twenty-nine songs that defined the blues genre, and… to fit within this storyline… one more tune was written that was never recorded. And this is what a young classical guitarist with a blues itch named Eugene Martone, played by Ralph Macchio, wants to record to make himself famous. He finds revamped version of “Mr. Miyagi”… an eighty-year-old African American blues man stuck in a rest home. He first denies he’s Blind Willie Brown (named for wearing glasses), best friend of Robert Johnson; but then cons Martone into breaking him out of the hospital. They go on a road trip that, it turns out, won’t be an easy bus ride – and like all dues-paying journeymen, they hitchhike. Along the way they meet a beautiful young runaway who borders on being a prostitute. Jami Gertz’s spirited Frances provides not only the necessary love-interest but lights the fuse of a few action sequences. Although the best moments have Martone and Willie alone discussing, and playing, the music director Walter Hill celebrates through a soundtrack by slide guitar virtuoso Ry Cooder – providing each soulful lick Macchio imitates on the fretboard with amazing dexterity. One can argue this particular casting choice is a bit too conventional, especially given Macchio’s mainstream status as a popular young star, but he does a good job. His final guitar duel with heavy metal shredder Steve Vai, so that Willie can get his soul back from an age-old crossroads deal, is reminiscent of Charlie Daniel's THE DEVIL WENT DOWN TO GEORGIA and THE KARATE KID finale: playing his guitar, Macchio does all but a crane kick to literally beat the Devil. Yet with all the town-to-town adventures this is really about the music, not only a character in itself but the reason for the entire trip. [Towards the end of the Guitar Duel, Steve Vai basically competes against himself, providing his opponent's classical-guitar licks that eventually cause his character Jack Bulter’s downfall. ALSO: Jon Seneca, who plays Blind Willie, was a musician long before becoming an actor. AND if you long for more Ry Cooder music on a Walter Hill film, check out what’s arguably Hill’s best movie, SOUTHERN COMFORT where Cooder's slide guitar sets an ominous stage within the Louisiana Bayou.]
If, when watching ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, you sense sexual frustration by Nurse Ratched towards the devilish Randall McMurphy, here's what her daydream may have looked like.
|That's right, the Big Nurse lets her hair down, but only in her dreams. I'd say this beats a frontal lobotomy.|
And you can listen to my podcast interview with LOUISE FLETCHER.
cast: Eve Mendes, Cierra Ramirez
CABIN IN THE WOODS has a group of kids unknowingly forced into a slasher film setting, becoming victims of other people’s whim. Ansiedad, our Latino teenage protagonist, uses the same concept with a different genre and is in complete control of the situation, almost.
In an attempt to mirror the plot-points of Coming-Of-Age novels, she intentionally lives the life of a good girl who progressively turns bad and, like in the books, sets up a character-arc by first becoming a geek in the Chess Club and then befriending the mean-spirited popular girls; going to parties; and losing her virginity to the rebellious womanizer.
Not all of these plans are carried through and along the way she burns bridges unintended: like hurting her overweight best friend and distancing herself even more from her single mother Grace, played by Eva Mendes, a sexy working-class freespirit having an affair with a married man.
Not sure whether it’s a quirky JUNO type indie holding back or a mainstream flick with a progressive edge, GIRL IN PROGRESS lacks focus while the over-opinionated teen gets annoying; she knows too much for her (and our) own good.
Thankfully there’s Grace… waitressing at a Crab restaurant and trying to keep her affair going… to even things out, but her tale gets clichéd and, eventually, predictable.
|year: 2012 cast: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith rating: **1/2|
Despite timeworn age, there’s beauty within everything. This doesn’t only refer to the veteran cast of THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, but the building itself – that’s the idea, anyway.
A determined young man has a vision: his dilapidated India hotel, misleadingly touched-up in the advertisement, is the ideal place for the elderly. Enter a handful of Brits including a judge, a widow, a married couple, two sexually active optimists and a really old lady in a wheelchair.
You’ll see the result of certain stories right away – mellow Bill Nighy is so mismatched with bickering wife Penelope Wilton, and has such cozy chemistry with widowed Judi Dench (who provides the narration: a daily journal on her online blog) while Maggie Smith, not trusting any race but white, slowly warms up to the Indian culture... a character in itself.
The busy streets of India are balanced with lovely countrysides, yet the natives seem a bit too helpful and cheery, providing little edge for the storyline. But not all the characters are as predictable: Tom Wilkerson, a classy judge searching for his lost love from years past, holds a secret or two. And with the relaxing chemistry of the old-timers, Dev Patel’s Sonny, the young dreaming Hotel owner, and his relationship with a beautiful local is distracting.
Most of the humor relies on two elderly young-at-hearts seeking the perfect sexual encounter (though not with each other) and yet the person who really stands out is Nighy’s narrow-minded wife – while the other actors play variations of themselves and/or old folks created to be liked, Penelope Wilton turns in a memorable performance as the sole antagonist.
There’s little magic involved within the Hotel, yet it's so uncomfortable the residents are forced outdoors where the matchmaking occurs, but what kind of title would BEST EXOTIC PATIO be?
As a feel-good movie this works fine. But like the Hotel itself, the presentation often exceeds the outcome.
|year: 1983 cast: Sylvester Stallone, Cynthia Rhodes, Finola Hughes rating: ***|
Travolta struggles to make it from the streets to lead dancer in the cheesiest Broadway musical ever created, SATAN'S ALLEY, a cross between CATS and a demonic flu dream. Playing the character he made famous in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Travolta's former Disco King Tony Manero charms his way into the bed of gorgeous Broadway star Finola Hughes, who turns the tables and uses him.
There's an overabundance of Tony getting his just-deserts i.e. the player getting played, and his whining gets tiresome. All the while he uses his own pawn: a dough-eyed, loyal and downright stupid girlfriend (Cynthia Rhodes), who can't help but to love the handsome devil. And, like Rocky Balboa, our hero strives for heights he never thought possible in this sequel that's more of a continuation: the character, having "grown up," is now going for gold.
It's too bad the Bee Gee's Soundtrack, unlike the original, is full of breezy and forgettable pop tunes (Frank Stallone's FAR FROM OVER captures the "drive" a lot better). But if you like corny movies, this takes the cheesecake.
|Frank Stallone, described in the film as a "demented paratrooper"|
|Director cameo Sylvester Stallone spotted by John Travolta in New York|
cast: Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
The classic board game BATTLESHIP is a lot more involving to play than watch. That being said, the worst parts are attempts to simulate the game itself: opponents stare at a grid and figure the other battleship's location to sink it. Switch that to a spacecraft and… well let’s not skip ahead. We begin with the typical slacker antihero; long-haired Alex Hopper (JOHN CARTER’s Taylor Kitsch) breaks the law to make sure gorgeous blond Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), who ordered a burrito in a bar after the grill closed, gets her wish by robbing a convenient store. His Navy Officer brother Stone tells him to shape up – we skip to the near future where Alex and Stone work within a fleet of battleships. Alex hasn’t changed much except for a haircut: he’s about to be thrown out of the Navy for his bad behavior… and his girlfriend’s Admiral father (Liam Neeson) might just wring his neck. At this point you’re thinking... what this particular hotshot needs is a real challenge – and he gets just that when aliens land in the ocean and eventually blow up (using exploding “pegs” like the game) all but one Destroyer – and now everything’s up to Alex, reluctantly in charge of the sole vessel. Here’s where the board game tactics take over. As the crew stare at a grid consul to figure the alien's underwater location, the silly fun is absent for much too long. But thankfully the third act pits the aliens against the “antique” Battleship U.S.S. Missouri, where a crew of real life old-timers help save the world (as AC/DC blares nonstop). Meanwhile, on land, real life war hero Gregory D. Gadson, who lost both his legs and uses metal prosthetics to walk, aids Hopper’s love interest in… doing something technical along with a nerdy comic relief. But even these scenes needed more cool stuff to happen and less cliché militaristic dialog. All in all it’s not a bad film – if you long for the retro "America Rules" kinda flick, this will do just fine. But even the most patriotic viewer might feel that flag waving a bit too much. Who knows, perhaps STRATEGO will get it right!
|year: 2012 cast: Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Dennis Quaid rating: **1/2|
While having a baby is a woman’s task – and not an easy one – going to a chick flick is the man’s burden. Yet this isn’t such a painful ride given the delivery (pun intended) of one-liners by Chris Rock and a group of Mr. Mom’s providing advice for a naive soon-to-be dad. But these scenes are mere distractions to an ensemble covering just about everything having to do with couples expecting save for the conception itself – leave that to Judd Apatow.
What makes this work are the eclectic characters ranging all ages: from the son of a famous race car driver to the boyfriend of a famous reality star… to a child photographer to a perfect blond bunny – both sexes are covered equally. There's a touch of melodrama including the fear of adoption and losing a child. And there’s a lot of corny things along the way: some of the relationships seem out of a sitcom, the jokes aren’t always good, and everyone's jobs are just too perfect.
But the semi all star cast, including Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz and Dennis Quaid (whose “son” Ben Falcone looks nothing like him), makes for a decent time waster despite the "predictable" turnout at the hospital paternity ward.
That's right... babies happen.
cast: Sacha Baron Cohen
What happens when an undercover agent’s identity is revealed? They have to move on, as did Sacha Baron Cohen… No longer able to slip beneath the radar as a BORAT or BRUNO, where oblivious non-actors react to his crude statements, we’re left with an actual movie. Like Christopher Guest’s FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION… the first non-mockumentary attempt after helping define the genre… this treads very shallow waters. Cohen is the dictator of a country called Waadeya and has a lot of fun ruling his people, winning his own Olympics and not taking U.N. resolutions very seriously. The jokes and situations are only as clever as the one-liners allow, which are hit and miss (and mostly shown in the trailers). But alas… we can't savor his rule very long till he goes to America where, after an agent strips him of his signature beard, Aladeen is a nobody in the streets of New York. He finds work with a spunky feminist who owns a health food store. Anna Faris as Zoey provides the kind of rom-com love interest that corners this film into mainstream avenues Cohen and director Larry Charles seem completely lost in. Adding sporadic over-the-top sexual and/or “toilet humor” seems more befitting a Judd Apatow flick and now, instead of laughing at people with Cohen like the good old days, we’re held hostage to a story that doesn’t even seem spontaneous. Not that THE DICTATOR lacks humor – a few good jokes are present. But they just don’t feel natural anymore.
|year: 1978 cast: Donna Summer, Jeff Goldblum, Debra Winger, Ray Vitte rating: ***|
Of the important players, Debra Winger and a friend are looking for their Mr. Rights – but in the era of slick seer-sucker womanizers, it might be difficult. Geeks John Friedrich and Paul Jabara desire their own perfect women, and you can rest assure these two humble cliques will eventually connect. Mews Small is a punked-out free spirit while blue-eyed beauty Andrea Howard plays a curious suburban wife forcing her uptight husband to peek into wonderland, where she’s seduced by Goldblum who hired DJ Ray Vitte in a centralized glass booth overlooking the dance floor while starlet underdog (and recently departed) Donna Summer tries to get her record played.
Lightweight suspense is provided as ANIMAL HOUSE crooner DeWayne Jessie travels across town to pick up instruments for The Commodores, who may or may not show up.
Meanwhile, one girl really wants to win the dance contest finale and everyone’s having a good old time despite random obstacles, from bullies to bitches to broken dreams, that keeps this an ever-enjoyable romp of a bygone era.
SCENE CAPTURE: In Michael Cinino's THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, title characters Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood, a bank robber on the lam) and Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges, his tagalong partner) are hitchhiking and get picked up by a deranged hillbilly (DELIVERANCE rapist Bill McKinney) who inhales engine fumes from his hot rod... and keeps rabbits in his trunk for hunting.
|year: 2012 cast: Jack Black, Shirley MacClaine rating: ****|
Black plays a real life small town Texas mortician Bernie Tiede. Beloved by all the residents, especially old ladies/widows grieving their late husbands – who Bernie not only prepares for burial but gives each ceremony the sort of personal touch, including songs and doves, that you won’t find anywhere else.
Of all the widows, only one’s worth a lotta money – she’s also the meanest. Shirley MacClaine is curmudgeon Marjorie Nugget, heir to big oil money Bernie spends like it’s going out of style: but not entirely on selfish things.
The town receives gifts ranging from new cars to church buildings to children’s swing sets. The best scenes have Bernie putting up with the bullying MacClaine as she annoyingly chews food and orders menial tasks – all the while they vacation in New York City and Europe. And he’s able to spend even more after Nugget dies, which isn’t such a natural cause.
After he’s caught, the pseudo documentary dark comedy… with townspeople providing insight in almost every other scene... enters the courtroom where Matthew McConaughey, playing it up as a local hick Sheriff, does his best to put poor Bernie away.
Not sure whether this quirky biopic sides with Tiede or not: on the one hand his victim's shown as an annoying bitch the entire town wants dead – yet Bernie’s shown as a cartoonish Christian dolt oblivious to reality.
Either way you’ll love Jack Black’s performance, showing more range than ever as a character that, although right up front and open as a book, is still quite mysterious.
|Mary-Louise Weller with Martha Smith|
When did you first know you wanted to be an actress and how did you go about becoming one?
I flew out of the womb in full camera makeup and screaming "HAIR... MAKEUP"!!! First role was (not joking here for a change) while still in diapers I played an X-mas present in a box under the Xmas tree… My Dad grew up with and hung out with Danny Kaye... who was always a family friend... which really got my little engine going... My Aunt was head of Dell publications, which at that time published all the tabs… so there were always fabulous drunken singing and dancing stars in her house...
How were you cast for “Mandy” in Animal House?
They had hired another actress before my meeting with the boys in the black tower at Universal. Suffice it to say something rather graphic happened in my audition that convinced them to hire me and pay off the first actress... who has gone onto huge huge movies...
A memorable scene where you and “Greg” (James Daughton) are in the car on the hill and you’re, um…
OH GAWD!!!!! That scene will forever be stuck in my mind... it was freezing out... it took forever to shoot... shot night for night... the motion with my hand was actually just us shaking hands... but the entire crew was leering over the windshield discussing how each one of them liked that particular motion... you know... faster... faster... NO NO... not faster... SLOWER SLOWER... Really hard (sorry pun) to do while hands are frozen into claw shapes... face is blue... lips stuck to teeth... and laughing so hard.
On the DVD commentary it’s said the Omegas and the Deltas were separated during the filming… Is this for real?
Sorry...but that just isn't true... the movie cost barely a million dollars... they were way to cheap to put us in different hotels... there was only one rental car for all of us and it was rented and paid for by Martha Smith... We all hung out in D-Day's hotel room... where he had somehow secured a large piano... a fridge…You couldn't have separated us with crow bars...
Did you have any idea how big this film would be?
I'm pretty sure all of us knew that the movie would be a huge hit...The script was simply brilliant... I remember showing it to Brandon Stoddard... who was head of ABC at that time... he also knew it would be an enormous hit... but he warned me that it would be the movie I would always be known for...
|Martha Smith, Mary-Loise Weller, Stephen Furst, Tom Hulce|
|Kevin Bacon with Mary-Louise Weller and James Daughton|
|Mary-Louise Weller and James Daughton|
|Mary-Louise and Martha Smith|
|"Wasn't that great?"|
|Mary-Louise Weller and James Daughton share some skin|
|John Belushi watches Mary-Louise Weller|
|The signature Landis breaking the fourth wall|
|Secretly proud of Otter's speech|
|BUY ANIMAL HOUSE DVD|
|year: 1977 cast: Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, Tom Berenger rating: ****|
Following the sexual exploits of a newly independent woman beginning with an infidelity with her college professor then escalating into a wild singles scene that includes a hopped-up gigolo (Richard Gere), cocaine and a score of random sexual encounters, IN COLD BLOOD Director Richard Brooks juggles Keaton's wild nightlife, her day job as a deaf-school teacher, and her frustrating family squabbles with style and ease, sporadically glimpsing into her vividly morbid imagination as if it were really happening.
Many films about a character's escalation into an out of control lifestyle will have a message intact, but Brooks brings the viewer so close to the madness it all seems normal somehow, making the odyssey more energetically adventurous than foreboding. Keaton has never been so good, flawlessly mixing determination, sensuality, stubbornness and vulnerability.
This one will stick with you.
cast: Zoe Saldana
Don’t judge this movie by a farfetched scene that, once the plot of a revenge-driven femme fatale seeking the killers of her family is well in place, our antiheroine winds up at the mansion of a fat womanizing embezzler where, in the swimming pool beneath a plastic cover, sharks are trained not to attack unless blood hits the water. Our heroine Cataleya, played with lithely lethal prowess by Zoe Saldana, swims above the circling fanged fish without a care in the world: and this could be where the movie jumps the… you know what. But the rest isn’t so awful. Beginning with Cataleya as a naïve wide-eyed little girl witnessing her family’s brutal slaying in Columbia by a drug lord, she escapes... Then cons the authorities into America where she lives with her uncle, a professional killer who does what we don’t see… teaches her to be an assassin. By the time Saldana takes the role as a twenty-something she’s got the skills of 007 and Tarantino’s Bride in KILL BILL, which this movie borrows from in the Spaghetti Western combined with Martial Arts melodrama. One scene as Cataleya fakes a drunk driving accident, outsmarts prison guards and takes out her target in a guarded cell merits fine direction and swift editing. Stretch disbelief to the limit as a spindle-armed woman takes on so many bad guys all at once and you’ll do fine, because while it’s not a great movie, COLUMBIANA succeeds at being pretty good.
cast: Johnny Depp
DARK SHADOWS, based loosely on the strange and unique Dan Curtis soap opera of yesteryear, has a new generation’s Barnabas Collins played by Johnny Depp who, resembling Eddie Munster had he grown up a Beatle, is given a simple choice: love a jealous witch or, after being turned into a Vampire, pay the consequences.
That being a two-hundred-year burial where he wakes up in 1972 (a year after the original show went off the air): his colonial world having been transformed into hot rod cars and rock music.
The continuous gag of the newly awakened vamp’s dazed fascination with modern devices – from a television to a lava lamp – gets pretty tiresome.
After the intriguing and rather spooky prologue followed by an ultraviolent massacre of those who awakened him, one might expect a more lethal antihero. And God knows Depp, lavishing the accent and prowess with his usual wily charm, deserves a darker ride.
Playing a character that one-minute slaughters the innocent and the next is a lovable klutz, he seems a bit lost and incomplete. And director Tim Burton, a pioneer of mixing horror and comedy, is never quite sure which way to lean at the right moments.
Although our cunning antagonist Angelique Bouchard tries her best to sharpen those fangs with sexually driven rampage, this film remains a cartoon.
Collins family members including Michelle Pfeiffer as the mansion mom and Chloë Grace Moretzas a mopey teen daughter (with a dark secret of her own) add only filler dialog to the proceedings. While the lovely Bella Heathcote, as Barnabus’s love interest from both time periods and the character we follow into the modern story, is all but forgotten not long after the opening credits.
Despite the abundance of murky downtime, the finale, as the family bands together to protect their home, is, like the prologue, quite entertaining. But mostly we have two neat looking bookends holding a dusty novel with empty pages.
|year: 1989 cast: Richard Grieco, Johnny Depp, Olivia Barash rating: ***|
Before shrugging your shoulders and screaming at the top of your lungs in a bedroom full of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN posters, “Where’s Johnny?” take a look at this tensely entertaining episode of 21 JUMP STREET titled NEMESIS where Depp has little screen time... yet it's still pretty good.
Richard Grieco takes center stage going undercover in a group of high school druggies including REPO MAN ingénue Olivia Barash, who scowls and grins with a sexy, sinister prowess.
Grieco’s gritty Officer Booker gets in deep when the gang realize a narc's in their midst. The best moments have Grieco staying cool as the clique eventually blame the people around them, and then each other. And although TV standards keep the kids from being realistic, uttering lines like "Bodacious," they all seem crafty and crass. Especially after the death of the most logical suspect where, during a funeral scene straight out of TRUCK TURNER, each punk spits on the grave.
A sultry Kristina Errickson plays the ingénue – falling deeply for Booker, she hopes to God he ain’t the rat. The most intense scene has everyone checking Booker’s bedroom. Olivia Barash merits the essential suspense here; as the most curious of the bunch, she almost finds the truth.
Once suspicion mounts, Booker fakes an argument with his mother: like any druggie would do. The ending has a neat melodramatic twist in the Femme Fatale Film Noir fashion, and both Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise appear for separate brief chats with Booker who, in over his head, has to take on this do-or-die mission completely alone.
|Olivia Barash, Richard Grieco|
|Olivia Barash handles a joint|
|WATCH THE EPISODE HERE|
cast: Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman
“Chicago is a sick old sow grunting for fresh cream... Someday they’re gonna boil that town down for fat.” This is what Gene Hackman’s Mary Ann (what a name for a thug) tells Lee Marvin’s Nick Devlin, a mob enforcer sent from the Windy City to Kansas to collect a half a million-dollar debt. The opening credit sequence, as a very special batch of hot dogs are created inside a beef factory, could make you never want to go to a ballgame again. And for a reason: Turns out there’s been three different thugs sent to Kansas after Mary Ann and his strong-arm partner. All turn up missing and/or… lunch. Here’s a gritty and bizarre crime flick with a simple premise: one guys owes money and another’s gonna collect. Ex Illinois criminal Hackman owns a plush beef factory and estate, a front for an underage prostitute slave ring. Marvin winds up saving a teenager, Poppy, played by a lovely and vulnerable Sissy Spacek. Much like TAXI DRIVER a few years later, our antihero wants to protect the ingénue from the bad element with no ulterior motive. But his main job is to first collect from, and then escape from, a lethal Hackman: who’s got the home court advantage. A visual masterpiece that doesn’t need a lot of action to gain momentum or intensity. Rural Heartland Kansas, with the slop and slime and surreptitious criminal underbelly, is seedier than an urban alleyway. And one pivotal scene, when Marvin and Spacek escape from the local Fair into a field of wheat (an obvious nod to NORTH BY NORTHWEST), proves director Michael Ritchie, most known for making comedies, had a real edge.
cast: Jason Segel, Emily Blunt
We’ve all seen the lucky everyman race car driver getting kissed by the beautiful model (way out of his league) at the finish line. Imagine that moment stretched two long hours and you have THE FIVE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT. Jason Segel’s oafish Tom conveys his usual passive glib character – this time as a successful San Francisco cook while his beautiful British girlfriend Violet, played by the willowy blue-eyed Emily Blunt, dreams of becoming involved in psychology research. They move to a snowy small town where his dreams diminish and her studies (which make absolutely no sense) begin. The upbeat trailer's somewhat misleading; while the engagement is in fact curtailed, this occurs only sporadically through an overabundance of quirky eccentric characters – from Tom’s blunt brother to Violet’s geeky classmates and her roguish professor who becomes one of many kinks in their breezy (as opposed to stormy) romance. When the couple spends time alone making love and pillow talk, both actors seem too safe and comfortable with each other, allowing little chemistry to develop or sparks to fly. And most of the obstacles that get in the way, which should have made Tom’s plight more involving given Segel’s ability as a sarcastic underdog, centers too much on family, friends, and other bizarre distractions that, for a movie promoted as a mainstream rom-com, should have been more accessible and a lot funnier.
|year: 1981 cast: Burt Reynolds, Beverly D'Angelo, Paul Dooley rating: ***|
Other than Paul Dooley as his work buddy and Norman Fell as a shrink, there aren't too many outlets for ensemble humor: not the kind that'd result in the signature blooper reel during the end credits. Although a few semi-funny moments have Burt interviewing women for the job – mostly ones he’s dated in the past: One particular insult battle with Carol Locatell (describing Burt's eyebrows as corn husks) is a hilarious standout.
Lauren Hutton turns in a cameo as the perfect candidate… but only he thinks so. Yet what brings real light to this unique lightweight comedy is Beverly D’Angelo as a waitress needing money to study abroad. She takes the gig and sleeps with Burt after a contrived yet still romantic date (if the film were made now, a turkey baster would render this essential plot point unnecessary).
Once impregnated, she lives at his condo... They hang out enough for both to fall in love. And while the ending is visible for miles, D’Angelo plays her part with enough vulnerable charm to make the turnout a happy one.
You'll be glad things worked out, if only for her sake.