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ANOTHER ECLECTIC BAGFUL OF ARCHIVE REVIEWS

1980 rating: **1/2
PRIVATE BENJAMIN: Unlike the far superior STRIPES starring Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, which came out a year later, this isn't a military spoof but a character-study involving the army: We're automatically supposed to enjoy seeing Benjamin punished for her pampered ways, but the setup doesn't introduce us to someone deserving of any big turnaround.

The boot camp segment, mostly rushed along in montage scenes, aren't that funny. And for a little while, Eileen Breenan owns the screen as the tough drill Sergeant: some of the best humor belongs entirely to her. But when Goldie eventually becomes a Green Beret type, travels to Italy and meets the man of her dreams, any plot or purpose goes completely AWOL.

1978 rating: **
OUR WINNING SEASON: There are so many distractions in this seventies high school drama centering on teens from the sixties involving Vietnam, necking in cars, drag racing, getting drunk, getting stoned and going steady that the main story, of a runner preparing for a big race, is completely forgotten. In fact, by the end, when Scott Jacoby faces his challenge, it doesn't matter. Nor do any of those distractions which, if executed by more involving, fleshed-out characters, might have worked better.

A great young side-cast including Joe Penny, Dennis Quaid and PJ Soles cannot save this cliche-filled template of counter-culture youth. And one scene where a car flies through the back of a drive-in movie theater screen is a great, memorable stunt, but seems more fitting to a jovial chase film.

1980  **1/2
SOGGY BOTTOM USA: What makes this different than any episode of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, or countless films dealing with bayou moonshiners, is there's a dependably bland Disney film feel throughout, and it kinda works.  

Led by town Sheriff Ben Johnson, we have a dog race, country music, and good old fashion bar fights, and throw in a few side plots: one involving young Don Johnson having invented a new kind of fan boat, and the other with his girlfriend, cute PJ Soles and a song she sells to a flashy Country singer Ann Wedgeworth who is, along with manager Lane Smith, not very honest, making the down-home heroes that much worthy to root for.

1984 rating: ***1/2
THE LONELY GUY: If based on how many particular jokes land, and compared to Steve Martin's superior ROXANNE or THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, this wouldn't be considered a great comedy, but the character played by Martin, who, after a break-up, residing in New York as a single man, is so likable and relatable, THE LONELY GUY is really a legitimately effective, entertaining journey of a man who not only hits rock bottom, but learns how to exist there along with his buddy, played Charles Grodin, equally as pathetic.

Martin keeps meeting the woman of his dreams: always losing her phone number right after. What works best here are the specific examples of being alone in a big city and how to deal with each. Although during the last forty minutes, after our hero becomes famous for writing a book about being lonely, things dwindle considerably; but hat first hour, especially the scenes shared with Grodin, is a real slice of loser life. He should have stayed down for much longer.

1956 *1/2
CRIME IN THE STREETS: If REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE met WEST SIDE STORY at a carnival where all the rides were broken...

No, not even a young introducing John Cassavetes, as a street savvy teenage gang member at odds with a rival group of boy-thugs and pestered by cop James Whitmore... or the fact it's directed by Don Siegel and co-stars future director Mark Rydell... could save, or even preserve, this corny "urban" dud. Meanwhile, Sal Mineo, naive and vulnerable as ever, plays the youngest member of the gang, which alone dooms him from the start.

1997 ***1/2
TITANIC: The big ship is going down. Everyone is frantic, desperate, but there's nowhere to go. Not enough life rafts for the passengers and crew. And during this tragic bedlam, the overly villainous Billy Zane has gone crazy that his pouty girlfriend, played by Kate Winslet – the only character with layers – loves another man... or rather, boy.

Like the campy dialogue, trying to be important with an annoying class envy mainline, all seeming lifted from a glorified soap opera, TITANIC, the second most successful movie of all time, is pure melodrama through and through. But what makes this so good is James Cameron. He takes it seriously enough so you're practically forced to be involved. And throughout the fluffy romance, he's got a disaster film just itching to burst at the seams...

For when the ship eventually capsizes, and people fall to their deaths, banging against steel and tumbling violently into the icy sea, you'll know why the iconic director, best known for the ultra-violence of TERMINATOR and ALIENS, made this movie in the first place i.e. a means to an end: and what an end! Although the best stuff, dramatically, works in-between the whispers and screams: as the crew and passengers are just starting to figure things out.

1958 *1/2
THE SNORKEL: This could have been a terrific comedy. A man wearing a big snorkel sits in an airtight basement while his wife suffocates on deadly gases above: Doesn't sound very funny, but it is... unintentionally. The woman's pre-teen daughter is on to this guy, who's just too perfect... and he's a perfectly conceited jerk covering up a "perfect murder" in a black and white British melodrama (somehow considered Noir) as suspenseful as deep-sea-diving in a swimming pool... in the shallow end.

1977 rating: **
GREASED LIGHTING: Not enough racing and too much time centered on racism...

The adventurous aspects of the first black man to break into stock car driving in the South could have been a great story, especially that he ran moonshine in his early days. But how he's treated by redneck whites, while important historically, overwhelms the film which is too "heavy" for its own good.

Richard Pryor, who would prove his serious acting talent in BLUE COLLAR a year later, seems stunted by a muddled script that never settles into anything worthwhile.

1953 ***1/2
THE BIG HEAT: In many crime melodramas of the 1950s, the story of the bloodthirsty, fun-to-watch villains can be hindered by the police and their philosophy of the situation, as they separately discuss the "nature of the crime" to counter the violence...

But in Fritz Lang's THE BIG HEAT we have rogue a cop who, investigating a co-called suicide, is bent on revenge for the murder of his wife: and we have the best of both worlds combined... The law is as violent as the gangsters while both elements, rolled into one, make for an excellent, headbutting thriller.

The always-watchable Glenn Ford is calculatingly brilliant, and the scenes pitted against baddie Lee Marvin are fantastic.

1967 ***1/2
THE DEADLY BEES: Don't mistake this as one of those by-the-number creature-feature bug flicks where bees fly around killing people because of the ozone or military or whatever else causes "beasts" to cause havoc in other films of this type.

Here we have an intelligent, subtle suspense yarn centering on a beautiful singer who finds solace at the house of a professor who isn't nice to his wife, or her dog, and might just be mad enough to made bees... deadly. But things are never what they seem, and this is more Hitchcock than exploitation: building suspense and mystery from start to finish. And when the bees do attack (although the effects are rather dated) it's quite a buzz.

1979 *
THE DAY TIME ENDED: This ultra low-budget science-fiction dud, helmed by John Bud Cardos, couldn't be more different than the indie director's camp masterpiece KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, where actual things are shown, in that particular case, tarantulas, stalking the characters...

Here we center on a family living in the desert being harassed by UFOs, space monsters, and a frolicking pint-sized alien, all superimposed on the screen as the actors, including Jim Davis, Dorothy Malone, Christopher Mitchum (Robert's son) and child starlet Natasha Ryan, are merely reacting as if something's really there... But we know, all the while, there simply isn't anything at all. Especially not a plot or purpose.
Back to the top, Eileen Brennan and Sally Kirkland in PRIVATE BENJAMIN
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