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EXTREMELY ECLECTIC BAGFUL OF 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: her and Wayne provide AFRICAN QUEEN style banter throughout.

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. Meanwhile, 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. And for Jerry Lewis, this is a dynamic performance. Not just playing "himself," as it were, an impatient perfectionist dropping the most of the physical gags that made him a celebrity, but Jerry's subtle moments of vulnerability during Pufkin's fantasies: reveries of being more famous than the famous talk show host.

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.  

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. 
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