Friday, November 27, 2015

Swing Shift (1984)

Director: Jonathan Demme

Writers: Nancy Dowd, Bo Goldman, Ron Nyswaner

Composer: Patrick Williams

Starring: Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Christine Lahti, Fred Ward, Ed Harris, Sudie Bond, Holly Hunter, Patty Maloney, Lisa Pelikan, Susan Peretz, Joey Aresco, Chris Lemmon, Charles Napier, Stephen Tobolowsky, Belinda Carlisle, Roger Corman

More info: IMDb

Tagline: When America marched off to war the women marched into the factory. From then on...nothing was the same.

Plot: A woman finds romance when she takes a job at an airport plant to help make ends meet after her husband goes off to war.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

IMDb misled me into thinking this was a comedy.  I was robbed of any funny because it's a romantic drama with the focus on drama.  Rumor has it that the theatrical film isn't anywhere near as good as Demme's original cut and the studio/producers changed a lot after he finished it.  Having seen it, I can believe it.  It's neat seeing so many great still-working actors in their early years.  It's not boring or even too slow but the drama wears on and it gets bleak before it gets better.  It has a nice WWII feel to it that gave me that 1941 (1979) vibe which had me wanting to watch that picture instead of this one. I like Carly Simon but the song she sings that opens and closes the film is poor to average and it sounds like it's trying to hard to fit in the period of the film.  The Warner Bros. DVD has a very nice anamorphic print with the only extra being an anamorphic widescreen trailer.

Colors (1988)

Director: Dennis Hopper

Writers: Michael Schiffer, Richard Di Lello

Composer: Herbie Hancock

Starring: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Randy Brooks, Grand L. Bush, Don Cheadle, Gerardo Mejia, Glenn Plummer, Rudy Ramos, Sy Richardson, Trinidad Silva, Charles Walker, Damon Wayans, Fred Asparagus, Seymour Cassel, Courtney Gains, Mario Lopez, Tony Todd

More info: IMDb

Tagline: 70,000 gang members. One million guns. Two cops.

Plot: An experienced cop and his rookie partner patrol the streets of East Los Angeles while trying to keep the gang violence under control.

My rating:  6.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Call me crazy but it seems like this movie underplays the dangers of being a cop in 1980s L.A.. I have nothing to base it on other than, you know, other movies and documentaries that show a much harsher, violent side to gangland activity back then.  The closest I ever got to being in a gang in the 80s was me and some friends riding our bikes together to go to the arcade in '82.  We blew a lot of quarters that day and drowned ourselves in Coke and Little Debbies at the refreshment counter between hardcore bouts with Joust and Ms. Pacman.  Good times.  COLORS feels like it's got something to say but it doesn't go nearly as far as it should have.  Bob (Duvall) is the veteran cop who knows how things work on the street and Danny (Penn) is the fresh, young hot shot who thinks he's the guy to tame it.  By the end of the film Danny acts like the vet when he teaches the new guy who has Danny's old role.  It doesn't feel like Danny has earned that right yet.  You've got hot and cold but nothing in between.  The performances are all fine and it's great seeing a lot of now-famous faces early in their careers.  Herbie Hancock's score is very bland and most of the cues seem interchangeable with one another as if he wrote some tunes not knowing where or how they'd be used. I saw this around 25 years ago and I my opinion of the film hasn't really changed.  I don't know who put it out (MGM and 20th Century Fox are both on the packaging) but it's on a double bill with another Penn flick, AT CLOSE RANGE (1986).  The print is anamorphic widescreen with not a single extra.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

Director: William Friedkin

Writers: Gerald Petievich, William Friedkin

Composer: Wang Chung

Starring:  William Petersen, Willem Dafoe, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Darlanne Fluegel, Dean Stockwell, Steve James, Robert Downey Sr., Michael Greene, Christopher Allport

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Detroit, Chicago, New York, Miami were like this! This is THE CITY OF ANGELS! This is L.A.

Plot: L.A. branch Secret Service Agent Chance obsessively hunts for counterfeiter Rick Masters, who is responsible for the murder of his former partner and mentor.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

This has been on my to watch list for three decades.  I should've seen it then.  While it definitely looks like a product of the 80s (the music dates it more than anything else), it's got a 70s vibe lingering through it and I expect that's courtesy of Friedkin.  The performances aren't bad but there's a loose feeling to many scenes as if the camera is lingering, watching instead of filming actors.  I kind of liked it but it was a bit strange.  It makes more sense when you see the making of featurette where Friedkin and the actors explain how they shot the film.  It's neat seeing a very early performance from Dafoe before his face had more definition.  It's a pretty good picture and you might think you're watching a Michael Mann imitation but it's its own thing.  That's another place where the 80s vibe creeps in.  Some of the dialogue and line readings are totally and stylishly 80s cool which makes for some really cheesy moments.  The MGM DVD has a good (but nowhere close to pristine) anamorphic widescreen print. The extras you get are a commentary with Friedkin, a making of doc (30 minutes and it's a good one), an alternate ending and deleted scene each with a several minute intro, the theatrical and teaser trailers (both anamorphic wide) and non-anamorphic widescreen trailers for LA FEMME NIKITA, FARGO and DARK BLUE.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944)

Director: Arthur Lubin

Writer: Edmund L. Hartmann

Composer: Edward Ward

Starring: Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Turhan Bey, Andy Devine, Kurt Katch, Frank Puglia, Fortunia Bonanova, Moroni Olsen, Ramsay Ames, Scotty Beckett

More info: IMDb

Tagline: BOOTY... prize of a king... slave of a rogue!

Plot: A boy prince, raised by forty thieves, takes revenge on the Mongol invaders who murdered his father and stole his kingdom.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  Nah.

HOKEY SMOKES!  It wasn't until I sat down to write this up that I saw and recognized Scotty Beckett's name.  He played the young Ali Baba here but I know him better as Scotty from the early to mid-30s OUR GANG series.  I loved that kid in those.  9 years later and I didn't even recognize the little guy.  Back to this's not too shabby.  The acting is mediocre and melodramatic, the sword fighting is average and the film feels much longer than the 87 minutes allow for but the score is rousing, the sets are costume adventure fun and the Technicolor is awesome.  It's got moments of fun adventure but the romance angle takes its toll.  Kids (and kids at heart) don't want that icky stuff interrupting our adventure pictures.  The 6 year old in 1942 would've dug it more than the 2015 46 year old did but that's where the appeal for this picture lies.  The Universal DVD has a great looking print but it also offers not one single extra. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Monster (2003)

Director: Patty Jenkins

Writer: Patty Jenkins

Composer: BT

Starring: Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson, Rus Blackwell, Kane Hodder

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The first female serial killer of America

Plot: Based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach prostitute who became a serial killer.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.

I watched this shortly after it was released and I wasn't so keen on the picture.  Having just seen some documentaries on Wuronos probably had something to do with it.  In the documentaries you see the harsh woman that was the killer.  In this film you see the tragic woman who felt so trapped that this was her only escape.  Now that there's been some time separating everything (and a while back I did re-visit some of those documentaries but that was a while ago) this film plays better. A decade or so ago I watched the DVD extras and they kind of cheesed me off hearing how sympathetic the writer/director was toward this woman.  Now I get it.  Maybe I'm in a different place now, mellowing and getting wiser with age.  Or maybe it's Maybelline.  Regardless, this is a very good serial killer film that shows a different perspective than what you usually get with this type of picture.  Ricci is a hell of a lot easier on the eyes than the real Shelby but if you didn't know that then it won't bug you.  Theron delivers a performance that will astound you.  It's frightening how much she looks like Wuronos and she's fantastic.  It's one of those performances that the actor is completely absorbed and lost inside the character.  I REALLY like Theron and the wonderfully eclectic roles she chooses.  She's one of the most beautiful actresses out there and I love how she's not afraid to ugly herself up beyond recognition.  The Columbia DVD extras are few but adequate and worth watching. You get a featurette (15 minutes), the theatrical and international trailers (both non-anamorphic widescreen), a 30 second commercial for the soundtrack, a FUCKING COOL AS SHIT feature that allows you to watch the movie with either the dialogue, effects or music only or any combination of the three (this is way cool and something I've never seen offered before) and a 16 minute interview with Jenkins.  The film is anamorphic widescreen.

The Great Buck Howard (2008)

Director: Sean McGinly

Writer: Sean McGinly

Composer: Blake Neely

Starring: John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt, Ricky Jay, Steve Zahn, Tom Hanks, Griffin Dunne, Debra Monk, Adam Scott, Patrick Fischler, Wallace Langham, Jonathan Ames, Gary Coleman, Michael Winslow, Martha Stewart, Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, David Blaine, Regis Philbin, Kelly Ripa, George Takei, Mary Hart, Jay Leno, Tom Arnold, Don Most, Dave Attell, Paul Simon

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Get ready for the comeback of a lifetime.

Plot: A young man, much to the chagrin of his father, becomes the new assistant to an illusionist in decline.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I'm a sucker for anything real-world magical as in magicians performing tricks.  After the film I learned that a lot of the situations Buck (Malkovich) finds himself in are based on events that happened to The Amazing Kreskin.  The cast does a fine job and the story (and score) is fun.  But the ending falls short of everything that built up to it.  I liked the message the film was telling but there was something missing in the final act that keeps this from being fulfilling.  MINOR SPOILERS....YARRRRRR!!!  Around the halfway (or more) mark a scathing magazine article is published that paints Buck in a really poor light and it's played up like it's going to be the end of his career.  Naturally Buck sees the article and it weighs heavily in his mind except that after he discovers it, it's never mentioned again even after his career takes off like it never had before.  WTF?  Why introduce something of a bombshell if you're not going to drop it?  Buck passes out from seeing it, which makes news, and then he's on the national talk show circuit and no one brings up the scathing article?  Whatever.  That said, the ending was only partially satisfying.  I liked it but getting there's that one big sticking point that just vanishes like one of Buck's tricks.  I was really hoping for a solid conclusion to an otherwise solid film and that hurts a little bit.  It's still a good recommend. The Magnolia DVD has a nice anamorphic widescreen print with a few extras including a commentary track with McGinly and Hanks, deleted scenes (3 minutes), extended scenes (10 minutes), outtakes (3 minutes), a making of featurette (10 minutes), a 4 minute fluff piece from HDNet and 6 minutes with the Amazing Kreskin with anecdotes of the film and his experiences with Johnny Carson (GREAT fun).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Flow: For Love of Water (2008)

Director: Irena Salina

Composer: Christophe Julien

Starring: Lots of folks you've never heard of except for Penn Jillette

More info: IMDb

Tagline: How did a handful of corporations steal our water?

Plot: Water is the very essence of life, sustaining every being on the planet. 'Flow' confronts the disturbing reality that our crucial resource is dwindling and greed just may be the cause.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again?  Probably not but everyone should see this.

Do you believe that everyone on this planet has the right to clean drinking water at no to little charge?  I'm not saying we all have the right to free breakfast burritos.  Water is one of the most important resources needed by all living things, not Coke or Pepsi.  I'm no tree-hugging type but this is an issue that needs to be fixed worldwide.  According to this film almost $100 billion a year is spent on bottled water worldwide and that was from 7 years ago.  That's staggering.  Imagine what could be done with a fraction of that money if it were used to provide clean water to communities worldwide that don't have safe water?  What would you do if the water where you lived was contaminated?  What if it was the worst in your state?  The country?  I live in Pensacola, Florida.  We have the distinction of having the (probably) whitest beaches in the world and (definitely) the worst drinking water in the entire United States (in 2011 - I couldn't find any statistics beyond then).  This city of 52,703 (as of 2013) has the absolute worst water in the country.  It's shocking.  I realize someone has to be the worst at something but around here no one seems to give a shit and do something about it.  You'd think being #1 in an atrocious contest like that would be the kick in the pants you'd need to literally clean up your act and get shit done.  Nope.   And I've barely mentioned the documentary.  The people presented in this film do not come across as reactionaries, but people who are genuinely concerned about the health of humans and the environment and they carefully point out where the problems are and how they can be fixed but there are people who want to control who gets the water and for how much.  It's revolting.  I'm not an activist but if I were, this would be my cause.  The Oscilloscope DVD has a lot of extras including 3 deleted scenes (11 minutes total), 5 expanded interviews (40 minutes), 2 interviews on how citizens can fight back (13 minutes), the trailer (anamorphic widescreen), two shorts - CITY WATER SUPPLY (1941) (11 minutes) and WATER (1953) (10 minutes), a feature commentary and trailers for 5 other Oscilloscope pictures.