Monday, November 30, 2015

Shtickmen (2003)

Directors: Jeff Hays, Eric Jewell

Writers: Jeff Hays, Eric Jewell, Dean Lewis

Composer: David Jewell

Starring: Dean Lewis, David Wilk, Johnny Crass, Burton Gilliam, Jeff Hays, Chad Cline, Dave Little, Buff Tanner, Soozy Martin, Bob Coonrod, Grant James, Troy Grant, Chuck Cason

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Dying is Easy... Comedy is Hard

Plot: This mockumentary focuses on the life of small time comedian Jerry Martin and his ability to strive for the "big time" while having to do awful comedy related jobs just to survive.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

I love stand up and I'll watch anything Burton Gilliam did.  That guy cracks me up.  That said, I barely laughed at all and when I did it was during the last act when the students took the stage.  The thing is, I should have been howling all the way through but I was taken out of the picture early on.  It looks rather cheap and it's obvious that people are acting, especially the students and some of them take it too far.  The characters are often too broad and the film would've benefited from scaling it back more to be more realistic.  I guess you could say that about Christopher Guest's mocumentaries but a lot of his characters are more genuine or at least beautifully performed.  I really didn't care for the picture until the last act.  The editing of the performers was good.  The purposefully bad jokes, which were revealed in the class, were funnier when bandied about on stage.  There's a spark missing from this film that would give it the life it needs.  I like the idea behind the picture and I wanted it to succeed but when it was all over, I'd hardly laughed and that doesn't bode well for an out and out comedy.  The Victory DVD has a bunch of extras.  You get three 4-minute stand up sets from three of the guys in the film, 5 short films by the folks who brought you this movie, a trailer for a fake documentary called HIT, 15 minutes of outtakes and the trailer (which inexplicably is nowhere to be found online). 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story (2004)

Director: Tilman Remme

Writers: Georgann Kane, steven Manuel, Chris Ould

Composer: Ilan Eshkeri

Starring: Robert Shannon, Derek Lea, Jamel Aroui, Lotfi Dziri, Hichem Rostom, Dorra Zarrouk, Ross Kemp, Michael Pennington

More info: IMDb

Plot: Verus, a slave captured in the Balkans, sees a gladiatorial career in the arena as a preferable alternative to life in a rock quarry.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

This fascinating documentary/drama tells the true account of a slave, Verus, who became a gladiator and fought in the opening games of the newly built Colosseum in 18 C.E.. Like the POMPEII: THE LAST DAYS (2003) film that accompanies it on the BBC DVD, I learned a lot from this, more than I already knew about this period and of the lives of gladiators (I really should pick up a book sometimes).  Because of the nature of the subject, there's a lot of action and some violence so the fun factor is way up before it gets going.   It's a lot of fun and I highly recommend taking 45 minutes out of your day to watch it (free on YouTube above).  The DVD offers a nice anamorphic widescreen print and you get more extras for this one than you do the POMPEII film with close to a half hour of interviews with many folks involved with the many aspects of making the picture as well as 5 trailers for other BBC documentaries. 

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Writers: Frank Kowalski, Sam Peckinpah, Gordon T. Dawson

Composer: Jerry Fielding

Starring: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernandez, Kris Kristofferson, Chano Urueta, Donnie Fritts, Jorge Russek, Chalo Gonzalez, Don Levy

More info: IMDb

Tagline: It's got guts!

Plot: An American barroom piano player and his prostitute girlfriend go on a road trip through the Mexican underworld to collect a $1 million bounty on the head of Alefredo Garcia.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

This is the third time I've seen this and with every view I think I'm not going to watch it again until the final act where the shit hits the fan and it gets damn good (for the last 45 minutes).  Once that even sets off Bennie (Oates), he's unstoppable and we get to see a grittier side of him than we've known so far.  It's REALLY good.  Before that the story moves along nicely I suppose but it's almost meandering around the obvious plot point of Bennie and the title of the picture.  Of course there's more to it than that and his relationship with Elita and Bennie's finding his place in life is the central part of the story...but that ending...oh, boy!  It's not your average road picture, that's for sure.  I LOVE the gringo bounty hunters/assassins that are also out for Garcia's head and who push Bennie further into his abyss.  The first time I watched this I was really struck by Elita's actions concerning the "rape" scene with the two bikers.  It really made me uncomfortable and it gives her character some added depth and maturity that you don't see in films.  I really dig a lot of Peckinpah's work.  He was a rough around the edges dude but he also made some mature, rough around the edges films that will stand the test of time.  The MGM DVD has a great looking anamorphic widescreen print. The only extras you get are a trailer (anamorphic wide) and a commentary track with Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, Weddle and moderator Nick Redman.  Now where's the Blu-ray for this?  Peckinpah deserves a nice Blu box set.  Hell, he only directed 14 pictures and half of them are classics.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Pompeii: The Last Day (2003)

Director: Peter Nicholson

Writers: Edward Canfor-Dumas, Peter Nicholson

Composer: Ty Unwin

Starring: Alisdair Simpson, Tim Pigott-Smith, Jim Carter, Jonathan Firth, Rebecca Clarke, Inika Leigh Wright, Martin Hodgson

More info: IMDb

Plot: A dramatized recreation of the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

My rating:7/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

The good?  The science and documentary portions of this picture.  The bad?  Well, it's not bad but the dramatic recreations tend to linger too long. At only 50 minutes, this docudrama does a great job of presenting what we know (which is a lot more than you'd think) of what happened to Mt. Vesuvius on August 25, 79 C.E..  That was fascinating.  The dramatic "story" bits are interesting but only to a point.  I found too many scenes hanging around longer than they should, making me anxious to get tot he real meat of the story.  Finding out the details of what happened in the hours after the eruption was remarkable and it makes this a must-watch for fans of ancient history.  The BBC DVD has a great anamorphic widescreen print.  The DVD also includes another like film called COLOSSEUM: A GLADIATOR'S STORY (which is more fun to watch) and you get some good extras for each picture.  The ones for this film include interviews with the producer/director and costumer (about 11 minutes in total).  You also get 5 trailers for other BBC documentaries.  You don't need the DVD to see it.  It's available for free on YouTube (above).

Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak (2009)

Directors: Lance Bangs, Spike Jonze

Composer: ???

Starring: Maurice Sendak, Lance Bangs, Lynn Caponera, Spike Jonze, Catherine Keener

More info: IMDb

Plot: Sendak offers a rare, intimate, and unexpected look at his exceptional life.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

It's only 39 minutes long but it's Sendak talking non-stop.  He's fun and interesting.  He's got a neat story about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby.  One thing I learned that surprised me was that he wrote Where the Wild Things Are very early in his career and the story behind it is cool.  The Oscilloscope DVD extras include extra footage and interviews that last as long as the film (a must watch) and trailers for 16 Oscilloscope pictures (but not for this film).

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.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Calendar Girls (2003)

Director: Nigel Cole

Writers: Juliette Towhidi, Tim Firth

Composer: Patrick Doyle

Starring: Helen Mirren, Julie Walters, John Alderton, Linda Bassett, Annette Crosbie, Philip Glenister, Ciaran Hinds, Celia Imrie, Geraldine James, Penelope Wilton, George Costigan, Graham Crowden, John Fortune, Jay Leno, Patten Oswalt

More info: IMDb

Tagline: They dropped everything for a good cause.

Plot: A Women's Institute chapter's fundraising effort for a local hospital by posing nude for a calendar becomes a media sensation.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

Cute.  Saying that kind of bugs me but it gets the feeling across in one word which means it is cute but it's also not as good as it could've been.  The English countryside scenery is gorgeous.  I want to live there soooo bad.  But the movie isn't about that.  It's about British broads past their prime gettin' their tits out to raise money to buy a couch.  It's a noble cause and I'm behind (or in front of) anyone who's up for the challenge.  The performances are good, there are some good laughs and it really is a cute, happy film.  It does feel like there's more of the b-story stuff in it than there needs to be like Chris (Mirren) and Rod's (Hinds) teenage son striking out by doing delinquent-y things like drinking, reefers, etc.  It feels a bit forced and shoehorned in to perhaps add some drama where it really wasn't necessary. There is a little bit of nudity (a plus) but it's not likely going to gain entry into your spank bank.  The extras on the Touchstone DVD include a 15 minute piece on the true story the film is based on with interviews and pictures from the original ladies.  It's quite fun.  Then there's a 6 minute piece about getting the actresses nekkid and four deleted scenes.  Oh, and adverts for other Touchstone projects.  Not a bevy of extras but at least they included something.  I most liked spending a few minutes hearing the actual women tell their stories. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Shooter (2007)

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Writers: Jonathan Lemkin, Stephen Hunter

Composer: Mark Mancina

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Pena, Danny Glover, Kate Mara, Elias Koteas, Rhona Mitra, Jonathan Walker, Louis Ferreira, Tate Donovan, Rade Serbedzija, Alan C. Peterson, Ned Beatty

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Yesterday was about honor. Today is about justice.

Plot: A marksman living in exile is coaxed back into action after learning of a plot to kill the President. Ultimately double-crossed and framed for the attempt, he goes on the run to find the real killer and the reason he was set up.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.

I'm mixed about Wahlberg. Sometimes he's good and sometimes he's just awful.  I really didn't expect to like this movie nearly as much as I did but I dug it.  Swagger (Wahlberg) is a smart dude and his actions do not disappoint nor does the story.  Speaking of actions, isn't what someone does in order to define a villain (or hero) a hell of a lot more important than anything else?  Danny Glover (as Col. Johnson, one of the top bad guys in this picture) plays a bad man but the actor, for whatever reason be it his own decision or that of someone else, consistently speaks with a soft, whispery, gravely voice.  It's completely uncalled for and annoying as fuck.  He's a really good actor who shouldn't have to employ such cheap tactics to sell his character.  It would have been more effective if he dropped the pretense and allowed the character's action to say what needed to be said and perhaps play the character less menacing which could have made the guy even more effective as a villain.  It's like the trend in Bond villains over the franchise where most of the villains have some kind of physical defect.  It bugs the piss out of me.  Anyway, despite Glover's low raspy voice, it's a good film and events play out naturally if not sometimes unexpectedly.  I really liked the mountaintop confrontation and everything that followed.  I was VERY satisfied with the final act.  It's much stronger than most films would have delivered, making it easy to recommend.  The Paramount DVD has a good anamorphic widescreen print with extras including a commentary from the director, a 22 minute making of doc, a 7 minute featurette on one of the shooting locations (Independence Hall), 7 deleted scenes (12 minutes) and non-anamorphic widescreen trailers for ZODIAC and BLACK SNAKE MOAN.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Into the Abyss (2011)

Director: Werner Herzog

Writer: Werner Herzog

Composer: Mark De Gli Antoni

Starring: Werner Herzog, Richard Lopez, Michael Perry, Damon Hall, Lisa Stolter-Balloun, Charles Richardson, Jason Burkett, Jared Talbert, Amanda West, Delber Burkett, Melyssa Thompson-Burkett, Fred Allen

More info: IMDb

Tagline:A tale of death.  A tale of life.

Plot: In Conroe, Texas, 2001, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett broke into the home of an acquaintance, Jason Stotler, in the hopes of stealing a new car. When their plan began to unravel, Perry shot and killed Stotler's mother. After dumping the body, they then killed Stotler and another friend in order to regain access to the house inside of a gated community they had been locked out of. Shortly thereafter, the duo was arrested after a haphazard shootout and brought to justice. Perry was sentenced to death, Burkett to life in prison. With Perry's execution right around the corner, filmmaker Werner Herzog journeyed to the maximum security prison in Huntsville, Texas in order to interview the culprits, get the details of the case, and have a look at the concept of the death penalty.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

 I dig this guy's films.  Period.  With this documentary he talks to the two murderers as well as their families and the family and friends of the victim.  There's nothing new there.  He presents the information of the case in a slow, leisurely manner that really takes its time.  The music works well to help this creep along.  It's not really as interesting as you'd think.  These boneheads did a horrible thing and they're paying for it for the rest of their lives.  They're sacks of shit who will never be free again.  Frankly I don't see why Herzog chose them to film anything but to make his point about the death penalty.  I got the impression that he was going for a PARADISE LOST (1996) or a THIN BLUE LINE (1988) vibe but the film doesn't achieve the compelling nature of either of those films.  That's not to say I didn't like it.  It's a good film and it's worth a look-see but it's rather middle of the road and it left me thinking little of what I just watched.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

G.I. Jane (1997)

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Danielle Alexandra, David Twohy

Composer: Trevor Jones

Starring: Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Anne Bancroft, Jason Beghe, Daniel von Bargen, John Michael Higgins, Kevin Gage, David Warshofsky, David Vadim, Morris Chestnut, Josh Hopkins, Jim Caviezel

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Failure is not an option.

Plot: A female Senator succeeds in enrolling a woman into Combined Reconnaissance Team training where everyone expects her to fail.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

You know, it IS possible to make a movie like this without resorting to the plethora of cliches this film employs.  I didn't dislike this picture because of that but it did keep me from enjoying it more than I did.  There are some nice moments and some good acting but all of this is punctuated at times with eye-rolling moments of "oh, I've seen this 35 times in the last two years".  I was really turned off when the trainees go on a war game exercise on a sub only to find out before they reach their destination that their plans have changed and they're going to Libya for an emergency real-life combat situation to rescue a fallen satellite or something ala TOP GUN and a crap load of other movies.  Really?  They leave Florida for an exercise off the coast of Libya?  That's just the beginning of that issue.  Ridley Scott has proven to be a very capable and sometimes brilliant director and I really believe he shoots the best movie possible for the scripts he takes on, I just wish more time would be spent on the text before his cameras get involved.  The Hollywood Pictures DVD presents the film in non-anamorphic widescreen (this is probably the first DVD release and I'm sure it's been released anamorphic since then) with only one extra, the non-anamorphic widescreen trailer.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Director: Andrew Dominik

Writers: Andrew Dominik, Ron Hansen

Composer: Nick Cave

Starring: Brad Pitt, Mary-Louise Parker, Brooklynn Proulx, Dustin Bollinger, Casey Affleck, Sam Rockwell, Jeremy Renner, Sam Shepard, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Schneider, Alison Elliott, Jesse Frechette, Pat Healy, Michael Parks, Ted Levine, James Carville, Nick Cave, Zooey Deschanel

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Beyond the myth lies America's greatest betrayal.

Plot: Robert Ford, who's idolized Jesse James since childhood, tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

Hmmmm.  This is one I'm going to need (and want) to see twice. I liked it but with reservations.  I'm pretty sure that Brad Pitt was miscast and I've got a hunch that Affleck was, too.  Pitt is being Pitt but he's holding back on the Pitt persona a little.  I would prefer a better actor in the role, one who can become Jesse James instead of acting if that makes any sense.  Affleck is either brilliant in the role or he's awful.  That's a big divide, sure, but I'm not all that comfortable with his somewhat awkward performance.  I sense that he's acting, thinking about it too much.  The cinematography is great (how about that night train robbery?  Nice!) and the performances around these two cats are very good.  It's a nice 'meditation' Western and the near three hours doesn't seem that long.  I'm sorry I didn't catch this one in the theater for the full impact. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Hammer (2007)

Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld

Writers: Adam Carolla, Kevin Hench

Composers: Matt Mariano, John Swihart

Starring: Adam Carolla, Oswaldo Castillo, Harold House Moore, Christopher Darga, Jonathan Hernandez, Heather Juergensen

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Some Guys Don't Know Their Destiny Till It Hits Them In The Face.

Plot: Jerry Ferro's 39th birthday has brought his life into sharp relief and it's not a pretty picture. A once-promising amateur boxer--who quit so he wouldn't risk his perfect record of underachievement--Jerry has been knocking around from one construction job to another and spinning his wheels in an unsatisfying relationship, all the while with an eye toward eventually getting his act together. His last connection to the fight game is the evening boxing class he teaches to the middle-aged, middle class, middle management types at a gym in Pasadena, where he also works as a handyman. When venerable boxing coach Eddie Bell asks Jerry if he'd like to spar a couple of rounds with Malice Blake, an up-and-coming pro, Jerry reluctantly steps into the ring. Despite the ass-kicking Jerry otherwise receives, a one-punch knockdown of Blake convinces Jerry that it's time to make his return to competitive boxing. Thus ends a 20-year-layoff and begins a hilarious fish-out-of-water quest for Olympic gold.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yeah.

Hilarious and sweet!  The cast is great.  I'm a fan of Carolla's anyway but the one who stole the show for me was his buddy, Oswaldo Castillo.  That guy was fucking hilarious and he needs to be in more movies.  I really respect Carolla for getting his pal in the picture.  I listened to the commentary with Carolla and Hench (which is very entertaining) and they talk about getting Oswaldo in the film when others wanted a working actor.  Anyway, everything in this picture works really well.  The A-story of Jerry (Carolla) turning 40 and getting back into the boxing game is fun but it also goes in different directions that you might thing, especially the ending which is nice and heartfelt.  The B-story with Jerry and Lindsay (Juergensen, who is marvelous) works wonderfully as well.  The ONLY thing I didn't dig was her sudden exit from the relationship.  Considering all that came before it, her actions weren't earned or warranted.  It works out in the end, though (this is a romantic comedy of sorts) so the film makers redeem themselves for that one misstep. Carolla is a lot of fun and his contributions to this picture show his talent across the board (he wrote, starred and produced this independent film).  This is a high recommend.  The Weinstein DVD has a nice anamorphic widescreen print with the only extras being a commentary with Carolla and Hench and 8 deleted scenes (about 10 minutes). 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Land (2008)

Original title: Burma VJ: Reporter i et lukket land

Director: Anders Ostergaard

Writers: Anders Ostergaard, Jan Krogsgaard

Composer: Conny C-A Malmqvist

Starring: Ko Muang, Aung San Suu Kyi

More info: IMDb

Plot: Using smuggled footage, this documentary tells the story of the 2007 protests in Burma by thousands of monks.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I knew Burma was in bad shape when I saw  RAMBO (2008) and in the press surrounding the film Stallone said they wanted to set the film in the worst, most repressive regime in the world and they chose Burma. Too bad we don't have a few John Rambos we can cut loose on those fuckers over there.  This documentary is entirely comprised of footage captured by brave Burmese citizens filming the goings on of the military-run government's attempt at keeping their people in line and under control.  They've killed countless protesters and enemies of the state to silence them.  I can't imagine living under conditions like that.  it's a well-constructed film that has the added suspense of keeping you glued to the edge of your seat wondering how this is going to end.  Check it out.  The Oscilloscope DVD has a bunch of extras like trailers for 15 Oscilloscope films (including this picture), a commentary, an 11 minute interview with one of the cameramen, Burmese Monks' Stories from the Uprisings (27 minutes), a message from Richard Gere (really?) (4 minutes) and a 29 minute short film, CROSSING MIDNIGHT.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Color of Money (1986)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writers: Walter Tevis, Richard Price

Composer: Robbie Robertson

Starring:  Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, John Turturro, Bill Cobbs, Iggy Pop, Forest Whitaker, Bruce A. Young

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The Hustler isn't what he used to be, but he has the next best thing. A kid who is.

Plot: Fast Eddie Felson teaches a cocky but immensely talented protege the ropes of pool hustling, which in turn inspires him to make an unlikely comeback.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

I haven't seen this since the 80s and I'd forgotten every single thing about it.  It's about as long as it's been since I saw THE HUSTLER (1961), the film who's sequel this is.  How about that big ass hair on Tom Cruise?  He's an annoying fuck in this and it's probably how most of his haters see him as in real life.  But then most of his career (until lately it seems) was built on cocky and sure-as-fuck characters.  In this picture it works and you can clearly see how Vincent (Cruise) unknowingly pushes Eddie (Newman) in the direction he goes.  Paul Newman is fantastic.  From the first few moments of the picture which leads up to Eddie meeting becoming aware and meeting Vincent, it's a great introduction to these two characters, particularly Eddie.  What a classy actor.  It's not surprising that Newman won the Oscar in '87 for Best Actor for this role.  I'm not keen on Robertson's score.  The film felt like it could've been better suited to something classier like some cool 60s jazz.  I don't know who's responsible (either someone involved with the film or the transfer to DVD) but the music on the DVD is loud as fuck.  I frequently had to adjust the volume when the dialogue stopped and the music took over.  It was most annoying.  The story is great and I like the little turns it takes, particularly with Eddie.  The ending is great and it's one hell of a tease.  And how about that final tournament montage.  NICE!  The Touchstone DVD presents the film in non-anamorphic widescreen and devoid of even a single extra. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Writers: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear, Lionel Shriver

Composer: Jonny Greenwood

Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller, Jasper Newell, Rock Duer, Ashley Gerasimovich, Siobhan Fallon, Alex Manette, Leslie Lyles, Paul Diomede

More info: IMDb

Plot: Kevin's mother struggles to love her strange child, despite the increasingly vicious things he says and does as he grows up.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

If you watch the trailer STOP WATCHING 15 seconds before the end or you'll get a huge hint at a severe spoiler and it will tremendously lessen the impact of the film.  I didn't know anything about this going in and that's the best way to approach this.  From the start the picture has a surreal feel that continues for quite a while until it's apparent that something bad is going to happen (the film has layers of flashbacks).  That moment when it does is surprising (well, it was to me.  I just gave myself to the film and didn't question anything except 'what the hell is going on?') but it's not an M. Night twist that makes the picture.  It does explain the events up to that point and it does serve as the anchor for the picture but it raises so many questions about these characters.  More than that it made me think about how I think I would have handled it (across the board and not just from raising an incredibly difficult child), before and after the important event.  The performances are strong and it's a well-told story cinematically.  If you watch it and wonder if all of this makes sense and if the film making choices have a purpose, you'll get satisfaction in the final minutes of the picture. The Oscilloscope DVD comes with a few extras but sadly no commentary.  You get the usual trailers for other Oscilloscope films (4 total), the original theatrical trailer for this picture, a behind the scenes featurette (27 minutes), 4 minutes of footage from La Tomatino (the tomato fight festival held annual in Bunol, Spain, the opening scene of the film was shot there), a film festival interview with Tilda Swinton (18 minutes) and a 4 minute interview with the author, Lionel Shriver.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Director: Steve Pink

Writers: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris

Composer: Christophe Beck

Starring: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Sebastian Stan, Lyndsy Fonseca, Crispin Glover, Chevy Chase, Charlie McDermott, Lizzy Caplan, Collette Wolfe

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Kick Some Past

Plot: A malfunctioning time machine at a ski resort takes a man back to 1986 with his two friends and nephew, where they must relive a fateful night and not change anything to make sure the nephew is born.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.  Once is good.

I think it helps a little to have been around when BETTER OFF DEAD (1985) came out (I graduated HS in '86).  The setting of a ski resort and the quick reference to "2 dollars" is the only thing that references that film but it's fun on its own.  Everyone is funny (Cusack the least of which) and has plenty of moments to shine.  Glover cracked me up as did Duke.  Not all of the gags worked and some were too silly but there were some great moments.  The pacing is quick, the ending is hilarious and it's a fun flick. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Flesh Merchant (1956)

AKA: The Wild and the Wicked

Director: W. Merle Connell

Writers: Jay M. Kude, Peter Perry Jr.

Composer:  ???

Starring: Joy Reynolds, Geri Moffatt, Marko Perri, Guy Manford, Lisa Rack, Ted Soares, Sam Rosen, Edward Schaaf, Fred Humphrey, Lyle Kirk, Wayne Winton, Debbie Marshall, Raymond Guth, Norman Wright

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Blasts the lid off an infamous Hollywood vice racket!

Plot: A girl visiting her sister in Hollywood hopes for a modeling career, but is tricked by pimps into working at a brothel.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

So-so sexploitation/roughie that hits the right beats of sleaziness and gratuitous nudity except that it's really lazy with the boobs.  All of the close up nudity comes from inserted film made elsewhere.  For example, you've got a bunch of people around a pool.  Many of the women are naked but you only see them from a wide shot and randomly you see a close up of a nude model posing or a sunbather that is completely isolated from the rest of the scene and it's obvious this was done in post.  The story is what you'd expect and the acting is pretty decent for most of the cast.  There's also the odd slapping women around to keep them in line aspect that will attract/turn off some folks.  One scene has the 'pimp' beating the snot out of one girl.  It's pretty fuckin' harsh but interesting at the same time beings how this was made 60 years ago.  The picture runs 55 minutes and the pacing is such that it's hard to lose interest or let boredom set in.  The version I saw (the title card says it's the restored version, more on that in a moment) is from the Secret Key Motion Pictures 2-DVD set.  The first disc has the film and lots of extras.  You get 4 nudie shorts which is nude women doing what comes natural like sitting on rocks, playing badminton, swimming, reading love letters in your bedroom, etc.  These have no dialogue but with fun music on the soundtrack.  They're also all from the (I'll have to take their word for it) 1950s and it's from these that those inserted nude shots were culled from for THE FLESH MERCHANT.  Then there's 3 trailers for Secret Key's DVDs for Skin in the 50s (this set), Skin in the 60s and Grindhouse Trash.  There's more.  They've also included a 12 minute featurette called Panels After Dark: Joe Sarno Retrospect (it's good for what they show in so little time) and then it's 9 trailers for Sarno's films.  That's just disc 1.  Disc 2 starts off with 19 nudie loops (like the ones on disc 1 I'm pretty sure some of these are from the 60s...but who cares, right?), and then it's 9 trailers for Secret Key's production (all new stuff up until 2007) and 2 trailers for the Skin in the 50s and 60s that were on disc 1 (really, guys?  Repeating extras?).  You can pick up this set for $20 easy.  Is it worth it? Well, if this is your bag, the movie's not unwatchable and Secret Key loads up 2 DVDs full of boob-laden extras, so yeah.

Daylight (1996)

Director: Rob Cohen

Writer: Leslie Bohem

Composer: Randy Edelman

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brenneman, Viggo Mortensen, Dan Hedaya, Jay O. Sanders, Karen Young, Claire Bloom, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Renoly Santiago, Sage Stallone, Stan Shaw

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Hold your breath

Plot:  Disaster in a New York tunnel as explosions collapse both ends of it. One hero tries to help the people inside find their way to safety.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

If you're looking for action in a tunnel then this is filled with it.  It's filled with cliches found in many disaster films and it's not trying to be anything different.  The filmmakers embrace it and run with it which works to their advantage.  It's not that bad of a film.  It's loaded with action and you feel like you've been on a ride for nearly two hours.  Stallone pulls it off best but there are a lot of questionable line readings and cheesy performances peppered throughout.  I like that people you think are going to live, die.  This is about how I thought it was going to be, a nice diversion for a while with some explosions, death and Stallone saving the day. The Universal DVD has some extras with a half hour making of doc, commentary with the director, five minutes of trailers, another featurette (6 minutes), a music video and some text extras.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Still Smokin (1983)

Director: Tommy Chong

Writers: Tommy Chong, Cheech Marin

Composer: George S. Clinton

Starring: Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Hans Man in 't Veld, Carol van Herwignen, Shireen Strooker, Susan Hahn, Arjan Ederveen, Kees Prins, Mariette bout, Fabiola, Carla van Amstel, Linnea Quigley

More info: IMDb

Tagline: You can always smell the excitement in the air.

Plot: Cheech & Chong are invited to a celebrity party/festival in Amsterdam. When they get there, however, it turns out that the guy who invited them has taken off with all the money, and the rest of the hosts have a VERY limited budget. They are actually expecting Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton, so our heroes gets to be Mr. Burt and Mr. Dolly. We follow them around Amsterdam, at their hotel, (still) smokin' joints and doing shows.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Well, I guess I can say it's a step up from CHEECH AND CHONG'S NEXT MOVIE (1980).  35 years ago (as a budding teenager) I thought these guys were hilarious but then all I knew of them was from their comedy records.  I'm watching their movies for the first time and they're not good.  I laughed a couple of times.  Chong autographing the bellboy's hands was funny when one of them raised his sleeve and asked if he'd sign his arm for the elevator operator.  The only other time I laughed out loud was when the hot Dutch maid had sex (off screen) with Cheech and then Chong and showed various animals (giant turtles, rhinos, etc) fucking.  Like NEXT MOVIE, there's barely a plot which only serves to string together bits that are supposed to be funny.  The last twenty or so minutes is the pair doing their stage show which is almost the best part of the picture.  Almost.  The movie within the movie has its moments.  The thing is, these two guys are really talented but their movie writing is awful. The Paramount DVD has a great, vintage looking anamorphic widescreen print and the sole extra is the theatrical trailer which is also anamorphic widescreen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Hell In Normandy (1968)

Original title: Testa di Sbarco per Otto Implacabili

Director: Alfonso Brescia

Writers: Maurice De Vries, Lorenzo Gicca Palli

Composers: Giorgio Fabor, Italo Fischetti

Starring: Guy Madison, Peter Lee Lawrence, Erika Blanc, Philippe Hersent, Massimo Carocci, George F. Salvage, Perre Richard, Antonio Monselesan, Max Turilli, Giuseppe Castellano, Renato Pinciroli, R.O. Mantovani

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Search, find and destroy!

Plot:  In the days prior to D-Day in WWII, a special parachute unit is sent to destroy a German flame thrower installation on Omaha Beach.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Mabye, if a better print shows up.

If you dig on classic Euro War films made in Italy with lots of bad guys getting shot but no blood then this is right up your ally.  There's some laughably cheesy dialogue like when Strobel (Lawrence) is making the moves on Denise (Blanc) and he says, "...that sounds like a line from a play.", the she passionately says, "I was in a play in school once." and he follows it with, "Well, honey, this is dress rehearsal." and then starts mackin'.  Talk about corny.  To make it worse (or better) you've got some lush orchestral strings on the soundtrack for added effect.

On the macho side one American G.I. states he came here to kill him some Nazis.  I'm probably being generous by giving it a 6.5 out of 10 but I had fun and it's not a bad way to kill an hour and a half on some lazy afternoon.  The print I watched was widescreen but it wasn't as clear as it should be.  It looked like a poor-to-decent VHS TV print but it was dubbed in English. I'm sure a pristine DVD quality print would improve one's viewing experience.  Much of the action is reserved for the last twenty minutes and it's at night so having a good print is important if you don't like looking at silhouettes, wondering who is who.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2011)

Directors: Marshall Curry, Samm Cullman

Writers: Matthew Hamachek, Marshall Curry

Composer: James Baxter

Starring: Daniel McGowan, Lisa McGowan, Tim Lewis, Kirk Engdall, Jim Flynn, Jenny Synan, Susan Synan, Bill Barton, Leslie James Pickering, Greg Harvey, Chuck Tilby, Suzanne Savoie, Steve Swanson, Chuck Wert, Don Rice, Jake Ferguson, Dan McGowan, Lauren Regan, Stephen Peifer

More info: IMDb

Plot: A rare behind-the-curtain look at the Earth Liberation Front, the radical environmental group that the FBI calls America's 'number one domestic terrorist threat.'

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? No, but I'm not opposed to seeing it again.

Documentaries are such a different breed of filmmaking that I've often wondered how difficult it is to make one without telegraphing your (the filmmaker) point of view and stay unbiased.  One of the best examples is JESUS CAMP (2006).  If you agree with the subject then the film strengthens your position and the same applies to if you completely disagree.  Curry & Cullman present their subjects in a completely different way (JC simply showed you footage of the goings on at the camp with the participants (all religious zealots) telling us what they think.  I don't recall hearing a dissenting opinion.  Anyway, TREE presents people on both sides of the issue as well as some who are on the fence.  It's an interesting look at environmental terrorism, in that I learned more about a subject than I only knew from headlines in the 90s, but it's not a history lesson or anything far-reaching like that.  It focuses on the ELF (Earth Liberation Front) and the few people who caused massive financial damage in a short period of time by destroying private property in the name of protecting the environment.  They're extreme tree huggers, if you will, and they're too passionate about it.  Investigators spent three years trying to solve the crimes and then they finally caught a break which led to a big windfall. It's a very good picture and a recommendation, regardless of which side of the issue you're on.  The Oscilloscope DVD has a nice anamorphic widescreen print with lots of great extras.  Besides the obligatory trailers for more of their films (five here, including one for this picture), you get a commentary track, deleted scenes (five, totaling about eight minutes), three extended interviews (seven minutes), an eight minute follow-up on where the subjects of the film are as of the DVD release in 2011) which is a great little piece and a post-screening Q&A with the directors (nine minutes).

I need to say that I'm really enjoying going through (what will eventually be) every film in the Oscilloscope's catalog.  Their DVD releases have quality extras and DVD menus.  I bring this up because it shows this company cares about their product and that means a lot.  Taste is subjective, so I'm not going to like everything they release, but It's nice expose yourself to something you might not otherwise.  It's just like one of my other projects (which I need to get back onto) where I'm determined to watch every single film on trailer compilations.  By doing so I'm seeing films that I'd probably never see which brings the bad as well as the good.  And there's something satisfying by going into a movie blind, knowing nothing about it. It's something I typically do with projects like this and it's quite rewarding.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Captain's Paradise (1953)

Director: Anthony Kimmins

Writers: Alec Coppel Nicholas Phipps

Composer: Malcolm Arnold

Starring: Alec Guinness, Yvonne De Carlo, Celia Johnson, Charles Goldner, Miles Malleson, Walter Crisham, Nicholas Phipps, Sebastian Cabot, Peter Bull

More info: IMDb

Tagline: He makes two-timing an art...and gets away with it

Plot: The bigamist captain of a ferry boat between the restricted British colony in Gibraltar and Spanish Morocco has a woman of differing appeal and temperament in each port.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.

It seems that a lot of these English comedies from the 50s are nice and pleasant.  You may not find yourself laughing out loud (much or at all) but they're cute and enjoyable on one level that leaves you feeling a little better than you were 90 minutes earlier.  Henry (Guinness) is living the dream when it comes to dames and for a couple of years he's been able to get away with living a double life. When it starts to unravel it doesn't turn to farce, like you might see in a Hollywood picture, but it becomes a slow downward spiral to an amusing finale.  It's not a picture that's really going to stand out in Guinness's catalog but it's certainly worth watching.  You know you're doing something right when you're married to Yvonne De Carlo.  Hubba hubba.  It's a light, refreshing comedy that just might hit the spot on some lazy Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey (2000)

Director: John Little

Writers: Bey Logan, John Logan

Composer: Wayne Hawkins

Starring: Bruce Lee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Doug Copsey, (the rest are from archive footage) James Coburn, James Franciscus, George Lazenby, Mako, Chuck Norris, John Saxon, Carroll O'Connor

More info: IMDb

Plot: Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee is the subject of this thoughtful documentary by Lee aficionado John Little. Using interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and action sequences from Lee's last (unfinished) film, Game of Death, Little paints a textured, complex portrait of the world's most famous action hero.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.

I've seen this twice now.  It's that good.  If you're only just a casual fan, this documentary has a lot to offer.  I know what you're sayin'..."But, hey!  What if I'm a huge fan already?".  You're in luck because there is an extensive amount of vintage photographs, audio and video of the man, many of which are of his training, teaching and fighting, the later is amazing.  The best part about it is getting the lowdown on his last, unfinished picture, THE GAME OF DEATH and being walked through the process and how the existing footage fits into the story.  But it's the footage itself that's worth the price of admission.  Lee was a remarkable talent and it's a shame that his world wide fame had only just begun when he died.  Had he lived he would have owned the 1970s.  He was off to a great start.  There was so much more to Lee than the chop socky flicks of the early 70s and this film goes to great lengths to point that out and they did a fine job with it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Dark Days (2000)

Director: Marc Singer

Composer: DJ Shadow

Starring: Marc Singer

More info: IMDb

Plot: A cinematic portrait of the homeless population who live permanently in the underground tunnels of New York City.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

It's not everyday that you watch a documentary about the homeless but I will say this, if you do only see one, make it this one. What I liked most, I think, is that it's not a manipulative piece of filmmaking, designed to elicit strong emotions and to open your wallet.  It's an honest film that stays away from making any strong commentary and just turns the camera on these folks who were living in the tunnels.  We hear a little of their back stories, some of how they live and on what they want to talk about or what's important to them.  They are all very colorful people and are enjoyable to be around.  It's great to see them move on in the end, full of hope and promise of new, better lives.  It's a fine film and a great example of what you can accomplish.  Singer had been (and still was) homeless for years when he made this.  He and his homeless buddies worked this like a real film crew, none of which had ever done so before.  You'd never know it by watching it.  The Oscilloscope DVD has a nice, grainy black and white anamorphic widescreen print. There are loads of extras.  You get a commentary by Singer and trailers for this and four other Oscilloscope pictures.  That's it for disc 1. Disc 2 has 15 deleted scenes, a 45 minute making of featurette, a 21 minute featurette called THE TUNNEL TODAY where Singer goes back to the tunnel in 2011 (filmed for this DVD release).  It's a nice little piece.  There's also a 27 minute featurette called FRAGILE DWELLING, a title design featurette (5 minutes), LIFE AFTER THE TUNNEL (17 minutes) (probably the best extra as you get to find out what happened to many of the people featured in the film), and a Q&A from a 2011 Harlem screening of the film (31 minutes).

Friday, November 6, 2015

Beat Girl (1960)

AKA: Wild for Kicks

Director: Edmond T. Greville

Writer: Dail Ambler

Composer: John Barry

Starring: David Farrar, Noelle Adam, Christopher Lee, Gilliam Hills, Adam Faith, Shirley Anne Field, Peter McEnery, Claire Gordon, Oliver reed, Michael Kayne, Anthony Singleton, Robert Raglian, Nade Beall, Margot Bryant, Nigel Green, Norman Mitchell, Pascaline, Christina Curry, Diane D'Orsay, Delphi Lawrence, Carol White

More info: IMDb

Tagline: My Mother was a stripper...I want to be a stripper too!

Plot: Paul, a divorced architect, marries Nichole, a woman from Paris. His teen daughter Jenny has fallen in with the English beatnik scene and likes to hang out in cave-like clubs to listen to jazz and rudimentary rock'n'roll. Jenny takes an immediate dislike to her step mother, who is not that much older than she, and goes out of her way to make life miserable for Nichole. When Jenny discovers that Nichole is a friend of one of the strippers from the dance hall across the street, she investigates and uses Nichole's sordid past to embarrass her father. Meanwhile Jenny attracts the lecherous eye of Kenny, the owner of the dance hall.

My rating:  7/10

Will I watch it again? Yeah.

Juvenile delinquent films from the 50s and 60s can be fun.  This is one of them.  There's a lot to like.  Christopher Lee runs a strip club (!!!!) and his right hand man is Nigel Green?  That's all you need to know.  But wait, there's more.  Oliver Reed's hanging around in the background as one of the beatnik kids.  But wait, there's more.  John "007" Barry did the score (his first or second score gig).  I'm a HUGE John Barry fan.  I'd heard the theme from this thirty years ago but I'm only just now getting around to seeing the picture.  That theme gets used a tad too much.  Once or twice is fine but then it starts to wear thin.  it's still a fun tune but, you know, too much of a good thing.  The wildest and one of the best parts of the picture is Layla Raki's striptease!

Is that fucking hot or is that fucking hot?!?!!  The movie's worth watching just for that. The performances are good (especially Lee who is deliciously sleazy and classy all at once).  The movie isn't all that bad and it does have moments of fun and cool but there are some slow spots and some extended music/dancing scenes that were tossed in just for the kiddies.  I can do without some of that but do treat yourself and check this out and the ending gets dark.  Hee hee hee.  The whole film is on YouTube but it's an edited version that omits (at least I couldn't find it) the amazing striptease number. 

Death Race 2 (2010)

Director: Roel Reine

Writers: Tony Giglio, Paul W.S. Anderson

Composer: Paul Haslinger

Starring: Luke Goss, Lauren Cohan, Sean Bean, Ving Rhames, Tanit Phoenix, Patrick Lyster, Deobia Oparei, Fred Koehler, Robin Shou, Danny Trejo, Joe Vaz

More info: IMDb

Tagline: 3 Days. 10 Killers, 20,000 Rounds of Ammo.

Plot: Explores the origins of the first "Frankenstein" car driver, Carl "Luke" Lucas, who died in a race at the beginning of the first film.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I only watched this because of Bean, Rhames and Trejo.  It starts out pretty good but as soon as you get to prison and the first Death Match fight begins you can see why the camera moves a lot and the editing is quick.  The fights are half-assed.  Action-wise the car chase and stunts fare much better but I still hate the 3 edits per second bullshit.  It's not like that all through the race but there's enough of it to long for the days of the 70s when DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) showed you how it was done.  I understand the differences in these films and what they're doing but it's just a damn shame that you don't get a wider field of vision to soak in the culmination of all the hard work and talent that went into making these stunts work. There are quite a few moments of slow motion that work well and deliver some eye candy.  After DEATH RACE (2008) I wasn't sure where they'd go from there but it was a nice surprise that this is an origin story (prequel to the first film) of the race and the character of Frankenstein (the moment when he's 'born' is over-the-top cheesy as fuck).  Those two things alone go a long way of making this a better movie.  I watched the unrated version on the Universal DVD and I was surprised at the lack of any nudity.  It was certainly teased that there could be some but they failed to deliver.  Maybe there were a couple of extra "fucks" tossed in to justify it being unrated.  Whatever.  Since two of the three people in this come back for the third film I'll probably watch it at some point.