Thursday, September 29, 2011

Night and Day: "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" (1972)

With all the parallels between this film and the hippie generation, it is ironic that the film's major strengths are its good old fashioned film standards.

Sadly, this film has no real plot to summarize. Graham Faulkner is very good as St. Francis of Assisi, a merchant's son who discovers God one day. He shuns all possessions, lives in poverty, and begins gathering devoted followers as he rebuilds a decrepit church on the outskirts of the city. Pope Innocent III decides an audience with Francis is in order, especially after the local bishop's troops try to burn down the church. The final scene between Francis and the pope is very good and very touching.

Everyone seemed to hate Faulkner's performance except me. He is very good as Francis, wide eyes and seemingly insane, but without being goody goody. Alec Guinness, looking like Obi Wan Kenobi, is Pope Innocent III, who eventually sees that Francis is living the Christian life so many others crave but are afraid to try. His scene is very good and too short.

My main complaint about this film is its lack of story. The pictures are very pretty, the music is nice, but not much happens here. This is a surprise considering the cowriters included the director and Lina Wertmuller, the diva of European cinema. Donovan's songs are no worse than the song compilations that pass themselves off as film soundtracks today. If anything, they are slightly inappropriate considering the time and subject matter, but I will listen to them another hundred times before I hear "Who Let the Dogs Out" on one more movie preview. Judi Bowker, as Clare, Francis' comrade in Christ, is absolutely wasted. Her character is the back half of the title of the film, and she is given little to do besides look at Francis coquettishly, and join his gang in time for the film to end.

If anything, the film will have you thinking about your own life and your hold on material possessions. "You Can't Take It With You" is not just the title of a famous play, it speaks volumes about what our ultimate goals in life are today. No, I am not tossing my worldly possessions into the street. Francis is the ultimate answer to the question "will God provide?"

This is not a perfect film, but on par with the Mickey Rourke- Helena Bonham Carter film "Francesco," which covered the same lives. I will recommend "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," but with reservations. (* * * *) out of five stars.

The Power of Silence: "Broken Blossoms" (1919)

The years have not been kind to D.W. Griffith, the father of American film direction. "Birth of a Nation," an average but still landmark film, is better known for its racism than its technical achievements. "Broken Blossoms" is also not politically correct, but I am recommending it as an example of Griffith's skill.

Lucy (Lillian Gish) is a teenage girl in the Limehouse district of London. Her father, Battling Burrows (an excellent Donald Crisp), is a boxer more concerned with boozing and broads, much to the chagrin of his manager (Arthur Howard). Since a boxer can't hit his scolding manager, Battling takes out his frustration and anger on Lucy, consistently beating her with a short whip.

Cheng Huan (Richard Barthelmess) lives in the Chinatown section of the city, above the small shop he runs. Years before, he was a devout Buddhist in China, leaving his homeland to spread his naive message of peace to all. Now, he is in England, spiritually broken and smoking opium. He sees Lucy here and there, even saving her from the lecherous Evil Eye (Edward Peil).

Battling must leave to train for a fight, and beats Lucy so severely that she wanders the streets in a daze, collapsing in Huan's shop. Huan takes her upstairs and dotes on her, giving her food, clothing, and a new name- White Blossom. As Lucy heals, she and Huan grow closer, until a nosy friend of Battling tells the boxer what his daughter has been up to.

Let's get the racism out of the way first. The entire title of the film is "Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl." It is based on a short story by Thomas Burke entitled "The Chink and the Child." Huan is referred to as the Yellow Man in the credits, and is called Chink by Battling, and Chinky (as a term of endearment) by Lucy. The main Chinese characters, Huan and Evil Eye, are portrayed by white men. Whew! At least Gish is playing Lucy as a teenager, and not a twelve year old girl like in the short story on which the film is based.

Most notable about the film is Griffith's style. So many of the angles and shots we take for granted today were invented by the man, who was never given his due. Many of the scenes are tinted, adding to the drama. Sadly, in order for Gish to appear younger, her scenes look as if they are shot through a filter, almost five decades before the comical "Mame" with a red headed blob known as Lucille Ball, filmed through a seemingly Vaseline-smudged lens. One closeup of Barthelmess allows the viewer to observe his Oriental makeup, and the shape of his natural eyebrows.

Griffith was a great believer of acting with the eyes, as opposed to the often laughable flailing that you might see in other silent films. The editing here is clean, and the special effects are both quaint and nostalgic. Gish is good in her role, Barthelmess tries underneath his makeup, but Crisp is superb as Battling. His performance is modern in its rage and bravado, and although you never hear him speak, Crisp uses his physicality and Griffith's camera to give us a fully realized character.

"Broken Blossoms" was shot in eighteen days for a cost of just $91,000, in California (despite its Asian and European settings). If you can get past the controversial racial elements, and appreciate the direction and performances, then I think you will be in for a surprise. (* * * *) out of five stars.

A Bright Shining Example of Cable Television Film Making: "A Bright Shining Lie" (1998)

Based on a true story, this made for cable television movie is both a heavy indictment of our involvement in Vietnam and a rallying story of American patriotism.

Bill Paxton plays Army colonel John Paul Vann. In March 1962, he is sent to Vietnam as a military advisor. The advisors are supposed to be hands-off instructors, helping the South Vietnamese drive back the North Vietnamese. Vann is looking for action and he knows Vietnam is going to be a hot spot. He is right in more ways than he will ever know.

Vann leaves his wife Mary Jane (Amy Madigan) in the States with his young children, and immediately takes up with English language teacher Lee (Vivian Wu). We learn that Vann has little respect for his marriage vows, and sleeping around is in his nature. Right away, the wool is being pulled over everyone's eyes, as photos of dead Viet Cong are being doctored to increase the number of dead the South Vietnamese are "killing." Vann repeatedly butts heads with South Vietnamese brass, and after a disastrous raid that kills many undertrained South Vietnamese as well as some of the "advisors," Vann goes to reporter Steven Burnett (Donal Logue). Vann has had it with the corruption, and pours his heart out to Burnett, who prints the story.

Vann is taken on a tour of briefings around Washington, where he comes up with a new strategy for the Vietnam War- win the hearts and minds of the peasants and they will stay on our side. He is rejected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and resigns in protest. Vann and Mary Jane work on their deteriorating marriage, and see a counselor (Richard Libertini). Vann seems to be a sex addict, and it stems from a deep dark secret involving his mother. JFK is assassinated, and Vann tries to get back into Vietnam after Johnson begins increasing troop presence there. He is offered a job with Civilian Aid, and sent back to Vietnam, where he is assisted by Doug (Eric Bogosian) to help the people there. Corruption is now rampant as the Americans fix a school's leaky roof. In the meantime, he offends the local criminal colonel Dinh (Les J.N. Mau), who kills Vann's native staff and orders the bombing of the village in retaliation.

Vann launches a campaign against the corruption, still preaching his idea about helping the people directly. He finds out his mother dies, and returns for her funeral. We find out why he treats women the way he does, his murdered mother was a prostitute. Mary Jane asks for a divorce, and Vann heads back to Vietnam. He also shuns Lee, getting another local girl pregnant and marrying her. Doug returns to the states, where he becomes an anti-war demonstrator. Vann predicts the Tet Offensive, but General Westmoreland (Kurtwood Smith) ignores him. The Offensive is defeated, and Westmoreland is out. Vann soon finds himself a civilian running things in a capacity normally reserved for active duty officers. He is referred to as a senior advisor, and finally gets his own battle and routs the enemy troops in a daring maneuver involving carpet bombing of his own location. On the way back from a medal ceremony, Vann is killed in an unceremonious helicopter crash due to poor weather, ten years after arriving in Vietnam.

Bill Paxton is probably the last actor you would think of to play a major part like this, but he pulls it off. His style is so laid back, he makes his character more real than some other performer who might spend the whole film chewing the scenery and making little scenes that could be shown to the Emmy nominations committee. Amy Madigan is good in the clicheed long suffering wife role, and Donal Logue is okay as the reporter. My problem was more with the character of Lee than Vivian Wu's portrayal. The character is completely unnecessary, and I could not figure out what her function in the film was.

Despite the self important title, the film is surprisingly not anti-military. Paxton has a great line to Logue at the end, where he blames the Vietnam War on Kennedy and all the reporters who said we should be there to help these poor unfortunate people in the first place, then these same reporters worked to end the war by questioning why we were there in the first place. Westmoreland is clearly portrayed as less than effective, the South Vietnamese military cannot seem to put one foot in front of the other, but Vann is no saint either. His sexual dysfunction and personal ambition cloud his judgement.

George wrote and directed the film, and his budget seems to be larger than your average cable film. He handles the war scenes with appropriate horror and gore, and the Thailand locations work perfectly.

No matter what your politics are, this film addresses a number of issues. The people involved and the constant change of strategy (the press conference after Westmoreland's departure is a comedy of semantics) all cloud the fact that, according to end credits, almost 60,000 U.S. troops and close to a million Vietnamese died in the conflict.

While we pay attention to our dying World War II generation, we should also be getting the stories of our Korean, Vietnam, and later war veterans. Waiting until these veterans get their own "Saving Private Ryan" will prove too late. "A Bright Shining Lie" is another thought provoking war film that I highly recommend. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

I Want a Divorce: "Bride of the Monster" (1955)

Bela Lugosi is evil mad scientist Dr. Vornoff. His ultimate, insane goal? Not sure.

Vornoff and his Igor-like assistant, Lobo (Tor Johnson), kidnap local citizens who wander around the duo's lab/abandoned house in the middle of the swamp. The victims are fitted with a funny hat, have a piece of photograph processing equipment aimed at them, and are fed to the giant rubber octopus out back.

Spunky gal reporter Janet (Loretta King) decides to investigate the locals' disappearances much to the collective chagrin of her straight arrow fiance, detective Dick (Tony McCoy) and Captain Robbins (Harvey B. Dunn). Janet is captured by Lobo and held prisoner. Dick and his partner follow convenient victim Professor Strowski (George Becwar) to the swamp. For some unknown reason, perhaps to explain the title, Janet is eventually dressed in a wedding gown. Soon, Dick and Janet do battle with Vornoff and Lobo as Robbins and half a half dozen cops close in.

Written and directed by Ed Wood, this film is awful but not as technically inept as "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Wood does let his cast aspire to whole new depths of lousy acting. The entire cast is stiff, and the audience's sympathy falls squarely on Lugosi. His performance is not just bad, it is sad.

As mentioned, the "bride" in "Bride of the Monster" is King, but who is she supposed to be marrying? Vornoff? Lobo? The rubber octopus? There is a throw away line about her being the bride of an atom, which makes no sense.

Ed Wood is looked upon with fondness today; some might say he simply made films that are child-like and innocent. I have seen some of his films, and they are instead both childish and insolent. (*) out of five stars.

I Do: "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935)

Almost seventy years old now, this sequel to the classic "Frankenstein" proves that some films are timeless, even when looking at them for the first time.

Elsa Lanchester is Mary Shelley, recounting what happened after the events of the first film, on a dark and stormy night with her famous husband and Lord Byron. The film makers wisely recap the highlights of the first film, reminding the audience of the basic plot.

While better than the original "Frankenstein," this film is still not technically perfect. There are quite a few editing gaffes, where someone is doing something in one shot, but not another. Whale's direction really does not come alive until the last creation scene, which has wonderful off-center and shadowed shots. Even Karloff's monster makeup appears softened compared to the first film.

On the positives, however, the black and white atmosphere works well here. Sets or not, the high ceilings and creepy Euro look are chilling. The special effects also rival modern films, they are excellent and not cheesy in the slightest.

While Karloff is good, Lanchester is excellent in her too brief role as the bride. Una O'Connor is a scream (literally) as the cowardly housekeeper who always seems to meet up with the Monster at the wrong time. Dwight Frye is underused as a lab assistant. Colin Clive is kept in the background as Frankenstein. He seems ill at ease, and the actor died a few years later as a result of alcoholism. By the way, the book and film "Gods and Monsters" got their title from this film, and a toast made by Pretorious.

While this film has garnered a nearly flawless reputation in the last seven decades, it does deserve accolades.

"The Bride of Frankenstein" may not terrify you like it did audiences of the past, but it is interesting to see the inspiration behind almost every monster movie made afterward. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Inbred: "The Breed" (2001)

Capable cast and really cool art direction are negated by wrongheaded script and more than a nod to John Woo.

Set in the near future, "The Breed" opens with NSA agent Steve Grant (Bokeem Woodbine) investigating a girl's disappearance with his luckless partner. The girl is found, dead, and a bald man with a hat attacks Grant and kills his partner. Of course, the bald guy climbs a wall after biting the partner's neck. Vampirism may be involved.

Grant finds out vampires are really just genetic mutations who want to be integrated into human society. I don't know why, since this futuristic society is a mixture of Nazi Europe and "1984." A vampire cop, Aaron Gray (Adrian Paul), is assigned to work with Grant to find the killer, generating a typical serial killer film investigation. Grant falls for vampire Lucy Westenra (Bai Ling), as the two find out who the real killer is, and the entire reasoning behind the crimes.

"The Breed" is one frustrating film. The Budapest, Hungary locations are astonishing. I could feel the cold, all the buildings are crumbling, and not a beam of sunshine is evident. Roy Hay's heavy techno music is more than appropriate, coming in at all the right times. Oblowitz's direction is good, although I saw a lot of "The Matrix" in the action scenes. Cool guys with long coats levitating in the air while shooting two guns simultaneously is getting a little old, until the "The Matrix" sequels arrive.

On the other hand, Woodbine, who was so good in "Jason's Lyric," is hampered with a lousy character. Grant should be hard boiled and tough, instead he is given a part that seems to have been written for Martin Lawrence or Chris Tucker. He is also the lousiest shot in cinematic history, as his action scenes become style over substance. After you get over the fact that Adrian Paul looks just like John Waters, his Gray is very restrained and very well done. Likewise with Lucy, although her character (femme fatale who knows more than she lets on) has been done a thousand times before. The film makers also make a fatal mistake, since the viewer will identify the killer immediately, ending the suspense in that subplot.

Technically incredible, but academically a failure, "The Breed" is pretty to look at, and a completely unchallenging film. It falls right in the middle, which is a shame. (* * *) out of five stars.

Why Can't American Films Be This Interesting?: "Breathless" (2010)

Like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List," "Breathless" is not your average sit-down-and-gobble-a-bucket-of-popcorn movie. It is violent and depressing, and if not for a lot of flab in the first half of the film, a downright brilliant flick.

Sang-Hoon (the film's writer and director Yang Ik-Joon) is muscle for small-time hood Man-Sik (Man-shik Jeong). Sang-Hoon has a lot of issues, and takes them out on the people he is sent to collect from. The film opens with violence, and the fighting is virtually non-stop throughout. Sang-Hoon lost his mother and sister thanks to an alcoholic father, who is being released from prison. He does have a half-sister and nephew, but his hatred for his father taints his relationship with them as well. He is consistently mean to the little boy, calling him horrible names before angrily dropping off financial assistance for the mother.

Sang-Hoon gets into it with a high school girl, Yeon-Hee (Kot-bi Kim), who dishes out what she takes, thanks to her own messed up home life consisting of a father suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (he won't believe that his wife is dead), and a psychotically violent brother (Lee Hwan) who threatens Yeon-Hee with murder- and who looks like he might carry it out.

Sang-Hoon and Yeon-Hee begin to hang out, but not in a romantic comedy sort of way. The two trade serious insults constantly, both afraid of what might happen if they let their respective guards down. The two are also connected when Yeon-Hee's brother comes to work for Man-Sik, and must learn the ropes from Sang-Hoon, who is not aware that he is Yeon-Hee's brother.

Yang Ik-Soon wrote and directed himself quite a juicy role. The audience is not expected to like Sang-Hoon...and doesn't. I spent most of the first half of the film wondering why I was subjecting myself to the constant barrage of violence and profanity, waiting for some kind of redemptive moment to come out in the main character. You feel terrible for Yeon-Hee, and everyone else who must deal with Sang-Hoon's constant physical and emotional abuse.

The South Korean locations are excellent. No pretty scenery, just back streets in an unnamed urban location. The cast is awesome all around. Toward the end, some very melodramatic moments occur that could have killed the film. They may have read melodramatic on paper, but Yang Ik-Soon directs his cast so well, they are heart wrenching and not silly. Strong scenes populate the film, and it does improve in the second half but again, that first half of the film had me numb to the violence to the point where I almost did not care what happened to Hang-Soon in the second half of the film. Luckily, the film makers brought me around.

"Breathless" is an emotionally draining experience, and much different from the horror films coming out of the Far East as of late. I just hope that if this is picked up for an American remake, they will do it, and Yang Ik-Soon, justice. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Do the Locomotion: "Breakheart Pass" (1976)

While most of Alistair Maclean's work is formulaic, consisting of good guys with a traitor in their midst (don't believe me, watch "Guns of Navarone" and "Force 10 from Navarone"), action director Gries brings together enough elements to make this a very effective film.

Bronson is arrested and taken aboard a train bound for a remote fort ravaged by diphtheria. Aboard the train is a whole list of suspects, including Ben Johnson, Richard Crenna, Ed Lauter, Charles Durning, and Jill Ireland. Next, we get a wild west version of "Murder on the Orient Express," as dead people turn up constantly, and the list of criminals narrows to reveal our killer and the real reason for the trip to the fort.

For a ninety five minute film, the plot does get a little complicated. Bronson is in fine form as the mysterious criminal who figures it all out. The real star here is the action sequences, with a now classic fight on top of a moving train car. Yakima Canutt does a great job coordinating the stuntwork.

This is a change of pace western is entertaining and moves quickly, with capable cast and crew. "Breakheart Pass" is not a modern classic, but a good change of pace from young guns and American outlaws. (* * * *) out of five stars.

The Most Important Visual Feast of the Day: "Breakfast of Champions" (1999)

I do not pretend to "get" this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s novel, but I certainly enjoyed the ride.

Vonnegut is almost impossible to film, "Slaughterhouse Five" is the most successful, while I have reserved a special place in my bowel tract for Jerry Lewis in "Slapstick (of Another Kind)." The plot, for what it is, goes a little something like this. Bruce Willis is Dwayne Hoover, who runs a giant car dealership in Midland City.

His spaced out wife Barbara Hershey pops pills and watches television all day. His son Lukas Haas is a lounge singer, dropping his first name George in exchange for Bunny. Nick Nolte is Willis' sales manager, a paranoid cross dresser. Glenne Headly is Willis' receptionist and mistress. Willis does not seem to be going through a midlife crisis so much as a nervous breakdown. The people around him notice a change to his behavior, as his sincere grin flashes on his commercials, which play nonstop, he is in his own personal hell. He is asking the question many of us ask: why are we here?

As his life crumbles around him, he sticks a gun in his mouth three different times, never following through with a way out that would not answer his ultimate question. Omar Epps is a released prison inmate who wants to work for Dwayne Hoover just because their names are similar. He probably gets the most mainstream laughs, as he lives out of his new car on the car lot, turning it into something nicer than a few of my former apartments.

Into this nightmarish fray comes writer Albert Finney. He has written two hundred novels and two thousand short stories, but they have all been published by porno mags and hardcore sex novel publishers. He is invited to Midland City for an arts festival, and the novel he has may contain the answer to life that Willis is looking for. The film lurches along through Willis and company's day.

Everyone has a quirk, and that may be a detriment, as the viewer has trouble latching onto someone to help wade through all the eye candy. Director Rudolph impresses, throwing in visual effects that dazzle. He also wrote the screenplay, and shows a true affection for the source novel. Mark Isham's musical score is perfect- Muzak on crack.

The performances in this over the top story are brilliant. Willis has not been able to be this loose onscreen in a very long time, and he seems to be having a ball. There are no bad actors here, and look for Owen Wilson and Michael Clarke Duncan in small roles.

The description of this film on the video box likens this to a mainstream comedy, and that is a huge mistake. People renting this and expecting "Airplane!" or some Adam Sandler drivel are going to be supremely disappointed. This is weird, deep stuff that a lot of people out there will not consider their cup of tea.

On the other hand, Rudolph pulls out all the stops, shows us the weird and crazy, then tries to get us to care about the plot. In fact, this film is not a plot driven film, it is character driven, but Rudolph tries to keep this one convention in an otherwise unconventional film.

This is truly one of the most bizarre films ever made, right on the line with "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Where drugs fueled the mania in that impossible film, here the mania is caused by something we deal with everyday- life. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Be Our Guest, Be Our Guest, Put Your Patience to the Test: "Bram Stoker's Dracula's Guest" (2008)

Writer/director Michael Feifer makes a fatal mistake in the opening minutes of this low-budget film- a mistake the film cannot recover from.

Young Bram Stoker (Wes Ramsey), a real estate broker, is charged with finding a house in London for the mysterious Count Dracula (Andrew Bryniarski). Bram is also courting Elizabeth (Kelsey McCann), but her father (Dan Speaker) forbids the two to see each other for one year before they can become engaged, just to make sure their love is true. Elizabeth pouts and runs away, and as unbelievable coinkydink would have it, is kidnapped by Dracula. She's held in a cave as both Bram and Elizabeth's father (who has his own secret about the family bloodline) rush to the rescue.

The opening scene of the film has Bram finding Elizabeth in the cave, hearing that she has been raped and impregnated by Dracula, and swearing revenge. Then the film flashes back to a week earlier to start the story...why? Feifer's structural flourish makes watching Bram's trek across Europe completely pointless. We know he survives the dog attack, and the robbers in a house; and is uninjured in the forced suicide of his best friend, which he grieves for about twenty seconds. We know where Elizabeth will end up, so her dull escape from her father offers no suspense.

Feifer could have dropped the opening scene, but that would not have solved all of this film's problems. While the casting of Bryniarski, who looks like an NFL linebacker, as Dracula is interesting, the cast is terrible (sad, considering Ramsey's excellent work in "Latter Days"). This was shot in southern California, which does not substitute for England and Transylvania very well. Everyone tries an accent, and everyone fails. Feifer shot this on video, and I wish the money saved had been spent on a tripod. Many scenes left me woozy as the director tried to cover the lack of budget with a constantly moving screen. There is no gore, not even bloody bite marks, and the finale leaves too many unanswered questions, which is ironic considering the spoiler that kicks off the film.

The title, with Stoker's name included, is meant to sound literary and important. The resulting product would be unwatchable and disappointing. (*) out of five stars.

The Only Way Many of These Films Will Be Seen: "Boys Life 3"

It seems that whenever mainstream Hollywood makes a gay themed film, the world is going to end thanks to the subject matter.

Short films also deal with gay themes, and companies like Strand Releasing and Picture This! collect them together in compilation DVDs. Some of the films are good, some aren't, and some of the DVDs are good, some aren't. "Boys Life 3" is one such compilation, and it is one of the good ones. The films are reviewed individually:

Inside Out (Directed by Jason Gould) (4/5*)
Gould films in familiar territory- being the gay son of two celebrities. Gould plays Aaron, a struggling actor better known for his better known parents. He gets set up by his friend Adam (Alexis Arquette) on a blind date with a closeted man, goes to the Church of Scientology, and is hounded by a tabloid photographer (Jon Polito). Gould makes some funny observations about being the son of celebrities, even bringing in real life dad Elliott Gould. Christina Crawford shows up at a Survivors of Celebrity Parents support meeting, as does Summer Ladd, daughter of Cheryl Ladd. I wish more of Gould's ideas had a chance to draw out and become whole. He tries to hard to get a shot in at everybody, which does not work on a film that runs under half an hour. On the other hand, his light directorial touch is perfectly suited for his screenplay.

Just One Time (Directed by Lane Janger) (4/5*)
Anthony (Lane Janger) wants girlfriend Amy (Joelle Carter) to have sex with another woman as part of his fantasy "just one time." She then turns the tables on him. This is a vibrantly colored short, to the point, and very funny more because of its actors than Janger's screenplay. Cute stuff, women like Amy can probably relate, and maybe should try this.

Hitch (Directed by Bradley Rust Gray) (3/5*)
Two men, one gay and one possibly gay, drive around in a Volkswagen bus in the desert. This film had a great aged look to it, but the overuse of closeups was jarring, and the film began to bore me. The two leads were good, but the script felt too light.

Majorettes in Space (Directed by David Fourier) (4/5*)
From France, this mockumentary ties in one heterosexual couple, one gay man, the production of condoms, the Pope, and the obvious fact that when a Cosmonaut calls his wife a "fat cow," he is using a metaphor. This is a very fast and freaky collection of images, and it not only works, but makes some kind of sense. Fourier is making a statement about AIDS and protecting oneself sexually, but he does not take his point and belabor it.

$30 (Directed by Gregory Cooke) (4/5*)
Teenage Scott (Erik MacArthur) is presented with thirty dollar teen hooker Emily (Sara Gilbert) on his birthday, and she figures out why he is not interested in sex with her. The final film is also a good effort, with MacArthur and Gilbert scoring major indie film points, and having a really nice chemistry. Emily's character is not delved into much, because this is not her story. Cooke's direction is fine, if not a bit awkward here and there, and Christopher Landon's script is smart (watch for the inside joke concerning Emily's choice of TV viewing habits). A solid entry.

"Boys Life 3" is recommendable based on all the films, with "Majorettes in Space" being the best film. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Boys Will Be Boys Will Be Boys Will Be Boys: "The Boys from Brazil" (1978)

There are many spoilers ahead in this review of a chilling film that is given more credence today than ever before.

This review contains some spoilers. Laurence Olivier is Lieberman, a broke Nazi hunter being bothered by phone calls from a very young Steve Guttenberg. It seems Guttenberg has discovered a gathering of Nazis in Paraguay, including the elusive Dr. Josef Mengele, played by an unrecognizable Gregory Peck.

Before Guttenberg can give Lieberman details, he is killed. Lieberman learns Mengele has ordered the world wide slayings of over ninety civil servants who have turned sixty-five years old.

The killings begin, and Lieberman soon discovers a link between all the men- they all adopted a little boy, who has piercing blue eyes, pale skin, and dark black hair. Lieberman sees a couple of these boys and assumes they are a multiple birth divided between international parents. He could not be more wrong. We find out the boys are all clones of Adolf Hitler, and Mengele is trying to bring about another reich. He figures he has taken care of the "environmental" concerns of the boys' upbringing by killing the fathers at age 65, just as Hitler's father died at age 65. The bloody climax mixes a clone, Lieberman, Mengele, and a room full of Dobermans.

Franklin Schaffner directed from Ira Levin's novel, which seemed so far fetched just a few years ago. There is a chilling scene where Mengele talks of Hitler living into the 1980's, the 1990's, and the year 2000, a year that seemed so far off in 1978, when this was released. Schaffner uses a lot of silent scenes to convey the plot, like when Mengele stands in a broken down building and remembers this was where the women were impregnated with the clones. Another chilling scene involves the "experiments" that Mengele has been working on. These scarred, abused people now roam around his South American estate, and they are always in frame for scenes taking place there.

There are light moments, as well, that do not seem forced, but completely natural. Lieberman's run in with his landlord is perfectly choreographed. Olivier was one of the great actors of all time, and proves why here. He is Lieberman, he does not simply play him. Peck is equally good as Mengele, his scene at the farmhouse where he tries to pin a murder on Lieberman is brilliant. The cast has many recognizable names in supporting roles, all of them superb: James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliott, Rosemary Harris, John Dehner, John Rubinstein, Anne Meara, Bruno Ganz, Walter Gotell, Michael Gough, and Steve Guttenberg, who is quite good in a type of role he should have stuck with before becoming the washout poster boy he is today (anyone for a "Police Academy" film? I didn't think so).

I had one quibble about a plot point, but I think the film makers explained it for me. Mengele flies from Paraguay to New England, and I thought, gosh, wouldn't anyone recognize him and arrest him? Schaffner shows us that Lieberman's battle is all uphill, and he is discouraged by those who would rather forget about the atrocities of WWII instead of tracking down old men. It is totally believable that these war criminals can travel around, who cares? I think we can apply this lesson today, as we try to get our lives back to normal following 9/11 and on the eve of war, we should not be so normal as to lapse into complacency and forgetfulness about the thousands are no longer with us.

What seemed impossible over twenty years ago rears its ugly head today, and makes "The Boys from Brazil" not only an incredible film, but an important argument about cloning humans.

If Hollywood can find this story and scare us with it, we should take note. I highly recommend this one. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

Boo Hoo: "Boys Don't Cry" (1999)

I hate to break this to the good citizens of Hollywood, but there are literally hundreds of millions of people in-between the two coasts of California and New York who are not "looking to get out" of their small town existences. Please stop making me feel wrong for the location I have picked to raise my sons...

Based, very loosely, on a true story, Swank is Teena Brandon, who cuts her hair short and becomes Brandon Teena. She is a troubled soul with big dreams about owning a mobile home park, and who likes to pass as a boy in order to be with other women. She leaves Lincoln, Nebraska and lands in Falls City and meets up with "The Center of the World"'s Peter Sarsgaard, who introduces her to his screwed up extended family. Everyone here drinks too much, smokes too much, and works dead end jobs so they can leave this "goddamn town."

Swank meets Chloe Sevigny, falls in love with her, and they make plans to leave Nebraska for a glistening fantasy life in Memphis. Then the cornhusks hit the fan. Swank is imprisoned on a traffic violation and is found out to be a woman. Everyone reacts the way white trash should react, and the final forty five minutes of the film is an orgy of drunken rape and murder.

First, let me state that Hilary Swank deserved every award heaped on her. She has a perfect look, and I sometimes forgot she was a woman as she immersed herself in the lie Teena Brandon lived. I hope Swank can keep up with the promise this breakout role gave her.

I am an Air Force brat, and have lived all over the world before settling in North Dakota. For years now, Hollywood has doled out all this cow plop about how horrible it is to live in the Midwest, and I am sick of it. No, this ain't paradise, but I will take a forty below wind chill over drive-by shootings and cities that never sleep any day. I like my livin' crime free and devoid of traffic jams and noise. A blanket statement about big cities, you protest? Well, I guess that's the sheltered Midwest existence talking- where we are expected to express shock at Rosie O'Donnell coming out of the closet and to get excited if Nickelback plays the state fair.

The Nebraska of this film is not Nebraska, and I figured it out early. Kimberly Peirce directs the film with all the subtlety of acid thrown in your eyes, and at one point shows us a director-y shot of a big city skyline- Dallas'. Reading the credits, this film proudly states that it was shot in Dallas, Texas. I was born in Fort Worth, and I graduated from high school in Nebraska, and I can honestly say there are more than a few differences. For one thing, the white trash cast here all have Texan drawls that are never explained! The film makers make a point of how horrible Nebraska must be, yet do not even back up their hatred with accurate locations.

The entire cast is awful. Not awful actors, awful people. One of the people portrayed sued the film makers for defamation of character, and you have to wonder what other liberties the director took. Brandon Teena does not come off as a heroic martyr, she comes off as an idiot who could not seem to wake up and smell the stale beer and SKIP TOWN. Peirce throws us into this cesspool, never explains WHY Teena did what she did, and still expects us to be moved and angered.

Peirce has some good moments here and there, but after all the decadence in the first part of the film, the viewer may find themselves dulled to the horrific rape and murder scenes, which leave nothing to the imagination. If anything, I felt bad for the real people involved, who had to relive this nightmare on film in order to shock an audience. I dare use the word "exploitation" to describe the extended rape scene and the murders. While these scenes are strong and shocking, do not let them anger you into thinking this film is gospel fact and therefore good cinema. For a horrific true crime story, see the original film version of "In Cold Blood," that film will stay with you for days for what they did NOT show.

This is a ghastly story that needs to be told. I just think the money may have been better spent on a documentary with the people involved, not a skewed perspective masquerading as an independent film.

"Boys Don't Cry" is not worth the tears. (* *) out of five stars.

I'll Be Brief: "Boys Briefs"

Six short films about homosexual awakening are gathered together in one easy to manage DVD. Some are good, some are not, and the two hosts (picked primarily for their cutie pie looks) annoy immediately. The six films are reviewed individually:

The Absolution of Anthony (Directed by Dean Slotar)
Anthony (Joe Quintero) lives with his grandfather (Carlos Rafart), makes obscene phone calls, pines for basketball playing Joe (Gary Cohen), and is the focus of concern for Father Carson (Victor Garber). This ends abruptly, there are too many close-ups, and I am still not sure what Slotar was trying to say. (3/5*)

Smear (Directed by Sam Zalutsky)
Davey (Marc Fratello) pines for his straight friend Frank (Steven Amato), who prefers to spend time with girlfriend Jennie (Liat Goldman). The three goof around at a local park, before Davey commits a startling act of violence. Again, more film would have helped, Fratello looks a lot like Hilary Swank from "Boys Don't Cry," and this ends without moving me one way or another. (3/5*)

Front Room (Directed by P.Y. Clouin)
A guy licks an unknown body part, which turns out to be his bicep, for under a minute. What film festival would take this kind of one-joke material over films that might have something to say? Dumb. (1/5*)

Fairy Tale (Directed by David Kittredge)
This is by far the best of the compilation. Partners Todd (Terrance Flynn) and Eric (Eric M. Cole) go to Todd's hometown to visit his mother Eleanor (Paula Roth) on his birthday. Eleanor dislikes Eric, despite his best efforts, and Todd does something that angers his loving partner, as well. While some of the dialogue is too soap operatic (Eleanor will never have grandkids, Todd can't have sex in his parents' house), Flynn and Cole have such a good chemistry that I could believe them as a couple. There are some weird "Little Red Riding Hood" allegories at work here, but this is the better of the six films. (4/5*)

Piglets (Directed by Luc Feit)
This German film plays like one of those racy foreign ads you see on television clip shows sometimes, and it is very funny if not too short. Two men try to make love as an elderly woman in the next room keeps distracting them with normal things like loud music...and a giant drill. Definitely oddball, but I thought it was different enough. (4/5*)

Beloved Stanley (Directed by Simon Chung)
Kevin (Wes Wong) is a mixed race teen who is being shipped off to an English boarding school away from his best friend James (Oliver Williams) and his beloved Stanley section of Hong Kong. Not much happens, their possible homosexual relationship is only hinted at, but the locations and great editing save this from being just another coming of age story. (3/5*)

The video's hosts, Michael and Jason, make unfunny jokes about the flicks while walking around L.A.'s Melrose Avenue. They bring nothing to the table, I would have liked to know more about the film makers instead of watching these two.

"Boys Briefs" is a mixed bag, and I will give it an average rating. I will recommend it on the strength of some of the films, but with this many shorts, someone is bound to find something. (* * *) out of five stars.

Good Bounty: "The Bounty Man" (1972)

Clint Walker is a mean bounty hunter in this early 1970's made for television western.

He rides into town to dump his latest capture, and makes the local saloon flies mad in the process. The hangers-on, led by Richard Basehart, decide to get back at Walker for refusing to buy them a drink with his new found wealth.

Walker leaves to capture a $5000 reward by getting Billy Riddle, played by John Ericson. He spirits Ericson away from a ghost town/criminal hangout, but also gets some extra baggage in the form of Ericson's girlfriend, Margot Kidder. As Ericson and Kidder speak in whispers and plan their escape, Basehart's gang decides to take Ericson from Walker and claim the reward as their own. Suddenly, a routine bounty for Walker turns into something else as he must deal with enemies on two fronts. Kidder, however, begins to take a liking to Walker, and the trio get pinned down by the gang with no food and water. The final plot twist is a surprise, and helps along an otherwise standard story.

Walker bares a resemblance to Tom Selleck, and is just fine here. He is not the nice guy from other films I have seen him in, and his story about what happened to his wife explains the bitterness in his character. Walker should have had a much larger career in westerns than he did. Kidder is very good as Mae, the prostitute who falls for Riddle. Some of her dialogue is a little shrill, but she handles it well and turns in a performance that is smart. Richard Basehart is the creepy head of the gang that rides after Walker. It is almost refreshing to have villains who want one thing, money, and have no past history or old scores to settle with the her.

The film is a brief seventy four minutes, so any deep meanings and characterization is lost, save Walker and Kidder. This is also the kind of film where the good guy must win, must hit everything he shoots at, and must turn the bad girl good, and all of that is here. A real plus is Moxey's direction, which is neither boring nor fanciful. He shows real nuts and bolts camera moves, not trying to take away from his leads or the action taking place. The title song and musical score are a mess, done by some forgotten pop group called The Orphanage.

"The Bounty Man" is a basic western that delivers the goods, and does not want much from its audience in return. It is entertaining and watchable, but I do not think the members of the television academy overlooked it for any awards. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Monday, September 12, 2011

One Hottie's Quest for the Perfect Paper Towel?: "Bounty Huntress" (2001)

No, my friend, this is much much worse. Take one porn film, remove said element of porn, and what are you left with? This.

J.C. (Nicki Dolan) is a bounty hunter who uses her good looks to capture horny unsuspecting criminals. She works for the oily Benny (Dillon Silver), who teams her with rival Lance (Jason Schnuit) on her toughest assignment yet. They must track down a mob informant last seen in the company of two hookers (Devinn Lane and Kimber Lynn), plus J.C.'s ex-husband Tom (Justin R. Hughes III), a district attorney, gets involved in the case.

Aside from the terrible acting, poor directing, laughable script, and over-reliance on stock footage, how do I know this was porn? For one thing, Devinn Lane's name is in the title. I am familiar with her work from some godawful thing I saw a few months back...I remember her in a book store with some other women, and they were not boning up on their Longfellow. Anyway, at the end of the credits, the producers proudly proclaim, or is it disclaim, that the bothersome "of legal age" law does not apply to this production. To use another less obvious clue, all of the sex scenes are very soft softcore. I am not talking "Red Shoe Diaries" softcore, I am talking about tens of minutes of footage being removed from between two characters' tentative stripping and the naughty post-coital afterglow basking and redressing, with just a fair amount of nudity on display.

The story runs all of seventy minutes, including the credits. So, when all the porn is edited away, you are left with just story, and it is a lousy one at that. I am not sure about the cast's ability between the sheets (except for Lane), but when it comes to rudimentary acting skills like delivering dialogue or creating a character, everyone fails miserably.

The set design deserves special disparaging mention. I was fascinated with district attorney Tom's office, where his desk and walls are all painted a color best described as "fecal." At one point in the film, a major character is murdered offscreen, and the cast reacts with such indifference I am convinced the actors could not remember what part the victim played in the film.

"Bounty Huntress" even spawned a couple of video sequels, but I think I have had enough of the series. This is one bad film. (*) out of five stars.

Tijuana, We Have a Problem: "Boom in the Moon" (1946)

The great stone faced silent comedian Buster Keaton stars in the worst film of the 1940's.

He plays a sailor stranded at sea at the end of WWII. He washes up in Mexico, and turns himself in as a prisoner of war. He is mistaken for a mass murderer and sentenced to the electric chair. He and a prison buddy volunteer for a crazy professor's new invention- an atomic rocket to take them to the moon. The pair, and the professor's cute niece, get into the rocket, which flies only a few miles. They land in a field in their native Mexico, think it is the moon, and begin to try to contact the "moon men." They find their way back to the same prison they just left. If you are laughing at this description, don't, this is so bad...

Where to begin? The film came out in 1946, way past Keaton's prime. He looks old and tired here. He still manages to do some painful looking slapstick, not that the story deserved it. He just rips off stuff that was funny twenty five years earlier. The film is Mexican, with a Mexican cast dubbed into English. Keaton obviously does not speak Spanish, so he stares blankly into space during most of the other characters' dialogue. To see this great comedian look completely lost in this stupid film is absolutely criminal. He knows when to say a line when his prison buddy either points at him or slaps him on the arm.

Salvador's idea of direction is to nail the camera to the floor and let Keaton be "funny." Keaton has no idea what is going on in the story, but tries to make a scene hilarious by resorting to old tricks that do not work anymore. Even kids will be bored by the inane story that insults the collective intelligence of all who view it. The title, "Boom in the Moon," makes little sense as well.

The screenwriters make a giant plot gaffe toward the end of the film. Keaton and his buddy (sorry, none of the characters have names) are on the ship and find out they have been exonerated for the murders. They both hear the report on a radio. Later, back on Earth and in prison, they are set free and await their fate because of the murders they are falsely accused of. The police captain tells them they have been exonerated and can go...but they already knew this, they heard it on the ship! Out of nowhere, they haul in a Mexican woman as Keaton's wife and he locks himself back in the cell. Cute joke, but the wife is never mentioned before in the film. Where did she come from? This kind of sloppiness is typical throughout.

The special effects here make "Plan 9 from Outer Space" look like "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." The rest of the Mexican cast are awful, and dubbed equally badly. Count the number of times you hear the word "vamos," it really gets irritating.

The video company that released this must have won the rights to this in a fifty cent poker game. They should have saved the late Keaton some embarrassment and left it on the shelf. Also known as "A Modern Bluebeard," this is my pick for the worst, most inept film of the 1940's.

Hopefully, you will not have to see this to prove me right. (*) out of five stars.

The Boner Collect (tee-hee): "The Bone Collector" (1999)

Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie get caught up in a thriller more complicated than "Seven," and not as good.

Washington is a paralyzed former New York City detective who can only move his head and one index finger. He is confined to a bed after an on the job accident and is cared for by nurse Queen Latifah. Angelina Jolie is a young cop trying to make it in the youth services division in the NYPD. She is running from personal demons of her own, including the suicide of her cop father.

By chance, Jolie is the first on the scene of a gruesome discovery. As we have seen earlier, a wealthy couple is kidnapped by a rogue cabbie. The man's remains are found, and the killer leaves clues to where the woman is. Washington runs a miniature precinct out of his apartment, using his limited physical attributes to investigate and using Jolie to see what he would normally see. The team begins trailing the killer, trying to piece together the clues left at the crime scene. They are stopped at every turn by clicheed angry detective Michael Rooker, who keeps reminding everyone Washington is no longer a cop. After more bodies turn up, the climax involves the deaths of many characters, as the killer takes a roundabout way of trying to off the helpless Washington.

The other murders in here are almost unnecessary since the original intent of the story is to put Washington in danger to begin with. The killer is not easily guessed because the film makers throw in all sorts of red herring suspects, but by the end you probably will not care all that much.

Washington and Jolie are very good here. Jolie gets some background characterization, which helps explain her bitterness, and it takes her a while to warm up to Washington. Washington is also good in a physically limited role, using his facial expressions to relate to the audience. His frequent seizures are convincing. The rest of the cast mostly runs around with their guns drawn, quipping with Washington on down time. A special mention should go to Queen Latifah. I am not her biggest fan, but she won me over as the tough nurse whose primary responsibility is to her patient.

The killings are based on old New York City history, and some of that is interesting. With this serial killer genre of film, the film makers do take logical leaps in trying to solve the crimes that most crime audiences may have a problem swallowing. The crimes are so overcomplicated and really do not make much sense, considering the killer's final motive. Of course, the killer confesses everything in the climax, including why, and I thought this whole sequence was very weak.

Director Noyce does a standard job with his camera, although I liked a lot of the shots of NYC we do not normally see, including the World Trade Center. The music is appropriately suspenseful, as is the cinematography.

In the end, "The Bone Collector" is strictly suspense by committee. The great actors they enlisted almost make up for the shoddy story and "seen it before" feel that you are left with. If anyone else had been cast in this, it would have been a serious flop. As it is, this is a B movie serial killer flick dressed up with onscreen talent.

The film makers failed to back the cast up with something the audience could jump at. (* *) out of five stars.

Bore-lero: "Bolero" (1984)

John Derek gets his jollies directing his no-talent wife in this softcore nightmare.

Bo Derek is Lida, a fresh faced high school graduate (yeah, right) who idolizes Rudolph Valentino. She and best friend Catalina (Ana Obregon) travel to Morocco to find a sheik and seduce him. You see, Lida is still a virgin, has just inherited a ton of money, and even has chauffeur Cotton (a mortified George Kennedy) at her disposal. The sheik (Greg Bensen) thing doesn't go well, and the group travels to Spain. There, Lida falls for Angel (Andrea Occhipinti), a bullfighter who looks remarkably like Hugh Jackman. The two begin to fall in love, before he gets gored by a bull (right in the juevos), and Lida tries to get him to rise to the occasion like before.

John Derek wrote and directed this film. Bo is in almost every scene. I am still trying to come up with a way to describe how badly both Dereks fail here. John's screenplay never engages the viewer. Bo needs to get laid...so what? There is no conflict, just poor Bo spouting her husband's inane lines. What is worse is that John wrote some explicit sex scenes for Bo and her male co-stars. I don't know about you, but I find that a little weird.

Bo Derek tries to play Lida as a wide eyed innocent. She says her lines too softly and too earnestly, coming off less a virgin and more of a mentally retarded girl. The film takes place in the 1920's, but Bo sports the same Malibu Beach hairdo she has always had. The rest of the cast is lousy as well, including a young Olivia d'Abo in her first major role. By the time this thing sputters to a conclusion, I was thankful "Bolero II" was never a possibility.

While "Swept Away" is one of the worst director husband/actress wife films of the new millennium, remember the 1980's, when John and Bo Derek haunted the theaters with this film and the equally horrifying "Tarzan the Ape Man." Then again, don't. (*) out of five stars.

See Sick: "Boat Trip" (2003)

Cuba Gooding, Jr. continues the careful destruction of his film career in this terribly stupid sex comedy.

Jerry (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) proposes to bitchy girlfriend Felicia (Vivica A. Fox), who turns him down because she is seeing someone else...and he barfs on her. Sex crazed best friend Nick (Horatio Sanz) decides the best thing for Jerry is tons of anonymous sex, so the two decide to go on a singles cruise.

This is the part of the review where I will use nothing but exclamation points, just like I imagine the pitch session went: Jerry and Nick piss off the travel agent! We could get Will Ferrell to do the cameo over a lunch hour! The two are booked on a GAY cruise, and they are straight! Get it?! Jerry falls in love with hot dance instructor Gabriella (Roselyn Sanchez)! Nick accidentally shoots down a helicopter containing a Swedish tanning team! Horny Nick pretends to be gay to be around the girls, and Jerry pretends to be gay to be around Gabriella! Then, Felicia wants Jerry back! Both dudes learn that gays are people too! It'll be great!!

Forget for a minute, if you can, all the badly done gay stereotypes. Forget a depressing Roger Moore trying to seduce Sanz. Forget Sanchez's see through blouses, but no full on nude scenes. Forget all of that. My biggest complaint: this film did not make me laugh once.

Mort Nathan directed and co-wrote this, and everything is by the numbers. The jokes here are terrible. If you like Hustler Magazine's "Chester the Molester," then this is for you. Nathan's direction is plain, when a movie is desperate enough to play James Brown's "I Feel Good" just twenty seconds into the beginning, you know you are in trouble.

Gooding is just plain miscast. He mugs at all the wrong times, and I did not believe for a minute that he and Sanz were life long best friends. Sanz simply yells his lines, falling into the same routine Nicolas Cage did in "Trapped in Paradise." The rest of the women are window dressing, except Lin Shaye, who plays the Swedish team's coach, and just replays all her parts from the Farrelly Brothers' pictures.

"Boat Trip" is one of those films that you rent because it might not be as bad as you have heard. Then the film confirms your darkest fears. It sucks. (*) out of five stars.

Singin' the Blue: "Blue" (1968)

Terence Stamp is Azul (Spanish for "blue"), the adopted son of Mexican bandito Ricardo Montalban.

Montalban, tiring of the same old robbing and pillaging, and sensing unrest from all of his sons (natural and otherwise), decides to cross the river into the United States and do some damage to the country that recently took part of Mexico for itself.

The bandits raid a settlement, but Azul begins having a change of heart, deciding not to kill, but to stay in the United States. He saves Joanna Pettet's life, and is nursed back to health by her doctor father, Karl Malden. The rest of the bandits head back to Mexico, mourning their losses. For the first time, and half way through the film, Blue speaks. He is called Blue because of his eye color. He is not your typical Mexican, also possessing blonde hair and fair skin. He begins to take a liking to Pettet, and stays on to farm the doctor's land.

Eventually, Blue is introduced into the settlers' society, but not without raising the suspicions of some of the bandits' victims. Eventually, Montalban and the boys return, reclaiming one of their own. Blue leads the settlers in an ambush of the Mexicans, and final allegiances begin to surface.

Made in 1968, this western has a definite contemporary feel to it. There are no good guys and bad guys, and Blue is an antihero if there ever was one. His romance with Pettet is expected but never forced or false. Malden is also excellent as the doctor who is supposed to help people, murderers or not. Stamp is good as Blue, never speaking through the first half of the film, so when he finally does open up about himself you find yourself hanging on his every word.

Narizzano shows a wonderful directorial eye, highlighting great Utah scenery. He is able to generate suspense (Pettet's attack in the general store), lust (a very good clothed love scene), and violence (the final showdown) without getting show-offy with the camera. Yakima Canutt was stunt coordinator here, and the explosive finale is some of his best work.

While "Blue" might be hard to find, it is worth the rental, and I highly recommend it. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

Bloody Mundane: "Bloody Murder" (2000)

Hold on to your hats...a chainsaw wielding, hockey mask wearing murderer is on the loose at a summer camp, taking nubile young counselors one by one until the final showdown with the virginal heroine...and before you get all misty eyed for the early 1980's, this film was released in 2000.

After the prerequisite opening murder, where a guy is killed by the aforementioned maniac, skip forward a few years to counselors going to camp to get it set up before the kids get there. Every cliche left over from the 1980's in reintroduced here, and the film makers keep a straight face the entire time. After playing a game of bloody murder, kind of a team tag, and playing a joke on one of the counselors, the new counselors are stalked by an unidentifiable maniac. Red herring suspects also begin to pop up all over the place. There is even an old senile man who comes around corners and scares everyone with premonitions of doom and gloom.

Eventually, the heroine suspects her cabinmate because the cabinmate's father was the one who was murdered in the opening. Julie is sitting at her desk, and imagines her cabinmate (a real cutie, by the way) of doing away with all the supporting cast, then jumps up and announces her conclusion to law enforcement and everyone else standing around. Fine. Except that the victims have all "disappeared," and Julie has no idea they have been murdered, much less knowing the way they were murdered. Of course, the cute cabinmate is not the killer, the film makers just wasted all of their ideas trying to make us think so.

If this review is lacking certain things like character names, that is because I could not remember any. The film is that unmemorable. This is not even as good as the twenty year old films they are trying to copy, and anyone looking for another "Scream" or "Scary Movie" are really going to be disappointed.

The writer must have had this in his desk drawer for twenty years and pulled it out to try and make a little dough. Well, he got my two bucks. I do not recommend this cheap, unsuspenseful junk. (*) out of five stars.

Foot in Mouth: "Bloodfist" (1989)

Don Wilson gets involved in the tough world of Filipino kickboxing in order to follow through on a story that is older than the hills.

Wilson plays Jake, who partners with Hal (Kenneth Peerless) in a small martial arts academy. Jake's brother, Mike, is killed in Manila after winning a kickboxing match, so Jake must fly there to claim the body. The body was cremated, and Jakes swears vengeance on Mike's murderers. Jake then meets all the supporting players, one right after the other. Kwong (Joe Mari Avellana) decides to help train Jake. Baby (Michael Shaner) is the wild kickboxer with no discipline. Nancy (Riley Bowman) is Baby's hot sister, as well as a stripper/translator (!), who falls for Jake.

Jake and Baby enter the kickboxing tournament, and Mike's killer is supposedly one of the competitors. Then, like "Murder, She Wrote," the suspects are eliminated one by one until the true killer's identity is revealed, although I do not remember Angela Lansbury slamming a guy's nose back into his skull during a darkened blood match to the death.

"Bloodfist" is too typical. There is a final twist in the story that surprises if you have not been paying attention at all through the film. Billy Blanks, the "Tae Bo" guy, moves faster than the camera can react, and I wish more time had been spent on him. Wilson is okay, if a little stiff. The rest of the supporting cast goes through the paces. This is more than a little reminiscent of the "Rocky" and "Karate Kid" films, complete with the grizzled older fight instructor, and training montages. Jake does not fight professionally because he has just one kidney, giving the other to his now-dead brother, yet this little tidbit of information never comes up again in the film.

While not a complete disaster, "Bloodfist" has little to put it over other late 1980s/early 1990s cheap martial arts films. Camera shadows are more than evident, fake blood is spit and spilled often, and some of the multiple slow motion shots just show many of the kicks and punches come nowhere near connecting. This launched a ton of sequels, which I am sure contain more of the same. "Bloodfist" is weak. (* *) out of five stars.

Bloody Good: "Blood: The Last Vampire"

Despite a climax that fails to deliver the goods, this fifty minute anime saga has plenty to recommend to both Japanese animation and horror fans.

Saya (voiced by Youki Kudoh) is a young vampire who hunts down creatures that are called demons and are in fact mutated blood suckers. They appear normal until injured or killed, when they turn into some pretty freaky monsters.

The setting is Japan in the late 1960's. Saya slays a seemingly innocent man on a subway car in the opening minutes, and requests a new sword from her boss David (voiced by Joe Romersa). There have been a series of vampire murders in the area, disguised as suicides. Saya is assigned to Yokota Air Base, a U.S. military installation, as a Japanese schoolgirl sent to observe the American classrooms. Decked out in her uniform, she is the vision of innocence. Sharon (voiced by Rebecca Forstadt) and anemic Linda try to befriend her, as does the school nurse (voiced by Saemi Nakamura).

The rest of the film is nonstop action, as Sharon and Linda turn out to be demons, as does a local male prostitute. With one more demon out there than originally thought, David tries to rescue Saya, the school nurse, and Saya's new fake sword before the two women are killed. To complicate matters, the demons are popping up on the night of the school's Halloween party.

You may know now that I spent four years in Okinawa, Japan when my father was in the Air Force, so Japanese animation is nothing new to me. "Blood: The Last Vampire" is different than most anime out there. While the story does not wait for the viewer to catch up to it, the animation is fantastic. The director seamlessly mixes computer imaging and regular animation with 3D CGI, giving the film a whole new look that is constantly amazing. Yorihiro Ike's musical score is also excellent, leaving plenty of room for the sound effects without overwhelming them.

Since the film takes place on an American base, there is plenty of English dialogue. The Japanese bits are subtitled. The film does let the viewer down at the climax. After some incredible action set pieces in the subway, the nurse's office, and a locked burning garage, the chase down the base's tarmac seems slow by comparison and a little easy. There is plenty of room for a sequel, with the film makers teasing the audience about the then current Vietnam war.

Also on the video from Manga, there is a (for once) interesting "making of" documentary, and a very violent music video called "Pulse" by the Mad Capsule Markets (which is just a nonsensical punk group with a nonsensical song).

With plenty of gore, language, and a hot animated Asian chick in a schoolgirl's uniform kicking some major monster ass, "Blood: The Last Vampire" is not the worst thing you could watch tonight. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Shue, Fly, Shue: "Blind Justice" (1994)

Although derivative of many Oriental films, this short little western still packs a punch.

Assante is a nearly blind gunfighter traveling with a baby. He is looking for the baby's mother, asking everyone he finds about the town she is supposed to be in. He stops in one town where a group of soldiers is guarding a shipment of silver, which is being eyed by the local banditos. The soldiers, trapped, send Assante out for help. All hell breaks loose.

Assante is very good as the embittered gunfighter (and often very funny). His blindness never becomes gimmicky, although one has to wonder how he can ride a horse. He uses his hearing and sense of smell to shoot, how does he know in which direction the horse is going? Adam Baldwin, as the soldier's sergeant, is great, as he distances himself even further from the Baldwin brothers (no, he is not one of them, he can act). Robert Davi has his best role since "Licence to Kill" as the main villain. The one cast liability here is Oscar nominee Elisabeth Shue.

Shue delivers all of her lines in a flat monotonal vaguely-Valley Girl accent. She should be banned from doing any period films ever again. She has one embarassing nude scene, if you can call it that. At one point, she is sitting on a bed in her corset, and you can see part of her nipple mashed up out of her undergarment. It does not look erotic, it looks painful. Assante and Shue's forced romance is also the weakest part of the script.

One scene to watch for is in the climax as a major character is blown through the doors of a building. I rewound that three times just to bask in an action shot I had never seen before.

This feels like the first film of a proposed series that never came to fruition, and with an 85 minute running time, you have to wonder what they cut out. However, I do recommend "Blind Justice." (* * * *) out of five stars.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

True Bled: "Bled" (2009)

Yes, this is how you do it, aspiring film makers with limited means!

Sai (Sarah Farooqui) is a struggling artist. She is approached at a show by Renfield (Jonathan Oldham), who seems to get her mystical self-portraits, and she takes him back to the loft she shares with photographer Royce (Chris Ivan Cevic), Eric (Alex Petrovitch), and Kerra (Michele Morrow). Renfield breaks out a small stick with blood-red sap pustules on it. When the pustules are melted in a spoon and the fumes inhaled, the user is transported into a strange wooded world crawling with vampiric creatures. Sai takes the drug, trips, and tries to deal with the unrequited love between her and Royce. When she awakens, Renfield is gone, and her artwork becomes even darker than before.

Eric and Kerra try the drug, but with different results. Eric grabs a piece of the same pustule-laden tree in the mystical world, brings it back to the real world, and uses the drug on Kerra, who is terrified. After her trip, flashbacks send her cowering in her room, alone. Royce wants nothing to do with any of this, and helplessly watches as his loftmates begin to change. Sai uses the drug more and more, and in an expertly edited climax, we find out why Renfield came into their lives in the first place.

Aside from the early gallery scene, the film only has two settings- the loft and the drug-induced woods. The cast is small. The special effects are mostly camera based, with the exception of a number of makeup opportunities. Do you know what? It all works.

Hutson's direction is direct and learned. No shaky handheld, no technical problems, just a sure hand guiding the screenplay. While Essex's screenplay gives us a couple too many trips to the other dimension, the characters are well-rounded and believable, trapped in an intricate story that serves as a horrific allegory about artistic inspiration and drug abuse (Sai naively compares the substance to absinthe).

The cast is fantastic. They seem devoted to Hutson and Essex's vision and dive right in. The dark cinematography and set design are perfect, as is the makeup and visual effects. The mystical world is creepy, thanks to the imaginative costuming and art direction, and the main monster in the film is hideous, scary, and technically well-done.

"Bled" was unfairly lumped in with all the other second-rate vampire films that have come out in the wake of the "Twilight" series and "True Blood." It's an original, stand-alone effort, and creepy to boot. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Yuk! Ouch! Cool! Yuk! Ouch! Cool!: "Blade II" (2002)

Wesley Snipes returns in this really gross and really exciting sequel to the original hit.

Blade (Wesley Snipes) is still out killing vampires, this time armed with better special effects. He is tracking down his mentor Whistler (Kris Kristofferson, the most grizzled man on the planet), who was taken by the vampires and held hostage. In the meantime, Blade has picked up a new weapons master, Scud (Norman Reedus, who looks a lot like Henry Thomas). Whistler is rescued, and he and Scud immediately do not get along.

The vampires Blade is always trying to kill want a truce. It seems there is a new race of vampires, called Reapers, led by the very ugly Nomak (Luke Goss). The Reapers are killing ordinary vampires, and once that supply is gone, they will turn to humanity for their prey. Blade is saddled with a group of mercenaries called the Blood Pact, who were originally trained to kill him. It features angry Reinhardt (the always excellent Ron Perlman) and the sexy Nyssa (Leonor Varela), daughter of the vampire leader Damaskinos (Thomas Kretschmann).

The plot really becomes secondary as Blade and the group infiltrate an underground hangout for vampires, and do bloody battle with the Reapers. This leads to a very long battle in the sewers where the Reapers congregate, and finally to the vampire headquarters, where double crosses and switched allegiances are ultimately uncovered.

This sequel can be described in one word: gross. I have not seen this much bodily fluid on display since my lactose intolerant toddler feasted on an ice cream cone. I am not talking a lot of fake blood, I am talking a lot of fake everything shown in graphic detail. The film is wall to wall violent, an almost two hour action sequence broken up into three or four main components.

Do you know what? The whole thing works. The special effects are strong, save for a couple of obvious computer animated fight sequences. The gore is excellent, from the Reapers' frightening mouths to the gallons of gore to the grossest autopsy of the last ten years. The film makers wisely just do not remake the first film, they expand on it. All the actors are good, making an impression despite the plethora of eye candy going on around them. Even the actors who are completely unrecognizable under the makeup (Goss, Kretschmann) still score some good scenes.

Del Toro is the perfect director for the sequel, he shoots it like he has been practicing for this for years. The film certainly never bores, moving faster than anything George Lucas has been able to come up with since "Return of the Jedi."

The couple of weak computer effects hurt. So does yet another villain who confesses everything before being killed in a very creative way. I won't give away any of the double crosses, but you do see them coming from a mile away.

All in all, "Blade II" is really neat. The action is nonstop, a forced romance is merely hinted at, and Snipes can kick ass with the best of them. If a third movie is in the making, I'm ready. This is the film that give sequels a good name. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Insert 'Asp' Joke Here: "Black Cobra Woman" (1980)

Joe D'Amato, auteur of the sometimes hardcore "Emanuelle" series and other exploitation classics, puts his muse Laura Gemser through a nasty little revenge pic that will have grindhouse fans cheering.

Judas (Jack Palance) and Jules (Gabriele Tinti) are brothers living in Hong Kong. Judas has all the family money, thanks to a condition in their dead father's will that stipulates Jules must "behave" for five years before he gets any inheritance. Jules travels for business, and brings home the exotically beautiful Eva (Laura Gemser). Eva has quite a nightclub act. She strips topless and writhes around with a large snake, much to the enjoyment of drunk Oriental businessmen. Judas sees Eva and is immediately taken with her.

Eva is invited back to Judas' to meet his "friends"- about half a dozen live snakes, all venomous and dangerous. Eva moves in with Judas, who pays for everything, but she still gets to crawl into bed with whomever she pleases, man or woman. She eventually meets Gerri (Michele Starck), and the two fall for each other. Eventually, one of the cast members starts playing with the serpents when they shouldn't, and people start ending up dead.

Don't get me wrong, this is not a good film. While it was shot on location in Hong Kong, and D'Amato makes sure the entire female cast is unclothed often, the performances are pretty terrible. Indonesian Gemser was always easy on the eyes, but her command of the English language is tenuous. Palance is alright as Judas, the character you assume would be the bad guy thanks to the name...and the fact he is being played by Jack Palance. The musical score is goofy Euro-softcore, full of choral wooing and strings. D'Amato also shows the actual deaths of two animals, another turn-off.

The BCI DVD version of the film is terrible. The print is scratched beyond belief, and the editing is atrocious. While this does add to the grindhouse feel, someone should have rinsed the print off before scanning, as much of the cinematography is ruined by the washed-out look. Also, there are no extras, just PLAY and CHAPTERS on the main menu.

So why two stars for this thing? D'Amato's screenplay is actually kind of clever. You may see the climactic island scene coming a mile away, but there is a twist thrown in that had me grimacing. I don't like snakes, so watching everyone handling them also made me cringe. However, there are some scenes in here that are basically hot as hell. Eva and Gerri bond during a mutual massage. There is a stage show at a lesbian bar that made me drop my notebook and pen. There is also some hilariously bad dialogue that had me laughing out loud, like Eva's justification for prostituting herself.

"Black Cobra Woman" is known under at least half a dozen different titles, including an unofficial entry in D'Amato and Gemser's "Emannuelle" series. This is not a horror film (or a Fred Williamson actioner that it is constantly mistaken for), but it is pretty different. (* *) out of five stars.

Circle Jerks: "Black Circle Boys" (1999)

A young hunky cast transcends a couple of cliches and marketing mistakes to make a watchable suspenser, based on a true story.

Kyle (Scott Bairstow) is an All-American swimming high school student who loses his best friend on a night the swim club was celebrating. Months later, Kyle's distant dad and mother (Dee Wallace Stone) move to the Pacific Northwest to start fresh. Kyle is troubled, sulking into a new school. He meets modern day flower child Chloe (Tara Subkoff), and runs into creepy Shane (Eric Mabius), his giggling sidekick Munn (Heath Lourwood), and nerdy peon Rory (Chad Lindberg). Shane has pie in the sky dreams of getting a band together, and grudgingly hires Kyle on as a drummer.

Shane's life revolves around drug use and causing trouble. He bites the head off a dissection frog in biology class, and holds wild parties in the woods. Kyle falls in with this group immediately, especially after meeting Shane's mentor Greggo (Donnie Wahlberg). The film hits a slow patch as the Black Circle Boys wreak havoc around the town. Shane has the Boys believing he is receiving power from Satan himself, and the hallucinogens just feed the lie.

Kyle comes to his senses after almost beating a security guard to death. Kyle rejects Shane, who has dead brother issues of his own, and Shane takes Kyle, Munn, and Rory out for one final blowout. Shane murders one of the other boys, Kyle calls the police, and the final half hour of the film consists of Kyle and Shane playing mind games with each other while Chloe waits for her man to return to normalcy.

The troubled youth angle has been done to death, and writer/director Carnahan steps into some of this cliche once in a while. His direction is fascinating, however. This is not a typical slasher film. Carnahan does some very imaginative tracking and hand held shots, lending it a documentary feel. The picture seems washed out, all the colors match the gloomy, cloudy weather. You can see the actors' breath in many of the cold nighttime scenes.

Bairstow looks genuinely pained as the troubled Kyle. Wallace Stone is great as his mother, her timid stance in his room is a highlight. Mabius as Shane is equally good in a creepy role. He is just a punk, but a scary punk. Wahlberg is unrecognizable as Greggo, but his part is terribly underwritten. Lisa Loeb-ers, don't call an emergency fan club meeting to view this film quite yet. Loeb has just a couple of lines, without her trademark glasses, and her name was tacked on to cash in on her new found popularity. The video company is marketing this as a horror film, and I found it in the horror section at the video store, but that angle is all wrong. The film has crime, suspense, but no supernatural angle other than Shane's lies.

"Black Circle Boys" compares favorably to other hunks-in-trouble films like "The Skulls." It is not perfect, the same story has been done a hundred times before, but the acting and directing set it above the others. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Basic Black: "Black Belt Jones" (1974)

Director Robert Clouse, notable for helming one of Bruce Lee's films and tons of TV and straight to video martial arts epics, shows a lighter touch on this blaxploitation actioner.

Jim Kelly plays Black Belt Jones, a man whose martial arts prowess is as wide reaching as his afro. Los Angeles is trying to build a new civic center, and the mafia is buying all the land where it will be built so they can bilk the city government. The lone holdout is a karate school owned by Pop (Scatman Crothers). The mafia and second in command Big Tuna (Vincent Barbi) lean on loan shark hood Pinky (Malik Carter) to lean on Pop in turn. Pinky starts flashing a phony IOU around, trying to get Pop's property for payment. Pinky accidentally kills Pop, so Pop's daughter Sydney (a very lovely Gloria Hendry) inherits the place. Soon, Black Belt Jones makes like the Man With No Name, playing the mafia off of Pinky's gang, and playing with Sydney on the side. Sydney is no delicate flower, able to kick afro with the best of them. The action packed climax takes place in a car wash run amok, and that is only one weird aspect of this film.

All the blacks in the film call each other "nigger," which had me on edge throughout. Twice, Sydney uses the word "faggot," and it was not as a term of endearment. Italians do not come off much better, eating spaghetti and talking with New Yawk accents (in Southern California).

I enjoyed the film more when I watched it as a relic of the mid-1970's. Clouse and the cast do not take things too seriously, so the audience should not either. Jim Kelly is an adequate hero, Hendry is hot and holds her own, and when was the last time you saw Scatman Crothers involved in a martial arts action piece? The supporting cast is full of recognizable faces: Isaac from "The Love Boat" (spewing a line of obscenities he never repeated to Gopher), Flo from "The Jeffersons" gets stuffed in a walk-in cooler, and that dude with the big arms from the Michael Jackson/Paul McCartney video "Say Say Say" kicks butt.

Jones is called "Black Belt," apparently it is not a nickname. One winery heist sequence involves trampoline skills! All the character names are funny enough without trying to keep track of them. Tongues are in cheek, from Pinky's wet meeting with head of the mafia, to a car chase involving thrown panties.

For blaxploitation, however, the film is definitely lacking in nudity and sexual content. A nude white couple running away from a fight between Sydney and Black Belt does not constitute anything remotely sexy. Too much of the dialogue and sound effects are dubbed, and not well. The lip synch is way off. The fight scenes are good, but they eventually bore, since there are so many of them.

"Black Belt Jones" is average stuff, but I have seen worse blaxploitation, and better. This falls right in the middle, but I will slightly recommend it, especially to action fans. (* * *) out of five stars.

For the Birds: "The Birds" (1963)

Boy, am I gonna get it for this review. After watching yet another AFI Top 100 Whatever Films of All Time, I realized I had never seen "The Birds." I think Hitchcock's best film was "Rear Window," his worst "Topaz," and I can safely place this above "Topaz."

Watch out for swooping spoilers: Tippi Hedren plays Melanie (and her daughter is Melanie Griffith, see the connection?), a spoiled newspaper owner's daughter. She sees attorney Rod Taylor in a pet store looking for lovebirds for his eleven year old sister. She pretends to work at the store and tries to help him, he is on to her and pretends to be helped. Taylor calls her bluff and leaves, and Hedren takes down his license number and buys the lovebirds for him anyway, hoping to surprise him. She goes to his apartment, but he is in Bodega Bay for the weekend, so she drives up with the dang birds. She goes to his house, walks in the front door, leaves the birds and a note for the little sister, then leaves.

Let's pause. Hedren's character is a criminal, a pathological liar, and a stalker. This may have been 1964's way of meeting cute and falling in love, but today I found Hedren's pursuit a little discomforting. The entire love angle here is so forced, I felt a little ill.

Taylor finds Hedren and pursues her back to Bodega Bay. Hedren again lies about why she is there, saying she is visiting Suzanne Pleshette, a local school teacher she met when she came into town. I check my rental receipt, making sure I rented the right video, since the only bird attack so far was Hedren getting conked on the head by a gull, and that was not hard enough to satisfy me. Hedren stays with Pleshette, who also fell for Taylor years before. Taylor goes home to cold as ice mom Jessica Tandy, worlds away from "Driving Miss Daisy." Veronica Cartwright plays the little sister...I finally recognized her as an adult in such fare as "Inserts" and "The Witches of Eastwick."

Eventually, the birds begin attacking. Poor special effects also begin to attack. There is one good scene where Taylor's home is attacked by wrens or something, but the scene goes on way too long as the actors unconvincingly dodge birds that are not there. The silliest scene involves the attack at the school. I know Hitchcock hated location filming, and it shows. The children are running in place against a back screen process while shots of birds are superimposed over that. Very poor effects that made me laugh more than anything.

We also get questionable scenes where the citizens of the small town do not believe Hedren and Taylor's stories of the attacking birds, never mind the house attack, a neighbor is killed by birds, and the school is attacked. Anyone who has ever been in a small town knows the opposite would be true.

Pleshette is eventually killed, ridding us of the only likable character, and the cast board themselves up in the house for the final onslaught. Tandy starts going a little hysterical, too. Most of the cast at this point makes special mention of the fact that they do not know why the birds are attacking. If one person says it, fine. But when at least half a dozen cast members say it at least half a dozen times, I figured Hitchcock was pandering to an audience that did have legitimate questions about why. Especially after the tacked on explanation about Norman's behavior that almost ruined "Psycho." Curious viewers want to know.

The movie ends on an unsatisfying note, as the cast drives off with birds all around, and I was stumped. The film just has no point. There are some creepy shots, like the beaks pecking through the door at the house, and some beautiful shots of the sunset, but the special effects here are pretty awful. Just because Hitchcock directed it should not be an excuse. Rod Taylor, Tandy, Pleshette, and Cartwright are fine, but Hedren's character is so weird, and she does not play it well. She is often stiff, and her scenes where she is in shock after a bird attack is again unintentionally funny.

"The Birds" just does not deserve the praise it has received over the years. Hitchcock was a genius with the camera, but often he picked some poor scripts to do ("Family Plot," anyone?). The interior scenes with back screening, and the poor special effects ruin what should have been a good film.

I cannot recommend "The Birds." (* *) out of five stars.

Billy, Don't Be a Romantic!: "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" (1998)

Sean Hayes plays Billy, a struggling gay photographer who falls for one of his models, who may or may not be homosexual.

Billy hangs out with best friend George (a hilarious Meredith Scott Lynn) in Los Angeles, where he moved after escaping from conservative Indiana. He is seeing shallow but hunky Fernando (Armando Valdes-Kennedy), who is already in a committed relationship. Their encounters are purely physical, and Billy longs for something more. Good friend Perry (Richard Ganoung) agrees to mentor Billy, providing him with equipment and money for his dream project- to photograph reenacted scenes from great Hollywood romance classics.

Billy also meets Gabriel (Brad Rowe), a gorgeous waiter who gives Billy mixed signals about his sexuality. Gabriel has a girlfriend, plays in a heavy metal band, but feels comfortable with Billy and his gay friends, as if he hasn't come out yet. Gabriel is also introduced to successful photographer Rex (the late Paul Bartel), who suddenly decides to use Gabriel in an upcoming underwear ad, pulling the rug out from under Billy's plans. Soon, Billy is pursuing Gabriel, confiding to Perry, and making a fool of himself over this perfect man.

Sean Hayes does not just replay his "Will & Grace" character, Jack. Billy can be morose, emotional, and his stories about his life, illustrated with Polaroid pictures, are excellent. Rowe is also convincing as Gabriel, even the audience is kept in the dark about how he feels about Billy. The supporting cast is very good, as well.

My one complaint is O'Haver's sometimes stilted direction. Once in a while, characters will stand in line, facing the camera and talking to each other, as if they were on a small off-off-Braodway stage. O'Haver does use the camera well with the fun fantasy sequences, but many of his basic dialogue scenes are awkward and underlit.

"Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" is not a laugh-out-loud raucous comedy, but a smiling romance that does not make apologies about the sexual orientation of its characters -- nor should it. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Be Yourself: "Bill Cosby: Himself" (1983)

Bill Cosby wrote and directed a concert film that provided enough material to launch his most successful sitcom.

The stage features Cosby, a chair, a microphone, and nothing else. He is caught on film in a Canadian concert, and sometimes acknowledges the audience. While Cosby is alone on the stage, but he populates his routine with more characters than a David Lean film, all of them memorable.

He opens with perhaps the funniest anti-drug and anti-alcohol rant ever done, more effective than the "just ask" ads on airwaves today. He visits his dentist. He and his wife decide to have children, producing four daughters and a son. He covers childbirth, raising these "brain damaged" children, and his parents' reactions. He closes with a riff on living with his own parents, perhaps the funniest twenty minutes ever filmed at a live concert.

Unless you are a toothless test tube orphan virgin, you will find something to associate with during the film, and this is why "Bill Cosby: Himself" is my all-time favorite comedy concert film. Cosby does not tell us how difficult it is to be rich, how tough kicking addictive narcotics is, or how to make up stupid nursery rhymes using profanity. He simply spins his tales, and the audience and viewer is able to find the humor in the universal themes.

I have two sons, ages three and seven, and I sympathized with everything that goes into being a father. I have one sister and two brothers, and sympathized with everything that went into being a bratty sibling. I have been to the dentist, I have been out having fun on the weekend "because I deserved it," and dragging back into work, happy to be alive. Bill Cosby knows his audience is full of pretty average people, and vividly illustrates his routine using "characters" we all know.

A reviewer here once said "The Cos proves himself a master storyteller and a hilarious comic." He is much more than that. In the intervening twenty years since this film was released, his only son was brutally murdered. He has starred in numerous television series, some successful and some not. He has become controversial, speaking his mind on the civil rights movement that he has fought for. He is a master storyteller, he is a hilarious comic, but he is also human. He is one of us. He may have more money and fame, but I would rather have a conversation with Cosby over Chris Rock any day.

"Bill Cosby: Himself" is proof positive that talent will get you everywhere. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

Experience Not Required: "The Bikini Bandits Experience" (2002)

Director Steven Grasse shoots this headache inducing ode to 1970's B-movie drive-in trash. He should have watched some 1970's B-movie drive-in trash first.

Based on the internet series (reason enough to take pause), there is not a linear plotline, but the film kind of goes like this: four bikini clad criminals are sent to hell. There, the devil sends them back to defile the Virgin Mary. Next, they hide out in Amish country, and then time travel back to 1776. They finally hide out on a porn shoot, looking for an Amish retarded boy, and are saved by Corey Feldman and a bunch of ninjas.

This is a merciful fifty-four minutes long. It should have been an insane take on the old grindhouse fare of the 1970's, but the film makers commit a horrible mistake. A cult film develops a cult following through word of mouth and an intrinsic quality found in the film itself. If you are setting out to specifically make a cult film, then you will try too hard and fail. That is exactly what happens here.

The film makers try everything: there are fake home shopping ads for G-Mart tossed in with bad edits, musical interludes, a hairy yoga guy, and lots of annoying animation and graphics. We are treated to real phone conversations between the producers and some obnoxious guy named Zembo who keeps getting beat up on camera when he bothers some people. Finally, Corey Feldman proves he is the most irritating film personality ever (just do the hardcore porn already). The only nudity on display here are guys' butts. The fearsome foursome go through this without taking off anything but their pride.

"The Bikini Bandit Experience" is not trashy on a fun level. It is just trash. I had the same reaction to this as I did to "The Underground Comedy Movie," another "eagerly awaited" flick based on some fanboys' alone time activities- big damn deal. Avoid this at once. (*) out of five stars.

Bigamy? Why That's Big of You!: "The Bigamist" (1953)

Did you hear the one about the traveling salesman? "The Bigamist" is an overwrought melodrama suffering from a seventy-nine minute identity crisis.

The charisma challenged Edmond O'Brien is Harry, a San Francisco based traveling salesman married to Eve (Joan Fontaine). Eve and Harry are looking to adopt a child, and are assigned to caseworker Mr. Jordan (Edmund Gwenn). Jordan notices Harry's terminally constipated expression every time the term "thorough investigation" is used, and goes to Los Angeles to find some of Harry's clients. He also finds Harry, living in a modest home with his other wife Phyllis (the film's director, Ida Lupino) and their infant son.

With halting narration, Harry tells Jordan (and us) how he became involved with Phyllis, and his inability to break things off with Eve, whose heart attack stricken father has horrible timing. He seems to take ill or die every time Harry wants to "talk." Jordan doesn't know what to do with Harry, as both wives learn of each other's existence.

A woman directing a motion picture in the 1950's was unheard of, but instead of admiring Lupino's ground breaking spirit, I was disappointed with her choice of material. "The Bigamist" is a film noir-soap opera-black comedy that does not work as any of those genres.

With all the cigarettes, booze, shadows, neon, coffee, and terms like "big lug" tossed around, I half-heartedly waited for Harry to spill his secret to Jordan, slip him a mickey, plug him full of slugs, then dump his bones in Encino and carry on with both the dames, see? The noir elements are heavy here, except for the plot and actresses.

Joan Fontaine is Eve...EVE...get it? The first wife who we should be rooting for. Unfortunately, Eve is a moron of the highest order, not noticing Harry's almost convulsive behavior whenever she comes close to the truth. It doesn't help that Fontaine's constant facial expression is the same as someone who has just stepped in dog mess at the park. Lupino's Phyllis is such a bitter pill in her opening scenes, it is hard to see what Harry sees in her. Despite being in almost every scene, O'Brien is only fourth billed. If the screenwriter was going for the soap opera, they should have centered the story around one or both sympathetic women, not the sweaty schlub in the middle.

I tried to accept the film as comedy. The hand wringing, the heavy narration, the discussion about chop suey not being a Chinese dish...there is plenty to giggle at, but was it done all in jest? No, the film is so deathly serious it might eventually trigger chronic depression in the viewer. Even the film's "light" moments are overdone. Jane Darwell's cleaning woman cameo is just plain weird. Inside jokes about Gwenn's triumph in "Miracle on 34th Street" isn't dragged out once, but twice! He played Santa Claus! We get it! Can we just move on?!

Lupino the director does a plain job with the terrible script. She does nothing spectacular, in front of or behind the camera. The screeching musical score underlines every ham-fisted emotion threefold.

I wanted to appreciate "The Bigamist," but I wasn't sure what to appreciate about it. It's not the worst film ever made, but it does make for a slow seventy-nine minutes, camp value notwithstanding. Rent "Micki & Maude" instead. At least that film wanted to be a comedy. (* *) out of five stars.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Book is Better Than the Movie: "The Bible" (1966)

Having avoided this film for years, I finally took a deep breath and rented it. John Huston's version of the Bible is full of pretty pictures, Hollywood stars, and no heart.

At almost three hours, the film is divided into four major sections or stories. The first concerns the Creation, as Adam and Eve are introduced into the Garden of Eden, eat from the Tree of Knowledge, and are banished. Later, their first two sons are involved in the very first murder. The Creation opening does have a lot of scenery, as the narrator takes us, slowly, through all the days God took to create the world. Adam and Eve are all wide eyed wonderment, and strategically naked. The Garden of Eden, however, looks like your backyard after a hot day. There is fake greenery here and there, but I kept waiting for Adam to invent the lawn sprinkler. The entire eating of the apple is glossed over as if Huston was in a hurry to get on with the film (or at least his turn as Noah).

After Cain kills Abel, Noah happens along and begins building the ark. But wait, this is not your Noah of the Bible or epics past, this Noah is "funny." Huston mugs for the camera as if he were in a Pink Panther film. As Noah and his three sons build, there is an awkward scene where Noah falls, gets his foot stuck in a bucket of pitch, and slides down half the deck of the ark, hitting his sleeping son in the head with the bucket. The light musical score tells us that Noah is just a clumsy regular guy, but if God told me to build an ark because of the watery end of mankind, I would be a little more careful. No, Noah's three sons are not played by Moe, Larry, and Curly. Other "funny" scenes involve Noah's wife trying to feed some of the exotic animals in the ark and not doing very well. Why didn't the cast just wink at the camera and grin? Poor special effects also kill this section, as Huston tries to fool us with bad footage of animals getting on the ark.

The shortest scene in the film revolves around King Nimrod and the building of the Tower of Babel. This section is all too brief as Nimrod climbs the Tower, shoots an arrow into heaven, God becomes angry, knocks a few things down, and no one can understand their coworker's language any longer. Without any connection to the three longer stories, you will wonder what Huston was thinking, maybe he had a bigger budget than he thought.

The final, and longest, section involves George C. Scott as Abraham, and Ava Gardner, doing her best impression of Elizabeth Taylor in "Cleopatra," as Sarah. Abraham fathers a son with a slave after Sarah becomes barren. Angel(s) O'Toole tells Abraham of Sarah's impending pregnancy, and then moves on to Sodom, ready to take the city down. This scene provides many creepy moments, as O'Toole is led by Lot through the city of sin, which we see samples of in the dark. Lot and his family escape, Lot's wife becomes the world's largest salt lick, and Abraham is told to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. As Abraham and Isaac wander in the desert to the sacrificial altar, they pass through Sodom's ruins. Here, Scott is given a bunch of scenes they probably expected to repeat when his Oscar nomination came through. Scott, always a fine actor, is awful, all groans and blank stares, as if he cannot get a handle on this character and director Huston will not help out. The film ends with Isaac's reprieve, and more pretty scenery. I took three days to watch this movie, and I congratulate anyone who sat through it in one sitting. The cinematography is lush and gorgeous. Every scene is like a painting, pardon the cliche.

The biggest problem here is the complete lack of spirit in the film. Everyone goes through the motions, and yet there is no magic or excitement in the characters' eyes. The actors say all their "thou"s and "wherefore"s with appropriate nobility, but I never believed that they were awed by the spirit of God. I have seen more emotionally appropriate reactions to mistaken lunch orders at Burger King than Scott's over the top portrayal of Abraham. He groans, hisses, and acts his wig off, but that was all there was- an act. A young Peter O'Toole, with an angelic face, plays the three angels wonderfully. He was the only actor here who seemed to understand the importance of the work without resorting to theater tricks to make the audience happy. The script, by "Barabbas" screenwriter Christopher Fry, is all over the place. It is too bad he could not concentrate on one area or event. He spent too much energy cramming everything in, and overwhelming the film.

I have seen better Sunday school pageants cover the same material more effectively. I cannot recommend "The Bible." (* *) out of five stars.