Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ballsywood: "Gandu" (2012)



"Gandu" is a hardcore and fast paced experimental look at the life of a young aspiring rapper growing up in India.

Anubrata is Gandu (slang Hindi for "asshole") who lives with his youngish-looking mother (Kamalika), who makes a living sleeping with the owner of the local internet cafe, Das Babu (Shilajit). Gandu doesn't work, and hangs around the cafe and back streets of his hometown, constantly playing a lottery and losing. He literally runs into ricksha driver/Bruce Lee worshipper Ricksha (Joyraj), and the two become friends. The duo begins dabbling in drugs, and the film takes a bizarre turn into the downward spiral that is Gandu's life. The director even makes a cameo appearance in the film, playing a director of a film entitled "Gandu"...

While the film is light on plot, "Gandu" is heavy with showy editing and enough bells and whistles to keep the viewer interested. Q turns many film cliches on their ears. The film's credits are placed at an odd point in the running time. The black and white photography gives way to blinding, saturated color toward the end, and this does feature some very un-Bollywood hardcore sex scenes. Even the subtitles are played with, brilliantly. I am not a fan of rap or hip-hop by any stretch of the imagination, but Gandu's angry and explosive raps are very good, and Q films them in such a way that I appreciated both the use of the songs as characterization, as well as the songs themselves.

My one major drawback with the film is the almost nonexistent plot. Watching a character descend into a drug induced life has been done before, and while Q brings all sort of new ideas to his film technically, he comes up short with any sort of character arc. Some of the main plot points that occur are telegraphed undeliberately, and I got the feeling that I was having a bait and switch being pulled on me.

That being said, not many out there can say they have seen a film like "Gandu" before. The drug hallucination scenes are simple and creepy. The cast is excellent, with Anubrata anchoring everything well. His Gandu is not nobly angry, and not unlikable. He is a confused, pained young man who I eventually came to care about. The supporting cast is all good, and the setting is gritty and unexotic, losing the viewer in this dark world. Much has been made of the film's hardcore sex scenes, but this is one of the few films I have seen where they actually add to the entire experience. They are not erotic. They play realistically, although you wonder where the hallucinations end and the sex and success begin.

Throughout "Gandu" I kept thinking back to Abel Ferrara's body of work. This film is grim and fascinating, and not one you will soon forget. (* * * *) out of five stars. Watch this film now!: Gandu (English Subtitled)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Gut Check: "Gut" (2012)



"Gut" is an uneasy little film mixing elements of both "The Ring" and "The Human Centipede", and turning in a nifty ninety minute exercise in creepiness.

Dan (Nicholas Wilder) and Tom (Jason Vail) are lifelong friends who now work in an anonymous office doing anonymous office work. Tom is a family man, married to Lily (Sarah Schoofs), and has a cute daughter. Single nerd Dan is stuck in adolescence, obsessed with horror films, and his friendship with Tom is all he has going for him. While the film opens with an act of violence being perpetrated by Tom, we are not sure what is happening until the film's climax. Director Elias then uses his editing skills to give us a realistic peek into the lives of these two men. Dan orders a DVD from an underground video website. The disc is disturbing, showing what looks like an autopsy being performed on a living person. Dan is enthralled with the disc, and invites Tom to watch it, too. Tom already seems to be devolving in a midlife crisis, and the video begins changing both men. They can't stop thinking about it, and Tom withdraws into his own little world while Dan starts getting a bit of confidence, asking out diner waitress Sally (Angie Bullaro).

Tom begs Dan to get rid of the discs, but Dan only comes up with more of them, and the two begin a codependent relationship centering around their bloodlust and disdain for what they are watching. Eventually, one of the victims on a disc turns out to be a person in their lives, and the entire cast is suddenly in mortal danger.

Writer/director/editor Elias does a great job setting the mood early on in the film. I was reminded of David Lynch watching this, each shot has a quality to it that makes the viewer squirm, whether it be something innocent like the daughter's bedroom, or the cold clinical autopsy violence. The cinematography looks drab (in a good way), and the low budget allows the film makers to make use of believable locations that feel like real homes, not a "decorated" set.

Wilder and Vail are fantastic. I believed their friendship, we don't always attract people in our lives who are exactly like us. Schoofs, and Bullaro, play supporting love interest roles nicely. The musical score is also creepy, almost industrial and noisy as the film progresses. The gore effects are also good, without overwhelming the viewer with blood and guts. A few scenes drag here and there, and the ending can be read a few ways. The cast is small, and this intimacy forces the viewer to focus on the two central characters in the film. The roles require quite a bit of nudity and sexuality that never feels exploitative, although sometimes Elias' use of F-bombs feels a little forced.

Gut" is one unsettling film, perfect for late night viewing by horror fans. As a fan of weird underground stuff that most people shun, is it wrong of me to associate with some of this a little too much? I recommend "Gut." (* * * *) out of five stars. Watch this movie now!: Gut

Friday, November 2, 2012

Creepozoids? More Like CRAPozoids! High Five!...Anyone?...: "Creepozoids" (1987)



The year is 1998, six years after a nuclear war has leveled the earth. Don't you love sci-fi movies that make dire futuristic predictions, just so we can live through the very years that are supposed to be among mankind's worst? Anyway, a band of two women and three men, all army deserters, find a strange bunker laboratory where an experiment gone awry waits to pick them off one by one... if you have chills from this plot description, turn down your air conditioner. This same exact plot has been done to death in so many films, I am sick of mentioning it, although I just did. What is wrong with this film? Where do I begin?

The budget is so low, when characters run down the main laboratory hallway, you can tell it is obviously a self storage locker building someplace. The band of deserters have deserted the army, even though the long prologue tells us the earth is a burnt out shell. Who is the army fighting if everyone was killed by the nuclear fallout and acid rain? The army must also be desperate for recruits. Count how many times a creature or giant rat attacks someone while another cast members just stand there and watch, "frozen in fear." The creature, looking like a giant dung beetle (how appropriate, he should have started eating the script first), is never explained, except for some talk about amino acids. There is a scene that rips off "Alien"'s dinner time/chest explosion scene, except the budget was so low, the guy has a hissy fit and spits black goo. After most of the cast is killed, the lone survivor kills the creature. The creature then regenerates a killer baby through its head, and the survivor must fight the baby, eventually killing it by strangling it with its own umbilical cord... nice, huh? How did the baby regenerate? I do not know, and the film makers decided it was not important enough to explain.

Linnea Quigley finds time with all the hullabaloo and goings-on to have a shower quickie with one of the hunky deserters. The other female also tries to take a shower, but she forgot her death was scheduled at the same time, and prior commitments should be honored.

The monster lives in a room only accessed through ventilation shafts that lead to a desk where the compound's only computer rests. Everyone stares at the computer, then crawls under the desk to find some answers. The film is less than eighty minutes long, and is padded with cast members crawling around the ventilations shafts with flashlights...and crawling...and finding some goo...and crawling...and crawling some more. Watch for the end credits, perhaps the slowest credits scroll ever committed to celluloid.

So, what is a "creepozoid," anyway? I do not know, no one in the film ever says that word. This "Creepozoids," on the other hand, is a cheap gory mess that seems to have been written around Quigley's two nude scenes. Do not bother exerting any effort to see this, the film makers sure did not exert any effort to make this. (*) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Creepozoids Blu-ray

And Finally Just Sex: "Erotic Confessions: Pleasure"



This silly video has five vignettes, all posing as letters being read by a busty erotica writer who hangs around her house half naked. "Games People Play" involves a strip poker game that degenerates into truth or sexual dare, and finally just sex. "Chalk It Up" has a couple playing pool for fun and finally just sex. "The Business Trip" involves a female scientist at a convention who can hear the people next door in the hotel make love, she befriends them, and finally just sex. "Lap Dance" has a car salesman obsessed with a stripper, who likes him too, and finally just sex. "Madelyn's Laundry" involves a fashion designer who models lingerie when a stranger walks in on her, she sells him some clothing, and finally just sex.

The acting here is atrocious and the stories have no basis in reality, as well as some of the females' bust sizes. The director is careful not to make any of the stories interesting, and succeeds. "Erotic Confessions: Pleasure" is softcore drivel of the lowest caliber, and makes "Red Shoe Diaries" look like "Casablanca." (*) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: Erotic Confessions: Pleasure (Unrated) [VHS]

Friday, October 26, 2012

Introduction

This blog is the culmination of over a decade of review writing on such internet spots as Efilmcritic, HollywoodBitchslap, Epinions, IMDB, and Amazon. They are in alphabetical order according to the film's title, and the index on the right hand side of the screen should lead you to any reviews. The reviews span a long period of time, so my children age years and change from review to review, as does my marital status, and weight gain!

Some of the reviews written were done from screener copies sent by film makers and studios. The screeners had no effect on my opinion of the work, and should not be taken as payment, or a guarantee of a positive review (as more than one pissed film maker would come to find out).

Charles T. Tatum, Jr.
revised May 13, 2016

Oscar Denied!: The 1977 Best Picture Race

Much like this year, 1977 saw a cultural phenomenon kick box office records, entertain millions, and get nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Unfortunately, "Star Wars" lost to Woody Allen's "Annie Hall." Before we hold our breath on Oscar night, praying "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is read as Best Picture, I thought it would be interesting to watch all five nominees for Best Picture in 1977. Has everyone been wrong about how good "Star Wars" was for all these years? Maybe "Annie Hall" did deserve the Oscar, or maybe also-rans like "Julia," "The Goodbye Girl," or "The Turning Point" should have scored the big one. Of the five, I did see "Star Wars" in the theater back when it came out. I turned nine in 1977. I saw "The Turning Point" in junior high, "Annie Hall" and "Julia" in college, and I had never seen "The Goodbye Girl." That seems like a good place to start.

"The Goodbye Girl" is a very funny comedy written by Neil Simon and expertly directed by Herbert Ross. Marsha Mason and her daughter Quinn Cummings find themselves sharing an apartment with Richard Dreyfuss. Mason and Dreyfuss do not get along, so naturally they begin to fall in love. Aside from Mason's sometimes schizophrenic performance and some of Simon's limp dialogue, this is a good strong film that may have been funnier than "Annie Hall."

Ross scored again with "The Turning Point," turning his own eye to the backstage world of a ballet company. Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft canceled each other out in the Best Actress category, both are brilliant as former best friends and rivals whose old wounds open up again when MacLaine's daughter joins the company. While the film runs a little long, and ballet just does not interest me, "The Turning Point" is great because of Bancroft and MacLaine.

"Julia" impressed me the first time I saw it. The film tells the story of writer Lillian Hellman's friendship with the mysterious Julia, played by Vanessa Redgrave. Hellman is portrayed rather well by Jane Fonda, and the two actresses have a great chemistry, with classic direction by Fred Zinnemann. I loved this film. Watching the brassy Hellman reduced to a speechless nervous tic while trying to smuggle money to Julia's social cause is great. Whether Julia existed or not did not matter, "Julia" captures the 1930's pre-war Europe perfectly, and it never bored me.

"Star Wars." It was magic when I saw it as a kid, and still thrilled me on my first viewing of it as a film critic. The cast are mostly freshly scrubbed new faces who act out George Lucas' script with a wonderful sense of fun. The film felt like the old movie serials my father's generation grew up with. While some of the special effects shots were a little obvious, the story and characters had me enthralled. It almost made me sad to see what Lucas has done with his series today. That same magic and awe that everyone experienced in 1977 can never be repeated.

The winner of the year, "Annie Hall," is not a bad film but I found it to be the lesser of the five nominees. Woody Allen chronicles his romance with the title character, played by Diane Keaton. While Allen's one-liners and situations are now classics, I did not think the film held together well. Both main characters turn into a couple of talking heads who we never get to know very well (despite seeing family and past relationships), and eventually Allen lost me. The Best Picture Oscar should have gone to his "Manhattan" or "Radio Days," not this one.

It looks like the two best films of the nominees were "Star Wars" and "Julia," and on my imaginary ballot, I would have chosen "Star Wars." Back then, it was a brilliant technical achievement, but many today forget John Williams' perfect musical score, Alec Guinness having fun as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Harrison Ford being the ultracool Han Solo. "Star Wars" was just plain great, a two hour thrill ride that never stops to let the viewer catch their breath. Ranking the five films from best to worst:

1. Star Wars
2. Julia
3. The Goodbye Girl
4. The Turning Point
5. Annie Hall

"...and the Best Picture Oscar goes to 'Star Wars'!"...oh, well, we'll never hear those words. The film's two sequels and two prequels never scored the amount of Oscar nominations and wins the first film did. I hope the same kids who grew up with George Lucas' original vision are now voters in the Academy, but we will have to wait and see if "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" is truly a slamdunk. In the meantime, I award "Star Wars" a new and improved Golden Chucky: a life size nude statue of me from the waist up- holding a copy of the Atkins diet in one hand and a stick of butter in the other. Mr. Lucas, send me your address and I will come to your house and re-enact the award in person.

Oscar Denied!: The 1996 Best Supporting Actress Race

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel used to do a special show where they got to decide Oscar winners. The purpose of this column is the same. What if I watched all five nominees in a category in a given year (there by seeing more movies than some actual Oscar voters), then decide for myself who should have won. This column will not be an argument with the Academy about award politics as much as a one time blank ballot. If faced with the same five nominees, who would I have voted for?

I remember seeing it. Lauren Bacall readied herself to go accept her Oscar for her first time ever nomination for "The Mirror Has Two Faces." It was in the bag. No one thought otherwise...until Juliette Binoche's name was called. Maybe Binoche's performance was better. Maybe Bacall was simply shafted and swept under the rug in the tidal wave that was "The English Patient." Maybe one of the three also-rans (Joan Allen, Barbara Hershey, Marianne Jean-Baptiste) should have got it instead of being crossed off automatically when Bacall's name was nominated. Well, I rented the five nominated films to find out.

I plopped in "The Crucible" and readied myself for some big old fashioned overwrought performances. I was pleasantly surprised, after an hour. Joan Allen was nominated for her role as Daniel Day-Lewis' wife, who is targeted by Winona Ryder with false witchcraft accusations since Ryder is in love with Day-Lewis. The first half of the film, starting with the accusations in 1690's Massachusetts, is atrocious. The film works better when finally fixing its focus on Day-Lewis and Allen, putting wide eyed stiff Ryder into the background.

I was surprised at how good Allen was. I had not heard too much about her performance here, and she deserved more recognition. Two scenes illustrate why Allen deserved her nomination. One, when her character is asked why she let go of Ryder as a housegirl (Ryder had slept with Day-Lewis), and Allen tells a lie for the first time in her life to save face and her husband. The look on her face when she realizes she should have stuck to the truth is wrenching. Another scene takes place on a seaside cliff, where Allen must try to convince Day-Lewis to confess to witchcraft so he will not be hanged. Another great moment, and Allen's is an unexpected performance to beat.

Next up, the Bacall. "The Mirror Has Two Faces" (and an awkward title) is the only romantic comedy among a bunch of serious performances in serious movies. Watching Bacall play the beautiful mother of frumpy Barbra Streisand, I realized Bacall should not have won the Oscar that year. Like the movie, there was no meat to the role. Streisand wonderfully directed an awkward script full of awkward characters, and Bacall and the rest of the fantastic cast (Pierce Brosnan, Mimi Rogers, George Segal, Brenda Vaccaro, Austin Pendleton, Jeff Bridges, and Streisand herself) never had a chance.

Bacall had some nice moments with Streisand, but the role is underwritten and there is nothing she could have done to make it any better. Good, but not great, and Allen continues to lead.

"Secrets & Lies" was a little British film that finally got writer/director Mike Leigh the notice he deserved. Marianne Jean-Baptiste was the nominee here, and out of all five nominees, her performance was the most natural. Playing the black woman given up for adoption as an infant by a white (and terribly shrill) Brenda Blethyn, Jean-Baptiste's laid back character Hortense makes her one to notice in an otherwise tense cast. Laughing quietly at some of her birth mother's sayings, being unsure of developing a relationship with this stranger, Hortense readily accepts the events around her.

The majority of Jean-Baptiste's scenes are with Blethyn, but a scene I really admired was without anyone at all. Hortense is looking through the paperwork dealing with her adoption at a social worker's office. She then begins crying. I do not mean hysterical sobbing for the benefit of an awards show nominee clip, but simply tears. It was a touching moment. I still give Joan Allen the lead, but Jean-Baptiste comes in a close second so far. Hortense was a little TOO laid back for my tastes, and Leigh sometimes seemed more concerned with his soap opera dramatics then what this was doing to Hortense.

"The Portrait of a Lady?" Ah, here are my big old overwrought performances. Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, nominee Barbara Hershey, and a cast of huge stars get caught in Jane Campion's boring tale of love professings and polite societal schemings in 1870's Europe. Campion tries her best, adding some nice cinematic touches to wake the audience, but the cinematography is overly cold and the plot is too simplistic for this type of heady execution.

Barbara Hershey plays a poor man's version of another, better schemer- Glenn Close in "Dangerous Liaisons." Hershey is a good foil to Malkovich and Kidman, having nice scenes with both, but she is as restrained as her corset. Once she lets her true demeanor slip through near the end of the film, I did not care either way for anyone concerned. As a performance, Hershey may have listened too well to her director. Allen is still getting my vote before I turn to the one performance of the five that I have seen before.

Although I arranged the films according to shortest to longest running time, it is luck that they got progressively worse. "The English Patient" is a maddening World War II epic romance between Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas, with their story being recounted to nominee Juliette Binoche, who is caring for a dying Fiennes. The film jumps back and forth in time as writer/director Anthony Minghella tries to cram everything from the dense novel into the film.

While Juliette Binoche won the Oscar, she did not give the best performance of the five nominees. There is simply nothing commendable or special about her character, much less her acting. She became a victim of Minghella's cinematic cramming, and never offers the audience anything challenging except pensive stares and crocodile tears. Of the five nominees, she was the only one to appear nude onscreen. If an actress takes her top off for a B-flick, it's exploitation. If an actress takes her top off and is nominated for an Oscar, it's a brave performance. Go figure.

"And the Oscar goes to...Joan Allen for 'The Crucible'"!; words that should have been uttered that night. Ranking the performances from best to worst: Allen, Jean-Baptiste, Bacall, Hershey, Binoche. Instead, I hereby award Joan Allen the Golden Chucky. No, it does not exist, but if it did, it would be a brass plated statuette of me, sitting in a recliner (in my underwear), with a remote control in my left hand and my middle finger extended on my right hand. Joan, for what it's worth, you got my vote.

The Best and Worst Horror Films of the 1990's

Have I seen a lot of horror films in my day? After looking through the over one hundred and fifty horror films I had on IMDB.com for the 1980's, I thought I would check on the 1990's...what do you know, 155! Of course, the slasher film was winding down at this point, so my best and worst have a nice variety:

The Best:
10. Frankenstein Unbound 1990 (Directed by Roger Corman)
I never thought Corman's name would be associated with any list with the word "best" in its title, not counting "Best Waste of Video Rental Money," but Rog directed John Hurt in a lovely sci-fi spin on the Frankenstein story. Not everyone else likes this as much as I do, but of course, not everyone has sat through "The Bride," either.


9. Misery 1990 (Directed by Rob Reiner)
Pish-posh, this ain't a horror film. If a crazed nurse locks up her favorite romance writer in her farmhouse to write a final novel while she takes assorted heavy tools to his ankles, it's horror. Bates is wonderful, alternately laughable and creepy.


8. Blade 1998 (Directed by Stephen Norrington)
I needed a simple kick-ass film, and "Blade" provides. The action is great, special effects are good, Wesley Snipes is ultracool as the vampire killer, and even Kris Kristofferson scores as his mentor. Bloody good.


7. Arachnophobia 1990 (Directed by Frank Marshall)
This one had many squirming in their seats at the beginning of the decade. I don't have a "thing" about spiders, but the finale in the basement with Jeff Daniels sporting a nail gun is a great piece of horrific action.


6. Night Flier 1997 (Directed by Mark Pavia)
Another gory flick, as reporter Mel Ferrer chases down an airplane flying vampire. This one has atmosphere to burn, and Ferrer is so brilliant an actor, he should be getting nominated for awards at this point in his career. Where was his Oscar for "RoboCop"?


5. Sleepy Hollow 1999 (Directed by Tim Burton)
I still can't get the taste of "Mars Attacks!" out of my mouth, but Burton gets Johnny Depp and his normal cast of regulars into a creepy frightfest that is the best version of Washington Irving's story, cartoon or otherwise.


4. The Ugly 1997 (Directed by Scott Reynolds)
The old psychologist and the nutty killer face off is put on its ear in Reynolds' creepy film. He plays weird with colors (black blood?), but still manages to scare while making the main characters sympathetic. Ugly, it ain't.


3. Happy Hell Night 1992 (Directed by Brian Owens)
My one real obscure film in the Top Ten, this diddy has Darren McGavin and Sam Rockwell. A college prank releases a psychotic killer priest, who turns out to be one of the scariest looking screen villains I have ever seen. Those eyes! Creepy, if you can find it, not even Amazon has it listed.


2. Afraid of the Dark 1991 (Directed by Mark Peploe)
A nice little boy has a number of emotional problems in this great effort from Peploe. The movie twists itself half way through, and if you have a "thing" about your eyes (how can people put in contact lenses, I ask?), then this one will make you grab for the Visine.


and the best horror film of the 1990's?
1. Killer Tongue 1996 (Directed by Alberto Sciamma)
Oh, come on, it's all there in the title. Mindy Clarke has a bit of a tongue problem, Robert Englund gives his best performance as a sadistic prison guard, and this film had me alternately giggling and screaming. A tongue hasn't done that for me since...well, never mind.



and then there's the worst:
5. Aberration 1997 (Directed by Tim Boxell)
Some creature attacks some animals and some people in some woods somewhere. The creature is, in fact, an awful special effects puppet, the movie is, in fact, awful.


4. Species II 1998 (Directed by Peter Medak)
Why is Natasha Henstridge now appearing in cheesy syndicated action television series? Oh, yeah, the Industry is punishing her for following an average sci-fi/horror flick with this argument for the banning of all sequels.


3. Elves 1990 (Directed by Jeffrey Mandel)
There is only one elf, and that is more than enough in this terrible Christmas horror film. Poor Grizzly Adams fights another puppet special effect; this film and "Silent Night, Deadly Night" prove that horror and Christmas do not mix unless it is "Black Christmas."


2. The Coroner 1999 (Directed Juan A. Mas)
Obscenely stupid suspenser has the title psycho character killing people, then hiding his own crimes because he is...THE CORONER! Bad.


...but the worst?
1. Ghosts 1997 (Directed by Stan Winston)
Don't worry if you cannot find this at your local video store, just wait until VH1 decides this nightmare needs to be trotted out almost weekly. Michael Jackson tries to repeat his "Thriller" success by doing another dance horror short film, but his coy behavior and grin quickly grate. This marks the second time, after "Moonwalker," where a group of young children get all teary eyed and beg for Michael to "come back" in the finale. How can you watch this and not be profoundly disturbed by this man?



That is all, and once again, these lists can change depending on how many more videos I can rummage through at the video store. Agree? Disagree? Review and rate, Mr. or Mrs. I-Know-Better!

The Best and Worst Horror Films of the 1980's

Of the almost three thousand votes I have listed on Internet Movie Database (imdb.com), I recently noticed over one hundred and fifty of those were for horror films released in the 1980's. What better time than now to revisit the decade of slasher films and big hair, and do a top ten list? I certainly did not even see ten films released in 2003, and I certainly do not want to be left out of all the list making activities happening right now...

The Top Ten Best Horror Films of the 1980's:

10. Scarecrows 1988 (Directed by William Wesley)
Scare-wha? This violent little story plops a bunch of payroll robbers in the middle of some green acres, and the local scarecrows begin killing them in grisly ways. The unrated version of this tape is a gore lover's dream, I haven't seen it in years, but I will always remember it.


9. Contagion 1987 (Directed by Karl Zwicky)
Contay-huh? Another obscurity, this one from Down Under, mate. Man's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, he seeks refuge at the only house close by, and becomes involved with its strange inhabitants. I picked this up on a whim at the video store, and it weirded me out, especially living up here in a rural state.


8. Pin... 1988 (Directed by Sandor Stern)
Okay, my final "say again?" video. Another whim rental that had me creeped out, this psychological chiller involves a boy, his sister, and their medical dummy who may or may not be alive. Really creepy, despite predictable end.


7. Gremlins 1984 (Directed by Joe Dante)
I hated the sequel, so this original Christmas nightmare is still the best of the two. Creatures take over a small town and wreak havoc, it's as if demons had come to Bedford Falls. While parents were shielding their children's eyes in the theater, I was flabbergasted at its darkness, and dark comedy.


6. The Dead Zone 1983 (Directed by David Cronenberg)
I made my poor Dad drag me to this one after I read the novel, and I will never regret it. Christopher Walken is great as Stephen King's hero, who can see the future and runs into crazed politico Martin Sheen. Putting Walken into his own visions is a stroke of pure genius.


5. Poltergeist 1982 (Directed by Tobe Hooper)
The ultimate suburban nightmare, as an every-family is terrorized by ghosts in their brand new house. Too many quotable lines to list, but it still chills. The second one wasn't as good, and the third just plain stunk. This house is clean.


4. Tetsuo 1988 (Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto)
From suburban nightmare to mechanical nightmare. A man slowly evolves into a machine, all done in gritty black and white, with subtitles. Disturbing images abound, I have no real idea what it means, but it still gets to me just thinking about it.


3. Dressed to Kill 1980 (Directed by Brian De Palma)
A dressed up slasher film that victimizes women? Sure, but no one else this decade did it so well (just try and watch Lauren Bacall in "The Fan"). The cast is great in De Palma's homage to "Psycho," his camerawork is so bold and blatant, he makes the case against "less is more."


2. The Changeling 1980 (Directed by Peter Medak)
Grieving widower George C. Scott is haunted by the tortured soul of a child in this creepy Canadian import. Here, less is more, as the effects are minimal but the scares are there. I saw this when I was twelve years old in 1980, and once in a while I'll see it on television and cower behind the couch.


and the winner is...
1. The Thing 1982 (Directed by John Carpenter)
Remaking a beloved classic is one thing, but to actually improve on a sometimes stilted black and white 1950's film is another. Carpenter pulls out all the stops, after "Halloween," when he could do no wrong. Some of the grossest special effects ever populate a creepy paranoid thriller, with one of the best endings of all time. I simply love this movie, and Carpenter was my favorite director for a long time...until another remake, "Village of the Damned."



That's all fine and good, Chuckie-Doo, but what about the bad? Out of those 157 movies on my list, an astounding 43(!) had a vote of "1" out of "10." Over twenty five percent! I picked a few out, the worst horror films of the 1980's might make a long book one day...

5. Silent Night, Deadly Night Parts I-III 1984, 1987, 1989 (Directed by various)
The first one sucked, the second one sucked as badly, and the third sucked even more. This loser series' first entry made a lot of parents mad back in the day, depicting a killer dressed as Santa Claus. Forget psychologically scarring little Timmy with the preview, parents really should have protested the sheer awfulness of the film itself.


4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 1986 (Directed by Tobe Hooper)
Hooper makes both the best and worst lists, using this ill conceived dung heap to cash in on some of that home video slasher sequel cash. You know those are left over sets from his equally awful remake "Invaders from Mars," and Dennis Hopper turns in his worst performance ever, and that is saying a lot.


3. The Final Conflict 1981 (Directed by Graham Baker)
Hmm, let's go ahead and kill off "The Omen" series with this depressing lost opportunity. Sam Neill plays a grown up Damien, but he looks lost most of the time, as Baker throws in everything he can think of to match the first two superior films, except a cohesive plot and suspense.


2. C.H.U.D. II- Bud the Chud 1989 (Directed by David Irving)
There's a special place in hell for the creators of this disastrous zombie comedy that has little to nothing to do with the first "C.H.U.D." A zombie loose in suburbia is okay, but throwing in lame comedy, dumb effects, and a Bianca Jagger cameo (she's eternally making amends by working for Amnesty International) just proves how desperately the film makers were hiding the fact that they knew this was one of the worst films ever.


Let's keep riding the sequel train right to the worst of the worst...
1. Amityville 3-D 1983 (Directed by Richard Fleischer)
This was a tough choice, but this third installment of the loser series was an unintentional laugh-fest. Meg Ryan is in it, and she obviously made a deal with the devil to keep her career afloat after this polluted theater screens. Other cast members like Tony Roberts and Candy Clark were not so lucky. If the Amityville house holds the gateway to hell, somebody throw this film in it.



Well, that's that. With the amount of videos I rent, this list could change, and I am readying a best and worst of the 1990's as well. I do love horror films. When they are done right, they should be cherished. Trust me, after reviewing my votes, I know that better than anyone.

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: I See 'U'

The video store grab and run involves nothing illegal. I never stuff videos and DVDs down the back of my sons' pants, and toss them over the electronic sensors at the video store. I never instigate fistfights between my two boys, distracting the employees while I sneak into the "Over 18 Only" room. And I never anonymously call the police, making up untrue morals charges against my ex-wife so I can raid her stash of videos for material for this column after she is hauled in for questioning...I promise...no, really....

This week, me and the kids visited the "U" section of the video store for five unsuspecting victims: "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory," "Universal Soldier," "Universal Soldier: The Return," "Unspeakable," and "Uranus." I do like myself some Dina Meyer...

...except in this. "Unspeakable" is a terrible combination of "Fallen," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Prison," and any other death row flick you can think of. Meyer has invented a brain reading machine and hooks it up to a convict who might be the devil. Too bad she couldn't hook it up to the screenwriter so we could watch any of the better movies he borrowed ideas from for this stinker. Unscary and underwhelming.

"Uranus" is not a space epic, but a French film about the waning days of World War II. A small town struggles with being liberated, and taking revenge on Nazi collaborators, some of whom cooperated merely to survive. Sounds heavy handed, but there are a number of darkly comic moments, and the film is fascinating from start to finish. A real find. Okay, now we'll take that science fiction.

Of course, it's really bad science fiction. In "Universal Soldier," Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme are perfect, genetically altered soldiers who suddenly remember who they were in their previous lives. Big bloody action sequences follow, and so did my boredom. This film was not written, it was assembled from spare parts of better films. Will the sequel be better? Are you high?

I wish I was. "Universal Soldier: The Return" is not as bad as the original, but that is like saying lung cancer is not as bad as kidney failure. Van Damme returns in this one, cured from the first film, battling a new round of indestructible soldiers. Everyone here moves in slow motion, and no one seems to be enjoying anything about this loser film. The only plus this has on the original is that it is twenty minutes shorter. Let's cleanse our taste buds with a crass little Seagal, full bodied yet genteel.

Steven Seagal killed his only film franchise with the money losing "Under Siege 2: Dark Territory" which features some great stuntwork, a great villain, a cute teenage girl...and Seagal mumbling and stumbling around, hurting various meanies and trying to act. Not as bad as the previously viewed "Universal Soldier" flicks, but do not ever ask yourself why Seagal is not opening in two thousand theaters anymore after watching this.

Yikes, not a good week this week. The five films, ranked best to worst:
1. Uranus
2. Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
3. Unspeakable
4. Universal Soldier: The Return
5. Universal Soldier

That's it for this week. More unhealthy choices lie ahead- bad films, anonymous sex partners, my lunch. See you soon.

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Variety Is the Spice of Life

This time around, we turn our deficited attention- I smell fudge- to five new films picked at random on a recent jaunt through the old video store. The five films are currently readying themselves for viewing, receiving last minute rubdowns, fraternizing with each other, and creating alliances in the hope of counteracting their own perceived suckiness.

The films this week: from Action- "Combat Shock" and "Torque," from Comedy- "Cross My Heart," and from Westerns- "The Great Train Robbery (1903)" and "The Heart of Texas Ryan."

I love the smell of Troma in the morning, it smells like...a crappy film. "Combat Shock" is not your normal cup of Troma bile. This is a gritty, grim account of a veteran's life in decaying Staten Island, complete with child prostitutes, junkies, and bad television reception (sounds like my freshman year of college). The film is well acted and directed, but it is also very slow, with a terrible fake baby special effect. The gory finale is something you will not be able to forget (or stomach).

The third date's the charm, and Martin Short and Annette O'Toole have an eventful evening in "Cross My Heart." Both are keeping secrets from one another (she's got a kid, he's unemployed), and the two try to build a relationship based on a pack of lies. While the film has a staginess to it, the two leads absolutely shine in some of their best work, and the laughs are there without being forced.

Got twelve minutes? The antiquey film of the group is the century old "The Great Train Robbery." Pish posh, a silent film, but this is one of the first ones to do things we take for granted today like: linear plot, location shooting, and filming in New Jersey (Kevin Smith was not the first?). Three outlaws hold up a train, and a posse chases them down. The overacting is fun, and witnessing a piece of cinematic history might get you laid at your next film festival outing- "yes, I think the direction in 'Artsy Fartsy Festival Twaddle Number 75,' was static, but no more than Edwin S. Porter's use of composition in 1903's 'The Great Train Robbery.'"- I am so aroused. This must mean that all silent westerns are fun to watch!

Wrong! Try enduring "The Heart of Texas Ryan." Tom Mix plays "Single-Shot" Parker, who falls for local rancher's daughter Texas Ryan, and must deal with some ornery cattle rustlers. The scenery is pretty, but this was two films cut together, and half the time I did not have a clue what was going on. The dialogue is also unintentionally funny, and the more blatant racist scenes had me rolling my eyes (fireworks scare Injuns, the rustlers are led by one of those nasty Mexicans). Nice hog!

"Torque" is an instantly forgettable fable of one man's fight against society and its suffocating grasp on his ability to forge a life on this mortal coil. And it's got, like, cool bikes and chicks and stuff! This was made for the eighth grade boy in all of us (eww, please stop, he has to go home for supper), and almost counters its blatant stupidity with some really cool action sequences...almost.


Has it been five already? I haven't even warmed up the nachos! Well, I would not vote only two films off the island this week, the other three will have to endure an immunity challenge involving grape jam, Mickey Rooney, and five hundred angry bees. In order from best to worst:
1. Cross My Heart
2. The Great Train Robbery (1903)
3. Combat Shock
4. Torque
5. The Heart of Texas Ryan

Next time, I will return with five new (to me) flicks clutched in my grubby hand. You know, my writing style combines the ham-fisted nuance of Hemingway with the intelligent and understated film criticism of Gene Siskel...are you hot yet?

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Laa-Dee-Documentaries

Before you run screaming from the computer, afraid this column will be covering the mating habits of the dung beetle, or the deforestation of Brazil, just turn yourself around and plant that hinder back in the chair, little missy. Hitting the avant-garde and Beat lit lately, I thought a few documentaries about some of these weirdos would be entertaining.

I wish I could have lived in the '50's and '60's (I was born in '68), taking drugs, sleeping with whomever I pleased, and creating a new wave of art and literature whose era can never be recreated. I don't look back at the 1990's as a magical, creative time, I just see it as the decade when my first son was born and I had to go work for "the man" to put food on the table. This week's victims, all from the Documentary section, are: "The Cockettes," "Kerouac, the Movie," "Nico Icon," "Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story," and "William S. Burroughs: Commissioner of Sewers."

Hello, Bill, tell me about your funky theory that dreams are time travel...where's your bong? William S. Burroughs was one of the original Beat writers, and this too short video celebrates his writing and artwork. This was filmed in the 1980's, and Burroughs was showing his age, but he was still sharp as a tack and could have heady conversations with the surprisingly sharp interviewer Jurgen Proog, who asks very intelligent questions about Burroughs' creative process. I was sometimes bored, Burroughs was even too much for me, but this documentary is still worthy.

That Andy Warhol, what a gas... "Nico Icon" is a fantastic documentary about the pop icon known as Nico, who was born in Germany, emigrated to the United States, became one of Andy Warhol's superstars, and died before the age of 60 after finally kicking a decades long heroin habit. The footage of her in her last years is depressing, after seeing what a beauty she was. Then there was her voice, a deep singing voice belting out painfully honest lyrics that are hard to hear based on the singer's hatred of herself and disinterest in life in general. An astounding film, and I am Beat...

"Kerouac, the Movie" is an okay film, recommended simply because there is a lack of good documentaries on the King of the Beats. Kerouac died in 1969 at the ripe old age of 47, so he could not be reached for interviews like Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg could, when they became the old gentlemen of the Beat movement. The film does rely to heavily on some unconvincing reenactments, but you do learn a lot about Kerouac, and you get to see the man on talk shows and reading his works, before sliding downhill into alcoholism. Not a great film, but good enough.

Who wants Pie? "Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story" introduces us to sixty year old Brigid, who used to act in Warhol and Paul Morrissey's films, record phone conversations with her conservative mother, and take her clothes off at the slightest inclination, not caring how others viewed her even if she weighed 260 pounds. Vincent Fremont and Shelly Dunn Fremont present their first documentary, and it is great. It helps that they let Brigid do her own talking, never pushing or trying to steal the film from her. This is intercut with tons of footage from Warhol's Factory days, and I enjoyed this tremendously.

What's a Cockette, you ask? They were like the Rockettes, only "The Cockettes" had more glitter...and penises. In the late 1960's and early 1970's, a bunch of gay men, straight women, straight men, and possible gay women all communed together in San Francisco. They used to go to midnight movies, where old Hollywood musicals were played, and they thought they could put on a show during the intermission. Everyone was in drag, when they kept their clothes on, and they lampooned everything from the mentioned Busby Berkley musicals to Tricia Nixon's White House wedding. This is very funny, a few years before "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" debuted, but the troupe was eventually decimated by drug abuse and later, AIDS. Very good stuff.


There, that wasn't so bad, was it? I would recommend all five films this week, something I have never run into while writing this column before. This may be a sign...from best to worst:
1. Nico Icon
2. Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story
3. The Cockettes
4. William S. Burroughs: Commissioner of Sewers
5. Kerouac, the Movie

That's it for now, we'll see what happens the next time a flaming hot spotlight is shown on the underbelly of obscure video cinema!

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: The Fundamental Four T's

For the return of the ol' grab and run, I thought I would ease back into the process like I ease into a warm bath- yes, naked, but also slowly and with caution. Instead of the normal five flicks, I decided to start small and get four.

As I lay back and let Calgon take me away, I'll let you gander at this week's victims: from Comedy- "To Die For," "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar," and "Trial and Error," and from Horror- "Thinner." I wish a century old gypsy would brush my cheek and make my weight problem go away...

"Thinner" is based on Stephen King's novel, and features an incredible Robert John Burke as a fat lawyer who accidentally runs over an old gypsy woman with his car because his wife was, er, playing with his stick shift. A small conspiracy gets the lawyer off (so to speak), so the woman's father puts a gypsy curse on Burke (rubbing his cheek and whispering "thinner"), who begins losing weight rapidly. Good thing he recently defended mobster Joe Mantegna, who helps him try to get the curse removed. The film is good, surprisingly close to King's novel, but I did not think the mob guy worked in the novel and I do not think he works in the film. On the other hand, I have a section of my body that co-star Kari Wuhrer could rub and whisper "bigger." That's a curse I could live with.

Your honor, I object to this film! Lack of hilarity! "Trial and Error" plays like a bad episode of "The Night Court Practice of L.A. Law vs. the Defenders of AUSA Perry Mason." Jeff Daniels gets drunk thanks to doofus friend Michael Richards, and cannot go into a simple continuance hearing in a court case. Actor Richards steps in in his place, and suddenly a trial is on. Richards falls for opposing counsel, Daniels falls for waitress Charlize Theron, and I fell off the couch in a boredom-induced trance. No laughs, and I knew everything that would happen from the beginning to the end. Habeas corpus? No, habeas crappus...let's kill Matt Dillon!

In "To Die For," Nicole Kidman is a small town weather girl with big empty dreams of making it in television. She is married to Dillon, who wants a normal wife and kids, so she beds juvenile delinquent Joaquin Phoenix, who takes her suggestions of killing her husband, and acts on them. While Gus Van Sant's direction is to die for, Buck Henry's screenplay never takes any bold steps into media criticism or dark comedy or satire, merely hinting at these elements. Phoenix is fine, but Kidman is one note, and I was disappointed by this film. To feel better, I put on an evening gown and pumps, and damn it, I AM prettier than Patrick Swayze.

"To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar" features Swayze, Wesley Snipes, and John Leguizamo as three drag queens on their way to California for a beauty pageant when they get stuck in a tiny town in the Midwest populated by character actors like Arliss Howard, Stockard Channing, and Melinda Dillon. As the three ingratiate themselves to the towns folk, who have no idea the ladies are men, they learn a little something about themselves, too. Ignore some of the sentiment and stereotypes, this is really funny often enough, and the fabulous trio turn in some great work, including Swayze and an impeccable comic timing I have only see him reveal on hosting gigs on "Saturday Night Live." It's fun, and the best film of the week.


That's four, I counted them using my rubber ducky collection. The films, from best to worst:
1. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
2. Thinner
3. To Die For
4. Trial and Error

Next time, I get my hoity-toity on, reviewing five (yes, five) documentaries. Don't worry, nothing boring, just lots of sex, drugs, artists, and writers; sounds like the day my divorce became final. See you then.

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Four Comedies and a Funeral

After last week's pretty depressing fare, I decided to lighten things up with a few comedies and a Billy Bob Thornton cop drama, which may provide a few laughs of its own.

This week's picks from Drama- "The Badge," and from Comedy- "Clifford," "Hanky Panky," "The Ladykillers (1950's version)," and "Straight Talk." We'll start with Billy Bob behind "The Badge."

It's not that this is a bad movie, but it is badly written. Writer/Director Robby Henson decides more is more. There are eight production companies and eleven executive producers associated with this, and about that many major speaking parts in the film. Thornton plays a Louisiana parish sheriff investigating the murder of a transsexual in a swamp. He gets a little help from the transsexual's wife, Patricia Arquette, and runs up against the entire town. The final credits read like a city directory, the unmasking of the killer is weak, but Thornton and Arquette save this from being a one star film.

Wait a minute, "Clifford" doesn't have a big red dog in it. I wish it did. Martin Short plays ten year old Clifford, and Charles Grodin is his hapless uncle in an embarrassing film whose original prints should be gathered in a big barrel and shot into space, never to be seen again. This is terribly unfunny, and helped bring down mid-size studio Orion. Orion deserved everything they got for deciding this was a good idea.

If I hadn't rented "Clifford," then "Hanky Panky" would have been the worst film of the bunch. Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner star in this shockingly unfunny variation on Alfred Hitchcock's "innocent man on the run" films. Sidney Poitier, of all people, mechanically directs long slapstick scenes that left me as speechless as..."Clifford." Not as bad as the earlier disaster, but close. Let's kill an old lady!

In "The Ladykillers," a group of robbers conspire, and use their sweet little old landlady on a crime without her knowing it. She soon finds out, and the five eventually turn on each other, all while trying to decide who is going to kill her. This has a few slow spots, but the cast is so good, including Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers in a film together before the Pink Panther series, and Alexander Mackendrick's direction is wonderful, it is the best film of the week...unless "Straight Talk" proves to be so good that I'll eat my words...yeah, right.

"Straight Talk" coasts on the funny performance by the always underrated Dolly Parton, and nothing else. When her two love interests are played by heavies James Woods and Michael Madsen, then maybe the casting director forgot to read the script. Everything feels forced, including Woods' attempts to smile without looking creepy, and the wrap-up is idiotic and predictable. Dolly saves this from being a total bomb, barely.


Ouch, not a good week at the video store. Of the five, only one stood out as recommendable. The best to worst, in order:

1. The Ladykillers
2. The Badge
3. Straight Talk
4. Hanky Panky
5. Clifford

Remember, if you have seen these films, vote on them and confirm my gut feeling that all prints of "Clifford" should be torched.

Next week, the "Oscar Denied" column returns. This year, a film from the biggest fantasy series of all-time is up for Best Picture, and all bets are on it...of course, the same situation happened almost thirty years ago, and "Star Wars" lost to Woody Allen. Who should have won? See you then.

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Oh, I Got Your Variety Right Here...

The five films I picked this time out have one thing in common- ain't never seen 'em before. I hit the Classics section before heading over to the Action category, so here are this week's picks: from Classics- the original "Cat People" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray," from Action- "Deathcheaters" and "The Retrievers," and from Music- "Running Out of Luck." Which one has Rae Dawn Chong nekkid? Oh, yeah...

Jim Broadbent won the Oscar for "Iris," and he also has a bit part in "Running Out of Luck," a bizarre long form music video from Mick Jagger and Julien Temple. The film is a chain of over half a dozen videos from Jagger's "She's the Boss" solo album, all held together with a dumb story about Jagger being kidnapped and stranded in backwoods Brazil during a video shoot. In addition to Broadbent, Rae Dawn Chong is the often naked love interest, Dennis Hopper is the video director, and Jerry Hall tries to act as Mick's wife, a role she did not keep in real life, either. This is just a vanity project with mediocre songs and pretty Brazilian scenery, but by the time Hall murders a senator she had been dating, and Chong breaks Jagger out of prison by rubbing poison on her nipple, I was fascinated with the sheer badness of the thing.

Jim Broadbent is nowhere to be seen in "Cat People," the original black and white suspenser that was remade with Natassia Kinski. The original has lovely Simone Simon not consummating her new relationship for fear of turning into a big cat and devouring her new lover, something the women I date suffer from as well. The cinematography and direction are gorgeous, I sometimes paused the film just to look at an individual frame, but this suffers from a talky script that takes forever. The swimming pool stalking is here, too, a super scene that was copied in the remake. Plus, the first of this week's films to have no nudity except for the bare shoulder of Simon as she sits in a tub. Great, I've got boobs on the brain...

Uh, no bare breasts in "The Picture of Dorian Gray," but this is the best film of the bunch so far. Hurd Hatfield stiffly plays a man who wishes a newly painted portrait would absorb his aging so he could look young forever. The portrait also seems to replace his conscience, growing more and more hideous as Gray mistreats those around him, eventually resorting to murder. This is a wonderful movie, full of great performances and Oscar Wilde's urbane lines. The director keeps the film in black and white, except for two insert Technicolor shots of the portrait. Simply wonderful...except for Hatfield, who is too bland and stilted in the main role. He disappears altogether whenever George Sanders comes onscreen and deftly steals the film.

Here's a great pitch! Two ordinary stuntmen are recruited by a government agency to be secret agents! We could get some unknowns in the lead, throw in a cute dog, and do a few seasons of this! Call the network! Is John Larroquette available? Actually, "Deathcheaters" is mild enough to be a pilot on a television network, and little else. The stunts are good, but routine, the actors likable enough, the Australian locations are pretty, and I knew where the entire ninety-six minute film was headed from the opening seconds. This is not technically bad film making, but lazy film making that seems to have forgotten an audience might want to be entertained and not bored stupid.

I'm woozy after being violated by "The Retrievers," a stupid actioner from the 1980's that sucks on more levels than I can count. Big dumb Max Thayer decides to help perky Shawn Hoskins find her missing brother and helps get his tell-all about the CIA published. When the most exciting scene involves the loading of cases of books into a truck by a morbidly obese man, you know you are in trouble. This is an ugly film that deserves to remain unseen and unheard of.


Of the five, only one or two would be considered really worthy of a repeat viewing, unless you are in the mood for Mick Jagger's bony bare ass.

Best to worst:
1. The Picture of Dorian Gray
2. Cat People
3. Running Out of Luck
4. Deathcheaters
5. The Retrievers

That's it for this week. Next week, I will return like the warm potato salad you ate for lunch. What's that growling noise coming from your pants?

Feature Articles and Capsule Reviews (26)

The Best and Worst Horror Films of the 1980's
The Best and Worst Horror Films of the 1990's

Lonely Video Reviews: Robot Jox and The Oval Portrait
Lonely Video Reviews: The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and The Unborn

Oscar Denied!: The 1996 Best Supporting Actress Race
Oscar Denied!: The 1977 Best Picture Race

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: It All Begins With 'A'
The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: The Malevolent Seven
The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Oh, I Got Your Variety Right Here...
The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Four Comedies and a Funeral
The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: The Fundamental Four T's
The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Laa-Dee-Documentaries
The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: Variety Is the Spice of Life
The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: I See 'U'

Capsule Reviews Volume I
Capsule Reviews Volume II
Capsule Reviews Volume III
Capsule Reviews Volume IV
Capsule Reviews Volume V: Books & Music
Capsule Reviews Volume VI
Capsule Reviews Volume VII
Capsule Reviews Volume VIII

Movies Seen February 26-March 4, 2016
Movies Seen March 5-March 11, 2016
Movies Seen March 12-March 18, 2016
Movies Seen March 19-March 25, 2016

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: The Malevolent Seven

You remember the drill- I go find videos I have not seen, grab, run, and review them. And with a video store gift card in hand, I entered a local establishment and picked videos from the letter of "S." Why "S"? Why not? Of course, the videos are due back in five days, so I only chose two.

I scouted out my local independent music seller, who just dumped all his video rental stock for fifty cents a tape, (sorry, he kept the porn to rent out). I picked three videos there, and the total cost to me for this column so far comes to under two bucks. Why I think I'll splurge on a Diet Dr. Pepper while I'm here!

In honor of Chris Parry having to pawn his property and sell his body on the streets (again) to write this column, I thought I would hit the local library for a couple of more entries! My county library is tiny. The city library is huge, but the county library is small. This is the place I retire to after work to kick back and write these missives on one of their computers. Sometimes those computers are being used by smelly weird people who like the "Spank Me, I'm Your Slave" chat room, but when they get up to, ahem, "use the restroom," I am able to reach the rest of the world via the 'net. The library has a ton of videos for check out for absolutely nothing. These videos have been donated by both patrons and video stores going out of business, so next to big hits of yesterday sit obscure stuff even I am skittish about renting.

This week's seven picks run the gamut: from Comedy- "Second Sight," "Sgt. Bilko," and "Splendor," from Action- "Soldier" and "Speed 2: Cruise Control," and from Drama- "Split Decisions" and "Street Smart." I sit back, curse the snowstorm that is contributing to my determination to move to Key West or Tahiti once my kids are grown up, and whip out the Bilko...and then I watch the first movie.

Steve Martin is a funny guy. He is so thoughtful in interviews, and good onscreen, I have always liked him. Of course, I have not always liked the movies he has made, and "Sgt. Bilko" is one of them. First off, Martin is a riot. He is the only reason to see this weak military comedy. When Martin is not on, the movie sucks. When on, it does not suck as much. The plot is not important since this is a one man show for its star. Ignore the supporting cast and bask in Martin's Bilko, and nothing more.

Kurt Russell is the lead in "Soldier," but nothing he tries can save a boring sci-fi action flick. Russell is a human killing machine who is retired and dumped on a garbage planet after being replaced by genetically altered soldiers. Russell lives with some refugees, learns the true meaning of love, peace, and Christmas, then battles the very same genetic soldiers, who happen to arrive on the very same garbage planet for maneuvers. I could watch Connie Nielsen read out of a phone book, but nothing can save this shoot-'em-up junk that quickly bores. Good cast, lousy flick.

Sandra Bullock returns as Annie, that delightful bus driving pixie from "Speed," in "Speed 2: Franchise Out of Control." Jason Patric makes a poor substitute for Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe makes a poor villain, and Jan de Bont makes a poor action flick that fails on any level where dialogue or common sense is needed. This film throws everything it can think of on the screen, and nothing sticks. Huge disappointment.

Threesome, anyone? I can get a babysitter. Okay, how about "Splendor"? Kathleen Robertson cannot make up her mind about who she loves more, dumb musician Matt Keeslar or brooding writer Johnathon Schaech. She begins seeing both, and the three move in together. Then Robertson meets Eric Mabius. Maybe he is the right guy for her, even though she does not love him. Schaech and Keeslar finally wake up and smell the pregnancy test, and fight to win their girl back. Edgy director Gregg Araki did this oddball comedy, which almost works. The script has a few laughs scattered about, the cast is so immensely likable you may want to sleep with them all, but Araki's direction is so lacking, it pulls the rest of the project down with it. I have not liked any of his previous films, so I am still waiting for that one film I know he is directing just for me, a freelance film critic with relationship issues and a dead end manual labor job. Yeah, I know I'm the only one out there.

Have you ever seen a film that was so bad, you wanted to harm yourself? No? Well, just pop in "Second Sight," and grimace at the shit that falls off the screen and piles on your rug. John Larroquette plays his Dan Fielding TV character to another version of Bronson Pinchot's Balki in this stupid comedy about a Catholic cardinal's kidnapping in Boston. Bostonians should have dumped the film makers in the harbor, not the tea. There is not one laugh in this turgid flick about a psychic detective agency, but you will be moaning and maybe sobbing a little. That's what I did. This was one of the videos I picked up for fifty cents. Two quarters, and I feel ripped off and violated. I think I found the worst film of the group.

Let's take a few rounds in the ring. "Split Decisions" is a boxing drama about Gene Hackman and his two sons, Jeff Fahey and Craig Sheffer. It's simple, Fahey is murdered, Hackman and Sheffer avenge- in the ring. The plot is so implausible, it ruins the good performances and nicely handled direction. This was another fifty center that may find an audience- at my local library's annual book sale after I donate the tape.

"Street Smart" is another drama, featuring Christopher Reeve, Kathy Baker, and Morgan Freeman. Reeve makes up a magazine story about a pimp, and pimp Freeman tries to use Reeve as his alibi in a murder investigation as Reeve's lie brings down the lives of those around him. While the acting is top notch, it is hard to get behind Reeve's character. Helpful advice to him like "you idiot, you shouldn't have lied," and "don't sleep with the whore" kept getting stuck in my throat. A technically good film, I hated the main character so much I could not recommend it.


There we have them- seven films. None of them really made me tingle in my special place, but if I had to rank them best to worst:
1. Splendor
2. Street Smart
3. Split Decisions
4. Sgt. Bilko
5. Soldier
6. Speed 2: Cruise Control
7. Second Sight

Of the seven, four were already in the HBS/EFC database, so I added "Second Sight," "Split Decisions," and "Street Smart." If you have seen these films or reviewed them, then post like the wind.

I don't know when the next column will rear its ugly head, but I need to hit the stores, libraries, rummage sales, and that storage box marked "important papers- do not open" collecting dust under the bed. Full length reviews for the seven films are on the site now, the next column will definitely be just five...yes, I'm almost done with the computer...sorry, Mistress Katrina has a computer sex date...see you next time.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Video Store Grab 'n' Run: It All Begins With 'A'

In my neverending halfhearted search to see every film ever made, I thought this column would be a good idea. My only criteria would be that I have not seen a handful of videos before, just grab them and run. I started with the letter "A," bolted into the video store with my bored first grader right behind me, and ran into a problem right away.

I had seen every film that began with "A" in the Horror, Sci-Fi, Religious, Western, and Cult categories (a peek into my video watching habits) at my video store. I decided to hit some of the remaining genres, taking an "A" title from each. I chose from Comedy- "About Adam," from Drama- "Against the Wall," from Action- "Agent Red," from Children's- "The Amazing Panda Adventure," and from Mystery/Suspense/Thriller- "The Art of Murder" (my video store has some great genre categories!) Five flicks I had not seen, and a week to watch them in. My sixth choice was "There Goes a Train," a half hour live action video my six year old and two year old sons are obsessed with...no, it ain't that good. I arranged the videos in shortest to longest running time, and popped in the eighty-five minute panda movie:

Young boy, young girl, and young cuddly panda cub get stranded in the wilderness, and stumble upon various perilous adventures while waiting for the conveniently happy ending to come at its appointed time. MAN is panda's greatest enemy (obviously), and American KIDS are spoiled rotten. Chinese people eat gross things like monkey brains and slugs, hence no amazing slug or monkey adventures, and Stephen Lang is too good for most of the films he is in. This silly kids' film has some pretty scenery and a dumb script, just like another cub driven wilderness movie I reviewed called "Alaska."

Speaking of pretty scenery and a dumb script, next up was "Agent Red." The scenery was Meilani Paul, whose pandas I would love to cuddle anytime. Agent Red is a deadly chemical (like Diet Pepsi Twist) that kills everyone it comes in contact with. Terrorists steal it, and Dolph Lundgren and Meilani Paul make like Steven Seagal and Erika Eleniak to take it back. Also known as "Captured," this "Die Hard"/"Under Siege" ripoff is full of bad stock footage and worse acting.

Pandas bring good luck, and good luck made me pick "About Adam." I wish every romcom was as funny as this one. On the surface, Lucy (Kate Hudson) and Adam (Stuart Townsend) meet and fall in love. However, Adam's getting along REALLY well with Lucy's family, bedding two other sisters and showing a brother how to score. This is very good stuff, with an interesting premise that does not follow any Hollywood formula (it was shot in Ireland). When was the last time a romantic comedy had this much sex, with this many people enjoying it?

The panda gods punished me with "The Art of Murder," a bored erotic thriller. Joanna Pacula is having an affair with Boyd Kestner, but they are blackmailed by Peter Onorati. They kill him, and try to cover up the crime, as hubby Michael Moriarty drinks and beats up Pacula a lot. Double crosses, triple crosses, and quadruple crosses pile up in a mild (one sex scene) video that feels like a very special episode of "Red Shoe Diaries."

Attica is where murderers go, and in the film "Against the Wall," they ain't happy. John Frankenheimer directs Kyle MacLachlan, Samuel L. Jackson, and Clarence Williams III in a brutal film that takes place almost entirely in the prison; no actors try to play Nelson Rockefeller or read more into this than there is. Some of the plot points are misplayed, but the starring trio does some of their best work here, as does a great supporting cast including Harry Dean Stanton, Frederic Forrest, Anne Heche, and Tom Bower.


Out of the five, two were good and three were not. If I had to rank them best to worst:

1. About Adam
2. Against the Wall
3. The Amazing Panda Adventure
4. The Art of Murder
5. Agent Red

What about the next Grab and Run column? Go for the "B"'s? My public library has a lot of videos, that might provide some really obscure stuff...

In the Pink: "The Pink Panther Film Collection"



The Pink Panther movies will forever be synonymous with the name Peter Sellers. The British comedian made the character of Inspector Clouseau his very own and kept fans laughing for the best part of a decade. Unfortunately, Sellers is no longer with us, but at least his films have been captured in a single DVD collection. Sadly, this collection of five films plus extras is notable for one conspicuous absence.

Disc 1: "The Pink Panther"
The first Pink Panther film has Peter Sellers reduced to a supporting role, as the film makers were not aware that his character would be such a hit. Sir Charles (David Niven), rumored to be the notorious cat burglar "the Phantom" woos a princess (the drop dead stunningly gorgeous Claudia Cardinale) who also happens to own the Pink Panther, the world's largest diamond. Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) investigates not aware that his own wife (Capucine) is conspiring with Charles. Since David Niven is the star of the film, he has the most scenes, and some of the slowest ones. Edwards' trademark slapstick is underwhelming in this tepid sex comedy, watch for the seduction scene between Niven, Cardinale, and a tiger skin rug that literally goes on forever, and had me checking the dormant VCR clock. I do recommend the lovely scenery, all in glorious widescreen. (3/5*)

Disc 2: "A Shot in the Dark"
My favorite Inspector Clouseau film has the nitwit investigating a series of murders at a mansion owned by George Sanders. The maid Maria (Elke Sommer) is suspected, and Clouseau falls for her despite the overwhelming evidence that she is guilty. A wonderful balance of slapstick and characterization, with classic scenes all around. In "Son of Pink Panther," Claudia Cardinale plays Maria, confusing anyone who followed the series. This film also first introduced Clouseau's boss Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) and manservant Kato (Burt Kwouk). (5/5*)

Disc 3: "The Pink Panther Strikes Again"
Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) finally goes off the deep end, and builds a doomsday device in order to kill one man- Jacques Clouseau. This may be one of the silliest films ever made, with hit and miss gags, but you can see where the inspiration for Mike Myers' Austin Powers series comes from. Weak special effects do not help, although a Tom Jones song has never been used in a funnier manner. (3/5*)

Disc 4: "Revenge of the Pink Panther"
The last film to feature original footage of Sellers, and the weakest. A multinational conglomerate and the mob all want Clouseau dead, and they think they have succeeded in killing him, so he teams with the company's boss' former secretary Dyan Cannon to catch the bad guys in Hong Kong. There is an over reliance on Clouseau in disguise, perhaps to hide an ailing Sellers, who suffered from a heart condition and died at the young age of 55. The rest of this just is not very funny, or interesting. (2/5*)

Disc 5: "Trail of the Pink Panther"
After Peter Sellers died, Blake Edwards shot this monstrosity around unused footage of Clouseau from previous films. Here, Clouseau is missing and reporter Joanna Lumley investigates, visiting former friends and enemies of the inspector. If Edwards meant this as a tribute, then he is way off base as tired footage from previous films is unsuccessfully intercut with Lumley. Very sad. (1/5*)

Disc 6: Bonus Disc
This disc contains two very interesting documentaries. One traces the birth of the Inspector Clouseau character, featuring interviews with the director and crew. The Pink Panther cartoon character gets his own documentary, and the DVD makers wisely put about ten cartoons on the disc, some of which I have not seen since I was a kid. All in all, very entertaining, considering most "making of" DVD documentaries are as enlightening as Bill Clinton under oath. (5/5*)

All the films are in widescreen presentation, which is great for those of us who have had to suffer through the pan and scan versions of these films on home video for years. A nice collection that I do recommend for fans...what? Something's missing? Christopher Plummer? Yeah, I wondered about that, too. There were no Pink Panther films between "A Shot in the Dark" and "Return of the Pink Panther," which featured Christopher Plummer in the role of Sir Charles. For some unknown reason, that film is not in the collection! Watching the documentaries mention it, and the case being referenced in later films, it is a mystery why this was left off, yet "Trail of the Pink Panther" was included. Of course, "Curse of The Pink Panther" and "Son of The Pink Panther" were also left off, but with good reason since they were awful.

"The Pink Panther Collection" is by no means perfect, or complete for that matter. As Hollywood gears up yet another ill conceived remake, with Steve Martin in the Clouseau role, and Kevin Kline as Dreyfus, at least we have these films to remember how funny Sellers was and how good Edwards used to be. (* * * *) out of five stars. Get this collection now!: The Pink Panther Collection (Special Edition)