Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pretty Goodfellas: "Wise Guys" (1986)

Brian De Palma is not the first director you would think of to helm a slapstick-laden comedy about the mob, but he gives George Gallo's first produced screenplay a try, and succeeds for the most part.

Best friends Harry (Danny DeVito) and Moe (Joe Piscopo) are two low level Mafia operatives working for Tony Castelo (Dan Hedaya). How low level are they? They run around Newark taking care of his grocery lists and dry cleaning, and Castelo's other henchmen take bets on whether they will survive starting the Don's luxury car. The duo is entrusted to place a twenty-five thousand dollar bet at a horse track, but decide to put it on another horse and lose, costing Castelo a quarter of a million dollar windfall. Castelo decides to teach them a lesson, and takes out a contract on the men- but with Moe hired to kill Harry, and Harry hired to kill Moe. Normally, the laughs would start there, but Gallo throws in a trip to Atlantic City and a few scenes with Bobby (Harvey Keitel), one of Harry and Moe's friends from the past. Harry works hard trying to come up with the money to get things right with Castelo, and Bobby sees an opportunity as well.

De Palma's direction has always been a little intense, so his take on the comedy genre is interesting. The humor can be dark, and De Palma handles it well. Ira Newborn's musical score is awesome (when not drifting into 1980's synthesizer territory), and the grimy New Jersey locale works. Gallo does telegraph a lot of jokes (I could see the punchline in the men's room scene from a mile away), and he doesn't seem to trust his original plot enough to stick with two dumb guys trying to kill each other.

The funniest performance comes from the unlikeliest actor. Captain Lou Albano was best known for his professional wrestling appearances, and roles in Cyndi Lauper music videos. Here, he is unrecognizable as the Fixer, a foul-mouthed killer, and he should have scored an Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor. The screen lights up every time he is on, and he had me laughing. DeVito does try to get the film going, since Piscopo can't rely on the "Saturday Night Live" impressions that made him famous. He mostly squeals after DeVito, and gets lost in the cinematic shuffle. Ray Sharkey is given a thankless role as a bartender, his scene in the church goes on way too long.

I remember this came and went back in the day, and I never got the chance to watch "Wise Guys" until I found it in a thrift store on VHS. It's not a perfect comedy, but it does the job. (* * * *) out of five stars.

They Put the 'Con' in 'Unicon': "Bugs Bunny: 4 Favorite Cartoon Classics"

Ah, the public domain extended play-recorded videotape. The catch in the craw of many a movie lover and VHS and DVD collector. I found this thing from a company called Unicon at a thrift store for a whopping twenty cents; it features four pieces of classic animation in one crappy looking collection:

"The Wabbit Who Came to Supper" (1942) Directed by Friz Freleng, Written by Michael Maltese
An early Bugs Bunny cartoon features the fatter version of Elmer Fudd discovering he is set to inherit three million dollars if he is nice to all animals, including rabbits. This is wonderful stuff, a cartoon I have seen a hundred times, and it never gets old. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

"Prest-O Change-O" (1939) Directed by Chuck Jones, Written by Rich Hogan
Two dogs hide from a dog catcher in a house haunted by a magician's rabbit- who was apparently an early prototype for Bugs Bunny. This isn't bad animation, but repetition sets in, and while the white rabbit onscreen may have been an inspiration for Bugs, it still isn't Bugs! (* * *) out of five stars.

"Have You Got Any Castles?" (1938) Directed by Frank Tashlin, Written by Jack Miller
This is another one of those short cartoons where characters from books come alive in a dark library and mix. It's all big fun, especially if you can pick out the in-jokes when it comes to the tomes' film adaptations, although I get the feeling the Cab Calloway-inspired segment might be a bit racist? (* * * *) out of five stars.

"Poor Cinderella" (1934) Directed by Dave Fleischer
Betty Boop shows up on this collection, probably because most of the character's appearances are in the public domain, as well. Billed as Boop's first color cartoon, the version on this video is either so washed out, or was recorded from black and white, that Betty's hair comes off as gray. The quality stinks, I would love to see this restored, or at least in color. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Quality is the problem with most of these public domain tapes, and it is a huge setback here. Anonymous companies churned out these EP recorded things at reduced prices, using whatever copy of the work they had available. While some of these tapes are the only way to see some of these films, the picture is awful and I can't imagine spending too much for "Bugs Bunny: 4 Favorite Cartoon Classics." The average star rating of the films is about a four, but for the overall product, I am going with (* * *) out of five stars.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Jurassic Pork: "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" (1985)

A film meant for kids, but featuring nudity, sex, and violence (all to a bouncy Jerry Goldsmith musical score), "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" is a bizarre cinematic misfire.

George (William Katt) is a sports writer accompanying his anthropologist wife Susan (Sean Young) to deepest Africa. She is investigating a local legend that dinosaurs are still living in the jungle, and goes about her studies under the watchful eye of mentor Eric (Patrick MacGoohan, sporting an evil hat and equally evil beard as if he was auditioning for a 007 bad guy role). We have already seen Eric stab a colleague to death to get his hands on some dino-papers, so it appears the Imperialist whites are on the right track.

Susan checks on a poisoned tribe, and she and her ready-to-leave husband stumble on a family of brontosauruses. Eric and his sniveling assistant Nigel (Julian Fellowes) and their band of brutish African soldiers murder the father dino and drug the mother dino up, ready to take her back for study. They don't notice the Baby bronto, but Susan and George do, adopting it like it's a giant puppy while deciding their next move.

Marketed as a fun adventure for the whole family, the film was rated PG by the MPAA. Once the kiddies were planted in their seats, popcorn in hand, they are treated to the adventures of a temporarily orphaned dinosaur. They are also treated to a stabbing in the opening scenes, bare breasted African women, William Katt in wet clingy underwear, a guy getting shot in the neck by an arrow, George and Susan having a little jungle lovin', birds pecking at the bloody carcass of an animal, Sean Young's unclasped bra, battle scenes that look lifted from "The Dogs of War," an electrocution, dying tribal chiefs, angry dino moms chewing on a villain, and one guy getting kicked out of a helicopter to his death. Sure, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was also PG, but that was a throwback to a bygone cinematic era complemented with modern film making techniques. Here, the animatronic dinosaurs are interesting only if you stumbled on them during a less popular ride at a theme park. As film special effects, they are not very good. I spotted black string lifting the heads of the creatures on many occasions (and I watched this on a VHS videotape player and a tube TV!). The miniature effects work better but not by much.

I was a jaded teenager when this came out, and thankfully didn't have to take my younger siblings to it. Now, as a jaded adult, I only scoffed and scratched my bald head in wonder at what I was watching. What I do know is that I wasn't watching a very good film. "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" certainly lost me. (* *) out of five stars.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

1 Star Review! (The Exclamation Point Means FUNNY!): "9 1/2 Ninjas!" (1991)

What seemed like a can't-miss idea on paper (an "Airplane!"-type spoof of "9½ Weeks" and ninja flicks) barely musters any laughs.

The beautiful Lisa Thorne (Andee Gray) is being evicted from her apartment building by the evil land developer Gruber (Robert Fieldsteel). Luckily, she meets handsome businessman/ninja Joe Vogue (Michael Phenicie), who also happens to be getting kicked out of his stylish apartment by Gruber. Thorne and Vogue are the targets of a massive army of ninjas handpicked by Gruber, so Joe must train Lisa how to protect herself, just like his mother (Magda Harout) taught him how to be a ninja.

There are so many good ideas and background silliness going on, it's a shame this film is such a mess. I found myself laughing at the opening sequence, where Lisa walks down the street and distracts every man she passes. Unfortunately, the half-baked ideas take over. For some reason never fully explained, Joe is also a complete klutz. Physical comedy and pratfalls are an art. When they work (any Charlie Chaplin film), they are comedy gold. When they are tacked on as an afterthought (did anyone think Julianne Moore in "Evolution" was hysterical?), they are painful to sit through. This film's goofy pratfalls rarely work. The timing is off, as well, as punchlines to jokes are premeditated to the point of ridiculous predictability. The film's more surreal moments work better, like Don Stark's odd henchman role, and Lisa's kidnapping (the pay phone in the car was silly fun). Don't be fooled by the erotic aspect of the film. If the filmmakers had trimmed a couple of the topless scenes, they would have had a PG13 rated film easily. The strongest cursing here is "bullshit".

The film seems stuck in Joe's stylish apartment for a very large amount of the running time, and it is in these scenes that the film's story becomes stuck as well. I enjoyed the scenes of young Joe being coached by a blind ninja master, but all of the smiles to be had turned to eye-rolling frowns as the cast tries too hard to be wacky. The results dwindle to the point where this is one of the lowest rated films on IMDB, and I notice it was only released on DVD overseas (I have a VHS copy of this tape, confidently recorded in EP mode).

I'm not sure how you might stumble across "9 1/2 Ninjas!" (I got it as part of a five for a dollar VHS sale at a thrift store), but if you spot it somewhere, move on. You can thank me later. (*) out of five stars.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Brown Mountain Project: "Alien Abduction" (2014)

Aside from the generic title and some pretty bad "Airforce" footage, this film is quite the little chiller. It is hard to make the silliness of alien abduction scary, but director Matty Beckerman does an admirable job with Robert Lewis' sometimes repetitive script.

The Morris family- Dad Peter (Pete Holden), Mom Katie (Katherine Sigismund), teen son Riley (Riley Polanski), teen daughter Jillian (Jillian Clare), and young autistic son Corey (Corey Eid)- is on a camping trip to Brown Mountain in the backwoods of North Carolina. You've heard of Brown Mountain, haven't you? Strange lights, creepy disappearances, and such? Well, the Morrises don't care and head out. The entire film is edited from little autistic Corey's video camera, and according to some beginning graphics and footage, this was found by the Air Force's Project: Blue Book- a government program to investigate UFOs (and a short-lived TV series from the late '70's...hmm, just dated myself right there).

The family sees the strange lights one night, but still head deeper into the woods the next morning, coming upon a tunnel full of abandoned vehicles. Peter is attacked by a shadowy alien creature, and the rest of the family must survive in an isolated cabin after being taken in by redneck Sean (Jeff Bowser).

While many jump cuts provide the most scares, director Beckerman seems to have actually planned out many of Corey's camera shots, meaning the shakiness is convincing without making you want to throw up. There is more than enough tributes to "The Blair Witch Project," and this film stands up well against the grand daddy of all found footage horror flicks. The special effects are effective because they don't try to do too much. Some of the scenes get bogged down in familiarity. It is intimated early on that Corey's camera goes a little haywire when the aliens are around, so it's a safe bet that when it is working fine, then the scary noise the cast hears is probably something harmless. I also doubt the servicemen involved in the Project Blue Book events wore uniforms with "PROJECT BLUE BOOK" written on them. That scene had me laughing.

I was impressed with "Alien Abduction," and watching it in a darkened room in the middle of the night only heightened the suspense. Nicely done all around. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Great Director Cashes Out: "Jinxed!" (1982)

An infamous flop when it came out, Don Siegel's final film is a chore of missed opportunities and obvious production problems.

Bonita (Bette Midler) is a second-rate singer following her gambler boyfriend Harold (Rip Torn, the film's only bright spot) from Nevada town to Nevada town. Harold is following blackjack dealer Willie (Ken Wahl). Harold consistently beats Willie at the tables, and Willie consistently gets fired, moving on to the next casino job. Finally, Willie's new boss (Tex Avery) advises Willie to break the jinx by taking something of Harold's, which he does by bedding Bonita. The two fall in love too quickly, and decide to get Harold out of their lives permanently, coming up with a murder plan that can't fail.

I can't go into too much depth from here on out concerning the plot, except to say that it gets very convoluted very quickly. This film was an odd choice for Siegel's swan song (he directed "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Dirty Harry," and "Escape from Alcatraz"). It tries to be a black comedy, complete with some goofball morbid moments, but there is an underlying tension that ruins any "fun" that was to be had.

Wahl and Midler reportedly hated each other and fought constantly. Their onscreen lack of chemistry reflects that. Siegel also stated he would rather starve his family and pets instead of going through directing Midler again. One screenwriter took his name off the film, throwing in a pseudonym. All of this is evident, despite Vilmos Zsigmond's inappropriately beautiful cinematography. Torn isn't playing another lout, the screenplay has him beating Bonita in the past, but he seems to be the only actor to rise above the drama and turn in an actual performance. The Bruce Roberts/Miles Goodman musical score is sure to beat you over the head during the wacky scenes in case Midler's tiresome mugging and screeching doesn't clue you in that this is supposed to be FUNNY. Jack Elam is wasted in the second half of the movie- a bizarre scavenger hunt that feels lifted from another film.

"Jinxed!" was jinxed, doing no business and almost killing Midler's post-"The Rose" film career until "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" and "Ruthless People" came along four years later. It serves as a poor-to-bad movie curiosity, and little more. (* *) out of five stars.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Duke Toils: "The Star Packer" (1934)

The Duke is U.S. Marshal John Travers in this odd western written by director Robert N. Bradbury.

Travers (John Wayne) travels to a small town in order to investigate a crime wave instigated by "The Shadow," an easily identified villain. With his trusty sidekick Yak (Yakima Canutt), Travers also finds himself smitten with Anita (Verna Hillie), the niece of town elder/ranch baron Matlock (George Gabby Hayes, before he became so ornery and Gabbyish). Travers works his way into the job of sheriff after his predecessor serves the shortest term in history, and eventually saves the day.

While the plot is standard B-movie fare, Bradbury creates two giant leaps of bad screenwriting in the film. In some of the opening scenes, for some unknown reason, Travers robs a stagecoach before the real villains get a chance at it. When the villains do come along and find out someone beat them to it, they end up shooting the driver and his shotgun-toting companion, killing one of them. This little plot point is not brought up for the rest of the film, making you wonder if Travers knew what he was doing when he held the thing up. The Shadow's identity is pretty well-known, but I won't spoil it for you. Although, the cook at the Matlock ranch holds onto some pretty important information, letting Anita in on the secret in one scene. The problem is, why did the cook never speak up before, considering his role on the ranch?

The messy screenplay aside, "The Star Packer" serves as a showcase for Yakima Canutt's amazing stuntwork, although his portrayal of Yak, Travers' Native American sidekick, is a little embarrassing. This is a poverty row pic, but Canutt makes it watchable, as does Wayne's earnest performance. Slightly recommended. (* * *) out of five stars.

UnTaken: "A Walk Among the Tombstones" (2014)

I imagine in Liam Neeson's offscreen life, he cannot talk on a telephone without someone with him breaking out in laughter. In his newest film, he again threatens some bad guys, spitting profanity into the receiver, but this time his performance will make you care a little more.

Set in 1999, Neeson is Matthew Scudder, an alcoholic former cop who now makes ends meet as an unlicensed private investigator. He is approached by a revenge seeking drug trafficker (an uneven Dan Stevens) whose wife was kidnapped and raped. Even after a ransom was delivered, the abductors (the chilling duo of David Harbour and Adam David Thompson) murdered the woman and left the body for him to find. After balking at the case, Scudder takes it on, and begins to investigate similar cases that the police were not able to connect. Scattered amongst his investigation are false leads and a lovely sense of paranoia thanks to Y2K fears (remember that?) and some fantastic shots of the killer duo stalking their next target.

Writer/director Scott Frank adapts Lawrence Block's novel and turns it into an interesting flick. It is violent and bloody, with plenty of twists, and Neeson does a great job in the main lead. The cocky expression on his face in the opening gun fight is great, and Frank's ability to lead a character through an actual arc with actual growth and change is almost stunning considering the cookie cutter screenwriting that passes today. The supporting cast is very good, with Olafur Darri Olafsson a standout as a cemetery groundskeeper who once helped the killers. His scenes, and exit from the film, are memorable and I hope the Academy Awards voters remember him early next year.

A few people have taken issue with Scudder's friendship with a homeless kid played by Brian Astro Bradley. I, too. rolled my eyes at their first scene together, but screenwriter/director Frank never takes the relationship between the hero and the boy who emulates him to the annoying heights that brought the excitement of "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" to a full stop in between action set pieces. T.J. is a tough kid, never precocious, and I eventually accepted him. Although Scudder is an alcoholic eight years sober, we thankfully never get the old chestnut scene of him sitting alone in a dive contemplating a cheap drink sitting in front of him. His Alcoholics Anonymous recovery is not just a plot device, it works for him and he dutifully goes to the meetings, repeating his story and weak little joke about why he quit while internalizing the real reason he stopped.

The NYC setting hearkens back to the bleak urban mysteries of the 1970's, Scudder's grasp of 1999 technology is tenuous, but Frank doesn't make it a punchline. Frank also doesn't let Scudder become a superhero. He investigates, playing some witnesses in order to get the information he needs. The two villains are creepy and evil, their scenes reminded me of Fincher's "Zodiac," until their identities are learned (or at least until they come out into the light). There is no conspiracy that finds its way to mayor's mansion or anything- sometimes movie mysteries are allowed to be self-contained.

We have seen Scudder before, played by Jeff Bridges in "8 Million Ways to Die" (now that would have been some interesting casting, over two decades after the now-infamous film!), and Lawrence Block has a number of Scudder novels I imagine are ready to get adapted. Neeson may have found his new franchise, and I wouldn't mind seeing more of this character. "A Walk Among the Tombstones" is Neeson's strongest work in years, and one of the best films I have seen all year. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

He's a Lumberjack, But He's Not Okay: "Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan" (2013)

You know your film is in trouble when the best performance from your cast is thanks to Joe Estevez.

A group of non-descript first-time criminal offenders are shipped off to a week-long boot camp in Minnesota (being portrayed by Ohio and California for this film). It is run by a Sgt. Hoke (Thomas Downey) and sympathetic counselor Ms. K (Kristina Kopf). The five criminals can avoid jail time if they make it through the tough program...and survive a twenty foot tall monster that is wandering around in the woods murdering bears and such. According to a very long expository speech from Meeks (Joe Estevez, who took all his crazy pills before cameras rolled), the monster is Paul Bunyan. The tall tale books got it wrong, this incarnation of Bunyan is bloodthirsty, overreacting to the death of his beloved ox, and seeks vengeance when one of the young criminals (don't worry about their specific characters, they are all dispatched without making any sort of impression on the viewer) steals Babe's horn from a makeshift shrine.

The fact that special effects guru Robert Kurtzman is involved with this silliness is surprising. The film is very violent, very gory, and very awful. The most successful aspect of it are the practical gore effects, but these diamonds in the rough are negated by amateurish acting and some of the silliest computer generated special effects I have ever seen. The film almost had me in the beginning, with Dan Haggerty still trying to be a horror film star (anyone ever seen "Elves"?), but then it quickly slid downhill. So many scenes had me laughing out loud, but the dead seriousness of the script made me realize this wasn't supposed to be "Sharknado"-type awfulness.

The end credits promise us that Bunyan will return (as soon as they go down to Best Buy and get some more of that special effects software). Here's hoping that is a promise the film makers cannot keep. "Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan" is tiny when it comes to entertainment value. (*) out of five stars.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Huh?nt: "Haunt" (2014)

It's another turn at the age old haunted house story, but "Haunt" does answer a very pressing question- whatever happened to Ione Skye?

The Morello family has seen it's share of tragedy. Three of their children die, and when the husband is finally killed by a strange paranormal being, Janet Morello (Jacki Weaver, looking just like Sally Struthers) leaves her giant isolated mansion. The Asher family moves in (Ione Skye relegated to the Mom role), and 18 year old Evan (Harrison Gilbertson) claims the cavernous attic bedroom once occupied by now dead teen Matthew Morello (Sebastian Barr). Evan and his two sisters begin noticing odd things in the house right away. Evan stumbles upon a beaten Sam (Liana Leberato), who is inexplicably drawn to the house, and the two begin a romantic and sexual relationship right under Evan's overly permissive parents' noses. There is a small room just off Evan's bedroom that seems to be the center of creepy activity, although Evan's younger sister Anita (Ella Harris) also finds time to snag an imaginary friend.

Evan and Sam conveniently discover an Electronic Voice Phenomenon machine in the small room, a machine that the original owner of the house was using when he was killed, and the two try it out. Soon, we discover the source of the paranormal activity in the house, and despite a surprising ending, the film makers leave us with many questions unanswered.

They also leave us with a mediocre horror film that does have some good moments. The cold Utah location is outstanding. However, Andrew Barrer's screenplay is padded with some deathly dull dialogue between Evan and Sam about the hauntings. I don't know if he was trying to recreate what was going through the viewers' minds, but much of it leads nowhere. Director Carter makes good use of the jump scare, and adding little pieces of terror in amongst the big house set. The film is already brief, and I wish more work had been done on the screenplay, though. I can't help but come back to what a mess it is, and wonder why no one questioned the leaps in logic, obvious plot turns, and an ending that makes you start your questions with a "yeah, but...".

"Haunt" is purely average, but with enough atmosphere to slightly recommend it. (* * *) out of five stars.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

1916-1939 Films Ranked By Year

Fantomas: In the Shadow of the Guillotine (6/10) Louis Feuillade

The Heart of Texas Ryan (3/10) E.A. Martin

Broken Blossoms (8/10) D.W. Griffith

The Doll (6/10) Ernst Lubitsch
I Don't Want to Be a Man (5/10) Ernst Lubitsch
Headin' Home (5/10) Lawrence C. Windom

Metropolis (8/10) Fritz Lang

The Circus (10/10) Charles Chaplin

Anna Christie (4/10) Clarence Brown

Grand Hotel (7/10) Edmund Goulding

The Invisible Man (10/10) James Whale

The Trail Beyond (7/10) Robert N. Bradbury
The Star Packer (6/10) Robert N. Bradbury
Treasure Island (5/10) Victor Fleming

The Bride of Frankenstein (10/10) James Whale
The 39 Steps (10/10) Alfred Hitchcock

The Mandarin Mystery (7/10) Ralph Staub
General Spanky (5/10) Gordon Douglas, Fred C. Newmeyer
Yellowstone (5/10) Arthur Lubin

The Terror of Tiny Town (1/10) Sam Newfield

At the Circus (5/10) Edward Buzzell

1940-1949 Films Ranked By Year

Chamber of Horrors (6/10) Norman Lee
The Ape (3/10) William Nigh

Gangs, Inc. (5/10) Phil Rosen

Cat People (6/10) Jacques Tourneur
Lady Gangster (6/10) Robert Florey
Baby Face Morgan (6/10) Arthur Dreifuss
The Spoilers (3/10) Ray Enright
The Living Ghost (3/10) William Beaudine

The Night Has Eyes (8/10) Leslie Arliss
The Seventh Victim (5/10) Mark Robson
Phantom of the Opera (3/10) Arthur Lubin
Ghosts on the Loose (1/10) William Beaudine

Go Down, Death! (2/10) Spencer Williams

The Picture of Dorian Gray (8/10) Albert Lewin

My Darling Clementine (10/10) John Ford
Abilene Town (5/10) Edwin L. Marin
Boom in the Moon (1/10) Jaime Salvador

The Search (10/10) Fred Zinnemann
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (8/10) Charles Barton
The Paleface (4/10) Norman Z. McLeod

The Man from Colorado (8/10) Henry Levin

1950-1959 Films Ranked By Year

All About Eve (9/10) Joseph L. Mankiewicz
The Third Man (8/10) Carol Reed
The Men (8/10) Fred Zinnemann
Born Yesterday (7/10) George Cukor
Cinderella (7/10) Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
King Solomon's Mines (6/10) Compton Bennett, Andrew Marton
Destination Moon (6/10) Irving Pichel

Angels in the Outfield (9/10) Clarence Brown
His Kind of Woman (8/10) John Farrow
Racket Girls (1/10) Robert C. Detrano

The Robe (8/10) Henry Koster
Hondo (7/10) John Farrow
Man in the Attic (4/10) Hugo Fregonese
The Bigamist (3/10) Ida Lupino
Captain John Smith and Pocahontas (2/10) Lew Landers
Glen or Glenda (1/10) Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Animal Farm (9/10) Joy Batchelor, John Halas
The Glenn Miller Story (9/10) Anthony Mann
Creature from the Black Lagoon (6/10) Jack Arnold
Jail Bait (1/10) Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Bride of the Monster (1/10) Edward D. Wood, Jr.

The Ladykillers (7/10) Alexander Mackendrick
The Bad Seed (3/10) Mervyn LeRoy

The Incredible Shrinking Man (8/10) Jack Arnold
The True Story of Jesse James (5/10) Nicholas Ray
Pharaoh's Curse (3/10) Lee Sholem
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1/10) Gene Fowler, Jr.

Attack of the Puppet People (6/10) Bert I. Gordon

The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery (8/10) Charles Guggenheim, John Stix
The Angry Red Planet (4/10) Ib Melchior
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1/10) Edward D. Wood, Jr.

With Friends Like These, Who Needs a Prostitute?: "My Best Friend's Wife" (2001)

I am very nearly the same age as the two main caricatures in the film "My Best Friend's Wife," and I admit to thinking about casual sex in the same way they do. Generation X came of age during the AIDS crisis, which put a damper on all the hippie free-love and swingin' we observed in the 1970's. Best friends ad man Steve (John Stamos) and attorney Eric (Daniel London) resort to the same situation the characters in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" did, with shallow and predictable results.

Shallow and predictable can describe our "heroes" as well as this film. There is an element of sleaze that permeates every scene, an "eww" quotient that makes you want to shower after every plot turn. Eric constantly jokes about swapping wives with Steve, but the joke is never funny to the characters or the viewer. Eric is married to the stunning Ami (the stunning Meredith Salenger), who wants to start a family. Steve is married to Claire (Tara Westwood), an underwritten character who works with Eric. After losing out on a dream job, Steve decides Eric's dumb idea deserves practice as the men already seem to be in the throes of a midlife crisis while only in their early 30's. The wives act appropriately outraged, but eventually come around based on the flimsiest of reasoning (this was written by two men). After the couples swap, there is naturally fallout despite the best laid plans, and the decades-old friendships begin to suffer.

Of the four main performers, Salenger comes off best because she is the last to cave and the most rounded character. She is given two clicheed overbearing parents in the form of Jessica Walter and Tony Roberts, but finally agreeing to the swap so she can start having babies and show up her parents makes little sense. These characters are supposed to be urbane, and the plot "zany," but bits like Steve doing an ad agency-style pitch to his wife about why they should do this falls flat. Director Finelli's use of fadeouts in some scenes made me think I was watching a dirty network television movie with the commercials edited out. The odd loud musical score is all wrong, and I wished for more scenes with Steve and Eric's college roommate Chuck (Bill Sage), a bachelor who sleeps with younger women based on whether they know who the Fonz is.

"My Best Friend's Wife" is a small film, and a small-minded one. It's characters annoy from the first few scenes, and major marital issues like infidelity are played for awkward laughs. I simply did not like these people. Now if you will excuse me, it's time for that shower. (*) out of five stars.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

1960-1969 Films Ranked By Year

The Apartment (9/10) Billy Wilder
The Wackiest Ship in the Army (7/10) Richard Murphy
Cage of Evil (6/10) Edward L. Cahn
The Amazing Transparent Man (1/10) Edgar G. Ulmer

Greyfriars Bobby (8/10) Don Chaffey
Purple Noon (8/10) Rene Clement
The Head (6/10) Victor Trivas
West Side Story (5/10) Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise

Barabbas (10/10) Richard Fleischer
Doctor Blood's Coffin (7/10) Sidney J. Furie

8 1/2 (10/10) Federico Fellini
Charade (9/10) Stanley Donen
Knife in the Water (5/10) Roman Polanski
Sword of Lancelot (5/10) Cornel Wilde
The Birds (3/10) Alfred Hitchcock
Papa's Delicate Condition (3/10) George Marshall
The Raven (1/10) Roger Corman

Seance on a Wet Afternoon (10/10) Bryan Forbes
A Shot in the Dark (9/10) Blake Edwards
Goldfinger (8/10) Guy Hamilton
Harakiri (8/10) Masaki Kobayashi
The Pink Panther (6/10) Blake Edwards
Marnie (4/10) Alfred Hitchcock
My Tale is Hot (1/10) Peter Perry, Jr.

The Leather Boys (8/10) Sidney J. Furie
Ecco (4/10) Gianni Proia
Orgy of the Dead (1/10) Stephen C. Apostolof

How to Steal a Million (9/10) William Wyler
A Man for All Seasons (8/10) Fred Zinnemann
The Forbidden (6/10) Benjamin Andrews, Lee Frost
The Bible (4/10) John Huston
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (4/10) Terence Fisher

The Night of the Generals (8/10) Anatole Litvak
You Only Live Twice (7/10) Lewis Gilbert
Dont Look Back (6/10) D.A. Pennebaker
The Jungle Book (5/10) Wolfgang Reitherman
She-Man (5/10) Bob Clark
The Jackals (4/10) Robert D. Webb
Hot Rods to Hell (1/10) John Brahn

Blue (10/10) Silvio Narizzano
Funny Girl (7/10) William Wyler
Smoke and Flesh (7/10) Joseph Mangine
Inga (6/10) Joseph W. Sarno
Daughters of Lesbos (6/10) Peter Woodcock
African Safari (6/10) Ronald E. Shanin
The Thomas Crown Affair (4/10) Norman Jewison
Villa Rides (4/10) Buzz Kulik

Goto, Island of Love (8/10) Walerian Borowczyk
The Cremator (8/10) Juraj Herz
Alice in Acidland (7/10) John Donne
Sweet Charity (7/10) Bob Fosse
True Grit (6/10) Henry Hathaway
Mackenna's Gold (5/10) J. Lee Thompson
The Desperados (4/10) Henry Levin
Alice's Restaurant (4/10) Arthur Penn
99 Women (4/10) Jesus Franco
The Night of the Following Day (1/10) Hubert Cornfield
Charro! (1/10) Charles Marquis Warren