Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sacre Bleu Movie: "Exhibition" (1975)

The only thing really notable about this navel gazing documentary detailing the life of a French pornographic film actress (sorry, "erotic" film actress) was its acceptance forty years ago into the mainstream New York Film Festival. While scandalous in its day, the film is an exercise in tedium, but with occasional explicit sex to wake a snoozing audience.

Claudine Beccarie is a thirty-year old porn actress. She handles all of her own job offers and representation, so Davy captures her on phone calls lining up work and trying to get paid for past performances. The hardcore sexual scenes in the film are not from any of her previous films, however. Davy sets up Beccarie and some of her co-stars to have sex on cue, and then talks to them about the psychology of what they are doing. We get to have an obligatorily uncomfortable interview with Beccarie and her mother (both are remembering Claudine's upbringing a little differently), and Beccarie's fiance, who is ten years her junior.

Unfortunately, Davy is a little more fascinated with Claudine than the viewer is. Most of the female actresses here have overly-plucked eyebrows, so they constantly wear an expression of mild surprise during the screen time. Beccarie is an attractive woman who could have had a career in mainstream films if she had chosen that route. Instead, she seems to be working on her inner demons through pornographic film making, touting her individualism and freedom.

The mid-70's decor and fashion are hilarious. Davy spends a lot of time onscreen himself, in scenes that seem very planned and artificial. Claudine's story of living in a brothel after leaving home as a teenager sounds like the plot to a soap opera she had watched pre-interview. One scene with her and an attractive young man is cringe-worthy only because the man either doesn't speak French and cannot respond to Claudine's questions and direction, or he might be mentally deficient. It's odd that we watch Claudine and her friends in all their naked glory, copulate on camera, get an interview with the people in her life, yet the one subject she refuses to discuss is her politics.

Sitting through the two weird epilogues, and a cursory check of IMDB.com, shows this entire two-hour exercise (it took me days to watch this) is moot. For all of Beccarie's condescension about the porn film business- what she does is erotica, not porn- and her slamming of that new American hit entitled "Deep Throat," she ended up leaving the hardcore sexual film industry a year or two after this was made. Davy would go on to make other "Exhibition" films, focusing on a different subject, but if they are anything like this, I don't want to spend another two hours or so having to listen to the drivel; unless it's coming from an actress named Beatrice Harnois who pops up way too late in this film, and is unbelievably gorgeous. Her initial scene is a yawn-fest as one actress reads some erotica she wrote (yeah, right) while the cast members act it out- badly.

"Exhibition" is the bonus feature on Artsploitation Films' DVD release of Davy's new film "Chasing the Muse," where he seems to get into the action himself (if a viewing of that film's trailer is any indication). This one star's story gets two stars from me. (* *) out of five stars.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

She'll Give You Such a Pinch: "Queen Crab" (2015)

Billing itself as a throwback to the stop-motion work of Ray Harryhausen, "Queen Crab" is a goofy sci-fi/horror flick with everything you would expect from those exploitation pictures of decades past- including promising more than it delivers.

Melissa (Michelle Miller) is a young woman who mostly keeps to herself on a patch of rural farmland near a pond. She has lived there since her scientist dad and harpy step-mother were killed in a lab explosion inadvertently caused by Melissa's new pet crab, Pee-Wee. She had been feeding it some of her father's experimental specimens (he seemed to be working on an early version of GMOs), and the crab started to grow. All grown up, and being raised by her uncle and local sheriff, Ray (Ken Van Sant), Melissa threatens anyone who trespasses on her property. Old high school friend, now B movie actress, Jennifer (Kathryn Metz) stops for a visit, and the two reconnect after years apart. Also stopping in the small Crabbe County town is Stewart (A.J. DeLucia) from the state wildlife commission. Local cattle have been getting slaughtered by an animal that leaves bizarre prints, and Stewart arrives to investigate.

What the cast and the viewer eventually find out is that Pee-Wee, Melissa's crab, has grown to the size of a large pickup truck, and has started to have "little" babies (the eggs are as big as basketballs). Melissa tries to save her pet, Stewart wants to study it, and Ray wants to kill it; and all the while, Pee-Wee wanders from her home pond to wreak stop motion and computer animated havoc across the countryside.

Writer/director Piper is well-versed in the old Harryhausen canon, and does a nice homage to the master. This is not complicated stuff, and neither is it scary or even smart. It does serve its purpose- to deliver surface thrills and chills, while the audience waits for a scene that even remotely resembles the DVD cover art. In this day and age of winking films like the Sharknado series, Piper and his cast and crew jump on the bandwagon.

The special effects are very obvious, although they are a nice mix of old and new school techniques. The sound recording is difficult to hear, but the cast seems to be having a lot of fun and are in on the joke. Old chestnuts from those monster movies are trotted out, and I had a nice time reminiscing.

"Queen Crab" offers the viewer a warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia, and not much else- the gore is just over the PG13-level and there isn't any nudity to speak of. I smiled during most of it, I had fun watching it, but if anything I want to rewatch the original "Clash of the Titans" or "Jason and the Argonauts" over this. Judging from the previews, Wild Eye Releasing will be bringing more of this to a screen near you. This is unrated, and contains physical violence, gun violence, gore, some profanity, and alcohol and tobacco use. (* * *) out of five stars.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Ich Factor: "The Summer House" (2015)

This uncomfortable look at the disintegration of a modern German family is full of malaise and Bergmanesque ruminations on isolation. Peel away the frou-frou, and what you are left with is the story of reprehensible characters who get everything they deserve.

Markus (Sten Jacobs) works in construction with business partner Christopher (Stephan Burgi). I have read that they are architects, but the film doesn't really tell us what they do on projects. Christopher owes over 100,000 Euros thanks to some shady dealings, and Markus agrees to pay some of the tax bill, but not all of it. Christopher tells his son Johannes (Jaspar Fuld) to be nice to his schoolmate, and Markus' daughter, Elisabeth (Nina Splettstober), not realizing that the burgeoning friendship between the two twelve year olds isn't what Christopher should be worrying about. Markus is having an affair with another man (meeting up for a quickie while Elisabeth waits in the car). Markus' wife is Christine (Anna Altmann), a morose woman with a permanently pained facial expression who never seems to leave the apartment the family shares.

Markus eyes Johannes, and invites him to their summer house, a small cottage surrounded by a claustrophobic garden on the outskirts of the city. Markus is grooming Johannes, and trying to juggle his marital problems with Christine. Elisabeth is the victim of Christine's increasingly suicidal nervous breakdown, and Burz forces us to watch the trio watch each other.

Maybe if this family had been semi-normal to begin with, then their eventual downfall would have been more effective. Markus and Christine are vile, exhibiting behavior that the viewer will find repulsive. I might have had some sympathy for Markus and Christine if they didn't engage in partner sexual swapping with Christopher and his girlfriend Anne (a, sadly, clothed Natascha Zimmermann), or Christine wouldn't put her head in a noose while her young daughter watched. Call it what you want, or excuse it how you want, but Markus is a child molester. You simply cannot hope things get better for him as he begins to cover his crimes thanks to Johannes popping into his life at the worst times.

Despite the subject matter, the cast does very well with what they are given. Christine and Elisabeth speak English to each other, so Elisabeth can get into a good school, and their "secret language" is a nice touch (as is Markus' reaction to it). Even in the halting English scenes, Altmann and Splettstober score, and I thought their interaction worked better than anything else here.

Burz did a lot of things- writing, directing, producing, editing; and the film is inexpensive but looks professional and fantastic. The cinematography is bright and beautiful (the characters are dark and gloomy...yes, we get it), and the mournful Chopin-like piano score is appropriate. Burz introduces a thriller element too late in the film, it feels clumsy and added-on, and I feel like his screenplay isn't so much a study of a family in crisis as a study of a family doing things to make you squirm. Burz doesn't try to shock like Larry Clark does, but he comes close.

"The Summer House" is a misstep in Artsploitation Films' canon. This is not rated by the MPAA, but contains profanity, nudity, sexual content, and very strong adult situations. (* *) out of five stars.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hey, World, Liberate THESE: "The Sexually Liberated Female" (1970)

This faux documentary, released to capitalize on the runaway bestseller "The Sensuous Woman" by the pseudonymous "J," and written and directed by one of Jayne Mansfield's ex-husbands, is a goofy hoot.

Narrated by a breathless and oddly named Lindis Guinness, the sixty-five minute film tells American women that they need to step up their sexual game if they want to compete with the more sensuous (and in some ways, looser) European and Oriental women for the American Male's attention. If only our country wasn't founded by the Puritans, whose belief system was somehow ingrained into the American female psyche all of these generations later...one example of the suspect science at work in the film.

Because most American women lay around all day, without employment or children to worry about, they should use things around the house to explore their bodies. One hilarious sequence involves a woman caressing hideous late 1960s decorous items like a lamp and that sexy vase. Sensuously rubbing yourself with an apple is funny enough, but choosing assorted vegetables to insert into your genitalia (watch out for that radish) is both hysterical and gross. The hardcore sex scenes are not sensuous at all, and filmed in the name of "instruction."

The uncredited cast of women go through the motions, with the woman who masturbates being the cutest one. A couple of women sport ill-fitting wigs, one of which almost falls off during an explicit sex scene. The anal sex scene is difficult to watch mostly because the couple looks angry at each other, and Matt Cimber's camera may be recording the beginnings of a physical altercation. A brief interview on Vinegar Syndrome's release of the film (the company had to make do with a pretty lousy source print) with Cimber indicates that Cimber wrote and filmed this as a lark, and was sued over the film. The director was triumphant, the film was a smash, and Cimber is correct: the film is a lark, and a relic.

"The Sexually Liberated Female" is also known as "The Sensually Liberated Female"- the opening credit's title as well as sounding a little more similar to the sexual manual that inspired it. Feminists today would probably protest this as misogynistic, but in all honesty it's funnier than a lot of mainstream comedies in your streaming queue right now. (* * *) out of five stars.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Don't Worry, "Taken 3," You Aren't the Worst Sequel of 2015: "Hotel Transylvania 2" (2015)

The gang from the smash-hit is back, in a film that screams for more hotel and less Adam Sandler screenwriting.

Dracula's (Adam Sandler) daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) is living with her human dude husband Jonathan (Andy Samberg) at the titular hotel, where Jonathan is given a social networking job to deal with the influx of humans into Transylvania. Mavis and Jonathan also have a toddler named Dennis (Asher Blinkoff), who is half human and half vampire, and no one is sure if the boy will be a monster or not. Dracula wants Dennis' fangs to come in as soon as possible, but the overly protective Mavis is letting nature take its course. Jonathan loves his job at the hotel, so Drac sends the couple off to California to show Mavis how awful Jonathan's home state is (so the couple won't move away), and to work on turning the adorable Dennis into a bloodthirsty supernatural being. Dracula and his friends take Dennis on a road trip, exposing Dennis to all of Dracula's old haunts (which have all changed since humans arrived), and each monster tries to demonstrate their evil with disastrous results. In the meantime, Mavis is enthralled by the human world, until she realizes what Dracula has been doing and literally flies back to Transylvania to confront her meddling father.

Wait. There's more wackiness. Mel Brooks is introduced, much too late, as Dracula's estranged father Vlad. He also is worried that Dennis' fangs haven't come in, and no one has told him that Mavis married a human. Much like Jonathan disguising himself as a monster in the first film, Jonathan's visiting suburban family must all disguise themselves as monsters to fool the old vampire.

"Hotel Transylvania" worked because of the manic energy that Sandler and Samberg brought. That film moved, not allowing anyone to catch their breath, and brought some nice emotional moments as well. Its sequel lays there like a corpse. All of that energy is gone, and the two main plot thrusts of the film make it feel like two DIFFERENT films, and therefore, much longer. Gone is the poking fun at human conventions through the eyes of the monsters. Here, bad puns take over, and for a film called "HOTEL Transylvania 2," we don't get a lot of time at the hotel. Some great ideas are touched upon, but Sandler and Robert Smigel's script doesn't pursue them. The first film ended with a fun musical number, this film ends with a whimper- and makes the viewer sit through half the credits hoping another clip will pop up where they were saving the real laughs...we left once the cast list started rolling, possible mid-end credits joke be damned. I write this review in the final hours of my birthday (what'd you get me?). On my birthday two years ago, me and the little woman sat through "Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2"- another disappointing sequel to a fun original animated flick. I'm thinking this tradition will be ending after tonight.

To read that cast list, you would have thought the film would be a riot. It has a few laughs and too few great scenes, but those bright spots are overwhelmed by a cast and director turning in a half-assed effort. I checked out of "Hotel Transylvania 2" just after the opening title credit. (*) out of five stars.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Eye Witness: "Amish Grace" (2010)

This Lifetime made-for-television film commits a huge blunder in its opening seconds.

The Grabers are an Amish family- father Gideon (Matt Letscher), mother Ida (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), and daughters Katie and Mary Beth (Karley Scott Collins and Madison Davenport). The girls attend a nearby school in their Pennsylvania community, and life is good. In October of 2006, Charlie Roberts (Matt Churchill) walked into the schoolhouse and murdered five girls before taking his own life. One of the children killed was Mary Beth. Among those grieving is Charlie's wife Amy (a fantastic Tammy Blanchard), and her father (Gary Graham). They had no idea this upstanding husband and family man was going to do something so horrible, and the Roberts family is really thrown when the Amish males come to help Amy and forgive the man who killed some of their offspring.

Not everyone is forgiving, however. Ida's sister is shunned for leaving the Amish faith, and with the help of a completely unrealistic television news reporter (Fay Masterson), Ida decides to leave the community herself. She cannot stomach forgiving anyone for what happened, but she isn't allowed to vent and speak out about her disagreement with the others.

The film desperately tries to raise some important questions about forgiveness and faith. I know straight away I wouldn't be able to forgive the killer so quickly. I can't even forgive those who have done less against me on a daily basis! The screenwriters present both sides of the argument, with Ida and Gideon seeming to be in the right. The crime was horrible and heartbreaking, and we may never know why Roberts did what he did, despite the easy movie reasons (which differ from other motives I have read about). And what of the Graber family? Did they ever reconcile their anger with their faith? I don't know. According to an opening crawl before the film, the Grabers are a fictional family. This tidbit of information almost completely negates the following hour and a half. The Grabers are based on a real family, but if they are fictitious, then how many more liberties did the screenwriters take with the characters (aside from the obvious). Names have been changed, families imagined, and what we are left with is something along the lines of a "Law and Order" episode that was torn from today's headlines, but *wink-wink* isn't based on any real people.

The Amish domestic scenes are excruciating in their bland happiness, and Williams-Paisley can't seem to nail her character down until after the shootings. Blanchard is excellent as Roberts' wife, never understanding why these strange people are helping her. Champion's direction is good, but his shots feel confined. He breaks out once in a while, but then pulls a scene out of his hat that is cringe-inducing in its obviousness (Roberts' funeral).

The film was based on a book of the same name, and I have also read that the authors tried to distance themselves from the production (which broke ratings records when it debuted). "Amish Grace" is a well-acted mess, and I wouldn't take anything you see as gospel. It was rated TV-PG and contains some adult situations. (* * *) out of five stars.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Long and Hard...to Endure: "Marathon" (1983)

Considering I can condense the plot of this film into one sentence, this might be a short review. A costumed group of people, numbering over a dozen, have a sex party, which they move to a hospital room when they find out two partygoers were injured in a ski lift accident. Plot done.

The film is nothing more than two marathon orgy scenes, interrupted only when Jamie Gillis magically answers a non-ringing phone. The wasted opportunity boasts well-known porn performer names, even if you are not familiar with porn- Gillis, William Margold, Sharon Mitchell, John Holmes, and Ron Jeremy. Unfortunately, Gillis seems bored, and Holmes looks like he was hit by a bus on the way to the shoot.

The Vinegar Syndrome transfer is their usual bright and clear job, but in this instance the film wasn't worth the effort. Sure, there's a big name cast here literally going through the motions, but anyone looking for a clash of the porn titans will need to look elsewhere. Also surprising is Edgar G. Warren's writing credit, since no one can convince me anything you see onscreen was written down beforehand. The canned music is more entertaining than the sex scenes, or when bored you can see how many times Tobalina's camera finds the edge of the carpet on set, downstage from all the humping.

"Marathon" is a chore to sit through. You can almost spot the moment when adult films went from stories with explicit sexual scenes to nothing but anatomical parts bumping together (Tobalina shows only a few faces, so half the time you have no idea who you are seeing have sex). Don't run this marathon. This is self-rated (X) and contains very strong pornographic sexual content, very strong nudity, and profanity. (*) out of five stars.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Clay Causes Carnage: "A Plague So Pleasant" (2013)

It must be frustrating for a film maker to have a vision of their story in their head, but not the budget to make it a reality. Some film makers give up and move on, and some make do with what they have and hope for the best. Benjamin Roberds and Jordan Reyes make do, and make an effective film that shakes things up in the zombie cinema canon.

Clay (David Chandler) narrates his bland black and white world. The recent zombie apocalypse lasted twelve hours, and now the living and the walking dead coexist uneasily. Shooting a zombie in the head is a crime, since that act provokes the zombies. The zombies cooperate by not eating humans, instead snacking on oats. Visiting dead friends and relatives is a possibility thanks to zombie reserves where they roam around. The undead are a nuisance, as humans must sit in on boring meetings about how to handle the infestation but as always, the government has a plan in case there is an uprising.

Clay's ultra-douchey roommate Todd (Max Moody) is interested in Clay's sister, Mia (Eva Boehnke). Mia turns him down, saying she has a boyfriend- which is partially true. Twice a week, Mia visits her dead boyfriend at one of the zombie reserves, knitting him clothing and pretending everything is fine except for the fact that he is dead. Todd hits on an idea. Why not remove the boyfriend from the equation by shooting him? He's on a reserve, what could possibly go wrong?

Roberds and Reyes pick this moment to do a complete change in the look of the film that works so well. This isn't a comedy, the opening scenes are more satirical on par with a Coen brothers film. When the film heads into gory horror, that is also handled well. The story clocks in at under eighty minutes, a perfect running time for the plot. Budgetary restraints are evident, though. Some of the makeup is obvious, the video picture is less than clear here and there, and the sound mix is all over the place (the lone song in here is played too loudly).

However, the cast is very good. Roberds edited and Reyes did the cinematography, and both handle those extra jobs very well. I liked Roberds' ideas in the film, and that he didn't turn this into a guffawing comedy that probably would not have worked as well. The violence and gore are strong, and Chandler dutifully carries the film on his shoulders.

"A Plague So Pleasant" is definitely something different, and refreshes a genre that is getting more and more stale by the week. Zombies deserve more efforts like this (from Wild Eye Releasing). The film is not rated by the MPAA, and contains strong physical violence, brief gun violence, strong gore, profanity, brief nudity, and adult situations. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Horse Dicks ARE Funny: "Seth" (2015)

Actor Zach Lasry steps behind the camera for this funny short film. Seth (a very good Logan George) wakes up and resolves to complete all of his goals in one single day. With the urging of his stuffed animal friends, he does indeed eat more corn, and reads inspirational Michael Jordan quotes. He checks each item off the list, and celebrates with a party before being called out by one stuffed bunny (?) named Christopher- Seth didn't impress his stoic father (Emmett Smith). Dad is attuned to Seth's bizarre behavior, and tolerates it for the most part, admitting he doesn't think much of his obviously disturbed son. Seth sets out to complete his goal anyway.

Because the running time is just fifteen minutes, Lasry jumps into the madness right away, not giving the viewer a chance to breathe. George is hilarious, embracing the character with little benefit (to us) of a back story. Smith is also great, and he and George work well together. The humor is bizarre and fast-paced. We even get a musical montage while watching the preparation Seth goes through. Not everyone will think this kind of thing is funny, but I think it caught me on the right day and mood...hopped up on pain killers and planted in a recliner thanks to a thrown-out back.

On the technical side, the film is flawless. A clear picture, nice editing, perfect sound recording; all of it scores. I don't know if something like this could be expanded to a feature length idea (think "The Jerk" on acid), but the likable two-man cast is fun to watch. "Seth" is currently making the festival rounds, you could do worse than spare it a quarter hour or so. "Seth" contains mild physical violence, some profanity, brief nudity, sexual references, and strong adult situations. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Penthouse Gore 'Em: "The Comeback" (1979)

I haven't seen this film in over three decades, but a rewatch shows it still packs an over-the-top punch. Jack Jones is pop singer Nick Cooper, who has been on a six year hiatus from recording at the insistence of his wife Gail (Holly Palance). The couple has just divorced, and Nick decides to go back to recording for music executive Webster (David Doyle). Gail? Oh, Gail is savagely murdered in the estranged couple's London penthouse by a killer with a small scythe and sporting an old woman's mask.

Nick is put up in an English country house where the servants Mr. and Mrs. B (Bill Owen and Pete Walker regular Sheila Keith) are taking care of the estate while it's owners are on a year-long cruise. The B's are an odd couple, but Nick takes to the house's isolation and starts recording. Nick also takes to Linda (Pamela Stephenson), Webster's secretary. The two begin seeing each other, as Gail's body decomposes in the penthouse, almost getting discovered on a couple of occasions. Red herring suspects in the murder increase with the introduction of Harry (Peter Turner), Nick's creepy go-fer. Nick begins having nightmares, and the hallucinations turn real as someone wants to either drive him insane or kill him off themselves.

Although I had not seen this in over thirty years, some scenes still stuck with me: the murders are gory, a surprising cast member's character is actually a cross-dresser, there is an instance of tree vandalism, and Stephenson's bare rump. What I didn't remember is how good a job Jones does despite some convenient filmmaking cheats. When Nick sees a gory sight, he runs away from it or hides, giving the body or body part a chance to disappear. Jones plays his role well, sporting a nice delivery whether singing or reacting to the craziness around him. Stephenson is an attractive leading lady, and Doyle and Johnson provide ample support. Sheila Keith is always good in these roles, but I dare you to shake her similarity to Robin Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire. Now that I have mentioned it, that is going to be all you think about when she is onscreen.

Walker is known for his crazed exploitation (I saw "House of Whipcord"), and he is given ample opportunity here. The description I have read about the film, that Nick's ex-wife haunts him, isn't really true, although there is a supernatural element tossed into this glossy slasher flick, which will remind you of everything from "Curtains" to any other slasher film of the late 1980's. The story does drag a bit in the third act, and I probably would have figured out (and remembered) the climax if I had thought about it a little more.

My poor father. He dragged his rabid film loving son to this, "Friday the 13th Part 2," and "An American Werewolf in London" before he realized that I was thrilling to the gore and nudity while he desperately searched for a Universal monster like the ones he grew up watching. Once HBO came along, kids my age didn't need to get an adult to vouch them into a theater, the blood and boobs appeared in our living rooms!

I watched "The Comeback" on a dodgy Media Blasters DVD transfer that left a lot to be desired. Horror fans will want to seek it out, some parts of this have to be seen to be believed. The MPAA rated this (R) and it contains strong physical violence, gore, some profanity, brief nudity, some sexual content, sexual references, some adult situations, and alcohol and tobacco use. (* * * *) out of five stars.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

From Frankenstein's Monster to Some Dude in a Monkey Suit: "The Ape" (1940)

Boris Karloff is a subdued mad scientist trying to cure a debilitating disease despite the best efforts of local townsfolk, his patient's simple-minded boyfriend, and an escaped circus primate.

Dr. Bernard Adrian (Boris Karloff) is a reclusive physician whose house the neighborhood kids regularly vandalize. He lost his wife and daughter to a "paralysis disease" (polio is mentioned on one video box) and he is treating the beautiful wheelchair-bound Frances (Maris Wrixon). A cut-rate circus comes to town, and Frances and beau Danny (Gene O'Donnell) gleefully react to stock footage of clowns and trapeze artists.

The circus' ape attacks a cruel trainer after the show, and a fire erupts from a dropped cigar. The trainer is taken to Dr. Adrian's, where the doc is able to continue his experiments on this gift of fate (in the film's one memorable scene). The trainer dies, but suddenly Frances can feel her legs, thanks to some spinal serum the doctor was able to extract. The ape attacks the doctor's home, and Adrian subdues him. As the local sheriff and fedora-brandishing posse search for the murdering ape, Adrian both hides the animal and works for an ever-improving Frances' cure.

This cheap little Monogram production runs just 62 minutes, and the majority of the budget may have gone to the ape suit some uncredited actor must wear. The film is almost too lean, the story moves so briskly that the big climax is hilarious. After three-second shots and characterization lumped into goofy lines of dialogue (at one point, Danny confesses that he hates things he doesn't understand), the film makers try to slow things down for emotional scenes full of Scooby-Doo-like unmaskings and medical miracles. It doesn't work.

The cast is alright, given the material (which was inspired by a play?...yikes!). Karloff is very good, not playing the role as evil but sympathetic. Even his body language is interesting, hunched over and trying not to be noticed. Nigh's direction is standard- nothing showy.

"The Ape" is cheap, fast, and too controlled. It won't touch you, change you, or challenge you. (* *) out of five stars.

Does the World Really Need Another Mafia Comedy?: "Avenging Angelo" (2003)

With the terrific success of "The Sopranos," and with "Married to the Mob" and "Prizzi's Honor" lurking in their collective subconscious, the film makers behind "Avenging Angelo" have some big cement shoes to fill, or I should say, fail to fill.

Angelo (Anthony Quinn) is a dying mob boss accompanied by his faithful bodyguard Frankie (Sylvester Stallone). Years before, Angelo fathered a daughter, Jennifer (Madeleine Stowe), but gave her up to a childless family. A contract had been put out on any child Angelo may have, so he and Frankie kept their distance but always kept an eye on Jennifer.

Jennifer grows up into a rich neurotic housewife married to jerk Kip (Harry Van Gorkum). Angelo gets whacked, Frankie is injured, and he goes to Jennifer to tell her the truth about her real father and protects her as hitmen begin hunting her down. Now, that's only the beginning! Author Marcello (Raoul Boya) enters Jennifer's life, sweeping her off her feet. Frankie's love stays unrequited as Jennifer decides to take out a hit on the man responsible for Angelo's death.

What the DVD cover for the film doesn't tell you is this tries to be a comedy, and I emphasize the word "tries." Stallone is very likable as Frankie, and Quinn is sympathetic in his last role. Stowe throws herself completely into the film, giving us her most memorable character since "12 Monkeys" and "The Last of the Mohicans." It's a shame the film tries too hard to cram every funny idea it has into ninety-some odd minutes, because snappier editing might have helped. Jokes about Jennifer's adoptive dad's homosexuality go over like a fart in church. A running gag about Frankie disposing of bodies at Jennifer's mansion (where a farting hitman goes over like, well, a fart in church, too) is abandoned. Jennifer's first "hit" takes too long and comes at a weird time in the film.

The story never progresses smoothly as characters and situations are hurriedly introduced and executed, as if a treatment and not a screenplay was filmed. It's easy to see why "Avenging Angelo" went right to video, and probably resides in the Action section at your local video store thanks to the misleading cover art. Forget Angelo, I want my ninety-six minutes avenged. (* *) out of five stars.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Case for Treatment: "The Treatment" (2015)

Ye olde police procedural has been around for decades, with dozens of examples being shown on television every night of the week. There is rarely anything new to offer, and the comfortable television shows follow a routine in their episodes that rarely challenges the average viewer- "Bones" and "Criminal Minds," I'm looking at you. Director Hans Herbots and screenwriter Carl Joos takes an English crime novel (by Mo Hayder), and the age old police conventions, and shakes things up a bit. The evil of some of our fellow humans is ratcheted up, and this film contains an excruciating final scene that will stick with you for days. To say "The Treatment" is a dark film is an understatement.

Nick Cafmeyer (an excellent Geert Van Rampelberg) is a driven inspector dealing with the demons of his past. His younger brother was kidnapped, and the uncharged prime suspect (Johann van Assche) in the case continues to bother the detective to this day. Nick's new case involves another missing child, and old wounds are reopened as Nick confronts similarities to his past. The missing child's parents almost died from dehydration as the kidnapper handcuffed them for days without food or water while the boy was assaulted. Many suspects come out of the woodwork (I wouldn't identify them as "red herrings," though), and a driven Nick investigates under the sympathetic watchful eye of boss Danni (Ina Geerts).

The brilliance of Joos' screenplay is that just when you think you have everything figured out, the film throws a curve ball that has you questioning yourself again and again. This is not a gimmicky strategy, but an organic product of the story. The film upsets the conventions (thankfully, no interrogation room theatrics) expertly. The plot is so damn compelling. I was glued to what was happening, and followed the characters to where the story went with both fascination and repulsion.

Herbots' camera is cold and unflinching. There are a number of scenes that will make you squirm and turn away, and it's depressing that this type of crime is being committed on a daily basis around the world (don't believe me, just watch the news). The editing by Philippe Ravoet is breathtaking. Often, the film will cut back and forth between two or three scenes, all of which have something vital to the plot happening, and the viewer won't be able to take their eyes off the screen. Van Rampelberg is a handsome actor, but this isn't an action film, and he is able to deliver a troubled performance that should get him awards. Of course, if this is remade, the role is perfect for Liam Neeson, if he hadn't played almost the exact same character in "A Walk Among the Tombstones."

"The Treatment," also known as "De Behandeling," is another winner from Artsploitation Films, and one that will haunt you for days. You'll never look at "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" the same way again, and if you do, you might find it bland. This is one of the best films of the year. (* * * * *) out of five stars.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Capsule Reviews Volume VIII

The Amateur Hookers
(1972) feature film (*) out of five stars
While on vacation, two young women turn to prostitution to pay their hotel bill. Typical 1970's porn, with hideous decor and equally hideous acting. Two of the men in this look so similar to one another, I fear they might be brothers. No performers or crew is credited, and that is probably the smartest decision anyone involved with this production made (good pirated jazz score, though). This is available from Something Weird Video on a double bill with "Finishing School" on DVD-R. (X)- Profanity, strong female nudity, strong male nudity, explicit sexual content, adult situations, alcohol consumption.

American Pie Presents Band Camp
Directed by Steve Rash, Written by Brad Riddell, Cast: Tad Hilgenbrink, Eugene Levy, Arielle Kebbel, Jason Earles
(2005) feature film (*) out of five stars
The little brother of the character Stifler from the theatrical films goes to band camp, wreaking havoc and causing mayhem, because the film makers decided you're too stupid to require laughs from your comedy. This may be one of the worst "comedies" I have ever seen, and I sat through "Beer for My Horses." I hated all the characters, the story is predictable, and the lead character is a borderline sociopath who never should have had an entire film resting on his adventures. Repulsive and sad, your level of enjoyment might depend on how funny you find the word "stiff" and all its incarnations. The first of a handful of direct-to-video stories, hopefully we can give the entire franchise a rest. (Unrated)- Some physical violence, strong profanity, strong female nudity, male nudity, sexual content, very strong sexual references, strong adult situations, alcohol consumption.

The Angry Red Planet
Directed by Ib Melchior, Screenplay by Ib Melchior and Sid Pink, Original Story by Sid Pink, Cast: Gerald Mohr, Nora Hayden, Les Tremayne, Jack Kruschen
(1959) feature film (* *) out of five stars
Pretty hysterical story of two surviving astronauts returning to Earth, and one recounting their adventures on Mars. To call this film sexist would be an understatement, the science and technology onboard the spacecraft is hilarious (yes, that is a manual typewriter), but the film's one saving grace is the bizarre special camera effect of the surface of the red planet. (Unrated)- Mild physical violence, very mild gun violence, some tobacco use.

The Finishing School
Cast: Rick Conlin, Henry Ferris, Lynn Holmes, Jim, Susan Westcott
(1971) feature film (*) out of five stars
A teacher instructs her female students how to pleasure a man so they will know what to do on their wedding nights in this silly porno. While the idea was played for laughs in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life," in this story it comes off as sleazy, sleepy, and a little creepy. This is available from Something Weird Video on a double bill with "Amateur Hookers" on DVD-R. (X)- Profanity, strong female nudity, strong male nudity, explicit sexual content.

For Your Eyes Only
Directed by John Glen, Written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, Cast: Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Topol, Lynn-Holly Johnson
(1981) feature film (* * * * *) out of five stars
Definitely my favorite James Bond entry, as 007 must retrieve a device that can control nuclear weapons before it falls into the wrong (Soviet) hands. Moore cruises through, the action is excellent, and the film moves along briskly. (PG)- Physical violence, gun violence, mild gore, some profanity, brief female nudity, sexual references, some adult situations.

Grey Matter
Directed by Joy N. Houck, Jr., Story and Screenplay by Joy N. Houck, Jr. & Christian Garrison & Thomas Hal Phillips, Cast: James Best, Barbara Burgess, Gerald McRaney, Gil Peterson
(1977) feature film (*) out of five stars
Oh, my gosh, I thought CBS prime-time television shows were the worst things Gerald McRaney appeared in. Four people are experimented on by a crazed mind control computer. That's it, don't rent it. I saw this under one of its many titles- "Grey Matter," and it is perhaps one of the worst films of recent memory. The other reviews are right, it is awful. Never have so many establishing shots appeared onscreen, NEVER. The cast is awful, the direction is awful, and the script is awful. I cannot stress how awful this is. Avoid it like you would smallpox. (PG13)- physical violence, some gun violence, mild gore, some profanity, and some adult situations.

Directed by Norma Bailey, Written by Wendy Lill, Cast: Geraint Wyn Davies, Hazel King, Gladys Taylor, Patrick Bruyere
(1987) television film (*) out of five stars
A trapper in 1770's Canada takes an native woman for a bride, and this way-too-short made-for-television film follows their relationship. The lead actress isn't very good, and the film feels chopped up. By the time the downer ending rolls around, and the musical "score" has brought on a headache, I realized that pretty scenery does not a good film make. (Unrated)- Mild physical violence, mild gun violence, some gore, some adult situations.

Tomorrow Never Dies
Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, Written by Bruce Feirstein, Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Teri Hatcher
(1997) feature film (* * *) out of five stars
Great action but empty. This film takes 007 and turns him into just another action hero after one of those shady billionaire villains. The lagging plot is saved by some incredible stunt work, but the characters have been "updated" so badly are hardly recognizable. Joe Don Baker is terrible in his two scenes playing the obnoxious American the British love to hate, and Dench's coquettish smiles at Bond's behavior border on silly. Bring back Connery and Moore...heck, even Lazenby and Dalton.

The Trail Beyond
Directed by Robert N. Bradbury, Screenplay by Lindsley Parsons based on a story by James Oliver Curwood, Cast: John Wayne, Noah Beery Jr., Verna Hillie, Noah Beery Sr.
(1934) feature film (* * * *) out of five stars
One of Wayne's best B Films. After a whole lot of creaky, bad B westerns, Wayne triumphs here. The locations are great, the stuntwork is great, and his teaming with Beery is great. Some of the editing of previous stuntwork into the climax is ridiculous, but this film works pretty well in a fun, old movie way.

Winnie the Pooh: Cowboy Pooh
Cast: Jim Cummings, Michael Gough, Andre Stojka, Paul Winchell
(1994) television episodes (* * *) out of five stars
Pleasant enough entertainment. While this is just a collection of episodes from the television series, my toddler was captivated, even if the entertainment value for parents is negligible.

Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving
Directed by Jun Falkenstein, Karl Geurs, Gary Katona, Ed Wexler, Written by Barbara Slade, Cast: Jim Cummings, Paul Winchell, Brady Bluhm, Ken Sansom
(1999) feature film (*) out of five stars
Disney makes a quickie buck. Your children may love it, but this is a terrible headache for adults. Combining too many different styles of animation, and having to witness the "new" animation that looked amateur at best really sank this for me. I get the feeling the only reason this was released was to tack on the preview for "The Tigger Movie" at the beginning. Thanks a lot Disney, between this and "Lion King 2," your straight-to-video output leaves a lot to be desired.

Directed by Lars von Trier, Written by Lars von Trier & Niels Vorsel, Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Barbara Sukowa, Udo Kier, Max von Sydow
(1992) feature film (* * * *) out of five stars
Goodtropa. One thing you can say about this film is you have never seen anything like it before. Most chilling is the soundtrack, although von Trier does over-direct once in a while. I did appreciate this more than his "Breaking the Waves."

Capsule Reviews Volume VII

Jennifer 8
Written and directed by Bruce Robinson, Cast: Andy Garcia, Uma Thurman, Lance Henriksen, John Malkovich
(1992) feature film (* * * *) out of five stars
Good movie, great ending. Thurman and Garcia work well together, and the surprise ending is one even jaded old me did not expect. I recommend this to everyone who thinks the serial killer genre has been played out.

The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana
Directed by Horace Edgar, Cast: Mohinderjeet, Tony Montana, Cheyenne, T.T. Boy
(1993) feature film (*) out of five stars
Porn disguised as instruction. I have no idea what this has to do with the Kama Sutra, but if you like porn, this is yours. Don't watch this for sexual instruction, unless you need directions on how to market porn as a mainstream video. The cast are all interchangeable porn wannabes, especially the obviously augmented blond. As for the Indian girl mentioned in the other review, she looks like she's enjoying this about as much as a root canal. If it looks like porn and sounds like porn, it's porn.

Kindergarten Cop
Directed by Ivan Reitman, Screenplay by Murray Salem & Herschel Weingrod & Timothy Harris, Story by Murray Salem, Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Penelope Ann Miller, Pamela Reed, Linda Hunt
(1990) feature film (* *) out of five stars
Shockingly dated. Sure, Arnold is kind of funny and the kids are very cute, but the constant violence, language, junkies, and aiming guns at small children was a real turnoff in the age of Columbine and other school shootings. I definitely do not recommend this for any children.

Lovers Caught on Tape
(????) feature film (*) out of five stars
Who do they think they are kidding? Yes, this video contains assorted couplings "caught on security camera," yet the video does not show actual voyeuristic sex until the finale, which consists of blurred faces and grainy footage from assorted baseball stadiums around North America. Other than that, obvious porn stars shed all of their clothes, and promptly have a lot of choreographed sex in elevators and stairwells. The actors look around, pretending that someone could walk in on them at any minute, yet are completely nude most of the time. I haven't seen this many thongs since my last Sisqo video. Amazing how the "unknowing" participants also position themselves so the camera will capture everything, as if they do not see it... What you are left with is lazy porn, pornography shot with a stationery security camera just to give you a heightened sense of nonexistent voyeurism. Is this what porn directors have turned to? Direct a film? Forget it, we'll nail a camera to a wall in an inappropriate place and let it record! Don't waste your money when it comes to this silliness. You can find the real thing in better quality if need be.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman and John Lounsbery, Story by Larry Clemmons & Ralph Wright & Lance Gerry & Xavier Atencio & Ken Anderson & Julius Svendsen & Ted Berman & Eric Cleworth based on the books by A.A. Milne, Cast: Sebastian Cabot, Sterling Holloway, Paul Winchell, John Fiedler
(1977) feature film (* * * * *) out of five stars
Seamless joining of the short films. This is everything "Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving" should have been. The original short films were so much better than the series, I hope all parents will seek this out. Adults will enjoy it as much as their kids.

The Night of the Following Day
Directed by Hubert Cornfield, Written by Hubert Cornfield and Robert Phippeny based on a novel by Lionel White, Cast: Marlon Brando, Richard Boone, Rita Moreno, Pamela Franklin
(1969) feature film (*) out of five stars
Bad kidnapping flick. Brando is so bad in this he should be arrested for over-emoting. The film moves at a snail's pace, even for 93 minutes, and the big surprise ending is a mere cop-out. This is just one of many losers Brando did in the '60's until "Last Tango in Paris" and "The Godfather" came along.

Directed by Ole Bornedal, Screenplay by Ole Bornedal and Steven Soderbergh, Cast: Ewan McGregor, Patricia Arquette, Nick Nolte, Josh Brolin
(1998) feature film (* * * *) out of five stars
Europeans can really show us Americans a few things. This film had style and scares. Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte are great, but Ewan McGregor's brogue would burst through in some scenes. Great set design adds to a scary film.

Pretty Woman
Directed by Garry Marshall, Written by J.F. Lawton, Cast: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander
(1990) feature film (*) out of five stars
Pretty boring. For ten years I avoided this until now-- I should have waited. A romantic comedy without the romance or laughs. I am not a big Julia Roberts fan, and she is terrible here. Leave it to Hollywood in the era of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases to make prostitution seem glamorous, and how a hooker with a heart of gold can change one of those jerk billionaires who is ruining it for the rest of us. So much of the film took place in the hotel suite, I thought I was watching some kind of nightmarish stage play. You may not like this review, but I sure did not like this film.

Smilla's Sense of Snow
Directed by Bille August, Screenplay by Ann Biderman based on a novel by Peter Hoeg, Cast: Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, Jim Broadbent, Tom Wilkinson
(1997) feature film (* * * * *) out of five stars
Great sense of filmmaking. You definitely have not seen a film like this. After getting spoon fed junk for so many years, it was nice to watch a mystery and actually use my brain for once. The script constantly surprised me, and Ormond is terrific. This is the level of film that the James Bond series should be at now, instead of "Tomorrow Never Dies"-type fluff.

Star Maps
Directed by Miguel Arteta, Screenplay by Miguel Arteta, Story by Miguel Arteta and Matthew Greenfield, Cast: Douglas Spain, Efrain Figueroa, Kandeyce Jorden, Robin Thomas
(1997) feature film (* * * *) out of five stars
Better than expected. I have read all the reviews about this, but decided to sit down and watch it anyway. I was completely caught up in this family and all of their problems. I thought a couple of the performances were a little stiff, but the screenplay kept me interested until the end, and the actors seemed to be earnest in their endeavor. Believe me, there are many other films out there that take the same gay-prostitute storyline and try to shock more than tell a story. This is good, and a great antidote to the current sugary "Latin explosion."

Directed by Walter Hill, Screenplay by David C. Nelson, Story by William Malone and Daniel Chuba, Cast: James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips
(2000) feature film (* * * * *) out of five stars
Thomas Lee (Walter Hill) delivers an astounding sci-fi actioner that was unfairly ignored at the box office, and has received an undeserved rep in critics' circles. A medical ship receives a distress call from a collapsing moon. A strange man from Angela Bassett's past comes aboard, carrying a mysterious object that can change the course of man and space. James Spader plays a formerly drug addicted pilot who must take command of the ship. He gives an incredible performance in a role normally reserved for the steroid experiments we call action stars today. Bassett is also good, reminding you she should have won the Oscar for "What's Love Got To Do With It". Wilson Cruz is also good as the assistant with a special relationship with the computer. Lou Diamond Phillips, Robin Tunney, and especially Robert Forster do not register much in their screen time. The film went thorough plenty of post-production problems, and I can only imagine what would have happened if Hill had stayed around, but this is still fantastic science fiction. A word about the special effects: Holy Hubble! The effects here, even on the small TV I have, were incredible! Digital Domain really outdid themselves, creating a totally believable new world.

There'll Always Be an England: All-Time Greatest Songs of War
(????) feature film (*) out of five stars
Great songs, lousy video. Miscellaneous newsreel and performance film clips are presented, with popular music from the World War II era. You cannot fault the outstanding songs here, but the presentation and sound is terrible. Artists and songs are not identified until the end credits, and the entire film has a cheap quality to it.

Thomas and the Magic Railroad
Written and directed by Britt Allcroft based on the books by Rev. W. Awdry, Cast: Alec Baldwin, Peter Fonda, Mara Wilson, Russell Means
(2000) feature film (*) out of five stars
Parents: watch at your own risk! Sure, my three year old son loved this as much as he loves all the Thomas stories, but my wife and I were horrified by how much the moviemakers decided to forget about any adult viewers. Fonda looks like he just viewed every film he made after Easy Rider and then was called to the set, and Wilson is much too old for this kind of little girl part anymore. I hope Britt Allcroft can improve on this, she owes Thomas fans, young and old, much more.

Three Bullets for a Long Gun
Directed by Peter Henkel, Screenplay by Keith G. van der Wat, Story by Beau Brummell, Cast: Beau Brummell, Keith G. van der Wat, Patrick Mynhardt, Don McCorkindale
(1975) feature film (*) out of five stars
Outstanding example of junk, this is truly a terrible film. The filmmakers obviously wanted to mate a Sergio Leone film with the Trinity series, but instead they came up with this mess. The leading man looks like a dusty Bee Gee and the comical sidekick does nothing but stereotype Mexicans. I have seen better use of the Spanish language on the drive-thru menu at Taco John's. If you do have three bullets, use them on your VCR to put it out of its misery after watching this.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Capsule Reviews Volume VI

Addicted to Murder 2: Tainted Blood
Written and directed by Kevin Lindenmuth, Cast: Sasha Graham, Mike McCleery, Sarah K. Lippmann, Ted Grayson
(1998) feature film (*) out of five stars
This sloppy production may bathe everyone in green "X Files" inspired light, but sheds no light on its impossible to comprehend plot. Some guy is traveling across country to NYC, where some girl vampires are sending hunters after each other while they gore up the city. It does not help matters that all the women here look the same, so you never quite know who is who. The gore here consists mostly of fake blood, and there is no nudity. This makes for a very tedious and very boring eighty minutes. Do not taint your VCR with this shot on video wannabe horror flick. This is unrated and contains physical violence, gore, and profanity.

Along Came a Spider
Directed by Lee Tamahori, Screenplay by Marc Moss based on the novel by James Patterson, Cast: Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Dylan Baker
(2001) feature film (* *) out of five stars
Morgan Freeman returns as Det. Alex Cross and teams with Secret Service agent Monica Potter to find a senator's kidnapped daughter. Hollywood churns out yet another safe adaptation of a blockbuster best seller. The plot lurches along, introducing characters and abandoning them (Jay O. Sanders), and wrapping itself up with a tidy conclusion. Freeman is outstanding, as always, but the rest of the cast cannot back him up. Tamahori's direction is fine, except for a terrible CGI car crash in the opening minutes. The surprise ending is okay, but I read the novel and knew what would happen. No vision, no suspense, no repeat viewings. The little girl is filmdom's smartest kidnap victim, but Michael Moriarty and Penelope Ann Miller are utterly wasted.

Angel of Fury
Directed by Ackyl Anwari, Written by Christopher Mitchum and Deddy Armand, Cast: Cynthia Rothrock, Chris Barnes, Peter O'Brian, Zainal Abidin
(1992) feature film (*) out of five stars
Horribly dubbed film has Rothrock trying to stop a terrorist from stealing a super computer. Some good action scenes are negated by sloppy editing and too much violence- including a child's murder. Even the normally reliable Rothrock cannot save this.

Angel on Fire
Written and Directed by Phillip Ko, Cast: Cynthia Khan, Ronnie Ricketts, Pan Pan Yeung, Melanie Marquez
(1995) feature film (* * *) out of five stars
Some exciting action set pieces help weak story of a female Interpol agent who is trying to find a supermodel/thief who is on the run from her own problems. Padded, with dopey Filipino cab driver sidekicks, but good enough action to recommend.

Directed by Cirio H. Santiago, Written by Anthony L. Greene, Cast: Catya Sassoon, Melissa Moore, Michael Shaner, Denise Buick
(1993) feature film (*) out of five stars
Awful actioner has Cat Sassoon entering a Filipino martial arts tournament to investigate the death of her sister and discovering a plot to assassinate a U.S. ambassador. The fight scenes are poorly choreographed, Sassoon scowls through the whole film, and our male "hero" is a doofus. There are, count 'em, three different shower scenes to up the sex factor. Really bad.

Blue's Big Musical Movie
Directed by Todd Kessler, Cast: Steve Burns, Ray Charles, Traci Paige Johnson, Jonathan Press
(2000) feature film (* * * *) out of five stars
Better than banana cookies, I rented this for my toddler expecting to dislike it, but the songs are infinitely hummable and enough is going on to put this one step ahead of the normal TV episode. Plus, my three year old loved it.

Breaking the Waves
Directed by Lars von Trier, Written by Lars von Trier and Peter Asmussen, Cast: Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgard, Katrin Cartlidge, Jean-Marc Barr
(1996) feature film (*) out of five stars
First off, this film is about an hour too long. It also could not make up its mind as to whether it wanted to be a long dull romance like "The English Patient," or something softcore they show on Cinemax. I found Watson's character so annoying, I breathed a sigh of relief when she was not onscreen, which was not often. Von Trier's documentary approach is not interesting, just stomach churning...and you thought "The Blair Witch Project" was jumpy?

Buck Privates
Directed by Arthur Lubin, Written by Arthur T. Horman, Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lee Bowman, Jane Frazee
(1941) feature film (* * * *) out of five stars
In order to avoid arrest, Abbott and Costello enlist in the army and get tangled in a romantic subplot involving a millionaire, his former valet, and a camp hostess. Silly fun takes place on the eve of World War II, with Abbott and Costello scoring laughs and the Andrews Sisters singing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Apple Blossom Time." Funny, despite the silly romance.

Churchill and the Cabinet War Rooms
Directed by Andrew Johnston, Written by Robert Sinclair, Cast: John James Evanson, James Faulkner, Eve Matheson, David Tate
(1995) television movie (* * * *) out of five stars
This video tells the story of Winston Churchill and how he ran the British Empire from some basement war rooms in London during World War II. Not a regular documentary, this film uses excellent recreations in the actual war rooms, resulting in a new take on oft told events.

End of Days
Directed by Peter Hyams, Written by Andrew W. Marlowe, Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak
(1999) feature film (*) out of five stars
Absolutely terrible film. Hyams is normally a great director, but he should have seen the stink of this ugly film a mile away. Schwarzenegger's efforts to act border on the comical, and the rest of the cast has nothing to do but stand around and either die or make deals with Satan. I hope no one's soul is in jeopardy after this junk.

Escape from L.A.
Directed by John Carpenter, Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill & Kurt Russell, Cast: Kurt Russell, Steve Buscemi, Peter Fonda, Cliff Robertson
(1996) feature film (*) out of five stars
John Carpenter used to be my favorite director. The very mention of "Halloween," "The Thing," "Escape from New York," or even "The Fog" and "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" would send chills up my spine. Even when he would stumble a bit ("Prince of Darkness," "In the Mouth of Madness," "They Live"), it was still a little entertaining...until his latest losing streak involving "Village of the Damned," "Vampires," and this awful mess. Don't cut corners out of respect for him, this movie was an insult to the original. I wish Hollywood would declare a moratorium on lousy computer generated effects. The original was very cheap and understated, but here some of the scenes moved so badly, or a character was so poorly written, I had to avert my eyes. I saw the ending coming a mile away. I was so disappointed in this, and so should any Carpenter fan.

High Art
Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko, Cast: Ally Sheedy, Radha Mitchell, Patricia Clarkson, Gabriel Mann
(1998) feature film (* *) out of five stars
First off, Mitchell and Sheedy gave incredible performances. Both were so natural (Sheedy was always my favorite Brat Packer) and I never doubted for an instant these were real people, not just stock junkie lesbian characters. My problem was with the screenplay. I could almost feel the director's elbow in my ribs, poking me at every "shocking" scene. Everyone wallows in the excess, and it eventually brings the entire film down. I finally did not care about these people, and the final twist ending was more expected than new.

Home Alone
Directed by Chris Columbus, Written by John Hughes, Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Candy
(1990) feature film (* *) out of five stars
I never bought into the Culkin hype. Here, he is cute, but not a good actor. His line readings are flat, and I sometimes had a hard time understanding what he was saying. The movie's much ballyhooed violence is indeed extreme. The Three Stooges did the same kind of thing with finesse, just funny slapstick that did not leave a mark and you knew was done in jest. Here, Pesci and Stern go through so much I felt myself getting numbed to the consequences. This is just Hollywood fodder wrapped up for the masses; the kind of movie you can turn your brain off and the VCR on. The best scenes here were the ones involving O'Hara and Candy. Rest in peace, John.

Into Nazi Germany WWII: Liberation of Europe
(????) feature film (* *) out of five stars
Department of War films are collected together detailing the First and Ninth Armies' march toward Germany. Interesting documentaries are not packaged together well, as the viewer is overwhelmed with names, dates, and duplicate footage.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Capsule Reviews Volume V (Books & Music)

Aperture 154: Explorations: Nine Portfolios (Aperture Magazine)
Gorgeous, varied photography. The nine photographers featured here are so different that this edition of Aperture is a joy to look through. I really treasure this and as an amateur photographer, it inspires me to do better with my new hobby. I highly recommend this to anyone who can still find it. (* * * * *)

Cat and Mouse by Gunter Grass
Dead grass. I thought Grass' use of language rivaled Nabokov in sheer enjoyment of reading, but the story here wandered and was a little pointless. I was assigned this in a German film class, and enjoyed the film version of "The Tin Drum" much more. (* * *)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Modern Spirituality Series)
Easy and thought provoking...I have been nervous about Bonhoeffer's work until I picked up this slim volume. Although it is meant to be read day by day, I finished it in under two hours. Bonhoeffer was so uplifting, despite his final days, and this book perfectly takes his thoughts and compresses them into enough snippets that make you want to read more. I am a curious layperson who strongly recommends this little book with big ideas. (* * * * *)

Edward Weston (Aperture Masters of Photography)
Great Aperture book. Wow, a photography book that you do not have to buy with a loan application or perfect credit. Weston was such a commanding presence in so many photographic fields, and this overview of his work is great. One quibble: I wish there had been better ties between the women in his life and the nudes featured here. Who was who? Also, his bio mentions the last photo he took, but does not include it. Other than that, great work by a great artist and a great inspiration. (* * * * *)

Edward Weston: Nudes
Excellent book. This was the type of book I was looking for concerning Weston's nude photography. The background, written by his wife and model, was excellent, and the pictures were laid out perfectly. Highly recommended to any Weston fan. (* * * * *)

The Freedom Principle by Lansing Pollock
Easy to read explanation of libertarianism. Libertarians rejoice. Although this book is out of print, find it in a library and give it to your local doubter. It easily explains the libertarian philosophy in under 125 pages, and will convince even the most hardened liberal or conservative with its logic. (* * * *)

Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen
Hey, Whoopi Goldberg isn't in this...I found the play interesting, but Oswald's hysterics were melodramatic and bordered on comical. For a better play about a dysfunctional family, read Tennessee Williams. (* * *)

Guam (Let's Visit Places & Peoples of the World) by William Lutz
How to make an island paradise seem boring. Lutz writes an eighty page encyclopedia entry, giving you everything you ever wanted to know about this Pacific island, while proving he did not step foot on the island. The photographs seem to be from the 1960's, despite the 1987 book copyright date. The Guamanians are portrayed as backward and overly reliable on the government to cure its ills. Although this site lists this as a kids book, your child will be bored silly. (* *)

Harms Way: Lust & Madness, Murder & Mayhem: A Book of Photographs by Stanley B. Burns
Get out of the Way. While the photographs here were shocking, they were also exploitative. Just because they are old does not lessen the impact of photos of murdered children and freaks of nature. I am not sure what this book wanted to do, but it did not do it well. It is like reading a book version of the trashy Faces of Death video series. (* *)

Holy Hilarity by Cal Samra
More hilarity please. While this book was amusing, I have seen many of the items before, and I kept waiting for the various authors to break some real ground here, but they played it safe too often. (* * *)

Inside the White House by Ronald Kessler
Don't bother me, I'm showering off this book...Sleazy? Yes. Entertaining? Yes, to a point. Many flawed men have served as president, but many of Kessler's sources come off as bitter and possibly unreliable. I wish some of these bubble headed secretaries Johnson slept with would come forward...other than that, I think this is just a nonfiction potboiler that Harold Robbins or Jacqueline Susann would have written. Note to future presidents: try to be nice to the help and just have sex with your wives or husbands, end rumor mongering and run the country. (* * *)

Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others by Steven A. Beebe
Interpersonally...I read this book for an undergraduate class and thought it was very good. One problem-- the final chapter was too brief, they should have split it into three like the previous edition. (* * * *)

Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 1999
Comprehensive, to a point...I have been reading Maltin's books for years, but I wish he would include smaller films, and no Made-For-TV flicks. (* * * *)

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Book with baggage...I hope no one refuses to read this book based on its subject matter. It is very funny, very real, and very well written. Forget about the mediocre film version of three years ago and just give this a chance. You will be pleasantly surprised. (* * * *)

Mike Nelson's Movie Megacheese by Michael J. Nelson
Literally the funniest book I have ever read. I am a longtime MSTie, and this book was absolutely hilarious. Nelson's style of writing is so breezy, I felt like he was in the same room with me (although that may have been the shrine to him I erected in the linen closet). I recommend this to any movie lover, and any fellow Upper Midwesterner; it is nice to see references to other parts of the country besides L.A. and NYC. (* * * * *)

More Church Chuckles by Dick Hafer
Not all church folk are uptight. This small, funny book proves you can go to church, live a good life, and still laugh at yourself. I did not think this was as funny as the first one, but I am glad I have it. Very insightful, funny stuff here. (* * * *)

More Holy Hilarity by Cal Samra
More Holy, less hilarity. You can read my review of the first book in the series and apply it here. More of the same oft-told stories without trying anything new. I will stick to the Church Chuckles series instead. (* * *)

On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back by George H. Scithers
A great book for ALL fiction writers. The 1981 editors of Asimov's magazine use stories from their own periodical to illustrate some excellent points about how to write good science fiction. Do not worry if your stories do not involve robots and aliens, any fiction writer would find plenty to help here. Despite the outdatedness, as the editors lecture on how to set your typewriter in order to produce clear manuscripts, using the short stories is a great idea. Even the stories' authors admit their work is flawed. Throw in a great bibliography and reading list, and some very funny observations from the editors about submissions (they are rejecting papers you typed on, not you personally) and this is a quick read and very informative. I highly recommend it if you can find it! (* * * * *)

Out of Bondage by Linda Lovelace
Linda Marchiano (also known as Linda Lovelace) ties up loose ends to Ordeal in this excellent followup. I read Ordeal in one day, then checked this out and read it in six hours. Please read these books before you decide to rent Deep Throat. You will never look at porn the same way again, maybe you will not look at it at all. (* * * * *)

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
Pnin is pdull. I loved Lolita, but I found this Nabokov story to be dull and pointless. I was very disappointed despite all the wonderful language he uses. (* *)

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
I was impressed with Weber's point about capitalism being an offshoot of Calvinist's trying to please God through hard work, but this is a long and tough read for the layman. (* * *)

Red Lobster, White Trash, & the Blue Lagoon: Joe Queenan's America by Joe Queenan
Joe has been funnier...I usually enjoy Queenan's work, but here the laughs were few and far between. Yes, he spoke volumes of truth, but I was often puzzled by the lack of humor. What, Joe, no Denny's review? Also, there were a few factual errors in the book that made me wonder if Joe had indeed seen a couple of the films he mentions. (* *)

Relax, It's Only A Ghost by Echo L. Bodine
Relax, it's only a book. I certainly like Bodine's breezy way of writing, but I expected a little more from this than the shallow job I received. I wish she had gone into research about the spirits she encountered so we would know for a fact that they existed as she claims. Instead, she repeats herself often about the rules of ghosts, and tacks on a ridiculous chapter about dealing with a ghost. Of course, she also claims the ultimate Catch-22: if you believe in the spirits, you can see them; if you do not see them, you are not a believer. I will wait until I see them. This was a really short read, but I wish it had more substance. (* *)

Robert Mapplethorpe: Pictures by Robert Mapplethorpe
One word: Ouch. You can always debate whether this book is "art" or not, but the fact is I am worried about what happened to some of the subjects. Helmut? Are you okay? I think Mapplethorpe wanted to shock, and he did, but I found the pictures had too much pain in them to be appreciated. I was deadened to what Mapplethorpe wanted to say, if he wanted to say anything at all. Ouch, ouch, ouch. (* *)

The Seduction of Hillary Rodham by David Brock
Sleazy title, good book...no matter what you think of the Clintons, this is not a hack job. The writing is very balanced, if a little confusing during the Whitewater phase, and Hillary comes off as someone with flaws- her main one being her husband. Can't get enough of those Clintons! (* * * *)

The Stupidest Things Ever Said by Politicians
Very funny, which is very scary. Sure, we know how dumb things find a way to get into our politicians' mouths (Monica excluded), but this very funny book just shows how repeatedly dumb some politicians can be. Although I am Republican, I found most of the humor in Dan Quayle's quotes, of which there are many. The scary thing is we continue to elect these people to office to represent and lead us. Makes you think. (* * * * *)

Theater: A Crash Course by Rob Graham
A very funny book, I did not think the history of theater could be so funny. The author never condescends, but the information here is presented in a great format that will make you laugh out loud. Highly recommended, especially for all of those theater majors out there. (* * * * *)

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
Even the Russians have problems...I enjoyed this play immensely, although some of the relations were hard to keep track of. The characters were strongly written, and everything flowed really well. (* * * *)

VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever 2000
Quantity does not equal quality! Over the years I have found some glaring errors in the Retriever's Guide, including wrong names for director, writer, etc. I don't know if they still do it, but they had Don "The Dragon" Wilson starring in films from the 1930's under his filmography. Take it with a grain of salt...if they made this many mistakes in credits, how do you know the films were really watched? (* *)

VideoHound's Horror Show: 999 Hair-Raising, Hellish and Humorous Movies by Mike Mayo
Are we looking at the same book? The reviews are terrible, the non-horror choices are ridiculous (Apocalypse Now?, that's the horror of war, not horror), and the cast and director indices leave something to be desired. The author will give a film a great review, then short it in the # of bones rating. I have to recommend trimming off the fat before expanding into another edition. (*)

The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde
Doesn't do Wilde justice. While Wilde was one of the greatest wits of our time, this book of epigrams is sorely lacking. His bits of conversation are fun to read, but quotations from his written works are taken out of context and lose much because of that. I recommend this for any Wildephile, but with reservations. (* * *)

Pet Shop Boys- Nightlife
Better than what you hear on the radio. The Pet Shop Boys have never faltered in what they give their fans, and this album is no exception. Great music, heartfelt lyrics, and funky album covers and liner notes are all to be expected. This does not live up to Very or Bilingual, but everything the Boys do is listenable and notable. (* * * *)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking: "The Young Like It Hot" (1983)

Hyapatia Lee makes her adult film debut in this not-so-bad effort from veteran director Bob Chinn.

Lee stars as Loni, a supervisor of a few telephone operators. The company will be switching to computerized service soon, so Loni decides the women (and one dude) need to go above and beyond the call (sorry) of duty- offering the callers advice and help instead of just moving them along to another connection. Big Dick (William Margold) starts the ball rolling with a memorable bit, and soon the employees are sleeping with some of the customers, when they have a break from sleeping with each other.

The film, courtesy of a Blu-ray presentation from Vinegar Syndrome, looks amazing. It is clear and bright, like all of VS' efforts. Chinn says in a separate interview that he was starting to lose interest in shooting these types of films, but it doesn't show, as there seemed to be actual planning in the shots. The screenplay, while containing a fare amount of sex, also has a plot and actual characters (even though both devices are paper-thin). We even hear a title theme song!

Much is made of Shauna Grant's performances, or lack thereof, in the films she made in her short career (she killed herself at the age of 20). I don't know how many viewers screen pornography for the acting, but she is just fine here. Grant was a flawless looking woman whose life ended way too soon. If you want to criticize anyone's performance, it's Lili Marlene, who I do believe was not given a script before Chinn yelled "action!" Everyone else is fine, although the tiny set does get claustrophobic from time to time, and David (Bud Lee), the only male operator in the company, looks uncomfortably similar to Rupert Holmes.

"The Young Like It Hot" is an awful title, and the live operators versus computers story is hopelessly dated, but the women are beautiful, the editing is quick, and the technical aspects are top notch (even though Joey Silvera resembles Cha-Ka from "Land of the Lost"). I give this flick (* * *) out of five stars.