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 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 fair 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.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

An Assault on the Viewer As Well: "Savage Sadists" (1980)

The budget was so low on this porn flick..."how low was it?" was so low, instead of hearing a doorbell chime in the beginning of the film, the first spoken words are "ding dong."

Phil Prince's worst film unrolls on that awful note and keeps getting more and more rancid. While "Daughters of Discipline" was okay, and "Den of Domination" was bad in a good way, this thirty-eight minute rape fantasy is both dull and offensive. Two thugs break into a woman's home looking for her husband. He owes their boss money, and they rape the woman. She flees to his office (where he's been doing the secretary on his desk), and then the two thugs show up to rape the wife, secretary, and another woman while the husband hides under a desk.

If you're going to give the raincoat crowd a rape fantasy, fine; but don't have the victims get raped into enjoying themselves, I don't care if you are a larkish porno or not. The editing is more abruptly bad than the usual Prince film and his female performers look bored out of their skulls. I can understand the feeling. That's enough on "Savage Sadists," I give it (*) out of five stars.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Capsule Reviews Volume IV

200 Motels
Directed by Frank Zappa and Tony Palmer, Story and screenplay by Frank Zappa, Cast: Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, Theodore Bikel, Frank Zappa
(1971) feature film (*) out of five stars
This bizarre, trippy experience has a few good songs and a couple of laughs. It is also incomprehensible, boring, and silly. The band proves they should stay on the infamous road, and away from the camera, and this is nothing more than a Frank Zappa ego trip. "200 Motels" gets an appropriate 2.

Arena- "Salvador Dali"
Directed by Adam Low, Cast: Salvador Dali
(1986) television episode (* * * *) out of five stars
Salvador Dali fans will like this good biography, but there is nothing earth shattering here that you have not seen in any other biography documentary. This was done before Dali's death, but it is still a shock to see him so frail after leaving a hospital. Well balanced, this also shows Dali's Alka-Seltzer commercial, and questions the possibility that he signed blank sheets of paper just to cash in on his name. I give this a 7.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Directed by Joe Berlinger, Written by Dick Beebe and Joe Berlinger, Cast: Tristine Skyler, Stephen Barker Turner, Erica Leehrsen, Kim Director
(2000) feature film (* *) out of five stars
This entire film is nothing but a series of half-baked ideas tossed together quick to make a sequel and a handful of money. The characters act idiotically. All these weird things happen to them, yet they never mention it to the others. And how many strangers do you know who pay tons of money to go in the woods to research a book, then just lay around, smoke dope and drink? I give this a 3 for a good beginning, but that is it. Also, ignore the "esrever" thing at the end of the videotape edition, it is DUMB.

The Cell
Directed by Tarsem Singh, Written by Mark Protosevich, Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vince Vaughn, James Gammon
(2000) feature film (* * * * *) out of five stars
This film is brilliant in that it takes an old story, the one about the FBI tracking down a serial killer, and completely turns it on its head, giving viewers scenes they could never dream up, much less watch on video. This is great, and I cannot wait to see what the director does next. I give this a 10.

Directed by Tobe Hooper, Screenplay by Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch, Michael D. Weiss, Story by Boaz Davidson, Cast: Mark McLachlan, Caitlin Martin, Chris Solari, D.W. Reiser
(2000) feature film (*) out of five stars
This is one bad film. Bad acting, bad writing, bad direction, and bad special effects. I thanked God the characters starting getting eaten, they wear on your nerves almost immediately. If this is the best Tobe Hooper can do, I weep for the future of horror. I give this a much deserved 1.

Dont Look Back
Written and directed by D.A. Pennebaker, Cast: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan, Allen Ginsberg
(1967) feature film (* * *) out of five stars
While some find this documentary brilliant, I thought this was rather pedestrian. Lots of backstage and hotel room footage of Bob Dylan's yes men and friends laughing at everything he says, while his music is severely lacking. Joan Baez comes off as a giggly hack, and most of the time the entertainment reporters show that shallowness is not an exclusively American trait. I give this a 6.

Directed by Paul Shapiro, Teleplay by Susan Cooper based on the novel by Bret Lott, Cast: Farrah Fawcett, Patrick Bergin, Cicely Tyson, Ashley Wolfe
(2001) television movie (* *) out of five stars
This made for TV movie plays it way too safe despite good tries by Farrah Fawcett and Patrick Bergin. The story of a woman and her Down syndrome child should have been moving, but there are no surprises, and the whole two hours dwindle away to a conclusion that will make you wonder what the point was in the first place. Ill-conceived soap operatics involving Jewel's other children are boring, and does anyone notice Fawcett does not age in the entire sixteen years the film takes place? A disappointment in its pedestrian execution. I give this a 3.

Directed by Michael Mann, Screenplay by Michael Mann based on the novel by Thomas Harris, Cast: William Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox
(1986) feature film (* * *) out of five stars
This chiller is well made, shadowing William Petersen's work in CSI as he tracks down a family killing murderer. Hannibal Lector has a secondary role, but the real flaw here is the complete shifting of gears half way through as we see the killer and his new love relationship. This goes on too long, kills suspense, and leads to a cliched conclusion. I give this a 6.

Mystery Men
Directed by Kinka Usher, Written by Neil Cuthbert, Cast: Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, William H. Macy
(1999) feature film (* *) out of five stars
Take another look at that cast. This should have been the funniest laugh out loud film of the year. I do not know how, but even Janeane Garofalo could not save this. The film did a great job of lampooning the Batman entries directed by Joel Schumacher, but someone forgot to tell the scriptwriters that this was a comedy. I give this a 4, a point for each time I laughed, and the nice effects.

Pitch Black
Directed by David Twohy, Screenplay by Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat and David Twohy, Story by Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat, Cast: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser, Keith David
(2000) feature film (* * * * *) out of five stars
Very scary sci-fi will hook you more for the special effects than anything else. I have never seen exterior scenes like this, and never assumed they were just in some other desert somewhere. The cast is great, especially Vin Diesel, and David Twohy ought to get to direct the next "Alien" or "The X-Files" film. I give this a 9.

Directed by Gus Van Sant, Screenplay by Joseph Stefano based on the novel by Robert Bloch, Cast: Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen
(1998) feature film (* * *) out of five stars
This is not a bad film, on its own I give it a 6. But why remake the classic, using the exact script and direction?? There is really no point to the whole thing. The cast is good, except Vince Vaughn cannot decide whether to play Norman Bates as a suave killer or an ignorant rube. He did a better job in "The Cell." This flopped, so we won't have to see a remake of "Citizen Kane" starring Adam Sandler and directed by Spike Lee. Thank Heavens.

Steal This Movie
Directed by Robert Greenwald, Screenplay by Bruce Graham based on books by Abbie Hoffman, Anita Hoffman, and Marty Jezer, Cast: Vincent D'Onofrio, Janeane Garofalo, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kevin Pollak
(2000) feature film (* * *) out of five stars
The film makers were obviously trying to hit on all of the important events in Abbie Hoffman's life, so they showed scenes that were way too short or did not go far enough to explain such an enigmatic figure. In the end, the viewer is left with no new knowledge of Hoffman. I give this a 5 just because of some earnest performances and a great soundtrack.

Tales of Ordinary Madness
Directed by Marco Ferreri, Scenario by Marco Ferreri and Sergio Amidei based on a book by Charles Bukowski, Cast: Ben Gazzara, Ornella Muti, Susan Tyrrell, Tanya Lopert
(1983) feature film (* * * *) out of five stars
This film is much better than other reviewers are letting on. While graphic, it does manage to tell a story, and this is more entertaining than the lethargic "Barfly." Ben Gazzara is great, the direction is unflinching, and the film makers manage to work in a little poetry as well. I give this a 7.