Sandman1968's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

The Cave
The Cave(2005)

"The Cave" is an uneasy, mostly unsuccessful mix of old and new Hollywood, an old-fashioned monster movie with updated but unconvincing computerized effects. There are several different types of creatures in the film, and they are all pretty imaginative but the implausible CGI takes you out of the moment every time.

The film could have greatly benefited from some old school movie magic from an actual effects craftsman, but young filmmakers are rarely willing to take the road less traveled anymore. First-time director Bruce Hunt did the visual effects on the wonderfully ambitious "Dark City," so it's surprising to me that his debut feature would be this lazy.

There are some good moments here, most notably the thrilling death of Piper Perabo, which is easily;y the most exciting scene in the film. Still, this is always destined to be the cave monster movie that is not "The Descent." Beyond that one great scene, the film is very stiff and wooden, and the characters are very one-dimensional and typical of a film like this. For much to it, it's difficult to tell a few of the male actors apart.

Hunt fails to breath much life into this, and the film may have worked better without the creatures at all. It could have been strictly a "man VS nature" experience much like "Sanctum." The sad thing is that I did enjoy the final scene, a surprise twist ending that actually works and sets up for a sequel. It's almost disappointing that the film bombed because with the way this ends, the follow-up would have no doubt been more interesting than this film.

In that respect, "The Cave" does show some promise but its hindered by modern technology. If only someone had actually cared enough to put a little work and effort into it.

Empire of the Sun

Although it's one of the esteemed director's lesser-known works, "Empire of the Sun" is ripe with themes acquainted to those who love the works of Steven Spielberg and it feels very familiar. It's a worthy story centered around a conflict during World War II that not much is known about, and the filmmaker tells that story with the same passion and style that has become his trademark.

Unfortunately, I also found the film to be somewhat cold and uninvolving, with a lead character atypical of Spielberg, a precocious young boy played by Christian Bale. He's difficult to like in the beginning, a spoiled brat which I suppose is the point. But after the war is over and the lengthy film comes to an end, you don not get the sense that he's evolved any.

It's a rather unemotional journey, and you wonder what the point of it all was. The film seems to shelter Bale (and the audience) from the true horrors of the war, and a great many details are ignored which would seem to be quite important and relevant to the story. Most notably missing, in my opinion, is the Pearl harbor bombing which is only alluded to in the very beginning of the film.

It's clear that the filmmaker was trying to tell a very personal story against the backdrop of a global conflict, and these minor qualms could have been overlooked had I been better able to connect with the movie. Sadly, "Empire of the Sun" will remain one of the director's good movies among a great deal of great ones. Everything about it feels right but it left me rather indifferent.

Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever

You've got to feel sorry for Corey Feldman. After the big studio films dried up in the late '80's, the child star was relegated to making one or two direct-to-video features a year, but clearly no one told him that he wasn't cool anymore.

In the embarrassingly belated follow-up "Rock and Roll High School Forever," the actor seems to be reluctant to admit that the gold old days have come to an end with his ridiculous haircut and Michael Jackson wardrobe. Perhaps even sadder still is the casting of young actor Evan Richards, a blatant Corey Haim lookalike, to further Feldman's denial.

The film itself is a name-only sequel with virtually nothing in common with the original film (except for maybe a Ramones poster on Feldman's wall). The music is awful, the jokes are juvenile and any real story is non-existent, as this is your basic "rebels bucking the system" comedy where any actual laughs are nowhere to be found. The Allen Arkush film has hardly anything earth-shattering, but it did have a certain charm all its own.

In this, somewhat humorous names (like authority figures named after types of cheese) and amateurish pranks pass for comedy, and even though the Ramones were not the makers first choice to play in the original, you'll miss their style of music here once you see Feldman lip sync to "I'm Walkin." "Rock and Roll High School Forever" will disappoint just about every fan of every genre. It's completely humorless and terribly un-hip.

Red Dawn
Red Dawn(1984)

A lot of people tend to get very political over any movie that is even slightly political in nature, and upon its initial release, "Red Dawn" ruffled a lot of people's feathers for a lot of different reasons, the political angle being just one of them. Many saw this as right wing propaganda, but I prefer to keep any such ideas out of the equation and only focus on the film's quality (or lack thereof) and not the motivation behind it.

That being said, this is a completely preposterous although competently made "What If" scenario that leaves more unanswered questions than just that one lingering around after the conclusion. The motivations behind the joint invasion of our United States are vague at best, and you have to wonder if the whole thing could have happened as easily as it does here.

The scenes early on are effective, but you're still confused as to why the Russians would want to occupy this small, sleepy town in Colorado in the first place. The film could have been just goofy fun, and it is for a while, but too many nagging inconsistencies such as that kill any fun you might be having. The basic premise of the Cuban and Russian armies being upstaged militarily by a bunch of high school students is ridiculous, but John Milius is a skilled enough filmmaker that it could have worked. It just asks you to accept too much.

The young actors would all go on to great things, but they were all very green here and any moments when they are asked to act are mostly cringe-worthy. "Red Dawn" is a noteworthy and memorable film, but unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.

Of Unknown Origin

Killer animal movies have been a staple of the horror genre almost since the genre began, but "Of Unknown Origin" offers up its own unique twist on that theme with star Peter Weller going mano a mano with a giant killer rat. In that respect, it's almost the "Die Hard" of killer rate movies with some better-than-average writing for a movie of this nature.

Weller is the glue that holds it all together, giving yet another one of his trademark quirky performances. His slow descent into madness is a lot of fun to watch as the battle intensifies, but the built-up is admittedly sluggish and filled with a lot of unnecessary plot developments.

George P. Cosmatos is something of a hack director and you can't help but think a more skilled filmmaker could have made this something even better. Still, the special effects are quite good, and credit must be given to the film for generating a lot of genuine suspense without much blood or gore. The rat is quite convincing and definitely revolting when it needs to be.

Also a lot of fun is the final showdown as Weller systematically destroys the home he so lovingly created as his descent comes full circle, but you certainly feel like things are wrapped up too abruptly. Despite a few minor complaints, "Of Unknown Origin" is a clever cat and mouse thriller in the truest sense of the words, a smart horror film that doesn't quite fit into the genre, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It has its own distinctive style, with a flair all its own but at the same time lacking a real punch to take it to the top.

The Foot Fist Way

There's a new breed of comedy that intends to make its audience uncomfortable as well as make them laugh, and there are many uncomfortable moments in "The Foot Fist Way." This is a very dark but sporadically riotous spoof in the vein of "Napoleon Dynamite" that features a domineering and hilariously vulgar lead performance from Danny McBride that would become his trademark.

If this had been more widely seen, his performance alone would have been enough to turn this odd little picture into an instant cult favorite. He has the uncanny ability to exude extreme confidence and complete stupidity at the same time, and that somehow makes you love and hate the guy simultaneously.

It's quite funny and weirdly subtle, but there are a few outlandish and over-the-top moments that gets the biggest laughs here, such as when one of McBride's biggest students brutalizes one of his oldest. It's an obvious gag that nevertheless surprises, punctuated by the star asking his student if she's dead afterwards. That is typical of the level of humor we're dealing with here, and while a lot of it will make you squirm and turn away, I laughed more than I'd care to admit.

When a rival for his wife's affections shows up in the second half, the film becomes even darker still and even more uneasy, but there seems to be a swell recently in that kind of entertainment. "The Foot Fist Way" will not be everybody's idea of what a comedy should be, but adventurous movie lovers may respond to it. It's unique, odd and fitfully funny with a magnetic lead performance from McBride.


For a simple stoner comedy, "Bio-Dome" has a pretty high concept plot and a lot of ridiculous messages about saving the environment even though it's nothing more than yet another moron movie. Back in the 1990's, there was a big push to make Pauly Shore a movie star whether audiences wanted him or not, and thankfully, most of his films were soundly rejected.

Shore's movies were mostly made for people who found Adam Sandler's brand of humor too high brow, and this one plays like something even Sandler would have passed on. It follows the same formula, and much of the alleged humor feels improvised, especially from the star and his sidekick, played by Stephen Baldwin. In many scenes, Shore seems to be having a hard time laughing, a sure sign that he's hearing much of this for the first time.

All I can say is that I'm glad someone was having fun with this dim, idiotic material. There's not one funny moment in the entire picture, and I imagine you would have to be very easy to please to find this anything more than just an insufferable mess. But, typical of movies of this nature, the two leads have impossibly hot girlfriends who for some reason find their inability to articulate sentences charming and they both become heroes in the end when they succeed in righting every wrong they've committed all in the name of "comedy."

In that respect, "Bio-Dome" plays like a fantasy for morons everywhere. It seems to suggest that the slacker lifestyle will make all of your dreams a reality, or maybe I just had too much time to over-think this dud during all the downtime when I wasn't laughing.

Tin Men
Tin Men(1987)

The best of Barry Levinson's films evoke a great sense of time and place, and "Tin Men" is a beautiful example of that, something that it accomplishes through the use of music and a terrific production designer.

This is the second of what's become known as the director's "Baltimore films," and it's a comedy with a lot of dark undertones bubbling just under the surface, another thing it shares with some of Levinson's best. This is a very satisfying film, filled with rich characters are situations both comedic and dramatic that hits close to home. Sometimes they hit a little too close to home, but the performances by both Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss always find just the right tone to keep the film from getting ugly.

Dreyfuss stealing DeVito's wife all because of a traffic accident could have turned things sour, but the actors and Levinson's screenplay never allow that to happen. There are a lot of laughs along the way, although it is true that just as many of the laughs come from the supporting performers as they do from the leads. Jackie Gayle is a riot as DeVito's partner and gets a lot of laughs whether he is musing about the logistics of "Bonanza" or mindlessly raving about Dreyfuss' dancing skills.

The music puts just the right finishing touch on the picture, and not just the usual and expected hits of the '60's. There's also a lot of great music from up-and-coming band Fine Young Cannibals, who had yet to break out in America. "Tin Men" is a comedy with some serious underlying themes than enhance the picture rather than spoil the mood. It's yet another winner from a major talent.

The Seventh Sign

You've got to have a pretty smart screenplay (perhaps written by someone like William Peter Blatty, for instance) to convincingly pull off a religious-themed horror film. The writers behind "The Seventh Sign" are clearly not operating at that level, and as a result this film suffers the same fate as many others just like it.

It's filled with enough ominous portents, hammy overacting and ridiculous imagery to fill two films, and because of that, none of this ever feels real. The story could have been interesting, but the directing here is so lackluster that the film just lies here, inert and sluggish. Carl Schultz has spent much of his career working in the television medium, and his feature never approaches the kind of urgency the material requires until the finale.

Demi Moore is just fine in the lead role, managing to capture the necessary vulnerability with just enough strength to make you like the character. The rest of the cast, on the other hand, is quite transparent including a less-than-chilling Jurgen Prochnow who actually becomes a hero of sorts after the big reveal. He disappears in the third act and is effectively forgotten about, so much so that it is quite jarring when he reappears at the end.

There are a lot of intriguing ideas here that are worth exploring in more detail, most notable how a handicapped killer on Death Row fits into the puzzle, but unfortunately, not enough is done with that. As a result, "The Seventh Sign" feels half-baked and unfinished, a rare film that may have actually benefitted from being longer. It has a lot to say, and a lot of ideas that never quite come together like you want them to. It also suffers from a distinct and painfully noticeable lack of energy.

Three Fugitives

It's not unusual for good movies to take the viewer on a roller coaster ride of emotion. "Three Fugitives" is by no means a good movie, but thematically, it's all over the map and tries for laughs and pathos, sometimes at the same time.

It's an uneasy mix and the end result is that neither the drama or comedy work well enough to cover up the nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach that comes from the jolting shifts in tone. Take, for instance, the scene in which Martin Short watches his daughter in the orphanage through the fence once she is taken from him. It's meant to tug at the heartstrings, until the sprinkler water hits him square in the face. It's jarring and completely unnecessary, but it does sum up the basic problem of the film.

Unusual casting match-ups were a sign of the times in the 1980's, and teaming Short up with a gruffer-than-normal Nick Nolte must have sounded golden on paper. It comes across as less successful on the screen. The film also suffers from a severe logic deficiency. While I know this is essentially a comedy, the cops in the picture are unbelievably stupid, even more inept at their job than Short is at robbing banks. It's insulting after a while, as is the terrible score by David McHugh. The musical score is not something I normally notice in a film, unless it's this bad.

"Three Fugitives" is a mess of a movie with a good heart. It's just misplaced most of the time, and the audience suffers the consequences.


After so many years in the business, you have to believe that Steve Martin has experienced every kind of shady dealings and problematic shoots one can imagine. With the film "Bowfinger," he gets a chance to pour all of that experience into the single funniest screenplay he's ever written, a smart and hilarious spoof of the entire movie-making process.

The premise is about making a movie where the star doesn't know they're in a movie is based on an apparently real-life incident in the 1920's, but Martin works it into pure comedy gold. It's a resurgence for the actor, a return to form after a decade of flops and serious dramas that misfired, and Martin gives his best performance in years.

And then there's Eddie Murphy, whose career has had more ups and downs that perhaps almost anyone, at the top of his game here. He plays himself, and his twin brother, but it's wonderful without all the gimmicks, make-up and fat suits. He's great in both roles, some of the best work he's ever done partly because the script brings out the best in him but mostly because this project is such a perfect fit for his comic gifts.

There are a number of wonderful, laugh-out-loud moments here, most notably Murphy's scene on a very busy freeway and Martin quite literally rounding up his cameramen, but the film is genial rather than mean-spirited. Industry people will laugh knowingly, but it's definitely accessible to laypeople as well. "Bowfinger" is as clever as movies get, a riotous and good-hearted spoof with two very funny lead performances.

The Rookie
The Rookie(1990)

It wasn't until "Unforgiven" that Clint Eastwood gained a reputation for being a respectable filmmaker. Before that time, his projects were fairly hit and miss, and they were all pretty evenly divided into those two categories. As you may be able to determine from the forgettable title, "The Rookie" is not one of his better efforts, a lazy "Dirty Harry" clone full of tired cliches and even more tired writing.

Even Clint himself looks bored with this one. You can usually count on his hilariously grumpy quips and chemistry with his co-star, but all of that is in short supply here. In fact, there's such little character development and plot set-up that it feels like you walked in on the movie at the half hour mark.

Even the action, which is sometimes the only reason to see an Eastwood film from this era in his career, is lacking here. You get the standard shoot-outs and car chases, but for a movie dealing with grand theft auto, those are disappointing too. That speaks more to Eastwood as the director, and he doesn't appear to be too involved in this at that capacity either.

It's said he only agreed to make this so that Warner Brothers would let him make "White Hunter, Black Heart." It indeed feels like a throwaway project, but we should still should be allowed to expect more from the star. The villains here, played by Sonia Braga and Raul Julia, are quite unimpressive as well. There are a few laughs and a couple of mildly interesting action sequences in "The Rookie," but this will never be confused for one of Eastwood's better films. It feels more like an afterthought for the people involved.

Pet Sematary Two

The original film didn't leave a lot of new stories to tell, so the fact that we're now stuck with a "Pet Sematary 2" obviously had more to do with the desire for potential revenue than any kind of artistic reasons. This is a dismal sequel to a film that wasn't really all that great to begin with, filled with perfunctory performances and lazy directing.

Mary Lambert apparently overestimated the demand for this picture, feeling she could put out anything with this name on it and it would be accepted by the masses. The main problem with the film is the overwhelming sense of redundancy as this may be one of the most unnecessary follow-ups in film history.

In fact, this is more of a remake because there really is no new story to tell. The studio's desire for yet another commercially viable franchise apparently overshadowed that basic fact. They've upped the body count here, but that doesn't make it better. Screenwriter Richard Ouetten throws in a couple of truly disgusting scenes of dogs being operated on, rabbits being skinned and the aftermath of a kitten slaughtered for unknown reasons for no logical reason I could discern. It's a mess.

The Stephen King source material was dark, scary and completely unnerving, and Lambert could not convey any of those emotions in the first film. This is weaker still, and even farther removed from King's original vision. Even he had the good sense to distance himself from this debacle.

"Pet Sematary 2" serves no purpose other than for monetary gains for the studio. Maybe the makers should bury the horse they beat when they came up with this mess in the pet cemetery and revive that.


Very few times are horror fans treated with the respect that is afforded "Candyman," a wonderfully scary and exquisitely photographed picture the likes of which we haven't seen since "The Silence of the Lambs." It comes from the terrifically twisted mind of British author Clive Barker, and never before or never since has his literary vision be so well transcribed to the silver screen.

Bernard Rose was an unusual choice to helm the movie, but he brings a touch of class to the proceedings without ever leveling off on the terror or the blood. This is a truly frightening movie, one that sticks with you long after you leave the theater. The urban legend angle pulls the viewer in, and the film refuses to be just another grisly slasher film.

You never really know if the Candyman is real or just a figment of Virginia Madsen's broken psyche and that adds layers to this that you wouldn't find in most films of this nature. It culminates in one of the most shocking yet clever horror film endings in recent memory, just one more shining example of why this is so much better than we're accustomed to.

The legend behind the myth is fascinating, but the cold, harsh reality of actually filming this in Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project grounds the movie and makes it feel so very real. Rose was wise to enlist the amazing talents of composer Philip Glass to give the film one of the most memorable but haunting scores in the history of horror cinema.

For these many reasons, "Candyman" remains one of the scariest and most memorable films of its time. It's a movie, and a character, for the ages and remains as timeless today as ever.

The Rainmaker

Everybody loves a good David and Goliath story, and few people write a better one than author John Grisham. His legal thrillers have been the basis for many movies, but none have had quite the resonance of "The Rainmaker" in part due to a terrific screenplay, assured director and inspired cast full of some unlikely casting choices.

Or maybe it's the fact that it features a foe everyone loves to hate in the form of an insurance company that makes this so successful. Grisham has aligned himself with one of the greatest directors of the 1970's in Francis Ford Coppola, making a comeback of sorts with this glorious picture after the misfire that was "Jack." It's a terrific screenplay, a fine return to form for the esteemed filmmaker.

There are a number of questionable casting choices which prove a payoff, most notably asking a young Matt Damon to carry the picture. He has a charming, everyman quality that makes him easy to root for, and Danny DeVito and Mickey Rourke are also wonderful in supporting roles. Jon Voight is having a great year in part to this film as well, and he's a terrific adversary. The smart screenplay gives his character real depth, and Voight plays him to perfection.

There's a lot going on in "The Rainmaker," but Coppola pulls it off and turns this into one of the best courtroom dramas in recent memory. It was clearly designed to be a crowd-pleasing hit, but it's also skillfully made with some terrific performances. You never feel like you're being manipulated.

Friday the 13th, Part VI - Jason Lives

Unlike a lot of people, I believe there's good and bad in every genre, even for the "Friday the 13th" films, and for me the sixth one in the series, subtitled "Jason Lives" is a weak link in the chain. It restores the iconic killer to the horror throne after taking the last sequel off in spectacularly ridiculously fashion.

You have the love the irony in the fact that he's apparently finally dead until Thom Mathews (the third actor in the series to play Tommy Jarvis) accidentally brings him back to life trying to prove to himself that he's actually dead. Everything about this entry seems to shortchange the hardcore fan base, from the lack of character development (never the series' strong point, nevertheless even more lacking this time out) to the scares and the murders.

The gruesome death scenes have long since been the franchise's selling point, but this time out they are disappointingly tame and the film feels heavily edited. The only murders that register as being at all impressive or memorable is the back-bending death of David Kagen as the Sheriff. The rest of this feels like it's reading for airing on network television, and when you don't have spectacular gore in one of these films, what are you left with?

Sluggish direction and hit-or-miss acting is the answer to that question. At least the filmmakers did manage to secure shock rocker Alice Cooper to record a couple of songs for the soundtrack. That's one of the few things "Friday the 13th Part 6" has going for it. These films should be fun, but this is the first one in the series that drops the ball.


With the popularity of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films at an all-time high, it seemed only natural that Robert Englund would try his hand at directing. Unfortunately, his first effort "976-Evil" is a huge disappointment trying to cash in on the long-defunct premium phone services that were all the rage in the late 1980's.

It's basically a pale imitation of Stephen King's "Carrie" and dozens of other similar films, with a bullied Stephen Geoffreys seeking revenge on his tormentors. The picture is light on horror for the first hour but heavy on "Elm Street"-like visuals which shouldn't surprise anyone considering who the director is. The problem, or at least one of them, is that Englund doesn't make much use of his single best asset, which is Geoffreys himself.

The actor is naturally likable, especially playing these lovable nerds, but the screenplay insists on putting more of the focus on his vastly uninteresting cousin, played by Patrick O'Brien. The plot is also quite confused and vague, having something to do with a Satanic phone line and committing murder through Satan's guidance, but none of that is really made very clear.

Still, it is the lackluster pacing that kills any chance that "976-Evil" had at being a successful film. Englund has a nice eye for detail, but his film is quite dull and forgettable where the horror elements are crammed into the final half hour. There's very little original or worth watching here.

Messenger of Death

Even though the movie opens with the slaughter of about a dozen innocent women and children, "Messenger of Death" is something of a departure for star Charles Bronson in a couple of different ways. First off, it begs to be taken seriously by dealing with Mormons and their beliefs, even though as the film goes on that angle proves to be a red herring into the investigation.

Secondly, Bronson plays a reporter and oddly enough doesn't kill anyone in the picture, although after about an hour of this dull and talky mess you may secretly be hoping for the actor's return to form. For all of its characters and plot developments, the motivation behind the crimes is disappointingly simple dealing with greed and land rights. All the good the movie does in trying to establish as something different is undone thanks to a weak script and casting of the supporting characters. Even the star looks bored through most of this.

J. Lee Thompson has made some of his better efforts throughout this decade, but this is not one of them. The filmmaker took ill halfway into the filming of this and was hastily replaced by the second unit director, and that shows. What little action is present consists of a couple of lame car chases and one of the worst shoot-outs in recent memory. It looks like it was choreographed by a blind guy. In fact, the entire film has the look and feel of a television project, especially when it comes to the lazy score.

"Messenger of Death" has a few minutes of promise that is quickly squandered as it descends into typical B-movie cliches and familiarity.

Tropic Thunder

Ben Stiller has made more than his share of blunders in front of and behind the camera, but after "Tropic Thunder," all is forgiven. This is the biggest, boldest comedy I've seen in quite some time, a beautiful and expensive-looking picture that almost feels like a prestige project that it so effectively skewers.

The comedy works primarily because the cast is eclectic and at the top of their game, and because of the sheer audaciousness of the whole thing. This movie goes places where others like it would fear to tread. Stiller and co-star Jack Black haven't been this good in years, but the real story here is Robert Downey Jr., bucking the odds in a daring and hilarious performance in blackface. It's a gutsy move that very easily could have backfired, but the ballsy actor pulls it off.

Tom Cruise is also very funny in heavy make-up as a vulgar studio head. It's risky as well, but pays off too. The movie is at its best when it lampoons Hollywood with the hilarious fake trailers the open the film and all the behind-the-scenes movie-making jokes. At some point it almost borders on biting the hand that feeds you but that'a a part of what makes this picture both successful and noteworthy.

There are some great inside jokes about how the industry rewards actors with awards and how far some people will go to grow as an actor, but there are a lot more conventional laughs as well ensuring that "Tropic Thunder" is deserving of a very large fan base. This is a smart, knowing and above all else very funny satire.

Ghost Dad
Ghost Dad(1990)

I've always found it kind of amazing when a particular artist can excel and be so gifted in one medium but flounder so helplessly in another, Such is the case with Bill Cosby, one of the most popular stand-up comedians ever and star of one of the most beloved TV sitcoms of all time. Despite all of that talent, his film career never took off and perhaps only he can explain why he continues to choose projects such as "Ghost Dad."

This is a dreadful comedy built around the premise of a father orphaning his three children, and only then does he realize how important his family really is. Although this is pegged as a family friendly comedy, that very premise may lead to some uncomfortable conversations with young children who go see this, not to mention all the questions it will leave for the adults in the audience.

The film seems to bend its own rules to suit whatever lame bit it has lined up next. The kids can hear their father, but others cannot. Sometimes he can pick things up, other times he cannot. The three screenwriters that came up with this junk can't seem to keep any of it straight. The rest of it is a mess of horrible special effects and redundant cliches (overworked dad who finally sees what is important, business meetings that are strained and allegedly comedic), and at the center of it all is a desperate-to-be-liked Cosby mugging for the camera.

"Ghost Dad" is a painfully unfunny film, aimlessly wandering through one pointless scene after the next.

The Paper
The Paper(1994)

"The Paper" takes place in a time not so long ago before the Internet and 24 hour news channels were the norm in breaking news stories, and newspapers were still king. It's a fast-paced, funny and exciting mix of equal parts comedy and drama, and both fit together comfortably in this well-balanced film.

Ron Howard has turned into one of the most reliable directors working today, and I think the thing that I find the most refreshing about his career is that he rarely makes the same film twice. He's comfortable working in almost any genre, and this is yet another winner for him. It gives the uninitiated an unbeatable glimpse into the world of newspapers, even though I'm sure this is greatly exaggerated to up the entertainment value for the viewer.

The central story hooks you, and this wonderful ensemble cast sells it. The lead role is a perfect fit for Michael Keaton's unique brand of manic energy, and it's always a pleasure to see Robert Duvall work in almost anything. Screenwriters David and Stephen Koepp do a nice job of balancing all the different subplots to give us an idea of the stress faced by newspaper editors, but things get a little lost in the shuffle towards the end.

With the medical crisis and the unnecessary showdown between Randy Quaid and Jason Alexander, the film loses its focus. Thankfully, it happens so late in the film that it really doesn't affect it much. "The Paper" remains s small but pleasurable gem, an overlooked film that deserves a wider audience.

The Legend of Boggy Creek

It's interesting watching "The Legend of Boggy Creek" now for the first time since these type of "found footage" horror films are all the rage right now, but there's little other reasons to see it. This really is a predecessor to films such as "The Blair Witch Project," and it's not without a certain nostalgic appeal, but for the most part this is just a silly and dull picture with some of the worst production values you're likely to see make the jump to DVD.

It takes you back to the days of drive-in theaters, and it's probably a film I would have loved as a kid back then. There are admittedly a few creepy moments here that work despite the fact that this is so poorly made, but unfortunately too much of this is mind-numbing time filler. The poor lighting works both for and against the film, as it helps enhance the creepy moments that do shine through but are maddeningly frustrating the rest of the time.

The final half hour of the film perks up considerably, however, when we finally get a lot of the one-on-one creature action that we've been craving, and it raised my opinion of the picture some. Because of those scenes and others like it, it's easy to see why this has become such a cult favorite, but I still cannot get over some of the painstakingly slow and pointless scenes during the first hour.

Director Charles Pierce shows some skill here with such a shoestring budget, and despite my reservations early on I eventually found something of an affinity towards "The Legend of Boggy Creek." I can't recommend it either way, but it is rare when a film comes back from the brink as much as this one does.

The Towering Inferno

Perhaps the greatest mainstay of 1970's cinema that I miss the most are the epic disaster pictures, most of which were created by mayhem maestro Irwin Allen. One of his most popular features was "The Towering Inferno," and although it wasn't my personal favorite, it did carry on the sub-genre in grand and glorious tradition.

It's an epic production, on a scale that would simply be unmanageable by today's standards, full of cheesy characters and dialogue and all of the other staples such as the spectacular death scenes and the warnings that go unheeded.

The film has assembled a great cast of favorites from the era, and it's great fun watching Steve McQueen and Paul Newman clash on the screen especially since they reportedly clashed so much behind the scenes as well. It's also refreshing to see a film from this time period because it relies so much on actual special effects and not computer generated ones, and there are a number of stunts here that are quite spectacular.

Another great thing about these pictures is that there were never any steadfast rules on what stars lived or died, and that really adds to the shock value. Granted the whole thing is an exercise in excess, but in films such as this, that's really part of the fun. From Allen and her crew, you wouldn't expect anything less. "The Towering Inferno" is an exemplary example of the genre, an overlong, melodramatic-filled thrill-ride that likes of which we could never see today. It's not the best of the lot but you have to admire it for its technical achievements and sheer entertainment value.

Guilty as Sin

Director Sidney Lumet has made a lot of great films over his esteemed career. and while "Guilty as Sin" will never be mistaken for any of them, it is a very entertaining and yet highly improbable thriller. He's a talented filmmaker, and he sells the story. Because of that, it hooks you and you buy into it despite your reservations.

Larry Cohen will probably never win an Oscar as a screenwriter, but you have to give this guy credit where it's due; he spins an entertaining yarn and that is definitely the case here. The casting is good as well. Rebecca DeMornay and Don Johnson are both impossibly good-looking here, but you believe them in their respective roles. These are fun characters, and it's very enjoyable but sometimes silly watching them play their cat and mouse game. Johnson is especially good in a wonderful, scenery-chweing performance that gives him the rare chance to play the bad guy. He's a lot of fun, and Cohen gives him some juicy lines of dialogue.

It's a rare twist in a courtroom thriller where the defendant's guilt or innocence is black and white right from the start. The ending, however, is a little too abrupt and wraps things up a little too neatly for my tastes, and the resolution seems disappointingly routine to me. The audience that has stuck with this audacious thriller for that long deserves a better conclusion. Clearly, seasoned filmmaker Lumet made "Guilty as Sin" as a lark, and when it works, it does so because of his skill and some fun casting. It's silly, but quite a bit as fun as well.

Private School

Most of the teen sex comedies from the early '80's were told from the guy's point of view, but "Private School" was the rare one told from the girl's perspective. It doesn't really make it any better than the slew of similar films that choked the theaters and drive-ins during the time, but it is a lot less ugly and misogynistic.

There really are no laughs in the movie because, although the situations are universal to most people, they are exaggerated here to heighten the embarrassment factor over genuine humor. The film stars the beautiful Phoebe Cates, and her sheer presence in this helps soften my feelings towards it. She is effervescent in this, and her relationship with Matthew Modine seems to come from a different movie mainly because it's written at a different level than the sophomoric humor and sex gags. She seems to be trying harder than this material to be good.

Just as memorable, but for a lot of different reasons, is co-star Betsy Russell who has the two single best scenes in the film. Her attempted seduction of Modine and the topless horseback ride will never be forgotten although the movie quickly will. Because of those two performances and a great soundtrack full of bouncy '80's pop songs (some recognizable and some by recognizable artists), "Private School" will always be slightly better than most other films of its type. Granted I didn't laugh but I also didn't want to storm away in anger (my usual reaction), so it does deserve kudos for that if nothing else. This is a lot easier to take than most.

The 13th Warrior

So many people had a hand in the making of "The 13th Warrior," it's hard to know who to blame for its troubled production and the disastrous bomb that resulted. This is legitimately one of the biggest catastrophes in recent cinematic history, with a bloated budget and problems behind the set involving revolving people in the director's chair and massive reshoots.

A documentary about the making of this picture would be an infinitely more interesting film than the one that somehow made it to theaters. This is a muddled, disheveled mess with some beautiful photography and grand sets and special effects all in a story that was never worth telling in the first place. The film is based on a 1976 novel by Michael Crichton, and it was later proven that the manuscript he used as inspiration for that book never existed, and that is yet another story that sounds more interesting than this tired Viking saga.

The idea of these fearsome Nordic warriors being hunted by something even more sinister is interesting, but you never really learn enough about their enemy making it difficult to generate much fear or interest in any of the battles that follow. "Die Hard" director John McTiernan is credited for for this debacle (although Crichton himself stepped in to try to salvage it), and surprisingly enough, the action scenes are dark and hard to follow. That means there's virtually nothing to like in "The 13th Warrior." It's not quite the epic the makers must have had in mind.

Head Office
Head Office(1986)

In the first few minutes, when you're still not quite sure what's going on, the big business satire "Head Office" buzzes with an undeniable, frantic energy. We are introduced to a great supporting cast of characters, played by some very funny character actors like Rick Moranis and Danny DeVito.

Unfortunately, they are both killed off very early on and the rest of this becomes a forgettable and generic comedy that was all-too-typical of the decade. The rapid-fire pacing of the opening is lost and this settles into familiar territory, complete with a boring love story and a ridiculous amount of nondescript '80's synth music on the soundtrack.

Judge Reinhold is a likable enough guy, and can be quite funny in the right role, but he was never cut out to be a leading man and the reason for that is painfully obvious here. In fact, I couldn't help but wonder why the built the entire movie around him because he plays the least interesting character in the film, especially when the entire cast is still alive.

The central storyline that emerges, about a naive corporate executive with a heart who wants to do what's right, is just as uninteresting but the biggest problem is that this is a comedy that fails to generate a single laugh. Writer and director Ken Finkleman's last failed project was "Airplane 2", but at least that had jokes. This is more of a situational comedy in which the situations aren't inherently funny.

The bland title should clue you in to just how dull "Head Office" is. After an energetic start it goes awry quickly and settles for being just another forgettable romantic comedy.

Friday the 13th, Part V - A New Beginning

Long considered to be the black sheep of the franchise by diehard fans for being the second film to not feature Jason Voorhees as the killer, "Friday the 13th Part 5" has always been one of my personal favorites despite technically being one of the worst. The plot is completely absurd, and the film has the sketchiest of ties to the other films.

It's full of so many holes and unanswered questions, and the dialogue is rich with laughably but oddly memorable lines of dialogue. That's reason number one that this has remained near and dear to my heart as the film is full of hilarious moments. It's also well known that this had many issues with the MPAA in trying to secure an "R" rating, but what is left of the murder scenes is still brutal enough to make them unforgettable.

It tries to play itself off as a murder mystery since it makes it obvious very early on that Jason is sitting this one out, but the final reveal is so preposterous that it makes it impossible for me to recommend the film despite the fun I had. The final nail in the coffin was the lazy and uninspired finale, full of typical horror film cliches and sluggish pacing. It's sad really, considering the first half of this had so easily attained cult status with me, only yo be let down in the end.

Much like "Halloween 3" before it, "Friday the 13th Part 5" upset fans because it only has a tenuous connection to the rest of the series, but it's still one of my favorites for all the wrong reasons. It's hilariously bad, so much so that I almost felt obligated to recommend it.

Superman II
Superman II(1981)

Most sequels are only made with financial gain in mind, and very little thought or care go into the making of a lot of them. A rare example of an exception to that rule is the grand and glorious "Superman 2" that not only betters its predecessor but expands on the mythology set in motion by the first film.

It's told in the same corny, old-fashioned style that fits these wonderful characters so well, and it has the same welcome sense of humor. There are a lot of terrific scenes between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder as their relationship deepens, the best of which occurs in Niagara Falls. The the actors are perfectly suited to their roles, and it's obvious from this outing and they're starting to feel more comfortable as they make these familiar characters their own.

The other great addition to this creative follow-up is the inclusion of three new arch-villains from Krypton, Non, Ursa and General Zod, and a great deal of the film's success lies with them and the actors who play them. Terence Stamp is wonderfully campy and villainous at the same time, Jack O'Halloran is mostly comic relief and Sarah Douglas is alluringly evil as Ursa. The scenes of them interacting with Superman and the general population are great and add so much to this already magnificently entertaining picture.

The makers of "Superman 2" obviously cared enough about the fans to give them a worthy follow-up, and they succeeded. This fits in nicely with its predecessor as far and style and story goes, and it actually manages to improve on it some. It's a rip-roaring good time.


There have been a rash of clever indie thrillers that take ordinary people in mundane situations and throwing them into a life or death struggle for survival. "ATM" is the latest, and although it doesn't have the notoriety or fan base of "Open Water" or "Frozen," it is a pretty intense and entertaining thriller that is definitely in the same vein.

It may not be as good as many of the films it emulates, but thanks to some nifty directing by first-timer David Brooks, the film moves along at a steady click. There are some moments near the end of the film that manage to pack a punch, but the ending itself is quite maddening, failing to even attempt to invent a motive for the ninety minutes that proceeded.

And then there's the screenplay aspect, with a script full of so many holes and illogical moments that listing them here would be quite arduous, The picture follows the rule of thumb that if these characters had behaved logically it would have been over in fifteen minutes, so while it is skillfully made and kept me watching, it's quite frustrating as well.

In an attempt to be novel and cutting edge, the film asks you to forgive a lot but the lack of motive is really the one thing that kept nagging at me. Clearly this was a man who went to great lengths to kill some people and implicate one of his victims, but to what end? I stayed with it through the credits hoping for an answer, but was rewarded with none. You can enjoy "ATM" as a simple thriller, as I did, but it will (and has) infuriated a lot of people. I'm recommending it, but I can easily understand the opposing views.

The Frozen Ground

True life crime movies can be compelling and fascinating with the right director and screenwriter, such as "Zodiac" for example. There are a lot of key elements that suggest "The Frozen Ground" should have been a great film as well, such as the talented and eclectic cast and the unique setting, but it's mostly a forgettable mess.

It's based on an actual case from the early 1980's, but the whole thing feels strangely fictional, and the novice writer behind this is mostly to blame. Scott Walker's debut feature is full of hugely dramatic scenes and passionate performances from his actors that border on overacting, and both factors all but bury any sense of credibility that this picture was striving for.

The half-baked script seems very superficial and slight when it comes to key details about the case, and Nicolas Cage feels more like a parody of himself at times. All of the actor's well-known tics are in full force here, and John Cusack is disappointing as the serial killer as well. There are only a few key scenes, mostly towards the end, where he gets to shine and really make the character his own. The final showdown between the two leads is terrific and smart, but in this case it only serves to show how lacking the rest of the film is. The entire thing should have been written at that level.

Precious little insight is given into the mind of the killer, as this is focused more on the investigation but Cusack's character is what we're all interested in. It's just one of the many disappointing aspects of "The Frozen Ground," a fascinating story told like a TV movie or an episode of "Dateline."


The 1990's were a decade rich with young black filmmakers making a splash with a lot of impressive and important movies, but no one spoke louder than Spike Lee well into that time period and beyond. Even his misfires were more interesting than a lot of director's successes, and "Clockers" is a little-seen but vital piece of work that delves so much deeper into the gangster lifestyle than a dozen other similar projects.

Lee and screenwriter Richard Price is more interested in exploring the power struggle involved in life on the streets, exploring the story of two brothers in the same situation but each with a very different way of dealing with it. Isaiah Washington is the family man, shunning the criminal lifestyle in favor of working two menial jobs while his sibling (the exceptional Mekhi Phifer) earns the easy money working for a crime boss.

There are a lot of outside sources swaying them in different directions in the form of Delroy Lindo as the drug lord and Keith David as a local cop who cares about the people he serves adding to the richness of the story. Rather than focus on the expected and gratuitous violence, the mood here is more melancholy and Lee is a master of choosing just the right music to fit the mood. It's exceptional here.

Because of the combined efforts of the director, the writer and the seasoned cast, "Clockers" is so much more than just another gang picture. Like so many others Spike Lee Joints, this has something to say.


As if the species didn't get a bad enough rap from the Heart song, along comes "Barracuda" the movie to further jeopardize the reputation of the fish in question. This ridiculous thriller was obviously inspired by the Steven Spielberg classic "Jaws," and this is probably the worst in the slew of rip-offs that followed.

It was ahead of its time using environmental pollution as the backdrop for the story, but as it turns out, this has very little to do with killer fish. Sure it starts out that way with a number of obligatory attack scenes that are overlong and embarrassing mostly because it looks like toy fish were used.

Then, about the midway point, the title creatures are completely forgotten about in lieu of a government conspiracy subplot that will disappoint people looking for a killer animal movie. While the writing is just as bad, I found the second half of the film to be a slight improvement simply because the death sequences were so laughable and insignificant. As the title card references, I believe the film was originally called "The Lucifer Project" and then changed with those idiotic fish attack scenes being added to capitalize on that shark saga that hit so big a few years earlier.

It's a bait and switch technique that has been used many times before, and usually with a similar outcome. The direction is sluggish at best, and the annoying film score never seems to match up with what's going on in the actual film. "Barracuda" is quite the mess, but it does boast something of a surprise ending that deserves some credit. I can't say I didn't see it coming, but it is a lot more inventive than the rest of this dud.


For me, as a kid, the Irwin Allen disaster pictures of the 1970's were about as good as movies could get, but my favorite was always "The Poseidon Adventure." Now, decades later come the remake, and it's pretty much disappointing in every way possible. Entitled simply "Poseidon," this ridiculously overproduced film budgeted at an astounding $160 million throws in some amazing special effects that simply were not possible in 1972.

Where it goes wrong, however, is at the script level which gives us pale imitations of the original cast without giving us a single person that we care about. They may seem silly now, but those Allen classics took the time (in some cases, a ridiculous amount of time) to introduce the players and give us their story. This film is all about those admittedly spectacular effects, and it rushes headstrong into the disaster at sea.

You miss the relationships that made the earlier film so unforgettable, and the bond between the survivors that made their deaths so heartbreaking. Like so many other big budgeted Hollywood productions, the remake gets the technical aspects right but fails to give us a story or characters worth following. These people are mere stereotypes rather than real people, but the acting is all serviceable enough. The only actor who lets you down is the usually reliable Richard Dreyfuss in an odd and strangely undignified supporting role.

As a movie, "Poseidon" looks great (for all that money, it better) but there's no heart here, no reason to keep watching. It's just empty.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Thanks to the misfire that was "Halloween 3", every sequel since then will forever be encumbered with the name "Michael Myers" in the title just so that the fans know the film will be true to the John Carpenter classic and it is not some sort of deviation. The first to endure this, "Halloween 4", isn't a great film but it is something of a return to form as it emphasizes atmosphere over gore and tries for suspense rather than cheap thrills. It doesn't always achieve that, but clearly the effort is there.

The story isn't all that plausible, but it does serve to get the series back to its roots, and the return of Donald Pleasence is ludicrous but necessary to the survival of the franchise. After what happened to him at the end of the first sequel I think he's had more than some scars and a limp, but it is what it is.

Filmmaker Dwight Little is no Carpenter, but with this film he tries to remain true to the look and feel of the original, mostly by bypassing the extreme bloodletting of the last few pictures. Not much is done to further the mythology of the Myers character other than by introducing us to his extended family, but that may be a blessing considering what would follow in later installments. Danielle Harris is a nice addition to the series as she is a natural child actress, and co-star Ellie Cornell is likable as well, and in a lot of ways reminiscent of Jamie Lee Curtis. Perhaps that's what got her the job.

The film concludes with a bang, a clever and shocking final scene that won't help the franchise to continue, but in retrospect, maybe it shouldn't have continued. "Halloween 4" would have been the right film to go out on, an imperfect but enjoyable entry in a series that has had its share of ups and downs.

Dollman vs. Demonic Toys

Charles Band seemingly envisioned himself as something of the Roger Corman of the 1990's, and the guy sure made a lot of movies that were on the thrifty side. During his reign over Full Moon, he never made a cheaper movie than "Dollman VS. Demonic Toys", which you can barely even call a movie.
It runs sixty-four minutes, with four minutes of credits at both ends, and in true Corman fashion, a god deal of the rest of this is flashbacks to three others films with plenty of footage to pad out the already flimsy running time. There's honestly about forty minutes of new footage here, and most of that was shot for other films and just not used until now. The title carefully paints the story, which is essentially a finale to a movie that doesn't exist, which explains why they needed all of that padding.
Tim Thomerson's painfully serious performance was meant to be a goof, but it's just not funny. In fact, none of this is any fun at all. The Dollman special effects are shockingly good for a film of such meager means, as the sets are impressive. The problem with the effects lies with the possessed toys, which aren't in the least bit convincing. The giant baby is the only one with any lines or a personality, and he talks in throwaway one-liners that aren't funny either. Half the time you can't understand what he's saying anyway so it doesn't matter much.
And despite the brief run time, the film is quite boring, mostly because you're watching clips from movies you've already seen (in my case anyway) and you didn't ever want to see them again. "Dollman VS. Demonic Toys" is the worst kind of filmmaking, lazy and only existing to make a quick buck. Considering how little money and effort he put into this one, I'm sure Band made a pretty penny on this one. But it sure cost him a lot of integrity.

Book of Shadows - Blair Witch 2

There may indeed be another story to tell about the Blair Witch, but "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" is not it. This will go down in history as one of the worst sequels ever, a follow-up that no one asked for and only exists to cash in on the wildly successful original. But while that remains one of the most original and scariest horror films of all time, this is conventional in every way.

There's great evidence of tampering by the studio to make this more commercial, but all they've succeeded in doing is making an incoherent mess of a movie that is so bad it tarnishes the reputation of the first film. There's absolutely nothing even remotely scary about this film, as the most it can muster are a lot of shocking images that turn out to be hallucinations anyway.

Gone is the imagination and suggestiveness that made the original so special. Instead, it's replaced by a lot of ridiculous and unnecessary gore that doesn't even make sense within the context of the film. The sequel sets up an intriguing premise that is founded on the basis that the first movie was just that; a movie. What would happen if fans of that movie try to prove its authenticity? But that premise is forgotten about after the first twenty minutes and what follows is an excruciatingly boring and talky film with only the most threadbare connection to its predecessor. And as perhaps a sign of the studio's desperation, the title is completely meaningless. There is no "Book of Shadows" in "Blair Witch 2", as well as no scares, logic or a coherent story. This may very well be the worst film of the year.


For a lot of people, the famously awful Sc-Fi Channel feature films are a hilarious way to spend an afternoon, but I have never found anything remotely funny about any of them. "Croc" is no exception.

This film is just bad, made cheaply to earn a quick buck and faint praise from the handful of people who will relish its ineptitude, and in my book there's nothing funny about that. This is clearly a copy of "Jaws", but to even mention that film in connection with this one is an absolute outrage.

The attack scenes are poorly staged and un uneasy mix of CGI creatures, stock footage of real crocodiles and gallons of fake blood to cover up all the poor make-up effects. Director Stewart Raffill used to make bad-to-mediocre theatrical films, but this represents his farther fall from grace yet. This is a manufactured product more than a real film, and quite frankly that's distasteful. The makes don't even focus on the killer animal for a great deal of the running time, as a lot of extraneous subplots are thrown in to pad things out.

We get all of the usual elements: a romance, a greedy land developer and evil tax collectors. None of them really have a place in this film. And then, of course, Michael Madsen shows up to collect a paycheck in the Robert Shaw role, and it's clear that his prime is long past him. Nothing, not even money, can justify his appearance in "Croc". This is just shoddy filmmaking, and frankly, there's nothing funny about it.

South Beach Academy

Back in the 1990's, when the home video boom was at the height of its popularity, all you really needed to make a movie was a camera, a threadbare story and sometimes a recognizable name helped too. "South Beach Academy" is one such film, appealing to the most easily pleased renter imaginable.

What story there is only exists as an excuse to film women on the beach in various stages of undress, and while it is fun for about five minutes, you almost instantly become immune to all of the bare skin. You know what people say about too much of a good thing. The plot involves two eccentric, elderly millionaires with unlimited resources betting on a beach volleyball game, and that is stretched out to a feature-length run time. The amount of filler is staggering.

The "bankable" stars of this dud were famous in at least three different decades, and while "Munsters" star Al Lewis appears to be having the time of his life, he looks like an old woman in a lot of the scenes. James Hong's role amounts to a glorified cameo, and Corey Feldman spends most of the movie walking around with an undeserved sense of entitlement. The starring roles in theatrical films are a thing of the past for him, and his agent should be kind enough to break the news to him. He will forever be stuck in unwatchable junk like this.

By the time the film takes a weird serious turn at the end, I had already written this film off. In all honesty, that happened about five minutes into "South Beach Academy". It never even comes close to redemption.


The power that drives the first two-thirds of "Freedomland" is something author Stephen King describes as "the gotta." Screenwriter Richard Price sets a fascinating plot in motion and you just gotta keep watching because you just gotta find out what happens next and you just gotta know how it ends.

The mystery is absorbing, but unfortunately, the big reveal is botched and a lot less dramatic than it should be. The film is based in part on the real-life case of Susan Smith, and the writing is quite good as it not only focuses on the crime drama aspect but also deals directly with the racial tension caused by these accusations. Price has written some fine films over the years, and I would include this among them despite the reservations I had with the film's final act.

Julianne Moore is at the center of the mystery, and her performance is the centerpiece of the film, at times heart-wrenching even when you know her motives cannot be trusted. It's a credit to the actor when you empathize with her character without really trusting her. Also good in a supporting performance is Edie Falco, head of a parent's group helping to locate Moore's missing boy. She is superb in the film's single best scene in which her conversation with Moore about her missing child subtly turns into a subversive attempt at getting a confession.

"Freedomland" is a smart film that falters in the third act. There are some stunning performances and a terrific script, but the resolution doesn't feel as satisfying as it should.

The Last House on the Left

In the long, seemingly endless parade of horror remakes, most have been terrible but a select few have been very good. Still, none of them have ever topped their preceding film until now. The new version of "The Last House on the Left" is a visceral punch to the gut, just as dark and disturbing as the Wes Craven flick but without the irritating nuances that mucked it up and kept it from greatness.

The overbearing score is gone, as are the ill-advised moments of humor, and what we're left with is a bare-bones, stripped down revenge picture that is stylishly made and molded after the great horror flicks of the '70's decade. The violence, however is all modernized and updated for the jaded "Saw" generation but you cannot dispute its effectiveness.

The first death scene, of young actress Martha MacIsaac, is one of the less gruesome ones in the film, but it's also the hardest one to watch because of the realism. That and the tone of the film bring to mind the tone of the Craven original, but the acting and production values are much improved. Director Dennis Iliadis is impressive in his first big feature film, and the script adds some nice touches such as the death of an older brother that gives the film some depth.

"The Last House on the Left" goes to some pretty dark places, and the end result works on its basest level. There's no denying that this was skillfully made and definitely not for all audiences but it still manages to improve on a beloved but flawed original.

Quick Change
Quick Change(1990)

Bill Murray has made more than his fair share of bad movies, like most actors, but when he aligns himself with just the right project the results can be spectacular. "Quick Change" is one such film, a criminally overlooked comedy that combines a great cast, the perfect script and Murray himself in near-perfect form in the lead.

The clever heist comedy is the star's love letter to New York City, as it celebrates the city's unique style and the special sensibilities of its citizens. Only in New York would food vendors race to the scene of a bank robbery or applaud the release of hostages like they were watching a Broadway show.

Frankly, this is one of Murray's best performances, and the screenplay by Howard Franklin gives the actor some of his best lines. The supporting performances are good too, especially a radiant Geena Davis in the female lead. The movie is almost stolen, however, by Bob Elliott of the old Bob and Ray comedy team. He has very little screen time as the bank's security guard, but he is hilarious every single time he's on the screen.

It's also refreshing to see an adult comedy that is not afraid to use adult language but has enough restraint to not go overboard with it. That's the easiest way for a film to lose its effectiveness. The robbery itself is quite clever, and the sardonic tone of the picture is a perfect fit for its star actor. "Quick Change" is a forgotten movie that is greatly deserving of finding an audience, but that is becoming more and more unlikely with the passage of time. It's very funny and full of terrific comedic performances and a concrete grasp on what makes New York such a great city.

The Innkeepers

Pretty much all modern horror films can be broken down into a half dozen or so major categories, making it nearly impossible for up and coming filmmakers to come up with something truly original. Ti West has come close several times, and I firmly believe the guy will make great movies someday, but unfortunately, "The Innkeepers" is just another near miss.

It's a ghost story, and it relies far too heavily on tried and true cliches without being terribly fresh or noteworthy. We get the shocking dream sequence and even the ridiculously reliable jumping animal, and it's disappointing because this is such a good-looking picture. Much like the director's "House of the Devil," there's a refreshingly old-fashioned feel to it, and it doesn't rely on gore to punctuate the story. The problem is the first half of this is so stagnant that might have been welcome.

I enjoyed the relationship and the chemistry of the two leads, Pat Healy and Sara Paxton, with Paxton especially appealing and captivating. She brings a certain spark to the film with her natural good looks and unassuming sense of humor. Paxton is the heart of the film and almost good enough to get me to recommend it, but she's also stuck in a movie that we've all seen before.

"The Innkeepers" is a modest picture that doesn't do enough to help it to stand out from the crowded pack. West can tell a story; that's certainly his strength. Now he just needs to find a story that's worth telling.

Superman III
Superman III(1983)

It's kind of baffling, really. Nearly everyone involved with the making of "Superman 3" has been involved with the series from the beginning, and how they let this fall this far this fast will probably always remain a mystery. This inexplicably passed through a lot of people who all apparently gave their seal of approval to this mind-numbing, ill-concieved mutt of a sequel that only succeeds in tarnishing the previous two films.

The picture's tone is all over the map, in the beginning almost a comedy but taking a much darker tone when Kryptonite changes Superman's demeanor in some gloomy sequences that simply do not fit in with this film or the franchise. The screenplay is all over the map as well, trying to tell too many different stories all at one time, and the casting may be the film's ultimate blunder.

Robert Vaughn is a poor man's Gene Hackman, and his character is a pale substitute for Lex Lugar but it's Richard Pryor who is the most obvious offender here. Much like the film, he's too bland and sanitized, and he brings nothing to the proceedings. He's certainly not funny at all, or even remotely villainous and it makes you wonder what purpose he was to serve. Why hire Pryor if you're not going to let him be funny. At least Margot Kidder had the common sense to spend 98% of the movie "on assignment."

The special effects are definitely lacking this time out, and it's now clear that director Richard Donner was the driving force behind the previous film's success. Substitute Richard Lester has been gift-wrapped this golden goose only to muck it up something awful. "Superman 3" is an embarrassing letdown to the fans, who surely deserved better than this mess of a movie.

Red State
Red State(2011)

Sometimes all it takes for a once promising filmmaker to pull out of a slump is to pull a complete 360 and shake things up a bit. "Red State" is about as far-removed as you can get from your typical Kevin Smith project, but it's also the most compelling film he's made in years.

Clearly based on the shameful antics of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, the film takes an even scarier approach to similar religious zealots, and it was clearly a labor of love for the director. Whether you agree or not with Smith's take on religion, Christianity, gun control or any of the other Hot Button issues he attempts to broach here, you simply cannot deny what a skillfully made picture this is.

Smith is obviously never afraid to go-for-broke in whatever genre he finds himself working in, and in this case, that results in one of the most daring pictures I've seen all year. Michael Parks resurrects his career right out of the ashes with his mesmerizing performance here, but the real star is John Goodman giving one of the best performances of his career as the ATF agent in charge. It's so different from anything he's ever done that I was continually amazed scene after scene, leading to his concluding moment that amazed me yet again. It's an unique way to wrap up the proceedings (Smith once again thinking outside the box), and Goodman nails it perfectly.

"Red State" will clearly not be a popular film with a certain section of the population, and that made me like it even more. I was able to enjoy it based upon it's merits.


Normally, I'm dead set against all of the remakes and reboots that have been permeating theaters this past decade or so, but in the case of the low-budget dud "Battledogs," I'll make an exception. There are some nifty ideas here that could have worked in a project with a lot more money behind it and with a better cast, and as bad as this is, you can at least say that it's ambitious.

It's a hybrid werewolf movie mixed with elements of "Contagion," but the poor writing and extraordinarily awful special effects sink this at every turn. If I wasn't so bored by it I may have found some of it funny since so much of what transpires here is completely ludicrous. The werewolf effects are shoddy, but the budget is so miniscule that even the shots of aircraft are computer generated.

That doesn't mean that some of this isn't fun to watch, like the wolves getting incinerated on the streets of Manhattan and entire bridges blown up with missiles, but it's so poorly done that at times you feel like you're watching a cartoon. There's a better-than-expected cast with several recognizable names, but none of them can convincingly pull off this inept dialogue. The script also has no shortage of cliches, such as the government wanting to use the werewolves as weapons of war, but you still can't help but wonder what some brighter minds would have been able to do with this idea.

As it stands now, "Battledogs" is an idiot movie with a few decent images floundering in an astoundingly bad film. There are clearly aspirations of greatness here that could never be achieved due to its limited funding.


There seems to be a popular misconception, mostly perpetuated by the filmmakers, that "Descent" is somehow a noble project that will somehow speak to women everywhere. Obviously they were thinking pretty highly of themselves. I'm sure star Rosario Dawson and director Talia Lugacy had the best of intentions going forward with this picture but they couldn't have been more wrong-headed. This is a disastrous, nearly unwatchable movie that sets out to offend and disturb its audience. That's the only thing it succeeds at.

The film glosses over a lot of key points that would have tied this together a little better, and while that wouldn't have solved all of the film's problems, it certainly would have helped. The only thing less vague than Dawson's descent into drugs and sex is her rise back to star college student. It just lacks any kind of authenticity. During the Q & A session following a screening of the movie with the star and director, they discuss the importance of the picture.

Apparently, they feel this will help victims of rape and abuse cope with their feelings. But that is completely unreasonable simply because Dawson's resolution to her rape is so implausible and unthinkable that I don't see how this would help anyone. The film's conclusion is sure to be debated for years, but it's simply vile and disturbing without any real purpose other than to shock the audience. It works, but to what purpose?

It's true when I say that I'll never forget it, but in this case I'll really be trying to. "Descent" is a pretentious, arthouse failure that is vile and ugly just for shock value. It's anti-therapeutic.

Going Berserk

Until his untimely death, John Candy was always one of our most likable and dependable comic actors. Even in the worst of films, he always got the most out of his bankable charisma and you won't find a much more unappealing film that he starred in than "Going Berserk".
This was his first major film role after leaving the Canadian comedy troupe "SCTV", and several of his friends from that outfit just about sink their careers before they get started in this film as well.Candy shows some of the star quality he would be known for in this dreary, unfunny picture but co-stars Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy aren't given much to do.
There's a plot here, but in all actuality, it makes up very little of the film's blessedly short running time. The rest of this almost feels like the worst episode of "SCTV" ever, a weak collection of skits that seem disjointed and out of place. The biggest time waster here involves Candy getting arrested and breaking out with future "Ghostbuster" Ernie Hudson. It eats away at the running time and has absolutely nothing to do with anything, but like the rest of the picture, it's completely devoid of laughs.
The movie might have worked better as a "PG" rated, more family orientated film like "Who's Harry Crumb?". The sex humor here feels out of place and unnecessarily crude and embarrassing. Candy's best films were kinder, gentler offerings, but this was too early in his career to know what kind of role would fit him the best. At the time this was made, "R" rated comedies were all the rage and that's what was offered to him. He should have waited for a better offer. "Going Berserk" is a desperate and forgettable flick.

Mr. Bean's Holiday

If you can say anything nice about Mr. Bean, comedian Rowan Atkinson's painfully unfunny alter-ego, it's that at least he does;t saturate the marketplace. When Ernest was in his prime, we could count on a new movie almost annually. But, "Mr. Bean's Holiday" is his first cinematic outing since 1998, and that's something we can all be thankful for.

This film is the new low point in a summer that was full of disappointing sequels and dumb action movies. It's obvious by the film's "G" Rating that the makers were aiming for the kids, which is a smart idea. There aren't a lot of adults out there who could stomach much of Bean's insufferable, unintelligible brand of alleged comedy. He basically comes off as a mental retard who babbles and bumbles his way through ninety minutes of mix-ups and misunderstandings.

There's not one laugh here, and the film drags on for an eternity. And in the great tradition of Max Von Sydow appearing in "Rush Hour 3", Willem DaFoe's inexplicably appears in this dreck as a ridiculous film director. Just for the record, he was once in "Platoon". His past exemplary work brings nothing to this sluggish, embarrassing and deathly dull film in which the plodding plot creeps along at a snail's pace.

"Mr. Bean's Holiday" is the cinematic equivalent of a dentist's visit. Ernest punished us more frequently, but Bean is even more unlikable. Not only in this terribly unfunny, I can't even begin to explain why this was supposed to be funny.

Weenie Roast Massacre

The word "massacre" is thrown around a lot in horror films, and it's apparent all the way through "Weenie Roast Massacre" that writer/director John Kerr came up with the title first and then wrote a movie around it. Sometimes that works, but more often than not, it doesn't and this movie fails in every way possible.

The no budget film is filled with no talent actors, and the sad thing is that there isn't any fun to be had here. With a title like this, it should have been campy and fun, but it takes itself way too seriously and that's enough to kill it off right there. The only enjoyable performance in the film belongs to Mark C. Holden who appears to be channeling Donald Trump playing a smarmy reporter. You have to love the fact that he makes a name for himself by killing an innocent, unarmed man on live television, and he is the only member of the cast who appears to be in on the joke.

There are only two murders in the first hour, so what else is going on during that time? There's a whole lot of story that no one wanted or needed for a B-movie of this nature. Kerr puts way to much thought into the backstory and these characters, making for one long set-up. The last half hour has plenty of murders, some of them even convincing despite the meager budget.

And in yet another failure, the only nude scene in the entire film belongs to the homeliest girl in the cast. It's just one more example of how everyone involved with this botched the job. "Weenie Roast Massacre" should have been as much fun as it sounds, but it's a lifeless clunker that is one wasted opportunity after another.


Killer animal movies became all the rage after the overwhelming success of "Jaws," but few were as entertaining as "Alligator", one of the biggest guilty pleasures the genre has ever seen. Everything about the film, from the title on down, is as simple as it could be but it's nevertheless immensely enjoyable and gloriously silly with a wonderful assortment of oddballs in the cast.

Robert Forster is actually quite good in the lead role, a position he found himself in only on rare occasions, and Michael V. Gazzo is a hoot as his boss. The guy always seems to be on the verge of a heart attack. Things get even more fun when Henry Silva shows up in a typically whacked-out performance as a big game hunter. It's a brief appearance, but he really livens things up.

In another bit of weirdness, the screenplay was written by John Sayles and for the most part, it transcends the material. As a writer, Sayles always has a way to make even the silliest plots credible and amusing. The other bright spot of the film are the better-then-average special effects, made at a time before computers were used for everything. It took quite a team of people to put this together, but the end result was worth it. The creature effects are quite convincing, and there are some truly amazing shots of the animal roaming the streets of Chicago.

"Alligator" was always one of my favorite films growing up, and it holds up remarkably well today. It's a ridiculous film with a goofy charm all its own, and in my book, that never goes out of style.

John Tucker Must Die

Teen comedies have been in a steady decline since the 1980's, but "Mean Girls" proved a few years back that they do not have to all be bad. Now, along comes the dreadful "John Tucker Must Die" to set the genre back again, as this is a painfully obvious and predictable entry with vapid characters and themes that border on bullying.

The whole thing is played for laughs that never come, and somehow that makes it even more offensive. The film has a young and beautiful cast, lots of bouncy but forgettable pop songs and everyone learns a lesson in the end, but along with that it comes saddled with a story that's been told dozens of times before. This variation has nothing new to bring to the table.

Despite all of the good looks, there's not a single likable actor or character in the film, and that includes star Brittany Snow who's supposed to be the "good girl" or the "voice of reason." You spend the whole movie wondering why she's been ostracized by her entire high school when she's just as hot as everyone else. The movie is as shallow as its characters as there are no genuine emotions or heart here. It's played too broad for any of that, and it's quite disheartening to see all of these people using or manipulating everyone else.

This was clearly made solely for the high school set, and it aims just low enough to please a lot of them. "John Tucker Must Die" made me feel a lot of things, but mostly I was just sad for a generation that grows up with dreck like this when I grew up with the works of John Hughes.

Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice

The original "Children of the Corn" tied its story up pretty well by the end of the film, but because someone sensed that there may be a profit hidden out there in those cornfields, we now get a very belated sequel subtitled "The Final Sacrifice". Much like the so-called "Final Chapter" of "Friday the 13th", that is pretty laughable considering how many more direct-to-video sequels would follow this, but it probably sounded cool on paper.

Perhaps the one nice thing I can honestly say about this is that it does throw in a whole slew of mostly ridiculous plot devices in an attempt to further the story and mask the fact that this was made strictly for the sole purpose of making a quick buck. It throws in Native American folklore, a possible ecoterrorist idea about unleashing deadly tainted maize onto the population and even some ideas that Greenpeace might get behind about these kids striking back against their parents for ruining the Earth.

Since a lot (OK, most) of those ideas are never really fleshed out or explored, it falls reliably back on the "religious fervor" aspect of the first film, with the kids following an unlikely, unholy deity known as He Who Walks Behind the Rows. It's as half-baked as any of the other ideas presented here, but at least it's one that we're familiar with. The film is poorly made, with some of the most unconvincing child actors I've ever seen.

The special effects are quite dreadful, and the pacing is sluggish. "Children of the Corn 2" is so full of unrealized plot threads, it's one of the most incoherent films in recent memory.


Before the Sy Fy Channel became famous for their ridiculous, CGI-infested monster and killer animal movies, there was "Anaconda," a wonderfully campy and wildly entertaining B-movie that should have become the benchmark for the pay cable channel and their incompetent copycats.

This brings together an eclectic cast headed by a spunky Jennifer Lopez long before she had the Hollywood cloud to turn down projects like this, and Jon Voight giving one of the most memorable performances of his career. The character is broadly written but Voight takes even that to a whole new level, relishing the chance to ham it up in this delightfully absurd picture. When he winks at the Lopez after being regurgitated by the giant reptile, you have to assume that it was improvised and it's wonderful.

The film is beautifully shot for something of this nature, and director Luis Llosa keeps it fast-paced, fun and energetic. The special effects are a mix of CGI and animatronics, and while at times the snake does appear to be spectacularly phony, they work for the most part. Most of the time, you will be having too much fun to notice a few seconds of unconvincing effects.

At its core, "Anaconda" is an entertaining and endearing throwback to the monster movies of the past, with some updated technology and a strong cast that sells the one-note story. The death scenes are spectacular and you just have to admire a movie that is this over-the-top with such a gleeful and playful sense of mean-spirited humor. It's a surprise winner.

Jack Frost
Jack Frost(1996)

Few movies that try too hard to earn their place on the list of campy cult classics with true staying power are successful, especially low-budget ones that bypass a theatrical release. "Jack Frost," however, comes closer than a lot of other films in recent memory.

It's too sluggish and amateurish to be entirely successful, but it is mildly entertaining with some decent special effects that definitely set it apart from a dozen projects just like it. It doesn't make you believe a snowman can fly any better than the ill-fated Michael Keaton movie of the same name, but it is better than that horrible family film that followed a year later.

The murders are inventive, and it's got more corny one-liners than a half dozen Arnold Schwarzenegger pictures, and some of them are actually funny. The silly jokes even continue on during the credits so stick around for them. Unfortunately, even with all of the positive aspects that I did like about it, this is still a B-movie that never comes close to competing with most of its big-budgeted peers.

The production values are shoddy, and the pacing is off as it drags a lot in the first half. The tone is just right, as it never takes itself too seriously, but the direction from first-timer Michael Cooney is clunky and amateurish. Scott MacDonald has a lot of fun in the title role, and he's actually more effective in human form before the accident (which was oddly reminiscent of those old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials).

The rest of the cast fails to impress, but as a film, "Jack Frost" will be remembered longer than most. It's silly fun but ultimately not ambitious enough to succeed.

I Love You Phillip Morris

"I Love You Philip Morris" is a movie of many moods and emotions, but at its heart it is a wonderful black comedy. a head-spinning story so convoluted and ridiculous that it had to be true. There are some sweet, tender moments here but essentially the movie, like its lead character, is one long con job roping the audience in and then sucker punching them repeatedly.

Many won't like that feeling, but I relished this one-of-a-kind, smart and terrifically funny film that is unique in every sense of the word. At the center of it all are the two lead performances by Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, who have never been more daring. Few things in the world of cinema are as exciting to me as when Carrey steps outside of his comfort zone, and he has never been more outside of it than he is right here. It's a terrific performance, and McGregor is equal to him. Amid all the laughs and cons, they share some remarkable quiet moments together that humanizes all of the illegal shenanigans and really gives the film its heart.

It's a real pleasure watching thus crazy tale unfold and develop into one of the most unpredictable and outlandish films I've seen in years. Because it's so unbelievable, you never doubt its authenticity for a moment. Co-writers and co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are quickly becoming favorites of mine with their audacious writing and bold filmmaking style. They walk quite a balancing act here, but they never alienate their audience.

Only the most close-minded of people will be turned off by "I Love You Philip Morris", and this is a film clearly not aimed at them anyway. For the rest of us, it's a film to be admired and cherished.

Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

Fans of the franchise created by imaginative British author Clive Barker know that the story was sufficiently summed up at the end of the first film. But since the first rule of Hollywood is that nothing this profitable never dies we now have "Hellraiser 3", and while it's by no means great, it is the last film in the series that really tried to be.

The problem with a film that was made purely in pursuit of profits is that there really isn't a story to be told, and that's the one thing that plagues this well made but completely unnecessary picture. Anthony Hickox was the go-to guy in the early 1990's for skillfully made but cheap sequels, and the guy really has a flair for them. The conclusion of this is a lot of fun, even if it is a bit of a riff on "Carrie," because you get to see Pinhead and his compadres wreak havoc in our world for a change.

However, so much of the set-up feels very familiar. The Kevin Bernhardt character is interesting and reminiscent of Sean Chapman from the first film, but he's disposed of all too quickly. There's an interesting backstory here involving the actor who has portrayed Pinhead in all of the films, Doug Bradley, getting a rare chance to shine in his human form, but it doesn't do enough to add to the mythology of the franchise.

The original Cenobites are traded out for humans-turned-demons this time out including a DJ killing people with CD's and a cameraman spouting silly one-liners, and none of that really works either. "Hellraiser 3" is good only when compared to the desperate films that would follow. This is too much of a let-down.

The Bay
The Bay(2012)

After a dozen films with mostly first-time directors, "The Bay" intrigued me because I was curious to see what acclaimed director Barry Levinson would bring to the found footage genre of horror films. As sad as it is to report, the answer is "not much."

It's a bold and brave move for one of America's most beloved filmmakers to tackle a tiny and low-budget film like this, but it should have been so much more than it is. The gamble definitely did not pay off. The premise should be scary enough, as the film attempts to make a statement on pollution and shady government practices, and it certainly is believable enough in this day and age.

The problem is that this is not particularly scary, and neither is the film as a whole. It's much too laid back to be an effective horror film, as it fails to reach the fever pitch necessary to make it successful. It's also quite maddening to see the lack of concern from the government agencies involved, from the state's governor to the CDC all the way down to the local politicians and police force that are featured prominently here. It's improbable that any American city, regardless of size, would be left to die without any kind of federal involvement.

The look of the film is kept fresh die to the constantly changing forms of photography used from TV cameras to cell phone footage, but that's faint praise indeed when you consider the story is not worth following. Considering the talent involved, it's even more aggravating that "The Bay" is this listless and forgettable. A great premise is squandered and all we're left with is the usual bag of tricks.

Striking Distance

For every good cop movie out there, there are a dozen just like "Striking Distance", a ridiculous patchwork of cop movie cliches held together by a threadbare serial killer storyline and laughable dialogue. Writer and director Rowdy Herrington turned a mess just like this into pure gold a few years back with "Roadhouse" but he cannot work that same magic again with this mess.

There are enough red herrings for two movies, a tired plot and at the center of it all a very weary-looking Bruce Willis going through the motions. He's given some of the most embarrassing one-liners of his career and a character who is such a cliche it's almost a parody. We've all seen this disgraced cop slumming in a job that's beneath him a dozen times before, and since Willis is slumming himself. He's not even trying to do anything fresh with this material.

Sarah Jessica Parker is completely miscast as his new partner, and you fail to see what she sees in him when their relationship inevitably turns romantic. The big reveal at the end will have you scratching your head twice trying to take it all in, and I'm still trying to sort out just how plausible it really is. The entire mess culminates in a preposterous extended chase scene in which Robert Pastorelli proves to have more lives than a cat.

There are some decent action sequences early on, but "Striking Distance" is a paint-by-numbers police thriller without a single original thought or concept. You can tell by watching it that Willis feels his fans deserve better, and you know what? He's right.

Megan Is Missing

I'm all for movies that try to perform a public service by warning its audience of potential dangers or try to raise awareness of an issue, or even experimental films that utilize new and unique moviemaking techniques to tell its story. The indie film "Megan is Missing" fits into both of those categories, bringing to light the hazards of internet predators through the use of web cameras, faux newscasts and security camera footage.

One could (and some have) raised the argument that the movie means well, and maybe it does but it's hard to imagine how the filmmakers could argue that point considering how repellent the final twenty minutes of this gets. Any potential good the movie would do is ultimately washed away by a "Hostel"-style ending, complete with seven solid minutes of a killer digging a grave while his fourteen-year-old victim begs for her life from inside a barrel. All that boils down to exploitation, pure and simple.

The beginning of the film is slow but admittedly does a nice job of showing how easily young girls can get sucked into meeting online strangers in person. There is, however, an excessive amount of plot details, such as Megan's past abuse and current abuse from her mother. They add nothing to the story. I guess writer/director Michael Goi felt it necessary for "Character development". To me, it felt like padding.

"Megan is Missing" has the potential for good, but there's too much ugly in it. The idea should have been to educate people, not turn off their TV in disgust.

Night of the Warrior

It was 1989 when Lloyd Dobler, John Cusack's iconic character from "Say Anything", predicted that kickboxing would be the sport of the future. He missed the mark a bit, but kickboxing movies did take over the world a few years later and "Night of the Warrior" is little more than one forgettable film in a hundred.

Everything about this, from the redundant title to this oft-told story, is typical for the era and the genre. The strange thing is that very little of this has anything to do with showcasing the martial arts. The entire film is about Anthony Geary, in a ridiculous performance, coming up with ways to get Lorenzo Lamas into one more big payday fight. Considering how poorly executed the fight scenes are (only outdone by the horrible dancing in Lamas' club) that it's probably for the better. You begin to wonder if Paula Abdul had something to do with this.

Lamas himself is an average B-movie star at best, not much charisma and clearly deficient in fighting skills but he keeps getting work thanks to his name recognition and clever editing. The writer made photography his character's "one true passion" in a moronic attempt to give him depth, and some elements of the film are strangely arty (like the weird dancing in the nightclub where no one gets naked).

It's all an attempt to make "Night of the Warrior" feel like a legitimate action movie but in reality it's just yet another unbearable B-movie with lackluster action, a story that's not worth following and a monotone star.


The 1980's were the premier decade for body switching movies, but by the early 1990's the genre had grown up and with "Switch," we get the first one made strictly for adults. It should surprise no one that the writer and director is Blake Edwards, as this type of madcap humor and broad slapstick has become his trademark.

However, the key to the movie's success lies with how triumphantly Ellen Barkin can pull off the lead role, and the actress known for her sultriness is quite adept at comedy. She takes what Steve Martin did so effortlessly in "All Of Me" and makes it her own. The actress gets some big laughs early on with the help of Edwards' wonderfully vulgar script, especially in the scene where her male counterpart first discovers that he has been reincarnated as a woman.

Unfortunately, at the midway point after several uncomfortable plot developments, the laughs dry up and the film shoots for pathos. It's then when the film falters and never recovers. The raunchiness was working fine and there was no need to muck it up with all these feelings. The subplot featuring Barkin and Lorraine Bracco in a potential love interest role is unnecessary and awkward, as is the relationship that develops between the star and Jimmy Smits. That much was at least essential for the movie to proceed according to plan but it leaves the viewer feeling uneasy.

"Switch" was a fine comedy, but the drama feels unconvincing and forced. Not every film has to have substance.


"Hush" is a limp and lifeless Southern Gothic thriller that fails mostly because the weak script doesn't have the nerve to be as bold and twisted as it would like to be. The lack of a strong leading man and lazy direction hurt as well, but mostly it's the wishy washy screenplay (co-written by filmmaker Jonathan Darby) that sinks this.

It hints at some pretty serious subject matters, namely the dark nature of the relationship between Johnathon Schaech and his mother, played by Jessica Lange, but it opts to play things safe. It doesn't go any deeper than mildly suggesting something unseemly. Had it delved into that more, this might have been something more than yet another tepid, forgettable thriller.

Lange, however, is the one bright spot, raising above the weak material time and time again. She's played this part a time or two, and frankly that's because few actresses could play this so well. Lange lays on the Southern hospitality with a heaping side of wickedness so thick that sometimes it threatens to become parody, but the performance practically begs for better material than this to shine in.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is disappointing, with Schaech a mostly irritating mama's boy and Gwenyth Paltrow playing up her role as the victim way past the point of being nauseating. She never drops the innocent victim routine until the film's final few minutes, and by that time, it's way too late. "Hush" has some deep seated issues to be sure, but unfortunately, none of them are adequately explored on the screen. It fails to follow through on its convictions, and as good as Lange is, she cannot carry the rest of this weak and unlikable cast.

Endless Love
Endless Love(1981)

It's a tale as old as time; young love, disapproving parents and generational discord. These timeless themes are given a psychotic twist in "Endless Love", a messy but nevertheless enjoyable film that is not nearly as romantic as it thinks it is.

In the beginning, the relationship between creepy Martin Hewitt and the radiant Brooke Shields is kind of sweet, as the two-year age difference isn't as scandalous as the screenwriter would like us to believe. The second half of the film turns darker and it becomes a lot of fun to watch but for all the wrong reasons.

All of the credibility goes right out the window and any sympathy you had for the Hewitt character goes right along with it, as his endless love disintegrates into obsession. There's a jarring shift in tone as the story picks up after Hewitt has been found guilty or arson and includes several ludicrous moments including an attempted seduction scene involving Shield's on-screen mother. It's all campy fun indeed, but surely not the tone director Franco Zifferelli wanted for his very serious love story.

The Oscar nominated title song by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross is clearly the best thing in the picture , but Zifferelli has a habit of using it at the most inopportune times such as when Hewitt is lighting Shield's house on fire or holding her down against her will. Like much of the film, it's laughable.

"Endless Love" was quite controversial upon its initial release, but a lot of people won't understand why. This alleged romance will do little to lift your spirits. It may have worked better as a thriller.

The Rocketeer

The folks at Disney took a big gamble adapting the graphic novel of the same name and making "The Rocketeer," a multi-million dollar film that looks great but failed to ignite much passion in the movie-going audience. It's an interesting failure, mostly because there's so much that's good about it with some amazing set design, costume design and art decoration.

The makers spared no expense in the look of the picture, and the eye for detail is quite spectacular. Unfortunately, the studio handed this project over to a fairly untested director in Joe Johnston, who is known more for work in visual effects than anything else. The first half of the picture moves at a sluggish pace, and even though it perfectly recreates the look and feel of the serials of the 1930's and '40's, there's not much fun to be had until the glorious finale.

You don't see many movies make use of blimps anymore but this makes great use of one. It tries to maintain that sense of wonder throughout, but unfortunately, a great deal of this is curiously limp. And that, oddly enough, best describes Billy Campbell in the title role, good looking enough to be sure but he brings precious little in the way of charisma to the role. Jennifer Connolly looks like she just stepped out of a '30's movie magazine, and Timothy Dalton makes for a dashing villain so why the makers hired such a lunk for the lead role is a mystery.

There's so much that I liked about "The Rocketeer" that is bothers me not to be more enthusiastic about it. It gets so much perfect that it's hard to fault it for where it goes wrong.

Grandma's Boy

As an actor, Adam Sandler's films are usually varying degrees of terrible, but even worse are the projects he produces. He seems to save the worst of the worst for the people he calls a friend, and although "Grandma's Boy" stars a bunch of his pals and wallows in his trademark brand of humor, it's not as wretched as the rest.

Allen Covert is usually relegated to bit parts in his buddy's films, but he's likable enough in his first starring role and there is a funny supporting performance by Joel David Moore as a nerdy video game programmer. They are not the reason this film still fails as the valiantly try to save it. It's not really a predictable story, but the structure of the film is predictable with the inevitable romance and completely unnecessary conflict at the end.

The plot is new, but it all lives under a dark cloud of familiarity. The sad thing is that there are some laughs, and because of that, I refused to give up on the movie entirely. And while the raunchy stuff isn't all that funny, it is the norm for films like this these days, and I understand having to try to please the fickle movie-going masses.

The moments I did enjoy the most involved Covert adjusting to his new elderly roommates and dealing with the assortment of oddities at his job. The masturbation jokes I could take or leave, but unfortunately, they come with the territory. "Grandma's Boy" sounds like more of the same, and while I can't recommend it, it's a cut above its type. With a little tweaking, it could have actually been good, but as it stands it's still better than most os Sandler's features.

Kissing a Fool

"Kissing a Fool" isn't so much a bad movie as it is a plain and ordinary one that never really aspires to be anything special. The three leads are all pretty enough, but the love story is lazy and the film isn't really about what it's supposed to be about.

David Schwimmer is playing unconvincingly against type, and you never really buy him as the boorish womanizer. It's an obnoxious performance apparently designed to put his TV past behind him, but all it's destined to do is completely alienate his fan base. I've always liked Jason Lee, on the other hand, and he fares a little better here simply because you like his character so much more.

As the film heads down its predictable path to the ending everyone knows is coming, there are no surprises along the way. It sets up a premise, eventually involving the insecure and immensely unlikable Schwimmer asking his pal to seduce his fiance to see if she'll remain faithful, but that is never followed up on. There's really no reason to delve into that story since we all know how that will play out from the start.

There's some good music sprinkled throughout, but the needless and distracting profanity is really unnecessary for a film of this nature. The screenwriter is novelist James Frey, who would later be exposed as a fraud for making up a lot of the details of his memoir. Based on the banal and forgettable "KIssing a Fool", he could be called a hack as well. This insipid wannabe romance is little more than a poor excuse for a date movie.

Motel Hell
Motel Hell(1980)

Few movies from my childhood made a bigger impression on my young psyche than "Motel Hell." but it hasn't aged well over the years. It's billed as a horror-comedy and that is definitely true, but unfortunately, there's more comedy than horror despite the horrific nature of the story.

Much of this, too much in fact, is played for laughs. Rory Calhoun and Nancy Parsons are a lot of fun in the leads, but that also works against the film because you never really take them seriously as a danger or a threat. Despite the awful things they do, they remain more comedic than terrifying.

There are indelible images in that that I remember so well from my youth, such as those burlap sacks over the human heads in the garden and the chainsaw-wielding pig from the finale. Those moments are still very effective, and the showdown at the end is very original and skillfully shot. In fact, the entire film is so absurd and one-of-a-kind that I can honestly say that I've never seen anything quite like it before. It's so bizarre that you wonder how it ever got released by a major studio.

The premise is terrific, and you can't help but laugh at it, but I imagine movie-goers at the time falling for the deceptive trailer that set this up as pure horror. They must have felt some of the same disappointment that I felt after seeing this again after all these years. Still, "Motel Hell" is worthy of your time if for no other reason than to relish its uniqueness and brazen originality. However, a little dash of the realism that was so common of horror films of this era would have been welcome.

A League of Their Own

Some movies are practically programed from the planning stages to be crowd-pleasing blockbusters, and I usually resent them with a passion. "A League of Their Own" is one such movie, but yet it won me over almost immediately thanks to some near-perfect casting and an inspired screenplay by two veteran Hollywood screenwriters.

Penny Marshall grew into a talented director, but much of the credit for the film's success lies with Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz whose script finds just the right mix of nostalgia, sentiment and truly funny one-liners. If for nothing else, the film will always be remembered for the "There's no crying in baseball" speech, but it's Jon Lovitz who gets the biggest laughs in a small part as a recruiter.

However, his is just a small role in this wonderful ensemble cast who work so well together, and each of them are given at least one moment to shine. Tom Hanks and Geena Davis are terrific, but Marshall also manages to get the best out of smaller stars like Rosie O'Donnell and Lori Petty. Even Madonna is very good in what is easily the best performance of her acting career.

Even the overy sentimental finale works within the context of the film, in which the major players get back together decades later, even if I did wonder why other actors were hired to play the character's older selves except for Davis. She shows up in fairly unconvincing make-up. It's a minor distraction.

"A League of Their Own" builds a winning fictional story out of a factual but little known era in sports history and slams it out of the park. It's pretty irresistible.


Almost any hack filmmaker can make a picture to shock or disgust the audience, and those no shortage of those type of films around. The real talent is to create something truly disturbing, and veteran director William Friedkin has done just that with "Bug", a frighteningly original and incredibly potent film that is also a return to form for the man behind "The Exorcist".

In fact, this doesn't feel like it was made by someone forty-plus years in the industry because it's brimming with an energy and a vitality many times reserved for first-timers. This is impossible to categorize and defies all explanations, and at the heart it simply illustrates how contagious paranoia can really be.

This is smarter than all of the "Saw" films combined, and it's led by a pair of powerhouse performances. It's the film that really started by cinematic love affair with Michael Shannon, and it should have been the picture to reignite the cooling career of Ashley Judd. Her transformation here might just be the scariest thing in the film, and Shannon immerses himself in this strange, troubled character in a way that has become his trademark in every picture he's made since this. In the beginning, when you're not quite sure where this is headed, he's charming in a sly and awkward sort of way. However he's completely believable and frightening by the film's end, becoming a dangerously paranoid and cultish snake charmer.

You've never seen anything quite like "Bug" before, and as I left the theater I was visibly shaken by its subversive power. It stays with you long after it's over.

Dead Presidents

A lot of great movies have been made about the Vietnam War and the after effects it had on the soldiers once they returned home, and while I consider "Dead Presidents" to be a very good film it doesn't join the ranks of the great ones dealing with this same subject matter. This isn't a serious exploration of the black experience during the war but instead pure entertainment, but it is very successful at that.

The Hughes Brothers are exceptional filmmakers, as they proved in their debut feature "Menace II Society", and this is a beautifully shot picture with a talented young cast. The violence is shocking, brutal and ridiculously overstated with the intent of making the movie feel real and it works in the first half. However, it's hard to accept that this young, first-time offenders would be this savage during the heist at the end.

Perhaps the best moments occur before Larenz Tate and his friends enlist, in the scenes where he builds a paternal bond with Keith David and his budding romance with Rose Jackson. It's a perfect portrayal of what life was during that time and place, and the directors know how to find just the right song to fit the mood.

What follows is visceral and electric filmmaking, brimming with verve and energy, but it misses several opportunities to say something of significance. The recent film "The Walking Dead" would be a better choice if that's what you're looking for, but "Dead Presidents" is thrilling entertainment showcasing two up-and-coming directors honing their craft. The vibrancy of their storytelling makes up for any holes in the story being told.

Santa Claus: The Movie

Christmas movies have never really been my thing, but in my opinion, few of them are more notoriously bad than "Santa Claus: The Movie". The makers of the original "Superman" epic poured millions of dollars into this misguided, ill-concieved dud that is completely devoid of joy, magic or the Christmas spirit.

It's really two movies in one, with the first one dealing with the myth of jolly St. Nick and the second one a more modern take on the commercialization of the holiday. Neither are any good. The first half is dark and dreary, as Santa and his wife are apparently the spirit of a deceased couple who make gifts for the children in their village.

The second half has more in common with "Halloween 3" than the Grinch, as a scenery-chewing John Lithgow attempts to take over the world with an insidious new toy. That would hardly seem like the makings of a new holiday classic, and you'd be right. The entire film is drenched in unbearable schmaltz, trying to manipulate the audience into feeling the joy of Christmas, but none of it feels authentic. You'd get more honest emotion out of a Hallmark movie-of-the-week, and the special effects are just atrocious.

After you stop to consider that by some reports, the filmmakers spent $50 million on this, you have to wonder just where all of that money went. certainly they had to make a small fortune from Coke and McDonald's for the embarrassing product placement. Nobody involved in the production of this turkey apparently had any shame. "Santa Claus: The Movie" alternates between being depressingly dull and glaringly garish. It seems like the people behind it were more concerned with selling lunchboxes than celebrating the spirit of the season.

The Game
The Game(1997)

It has been said about a lot of different things that getting there is half the fun, and in the world of cinema, "The Game" is the best example of that I can think of. In fact, as far as this movies goes, getting there is all the fun.

Director David Fincher set the bar impossibly high with his last feature "Seven," so whatever he chose for a follow-up would almost assuredly be a disappointment. There is, however, a lot to like here. It's a gloriously twisted, highly improbable and yet wildly entertaining thriller that is also one of the more of a psychologically manipulative experiences that I've had in a while.

It's intensely enjoyable watching Fincher build his house of cards, a delightfully intricate masterwork admittedly held together by some pretty flimsy and preposterous coincidences, and that makes it all the more tragic when the whole thing collapses in the final minutes. The ending zig zags a few times before everything becomes apparent, and the final twist is something of a let-down. In all honesty, there may not have been a way to wrap the film up satisfactorily, but you have to think that such creative minds as the ones involved in this picture could have come up with something better than this.

I suppose you can at least say there's nothing predictable about any of it, and Michael Douglas gives yet another strong lead performance in basically the same role he's made a career out of playing. "The Game" is a great film when you don't know where it's headed, and when all is revealed, it's late enough in the game that it doesn't spoil the fun too much. It's a beautifully crafted thriller.

Against the Ropes

Despite the fact that it's loosely based on a true story, there's not a lot of authenticity to "Against the Ropes," a watered-down boxing melodrama filled with sports movie cliches and boring, stock characters.

I get that spunky Meg Ryan being cast against type as real-life promoter Jackie Kallen is the big draw here, but the actress is terribly unconvincing in the role. Her persona doesn't have the weight to pull it off, but it's really the screenplay that lets everyone down here.None of these characters are written very well, and the relationship Ryan has with her boxer is especially weak. Omar Epps is just fine in the role, but not once do we believe the bond between him and his manager, and that's essential to the success of the picture.

The weakness is further strengthened by the fact that the Ryan character isn't very likable most of the time , especially when it becomes apparent she's only concerned about herself. The first-time direction by Charles S. Dutton is very stiff and mechanical, and it's even more distressing in the boxing scenes. They aren't very exciting, and they should have been the centerpiece of the film.

Instead, since the writing is so weak, we don't have much interest invested in these people or their story. Even the championship fight feels anticlimactic, but the whole things ends predictably enough. "Against the Ropes is as routine and by-the-numbers as movies get, a lazy and uninspired drama centered around a story that didn't need to be told.

Prince of Darkness

Although his films were not always successful, John Carpenter is a very adventurous filmmaker who is never content to make the same movie twice. "Prince of Darkness" is very ambitious, but it fails to follow through on the promise of the nifty set-up making it one of the few of his film misfires.

The first half is a whole lot of talk, some of it theological mumbo jumbo and some of it scientific mumbo jumbo, but I was admittedly intrigued by the basic premise. What I could understand of it, that is. I was fascinated as the two separate story lines converged into one as Carpenter's masterful score portends of something ominous to come.

But unfortunately, the movie doesn't have a lot of faith in its convictions and the second half settles into a far more conventional groove as Satan possesses this group of students are forces them to do his evil bidding. It's a very conventional plot device in a movie that had, up to that point, successfully avoided all conventionality. All of the deep dialogue and musings about life and the universe are quickly thrown out the window in favor of gruesome mayhem.

The film isn't even very scary, mostly because the idea of the Devil isn't particularly real enough to terrify the audience. The scariest thing in the film are the brief shots of a dream shared by the students that brings to mind the popular "Found footage" pictures of recent memory. The cast is mostly lethargic, and even revered Donald Pleasence in the lead role doesn't bring much to the proceedings.

"Prince of Darkness" is a rare misstep for a director known for his passion and creativity.

The Crying Game

Over the years, much has been written about "The Crying Game," and by this point all of its secrets have been exposed and laid bare. Despite that, the movie remains a potent and intoxicating love story unlike any you've seen before, as unexpected because of the emotions it arouses in the viewer as it is for the much-talked about twist ending.

The film opens as a thriller, but the beauty of Neil Jordan's Oscar winning script is that it is constantly evolving and changing, taking the viewer to dark and surprising places. The relationship that develops between Stephen Rae and Jaye Davidson is the heart of the picture, however, and it's one of such complexity that it outweighs the initial shock we're given about its true nature. It suggests that love has more to do with what's in a person's heart than what is in their head, and the performances are so good it becomes so much more than a simple novelty.

The very subject matter is enough to scare a lot of close-minded people off the film, which is probably for the better anyway, but Jordan gives the second half of his picture a wry sense of humor that is very appealing. Using Lyle Lovett''s tender version of "Stand By Your Man" over the closing credits is an inspired touch that fits in perfectly with the sweet final scene.

"The Crying Game" is a one-of-a-kind film that works on so many different levels and runs the gamut of human emotions. Even if you know what's coming it doesn't detract from the pleasures to be had with this sophisticated and deep movie, although it's true that nothing can replace the joy you felt discovering its secrets for the first time.

Easy Money
Easy Money(1983)

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield's rapid-fire stand-up routine seemingly made him an easy fit for feature films in the 1980's, and while he did have a couple of successes, most of them had scripts that were nowhere near as funny as the star. Such was definitely the case with "Easy Money," his first film as leading man and first disappointment as well.

There are a few chuckles along the way but unfortunately, the laughs just aren't here. It takes half of the film's run time to set up the premise, basically because the premise isn't all that important. The filmmakers obviously just wanted Rodney to be Rodney and the story just exists to string together a number of gags, most of which do not work.

Despite the "R" rating, there seems to be a push here to make Dangerfield a lovable lout, which clashes with his stand-up persona so much that it will let down his fans and fail miserably at garnering him any new ones. And yet there are darker moments that do not fit in with the film's tone at all, such as an apparent child molester at one point and the entire subplot involving Jennifer Jason Leigh's marriage that seems to be taking place in an alternate picture. It serves no purpose here, certainly isn't good for any laughs, and that scene in the hotel on their wedding night left me feeling queasy.

It's sad that Dangerfield was one of the quartet of writers credited to this project because he doesn't come off looking very good after it's all over with . After "Caddyshack," it seemed he was bound for cinematic glory. The inevitable crash and burn came far too quickly in the form of "Easy Money" a few short years later. Rodney, and his fans, deserve better.

Dark Blue
Dark Blue(2003)

"Dark Blue" is a gritty, tense police thriller that deals with corruption in such a realistic way that you sincerely hope it is exaggerated for the simple purpose of making an entertaining film.

Director Ron Shelton, stepping way outside of his comfort zone, has done just that and he shows a real flair for the genre after spending most of his career making sports movies. Still, Kurt Russell is the star here, and it's nice to see such a dependable actor get such a great part and do so much with it. He could have very easily taken it over the top and turned Detective Eldon Perry into a demented lunatic, but he keeps his performance and character grounded. He's not evil, he's simply doing his job the way he was trained by his family before him. When he finally makes amends at his promotion ceremony at the end, it's a great moment.

There are far too many needless subplots that tend to take the viewer out of the moment, mostly involving personal relationship's such as Russell's marriage breaking up, but screenwriter David Ayer wisely updated the film to be set against the backdrop of the Rodney King trial. That really gives the film a sense of urgency and immediacy, and once the verdict is reached, the finale is that much more explosive. I'm not sure how accurate it is having only seen the riots on the nightly news, but in this picture, they sure feel accurate.

"Dark Blue" is pretty typical of the police thriller genre, but it has its own story to tell and it does so with skill and packs a couple of hard-hitting punches.

Deep Space
Deep Space(1987)

You know you're in trouble from the opening scene of "Deep Space". The obvious similarities between the alien crashing to Earth in this and the opening scenes of both versions of "The Blob" do not give the viewer a lot of hope that this has anything new to offer them.

In that respect, the film does not disappoint as it freely borrows from many other films as well, most notably and obviously from the "Alien" franchise. Director Fred Olen Ray was obviously working from a shoestring budget here as always, but it's the lack of imagination that kills this faster than the lack of money,

The origins of the creature is never fully developed as it's just mentioned as being yet another government experiment gone awry. It's hardly the incredible danger those government eggheads warn us it is anyway as it only kills about a half dozen people here, and it's hard to be scared by a creature that's not much taller than its human adversaries. This could have been a fun homage to similar films from the 1950's because it does contain all the rich cliches like the control room with a panel filled with random blinking lights and military cover-ups. But Rey has never been a very creative filmmaker and his movies never stray far from what's expected of them.

Most of the laughs here are unintentional and yet the frequent attempts at actual humor fall flat every time. The special effects are particularly shoddy, and disappointingly enough, almost all of the murders happen off-screen. It's pretty easy to tell from the bland title that "Deep Space" will not be anything special, but it is kind of sad that it never even tries to be.

Virgins of Sherwood Forest

Most times, the only thing more pointless than watching films like "The Virgins of Sherwood Forest" is reviewing them, and now that I've accomplished the first, I will attempt the second. This is a soft core porn spoof of the Robin Hood legend that is neither funny or titillating, and when a film like this fails to be sexy it has pretty much failed at everything.

The actresses are all attractive enough, and they have nice bodies (even though a few of them are clearly the result of an overachieving plastic surgeon), the movies isn't really as daring as something you'd see on late night cable. The sex scenes are rather plain and ordinary, and that leaves you with no reason to watch.

The script (if there was such a thing) makes several feeble attempts at humor but fail miserably, and none of the actors have much charisma. Nothing is required of them other than looking good naked, at which they are marginally successful. The sets, costumes and acting are all second-rate, and perhaps worst of all, the title makes no sense as clearly none of these people are virgins within the context of the story.

You almost have to admire a film that sets out to achieve so little and fails this badly at it. "The Virgins of Sherwood Forest" sets the bar shockingly low and yet is still a massive disappoitntment, and while I know fans of this type of cinema do exist, I think that even they would have to agree.


The newly updated take on the William Lustig cult classic "Maniac" is a darkly disturbing film that actually improves on the original even though it remains fairly shallow.

Elijah Wood shocked everyone when he took on this lead role, but it's as an effective game changer for an actor's career that I've ever seen. It's a creepy, shocking performance made even more effective through the use of mostly point-of-view camera work. After the largely forgettable "P2", director Franc Khalfoun finally makes a name for himself with this, a film that is relentlessly gruesome but nevertheless works because of the dreamy atmosphere it submerges the audience in. A lot of this you won't want to watch, but in the same respect, you'll be helpless to turn away.

Credit must also be given to the French composer by the name of Robin Coudert for this haunting score that accentuates every scene. I only wish the film had given us more insight into Wood's depraved character. It delves in deeper than the Lustig film, but this should have taken the chance to delve into his background even more. The details of his mother's promiscuity and what it does to his fragile child's psyche is sketchy at best.

The brutality is something we haven't seen in a long time outside of the "Saw" franchise, but because of the film's realism and the strength of the lead performance, the violence feels so much more real here. Remake or not, "Maniac" is the first horror film in a long time to make me sit up and take notice. It's disturbing on so many levels.

Along Came a Spider

I'm sure there are a wealth of worthy thrillers to be made from the James Patterson "Alex Cross" novels, and maybe "Along Came a Spider" might have even been one during another day and age. As it stands, this is a forgettable film hampered every step of the way by a bland cast and weak script riddled with red herrings and ridiculous cliches.

The story as it is set up is an intriguing one, but it gets so polluted along the way with preposterous plot twists and silly story lines that are never fully resolved. Morgan Freeman cannot be faulted as Cross, despite the fact that he is saddled with some pretty lame dialogue meant to make him sound wise and mysterious. It does little to convey the character as the master sleuth he's meant to be.

The rest of the cast is disappointing, with Monica Potter little more than just another pretty face playing a Secret Service agent and Michael Wincott as the not-very-menacing villain. The real bad guy here is screenwriter Marc Moss, who litters his script with meaningless complications and shocks that only work because they're so outlandish that there's no plausible way they make sense. It's bad enough he throws one Secret Service agent in on the kidnapping plot, but when the final twist is revealed, you'll want to head for the exits. Yeah, you won't see it coming but that's not a compliment because the whole thing defies logic.

The pieces for a good puzzle are all present in "Along Came a Spider". The problem is that when you put them together, you discover you have a lot more pieces than you need.

The Mothman Prophecies

Most people have a natural curiosity when it comes to the supernatural or urban legends, and "The Mothman Prophecies" tries to tap into that. It's based on the legend of the Mothman, a mythical creature that predicts disasters and haunted the small town of Point Pleasant West Virginia in the late 1960's.

Unfortunately, the film version of the 1975 novel about the phenomenon deals more with the human characters, and after a promising start, I quickly lost interest in the meandering melodrama. The screenplay by Richard Hatem uses the legend more or less as a backdrop for a modernized fictional tale that is far less interesting than a story set during the time of the otherworldly occurrences would have been.

You never even get to see the Mothman, save for a few quick glimpses, and I would have preferred a film built around events that have allegedly happened. The filmmakers were wise, however, to cast Richard Here and Laura Linney in the lead roles, two heavyweight, Oscar-nominated actors who bring a sense of seriousness to the proceedings. Unfortunately, things are never allowed to go full-fledged creepy, so sometimes Gere's performance comes off as dull and monotonous.

There's a pretty spectacular bridge collapse that closes the film, but like everything else, you're never really sure if it was caused by the titular creature. There's a great story to be told here, but "The Mothman Prophecies" completely misses the mark. It's far too conventional to be scary, and far too ordinary to be remembered.


The first thing you'll notice about "Fled" is that it has one of the worst titles of the year and perhaps of all time. The only thing more ridiculous than that is how characters in the movie insist on using the word incorrectly in sentences, such as "We gotta fled," because for some reason they are intent of reminding you of that terrible title.

The film itself is an idiotic collection of plot devices from other better movies held together by a tenuous string of coincidences, dumb dialogue and moronic action scenes. The story is forgettable and takes aback seat to a lot of repetitive sequences and the alleged chemistry between the two stars, neither of which is good enough to sustain the picture.

It's good to see a lean, mean Laurence Fishburne back in fighting form once again, but he's saddled with some truly awful dialogue. Co-star Stephen Baldwin never made it to the A-list like his brother Alec, and the reason for that is abundantly clear from his performance here. He's not charismatic enough to be a lead, and any attempts at humor fail miserably but that may be more of an issue with the terrible script rather than the delivery.

In fact, the only humor you'll derive from this is purely accidental, such as the way cars burst into flames instantaneously or Fishburne's harmonica playing to sync up their big escape. It's quite apparent that not a lot of thought went into "Fled," a moron movie made by idiots for idiots.

The Sweetest Thing

The glut of raucous adult comedies that surfaced in the wake of "There's Something About Mary" were mostly insufferable and unbearable, but there are moments in "The Sweetest Thing" that take the genre down even farther. I guess since this stars three women, it was seen as an alternative to male dominated comedies but it is only more of the same.

In fact, in a lot of ways, this is even worse. The scene in the gas station men's room is disgusting, and the apparently improvised "penis song" in the Chinese restaurant is bizarre, distasteful and painfully unfunny. It's possible that we'll never know what attracted the enormously engaging Christina Applegate and "Mary" alumnus Cameron Diaz to this wretched project, but it was doomed to fail right from the script level.

It's basically a collection of vulgar skits strung together by the barest of plot with some sort of message thrown in about Diaz finally learning about true love. The problem with the message is that it's hard to get behind her allegedly comic quest for true love when you stop to consider how brief her initial encounter with Thomas Jane is. It hardly seems like enough to hang this romantic comedy on, but the filmmakers try nevertheless.

There's not one likable character in this entire film, which at the core is really the reason this fails as badly as it does. It's also embarrassing watching it struggle to get laughs and come up short every single time. "The Sweetest Thing" takes the viewer down some dark roads all in the name of comedy, and we suffer for it every step of the way.

Halloween Night

The made-for-video horror industry has pretty much recycled six basic plots into oblivion by now, but the simply titled "Halloween Night" is just about the worst offender I've seen in a while. This extremely derivative film is a thinly disguised rip-off of John Carpenter's seminal holiday classic, as the title would suggest, but it also brings to mind other classics in the genre such as "Friday the 13th" as well.

Now all of that might have worked had the film at least been entertaining, but the direction by Mark Athens is sluggish and the entire picture is full of plot holes and inconsistencies. Chris Vale, the film's homicidal maniac played by Scot Nery, is given a very slight backstory about witnessing the death of his mother in which his father is implicated, but that's never really explained. His make-up is not consistent with that of a burn victim, but that's a minor distraction after a while.

The acting is probably the film's greatest detriment, and it ranges from passable to terrible. At least most of the girls are hot and not afraid to get topless which is enough of a diversion from their acting. Many of these people read their lines like they're hearing them for the first time, and clearly there was no time for rehearsals.

About the nicest thing I can think to say about it is that the special effects are decent, as most of the murders are appropriately gruesome. At least the film doesn't fail its audience in that department, but the rest of "Halloween Night" is completely forgettable. Movies like this are a dime a dozen, and this one failed to make much of an impression on me.


Eli Roth has made a quick name for himself with his gonzo style of filmmaking and go-for-broke use of gore and violence. His latest film, "Aftershock," features Roth as star. producer and writer but not as director as he hands the reins over to Chilean director Nicolas Lopez who makes his English-language debut.

It's a very different project, part graphic horror movie and part disaster picture, and the end result is a very mixed bag indeed. It opens with a whimper, a full thirty minutes spent on character development in a film where character development isn't in the least bit necessary. What we find out about these people (that they're fathers, that they're rich) has no bearing on the rest of the film and in no way influences your opinion of it.

That being said, when disaster does strike the film picks up considerably but remains only marginally entertaining. It's certainly bloody and raw enough but it's also cold and uninvolving. There are a lot of great shock moments, but it always just feels like a series of moments and never a cohesive motion picture.

This is not a special effects project, but they are impressive considering the tiny budget, and even though the scope and setting are grand the movie always feels small. And even though you'll quickly be able to see how this is going to end, Lopez films it in a way that is nevertheless a stunner when it indeed happens.

I liked quite a bit of "Aftershock." but it never comes together quite like it should. There's plenty of visceral action here once it finally gets going, but it still left me cold.


With an unusual, forgettable title and no A-list stars, "Diggstown" came and went with little fanfare during a summer filled with high profile films. It deserves a wider audience, as it's an underrated film with a couple of terrific performances and a winning story that builds to a truly cheer-worthy finale.

It was directed by Michael Ritchie, a great comedic filmmaker who specializes in sports comedies, and because of that, the boxing scenes are quite thrilling. I've long been a sucker for con pictures, and this is one of the better ones in recent memory. Star James Woods is at his snarky best here, a good guy with none of the usual good guy trappings, and it's a great swan song for veteran Lou Gossett, Jr. in one of his last big starring roles.

But a film like this doesn't work without a great villain, and it really is Bruce Dern that makes this all work so well. With those big teeth and shark-like grin, he truly is a bad guy you love to hate. He has some truly evil moments here that make the payoff even more satisfying, but the screenplay by Steven McKay always manages to keep things light and lively. It also provides a few surprises along the way and that terrific ending that you won't see coming, but there are a few subplots it could stand to lose. Heather Graham looks great, but she serves little purpose and is simply forgotten about after a while.

"Diggstown" is a crowd pleaser looking for a crowd. Those who stick it out and likely to greatly enjoy it.


The "V/H/S" films are part of a groundbreaking new high concept trend in modern day horror films, and the original met with moderate success. That leads us to the inevitable "V/H/S 2." and much like its predecessor. it's an interesting failure.

The avant garde style in which these tales are told are novel and fun for a while but then it proves to be more of a distraction than anything else. The camera work in this one is a lot more stable, thankfully, but the stories themselves are a mixed bag once again.

The first one, titled "Phase 1 Clerical Trials" is easily the weakest; a weird mix of horror and science fiction that makes little sense. All you're left with once it's done is a lot of unanswered questions. The second, "A Ride in the Park", is much more enjoyable but it's still just a little more than a standard zombie tale. It's fun seeing the undead attack a child's birthday party and the zombie POV shots, but it offers little in the way of originality.

Directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Gareth Evans, "Safe Haven" is easily the best of the four, a truly original and blood-soaked take on a cult and the occult. It's frantically paced and offers a lot of creepy imagery, including some breathtaking special effects. There's also a nifty twist at the end. Wrapping things up is the wonderfully titled "Slumber Party Alien Abduction", easily the most fun you'll have during the anthology. The traditional alien make-up is pretty creepy, but considering most of it is shot from a camera on the family dog, it's hard to take any of it seriously,

"V/H/S 2" is a marked improvement over the original, as the inventive series has finally come into its own.

Exquisite Tenderness (The Surgeon) (Die Bestie im weien Kittel)

There's a certain B-movie nuttiness to "The Surgeon" that I really enjoyed, a blatant disregard to logic that gleefully wallows in ridiculous horror movie cliches. It's the kind of film that normally I can get behind whole-heartedly, but eventually the red herrings and lack of logic stop being fun and begin to get aggravating.

There's a decent premise here, and I have the feeling that when the makers dumbed down the title (it was originally called "Exquisite Tenderness"), they dumbed the film down as well. Like so many other films from the '90's ("The Temp", "The Dentist", "The Nurse", etc.), they boiled this down to the lowest common denominator to appeal to the masses when it could have been so much more.

The plot is intriguing and there's a great cast, especially Malcolm McDowell doing what he does best. The gruesome special effects really are quite good, a little too disturbing at times but effective nevertheless. Sean Haberle has the right look to play the title role, and his motivation is fresh but the screenwriters Bernard Sloane and Patrick Cirillo didn't give him much of a personality. It's an hour into the picture before he even gets to really speak.

Still, it's the senseless plot developments and illogical scenes that kill the promise the film opens with more than anything else, such as the ease with which psycho killer Haberle roams the halls of this hospital with so much ease. No one gives him a second look. "The Surgeon" isn't so much bad as it is a wasted opportunity for something better. The film that was released is one we've all seen before.


For those who are familiar with Martin Scorcese, his "Casino" will play like a greatest hits of his past films. This is a big, bold and grandiose movie that is typical of the esteemed filmmaker, but he covers a lot of well-known territory and re-visits a lot of themes and plot devices he has dealt with before.

Still, no one tells a story quite like Scorcese and here he re-teams with screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi who wrote the novel that this is based on, and the end result is a vibrant film despite its familiarity. It's full of violence, humor and great, larger-than-life characters, beautifully brought to life by this exceptional cast.

Robert DeNiro knows this part very well, mostly because he's played it a time or two before, and Sharon Stone gets her first real chance to show what she can do with a great part. However, it's Joe Pesci who really shines here once again, playing a variation on the same character he played in "Good Fellas". Granted it's the showiest part in the film, but there's a reason that Pesci keeps getting cast in these roles. Quite simply, he's electric on the screen.

Even though the film (and the novel before it) is a work of fiction, you get a real sense of the history of Las Vegas from this, and I mean the real history, This isn't the lesson you're going to learn in school, but it sure feels authentic enough. "Casino" doesn't rank as one of Scorcese's best, but even a good film from the director is better than almost anything else in theaters. It's not exactly groundbreaking, but it is a compelling, captivating film that is exceedingly entertaining.


The subject matter is definitely worthy of a feature film, but as it turns out, two feature films may have been overkill and a tad excessive. "Infamous" is the lesser of the two Truman Capote pictures, both released less than a year apart, and this is destined to always live in the shadows of the marvelous achievement that was "Capote".

This is by no means a bad film, and had it been the only one being released dealing with this material, it may in fact have garnered more attention and respect. As it stands, it's a pale and shallow also-ran, touching on a lot of interesting ideas but never delving deep into any one of them.

Toby Jones is certainly quirky enough as the unusual author, but you never really see anything more than just the quirks. Obviously a much more complex relationship develops between him and the Death Row inmate played by a nearly unrecognizable Daniel Craig, but screenwriter and director Douglas McGrath is more to blame than the actor playing him. He genuinely cares about Craig, but place him back on Park Avenue and he comes off as manipulating and only concerned with turning out a quality novel. That contradiction is never balanced satisfactorily.

"Infamous" is a noble yet shallow picture that seems all too intent on justifying its very existence. Jones is not nearly good enough to make you forget Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar winning performance in the same role a mere eleven months earlier.


Say what you will about the films of the 1980's, but the decade was truly the landmark era of some of the best and most inventive science fiction films in recent history. Taking his cue from "The Terminator", Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven would expand the thinking of that film and give us "RoboCop", which would join it in becoming one of the most iconic films of that genre.

Made at a time before computers and green screens limited filmmaker's imagination, this picture contains some of the most imaginative and revolutionary special effects committed to celluloid. Effects masters Rob Bottin and "Star Wars" guru Phil Tippett were clearly thinking outside the box when they dreamed up the movie magic that would set this film apart.

It may look a bit clunky by the standards of today's desensitized audiences, but true movie lovers recognize it as a thing of beauty. However, it's clear that Verhoeven isn't content to make just another empty action picture, and the script is quite smart and finds the perfect balance between action, black humor and social commentary. Writers Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner find just the right tone here, and the excessive violence has a purpose for the most part.

They are also able to create a futuristic movie that doesn't feel impossibly futuristic. This future feels very real and very attainable, and that makes the film fantastic yet plausible at the same time. It's also interesting to note that the bad guys here are so ugly, and the actors playing them are so good at it (Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith and his crew) that the Peter Weller character is the least interesting one in the film.

"RoboCop" has remained timeless, a smart and yet wildly entertaining film. Quite simply, it's iconic.

All of Me
All of Me(1984)

Gender bending and body switching comedies were all the rage in the 1980's, but few were written at the level of "All of Me". None of them had the good fortune of having Steve Martin in the lead role, either, a master of physical comedy and impeccable timing.

Martin is at his genial best here, and with Lily Tomlin as his co-star, the picture has a certain old Hollywood charm to it that was so desperately missing in so many other comedies of the era. With Carl Reiner as director and the nostalgic soundtrack, the film really is something special, and Martin himself has rarely been better.

The story, as with all of these movies, is completely preposterous, but the screenplay finds laughs in how the transference would affect everyday, ordinary situations like walking or going to the bathroom. Those are two of the best scenes here. The script is so much better than that, however, getting a lot of big laughs through a number of clever one-liners. Although Tomlin doesn't get as much screen time, she's a delight as well.

The story gets a little bogged down in the end, as the duo race to get the heiress' soul into the right body and the laughs dry up a bit. Until then, however, "All of Me" is a splendid throwback to the screwball comedies of the '30's and '40's with a decidedly modern twist. The leads make a terrific pair, but it really is Martin's turn to shine in this outrageous, unrestrained performance that calls to mind the best of the silent movie era. In fact, the entire movie has a definite wistful feel about it.

Terror in the Aisles

Frankly, looking back on it now, it amazes me that "Terror in the Aisles" got made at all, let alone played in movie theaters across this country. It's lovingly referred to as a "documentary", which may be the worst application of that word ever since this is basically just a compilation movie.

It's a cluttered and unorganized but nevertheless fun trip down memory lane with a lot of hilariously silly written material for stars Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen to intone during and between the clips. They really don't have anything impactful to say as this isn't a deep exploration of why people love scary movies or their history, but it's fun to listen to.

At one point the writers pretty much bite the hand that feeds them as Allen goes off on this tangent about sex always leading to violence and how these films seem to glorify violence against women. It just seems kind of odd to throw something like that into a movie of this nature.

The clips themselves offer the viewer a chance to revisit some great moments in horror cinema over the course of about five decades even if a lot of them lose their impact when taken out of context like this. The only other issue I had was the fact that so much time is spent showcasing non-horror films like "Nighthawks" and "Vice Squad," but it's even kind of neat seeing those scenes again.

"Terror in the Aisles" is an unique picture, a grab bag of quality and entertainment value that won't have any meaning for a lot of people. The hardcore addicts, however, will eat it up.

High Plains Invaders (Alien Attack)(Alien Western)

About the nicest thing you can say about "High Plains Invaders" is that it's a B-movie that dares to think beyond its modest budget. It comes up with a fairly original plot, setting and creature design, and because of all that I almost hate to knock it.

Screenwriter Richard Beattie actually put some thought into the story, even being so bold as to invoke the name Jules Verne at one point. It's a nice surprise, but unfortunately, the rest of this is so clunky that the one good element fails to shine through.

It's fresh seeing the combination of a western paired with science fiction, but the western aspects such as the dialogue and weaponry is completely inauthentic and negates nearly evereything else in the film. The acting is wooden and the direction is still, with a conclusion that feels far to abrupt.

The creatures of the title are interesting looking, and I am forced to admit the CGI used to bring them to life isn't the worst I've ever seen, but not enough is done with their backstory. You never really feel like you know what they're about or why they are here. And the title is far to similar to a certain Clint Eastwood picture, so much so in fact that "High Plains Invaders" feels wrong to say or at the very least, difficult.

There's a lot more going on here than in your typical made-for-video dud like it, but you won't find this very entertaining either. With a little more effort, this may have actually been worth watching.


Not to be left out in the cold on a hot trend, the Norwegians get in on the found footage bandwagon with "Troll Hunter", an uneven but mostly silly take on "The Blair Witch Project" and others. However, where that film required the audience to imagine all of the horrors, this one puts the trolls front and center, and they are largely convincing in small doses.

The special effects are quite impressive, not quite CGI and not quite stop-motion animation but some bizarre hybrid of the two. It's well done, but the fact that you see the creatures almost too much deadens the impact, and it doesn't really help that trolls aren't inherently scary. In fact, some of the scenes where they are featured are kind of silly, and even though some claim this to be a very subversive comedy, I just didn't see that.

A lot of care went into this screenplay that is filled with references to Scandinavian folklore, and I actually learned a lot about the creatures. Now, how much truth there is to all that information remains to be seen. The pacing of the film is off, however, and the finished product feels choppy and the forward momentum ebbs and flows. Even the finale, which should be the coup de grace feels curiously stilted and disappointing as well.

"Troll Hunter" is a crazily inventive film that I desperately wanted to like, and there are indeed some great moments but it's neither scary nor exciting. The actors are game enough, and the filmmaker had a remarkable vision that just isn't fully realized. It's not nearly as effective as other similar pictures.

The Addams Family

Classic television programs being revamped for the big screen have met with varying results in both terms of critical and box office success, "The Addams Family" was indeed a huge hit but at best a disappointment nevertheless, a classic example of style over substance.

The casting couldn't be more inspired, with Christopher Lloyd, Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia owning their roles, and little Christina Ricci stealing every scene she's in as Wednesday. Still, the real star here is director Barry Sonnenfeld, master cinematographer making his directorial debut, who gives the film all of its personality.

The look of the film is truly unique, with some eye-popping visuals and special effects. From David Miller's amazing puppetry work on Thing, the Addams' nimble hand friend, to the living and breathing baer skin rug, the film is a visual treat. The problem is everything else in the picture, most notably the limp screenplay from Tim Burton collaborators Caroline Thompson and Carey Wilson. The movie just isn't funny, relying entirely on jokey wordplay that gets old after just a few minutes. The whole thing is basically a one-joke concept, and it feels dead on arrival.

For as lively as the graphics are, the rest of the film just lies there. It's quite the contradiction. There are a lot of smiles, but no real laughs to be found here, as if so much time was spent on getting "The Addams Family" to look right that the script was an afterthought. In that respect, it's a lot of work for nothing.

Kiss of Death

The 1990's were a great decade for crime dramas, and "KIss of Death" is one of the most overlooked and underappreciated gems there was. This smartly written, complex thriller is a real joy to uncover, loosely based on the 1947 film of the same name that updates the plot in all the right ways.

Screenwriter Richard Price not only makes the material relevant for more modern times but he also intricately layers the plot so the film surprises at every turn and keeps it fresh and worth following.

It also features one of the best ensemble casts of the year, with a terrifically maniacal performance by Nicolas Cage at the center of it all. He doesn't play villains very often, which is something he should reconsider after seeing his rage-filled, adrenaline-fueled performance in this. The film stars David Caruso, fresh off of "NYPD Blue" starring in his first feature and astonishingly enough holding his own against the big boys. He looks smaller and carries himself modestly, but in the scenes requiring him to act tough (especially opposite Cage), he pulls off convincingly. It's a shame he never really became a major player.

Director Barbet Schroeder coupled with Price to give the film the cold, hard edge it needed to be successful. "Kiss of Death" is a remarkable film, elaborately plotted, wonderfully acted and completely lacking a sense of humor. In this case, that's a compliment.

Village of the Damned

Early in his career, filmmaker John Carpenter was responsible for some of the most iconic movies of the '70's and '80's, but his work during the '90's was less dependable. Frankly, you never knew what you were going to get, and his re-imagining of the 1960 classic "Village of the Damned" is a forgettable speed bump in an illustrious career.

The director put his stamp on the picture in a few aspects, most notably the very Carpenter-esque score, but the biggest problem is other than that, this could have been made by anyone. There was a time when a new film from the auteur was an event, but those days are clearly over.

The cast is perhaps the weirdest assortment of actors assembled for a project the entire year, and there's not one strong performance among them. Some of the people, such as Linda Kozlowski, haven't acted in years and there's perhaps a very good reason for that. Many of them, Mark Hamill in particular, overact wildly. Still, it's not a total loss as some of it is easy to admire.

The ending is quite clever, with Christopher Reeve putting up a mental brick wall to block his thoughts, and with a little more imaginative touches like that, this might have worked. Some of the special effects are quite good as well. "Village of the Damned" is a little movie with meager aspirations that definitely had the potential for greatness. The tone is too light, and the wildly eclectic cast give lazy performances that mute the picture and keep it from being anything special.

Wolf Creek
Wolf Creek(2005)

"Wolf Creeks" starts out ordinarily enough, and the story follows along the same plot line of dozens of other similar horror movies. It's claim to fame, however, is in being something of an endurance test for the audience, seemingly asking them "How much can you take?"

First-time writer and director Greg Mclean is clearly a skilled filmmaker. and his debut feature packs a punch with its garish grindhouse style. The three leads are bland and interchangeable, as their only purpose is to be likable and victimized. They accomplish that adequately enough.

The real star, however, is Australian actor John Jarratt, previously unknown in this country, making a big impression as the psycho here. He's both charming and sadistic, even though his lack of motivation is distressing. The film is allegedly based on an actual case, and I would have been far more interested in a detailed case study rather thank another "Hills Have Eyes" knockoff.

The final forty-five minutes are grueling and nihilistic but not without a certain sense of style. Despite how little you know about these people, it's only natural to get caught up in their fight for survival, and the movie works on that basic level.

"Wolf Creek" is an impressive debut, not as much scary as it is a carnival freakshow that leaves you feeling sad and hopeless. Jarrat's performance is enigmatic and captivating, but the rest of it feels very familiar and routine. It's shocking for the sake of being shocking.

Napoleon Dynamite

"Napoleon Dynamite" became the little movie that could of the year, maybe even the decade, with positive word of mouth spreading like a wildfire propelling the movie to become one of the more profitable films of the year.

The backlash against it was almost immediate, and there's clearly no grey area here: you're either going to love it or hate it. I've long since been a huge proponent of the film, a refreshing and unbelievably offbeat alternative to the usual gross-out comedy or lame teen films. The performances are fresh and the characters and this hilarious dialogue has become a part of pop culture whether we wanted it to or not.

I laughed a lot, even if I didn't always know why simply because the film is so unusual and one-of-a-kind. It's a rare movie that always feels fresh and I'm always finding new things to laugh at, and a lot of this dialogue has become part of our vernacular just because it's so much fun to recite.

Jon Heder came out of nowhere and nailed this role, making Napoleon a character for the ages but there's not one actor in the cast who doesn't make a contribution to the film's peculiar success. Most of this ridiculous dialogue only works because of the way its delivered. The soundtrack is just as quirky as the rest of this and really helps to maintain the film's off-kilter tone.

"Napoleon Dynamite" is a film that still makes me laugh out loud, and even when I wasn't laughing, I was smiling the whole time. It's not to everyone's tastes, but it sure won me over.

Creep Van
Creep Van(2012)

The ridiculously titled "Creep Van" is a B-movie that someone put a little effort into (apart from that title), and it's marginally better than hundreds just like it. The budget seems a little higher than most, as the production values are better than we've come to expect, and the script is full of some humor and light touches that make it a little easier to bear as well.

He's probably never going to make it to the big leagues, but Brian Kolodziej is actually quite appealing in the lead role. However, outside of a funny cameo from Troma king Lloyd Kaufman, the rest of the cast is forgettable. The film is basically a weird hybrid of "Christine" and "Saw", a riff on the urban legend you heard as a kid about the spooky van cruising neighborhoods, but unfortunately, it leaves too many unanswered questions to be successful.

It never explains any kind of motivation for this killer and his tricked out vehicle, and there's no rhyme or reason for his crimes. Many of which occur in broad daylight around busy streets and parking lots, I might add. There's an entire subplot dealing with a drug dealer and twenty-five pounds of weed gone missing that goes nowhere and doesn't fit in with the rest of the story.

And frankly, the film (while better than most) isn't good enough to preoccupy your mind and keep it from wondering about such things. There are some decent moments, and some outlandishly brutal murders but the lack of a cohesive story prevents "Creep Van" from rising any further out of the muck than it does.


The slacker comedy has long since been a favorite of audiences everywhere because it's so easy for people to get behind the underdog. "Stripes" has long since been a fan favorite in that genre, and it's easy to see why.

The story is a winner, the characters are all likable and well-played and the screenplay is full of classic one-liners that people still quote to this day. Considering the talent involved, the film was virtually guaranteed success. Ivan Reitman is one of the most consistent comedy directors, and he has assembled a great cast/

Bill Murray was riding a wave of success at the time of the film's release, and this solidified his position as the world's reigning wise guy. John Candy and the bubbly P.J. Soles are also terrific in supporting roles, but this is Murray's movie all the way and the key to its success. Warren Oates is also very good as his drill instructor, and the one serious scene in the movie is his face-off with Murray in the latrine works so well in grounding the picture. Obviously, this is a comedy and not meant to be taken seriously but so much ot it flies in the face of Army rules and regulations that it's nice they included one scene to give the proceedings some weight.

There are laughs all throughout the training, but the graduation scene stands out as being particularly well-written and staged. The finale, while perhaps the most far-fetched thing of all, is definitely a crowd-pleaser. "Stripes" is one of the most iconic movies of the '80's, and it has certainly earned its stripes and its place in cinematic history.


There may be a decent thriller buried somewhere in "Deceived", but I was too numbed by the blandness of it all to notice. It feels more like a Lifetime movie of the week than something people would spend money on in a theater. despite the fact that it starts off strongly and pulls you into the story.

Frankly, however, it's all downhill from there. The direction by British filmmaker Damian Harris is dreamlike but dull to look at, and all of the thriller elements are saved until the final ten minutes. We get a preview of that earlier with the predictable scenes of strangers in the house and windows being propped open, but they're not very effective mainly because we don't know at that point that the John Heard character is still alive.

And speaking of Heard, he's completely ineffectual; as a villain mostly because there's nothing all that menacing about an art dealer trying to retrieve a valuable necklace. Still, the largest chunk of the blame for the film's rampant mediocrity goes to star Goldie Hawn. I can understand her wanting to branch out from her kooky comedies and that her character is supposed to be traumatized by these events, but that's no excuse for her to sleepwalk through her performance here. And when she does finally show some backbone at the end, it's clearly too late to save the film.

"Deceived" isn't so much a bad film as it is simply a routine and forgettable one. There's little here to sustain your interest throughout the entire running time.

Homer & Eddie

There's nothing rare or even unusual about bad movies; they simply are a fact of life and everyone will encounter them, some more than others. Then, in a whole separate category, are movies like "Homer and Eddie" that take being bad to a whole other level, as if being bad were an art form.

You simply watch this wondering what everyone involved in it were thinking, as nothing in the film works. It's nearly impossible to conceive any way in your mind where this material could work. The screenplay is a mess and insulting in the way it uses mental retardation as a plot device and as a source of humor in some scenes.

And why screenwriter Patrick Crillo thought it was a good idea teaming that character up with a vulgar murderer dying of a brain tumor is beyond my comprehension. Whoopi Goldberg sullies her once good name yet again with this foul, embarrassing performance that makes the worst thing Eddie Murphy even did look like "48 HRS." James Belushi fares a little better, but only because he seems to be completely oblivious to how insulting he is.

And then imagine being trapped in a car with these people for an entire movie. Thematically, the movie is all over the map, and the tone shifts uncomfortable throughout. It's hard to feel any pathos for Goldberg as she leaves dead bodies in her wake and then Crillo tries to blame it on her disease, and Belushi is more of a ham and seemingly content with that. It's easier than being subtle.

"Homer and Eddie" may very well be one of the most ill-concieved movies of all time.


Sometimes the chemistry between the right two stars is all it takes to sell a pedestrian and predictable story, and few movies put that to the test better than "Stakeout". The unlikely pairing of Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez must have sounded like a tough sell, but their relationship is the big draw in this fairly predictable picture and turns it into a pleasant surprise,

The two actors play off of each other marvelously and are clearly having a great time as the film itself shifts through about a half dozen genres. The constantly shifting tones only ensures that you will never be bored. It is essentially a buddy cop movie, and the stars keep it fresh while veteran filmmaker John Badham keeps things energetic and surprisingly light despite some seedy and needlessly violent moments.

The screenplay is chock full of cliches, but writer Jim Kouf can be quite imaginative when he needs to be and he keeps coming up with clever bits to keep the proceedings enjoyable. A great example is the scene where Dreyfuss sleeps over at Madeleine Stowe's place for the first time. And speaking of Stowe, she is radiant here giving a breakthrough performance. It's a shame that her star didn't shine brighter and longer, but co-star Aidan Quinn isn't given much to do with his stock character. His main function is to throw violence into what is basically an entertaining piece of '80's fluff.

"Stakeout" is a well made film, short on laughs but big on smiles, with two great lead actors who carry this a long way.


"Venom" is a decidedly British film, more thriller than horror, that had the misfortune of hitting theaters stateside amid the rush of the slasher craze. This is plot driven, less concerned with gory effects and more concerned with telling s story worth following, and for the most part it's pretty successful at that.

Tobe Hooper, a skilled filmmaker, was hired but unfortunately was pushed out by the English cast in favor of fellow Brit Piers Haggard, and therein lies the downfall of what could have been a really good picture. The premise is definitely unique, and there's always a lot going on here, but Haggard can't keep the momentum going. The suspense wanes, and as a result your attention has a habit of wandering.

You cannot fault the cast, as it's rare for a film of this nature to attract such a diverse and talented group of actors. At the center of it all is Klaus Kinski, giving another fine, creepy performance as the whacked-out lead kidnapper. He's one of the greatest joys to be had here. I also enjoyed Nicol Williamson as the lead commander on the scene. He's smart and always keeps his cool, and that makes him easy to follow.

The story is intriguing and convincing, and some of the suspenseful moments do work. That is, until the scene of Kinski struggling comically with the fake snake while the cops shoot him full of lead. It's funny to watch, but it certainly breaks the mood created by the rest of "Venom." There's a lot of promise here but the pacing is certainly off.

Invasion U.S.A.

He made a lot of movies in the 1980's, but "Invasion U.S.A." may be Chuck Norris' most entertainingly bad movie of the entire decade, a ridiculous terrorist invasion picture that makes last year's "Red Dawn" look like a documentary by comparison.

This invasion is so poorly planned that it's almost believable that it could be brought down by just one guy. Of course that one man army is played by Norris who works for some mysterious government group known only as "The Agency", brought out of retirement because the invasion is led by his arch enemy played by Richard Lynch. Their history is never explained, and you never figure out why his group of terrorists include Mexicans, Asians and Russians.

Those are only a few of the many questions this film leaves you with. Chuck always shows up within seconds of an attack, and the same thing is true about perky reporter Melissa Prophet, whose appearance in the movie adds nothing. She honestly serves no purpose here other than being the only female in the main cast.

The terrorists show up with a machine gun each, no rations or supplies to speak of, and more than once I wondered why the U.S. military doesn't get involved until the film's conclusion. At one point, Norris' boss even remarks, "You can't do it all yourself." This all adds up to make "Invasion U.S.A." a silly but entertainingly bad head-scractcher with plenty of explosions and gunfire but very little substance.

The very essence of the film can be summed up by the finale, an invasion on American soil that is resolved by a fist fight in the hallway of an office building. You have been warned.

Point Break
Point Break(1991)

Recently, Kathryn Bigelow has finally been getting the attention as a filmmaker that movie buffs have known she should have been getting her entire career and she has been making great, mostly unsung films for years. Of those early projects, "Point Break" has definitely gained a cult following, and it's easy to see why.

It's a fast-paced thriller with engaging performances and big, kinetic action sequences. There's an amazing foot chase here, and a simply breathtaking scene involving a freefall sky dive, and at the heart of it all is the conflicted relationship between Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves. The story isn't always convincing, and the surfer creed of zen and inner peace is mostly mumbo jumbo, but the dynamic of the two actors is effective especially after all the cards are on the table and all of the secrets have been revealed.

Reeves is actually quite convincing as an FBI agent, playing up his stoned, slacker persona on the beach, and the chemistry between him and Gary Busey is even more engaging than it is with Swayze. The two of them have great rapport, and frankly the police investigation angle is the most interesting thing about the film. I was disappointed, however, in the ending which was far too ambiguous on at least two counts. It leaves a couple of pretty major plot developments up in the air, and I was hoping for some concrete answers.

Until then, however, "Point Break" is great summer entertainment, showcasing a great director who hadn't even hit her prime yet. This is a thrilling if somewhat implausible action flick.


A movie like "Once" is a rare and beautiful thing, a film that tells a love story through music rather than words, and it's powerful and moving enough to restore my faith in the medium and reminds me of why I love the movies. The story couldn't be simpler, but I don't remember the last time I saw a romance that was this genuine and heartfelt.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova are natural actors, maybe because they're not actors at all, and they are completely at ease on camera and utterly enchanting when they're on screen together. Their chemistry is unmistakable, and the music they make together is simply magical. Not only is this one of the best romantic movies I've seen, it's also a musical to be cherished for generations.

The song "Falling Slowly" is achingly beautiful, and the melody, much like the movie itself, will stick with you long after the film is over. The film has a healthy respect for the power of music, as in a key scene where Irglova breaks down during a song she's written for her estranged husband. That scene is also a favorite of mine for another reason: it shows the two character's sudden but tenacious bond without the use of a single line of dialogue. It's a moving moment in a film full of moving moments.

It's about as far from a Hollywood production as you can get, and director John Carney keeps things understated and muted, relying on the star's considerable charm to pull you into the story. It works like nothing a major studio has ever released, right up to the heartbreaking end that remains true to the film, these characters and perhaps most importantly, the audience. "Once" is a film to fall in love with, for the first time or the tenth. Movies like this don't come along every day.

Friday the 13th - The Final Chapter

Considering how many more sequels would follow, "Friday the 13th- The Final Chapter" may be the most deceitful movie title in the history of the medium. But the diehard fans bought into the strategy, making this one of the most profitable entries in the entire franchise, and it's easy to see why it was so popular.

It's clearly one of the most brutal of the films, with special effects guru Tom Savini returning to the series with a vengeance. The murders are terrifically hardcore, culminating in the "no way he'c coming back from that one" decimation of Jason during the tense and well-executed finale. It would have been a satisfying end to the series.

I also enjoyed a few of the actors this time out, most notably a fresh-faced and pretty Judie Aronson and a young, funny Crispin Glover already showing what would become his trademark offbeat sense of humor that he would become famous for. The inclusion of the clips from the previous installments, sort of a "Jason's Greatest Hits", is unnecessary but I liked the inclusion of a Jason hunter, played here by E. Erich Anderson. It's kind of funny that he doesn't really do any damage to the mass murderer (the women in the film, in fact, do more) and he dies screaming, but it's a nice idea.

Director Joseph Zito keeps things light and fast-paced, and the feeling of deja vu you get with these comparable films isn't so strong with "Friday the 13th- the Final Chapter". It's another decent entry in the long-running series thanks to some outlandish special effects and a few relatable characters.

Children of the Corn

"Children of the Corn" was not one of prolific author Stephen King's best works, but you still bought into it because as a good writer, he sold you on the far-fetched story. A convincing and believable film could have been made from the story with a decent budget and director, so of course all hopes for a decent film were quickly tossed out the window the second the rights were secured by New World Pictures.

They afforded the film version a modest budget and hired an untested director, and the end result is a mostly silly and poorly acted film that has somehow accrued a cult following over the years. There is a creepy score and some unnerving images of corn-inspired religious symbols, and taken a bit more seriously, the cultish aspect of the story could have been very effective in a Jim Jones sort of way. But the screenplay just isn't there. with most of this inspiring more laughs than chills.

The ending is especially weak, with dismal special effects and extreme lapses in judgment within the story. The all-powerful God, called He Who Walks Behind the Rows, looks more like a giant gopher that is inexplicably killed by fire. And while most of the acting is horrifyingly amateurish by the non-actors in the cast, the makers did manage to find two of the spookiest kid actors they could have found in Courtney Gains and John Franklin.

With a more serious tone, they would have been nightmarish. As it stands, "Children of the Corn" is just too campy to take any of it seriously. There's real potential here, but the studio botched the job. This is one rare horror film that could have benefited from a big-budget remake.

The Last House on the Left

No matter how despicable today's horror movies can be, they have nothing on the film's of the 1970's. Horror movies during that era broke new ground and got away with things that would never make it to theaters today, and "The Last House on the Left" was the granddaddy of them all, a mind-numbing and shocking picture that feels as real as movies get.

The actors are not professionals and the feel very natural on the screen, and the story is simple and regrettably plausible for any era. First-time writer and director Wes Craven casts quite a spell with this raw and emotionally draining film, and what makes it all the more horrifying is that Craven actually introduces us to the killers.

Even if their motivations are driven simply by the desire to be evil, they are not nameless, faceless psychopaths. David Hess is quite powerful as Krug, and his troupe of disturbed followers are equal to him. Unfortunately, there are several key problems that prevent the film from being even better, most notably the music and the film score that are jarring and really take you out of the moment. Hess did the score and write some music for the film, but the way Craven uses it is wildly inconsistent and mostly inappropriate. There is also some terribly embarrassing comedy in the form of two bumbling policemen who simply have no business being in this.

Things really start to break down in the final act where several key issues are glaringly mishandled, such as the parents finding their daughter and their decision to exact revenge. There's not so much as a discussion about it before-hand. Taking the time to booby-trap the house first also seems a little out of character for a person in this situation. "The Last House on the Left" is a powerful film that suffers from tone shifts that disrupt its power. There are, however, a number of terrifying moments here.

The Woman
The Woman(2011)

Sometimes a movie comes out of nowhere that simply floors you and becomes stuck in your head like a song you just can't shake no matter how hard you try. For me, "The Woman" is one such film, one that sounds odd on paper but you have no idea what you're getting yourself in to when you sit down to watch it.

The whole thing starts out weird and gradually thrusts you into a world that takes weirdness to a whole new level, a disturbing film with a message that many won't want to acknowledge. What looks to be a simple horror film works on so many different levels, at times appearing to be even comedic until the earth-shattering conclusion.

I honestly could not believe what I was seeing, and it's one of the few movies I've ever seen to honestly leave me speechless. At the center of it all, even eclipsing the commanding presence of Pollyanna McIntosh in the title role is a relatively unknown actor by the name of Sean Bridgers as the male lead. He's so good in a difficult role as a guy you love to hate. He sort of comes across as a maniacal Will Ferrel in a part that even Ferrel would be afraid to play. It's a daring performance in an equally daring film that takes us down some dark paths, and yet succeeds in making me want more.

The frantic, jaw-dropping conclusion happens fast and may warrant repeat viewings, but I suggest that a second viewing of "The Woman" would still maintain its impact. It's a film that I won't soon forget.

Body Snatchers

Jack Finney's novel "The Body Snatchers" was published in 1955, and since then there have been a lot of filmed adaptations of the tale with varying degrees of success. The latest, simply titled "Body Snatchers", had the potential for greatness but falls short mostly because it fails to spruce up the story or offer anything new.

With Stuart Gordon as a co-screenwriter and Abel Ferrara directing, this should have been a much more twisted take on the familiar tale. There are great moments here that showcase the filmmaker's taste for the bizarre, like those nasty tendrils of alien origin that creep into the victim's orifices and the looks at inside the bodies as the transformations take place. That's creepy, unsettling and something we've never seen before. I would have liked a lot more of that.

The casting hurts the film, however, with Terry Kinney an especially bland leading man. Gabrielle Anwar is pretty enough, but there's a reason her career never really took off. In fact, surprisingly enough, the best performance here belongs to Meg Tilly, who gives the film the best moment in the scene where she confronts her fleeing husband. Her "where you gonna go" speech is terrific.

Setting the film on a military base is a novel idea, but it hurts the film as well because military personnel are already so regimental that it's hard to discern when they become aliens. There's a lot wrong with "Body Snatchers", but there's enough good here that I can recommend it. It's just very familiar.

Postcards from the Edge

A lot of it was kept under wraps until the publication of her semi-autobiographical novel, but Carrie Fisher led one of the more interesting lives in Hollywood during the early years of her life and career. That new novel is now a film called "Postcards From the Edge", with a screenplay by Fisher as well, and while there is plenty to admire here, the film version suffers from a severe split personality.

The opening moments are quite good, with Fisher's on-screen alter-ego personified here by Meryl Streep overdosing and being committed to a treatment facility. Streep is very good in those scenes, at first denying her substance abuse problem before admitting them to her herself and those around her. Those wonderful dramatic moments, however, are soon there after interspersed with more lighthearted moments and that's where my problem with the picture lies.

Taken separately, the comedy and the drama both work, they just don't mesh well together. In perhaps the film's best scene, the mood is perfectly set. It's the wonderfully melancholy moment in which Streep sings the Ray Charles classic "You Don't Know Me", and the wistfulness of that instance is never captured again. It finds just the right tone.

The behind-the-scenes Hollywood stuff is terrific as well, as director Mike Nichols systematically shatters the illusion of filmmaking, and the vast array of glorified cameos are fun as well. "Postcards From the Edge" often feels like two very different movies at war with one another. The dramatic film should have won.

The Nut Job
The Nut Job(2014)

Animated features have matured over the years at about the same rate that kids have matured right along with them, which is why I always find it curious when I stumble upon one like "The Nut Job". In terms of humor and animation, this is decidedly old school with predictable jokes that had me saying the next line before the characters did and a distinct lack of sophistication.

Most films of this nature these days will walk a fine line between hip and traditional in an attempt to make it a little more bearable for the parents. This film is neither and is likely to disappoint all age groups.

The lack of creativity can best be illustrated by the two characters of "Mole" and "Racoon" who are simply named after what type of animal they are. That's pretty lazy, but the screenwriter Lorne Cameron excels at this needlessly complicated plot. The heist is actually overly intricate for a film aimed at children, and at times even had me scratching my head. There are so many double crosses that I began to wonder if this was actually written by David Mamet, and by the end I had given up trying to sort any of it out.

The animation itself is quite bland and I can only imagine how the 3-D technology was wasted on this film as I refused to spend the extra money on something this tepid and forgettable. Other than a clever title that riffs on the earlier Jason Statham picture, there is nothing new or noteworthy about "The Nut Job". It's simple where it should have been clever and far too elaborate when it should have been accessible.

The Abyss
The Abyss(1989)

James Cameron has always been a masterful storyteller and a premier filmmaker, regardless of what naysayers have said about his inflated ego and the degree of difficulty it may be to work with him. Putting it simply, the man has made some terrific films and has achieved things other directors can only dream about.

"The Abyss" is arguably one of his greatest films, and it is also criminally overlooked by the general moviegoing population. This is a daring, thrilling and visually stunning picture, weaving human drama and science fiction together is a nearly perfect manner. The end result is an emotionally draining message movie, as Cameron's aliens only want to see the human race get along.

He may have gotten himself laughed out of the industry with that premise if not for the conviction he demonstrates in his storytelling ability. The three lead performances by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Ed Harris and Michael Biehn are all fantastic, however, and they always keep the film grounded. Their story is so compelling you almost don't even need the alien angle. See how emotional you get at the scene of Mastrantonio's revival or Harris' dark descent if you don't believe that.

The creature effects have become somewhat dated over the years, but the rest of the picture is as fresh as the day it was released. It was considered a financial failure at the time, as audiences expected another slam-bang action picture. and while there is a lot of action, "The Abyss" is so much more than that. The human element takes center stage here, and the film is nothing short of breathtaking.

Private Parts

Very few books of the last twenty years must have looked as impossible to make the jump to film more than the autobiography of radio personality Howard Stern, called "Private Parts". Ivan Reitman took on the task and the end result is a brash, funny and wildly entertaining movie in which the filmmakers wisely allowed the principles involved to play themselves on screen.

No one could have played Stern like the man himself, and while I've never really been a fan of his radio program, the rise to fame portrayed here is a lot of fun to watch. Stern and his longtime colleagues Robin Quivers and Fred Norris, among others, are surprisingly good having never acted before, and the first half showcasing his humble beginnings will no doubt be fascinating to his hardcore fans. For me, however, it wasn't until the second half of the picture, when Stern is hired by NBC and makes the move to New York, that the film really takes off.

Watching him rebel against his new bosses, or more specifically Paul Giamatti playing is new and constantly frazzled program director, is where the picture really excels. Their battles are epic, and Giamatti is perfectly cast in one of his earliest film roles. The real surprise here are the scenes of the man's home life, with Mary McCormack filling in for Stern's devoted wife. They show his human side, and give you an understanding of how they managed to stay together for so long.

As a film, "Private Parts" does the near impossible. It humanizes one of the most misunderstood public figures of our generation, and it does so with humor and heart.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II

British horror author Clive Barker's wicked imagination has never really transferred all that well to the silver screen, but the original "Hellraiser" fared about the best. Now, we get the inevitable second film in the franchise, subtitled "Hellbound", and the images are still just as twisted but the story is a lot harder to follow this time out.

The film is full of disturbing imagery and nightmarish visuals, but precious little cohesion once the original story is set into motion. I'm sure that had something to do with budgetary constraints and original star Andrew Robinson's refusal to appear in the follow-up. It picks up just a few hours after the conclusion of its predecessor, and the story starts strong with star Ashley Laurence being hospitalized and under the care of a doctor who just happens to worship the demons of the first film and wants to revive them.

Things get a little murky after that, however, and the plot just collapses. For a film of such meager means, the horrific special effects are quite convincing and it becomes one long nightmare that makes little sense but nevertheless manages to disturb and unnerve you. It actually fits in nicely with the original movie, and I'm sorely disappointed that I didn't like it more than I did.

I think had it focused on the Kenneth Cranham character's obsession with the Cenobites and eventual transformation into one, the film would have been a lot more successful. Instead, "Hellraiser 2" heads off on several tangents and loses whatever focus it had in the beginning. Unfortunately, it never recovers and we're left with one more sequel that fails to live up to the original.

Scary Movie
Scary Movie(2000)

Historically speaking, the spoof movie is one of the easiest genres to make but one of the hardest to pull off successfully, Director Keenen Ivory Wayans did it once before with the terrific "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka", but he doesn't fare as well with his "Scream" send-up "Scary Movie".

Admittedly some of the jokes do work, but that's bound to happen when you have a screenplay that is as crowded with jokes as this one is. It's only natural that you'll laugh a few times. The problem is that Wayans takes the easy way out and goes with lowbrow, crowd-pleasing comedy like gay jokes and drug humor to pad out this virtual clone of the Wes Craven hit.

The only good thing about following the movie that inspired it so closely is that at least you can say there's a plot, which puts it head and shoulders above the dismal spoof movies that would follow from writer/directors Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg. It may be interesting to note that they were two of the six (count 'em, six) writers credited for coming up with this. You have to wonder with that many minds at work why this film is the best that they could come up with, especially since it's a no-brainer that the horror genre is so easy to spoof.

Anna Faris, in her big-screen debut, is clearly better than this material, but since it became a hit she was locked into appearing in three more sequels. There's hardly anything fresh about "Scary Movie", and it certainly doesn't break any new ground. It simply had the good fortune to be slightly better that a lot of the dreck that followed it, including its own sequels.


The world definitely did not need another war flick, no matter what conflict they are set in, but "Windtalkers" had an unusual story to tell that should have set it apart. Not much was known about the Navajo Code Talkers who helped secure an unbreakable means of communication for soldiers during World War II, and frankly, their story deserved a better treatment than this silly, melodramatic movie.

In fact, the American Indian's unique life-savinf device only comes into play three times during this two and a half hour film. The rest of this disappointing picture is filled with ridiculous war movie cliches and far-too-many poorly filmed battle sequences. John Woo is a terrific action film director, but this should have been a much more serious rumination on the horrors of war and the bravery of these newly appointed soldiers. Instead Woo draws on his action film background.

The battle scenes are bloody but have no emotional impact, and the overuse of slow motion that plagued the filmmaker's earlier films are even more distressing here. These scenes would feel more at home in a Chuck Norris "Missing in Action" picture that a serious drama.

As an actor, Nicolas Cage runs the gamut from great performances to just plain silly ones, and unfortunately, he does not give a great performance here. It's embarrassingly overwrought and borderline amusing. "Windtalkers" had an original story to tell, but what we actually get is far more conventional. These heroes deserved better.


The second of 1998's big asteroid movies, "Armageddon", is the less scientific, more crowd-pleasing of the two and it has more in common with "Independence Day" than the similarly themed "Deep Impact". There are a lot of larger than life characters, silly and overwrought patriotic spectacles and questionable realism, but much like the alien invasion picture, the whole mess is terribly entertaining.

It's the perfect summer movie, an epic that is stupid but light years ahead of the stupid epics that director Michael Bay would become synonymous with like the dreadful "Transformers" flicks that occupy so much of his time now. Bay and his tremendous cast sell this outlandish plot, the humor works and the special effects are quite impressive as this is one blockbuster where you can see all of the money spent on the screen.

Bruce Willis is tailor-made for the film, a huge action star that still manages to humanize the story and keeps it grounded, and the rest of the assorted oddballs in the cast each get their moment in the sun. The whole film is as corny as they come, and I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that it won me over. The quiet scenes between Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck are sweet in a weird (very weird) way, and a great soundtrack can take a good or even mediocre film a long way. It does that here. Aerosmith's Oscar nominated "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" is as bold and bombastic as the film, therefor it's a natural fit.

"Armageddon" takes science, common sense and logic and throws them all out the window but still manages to deliver a winning, entertaining and crowd-pleasing popcorn flick that delivers the goods.


I've always been a sucker for legal dramas both factual and fictional, but the small independent film "Puncture" is somewhat unique to the genre. True it's an underdog, David and Goliath story based on true events, but you won't find any flowery speeches or last minute courtroom revelations here.

This is a curiously understated film that draws you in because these people are so atypical and the case it presents is so vital and encompassing. The screenplay was co-written by one of the lawyers involved, ensuring that the film is true, and the performances are solid.

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is Chris Evans, getting his first chance to actually prove himself as an actor, who gives a marvelous performance on so many levels. If more people had seen the film, this would have possibly been the performance to elevate his acting career, if not his star appeal. I was also very impressed with Marshall Bell and Brett Cullen in supporting roles, two actors who have never gotten a chance to shine like they do here.

There's a devastating twist at the end that you won't see coming, and while the final scene has the feel of a feel-good Hollywood picture, it also rings of authenticity as the story is true. "Puncture" is a memorable film told with little flash or flair, but with solid acting and a smart script. The story is compelling enough to stand on its own and it draws you in with precious little effort.

Double Jeopardy

Movies with completely absurd premises only need great conviction in their stories to sell it to audiences, and conviction is one thing that "Double Jeopardy" has in spades. It''s built very shakily on the premise that if you're convicted of killing someone who in reality is still alive, you can kill them in broad daylight in a crowd of people with absolutely no consequences.

Now that may or may not be factual, but since it has all the makings of a great Hollywood film, someone gave the green light to this screenplay that is far short of greatness. It's full of preposterous gaps in logic and red herrings galore only designed to keep the film on course to its underwhelming and unbelievable conclusion. There's no real satisfaction in how the film wraps up, and because it's so poorly constructed, there's not even any satisfaction in a key scene where Bruce Greenwood comes face to face with his wife again after so many years.

The whole thing feels like an Ashley Judd movie, and while there might have been a point in history where that may have been a compliment, but it isn't anymore. She looks great, but her performance here is too low-key to be effective. She comes off as a wounded puppy dog, even when she's supposed to be a raging mass of estrogen. She's a major reason that "Double Jeopardy" is so unsatisfying, and the screenwriters share the blame with her. This should have been a turbo charged thriller but instead it just lies here.


With most modern horror movies stressing stomach-churning gore over story and suspense, most moviegoers would rightfully assume that a film about killers who make snuff movies would only be more of the same. However, you can tell right from the opening credits that "Vacancy" is going to be something special, and you would be correct.

The creative credits and unique score mimic the Hitchcock classic "Psycho", and while the two films are worlds apart, this is one of the most intense and skillfully directed thrillers of the year. There's nothing all that special about the story, but Hungarian born filmmaker Nimrod Antal, making his American debut, adds a lot of flair to the story while keeping it grounded and real.

There's nothing arty or pretentious about this; it's very gritty and believable. At only eighty-five minutes, the time flies by as this is very brisk and well-paced. And yet with the short run time, it does a nice job of establishing its two main characters, and Kate Beckinsale and especially Luke Wilson, playing against type, are very sympathetic leads. You really like them, and I don't remember the last horror film that involved me as much as this one did.

Antal also gives Frank Whaley his juiciest part in years, maybe even his entire career, and Whaley is up to the challenge of playing a truly despicable bad guy. It's a great part. Despite the pressure to be yet another "Saw", there's very little actual bloodshed in this picture. Instead, "Vacancy" scores big by being a throwback to the horror films of yesteryear, and it emphasizes story and suspense over sickening brutality. There's violence to be sure, but that's not what keeps you riveted to the screen.


You can't honestly judge movies like "Angel" using the same criteria as you would for say a new Martin Scorcese picture, but in terms of B-movies, this is pure cinematic gold. Sure, it's sleazy, distasteful and deals with some pretty taboo themes, but there are also some big laughs here with some priceless dialogue and a certain campy charm that you won't find in a lot of similar films.

If you need proof of that you need to look no further than the knock-down, drag-out fight that occurs between the hooker killer disguised as a Hari Krishna and Dick Shawn's aging drag queen. I don't know what's worse, Shawn's hilariously bad one-liners or the clunky choreography.

There's nothing at all fresh about the story here, the killer is given no motivation whatsoever and it leaves a slew of unanswered questions in its wake but it's so much fun I couldn't be mad at it. The cast is peppered with stars of another era past their prime, but the two most memorable actors here are Cliff Gorman, ridiculously serious as the cop on the case and the wonderful Susan Tyrell playing Angel's landlady. She gets laughs without even opening her mouth, but when she speaks, it's priceless.

I could take or leave the serial killer aspect of the story simply because it's so routine, but I was interested in seeing the fallout from Angel's hidden life getting exposed. That, to me, was the much more interesting plot development, but not enough is done with it. Still, for whatever reason, "Angel" was a solid hit. I can't say it's good, but I can say that I enjoyed it for what it is.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

The "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise has always been the more high concept counterparts to the "Friday the 13th" films, and the third entry in the series, subtitled "Dream Warriors", is the best looking one yet. It's missing the low-budget chills of the first film, but this is still very inventive and clever with some decent performances for a film of this nature.

Unlike a lot of sequels, there's an actual story here worth telling, and getting Heather Langencamp and John Saxon to reprise their roles strengthen the bond to the original. It was a great move, and first-time director Chuck Russell is a great new addition to the team. Many would-be great filmmakers cut their teeth on this franchise, and his film was the best with its creative dream sequences and gruesome murders.

There's even a fairly ingenious tribute to special effects master Ray Harryhausen. Robert England has become synonymous with this iconic character by now, and by this entry, he is settling nicely into the role. The change that would make him more comical is first noticeable here, but it hasn't come full circle yet. There are some wisecracks here, but on the whole, Freddy is appropriately evil and menacing.

Series creator Wes Craven co-wrote the script, and he gives the characters new insight here by introducing us to Freddy's mother and a backstory the likes of which only the veteran filmmaker could have dreamed up. There are flaws, but all in all, "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3" is one of the best of the bunch. The series would go downhill fast, but there's still a lot to like here.

Straw Dogs
Straw Dogs(1971)

Filmmaker Sam Peckinpah is well known for his films that feature over-the-top and sometimes gratuitous violence, but what makes his infamous film "Straw Dogs" so effective to me is not the violence itself but the exploration of what it takes to transform a pacifist into a killer.

The male lead, wonderfully played by Dustin Hoffman, is essentially spineless, and you get that sense right from the beginning that he knows he's in way over his head in his marriage to beautiful Susan George. Elements come along that definitely bolster that assertion, such as his inability to confront the men who have apparently murdered the family pet, a group of men that includes someone George was once intimate with.

Things come to a head with the controversial rape scene in which George ultimately seems to be enjoying the encounter, and that brings up a lot of uneasy feelings that beg to be explored but are probably best left alone. Even the climax, in which Hoffman proves he can be just as despicable and bloodthirsty, is more about human emotions than violence, when his wife seems to be more interested in helping their attackers than her husband. That kind of emasculating betrayal is much more difficult to process, for me anyway, than the bloodshed.

Peckinpah is a masterful director, playing his audience and seemingly relishing the thought of them wrestling with this moral dilemma. That mastery has rarely been as effecting as it is in "Straw Dogs", a movie that transcends the thriller genre and has a lot more ethical predicaments that you would expect in a film of this nature. It's definitely not for all tastes.


Even though the end result isn't completely successful and it was quite the box office disappointment at the time, you have to give Burt Reynolds credit for making "Stick" at this particular juncture in his career. For much of the 1980's, the biggest star in the world would play it safe by making a lot of movies that were beneath him simply because they were all guaranteed to make a lot of money.

However, with this film, he tried to make a serious picture with integrity, and even though it's only moderately successful, I give him a lot of credit for trying. It's based on a novel by crime author Elmore Leonard, whose unique writing style made him a favorite for screenwriters to adapt, but frankly the story here is routine and the dialogue isn't up to Elmore's standards despite the fact that he wrote the script himself.

The film reeks of heavy studio interference. Another major problem is the casting. Reynolds is fine in the lead role, even if his stud routine seems silly and outdated now. It's the secondary actors, most notably a ridiculous Charles Durning, not at all convincing as an allegedly terrifying drug dealer. Even worse is Candice Bergin who adds nothing to the picture and seems clueless as to why she's even there. Perhaps the best performance belongs to stuntman Dar Robinson, a menacing assassin who needs very little dialogue to be effective. His death sequence is spectacular and reinforces his status as the best at what he did.

"Stick" is an honest effort that just doesn't quite pan out.

Lake Placid
Lake Placid(1999)

Since it became the benchmark for killer animal movies after its release, every film that has followed has simply been a variation of "Jaws" to some degree or another. Some have been entertaining and others simply wretched. The pleasantly diverting sleeper "Lake Placid" is one of the better ones, employing a nice and welcome sense of humor amid all of the standard horror film cliches.

Credit screenwriter David E. Kelley as a fresh set of eyes to the genre to make that combination work so well together here. He's more famous for writing smart TV shows, and he puts his stamp all over this ridiculous thriller. The casting is a breath of fresh air as well, and the main cast of B-listers bring out the best in the script. Bridget Fonda and a completely out-of-place Oliver Platt are the best, and their random quips sometimes feel improvised.

Still, the humor works within the context of this outlandish, preposterous story. The late great Stan Winston gets the credit for the creature effects, which are convincing for the most part. Even the CGI blends in nicely and is not so glaringly obvious. On the surface it may sound like yet another clunker on the late night Sy Fy channel, but the smart writing and unusual casting sets this apart.

The basic premise is ludicrous, as are the explanations that Kelley comes up with to try to make it plausible, but "Lake Placid" scores points as a horror comedy that's fast-paced and actually funny. It's hardly great art, but you could do a lot worse on a Friday night.

Owning Mahowny

A lot of movies have been made on the destructive power of all sorts of addictions, but few have matched the sheer desperation of the affliction quite like "Owning Mahowny". This sparse yet electrifying and haunting film is based on a true story, the largest one-man bank fraud case in Canadian history.

The screenplay by Maurice Charvet is based on the book "No Limit" by Gary Ross, and it smartly focuses solely on the devastating obsessive behavior of bank manager Dan Mahowny without all of the flash that you would find in a big Hollywood movie.

This is as real and painful as it gets, and at the center of it all is the mesmerizing and fearless performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It's an amazingly layered piece of work, and in many ways it's even better than his Oscar winning performance in "Capote". You notice the way Hoffman is rarely able to look anyone in the eye and the fact, as one character puts it, you never even really know what he gets out of gambling. As it's stated in the script, he only seems to want to win money in order to lose it again, and it's never a question of if he's going to get caught: only when. Frankly, it's quite miraculous that he's able to get away with this charade for as long as he does, many time brushing away the harshest suspicions with a mere sentence or two. It's a credit to Hoffman, who sells it.

"Owning Mahowny" is a powerhouse film that lingers with you long after it's over with one unforgettable lead performance. Thanks to Hoffman and a terrific script, an ordinary subject becomes something special.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

No other films take me back to my childhood as completely and immediately as the classic "Star Wars" movies, and that is even true about "Return of the Jedi" despite the fact that it remains the one weak link in the original trilogy. It does, however, what it sets out to do by resolving conflicts, answering questions and tying up loose ends to finalize one of the great film series in the history of the movies.

The story seems a bit familiar, considering it concerns the rebels blowing up a second Death Star, but there are enough enhancements along the way that you never really feel like you're watching the same movie you saw in 1977. George Lucas' imagination is seemingly limitless, and while other filmmakers are content with the bare minimum, Lucas fleshes out his "Star Wars" universe with infinite details and marvelous characters.

The special effects have been greatly enhanced as well since the last outing, and there are some spectacular sequences here like the speeder bike chase that make you feel connected to the other films. The problem is the elements that feel disconnected, most notably the tribe of teddy bear-looking creatures known as Ewoks. They are warm, cute and fuzzy, and thats primarily the problem. It almost makes this feel like a kids movie.

Several major characters die, giving the film a sense of finality and closure which in turn makes "Return of the Jedi" something of a disappointment after the high that was "The Empire Strikes Back". The sense of marvel and wonder is still there, but on a lesser scale this time out.

Rock 'n' Roll High School

In the late 1970's, budget producer extraordinaire Roger Corman took a break from horror and science fiction knock offs, wanting to give the world a teen comedy filled with the popular music of the day the likes of which started his career a decade earlier. The result of that is "Rock and Roll High School", a goofy but engaging film that inexplicably defied the odds to become a cult classic.

There's barely a story here, but its theme of youthful rebellion against the establishment struck a chord with young moviegoers, and you just can't beat the music. After considering other, presumably more expensive bands for the film, Corman settled on the Ramones and the rest was history. They were perhaps the ugliest band going at the time, and it's a wonder they could deliver any of their dozen or so lines, but the songs are timeless and bring the movie to life.

Amid all of the chaos are two very likable young stars in Dey Young and P.J. Soles, who both give winning and effervescent performances here. After already appearing in both "Carrie" and "Halloween", it's a shame that Soles never became more famous after her memorable and star-making turn in this.

There's hardly a story to follow, as this is basically one long ad for the band, primarily concert footage with some occasionally amusing jokes thrown in for good measure. Still, "Rock and Roll High School" captures its time and place perfectly and preserves it for posterity. It's not going to change the world, but it is a bubbly and energetic film.


As a lover of the genre, I'm all for horror films that try something different or stand out as particularly ambitious. "Bruiser", however, is a major disappointment from a major talent in the field, director George A. Romero, and the biggest concern I had with most of it is that it seems to have contempt for the genre and the audience who loves it.

Nobody can fault the filmmaker for wanting to elevate the genre, but here he seems to be biting the hand that has fed him so well for decades now. This is a silly, overly arty and extremely pretentious film that thinks it has "something to say" but fails miserably in every possible respect. Whatever message it's trying to get across is lost in the sheer boredom of the whole thing, as the story and characters couldn't be more uninteresting.

Not helping the situation any is the lead performance by Jason Flemyng, who is incredibly bland even before donning his mysterious white mask. He's even worse afterwards. The tone of the film is all over the map, with the central story being very modern but a subplot involving the police investigation with Tom Atkins is weirdly old school with the music and Atkins tossing around the word "dame" all the time. The two worlds do not mesh at all.

Any hope that this would at least be redeemed by a decent ending are squashed as soon as the credits roll. It doesn't make any more sense than the rest of the film. "Bruiser" isn't bad enough to call into question Romero's talents as a filmmaker, but it is a misguided mess with precious little to like. You have to wonder what he was thinking.

Donner Pass
Donner Pass(2012)

The infamous legend of the Donner Party has been the inspiration for a slew of films both directly and indirectly, and the new low budget feature "Donner Pass" takes a contemporary spin on the tale. After a ridiculous and completely unecessary opening sequence set in the 1800's that sets up the backstory, the movie shifts to modern times with the usual group of horny young teenagers being menaced in the woods.

The film is extremely derivative, but it's more "Evil Dead" than "Friday the 13th" with the characters becoming possessed by the spirit of Donner, but that's pretty much saved for the last fifteen minutes. Much of the run time simply builds up to that moment, but oddly enough, it's not as dull as we've come to expect from movies like this. Thanks to some better-than-average directing from Elise Robertson and some shockingly high production values, it held my interest fairly well.

The whole thing, even the finale, seems oddly subdued but I was never really bored by it. There are twists along the way, including an especially unconvincing one at the end, but they only prove to be a whole bunch of red herrings. They succeeded in keeping me distracted. There's even a fairly awful folk song by a singer named Orenda Fink that open and close the film that I enjoyed simply because it fits in with the film so well. It reminded me of the tune from the original "My Bloody Valentine".

I simply cannot in good faith recommend "Donner Pass", but I enjoyed it a lot more that I ever would have believed. It's a most unusual picture.


Director Terry Gilliam is a fan favorite of movie nerds everywhere, but I've always had something of a love/hate relationship with the filmmaker. He's definitely daring and ambitious, and his films are anything but ordinary but they are also exceedingly hard to follow. "Brazil" is arguably his most popular film, but it's also one of my least favorites of his films for that very reason.

As I sat down to watch it for only my second time, I was determined to get lost in it and not just lost, but I was left scratching my head after just an hour. The movie looks amazing, endowed with a budget that would let Gilliam's imagination run wild but the story is a disaster. Many people are able to find genius in it; I only wanted out.

The great visual style only carries the picture so far when I had little to no idea what was happening at any given moment. Realizing the film's limited commercial appeal, the studio heads refused to release it for months resulting in a notorious showdown between Gilliam and Universal Pictures, and frankly that story sounds infinitely more interesting that the one told in the film. I consider myself an intelligent movie lover always looking for something outside the norm, but this is an extremely trying and uninvolving picture that went right over my head; impressive to look at but little else.

"Brazil" is a film that I really wanted to like, if only so I could say that I belonged to that select group of people who can honestly say that they get it. Unfortunately, I can't say that in all good consciousness. It's an impressive undertaking that failed to move me,


With just a few films under his belt, writer/ director Kevin Smith quickly rose through the ranks to become one of my favorite filmmakers, and while "Mallrats" is by no means a bad film, it is sort of regarded as the idiot stepchild of all of Smith's children.

It definitely takes a step backward from the ground he broke with "Clerks", his landmark debut feature. With this film, you get even more lowbrow humor without all of the pointed observations that mark his better films. It may seem redundant calling a Kevin Smith film immature, but that's exactly what this is. The characters aren't as likable and the story is mostly silly. It was the one Smith film that didn't fit in with the world he created. Until he made "Dogma", that is.

Yet the movie is not without a certain charm and appeal. There are some laughs, and Jay and Silent Bob are once again in fine form. Ben Affleck has some laughs in a small part, and it's just an accepted fact that no film featuring Joey Lauren Adams can be all bad. But, there's too much going on here, contrived stuff involving Stan Lee and a "Dating Game"-like game show that made me long for the much simpler format of "Clerks".

You like to see talented filmmakers grow with each new movie, but "Mallrats" is a minor stumble in a promising career. The gags are more gross-out for gross-out sake rather than genuine laughs based on three dimensional characters that we all can relate to. Fans of his brand of humor will laugh as I did, but you sure miss the spark that made "Clerks" something special.

A New Life
A New Life(1988)

Alan Alda was such an iconic television star that the jump to movies was inevitable, and for the most part his films as writer, director and star were quite good. With "A New Life", however, he stumbles a bit trying to enter Woody Allen territory and while the end result is certainly watchable enough it feels more like a TV movie than a theatrical effort.

Alda's character would seem better suited to Allen himself or maybe Billy Crystal, and the first half of the picture suffers from wild mood swings. The comedy doesn't work, especially some peculiar moments of broad comedy such as Alda being mugged by a transvestite. He fares better with the drama, which is why the film's second half improves some. There are some nice bittersweet moments here, and if it had been written bolder and not like a movie-of-the-week, there might have been enough to save the picture.

I appreciated the way that the couple's new relationships had their share of problems, it makes the movie feel authentic. Alda is a fine actor, even if it does take a bit here to accept his overly pompous character, and Ann-Margret is as luminous as ever. You can't fault how Alda cast his film, but you can find fault with him as a screenwriter. By the time the film finds its footing and I became involved in it as a drama, everything is once again undone by the trite, abrupt ending wraps things up way too quickly and conveniently.

"A New Life" isn't necessarily a horrible film, but its full potential is never fully realized. This never should have been a comedic film, and while it does recover from its rocky start, the ending disappoints as well.

Grace Is Gone

A lot of movies have dealt with women coping with the loss of a man in combat, but "Grace is Gone" does a complete gender reversal in showing a husband dealing with the death of his Army wife. It's an idea that could have worked, and by all rights it should have, but this particular film takes a lot of wrong turns starting with the basic premise.

Everything that the John Cusack character does in the film seems to be the result of some sort of mental illness, and because of that, it's very difficult to feel any sympathy towards his emotionally traumatized character. It's understandable that grief hits people all in different ways, but taking your young daughters cross country to an amusement park before telling them that their mother has been killed seems irresponsible and emotionally dangerous. Not calling your work or the kids school seems foolish as well, but maybe not quite as damaging.

Cusack is, generally speaking, one of my favorite actors but he seems out of place in this. It's a maudlin performance even before he finds out about his wife's death, and surprisingly it's not very effective. His parenting style seems odd and out-of-touch even before the road trip idea, and talking to his deceased wife via the answering machine doesn't exactly scream "stability" either.

Basically, in the ill-concieved "Grace is Gone", he does everything that you shouldn't do if this were a real-life situation. A lot of people were moved by this, but I found it to be oddly cold and emotionally distant.

The Paperboy
The Paperboy(2012)

After his stunning and award-winning feature "Precious", a drama set in the South during the 1960's about a potentially racially motivated murder of a sheriff would seem like a perfectly reasonable follow-up for filmmaker Lee Daniels. The problem with "The Paperboy", or at least one of the many problems, is that the premise has precious little to do with the actual film.

Everything good that the picture should have been is lost in the complete weirdness of it all, and the plot that is set up in the beginning becomes secondary to Daniel's apparent wish to shock and alienate his audience. I sat through much of the movie in stunned silence, wondering what anyone involved was thinking.

I wondered what Matthew McConaughey's sexual preferences had to do with the story, and why it was introduced in such a distasteful manner and then forgets about it. I sat there embarrassed for all of the actors involved in their first meeting with John Cusack in prison as he and Nicole Kidman have sex without touching. I wondered why it was necessary for me to witness the evisceration of an alligator.

You can't fault the actors here, as most of them try quite gallantly to make the most of this. They're at the mercy of the script, but Daniel's penchant for unique casting choices takes a turn for the worst here in his hiring of Macy Gray. Her performance is terrible and her character is quite unbelievable. To say that she is non-traditional, as a maid, is a gross understatement.

"The Paperboy" really has to be seen to be believed, and the ending leaves a very bad taste in your mouth. So much of this is just so very unnecessary.

April Fool's Day

"April Fool's Day" is something of a novelty in the world of '80's horror cinema; a slasher film without a body count. Frank Mancuso, Jr., after producing a number of the "Friday the 13th" epics, set out to do something different with this film. The result is a decidedly mixed bag.

On on hand, I admired the freshness and the emphasis on story over gore. There is very little blood here, so little in fact that the "R" rating seems kind of unwarranted. On the other hand, however, pacing is not director Fred Walton's strong suit and the film is slow-going a lot of the way. Many of the clues that lead up to the twist ending are definite red herrings that make no sense or have nothing to do with the big reveal. And getting to that extravagantly plotted finale relies on far too many coincidences, moments in the film where the characters have to do the right thing at the right time in order to keep the plot moving on its path. There are just too many holes in the plan, and frankly, the movie is not half as fun as it thinks it is.

I enjoyed the young cast, most notably Clayton Rohner and Deborah Goodrich as the group's liveliest couple, but you just can't help feeling let down by the ending. When it's all said and done, you're left with more puzzling questions than answers, like the newspaper clippings or the tape playing the crying baby had to do with anything. One could assume that they were simple ploys to throw the characters (and the audience) off balance. They worked, but in this case, that wasn't necessarily a positive thing. I admired "April Fool's Day" for trying something different, but for a film like this to work, it has to be better executed that this one is.

Permanent Record

Many films and television series have tackled the issue of teen suicide over the years, but few have done so with the grace and dignity of "Permanent Record". This is a little seen, deeply moving feature that deserves a wider audience.

It gives little clues into why the Allan Boyce character here commits suicide, and it doesn't purport to have all the answers. That only enhances the film's realism. In the opening scenes, Keanu Reeves is distracting as he was seemingly prepping for his next big role in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure", but there is a lot more going on with his character than meets the eye. His affecting performance is the dramatic center of the picture, and you greatly sympathize with him.

I also appreciated the adults in the film, especially Richard Bradford as the school's principal. It would be easy to make him and the parents the enemy here, but they are grieving too and actually understand the students. There is a wonderful scene where an anguished and intoxicated Reeves nearly kills Boyce's younger brother and he finally breaks down to his friend's father.

The drama culminates in the film's final scene at the school play, where a fragile and delicate Jennifer Ruben breaks character and pays beautiful tribute to her fallen friend, and it's the highlight of the actress' burgeoning career. The subject is stale, but "Permanent Record" has a fresh voice that remains as impactful today as it was upon its initial release. It's a small film that will stay with you.

What Lies Beneath

"What Lies Beneath" is a big budget, big name version of a Hallmark movie; beautiful people, beautiful scenery, cheap and easy scares and a completely convoluted plot. The problem is that the whole thing is full of so many red herrings that you're left feeling very unsatisfied, and there isn't nearly enough story here to sustain its bloated running time.

It starts out as a ghost story but turns much more conventional than that at the half, and then you realize that none of the ghost story elements (such as the computer typing the initials of the dead girl by itself) make any sense within the new "killer in the house" context. By the times it veers back into the supernatural in the end, I had given up on the mess.

Robert Zemeckis is a skilled filmmaker, but his first thriller closely emulates Hitchcock and that makes it seem like an even bigger failure. The ending is especially Hitch-like in its use of similar music, but it's hard to feel involved because these characters are so uninteresting. Harrison Ford isn't convincing in the least in the psycho role, and Michelle Pfieffer is too weak and neurotic to muster much empathy for her character.

A lot of plot devices are thrown in but they never lead anywhere, such as the bickering neighbors or Pfieffer's near-fatal car accident. Just more confusion to throw the viewer off that are never resolved.

"What Lies Beneath" is a beautifully and skillfully constructed thriller that is nevertheless empty, bloated and somewhat dumb. The basic story could have easily been pared down to about an hour if all the unnecessary distractions had been eliminated.

The Master of Disguise

When you're one of the hottest players on the long-running sketch program "Saturday Night Live", the jump to feature films is all but assured. For Dana Carvey, life after the show was rosy with the first two "Wayne's World" pictures hitting it big at the box office. But at the turn of the century, the laughs had all but dried up and we're left with "The Master of Disguise", a kids movie that is too dumb to be enjoyed even by most children.

It has rightfully earned its reputation as one of the worst comedies of all time, a dismal film that leaves you questioning everyone involved with the project. Carvey is clearly a talented comedian and impressionist, so producer Adam Sandler and the star came up with the thinnest of plots and pretty much turned him loose.

The end result is a completely disastrous, laugh-free dud of epic proportions, a kids movie that inexplicably throws in adult references in everything from "Jaws" to "Scarface" to "The Exorcist", and none of it is amusing. It follows the model of most Sandler movies, giving Carvey a hot love interest who for some reason finds this irritating buffoon irresistible. It's a tired plot device that is almost as aggravating as the lead performance.

The picture is mercifully short, at a brief 72 minutes with the actors continually popping up in the end credits like an annoying house guest who refuses to leave. It may seem like a blessing, as in reality "The Master of Disguise" feels like a never-ending experience. It wears out its welcome very early on.


For those critics out there who thought the sequel to "cars" was a huge drop-off in quality from the original, the folks at Disney offer up "Planes", a cheap knock-off companion piece that shows you just how low quality the franchise can get. This was originally conceived as a project that would bypass a theatrical release, and that makes sense considering this is on par with the Mouse House's other direct-to-video follow-ups to their classic films.

It's a pale retread of a story we've seen dozens of times, with an extra healthy dose of "believe in yourself" nonsense thrown in (repeatedly) for good measure. The animation and storytelling are as lazy as anything you're likely to see the studio touch, and the picture is filled with lame puns and one-liners that truly lack imagination. Even the vocal talent is lacking this time out, with most of the voices behind the animation belonging to people who were mostly famous ten or fifteen years ago. Watching the film, it's virtually impossible to pick anyone out.

Nothing unexpected happens here, as the writers refuse to stray far from their tried and true formula, and that may be enough to keep the kids entertained. Their parents, on the other hand, will find their mind and attention wandering almost non-stop. There's nothing here that would engage anyone over the age of five.

Everything about "Planes" screams "second rate", and we've come to expect so much more from the people who dumped this reject on us. As a rental, it pay have passed the mustard, but if you're paying theater prices, you should be outraged.

House (Ding Dong, You're Dead)

After a grisly introduction to the horror genre with two back-to-back "Friday the 13th" films, director Steve Miner went a little lighter with his third feature simply called "House". This is a horror/comedy that is unfortunately slightly deficient on both fronts despite some game performances and a clever plot.

There are some creature effects, most of them fairly subpar, but the picture is refreshingly light on the gruesome gore, but the general tone is too light for it to be ever truly frightening. The humor fares a little better, thanks in part to an amusing supporting performance by George Wendt, but a lot of the jokes fall with a thud as well.

The central story is quite creative, however, involving William Katt paying retribution for mistakes made during his time serving in the Vietnam War, but there are too many other sub-plots along the way that bog it down. It's no surprise to me that screenwriter Fred Dekker came up with this story, but something got lost in the writing process.

Richard Moll gives a fun performance both as a walking corpse at the end and in human form in flashbacks of some of the worst Vietnam War scenes ever committed to film. They're necessary within the context of the film but the also reek of inauthenticity. "House" is definitely a mixed bag than was definitely a lot more fun when I was a kid. There's good in this, but there's also a distractingly lack of energy that keeps it from breaking out and putting it over the top.

Twin Peaks - Fire Walk with Me

If you thought it was weird watching the second "X Files" movie so long after the series ended, try watching "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" a decade and a half after its initial release. It wasn't very good the first time, shortly after the series ended its run, but now its just fun nostalgia for a while. And then its just pointless.
What starts out as an intriguing murder mystery much like the series did, full of director David Lynch's oddball quirks, much like the series. And once again, much like the series, the film deteriorates into an incomprehensible and muddled mess. When Lynch is at the top of his game, the results can be exhilarating as in "Blue Velvet" or "Wild at Heart". But suffering through this fatally overlong vanity project, it makes you realize that Lynch's hits and misses are pretty evenly matched.
It's fun revisiting one of the 90's most captivating and infuriating bits of pop culture. For about a half hour. But then the weirdness goes way overboard making for one very long movie. The series has been off the air for so long it's impossible to remember any of the loose strings this picture was supposed to wrap up. You only remember about half of the characters, and one of the best and most iconic characters from the series is pretty much absent from the proceedings here. Kyle MacLachlan's Agent Cooper has very little screen time, and his performance amounts to a glorified cameo. That's a huge disappointment. It's perhaps the biggest unsolved mystery of a movie that is chock full of them.
"Twin Peaks" is a relic from a bygone time that doesn't stand the test of time very well at all.

Snow Angels
Snow Angels(2007)

"Snow Angels" is a sad and deeply affecting drama whose impact stays with you for a long time after the film is over. The mood it creates and varying range of emotions it stirs up are difficult to shake off afterwards, and that is all credited to the writer and director David Gordon Green.

His slice of life drama is filled with rich characters and honest dialogue, and the performances are equal to the tremendous script. Both Green and his actors leave you in turmoil here, sometimes evoking sadness and horror both in the same moment. Witness the emotionally draining scene at the end, the film's final tragedy involving Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. It's sad, scary and haunting all at the same time. Hearing Beckinsale utter her final word may be the saddest thing I've seen in a film in a long, long time.

Green has a way of moving an audience that few other filmmakers have mastered, as in the simple scene in which Rockwell removes a picture off the wall revealing a handprint he left there as a child. It's so fundamental but powerful thinking about the character's innocent childhood transformed into such a turbulent grown-up life.

Rockwell and Beckinsale give strong performances. And in the middle of it all are the remarkable Olivie Thirlby and Michael Angarano, two teenagers whose budding relationship is funny and touching but also represents hope for the future amid all of the despair on display.

"Snow Angels" is a tough movie to watch, but ultimately the experience is rewarding due to the fine writing and exceptional acting. Many have accused the film of being depressing, and while it is profoundly sad but so is life sometimes. This is a powerful reflection of that.

10 to Midnight

The 1980's were a commercially successful period in the career of Charles Bronson. He made a lot of movies cheaply and most were quite profitable, but critics crucified the actor's films and most were admittedly quite bad. For me, however, "10 to Midnight" was the exception to the rule.

Granted, it is excessively graphic, both in terms of violence and sex, but at its core this is a taut police procedural with a lot of believable twists and turns along the way. Bronson gives one of the better performances of the decade playing a good cop who does some bad things for the right reasons. It gives his standard character, one he's played before, some real depth.

Also good as the psychopath is relative newcomer Gene Davis, mostly because he plays the part cool and smart and not over-the-top crazy. For a B-movie like this, Davis is surprisingly good. Director J. Lee Thompson made some great films early in his career, but those of us who only know him from his lesser work with this actor will be pleased to see how skillfully this is made.

A lot of people simply cannot stomach the excessive violence, which is far too excessive in some scenes, but as a crime thriller this transcends its meager aspirations. It's a rare film that for my tastes ends too soon, as I wanted to see what happened to Bronson's character after basically killing Davis in cold blood. There was more story to be told, I think, but "10 to Midnight" is still a decent detective thriller with slasher overtones. There;s a lot here to like.


While the world waits for Uwe Boll to make a competent film, he makes the completely dumb move of adapting yet another video game into a feature film. "Bloodrayne" isn't quite the washout of his previous "House of the Dead", but that's faint praise indeed.

As sad as that is to report, this is the notorious director's best-looking film to date. He has assembled a fairly impressive cast, some of the scenery is quite beautiful and the special effects are alarmingly impressive. The blood flows like wine, and the vampire effects are decent for a film of this budget.

Unfortunately, that is all of the praise this is going to get from me. The cast is wasted and let down by a ridiculous script, most notably Ben Kingsley in the role of the lead bloodsucker. A paycheck is a paycheck, but you have to believe that the one he got for this dud wasn't big enough to tarnish his esteemed career. Kristanna Loken isn't much of an actress, but she is very sexy and you want to see her do better for herself than this.

The movie fails at the script level, as the story is dull and routine, and the dialogue is even worse. It's wretched, and none of it is convincingly Eighteenth century, where this allegedly takes place. But the biggest downfall here is Boll himself. As is the case with most of his films, he is his biggest enemy, as he seems to take pride in his well-earned reputation as one of the worst filmmakers working today.

"Bloodrayne" had more potential than most of his films, but that potential only takes it so far. It will bore you into a coma.

Number One with a Bullet

Back in the 1980's when life was simple and a movie could be made and thrown into theaters for under a million dollars, you didn't really have to put a lot of effort into them in order to make them profitable. Cannon Films were the king of that kind of shoddy filmmaking, and "Number One With a Bullet" is one of their laziest police thrillers ever.

It throws in every police buddy picture cliche you can think of, from the estranged wife to the surprise twist involving a dirty cop, and the threadbare plot was pieced together from dozens of films that came before. Apparently Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris were off somewhere filming the five movies they would release under the Cannon banner in 1987, so here we get the ragtag team of Robert Carradine and Billy Dee Williams. Both are totally wrong for their respective roles as you never buy them as these hardened career officers for an instance, and the actors have little chemistry together.

The one-liners are tired and there's not one surprise or original thought to be found. The movie does have more unnecessary sub-plots than we're used to, such as Doris Roberts as Carradine's doting mother, and it has the worst score I
ve heard in a cop thriller in a long time. The background music never has anything to do with what's going on in the film. There's also a lot more plot than action. The action sequences are confined to a few routine car chases and shootouts.

Everything about "Number One With a Bullet" is vaguely familiar, and not much of it is worth seeing again. It's forgotten about as quickly as it's over with.

Blue Steel
Blue Steel(1990)

Kathryn Bigelow made a lot of great movies long before she was ever recognized as being a great director, and "Blue Steel" was one of the best of her early efforts. It's a highly improbable but very effective police thriller with enough twists and turns for two movies, and the whole thing is well made enough to keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration.

In my case I was too involved to realize how questionable a lot of it is until well after the end credits have rolled. Jamie Lee Curtis may have seemed like a weird choice for the lead role, but she's a large part of the reason that this is so successful. She brings a certain vulnerability to the part, necessary for someone playing a rookie cop, but she's tough and sure of herself when the script calls for that as well. She finds a perfect balance here and settles nicely into the part.

Also surprising everyone as the psycho is Ron Silver, seemingly miscast but nevertheless quite chilling in a role that could have been played too hammy or silly. He finds just the right tone every time, and that is essential. The screenplay, by Bigelow and another personal favorite of mine Eric Red, is streamlined, making for a suspenseful and fast-paced thriller. There are some great shocks along the way, and the basic story is enhanced with an interesting sub-plot involving Curtis' parents.

You have to take several leaps of faith for the sake of entertainment to fully enjoy "Blue Steel", but once you do, you'll find this to be a crackerjack thriller with a lot to admire. Sometimes, that's enough.

My Summer of Love

Almost every movie ever made about first love and the heartbreak that ultimately comes along with it have been lightweight pieces of fluff that depend primarily on the chemistry between the two stars for their success. Even though the lovers in "My Summer of Love" are both females, that is nevertheless the case here as well.

There's no point to it that I could discern, but the two leads are effective and the beautiful photography and languid pacing make up for the film's other shortcomings. Natalie Press and Emily Blunt are both brave and sincere in the lead roles. Their friendship is formed chiefly out of convenience and boredom, in equal doses, but their love affair is a little more complicated than that. Their bond becomes sexual rather swiftly, and it doesn't always feel authentic especially when you discover the tragedy that is initially responsible for bringing them together is a lie.

The screenplay seems to shortchange Blunt's character, as you never really understand why she does some of the things she does, like perpetuate that lie and attempt to seduce Press' religious brother. That character is much better realized and becomes the one you sympathize with throughout the picture. It continually reminded me of Peter Jackson's superb "Heavenly Creatures" but without the sophistication.

Despite some deep reservations, I enjoyed "My Summer of Love" because of the performances. The leads have some tender moments together, but the filmmakers could have dropped the Harlequin romance title and fleshed out the characters more. This is pretty basic.


In the late 1980's, when every studio was trying to come up with the newest "Alien", someone came up with the idea of looking down rather than up and the underwater alien film was born. "Leviathan" was the best of them, due mostly to its eclectic cast and better-than-average special effects.

Stan Winston was one of the best in the business, and his work here showcases that talent. It's not one of his best, but it sure was refreshing to revisit a film with an actual effects team and not a bunch of guys making them up on a computer. I was only disappointed in the finale, when you finally get a chance to see the creature in the daylight, but director George P. Cosmatos instead chooses to show him in only quick cut-aways. Apparently, he had a lot less confidence in Winston's abilities than the genre's true fans.

Cosmatos gets a lot of flack for his films, but this one moves along at a brisk pace save for the set-up thatr actually takes the time to introduce the characters. That was something of a pleasant rarity as well. The cast is a lot of fun, and everyone is very convincing in their roles despite some of the ludicrous dialogue they are forced to say. That only adds to the fun to be had here, but I do wish that there had been more of a backstory involving the creature's origin. That would have fleshed the story out some and strengthened the opening half.

But as it stands, "Leviathan" is a surprisingly solid B-movie that has held up pretty well over the years. The sets are impressive, as are the effects lending this the look and feel of a much more prestigious and expensive project even if the story is as pieced together as its creature.

Mountaintop Motel Massacre

Like so many other ill-concieved movies from the 1980's, the makers of "Mountaintop Motel Massacre" thought that all you needed was a catchy title and you were halfway home. This was one of the most memorable ones to come out of the decade, but the problem is that you have to actually watch the film and that's when things go wrong.
I think the screenwriters envisioned this as a gender reversal take on "Psycho", and when you set the bar that high, there's nowhere to go but down and down hard. For a film of such low budget and low aspirations, there are some convincing sickle murders, but the film has virtually nothing else to offer. The script is completely devoid of any kind of character development, and it gives Evelyn virtually no motivation. Anna Chappell does what she can with the role, but it's not enough.
The rest of the cast are ridiculously hammy and provide a number of unintentional laughs. They're not worth sitting through the rest of this insufferable bore, but they did manage to keep me awake. The film is just so plodding for the first half that there's nothing to grab you, and the slasher happy second half isn't good enough to warrant your time either. The best moments for hilarity involve the relationship between two young budding singers and a traveling "record executive". The funny writing and comical performances make those characters a riot. The rest of this is just forgettable, B-movie dreck.
The creativity behind "Mountaintop Motel Massacre" stopped right after the makers came up with that title. This is a waste of celluloid.


The animators over at Blue Sky always put a lot of work into how their films look, and "Robots" is certainly no exception because the film looks great. You can tell by the end credits how much technical work went into the special effects and the film's visual elements, and all of that seems like such a waste when you realize just how empty the rest of the film is.

Three people are given a credit for screenwriting, including the terribly talented Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, but the script feels like an afterthought. The basic story is just that: very basic. The whole thing is littered with painfully obvious jokes about robots "Loosing their bearings" and drinking hot oil instead of coffee, and the entire picture reeks of that kind of banality.

Along with the talented writers, the makers assembled a very impressive list of actors to lend their voices to this dull and slow-moving film. A few of the characters are cute, but everyone is predictably bulldozed by Robin Williams in yet another over-the-top and exhausting performance. He's just as hard to take as a cartoon robot. He consistently steals the thunder from the lead, voiced by Ewan McGregor, and I guess considering how boring McGregor is here, that isn't hard to accomplish.

I guess there's a decent message here about never losing sight of your dreams, but the movie hits you over the head with it until you're numb. None of the robots in the cleverly titled "Robots" are very appealing, and their story isn't worth following either. This simple film absolutely reeks of familiarity.

Ne le Dis  Personne (Tell No One)

Generally speaking, foreign thrillers are superior to their American counterparts, which is why so many of them are remade by the major Hollywood studios. It saves a lot of domestic born screenwriters from having to come up with original ideas of their own. For that reason alone, hopes were high for "Tell No One", a French import with a lot of positive buzz from a lot of respected people.

The scenario set up early on is a tantalizing one, and this had all of the markings of a terrific thriller. My hopes were soon dashed, however, when it became painfully apparent that this was completely lacking in the thrill department. There's enough plot here for three movies, which is not normally a problem especially when you stop to consider how shallow a lot of American movies are, but I found it rather difficult to keep up with. It definitely a movie that could benefit from a second and even third viewing, but considering how cold I was to my initial introduction, it could be a while before I would want to revisit this.

There is a curious lack of suspense, and it's quite wordy especially during the finale. The film doesn't even wrap things up with the expected frantic wallop. Instead, the seemingly endless plot threads are tied up by one lengthy explanation from one of the characters, keeping in the tradition with the rest of this insipid thriller.

"Tell No One" could have went down a lot of different paths after the marvelous opening moments. It seems that the filmmakers chose all of them, and the viewer is left in the dust.


A lot of science fiction films are either too scientific to be any fun or are entertaining but the science aspect is skeptical at best. "Dreamscape" is the rare exception that manages to find a nice balance between the two; the science is plausible but the film is also fast-paced and enjoyable as well.

Joseph Ruben is a skilled director, and he keeps the film moving, and the screenplay is smart as well. Writer David Loughery has a lot going on here, different genres colliding together in what could have become a mess of a movie, but the whole thing works surprisingly well.

Dennis Quaid is perfect in the lead role, good looking but smart as well, a hero without being overly heroic. He draws you into the story and makes the whole thing believable and accessible. The special effects, while cutting edge upon the film's initial release, seem a bit dated now but in my eyes are still more convincing than the CGI that plagues most movies these days. The stop motion Snake Man would have made Ray Harryhausen proud.

The dream sequences are impressive regardless of the film's age, and I wish there had been more of them. There are several notable similarities to this and another of the year's big dream-like release "A Nightmare on Elm Street", including the moment when bad guy David Patrick Kelly sprouts knives from his hand a la Freddy Krueger. This film made it to theaters a full three months before the Wes Craven future classic.

"Dreamscape" is a splendid science fiction film with a lot of novel, clever ideas. It's deserving of a wider audience to appreciate all it has to offer.

The Usual Suspects

The joy of being a true movie lover is discovering that one film in a hundred that makes it all worthwhile and reminds you again of why you love the medium. That one truly remarkable, original film amid all of the repetitious junk that you've seen before, and me for, "The Usual Suspects" is one of those rare gems.

It's a densely plotted, one-of-a-kind thriller full of great actors giving rock solid performances and a wonderfully twisted script that may require at least two viewings to successfully sort through. There were bigger names in the cast at the time this was released, but afterwards, the only person anyone was talking about was Kevin Spacey in this star-making and Oscar winning performance of a lifetime. He's quite simply a revelation in this part, an unforgettable role that Spacey brings to life with his own unique flair.

The other real star here making a name for himself is writer Christopher McQuarrie, hitting a home run his first time at bat with his first big screenplay. This is definitely not a film you can do laundry to, as the twists and turns absolutely demand every bit of your attention. It's difficult at times, but the movie proves itself worthy of the work you are required to put into it, culminating with one of the best reveals in movie history, a final twist you'll never see coming but will make you want to watch the film from the beginning the second after it's over.

Secondary viewings of "The Usual Suspects" don't quite maintain the same joy as the first time you see it, but you'll be grateful to have some of your questions answered the second time around. This is truly a brilliant film.

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers

Most low budget slasher flicks from the 1980's were content to come around for a few weeks, make a quick buck and move on. Few of them were profitable or good enough to spawn their own franchise, and even though that was definitely true about "Sleepaway Camp", it still managed to spawn three sequels (so far).

The second film, subtitled "Unhappy Campers," is completely ordinary and illogical, and it has nothing new to offer the genre. The original at least had that much-talked about and shocking finale going for it. Nothing in this routine and forgettable flick even comes close to that one good moment.

The part of the gender-confused killer Angela has been taken over by Pamela Springsteen, and while she's clearly having fun in the role there's nothing all that fun about this movie. There are some attempts to inject some humor into this, but none of those attempts are successful. About as clever as this gets is naming all of the characters after young actors from the decade like Demi and Emilio.

There are some decent effects, and some of the murders are pretty creative, but the sluggish direction from Michael Simpson never allows this to really take off. There's no suspense, and even at a slim eighty minutes, the picture is quite boring. The cast is as bland and forgettable as the actors playing them, and the film suffers greatly for it. It wasn't much of a stretch, but "Sleepaway Camp 2" actually makes the original look better in retrospect. It's the worst example of an unnecessary sequel since the first film wrapped up the story so succinctly, but I guess there is a strong market for cinematic junk food.


At its most basic level, "Heat" is a cops and robbers movie that transcends the genre thanks to an extremely talented director and an amazing cast. It can more accurately be described as a sprawling crime epic that blurs the line between good and evil; a thrilling movie that puts the emphasis on story and characters but nevertheless doesn't disappoint in the action department either.

Michael Mann is a gifted filmmaker, and the heist sequences here are electrifying, most notably the infamous shoot-out on a crowded Los Angeles street. It's an adrenaline pumping, exquisitely filmed scene in a movie filled with great moments.

It was billed as the first film to be Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino together, and their conversation is yet another highlight. The two men give masterful performances, and thanks to that and the intelligent writing, you never really no who to root for. This is not your run-of-the-mill action picture without a brain. The characters are so strongly developed on both sides of the law you'll find your loyalty wavering more than once. Careful attention was put into this at the script level, also a credit to Mann.

There are a lot of sub-plots, all of them neatly tied up, that add weight to the film which is yet another asset the director brings. Under a lesser filmmaker, this would have become a jumbled mess. The supporting cast, filled with equally talented actors excel as well, and Elliott Guldenthal's exceptional score adds a dreamlike quality to the picture. "Heat" is an action film that exceeds expectations on every level. Everything about this was perfected down to the last detail.

The Man with One Red Shoe

Contrary to popolar belief, Tom Hanks has made his fair share of bad movies, especially early in his career when he was just starting out. "The Man With One Red Shoe" is certainly one of the worst, a convoluted spy comedy in which someone apparently forgot to write any jokes.

This is based on a French farce, but the American version is oddly subdued and dark, despite a game and talented cast. Hanks himself is likable as a clueless everyman, but the film doesn't work and a lot of that has to do with the fact that his character spends the entire movie save for the last few minutes in the dark. Maybe if he had been clued in earlier to all of the danger around him, this could have become the madcap spoof it so desperately wants to be.

The entire tone is just so dull and leaden that by the time the bodies start to pile up at the end, it doesn't seem so out of place. I think by that time, everyone has already forgotten that this was meant to be a comedy. It's so misguided that Hanks is almost playing straight man to co-star Jim Belushi, who seems to be the only cast member trying to keep this mess afloat. He's not successful.

The story might have worked as a vehicle for Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase with Jon Landis at the helm a la "Spies Like Us", but as it stands now, "The Man With One Red Shoe" is a forgotten footnote in cinematic history. Hanks would go on to bigger and better things, and his fans would come to expect more from him. He was merely testing the waters with this mediocre mess.

The Pit and the Pendulum

There are hundreds of movies out there that insult your intelligence, but this latest version of Edgar Allen Poe's oft-told dark classic "The Pit and the Pendulum" is an insult to the entire literary community. By splashing the author's name all over this ridiculous piece of trash is an affront to anyone anywhere who has ever opened a book.

There is virtually nothing in this that in any way resembles Poe's classic story, and in fact this is more soft core porn than actual horror even though fans of both genres will be sorely disappointed.

The sex scenes are idiotic and poorly staged unless you enjoy watching two guys wrestle in their underwear, and the horror aspects are diluted until nothing remains. David DeCoteau used to be a marginally talented B-movie director, but his career has disintegrated down this these shoddy, homoerotic thrillers that are more frustrating than they are sexy.

The casting here is completely incompetent, with nearly everyone in the cast hired based on their looks rather than any real acting ability. The females fare better at this than their male counterparts who are all blank-faced pretty boys completely incapable of delivering even the simplest of lines of dialogue. They someday hope to be as accomplished as the soap opera stars they no doubt admire.

This newest version of "The Pit and the Pendulum" is unworthy of the name, a film inept in every conceivable way and fails on every single level. DeCoteau only succeeds in making Roger Corman look like a master filmmaker.

Halloween III - Season of the Witch

Depending on who you ask, "Halloween 3" is one of the most loved or hated horror sequels of all time. Those who love it love the brash originality of the story while those who hate it are upset that it doesn't feature everyone's favorite knife-wielding maniac Michael Myers.

My opinion lies somewhere in the middle, both appreciative of the fact that John Carpenter and the studio wanted to try something different and yet highly disappointed in all of the unanswered questions and ludicrous plot developments. I loved the novelty of the story, and the whole thing is hugely entertaining, but unfortunately, none of it makes any sense at all.

Dan O'Herlihy is some kind of evil genius as Cochrane, a man smart enough to make incredibly lifelike robots and move a huge chunk of Stonehenge across the ocean and land it in California, but there's no rhyme or reason to his plan. When characters bring up the incredible inconsistencies, screenwriter and director Tommy Lee Wallace sweep it under the rug with lines like "You wouldn't believe how we did it" and "Do I need a reason" so that nothing is ever afforded an explanation.

It's one of the great "what were they thinking" movies in cinematic history, but it does have a certain undeniable charm that hasn't diminished over the years. O'Herlihy is a great villain, Tom Atkins is always a blast and there are some great and gruesome special effects to try to placate die hard horror enthusiasts. Despite all of the efforts of Wallace and everyone involved, those same fans soundly rejected "Halloween 3" on basic principle. I found it to be a enjoyably campy misstep that is made memorable by its supreme outlandishness.

Extreme Prejudice

Walter Hill has long since been a favorite director of mine, and in "Extreme Prejudice", he explores several interesting themes and a lot of familiar territory. It's a classic western masquerading as an 1980's action flick, and it's not entirely successful at either.

The action is diluted, and not even Hill's impeccable skill behind the camera can mask that, and the western elements are so hackneyed that it almost plays like a parody. At the center of it all is the relationship between Texas Ranger Nick Nolte and drug dealer Powers Boothe, childhood friends now on opposite sides of the law. That should have made for an interesting film had the screenplay been deeper and more thoughtful. Instead, it's quite superficial and wastes a lot of potential, as does the aspect of the girl caught in the middle played by Maria Conchita Alonso. She has a history with both men as well, but she's little more than a pawn in their power trip and the head games they play with one another.

The lead performances, however, are quite good even if Boothe does have a tendency to ham things up a bit. Nolte is a solid lead. The story itself is interesting, but I never found myself getting involved with the film as it feels flat. And there's still the matter of all those cliches. It's so bad that this actually culminates in a back-to-back count-off showdown. You''' be rolling your eyes despite (or maybe because of) the seriousness at which the whole thing is played.

"Extreme Prejudice" is chock full of promise, but it never engaged me. It's a muted and weak effort despite some game players.

Honeysuckle Rose

Like a good country song, "Honeysuckle Rose" rolls out all the familiar cliches making for a predictable yet comfortable film that nevertheless doesn't offer up a single surprise along the way. It deals with drinking, music and infidelity and features the acting debut of country superstar Willie Nelson.

He gives a laid-back, likable and natural performance, mostly because he's playing a thinly veiled variation on himself, so it's kind of a stretch to call what he does here "acting". The film features some of the best music he's recorded as a singer, and the songs are easily the best thing about this easy-going picture. In fact, there are times during this movie's second half where the paper-thin plot almost gets in the way of the enjoyable concert footage.

The story is just a vehicle to drive the picture to the next musical number, and all of the conflicts along the way are wrapped up in a tidy, convenient manner in the end. Nelson's co-star Dyan Cannon has some good moments here as his long-suffering wife, but young Amy Irving is terribly miscast as his love interest. She was seemingly cast solely on the basis of her looks. She has a nice singing voice but her performance consists mostly of staring at Willie adoringly in a manner that he mostly ignores until the end when she's completely forgotten about in favor of a happy ending.

The music is the best (and some would argue, the only) reason to see "Honeysuckle Rose", a routine but slightly entertaining country song come to life. It's Willie's show all the way.


Other than an unique bit of casting that was the film's one selling point, there's nothing all that noteworthy about "Relentless", a fairly routine serial killer movie that I nevertheless enjoyed to a certain degree. It's great fun seeing Brat Packer Judd Nelson break out of the teen genre playing a sadistic killer, and even though he's only given a handful of dialogue, it's a good performance.

The guy is dealing with a lot of issues, but Nelson makes the character work with mannerisms and body language. Also good in one of his few starring roles is Leo Rossi as the lead detective on the case, fresh off his memorable turn in "The Accused" the year before. He's convincing in the part, and a commanding presence that holds the entire picture together.

There's nothing special about the story, and with one possible exception, the murders are routinely filmed. However, William Lustig is a premier B-movie director who knows how to handle this material. After all, he directed one of the most gruesome serial killer movies ever in "Maniac". This one emphasizes story over gore, but the similarities are definitely there, and Lustig manages to get a few effective shocks in. The best scene involves the murder of a female songwriter, and the finale is pretty exciting as well.

Despite the fact that it may feel like you've already seen this movie, "Relentless" does manage to offer up a few surprises along the way. The lead performances alone make it worth seeing, with Nelson surprisingly good at adding menace to his thankless role.

Piranha 3DD
Piranha 3DD(2012)

The original "Piranha" remake scored a lot of points for being so outlandish and over the top, so I guess someone thought the sequel had to top it. Which brings me to the cleverly titled "Piranha 3DD", and that title is easily the most clever thing about this ridiculous picture.

It's made in the same campy vein as the original, but something is missing this time out and the end result is a gratuitous, slightly amusing yet relentlessly stupid film. It's obvious from the outtakes that the cast and crew had a great time making it, but only some of that comes through in the finished product. There's not much of a story as the film relies on the original to do most of the set up for this film, and the special effects are mostly sub-par.

The blood flows freely, but a lot of the deaths aren't very convincing and the film features one of the phoniest decapitations in recent memory. Maybe if I had seen the film in its intended 3-D format, it wouldn't have looked so fake. The film is filled mostly with fresh faces, but thankfully it's also peppered with some veterans who provide the few laughs this does manage. The fact that Ving Rhames even returned for the sequel is hilarious, but so is his performance, and David Hasselhoff steals the show here playing himself. His comic, self deprecating turn is the absolute highlight of this otherwise forgettable effort.

Even the plentiful nudity is disappointing mostly because everything looks surgically enhanced. When a movie fails at gratuitous nudity, there's a problem. "Piranha 3-DD" is a breezy, fast-paced time-killer that does everything to excess. If that's all you're looking for, you'll eat this up.

Mutant Hunt
Mutant Hunt(1987)

In the 1980's when the home video market exploded, anyone with a video camera could call themselves a filmmaker and have an outlet for their low budget garbage. When he wasn't turning out gay porn (which he did under a different name), writer/director Tim Kincaid was one of the worst offenders of the time, and "Mutant Hunt" was one of his worst efforts.

You can tell right away it's an '80's reject because of the omnipotent synthesizer score and the striking resemblance it bears to "The Terminator". The cyborgs here, however, can mostly be killed with whatever you have lying around the house like wooden chairs, and the criminal warlord Z who has masterminded them apparently couldn't figure out how to arm them with guns. There are an awful lot of clunky, horribly choreographed fights here in which the sunglass-clad robots are taken out with bare hands. Believe me, it's not as fun as it sounds.

There's no joy to be had watching this poorly acted, moronic movie. The film is allegedly set in the future but, of course, doesn't have the money to pull off those lofty goals. Most of the "high tech" gadgets the characters use look more outdated than the technology that was actually available in 1987. There is some great artwork on the VHS box, but that's where all the imagination ceased in making this turkey.

There's a decent-looking cyborg missing a bunch of his "skin", and one kind of cool explosion, but nothing else about "Mutant Hunt" will stick with you. This is shoddy filmmaking as its worse.


Every once in a while, a news story comes along that is so incredulous that you'd never believe it if it wasn't so undeniably true, and "Compliance" is a compelling film based on one of those actual eventsDue to the reactions from those involved, the picture does deviate some from the actual occurrence, but this is still exceedingly difficult to watch despite the fact that it's nearly impossible to turn away.

It's also nearly impossible to wrap your head around how something like this could happen, especially as the story becomes increasingly unbelievable. The beauty of Craig Zobel's film is the straightforward manner in which the story is told, stripped bare much like the brave performance of its star Dreama Walker.

The film doesn't judge the bizarre actions of these characters, simply presents the facts and leaves the rest up for the viewer to decide. Alongside the powerhouse performance from Walker is the terrific work done by Ann Dowd as her supervisor. After thirty years in the business and never having carried a movie before, she's simply amazing. The film's one downfall is that it wraps things up too quickly and cleanly in the end. I wanted to know more about the fallout from the case, more of what happened to the people involved, and that's the only place where the movie lets you down. I was left to searching the internet for answers.

"Compliance" is a film that you won't have a lot of fun watching, but it is a bold, compelling one that is fearless in its convictions. As much as you may want to, you'll be powerless to turn away.

Ice Twisters
Ice Twisters(2009)

Most weather-related thrillers like "2012" glorify the destructive power of Mother Nature in all her grandeur, but that is clearly beyond the abilities of the makers of "Ice Twisters". Evidently, that kind of spectacle is not in the budget here, and what special effects that are here are lazily generated by computers and have no impact whatsoever.

In fact, the movie itself is so lazy that much of the run time here is dedicated to a lot of mindless chatter that makes such little sense that I tuned most of it out. And if it does actually make sense or have even a sliver of authenticity to it, the only people who would find it interesting are meteorologists.

The actors are bland and the dialogue is ridiculously serious, and all that might be worth a laugh or two if the rest of this wasn't so dull. Still, it's those awful effects that kill this faster than anything. "Twister", the big budget film this emulates, had the same hokey acting and dialogue, but at least it had the marvelously exciting tornado sequences that sold it. This is low rent in every aspect there is, and it isn't even fun in a bad way.

I suppose there's an audience out there who finds junk like this entertaining, but you can count me out of that club. In my opinion, CGI represented the death of the genre film because the effects look terrible and it made garbage like "Ice Twisters" a lot easier to produce. Anyone with a Mackintosh and a video camera could get a movie on the Sy Fy Channel.

Stephen King's 'Silver Bullet'

"Silver Bullet" is based on the thinnest of Stephen King material; a film that came to be primarily because King adaptations were hot at the time and his name sells tickets. The film is quite ordinary, as there's not really anything all that special about the story or the effects, but it is a well-told tale with decent performances.

Few authors can capture the feel of small town America quite like King, and few of his adaptations make better use of that than this one. It's obvious that the screenplay was written by the man himself, and that hometown vibe may be it's greatest asset. There's not much of a surprise as to who the beast actually is, but Everett McGill plays it up when the big reveal is finally made, and co-star Corey Haim is a surprisingly natural child actor.

Still, the picture belongs to Gary Busey who never ceases to liven up anything he appears in. He's perfect for the part, possibly because he seems to basically be playing himself; a crazy, alcoholic womanizer. Sadly enough, where the film does fail is in its design of the werewolf, done by Italian effects man Carlo Rambaldi. He's done great work before in films like "E.T." and "Alien", but in this, the creature looks more like a bear most of the time. He was clearly having an off day here.

However, despite an air of familiarity, "Silver Bullet" is a refreshingly entertaining horror film that is almost family friendly despite its rating. It's fairly tame by today's standards, but for me that only added to the marginal appeal.

30 Days of Night

The vampire genre has been stagnant and in a state of steady decline for some time now, but all it takes is one brash and inventive entry to shake things up a bit. "30 Days of Night" is one such film, as everything about it feels fresh and rejuvenating from the setting to the creatures themselves.

The idea behind this film is a novel one, and setting the film in Barlow Alaska is inventive. The stark cinematography is oddly beautiful. Still, as it should be, the vampires are really the stars here and they are also quite impressive. The screenwriters took the time necessary to make them the film's centerpiece in terms of their look and way of speaking. An entirely new language was created for them, and it's quite terrifying to hear them speak.

Even though it's impossible to understand them without the subtitles, they each have their own personality, and Danny Huston actually gives the best performance in the film as their leader. Credit director David Spade for the movie's unique visual style that sets it apart from all other similarly themed pictures. It's mirthless and grim, but also imparts some unusually telling information about the vampire mythology as Huston says they spent centuries convincing people they were only bad dreams.

It's moments like that one that really makes "30 Days of Night" something special. The set-up is spectacularly foreboding and the conclusion is thrilling. Not to mention that these creatures of the night are a unique breed you won't find anywhere else.

Running Scared

During the '80's, buddy cop movies were all the rage and "Running Scared" was always one of my favorites due to its perfect mix of action and comedy. There's nothing even remotely special about the story, a spectacularly routine one about two cops trying to nab a rising drug lord in the Windy City, but the great chemistry between the two leads, smart dialogue and assured direction are what make this such a treat.

Billy Crystal seems an unlikely choice to play a street smart detective, but he's surprisingly good in the role and the relationship he has with co-star Gregory Hines is the real draw here. Their humor and one-liners are funny and fit in with the tone the picture maintains. It never feels jokey or too clever, and that makes up for the screenplay's other shortcomings which include a lot of police movie cliches. It even resorts to the girlfriend being kidnapped, resulting in a dopey exchange.

The plus with that is that it does give us the film's single best action sequence, a spectacular shoot-out in Chicago's State of Illinois Center. Peter Hyams is a reliable director when it comes to action films, and this is no exception. That scene and the various car and foot chases are well filmed and exciting. Couple that with the fine lead performances, clever dialogue and wonderfully '80's soundtrack, and it's easy to see why "Running Scared" is such an enjoyable movie. The energy level is high enough to help you overlook the simple plot and overused, predictable plot devices.

Holding Out
Holding Out(2001)

The raunchy sex comedy is typically a male dominated genre, but every once in a while one emerges told from a female perspective. "Holding Out" is the latest such endeavor, and it's not nearly raunchy or funny enough to be even remotely successful.

This same story has already been told from a guy's point of view in "40 Days and 40 Nights" so there's nothing particularly fresh about this. The script is excruciatingly dull as it sets up the premise and then fails to follow through with anything new or innovative, and while the five female leads are all attractive enough their characters are not very interesting.

In fact, everything about the films feels generic, including the title which was inexplicably changed from "Manfast", Now, there's absolutely nothing to distinguish this from a dozen other movies. The picture isn't nearly as daring as it needed to be. In reality, it's quite tame despite the fact that it takes a weird twist at the midway point when Bruce Davison shows up and offers a million dollars to encourage anyone and everyone to have sex with his daughter. And even that's not inherently funny, just uncomfortable and awkward.

I guess I have to give the film credit for having more of an indie vibe rather than a low-budget feel to it, but the whole thing is so bland that it never really matters much. And if this is the "unrated" cut as the DVD practically screams it is, I'd hate to see how sanitized and boring the rated version is.

"Holding Out" isn't so much bad as it's lazy and forgettable. It's definitely not as sleazy (or as funny) as it should have been.

The Quiet Earth

During the 1980's, few genres were as stuffed as the post-apocalyptic movies, and while technically "The Quiet Earth" fits into that category, it is as different as it is ambitious. The movie opens promisingly enough with a tantalizing first half hour that's full of intrigue and possibilities.

Unfortunately, the film has no forward motion and even though there are plenty of ideas and theories tossed around, it never really goes anywhere. It's more scientific and cerebral than I like my science fiction movies to be, and I quickly lost interest and was unable to determine what was going on at any given moment. There came a point where I just stopped caring.

It's a film that fails to give the audience much explanation for anything that transpires, including the baffling conclusion, but there will always be people who will find deep meaning in all of this They will debate it for hours and write pages and pages in blogs on the Internet. I will not be one of these people. Other than spunky Alison Routledge, the cast is as dull as the rest of the picture. Bruno Lawrence convinces as a scientist and fellow deep thinker, but he has zero charisma and simply cannot sustain a feature film, especially one as thoughtful and lacking in action as this one.

There is clearly a small audience for movies such as this, and I may never fully understand why. I need things to be a little more concrete than "The Quiet Earth", and I find explanations to be helpful. I shouldn't have to think this hard to enjoy a movie.

Dracula's Widow

Back in the Golden Age of horror cinema in the 1930's and '40's, we saw movies about both the son and daughter of Bram Stoker's greatest literary creation. I guess it was only a matter of time before we got down to his ex-wife, and even though "Dracula's Widow" has a certain retro feel to it, it clearly does not live up to its esteemed legacy.

The soundtrack is filled with saxophone solos, the characters smoke cigarettes by the dozen and refer to women as "dames", but just because it feels nostalgic doesn't mean it should be lumped in with the other classics. You would expect shoddy direction from a movie like this but not from the name Coppola, so it would seem that Christopher is from the shallow end of the gene pool. This is wickedly boring, with some of the worst dialogue I've heard from a B-movie in a while.

Still, even worse are the two lead performances, which would have been funny if the rest of this wasn't so dull. Sylvia Kristel and Lenny Von Dohlen are ridiculously campy, and the look more like they're from a '80's new wave band than vampires. Everything they do and say is dramatized to the point of hilarity, so much so that it's almost like watching a soap opera. There's a decent amount of mostly convincing special effects, which is a small saving grace if there ever was one.

"Dracula's Widow" definitely has some style going for it, but the story is full of unanswered questions and it's not really worth following anyway. It certainly doesn't live up to the names Dracula or Coppola.

Career Opportunities

Writer/director John Hughes did his best work in the '80's, having his hand in some of the best cult classics of the decade, but unfortunately the '90's were not so kind to him. He seemed to simply recycle his best hits over and over again, and "Career Opportunities" was a combination of two of his biggest and best.

It imagines the teens of "The Breakfast Club" a few years later, out of school but aimless and unhappy with life and sticks them in yet another confined space and forces them to get to know each over all over again. That's actually the best part of the film. As a writer, Hughes knows young people far better than screenwriters half his age, and the developing relationship between Frank Whaley and Jennifer Connolly is sweet and convincing.

It's basically every guy's fantasy; being locked up in a place with unlimited resources along with someone as beautiful as Connolly. Where the problem lies is when Hughes' monster hit "Home Alone" rears its ugly head as it did with so many of his films of the decade, once again in the form of bungling burglars. It doesn't even make any sense within the context of this film, and it feels so ridiculously out of place. It would have been just as nonsensical has the Mulroney brothers broken into Shermer High School in 1985.

But until that glaring distraction, "Career Opportunities" has some nice moments and frank, honest dialogue that was the writer's trademark. He may have gone to the well one too many times with this one, however.

The gore gore girls

Filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis is held in high regard by a lot of horror fans for being a pioneer in the world of early gore films, and on that basis and that basis alone, he deserves the acclaim. The sad thing is that most of his films are pretty terrible, and that is definitely true of "The Gore Gore Girls". The film is certainly gory enough, and the special effects are revolutionary when you consider that this was filmed in 1972 and no one but Lewis was making movies like this.
The problem is that every other aspect of the picture is sub-par, and that is painfully obvious in every single frame. The acting is cheezy, and not only are the go-go girls bad actors and horrible dancers, most of them aren't very attractive either. They simply don't have a lot going for them. The script plays like a whodunit, but there's no real suspense and I was never involved enough in the movie to really care who did it. The script just isn't that smart or involved, but it does feature a lot of lame jokes that all fall with a thud.
The killings are sometimes hard to watch, but most of them are so out there that it's impossible to take them seriously. Look to, for example, the meat tenderizer to the girl's ass and the girl who gives milk when her nipples are cut off. Those make the murders on "C.S.I." look realistic by comparison.
The odd and sort of effeminate performance by Frank Kress, the male lead, is the closest thing to funny that the movie has to offer. It's clear that H.G. Lewis paved the way for Tom Savini and the like with films like "The Gore Gore Girls", but it has nothing else to offer but the gross-out factor.

The Spell
The Spell(1977)

Because of its popularity at the box office and subsequent Oscar nominations, a lot of producers in the late '70's were already looking for the next "Carrie", and the results were mostly less-than-stellar. Perhaps the worst of those homages was simply called "The Spell", a cheap and quickly made television knockoff that is so similar to the Brian DePalma film that certain scenes appear to be shot-for-shot duplicates.

But you quickly discover that the similarities end with the story because when it comes to quality, the two films are nothing alike. Because of the hurried nature of a lot of TV movies, everything here feels rushed. You don't really get to know anything about these characters, and that makes it difficult to muster up much sympathy for any of them. Young Susan Myers didn't have much of a career after starring in this, but she's not bad filling in for Oscar nominee Silly Spacek. Still, those shoes are nearly impossible for anyone to fill.

Not a lot of insight is given into her background, so the script fails her more than anything else. There's not a lot of originality here, but there is one memorable scene in which a woman is seemingly burned from the inside out. But that's only one scene. The rest of this builds to a lackluster and laughable finale ala the Stephen King tale, but the only thing harmed this time out is the furniture.

It all ends far too abruptly, leaving you with a whole slew of unanswered questions and a deep feeling of disappointment. "The Spell" only exists to cash in on someone else's success. This is pretty stale and unimaginative.


Wes Craven is considered by most to be one of the founding fathers of the modern horror movie because of his groundbreaking films of the 1970's, and decades later he reinvents the genre he helped to define with "Scream". This is a clever, surprisingly potent film that manages to be scary but with a lighter touch, the kind of movie that makes you jump but also laugh at yourself for doing so.

Craven has had more than his share of misfires since his heyday in the '70's, but with the right script he is a skilled filmmaker, and he proves that once again here. With only his first screenplay, Kevin Williamson has hit a home run with this tongue-in-cheek yet smartly written film that was a huge hit and found its way into the hearts of true horror fans everywhere because of its love of the genre and vast knowledge of its subject matter. Craven even gets in a few clever jabs at his own work that us true horror geeks will love.

The soundtrack is surprisingly hip for a film of this nature, and the bright young cast is given the roles of their career. Most of the will forever be identified for this franchise, and for once, that's nothing to be ashamed of. The opening sequence is terrific, one of the most talked about horror introductions in recent memory, and the finale is equally entertaining with its "who do you trust" mystery. While there is enough gore to satisfy a lot of the fans, this is so much brighter and brainier than "Saw" and the knockoffs we're faced with today.

"Scream" is scary and clever enough to elevate the genre, not set it back another decade. It's an unmistakeable winner


Eddie Murphy is primarily known as a comedian, but the first thing that struck me about "Metro" is that it is essentially a serious police movie and I found that to be very refreshing. For the first time since the "Beverly Hills Cop" films made him a superstar Murphy returns to the genre, and although there is some humor here, it is not a comedy. In fact, we only get to hear is trademark laugh a handful of times.

There's nothing special about the story here, in fact it's chock full of action movie cliches, but I appreciated Murphy's intense performance and the moments when the film chooses to buck the familiar story. An example would be in his relationship with Michael Rapaport as the promising young rookie where the veteran cop chooses to nurture rather than resist him. I would have liked to see more of that dynamic.

The star is quite good in scenes that could have been laughable in which he is required to be fierce, such as his prison showdown with villain Michael Wincott. There are a number of thrilling action set pieces, most notably the chase scene involving a San Francisco streetcar, and the finale is exciting despite the set-up's predictability. It's a standard, police-issue ending but the film had already hooked me so it was hard to nitpick over its unoriginality.

In fact, there's nearly nothing in "Metro" than an avid movie buff hasn't seen dozens of times before, but I admired Murphy's willingness to take a chance and the overall tone of the picture. It definitely will never be accused of breaking any new ground, but it is a very entertaining film with a solid lead performance holding it all together.

Match Point
Match Point(2005)

Woody Allen's lengthy career has been peppered with some of the greatest films in recent cinematic history, but I think that the director himself would be the first to admit that he's been responsible for just as many duds as classics. "Match Point" is a departure for the respected filmmaker, his first feature made in Britain and a rare sexually charged drama with elements of a murder mystery thrown in as well.

It's riveting entertainment, and the best thing we've seen from Allen in years. At its core, the picture is a morality tale with no one to root for, and Allen revisits themes he first explored in "Crimes and Misdemeanors" years earlier. The Jonathan Rhys Meyers character is despicable, but the actor is so good in the part that you're compelled to keep watching.

Co-star Scarlett Johansson has never looked better on film, but it's clear that this is Woody's picture and it definitely revived his career. It can easily be recommended to non-fans as well. The best movies lead to the best debates, and there will be plenty for people to talk about afterwards because of all the moral issues the film raises, and it's apparent that many people will not like the ending.

Allen makes a bold choice by having the one piece of evidence that could incriminate Meyers instead exonerate him, but I loved it. The thought-provoking and complex "Match Point" is made all the more complex by that key decision, and I applaud the director for doing so. It has made him vital again, and given him a film that ranks with his very best efforts.

A Home of Our Own

I guess my unusual fascination with "A Home of Our Own" is rooted in the same fascination certain people have with natural disasters or train wrecks; even when I wanted to turn away from this (which was frequently), I was completely unable to. It is depressing to a degree that is a rarity in movies, with tragedy piled on top of tragedy, and it's so bad that when something good (or even just not horrible) happens, the viewer is as floored as the characters are.

The film stars Kathy Bates as a poor mother of six, whose life itself is a train wreck. Bates gives atypically fine performance even though you don't always like the character or the decisions that she makes. You just have to keep telling yourself that her intentions are good. As sad as it is to say, I think the movie works for me simply because I guess I was able to identify with these people because of my own personal experiences growing up, and because of that, it resonated with me strongly.

Although the unnecessary narration claims to film to be based on a true story, there's no evidence here to back that up and I was drawn to the film and this family regardless. There are just enough glimmers of happiness here to make the whole thing bearable and they are infrequent enough to make them credible and believable. "A Home of Our Own" is a small movie of tremendous weight, and despite my reservations and resistance, it worked for me.

Body of Evidence

There's a special place in cinematic history for pictures like "Body of Evidence", films that are astoundingly bad but also immensely and comically entertaining. This is a shining example, a ridiculous and overheated rip-off of "Basic Instinct" with dialogue and performances that are so much more offensive than the risque subject matter.

The film gained a lot of attention for the sex scenes, which admittedly pushed the boundaries, but frankly because of the overblown and feverish manner in which they were filmed they come as more as ludicrous than sexy. Madonna, however, should be grateful as this is the worst movie she's been in in which she does not give the worst performance. No, that honor belongs to the ridiculous Willem DaFoe. Just watch his hilarious internal struggle he goes through before almost every sex scene. It says, "I know I'm happily married but I just can't resist her."

If nothing else, the female lead will have this as a record of the time in her life when she looked amazing au naturel. That's something, I guess. The plot twists are absurd, and most of the courtroom scenes involve the judge constantly admonishing DaFoe. By the time you get to what I assume is the "big reveal" at the end, no tricks the movie tries to pull on its audience have any shock value left. You've been left so numb you don't even feel like laughing anymore.

"Body of Evidence" definitely wears out its welcome long before then.

Red Eye
Red Eye(2005)

Seasoned director Wes Craven has been making great genre movies for decades, but with "Red Eye", he moves up to the big leagues with a prestige studio and a capable cast of talented actors. Being a fan of his for years, it's nice to see him succeed so well with this smart, taut summer movie with a touch of political thriller thrown in for good measure.

The best Hitchcock films take ordinary people and throw them into extraordinary circumstances, and this picture follows that some formula. Rachel Mc Adams carries her first major motion picture effortlessly and finds just the right balance between vulnerability and strength, and that gives the finale some real impact. It's so refreshing to see her take the fight to her co-star Cillian Murphy. Still, it is Murphy who makes the biggest impression here, a suave psychopath with those eerie eyes you can't turn away from. This should have been the movie to make him a star, and that inexplicably never happened.

The first half of the film is the slow and steady build-up, and it draws you in with some wonderfully tense and quiet moments between the two stars. The more action-oriented second half is the satisfying payoff to this exciting and briskly paced movie. There is not one wasted moment here, and some nice touches of effective humor keeps things lively as well.

With "Red Eye", Craven steps outside of his comfort zone with exceptional results that don't stray too far from his roots. It's a terrific thriller.

Sea of Love
Sea of Love(1989)

Sometimes, good writing, strong performances and capable directing can be enough to lift a standard plot and make it something special. The story behind "Sea of Love" is your basic serial killer potboiler, but it is elevated and greatly enhanced by a trio of strong lead performances, a smart script and Harold Becker's masterful work behind the camera.

Al Pacino rebounds nicely after a string of flops in the mid 80's, going back to the gritty work that made him such a star in the previous decade. He's terrific, with only a few of his trademark oddball moments, and John Goodman provides just the right amount of comic relief as his partner. In reality, though, Ellen Barkin is the real star here, building on the attention she garnered with "The Big Easy" a few years earlier. It's a sultry, delightfully playful performance, and the fact that her star never rose any higher than it did at this point in her career is an absolute shame.

Becker is a talented director, creating a lot of genuine suspense utilizing the "is she or isn't she" technique that was also used a few years back in "Jagged Edge". The resolution comes out of left field but seems plausible enough given the few details about it that we're given to work with. Maybe the less we know the better off we are.

As an entertainment pure and simple, "Sea of Love" is quite successful. It's great fun watching these terrific actors work this script, so much so that the vaguely familiar story seems fresh and invigorating all over again. It's a true testament to what talent and experience can make up for.

The Departed
The Departed(2006)

Few other American filmmakers can bring characters, dialogue and even cities to life quite like Martin Scorcese, and "The Departed" joins the ranks of his long line of great films. It's a complicated morality tale built around the ideals of misplaced loyalty and forgetting your true identity, and it's also easy for you to lose yourself in this multi-layered story.

Screenwriter William Monahan builds the story as if building a house of cards, and Scorcese knows how to get the best out of his actors. His working relationship with Leonardo DiCaprio was still in its infancy at this point, but it's one of the young star's best work to date.

The esteemed filmmaker works with Jack Nicholson for the first time and gives the veteran actor a swan song for the ages, and Matt Damon steals the show playing the most conflicted character in the picture. You never really know how to feel about him, as he's clearly betraying his fellow officers but does so out of sheer loyalty for the only father figure he's ever known. Frankly, Damon gives the best performance of the three.

There's a terrific, breathtaking sequence when Damon calls DiCaprio, and they each realize they're talking to the informant on opposite sides of the law that is the best example possible of why Scorcese is so good at what he does. The music he chooses is also a big part of his films success, and that is certainly true here as well.

He's done mob movies and cop movies before, but the tricky skill in which "The Departed" is told makes it fresh and remarkable at the same time. In a year full of great movies, this one deserved to take home the Oscar for Best Picture. It's a great director and cast at the top of their game.

In Hell
In Hell(2003)

Jean-Claude Van Damme has made so many movies over the years that by this point they are all just variations on his earlier pictures. The repetition and lack of freshness is starting to get kind of depressing. His film "In Hell" is a retread of several of his earlier works, most notably "Death Warrant", and while it starts out promisingly enough, it quickly deteriorates into prison cliches and brutal but not particularly exciting fight sequences.

Van Damme has kept his fighting physique unlike his 80's counterpart Steven Seagal, but he's still making the same movies over and over again. Not only are the stories similar, they all have the same look and feel of his earlier movies no matter when they are made.

Here, he re-teams with Chinese filmmaker Ringo Lam, who is definitely talented enough but here that talent is squandered since most of the action he gets to film are the prison yard fights. He really isn't given a lot to do here. Van Damme's co-star in this is former football great Lawrence Taylor, whose character is very violent as he kills every bunkmate he's given but oddly enough spends the entire film peacefully narrating like he's the movie's very own Morgan Freeman. But that's where the comparisons between this and "The Shawshank Redemption" begin and end.

The whole thing leads up to a conclusion that is so ridiculous that it actually perfectly fits in with this silly picture. In this case, if Van Damme is going to be "In Hell", he's making you come with him. This is a dreary, dull mess that we've all seen before. It hasn't improved with age.

A Force of One

Nobody is ever going to accuse Chuck Norris of being a good actor, but the majority of his films during his heyday were immensely profitable and popular. I always preferred to watch him battle with his fists and feet rather than with a gun or a tank, and his second major film as a star, "A Force Of One", sure has plenty of that to offer.

The fights were all choreographed by the Norris brothers, Chuck and his younger sibling Aaron, and the sequences in the ring are all fun to watch. They take you back to a time when the sport was young and novel, before too many faceless action stars came along and ruined it. However, the fights that take place outside of the ring all feel clumsy and uncoordinated.

The story is a simple one (as with most Norris films), and there are a few surprises along the way but it does its one and only job of successfully securing its star as a new box office draw. He doesn't have much charisma in this (which kind of became his trademark), but it's amusing watching him work. The violence is refreshingly kept to a minimum, and there are a handful of laughs along the way as well.

I wanted to like "A Force Of One" a lot more than I did, but the action is only sporadic and sometimes hard to swallow when we do get it. Chuck feels like he's mostly testing the waters here, and the rest of the cast is pretty bland as well. It's a serviceable introduction to the world of karate, but other than that, there's not much special about it.


Since the key to the franchise's ongoing success is reinvention, it's no surprise that Bond film #11 would deal with a science fiction theme to capitalize on the genre's boom in the late 1970's. "Moonraker" is one of the most successful of the Roger Moore era films financially speaking, and it's also one of the most impressive looking films in the entire series.

Clearly no expense was spared on this picture, and the end result is a film that is a technical marvel for its time, with amazing special effects and grandiose sets. But despite advancing the series into the "Star Wars" era, this remains delightfully antiquated and true to the franchise's nature. The sexist remarks, corny one-liners and Bond's blatantly flirtatious demeanor remain intact.

And while Moore probably ranks as the second most hated actors to tackle the iconic role, I have never really minded him in the part. He's certainly debonair and cocky enough. Michael Lonsdale is only slightly menacing enough playing the villain here, not really all that memorable but serviceable. It's a good thing he has monstrous Richard Keil to back him up, returning as the dentally challenged Jaws. It's fun watchinh him here, as him and Moore develop some sort of Wile E. Coyote/ Roadrunner relationship, until the end when it's revealed that the character (and the actor) really does indeed have a heart of gold.

"Moonraker" will never be able to stack up against the best the series has to offer, but it's a fun picture with a lot of impressive, big scale action sequences. It stays true to the nature of the beast.

An American Werewolf in Paris

It's very apparent that "An American Werewolf in Paris" would be a terrible movie if it was just another ordinary, run-of-the-mill werewolf picture, but the stakes here were much higher. It tarnishes the legacy of the groundbreaking Jon Landis film that this purports to be a sequel to, and it goes wrong in just about every way imaginable at the script level. The project is also all over the map in terms of mood and tone.

While the original film used touches of gallows humor to break up the nearly relentless horror, this feels more like a comedy. There is an unusual amount of slapstick for a film of this nature, and the rock soundtrack also seems out of place and mostly distracting.

But perhaps the film's biggest downfall are the absurd special effects. In 1981, the original picture was revolutionary, earning Rick Baker's extraordinary effects the first Oscar in that newly created category. You'd think that we would have come a long way in the seventeen years between films, but the CGI here is an embarrassment and warrants this as unworthy to call itself a sequel. Computerized effects could never best the imagination of a true craftsman like Baker, and they make this film even harder to watch. And then look at the production design. These ancient Parisian buildings look more like a Hollywood backlot littered with decorations from Walmart's Halloween aisle.

"An American Werewolf in Paris" is an unmitigated disaster worthy of government aid. You have to wonder if the makers have even seen Landis' classic.

Deep Impact
Deep Impact(1998)

"Deep Impact", the first of the summer's dueling apocalyptic popcorn movies, has a lot more intelligence going for it than "Armageddon," and it's pretty entertaining as well. The screenplay takes a much more realistic and practical approach to this "what if" situation, but it manages to come up with a plot device to satisfy both types of people who will see this film.

By splitting the comet into two pieces, one small and the other enormous, it can avoid the bleak and tragic outcome of killing off almost all of the world's population but still appease the people who came to see stuff get blown up Michael Bay-style. The end of the world moments are impressive, but thankfully kept to a minimum here.

The story comes first, and the best moments here are the scenes of human drama leading up to that inevitable calamity. Writers Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Ruben obviously put a lot of thought into this scenario and came up with some solutions that even by the standards of a fantasy such as this seem downright plausible such as the caves in Missouri and the National Lottery to pick the survivors. Those are some great touches, but there are also some campy moments such as the heavy-handed goodbyes from the doomed astronauts to their families. And watching Elijah Wood outrun this 100 foot wave on a scooter when it was supposed to reach eight hundred miles inland almost derails the entire picture single-handedly.

Until then, "Deep Impact" is a surprisingly solid and thoughtful doomsday picture. And it's entertaining as well.

The Good Mother (The Price of Passion)

"The Good Mother" is a bold and daring film that raises a lot of issues but unfortunately only resolves some of them satisfactorily. For a Hollywood movie from a major studio it touches on some very adult themes, and I appreciated its frankness. Screenwriter Michael Bortman doesn't shy away from the taboo subject matter; instead he tackles it head on and that was something I admired.

However, you can't help but continually questioning the character's judgment, so much so that it begins to eat away at the picture's credibility. Diane Keaton seems to elect her own happiness over what's best for her daughter, and her and her co-star Liam Neeson maddeningly say every wrong thing they can in the courtroom. There's no way the movie coule end any other way than it does, and once again I applaud the sense of realism, but you still have to challenge these people's warped way of thinking.

Keaton gives a predictably strong lead performance, but Bortman never seems to have her best interest in mind. Still, I was intrigued in the proceedings and found the film to be very refreshing in so many ways. The premise involved me, and I was more than willing to follow this every step of the way. Once you get past the baffling opening ten minutes that focus on Keaton's childhood, that is. I'm still not sure what that was supposed to tell us.

There is an interesting story here, and "The Good Mother" has a lot going for it, but it also leaves a lot of unanswered questions in its wake. Like its characters, it makes one bad judgment call too many.

Birdemic: Shock And Terror

There are a hundred times during the course of "Birdemic" that I wondered about the mental status of writer/director James Nguyen, but the aspect of the film that I questioned the most was what his intentions were by making it. Did he plan on making a legendarily horrible film that would live on for eternity on the midnight circuit or was he actually trying to make a good film?

Regardless of what he thought he was doing, he has managed to make one of the best bad films of all time, a film that is so inept in every single conceivable way that writing a review seems almost pointless. Nguyen has no idea how people talk, even in conventional settings such as talking with your mother on the phone or ordering from a restaurant. Star Alan Bagh seems to have trouble walking naturally in certain scenes.

The film pushes a green agenda but never really offers a convincing explanation for the bird attacks, and they end as mysteriously as they began. The film spends a full forty-five minutes on these character's mundane lives before the animals even attack, and when they finally do, it's some of the worst special effects I've ever seen. The computer generated birds hover without flapping their wings and make gull sounds when they are clearly eagles. The dialogue is curiously stilted and awkward, the actors seem to have no idea when scenes begin and end and the sound drops out almost continuously throughout the picture. But you'll laugh, loud and often and because of that, the legacy of "Birdemic" will always be secure. And to think, some filmmakers have to actually try to achieve that success.


The simply titled Australian import "Noise" is a most unusual film, a multi-layered exploration of fear, isolation and grief that won many accolades in its country of origin. It's a quiet, moody film that is in complete contrast to its title, with many different plot lines that sometimes converge but many times do not.

There are several terrific moments here, but the central problem of the film is that those moments never really congeal together to make for a cohesive movie. This is more of a collection of dramatic scenes rather than a meaningful drama, although clearly many people disagree with that. The opening scene is jarring but the rest of the film is maddeningly subdued and introspective. Director Matthew Saville has a lot he wants to say, but the film left me empty and unsatisfied and by the end I was just left wondering what the point was.

Several plot threads are never quite resolved and the film's tone is completely ambiguous. There are some good performances, especially from Brendan Cowell in the lead. He's asked to carry the movie for the most part, and he does an admirable job. Also good is newcomer Maia Thomas who is just terrific in a sympathetic role. Both their characters made an impact on me, but unfortunately, the film on the whole did not.

In fact, much of "Noise" left me cold, an ambitious picture that has a lot going on even though not much seems to happen. Subtlety has its place, but in this case, I wish the film had said what it wanted to say more clearly.

Eye of the Beast

The Sy Fy channel turns out a "new" movie seemingly every week, but those of us who suffer through enough of them to know that they're all basically the same film featuring a different new killer animal. "Eye of the Beast" at least takes itself seriously for the most part, but that doesn't necessarily make it any better than the rest.

There's a lot more talk that we're used to, and most of the squid "action" is reserved for the clumsily filmed finale in which the hopelessly phony CGI creature is finally put to rest. The one thing that is nice about the conclusion is that we finally get to see the eye of the best promised by the title. Until that point, we're stuck with imagining what the rest of it looks like because all we get to see are its tentacles.

For someone who's never been much of an actor (and this film is not likely to change that all that much), James Van Der Beek is decent here. He has a nice scene in a bar with co-star Alexandra Castilo that works, so much so it feels like it belongs in a completely different movie. The rest of this is mostly dull, silly stuff that's too boring to be any fun and not well made enough to be taken seriously. There's also a ridiculous backstory involving a feud between the Indian and native fishermen that comes out of nowhere and seems to have nothing to do with anything. It just pads out the running time, and if there's one thing that "Eye of the Beast" doesn't need to be, it's longer. Even as brainless entertainment, this dud falls miserably short.


"Waxwork" is a silly but mostly enjoyable throwback horror film that harkens back to two of the best era the genre has ever known, the 1930's and 1940's classic monster movie and the 1980's where make-up artists actually crafted special effects rather than putting them together via a computer. It's not a great film, but it is good fun most of the way, showing a healthy respect for the films of the past the way most modern horror films would never dream of doing.

Granted, some of the make-up, especially the werwolf, seem simple and cheap, but they were also clearly lovingly and painstakingly created by the extensive effects team. I'll take that over lazy CGI any day of the week.

Writer/director Anthony Hickox would hone his craft and become a decent B-movie maker, but the pacing in his debut feature is spotty at best. It's really his imagination as the screenwriter that shines in this. And even though there are a lot of great homages to classic films of yesteryear, this doesn't shy away from the grislier aspects of the genre.

The bright, young cast is appealing, and the epic fight that concludes it is marvelous despite (or maybe because of) the clunky choreography and clumsy camerawork. There's plenty to like in "Waxwork" despite all the obvious flaws, but I mostly admired it because its ambition is clearly larger than its budget. It's good old fashioned fun that was evidently made with great love and affection that helps you to overlook the lax pacing and familiar story.

To Kill A Mockingbird

The film version of Harper Lee's celebrated novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" has remained immensely popular with audiences you and old since its initial release, mostly due to its themes of racial inequality that remain relevant despite decades of progress. Some of the power it held over audiences fifty years ago has no doubt diminished with times as movie audiences have allegedly "advanced", but one of the reasons I was so drawn to the film is because of its old-fashioned sentimentality.

It takes place in a time before kids became so cynical, when brothers protected their little sisters rather than mock them, and fathers were everything in the eyes of their children. It's so refreshing to see that.

Gregory Peck was given the role of a lifetime in that of Atticus Finch, and its restorative to see a character this fundamentally good, taking on essentially the problems of society seemingly because no one else can carry the burden. An updated version of the film simply could not work basically because no modern actor could pull off Finch's sincere graciousness and unassuming demeanor.

There are a lot of other themes running through the film that students in classrooms right now are struggling with, but the film is enormously gratifying as simple viewing for pleasure. Along with Peck's extraordinary performance, the three child actors are so natural and believable in their roles that it never feels like acting. Young Mary Badham is simply tremendous as Scout. It's a wonder that she never acted much after this.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is such a renowned movie for so many reasons, but I appreciated the way it transported me back to a time that was simpler yet so much like today. It's remarkable.

The Mask
The Mask(1994)

With his first feature, Jim Carrey annoyed me to the point of almost causing irrevocable damage to his fledgling career with just one film. His follow-up, "The Mask", is very suited to his brand of manic energy, and while his schtick also grates on you after a while just as it did in "Ace Ventura", this is much more palatable.

I don't think that I can yet honestly call him funny, but this film is visually diverting, fast-paced and features some terrific supporting performances. Carrey is obviously the focus and selling point of the film, but in all honesty, he's much more appealing to me as Stanley Ipkiss than as his energetic alter-ego.

The film is based on a series of comic books, and talented director Chuck Russell captures that comic look and feel perfectly. I almost wish the film would have done more with that. The cinematography and special effects are quite good, and it's apparent that a lot of time was spent on the small details and that this isn't just a one-man show. Perhaps the best and brightest special effect in the entire film is the stunning Cameron Diaz in her film debut. She had yet to stretch her acting chops, but she hasn't looked this good on film since. Peter Reigert is also quite funny in a secondary role as a cop. He gets in perhaps the funniest line in the film with a crack about Carrey's pajamas.

The star would go back to the well that made him a star many times throughout his career, but "The Mask" remains one of his better efforts. But the fact remains that he is only a small part of what I liked about it.

United 93
United 93(2006)

When it was announced that plans were in the works for a film based on the planes hijacked on 9/11 a short six years after the event, a lot of people claimed that it was too soon. They said Americans were not ready to relive the horror of that day. In a lot of respects, I might have agreed until I actually saw "United 93", a film made by a British director that does everything right and ends up being a moving tribute film that celebrates the lives of the Americans that were lost that day without being insensitive or insulting.

The story is told in real time, starting with the boarded of the ill-fated flight, showing the mundane and ordinary way the day started not only for the people closely involved with the tragedy but the country on the whole as well. Naturally, one must assume that a great deal of what went on that plane that day is pure speculation because who could know for sure, but everything is as authentic as it could be thanks to Paul Greengrass' masterful direction that give these events the sense of immediacy the film needs.

He wisely cast unknows in the film, further adding to the sense of realism. These are ordinary Americans, not Hollywood actors. As the inevitable conclusion nears, and the passengers make their final, devastating calls to their loved ones, your pride swells with a lump in your throat and the tears flow freely. You're so caught up in the moment, you pray that history will re-write itself and the plane will land safely. But of course "United 93" is not a work of fiction. It is, however, a harrowing film that celebrates the American spirit with taste and dignity. It's also the best film of the year.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

Over the past few years, the low budget horror film called "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" has become something of a Holy Grail for fans of the genre due to the fact that it's spent so many years on a shelf, going through many different distribution deals just trying to see the light of day. Now that it's finally out, I find it sort of sad to report that it's a well made disappointment, a dream-like slasher that starts out promisingly enough but never follows through.

The opening prologue felt fresh to me and had me thinking it would be unique, and I was curious to see what would follow. Unfortunately what follows are pointless horror film cliches with precious little momentum. Director Jonathan Levine would go on to make some great movies, and his debut feature is filled with some nice touches that set it apart from other similar projects. Unfortunately, the story is routine and Jacob Forman's screenplay is formulaic and leads up to a needless twist that doesn't make much sense and Forman fails to offer any sort of explanation. Granted you don't see it coming but that's only because it's so implausible.

The cast is all fairly generic, and only young Amber Heard makes much of a connection with the audience and not just because she's so beautiful. She is, but she also comes across as mature and you get the sense that there's a lot more going on with her than what appears on the surface. There's a reason that she's been the only member of the cast to break out and make it in the industry.

"All the Boys Love Mandy Lane" is a movie that I am very conflicted about. It's frustratingly ordinary but at the same time it's got a lot more going for it that so many other like-minded films.


"Bronson" is a fascinating true life story about an individual whose only claim to fame was creating chaos. It's not the type of person who would normally get a film made about him, but this is a captivating characters study with a magnetic lead performance holding it all together.

If this had been more widely seen, it would be the movie getting all the credit for making Tom Hardy a star because of his scary, physically dominating performance. It's a mystery to the viewers how Hardy's Charles Bronson became the single-minded brute that he is, what with a seemingly normal upbringing, but Hardy makes him a three dimensional person, an electrifying and larger than life persona who overpowers the entire film.

I was more intrigued by the scenes of Bronson outside of prison simply because it's fascinating to watch the rage-filled individual trying to function in a normal world. The style of the film is unique as well, with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn making a name for himself a few years before his breakthrough picture "Drive". It features the same synthesizer heavy score that I loved in his other film, and the scenes of Bronson entertaining an imaginary crowd with his tales is fresh and visually impressive. It sounds like that would not fit in within the context of the film but Refn makes it work.

I only wish more insight had been given into why this man was such a mountain of rage, but "Bronson" remains a compelling piece of work. It's not a story that needed to be told, but it is a fascinating one with a peculiar structure courtesy of a promising new filmmaker.

Pure Country
Pure Country(1992)

When singers try their hand at acting, the end result is usually less than stellar, but George Strait's film debut is saddled with more problems than just his blandly likable lead performance. "Pure Country" also has a story riddled with cliches, one that is so familiar and predictable that it didn't need to be told one more time.

Strait is essentially playing himself, and he's pretty successful at that, but his down-home charm and admittedly good looks can't cover up the fact that he has very little chemistry as an actor. The camera and director Christopher Cain obviously love him. You can tell that from the glorified way that he's filmed, especially in the concert scenes, but he isn't much of an actor.

The movie also falters in the other key area in which it should have shined and that's the music. I've never really been a fan of country music, but I like it when it's good. Here the songs are surprisingly weak for a film that showcases the entertainer as prominently as this one does. It doesn't represent his best work, but I'm sure his fans would disagree.

They will also probably eat up the homespun humor and the benign, dull relationship that develops between the star and Isabel Glasser. Like the rest of the film, it's all very nice and non-threatening, but there's not much to keep you watching. If you're a fan of the leading man and this particular genre of music, then you'll find a lot to love in "Pure Country". I found it to be vacant and grossly under nourished.

The Dark Half

George Romero has directed some pretty interesting films that do not have the word "dead" in the title, and even though it falters mostly in the second act, I would still count "The Dark Half" as one of them. There are a lot of interesting ideas here courtesy of the Stephen King novel that this is based on, and Romero translates them well to the film with his smart screenplay. Some work better than others, however.

The idea of an alter-ego being born out of one twin being absorbed by the other one during gestation is fascinating and leads to a ghastly and memorable opening to the picture, but the ever-present sparrows being a symbol of transporting one's soul to the next life seems silly and unconvincing. It's a mixed bag, as is the film itself.

The second half drags, and the whole thing feels about a half hour longer that it really needed to be. Timothy Hutton is generic and genial enough to portray a sympathetic lead character, but he doesn't have what it takes to play that alter ego of George Stark convincingly. The death scenes here that require him to be pure evil do not carry much weight. However, Michael Rooker is quite good in a supporting role. I'm fairly certain that the film would have been a lot better had him and Hutton switched roles. Rooker definitely has what it takes to be menacing.

The film itself is beautifully shot by Romero, but the story isn't involving enough to hold your interest. The book was solid, but as a movie, "The Dark Half" shows a lot of promise early on but there's not enough to sustain it for the entire run time. You simply cannot fault the director, but a lot of the novel's weightier themes are definitely lost in translation.

The Sitter
The Sitter(2007)

"The Sitter" is just the kind of run-of-the-mill and dull made-for-video shocker that permeated video store shelves back in the 1990's, in the middle of the home video boom. The problem is that it is now at least fifteen years later, and white was tired and stale back then has only gotten worse in all that time.

Truthfully this is so bland and forgettable that you almost have to admire it for not having a single original idea during the entire run time. In fact, it has the look and feel of a TV movie of the week if it wasn't for the excessive and needless gore I felt the sorriest for Australian filmmaker Russell Mulcahy, who made some flashy and memorable pictures early in his career, now reduced to this fodder material.

It's your typical psycho-on-the-loose thriller with ridiculous murders that are ridiculously chalked up to accidents and paper-thin motivations. The cast is bland as well, but young Mariana Klaveno is pretty enough in the title role. She does the best that she can do with this lightweight character.

The ending is routine as well, typical slasher stuff borrowed from a dozen other movies. Even the title was changed from the somewhat interesting "While the Children Sleep" to the more forgettable "The Sitter", presumably because that title looks better on the video store shelves. Plus it spells out for the uninformed movie lover just exactly what you're going to get with this generic and uninvolving thriller.

The House of the Devil

The first feature that I saw from up-and-coming director Ti West was "Cabin Fever 2", an unimaginative direct-to-video sequel that could have been directed by anyone with no experience behind the camera. And even though the finished product is flawed, West has grown into a filmmaker with great potential with his follow-up, called "The House of the Devil".

The first thing that grabs you about the film, and really the best thing about it, is the retro feel. West clearly has a love of horror films from the 1970's, and he has gone to great lengths to painstakingly recreate that with this picture. From the noticeable touches, like the opening credits, to the more subtle ones like the lack of cell phones and the fact that it was shot on 16mm film, this looks great. It takes you back to another time and place, so much so that you have to constantly remind yourself that this is a modern movie.

The pacing is slow, yet another throwback to that earlier era it emulates so much, and while I always appreciate a good build-up, that really only works if the payoff is satisfying. That's where the picture stumbles a bit. The conclusion is fairly ordinary, and leaves a number of unanswered questions. The cult headed by creepy Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov is vague, having something to do with the impending lunar eclipse but it's never really explained.

There are some nifty twists, but the last one comes out of left field and begs for an explanation. A major talent has been introduced with "The House of the Devil", and I can't wait to see what he does next. There's so much potential here, and unfortunately, a lot of it is left unrealized.

Changing Lanes

"Changing Lanes" is a most unusual movie, not quite a thriller although that may be the easiest way to categorize it and there are thrilling elements present within the context of the story. This is more concerned with questions of morality, ethics and doing the right thing, and the end result is an oddly fascinating film with two strong lead performances.

Samuel L. Jackson has been good before, and he brings a lot of depth to what could have been a stock character, but the real story here is Ben Affleck. This film represented a career shift for the actor, and although duds would follow before being completely reinvented in Hollywood, this was perhaps only the second time anyone would take him seriously as an actor. The two play off each other marvelously, and it's clear as their war escalates that they both despise the person they have become. They are both essentially good people, forced into this battle of one-upmanship because of their own personal pressures, and both actors illustrate that internal battle with an extraordinary amount of skill.

Not content to let that central conflict be the only one here, screenwriter Chap Taylor fleshes out the story by delving into Jackson's troubled family issues and Affleck's moral discussion with his boss and father-in-law. Director Roger Michell deftly juggles all of the plot lines and delivers a rich and deeply satisfying picture. "Changing Lanes" sets out to do something unique and rare, and for the most part, it succeeds. The final act, when the friction is resolved loses some of the film's edge, but until then, it's quite good.

Black Dog
Black Dog(1998)

Before the "Fast and the Furious" franchise came along and made fancy driving fashionable at the moves again, there was "Black Dog", an exceedingly dumb and cliche-ridden action movie centered around over-the-road truckers. Patrick Swayze has admittedly made more than his fair share of turkeys during his career, but a lot of them like "Roadhouse" have been so enjoyably bad they have achieved cult status. This film is just bad, and it takes itself way too seriously.

It's sorely lacking in the whimsical exaggeration that made so many of his earlier cheese-fests such winners, and the direction is clunky. Kevin Hooks got his start directing television episodes, and judging from most of his theatrical features, TV is clearly where he belongs. Granted it doesn't help your action film when all of the chase scenes involve big rigs topping out around 45 miles per hour.

The story is a collection of cliches assembled from other films, and I firmly believe that this does not contain one original thought or line of dialogue. Swayze himself is disappointing as well with his Terminator haircut, as he does not appear to be in on the joke. The bad guys are dull and uninteresting as well, with only Meatloaf showing some life here, but he's not very menacing. The picture is not fun at all, yet it's impossible to take him seriously.

You have to kind of admire a film that is this brain-dead, but did "Black Dog" really have to be this dull too? It just goes to show you that the Swayze magic for turning the ridiculous into pure cinematic gold does have its limitations.

In & Out
In & Out(1997)

"In and Out" is a slight comedy that is made more palatable because of Frank Oz's work behind the camera and thanks to the smart screenplay by Paul Rudnick. With a less talented filmmaker, this would have been a crude and distasteful film, and while it by no means is perfect as is, there is a lot to like here.

Oz has become one of comedic film's most reliable directors, and he and Rudnick hit all the right notes here. It doesn't shy away from some adult laughs, but it's basically genial in nature and delivers more smiles than actual laughs. The biggest assets here are the stars, and frankly no one could have played this lead better than Kevin Kline. You like the guy, which is key, and he delivers every line with just the right light touch. The scene with him using an audio tape to try to be more masculine is easily the movie's best.

The second half belongs more to Joan Cusack, and it's one of her best performances yet. The savvy screenplay makes a lot of pointed observations about the media and the general public's obsession with people's sexual orientation, and it gets some laughs by making fun of some pretty stupid points of view.

Unfortunately, the pat and mostly silly scene that concludes the film in a lot of ways betrays the viewer's intelligence and seems to come out of left field. I know it was supposed to show a solidarity for the gay community, but it comes across as phony and overly sentimental. The rest of the film is smarter than that. Before that point, "In and Out" is an amusing crowd-pleaser that may even challenge some people's way of thinking.

The Hanoi Hilton

Cannon Films spent most of the 1980's solving the Vietnam Conflict by sending in Chuck Norris or some other B-movie action star in country to single-handedly win the war and rescue captured P.O.W.'s. When they made "The Hanoi Hilton", however, they made their first serious film on the subject and it's marginally successful.

Writer/director Lionel Chetwynd interviewed hundreds of P.O.W.s, including Senator and Presidential hopeful John McCain, to make his scenes as accurate as possible, but conditions for these men were no doubt substantially worse than they are depicted here. Many of the Americans were disturbingly nonchalant about their situation, but the movie does honor their bravery and courage, which is where it excels.

There is a stirring moment in which Lawrence Pressman's character urges the men to salute and heed their military ranking even as prisoners. It's a great speech, and it is dutifully followed in the film even though there is some debate as to whether or not that would have been allowed in this situation. The American characters are fleshed out, and Michael Moriarty is given a rare chance to act, which he does quite nicely. He just seems to take it all in stride, which is kind of aggravating.

However, their captors are cartoonish caricatures and only Aki Aleong as the Vietnamese Major is made the feel like a real person. The ending feels abrupt after all the time we spend with these people, as the details of their release are somewhat vague.

I had mixed feelings about "The Hanoi Hilton", a well meaning but somewhat dubious film. The story it tells, however, is a vital one.

Air Force One

In 1988, "Die Hard" became the new benchmark for many action movies to follow and many of them became some variation of that film's plot. "Air Force One" can best be described as "Die Hard" on a plane, and the fact that this particular plane belongs to the President of the United States doesn't really make this any less derivative.

It's a decent action picture with a few spectacular sequences but it suffers from familiarity as this was obviously cobbled together by borrowing plot devices from at least a half dozen other films. And for every great action set-piece, like the explosion of the fuel plane, there is one that doesn't quite work like the finale of the aircraft crashing into the ocean. That looks like it came out of a video game.

Harrison Ford is vibrant and full of vitality playing the Commander-in-Chief, but the usually reliable Gary Oldman is a caricature than an actual threat as the bad guy. It's a pretty standard role that doesn't really stand out. Also hurting the film is a string of rather embarrassing cliches and ridiculous one-liners that are themselves cliches, like "He's our only hope." Pair those up with the staff member jumping in front of the bullet and the "which wire do I cut" dilemma and you'll be rolling your eyes a lot more than you should.

"Air Force One" is a sturdy and completely serviceable action movie, but considering the talent involved, it should have been so much more than that. Wolfgang Peterson and the stars are better than this weak, predictable material and those tepid special effects.

Quiz Show
Quiz Show(1994)

The story behind "Quiz Show" was hardly an earth-shattering moment in American history, but this film centering on the game show scandal became a prestige project the moment Robert Redford came on board to direct. He assembled an esteemed cast and a talented up-and-coming screenwriter was hired, and the end result is an absorbing drama that has a lot more to say about morality and human nature than simply a rigged television program.

The ensemble cast is fine all around, but I was most impressed with John Turturro, showing here exactly why he should be appreciated more as an actor. It's a complicated character, someone you're not always supposed to like, but the actor humanizes him and makes his motivations a lot more cloudy. Credit not only Turturro, but the rest of the fine cast and writer Paul Attanasio for his smart script. Redford's direction is as polished as ever, and his attention to detail is remarkable.

The story is minor, but the film's ambition is grand, and it ends on a melancholy note that seems fitting. Turturro and co-star Rob Morrow get what they want, and yet they don't seem to want it anymore and there's a lot left to talk about after the film is over. The story behind "Quiz Show" may not seem so important to today's audiences, but in the fledgling days of television, the country on the whole gained a healthy suspicion of the medium that it hasn't quite lost yet. Perhaps for that reason alone, this remains an important film, but also engrossing and entertaining as well.

Attack the Block

The alien invasion pictures have been beat to death by American filmmakers and the genre itself has been reduced to duds such as "Skyline" and "Battle: Los Angeles". Leave it to the Brits to reinvigorate it with "Attack the Block", one of the freshest takes on the tired subject matter I've seen in years.

There's nothing all that special about the story, but what is special about this film is pretty much everything else. The setting is fresh and unique, giving us a group of anti-heroes that we can really get behind. The young actors playing the street kids in the film were all cast from open auditions, but they are all naturals in front of the camera, and they seem to be having a great time.

Director Joe Cornish has created a film full of great humor, fast-paced action and his own unique vision of how these aliens should look. We've all seen alien films before but we've never seen creatures like this before, and they were all created with a minimal use of CGI.

Not only is the movie reminiscent of some of the best science fiction movies of the past, the painstakingly created make-up effects are refreshing as well. Along with that, the imagination and creativity that went into the rest of the picture are sorely lacking in most similar big studio productions as well. Not to mention, this is one Hell of a fun ride. It never takes itself too seriously, and yet, manages a few scares along the way as well. Don't let the horrible title dissuade you; "Attack the Block" is a rollicking good time that takes a stale subject matter and makes it fresh and fun. It's a blast.

Prince of the City

Many fine movies have been made on the subject of police corruption, but few are as intricate and detailed as "Prince of the City". Esteemed director Sidney Lumet has tackled the subject before, and while "Serpico" was the better film, this is a worthy companion piece, a movie that's as thorough as it is long.

In fact, that may be the one thing keeping the film from greatness; there are far too many characters and plot threads to keep up with. You can't help but thinking this story could have been pared down to the bare essentials and not only maintain the picture's impact but even enhanced it.

What remains, however, is the moral core and fine performance from Treat Williams in his first starring role. It's fascinating to watch as Williams opens Pandora's Box with the best of intentions, and how that action in itself is corrupted to the point where you forget why he even did it in the first place. It's a wonderfully subtle performance that the actor has a tendency to take over the top sometimes. It works best when he focuses less on emoting and trying to get everyone's attention.

The screenplay is smart and wordy, a cop movie in which there are no gunfights, car chases or even really any good guys. Everyone is corrupt to some degree, and when all is said and done, the film finds just the right tone for the ending. It's perhaps the best moment in the picture, with a terrific final line.

Keeping up with "Prince of the City" is very challenging, but in the end, it's a rewarding experience. It's a great example of a wonderful director working at the top of his game. Nobody makes 'em quite like Lumet did these days.


Charles Band turned out his fair share of turkeys during his time with Empire Pictures, but "Terrorvision" was a rare bright spot. Mind you, it's still pretty bad, but I appreciated the fact that it wears its campiness as a badge of honor and plays the entire movie for laughs.

Band goes all out, knowing that people were going to be laughing at it anyway, and the first half of the picture is surprisingly effective. Mary Woronov and Gerritt Graham are actually very funny in the lead roles, and Bert Remsen gets a lot of laughs as Grandpa is well. '80's fave Diane Franklin is pretty and quite fetching as their daughter, seemingly channeling pop icon Cyndi Lauper.

It's a lot of fun until the midway point when you start to realize that a little of it goes a long way, and even at its abbreviated running time the film wears out its welcome long before the credits roll. The laughs dry up, the novelty of the terrible special effects wear off and Graham, Remsen and Woronov disappear leaving the picture's fate up to the youngsters in the cast. They can't carry it.

Still, the brightest star in the whole film, oddly enough, is the production design by Giovanni Natalucci. At times, the house is the real star here, a gaudy swingers paradise with some of the most garish paintings and sculptures you can imagine. The attention to detail they gave to a tiny film like this is amazing.

"Terrorvision" is a silly little film that starts off enjoyably campy but cannot sustain that giddy feeling all the way to the end. It's fun, to a point.

Southland Tales

I get it. Richard Kelly is a guy who likes to think outside the box and not conform to the norm, and sometimes it works for him. However, "Southland Tales" is a film that is almost indescribably bad, a film that pushes its audience to their limits both mentally and physically.

Kelly seems to delight in the fact that nearly everyone in the audience will be puzzled and bored to their breaking point, that almost no one will have any idea what is going on. I was with the film for about five minutes. The opening sequence is different and it intrigued me, but unfortunately, there's another two and a half hours to go after that point.

The unmanageable cast wanders in and out of the film, seemingly without purpose, and I would be curious to know if any of them had any idea of what their characters were doing or what the film was about. Some of it seems to be a parody played for laughs and a lot of it is almost assuredly a political commentary, but only the writer/director could tell you for sure.

The dialogue is mostly nonsense, and nonsensical things happen for no apparent reason. Cars fly, people's hands glow and we're left to wonder just what it all means. In the end, all "Southland Tales" left in its wake was me, confused and angry. Angry because I devoted so much of my time to a film and I got absolutely nothing in return for the experience.

I'm all for stimulating, debate-inspiring films, but all this is meant to do was showcase Kelly's pretentiousness.

Tales From the Hood

You know right away from Spike Lee's involvement in it that "Tales From the Hood" will not be your typical horror film. It's an anthology film with a twist, as each of the four stories are also something of a morality tale dealing with various social issues, and the end result is surprisingly effective.

Clarence Williams III is clearing having the time of his life in the wrap-around segment, and even that ends on a satisfying note with a nifty twist at the conclusion. The first story is fairly ordinary tale of revenge, but it's also fun and well told even if there are no surprises along the way, and the same can be said about the second one but I liked it all the same as well. It gives David Alan Grier the rare chance to play a serious role, and he does a decent job. Once again, everything is familiar but I enjoyed watching it unfold.

The third segment was by far my favorite, with Corbin Bernsen as a racist politician under siege from various slave dolls. The special effects are surprisingly good, and the story itself is a mix or urban legend and social commentary. The final segment is frankly the least effective but also easily the most disturbing. It's an urban riff on "A Clockwork Orange", and while that sets the bar almost unattainably high, it gets points for taking itself seriously and having something to say about gang violence.

In fact, kudos should be given all around to writer/director Rusty Cundieff for making a serious horror film where "Tales From the Hood" could have very easily been a campy mess. It's not perfect, but it is a valiant effort.


The filmmakers must have thought that naming this concoction "Basic" was the ultimate goof on its unsuspecting audience. As you may know, this mess is anything but basic. Things start out promisingly enough, with two terrific lead actors and a premise full or promise and possibilities, but you'll be ready to wave the white flag by the halfway mark.

By that time, the story has become such a convoluted mess that it becomes a parody of itself. I was enjoying being confused and misled for a while, but there comes a time when the screenwriter has to actually make sense of all of the red herrings and misdirection. That never happens here.

The varying tales told by the soldiers on what happened in the jungles of Panama are bewildering enough, but writer James Vanderbilt isn't content with stopping there. He insists on piling twist on top of twist to the point where it becomes laughable. Witness the fight between Connie Nielsen and John Travolta that passes as foreplay, or John McTiernan's ridiculous close-up of Travolta's eyes in a key scene.

Every time a new twist is introduced (and believe me, you'll lose count), you pretty much have to replay the entire movie back in your head, but McTiernan and Vanderbilt makes that impossible to do just because they know there's no glue holding any of it together. By the time you get to the final slap in the face reveal, you're left as befuddled as Nielsen's poor character. It proves the entire film to be a waste of time because apparently everything that happens in it is a ruse. And that makes the time spent watching "Basic" a complete and utter waste. It has no respect for its audience.


Director David Fincher raised the bar on serial killer movies when he made "Seven" which was at a level most thought would be untouchable. As it turns out, the only filmmaker that could top him was Fincher himself, years later with the fact-based "Zodiac".

This is an enthralling, exhilarating film, beautifully shot and meticulously crafted. From the opening shot of the fireworks exploding over the skies of Vallejo, gorgeous and exquisitely detailed, you know this is going to be something special. Ficher has a great eye for detail, and a reputation for painstakingly re-shooting scenes striving for perfection, and nowhere has that led to greater success than it has here.

Couple that passion with a gripping true life story, an unsolved mystery that is so tantalizing that every new detail in the case propels the film to even greater heights. The director has found a kinship in the character of Robert Graysmith, played here to perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal, in that they are both so obsessive and driven. Because of the similarities, it's no wonder the film is as good as it is.

The murder sequences are frightening and flawlessly staged, but this isn't your typical serial killer bloodbath. It's more about the investigation spanning decades, and in the process, it leads us down some very dark paths. It's more wordy and thoughtful than "Seven", but there are still several jolting, heart-stopping moments here than do make "Zodiac" a worthy successor to Fincher's earlier winner. This is the year's best film.

Ghost Story
Ghost Story(1981)

As a horror film, "Ghost Story" was wonderfully old-fashioned upon its initial release, and with time that has only becomes more apparent. In fact, that really is the film's greatest asset, and looking back on it now, it's clear to me that this was really a meeting of old and new Hollywood, a film that pays homage to the past but also brings it into the present.

It gives a handful of great old school actors a marvelous swan song, and the look and feel of the picture is decidedly antiquated. But there are also a lot of modern touches, like the more modern sexual nature of the storyline and the unnerving special effects courtesy of Dick Smith.

The film is based an a terrific gothic novel by Peter Straub, and like most adaptations several things are lost in translation and a lot of the texture is simply missing due to the time constraints of a two hour film. The basic premise, however, remains intact and the finished product is a beautiful albeit slow-moving film with a great emphasis on storytelling. That's yet one more sign of an era of filmmaking that has sadly passed us by, but the tale is compelling enough to keep you watching.

Jack Cardiff's cinematography is crisp, and the New England setting is a perfect fit for the story being told. With as much build-up that went into this is is a shame that the ending wrap things up so neatly and briskly, but that's a minor complaint in a film that's as well made as this one.

"Ghost Story" is a chilly throwback to a glorious time before films were made on computers, even with the contemporary touches. It's a handsome looking, vintage horror film.

Rambo: First Blood Part II

It was the second film in the franchise, "Rambo: First Blood Part 2", that would make Sylvester Stallone's second most popular character and American icon even though this is less successful in every way possible. It was a bigger box office hit, bigger in every sense of the word in fact, and therein lies the problem.

The scope of the picture is grandiose to the point of absurdity, and it lacks the simple plausibility of the first film. Stallone's Rambo was a sympathetic character turned quiet killing machine in the predecessor, and despite some good moments here, you feel less
connected to him. The speech he gives at the end may be melodramatically delivered by the actor, but its message is heartfelt and honest. It's the only scene like it in the silly and single-minded film that throws all political repercussions for Rambo's actions out the window very early on. Granted this was just meant to be a crowd-pleasing summer movie, but surely there should be some consequences for one man independently restarting a decades old war.

Charles Napier makes a great guy you love to hate here, but his motivations are as cloudy and uncertain as they come. But as a villain, it's great seeing him get his comeuppance at the end. It's one of the few satisfying scene here in a movie that should have been full of them. It's easy to get behind what Stallone is trying to do here, but the John Rambo persona is such a cartoon character this time out you never feel that he's ever in any real danger.

It's as Pro-American as movies get, but "Rambo: First Blood Part 2" is fundamental and uninvolving. It's alright escapist entertainment but this time out that's just not enough

Amos & Andrew

In order for a comedy to be offensive in an attempt at making a social commentary and be successful in that attempt, it has to be pretty clever. "Amos and Andrew" tries and fails miserably as it's just plain offensive.

The opening moments that set up the premise leaves a bad taste in your mouth right from the start, and although there are a few moments when the film almost recovers from that, it never quite happens. In order to pull this idea off, the screenplay would have to be a lot smarter than this. I understood the points it was trying to make, but writer/director E. Max Frye's film is too conventional to achieve such lofty goals.

The problem there is that even as a simple comedy it fails primarily because it's just not funny. Frye throws in a lot of extraneous characters and subplots in a vain attempt to give the picture the feel of a madcap comedy, but it only clutters things up. The nosy white neighbors, crazy reporters, bloodhound hunters and black protesters don't really add anything to the proceedings. If anything, they take away from what could have been a thought provoking central idea in the right hands.

The only thing that does work is a funny supporting performance by Bob Balaban as a hostage negotiator blathering on about his own childhood oblivious to what's going on around him. And speaking of performances here, Samuel L. Jackson sometimes seems to forget what movie he's in. He delivers a fine speech about his dead father that would have been great in a better movie, but fits in nowhere during "Amos and Andrew". It shoots for the stars and comes up embarrassingly short.

Bad Influence

Most forgotten thrillers are that way for a reason; they aren't worthy of your time or attention. "Bad Influence", on the other hand, is a gem of a film just waiting to be rediscovered, a gleefully down and dirty winner that had the misfortune of bad timing upon its initial release.

It came out just as the notorious sex scandal of its star Rob Lowe was breaking, casting a lot of similarities between his personal life and his seedy character in the film. It was unjustly ignored by audience. It's a shame really, because the picture holds up just as well today as it did then, a tight thriller that grows more sinister as it goes along all under the very capable direction of Curtis Hanson. He would gradate on to more serious fare, but he cut his teeth on suspense thrillers, and he has a real knack for them.

This is engrossing from start to finish, and it's perfectly cast as well. Lowe relishes the chance to play upon his tawdry public image, and James Spader is cast against type, wonderfully so, as the weakling who learns what he's truly capable of. The two actors play off each other terrifically, and it's nice to see the film avoid the graphic violence that plagues many like it. This is a suspense thriller, not a bloody mess.

It also gets points for being logical and plausible, as the pent-up Spader gets a chance to cut loose. "Bad Influence" is a top-notch picture, an overlooked one that deserves a second chance to find a new audience.

The Three Stooges

Most modern movies are so cynical these days that when one comes along that is unabashedly fun, good-natured and old-fashioned you just have to admire it even when it's not entirely successful. Such is the unfortunate case with "The Three Stooges", a lovingly good humored tribute to a bygone era and simpler time that failed to connect with today's modern society.

It's by no means a great movie, as honestly there aren't a lot of big laughs here, but it's such an honest effort that you watch the entire thing with a smile on your face all the same. So much obvious time went into this, and it was clearly a labor of love for the Farrelly Brothers that it's kind of sad that it wasn't more successful.

The casting of the title roles could not have been more perfect. Will Sasso, Chris Diamantopoulos and Sean Hayes assuredly spent a great deal of time perfecting the mannerisms and they have impeccable comic timing. Even the three young actors playing them as children nail it. The live action and special effects blend together seamlessly, and it's in those two aspects that this film really shines. It really captures the spirit of the original series, and I greatly admired the film for that. There's also a terrifically diverse array of supporting actors having a blast. I especially enjoyed Jennifer Hudson.

"The Three Stooges" is alive with an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and I admired the effort. For a movie that features so much physical abuse, it's oddly gentile and benign.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

The original film was one of the scariest and most inventive horror movies to come out of the 1980's, but the sequels in the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise were are hit and miss. The second film in the series, subtitled "Freddy's Revenge", was among the worst.

It's a hastily slapped together effort hoping the strike while the iron was still hot, and very little effort or imagination went into it. It's painfully clear that original creator Wes Craven had very little to do with this picture. Jack Sholder is a talented director, but the fault for the film being an utter failure lies mostly with the ridiculous screenplay by David Chaskin. Freddy has precious little screen time here, as instead this time out the film focuses mostly on the newly minted horror icon trying to possess a very confused teenager played by Mark Patton.

It would seem like a fundamental mistake not utilizing the pop culture icon more than that, and it's just one of the key stumbles this picture makes. There are a lot of unexplained references to unusual heat, including ridiculous scenes of hot dogs and pet birds exploding, but perhaps the most disturbing element here are the plentiful and baffling homo-erotic moments that occur. It could almost be a drinking game, counting the embarrassingly homosexual sub text, the worst of which happen when a homosexual gym teacher is towel-snapped nude in the shower, preventing him from raping Patton.

That is just one of the any things that make "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2" so uncomfortable and disappointing. It's a huge drop in quality from the unforgettable original classic.

Stripper Academy

With all of the free porn readily available on the Internet, you have to wonder how there could possibly still be a market for films such as "Stripper Academy". In fact, this is so worthless it barely meets the requirements for being called a film.

It features plenty of topless women, but you couldn't call it sexy. The stuff you find on Cinemax late at night is sexy, this is just exhausting. And despite the fact that it takes place in a strip club and the women are hot, it seems to shy away from showing you the actresses that you really want to see topless in that condition.

I guess the whole thing was meant to be a comedy, bit it's stupid and mean-spirited, relying on jokes about flatulence and fat girls. In reality, there's not even a story here, and the whole mess really is nothing more than a vanity project for writer/director/producer/star Vincent Foster, who somehow raised financing for this just so he could cast it with women in order to make out with them. It's great for him, I suppose, but not so good for the unsuspecting public that had to endure the end result.

There's little reason to call out the horrible writing, acting and directing because no one had any kind of expectations for those things in a film like this. But you can at least expect it to be coherent, or at the very least titillating, but the desperate "Stripper Academy" cannot even deliver on those meager goals and expectations. The girls are hot, and the ones that do get naked admittedly look amazing, but as a viewer you still sit there wondering what the point is.

Darkness Falls

Nowadays, there are two main types of horror films that have permeated the marketplace; one is the ultra-gory torture flicks that push the envelope of the "R" rating, and the other type is the watered down variety meant to attract that teen crowd and younger. "Darkness Falls" is an uninspired thriller belonging to that latter group, a hurriedly slapped together dud to make a quick buck.

Obviously the filmmakers know that it doesn't take much to scare sixteen-year old girls, and that's really the only age group who would find this lazy, unimaginative picture worth seeing. The set-up is just fine, as the legend of the Tooth Fairy is explained to the audience, but there's virtually nothing else to recommend here. Like so many other films of this type, the cast is filled with vapid pretty faces that have no experience carrying a movie. For many, this represented their big break, and afterwards, they were never heard from again.

The slim screenplay has very little weight, almost no character development and goes into "final showdown" mode (hero VS. the creature) after about forty-five minutes. Which I guess isn't bad when you consider this runs a measly seventy-five minutes minus the excruciatingly slow end credits. Talk about unnecessary padding, not to mention that precious little thought went into this.

"Darkness Falls" is as generic and forgettable as movies comes these days. It's boring, boring to look at and completely lacking in any substance whatsoever, little more than a poorly made last-minute rental pick.

Eddie Murphy Raw

During the 1980's, no entertainer was hotter than Eddie Murphy, but his concert films remained polarizing events for the general population. Everyone seemed to love his feature films, but many could do without his vulgar stand-up routines where the comedian could truly cut loose.

The aptly titled "Raw" is an entertaining mixed bag, a while I found nothing too offensive about it, many did. Murphy is an undeniable talented guy , and sure it's true that his use of vulgarity is excessive and could be considered shocking, but the guy has an uncanny ability to see the truth in everyday situations.

Much of his material here deals with relationships and women, and what he says may not be popular in some circles but it is honest and that's why so many people are drawn to him. The best bits here involve his mother's inability to cook like McDonald's and his desire to find a woman from the plains of Africa to make his wife, but the single best moment comes when Murphy talks about the ugly divorce of Johnny Carson. It's hilarious to be sure, but it also gives a lot of insight into the star's psyche and what makes him tick. It's one of those truthful but funny moments that draw people in.

The rest of the picture is certainly watchable enough, but only a handful of instances stand out. Still, the film was very successful and it will appease Eddie's fan base between feature films. But the problem with "Raw" is that it's unlikely to recruit any new fans. If your mind is already made up about the superstar and his brand of comedy, this will unlikely sway you in the opposite direction.

Snow Falling on Cedars

"Snow Falling on Cedars" is an ambitious, multi-faceted drama that touches on a time in our history that most Americans would just as soon forget. Very few films have focused on our internment of the Japanese after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, and that is the backdrop of this love story and courtroom drama.

It does so honestly, without being exploitative, as the story is compelling enough without even focusing on that aspect of it. Nothing about the film is conventional, from the beautiful photography to the way the narrative unfolds. It's based on a popular novel by David Gutenson, and the film reveals all of its secrets and key plot points much like a book would through the use of interlocking flashbacks.

At the center of the tale is a murder trial that makes up the bulk of the central mystery, but the heart is the love story centered around Ethan Hawke and Youki Kudoh. The scenes of their budding relationship as children are tender and sweet, and they lay the groundwork for what becomes Hawke's growing dilemma. The internal conflict is laid out when he learns of some vital information that could set Kudoh's husband free, and the script by Ronald Bass resolves the issue in the only way that makes sense. It leads to a heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting final scene.

You have to admire the integrity of filmmaker Scott Hicks and the spellbinding glorious cinematography that simply envelops you in this story. "Snow Falling on Cedars" is a remarkable, multilayered film that tells several tales at once and juggles them expertly. The romance is only half the story.

Murder at 1600

1997 saw the release of two movies concerning illegal shenanigans at one of the most famous addresses in the world. The second of the two, "Murder at 1600", is the weaker of the pair, an entertaining but convoluted and highly improbably thriller that has almost as many red herrings as it does murder suspects.

Granted you are left guessing thanks to all of the misdirection, and the first half of the film does a nice job of pulling the viewer in, The murder mystery at the heart of the film is an interesting one, made even more so by the fact that D.C. homicide detective Wesley Snipes is met with bureaucracy and red tape every step of the way. He has a believable working relationship with Diane Lane, and it is refreshingly kept at a professional level even if it is sometimes hard to believe her as a Secret Service Agent and an Olympian sharpshooter.

The film is briskly paced by director Dwight Little, and the screenplay seems credible in the beginning. The scenes set in the White House and the political protocol feel authentic. In the second half, however, as the suspects and motivations start to pile up, that credibility is forgotten about and the film begins to cruise on auto pilot. The finale is typical action film cliches, one after another, until the entire project collapses under the weight.

I completely gave up on it when Snipes and Lane gain access to the White House courtesy of a mass of tunnels underneath and the Secret Service start behaving more like the Keystone Kops. It's really s shame because "Murder at 1600" started out in fine fashion with some smart writing and decent performances. It doesn't follow through.

The Horde (La Horde)

Like the zombie plague itself, the genre of film has now spread worldwide and one of the most vibrant entries comes from France and is entitled "The Horde". Other than its visceral flash, the film has nothing new to offer the sub-genre, but ultimately in this case, the flashy, blood-soaked style is enough.

Co-directors Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher overwhelm the audience with their style over substance technique, and while at first I resisted, I could only hold out for so long. The drawn-out finale is undeniably exciting, and it's good enough to make up for the film's other shortcomings. The lack of explanation for the hordes of the living dead is somewhat maddening, as is the lack of any real character development.

There are some attempts at creating a backstory for the involving a questionable pregnancy and some tension between the two brothers over their home life, but once the zombie action gets going in full swing, all that feels even more pointless. The movies does excel, however, at its basest level; as an exciting gorefest, and the special effects are quite good. It's too bad that some of the people who would enjoy this the most may never see it because of the subtitles.

In the end, that should not be that big of a detriment, mostly because the dialogue really isn't all that important. The very ending turned a lot of people off, but for me, it was one element that cemented the film's recommendation from me. It's as nihilistic as the rest of the film. "The Horde" doesn't break any new ground, but it does so with a lot of verve and style. It's an empty thrill ride mostly run on automatic pilot.

The Manhattan Project

During the 1980's, there was a glut of super-intelligent kids in movies getting into hot water for one reason or another, but few of them were as smart or well written as "The Manhattan Project". Writer/director Marshall Brickman was a frequent collaborator of Woody Allen, and he turns what could have been a fairly standard movie into a tense, enormously entertaining thriller.

The downside is that it's highly improbable, and your feelings about the film's star is constantly shifting. Christopher Collet is an appealing young actor, and in this film he instantly brings to mind a young Matthew Broderick in the similarly themed "War Games", and you immediately like him. But, as his character becomes more and more irresponsible towards the end, it's hard to maintain that enjoyably mischievous quality that draws you to him in the beginning. When he seriously puts millions of lives in jeopardy near the end with a pretty vague explanation of why he's doing it, he becomes less of a hero.

But Brickman is a skilled director as well as a screenwriter, and the finale is delightfully tense despite your growing misgivings over Collet's character. The scene in which he steals the plutonium is clever and artfully filmed, but it cannot escape from under a cloud of questionable realism. Neither does the ending, in which the teen is simply let go without even a slap on the wrist.

And yet it's quite a testament to how well made "The Manhattan Project" is because I enjoyed it so much. It's entertaining, but rest assured that no one at home will attempt this.

Hobo With a Shotgun

Those of us who grew up loving the films and remembering them fondly can thank Quentin Tarantino for bringing the grindhouse style of filmmaking back to the forefront with his spectacular film of the same name, complete with fake trailers. "Hobo With a Shotgun" is a full-length feature adapted from one of those trailers, the second of them to come along, and the look and feel is right, but it isn't much fun.

The picture is definitely campy enough, with enough garish colors and over-the-top violence for two movies, but it feels more like a bad exploitation film from the 1970's rather than a clever parody of one. Rutger Hauer, however, is clearly having the time of his life in the title role, relishing the chance to headline one more movie and opening himself up to a whole new audience. But I feel like the film lets him, and the audience, down.

The violence is excessive and outrageous, but too exaggerated to really be offensive, and the central bad guy is disappointing. Brian Downey may be a good actor, and I'm sure he's a nice guy as well, but he doesn't have what it takes to play this part. From his look to his demeanor, he's all wrong for it. Director Jason Eisener made a name for himself with this, and it was popular with a lot of people, but his style as a filmmaker is all over the map and he has yet to prove himself in my book. His next feature will seal his fate.

With "Hobo With a Shotgun", you certainly get what you're expecting. I only expected it to be a lot more enjoyable than this stagnant, misguided misfire.

I Spy
I Spy(2002)

I know it's a bold statement, but for me "I, Spy" represents a lot of what's wrong with the movie industry today. There are at least six people credited for coming up with this generic and boring story that would have been right at home on the television series from the 1960's that this is based on. Movie audiences in 2002, however, deserved better.

On top of that, the studio blew $70 million on this in hopes of making into an event picture, but looking at it, you'll wonder where all that money went. Granted there are some pretty good special effects involving this super secret spy plane, but you have to assume a lot of that budget went to Eddie Murphy to placate his massive ego.

Which brings me to the casting. Murphy has played a variation on this wise-cracking, fast talking narcissist for what seems like a dozen times, and watching it again here only adds to the weariness and boredom you'll feel watching this film. He was once such a talented, likable guy and now he's quickly joining the ranks of Robin Williams who has also grown so tiresome over the years. Fairing a little better is co-star Owen Wilson who has a few good lines here, but he's simply lost in Murphy's shadow.

The bad guys aren't in the least bit interesting, and poor Malcolm McDowell barely gets any screen time. The only positive I found about "I, Spy" is that it only recouped about half of its outlandish budget, which suggests to me that the general population is starting to agree with me. Not even they're curious to see this same movie one more time.

Date with an Angel

For a great deal of its running time, I cut "Date With an Angel" a lot of slack. It wasn't so much a bad movie as a misguided and bland one, but the longer it spins its wheels without going anywhere, the angrier and less tolerant I became.

It closely mirrors another romantic fantasy "Splash", but the emphasis here is more on comedic slapstick than on the romance. People falling down and bumping into things is what passes for comedy, but the love story is even less convincing. Emmanuelle Baert is stunning, but considering she doesn't say a word until the last scene, her beauty is apparently the only thing that draws Michael E. Knight to her. That's not enough to build a credible relationship on, but the storyline might have worked had it been fleshed out more.

Instead, the film spends way too much time on the assorted cast of mostly annoying supporting characters. Everyone in the film is a stereotype, from Phoebe Cates' shrill girlfriend to Knight himself, the misunderstood fiance who doesn't fit her father's mold, You have to wonder why Cates' father, played by David Dukes, is made out to be such a bad guy for wanting Baert to appear in his company's advertising when Knight's three friends are just as interested in exploiting her.

Tom McLoughlin's script plays it safe by refusing to be anything but conventional. When you have an angel on Earth romancing a mortal, it would seem the sky would be the limit on that film's potential. But "Date With an Angel" is about as ordinary as movies get. It's not interested in being challenging or different, instead, it's content to be a Saturday night date movie for easily pleased moviegoers.


The zombie genre has definitely run out of fresh ideas, and for that reason I was initially very receptive to "Pontypool". This is unique and original in every sense of the words, but unfortunately, as the film comes to a conclusion, all you're left with is a lot of frustration and more unanswered questions than you can count.

I was intrigued by the opening moments, and more than willing to follow the film anywhere but it only collapses under the weight of many preposterous plot twists. The very idea of the infection being spread through words, especially through terms of endearment, is novel but it's also the film's biggest stumbling block. It's a lofty concept that is virtually impossible to wrap your head around, and it suffocates any potential the film started with.

I would have been more accepting if the plot had actually been dumbed down and the virus had been spread through the more conventional way of biting. Director Bruce MacDonald also directed the equally maddening "The Tracey Fragments" to similarly aggravating results, The introduction of the Dr. Mendez character, however ludicrously done, should have shed some light on the proceedings, but it adds nothing. Something is mentioned early on about him being investigated for illegal prescriptions and there must be some significance to the fact that his clinic is attacked first, bit neither development is fully explored.

We also never learn of the origins of the virus or several attempts to counteract it by talking gibberish. There are a lot of ideas swirling about in "Pontypool", but not much about it makes much sense. It's a clever concept badly mishandled.

Man on the Moon

It hasn't happened a lot over his career, but when Jim Carrey strikes outside of his comfort zone, the result is usually nothing short of breathtaking. In one of the best of this oddball efforts, "Man on the Moon", the actor plays Andy Kaufman who was a comedian who reveled in frustrating and confusing his audience.

A certain similarity between the two funny-men emerges while watching the film, as Carrey also has a tendency to alienate his fan base much like Kaufman did during his brief career when he makes more subversive film choices such as this one For me, the results of this more adventurous Carrey films are always worth waiting for. and he disappears into his role here. The look, sound and even the quirky mannerisms transcend the simple mimicry that we see in a lot of biographies like this. He quite literally becomes Kaufman, and while he wasn't rewarded with an Oscar nomination for this speaks more to his past career choices than it does his actual performance here.

I was also very impressed with the near perfect way in which the past events in his life are recreated here, such as his first appearance on "Saturday Night Live" and the set of "Taxi". They're great moments, and my childhood came flooding back to me. Kaufman may have been a bit player in the world of pop culture, but he was a fascinating individual, and "Man on the Moon"gives bittersweet but fascinating insight into what made him tick. There will never be another quite like him, and this is an unique and captivating film.

Sleepaway Camp

Slasher films came and went so rapidly in the early '80's that most of them were forgotten in weeks, but "Sleepaway Camp" is one that has endured with quite the cult following. All of that stems from a shocking twist at the end, and admittedly that works and works big. Not only is it a legitimate surprise that I didn't see coming, it's logical within the context of the film and the final shot is shocking and startling.

It also begs the question, "Why did the rest of this have to be so dumb and ordinary?" Frankly, it's more "Meatballs" than "Friday the 13th", with a bunch of pedophiles presiding over the worst camp in the history of camping. The kids run rampant and have no discernible supervision as they curse, berate and attack each other with little to no consequences. There seems to be little regard for their safety and well being. At least you can say it's comical.

I think the version I saw was heavily edited, since the killings themselves are mostly off-screen, but you do get to see the aftermath. Judging from that, the special effects are generally better than the norm here. You have to wonder why they didn't place a little more effort into the first half. This will always be remembered for the "Crying Game" ending, and many people heaped praise on it for that again.

But that ending, as good as it is, can't make the rest of "Sleepaway Camp" bearable. It's a tired and ridiculous horror film with terrible acting and a nagging sense of deja vu.

Hard Target
Hard Target(1993)

When "Hard Target" came to town in late summer, it came with two people who had something to prove; an acclaimed foreign director making his American film debut and a star anchoring his first big summer movie solo. Both, as it turns out, achieve their respective goals admirably with this wildly entertaining thriller that is light on pretty much everything except for expertly filmed action sequences.

John Woo is a master at this type of filmmaking as he's proven many times over in his native China, and he brings his stylized action stateside in a big way with this film. Jean Claude Van Damme finally breaks out of his simple, cheap-looking action films, and he's easy to like here even if he does have a habit of emulating Arnold Schwarzenegger's corny one-liners. Not every action film has to have them, especially when you consider that only one of them here is actually funny.

The plot, yet another variation on Richard Connell's 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game", has been done to death and Woo's penchant for slow motion and the use of doves can be silly, especially since both are overdone here. But I admired the vibrant film, it's flashy action and it makes great use of the beautiful city of New Orleans. Most of the bad guys are stock caricatures, but when you have Lance Henriksen as your main heavy, you're bound to have at least one great villain.

"Hard Target" definitely has that, and a lot of other things I admired. The story is run-of-the-mill, but in this case, the way that it is told is not.

The Pirate Movie

A lot of people grew up loving films and then question their sanity when you watch them again as an adult. "The Pirate Movie" is one such film, but for a lot of people, their love for it has inexplicably endured into their adulthood.

It's based on the Gilbert and Sullivan musical "The Pirates of Penzance", and it combines original music from that with mostly silly and saccharine pop songs to attract the younger crowd. Some of them are admittedly catchy, but I spent most of the time wondering what had worse choreography between the dance numbers or the sword fighting.

The two young stars are handsome enough, and Kristy McNichol actually is quite charming. It's just too bad the movie wasn't as popular then as it is now because maybe she'd still have a career. Christopher Atkins, on the other hand, was never anything more than just another pretty face and that doesn't improve much after watching this.

But as clunky and awkward as the opening is, I must admit that the movie does find its footing a little more during the dream sequence that makes up the bulk of this picture. I kind of enjoyed the modern-day quips and McNichol's winking at the camera that takes us out of the old fashioned tone. It's really the only thing that makes this bearable. The pop culture references to other blockbusters like "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" sadly do not work and frankly reek of mild desperation.

I do remember, as do a lot of people, feeling a vague affinity for "The Pirate Movie" as a kid. It's a harmless fantasy filled with bouncy tunes and good looking people. However, over the years, my tastes have matured and unfortunately, this film has not.

Mo' Money
Mo' Money(1992)

The action comedy can be one of my favorite types of films when do right. Many movies have balanced the two genres successfully, but unfortunately, "Mo Money" is as conflicted as its lead character. It's amiable enough, so much so that the unnecessary violence is jarring, and I found there to be no one to root for despite the fact that the three lead actors are all likable enough.

Damon Wayans is a talented comic actor, but it's hard to get behind him here because his character continually makes bad decisions. It's hard to feel any compassion towards him, and while Stacey Dash is almost impossibly attractive, she isn't given much to do here. There's not even any conflict between the two when the corporate executive Dash finds out that her new boyfriend from the mailroom Wayans has been lavishing gifts on her paid for by stolen credit cards.

The film is far more concerned with trying to get easy laughs from black film stereotypes such as the unattractive, love-starved female co-worker and the not-funny-enough-to-be-insulting gay humor. It's just mindless pandering to its target audience. The violence-filled finale seems even more outlandish when you stop to consider that these are white-collar criminals doing all of the damage. Not only does it feel out of place in a film as laid-back as this one, it's nonsensical as well. "Mo Money" is an uneasy mix that never quite gels like it should, It would have been more successful as a simple comedy.

Galaxy of Terror (Mindwarp: An Infinity of Terror) (Planet of Horrors) (Quest)

No one has ever accused Roger Corman of ever having an original thought, and that lack of originality is certainly on display in his science fiction opus "Galaxy of Terror". The plot, concerning a rescue team on an unexplored planet answering a mysterious distress call, is an exact replica of the 1979 classic "Alien", but Corman isn't content to stop there.

The film borrows ideas and plot details from several other like-minded features, and yet despite that and its minuscule budget, the film is campy fun for a good portion of its running time. It transported me back to my youth, when films like this were a mainstay of my childhood. Unfortunately, it's not able to overcome the sheer cheapness of it all, not to mention a plot that is far too complicated for a project of such limited means.

There's a completely dispensable backstory that is set up in the beginning involving an earlier doomed mission by this ship's captain played by Grace Zabriskie, which is needless simply because it's never fully explained. The ending is equally cryptic, but by that time all of the fun and gleeful sleaziness has already been buried by the nonessential story that it doesn't really matter. Which is kind of a shame because the refreshingly old school make-up effects are quite good. Almost good enough to overshadow the terrible set design. "Galaxy of Terror" looks terrible, but it is fun for a while. It collapses under the weight of a ridiculously complicated story.

The Mean Season

There are cliched stories and hackneyed dialogue to be found in every genre and sub-genre of film, but it seems to me that the serial killer movies are more prone to such pitfalls than other types. "The Mean Season" definitely stumbles into quite a few of those such pitfalls along the way, and that's made even worse here by the sad fact that this wasn't very original to begin with.

It was made at a time before this type of filmmaking was chic but it still doesn't have a very interesting story to tell. There's nothing fresh about this, the killer isn't particularly innovative or special and the finale is typical of its type. The usually reliable Kurt Russell is just fine in the lead role, but pretty much everyone else in the cast is wasted in supporting roles that are curiously underwritten.

Mariel Hemingway is supposed to flesh out the film by contributing to the backstory of her relationship with Russell, but in the end in predictable fashion, she's reduced to being just another screaming victim. Worse yet is Richard Jordan as the routine killer, mostly because you don't even see his face until the final two-thirds of the film. In reality, anyone could have played the part. The film also throws in several cheesy plot devices that range from terribly stale to ridiculously outdated, like the hilarious spinning newspapers to the "is it the killer or someone they know" scare tactics.

Much like the rest of "The Mean Season", they all seem shockingly outdated, even for a film that's nearly thirty years old. You won't see anything in this that you haven't seen done better a dozen times before in other better movies.


Originally conceived as a remake of the 1980 Jamie Lee Curtis film "Terror Train", the simply titled "Train" plays as more of a companion piece to "Hostel" than anything else. It's a depressingly gory and dull film that is short on scares but long on stupid characters and a nonsensical plot.

The viewer figures out what's going on and why long before the victims do, and that makes for a painstakingly slow-moving set-up. When it's all said and done, you're left with a lot of nagging unanswered questions. You wonder why these black market organ harvesters only pick on a handful of travelers and not everyone on the train, and why the other passengers seemed unfazed by people in bloody clothing running screaming through the aisles.

You also can't help but wonder what drew former A-lister Thora Birch to this bloody and confused mess and why we're supposed to believe that she's a college wrestler. Her co-stars are all horrible, but she seems especially morose and no doubt depressed that her once promising career has been reduced to this. She is so lethargic in this that she cannot convincingly portray fear when being chased or threatened.

The only real joy I got was watching one of the bad guys go all Rocky Balboa on her in the conclusion, repeatedly punching her in the face. "Train" doesn't try to create fear or suspense like good horror films do. It's a freak show, all about blood and guts. The special effects are at least convincing, but that's faint praise indeed when there's nothing else to redeem it.

The Strangers

"The Strangers" is one of the more successful throwbacks to the horror films of the 1970's that I've seen, and even though it lulls a little too much and isn't a great film, there are a lot of effective moments here.

The film is quite simple story-wise, but first-time director Brian Bertino really knows what he's doing behind the camera and gets a lot of nerve-racking scares out of this ordinary tale. His use of sound, or more accurately the lack of sound, is quite effective. While so many movies prefer to be bombastic and over-the-top, Bertino uses very little sound and that greatly elevates the tension. The film is so quiet that a simple knock on a door is terribly potent.

The filmmaker also makes great use of light and shadows here, as there are a few great moments when the killers seem to materialize out of the dark. The scenes of them wandering into his camera's view without any type of fanfare or warning are striking. Many have complained that the bleak ending is nihilistic, but I disagree. This is a horror film, and horror films aren't pretty. I feel that it fits in with the tone of the film and the 70's style it is emulating.

My only quibble is that the pacing does lag some in the middle, but the picture is too short to really be called boring. The calmness really adds to the jolting manner of the shocks when they occur, but it also means I drifted off some during the down time. All the same, "The Strangers is a most impressive debut feature by a guy who seems to know what scares people. It's a fundamental story told in a refreshingly stark manner.

Daddy Day Care

It should be an unwritten law of movies that anything that opens with the slightly nauseating yet inescapable pop ditty "Walking on Sunshine" playing over the credits should go straight to home video. That song has rarely if even been featured in a good film. In fact, there are a lot of overused tunes used to little effect in "Daddy Day Care", but I think their purpose was to try to convince the audience that they are indeed having a good time.

It failed to work with me as this dismal, charmless and generic picture did little to win me over. Eddie Murphy's career has been filled with ups and downs, and even though this was a box office hit for the star in the 2000's, it doesn't do anything to restore the luster to his waning career.

Oddly enough, you don't even really like the guy here. He plays yet another dad to wrapped up in his job to notice his family, or more specifically his son, and it's kind of depressing to watch. He seems to resent spending time with him, sees him as dollar signs when he gets the idea for the day care and called him "little man" so many times that you wonder if he even remembers his name. He ignores him most of the time, and closes the day care with no notice. In the end, the predictable change of heart feels phony because it doesn't feel authentic in the least bit.

The kids are cute but of course they each have their eccentricities, and in the middle of it all is a painfully unfunny Jeff Garlin who is basically a poor man's Chris Farley. A funny movie could have been made about a "Daddy Day Care", but this is too maudlin and cute. It's harmless but cloying and dull.

Drowning Mona

The first thing you see as "Drowning Mona" begins is a title card explaining that the movie takes place in Verplanck, New York which is the city the Yugo corporation used as a testing ground for their short-lived vehicle. Everyone in the film drives a Yugo, and the idea that this city is filled with these barely drivable, unwanted cars is quite funny and I was filled with hope for the movie.

Unfortunately, that hope only lasts for a minute and there's ninety-four more to follow. It's a black comedy in the same vein as "Ruthless People", but it's written at the level of a bad TV sitcom. The characters aren't smart, and neither is the dialogue but in the same respect neither try to be particularly clever, and because of that the film just lies here inertly.

The cast is filled with a lot of talented people, which makes it all the more shocking that the writers would be content with this lazy and obvious script. The actors themselves seem to sink to that level, in fact, apparently pleased solely by the paycheck. Will Ferrell generates the film's only laughs in a bit part as a perverted mortician. With so many suspects in the death of the title character, one would think that writer Peter Steinfeld would have been able to come up with a more satisfying culprit by the movie's end. His choice and reasoning seem sketchy at best and extremely disappointing at worst.

Not that anything would have helped the film much at that point, but I'd like to give "Drowning Mona" the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. The story could have made for a wonderful dark comedy, but it's poorly executed at nearly every turn.

The Pianist
The Pianist(2002)

Putting aside the sordid details of his personal life, no one can honestly deny the fact that Roman Polanski is a truly gifted filmmaker. In a long list of great films, "The Pianist" ranks as one of the greatest, and it's certainly the most personal film the director has ever made.

He melds the true story of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman with his own experiences growing up in Poland during the war, and the end result is a heart-wrenching movie of almost unbearable potency. In Holocaust movies, we've come to expect the repellent violence and scenes of nauseating horror, and those moments are presented here as well in shocking realism. But, where this film's true power comes from are in the quiet, subtle moments that pull you in and break your heart. For example, the scene in which Szpilman is separated from his doomed family at a train station and wanders the street crying helplessly, or the shocking moment where he climbs a wall and sees first hand what's left of his city after the bombings. In fact, the nearly dialogue-free last two-thirds of the picture is riveting and contains the most gripping moments of the film.

Polanski is a master at pulling you into his story, and with this particular story he has enlisted the aid of Adrian Brody, an actor who speaks volumes without even opening his mouth. The Oscar was well deserved. The scope of the film is grand, but at its core, it's a personal story and it's Brody's performance that makes us empathize with "The Pianist". This is a deeply affecting film with almost as much beauty as horror.


In a time when movies like it were a dime a dozen, "Maniac" was infamous for its particular gruesomeness and it stood out from the pack. Even putting the ghastliness aside, there is some style here and the potential to be something more than just another slasher film.

Joe Spinell brings a certain humanity to his role, and there are some stylish moments here courtesy of director William Lustig. And the reputation the film has gained over the years is deserved, as Tom Savini is a master of his craft and is at the top of his game here. The violence in this is disturbingly realistic, and at times you almost stop to consider if these murders were indeed special effects.

There are a couple of effective cat and mouse chase scenes, most notably an extended one that follows a nurse into a subway tunnel, and the climax is definitely eerie. Watching the mannequins come to life to exact their revenge is completely unnerving, to say the least. The problem with the movie, and why it isn't more successful, lies with everything else.

The story is essentially a retread of a dozen films just like it, and Spinnell isn't afforded much of a motivation or backstory. There are some pretty long stretches of boredom where you wish the film would just get on with it. It took a bashing from a lot of critics for the violence, but even a film of this nature can be skillfully made. A lot of people refused to see that, but what I can't forgive "Maniac" for being is routine and dull. It's better than a lot of other similar films, but it had the potential to be so much more that what it is. It shouldn't be dismissed so lightly.

King Of The Ants

It's exciting to see a beloved horror director get the chance to prove himself to others outside of the horror community, and for Stuart Gordon, that chance presented itself in the form of "King of the Ants". I was intrigued by the build-up, not certain of where the film would head, and the acting was decent.

Chris McKenna is kind of bland to be the center of attention, but Daniel Baldwin has fun hamming it up as a pretty shady character and it's also fun to see George Wendt cast in a role that we normally wouldn't see him playing. And despite his dull performance, you like the McKenna character and you want to see him come out on top once the plot wheels are set in motion.

However, after a needlessly long distraction that involves him being tortured that adds little to the picture, everything changes. When you should be gearing up for the payback portion of the movie, you find no one to root for. McKenna's character re-enters the life of Kari Wuhrer whom he essentially widowed to set these events in motion. You don't much like him for doing so, and it's hard to respond positively to Wuhrer for bringing the homeless drifter who murdered her husband home to live with her and her young daughter. By the time he does get his revenge at the end, you're done caring about any of it and that's a shame.

Gordon brings his sly sense of humor to some of the dialogue here, and he could have transitioned into a well-regarded independent filmmaker. "King of the Ants" had the potential to do just that, but the script makes too many blunders along the way. It's a legitimate move to open Gordon up to a whole new audience, but his earlier films are still unbeatable.

Fire in the Sky

Movies about allegedly true alien abductions are difficult to pull off convincingly and are an equally tough sell to audiences, which makes "Fire in the Sky" so unique. For the most part, this remains grounded and is told mostly from a police investigation standpoint of the claims of the six people involved.

There's nothing flashy or flamboyant in how the material is presented to the presumably skeptical audience, and Robert Lieberman's direction is direct and straightforward. Normally, that may not be a compliment, but for a film like this, telling the story as matter-of-factly as it can be told is the key to drawing the audience in.

Much like the movie itself, the acting is solid without being melodramatic, with Robert Patrick essentially holding the entire movie together seemingly without even trying. The story is intriguing even if the film never quite convinces the audience that any of it is actually true, but like all movies of this type, there's enough evidence to tantalize you.

Things become even more interesting when Travis Walton, played here by D.B. Sweeney, is returned but that's also when the film bucks the realism for a bizarre and lengthy sequence showing his recollection of the abduction. There's a reason that this isn't a special effects driven picture (they're mostly lousy) and I was far more curious to see how his reappearance would affect the police investigation. Those scenes are fairly typical probing and examination cliches that add little to the mystery promised by the first two-thirds of "Fire in the Sky". Until then, this is an engrossing albeit dry film that isn't good enough to make you a believer.

Friday the 13th Part 3

One of the most critically reviled franchises in movie history returned with "Friday the 13th Part 3", and it remains one of the most successful entries in the series despite the fact that it once again recycles the formula of the previous two. In terms of quality, it is the least effective of the original trilogy, but as a horror fan I can still appreciate what it has to offer.

Harry Manfredini's score still chills although I have to question the music used to open and close the picture that sounds like disco meets a crappy science fiction movie from the 1950's. Steve Miner's direction is accomplished and there are a few genuinely suspenseful moments here, and the special effects are good as well. The hand-walking boyfriend chopped in half is one of my favorite death in the series, and special credit to Stan Winston for designing Jason's make-up this time out.

Of course the big draw here are the 3-D effects, and at the time they were quite good. However, now watching the film in 2-D, a lot of the "magic" wears off and you can clearly see some of the cables used in creating those effects like in the eye-popping sequence. The filmmakers get a lot of mileage out of it, though, using it not just for weapons of mass destruction but also for sillier stuff like yo-yo's and juggling fruit. At least the technique didn't go to waste.

The final showdown between Dana Kimmell and Vorhees is well filmed and exciting, but oddly enough doesn't end with the promise of a new sequel. The box office receipts of "Friday the 13th Part 3" would ensure that happened though. There is good and bad in every genre, and I liked this sequel even though the wear and tear is starting to show.

Van Helsing
Van Helsing(2004)

In the early 1990's. there was a resurgence of interest in the classic Universal monsters with terrific new versions of "Frankenstein" and "Dracula", so I was initially excited when the new "Van Helsing" was announced. Then it was divulged that Stephen Sommers would be the writer/director, and all hope instantly faded away.

The opening sequence is shot in beautiful black and white, and pays homage to this long-ago classics until it is interrupted by the jarring CGI and the tone is then set for the entire mess that would follow. The plot is thin, but Sommers overloads the film with those mind-numbing computer generated effects that there's not much time for a story. Unlike those classics, this was made to please today's more "modern" moviegoers, the people who need constant stimulation and distraction, and this is distracting to the max.

For example, take a look at the climactic showdown between Van Helsing and Dracula. It has all of the heart and soul of watching a video game because you are essentially watching two pixelated video game characters doing battle. There's no emotion here, and the casting is also disappointing.

Hugh Jackman hams it up in the title role, and Shuler Hensley as Frankenstein's monster seems to have wandered in off the set of a Mel Brook's film. And considering the actors who have played Dracula in the past, Richard Roxburgh is tedious, bland and not up to the challenge. This expensive dud is devoid of imagination. "Van Helsing" owes more to "The Matrix" or "Underworld" that the films of its alleged heritage. There's a lot of noise and fury but little else.

Higher Learning

John Singleton is a man with a lot to say, and with "Higher Learning", he tries to stuff it all into one movie. His primary focus is racism, but he also throws in subplots concerning women's rights and date rape, and it's just too much to cover in one two hour movie.

Singleton is a passionate, prolific writer, and there are some great moments of authenticity here, such as the white woman nervous to be alone in an elevator with a strange black male and the way a confused loner is easily seduced by a white supremacy group. And unfortunately, the violent tragedy that concludes the film has become all too believable in today's society.

However, on the whole, the picture is terribly shallow filled with stereotypes and it fails to offer any real insight into its subject matter. Spike Lee honestly said pretty much everything that needed to be said on the subject with "Do The Right Thing", and this constantly plays like a weak retread. A lot of it feels genuine, but in the same breath I must also say that nearly as much feels exaggerated just to make a point. Or maybe it's just that people have come a long way in the short time since the film's release.

Of the ensemble cast, Michael Rapaport stands out as the loner who joins a Neo Nazi group. His character is obviously complicated and Rapaport convincingly portrays a man who just wants to be accepted, but the film pretty much lost my respect in the scene following his rampage. Watching the security guards beating up on the innocent black kid while letting the shooter escape left me incensed. Singleton had pounded his message home enough by that time. That was just overkill.

"Higher Learning" is loaded with good intentions, but only some of them are realized. It's a valiant effort that is only marginally successful.


It's clear that director Bob Balaban and screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne set out to make a black comedy in "Parents", and while it's definitely black, there's not much I found to laugh at here. In the beginning, it does a nice job of satirizing the 1950's culture, and Balaban does a nice job of balancing the tone of the picture.

I was intrigued by the premise, mostly because it rang true with my childhood during a time when big heaping piles of mystery meat were served at every meal. But somewhere in the middle the film seems to forget that it is essentially a comedy and it turns a corner and never recovers. The second half of this is a bloody mess, more a freak show that anything else really, and I kept wondering what the point of it all was.

The only thing it really succeeds at is severely traumatizing young Bryan Madorsky and its audience. And speaking of Madorsky, he easily gives the best performance in the movie. I don't know where the filmmakers found this kid, but he really is the only bright spot in this dark and gruesome film. It leaves you with a lot of unanswered questions and a queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

You never really learn why Mary Beth Hurt and Randy Quaid despise their son, or why they became cannibals in the first place. A backstory would have been welcome. Some would find "Parents" daring and different, which it definitely is. But it's sure not any fun, and it's not half as clever as it thinks it is.


The story of infamous serial killer Ed Gein has been told on film many times before, most notably in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Psycho". The low budget film "Deranged" tells the same man's story but was released by American International Pictures, so you pretty much know what you're in for here.

The remarkable thing is that the first half of the movie is unintentionally hilarious, and I fell in love with it almost immediately. Roberts Blossom gives what could be the most memorable performance os his career as Ezra Robb. It's demented and hysterical, sometimes at the same time. Still, my favorite actor in the film was Leslie Carlson as the narrator. He pops up from time to time to intone serious plot details in a wonderfully serious monotone. Every drive-in movie from the '70's should be so lucky to have him.

There is actually one unnerving scene in which a waitress stumbles into Blossom's room of horror and discovers him in his flesh suit. It legitimately works, and from that scene forward the film becomes more serious. I actually found myself involved in this story rather than simply laughing at the campy acting and silly dialogue. I honestly began to make the movie seriously, and it builds to a climax that is frankly kind of suspenseful.

The make-up effects by a young Tom Savini shows promise, and "Deranged" is something of a mixed bag that is ultimately worth watching. It's funny, sometimes creepy and always oddly captivating.

Things to Do in Denver...When You're Dead

In the early 1990's, Quentin Tarantino burst on the scene with a vengeance and after only a couple of films, a legion of young filmmakers emerged trying to emulate his style. "Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead" was one of the best of those knockoffs, mostly because while it did mimic Tarantino with some of the flashy dialogue it still manages to stand on its own as a sturdy, reliable crime saga.

The dialogue is a mix of several different slangs, and at times screenwriter Scott Rosenberg seems to be happy in alienating the audience with his mysterious vocabulary. However, once you settle in and the film finds its groove, that aspect becomes one of the film's greatest assets. I love films in which something seemingly simple goes haywire, and here, it's a pleasure getting lost in all of the twists and turns.

The cast of assorted oddballs is a lot of fun too. Treat Williams takes his stock "itchy trigger finger psycho" character to a whole new level, and it's nice to see Christopher Lloyd get such a plum role as a low life criminal that you feel a lot of empathy for. But the glue holding the whole thing together is the wonderful lead performance by Andy Garcia. He's been one of my favorite actors every since "The Untouchables", and he's terrifically three dimensional here as well. He's so well-rounded here, compassionate and almost soulful at times, but ferocious when the situation calls for it.

The comparisons are valid, but "Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead" is less flamboyant than "Pulp Fiction". The two films can nicely co-exist.

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight

The "Tales From the Crypt" comic and HBO series that was based on them were a lot of campy, gory fun, but the first feature film from that brand is a distinct disappointment. "Demon Knight" is a messy mishmash of better horror films without a sense of humor or a style of its own.

Every ides here seems borrowed from somewhere else, and the gruesome fun of the comics is muted in a picture that takes itself way too seriously. Billy Zane is having a great time hamming it up as the central demon, but the rest of the cast is dull. There are some funny one-liners, but not enough to make up for the familiar story.

It borrows heavily from "Night of the Living Dead" and more obviously "The Evil Dead", only without the quality. Some of the demons are cool looking, even if they do resemble something you might buy in a Spirit Halloween store, but mostly the special effects are quite lousy. The budget was low, but I'm sure Universal ponied up more dough than Sam Raimi had to work with when he mentioned his aforementioned cult classic.

The backstory is mostly nonsensical and the flashbacks that attempt to explain it are vague and unclear. There's some religious symbolism that seems inappropriate for a film of this nature, and some may even find it offensive. It just seems out of place and adds nothing to the proceedings. There was a great soundtrack that accompanied the movie, but the music is underutilized here in just one more example of how "Demon Knight" could have been fun but botches the job. Compared to its wild and wooly source material, this seems curiously subdued.

American Zombie

The idea had to seem like a "can't miss" project on paper. Zombie movies and mockumentaries are two crowded sub-genres that are definitely ripe for satire, and "American Zombie" attempts to skewer both at once. Unfortunately, mostly due to some sub-par writing and maddening shifts in tones, the end result is a colossal failure on almost every level.

There are some clever ideas here early on, but the film is clunky and unwieldy it's hard to find any of it funny. And for every clever idea, there seem to be a dozen that are left unrealized. That makes for a very frustrating film. and equally baffling are the shifts in tone, especially when it appears that a good chunk of this is supposed to be taken seriously.

The final half hour enters "Blair Witch Project" territory, when this apparently becomes a horror film all of a sudden. It's not successful, but it's also true that it's the first time during the course of this cumbersome picture that my interest was sparked. By that time, however, this was too far gone to be salvaged.

The film crew, including this project's actual director, could not be duller. In fact, there's only one interesting character in the entire film, an Asian actress by the name of Suzy Nakamura. Her character comes across as kind of a living dead Bridget Jones, and at times you either like her or feel sorry for her. The film was obviously meant to be a social satire, with the zombie community representing other minorities such as homosexuals, but this isn't nearly clever enough to pull that off. "District 9" did it, but "American Zombie" clearly is that in that same league. This rates high on potential, but it's not so strong with the follow through.


As a guy, you have to be a little worried when you sit down to watch a movie called "Pleasurecraft" from Seduction Cinema and the first five names in the credits are dudes. There are obviously plenty of naked females in this to be sure, but in all honesty, we could have used a little more variety because of the five, only three of them are primarily featured.

Brandy Davis is the hottest, but they're all good looking if you can excuse Taime Hannum's creepy snarl during her romantic moments that is supposed to be sexy but winds up looking ridiculous. None of them can act, which may actually be asking too much. I'd be happy if anyone in the cast could convincingly recite their dialogue. Witness the scene where the girls discuss cloning themselves to get out of their arranged marriages. The confused looks on their collective faces suggest that they have no understanding of the words they are being required to say.

The actual sex scenes are boring, conventional and play it far too safely, and when that is the only selling point for your film, imagine how bad the rest of this is. They are far too frequent, and not particularly exciting or well filmed. The plot is ridiculous, as are the cheap sets and lame wardrobe. You have to be a lot more daring that this to compete in a world where there is so much free porn so easily accessible on the internet. That fact alone rules out any reason one would have to watch "Pleasurecraft". This film is limp and serves no purpose.

I Saw the Devil

While most American horror films these days are remakes of past hits, watered down to appeal to teens, there are a great number of foreign filmmakers keeping the genre alive with a vengeance overseas. One such director is Korean born Ji-Woon Kim, and his latest offering is "I Saw the Devil", a grueling mis of a lot of different genres that will send a lot of people running for the exits after the first fifteen minutes.

Those strong willed enough to tough it out will be rewarded with one of the most punishing but gratifying moviegoing experiences of the year. There are elements here of horror, detective and serial killer films and even the martial arts are represented, but at its core this is a revenge thriller of the upmost calibre.

Many will be put off by the violence, but the film isn't simply violent for the sake of being violent, as it makes several valid comments on social issues. The killer and the cop hunting him form a very symbiotic relationship that is disturbing, but also leads to some fascinating discussions. At what point does the hunter become as bad or even worse than his prey? It also questions the ideas of rehabilitation, suggesting that perhaps hardened career criminals are beyond redemption. Min-Sik Choi's character in this certainly is.

But even without the sly exposition, "I Saw the Devil" remains a brutal, magnetic film that is nearly impossible to turn away from. Domestic filmmakers take notice.

Saving Silverman

It's an unwritten law somewhere that any film with an unhealthy obsession with Neil Diamond should be a lot more fun than "Saving Silverman", but this is yet another desperately raunchy teen comedy that fails miserably. It's filled with a lot of physical humor that just isn't funny and a lot of dirty jokes that just feel tired since these types of comedies are so commonplace anymore.

This film fails at its most basic level. It's about Jason Biggs' friends trying to break up his caustic relationship with Amanda Peet, but it never really explains why these characters are together in the first place. Their association only exists for the filmmakers to hang this threadbare plot on so that we can watch people fall down and get hit with stuff for ninety minutes.

Biggs essentially plays straight man to Steve Zahn and Jack Black, who exhaustingly beat their bumbling man-child personas further into the ground. It's just not funny here, if it ever was at all. And usually, the one thing you can count on in films like this is at least one sweet relationship at the core of it all. It's supposed to be between Biggs and pretty Amanda Detmer, but the writers screw that up every chance they get because Biggs never says or does the right thing.

They only bright spot in this dismal picture are R. Lee Ermey in a marginally funny performance, and Diamond himself who eventually shows up to elf mock himself to perfection. The pleasures are few and far between in "Saving Silverman" in which pratfalls and easy jokes take the place of any real wit or genuine humor.


"Farmhouse" is a low budget horror film with big aspirations to be something better than that, and despite some detours along the way that threaten to sidetrack it, it mostly delivers on that initial promise. You can tell from the beginning that it's going to be different from the rest.

It actually takes the time to tell a story, mostly through the use of a web of carefully planned flashbacks. It's something most low budget horror films wouldn't even attempt, and for obvious reasons, but this clever little picture pulls it off. And then we get to the farmhouse of the title, where the film falls into the torture porn trap and I thought it was going the route of the "Saw" pictures to appeal to fans of the sick and twisted.

Even when the movie gets quite tortuous, I stayed with it despite my disappointment because the opening does such a nice job of getting you to sympathize with the two lead characters. But unbeknownst to me, the movie was not done by a long shot. There is one more major twist and it delves into the supernatural for the first time. It seems silly at first, but one final flashback cemented the deal and in a complete surprise to me, I didn't see it coming.

Credit screenwriter Daniel Coughlin for suckering me in, thinking outside the box for the genre and having the smarts to pull it off convincingly. This guy should move on to bigger and even better things because this was pretty impressive for only his second script. It's a rare and beautiful thing to find a B-movie that's not content to be ordinary, and "Farmhouse" is that picture. There's a lot to admire here.


The music and dancing have been upgraded, but "Honey" is still the best '80's movie to get released in 2003. There's not one original idea in the film, and anyone who lived through the decade will recognize the plot, as it would make a fine companion piece to "Breakin" or "Beat Street".

This is not without charms of its own, and it certainly has energy to spare but too many times I found myself rolling my eyes at the cliches and goofy dialogue. I know it's supposed to be "street talk", but it's not very genuine and all of the characters are just so nice. I was actually relieved when the video director played by David Moscow turned out to be a sleaze just so there would be some conflict.

Despite all of my reservations, however, I found myself caught up in the kinetic dancing and Jessica Alba's wining performance. She's sexy no doubt but also refreshingly down to earth and unpretentious that you just follow here and get caught up in the silliness of the story. The film ends up collapsing under the weight of all the hackneyed plot developments like the boss' sexual advances and a character's turn to a life of dealing drugs. Just when you think they didn't leave one obligatory scene out comes the benefit show to save the community center. The script practically writes itself.

Still, the hypnotic dance numbers and the allure of Miss Alba add up to make the film almost worth watching. "Honey" was clearly pieced together like Frankenstein's monster, but it's frivolous entertainment that almost won me over. If only Irene Cara had done a song for the soundtrack.

Don't Go in the House

During the early 1980's, slasher films were reviled by mainstream critics almost as much as they were loved by mainstream audiences, but few were as hated as "Don't Go In the House". There are only a handful of murders in the film, and of those, only two are actually shown on camera but the first one is graphic enough to have garnered this a lot of attention and controversy.

It's not too shocking by today's standards, but for the time it was very disturbing and it got the film noticed a lot more than it deserves. At its core, what we have here is yet another dull and ordinary dead teenager movie with naive women as the only victims in a film that comes off as very misogynistic. It's just too insignificant to inspire much anger in me.

The film seems to have something to say about the influence child abuse has on the abused in their adulthood, but it's too sleazy to take any of it seriously on a social commentary level. The very thought is ridiculous. It relies on that and the old dependable "mama's boy" plot device to drive its lead character of Donny, played absurdly by Dan Grimaldi. Other than the fact that he looks remarkably like a young Dustin Hoffman, there's nothing to like about his performance. The scenes in which he plays traumatized only inspires laughter.

There are a couple of scenes of his victims coming back to haunt his imagination that are kind of creepy and effective. For a few seconds. But the rest of "Don't Go In the House" is regrettable. It has nothing to offer in the way of entertainment value.

Titanic 2
Titanic 2(2010)

Upon heating than a film called "Titanic 2" exists, one would naturally assume that it's a disaster spoof movie like "Airplane" or "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes". Oh, if only we could have been so lucky.

No, this film is deathly serious, a tragically dumb and lifeless picture that bears only a passing resemblance to the modern day James Cameron classic. In fact, this made-for-video flick has more in common with the 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure", but it doesn't have the scope of either film. At only ninety minutes, with its minuscule budget and ridiculous script, the only way it could have succeeded was as a parody.

The writing is bad, but the acting is worse, and there's a terrible shortage of characters for you to care about. Getting to know the ensemble disaster picture cast is one of the genres greatest joys, and this dud even deprives you of that since it's only really focused on about six people. Anything more than that was obviously not in the budget. The idea to build another Titanic is pretty ludicrous (not that we're given any backstory as to why or how that happened), but it's not as silly as the science behind why it capsizes yet again. The screenwriter's logic doesn't seem to be very sound, and that's putting it mildly.

Still, the absolute worst thing about this film are the shockingly bad CGI effects. Very little in "Titanic 2" is in the least bit convincing, from the story right on down the line. This picture was a terrible idea any way you look at it.


In the tradition of great buddy movies like "48 HRS." and "Midnight Run" comes "Bulletproof", a terrible film that has absolutely nothing in common with the two earlier films I mentioned. It was obviously made quickly to cash in on the fast-rising career of star Adam Sandler, but very little thought went into this routine, forgettable picture.

It's easily Sandler's least likable performance to date, and the vulgar humor and unnecessarily bloody violence make this a very uneven and unpleasant film. The gay jokes leave a bad taste in your mouth, but would probably appeal to Sandler's frat boy fan base. You just have to wonder who the filmmakers were trying to appease with the needlessly bloody shoot-out at the end since this is essentially a comedy. I didn't laugh.

The slight story is filled with ridiculous red herrings in an attempt to dazzle its brain dead audience with some laughable plot twists, the worst of which occurs when Damon Wayan's physical therapist girlfriend turns out to be working for James Caan's drug dealer character. You won't see it coming, but only because it doesn't really make any sense within the context of the film.

There are some real problems with tone here, as in the scene where the two leads walk out of the climactic gun battle chatting nonchalantly as if they were leaving a restaurant after dinner. The film is about as deep as a kiddie pool, and the one compliment I can pay it is that it's over before you know it. "Bulletproof" barely registers with the viewer on any level, and the biggest impression it will make on you is one of moderate discomfort.

Assault on Precinct 13

For his second feature, John Carpenter wanted to make a western but was dissuaded by budget concerns. Instead he made "Assault on Precinct 13", a gritty police thriller loosely based on one of his favorite westerns growing up, "Rio Bravo", with a touch of "Night of the Living Dead" thrown in for good measure.

It's a decent effort, unlike the films that would later make him famous and yet strangely similar at the same time. There is a strong build-up that takes up half of the running time, which was common of films from the 1970's, and that makes the payoff all the more satisfying. The connection between the ice cream man and this vicious street gang is a little cloudy, however, and is the only nagging question that persists throughout the film.Considering how much time is spent setting up the story, it could have explored that connection in greater detail.

But the finale is a lot of fun, and Carpenter's skill behind the camera is evident very early on in his career. Also good is his score, as his skill as a composer nearly rivals that of his directing. Once again here, it's repetitious but trance-like and haunting. There's also a great bit of casting in Darwin Joston, who was primarily a TV actor making a name for himself here as a Death Row inmate. It's a terrific performance, sarcastic but funny and yet compelling at the same time. His one-liners are amusing and yet cool, and the real surprise is that they hold up so well.

In fact, most of "Assault on Precinct 13" is refreshingly timeless. It's not fast paced or flashy, but it is an underrated gem that deserves a wider audience.

Vertige (High Lane)

There's something to be said about going into a film blind without the "benefit" os the trailer bombardment that surrounds pretty much every American movie that gets released. Such was the case with the promising French import "High Lane", and I was intrigued right from the start.

The scenery and cinematography is quite beautiful, and I thought it was going to be a refreshing change of pace, as we don't get to see many man VS. nature films anymore. Once you get past the horrible and needless dubbing (only necessary to sell the film to a wider audience stateside), there's an interesting story here.

The love triangle in the middle of everything is pretty routine, but in this setting, it adds some nice tension to the already tense proceedings. A lot could have been done to flesh that out even more. And then there's the spectacularly filmed suspension bridge sequence that really sets this apart. You've seen similar scenes with similar results, but this is a real nail-biter here, amazingly shot. There are some moments that are obviously CGI, but that scene is as real as it gets.

Then, the second half of the film sets in; a run-of-the-mill slasher film with "Hills Have Eyes" overtones, and the whole thing falls apart. No motivation or backstory is afforded these sadistic hill person, and it lets the film down. They barely had a make-up budget for him. Everything from that point on falls predictably into place. It's a shame because "High Lane" could have been something special rather than just another attempt to appeal to the masses.

Death Before Dishonor

You know a "Rah Rah American" movie is going to be bad when even Chuck Norris passes on it. "Death Before Dishonor" went to TV star Fred Dryer, who shows is nearly every frame here why he never successfully transitioned to major motion pictures. His presence is less than commanding, and the scenes where he has to be tender, as when he sheds a single tear over a fallen Marine, are mostly laughable.

He gets no help from his mostly unknown supporting cast, although it is fun watching sixty-five year old Brian Keith slug it out with a bunch of Middle Eastern bad guys. As far as the plot goes, it's the same old story we're used to from low budget '80's action movies. The makers set their film in the fictional country of Jamal, presumably not to offend anyone, but these terrorists are so cartoonish that it's downright offensive. They are ridiculous caricatures, and it's fairly distasteful that they are exaggerated so much to make them easy hate targets for the dumb people who thrive on films like this.

It was the only feature to be directed by Terry Leonard, who was primarily a stunt person and second unit director, and it's easy to see why this new career never panned out for him. This is a dull, bland-looking picture where the action sequences consist chiefly of destroying a record number of fruit carts and mowing down an unlimited number of indiscriminate rag-headed extras.

"Death Before Dishonor" is a relic of a bygone era where a one man army blows away Middle Eastern terrorists without regard for personal safety or foreign policy. I guess that would be forgivable if this was at least entertaining. This can't even manage that much.

Forces of Nature

Early on, when I thought I knew everything there was to know about it, I was ready to write "Forces of Nature" off as yet another conventional romantic comedy. The movies plays like a variation on "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" with a lot of crazy, familiar situations, but you never feel much of a connection between these two characters. They are vaguely written, and are more like stereotypes than real people.

Ben Affleck is an uptight writer, afraid to live until he meets a free spirit in Sandra Bullock, who teaches him what's important in life. After that, the film practically writes itself. But what I did like about it was its darker tone and style of the film, courtesy of director Bronwen Hughes and writer Marc Lawrence. This film is not all fluffy and lighthearted like most in the genre, and it deals with some pretty serious stuff like spousal abuse and child abandonment.

I enjoyed the odd lighting and camera angles, as well as the unusual music selected for the film and composer John Powell's curious score. I know it all sounds like a mess on paper, but those elements gradually come together and the film gets better as it goes along. The entire picture is set against the backdrop of an impending hurricane, which only enhances the somber mood I grew so fond of and leads up to an ending I enjoyed so much that I almost recommended it.

Granted, it negates the entire movie by making everything that happened leading up to it pointless, but it stays true to the film's tone and bucks the rom com standard. "Forces of Nature" is a very unusual film, one that will no doubt disappoint fans of Katherine Heigl. If only the set-up hadn't been so ordinary.

Mother's Boys

For what is essentially a conventional thriller, "Mother's Boys" delves into some pretty dark territory. It seriously hints at incest involving a twelve-year-old and puts all three children through some pretty serious trauma, all for the sake of entertainment. They are manipulated into committing an act of violence and put in constant peril in the film's stupefying conclusion, and I may have been offended by all of that if the movie had aspired to be better.

As it stands, the film is too silly to be taken seriously and it's hard to stay mad at it for long. Jamie Lee Curtis is above the material, and despite that, she gives a pretty terrible performance. It's partly the script's fault for her underwritten character, but a lot of the blame lies with the actress herself. She's completely off her rocker as the movie opens so you know where the movie is headed right from the start, but Curtis isn't very compelling. She's not very scary in the scenes where she's supposed to be menacing and downright absurd in the scenes where she's supposed to be sexy. It's strange since she's definitely an attractive actress, but for the proof, witness the scene where she tries to seduce Peter Gallagher in his office. It's kind of embarrassing.

The movie starts to get fun in the end as the whole thing careens off the track during the chaotic finale, but it's too little too late. Until then, "Mother's Boys" is a pretty weak retread of "Fatal Attraction" with a decidedly dark side. You just can't get mad at it because it's just so dumb.


Few people in Hollywood has had more second chances than John Travolta. The surprise box office success of "Look Who's Talking" brought his career back from the dead for one of those second chances, only for the actor to falter again with "Shout a few years later.

This is a limp, uninspired musical drama that is filled with more cliches than you've got fingers, but it's so doggoned earnest that it's not even any fun. We've all seen this movie before, with the bad boy with a heart of gold, the strict adult and his beautiful but willful daughter and the mentor with the shady past who reaches his charges with his unorthodox teaching methods. He's so unorthodox that he teaches a kid to play the piano without sheet music by getting him to cluck like a chicken.

It even throws in the line, "You aren't from around here", and it does so without a touch of irony. You'll be laughing at the picture and not with it because this is all taken so seriously. The music is good, more blues than actual rock and roll, but it's not good enough to energize this lifeless story.

The casting is bland as well. Travolta stands out, but only because everyone else is so boring. The conclusion is predictable, as the student's forgo the stuffy music they've been rehearsing to honor their teacher with an impromptu rock concert, and the audience is left to wonder how the crows came up with their flashy dance moves when the music is allegedly new and foreign to them. "Shout" isn't concerned with such technicalities, and it has nothing new to offer anyone.


With his eye for detail and apparent complete disregard for how much money he spends on his films, no other director could have brought "Titanic" to the big screen quite like James Cameron. Say what you will about the man (clearly he's an egomaniac); he knows how to tell a story and he takes an unique approach to this one.

The wrap-around segment featuring Gloria Stewart recalling the voyage is a very clever way to personalize the story, and it works magically. The first half of the film, which is the primary reason that this was a monster hot and also why it has endured as long as it has, is a love story. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are perfect in their roles, and as corny as their star-crossed relationship is at times, it works because the actors sell it. There are some great supporting performances, most notably Kathy Bates, but the leads shine so brightly that everyone else seems like an afterthought.

When the ship actually begins to sink, it's a breathtaking spectacle the likes of which are rarely captured on film. No expense was spared to make this a heart-tugging and technical marvel, and it remains unrivaled to this day. With the budget out of this world, and the massive production schedule in question, most of Hollywood thought Cameron was out of his mind for trying to pull this off. No one is laughing anymore.

"Titanic" is an awe-inspiring epic, with DiCaprio and Winslet pulling you in and making those amazing special effects all the more satisfying. The amount of work that went into this is virtually incomprehensible, but for once, all of that hard work was worth the finished product. This is quite simply monumental.

Pet Sematary
Pet Sematary(1989)

In the case of the much anticipated film adaptation of "Pet Sematary", author Stephen King is his own worst enemy. He wrote the screenplay himself and has the primary responsibility for the film's failure to do justice to his novel. The movie is much more shallow and makes several fatal mistakes along the way.

First off, the casting is horrible, especially the lead. Dale Midkiff seems to be on some serious mood altering medication here, and from grief to terror to warmth, it's impossible to make a distinction between any of his emotions. Secondly, while the Ramones were a great band, the use of their music in this is indelicate to the subject matter. The first time it's heard, in the scene where the truck is barreling down the highway and everyone knows what's about to happen, it just feels wrong. The same can be said over the end credits, when the audience needs time to ruminate over the ending.

That ending in the novel is incredibly potent, one of the best things King has ever written. Here, it disintegrates into a creepy haunted house movie with a lot of unnecessary gore and even a bizarre attempt at humor when the boy utters "Not Fair" after his father kills him a second time.

The deepness and complexity of the novel is clearly lost watching Midkiff ridiculously struggle with a ten pound infant. The film is also ludicrously potentous, with enough silly foreshadowing for two movies. The novel is one of the author's best works, but "Pet Sematary" the film is a missed opportunity. It's not dark enough to convey the true horror that the book accomplished all too easily.

The Executioner's Song

Compared to other infamous serial killers, Gary Gilmore's crimes weren't particularly heinous or depraved. What made his case special is that he fought for the right to die, but unfortunately, that part of the story makes up only a small portion of "The Executioner's Song". It's the film adaptation of Norman mailer's Pulitzer Prize winning true crime novel, and far too much time is spent on Gilmore's life before the murders. Frankly, that's the least interesting aspect of the story.

His relationship with Nicole Baker isn't particularly fresh or involving, even though both actors involved give riveting performances. Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast in the lead role, earning the Emmy he won in one of his first major roles. Young Rosanna Arquette is equal to him, walking a fine line as someone you sympathize with for being a victim and yet is also quite contemptible when it's made apparent that her love for Jones is unwavering.

Gimore became the first man to be executed in this country after the Death Penalty was reinstated, but that is never fleshed out either. It's also interesting to see him become the victim our of government's legendary bureaucratic red tape when, after being sentenced to die, the state of Utah seems reluctant to carry out the sentence, despite the insistence of Gilmore himself. It seems to me that the real story of "The Executioner's Song" lies there, not in the mostly trivial details that permeate the first two-thirds of the film. It's a good movie that should have achieved greatness.

White Nights
White Nights(1985)

It obviously sounded like a great idea to someone, getting two of the best contemporary dancers together in one film. Their styles are different, but no one would argue that Gregory Hines and Mikail Baryshnikov are amazing at what they do. Unfortunately, "White Nights" is the film that brings them together, and while it is immensely watchable, it is also terribly silly and contrived.

I was hooked right from the beginning with an airline disaster returning Baryshnikov to Russia, but the story becomes more of a soap opera the longer it goes on. And much like soap operas, it's quite entertaining but this project should have been a lot more compelling. It's rather difficult to get over the basic premise; that a defected Russian dancer is forced to room with a defected American dancer, but I could accept that and get on with the rest of the film. The problem is that the rest of it is only marginally easier to swallow that that impractical set-up.

The two stars are surprisingly believable in their roles, strong enough in fact to carry the entire picture quite effortlessly. They naturally shine, however, in the dance umbers that are peppered into this preposterous Cold War plot. Watching them move is hypnotizing, and it's enough to forgive the weak plot that forces them unnaturally together. There's little other reason to see this.

The two women in the film, Helen Mirren and Isabella Rossellini, are merely there to react to things going on around them, and film director Jerzy Skolimowski is hilariously absurd as the Russian Colonel. "White Nights" is a fairly entertaining throwback to a bygone era in film, but it should have been so much more than that.

Black Dawn
Black Dawn(2005)

Steven Seagal isn't the only action movie star to continue making movies long after his prime. The difference is that the rest of them are still pretty charismatic in the twilight of their career. and Seagal has never been that. His early movies were fun because of his fighting skill, and now that that has passed him by, there's not much left.

"Black Dawn" is one of the worst of his newer efforts, a ridiculous and boring thriller with grandiose ambitions on a miniscule budget. Seagal does better with smaller scale projects, and this lofty premise bout terrorists trying to blow up Los Angeles, is just too much for him to pull off. There are too many characters, so much so that their motivations and goals begin to get cloudy and confused. There's a lot going on and none of it is worth following.

Seagal continues to embarrass himself by the obvious use of a stunt double who looks nothing like him in most scenes. The one brief fight scene he has looks like it was filmed while he was in the other room eating a bagel. The horrible CGI used in the finale is appallingly bad when the nuclear device is detonated over the ocean, but the strange thing is that computer effects are used in key scenes to presumably keep the budget down and the aging star safe. Look at the scene on the back of a truck or the helicopter at the end, and it's all phony.

"Black Dawn" is budget filmmaking at its worse, an attempt to create a product because there might be demand for it overseas. It's slow-moving, cheap-looking and will entertain absolutely no one. If you've stuck with Seagal for this long, you deserve better.

The Killing of John Lennon

Being a music lover, a certain morbid fascination exists around the murder of rock star John Lennon, and "The Killing of John Lennon" explores the days surrounding that tragedy in great detail. You gain great insight into the event and into the mind of killer Mark David Chapman, and I felt more knowledgable for the experience.

Unfortunately, as a film, this is a lot less successful. Director Andrew Piddington has been working for decades but hasn't made a noteworthy film since 1984, and he seems to be desperate to do so again with what should have been a high-profile effort. He's trying too hard. The subject matter he's working with here is compelling enough without the heavy editing and arty touches he uses to the point of absurdity here. There are times when this is a challenge to watch, and the end result is headache inducing.

Jonas Ball does a fine job of bringing Chapman to life, and since almost all of his dialogue is the murderer's own words, you get to know him a lot more than most will want to. The depiction of the murder itself is far too graphic, however, with every single bullet connecting in agonizing slow-motion. It's fairly disrespectful to the memory of Lennon.

I was happy to see the film not end there, as so many films would have. Seeing the actual news footage of the aftermath was a nice touch that brought me back to my own experience of that cold day in December when I was a kid. "The Killing of John Lennon" gets a lot right, but in the end, it's a pretentious ego trip for the director.

Switching Channels

"Switching Channels" is the eight filmed version of the stage play "The Front Line", updated for modern audiences with mixed results. It takes some liberties with the original story, updating the newspaper setting to a 24 hour TV news channel and makes the crime at the center of the story a drug-related killing, but there's a lot of the same characteristics that remain.

It gets a lot of mileage out of jokes about the state of reporting, and there's a lot of slapstick comedy involving the love triangle between the three primary actors. Unfortunately, that comedy only works in spurts and the lightweight tone of the picture is all but crushed by the heavy-handed direction. Ted Kotcheff is more known for his action and dramatic films and he seems unsure of how to handle this material effectively. It's a lot less fun for the audience than it apparently was for the actors.

Kathleen Turner is radiant in the lead role, and it's nice to see Burt Reynolds return to comedy after a string of box office flops in the action genre. He has a real flair for this type of film, and he gets the few big laughs here thanks to some clever writing. It's fun watching him sabotage Turner's new relationship, but regrettably in the second half, the death row inmate story takes center stage and it just isn't worth following. The film has some legitimate and pointed arguments against television news, and it beats them like a dead horse.

All of the promise early on is sucked out of "Switching Channels", and it grows more tedious with each passing minute. The game cast is let down by the oppressive direction.

White Palace
White Palace(1990)

There have been a lot of movies made featuring May-December romances, but "White Palace" is unique among them. First of all, it turns the tables on the gender rules that apply to most by making the female the elder, and secondly, few of them are this real and honest.

Many saw this as a flip side to the blockbuster "Pretty Woman", and the comparison is valid to a certain extent but this is no fairy tale. James Spader and Susan Sarandon give multi-layered performances as two complex characters, and the screenplay refuses to take the easy way out. They don't have all the answers, and that's refreshing to see.

For Sarandon, Spader being embarrassed to introduce her to his friends is a huge sticking point, but at the same time you question whether or not she really wants to be put in that situation. The couple is happy enough together until they are forced to see their relationship through other people's eyes. Ted Tally has written a script full of tricky social commentaries such as that, the whole while building a credible connection between the two stars. You believe them as a couple despite their age and background differences, and the eroticism is definitely genuine as well.

The only element that sidetracks the film is the oddball appearance of Eileen Brennan as Sarandon's psychic sister. The only real purpose she serves is as a plot device to bring the two leads back together in an unfortunate happy ending that truly betrays the film. It feels as phony as the rest of the picture feels truthful. Until then, however, "White Palace" is a terrific film, full of honesty and certifiable emotions. The conclusion feels tacked on.


The slick but improbably titled thriller "F/X" is like a movie geek's dream come true, a film centered around the industry in which a special effects wizard is the unlikely hero. Some of the plot developments are highly questionable, but the film is unique, old-fashioened and terrifically entertaining with a couple of engaging performances holding it all together.

Bryan Brown is charismatic in his first big American movie as the everyman it's easy to root for, and Brian Dennehy steals the show as the surly detective who gets results by stepping just outside the law. It's one of the most memorable performances of his esteemed career. The screenplay is smart and fresh, and it delivers quite a few actual surprises along the way, moments that jar you because you think you know just where this film is headed.

I liked the mixture of high-tech special effects and old fashioned police work, and at its core that's what gives the film its particular appeal. The ending is especially satisfying with Brown using his wit to tie up all the loose ends without, for the most part, resorting to violence. It's a nice change of pace, and atypical of movies from this era.

The story hooks you from the set-up, and because Brown is so personable you follow it through all of the twists and turns. Despite the rating, the violence is kept to a necessary minimum adding to the film's retro feel. The cutting edge aspect of the film has long since dissipated with age, but "F/X" is still a solid thriller with some solid performances. A good story never goes out of style despite advances in technology, and this film has that in spades.

Sand Serpents

The Sy Fy channel has become a place where creativity goes to die, and the cable network now has a reputation for animals-run-amuck movies that are varying degrees of terrible. The only thing worse than their campy, unintentionally funny movies are the ones that take themselves seriously, and unfortunately, "Sand Serpents" is one of the latter.

It's a weird, unsuccessful mix of "Tremors" and "The Hurt Locker", and it features the same shoddy special effects and awful acting. These films are where one-time A list actors go to live out the twilight of their careers, and in this one that distinction goes to Jason Patric. Apparently, this is where starring in "Speed 2" gets you.

The characters are all stereotypes, from the scruffy black Sergeant to the wisecracking Private who thinks all Middle Eastern people are terrorists. His quips are too dumb to be offensive. The sand worms are naturally all computer generated and embarrassingly phony. Any computer savvy kid could come up with something more realistic on his Mackintosh.

There are several gaping plot holes, most notably how the platoon is somehow safe from these earth dwellers in a ramshackle hut in the middle of the desert with a dirt floor. Logic has no place in a film as second-rate as this one. There are people who find films like "Sand Serpents" hilarious, but I've never been one of them. B movies are a favorite of mine, but this junk doesn't qualify as one. This is just a lazy film that barely qualifies as a film. It's a product.

Hot Resort
Hot Resort(1985)

During the 1980's, raunchy teen comedies saturated the marketplace and while a handful became classics, most were made quickly to make a quick buck and quickly disappear. The blandly titled "Hot Resort" definitely falls into that last category, and the film is simply pieced together from the decade's worst films to make a new, super-awful film.

It's full of raunchy humor but not a single laugh, and it's obviously modeled after "Police Academy" with a motley bunch of rejects bucking the system. It's class conflict at its worse with the working class slobs versus the rich kids, and the film is little more than a collection of vignettes with the barest thread tying it all together.

Only a handful of the large ensemble cast made a name for themselves after this debacle, but that short list doesn't include the film's star, Tom Parsekian. That name doesn't exactly translate well to stardom, and he's basically a poor man's Michael Keaton. He only made one other film after the bad taste from this one faded away. It's chock full of distasteful jokes and gay stereotypes, which were common in films like this, and even culminates in a sports competition between the jocks and the screw-ups. You don't get much more common that that.

And the production values are shockingly low. This looks years older than it really is. "Hot Resort" takes the worst elements of the genre and sinks it even lower. The most offensive thing about this is how ordinary it is.

Red Planet
Red Planet(2000)

Back in the 1950's. there were a lot of films about the angry red planet Mars, and "Red Planet" would have fit in with them despite the technological advances made in modern filmmaking. It's a throwback to the days when science fiction films emphasized the science aspect over everything else, and I admired it for that.

This is thoughtful and meditative over such ideals as our future as a society and the importance we place on religion, and there are no aliens to be found on this expedition. Unfortunately, I also found this film to be quite dull and at the halfway point, I was kind of hoping some aliens would show up. The special effects are awfully impressive, but I didn't find the characters or the story compelling enough to care about their plight.

The film is ultimately cold and alienating, and despite the care that went into the intricate effects and screenplay, I found little reason to continue watching. As it turns out, Mars isn't all that interesting and the film lacks a sense of urgency once Val Kilmer and his crew get there. The pace is meandering, and while great attention was paid tot he technical aspects of the script, the characters feel very one-dimensional. They are almost like people that would have existed in a '50's era flick that this emulates.

The ending is disappointing as well, as Kilmer survives but you're left to wonder what will happen to our society, as all hope has seemingly run out for us. The very premise that this is based on is forgotten about in the momentary delight of our hero's rescue. There's a lot that is good and unique about "Red Planet", but in the end, not enough to save it. It's one film that could have benefited from more of the expected.

Permanent Midnight

There have been a lot of movies about addicts and addiction, but "Permanent Midnight" finds its own story to tell despite some scenes that feel familiar and cliched. It's based on a true story but in the end that doesn't really matter all that much. The behind the scenes of a popular '80's sitcom could have been interesting, but this is more about one man's struggle and it;s all the more effective because the focus is restricted to that single storyline.

It may seem odd now to think of Ben Stiller in a role like this, but early in his career he was much more of a risk taker, and he's phenomenal in this role. More attention paid to the terrific work he did here and in other earlier, darker films might have led to him choosing more dramatic roles and the world may have been spared one more moronic comedy. Unfortunately, that never happened.

This is one of the most unflinching, rawest films on the subject of drug addiction in recent memory, not shying away from showing just how ugly and desperate people become. The film never glamorizes its subject matter, and there are plenty of characters here, written smartly, who see through Stiller's facade. It's refreshing to see.

I also appreciated the unique structure of the film, opening at the story's end and relating Stiller's descent through flashbacks. The technique can be flashy and distracting, but it works here. There's nothing at all that's flashy about this picture. "Permanent Midnight" is human and compassionate, but at the same time honest and uncompromising. Stiller's character is unsympathetic but it's perhaps the best performance of his career. It's a trendy story starkly told.


Robin Williams has finally found a co-star that is more manic, annoying and exhausting than he is. Both the substance and the film is called "Flubber", a kids movie that's completely devoid of imagination and fun. It's another product, assembled with movie cliches that are supposed to make it fun but everything is a horrible miscalculation.

Williams himself is just as tiring, but the real problem here lies with the screenplay. John Hughes shockingly co-wrote this and even more amazingly allowed his name to be left on the finished product. He made some of the best films of the 1980's, but after he wrote "Home Alone", most of the films that followed were simply variations on ideas from that monster hit. It's really kind of sad.

We get mobsters here, because all films of this nature need some sort of bad guys, getting hit on the head repeatedly with bowling balls. It's not funny once, so you can imagine how well it goes over the fourth and fifth times. As you watch the lengthy end credits crawl by, watch all the names of all the special effects and sound people it took to bring this bouncy green goo to life. You can't help but wonder why, with all of the energy that went into that aspect, more time couldn't have been spent on a decent story.

There's a lot of crazed energy here to try to convince you that you're having a good time, but I don't think it worked for everyone. "Flubber" is a desperate movie, desperate to be loved by the masses, but the film feels forced and I grew tired of it quickly.

The Pelican Brief

As a source material for Hollywood potboilers, the novels of John Grisham are routinely treated like gold. They are given solid directors and screenwriters, with a talented and varied cast to carry his tale along. "The Pelican Brief" is no such exception to that rule, but it is unfortunately a disappointing adaptation that has more talk than action and runs on far longer than it needs to.

The stars shine brightly, though. It's impossible not to root for the highly inquisitive Julia Roberts, and Denzel Washington is one of the most reliable actors working today. As an actor, his engaging demeanor helps to create characters that are easy to like, people you would follow anywhere, even if it's through plots are convoluted and murky as this on.

I must admit that, as with all of the Grisham films, I was with it in the beginning. The plot intrigued me, the solid cast sells the preposterous idea and I was hooked. But, by the second hour there had been so many hushed phone calls, secretive meetings and dubious plot twists that the central story line gets crushed under the weight and seriousness of it all. There's not fun to be had here, as the film is all business.

Alan J. Pakula is usually a reliable director, but his work here is surprisingly leaden and ponderous. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that the finale is equally joyless and anticlimactic. After everything we go through with these characters, there's no real satisfaction in the payoff when all of the conspirators are finally exposed. It's curiously muted, as is the rest of "The Pelican Brief". The cast outshines the weighty material here, and despite a nifty scenario, I couldn't help but being bored.

Friday the 13th Part 2

The so-called "dead teenagers" movies have always gotten a bad rap from the critics, and no film series seems to be more reviled than "Friday the 13th". However, the second film in the series has always been my favorite, and there are a lot of reasons why.

First off, the murders are fairly imaginative without being terribly nauseating. My favorites are the wheelchair bound Tom McBride, simply because I love the way it's set up and executed (no pun intended), and the double impaling of a couple after sex. That one had to be trimmed to avoid the X rating, and in its current form it's depressingly tame. This is one film that cries out for a director's cut.

Harry Manfredini's score always seems to be under-appreciated in the world of horror cinema, and it's just dandy this time out. There are times during the film's final showdown that it becomes eerily similar to Bernard Herrman's untouchable score for "Psycho", but it usually maintains its originality. I much preferred Jason's look in this, his first outing before he donned his iconic hockey mask. The burlap sack is much more frightening. I also liked the fact that he's vulnerable in this, at times even clumsy and oafish. Definitely not the hulking and unstoppable killing machine he would later become.

It's pretty much the same story as the first film, but there is a story punctuating all of the murders regardless of how paper thin it is. It squeezes in all of the cliches, however, like the car that won;t start and the screeching flying cat. It's kind of comforting in its predictability, I think. "Friday the 13th Part 2" is actually kind of refreshing considering how stale the franchise would become. It's hardly great art but it is entertaining.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

A lot of movies fail in their initial release and go on to enjoy a second life as a cult favorite on home video or the midnight circuit, but none of them have achieved the success or notoriety of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". The film itself is overshadowed by the antics of the fans who flock to it time and time again, and seeing it at a midnight screening is unlike anything you're likely to experience in a movie theater. It's a cultural phenomenon that has defied age and seems to be passed on from generation to generation.

The film itself is as outrageous as the hype, and you can't help but have a good time even when you can't hear what's going on on the big screen. The music is a lot of fun, most notably the most famous musical number, "The Time Warp". It's the most infectious musical sequence in the film, and the one that always gets the audience members on their feet. I also always enjoy "Sweet Transvestite", the wonderful song that follows it.

The cast is a lot of fun, but it's Tim Curry in the film's showiest performance as Dr. Frank N. Furter that garners most of the attention. I'm not sure why it didn't make Curry a superstar because despite this film's undying popularity, true success has eluded him. The movie starts to drag somewhere in the middle, shorty after the death of Meatloaf. mostly because there's not a lot of memorable music in the second half. In all honesty, the ending goes on a little too long. Maybe it's just because at that point, it's going on 1 a.m. and I'm starting to get tired.

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show" is a one-of-a-kind movie going experience that everyone should partake in at least once in their lifetime. It's a true cult classic in every sense of the phrase.

The Howling
The Howling(1981)

"The Howling" was, and remains today, a nifty horror film with touches of humor and loads of cameos and inside jokes for die hard movie buffs to enjoy. It just had the misfortune of being released in the same year as John Landis' landmark "An American Werewolf in London", and this worthy companion film somehow got lost in the shuffle.

Rob Bottin lost the first ever make-up Oscar to Rick Baker for his superior work in the Landis film, but his work here is impressive as well. The transformation scenes are somewhat repetitious but completely convincing. They also looked a whole lot less painful. Screenwriter John Sayles doesn't specialize in horror films, but he brings a real sense of maturity to the proceedings. He's also very funny in one of the film's numerous cameos.

The primary cast is all very good as well, with Dee Wallace Stone holding her own in her first starring role opposite such notables as Kevin McCarthy. Still, the biggest scene stealer is Dick Miller in a small role, a perpetual favorite of director Joe Dante. Another of his regulars, Robert Picardo, is also very memorable as menacing Eddie Quist. The film left a definite mark on me as a teenager, and that has stayed with me for a long time, and Picardo is surely a large part of that.

There are images from this that have stayed with me for nearly thirty years, and it's just as scary today as it was then. "The Howling" avoids the gore that was the norm at the time in exchange for style, mood and genuine chills. It may not be the definitive werewolf movie of its time, but it sure makes a name for itself.

The New Kids
The New Kids(1985)

When I first saw "The New Kids", I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and now some twenty odd years later I was again surprised by how well it has held up over the years. This remains a simple but effective revenge thriller with a good-looking young cast and a worthy attempt from gore-loving director Sean S. Cunningham at going more mainstream.

He mucked it up with his last attempt, "A Stranger is Watching", but the former "Friday the 13th" mastermind gets it right here. You'll find yourself involved in this a lot more than you ever thought possible. I was filled with glee as the film gets more and more over the top withe each new scene, and I loved it.

These teen-agers obviously don't believe in the Karate Kid's creed of fighting being a last resort. No, you turn James Spader down for a date and he will unleash Hell onto you and your family. And when the casting is right, there are a few people in the business who makes a more despicable villain than Spader. He's in fine form here, and a big part of why this film is so successful in attaining its minor goals. It doesn't set out to do much, but it remains one of the most memorable B movies of 1985.

The plot is definitely nothing new, and the title is completely bland and forgettable, but "The New Kids" is a deceptively effective winner. You won't be able to tell for sure just when it happens, but you'll soon find yourself rooting for these characters, and despite its low aspirations, you can't fault the film for its obvious flaws.

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)

Most people are either "Star Wars" people or "Star Trek" people, and I was always the former and proudly so. Fledgling filmmaker J.J. Abrams has successfully converted me with his bold and breathtaking retooling of the veteran series, however. He has made a film that is better than the last three "Star Wars" films, a feat that I didn't think was possible considering how creatively bankrupt the "Trek" films had become.

Abrams has thrust himself into the spotlight here, and he comes out a winner and establishes himself with just one film as a major talent. This is a visually spectacular picture, and the perfect casting is a major reason for the film's uncompromising success. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto fills shoes everyone thought were un-fillable, and by the end, they are Kirk and Spock.

The supporting cast is equal to them, and everyone (the actors and the beloved characters they play) get their moment in the sun. This welcomes all fans of wildly entertaining movies, unlike the series and the previous nine films which only really appealed to the die hard fans. This is accessible to everyone, and after about the first fifteen minutes, I was hooked. The plot is simply and not particularly original, but that only helps to make this so easy to love. It does what it sets out to do.

Credit must also be given to the screenwriters for such a fresh take on this pop culture icon that lost its way. After seeing this "Star Trek", I could never go back to the original films again. This is so good it may have spoiled me for life, and in an absolute rarity, I cannot wait for the sequel.

Say Anything...

Some actors, no matter how long their careers are or how many great films they make, will always be identified with one particular character or movie that was the defining moment in their career. That is definitely true about John Cusack, the character is Lloyd Dobler, and the film is "Say Anything".

After a decade of wonderful John Hughes teen comedies, Cameron Crowe's debut feature was a breath of fresh air, a somehow more adult teen comedy. Crowe shows the natural screenwriting ability that would mark all of his later features, and his three leads give in their all. Newcomer Ione Skye is luminous and radiant in her first feature, and while John Mahoney never quite became a household name, he shows why he should have been every time he's on the screen here.

It's so refreshing to see what is essentially a teen movie with such a strong adult character, and his relationship with Skye is charming and sweet. He's not the film's foil or the butt of all the jokes. But Cusack is the real star here in one of the best performances of his career. He has great comic timing and perfectly nuanced body language that he displays with a simple look or a grin. Cusack also brings a great vulnerability to the part that makes this film even more tender and bittersweet. This is not your typical teen comedy.

The film was produced by James L. Brooks, and you can feel his influence all over it as well. The ending is sheer perfection, and it reeks of Brooks' participation. "Say Anything" is a landmark film that redefines a genre. They should all be this good.

The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

As an actor, Matthew McConaghey seems to be picking the same role in the same movie for about the last four years now. The part he plays in "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is embarrassingly similar to his roles in "Fool's Gold", "Failure to Launch", "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and the like. I think he needs a new agent.

He hasn't played a very sympathetic character in a while, and this is a new low for him. In a romantic comedy geared primarily towards women, he plays a complete man-whore with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but somehow we're supposed to be charmed by his willingness to change for one woman. It's frankly disgusting to watch, but the sad thing is that he's played this part so many times in the past that he's gotten very good at it. I don't know if that's a credit to McConaghey or not.

This time out his prey is played by Jennifer Garner, who takes a giant step backwards in her career after her luminous performance in "Juno". She's worthy of a lot better than this role that doesn't give her a lot to do. Frankly, there's little chemistry between the two stars, and I was disappointed but not surprised to see Garner give in to McConaghey's alleged charm by the end of the picture.

Robert Forster is fun in a few key scenes, but Michael Douglas is just as unlikable in his lark of a role. In fact, the only person in the cast I was really impressed with at all was up-and-coming superstar Emma Stone. She's a blast as one of the ghosts trapped in the '80's, and I wish the movie would have been more about her. She's the only enjoyable person in the film. "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past" is as unredeemable as its lead character.

The Guardian
The Guardian(1990)

Being a horror film fan from a young age, I've learned that I have to accept a lot of unusual and improbable premises, but "The Guardian" pushes that understanding to new limits. The story here is at the very least historically inaccurate and offensive, but at the worst it's simply ridiculous and makes for one silly and unconvincing film.

There is some fun to be had here, make no mistake, but mostly it's just dull and ordinary. Film lovers have come to expect a lot more from William Friedkin, master of one of the greatest horror films of all time, "The Exorcist". Even though his career has hit a lull in recent years, I didn't realize that he had fallen this far. Frankly, this is beneath him.

The cast is bland, and you have to have a pretty good memory to remember when a major studio would release a major motion picture with such a weak cast as this. Jenny Seagrove shows a little bit of life as the tree-worshipping nanny from Hell, especially in the later scenes. For the first half of the film, she's not menacing at all. There is a ridiculous scene in which the gnarly tree (giving the best performance in the film) attacks three thugs who are in the woods inexplicably looking for women to mug and rape. The deaths are cool, ind you, but you're painfully aware that the scene was included solely to up the gore quotient.

The finale is fun, with Carey Lowell battling Seagrove in some cool make-up while Dwier Brown chops down the gore-filled tree, but you have to wonder about the safety of the baby. He's tossed around like a football to the point where I thought he might be better off with the nanny. "The Guardian" is a film that should be remade. There is a lot of room for improvement.

9 to 5
9 to 5(1980)

"Nine to Five" was a huge hit when it was released, mostly because it struck a chord with so many women who were in the work force, many for the first time, and were struggling to be treated as equals. The movie really connected with them, and for the first half of this, I could easily see why.

The casting couldn't be more perfect, and the actors sell the picture. Jane Fonda playing against type, Dabney Coleman playing a part he could play in his sleep and Lily Tomlin playing smart like only she can. They're all terrific. But quite frankly, it's Dolly Parton in her film debut that gets most of the credit for the film's success, and deservedly so. She's bigger than life and a lot of fun, bringing her natural charisma to her role that is the heart and soul of this picture.

The scenes in the workplace work, but at the halfway point, the movies spins out of control and quite simply falls apart. When things turn criminal with abduction, kidnapping and bodysnatching, the film lost me and never got me back. I would have preferred to watch a battle of wits in the office rather than the physical comedy and slapstick that follow. These characters feel smarter than that, and I was disappointed by that turn of events.

The screenwriters toss in the word "bitch" a few times, which also feels out of place in a lighthearted romp such as this. The revenge fantasy sequences are fun, and the title song is some of the best work Parton has ever done as a singer, but frankly I think the film turns ugly at the hour mark and never recovers. It works for a darker film like "Ruthless People", but it doesn't work here.

"Nine to Five" is a good-natured film that tries too hard to make everyone happy. It has all of the makings of a crowd-pleaser, and obviously it pleased a lot of people. It let me down.

The Black Dahlia

There is no doubt a great movie could be made of the grisly murder of Elizabeth Smart, and Brian DePalma is surely one director would be up for that task. However, "The Black Dahlia" is a cluttered mess of a movie, overstuffed with unnecessary plot lines and characters that only add to its muddled nature. There's so much going on here that only about half of it has to do with the murder, making this one huge missed opportunity.

DePalma has a great eye for detail, and that is clearly evident here, but there's only one scene that bears his trademark sense of style. The rest of this is pretty to look at, but ultimately bland and empty. The film is also horribly miscast. It was made at a time when Hollywood was still trying in vain to make Josh Hartnett a star, and his performance here shows exactly why that never happened. Hilary Swank had two Oscars under her belt, but she doesn't have what it takes to play a vampy femme fatale, and it's painful to watch.

And this film is so film noir-ish that they should have given cigarettes a supporting actor credit. People smoke so much in this that it's almost a joke, and certain other scenes also border on comical. Witness the dinner scene in which Swank's family, or really more specifically, any time her family is on screen. The scene where Hartnett solves the murder, which by the way is pure speculation since the actual crime has never been solved, looks like it could have been a "Saturday Night Live" skit.

Most of those scenes could have been cut out anyway since they add nothing to the story. A more factual take on this story would have been fascinating, but "The Black Dahlia" is more fiction than fact. That is disappointing to say the least.

Dead Snow (Dd sn)

The zombie sub-gernre has become so saturated over the years that you have to be something very special to stand out, something like what Peter Jackson did with "Dead Alive" about fifteen years ago. The Norwegian import "Dead Snow" comes close to being a breath of fresh air but in the end, it's only marginally successful.

There are some new ideas here, but the set-up is overly familiar and it takes far too long getting started. It's a novel idea having the characters subtly commenting on how their film starts off like so many others like it, but it still ultimately hurts your film. Some background is given on the history of Nazi occupation in this part of Norway, but it glosses over how the zombie army came to be. They make great villains at any rate, and they are seemingly still fighting the war and simply engaging the enemy when they try to eat these vacationers, but that idea is never really explored.

When the action really gets going in the last half hour, it harkens back to the aforementioned Jackson living dead opus, and the special effects are plentiful. It's all very tongue-in-cheek, down and dirty fun and the film finally breaks out and reminds us why we're watching. You have to wonder why it took so long to cut loose.

It's refreshing to see most of the action take place in the daylight, and in another move atypical of American films, none of the stars survive. The final shot is especially clever. It's one thing that helps differentiate "Dead Snow" from the pack, but it's slow to get started. The photography is unusually beautiful for a film of this nature, but it should have delivered the goods sooner.

Splatter University

There were plenty of bad slasher films in the early 1980's that left such a bad taste in the mouth of so many critics who despised the genre, and "Splatter University" was one of the worst. There's virtually nothing here to like, even if you love these films.

The acting is predictably bad, as is the writing and directing. The problem with this film is that it's especially horrible in the areas where it should excel, like the murders and the special effects. They're the only reason to see films like this, and the murders here don't live up to the sensationalistic title. The killer uses a knife to gut or slice many of his victims, and the make-up is not very convincing.

And speaking of the killer, the final reveal here is pretty obvious no matter how hard the film tries to steer you in the wrong direction. If you didn't see it coming, you must be very new to these types of flicks. Everything about this one is exceedingly lazy, from the sparsely decorated sets to the routine characters. The priests are all lustful and full of sin, the men are pigs and the women are all victims simply to be slaughtered. There's not one male victim here, and even the lead actress is killed in what may be the film's only surprise. It's so misogynistic that even the male killer's life is spared.

The "action" allegedly takes place on a college campus, but everything from the setting to the students suggest more of a high school feel. These kids behave like the Sweathogs from "Welcome Back Kotter". Despite what a lot of people think, there is good and bad in every genre of film, and "Splatter University" is one of the worst of its type you're likely to see. There's a threadbare plot, a boring cast and and dull killings. When you can't even get the deaths right, there's a problem somewhere.

Asalto a Beverly Hills

"The Taking of Beverly Hills" is a curious movie that fails on a lot of different levels, most notably failing to be an entertaining B-movie. It's too silly, forgettable and bland to even be successful at that.

Where does this film go wrong? Let's start with the most obvious mistake: the casting of Ken Wahl in the lead role. How far down in the action hero leading man barrel did the makers of this film have to scrape to come up with Wahl? He has no charisma, all of his one-liners fall with a thud and he's almost upstaged by his comic sidekick. And did I mention that his sidekick is played by Matt Frewer? It's almost like Wahl isn't here at all. He has a negative personality.

And then there's the script that almost plays like a really bad episode of "The A Team". The blandness of the screenplay is best indicated by the forgettable, routine title. The weak, boring action scenes are "PG-13" at best, but the picture managed to secure an "R" rating in a vain attempt to get some much-needed street cred. The action mostly consists of a tank blowing up buildings, and the script is full of embarrassing football cliches to play off the fact that un-hero Wahl plays a famous football star.

The movie takes far too long getting started and pads out the running time with a lot of unnecessary filler material in the beginning, and the bad guys are just as uninteresting as the rest of "The Taking of Beverly Hills". It's a dull and dim-witted movie.

Altered States

Anytime you see Ken Russell's name on a picture, you know you're in for an otherworldly filmgoing experience. Nowhere is that fact more true than with "Altered States", a mind-blowing, one-of-a-kind film that defies both logic and classification.

After the first half, I was ready to surrender. It's preachy, cerebral and almost totally incomprehensible, but once the outlandish lot is set up the film finds its groove. There are some pretty amazing special effects and this wonderful extended sequence involving William Hurt transforming into a primitive caveman. It's the highlight of this weird, muddled sci-fi/drama/horror mishmash.

Hurt himself, in his film debut, is a cold and unlikable lead, but when the story kicks into high gear sometime at the midway point, you don't notice it so much. The focus shifts away from his bizarre character, and the film becomes a lot more enjoyable. The hallucinations he has while on some sort of experimental Mexican drug are so out-there that it makes you wonder is he shared those narcotics with the entire cast and crew.

Russell can only be matched by perhaps David Cronenberg or David Lynch in the cinema of the bizarre showdown, and "Altered States" is one of the most bizarre. It goes from unwatchable to daring and unique in record time.


"Cobra" was made at a time when Sylvester Stallone was at the height of his most ego-centrical. He was one of the biggest box office draws in the world, and his films at the time reflected an inflated sense of worth. This particular film was probably the worst offender, making it so laughable that I'm forced to recommend it.

Stallone himself gives possibly the worst performance of his career, which when you consider some of his comedies is really saying something. It's an embarrassingly one-note performance completely devoid of personality, and he's forced to spout some of the worst one-liners you'll ever hear.

The rest of the characters are so underwritten that they can be labeled generically: partner, bad guy, damsel in distress, etc. I guess you're a shoe-in for the female lead when you're sleeping with the star and screenwriter. The ridiculous cult is never really given any kind of motivation. There are sleazebags, women and guys in business attire all in the cult, and their meeting that opens the film when they all clash their axes together looks like a Duran Duran video.

Still, for mindless entertainment, this can't be beat. The direction from George Cosmatos is snappy, and the film is never dull. The horrible dialogue is one for the ages, and you just have to laugh at a film that takes itself so seriously. "Cobra" is a low-point in Stallone's career, but it's still one of the best bad movies of all time.

Drive Thru
Drive Thru(2007)

In the plentiful world of made-for-video horror movies, a film can be a surprise and better than you ever expected and still be a failure. Such is the case with "Drive Thru", a twisted and mildly amusing slasher flick.
There's a lot here to like, but I still can't quite recommend it simply because the movie never breaks free from its low-budget confinement. It's good by those standards, but not by the higher standards that are set for theatrical releases. The plot is a paint-by-numbers retread of the first "Nightmare on Elm Street" picture without any of the scares of legend-making horror film icon. Horny the Clown is a lot of fun, and kind of creepy-looking in some scenes, but he's never going to be on lunch boxes like his predecessor Freddy.
Like the "Elm Street" movies, the murders are inventive to the point of being absurd (the microwave killing especially had me rolling my eyes), but the make-up effects are well done for the most part. The cast is full of likable, spunky new faces but none are spunkier than the film's star, Leighton Meester. I sure hope to see her in a lot more movies because she's terribly attractive and has a lot of charisma. She sure elevates this B-movie material with her looks and engaging performance.
Also funny is Morgan Spurlock in a winning cameo. I don't know who he owed a favor to in oder to explain this bizarre appearance, but it's one of the film's highlights. With a little more momentum, this film could have made it to the winner's circle, but "Drive Thru" just can't quite overcome its shortcomings. There's a lot here to like, but it just can't quite make the cut.

Little Fockers

No film franchise in recent memory has fallen from grace faster or farther that the one that continues with "Little Fockers". It started with "Meet the Parents", which wasn't a bad film, but you'd be hard pressed to find a reason for this latest film to exist.

I thought, as maybe a lot of people did, that this sequel would deal with the Focker children, but they're a mere afterthought here. This is simply a collection of tired showdowns between Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller. It was fresh ten years ago, but not so much anymore. In fact, this film doesn't do anything to move the franchise forward. It's just a lazy, by-the-numbers sequel that was only made to turn a profit for the studio.

Most of the jokes here are unfunny, uncomfortable, painful or all three simultaneously. And most of the alleged big laughs were used in the trailer. Why it's funny to see Stiller spray blood all over his family or inject a needle into his father-in-law's erect penis is a mystery to me. And when, in the first five minutes, the beautiful jessica Alba uses the phrase "relax the anus", it took every ounce of restraint to keep from just walking out.

And speaking of Alba, what is going on with this cast. All of a sudden, this is "Ocean's Fourteen". There are so many cast members, there isn't enough for all of them to do. You cast the legendary Dustin Hoffman, and all you have for him to do is a Flamenco dance? How many jokes can you get from Focker sounding like another infamous "F" word? See "Little Fockers" and count. Or better yet, don't.

A Stranger Is Watching

I guess after the critical drubbing Sean Cunningham took for "Friday the 13th", he felt the need to prove himself. He wanted to make a mainstream suspense film, light on gore and heavy on thrills. This is the resulting film, and it's as tepid and tame as his last film was controversial. There is an interesting premise here, and the kidnapping plot is believable and plausible. Unfortunately, the script doesn't flesh out that story well enough to keep the viewer involved.

It's not surprisingly based on a novel by Mary Higgins Clark, the queen of mediocre suspense novels, and I'm sure there would be a lot more bland suspense movies in the works if she had her way. Rip Torn is a fine actor, but he's wasted here as the kidnapper. He has a lot of potential to go over-the-edge and really take this performance to the next level, but it never happens. Thankfully, Cunningham slips back to his old ways and spices this up with some nifty, unnecessary gory murders. But the rest of this is strictly made-for-television territory.

It is kind of disappointing since the plot set-up is better than average, but the movie gets lost along the way. There's a lot of potential for "A Stranger is Watching" to be better than it's source material, but despite some good moments, there's not a lot to like here.

Howard the Duck

Some films throughout history become famous for how bad they are. Their titles become synonymous with phrases like "worst movie ever made" or "box office poison". One such film is "Howard the Duck", a project that was ill-concieved from the start and led to executives at Universal Pictures being fired and many of the primaries involved in the production having difficulty finding work after its release.

It's an oddity, really, more of a "what were they thinking" dud than anything else filled with ridiculous puns and embarrassing special effects. George Lucas allegedly spent $2 million on the duck suit alone, but it sure doesn't show in the finished product. In fact, the whole film feels decidedly low-rent when you consider what they spent on it.

There are car chases and a lot of crashes, and for most of the film, the villain is Jeffrey Jones with a voice changer and bad costume make-up. For the money, things should have been bigger. But then, when the evil Overlord leaves his human form and exposes himself for what he really is, you kind of wish for Jones back. The creature looks like a cross between a scorpion and a California Raisin.

There are more duck and bird puns and jokes than you could possibly count, and the casting of Chip Zien as Howard's vocal performer seems all wrong. His voice doesn't match Howard's personality or demeanor. The only thing appealing in the film is Lea Tompson, looking adorable and kind of sexy with her quintessential 80's hairstyle and bad but somehow enjoyably bad pop songs. It's the only highlight in a bleak, dismal curious relic from a bygone era.

I suppose it would be possible to make a "Howard the Duck" feature that works, but you'd have to forget this disaster and start from scratch. Forgetting it is the easy part.


In the annuls of horror history, 1981 was the year that the werewolf movie grew up with two of the best entries into that sub-genre getting released and inspiring the creation of a make-up category at the Academy Awards. "Wolfen" also came out that year and was unjustly lumped in with the other two, even though it's completely unlike not only those two werewolf films but most other horror films as well.

The creatures here aren't werewolves but actually wolves, and the Indian folklore indicates that they might even be shape shifters. Unfortunately, the film falters one time in the scene that really clarifies all that and really botches the explanation. I didn't know any more about their origins after that scene than I did in the ninety minutes that proceeded it, and that's frustrating but it really doesn't hinder your enjoyment of the film at all.

First-time director Michael Wadleigh packs a lot of suspense and atmosphere into the scary moments, and the special effects are groundbreaking. They were impressive upon the film's initial release, and they remain so today. Like any horror films of the day, it puts an unusual amount of emphasis on storytelling, so today's audience might find it too slow for their tastes. I relished that change of pace.

It's packed with great character actors, including Gregory Hines and Tom Noonan who are both terrific in supporting performances. They are unique characters in a very unique film, which is also greatly enhanced by touches of gallows humor that perfectly fit in with the tone of the picture. If you think you have "Wolfen" figured out by the first fifteen minutes, al I can say is think again. This is one movie that doesn't play all of its cards to soon.

The Good Son
The Good Son(1993)

"The Good Son" is a movie that I continue to enjoy even as the flaws become more and more apparent with every viewing, mostly because they don't take away from what is essentially a skillfully made, beautiful looking thriller. The film is set in Maine during the winter, and yet the cinematography is gorgeous in its starkness. At times, it almost appears to be shot in black and white.

Joseph Rubin is a talented filmmaker, and he wrings a lot of suspense out of a tale that, while shocking, has been told many times before. This updated version is made all the more shocking because it stars one of the biggest child actors of all time. Macaulay Culkin is equal to the task of playing this sadistic youngster, and most of the film's appeal comes from anticipating just how far he will go. He comes off as a little too crazy too soon for my tastes, however. It's made pretty obvious that he killed his baby brother years earlier, but somehow he manages to keep all the crazy in check until cousin Elijah Wood shows up. For whatever reason, his entire remaining family is in imminent danger as soon as that happens, and that's the hardest pill the movie asks you to swallow.

The finale was extremely controversial at the time, but looking at it now, it seems farfetched that Culkin's movie mom would make the decision that she makes considering how quickly some crucial evidence is revealed to her. Still, the whole thing will likely remain the subject of much debate.

The film's score is intrusive and seems oddly out of place for much of the picture as well, but still there's a lot of fun to be had with "The Good Son". There's still a decent thriller in here once the novelty of the premise wears off.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

"Beverly Hills Chihuahua" isn't as much a movie as it is a manufactured product pieced together with sure-fire audience pleasing moments in order to maximize its box office potential. There's no real quality in the picture, and all of the jokes are painfully obvious and dated.

We get allegedly clever lines like "Talk to the paw" and embarrassingly old and hackneyed musical choices like "Hot Hot Hot" and "I'm Too Sexy". That just goes to show how lazy and derivative this movie really is. The only positive thing I'll say about it is that it shows restraint by not including "Who Let the Dogs Out", an obviously vulgar song that might have been enough to send me running for the exits.

The script is obviously aimed at kids, and I doubt that anyone above the age of eleven will find much to smile about here. It's lame and juvenile, but at least it is a pure family film that avoids a lot of potty humor that plagues a lot of other family films. But, if you're like me, at some point in the film it will dawn on you that you've just spent ninety minutes watching cute little dogs talking to each other and you just wonder why. And then a rat and his iguana buddy are introduced and apparently the dogs can understand them too. But logic has no place n a film such as this.

When you see how poorly the lip syncing is done, you'll long for the days of "Babe". Now that was an entertaining film for both kids and adults. "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" lacks all of the imagination and wit of that film, and all you're left with is cute dogs and silly jokes. It's low-brow entertainment at its lowest.

The Verdict
The Verdict(1982)

The biggest sheer pleasure of watching "The Verdict" is getting to savor three very talented people working at the absolute top of their game. Screenwriter David Mamet gives us a smart script filled with terrific characters are moments of brilliance that greatly elevate what could have been a very pedestrian story. Mamet uses the twists and turns that are his trademark but still manages to keep the movie grounded in reality.

Courtroom dramas are a Hollywood favorite, but this one avoids all of the typical Hollywood trappings. Masterful director Sydney Lumet keeps the movie personal, and that's what keeps you watching. It's not so much about the huge court case as it is the personal struggle within its lead character, beautifully played by the incomparable Paul Newman. The film earned the veteran actor his sixth Academy Award nomination for his fearless, gutsy performance. He forgoes the good looks that helped make him a star to play a real person with real problems that you can see etched all over his face. Newman says more with his eyes and his body language than he does with his words in this picture.

You know the character's story without him ever having to open his mouth, and despite all of his faults you get behind the guy. You want to see him come out on top. Lumet could teach a lot of young directors something about the simple thrill of good storytelling. "The Verdict" is a powerful and moving film full of human drama as well as great performances and sharp writing. This is easily one of the best films of the year 1982.

In the Mouth of Madness

Director John Carpenter rarely strays outside of the horror genre, but in the same respect, he never makes the same movie twice. He continually thinks outside the box, and "In The Mouth of Madness" is one of his most ambitious films yet. I really enjoyed the set-up that introduces an intriguing mystery, and I was hooked early on.

The prologue is fresh and had my curiosity piqued, and there's some unique casting, including a rare appearance by Charlton Heston. And then the mystery takes Sam Neill to the fictitious town of Hobb's End, and the film itself takes a detour it never recovers from. Movies that blend fantasy and reality can be very effective, but for the most part I prefer my movies to be much more concrete. You never really know what's happening at any given point, and while that might have been the idea, it makes for a frustrating picture.

There are some pretty cool creatures that pop up courtesy of the masters at KNB, but the film needed some more coherency to save it. The visuals are impressive, and you can't fault Carpenter's ambitious vision. The film feels like it was heavily edited, and maybe somewhere a director's cut exists that would make this easier to follow.

There was a hard rock song playing in the version I saw at home that I don't remember seeing in the theatrical version. It seems wildly out of place for the movie and there's no credit for it as the end credits roll, leaving me to believe it was added later. "In the Mouth of Madness" is a film that I really wanted to like. Carpenter is a personal favorite of mine, and I can admire the fact that he likes to take risks but this one doesn't pay off. There's a lot to like here, but the fantasy elements are convoluted and confusing. It's a let down.

Surviving the Game

The 1924 story "The Most Dangerous Game" has been the inspiration for a lot of modern and very violent films, and "Surviving the Game" is one of the better ones. It's a gritty, exciting and beautifully shot film by director Ernest Dickerson, who shows a real flair here. He really should have had a better career.

The action sequences are well directed, and it's an easy film to get behind. Ice T isn't much of an actor, but he does make for a very sympathetic lead character here. He's a man of few words, which is probably for the better, but you root for him nevertheless. The film is cast with a vast array of great bad guys, and only Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham feels out of place. Rutger Hauer plays a villain like nobody else can. He's made a career out of it, but here he is curiously subdued.

In fact, the best performance in the film comes from a whacked out Gary Busey. His dinner scene story about how he got his scar is an instant classic, and this is one of the most memorable roles of his entire career. Why the screenwriters thought it was in the film's best interest to kill him off first is beyond me. In fact, the entire dinner sequence is very entertaining. Just listen to every single demented line of dialogue. How can you not love it?

The ending, however, feels tacked on and not very well thought out. Having Ice T follow Hauer to the big city to settle their differences could have worked, but it feels like the writers got lazy. It's very anticlimactic, and ends the film with more of a whimper than a bang. For the most part, however, "Surviving the Game" is a lot of fun. It tells an oft told story with newfound style and energy, and a great cast that somewhat disappoints. It's a mixed bag but I can easily recommend it.


"Obsessed" is a hugely watchable guilty pleasure that is squarely aimed at the target audience that is too young to remember "Fatal Attraction" almost two decades earlier. There are slight differences between the films (this one brings the race card into play), but they both tell essentially the same story.

I was drawn into that story right from the start, which is kind of sad to say considering how derivative the whole thing is, but I was hooked. The direction is flashy and slick to be sure, but I credit to two female leads for the film's moderate success. Idris Elba is a talented actor who has some good moments in mediocre movies in the past such as "Daddy's Little Girls", but his role here is unremarkable. The girls are the stars here.

Ali Larter has looker hotter on film before (for proof, simply witness the whipped cream bikini in "Varsity Blues"), but she has a lot of fun in this underdeveloped role, vamping it up for the camera. The screenplay doesn't give you enough information or insight into her character to be as convincing as Glenn Close was, but she's still fun to watch. The writers, however, give all of the best lines and crowd-pleasing moments to Beyonce Knowles. As an actress, she was on a roll with good performances in high-profile films like "Cadillac Records" and "Dreamgirls". This movies is a hit, and she's the best thing in it, but it won't do a lot to strengthen her credibility as a serious actress. But her showdown with Larter that closes the film outdoes even the best Jerry Springer episode.

"Obsessed" doesn't break any new ground, but it is very entertaining.

This Girl's Life

At first, "This Girl's Life" struck me as a cold and pretentious drama, and it turned me off right from the start. But then, I started to get involved in the story, mostly because of the very likable and charismatic performance of newcomer Juliette Marquis. The entire house of cards that is this movie is placed squarely on her untested shoulders, and while I can't quite recommend this, she's the only reason I warmed up to this at all.

She's completely stunning with a body to match that she isn't at all shy about showing off, but she's also a natural in front of the camera. She puts a lot of her won natural charm into this underdeveloped character and makes her worth watching. Unfortunately, everything else in the picture is forgettable and phony. I felt sorry for James Woods who seems to have fallen from grace here playing Marquis' Parkinson's affected father. I thought it was a pretty embarrassing performance, despite the fact that the film consulted an expert in the field of the disease and it's endorsed by the Michael J. Fox foundation. In my book, Woods still comes off as phony.

Several other performances also left a bad taste in my mouth, such as Michael Rapaport as a sleazy car dealer, and Ioan Gruffudd as a potential adulterer. The writer/director goes by the name Ash (did I mention I first found the film to be pretentious?) seems to be going more for shock value than any real filmmaking talent.

"This Girl's Life" isn't nearly shocking enough for that strategy to be successful. It's a mixed bag with a strong central character.

Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane (Plane Dead)

Showing fearless B-movie fans everywhere that there are worse things you can be trapped with on a plane than snakes comes "Flight of the Living Dead", a nifty little horror flick that defies its budget. There are some amazingly impressive shots in this, especially during the climax when the plane goes down. This looks like a major motion picture despite its limited theatrical release, and it sure was better than a lot of horror films I paid to see in theaters this year.

The blood flows freely and the pacing is fast and furious for the last forty0five minutes. Director Scott Thomas sure knows how to keep things lively. The problem is that the first half drags and things do take some time to get started. There's a lot of plot to set up for the mayhem that follows and most of it is pretty ridiculous. I think in real life you'd be hard pressed to find a commercial airline that would transport scientific zombie experiments no matter how experienced the one guard you put in charge of it is.

There is, however, some inspired casting, most notably Richard Tyson and Raymond Barry. There are some impossibly hot stewardesses and a great villain in Erick Avari. He's pretty ordinary as a human villain, but when he's transformed into the living dead it's an impressive sight. He makes for one of the most sinister-looking zombies in movie history.

There's a lot of fun to be had in "Flight of the Living Dead". There's nothing like watching zombies being sucked out of a plane at 35, 000 feet. A little more of that during the first half of this would have really made tis a big winner. As it stands now, it's a made-for-video movie that bests most of the studio horror flicks that made it to the silver screen this year.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Few filmmakers have had their back up against the wall as badly as George Lucas. The pressure to follow-up his original "Star Wars" trilogy with films of equal value must have been overwhelming, so much so that the next chapter in the saga was bound to be maligned no matter what. And that it was, but the question remains. How unjustly was "The Phantom Menace" criticized?

It's not in the same league (or more precisely, universe) as its predecessors, that much is true. Many of the new characters just do not have the enduring appeal of the ones we know and love, and some are just downright annoying. And the two that I connected with the most, Liam Neeson's Qui-Gon Jinn and the delightfully malicious Darth Maul, are killed in their very first film. That seems like a huge mistake on the part of Lucas.

The story is crowded and much less compelling this time out, dealing with some mumbo-jumbo about a Trade Federation, but what the film does achieve is laying out the backstory to this classic franchise. The acting is wooden, as is a great deal of the dialogue, but the special effects are still cutting edge. Nobody in recent memory has welded CGI and other insurmountable special effects as seamlessly as Lucas does here. Nowhere in this picture is the jarring sensation that we are watching something that was generated by computers and not something real. That may be the film's greatest strength.

You definitely cannot please everyone, but the backlash against "The Phantom Menace" is mostly unfair. It had an impossible task laid out for it, and it does the best that it can with that.

Donkey Punch
Donkey Punch(2008)

No other genre out there is afraid to cannibalize freely from other films than thrillers and horror movies. Maybe it's because all of the good ideas have already been used, or maybe it's just because filmmakers have become lazy. "Donkey Punch" would like to think it's something special, and it is a lot more graphic and visceral than most.

However, it is very derivative at its core, borrowing heavily from films such as "Dead Calm" or "Very Bad Things" only without the tension of the former or the dark humor of the latter. The set-up is quite good, and I was with the film for the first half. I wanted to see where it would go. Unfortunately, writer/director Oliver Blackburn only does the expected, and his feature film debut really isn't all that special.

Granted, some of the deaths are spectacularly gruesome (especially the death by flare), but Blackburn carries the whole thing out with precious little visual flair. The pacing is off, and there's too much dialogue when the movie should be growing more frantic. The characters aren't very bright either, and it seems to take them a lot longer to figure things out than the audience.

There's some audaciousness here that I liked, from the title to the erotic sex scene, but so much of it is disappointingly routine and ordinary. Frankly, there's no one to root for here, making the whole thing kind of pointless as well. "Donkey Punch" is a film that needed to cut loose bigger and more often than it does, if for no other reason than to set it apart from all the others. It's desperate to be admired, and I did want to like it, but unfortunately it's pretty forgettable.


There's a reason so many nature-run-amock movies are getting made, and primarily it's because you don't need to put a lot of thought into them. Nowhere is that lack of imagination more apparent than in "Razortooth", the latest killer animal opus to surface on DVD.

This one is about a gigantic, meat-eating eel let loose in the swamps of Florida, even though this was filmed in Louisiana, and it's about as bad as they get. Everything about it is lousy, from the acting to the writing, but in films like this I prefer to focus on the special effects. Everything from the larger than life critter to most of the murders are CGI, and it's all just awful and one more example of why these pictures are so easy to make.

The eel is simply laughable in every shot that it's in, and several times it almost looks like a sock puppet. In fact, that might have seemed more realistic. You just have to wonder what's worse: the lazy filmmakers who are just fine with putting out junk like tis or the indiscriminate public who is OK with it being this terrible. Still, there are many other problems here.

There are the point of view shots from this enormous creature and yet the people its watching can't see it, or the "dead" guy who can barely keep his eyes shit as our hero riffles through his pockets. And you can't help but laugh at the warning of the dangers of global warming over the credits, even though the film's creature was the result of genetic tinkering. There's a lot wrong with "Razortooth". In fact, I can't think of one thing that's right about it.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

If it wasn't for the fact that it came out in 2008, any movie lover would swear that "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" was a John Hughes film. It features the same young, hot cast and eclectic soundtrack full of cool up and coming bands. This new film closely follows the Hughes method of success, and it quickly won me over.

The music is great, and being a music lover, it's very refreshing to see a movie for young people that has a good and healthy respect for the art form. The scene near the end of the film that takes place in Jimi Hendrix's former studio is sweet in the context of the film but is also a real treat for music buffs for other reasons.

And then there's the near perfect casting of the two leads. Michael Cera continue the roll he's been on lately with another funny, quirky and understated performance, and Kat Dennings makes quite the impression in her first starring role. She's a beauty in an unconventional way, but it's her personality and razor sharp wit that made such a statement here. Their relationship develops is a completely fresh and offbeat way, but that's what makes it so real and convincing.

The dialogue is smart and quirky, but it's not written to the level of quirkiness as something like "Juno" that put so many people off. This is just a sweet and smarter alternative to recent gross-out junk like "Sex Drive" and "College". It's a great throwback to those great teen movies of the 80's, and "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is also a great date movie for people of any age. It's for lovers of both good movies and good music.

Urban Justice (Renegade Justice)

"Urban Justice" closely follows the mathematics of making a Steven Seagal B-movie. Take a bland, generic and completely meaningless title and mix in a routine plot (a man with a secretive past searches for his son's killers) and add in universally boring bad guys (street gangs and crooked cops). That's this film in a nutshell, and it's not too far removed from the hits he made when the action star burst onto the scene only without the spark.

The direction is sluggish, and what action there is here is listless and uninspired. The film even looks horrible. There is some great looking stock-footage of flying over Los Angeles at night, but unfortunately, this was filmed in a very unsightly Albuquerque and that ugly scenery does little to improve the film much.

Seagal kills a bunch of gang-bangers even though he finds out they had little to do with the death of his son, and his martial arts skills are still pretty rusty. He opts for artillery over his fists here, and every single person killed is shot in slow motion and they all loose about a gallon of blood. Every kill reminded me of Gallagher smashing watermelons. Seagal is his usual boring self, but Eddie Griffen tries to liven things up in a rare serious role apparently trying to channel a gangster rapper. He's a bland villain, but he's still better than Kirk B.R. Woller playing the dirty detective.

The filmmakers pull a major coupe getting Danny Trejo in a supporting role, but in keeping with the theme, they fail to do anything interesting with him. "Urban Justice" fails on almost every level. It's dull, unpleasant to look at and very boring.


Michael Douglas stars in yet another hot button issue movie in "Disclosure", a sexually charged courtroom thriller that turns the gender table on the issue of sexual harassment. This is a smart, timely picture that entertains while ensuring a healthy discussion on the car ride home.

Douglas gives a typically strong lead performance, and that shouldn't be a shock considering he's played this same part in many different movies. Demi Moore has quite possibly never looked better on camera before, and she hits all the right notes as a character you love to hate. The harassment scene starts shakily as almost a parody, but Moore sells it and the end result is hot and yet unquestionably ambivalent.

Barry Levinson may seem like an odd choice to direct a film of this nature, but his direction is tight and sure-footed as usual. The script is intelligent and full of surprises as there always seems to be one more twist when most movies would be content to wrap things up. The finale is satisfying, and even though it doesn't end with a bang like say "Fatal Attraction", it remains true to the tone of the picture.

There is a ridiculous moment near the end where Douglas uses virtual reality to garner information that just doesn't work at all, but author Michael Crichton has always been obsessed with technology and science fiction. It just doesn't fit here. And even though the film was cutting edge upon its initial release, that technology seems wonderfully dated now. "Disclosure" is a tense, topical film that never takes the easy way out and it's wildly entertaining.

In the Name of the Father

"In the Name of the Father" is an enormously draining true-life drama made even more powerful by its two lead, Oscar nominated performances. Even though they were only separated by eleven years in real life, Daniel Day Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite make a convincing father and son, and Postlethwaite seemingly comes from nowhere with this heartfelt, compassionate performance.

We've come to expect greatness from Day Lewis, and he does not disappoint here either. Watching his transformation from aimless street punk to civil rights crusader is mesmerizing. My only complaint is that it comes too late in the film. I would also have liked to see more of Emma Thompson in a supporting role as the lawyer who eventually frees him. The film spends too much time in the prison and not enough focusing on her efforts to prove his innocence.

The scene in the courthouse that closes the picture is powerful when Gerry Condon is ultimately vindicated, but it feels rushed. Many of the characters are composites of real people and some, like Don Baker's character who confesses to being the real bomber behind bars, are completely fictitious. More time should have been spent on Thompson's story than his, especially considering he was never even a part of the actual story.

Still, the film is very potent and the story needed to be told, and under Jim Sheridan's masterful direction, it moves briskly and draws you in. But the performances and story are the real draws here, and in that respect, "In the Name of the Father" is worthy of all the praise. The dramatic licenses add little, as the real events are compelling enough without all of the embellishments.


"Cocktail" was the quintessential 80's movie, flashy with a great soundtrack and so lightweight it could almost blow away. The first half hour is admittedly entertaining, with Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown hamming it up as the two most flamboyant bartenders in New York City.

Their scenes behind the bar are well filmed and well directed, and their snappy banter is a lot of fun as well. They have a lot of chemistry, and ultimately, their relationship is the only meaningful one in the entire picture. Cruise was the biggest star in the world when this film was released, but this was easily his least likable character and performance. That still stands true today. He's a materialistic womanizer who only sleeps with people when he can get something from them.

A one night stand with Elizabeth Shue results in a pregnancy, and his uncle's advice is to run. I guess it's supposed to be chivalrous when he turns down money from her father to do just that, but you never get the bad taste out of your mouth. The predictable conclusion where she leaves her family for a guy she's known less than a week is typical Hollywood romanticism, but it doesn't feel very generous.

The movie was doing fine by dealing with Cruise's life as a master mixologist. We really didn't need all this messy plot mucking up the mildly diverting first half hour of "Cocktail". Shue is radiant, but even a person as naive as her deserves better than this self-important pretty boy. Cruise's character completely derails what could have been a pleasant distraction.

The Hard Way
The Hard Way(1991)

"The Hard Way" is a pretty standard cop buddy picture in which only one of the principals is actually a cop, and the routine material is elevated by a couple of strong lead performances. James Woods could play this part in his sleep, but there is a reason he keeps getting chosen for roles like this. He's good at them. The character is pretty ordinary, but Woods adds his usual vulgar demeanor to bring him to life, in a good way. Michael J. Fox is a lot of fun in a part that seems tailor-made for him, and yet it's still a departure from any of his previous work. One of the best scenes in the film comes early on when he discusses his desire to star in a grittier project with his agent, played by a terrific Penny Marshall. I would have liked to see more of her.

There is an unnecessary subplot involving the hunt for a serial killer played by a silly Stephen Lang that takes the movies down some dark and needlessly violent roads in full "Lethal Weapon" mode. But unlike the Mel Gibson classic, this has a decidedly lightweight feel to it and all of that nastiness feels out of place with the film's mostly comic tone. Lang, however, is seemingly enjoying chewing the scenery here, even if his character's motivation is never made clear. He's just a plot device to hang this movie on, but it would do just fine without him.

There's enough of a story here when the film focuses on Woods and Fox and their chemistry together. The finale is fun, with it's not-so-subtle homage to "North By Northwest", but it's slightly marred by it's obvious use of green screens and stunt doubles. There's not a lot of big laughs in "The Hard Way", but it is a very agreeable time-killer with a couple of good performances that help it rise above the ranks.

Female Trouble

Director John Waters has always been known for pushing the boundaries in films like "Polyester", but before all that he made several truly underground films that were highly experimental and got away with murder. The first of those movies was "Female Trouble", and this is one film that should have stayed under ground.

I'm all about films that push the limits, but I had abandoned all hope for this at the ten minute mark. Before that I was with this all the way, but it makes a wrong turn and never recovers. This is bleak, annoying and hard to watch for most of its running time. In fact, I can't see this picture appealing to anyone outside of Waters' hardcore homosexual following.

I've never wanted to be a member of the mainstream movie-going public until I saw this revolting renegade picture. It's obviously meant to be high camp, but it's never funny and very unappealing. It's hard to imagine the attempted rape of a fourteen year old to work in any kind of film, but it's especially distasteful in an alleged comedy such as this.

Divine is an actor/actress that only the gay community could adore. For the rest of us, there is no appeal. He's like a relative that tells racist, offensive jokes over the holidays that you can't get rid of. In fact, there's no character or performer in this that you like or can relate to in any way, shape or form. Waters may have started his cult following with "Female Trouble", but it didn't gain him any ground with me. This is a shameful, embarrassing and appalling film. Having an open mind won't make this any easier to swallow.

Seven (Se7en)

Like all great directors, David Fincher has had a few missteps along the way in his short but very esteemed career, but when he's at the top of his game, few filmmakers can touch him. Until he topped himself years later with "Zodiac" Fincher was at his best with "Seven", a dark, fascinating and goose bump inducing film that remains one of the definitive serial killer movies ever made.

This is a brilliantly cast and smartly written thriller that is so stylish that it's style almost becomes a character in the film. Morgan Freeman keeps getting cast in mentoring roles such as this, and it's easy to see why: he's so good at it. But the real surprise here is Brad Pitt who forgoes his pretty boy looks for this gritty and impressive performance. It remains one of the milestones of his career.

The story is lurid and the murders are gruesome, but the film is so intelligent and that keeps it from becoming a freak show like "Saw" or flashy like the "CSI" programs that obviously owe so much to this film. This never fails to cast its spell no matter how many times you see it, and it pulls you in every single time.

For proof of that, witness the final half hour of this extraordinary picture. The minute Kevin Spacey walks in to that police station, all bets are off. What follows is one of the most tense, excruciating and suspenseful thirty minutes in recent film history. You don't know where it's going, the dialogue is tantalizingly vague and Spacey nails his mind-bending cameo like only he can. And the payoff definitely satisfies. To this day, it's as shocking and mesmerizing as it was the first time. Movies like "Seven" are a rare find, and you won't soon forget it.

True Lies
True Lies(1994)

No one would dispute the statement that James Cameron is one of the premier event filmmakers working today, and because of that, "True Lies" should have been a home run. And the action scenes are indeed amazing. The last half hour is especially impressive with an amazing car/helicopter chase over a bridge and the breathtaking finale involving a skyscraper and a fighter jet.

Cameron's action sequences always have a thrilling, go-for-broke quality to them that I love and you'll walk out of this film on a thrill-ride high. Unfortunately, it can't make up for the giant derailment that occurs throughout the film's middle section. The subplot involving Bill Paxton as a wannabe spy and Arnold's suspicions that his wife is cheating on him make up a bulk of the film, and I have no idea why. There are a few good moments, most notably Jamie Lee Curtis' funny and sexy striptease. But for the most part, it's a hugely contrived waste of time. It almost feels like you're watching two movies simultaneously, one very good and the other a merely passable time-killer.

Schwarzenegger is actually quite good. Despite the outlandish, thrilling and over-te-top action, he actually plays a real person here. He's not yet ready to take over the James Bond role, but his performance here is light years ahead of his "Commando" and "Raw Deal" characters. Also good is co-star Tom Arnold, putting aside all of his bad press and past failures to turn in a fine comedic performance as Arnold's wisecracking partner.

"True Lies" is a film that I really wanted to like a lot more than I actually did. With some editing and more of a focus on the action, this could have been a whole lot better.


"Eraser" is one of the better action pictures than Arnold Schwarzenegger turned out during the '90's because of a good script and sharp directing. Chuck Russell cut his teeth in low-budget but memorable horror films, and he makes the jump here to big-time action director seamlessly. Some of it is pretty standard, but there are some exciting and unique sequences here that make this better than the rest.

Schwarzenegger himself is a commanding presence once again, but he is playing a real character here. He has cut down considerably on the silly one-liners that he's known for (a few still slip in from time to time), and he's still basically a one-man army but he feels more three dimensional. The villains are pretty familiar, and even a talented, Oscar nominated actor like James Cann doesn't do a lot with his role. Anyone who's seen a movie before can tell you the second he appears on the screen that he's the bad guy. The screenwriters do not disappoint.

The ending is a basic Schwarzenegger shoot-out, but there are some great moments earlier in the film that stand out. CGI is used to create an amazing sequence in which Arnold jumps out of a plane sans parachute and a terrific scene involving alligators inside a zoo. They aren't 100% convincing computerized effects but they still are very impressive.

Vanessa Williams doesn't make much of an impression as an actress here, but it is refreshing to see that a romantic relationship doesn't develop between the two leads. They don't even kiss after a thrilling climax on top of a freight container. And those high-tech guns are pretty cool too. "Eraser" is a smart, fast-paced winner.

Home of the Brave

I don't know why the aftermath of the Vietnam War resulted in so many landmark films and yet only one filmmaker has been able to properly capture the trauma surrounding those touched by the Iraqi conflict. For the record, that filmmaker is not Irwin Winkler. His film, "Home of the Brave", is a huge disappointment.

This is an obvious, heavy-handed drama with some good writing and a couple of strong performances. Samuel L. Jackson is almost always very good even in the worst of films, and this is no exception. There are a few over-the-top moments here that are either embarrassing or unintentionally funny, but Jackson also provides the film's few genuine moments as well. The scenes with his wife and son are touching, but the rest of the cast doesn't fare quite as well.

Curtis Jackson is totally forgettable in a stock role that doesn't really give him a lot to do, and Jessica Biel is all wrong for her part. She's been good in other films, but it's hard to take her seriously in this role. She doesn't look like a war veteran, and she doesn't act like one either. When she gets her Vietnam-era prosthetic , I felt sorrier for the actress than her character. I thought technology had come a little farther than that.

But the real problem here lies with the script. These characters feel more like excuses for the screenwriter tow ax poetic on the virtues and drawbacks of the war than real people. They're like talking heads extolling obvious talking points and the writers go to great extremes to make them fit into the context of this story. Other than Jackson's handful of good moments, none of these characters have any genuine dramatic impact. Sadly enough, the same can be said for "Home of the Brave". This is a glib and obvious movie.

Heart and Souls

Normally, a movie like "Heart and Souls" wouldn't do much for me, but this is a surprisingly effective charmer. Thanks to some smart writing and winning performances, I fell for this lightweight, slight romantic comedy.

As a director, Ron Underwood has been responsible for some great films but the writers here are the ones who really leave their mark. This is an old-fashioned, sweet and sentimental film that is a refreshing change of pace. When people say, "They don't make 'em like they used to", they very easily could have been talking about this picture.

The casting couldn't be more perfect. It's filled with good performances, including the usually reliable Alfre Woodard and Elisabeth Shue. But it's Robert Downey Jr. who steals the show much like he has in past films such as "Chances Are". In fact, he's probably the only actor alive who could have pulled off this physical, wacked-out role. He's a great comic actor, and he's a lot of fun to watch when the supporting cast of angels invade his body, but he's also very good in the romantic scenes with Shue.

I was instantly charmed by the film, and I never once let my cynicism kick in. I bought this contrived storyline hook, line and sinker and the film won me over right from the start. For all of these reasons, the movie works and I fell for it on the strengths of Downey's terrific performance. He carries an able cast, and turns what could have been a forgettable film into a great date movie. You could do a lot worse than "Heart and Souls". If it worked on me, most everyone else should be satisfied as well.

Bee Movie
Bee Movie(2007)

I'm not sure what it was about "Bee Movie" that made Jerry Seinfeld want this film to be his first project after ending one of the most successful TV sitcoms in history. There are a few funny-for-adult moments here, but the vast majority of this is strictly kiddie stuff and none of it is at the level of the Pixar movies.

In a year that saw the release of "Ratatouille", you really have to bring your A-game to get noticed, and this is not a film that can compete. Seinfeld has some funny lines here, but he's pretty much upstaged by Chris Rock in a cameo performance as a mosquito. He really livens this up, but it's all too brief.

There's absolutely nothing special about the paint-by-numbers animation. In a world full of technological advances, this curiously old school cartoon just feels dated. See this and "Beowulf" in the same week and you'll see what I mean. I did enjoy some aspects of the storyline such as the bee's work life, but then the film goes for the message and it lost me completely. I guess you can't have a cute, family friendly kids movie without teaching them all something along the way. In reality, all that does is mute what little fun the film had to offer in the first place. The message falls on deaf ears.

There's no doubt that Seinfeld is a very talented guy, but he should have spent those talents on a more deserving project than "Bee Movie". The film has a few moments in the sun, but for the most part, it's a disappointment. It won't make you go out and join Greenpiece or switch to organic honey, and it really won't make you laugh all that much either.

Blood Work
Blood Work(2002)

Clint Eastwood's days of playing Dirty Harry Callahan are clearly behind him, and his latest film as star and director has him playing an age appropriate retired FBI profiler. It's a part that fits Eastwood, tailor-made for him even, and he's not the reckless, one-man police force that he made famous in "Blood Work". He's a heart patient this time out, and his vulnerability makes him easier than ever before to identify with.

The film is a sharp police procedural, more laid back and mature than his "Dirty Harry" films, with a terrific jazz score and an unusual premise that grabs your attention and holds it. Unfortunately, things fall apart and they fall apart fast in the final act. The revelation of the killer is a joke, and it comes so far out of left field that it feels tacked on solely to throw the audience for a loop. It does just that, but it just doesn't feel genuine and betrays everything good that the film had going for it.

The finale that features Jeff Daniels getting trigger happy with a machine gun, is quite simply ludicrous. He looks like Scarface, and that's completely out of place here. Also not fitting in is a supporting performance by Paul Rodriguez spouting inappropriate and stereotypical humor. It would have fit in during many other Eastwood films, but it doesn't in this one.

I was also disappointed to see a romantic relationship develop between the star and his much younger co-star Wanda DeJesus. I was about to praise the film for avoiding that cliche, but it eventually gives in. There's a lot to admire about "Blood Work", but a lot of it goes awry in the last minute. Until then, it's a very enjoyable thriller.


The Sy Fi Channel loves movies about bloodthirsty creatures and killer animals, so with that in mind, "Abominable" fits right in with their programming. And while no one will ever mistake it for a good film, it does stand out a little bit from their usual fare because it's not complete and utter garbage. There is some fun to be had here.

The pacing from director Ryan Schifrin is sure and steady, and the cast is a great mix of seasoned B-movie veterans and beautiful up and coming actresses. Unfortunately, the newcomers get most of the screen time and vets like Dee Wallace Stone and Lance Henriksen are relegated to one or two scenes before they are either killed or forgotten about.

The film plays like a cheap knockoff of "Rear Window", only Jimmy Stewart had a murderer to contend with and not a giant sasquatch. The creature effects, however, are some of the worst you're likely to see in a film of any budget, with the monster looking like the abominable snowman from "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" in a lot of the scenes. Not very frightening, to say the least.

The filmmakers also have a major problem with consistency and scale, as when he's in the forest the creature is as tall as the towering trees. And yet despite that, he easily fits on the first floor of a two story cabin when he's inside. The prologue scene, however, featuring Stone and Rex Linn is actually well shot and I had hoped this would turn out better than it does. All of that is thrown out the window once the campiness sets in, and even then, "Abominable" is marginally entertaining. There's no way I can't quite recommend it, but it's better than you're expecting it to be.

The Food of the Gods

H.G. Wells remains one of the greatest science fiction authors to have ever worked in the field, but leave it to the schlockmeisters Bert I Gordon and American Pictures International to turn his "Food of the Gods" into one of the campiest and most unforgivably silly sci-fi movies of all time.

This is a completely ridiculous picture that could have been fun if anyone involved with making it had been in on the joke. This takes itself way too seriously despite its meager aspirations. When you have a scene involving Marjoe Gortner being attacked by giant chickens, and it's played straight, there's a problem. The film is apparently supposed to be a parable for the dangers of pollution and modernization, but nobody involved with it was smart enough to pull that off.

In reality, it's never more than a dumb B horror movie. It focuses primarily on the giant rats, and that's probably because it's the only special effect the film pulls off convincingly. The aforementioned chickens are embarrassing, and the giant wasps are filmed in a way that it's nearly impossible to tell what they are. The giant rats at least look somewhat realistic, especially in the frequent scenes in which they are shot. I know this was made before anyone had ever formed PETA, but it looks like these rodents were actually shot and drowned. The final scene where they are flooded out looks like someone is making the world's worst soup. It's one of the funnier shots in the film.

I doubt this drive-in classic was what the author had envisioned when he wrote "The Food of the Gods" in 1904. It's absurd to the highest degree, but someone forgot to make it fun. Someone could have done something more with this source material.

March of the Penguins

"March of the Penguins" remains one of the most successful documentaries of all time, and one of the biggest surprise hits of the year. Frankly, it's easy to see why this simple yet compelling film started America's cinematic love affair with the flightless birds of the film's title.

This is a thoroughly engrossing film that is cute enough to appeal to kids as well as their parents. It balances the fluffy cuteness with the harsh reality of the animal's existence so perfectly tat it works as both as a piece of entertainment and as an informative educational tool as well. That's the closest explanation to the film's enduring box office appeal that you're likely to get.

You could ask for a better narrator than actor Morgan Freeman who's almost made a career out of voice-over work. The film is beautifully shot by director Luc Jacquet, and while the penguin's fight for survival in this harsh environment is amazing, perhaps the film's most compelling moments come during the closing credits. That's when we get to see all of the difficulties the filmmakers went through making the movie. It has paid off for them with a hit film and an Oscar, but you have to wonder how much they sacrificed to get there.

Some of the footage is really amazing, once again showing why this is a worthwhile film for people of all ages. "March of the Penguins" is a miracle of a movie in more ways than one, a nature documentary with no actors that will win over your heart. It will make you smile and your kids will love it too.

Survivor Exposed

Much like their hardcore counterparts, the softcore porn that litters Cinemax after hours has had some great results doing take-offs of popular movies and television shows. One of those such films is "Bare-Naked Survivor", and this one is a disappointment. You shouldn't walk away from one of these movies feeling more frustrated than you were going into it, but that is certainly the case here.

The girls are typically beautiful, and they all have amazing bodies that they're not shy about showing off. That's the only reason that this film doesn't get a lower rating than it already is. The problem lies with the fact that there's only one scene of these beautiful actresses showing each other some love, and it's short and not nearly as hot as it should be. Why else does a person go to see a movie like this? It's certainly not for the "acting", the dialogue or the alleged witty attempts at humor. In fact, the humor is pretty silly and obvious, and some of it is just plain embarrassing.

I just about gave up on the film when the ape showed up completely out of the blue. As far as the actresses themselves, they're all cute to varying degrees, but Aria Giovanni has the best body in the film and Alexus Winston has the single hottest scene. Her character in the movie may be a Bible thumper, but her solo tent scene is a scorcher. You almost wish that could have been the entire ninety minute movie. Then you wouldn't really need a director, a script or the entire rest of the cast. Or the guy in the ape costume.

"Bare-Naked Survivor" should have been a lot more fun, but it just doesn't deliver the goods. All of the elements are in place, but it misses almost every opportunity.

Different Strokes

There's a certain train-wreck quality to "Different Strokes" because it stars former teen star Dana Plato, and the morbid aspect of the film has only increased now that she is dead. She doesn't flaunt her body as much as her beautiful co-star Landon Hall, and you have to wonder why that is. I mean, there's no other reason to see this dud.

It ranks as one of the most fascinating films I've seen in recent memory, as most of the sex scenes are disappointingly abrupt, especially the lesbian sex scenes. I've read online that the film was longer and not as heavily edited in the video cassette version, so why they chopped up the DVD so much is a complete mystery to me.

Plato's performance consists of being a ball-breaking lesbian who is constantly giving advice that no one ever asks for, and it would be funny if it wasn't so annoying. In fact, the only person in the cast I even remotely identified with was Bentley Mitchum as the guy who loses his girlfriend to another woman. Waiting to see what he was going to do next to get his revenge was the only pleasure I got from this tedious, low-budget mess.

It plays like a less-titillating late night Cinemax movie that cuts the sex in half but doubles up on the plot. You can't help but wonder, "Why?" All of that virtually ensures that there is absolutely no reason to see "Different Strokes". It's soft core porn at its worse, if there is such a thing.

The Fly
The Fly(1986)

Most remakes, especially horror remakes, are weak and unnecessary wastes of time. But, in the hands of delightfully demented director David Cronenberg, a movie like "The Fly" becomes an event. The original is a classic, albeit a sometimes silly and outdated one, but this new version is nothing like you've ever seen before.

For starters, the casting is perfect. Geena Davis earns her stripes in one of her first major roles, but it's Jeff Goldblum who steals the show here. This oddball, demanding role is perfectly suited to his talents, and he makes tis character both sympathetic and terrifying.

As out-there as this subject matter is, this is Cronenberg's most accessible film in years and his direction has never been better. All of his films feature his trademark weirdness, and this one is certainly no exception. The special effects are realistic and disturbing, making this a horror lover's dream and certainly not for the squeamish. Still, as outlandish as the film gets, it's always rooted in a sense of reality. The scientific aspect of the story is still science fiction, but what makes it so effective is that it feels so believable. That keeps the film grounded in reality so that when it turns horrifying, your fondness for these characters almost turns it into a tragedy.

Composer Howard Shore also gives us one of the best scores of his esteemed career as far as moviegoing experiences go. "The Fly" is about as unique as hey come. Cronenberg may have topped himself with this one.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

John Hughes made his share of clunkers during his career, but when he was at the top of his game he was a master of elevating simple stories into high art. There's probably not a finer example of that skill than "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", a simple road trip disaster movie that we've all seen before but you won't see it done better than this.

Hughes' script is pure comic genius and it mines big laughs from every situation presented here, no matter how routine. But, it also creates two well-drawn, likable characters so that when the film does try to tug the heartstrings, that works too. Steve Martin and John Candy couldn't have been better cast. Martin's straight-laced, deadpan comedy stylings are a perfect match for Candy's slovenly charm. This is one of the most inspired pairings to come out of the 1980's.

The movie is also jam-packed with hilarious cameos by the likes of Ben Stein and Edie McClurg. Her scene alone is priceless, and it's one of the biggest laughs in this consistently hilarious movie. There are also great bits involving a rental car and driving the wrong way down the interstate. And if you get blank stares from your friends when you say "Those aren't pillows", it's time to get new friends. The film is filled with quotable gems like that one.

That fact and the great casting are the main reasons that "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" has remained such a timeless classic over the last couple of decades. You'll laugh just as much the third and fourth times as you did the first time you saw it.

Masters of the Universe 2: Cyborg

I guess Jean-Claude Van Damme saw "Cyborg" as his chance to break free in his movie career, because unlike his previous efforts, this one doesn't take place in a kickboxing ring. The funny thing is that this is his worst movie to date, as it's virtually impossible to make a good movie about an apocalyptic world on this film's budget.

This is a dull, grimy and unpleasant looking picture that Van Damme is obviously taking way too seriously. Director Albert Pyun is the king of this kind of lazy filmmaking as he seems to be more concerned with churning out product rather than making a quality film. At his peak he could turn out three or four of these generic movies every few months.

At the very least, the fight sequences should have been a highlight but they seem very subdued and poorly staged. Van Damme definitely has the talent, but he doesn't get much of a chance to show that off here. He needs to kick it up a notch to distract us from his acting. In fact, the only member of the cast who shows any life at all is newcomer Vincent Klyn as Van Damme's arch enemy. With that body, hair and those freaky contact lenses, he's the sole bright spot in this otherwise dismal and dull dud.

Their final showdown is easily the best moment in the film, mostly because there is no other moment in the film vying for that award. The titular cyborg has very little screen time, as "The Terminator" this definitely is not. The only thing smaller than this film's budget is the screenwriter's imagination. "Cyborg" is also light on action, sets, special effects and a reason to keep watching it. This might have been the film to ensure Van Damme would be resigned to made-for-video Hell after only a decade.

Formula 51
Formula 51(2002)

With its laugh-out-loud raunchy humor, fast-paced action and terrific ensemble cast, "Formula 51" may very well be the best Guy Ritchie movie that Guy Ritchie never made. The director here is actually Ronny Yu, who has never really impressed me much until now, but with this film he has crafted one of the most enjoyable guilty pleasures in recent memory.

Right out of the gate, I could tell this was going to be something special. The wonderful opening scene set in the early '70's sets the tone for the rest of the picture, and despite a brief slow-down in the middle, the movie follows through on the promise made by that opening sequence. This is a tongue-in-cheek over the top and violence-filled extravaganza with perfect casting and terrific directing. Even the techno soundtrack, which normally I would have hated, fits here.

The plot is fresh and original, filled with twists and a one-of-a-kind ending, but it's the casting that really makes this so enjoyable. It's been a long time since Samuel L. Jackson has been this much fun, and Robert Carlyle is great fun as his partner-in-crime. It's great to see the usually serious Emily Mortimer playing against type, as she plays the most fetching hitwoman I've ever seen but it's Meatloaf who steals the show as the film's main villain. He lights up the screen in every scene he's in, and he steals the film from everyone else in the cast. It's his best film work in years.

"Formula 51" is a fast-paced, riotous and smart action-comedy that is equal to the best of Ritchie's crime films. I was smiling from start to finish.

The Hunger
The Hunger(1983)

"The Hunger" is technically a vampire movie, but it's so arty and obscure that you continually have to remind yourself of that fact. The dreary, slow-moving and fatally serious picture plays more like an '80's era "Obsession" ad than a horror film, and it's one of the best examples of style over substance that I can think of.

There's a good story in here somewhere, but it's not fleshed out enough. And there's also some very interesting casting, to no avail. Casting respected international star Catherine Deneuve in the lead was a coup, but she's too cold to get you involved in the picture. David Bowie can be a good actor, but his underwritten role here doesn't give him much to do until he disappears from the movie entirely. And while Susan Sarandon looks great naked, she was still a naive ingenue when she made this. The acting talent would come later.

In fact, the movie's infamous sex scene between her and Deneuve is the only reason to see this film. It's four short minutes of complete bliss amid an otherwise confused, ridiculous picture. I must confess the movie does get better as it goes along, and that classic scene is the turning point. That's not much of a compliment when you consider how dreadful the first half is, and the opening scenes are so disjointed that I tuned out almost instantly. It's not hard to improve on that.

"The Hunger" is not nearly as good as everyone involved with it seems to think it is. I saw it for what it really is: a pretentious bore.

Cheerleader Ninjas

I'm not sure why any film would want it, but "Cheerleader Ninjas" seems to be a Troma wannabe. The title isn't as flashy as their more notorious pictures, but the film is campy enough to bring to mind horrible films like "Stuck On You" and "Squeeze Play" It's also just as bad as most of the Troma films, which is clearly the easiest similarity to identify.

There's more plot in this film than anything else, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I really couldn't follow anything that was going on at any given time. I like my dopey T & A movies with a little less story and a little more T & A. There's not much nudity in this at all, and that makes you wonder who this movie was made for. It doesn't have any elements that would appeal to anyone.

The humor is lame and amateurish, and it doesn't even work on a "so bad it's good" level. In fact, this doesn't work on any level. The filmmakers could have at least done the very basic, simple task of filling the cast with hot girls. None of the females in the film are in the least bit attractive, and as sad as it is to say, most of them look better with their clothes on. And needless to say, none of them can act or deliver a punchline to save their lives.

The film looks like it was shot in a week by people who had no idea what they were doing. There's nothing funny or professional about this dreadful abomination. You kind of have to admire a film that has absolutely nothing going for it. "Cheerleader Ninjas" has the mildly amusing title going for it, but someone forgot to write a movie to go with that

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Whether the Coen Brothers are making a serious film or a whimsical lark like "O Brother Where Art Thou?", they do it with the same wonderful sense of style that mark all of their pictures. They're not reinventing the wheel here, but this is an immensely likable comedy filled with terrific comic performances and the same sharp writing that we're used to from Joel and Ethan.

In fact, the ensemble acting is a large part of what makes this film such a delight. Tim Blake Nelson and Coen regular John Turturro gets their share of the laughs, but it's star George Clooney that really makes the movie. He's usually thought of as a more serious actor, but here he shows a real affinity for comedy. He has impeccable timing and seems game for anything. It's a real treat watching him here. And in just a few scenes, Holly Hunter is a joy as well recalling her starring role from "Raising Arizona".

The other big crowd-pleasing element of the film is the wonderful music, including the irresistible "Man of Constant Sorrow". It's great, but there's great music all throughout the picture. And there is also a number of whimsical, off-the-wall moments in this that only filmmakers as talented as the Coen brothers could pull off. They make their unique mark on every single scene here.

"O Brother Where Art Thou?" won't win any Oscars, but when you have writers and directors as talented as these guys, even their lesser efforts are something special. It may sound like a mess on paper, but on the big screen, it all comes together beautifully.

Forced Vengeance

Back in the day, cheaply made movies came to theaters every week, and because they were so cheap, they didn't have to make very much money at the box office for them to earn a profit. That was the simple fact that allowed Chuck Norris to turn out two or three movies a year, and they really didn't have to be any better than "Forced Vengeance". People still paid to see them.

And yet, even by those lowered standards, this is one of his weaker efforts. The story is terribly generic, and because this is a Norris epic, all of the action involves karate chops and kicks, and that's where the film should excel. The problem is that those scenes are just as bland as the rest of the picture, further proof that not a lot of thought went into this throw-away effort.

Norris lacks charm and charisma, but that is less than a problem since he has surrounded himself with no-name talent. The supporting cast is so bland that they make the star look positively enigmatic by comparison. The finale is also a let-down, with the bad guy getting killed off in less-than-spectacular fashion. It' so anti-climactic that it's not even the end of the film. I guess the fight in the shadows set against the red neon that opens the picture must have been special, because director James Foley uses it twice more. Like everything else here, it's not that special.

And it's quite humorous that Norris spends the whole movie trying to figure out who killed his friend and why when it was apparently made obvious to everyone early on in a scene that he sat in on. And that makes "Forced Vengeance" pointless for both the audience and the cast. And did I mention that the title is completely meaningless?

Hit and Run
Hit and Run(2009)

"Hit and Run" is a little film that tries to do something different in the world of made-for-video movies. It's not a low budget slaughter-fest but instead it tries to be more of a suspense flick. Unfortunately, it fails either way.

It's essentially a one-person show, with the focus of the film solely on star Laura Breckinridge, and she isn't strong enough to carry a film. Even one as meager and unambitious as this one. The story is essentially a take-off on "I Know What You Did Last Summer", but there are some elements that just do not make sense.

Why the film's killer would murder his own wife is a mystery, as is the scene where he shows up back home after being missing for so long. None of it rings true, even for a movie of this nature where expectations are naturally lessened. Also a mysterious is how a B-movie like this gets indie darling Kevin Corrigan to play the killer, and then they give him very little to do. He has no personality, and precious little screen time when all is said and done.

The direction by first timer Enda McCallion is shoddy and lackluster, virtually ensuring that the movie will be completely suspense -free. It's as dull and lifeless as it is unbelievable. Breckenridge seems to make a mistake at every turn making her bad situation even worse, and because of that it is very difficult to muster any sympathy for her. And her uncaring boyfriend, played by Christopher Shand, is there to make sure she is in as much peril as possible.

Straight-to-video movies obviously get worse than "Hit and Run", but that still doesn't make this one any good. It's pretty slow going most of the way.

The Dead Zone

"The Dead Zone" is a smart, good-looking film that may go down in history as the best film adaptation of a Stephen King novel ever. The talent in front of and behind the camera is very evenly matched, and that's a rare and beautiful thing. Oddball genre director David Cronenberg may have seemed like an unlikely choice to helm this picture, but it's his best movie to date. It's also his most normal movie to date, despite the horror overtones.

The entire cast is terrific, but this is Christopher Walken's show all the way. His career has made some twists and turns over the years, and way too many bad movies has tarnished his image. But, in this movie, with this complex role, Walken truly shines. It's a wonderfully sensitive and tragic performance.

Also good is Martin Sheen as what passes for the film's "bad guy". He's so good that he transcends that over-simplified label, as it's a vital performance that is key to the movie's success. It's because Sheen and Walken are so good that the ending of the film packs the punch that it does. The tone of Cronenberg's film is a remarkable mirror of one of King's finest novels to date.

The cinematography is a perfect fit for the mood, and the screenplay gives these great actors writing that is equal to their talents. "The Dead Zone" is so good that sitting down to watch it is almost like curling up with a good book. It's good enough to make up for all of the lesser King adaptations.

The Lost Boys

All signs point to "The Lost Boys" being a vampire movie, but this film is more concerned with style and being hip than it is with actual horror. It's a terribly entertaining and good-looking film with a bright young cast and a great soundtrack. Die hard horror buffs are sure to be disappointed, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to like here.

Joel Schumacher is normally a hack director whose films have no style or distinction, but this one has some spark and life to it, Credit a sharp, breezy script and an energetic cast. Kiefer Sutherland makes a great villain, but the real stars here are the Corey twins, Haim and Feldman. They never got much cooler than they are in this picture, but I guess that was good enough.

There's nothing all that fresh about the movie as it rolls out all of the usual vampire cliches, but I sure did appreciate its sense of humor and a number of clever moments. The weapons of choice to take out Sutherland and his brood are particularly inventive. It's a bold statement, but the movie is also the proud owner one of the greatest soundtracks to emerge from the '80's. It's just loaded with one catchy pop/rock song after another.

There aren't a lot of surprises along the way, but there's also a lot of laughs. There's never a dull moment in "The Lost Boys". It's flashy and hip and a great horror film for people who don't like horror movies.

Very Bad Things

Some actors make the jump to directing with a whimper, but Peter Berg has made the transition with a vengeance. His first feature, "Very Bad Things", suggests that he was always meant to be a behind the scenes player and that acting should have been a secondary career choice.This is a wicked, vicious cautionary tale, a comedy that is so black it's opaque.

The whole thing plays as a ferocious screwball comedy, but at times it works just as easily as a thriller mostly because there are moments here that are so tense that laughing is the farthest thing from your mind. Witness the wonderful scene in which Jeanne Tripplehorn threatens to call the police if she's not given an explanation for a note left by her recently deceased husband. It's a great moment.

Watching Berg's tight screenplay spiral stunningly out of control is only half the fun, however, as Christian Slater gives one of the best performances of his career. He's essentially playing an adult version of J.D., his character from "Heathers", and it's a lot of fun watching him take the movie even farther over the top. Also fun is Cameron Diaz, whose wedding-obsessed fiance isn't left out of the fray. It's a stock character, but in this film, nothing is ordinary or as it seems. Diaz sees the fun to be had with her character and she runs with it, and the same could be said about the entire cast. Everyone is game.

The film is definitely not for all tastes, and the very dark humor will be lost on some who will refuse to see this as anything but reprehensible and vile. If you ask me, that's all part of the charm that is "Very Bad Things". It's a skillfully made comedy masquerading as a horror film, and if you're in on the joke, you're going to have a great time.


Looking back on its place in history, it's clear now that "Airplane" isn't just a classic comedy but a style of filmmaking all its own. Writers/directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker created it with this film, their first hit, and after its release you could call a film an "'Airplane' comedy" and everyone knew what they were in for.

Their spoof of the disaster films of the 1970'a throws in every gag they could think of, and most of them score. It's the law of averages, but even the jokes that flop are in the goofy vein of the movie as a whole and have a charm of their own as well. The movies has definitely lost some of its luster over the years, however, as repeated viewings dull the lunacy and go-for-broke spirit that I fell in love with so many years ago.

The game cast of assorted oddballs all give their all. For Robert Hayes, falling into this project was a stroke of dumb luck, but most of the big laughs come from his veteran co-stars. Leslie Nielsen is at his deadpan best, Lloyd Bridges shows a side of him that we've never seen before and Peter Graves may retain the funniest moments in the entire film. He remains the most quoted actor in the movie, and so much of this is timeless that watching it again after so long reminds you just how much this has become a part of our pop culture.

"Airplane" was the first movie that broke the rules and introduced audiences everywhere to the joys of non-sequitures. Many films and TV series followed, but this remains the originator of that sub-genre. It's lost some shine, but it's still a classic.

First Monday in October

"First Monday in October" had all of the makings of a controversial film until the events depicted in the picture happened for real shortly before the film's release. Sandra Day O'Connor's nomination to the Supreme Court really took the wind out of this film's sails at an inopportune time.

But even taken as a piece of fiction, which it is, it's a very entertaining film that is a lot less serious and dull than you might expect. This is definitely not a dry political film. The screenplay is light and lively, and the talented performers bring it to life in a fresh and funny way. Jill Clayburgh is perfectly suited for her role, smart and beautiful, and she owns the role from the first moment she appears on the screen.

Even better is her veteran co-star Walter Matthau as a seasoned judge and Clayburgh's intellectual equal. His performance here shows why Matthau was widely considered to be one of the best actors of his generation. It's a pleasure watching him work, and every single relationship he has in the picture is a fascinating one.

I'm not sure how accurately the film portrays the behind the scenes workings of the Court (I suspect it's not very accurate at all), but it's a very entertaining movie with a lot of sharp dialogue and witty banter. The story of Clayburgh's scandal-in-the-making involving her dead husband is somewhat muddles, but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of watching the two leads square off. It's more than enough to carry this film through its rough spots.

"First Monday in October" doesn't work very well as a history lesson, but it is very entertaining nonetheless. Sometimes that's all you can really ask a movie to be, and on that level it works.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

A lot of time has gone by since the first time I saw "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", and I thought it deserved another chance. I really didn't care much for it the first time around, but since then it has inspired a hit television series and gained quite the cult following of its own. Well, the film really hasn't improved much since then, and my feelings towards it didn't change much either.

It's got a great premise, but the film just lies there and if a film has to try this hard to try to be fun and likable, it will almost surely never achieve that. It just never takes off like it should. Kristy Swanson has never been more appealing than she is here, and it's almost as if the role was tailor made for her. Donald Sutherland tries to bring some dignity to his thankless role, and he almost succeeds. Paul Ruebens is a lot of fun as a vampire, but Rutger Hauer is completely wasted as the dark leader. It's just one more example of the film having potential and not even realizing it.

The dialogue is filled with tired and unfunny Valley girl lingo. It would take "Clueless" three years later to make this stuff feel fresh again. Maybe a more experienced director could have managed to breath some life into this dry picture, but newcomer Fran Rubel Kuzui just can't pull it off. The fun feels forced, and everyone in the cast seems to be having a lot more fun than you will by watching this disappointment.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a film that I really wanted to like, but it just doesn't fall into place like it should. Maybe I should let it age another fifteen years and give it another try.

First Sunday
First Sunday(2008)

"First Sunday" is yet another family friendly comedy starring rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube, and none of them have been all that successful at making me laugh. This is, however, a definite improvement over the "Are We There Yet?" films, but it's still frustratingly unsatisfying.

There are brief flashes in this lightweight film of the promise Cube showed in his debut feature "Boyz N The Hood", and I sure would like to see him tackle something with some heart again. As an actor, he's above this material. The reason this film is marginally better is that it's not simply a one man show as the actor is backed up by an appealing cast of supporting characters and actors.

Loretta Devine is a lot of fun, and Malinda Williams is very likable as the pedestrian love interest. She looks great, and her and Cube have some nice moments together. Still, the brightest member of the cast is Katt Williams as the church's choir director. He gets the film's only laughs in a true star-making performance, and it's almost enough to get the film a recommendation from me.

The screenwriters kind of aim low with this by-the-numbers and predictable comedy. I was involved enough with the movie to speculate on the best way to wrap it up, and frankly, I think things are tied up too neatly. I was again hoping in vain for some conflict, but t takes the easy way out and cinches its fate once and for all for "First Sunday". There is a lot to like here, so much so that I almost gave it a positive rating. Instead of striving for greatness, it merely shoots for mediocrity, and that it achieves quite well.

Pacific Heights

"Pacific Heights" is not your typical thriller. It's the only the second time that star MIchael Keaton has ever strayed outside of his comedic comfort zone, but that's only one of the differences here. It's a smart, well-written movie that doesn't rely on a lot of cheap thrills to be successful.

The film is reportedly used in classrooms in California educating prospective apartment managers, and that makes it unique as well. It is character and story driven, and Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith are so likable and everyday that you feel for their plight. Keaton is the perfect foil, both mysterious and yet oddly rational. It's a captivating combination, and I was hooked right from the opening moments.

Still, under a lesser director, the whole thing would have been for nothing. Acclaimed filmmaker John Schlesinger brings a touch of class to the proceedings and raises the stakes even higher. This is a beautiful looking picture with great cinematography and set designs. Everything that transpires in the film rings true, but you have to wonder. Keaton doesn't pay a dime in rent and shoots his unarmed landlord, but Griffith and Modine only get real help after he steals their bathtub. It makes for an entertaining movie, in any regards.

It's still great fun seeing Griffith use her brains to get back at her former tenant, and that would have made a perfectly satisfying conclusion. But it's obvious that some executive wanted some "Fatal Attraction"-style juice, and the standard slasher finale is just disappointing. "Pacific Heights" is better than that, and it should have stayed truer to form.

The Horror Show

Maybe the generic title should have been a clue, but there's nothing particularly fresh or original about "The Horror Show". It's a very derivative movie that borrows freely from other flicks, and even though it was inexplicably dubbed "House 3" overseas, the story is an exact copy of the Wes Craven film "Shocker".

But the film I kept getting reminded of while watching it was another Craven film, "A Nightmare on Elm Street". Harry Manfredini's score is eerily similar, but there are also kids chanting nursery rhymes and a lot of images involving a furnace that looks a lot like Freddy's boiler room. And then there's the fact that every scene in this film relies on the tried and true "is he there or just an illusion" tactic. It may work once, but director Jim Isaac falls back on that one nearly a dozen times here. There's even the old reliable "flying cat" thrown in, surely a touch of producer Sean S. Cunningham from his "Friday the 13th" days.

The movie drags a lot, a sign of Isaac's inexperience as a filmmaker. The opening moments work, but the rest of the film is excruciatingly slow, including the finale. It's missing some much-needed juice, and when the supernatural killer is finally stopped by gunfire, it's pretty disappointing as well.

The usually reliable Lance Henriksen is quite bland in one of his few starring roles, and while Brion James is a lot of fun as the killer, he needed more screen time. He uses his best lines early on and then really isn't given a lot to do. "The Horror Show" is a pretty typical horror film of its time, and while it's certainly not the worst of its type, that doesn't make it good.

Gulliver's Travels

Jack Black should come complete with a doctor's note to use only in small doses. I can tolerate him in supporting roles or cameos, but "Gulliver's Travels" is more Jack than anyone could be expected to withstand. He basically plays the same character in every movie, and here, it wears thin somewhere around the thirty minute mark He appears to simply be relying on his old schtick, and for a movie that was obviously designed to finally catapult him onto the A-list, you've got to be better than this. He's going through the motions here.

In fact, everything about this picture feels decidedly B movie-ish for an alleged big holiday movie. The special effects are cheap and give the film a credit that reads "based on a novel by Jonathan Swift" is an embarrassment. Any resemblance to the classic source material is fleeting at best. This ridiculous and forgettable movie will not inspire anyone to pick up the novel.

The filmmakers have assembled a promising supporting cast, but Jason Segal and Emily Blunt are wasted in their underwritten roles. You could take Segal's character out of the movie and the finished product wouldn't be affected in the least. But Black is the real reason that this movie never gets off the ground. Much of his rantings feel improvised, but how tired are his "Star Wars" jokes and pop culture references?

2010 was an off year for the movies. Maybe the fact that audiences rejected "Gulliver's Travels" shows that maybe they're finally wising up.

He Knows You're Alone

"He Knows You're Alone" struck while the iron was hot in the early 1980's and got in early on the slasher film bandwagon, but it just doesn't seem to fit in well with its peers. The plot is a complete mimeograph of all the others, but the gore is kept to a minimum. In fact, the whole time I was watching this I had to keep reminding myself that I didn't tape it off network television. You just have to wonder what the point was.

The plot is completely lame, and that is another pre-requisite of films of this type, but the motivation behind the killer's acts is a little foggy. There's a quick, muddled flashback that may serve as a motive, but it's very vague and unclear. It leaves the viewer with more questions than anything else.

The one claim to fame that this movie has over all the others is that this is the "acting" debut of future superstar Tom Hanks. His appearance in this is heavily trumpeted, but it pretty much amounts to a cameo. And listen closely to that film score, because if I were John Carpenter, I'd consider a lawsuit. I'm sure the music he composed for the often imitated "Halloween" is copywritten.

Still, it's the lack of gore that kills this film off faster than the brides that are the target here. It makes for a dull, disappointing slasher film when all of the murders occur off camera. The onslaught of Carpenter clones produced some enjoyable, memorable films but "He Knows You're Alone" isn't one of them. You won't remember this long after the closing credits roll.

Shoot 'Em Up
Shoot 'Em Up(2007)

"Shoot 'Em Up" is a film that I desperately wanted to like a lot more than I actually did. It's got a great couple of leading men, a new but very promising director and enough energetic, eye-popping action to fill two similar movies.

Clive Owen is a lot of fun as the mysterious hero, but it's Paul Giamatti who steals the show. It's so entertaining to see this award winning, respected actor hamming it up in this depraved, outlandish performance that it's pretty much worth the price of admission alone.

Michael Davis has an amazing flair behind the camera as the plentiful action sequences are choreographed as well as most Broadway musicals. That's all great, but in the same respect, that's also part of the film's major problem. Everything in this is so over-the-top that even at a brief eighty minutes, it wears out its welcome long before the end credits roll. The film would have been a lot cooler if it didn't try so hard to be cool. Touches like Owen's love of carrots reek of desperation, and when he used them as weapons, it's kind of silly.

In fact, the entire plot is kind of silly, having something to do with babies being killed because they could be organ donors for a politician. You just have to wonder where that came from. Just when I was ready to write off "Shoot 'Em Up", I was reminded that there is a lot to like here. It's just such a shame that Owen and Giamatti are having a lot more fun on screen than anyone in the audience.


As portrayed in the film "Sniper", the life of a Marine sniper is a lot of hurry up and wait. You must become methodical and patient, and while an interesting movie could be and frankly has been made on this subject, this isn't one of them. "Enemy at the Gates" was a taut and exciting thriller about the profession while this is more a plodding and meandering action picture with very little actual action.

Director Luis Llosa cut his teeth on a number of made-for-video flicks for producer extraordinaire Roger Corman, and apparently someone thought he was ready for the big leagues. He would go on to direct some pretty decent films, but this one still feels like a B-movie. The whole thing is very generic, from the plot to the setting. If I never see another action movie set in a jungle, I will be just fine.

This recycled story has nothing new to offer, but there are some neat visual moments courtesy of Llosa and bullet trajectories that follow them to their point of entry. They're not worth sitting through the film for though. Also, there is one neat moment showing how snipers use camouflage to their advantage, but it's also not worth seeing this film for.

Tom Berenger seems to be channeling his "Platoon" character to no advantage, and BIlly Zane fails to make much of an impression either. Most of Berenger's past partners have ended up dead, so you really question how good he is at his job. In fact, the two men spend almost as much time trying to kill each other as they do the rebels.

There's some impressive camera shots in "Sniper", but there's not really a story worth following. It's fairly routine and ordinary, and completely lacking any drama or excitement.


"Cliffhanger" is a big and loud summer action flick filled with a lot of exciting set pieces and unusually expensive stunts and special effects. The nice thing is that you can actually see all of that money on the screen so at least the filmmakers' efforts did not go to waste. The movie came out at a time when nearly every action film released was some sort of variation on "Die Hard", and this was certainly no exception.

But it is also undeniably entertaining, so you can only fault it so much. Renny Harlin has risen from the ranks of B-movie mediocrity to hone his craft with big budget extravaganzas such as this, and he has a real flair for them. The action sequences are thrilling and spectacular, and the beautiful scenery greatly enhances the proceedings with Italy filling in for Colorado.

None of the characters, whether good guys or bad guys, make a lot of sound decisions in the picture, but I suppose all of that was necessary to keep the story going. Sylvester Stallone could play this damaged hero in his sleep, but he is at the top of his game here. The guy has an impossibly chiseled physique, but he still has the ability to humanize his characters. The guy will always look like Rambo, but here, he does feel like a regular guy. And the opening scene that causes his psychological damage is the best sequence in the film, a breathtaking moment that is spectacularly filmed.

John Lithgow makes an adequate villain, but his vaguely British accent is distracting. "Cliffhanger" isn't a great film but it is a solid thriller with some amazing stunts and beautiful photography. And there are some pretty imaginative deaths.

National Lampoon's Barely Legal (After School Special)

Every since the "Vacation" movies dried up, the folks at National Lampoon have been all too eager to slap their name on any old piece of junk hoping to entice people into renting it. The latest is called "Barely Legal", and it's a disgraceful film that jumps on the gross-out humor bandwagon but the writers forgot to make any of it funny.

There are a lot of jokes about masturbation and semen, which is I think the biggest indicator of how low the movie sinks. It's sort of a B-movie variation on "Risky Business", with the porn industry subbing for the brothel, but there's no wit or anything sexy about this. Just dumb humor that aims for the lowest common denominator every time.

Most of the girls are hot, especially newcomer Sarah-Jane Potts, but that's where their contribution to the film ends. The three lead boys aren't household names, but they all vaguely reminded me of other young actors. Horatio Sanz manages to keep his career on track after "Boat Trip", that is to say he's still embarrassing himself. But faring far worse than him is Amy Smart simply because she had farther to fall. Her career began promisingly enough, but her appearance here makes you wonder how it all went wrong so fast.

Another notable career nosedive belongs to director David Mickey Evans, who started out making the sweet and innocent "Sandlot". Now he gives us this dismal picture. "Barely Legal" is a depressing film, full of cliches and sick but completely laugh-less jokes. There is a way to make this type of humor work, but this isn't aspiring to be anything more than just a rental on a Saturday night because you got to the store late and everything else on the shelf was gone.

Lust in the Dust

"Lust in the Dust" can best be described as the worst John Waters movie that Waters never made. It stars Divine, and features a lot of distasteful sex humor that isn't nearly as effective as Waters was in his prime. There's not a single laugh (or even smile) in the desperate, incredibly unappealing film.
I can see how Divine became a pop culture icon for the gay community, and while I consider myself to be pretty free-thinking, I've always found him to be unsettling. Even in the more family friendly "Hairspray", he's creepy and unlikable. And that was a good movie. I've appreciated Paul Bartel's sense of humor as a director before in films like "Death Race 2000", but here its a lot cause.
I don't know how anyone during the filing process could have seen this becoming a successful project. It's a mess from beginning to end as it meanders from low point to low point. In fact, this film reaches a new low point in a lot of people's careers, but I kept coming back to the film's focal pint Divine. Watching his annoying, disgusting performance here is simply painful.
Tab Hunter sleepwalks through his role, Lainie Kazan almost matches the star in the competition for the most unappealing female here and Henry Silva is thoroughly wasted in his ridiculous part. And despite the similarities, Waters would never write a film that is this forgettable. And the humor here is just gross and juvenile, not the giddy, go-for-broke stye Waters exemplifies.
"Lust in the Dust" is a glorified wannabe that does pretty much everything wrong. It's a casting nightmare, every single joke falls flat and the film runs at a snail's pace. For comedy westerns like this dud, Mel Brooks set the bar impossibly high a decade ago.


There have been movies similar in theme to "300". We haven't seen this exact story told on film in four decades, but we've been down this road many times before. What is different and special about this film is the style in which its told, and that is very much enough to make this vibrant, thrilling movie something special indeed.
In only his second film, Zack Snyder has already made a name for himself as a top-notched filmmaker whose movies are events. For as familiar as the film feels, there are moments presented in this film that I've never seen on screen before. Gerard Butler has been in plenty of features before this, but I've never really noticed him until now. He is a commanding presence here in a larger than life performance that is full of menace, boastfulness and sadistic humor. When he's on the screen, it's virtually impossible to take your eyes off of him.
Just as breathtaking are the battle sequences that are rivaled only by "Braveheart" in their energetic, visually thrilling brutality. They are choreographed just as perfectly as any Fred Astaire dance number, and you just have to admire their sheer bloodlust. The cutting edge computer technology takes a movie based on a graphic novel and turns it into a living, breathing comic book.
It's easy to see why this was such a big hit. These are great, colorful characters and the script gives them lots of funny one-liners that are basically medieval trash talking. But, in the contest of the film they work and help to make "300" a very satisfying picture. You just have to admire a film that shows you something you've never seen before, and this is one such movie.

When a Stranger Calls

Being a true horror film fan, the recent glut of remakes of classic horror films has me worried. Even the best of the new crop have only come close to matching the films they're based on in quality, and the others have all missed the target completely. That's why I was marginally curious to see the new version of "When a Stranger Calls". After all, the first movie wasn't really that great.
In fact, outside of the opening scene featuring Carol Kane and the "Have you checked the children?" creepiness, the original movie was pretty tepid. The remake had a shot, and it blows that shot big time. It makes the fatal mistake of only remaking the classic opening fifteen minutes of the 1979 picture, and it tries to stretch that fifteen minutes into a ninety minute feature. I'd like to meet the genius who thought that would work.
This is a dreadfully boring movie in which minutes pass without a single noteworthy event occurring. Camille Belle is certainly not a strong enough actress to carry this movie, but that's what she is asked to do. She spends the first three-quarters of the film wandering around this beautiful home and getting hang-ups. The psycho doesn't appear until the final twenty minutes.
"When a Stranger Calls" the redux blows a golden opportunity. That gorgeous house is the best character in this dull and stiff teen thriller where teens will be the only people who are thrilled.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

When people get into discussions about the best directors throughout the history of motion pictures, James Cameron's name rarely comes to a lot of people's minds. Maybe it's because he made "Piranha 2", or maybe it's because he makes entertaining movies and not weighty films like Coppola or Kubrick.
But what makes Cameron equal to any director you could name for that list is that he's never content to be ordinary. He constantly challenges himself to be better, and many times, he accomplishes just that. Witness "Terminator 2: judgment Day". Not only does this outdo his original film, it outdoes every other action film that existed at the time. It's a heart-stopping, relentless film that includes some of the most revolutionary special effects of its time, or any time for that matter.
When it was released, no one had ever seen anything like this before, and it turned Hollywood on its ear. Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been better, but Linda Hamilton is the real revelation here. After her strong, unforgettable performance here I'm still at a loss for words as to why her career never skyrocketed. But, as everyone knows, every great action picture is only as good as its villain, and this has to be one of the best. Robert Patrick combined with those cutting edge special effects make the T-1000 an unbeatable bad guy for the ages.
Everything about "Terminator 2" is bigger and badder, from the casting to the action sequences. This is a thrilling, exhilarating ride the likes of which has yet to be duplicated. Prepare to be amazed.


David Ellis is one of the more reliable B-movie directors working today, and when you team his talent up with the wacked-out mind of Larry Cohen, the result is bound to be entertaining. And while "Cellular" is anything but plausible, it does entertain in a big way. The film is fast-paced, rarely slowing down long enough to let the viewer puzzle out what's going on, and that's all for the better.
The movie was fairly cutting edge upon its initial release, but now just a few years later, it's hopelessly dated. That really only adds to the fun to be had here, as to first-time viewers, the technology in this fairly recent picture may inspire a lot of unintentional laughs. Luckily for the rest of us, however, Cohen adds enough purposeful humor to balance out the ridicule the technical aspects may inspire.
I loved the quirky touches that take us out of the story while simultaneously enhancing it, such as William H. Macy's plans to open a day spa upon his retirement. There are many other inspired moments like that one, too many in fact to mention them all here. And speaking of Macy, he gives the best performance here, really his best in a while, as a police officer whose smarts and resiliency grounds the picture. It's nice to have an authority figure in a movie like this one who actually believes Chris Evans and simply wants to get to the truth. And when the big plot twist is revealed, it's refreshingly simple, believable and down-to-earth.
There's no big, complicated conspiracy to weight "Cellular" down. This is a lightweight, silly but nevertheless exciting movie that keeps you watching and guessing all the way to the end.

The Square
The Square(2010)

Many people have compared the Australian thriller "The Square" to the best of the Coen Brothers films and I believe the comparison to be valid. The film features an intricate plot that starts out simply enough with a minor crime that snowballs irrevocably out of control, and you become more and more immersed in the story with each new plot twist. Director Nash Edgerton doesn't have the visual panache of his American counterparts, but he knows how to tell a story, slowly and naturally with a gradual escalation of tension.
The acting is serviceable, but this film isn't about the acting. There are no stand-out performances, and none were needed. It's the script that pulls you in, and the sheer joy of watching these people dig themselves in deeper and deeper. The surprises never let up, as Edgerton is not content to let his film grow stagnant, and it builds to an utterly earth-shattering conclusion that I never saw coming.
It was co-written by the director's brother Joel, who is quickly becoming a very popular actor stateside, and judging from this he'll have a fine backup career behind the camera if the acting thing doesn't work out for him. Even when things start to spiral hopelessly into chaos, the picture never loses its sense of realism, and as crazy as things get, it never feels farfetched or out of the realm of possibility. That is the key that keeps the film grounded and accessible.
And unlike a lot of its American equivalents, it doesn't resort to a lot of unnecessarily bloody violence. "The Square" relies strictly in the confidence of its story to be successful, and while it doesn't quite join the ranks of "Blood Simple" or the like, it's a very entertaining noir all the same.

Broken Flowers

For decades now, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has been something of a critical darling, but he had yet to make an impression on me with his mostly bizarre and unwieldy films. "Broken Flowers" is probably his most accessible film to date and one of only two films by the director that I've honestly enjoyed.
This is basically a series of vignettes as Bill Murray searches for his son, and while some are better than others, they all tie the film together. They range from funny to uncomfortable to bittersweet, and I was most impressed with Sharon Stone. The twilight of her career hasn't always been kind to her, but here she hits all the right notes.
Still, the key that holds the whole thing together and makes this imminently watchable is Murray himself. It's so impressive to think about how much he's grown as an actor, as just fifteen or twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable to imagine him in this role. Yet now, it fits him like a glove. He's such an expressive actor that even when he's not doing or saying anything, his expressions speak volumes and it's terrific watching him work here. The brief scene of him visiting the grave of a past lover is the most poignant one in the film, and he pulls it off with only a few words.
However, there's no real payoff in the end, and that's the only thing that keeps this good film from being a great one. There's a nice moment here where he meets a kid that could be his son, but that whole meeting is too ambiguous. After the journey we just went on with Murray, I felt the audience deserved a more concrete resolution. Until then, however, "Broken Flowers" is a subtle, artful film that brought me a new appreciation for Jarmusch. It will not likely be a permanent thing.

The Day After

Back in the day, "The Day After" was one of the most talked about and controversial TV movies of all time. While the controversy certainly has subsided, the movie is still surprisingly watchable and timely even though it is also very dated. Still, that only makes the movie that much more fun now that the shock value has worn off.
The moment when the bombs actually touch down and citizen after citizen are turned into skeletons via some hilariously shoddy special effects is wonderfully campy. Some of the performances are a little over the top, and some of the information doesn't seem to be altogether factual. But despite all of that the film is still powerful. Putting all of the obvious flaws aside, you can't deny the fact that the movie is still immensely moving. And as I mentioned, a lot of it is dated but the central theme has never stopped being relevant at all over the past twenty-five years.
The first hour gives you enough background information on the characters to make you care about them, and just enough plot details to make the whole thing dramatic and believable. The news footage feels real. The film's scope is kept small enough, focusing only on a handful of characters in a small town, but I liked that because it feels so much more intimate. Anything on a grander scale would have been an impossibility to pull off this successfully.
"The Day After" may seem like an afterthought after all of these years, but it's still definitely worth a look. It's still shockingly relevant.

A Little Sex
A Little Sex(1982)

There's nothing harder to take that a romantic comedy centering around two very unlikable characters, and because of that, "A Little Sex" is one film that is pretty hard to take. You have Kate Capshaw on one hand, very appealing in her film debut. But on the other hand, her philandering husband played by Tim Matheson only considers sleeping around on her cheating after they tie the knot. He's a completely unsympathetic character, and you dislike her just because she comes off as a weak and helpless female. These people clearly should not be together and that's kind of the opposite of what you want in a film like this.
The script is very weak, and plays out like a made-for-television movie with enough juicy sex and bad language to earn an "R" rating. But those expecting a raunchy "Porky's"-style comedy will be just as disappointed as the rest of the audience. This is a lackluster picture in that department as well.
The only voice of reasoning worth listening to in the film comes in the form of Edward Herrman as Matheson's wise older brother. I'm not sure why all of his words of wisdom are dispensed at a zoo, but his performance gives the movie some much-needed weight. It would have been nice to see some sort of spark or chemistry between the two stars to give "A Little Sex" a little credibility. It's impossible to see what they see in each other, and that has all of the makings of a seriously dysfunctional romantic comedy. There's little reason to see this glorified Lifetime movie.

The Jane Austen Book Club

"The Jane Austen Book Club" isn't a great movie. It isn't going to win any awards or change the world. It doesn't have anything important to say. But it is a very watchable, sometimes sweet and marginally entertaining drama with good ensemble acting and some decent writing. There are some effectively dramatic moments here, and some genuinely touching romantic moments.
Hugh Dancy is ordinarily an actor I greatly dislike, but here he's quite good and his burgeoning relationship with the beautiful Maria Bello is the film's highlight. Bello has never before been this luminescent on film, and she's a great asset. There are also a lot of good scenes involving Emily Blunt who made such a splash last year in her film debut "The Devil Wears Prada". Judging from these two films, Blunt definitely has what it takes to make it in the business. There are moments here where you just feel for her.
Just because of the romantic aspects of the film and the sympathetic female characters, it's obviously geared towards women. But as a guy who's never read Austen (or for those who think it's the capitol of Texas, as the movie jokes), I can honestly say that a lot of this worked on me as well. Maybe I was just having a high estrogen day. Much like the recent "Why Did I Get Married?", the plot developments here are predictable but that doesn't make them any less captivating. . Despite the film's convoluted nature, I was hooked.
The characters are likable, and there are good moments throughout "The Jane Austen Book Club". A month later you'll forget you saw it, but while you're watching it, it works.

Pearl Jam Twenty

A lot of rock documentaries aren't worth your time mostly because they have all the depth and complexity of an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music". What makes "Pearl Jam Twenty" the exception to that rule is the fact that it was written and directed by a fan who is also a very talented filmmaker.
Cameron Crowe doesn't put the band on a pedestal or shy away from some negative moments in the band's history, but he also doesn't get bogged down in a timeline structure either. He lets the band talk, and the frequent concert footage and performances animate what is already an electrifying film. It was a rare treat to get to hear frontman Eddie Vedder speak from the heart on the night Kurt Cobain was found dead, getting to see something like that for the first time that I never had the chance to experience live. In the same respect, the same could be said of getting to see a video of the band performing "Alive" at only their second live show together. We also get to hear Vedder's explanation of the song's meaning in his own words.
But there's so much more here than a lot of great music. The film touches on the band's legendary battles with Ticketmaster and President Bush, along with the especially tragic aftermath of the crowd-surfing deaths at the Roskilde festival. This all-encompassing documentary doesn't leave any area untouched, and because of that, "Pearl Jam Twenty" is one of the best rock docs I've seen in recent memory. It would be worth seeing for the concert footage if nothing else, but it's so much more than that. It reinvigorated my love for the band and their music.


Even though I'm not at all a sports fan, everyone finds incredible sports videos to be fascinating. I'm certainly no exception, and the new skiing documentary "Steep" is filled with breathtaking, unbelievable footage. You can't help but be in awe of the athletes and the filmmakers who possess the amazing skill of capturing it all on film.
The problem that plagues this film, and all of the similar films of Warren Miller as well, is that a little of it goes a long way. The filmmakers do a nice job of introducing us to the skiers, and we get to know what makes them tick and take the extreme risks they take. There's a lot more insight here than in the Miller films, but everyone starts to sound like a broken record after a while. Most of the athletes featured here have similar backgrounds, and their stories start to sound familiar after a while.
I didn't get tired of that amazing downhill footage, but it doesn't make for a very stimulating movie-going experience. I did get tired of hearing the participants jabber on and on but I appreciated the film's inclusion of the death of one of the group. It would be far too easy for the makers of this to completely glamorize the sport and gloss over that event, but it doesn't. I never really found myself getting that involved in the movie, but that is a fairly touching moment. You can't help but feel for the guy and his family. "Steep" isn't much of a movie but it is a collection of cool skiing footage. I admired it, but I was still pretty restless.


It's a good unwritten law of the movies that you can always tell how bad a Samuel L. Jackson movie will be by the hairstyle he has in the film in question. In "Jumper", he sports a magnificently horrible silver do that perfectly foretells just how awful this hyper-kinetic, under-plotted clunker really is.
There's not much of a story here, and the film is blessedly short but that brevity leaves room for a lot of unanswered questions. You have to wonder how many people, if they had this power of teleportation, would use it to teleport yourself a few feet across your living room on to your left on the couch to be closer to the remote. I sat there bemused, wondering just what the point was.
Jackson's entire character is shrouded in mystery, and nothing is ever resolved there either. You never really find out what government agency her works for or why he has such a distaste for these jumpers. Most movies would have set him up with some motivation, but he's never given any. In fact, there's not much of a story of any kind.
Hayden Christiansen proves one more time with yet another weak performance in yet another weak film that all of the promise he showed in the terrific film "Shattered Glass" was simply a fluke. He's dreadful, but even more embarrassing is a cameo by respected actress Diane Lane as his mysterious mother. Her motivation is just as vague as the rest of this slim, forgettable picture.
"Jumper" shows some life late in the third act, but by that time, it's too little too late. This film is much ado about nothing.

Dark Reel
Dark Reel(2008)

Nothing from the banal title would suggest that "Dark Reel" would be worth your time, but this is a surprisingly skillful and well written horror film. There's a great cast and a smart script that is quirky and funny, and the central story is a strong one that continually keeps you guessing.
It centers on a low-budget film studio, and the behind the scenes stuff is a lot of fun. Lance Henriksen gives his best performance in years as a Roger Corman-like studio head. It's a part that refreshes his career and hopefully will awaken him from his B-movie funk. Also very good is Edward Furlong who also resurrects his career with a likable performance as a movie geek. His relationship with smart and sexy Tiffany Shepis is a treat, as it's fun watching the fan fall in love with his screen idol. They form a special bond that is the center of the picture, and it's a most unexpected pleasure.
The film is focused on the story, which is solid and well told, but this is a horror film and it doesn't spare the blood and gore. A few of the murders are pleasantly memorable. There is maybe one too many twists near the end, including one that hints at Furlong being the killer, and I was glad to see the film not go that route. I liked him and his character too much. He's a down to earth guy who is not unlike myself.
Unfortunately, it does go on a little long, especially in the finale, and it has trouble maintaining its pacing. The set-up, however, is a lot of fun mostly because of Henriksen's wonderfully offbeat performance and the uncommonly good script.
"Dark Reel" is a film unjustly robbed of a theatrical release as it was better than a lot of the horror films I paid to see this year. It deserves to be seen.

My Tutor
My Tutor(1983)

There were no shortage of movies like "My Tutor" in the '80's, and many of them had the same common theme of young men being seduced by older and willing women to placate young men's fantasies everywhere. This one ups the ante some by having the woman in question be a teacher, something that was illegal and immoral at the time of its release but would be tolerated even less today considering how many times that has happened in current events.
The film is considerably less vulgar than a lot that came out at the time, even though it does throw in a lengthy and completely unnecessary backstory about Matt Lattanzi and his buddy trying to lose their virginity. That was obviously meant to please fans of these types of comedies. The essential story involved Lattanzi falling for his French tutor, played by Caren Kaye, and despite the tawdry nature of the story it is handled with a surprising amount of sophistication and tact. That makes the whole thing a little easier to swallow. In fact, the film is a lot more a love story than a typical teen sex comedy, but in the same respect it never aspires to be anything more than drive-in fodder.
The boy's crazy, sex-starved antics aren't funny, and the one amusing thing in the movie that I did enjoy was the hired help pandering to Lattanzi's mother even though they speak perfect English and are making plans to attend college. That could have been played up more. As it stands, "My Tutor" doesn't rank with the worst of them, but it doesn't rank much higher. It only has its mind in the gutter about half the time.


"Assassination" is Charles Bronson's ridiculous and silly attempt at a political thriller, but it's too preposterous to be taken seriously and only works in fits as a piece of entertainment. Bronson himself is slightly more charming than he has been in recent outings, but his family-friendly action flick has no footholds on reality.
It takes some pretty hard convincing on Bronson's part to get his superiors to believe the First Lady is in danger despite two fairly large explosions around her, and then he takes her on a road trip with himself as her only protection. And despite the claim that he is guarding the President's wife and not the man himself because of personal problems, you know the actor worked that in to secure yet another plum part for his wife, Jill Ireland. And her stubborn personality is supposed to supply the film with some much needed humor, but the fact that her reckless behavior constantly puts her in danger is just one more head-scratcher. It's meant to be a showcase for a strong-willed woman, but she just comes off as dumb.
I was much more interested in Bronson's relationship with Jan Gan Boyd playing his spirited sidekick. She's a fresh face, and it's a shame that Hollywood didn't welcome her more. The movie moves along at a quick pace and is fun to watch despite (or perhaps because of) the foolish plot. Check out the motorcycle and boat chases that features the worst stunt double I've seen in quite some time.
You can't take any of it seriously, but "Assassination" is a pretty fun ride most of the way. Judging it today, it's fun to see a First Lady who has no interest in shaping public policy and instead only wants to take a lot of vacations.

Balls of Fury

It's painfully (very painfully) obvious that the makers of the alleged comedy "Balls of Fury" came up with the double entendre title before a script. Next, they went down the list of sports that Will Ferrell hasn't already parodied in film and came up with the remarkable idea of ping pong. After that, the film practically writes itself.
There's not one joke in this limp, embarrassing comedy that works, the performances are flat and amateurish and the film just looks cheap and pre-made for DVD release. Dan Fogler may be billed as the star of the film, but he has absolutely zero star power and seems to be trying in vain to desperately channel Jack Black or Seth Rogen. He fails. And then there's the career-ending performance from Christopher "I won't turn down anything offered to me" Walken. In a summer when he was such a charmer in "Hairspray", you just have to wonder what he's doing in this dud. And what about Maggie Q? She was so terrific earlier this summer in "Live Free or Die Hard", but in this picture, she's nothing more than a pretty face in tight pants. What a waste.
I guess it's easy to see why this movie got made. Those Farrell sports comedies I mentioned all seem to make a fortune. But that doesn't mean this had to be so lazy and dumb. The '80's hair metal on the soundtrack worked for the marginally better "Hot Rod", but a month later in this film, it's already old hat. I guess there are undemanding teen-age boys who might like this, but for the rest of us, there's nothing to see here. But there is a simple test you can take. If the title makes you giggle, then "Balls of Fury" may just be the film for you. Like you, this movie has all of its brains in its pants.

For Keeps
For Keeps(1988)

There comes a time when every young actor must grow up on film if they plan on staying in the business, and for teen star Molly Ringwald, that transitional film was "For Keeps". There's a lot I admired about the picture, but not enough for me to recommend it. The whole thing kind of goes awry somewhere in the second half.
I had to applaud the film for taking itself seriously, for the most part, and not making this a cute and happy film. It's pretty realistic, and it certainly doesn't glamorize teen pregnancy. It shows all of the problems that come from all aspects, and I kind of admired that. Unfortunately, it all falls apart during the second half, and it ends in typically upbeat Hollywood fashion. The couple survives everything that life throws at them in the end, and while much of the film feels authentic, that does not. It cripples the movie, not to mention that the whole thing is just so bland and unmemorable.
Ringwald herself is just fine in her role, but co-star Randall Batinkoff is a shining example of the film's rampant mediocrity. He's simply unimpressive, and for that reason, his career never really took off after this high-profile picture. The script, oddly enough co-written by "Police Academy" star Tim Kazurinsky, tackles a lot of serious issues and the word "abortion" is thrown around quite liberally, which is shocking for a movie of this nature. I think I really wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did, but "For Keeps" falters too many times along the way. It's a slight film that slips into "Afterschool Special" territory too often to be entirely successful. Still, it has to be admired for its realism.

Kramer vs. Kramer

The 1970's were the last great era for the movie industry, and in the last few weeks of the decade came "Kramer VS. Kramer", the last classic film from the last golden age of cinema. Like almost all of the great movies of the time, it hasn't lost anything with age.
The subject of divorce has been done plenty of times, but rarely with this much grace and honesty. The real strength of the screenplay is that it refuses to make either one of the characters evil, which in turn makes the film all that more challenging. His wife walking out on him forces Dustin Hoffman to finally become a parent, and while this is easily one of Meryl Streep's coldest roles of her career, it's also good to see her playing against type. The two are marvelous together and apart. The scene at the beginning where Streep announces her decision is jarring no matter how many times you've seen it. Justin Henry is equally good as their son, and like the script, his performance is grounded in reality and it refuses to let the picture become false or maudlin.
Some of the best moments in the film come during the court proceedings near the end, and the leads all shine without saying a word. No matter how ugly things get in the courtroom, you can see that Hoffman is still in love with his estranged wife, and that Streep is hurt when her partner's parenting skills are questioned. The characters are deep, and these actors are equal to the challenge.
The final turn of events in the film's last scene is a stunner, when Streep does the right thing just because it's the right thing to do. "Kramer VS. Kramer" is a special film, refreshingly adult and touching without being melodramatic. There is not one moment here that does not ring true.

Hello Again
Hello Again(1987)

Apparently it seemed like a good idea at the time, that nothing screams "wacky comedy" like killing off your start twenty minutes into the movie. Such is the premise behind "Hello Again", a film that is so lifeless that it barely qualifies as a comedy.
The few jokes that the screenwriters do manage to come up with fall flat, but the majority of this is melodramatic and chock full of missed opportunities. It brings Shelley Long back from the dead and fails to do one interesting thing with her. The script is a mess. You'd think if a feature film came out with two of the biggest stars in television at the time, it would at least be written at the level of their respective shows.
Frankly, Long's character is such a clumsy, socially awkward person that she's better off dead. And since that doesn't change at all after she comes back, you've got to figure it's only a matter of time before she offs herself again. The relationship between her and Corbin Bernsen is strained and never feels genuine, but the romantic sub-plot between her and Gabriel Byrne after she comes back is even worse. There's no chemistry, sparks or pulse between them, and the same can be said about this dismal and dull picture.
It gets even more bogged down in the second half with a lot of ridiculous press conferences and a completely unnecessary showdown between Long and Sela Ward. It's just another example of an outlandish story that could have been a lot of fun being written on a plain and ordinary level. "Hello Again" starts sluggishly, and gets worse the longer it goes on, culminating in an embarrassing and laugh-free finale. It's anemic.

The Comebacks

Anyone who knows me knows that I love all movies, but comedies are my least favorite. And in that genre, the absolute worst are the ever-increasing list of lazy spoof movies like "Date Movie"and "Meet the Spartans". These movies poke easy fun at other movies and attempt to form a plot around what are basically weak and lame "Saturday Night Live" skits. "The Comebacks" is just as bad as the other movies I mentioned, and there's not one laugh to be found here.
Star David Koechner has been really good as the sidekick in other movies like "Anchorman", but I don't know who got it in their head that he was ready to carry his own film. He's completely lost here, and at times he's shown up by the ensemble cast of newcomers that he leads. No one in the large cast made an impression on me except for Brooke Nevin. She's not really talented at all, but she is very hot. It's not much, but it's something.
There is also some inspired casting in getting Carl Weathers to play Koechner's rival. He doesn't bring anything to the film but his "Rocky" street cred, but it is nice seeing him working again. But, like I said earlier, it doesn't take any wit, imagination or creativity to make a movie like this.
It's easy to watch a lot of sports movies and write crude jokes about them or fill your movie with lame, embarrassing stereotypes. "The Comebacks" takes a tired, easy formula and pretty much beats it to death. They're pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel with this reject. To end this with even a joke about a sequel could constitute a threat.


In the world of low-budget, B-horror movies, writer/director Kevin S. Tenney is considered to be something of a God. Usually, his name attached to a project means that it's going to be a little bit better than the norm. He's a talented guy.
Unfortunately, he couldn't work that magic with "Witchtrap", a dreary and dull film that has nothing new to offer. The makers are quick to tell us at the beginning that this isn't a sequel to "Witchboard", one of Tenney's better efforts. The only thing the films have in common and similar titles and the same director.
The cast is full of deadbeats, with the only exception being the film's star, newcomer James W. Quinn. Tenney seems to realize his potential, because he gives Quinn the only good lines in the film. Sure, some are as lame as the rest of the dialogue, but most of his one-liners and quips are the highlight of an otherwise forgettable and boring flick. The rest of the cast delivers their lines so solemnly that it's almost unintentionally funny. Almost. Even perennial B-movie fave Linnea Quigley doesn't have much to do here. She's best being the center of attention, so it's kind of surprising that the director would underuse her so much.
There are some decent effects here for such a low budget, but most of the murders are disappointingly bloodless. There's some promise here, but for the most part, "Witchtrap" is a let down. Some of the better aspects can't make up for the poor writing and pacing.

Prom Night
Prom Night(1980)

The original "Prom Night" is widely considered by horror purists to be one of the landmark slasher films of the early 1980's, but seeing it now with a fresh set of eyes after all these years, it just doesn't hold up. Sure I loved it as an undiscriminating kid, but as an older and allegedly wiser adult, it just falls flat.
The story is simplistic, the murders are ordinary and short on gore and the killer's identity and fairly easy to figure out if you've seen enough of these films. I remember as a kid that shocking decapitation that concludes the film, but like the rest of the picture, it seems rather dated now.
Jamie Lee Curtis was a slasher staple of the era, and in the worst of them like this and "Terror Train", she was a bright spot amid all of the garbage. Such is the case here as well. Leslie Nielsen shows up in an oddball appearance as her dad and the high school principal. It's a straight role, but it could have used some of his trademark "Naked Gun" wackiness to liven this up some.
Most of the horror elements are restricted to the film's final thirty minutes, making the first hour of this very slow going. The rest of this is all build-up, which may have been worthwhile if this was building up to a finale that was worth waiting for. It isn't. Even most of the killings are long and drawn-out in futile attempts to create "suspense", but all it does is amp up the boredom. Paul Lynch really isn't that great of a director.
"Prom Night" has a great poster, but that's about it. It's one film that has unjustly earned a place in the slasher Hall of Fame. It's aged over the years, and not very well.

10,000 B.C.
10,000 B.C.(2008)

Writer/director Roland Emmerich has never been known for his intelligent, thought-provoking films, but even he outdoes himself with "10,000 B.C.". This is a stupendously dumb, surprisingly dull clunker that sets a new low point for the filmmaker, and that's even more impressive when you stop to consider that this is the same guy who made the "Godzilla" remake.
Like that picture, this one is also filled with unconvincing CGI creatures, dumb dialogue and a threadbare plot that is pretty much a remake in itself of Mel Gibson's vastly superior "Apocalypto". The movie is obviously a simple fantasy with no basis whatsoever in reality, but you have to wonder why it had to be this hard to swallow.
I kept thinking about Jean Jacques Annaud's fantastic picture "Quest For Fire" that set the bar impossibly high for the caveman sub-genre. That picture created its own gestures and language while most of the characters in this movie pretty much just speak English as we know it. The film takes yet another giant misstep in the casting, with charmless newcomer Steven Strait taking the lead here. He's pretty much completely lacking in charisma, and while co-star Camilla Belle has slightly more experience than he does, she's little more than just another pretty face. She brings nothing to the table here.
Computer generated effects may have opened a lot of doors for film effects, but after witnessing this dreck, I sure miss the old days. None of these fabulous creatures look in the least bit real. Judging from the box office receipts, a lot of people are seeing "10,000 B.C.", but I dare you to show me one who honestly enjoyed it.