Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review – The Blues Brothers

I saw this movie during its original theatrical release, and at the time I thought it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen. Of course I was in my early teens back then. Upon recent re-viewing, the scenes that stood out were almost exclusively the performances by actual musicians rather than John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The Cab Calloway fantasy performance of “Minnie the Moocher” is a high point in director John Landis’s career, and the Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles sequences are also excellent. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the picture is silly, SNL-worthy screwball comedy (especially the self-parodying car chases). I still enjoyed watching it, but 30 years ago I probably would have given it a higher rating. Mildly amusing

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review – Dirigible

This was a huge movie back in 1931. Frank Capra directs (though don’t expect the usual brand of Capra-corn from him here). Fay Wray plays the female lead. Jack Holt and Ralph Graves round out the cast. The studio spent a ton of money on it, and it was a popular picture when it first came out. And yet nearly eight decades later, I honestly had never heard of it until I randomly decided to record it from TCM. A big part of the picture’s obscurity is that it isn’t particularly good. Two rival pilots – a hot shot Air Corps plane jockey and a more subdued Navy blimp commander – are both in love with the same woman. She’s married to the flashy one, and she loves him passionately. But he’s always off on one dangerous mission or another, and his rival is always there, always dependable. So when hubby crashes at the South Pole and Mr. Blimp goes after him, she’s double out of luck. Some of the effects are fun, but the script borders on ridiculous even by the standards of the time. And don’t even get me started on how much fun it wasn’t to watch the ice-bound plane crew struggle to survive. I’m not sorry I watched it, but I wouldn’t sit through it again. Mildly amusing

Review – The Cape Town Affair

This spy movie is nearly boring enough to actually be about real spies. A pickpocket (James Brolin) accidentally mires himself in a plot to smuggle microfilm to the Soviets when he steals the film from the purse of an unsuspecting mule (Jacqueline Bisset). On the plus side, it was shot in the mid 60s, giving it an authentic Cold War feel. On the other hand, the plot is a stale parade of twists and turns through a South Africa apparently completely devoid of racial problems. Other than Bisset’s innocent character, none of the dramatis personae were likable enough to care about, which made it hard to invest much emotion in whether they lived or died. Though I enjoyed the look and feel, overall I thought it was a lackluster production of a weak script. Mildly amusing

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review – Counter-Attack

Though this isn’t the strangest movie ever made about the Soviets in World War Two, it still isn’t exactly your average everyday war picture. A Russian commando and a female resistance fighter end up trapped under the wreckage of a factory with seven German prisoners. Stuck with nothing better to do, they start playing tense psychological games with each other. Who among the Germans is secretly an officer? Whose side will dig them out and learn the other’s secrets? Only time will tell. Mildly amusing

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Review - Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This is the ultimate picture for playing Early 80s Teen Movie Cliché Bingo. Mark off a grid and write every early 80s teen movie cliché you can think of in the squares. Hit the big ones, such as “pre-AIDS promiscuity” and “what-were-they-thinking fashion choices.” But don’t be afraid to add obscure stuff as well, such as “the scent of mimeograph paper.” For bonus squares, toss in negatives such as “nobody makes a cell phone call the whole time.” Because yes boys and girls, there was a time before cell phones. If you’re on a tour of 80s movies, this year in the lives of kids in the LA ‘burbs is a must-see. It establishes many of the genre conventions that still show up like clockwork in teen movies. It also includes a stellar cast of 80s faces, particularly a young Sean Penn as the quintessential surfer moron. Mildly amusing

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review – Deliverance

Suffering from testosterone deficit? You won’t be after this. Four guys from the city take a canoe trip way out in the sticks, and they soon find themselves pitted against insane hillbillies. If you’re going to watch this at all you need to watch it uncut, because the edited-for-TV print slices a lot out of the scene where two inbred backwoods psychos rape Ned Beatty. If nothing else, this clash between civilization and “man in a state of nature” should be required viewing in any class about masculinity in the movies. Mildly amusing

Review – Experiment Alcatraz

I watched this because it was part of TCM’s marathon of movie about “The Rock,” but honestly it could have been Experiment Hutchinson Correctional Facility and still turned out to be the same picture. During an experiment in which convicts are exposed to radiation, one guy goes nuts and stabs another to death with a pair of scissors. The treatments are blamed and the experiment shut down, but one of the doctors is still convinced that the radiation wasn’t actually at fault. His investigation uncovers more to the apparently random killing than initially meets the eye. Looking back 50 years later, the “radiation is actually our friend” conclusion is bizarre. Mildly amusing

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review – Anne Frank Remembered

No matter how many times I hear this story in no matter how many different retellings, I always find myself foolishly hoping that this time around the Franks won’t get caught, or perhaps that they’ll all survive the camps just a little bit longer and make it to liberation so they can be reunited in the end. This documentary distinguishes itself with interviews with people who knew the Franks – especially Anne – before or during the Holocaust. It also features quite an array of photos of the family, the kind of thing I just assumed had mostly been torched in the war. Worth seeing

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review – Autopsy

One nice thing about a lot of torture porn is that it tends to lead off with a woman bound on an operating table (or similar other contrivance) screaming her lungs out. When a movie opens with something like that, it’s easy to just hit the delete button before wasting any more time on it. But when the slicing and dicing doesn’t get underway until a half an hour in, well, by that point one has already made a time commitment to it and might as well stick through to the end. Besides, this particular specimen partially acquitted itself by including some vaguely entertaining gore. The plot is some forgettable nonsense about a group of 20-somethings who have a car accident in the middle of nowhere and end up in the hospital from hillbilly hell. Robert Patrick does a passable job as a mad scientist draining the precious bodily fluids of his victims in order to keep his terminally-ill wife alive. This story line was better in The Corpse Vanishes more than half a century before this stinker was made, and that isn’t even a particularly high hurdle to leap. See if desperate

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review – Conspirator

This could have been a better story than it was. British Maj. Michael Curragh (Robert Taylor) falls in love with American-abroad Melinda Greyton (Elizabeth Taylor, no relation). This starts the movie off on the wrong foot because the budding romance dominates the first 20 minutes of the picture, and the age difference between the two actors (she was 16 at the time, though at least her character is 18) is frankly off-putting. The guy has a callous streak – he shows no pity for a rabbit horribly injured during a hunt despite the obvious distress of his fiancée and his nephew – but otherwise it’s a garden-variety romance. However, once they’re married it’s revealed that the new husband is harboring a dark secret: he’s actually a Soviet agent. After his wife uncovers his nasty secret, both their relationship and the plot go downhill fast. This turns out to be one of those productions that sets the audience up for some clever twist or unexpected deviation from the obvious course of events, a redeeming event that never occurs. Mildly amusing

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Review – Bomb It

This documentary about graffiti artists does a couple of things right. First, it employs an international perspective, exploring the similarities and differences between artists in the States, Japan, South Africa and elsewhere. Second, parts of the movie show the painters at work. Indeed, the extra footage on the DVD of three murals coming into being is actually more interesting than the movie itself. That’s at least in part because when they start interviewing these folks many of them turn out to be as tedious as their art is interesting. We get plenty of the usual reminiscing about days gone by, a lot of “I remember painting this” and “I almost got my ass kicked doing that.” And of course the ever popular “I invented graffiti,” a claim that simultaneously assumes that anyone can truly be said to have invented a fundamental human impulse and that the interview subject was present the first time someone tried it, which would of course make the artist several thousand years old. Beyond the usual pitfalls, however, this is a reasonably comprehensive and competent production. Mildly amusing

Friday, February 5, 2010

Review – Assassins

This picture is directed by Richard Donner and stars onetime-action-movie-king Sylvester Stallone. So I’m not quite sure why it had to turn out so deadly dull. At least part of the problem is Stallone’s usual lack of affection for dialogue. Normally that’s not a big problem in a movie about manly men who kill people for a living. But at least a little human element would have been a nice addition to this story. Sly plays an aging hit man looking for one final job to round out his career. Enter a young, obnoxious rival played by a young, obnoxious Antonio Banderas. A few twists and turns later, and our hero is trying to save a computer hacker (Julianne Moore) from just about everyone else in the movie. The only thing that kept my attention at all was a near constant worry that something bad was going to happen to the cat that Moore’s character insisted on dragging with her everywhere she went. And the only success the picture managed to achieve is that the poor creature actually made it all the way to the end. See if desperate

Monday, February 1, 2010

Review – Escape from Alcatraz

The last time I was in San Francisco I took an evening tour of the title location. So for me a lot of the amusement value of this filmed-on-the-spot production was of the hey-I-remember-that variety. Tourism aside, this is a reasonably well made story of the last and most famous escape from The Rock. Of course the general assumption about this trio (led in the picture by Clint Eastwood) is that they drowned in the bay, but at least they made it off the island. The story of desperate men figuring out how to get out of their cells and over the wall is entertaining stuff. Mildly amusing

Review – Cutthroat Island

I have to admit that I’d seen this before – many years ago – and thus knew what I was getting before I started. My intent was to deliberately change the TV channel to a program bad enough to drive me from the room and supply a little annoying, motivational background noise while I washed some dishes. For that purpose it was particularly well suited. Actually watching it, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter. This picture exists primarily to allow Geena Davis and then-husband-and-alleged-director Renny Harlin to work together. Thus it struck me as particularly odd that Harlin manages to film his wife from all her worst angles and consistently use the takes in which she does the flattest job of delivering her lines (though in his defense, for all I know that could have been all the takes). And for some reason Matthew Modine squanders his I-worked-with-Stanley-Kubrick cred on this crud, the actor’s equivalent of training as a cordon bleu chef and then getting a job at Burger King. Even Frank Langella is worse than usual. Overall this is the biggest catastrophe of a pirate movie I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something. Wish I’d skipped it