27 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Charlie's Death Wish (2005 Video)
Ron Jeremy with his pants on?
11 June 2006
Found this one in a collection of low budget DVDs at Best Buy, 6 cheapies for $6.99. Imagine my surprise when I saw Ron Jeremy's name pop up in the opening credits. Had they slipped a porno film into the collection? No! It is really Ron Jeremy in a straight role, following the lead of Ginger Lynn Allen (I guess). And he did pretty well, doing a tongue in cheek L.A cop trying to solve a series of hilariously violent murders.

And about those murders. Seems a girl was hauled into prison one night for some bizarre reason and during her stay there, she happens to have been murdered by some of the other prisoners. Could happen to anyone, I guess, especially when they are in the care of the LAPD. So our victim's lovely sister Charlie (Phoebe Dollar), who gives the old Charles Bronson vigilante film Death Wish the same deference as religious fundamentalists give holy scripture, takes it upon herself to track down and kill everyone involved.

And Ron Jeremy is the detective assigned to the case. He's got a problem -- all of the victims are criminals he hates. He secretly thinks Charlie is doing a lot of good with her murderous ways, and becomes ambivalent about whether or not he ought to stop her. And he keeps his pants on, for the entire flick -- a good thing since he has aged a bit since the days when he cavorted about with the likes of Christy Canyon and Veronica Hart. Not that I have seen any of those movies myself, of course, but, er, I have a friend who told me about them. Ahem.

Also wandering through this film for some reason, though I can't imagine what it might be, is a Michael Moore parody, an NRA-hating documentary filmmaker whose self-described masterpiece was a film showing that Sonny Bono's death was actually a murder, carried out by a conspiracy. Well, why not. He runs an investigation of the murders parallel to Jeremy's, almost complicating the pathetically simple plot.

An odd film to be sure, but more entertaining than you might think. The special effects are often hilarious, Ms. Dollar is slinky and seductive, and yes, there is Ron Jeremy fully clothed. Didn't know he had it in him.
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Phenomena (1985)
Exceptionally imaginative giallo -- great!
30 May 2006
A teen-aged Jennifer Connolly, the daughter of an American movie star, is sent to an exclusive boarding school in Switzerland. In addition to being filthy rich, Jennifer has an odd affinity with insects of all kinds. She can communicate with them, telepathically. She also sleepwalks.

There is of course a mad killer loose in the area in which the school is located, and girls of Jennifer's age have been turning up brutally murdered. While sleepwalking one night, Jennifer witnesses such a murder. She ends up meeting and befriending a professor (Donald Pleasance) whose specialty is (of course) the study of insects. He has been using his skills to assist the police in their search for the crazed killer. The professor is wheelchair bound, and is cared for and assisted by Inga, who he refers to as his "nurse". Inga is no buxom Swedish blonde -- Inga is a chimpanzee, who steals every scene she is in.

Jennifer, the professor, Inga and the insect world team up to investigate and catch the killer. The plot takes some wholly unexpected turns you couldn't possibly anticipate, at times feeling almost like a David Lynch film. There are lots of loose ends and utterly contrived events, but if you can suspend your disbelief a bit, you will really enjoy this one. Truly unique.
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Hellbreeder (2004)
Inventive and original, but slow at times
15 May 2006
A serial killer is busy slaughtering little kids. Investigating are two (only two?) detectives and Alice, the mother of one of the victims. Although the killer has been seen and sketched, and although everyone knows what he looks like, he for some reason can't be caught. If it were the FBI doing the investigating, that result would be no surprise, but this film takes place in England.

Alice, who seems to have no job of any kind, is obsessed with tracking down her child's murderer. We see that she suffers from tremendous guilt for not having done enough to protect her child, and that she is subject to vivid nightmares, and also to hallucinations. As the film progresses, the line between her visions and reality fades, and we wonder more and more whether particular events shown are real or just in her head. This dynamic takes over the film, very effectively, and the plot moves into some surprising places (which I won't reveal here).

This movie reminded me at times of an old Italian giallo -- and I love a good giallo. Most of the acting was second-rate or unremarkable at best, but Lynndie Uphill, the actress who plays Alice, was truly impressive in what seems to me to have been quite a challenging role. Alas, according to this site, Hellbreeder has been her only film to date. Some of the writing was quite good, and some of the music was lovely -- but at times the story would drag or drift off into overdone special effects or long, boring shots of characters looking introspective. Nevertheless, this film's premise was quite interesting and dynamic. Although the film lags at many places, it was worth watching overall. Glad I saw it.
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Havoc (2005)
Hollywood rebels without a cause -- where are you James Dean?
4 May 2006
Negative comments about this film need to be tempered by the sad story surrounding its making. The script was written by a 17-year old girl named Jessica Kaplan. No, It's not Citizen Kane, but it is an extraordinary piece of work for a teenager. And most sadly, she perished in an airplane crash at the age of 21. The film is dedicated to her memory.

As to the film's merits, it is by my count the 1,464th variation of Rebel Without A Cause, which I think said all that needed to be said on the subject. Did you know that adolescents often find society empty and pointless? And that they do stupid things by way of rebelling against it, in hopes of dispelling their angst and finding something more meaningful? Yes, it's true. In this version of that old chestnut, the rebels are a particularly spoiled group of high school students living in Hollywood. To find something they consider "real", they form youth gangs in imitation of the poor folk in East L.A. And then they actually go there, at first to buy drugs; but then rich girls Anne Hatahway and Bijou Phillips try to get involved in the local Hispanic gang scene. Some pretty modest mayhem ensues.

The East L.A. people are awfully sanitized and not very believable. Nobody is addicted to anything. Nobody is desperate. Nobody appears to be poor. These are basically solid middle class folk, devoted to family, who have a few surface quirks and who happen to sell crack cocaine instead of, say, life insurance.

Is it my imagination or does the gorgeous Bijou Phillips always play exactly the same role -- a sexually eager girl who gets in over her head, discovering the hard way that yes, she has limits? That's the role she plays here, and she is fine (as is lead Anne Hatahway). But I wonder whether that is her entire repertoire. Perhaps she will branch out someday.

Somewhere on this planet, there must be some group of people more deserving of sympathy than affluent Hollywood teenagers. So I found myself wondering why this film had been made. The young scriptwriter should not be held accountable, but you would think older people would know better.
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Terrific De Mornay
6 April 2006
A more or less typical thriller made special by Rebecca De Mornay's awesome performance. She is the executive producer of this picture and must have badly wanted to do this role -- I'm glad she did.

She plays a psychiatrist evaluating whether an accused serial killer is competent to stand trial. It becomes obvious early on that she was drawn to psychiatry because of her own severe emotional problems and difficult past. In the meantime, we are shown troubling relationships with men appearing in her personal life. An upstairs neighbor badly wants her, but she wants only to be friends. Her father shows up out of the blue seeking affection and assistance, but she resists him, and it is obvious that their relationship and her childhood were deeply troubled. A stranger (Banderas) she meets in a store ardently pursues her, and they begin an affair, but she has difficulty trusting him, both because he is something of a suspicious character and because, as she tells him, she has difficulty trusting anybody. Their relationship becomes volatile and angry, tinged with violent overtones. Then there is the issue of her ex-fiancé, who vanished abruptly and without explanation just before the scheduled wedding.

As happens in these kinds of films, she is sent a series of mysterious messages and packages with no return addresses. Then violent things start to occur. Someone is clearly trying to terrorize her, but who? So many suspects -- Banderas? The upstairs neighbor (who is of course jealous of Banderas)? The serial killer, acting through friends outside of prison? Her father? The ex-fiancée? I did not anticipate the answer to this question, revealed of course at the film's end, but it was not an especially unusual conclusion for films of this kind. What made this picture worthwhile was De Mornay's utterly believable portrayal of, let us say, a difficult character, reminiscent of what she did in "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle". She is simply great at this kind of thing, besides being classically gorgeous.

The other acting is fine, but no one stands out. Banderas is always good, but in this one he is mostly eye candy for the ladies. Harry Dean Stanton as the serial killer is suitably menacing and crazed, but this picture is really all De Mornay. I found it a bit slow at times, but the last 20 minutes or so made up for the weak spots. Definitely worth watching.
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Irreversible (2002)
Shocking and graphic, but not much else
29 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Some minor spoilers in this review. But the power of this technique-heavy French film, wasted power if you ask me, is in the way it is shot, not in the story.

We start with a murder, and proceed backwards in time. Got that? The first scene in the film shows you the end of the story, the next scene shows what happened just before the end, and so on, until the end of the film, when you reach the beginning of the story. Why this odd technique? Who knows.

The murder is terrifically violent, brutal and graphic, accompanied by teeth-grating sound effects that truly put the viewer on edge. I guess being able to pull off this kind of emotional manipulation is an accomplishment of sorts, though not one I find especially valuable. In addition to the murder, there is an extraordinarily brutal, and completely unerotic, rape sequence. However politically incorrect it may be to say so, I have found some rapes I have scene in movies to be exciting and erotically charged; this one was just gruesome and cruel, and also way overlong.

Underlying all of this is a prosaic tale of a romantic triangle, involving three rather uninteresting people. The girl has thrown over the intelligent, sensitive guy for the animalistic fellow with whom she has more satisfying sex. There is a little bit of exploration of this dynamic, but nothing noteworthy. The rape and murder, which are the film's centerpiece and reason for being, come upon these people strictly by chance, and have nothing at all to do with their interrelationships. The story, in short, lacks coherence. What we have here are segments of shocking violence grafted onto a really dull love story, for no apparent reason.

A couple of entertaining touches -- the murder occurs at a gay bar hilariously called "The Rectum", for which our protagonists have feverishly searched by screaming out "Where is the Rectum? Take me to the Rectum!" to anyone passing by. In the same scene, there is a shamelessly racist but still-hysterical exchange between an Oriental cab driver and his passenger.

See this film if you want to feel emotionally brutalized. Don't see much point in seeing it otherwise.
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Highly entertaining psycho kidnapper flick
26 November 2005
A standard theme, truly well-handled. Another variation on the old one about a guy whose resentment against his emasculating mother turns him into a psycho. In this one, he seeks revenge on the world by kidnapping and imprisoning a college girl, chosen at random. What puts this film a cut above is the clever dialog and fine acting. The psycho, Carl, is confident and pathetic at the same time, and his social gaffes are often hilarious. His mother is so casually relentless in her abuse as to make Carl's conduct seem almost reasonable. There is a group of college kids dimly trying to deal with their colleague's disappearance, while at the same time pursuing the usual collegiate pursuits, i.e., getting laid and getting high, resulting in some pretty funny exchanges. Almost all the gory and extreme events happen off screen, which I appreciated (though I am sure there are other viewers would prefer to have seen them for themselves). There is also some stuff about the effect of the kidnapping on the victim, and on the feelings she develops about Carl -- this part is not particularly believable, but makes for hilarious dialog when she tries to talk about her experience with classmates. I really enjoyed this film, although I hadn't expected to think much of it. Surprisingly entertaining -- try it!
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Noises Off... (1992)
25 December 2004
A theater troupe's production of a British sex farce is undermined by the romantic entanglements and personal idiosyncrasies of the cast members, with laugh out loud hilarious results. An astonishingly good cast, headed by Michael Caine as the director. Julie Hagerty is especially good -- why don't we see her anymore, she is such a fine comedienne? It is painfully poignant as of this writing to see Christopher Reeve (a couple of years before his accident) and John Ritter working together, as both passed away far too young in recent months. They are great here. Wonderful acting, great script. Pretty flawless, if you ask me.
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Unnecessary variation on a theme
18 December 2004
Get this -- an opinionated, imperious, upper-class Italian woman is confronted with an equally opinionated, earthy, lower-class Italian male. The result is political argument, sexual passion, male dominance and female submission. Sounds like that great Lina Wertmuller film, Swept Away . . . . True, but that is also the plot of this mediocre Lina Wertmuller film, Summer Night with Greek Profile, etc., as well as the plot of that other mediocre Lina Wertmuller film, the remake of Swept Away. The first Swept Away was terrific. There was never any need to redo it.

The mechanism employed by Summer Night to bring the rich lady and the man of the people together is ridiculous and contrived. And this rich lady is less interesting, being more one-dimensional, than the one appearing in Swept Away, even though both were played by the same fine actress, Mariangela Melato. Summer Night's working class male, Michele Placido, is excellent, but it is impossible to watch this film without feeling disappointed that he is not the great Giancarlo Giannini, who played his counterpart in Swept Away.

Really can't figure why La Wertmuller made this flick, or the Swept Away remake, unless she is trying to relive what may have been her finest hour. Skip this and see Swept Away again. Or try one of her other fine movies that don't involve the rich woman/working man theme.
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Wow! A genuinely erotic erotic thriller
1 December 2004
I stumbled on this one by accident and am glad I did. A middle aged but luscious psychiatrist on her way home from work is kidnapped and raped, brutally and bizarrely, by a sexually dysfunctional masked man. She is clearly terrified during the act, but also tells him to proceed, and that she loves what he is doing to her. Is she trying to outwit him, or is she being sincere? He leaves her for dead in the woods, but she survives.

She has reason to suspect that the rapist is a former patient of hers, who, it turns out, is somewhat fixated with her. She contacts him and tells him of the rape, without telling him that she suspects that he is the perpetrator. Instead, she says that the incident awakened new feelings inside her, and that she wants to indulge in "no holds barred" sex with him while her husband is out of town for a few days. Is she being sincere, or is she plotting revenge?

What follows is awfully hot and tense, way above the level of your usual so-called "erotic thriller". I think that's because the actors in this one genuinely act! In most of these films, you get the feeling that the director's method was just to throw some naked bimbos, guns and cheating spouses onto a set, and to film whatever happens to follow. "Playback", on the other hand, was carefully crafted, and thoughtfully made.

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