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ruffrider

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27 reviews in total 
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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Killer Bugs and Route 66 alumni - who could ask for more?, 24 February 2012
9/10

I was an usher at the Silver Spring Theater (now restored as the AFI Film Institute) in Silver Spring, MD when "The Satan Bug" came out and so I got to see it more than once. It's a taut thriller with a germ warfare theme that seemed very cutting edge in 1965 and it was the first time I'd seen George Maharis since he played "Buz" on TV's "Route 66." Other veterans of that defunct TV series were Satan Bug players Ann Francis, Ed Asner and Richard Basehart. I got to speak to Asner several times on the phone and we discussed "The Satan Bug." Apparently director John Sturges was busy having meetings for his next film project, so Ed had to rely on his own intuition to add certain things like the gravelly voice he adopted after the chop to the throat he received from Maharis' character Lee Barrett.

However absent Sturges may have been during filming, the film doesn't show it and moves briskly along as Barrett races to find the stolen flask containing a deadly virus that threatens all life on Earth. This film still works for me 47 years after I first saw it and seems relevant in the post-9/11 world of terrorist threats. "The Satan Bug" remains an overlooked gem of suspense and cold-war era paranoia and is well worth a look.

11 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Great concept, cheesy execution and still fun!, 15 September 2006
4/10

I was in my my 20's when I saw the pilot episode in 1973 - a story about an Amish-style community, some of whose young inhabitants defy their elders then stumble upon a portal into a much bigger world. The reactionary little town turns out to be just one pod in a gigantic spaceship, built to save samples of the Earth's populations - a Noah's Ark to transport humans to another world when the Earth is threatened with extinction. The concept was completely unique and though I only saw only a few episodes the memories stayed with me over the years. I finally acquired the entire series (16 episodes) on DVD last week and watched it end-to-end.

I still find Harlan Ellison's concept intriguing, and that's what kept me watching a series that's been so maligned the bad press alone probably scares off most viewers. It's cheesy 1970's TV, all right, with the actors plopped down in the middle of colorful and completely artificial-looking chroma-key sets and all the buildings in the various life pods look like 18-inch-high models sitting on tables, but still I wanted to see what our 3 intrepid heroes Devin, Rachel and Garth would find in their efforts to save the giant ship.

Often the show looked like it was made for kids (each pod seemed to contain an evil dictator, who ruled over an "empire" consisting of about a dozen people), but I hung in there, all the time wondering what might have been with good writing and state-of-the-art technology. "The Starlost" still seems like a concept worth doing right - maybe even on the big screen.

One thing that troubled me was the simple lack of logic, even on the show's own terms. The premise of the series was that it was up to 3 young people to save the giant starship, who's control section and crew were long ago destroyed, putting the ship on a collision course with a star. If a way could be found to correct said course you'd think all would be well and the series could be concluded, right? Not so fast! In episode 14, 2 scientists help Devin, Rachel and Garth fix the reactor(s), enabling the Starlost to avoid its most imminent danger, a comet. At this crucial juncture, with the ability to change course at hand, does anyone, (scientists, heroes, producers or writers) say "hey, while we're avoiding the comet, let's just reset the course so we won't be heading for the star any more and SAVE THE SHIP?" Not with a contractual obligation to produce 2 more episodes they don't, so the series plods on through 2 more episodes then stops dead. I wonder if anyone realized they might have simply repodered the episodes to make #14 the last one and use it to wrap up the series.

To sum up, you may find this series campy fun, in spite of all its shortcomings - I did, but I had to make a lot of allowances ...... and swallow a lot of cheese.

Space Fury (1999) (V)
6 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Excuse me for this ..., 2 August 2006
1/10

I usually only critique favorite films, so I'll have something good to say, but I was up all night and couldn't find anything else to watch, so there went my night and consequently I offer this review. The film starts with a space shuttle crashing into an orbiting space station while "docking" and nobody on said station says anything about it, like that's normal! In fact, the space station occupants give smiles and "How ya doin'!" waves through the windows to the shuttle crew before they board the now-crippled station. That's about as much sense as this movie makes, but a few scenes were so comically inept I'd be remiss if I didn't mention them. For one, Michael Pare's character seems to be psychotic simply because the script needs him to be, no other reason; he's not in the least believable and in fact plain silly. The first "fight scene" with Tony Curtis Blondell is one of the most comically inept pieces of film-making I've ever seen, even taking into account the fact that this film was probably made for kids. Pare's character just blurts out ridiculously stupid things, first to provoke pointless fights then later to show his "passion" for fellow space station occupier Lisa Bingley, who's clearly the best thing about this movie, visually and dramatically. I kept asking myself "WHO WROTE (if that is the word) THIS SCRIPT?" Most of the film consists of Pare's psychotic antics, the mostly not-so-good effects and about the worst screenplay I've ever seen. Strangely, former boxer George Chuvalo and his Russian cohorts on the ground control station come off the best and most believable.

I don't like to criticize acting, per se, and a perfect reason why is a film like this. I've seen Michael Pare in many other places and have enjoyed his work, so when he looks inept I don't blame him but rather the screen writer, who's supposed to provide a decent story and believable characters, the director, who's supposed to film the script intelligibly and the post-production people, whose job it is to edit the hours of film into a coherent, watchable whole. These 3 "units" failed miserably, leaving the actors and the movie to flounder. Now "Plan Nine From Outer Space" has long enjoyed a reputation as "arguably the worst movie ever made," but after viewing "Space Fury" all I can say is "move over, 'Plan Nine,' you've got serious competition."

After sitting through 90 minutes of this awful mess I must admit I was rewarded for my patience with a finale consisting of the space station turned into a flaming, spinning cartwheel as it entered the earth's atmosphere and began to burn up, accompanied by a last-second escape into a shuttle craft by Blondell and Bingley. This ending was so much better than the rest of the film I felt it belonged in a different - and far better - movie. As for the rest of the film, unless you like your sci-fi silly, incoherent and inept, I'd avoid it like a space station that's afire and plunging toward earth.

6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
The Defining Movie about a black man's struggles in the south, 23 May 2006

Over the years the struggles of blacks in the racist south have been rendered in fiction by books like Faulkner's "Light in August" and films like "Hurry Sundown," (though blacks were relatively minor characters in this film), "Sounder," "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," "A Woman Called Moses" and "Ragtime." "Nothing But a Man" predates the other films and broke new ground by depicting the plight of a young black man who refuses to knuckle under to the times and the expectations placed on him.

Duff Anderson is a section hand earning good money on a railroad construction gang in the south of the 1960's. Carefree and aimless, he sends money to the woman who raises his little boy and meets his own absentee father for the first time since his childhood, only to be brutally rejected. Duff's life changes dramatically when he falls in love with Josie, whose minister father "gets along" by accommodating the white man and who wants nothing to do with rootless Duff. In spite of the minister's objections Josie and Duff are married, but Duff's attempt to unionize at his new job gets him fired and local whites threaten his life when he refuses to cow-tow to bigots. At the end of the story Duff's father dies after rejecting his son yet again, prompting Duff to admit "I'm just like him." But Duff is a far better man than his father could ever be, for at a time when nonstop adversity would have broken a lesser person, he takes custody of his little son and returns to Josie determined to be a husband and parent, the two roles at which his own father failed so miserably.

Everything in this film rings true, from the opening scenes with the railroad gang to the tearful reunion with his family at the end. The dialog is almost unrelentingly cynical, as Duff comes to see his courtship of Josie through the eyes of his railroad pals and his disapproving father-in-law and views his prospects for employment and success in the light of bitter experiences with back-stabbing co-workers, unsympathetic employers and white racists.

Ivan Dixon is superb as Duff and Abbey Lincoln is equally fine as the supportive wife who must share her husband's fate. The black-and-white filming underscores the seriousness of the subject matter and the bleakness of Duff's life. This is a classic film, not to be missed.

17 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Patients check in, but they don't check out!, 11 May 2006
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

If you liked Paddy Chayevsky's "Network" you'll probably like this black comedy as well, as it's another brilliant Chayevsky script, a wonderful satire on big-city hospitals and a perfect vehicle for Geo. C. Scott. He plays a burned-out chief of medicine on the most chaotic day he or his hospital have ever seen. His personal crisis is coming to a head and his hospital's falling down around him, as local residents demonstrate against the hospital and patients and doctors are dying at an alarming rate, thanks to a biblically-inspired and murderous saboteur. The latter, who theatrically declares himself the "Fool for Christ," "Parakleet of Kaborka," "Wrath of the Lamb," and "Angel of the Bottomless Pit," bops doctors on the head, administers lethal injections and swaps patients' identities, causing treatments and operations to be performed on the wrong persons.

This film makes you uncomfortable, as deadly mistakes like these do happen (hopefully not so many, not so often and not in one place) and at the same time makes you laugh at the priceless character portraits. One is Richard Dysart ("L.A. Law") as Dr. Wellbeck, a sort of celebrity surgeon who spends far more time worrying about his investments and publicly-traded stock than about his patients, who suffer lethally from his vast indifference and neglect. There's Diana Rigg as free-spirited, hippie-ish Barbara Drummond, who seduces the beleaguered chief of medicine (Scott) and tries to get him to run away with her. Then there's the deluded murderer, who happens to be Barbara's father and who "functions well enough" back at the Indian reservation where he lives with his daughter and even runs a clinic, but who's pushed to madness merely by being placed back in civilization. The strongest portrait by far is Scott's Dr. Bock, who bares his soul as former boy genius, failed father and husband, brilliant doctor and responsible administrator, who constantly dreams of suicide but must bear up under the demands of his job. Scott is exceptional in this demanding role.

Until the final scenes one doesn't know if Bock will leave the hospital behind for Barbara's Indian reservation and a quieter, simpler life, whether her murderous father will be caught or whether the protesting, rioting locals will take over and bring the hospital to its knees. Watching the crazed killer at work, one suspects Chayevsky is telling us our lunatic society makes him do these things, as we're told he's a different person away from cities and people.

As my own father was the chief administrator of a number of large hospitals over the years, I had some idea of the demands of his job and the huge responsibility he shouldered. This story makes that responsibility the linchpin on which Scott's crisis turns. This is both a funny and scary film, with the actors up to the considerable demands of Chayevsky's script. It's also a film I get more out of each time I watch it.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The last of the film noires, 24 April 2006
9/10

This terrific film says goodbye to the classic black-and-white film noir, the genre that gave us a cynical, bleak world where women are evil temptresses and men are world-weary tough guys or criminals, who do what they must to survive. Odds Against Tomorrow gives us a triple dose of the latter but breaks the familiar mold by offering up sympathetic women like Shelley Winters, as the caring girlfriend who'll do anything legal to keep her man (Robert Ryan) and Kim Hamilton, as Harry Belafonte's exasperated ex-wife. The classic femme fatale role is given a nod by Gloria Grahame, who plays the saucy little tart who lives next door to Ryan and only drops by when she knows his girlfriend is out.

What distinguishes this crime/caper film is the way the script takes its time to develop the three principals (Ed Begley, the disgraced ex-cop who never got his due; Robert Ryan, the aging failure and battler who has to prove himself and Harry Belafonte, the gambling addict whose debts have just come due with a vengeance) and shows how they are driven by greed and desperation to take on a bank heist - one they think will be a pushover - and how fate intervenes when they do. The film cagily holds off on most of the action until the end, building tension as we see individual lives grow before our eyes then start to collide as Begley plays ringmaster to two men who react to each other like a lit match to gasoline. Ryan, the rabid racist, makes a dangerous cohort when forced to work with a black man, as the ending shows in incendiary fashion.

Also to watch for are Wayne Rogers' film debut as the brazen young soldier who likes to show off his fighting prowess in bars and the scenes where the three principals encounter very young kids. The latter scenes surely tell us something as they display the contrast between the naive, innocent children and the bitter, desperate men who seem so fond of them, as if looking back on their own youth and a less troubled time in their lives.

This film was introduced to me as a "jazz film" and indeed it features a fine score from jazz composer John Lewis, the long-time pianist of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Belafonte does some nice jazz work of his own as a nightclub singer and vibraphonist and members of his band are played by some famous real-life jazzmen. Odds Against Tomorrow stands out for its performances, script and the important place it holds in film history as the last of its distinguished kind.

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Bad boys, bad cops, decent movie, 5 March 2006
7/10

This movie brings to mind "Boys 'n the Hood," "Menace to Society," "South Central" and others of its ilk and even shares actors with some of them. The film's "us vs. the law" mentality is underscored by the all-black neighborhood vs. the nearly all-white police force. Here the cops are so bad they seem like caricatures and in one scene they even ambush the boys as they drive by in a car they've just "liberated" from its owner. It's like a bushwhacking from an old Western, but the contemporary setting makes it look all too real.

The story centers on young Jason Petty and his buddies, to whom school is just an inconvenience that takes time away from their "real occupation" of boosting cars. This happens to be Newark, N.J., a rust-belt city low on jobs but notoriously high on crime. In fact the problem is so severe that the cops all have "Car Theft" written on their backs, to show that an entire unit must be devoted to this particular crime.

The boys use a "slim Jim" to gleefully break into cars and go joy-riding, as if it's no big deal. They only run into real trouble when the police ambush them. The vicious, Nazi-like Lt. has a vendetta against the boys, seeing them not as human beings who might be worthy of redemption, but as human targets. In fact, he's a little reminiscent of that sadistic Nazi officer of the Warsaw ghetto, who shot down Jews for pleasure in the film "Schindler's List." When the boys steal a police car in retribution for the ambush, things predictably go downhill fast. They are severely beaten by the cops and Jason finally ends up in prison. Clearly these are "bad boys," who'd steal your car in a minute, but the film wants us to see them as anti-heroes, showing Jason protecting his sister and his friend taking care of his own grandmother. The film left us wondering whose side to take and who to feel sadder for: the boys whose lives are going down the drain, the honest citizens whose cars are being stolen left and right and who could be caught in the crossfire of a shootout at any moment or the city of Newark itself, the spirit of whose law is being betrayed by brutal, soul-dead cops.

In spite of the over-the-top portrayal of the latter, the film offers a realistic-looking rendering of the ghetto, of the protagonists and their families and of the culture of car theft in a city where there appears to be only 2 career paths - law enforcement and crime. Strangely, the entire subject of drugs is never mentioned.

The filmmakers (including producer Spike Lee) are obviously biased against the Newark police, who, we hope, are not as bad they are portrayed here. Nevertheless, they've given us yet another a strong, affecting story about the inner city and black youth gone awry and Sharron Corley is fine as Jason.

6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Jackson Pollack He's Not ..., 2 March 2006
6/10

Alex is a painter, each of whose canvases is just one big window-sized slab of yellow (or red, or whatever color it happens to be). Not only his art but his life lacks inspiration: his one-man show is not to be, his girlfriend just walked out, he's moved into a building full of oddballs and he's back delivering pizza to pay the rent. I expected this flick to turn into a sitcom, but it got better as it went along, developing characters and relationships, especially the one between artsy liberal snob Alex and his new neighbor Lori, whose magnum pistol, martial arts skills and utter lack of sophistication generate the contempt he has for her, despite the fact that they're having a physical relationship. Throw in the wacky neighbors, like the bathrobe-clad Lothario/one-man Greek Chorus who wanders the halls and delivers his observations in Spanish, the super-nosy super, the big-busted strip-o-gram girl, the horny, man-devouring Biddie and a couple of others and you've got funny and touching portraits of a by turns lovable and unlovable loser and the colorful characters in his orbit. Don't know why, exactly, but this story reminded me a bit of Steve Buscemi's terrific "Tree's Lounge" - another indie about a loser and his odd pals. This one's cute and it's got a happier ending. For the price of your admission you get "early" Mark Ruffalo (2001) in an affecting role and cute, largely unknown Beth Ulrich, who's a find.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Now I know this place!, 28 February 2006

Living just outside Baltimore, I've driven through the corner of Fayette and Monroe streets more than once; I've seen and felt its ugly presence, but never really knew the place. It consists mostly of slums and you pray your car doesn't break down here. I read the area was a prosperous, middle-class neighborhood not so long ago, but now it looks as though everything of value has been torn out of it and that's because it has. Once you've seen Charles S. Dutton's "The Corner," you'll understand just what this corner is and how it got that way. What's more, you will never be able to forget it.

Gary McCullough is the living symbol of The Corner: he used to drive a Mercedes, had a good job, invested his money well and could have had a comfortable life in the suburbs. He had money to burn and that's just what he did with it: he married Fran, a junkie, and they probably both thought she was only a "recreational user" until they fell, individually and as a family. Now they're the most miserable, wretched addicts imaginable, with nothing to show for their lives, existing only for the next fix. To get drug money Gary and his friends have employed every scam they could think of, from shoplifting and stealing cars to stripping every retrievable piece of metal from every building around and selling it for scrap. The McCulloughs' son DeAndre is only 15 but headed straight for the same oblivion: he's stopped going to school and he sells drugs on the street with his friends. He's still young and healthy, but give him time - he'll become a user and end up like his parents.

The Corner sucks you in, so they say - it takes everything and gives back nothing. Many of the once-well-kept homes have turned into shooting galleries, where ghost-like beings lie about with open sores, wanting nothing from life (and having nothing) but their next drug high. Oh, the McCulloughs try to right themselves - Fran goes for treatment, Gary temporarily holds a job and DeAndre promises he'll go back to school (anything to avoid being sent to "juvie" with the violent "D.C. kids.") But Fran and Gary slip back and DeAndre's sporadic "education" consists largely of playing basketball and reading a Martin Luther King speech aloud. Worse is yet to come, for rival gangs will try to shoot DeAndre and his drug-selling pals off the street and Gary will eventually succumb to an overdose. Only Fran, her will and endurance tested to its limits, will detox and return to work and a life of sobriety, trying to rescue DeAndre in the process.

This series is based on the people who actually live on The Corner of Fayette and Monroe and uses their real names. It's done in mock-documentary style and director Dutton even interviews the real McCulloughs at the end, bringing a kind of closure no mere fiction could hope to attain. Just as powerful as the story is the cast. T.K. Carter as Gary, Sean Nelson as DeAndre and Khandi Alexander as Fran are simply splendid (as is the rest of the cast) and they bring a gripping and terrible poignancy to their roles. Reading David Simon's "The Corner," on which the miniseries was based, only made me appreciate Dutton's achievement more. This is as powerful a drama as you're ever likely to see and should become a true American classic. It is a biting, awful and only-too-true story of American cities like Baltimore and what drugs have done to them. Now that I've seen "The Corner," I feel I finally know The intersection of Fayette and Monroe -and every open-air drug market like it - for what it really is.

Tough Luck (2003)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Round and round she goes ..., 23 February 2006
7/10

This is a quirky heist/caper film, one that seems predictable at first then keeps surprising until the last scene. The protagonist is a grifter who goes to work in a little carnival, where he's paid to kill the manager's belly dancer wife Divana then ends up falling for her himself. She's alluring, tricky and deadly and she keeps disappearing and popping up again like some sort of magician's trick. The film's other props include her duplicitous husband/employer (played by the talented Armand Assante), some nasty Dominican mobsters and most important to the plot, a suitcase full of money. Just like the old "shell game," the one where you have to guess which one the pea's under, you'll be guessing who's got the money, and like the victims of the hucksters who run such games, you'll probably guess wrong. Dagma Dominczyk, as lovely Divana, is a talented performer and an eyeful, whether she's dancing with the huge snake around her shoulders or working her grift on all the unfortunate men in her orbit. Norman Reedus is fine as the young con who is flummoxed by the elusive beauty he was paid to kill. Don't count him out, however, for he turns out to be smarter than anyone gave him credit for. This oddball film is worth a look.


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