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Arlington Road (1999)
Missing the Point
As I write this, they are still burying the dead in Orlando, cite of the Pulse night club massacre by Omar Mateen, a jihadi. So don't expect me to be terribly kind to the folks who made this anti- militia, pro-government (sort of) suspenser.
We've got a good number of crazy anti-government wingnuts out there, but this movie was rendered obsolete the moment the planes started hitting buildings, maybe before it was even made in 1999. What I found most irritating about Mark Pellington's Arlington Road was that fell into the same old trap that so many Hollywood projects do- -being unable to accept that the greater threat is from radicalized Islam, not nut-jobs up in the Idaho Panhandle, here in Montana, in fundamentalist Mormon communities, Oklahoma City, Waco, Texas.
But, gracious, we don't want to offend anyone's sensibilities.
As a thriller, AR is pretty darned good, building some real suspense, establishing a solid backstory of Jeff Bridges' wife and Tim Robbins' past. The movie even has Bridges questioning the competence of his late wife's superiors. Heavens! Saying something bad about the Federal Government? An actual attempt to be even- handed?
And then Pellington loses control.
We get Bridges visiting Robbins' home where a party is going on, and what he stumbles into is more Rosemary's Baby/witches' coven than a lawn party with KC and the Sunshine Band advising everyone to "get down tonight."
Then we get the obligatory mad-dash car chase with the laws of physics and common sense being sacrificed for the good of the message.
The message being: Those crazy right-wingers are everywhere!
Yet, all in all, I'd say Arlington Road was a good investment of 117 minutes. That is, until I turn the tube back to TV, and there's Omar Mateen, ISIS' "Lion of the Caliphate," taking a smirking selfie some time ago.
Makes the wingnuts out there in Deer Testicle, Wyoming seem pretty tame.
Journey to Shiloh (1968)
On the cashing-in-on-the-youth-market front, there's William Hale's ridiculous Journey to Shiloh. A band of suspiciously late-20s looking 18 year olds leave Texas to go off to find the Civil War. If one can forgive the leaden performances, the Quick-Draw McGraw accents, the idiot-level plotting and action, the obvious Southern California locations, the 1870s armaments, and those gawd-awful wigs, one might find a movie that could have been a wee bit interesting.
But it sucks on every level, thereby rendering whatever chance there was for not nodding off as dead as the Confederacy.
Which, for the modern-day youth market, may come as a surprise. The Civil War was between the Germans and the Japanese, right?
Class Action (1991)
Fascist Reagan Judges!
Oh, yeah, that's just a start, and the dopey, clichéd, mind- numbingness of Class Action just gets worse. Ten minutes into this Michael Apted thing and I was debating doing what I very rarely do--to give up on a movie.
But, I stuck it out. Through the emoting and the legal chicanerying and the feeling that this awful, awful movie would--minus some gratuitous f-bombs (How would we take a legal drama seriously otherwise?)--best be shown on the Hallmark Movie Channel, sandwiched between two episodes of Murder, She Wrote, I just sat there amazed at how bad women look in those business suits with the giant shoulder pads.
The painful part of the movie is the movie, but the searing pain comes from watching something I almost didn't think possible, Gene Hackman giving a bad performance. He just phones it in here.
The other star, a woman who was having a jump in her career at the time, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, is so inconsequential that I was thinking of the old criticism of an actress in a 1960s sex comedy or something. The writer said that this actress exuded the sex appeal of a bran muffin. One of the funniest lines I've ever read.
Jump to Class Action, and MEM (I don't want to try to write her whole name again because there are only so many keystrokes in a laptop) exudes the acting talent of somebody whose legal drama belongs on the Hallmark Movie Channel. She's utterly bland. In fact, everyone involved has his or her big brick Motorola out and is reading the lines until the battery gives out.
Except the guy who plays the judge; I can't remember his name, but you'd recognize him if you saw him. He was one of the card sharps in The Outlaw Josey Wales.
I don't know if anyone shows this movie on TV, but, if you desire big hair, big shoulder pads, and big, I mean really big emoting and cliché- ing, keep checking Zap2it.
Otherwise, take my advice, legal or not.
The Game (1997)
Hey, I'll Give This a Try
A few weeks ago a former student brought three boxes of VHS tapes to my classroom. She knew I like that format for its sturdiness, and I depend on VCRs to record movies, transferring them to disk if a movie is a keeper.
Most of the videos were films I already had or had already seen and didn't want, but I appreciated this young woman's thoughtfulness.
With that said, I found David Fincher's The Game, a movie that interested me when it first came out 19 years ago. I've seen so many crappy or mediocre films lately that I was hoping for a gem hidden in the box.
And I got one.
The best things about this psychological thriller are that, although it often brushes up against the absurd, it never gets saturated with silliness, and Michael Douglas is both infuriating and sympathetic as a heartless and driven money-mover who, after being given a very unusual birthday gift by his ne'er-do-well brother, Sean Penn, finds that the gift keeps on giving. Or taking, in this case.
For 128 minutes, I was able to jettison everything else, and become immersed in a story that was both fresh and fun. The Game is tightly plotted and well-acted, and only occasionally gets a bit boggy from aforementioned absurdities. Not enough to fuss about.
I thought I might be in for something above average with Douglas' character being confronted with that I-hate-clowns clown in his driveway, followed by being talked to directly by Daniel Schorr on TV.
It's a very trippy flick, with enough escapist power, twists and turns, and an understated moral to give an old movie-lover/movie- cynic a good solid entertainment.
Fire up the VHS to DVD transfer software!
100 Rifles (1969)
On a Non-Thinking Level
If you never once use your gray-matter during the 110 minutes of Tom Gries 100 Rifles, you may escape with nothing more than a feeling that Gries, who made the dull, episodic, and beautifully acted (by most of the characters) Will Penny, decided to throw out the performance aspect and replace it with lots and lots and lots more killing and stabbing and dynamiting.
Just a feeling, mind you.
100 Rifles is drive-in movie trash. You really can't get mad at it because it is, if you pardon the cliché, 100 Clichés. Fernando Lamas plays a Mexican general, and plays him like Michael Ansara in one of the Magnificent Seven sequels, like Ansara played his Mexican colonel a little like the fat officer in The Wild Bunch, and on and on.
Jim Brown is big (like the trees in my yard).
Burt Reynolds shows flashes of the humor and action-oriented charisma that would propel him to superstardom.
But, it's Raquel Welch, her awful Mexican accent notwithstanding, who gains the viewer's greatest affection. There are indications of an actress here. She occasionally seems tender and likable. I always found her too Barbie Doll-like--boobs, butt, big-hair, and hard as a rock (not me, you nitwit, her), but somewhere along the way, parked in amongst some of that killin' and maimin', I realized I wasn't cringing every time she was on screen.
Oh, well. I first heard about this flick some 20 years ago. I finally watched it, uncut, on YouTube. Now, I've seen it.
I wonder if I ever see Kansas City Bombers, Welch will turn in a fairly good performance there, too.
Halle Berry's Breasts Notwithstanding
Literally, the only two things worth looking at in this stupid Dominic Sena piece of techno/politico/crimino junk that wants to say something important about technology and national defense and criminality, are--
Well, you've already read the Summary.
Swordfish is so expensive and cynical that Sena expects you to be impressed with its profundity, and if you are like me--see Halle Berry topless and say, "Nice"--and move on from what you just saw because you know that you're being played, you're going to find that this thing pegs the needle in the red for dumb and dull.
Sena directed Gone in Sixty Seconds a couple years before, and before I realized it, I thought that this thing sure reminds me of GISS, only without the pleasing characters.
Unless you enjoy watching Travolta being ham-handed as an evil genius (read: imbecilic), Hugh Jackman being cardboard-like, and Halle Berry trying for sexy (and getting creepy instead), skip Swordfish.
Just Cause (1995)
Anyone who has never seen a thriller, a court drama, a story about serial killers, an anti-death penalty plot, scenery being gobbled by Ed Harris, the Everglades, or a movie unsure enough of itself that it has to front load the whole thing with a bunch of big and medium names will find Just Cause absolutely riveting.
Oh, JC wasn't bad (except for Sean Connery looking a bit bewildered). In my head I started listing off movies I've seen that Just Cause copies. I only got frustrated with this derivative thing when Kate Capshaw drives a car over a draw bridge, the car hits hard, the air bags stay put, and the car goes on its merry way with no discernible damage.
Just Cause works because it doesn't stretch our credulity, but that was a sloppy and stupid moment, and it didn't help.
If you've got 102 minutes to blow, and you don't have any problem with the plot and the language and gore and the we've-seen-this-before, you have a movie night in store.
The Siege (1998)
Good Grief, I'd Like to Slap the Writers!
What in the wide world of sports is wrong with Hollywood? Can they not wreck a great concept, a thoughtful theme, a movie for grownups?
Ah, I know the answer already.
I'm really enjoying Edward Zwick's The Siege, a pre-9/11 examination of what Bruce Willis' character calls "the corrosive nature of martial law." Terrorist acts are beginning to rip at the fabric of American life, and the temptation to lock down the Muslim population in Brooklyn simply becomes unbearable.
Denzel Washington plays, well, Denzel Washington, Annette Bening looks great in one casually stylish outfit after another, Tony Shaloub makes a flesh-and-blood sidekick, and Bruce Willis is the US Army general officer, with the President's ear, who warns and warns against using a "broad sword, not a scalpel" in rooting out terror cells in New York.
All the characters, goodies or baddies, whether clichéd or not, are interesting, but it's Willis who adds the spice to the stew by being cold, dangerous, and right in imploring an executive council to not use martial law as a way of restoring order.
And, of course, Hollywood has to lift up the movie's tail and screw the pooch.
So that we can have a deep discussion about civil liberties and whether or not, as Lincoln put it, "the Constitution should not be considered a 'suicide pact'," we have three quarters of an above- average action movie. Then, instead of portraying Willis' character as a man who follows orders he finds legal but repugnant, General Devereaux becomes General Jack D. Ripper, torturing and shooting and self-righteously enjoying every minute of it!
Kee-ripe's sake, why ruin the most important person in the movie? Why make it a clichéd the-army-is-eevil skreed?
Of course, if you don't care, and you just want to see a pretty good movie (with a piddle-poor resolution), have at it!
For me, I want to start waterboarding some screenwriters.
Perfect Summer Fare
Just a few lines about a great, funny, sunny movie that makes me laugh every single time I see it. I think Harold Ramis' Caddyshack works like a big, joyous block party. You can't help but like every single character, every moment of crude and lewd, right down to Brian Doyle-Murray telling a caddie to "Pick up that blood!"
I think Caddyshack's peer, John Landis' Animal House is a funnier movie because of the chances it takes spearing sacred cows, but Caddyshack may be the smoother-frothier?-film because it avoids lagging at the start of the third reel, something that Landis throws in to build up steam for his big, obnoxious cherry-bomb-in-the- toilet ending.
Caddyshack just ambles along, all big-heart and Lacy Underalls.
Animal House is, at its core, something serious. There's an edge to the humor and to the end-of-Camelot story. I wrote a long review of AH some years ago. The boys and girls at Faber College ("Knowledge is Good!") are about to smacked upside the head by the hideous specter of Vietnam. It's their last moments of freedom before the history arrives unannounced.
Both have that feel of reading something hysterically funny in National Lampoon, and danged if it doesn't feel as if everyone is working his or her butt off to come up with a really good, really funny work of renegade art.
What I've noticed about Caddyshack is that the power of Bill Murray ad-libbing his way through his duties as an assistant groundskeeper has, for the better part of forty years, provided inspiration for Caddyshackers to twist their mouths into a Joe Walsh mumble and utter the victorious cry, "It's in the hole!"
It's what cultures are built on . . .
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964)
Okay, don't even bother with the science in this wonderful little sci-fi retelling of Daniel DeFoe's Robinson Crusoe. It's just too out there.
With that said, and my reiteration that Robinson Crusoe on Mars is wonderful, sit back with this fanciful, fun, and suspenseful story of an American astronaut marooned on Mars, battling to stay alive, and getting in the middle of slave-holding aliens.
You guessed it. Friday is an escaped mining slave who provides the Terran the motivation to continue on, to defeat the Martian elements and the search parties looking for the slave.
I remember seeing this movie when I was about 8. I fell asleep. It was boring. Strangely enough, RCOM isn't really a kid's movie, but it is a movie that patient children can intellectually access.
I think the two things I liked the best about this flick were the slow and careful establishment of Paul Mantee's astronaut, Kit Draper, as a character we care about, and we want to see him survive. When he is confronted with this strange alien escapee, he doesn't trust him (in fact, he warns him repeatedly about stepping out of line). Through adversity, the two men from different planets begin to trust each other. That was very satisfying.
The other part of RCOM that impressed me was the art direction, the graphics and visuals. Shot in Death Valley, the sky is a superimposed matte that gives the planet a (duh) extraterrestrial look. Great matte paintings, imaginative landscapes, and the alien ships that swoop in at about Warp 7 and start shooting, all make for a visual delight for somebody who can see past the lack of CGI, and mutter OMG.
I caught the movie on Netflix. If you can find it, I would strongly recommend this dandy little space thriller!