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1815 reviews in total 
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Gator (1976)
Not as good as "White Lightning"., 29 November 2015

1970s superstar Burt Reynolds made his directorial debut with this sequel to his 1973 vehicle "White Lightning". He also returns to the title role, and Gator is now living a quiet existence with his cantankerous, talkative old pop (John Steadman) and spunky nine year old daughter (Lori Futch). Justice Department agent Irving Greenfield (Jack Weston) is pretty sure Gator is still making and running moonshine, so he intends to offer Gator a proposal. He won't be arresting him (a bust this time would make Gator a three time loser), but asking him to hook up with a childhood buddy, Bama McCall (Jerry Reed). Bama is a crooked politician and crime kingpin, and it's really him that the authorities are after. Gator isn't happy about the assignment at first, but he changes his tune when he realizes the depths of Bamas' depravity.

The main problem with "Gator" is that it goes on so long (at least a couple of minutes could have been trimmed) and is so heavy on comedy, that when it takes a side step into ugliness, it's ultimately too jarring. It should have tried striking more of a balance throughout. At first we think it might be "Smokey and the Bandit" type hijinks, with Greenfield bumbling quite a bit for a character who is supposed to be a crack Federal agent. It is mildly funny at times, but it's mostly the performances that keep this watchable for close to two hours. Reeds' title song, which he wrote and sang, gets us in a good mood, and the widescreen Todd AO 35 photography by William A. Fraker is first rate.

Burt is good as Gator. He's charming when he needs to be, but is also believable when he's required to get serious. Reed makes Bama a rather engaging villain, full of personality, for a while. Lauren Hutton is appealing as the reporter who becomes Gators' love interest and co- conspirator. TV personality Mike Douglas has a pre-credits cameo as The Governor. Particularly fun in supporting roles are the ever smiling Burton Gilliam as a henchman, Dub Taylor in peak hammy form as a corrupt mayor, Alice Ghostley as a former public servant, and William Engesser as towering creep Bones. Incidentally, there's a 'Dukes of Hazzard' connection here, as James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane) was assistant to the producers, and Sonny Shroyer (Deputy Enos Strate) has a tiny part as a Federal agent.

"Gator" is fairly enjoyable, but isn't among the best of Burts' work from this period.

Six out of 10.

"Good, bad. I'm the guy with the gun.", 29 November 2015

Briefly recapping the previous films in the "Evil Dead" franchise, "Army of Darkness" then picks up as the poor, bedeviled Ash (Bruce Campbell) is magically transported back to 1300 A.D. and the days of Lord Arthur (Marcus Gilbert). He learns that in order to get back to his original time and place, he must once again lay his hands on that damned book known as the Necronomicon. His evolution into obnoxious moron now complete, Ash is so dense that he can only remember two of the three words that he needs to utter before removing the book from its resting place. In so doing, he resurrects an army of skeletal warriors (a nice nod to "Jason and the Argonauts") that will be led by an evil version of himself.

Some fans of the previous movies simply don't care for this entry, largely because it's much too comedic and silly, not to mention light on true horror, for their tastes. But this viewer has always loved it, because it seems that co-writer / director Sam Raimi (who penned the script with his brother Ivan) was having so much fun. "Army of Darkness" is basically a spoof of the entire medieval fantasy genre, and it has some great gags, in addition to some highly quotable dialogue. ("Gimme some sugar, baby.") The studly Campbell shows off plenty of comedy chops in the leading role, who through the course of the story finally becomes a genuine hero. Production design (by Tony Tremblay) and cinematography (by Bill Pope) are wonderfully atmospheric, and the effects, for the most part, are delightfully done. Past Raimi collaborator Joseph LoDuca composes most of the music, with Danny Elfman supplying a rousing new "March of the Dead" theme.

Campbell is nicely supported by the lovely Embeth Davidtz as leading lady Sheila, Ian Abercrombie as the old wise man, and Richard Grove as Arthurs' human nemesis Duke Henry the Red. "Evil Dead" fan Bridget Fonda has a cameo as Linda; also doing the cameo thing are Patricia Tallman as the gnarly possessed witch, and Raimis' actor brother Ted (in a few roles). Bill Moseley plays a Deadite captain.

Among the highlights: Ash being tortured by miniature versions of himself, his duels with Evil Ash, and the final raid on Arthurs' castle & compound.

Eight out of 10.

Lisa (1990)
Unexceptional but entertaining thriller., 28 November 2015

Staci Keanan of 'My Two Dads' and 'Step by Step' stars as the title character, a girl in her early teens. She's a little too eager to grow up, especially since her mother Katherine (Cheryl Ladd), doesn't want her dating for at least another two years. One night, Staci literally runs into older man Richard (D. W. Moffett), and is struck by his good looks. She develops an obsession with Richard that includes following him to see where he works (he runs a restaurant). This escalates to a point where she goes ahead and phones him, and they engage in some seductive calls, with him not knowing that this mystery caller is the young girl whom he's just met. Ultimately, she's playing with fire: we learn early in the movie that Richard is the evil Candle Light Killer who has been offing various unlucky local women.

People who love the other works of director Gary Sherman, such as his horror features "Deathline" (a.k.a. "Raw Meat") and "Dead & Buried", and his sleaze drama "Vice Squad", may be caught a little off guard at first with the tamer nature of this film. But in his own words, he basically made this for teenage girls, having also co- written it with Karen Clark. Taking it for what it is, it's watchable enough, with some adequate suspense and a climax that actually doesn't go overboard with violence. Joe Renzettis' music is good, and the lighting by Alex Nepomniaschy is appropriate from scene to scene.

Keanans' appealing performance does go a long way towards making this work as well as it does. Moffett is similarly effective - he's charming when he needs to be, and refrains from being an over the top bogeyman, playing the part with some restraint. Ladd is good as the overprotective mom who believes to have the best interests of her daughter at heart; she doesn't want her to make the same mistakes she did as a kid. Tanya Fenmore is engaging as the best friend, and a rather under utilized Jeffrey Tambor gets little to do as the best friends' father.

Even if "Lisa" is not really anything special, one could also do a lot worse.

Six out of 10.

Don Jon (2013)
Interesting examination of dating in the modern age., 25 November 2015

The talented actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes a creditable writing & directing debut with this stylish, amusing, and sexually frank character study. Gordon-Levitt himself plays the character in question, a young New Jersey man "in the service industry" with a fairly short list of what matters to him in life. He has a real knack for being able to score with any hot woman he desires, but at the same time he has a hopeless addiction to Internet pornography. He can't go a day without checking out numerous sites. Then he meets a beauty, Barbara Sugarman (the delectable Scarlett Johansson), with whom he might be able to maintain an actual relationship. But he just can't give up his daily habit.

This extremely well shot film attempts to take a hard look at how todays' people have hangups that prevent them from having fulfilling relationships. As we are shown, both Jon and Barbara have idealized notions: he finds Internet porn preferable to real life sex, and she's been raised on scores of romantic movies, so they've been conditioned to concentrate on fantasy rather than reality. Gordon-Levitt cannily makes references to the way that sex is sold in order to appeal to consumers, which is all part of the problem. What doesn't help is when people get too wrapped up in themselves, and cannot make connections to other flesh & blood human beings.

There's of course lots of raunchy imagery, and quite a bit of colourful language, so this won't be for all tastes, but Gordon-Levitt is using it all in service of the plot.

He's charming and engaging in the lead, and Johansson is similarly appealing. Julianne Moore has a delightful presence as the older woman Jon encounters in night school; it's with her that he's finally able to display some real candor. Tony Danza and Glenne Headly are fine as Jons' parents, and Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke have their moments as his friends.

Thankfully, the script refrains from ever becoming TOO predictable.

Eight out of 10.

Welcome to Terminal Island, baby!, 24 November 2015

The early 1970s B picture "Terminal Island" has an effective premise with which to work. In the "future", the Supreme Court has declared the death penalty unconstitutional. In its place, criminals are now dumped on an island 40 miles off the American coast. Here they're (mostly) left to fend for themselves. The latest arrival is a young woman, Carmen (Ena Hartman), who's just in time to witness an uprising. Some of the convicts are tired of the tyranny of their "leaders" Bobby (Sean Kenney, "The Corpse Grinders") and Monk (Roger E. Mosley, "The Mack"). So a small group splits off from the main group, and plots revolution.

Co-written by James Barnett, producer Charles S. Swartz, and director Stephanie Rothman ("The Velvet Vampire"), "Terminal Island" is pretty good for this kind of exploitation fare. It fulfils its requirements - violence, sex, nudity - adequately, and is simply beautifully shot (by Daniel Lacambre, "Humanoids from the Deep") on some pretty locations. While it naturally has its trashy moments, it never really wallows in unpleasantness, and it does have a sense of humour, to boot. (Watch how the horny character, Dylan (Clyde Ventura, "'Gator Bait") is dealt with.) The story is a little thin, but is also provocative on occasion. (Dr. Milford, played by a young Tom Selleck, was convicted of the mercy killing of a patient.)

The cast is full of then-stars, stars-to-be, and familiar character faces. Also appearing are Don Marshall ("The Thing with Two Heads"), Phyllis Davis ("Beyond the Valley of the Dolls"), Marta Kristen ('Lost in Space'), Barbara Leigh ("Junior Bonner"), Geoffrey Deuel ("Chisum"), James Whitworth (Papa Jupe in Wes Cravens' "The Hills Have Eyes"), Richard Stahl ("Nine to Five"), Sandy Ward ("Cujo"), and Albert Cole ("The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant"). The film gained newfound attention when Selleck and Mosley found later fame on 'Magnum P.I.'. Kenney and Mosley are particularly fun as the antagonists of the piece.

Full of solid squib action and some satisfying explosions, "Terminal Island" is worthy of discovery by devotees of the B pictures of decades past.

Seven out of 10.

A riveting story., 23 November 2015

Director Ron Howard brings an appreciable cinematic flair to Peter Morgans' adaptation of his own stage play. It tells the true story of the disgraced former U.S. president Richard M. Nixon (Frank Langella), who is courted for a series of interviews by upbeat, likable British TV host David Frost (Michael Sheen). Nixon and his loyalists see this as an opportunity for him to repair the damage done to his reputation. Frost, on the other hand, is looking to gain some credibility from the venture. He's humiliated by the smooth, experienced politician at first due to not quite taking his own opportunity seriously enough. Obviously, the segment that will make or break the experience for Frost will be how the two men handle the topic of Watergate.

This is fascinating, interesting stuff, especially for a viewer such as this who is not terribly informed on the subject. It's a good look into the machinations of both politics and TV journalism. A great film it is not, but it's solidly entertaining for just over two hours. One of the best things that it does is to put a human face on Mr. Nixon, who could, to some people, be written off as a mere cartoon sleaze ball. Even in the face of his misdeeds, it is possible to take some sympathy on this man whom many in the nation simply want to see confess and apologize.

"Frost/Nixon" is one of those films for this viewer where any slickness on the part of the filmmakers takes a back seat - and rightly so - to the power of the material. It's brought to life by a superb cast. Langella and Sheen anchor the story with two very convincing portrayals, and Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Toby Jones, Patty McCormack (as Pat Nixon), Rons' brother & father (and frequent repertory players) Clint and Rance Howard, and Eloy Casadaos offer indelible support. Rebecca Hall is lovely and appealing as Caroline, a gal who catches Frosts' eye, but the character isn't really important in the developing plot of this film.

A worthy viewing for some people, but surely it would have even more resonance for people who lived through this tale and remember the key players.

Eight out of 10.

Anybody up for some card games?, 21 November 2015

Five strangers board a train in England, and share a compartment. Joining them is a weird "doctor" named Schreck (Peter Cushing), who is in the business of telling fortunes. With him is a deck of cards, and he encourages his travelling companions to participate.

This was the first of the horror anthology films to be made by Amicus, the studio best known for being a rival to fellow horror icon Hammer during this period. It's not necessarily their best, for the stories aren't that great (the favourite for this viewer is still "Tales from the Crypt"), but it's still solidly entertaining for any horror fan. It's certainly a very nice looking production, which comes from being directed by renowned cinematographer Freddie Francis ("The Innocents"), and photographed by Alan Hume ("Return of the Jedi").

Neil McCallum plays Jim Dawson in "Werewolf". Jim is hired to oversee some renovations for a family home that he'd been forced to sell, and he discovers a long hidden crypt belonging to a vengeance crazed former owner.

Alan Freeman is Bill Rogers in "Creeping Vine", the tale of a vine that seems to have developed a true intelligence as well as a sense of malevolence. This tale is cool, as there aren't really enough killer plant horror stories in this viewers' humble opinion.

In "Voodoo", Roy Castle plays Biff Bailey, leader of a jazz band hired for a gig in the West Indies. He becomes enamoured of the music used by local voodoo practitioners, but learns that trying to incorporate the music into his bands' own performances is a very bad idea.

"Disembodied Hand" is good fun. Sir Christopher Lee has the role of pompous art critic Franklyn Marsh, who's humiliated by a painter named Eric Landor (Michael Gough). He ultimately strikes back, in a violent way, but who will really get the last laugh?

Finally, a very young Donald Sutherland is featured in "Vampire" as a doctor, Bob Carroll, who's just married the beautiful Nicolle (Jennifer Jayne). He must confront an unfortunate reality regarding Nicolle.

Screenwriter Milton Subotsky visits the old horror movie theme of just desserts in two of these stories, and his script is enjoyable if sometimes a little weak and predictable. He was inspired, appropriately enough, by the legendary and well-regarded "Dead of Night".

The actors are all superb. In addition to those fine thespians already mentioned, Max Adrian, Bernard Lee, Peter Madden, Jeremy Kemp, Ursula Howells, Katy Wild, Edward Underdown, Isla Blair, and Judy Cornwell turn up. It's a treat as it always is to see Lee and Cushing spar with each other, as Dr. Schreck does his shtick and the grumpy, dismissive Marsh automatically writes him off as a phony.

This is well worth viewing for any completist and fan of the entire horror omnibus format.

Seven out of 10.

Madhouse (1990)
It's a madhouse...or so they say!, 21 November 2015

This engagingly nutty farce stars TV icons John Larroquette and Kirstie Alley as Mark and Jessie Bannister, an average, fairly successful L.A. couple who've just moved into their dream home. Wouldn't you know it: their serenity is almost immediately interrupted by a nonstop barrage of uninvited house guests. Circumstances spiral way out of control, ensuring that these human pests are obliged to stay at Mark and Jessies' place for an extended period of time.

At best, the material by debuting writer / director Tom Ropelewski is no more than mildly amusing. It's certainly not for everybody, considering just how abominable some of these characters are, such as Jessica Lundys' obnoxious Bernice, the wife of Marks' cousin Fred (John Diehl), bratty psycho in training C.K. (Aeryk Egan), the son of the next door neighbour Dale (played by The Exterminator, a.k.a. actor Robert Ginty), or Jessies' spoiled rotten, stuck up, gold digging sister Claudia (Alison La Placa). But the cast is so good that they keep this wacky comedy watchable for 91 minutes.

By the time the movie has ended, we'll see a baby elephant running amok, a pet cat that steadily uses up a number of its nine lives, a police raid, an on air nervous breakdown for reporter Jessie, a harness designed for the pregnant Bernice when she slips and falls, and some remodelling (when Dale and his brood move in, he takes it upon himself to make bleachers (!) for the TV set).

This talented cast makes the most of the situation; Larroquette, Diehl, and La Placa are particularly funny. Also appearing are Bradley Gregg as Claudias' no-good son Jonathan, and Dennis Miller (making his film debut), sporting his ridiculous early 90s hair as Marks' co-worker Wes.

It's all too easy to sympathize with our heroes as they try to take back their house.

Six out of 10.

Fast, frantic, and genuinely funny., 21 November 2015

Michael Jai White plays the cooler than cool, baddest bad ass of them all, the titular Black Dynamite. Black Dynamite gets word that his younger brother has been killed. BD vows not only to solve the crime, but to wage war on the drug trafficking in his neighbourhood. With the help of friends like Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson) and Bullhorn (Byron Minns), our smooth and deadly hero follows the trail of corruption all the way up to the top.

The script, by White, Minns, and director Scott Sanders can't help but lose some momentum here and there, and not all of the humour may work for everybody, but these guys are to be commended for their precision in the way that they spoof vintage blaxploitation. "Black Dynamite" actually feels like a 1970s movie that just happens to have been made in the 21st century. There's profanity aplenty, lots of breast shots, and a fair but not excessive amount of raunch.

The extremely fit Mr. White is a strapping dude who can handle himself quite capably in any number of action scenes. He's well supported by an amazing line-up of character actors and guest stars. Some of them do act like they're in on the joke, while others play the material with appropriately straight faces.

The big revelations are particularly delicious: when it is shown just what The Mans' evil plan is, and especially when we find out who The Man is.

The closing credits feature some amusing outtakes and some very snazzy animation, helping to send you away with a smile on your face.

One of the best spoofs to come along in a while, since the glory days of Mel Brooks and the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker team.

Seven out of 10.

A passable Vin Diesel vehicle., 20 November 2015

Vin Diesel tries his best to emote in this ultimately routine crime / revenge saga. He plays Sean Vetter, a former gangbanger turned DEA agent. The persistence of Sean and his colleagues over the course of seven years finally pays off, as they successfully apprehend a drug kingpin, Memo Lucero (Geno Silva). The consequence of this episode is that soon Seans' beloved wife Stacy (Jacqueline Obradors) is killed in an assault on Seans' house. Once he's recuperated, Sean is hellbent on finding out just who gave the order to attempt murder, if it wasn't Lucero. All he knows is that a mysterious figure named El Diablo has taken Memos' place and is even more evil and ruthless than Memo.

Larenz Tate plays Seans' friend Demetrius Hicks, who must make a decision between being loyal to Sean and letting the law handle things. Ms. Obradors is an absolutely gorgeous and appealing presence here, and she and Diesel do make a believable couple. Silva delivers a creditable performance as the low key crime boss, with whom Sean actually makes a connection when Luceros' wife falls victim to El Diablo. There's other notable talent in the cast: Timothy Olyphant, Steve Eastin, Juan Fernandez, Jeff Kober, Marco Rodriguez, Mike Moroff, Ken Davitian. The filmmaking is reasonably slick, with the soundtrack full of hip hop and rock, and the action scenes are high energy stuff. But it's hard to get all that interested in this tale when everything just feels so familiar and predictable, not to mention senseless.

As this viewer already said, Diesel gives a reasonable effort as the tormented and enraged lead character, but he's simply outshone by his supporting cast.

Watchable enough for 110 minutes but pretty forgettable.

Six out of 10.

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