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Roofies?, 26 March 2014

Imaginative but poorly written film noir style farce about Los Angeles detectives attempting to solve murders with multiple references to small mammals in the family Leporidae of the order Lagomorpha (insert "rabbits" here). It's not "Brewster McCloud" or the Coan Brothers, but it would loosely fit into their genre or at least it appears to have been so intended. Unfortunately the farce qualities fall victim to the flat cheapness of its "Legend of Billie Jean" (1985) production style.

The editing is perhaps the worst you will ever find although that could simply be a reflection of the limitations of the footage the editor had to assemble.

My guess is that the Arquette family talked someone into giving them $300,000 in exchange for being allowed close access to an assortment of hot actresses during the filming. The actresses appear to have been sedated for this purpose, drifting between the producer's trailer and the filming like a bunch of freshman girls who have been sampling the roofie-laced punch at their first fraternity party. I doubt if the cast was paid as nobody takes off their top.

A young Rose McGowan looks great in tight red leather pants (see poster) but appears on the verge of falling asleep at any moment. Heather Graham is equally sleepy but dully costumed. Pamela Gidley appears to be having a great time playing a character named Beta Carotene; she appears to be the only one fully awake, perhaps high on Vitamin A. The Arquettes listlessly interact with these three name actresses along with an assortment of aspiring actresses whose careers were obviously not advanced by this production.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Detention (2011)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Welcome Back Ned, 4 February 2014

If you were thinking that expanding the Nickelodeon series "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" into an R-Rated feature length film would be a very bad idea, then you should check out "Detention" (2011) for solid confirmation. Ned, Mose, and Bitsy are back and on an extremely painful-to-view "Heathers" does "Airplane" homage thing. But Devon Werkheiser and Lindsey Shaw have been replaced by Josh Hutcherson (who seems to have skipped the same acting lessons as namesake Josh Hartnett) and Shanley Caswell, and Bitsy has changed her name to Ione. It could be that Shaw has changed her name to Caswell but nobody is saying.

Spencer Locke is allowed to carry her Bitsy characterization to new levels and is really good in this, or maybe it is just that she is the most effortlessly erotic actress in history and I can't be remotely objective. Whatever, she is the main reason to watch and you will most likely spend a lot of the viewing wishing she had more screen time and that there were more extreme close-ups of her expressive face.

You hate to say innovative about something this derivative, but it is a fair assessment of "Detention". From the "Girls Just Want to have Fun" opening sequence (the same 1985 spoiled girl bedroom scene - here Alison Woods channels Holly Gagnier) to the "Breakfast Club" (1985) detention to the "Freaky Friday" "Back to the Future" plot devices; this is a teen movie tribute without the obvious title of "Not Another Teen Movie 2". Unfortunately scotch taping this stuff together without a higher wattage script means that the whole is a lot less than the sum of its parts.

"Detention" would greatly benefit from having actual humor in place of its endless failed attempts at humor, although at least the continually failed humor provides a kind of unity to the film. Forty-something directors writing dialog for teenagers is generally a bad idea, Joseph Kahn grew up in the 80's and his homages are lost on most target audience viewers. This disconnect can occasionally work in films, when it fuses into a Coan Brothers style poke at movie conventions; but that requires a movie where the absurdity is subtle and not one where the audience is repeatedly bludgeoned with the absurdity sledgehammer. "Detention" constantly seeks your attention, like a psychedelic one-trick pony mad for a carrot. If it had been made two years later it could serve as a posthumous tribute to Tony Scott, the master of ignoring any reality checks when moving his self-delusions to the screen.

On the other hand you have to admire a film that makes absolutely no effort to connect with its target audience, that doesn't happen often because feature films are supposed to have at least a faint hope of a financial payback.

It does have a fun commentary featuring most of the cast and crew. You won't miss much by simply watching it the first time with the commentary on and that will save you from a life wasting second viewing.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

A Long-Time Favorite, 26 January 2014

The recently released remastered DVD edition looks good but strangely does not have captioning - perhaps not that strange because Altman's layered dialog is a nightmare to caption but much is missed by the absence of captioning.

This has been on my list of top ten films since I first saw it 40+ years ago. It withholds at lot from the initial viewing and you discover something new each time you watch it.

"The film has references to other films, Altman's own work, and other places. Altman refers to Bullitt (1969) by including a character named Frank Shaft, who is a detective from San Francisco." The name may have inspired the name of Richard Roundtree's "John Shaft" character, in a more subtle parody from 1971 ("he just took my man Leroy and threw him out the God damn window").

"Homages to The Wizard of Oz (1939) have been noted in the film, as Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West, is the music conductor seen during the opening credits. She is seen wearing ruby slippers in the film. Hope (Jennifer Salt) who supplies Brewster with health food, resembles Dorothy, as she wears a distinctive gingham dress, has pigtails and carries a basket. At the end of the film, she is shown in the cast as Dorothy carrying Toto." Shelley Duvall plays a Raggedy Ann airhead character (without Luna Lovegood's redeeming qualities) and actually appears as a Raggedy Ann clown in the final scene.

"Brewster McCloud" is a film that presents society as circus performers and life as a circus, if you haven't figured that out by the end Altman hits you over the head with it as he goes out with perhaps the best black comedy ending of all time. Throughout the story a bird-like narrator, sometimes on camera and sometimes in a voice-over commentary, discusses the traits of various birds; traits that are shared by the human characters in the story, although that leap is left to each viewer. Allusions to birds are found throughout the story, from the orange Plymouth Roadrunner to the names of several assisted living facilities.

The title character (played by Bud Cort) is much the same naive Private Boone character Cort portrayed for Altman in "MASH". The difference is that Brewster is on an ambitious quest to literally fly. Which involves intensive physical training when he is not busy designing and building a set of Wright Brothers inspired wings.

During the course of his project Brewster has to be rescued several times and stay focused on his goal of flying. In this he is assisted by personifications of Faith (Sally Kellerman) and Hope (Jennifer Salt). Kellerman's character is actually named Louise and functions as his guardian angel, although if Hope is Oz's Dorothy then Louise is Oz's Glinda.

"Hope" is conceptually what self-pleasuring is all about and she demonstrates this when thinking about Brewster. Freud's dream of flying as symbolic of the sexual urge is explained to Brewster by Louise and at first glance Brewster's loss of virginity and its attendant loss of idealism is what dooms him. But I see it being more the loss of his humility. And it is his new found arrogance that drives away his Faith. She exits by the Astrodome's huge commercial gate which slowly closes after her exit, trapping Brewster inside the structure. He can utilize his wings in what is essentially a large bird cage but he cannot escape. The dome representing the constraints and limitations of society and outside the dome representing freedom. One assumes that had he not driven her away that Louise would have assisted him in leaving the dome. There is a bit of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" in this idea of needing to become infinitesimal in order to merge with the infinite.

Given that most of the cast were Altman regulars, it is remarkable how successful he was with his physical casting. Duvall, for example, has not just the physical rag doll look (note the Raggedy Ann wallpaper in her apartment and the emphasis given to her huge eyes) but her most striking feature is her thinness - a physical manifestation of her character's most striking feature - shallowness.

It is a nicely layered film that works well simply as a social satire of American values and conventions. Many of these details will escape the notice of the first time viewer, such as in the scene of Patrolman Johnson's family at dinner. He has three sets of twin sons gathered around the dinner table in their Little League uniforms, the smallest two playing for a team named "WASPS".

In the end the circus audience watches in satisfied fascination as yet another high flier overreaches and falls back to earth. The "Greatest Show On Earth" presided over by controlling ringmaster Haskell Weeks (William Windom), perhaps a nod to cinematographer Haskell Wexler with whom Altman hoped to one day collaborate.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child. Comment

Hard Rain Gonna Fall, 1 December 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"If you make believe hard enough that something is true, then it is true for you", says Ned Merrill (Burt Lancaster), by way of advice to little Kevin Gilmartin in Frank and Eleanor Perry's 1968 masterpiece adaptation of John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer". The multi-layer film is all about Ned's capacity for denial and delusion. He has convinced himself that by successfully swimming home through the succession of estate pools in his wealthy neighborhood, that he will restore his life to what it was before a series of self-inflicted misfortunes ruined him and broke up his family.

That Ned's regeneration is centered on swimming pools is appropriate, since bathing is an activity our culture associates with purgation and revitalization. But the cultural convention is turned on its head here and the successive soakings instead wash off layers of denial, culminating in a cleansing rain shower which reveals to both Ned and to viewers the full scope of the ugly reality under the veneer of his illusion.

In the film, Ned's challenge has more layers than in Cheever's original short story. Cheever used the swimming pools primarily as a metaphor, with Ned's life sequentially compressed into his afternoon odyssey. The downhill slide of Ned's life is reflected as he moves through the neighborhood, his reception at the first pools is positive, but at later pools is either neutral or bittersweet, and finally is openly hostile. As he moves along his energy level drops and he gets physically colder, by the end the once virile alpha male can barely stumble to the front door of his house. In the meantime we are reminded several times that Ned is disoriented as to the season of the year, just as he is disoriented as to the season of his life.

The Perry's insert an additional level to the film, one more centered on Ned's promise to himself that successfully completing his quest will make his wishes come true. By the time Ned articulates to Kevin that believing hard enough in something can make it true, we already know that in his mind fantasy has taken over from reality. And we flash back to how his playful interactions with Julie Ann Hooper (Janet Landgard) were their most passionate when she was recounting her youthful daydreams.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

R.P.M. (1970)
"Stop! I Don't Wanna' Watch It Anymore", 18 October 2013

Filmed on "The University of the Pacific" campus in Stockton, R.P.M. (political REVOLUTIONS per minute) at the time of its 1970 release was regarded as the worst of the "counterculture-revolution-on-campus" sub-genre of films. It has not improved with age and almost 45 years later is notable only for two good "Melanie" songs "Stop! I Don't Wanna' Hear It Anymore" and "We Don't Know Where We're Going" which play over three nice montage sequences of the President of fictional Hudson College coming and going to the campus Administration Building.

Its fundamental problem (other than having hacks like Stanley Kramer as acting for-the-camera director and Erich Segal as writer) is that the focus is on adults rather than on students. Although casting an aging Gary Lockwood as the student leader meant than no viewer at the time imagined the film would ever have an authentic texture. Even the extras playing the sundry students look to be in their thirties; perhaps their list of demands included unrestricted access to the swimming pool in "Cocoon".

The adults are Ann-Margret (Rhoda) and Anthony Quinn (Prof. F.W.J. 'Paco' Perez), whose performances simply do not complement each other in the few scenes they have together (blame Kramer's directing). Ann's big emotional scene midway through the film is an absolute mockfest moment. Poor Ann was one of those women who did not age gently but rather by plateau; she hit her first one in the late 1960's - almost overnight losing all her youthful glow. The idea was to make a 53 year-old professor seem hip because he lived with his 25-year-old graduate student, but the age disparity seems less between them than between Rhonda and a typical graduate student.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Getting Back on the Old Bi-Polar Pony, 30 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"But look at the world..." says Charlie in reply to his daughter Miranda's accusation that he takes nothing seriously and views the world as existing simply for his amusement, in Mike Cahill's lyrical masterpiece "King of California". The bi-polar Charlie is played by Michael Douglas and sixteen-year-old Miranda by Evan Rachel Wood. The story is told from the put-upon Miranda's point-of-view and supplemented with both her voice-over narration and the occasional flashback.

In the flashbacks a younger Miranda is convincingly played by a pre -"Sonny with a Chance" Allisyn Ashley Arm. Arm was not just an excellent physical match for Wood, but a stylistic one as well; the two actresses share a non-verbal acting style, gently teasing their portrayal of a character who does a whole lot of on-camera processing of her father's often baffling and exasperating antics. In several flashbacks single parent Charlie sends his nine-year-old daughter to school with a diorama of a California mission (presumably the one in San Fernando) they just constructed, littered with "the bodies of the Chumash Indians, who died of Syphilis and Influenza, infected by the missionaries". The film's most visually compelling sequence is nine-year-old Miranda striding home hurt and angry after the diorama has landed her in trouble at school, betrayed by her father's poor judgement.

Charlie is obsessed with the notion that the long-lost treasure of Spanish explorer Father Juan Florismarte Torres is buried somewhere near their Santa Clarita Valley house. Cahill's screenplay borrows from "The Hours"; as Miranda reads the Torres journal in voice-over, she and Charlie retrace the path of his expedition across the valley in search of the treasure he buried. There is a political element to the story in the juxtaposing of descriptions of old California with images of the suburban sprawl that has obliterated much of the state's history. This is further illustrated by Miranda's adaptive qualities and Charlie's stubborn refusal to adapt; it is the only significant difference between the two characters and introduces a lot of poignancy into the story because the quality they admire the most in each other is the one they do not share.

For Miranda, having Charlie as a father is a Southern California version of "Alice and Wonderland". Her self-reliant character is positioned midway between Alice and young heroine Jeliza-Rose in Terry Gilliam's Tideland (2005). And she shares many of their virtues; innocence, courage, curiosity, wonder, kindness, intelligence, courtesy, dignity, and a sense of justice. While she shares Alice's irritation with the rude and illogical situations they encounter in their respective wonderlands, she is considerably more adaptable. Alice was a confident and proper little Victorian girl who expected a certain standard of behavior, while Miranda and Jeliza Rose are skilled at making the best of a variety of sucky situations.

Physically Wood has never looked better, like Audrey Hepburn she is more dazzling with minimal makeup and everyday fashions - including a McDonald's uniform. She simply glows in the final sequence's extreme close-ups, standing on a bluff above the beach as she processes the predicted illegal landing of a group of Chinese boat people. And in this moment she totally sells the story, which at its core is simply the story of a father and daughter with a unqualified love for each other.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Outstanding, 9 September 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Tanner Hall" is basically "Wild Child" meets "Girl Interrupted", if you enjoyed "Cracks" you should seek out this film. It is an extremely modest production but the entire budget makes it onto the screen, the four main characters were realistically developed, and the four actresses playing them were well directed. Amy Sedaris plays a secondary character who effectively provides a necessary comic relief, thereby leaving the four main characters free of something that could have tainted their connections to the viewer.

Fernanda (Rooney Mara) has the standard Winona Ryder part and the storytelling is essentially from her character's point of view, with the same voice-over narration of Ryder's character in "Girl, Interrupted". Rooney's acting has an ephemeral quality that transforms ordinary scenes into something special, perhaps best illustrated by her nonverbal reaction to discovering Victoria alone and crying in the rest room. The editor explains this through Fernanda's voice-over, but the scene has already communicated Fern's shifting attitude as she processes her unexpected connection with Victoria's vulnerability.

The climatic scene in which Fernanda becomes protective of the bullying Victoria (Georgia King) did not entirely ring true - it was perhaps too extreme - Victoria's mother needed a better build-up. But I find scenes where a seemingly weaker girl becomes protective of a stronger one to be irresistible, probably become they challenge a viewer's preconceptions.

And challenging viewer preconceptions is what "Tanner Hall" is all about. Like "Welcome to the Dollhouse", this is a film more about what is happening inside each viewer as they watch the film than about what is actually happening on the screen. Your reaction and the film's entertainment value will have a lot to do with your own experiences at that age or at least your sympathetic awareness of the difficulties that some of your classmates were experiencing. Meaning that if you don't connect and are not mildly blown away by the understated realism, then you and your friends simply weren't dysfunctional enough.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Lots of Sizzle, 27 July 2013

Damon Runyon's "Bloodhounds of Broadway" (1952) is basically "Kissin' Cousins" meets "Guys & Dolls"; as New York bookie "Numbers" Foster (Scott Brady) stumbles onto calico-clad Emily Ann Stackerlee (Mitzi Gaynor) in rural Georgia and takes her (and her dogs) with him back to his New York City nightclub.

Simply put, no Hollywood actress ever glammed up or plained down with quite the degree of erotic fantasy contrast of Mitzi Gaynor, or at least of a young Mitzi (and she was only 21 when "Bloodhounds of Broadway" was filmed). The mind-blowing qualities of this disparity accounted for much of her popularity with audiences and producers, and gave a special sizzle to her most memorable films. On the other hand, her performances in films that failed to showcase this disparity (like "South Pacific") had a sterile flatness.

"Bloodhounds of Broadway" neatly exploits Gaynor's physical range, it is almost as if the storyline was written solely for this purpose. Her transformation deliberately lacks subtlety because the whole point is to overwhelm the observer with the contrast, causing them to participate in producing the synergy of the experience. It is plausible only because Gaynor has a unique physical quality which visually sells it, bookending the production at her most innocent with "In the Sweet Bye and Bye" and at her hottest (this side of Cole Porter's "Anything Goes") with "Jack of Diamonds".

The audience's reaction to the transformation of Emily Ann nicely illustrates the concept of a film as a semifinished product, to be used by the viewer to complete the artistic process rather than something they simply consume.

If you are buying the DVD used (or unsealed) be sure that the two-fold brochure and the 20th Century Fox envelope are included; the envelope contains four miniature black & white lobby cards on glossy heavy stock paper.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

6 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
The Great-Grandaughers of Laverne & Shirley, 1 July 2013

Imagine that when "Laverne and Shirley" moved to Los Angeles they had opened up a babysitting service in their apartment complex and you have "Sam and Cat". This is one of those pre-sold spin off shows, trying to fuse characters from Nichelodeon classics "iCarly" and "Victorious". In this case Sam Puckett from "iCarly" (Jennette McCurdy) and Cat Valentine from "Victorious" (Ariana Grande).

"Laverne and Shirley" was able to develop some entertaining supporting characters, something "Sam and Cat" is still working on. The two little British girls have considerable potential but no one else in the supporting cast has registered a pulse.

It seems like a great idea because Sam and Cat (like their 1950's Milwaukee counterparts) are a study in contrasts. Sam (Laverne) is extreme and abrasive in a loud and physical way. Cat (Shirley) is gentle and cerebral (well Cat is more a gentle and innocent airhead than a cerebral one). This character dichotomy is appealing to viewers, who respond positively to the way the two girls complement and complete each other.

"Sam and Cat" had a chance to go one better on the dynamic because Ariana Grande has the best face on television or at least this side of Kelly Berglund. Which cries out for a production technique of wide shots of Sam's physical comedy in juxtaposition with close-ups of Cat. This technique would not only play to McCarty's strengths but would cement a huge bond between the audience and Cat. Grande is a naturally gifted actress who should be able to subtly sell her character's intense vulnerability in these tight shots. Thus the production technique would consistently echo the character contrasts that are the basis of the show.

Unfortunately this is a cheap and unimaginative production, filmed almost entirely in wide master shots. I can't think of a more extreme example in that regard since the old black & white Republic serials. This is the cheapest possible production method and the easiest and fastest way to crank out a lot of sterile running time. Just watch an episode and note the almost total absence of close-ups, it is glaring because virtually every line Grande delivers and every reaction she has to McCarty's antics would work better with the camera tighter on her. But this show is just beginning so I am hopeful the producers will recognize what is being lost by this cut-rate production method and will replace the current production company with one that has a clue.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
You'll Cringe and then You'll Cringe Again, 24 June 2013

"An Emperor who cares for nothing but his appearance and attire hires two tailors who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "just hopelessly stupid". The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects, who play along with the pretense. Suddenly, a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all......".

"The Big Mouth" was perhaps the greatest inside joke on audiences since the 1938 radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds". Billed as a comedy, heavily promoted, widely distributed, and featuring Jerry Lewis (who played three roles and directed) this was a must see for our junior high group of cut-ups. We found the experience a surreal one. A comedy film where nobody in the theater laughed including us (absolutely no laughter). We caught on quicker than the adults that this was a complete sham but were spellbound waiting for a single funny sequence that would shatter the audience silence. It never happened.

Afterward we scanned newspaper and magazine reviews for some sign that a prominent reviewer was going to spill the beans and expose the "Emperor", but there was nothing. It was like the whole industry had clammed up by mutual agreement to allow Columbia to recover a portion of their investment. I suspect that this kind of industry-wide "quid pro quo" was fairly common in those days. Word of mouth (pun intended) in our town killed attendance within a few days, although some may have attended just to observe Hollywood finally bottoming out. "The Big Month" deserves a place in cinema history because it was this bottoming out process that opened the door for innovative stuff like "Bonnie & Clyde" and "Easy Rider" in mainstream theaters.

In fairness the chase sequences might have had some amusement value except they had been done much better by Harvey Lembeck (playing Eric Von Zipper) in countless beach movies released earlier in the decade.

The only saving grace at the time for us 14-year-olds was that Jeannine Riley (Billie Jo from "Petticoat Junction") was featured in several eye-scorching outfits. Hence the extra star.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

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