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**** = Excellent
*** = Good
** = Fair
* = Poor
BOMB = Worthless
--(Although I personally don't use a '10 star system', I have tried to translate my ratings to accomodate the IMDb system too, for IMDb readers)--
Rambo (2008) ***
Living a lonely and quiet existence in Thailand after twenty years, John Rambo is asked by a small group of missionaries to take them by boat to war-torn Burma. Rambo tries to tell them that they can't change anything there, but reluctantly gives into their persuasions. Once the bleeding hearts arrive in savage Burma, they are captured and it's up to Rambo and a team of mercenaries to venture in and save them.
After the original FIRST BLOOD (1982), this is the next best entry in the four-film series. What first stands out after so long is that the 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone (who also directed) was successful in making this work. His John Rambo appears strong if aged, and he is still the same action hero who first appeared on screen 26 years earlier. The plot here is simple, but that's not an issue because the film delivers. It is relentlessly bloody and gory, with body parts and devastation by the truckloads. We really can sense the primitive atrocities taking place in Burma, not only against strangers but even against their own people. I do not ordinarily recommend movies relying so much on sheer blood and guts (and much of the carnage here is rendered via obvious fake-looking CGI effects, I should add), but this action packed Rambo installment succeeds at what it sets out to do. Fortunately, the over-abundance of gore is balanced by Stallone's heart-felt personage of John Rambo. The ending of the film was the perfect way to finalize this series. *** out of ****
First Blood (1982)
First Blood (1982) ***1/2
First and best of the series has former soldier John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) traveling through a small town in the hope of visiting an old army friend. He is spotted by bigoted sheriff Teasel (Brian Dennehy) who promptly escorts him off his turf. When the peaceful Rambo turns around and defiantly starts walking back into the town, Teasel has him arrested. Mocked, mistreated, and beaten at the police station, Rambo snaps with agonized flashbacks of Vietnam, escapes the police, and flees off to the woods where he is pursued by law officials. What they don't realize is that Rambo is a Green Beret, trained for survival and conditioned to endure pain and weather. Teasel and his men have now set Rambo off, and he wages a personal war on them that "they won't believe". Rambo's old commanding officer (Richard Crenna) arrives on the scene to try and calm things before his man goes too far.
This is surely one of Stallone's finest films and characters, and Sly looks his best in FIRST BLOOD. His John Rambo here is someone we can sympathize with, and his balance of calm followed by extreme self-preservation intensity is well realized. This film is smaller and more independent in feel than the sequels which came after it, and this gives it more appeal. Brian Dennehy is quite good as the hateful town sheriff whose prejudice has resulted in Rambo's wrath. Richard Crenna was a last minute substitute for Kirk Douglas (who backed out eventually), and perhaps occasionally appears a tad theatrical in his approach. The ending of the movie contains an emotionally charged speech by Stallone which is often criticized as being incomprehensible, but if you pay close attention you can decipher just about all of it. ***1/2 out of ****
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) ***1/2
Often and arguably considered "The Greatest Comedy Ever Made", this Stanley Kramer Epic is certainly the biggest. It's a wild and zany free-for-all which runs nearly three hours and boasts the talents of many of the funniest comic actors of the time. It all begins when elderly robber Jimmy Durante crashes his speeding car off the road, and several other motorists stop and reach out to help him. Just before dying, the old man tells them they're entitled to take the $350,000 loot he's stashed in a national park, buried for years "underneath a Big W". At first the eight people at the crash site try to compromise, but ultimately all hell erupts in a greedy "every man and woman for themselves" frenzy.
This sets the crazy pace for several different humorous vignettes, as the participants all race to the park to be the first to get the stolen money: Jonathan Winters is a big lug of a truck driver who gets into a disastrous altercation with two nerdy gas station attendants (Arnold Stang & Marvin Kaplan). Milton Berle is a suffering dweeb of a husband who's controlled by his wife (Dorothy Provine) and his loud-mouthed mother in law (Ethel Merman, perfect here in a suitably irritating comic performance). Dick Shawn is Merman's dimwitted playboy bum of a son. Sid Caesar and Edie Adams are a couple who get locked in a hardware store but can't seem to get out. Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett are two pals forced to fly their own airplane when drunken pilot Jim Backus knocks himself out (Carl Reiner is the air traffic controller). Along the way, other opportunists worm themselves into the chase: Phil Silvers is a gem as a real sleazy snake with eyeglasses and no scruples. Terry-Thomas is a proud Englishman in constant patriotic conflicts with American Milton Berle. Peter Falk and Eddie Anderson are two clueless cab drivers. And observing all of these clashing characters is straight man Spencer Tracy, in the role of the aging Police Captain Culpepper, who has been tracking this case of the stolen money for fifteen years, and is now looking to find a way to retire himself off to Mexico.
On and on the mania goes, with some fun car chases and many gags, some of which work better than others. There are so many other comedians given tiny guest spots here and there, that it's hard to remember them all... but keep on the lookout for cameos by: Don Knotts (as a nervous motorist), Jack Benny, Leo Gorcey, Jerry Lewis, Joe E. Brown, Buster Keaton, and even The Three Stooges. It's not a perfect film, nor in my opinion is it the most drop-dead funniest comedy ever, but I have to love its sheer sense of size, scope, and all-out craziness. The ending is perfect, and probably the best laugh of the show for anyone who's stuck with it through to the end. ***1/2 out of ****
The Seventh Victim (1943)
The Seventh Victim (1943) **1/2
A very young Kim Hunter (in her very first film role) plays the part of Mary, a school girl who learns that her older sister and provider, Jacqueline, has disappeared. This leads the young Mary to Greenwich Village in New York City, in an attempt to find out what happened to her. Along the way she meets three older men who try to assist her: a lawyer, a psychologist, and a writer. In time she discovers that Jacqueline was a member of a cult of devil worshipers who decided to leave the group and must now pay the price for her betrayal.
It's frustrating when beginning a review by trying to assure the reader that you do, in fact, ordinarily appreciate the very type of film you're reviewing, even though you're disappointed by this one. So in this case I will start by saying that I am a fan of Val Lewton's 1940's horror films for RKO, as well as '40s horrors in general. Now that this is out of the way, I'll let you know that I have devoted several viewings to THE SEVENTH VICTIM over the years, and though I always wish I could praise it, it's really too flawed in a number of ways to be considered anything more than an above-average noirish drama, perhaps with a hint of the morbid. The photography, as in all the Lewton thrillers, is foreboding and well done. While this movie was unliked by critics upon its original release, over the decades it has become praised as an early forerunner of future satanic cult horrors such as ROSEMARY'S BABY. As such, I can respect it for paving the way more than I actually feel it was successful in doing it.
I suppose Kim Hunter is adequate at best in her early movie role as the naïve student Mary. There is precious little emotion from her throughout, and indeed just about all the other main characters in the film are equally dire in attitude and under-played. The plot is somewhat muddled. For openers, there is no reason for Mary and the lawyer to suddenly tell one another they've fallen in love towards the end, when all they've done is meet briefly, and share some uninvolved words about trying to locate the woman's missing sister. This feels like it was thrown in simply because it was some kind of expected obligation.
Then we have much confounding nonsense as follows: the suicidal sister Jacqueline is captured by the self-professed "non-violent" cult and brought to their room, and is urged for hours and hours to pick up a glass and drink poison to kill herself for her betrayal, but she keeps resisting ... so they let her go home free (?). And when Jacqueline gets home, what is the first thing she does? Hangs herself anyway! Meanwhile, she has been stalked all the way home (in the classic "Lewton Walk" style) by a knife-wielding hit-man who had exited the cult meeting right along with her (I thought they were "non-violent"?-- and even if they changed their minds, why send her home and have a guy follow her to stab her, instead of knifing her right at the meeting?).
Most disappointing of all is the very end where the good guy confronts the harmless "devil worshipers" on their own turf. (All this time they have consisted of high class types, sitting around as if at a dinner party, dressed to the nines and drinking wine while chatting, more like a lodge meeting, and not doing anything even remotely satanic). All it takes is for the hero to recite a part of The Lord's Prayer, and then the members bow their heads in shame. Very weak. **1/2 out of ****
A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) ***1/2
I went into the theater with no real familiarity of Seth MacFarlane's previous work (he wrote, directed, and stars in this movie). I just went because I thought Charlize Theron looked delicious in the trailer, and I wouldn't mind a couple of hours of light comedy, if this was done right. So, harboring no prejudice against MacFarlane, I was thoroughly entertained by this very good Western farce, which I consider more or less "BLAZING SADDLES for the 21st Century". Yes, the movie was done right... it had a good amount of funny moments, even if MacFarlane relied too often on typical modern toilet humor and sexual gags. However - he redeemed himself with a script that also offers some strong characterizations and a love story amidst the chuckles.
Seth MacFarlane looks like a misplaced Peter Brady in the role of Albert, a fish out of water living in the Old West of the 1880s, and whose sensibilities are more suited to our own modern world. His troubles adapting to ancient frontier life become even worse when his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) dumps his poor sorry ass and she hooks up with the mustached Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who is the town's rich and prominent store owner. Taking matters into his own hands, the incompetent Albert desires a gun fight with Foy, but can't shoot to save his life. So when a pretty and experienced cowgirl named Anna (Charlize Theron) arrives in town, she befriends Albert and sets out to teach him how to handle a gun. But Anna has troubles of her own, since she has an estranged jealous husband (Liam Neeson) who's out looking for her, and also happens to be the most feared and dangerous gunslinger of the West.
The cast acquits itself nicely, beginning with MacFarlane and Theron, but also Harris and Neeson as the two villains. Sarah Silverman is perfect as the town whore who'll have casual and sloppy sex with everyone except her own boyfriend. We also get some fun cameos from Gilbert Godfried and Jamie Foxx. If the movie would have toned down the notch on at least some of the obligatory sleaze humor and substituted more clever jokes in their place, this would be perfect. The music and theme song were well done. All I know is, I had a good time at the movies and walked out feeling fine. And that's a rarity for theatrical experiences these days. ***1/2 out of ****
In & Out (1997)
In & Out (1997) **
Another of my girlfriend's DVDs I watched with her, just to placate her. The premise is that Kevin Kline plays a popular high school teacher in a very small backwards town in Indiana. He is all prepared to be married to Joan Cusack when someone (it's not important who) broadcasts on national television that the teacher is gay. Now, Kline has to try and "prove" he is heterosexual, but perhaps he may just be in denial of his homosexuality.
It's pretty hard to believe this story takes place in 1997 when everyone in this Mayberry town behaves as though it's 1957. This is only a standard level comedy, though it's not too unbearable at only around ninety minutes. Kevin Kline is well cast for this part, but the best moments come from the hysterical antics of Joan Cusack (who it may be argued has never been very attractive, and yet I found her quite appealing in this film). Bob Newhart is okay as the bigoted high school principal. Tom Selleck seemed out of place to me as a gay news reporter who mentors Kline. Oh, and there is a grand, vomit-inducing, sappy happy ending at the end, which just seems phony. ** out of ****
The Lord's of Flatbush (1974)
The Lords of Flatbush (1974) **
In 1958 Brooklyn, we follow the Lords (or grammatically incorrect "Lord's", according to their jackets and the main title), a group of leather-wearing, greased-haired, immature, high school tough guys. At the head of the gang is Stanley (Sylvester Stallone), an intimidating thug with a guarded heart of gold, who's in a dilemma when his rough-talking girl Frannie (Maria Smith) announces she's pregnant. Her best friend Annie (Renee Paris) is dating the handsome Chico (Perry King), but Chico only uses her for sex while really setting his eyes on the new girl in school (Susan Blakely). Butchey (Henry Winkler) is the most bright of the Lords, and could make something better of himself if he wanted. Wimpy (Paul Mace) is a short member of the group who hangs out with his friends for the security it gives him.
Most of what occurs on screen has no plot, and consists of vignettes with its cast members. Stallone fares best of all, and some good moments include him bullying a rival gang member in a pool hall, and especially the film's best scene near the end that takes place inside a jewelry store, when Frannie and Annie push Sly into buying a $1600 engagement ring against his will. Henry Winker's promising part was, unfortunately, under-written... but he's got one good scene occurring after hours alone in the local candy store hangout, where the shop owner tries to drill some sense into his head about how much more wisely he could be spending his time. Perry King's Chico is the main character, but he's such a jerk in the movie that he's hard for us to invest in.
Ultimately, the movie has a good deal of problems and is only average. At best, this is watchable to me every few years as being one of those nostalgic guilty pleasures that I first saw in the theater when I was around 11 (it even featured the now-defunct Sunrise Drive-In, which was not far from where I lived back then). It's a very cheap film that was shot on 16mm and blown up, which accounts for its rough looking quality, and also for some poor sound issues that make it difficult to discern occasional dialogue. It's got a 1970s rock n roll soundtrack of made up '50s tunes of varying quality, some of which drown out moments of talking at times. But it's still worth at least one viewing to see a young Sylvester Stallone (who would later become ROCKY) and Henry Winkler (in a rough draft for his Fonzie character of HAPPY DAYS) getting to shine in a couple of brief moments. ** out of ****
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) **
SPOILERS- I didn't really need or want to see this, but I had a few hours to kill one afternoon and this was the most accessible movie at the theater. It's not that I don't appreciate Spidey; I grew up a fan of Marvel and Spider-Man, and I had seen the first three Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films already. When Andrew Garfield played the part again in yet another needless reboot called THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN two years ago, I refused to bother, so soon after Sam Raimi had already done a new series. I found that as much as I don't think much of Tobey, I thought he still had made a better Peter Parker than Garfield.
Let's get down to business. So this Part 2 of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was about what I expected, no less -- but also, unfortunately, nothing more. Typically overdone special effects... a movie that feels way too long, with too many climaxes... and also trying to cram in too many bad villains for one movie (so what else is new in Superhero Cinema?). To begin, Jamie Foxx is ridiculous as a sniveling Max Dillon, who turns into "Electro". I couldn't believe we had to sit through yet ANOTHER take on "The Green Goblin" (Dane DeHaan)... come on, with all the classic Spidey villains over the decades, must you rely on a character we've already seen in the last recent series? And the final joke of all was a completely out-of-place tacked-on climax with Paul Giamatti as a thug in an over-sized mechanical robot contraption, who is allegedly supposed to be "The Rhino" (I remember The Rhino from the comics -- and this metallic monstrosity looked more like J. Jonah Jameson's "Spidey Slayer", or the one that Thunderbolt Ross manipulated to thwart The Incredible Hulk!). And speaking of J. Jonah Jameson... where the hell was he in this picture, anyway? He was a vital part of Spider-Man. Was he in the first movie? Not that I'm going to see it.
Sally Field is a terrific actress, and she tries hard in this movie as Peter's old Aunt May. The only problem is, she doesn't really look or feel anything like the real Aunt May from the comics, and -- I hope Sally will appreciate this -- she's not old-looking enough. Or maybe I'm just still used to seeing that sweet and chubby little face as GIDGET or THE FLYING NUN.
Emma Stone was okay, I guess. Nothing that stood out, certainly, in her performance as Gwen Stacy. The one kudo I'll give to the film (can we still call these things "films" nowadays, or are they now "digitals"?) is that I was crossing my fingers that Gwen would meet her death like she did from the comics, and I'm glad the movie did not waffle there; however, her death scene was so over-staged and sensationalized: falling, falling, falling, falling...still falling! ... amidst slow-motion, in mid-air drama...with cartoon debris effects littered and flying all about the air... Enough. ** out of ****
Fatso (1980) **
Anne Bancroft wrote, directed, and acted in this uneven comedy that doesn't know quite what it wants to be. It's somewhat about a likable fat man (Dom DeLuise) who loves his food, but it's also about him yearning for a young woman (Candice Azzara). When Dom's younger brother Salvatore drops dead at only age 39 from being morbidly obese, Dom is pestered by his overbearing sister (Bancroft) to get his butt to a doctor and lose some weight. While this could have been a sure recipe for some really hilarious stuff, the script just isn't that funny, and it veers from humorous attempts to some pathos that don't really come together. Instead, Dom only half-heartedly bothers with his dieting dilemma, and quite frankly, DeLuise is not really THAT fat here to begin with. The best funny scene occurs one evening when Dom cannot control his appetite and maniacally awakens his sleeping brother (Ron Carey) while brandishing a gun and a knife if he won't unlock the fridge. But such ripe opportunities for some good laughs are few and far between. ** out of ****
Gypped in the Penthouse (1955)
Gypped in the Penthouse (1955) ***
For my money, this is one of the funniest Shemp films he did with The Three Stooges, and especially considering that at this time he was age 60-ish and would pass away later that year. Columbia Studios was usually re-cycling older Stooge films at this period and only rarely did we get an all-new short with premiere footage. GYPPED IN THE PENTHOUSE is one of these rare newbies, and it is especially interesting in that it features the Stooges in three separate parts. Shemp and Larry are old acquaintances who bump into each other at a "Woman Hater's Club", and they reminisce in flashbacks about a cheating woman they each dated and what about her drove them to swear off females forever. Moe plays the jealous and punchy husband (>POW!< -- "Oww! - Didn't you make a mistake?"..."Yeah, I hit the wrong eye!" >POW!!< ... "OWWWH!!"... *** out of ****