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The opening credits bear the title THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE. Some 80
minutes later, the same film is strangely billed as THE HEAD THAT
WOULDN'T DIE in the end credits. That gives you an idea of how much
effort went into this '60s schlockfest.
But that doesn't mean it's not worth watching if you're in the right mood. Jason Evers (who would later lend his considerable talents to such memorable efforts as A PIECE OF THE ACTION and A MAN CALLED GANNON) stars as a wacky doc who thinks it'd be just super to keep his fiancée's head alive in his laboratory after her untimely decapitation in a car accident. He's understandably not content marrying a head, so he seeks out an appropriate (though not necessarily willing!) body donor.
Much of the "action" takes place in the mad doc's basement lab (likely marking one of the final times the traditionally cheesy horror film lab set was put to use). Jan Compton (Virginia Leith), or Jan in the Pan as she's called, spends an awful lot of time yapping and whining. Another IMDb reviewer wasn't far off when he likened her to THE HEAD THAT WOULDN'T SHUT UP! Can you blame her? She's understandably not content to live this sort of life. But what's really holding her interest (and mine... there, I admitted it) is the doctor's other monstrous creation, which keeps trying to pound its from behind its single-doored prison. Will our hero find a body for his woman? Are the authorities on to him? Why am I enjoying this so much? Those are just some of the questions you'll find yourself asking.
THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE comes to us in the tradition of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS, though it's not quite on par with those films in terms of "so bad it's good" appeal. As incredible as it sounds, the picture is legitimately able to hold the viewer's interest with its outrageous plot and suspense built up over the creature behind the door. Sure it goes on a bit too long and sure there are dull moments, but what did you expect?
Admit it. If you haven't seen this one, at least part of you wants to. It's probably that part that yearns for pure, unadulterated stupidity from grown men and women from time to time. So indulge that inner glutton with THE BRAIN THAT WOULD'T DIE.
I'm no Michael Moore fan. I know he's more than a little selective with
his facts and non-facts, to say the least (rent MICHAEL MOORE HATES
America sometime... really, it's not vicious like it sounds!). But when
I watch a movie, what I'm looking for is to be entertained. And on that
note, BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE is by no means a write-off.
This time around, the lefty filmmaker goes waaaaaay over the top to take on the evil gun industry. His motivation? Other than his hatred of guns, he wants to find out what was behind the infamous 1999 shootings at Colorado's Columbine High School. So Moore heads out on a cross-country journey to combat the old adage that guns don't kill people, people kill people. He interviews creepy gun nuts, pulls guilt trips on department stores carrying ammo, seeks the infinite wisdom of a creepy punk rocker, and hypothesizes that weapons plants lead to gun violence. He also makes his usual wild assumptions without evidence (of course that young Michigan boy brought a gun to school because of welfare reform... what other reason could there possibly be!?). The pot shots at the Bush administration, which would become a hallmark of Moore's work, seem like an afterthought (the line that begins "In George Bush's America..." came literally out of nowhere with no buildup or rationale).
But as I said earlier, is it entertaining? Well, yes and no, but generally yes. As long as we accept Moore for what he is and what he's trying to do. It also really helps if you agree with him. So don't dismiss BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE as a piece of crap because you don't like the message. Moore wasn't trying to be unbiased or even preach to the unconverted. It's just Moore being Moore, love him or hate him.
Director Tim Burton's wonderfully whimsical style helps elevate this
memorable sequel over many of its flaws. Michael Keaton returns as the
Caped Crusader, this time called upon to halt a criminal alliance
between The Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer).
The former is a grotesquely deformed sewer inhabiter with newfound
political swing; the latter a sexy woman in black leather out for
vengeance and aimless destruction. As different as they are, they do
have something in common: a desire to rid Gotham City of Batman once
and for all.
The biggest beef one might have with BATMAN RETURNS is its excessive darkness and grim feel. People who watched the original BATMAN expecting a lighthearted superhero crusade were doubly surprised this time around. There is also a notable lack of the title character, who seemingly makes too few appearances throughout the 126-minute running span. But this is all mostly forgivable. The action scenes are highly entertaining without being over-the-top (Burton really should do more action... he's so good at it). Our black-rubber-wrapped antagonist has much more of a presence than he did last time. The film is so well-scripted, with interesting subplots of the Penguin's political power and Batman being framed, that the hero's limited screen time doesn't diminish the film.
There are other things to like. The Penguin's circus gang make for some interesting fodder (though his deadly penguins armed with rockets were a little much). As usual, Burton delivers a striking backdrop, as Gotham City, seen here around the snowy holiday season, is breathtaking. The performances are solid, with Keaton able to carry the movie in the absence of Jack Nicholson's Joker. DeVito proved a perfect choice for the diminutive Penguin as he creates a complete maniac who can still draw much of our sympathy. Not to be outdone is Pfeiffer, who is superb as the hapless Selina Kyle and her tempting yet diabolical alter ego. And the element of romance, known to drag down many good-vs.-evil adventures, is a complement here given who is involved (Bruce Wayne aka Batman and Kyle aka Catwoman, but you already knew that).
It's not entirely fair to compare BATMAN RETURNS with its predecessor because they are in reality two very different films. This one wins out in many areas, yet comes up short of the original in others. No matter what you think of this sequel, you won't be bored.
What should have been a fun little Bond venture turns into a drawn-out,
largely unexciting spectacle in MOONRAKER. Roger Moore, already a
little aged to play our hero, is dispatched to find out the five W's of
a hijacked space shuttle called the Moonraker. From California to
Venice to Outer Space, he discovers that the wealthy, eccentric Hugo
Drax is behind it all - all part of a plan to wipe out the entire human
MOONRAKER has the feel not of a big-budget Hollywood production, but of a 007 ripoff. Everybody, particularly those behind the scenes, just seem to be going through the motions without much thought. They try to rely too heavily on the likability of the character, distracting romance and terribly unfunny shots at humor. Even the sporadic elements of MOONRAKER that do work, such as the high-flying opening and the cable car showdown, seem clumsy. The final 20 minutes, with its incredibly cheesy astronaut battle and explosions, take far too long to arrive.
Sometimes labeled the worst of the Bond series, MOONRAKER disappoints whether you're a fan or not. An apparent attempt to merge the world's greatest spy with the outer space craze of the late 1970s, this one falls flat on its face.
Star Jennifer Garner is likable enough, but everything in 13 GOING ON
30 has been done before -- and better. Garner plays Jenna Rink, who
plays a game on her 13th birthday and wakes up the next morning as a
30-year-old ala BIG. The adult Rink is a successful magazine editor
complete with a (gasp!) live-in boyfriend. To find out what the heck
happened in the prior 17 years, she tracks down her guy friend (an
annoying Mark Ruffalo) from adolescence to find out what happened. If
you can't predict what happens between the two, you need to see more
Love it or hate it, you can't say that 13 GOING ON 30 doesn't cater to its target audience. It's basically a chick flick or something you'd watch at a teenage girl slumber party. If neither scenario sounds like your cup of tea, take a rain check on this one.
Numbingly graphic depiction of an infamous 1993 Somalia mission that
claimed the lives of 18 U.S. soldiers. It all starts with a mission
that seems easy enough -- capturing a warlord's two top lieutenants.
But when one (and later two) army copters spiral to the ground, the
mission becomes a daring rescue attempt through unbelievably hostile
streets full of armed men.
Say what you will about BLACK HAWK DOWN, it captured the essence of war about as accurately as a staged portrayal can. We're with the bloody and battered men as they take cover and fire, desperately trying to survive hellish urban warfare. Scenes where soldiers are lost are not overly emotional, but a passing moment that neither the men nor the viewer have any time to reflect on until we return to safety. This serves the film well, making it an active experience rather than a passive one.
The acting is also a strong asset, with the soldiers ably led by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett, Eric Bana and Tom Sizemore. They wonderfully portray the enthusiasm, fear and courage of men not just in this battle, but all battles. Director Ridley Scott keeps things moving at a reasonable pace, though a slightly shorter running time (it's 144 minutes) would have been welcome.
BLACK HAWK DOWN is recommended for anyone interested in a realistic portrayal of war or who wants to learn more about this sometimes-overlooked incident in military history.
THE WIZARD is a sentimental favorite for anyone who raced home after
school to turn on their gray and black Nintendo Entertainment Systems.
For this set, born in the late '70s and early '80s, the excitement in
the air was palpable when previews for the film appeared on TV. It not
only combined our two favorite entertainment vehicles -- Nintendo and
movies -- but also provided a thrilling sneak preview of the year's
most anticipated game, Super Mario Bros. 3. NES geeks (of course they
weren't geeks back then... Nintendo was cool) thought they'd died and
gone to eight-bit heaven.
When we finally got mom and dad to take us to the theater or pick up the video, THE WIZARD was every bit as good as we'd hoped. Critics almost universally panned it as a 90-minute Nintendo commercial, but young viewers were enthralled. (Besides... a 90-minute Nintendo commercial wasn't exactly an awful thing!). The film combined very human storytelling with hardy laughs and wide-eyed exhilaration. It gave us playground catchphrases (Lucas with "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad" and Jimmy with "Calli-forn-ya... Calli-forn-ya!") Sure the highlight was all the cool video game-related stuff, but video games were a big part of our lives, one that our parents just didn't understand. The people who made this movie, whatever their intentions, did.
Most eight- or nine- or ten-year-olds who caught THE WIZARD upon release would give it two big thumbs up, if not the Oscar for Best Picture of All-Time. Of course we're not eight or nine or ten anymore, and THE WIZARD, in hindsight, is not actually a cinematic masterpiece. But nor is it the sort of mindless junk that stuffy critics would have us believe. The film is actually a sweet, harmless cross-country adventure. It has laughs (who could forget Haley's scream of "He touched my breast!" to ward off the hapless Putnam?) and emotion (Jimmy's reflections of his late sister are undeniably heartbreaking). And the video game competition finale holds up surprisingly well even with the novelty of the Super Mario Bros. 3 footage long worn off.
Beyond that, THE WIZARD carries deeper meanings that children can pick up on. Jimmy, the autistic video game prodigy, demonstrates that all of us, regardless of our limitations, possess marvelous gifts. Putnam, the cold-hearted family services worker trying to take Jimmy away, helps illustrate that families are what matter. And the villainous Lucas is an example of how we should treat our enemies: with dignity and by letting our actions speak louder than our words, as Jimmy does. Okay, it's not exactly Nietzsche, but it's not total fluff, either.
THE WIZARD is not the greatest movie of all-time. It's probably not even a great movie. But it is a special period piece, a reminder of a simpler time when our only worry in the world was passing math and knocking off goombas. It will forever hold a special place in the hearts of many.
An eccentric funeral director shares four tales of horror from an
African American perspective with three young thugs. The first involves
a man who exacts his revenge from beyond the grave after being murdered
by crooked cops. The next tells of a boy alleged torment at the hands
of a monster may not be tall tales. A white supremacist politician
haunted by forces of injustices past highlights the third story, while
the fourth focuses on a gangbanger undergoing frightening behavior
TALES FROM THE HOOD benefits enormously from solid writing and an entertaining pace. With a running time of under 100 minutes, director Rusty Cundieff does an admirable job of cramming everything he's got into each vignette. Few of us have the stomach for a horror movie with a message, but this is one that succeeds. It has things to say about racism in our society and says them in ways in which they've never been said before. Though definitely not for all tastes, TALES FROM THE HOOD is a surprisingly solid horror anthology.
* *Cast Note: Clarence Williams III, who plays the funeral director, is best known as Linc from THE MOD SQUAD television series.
Well-made, at times moving HBO dramatization of the goings-on within
the White House as the Vietnam War escalated under Lyndon Johnson.
Michael Gambon plays the U.S. president as a sort of tragic figure torn between his passion for "Great Society" social programs and a resiliency to win the war. The Johnson seen in PATH TO WAR is certainly not the war-monger that protesters of his day alleged. He's meticulous and thoughtful, though perhaps too easily persuaded by his advisers, most notably Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Alec Baldwin in his most memorable performance in a long time) and Clark Clifford (an equally superb Donald Sutherland).
In his final film, director John Frankenheimer could be criticized for being a touch soft on Johnson. But this approach, fair or not, serves the film well, allowing us to more easily empathize with the straight-talking Texan. He had men of very high stature and respect telling him that just one more bombing, just one more plane full of troops, just a few more months and the war would be won. The viewer has the 20/20 hindsight of history, but Frankenheimer was careful to remind us that Johnson did not. This makes for some emotional moments. Scenes of the reluctant war president signing sympathy letters for families of the fallen are quietly moving, as is his trip to meet with the wounded in Vietnam. Just as poignant is the instance of Johnson stomping out of a meeting, instructing a speech writer that because of the war's costs, there could be no mention of his beloved Great Society in the next State of the Union address. It seems all Johnson wanted was a better life for Americans; all he got was a bloody quagmire.
As the film and war rage on, body counts rising, Johnson unravels. Consumed by years of warfare with no end in sight, he becomes tense, bitter and worn down. Whether they like Johnson or not, the viewer feels the weight on his shoulders. Even someone unfamiliar with how this story ends could predict it from watching PATH TO WAR. To conclude the 165-minute running time, Johnson delivers his famous televised address announcing he would not seek re-election. He may have wanted to, yet knew he could not.
PATH TO WAR is a sharp interpretation of a tragically fascinating era. Unlike some other versions of political history (Oliver Stone, anyone?), the film never comes off as mean-spirited, even toward characters who remain infamous. It is a straightforward look at the complexities of the often-muddy waters of war and politics. It is also a quite memorable piece of work.
There is a case to be made against Wal-Mart, but this cheaply made,
by-the-numbers effort doesn't do it in a very interesting way.
WAL-MART: THE HIGH COST OF LOW PRICE is not so much a documentary as it
is unabsorbing propaganda. At least when Michael Moore presents
something ridiculously slanted, he's entertaining about it.
Still, this (presumably) low-budget effort does have its moments, from the emotional closure of a family hardware store to the insight from former employees of the big "W". But it's hurt by its lack of rebuttal to the many good things say about Wal-Mart. If the anti-Wal-Mart arguments are so strong, why not bring in a dissenting voice and try to prove why he's wrong? Lefty director Robert Greenwald apparently saw no reason to bother because when you're right, you're right. By the way, this film is unlikely to change your opinion of the retail behemoth.
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