13 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Chuck & Buck (2000)
Breaks out of the "stalker" mold
4 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This offbeat drama gives a sadistic tweak to several Hollywood plot gimmicks, and tells a somewhat touching story in the process.

It appears that Buck has been living at home since birth, and that his mental maturing process stopped at some point in early adolescence. When his mother succumbs to cancer, leaving him parentless, he informs Chuck (now Charles, a socially mobile L.A. music producer), a close childhood acquaintance, who attends the funeral with his fiancée.

Buck falls immediately back in love with Chuck, with whom he experimented sexually during their formative years. Unfortunately for Buck, Chuck's development landed him on the opposite side of the rainbow. Undaunted by Chuck's failure to return his affection, Buck packs up and moves to L.A., convinced he can win him back. So, there we have twist #1 - childhood romance leading to complications in adult life, but involving two men, one of whom is not homosexual.

Buck haunts Chuck's home and workplace, and involves himself in playwriting simply because a community theater facility is located across the street from Chuck's workplace. Here's twist #2 - a stalker invading the formerly placid life of his object, but being the sympathetic character versus the villainization of his desired. You won't see any boiling bunnies in this one.

Of course, Buck is not the typical stalker. He's an emotionally immature man who cannot come to terms with being unloved, now that his mother has died. Having equated sexual experimentation with lovemaking, he seeks to replace maternal love with the physical and fraternal love he remembers. Since his affection for Chuck never waned, he's baffled, hurt and confused when he's thwarted.

And we come to twist #3 - Buck is not the simpering, campy, slutty Hollywood homosexual. In fact, his character is so childlike, virtuous and passionless that when he does become flirtatious with Chuck, it's as jarring for us to watch as it probably is for Chuck to experience. Think Forrest Gump with an erection.

I gave this one a seven. The acting and cinematography are flawless, and the story is definitely original, but its need to be told at all is debatable, and the physical love scenes felt gratuitous.
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The apex of slapstick comedy
25 April 2005
All right, if you're looking for dry, cerebral comedy...give this one a whirl, anyway. Despite pratfalls providing 90% of the laughs, this film also chronicles how greed supersedes all other considerations in the lives of a group of motorists who attend the death of a long-incarcerated thief, whose final words indicate the hiding place of his spoils. Performances by such venerated comic talent as Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Buddy Hackett...just read the cast list, re-numerating them here is redundant...keep the characters' escalating frustration and in-fighting both believable and hilarious. Auto enthusiasts and road picture fans will find additional thrills as scores of vintage cars and trucks are raced, mangled and destroyed across the two-lane blacktop that dominated southeastern California before the domination of the superhighway.

Best of all, the laughs are for everyone. There is no objectionable language or adult situations of which to be wary, so this is a perfect alternative to contemporary animated fare, and a great way to introduce children to the idea that vintage entertainment can still be fun. I first saw this on television as a child in the 1970s, and laughed myself to tears. Thirty years later, I still need to keep the Kleenex handy.
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Technicolor film noir?
17 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This brilliant adaptation of Ira Levin's suspense novel casts a young Robert Wagner against type as a cold-blooded social climber using the daughters of an industrialist as a career path. This has most of the elements of a noir thriller - Wagner is the focal character in the first part of the film, manipulating the daylights out of poor, mousy Joanne Woodward, whom he has inadvertently put in a family way. Since his plan to infiltrate her family does not include premature marriage and social disgrace (this IS the early fifties), he craftily executes her murder. And I found myself nervous for him when things don't go as planned! Since I do not advocate murder under any circumstance, this is a stunning combination of writing and directing.

Then we do an abrupt 180 in mid-film, when the focus shifts to the dead girl's older sister. She's dating a wonderful guy, and her formerly domineering father is making an effort to be more caring after the tragic suicide of his only other child...but she still can't accept that her younger sister committed suicide. As she uncovers clues toward what really happened, our sympathies shift and we're cheering her on...until we learn the identity of her charming new boyfriend, and the film races mercilessly to its climax.

So we've got the antihero in Wagner, and the sordid backdrop of unwed pregnancy, seedy college hang-outs and rigid, authoritarian parenting. Cinemascope and eye-watering Technicolor rob the film of any physical darkness, but the patient yet ever-escalating pace and the clever sidestepping of the Hayes Code more than make up for it. An excellent film that pales its 1980s update into obscurity.

Also of note is novelist Ira Levin, whose tales of suspense and intrigue seem ready-made for the screen. Levin would later bring us "Rosemary's Baby", "The Boys From Brazil", "Sliver" and "The Stepford Wives."
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The Howling (1981)
Just read the book
17 March 2005
"The Howling" was originally a fairly suspenseful horror novel by underrated author Gary Brandner. Only the title and a few character names seem to have survived into its film incarnation. While the special effects and acting are above par for an early-80s horror movie, all of the novel's elements of mystery and suspense were foregone in the interest of gratuitous gore.

As a fan of the era and the genre (I snuck into MANY slasher flicks in my flaming youth), I found this film about as forgettable as the equally abominable "Mortuary".

Do yourself a favor - go to your local used book emporium and treat yourself to Gary Brandner's paperbacks instead.
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Don't watch it alone! Have friends over and laugh together!
10 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This one hearkens back to the days of the matinée, when kids with nowhere else to hang out took their dates to the balcony after dumping their younger siblings below. It didn't matter what was on the screen - the little kids would sit through it and the big kids would ignore it. The adults, of course, would never see it.

But they put it on video, anyway, along with most of the other creaky, low-budget "B" horror flicks of the golden age...of television. This film's inherent and unintentional humor is derived from stale ideology (the "bad girls" harvested to replace poor Jan's crushed body - they had it comin'), overused plot (a mad scientist, trying to play God), violent yet conscientious monster (whose presence in the heretofore-normal-seeming scientist's rural lab is never fully explained), and acting that polarizes at wooden or over-the-top.

This is a great party film, assuming your guests enjoy adding dialog and commentary to otherwise abominable cinematic exploits. In fact, should you or your guests prefer more passive entertainment, this film is also available on video in its "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment, in which the host and puppets of the cult TV series make the necessary additions for you.
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On the Beach (2000 TV Movie)
Color and digital effects don't completely float this update
10 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Both this film and the big-screen Gregory Peck / Ava Gardner vehicle were based on the 1950s Cold War sci-fi novel by Nevil Shute. A full-scale nuclear war has killed most of the world's population, and it's just a matter of time before the trade winds bring deadly radiation to the last bastion of human life - Australia.

The original film, though melodramatic at times (and set in far-off 1964!) was a champion of special effects for its time - the busy ports of Long Beach, San Francisco, and eventually the unnamed Australian port that is actually a pre-skyscraper Melbourne, appear deserted. Apart from cultural changes over the past 40+ years, the story and its outcome remain unchanged.

This well-intentioned and competently acted TV update merely adds color, digital effects, grisly corpses and updated language to the original. It's well worth a look, but not at the expense of depriving oneself of the much more sobering effect of the original.
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Fun enough for a dull afternoon
9 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this film inadvertently, on a rainy Saturday afternoon in 1989, on pay cable. Had the sun been out and the barbecue not postponed, I might have missed this oft-overlooked Susan Seidelman entry.

Okay, the plot - an image consultant is hired by the space program to groom a more palatable public image for its new android - is a bit far-fetched. It's a COMEDY. And the android, a doppelganger of its inventor (John Malkovich in a dual role), is imbued with its own personality. It's a COMEDY. And the top-secret android stows away and accompanies the image consultant off of the high-security base. It's a COMEDY.

The purpose of this film was not to rival the "Star Wars" series with credible science fiction, nor to join the likes of "The Andromeda Strain" in the annals of tense government-related thrillers. The real spark behind "Making Mr. Right" is to explore what a contemporary woman might do if she had the opportunity to...well...make Mr. Right.

As a fan of both the sci-fi and comedy genres, I quickly recognized this and relaxed my suspension of disbelief as the necessary nuts-and-bolts elements of android creation were hurled at me. Having done this, I managed to enjoy a passable comedy with a few laugh-out-loud moments.

Malkovich, of course, is brilliant in his dual role as the antisocial inventor of the android, and the physically mature but childishly curious android itself. And Laurie Metcalf shows her gift for simultaneously subtle and over-the-top comedy in her role as the dangerously codependent co-worker who wants to claim the nebbish scientist for her own.

Love triangles, double ententes and mistaken identity form the nexus of the comedic plot, but the film's conclusion about both the quest for and flight from love was poignant. The fact that said conclusions are not necessarily logical seems foregone, as love and logic almost always operate independently of one another.
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Unconventional cloak and dagger...with no cloaks or daggers
9 March 2005
Don't look for this title at your local homogeneous family video chain. This sadly overlooked indy film by director Susan Seidelman is best found in an "alternative lifestyle" venue in the nearest large city.

Yes, there are (gasp!) lesbian and trans-gendered characters, but this film does not dwell on their minority status, nor does it minimize them into the caricatures we've come to associate with cinematic depictions of such persons. They're merely caught up in the mystery into which a lonely, embittered, female literary translator finds herself involved.

Revealing much more about the plot would be to water down the viewer's perspective of the unraveling mystery, but I can promise a very satisfying experience for fans of the genre. The only detriment might be toward the end, when things suddenly accelerate, as if the filmmakers realized they were running out of stock, the editors realized they were running overlong, or perhaps both.

And Susan Seidelman certainly does know how to get the best performance out of her locations. As "Desperately Seeking Susan" captures mid-80s lower Manhattan, and "Making Mr. Right" shows Miami at its best, so does "Gaudi Afternoon" display the intricacies of the Spanish city of Barcelona, and the Gaudi-designed apartment building from which it draws its title. Without Madonna sucking the life out of every scene she's in, and without the somewhat contrived plot that bothered science-conscious viewers of "Making Mr. Right," Seidelman finally succeeds in assembling a cast, plot and setting worthy of her talents.
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A great supporting cast couldn't support Madonna
9 March 2005
Then-ingénue pop star Madonna got top billing in this otherwise enjoyable role-switching comedy that put writer-director Susan Seidelman deservedly on the map.

When Madonna's wooden "acting" isn't being featured (and fortunately, despite her top billing, Seidelman was wise enough to paint her title character into the background wherever possible), it's actually a brilliant and believable romantic comedy starring the underrated Rosanna Arquette and Adian Quinn. Also priceless is Laurie Metcalf, best known for her multiple-Emmy-winning role as Roseanne (née Barr, née Arnold)'s younger sister in the 80s-90s TV series, who makes her screen debut playing Arquette's suspicious and man-hungry sister-in-law. After observing Arquette's husband overeating to combat stress, Metcalf chides, "Take a Valium, like a normal person!" Her wide-eyed pseudo world-weariness steals every scene she's in.

Had anyone else played the elusive Susan, I'd have rated this film a "10". But of course, had anyone else played Susan, would the movie have gotten the hype and audience it originally drew?
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S.O.B. (1981)
Gets better with age
9 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I first saw S.O.B. in its original theatrical release in 1981, when I was 15 (yes, we snuck in). Not having cultivated a taste for dark comedy yet, I thought the film was in extremely bad taste, including the "defloration" of Julie Andrews.

Well, 24 years later (was it REALLY that long ago?), I picked up a used and badly battered copy of the videotape at a junk sale and watched it again. How could I have completely missed such subtlety? It's "Sunset Boulevard" on laughing gas, complete with William Holden in his last screen appearance.

The setting is then-contemporary Hollywood and its environs, which in and of itself adds a few unintended laughs. After a big-budget family film flops, and its director's suicide attempt and nervous breakdown are treated with barbiturates, the director seizes upon the brilliant idea to re-cut the film to suit the adult tastes of the average viewing audience.

As in "Boulevard", "The Player" and myriad other movies about the inner workings of the film industry, a tapestry of cross-allegiances begins its delicate ballet, first to blackball the errant director, then to woo his wholesome actress-singer wife into a nude scene, and finally, when the re-cut film is a smash, to steal the film from the director via his estranged and newly emboldened wife.

The jokes still work, and since Hollywood's only changes since shooting wrapped seem to be cosmetic, the wry commentary on the selfishness and fickleness of the film industry and its larger players still holds true.
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Sudden Fear (1952)
Makes "Sorry Wrong Number" look light
27 January 2005
Joan Crawford, in one of her last critically lauded (and Oscar-nominated???) roles, plays an independently wealthy playwright wooed by a would-be actor. Through a series of drawn-out medium shots and close-ups, we watch Crawford's character undergo happiness, contentedness, suspicion, jadedness, vindictiveness...and anything but "sudden" fear. This melodrama plays well for those (like me) who enjoy having a few friends over and adding a little much-needed dialog of our own. However, if you're looking for a genuinely suspenseful thriller, keep searching. And Keno Video's DVD sound quality, by the way, is abominable - prepare to crank the volume and listen to the equivalent of a drive-through speaker.
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Wonderful homage to the Romero franchise...with a British twist
27 January 2005
George Romero's American homegrown zombie franchise - "Night of the Living Dead" (1969), "Dawn of the Dead" (1978, and a somewhat tepid remake in 2004) and "Day of the Dead" (1981) - has spawned dozens of imitations, send-ups and downright rip-offs, but none as cleverly tongue-in-cheek as this new British entry.

Shaun is a disenfranchised Peter Pan, idling away the last moments of his twenties living with roommates, hanging out at his local pub, and working a menial retail job. He and his friends don't seem to notice the ever-growing army of reanimated flesh-eaters, instead being absorbed in their interpersonal relationships and romances. Only when circumstances grow dire and demand action do they reluctantly formulate a plan.

In addition to this display of large-scale apathy, the film boasts hilarious dialog, well-developed and competently acted characters, and literally hundreds of tips of the hat to George Romero's shambling remnants of Western civilization. For fans of the genre, I highly recommend this one.
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Def-Con 4 (1985)
One of the last drive-in specials
14 January 2005
All right, the plot is thin and at times unbelievable, but the acting and effects are competent. The film's target audience were the teen-aged denizens of the last of the American drive-ins, and it's typical Cold War nuclear-midnight material. While in outer space, three astronauts witness the obliteration of the cities of earth in a full-scale nuclear war. When their spacecraft's automatic return mechanisms are commandeered, they land in a remote and highly radioactive section of Canadian coastline, where totalitarianism and cannibalism rule the day.

I saw this one at a drive-in when I was 19, and watching it now reminds me of the feel of my beat-up car's leatherette seats, the smells of popcorn and hot dogs from the poastapocalyptically unclean snack bar, and several other less seemly teen pleasures that ultimately overran and sealed the demise of the drive-in venue as the rest of the world abandoned it for home video.

Most of the movies I saw in what is now a forgotten, overgrown lot behind a commuter parking area (a summer storm tumbled what was left of the big screen years ago) were similarly produced with nuclear hysteria in mind, usually with unknown talent and enormous plot holes (what, exactly, were the sources of gasoline in the desert wastelands of "Mad Max" and "Cherry 2000"?).

These "B" films represent a period in American cinematic history that, while rarely critically laudable, nevertheless reflects the morality issues of generations. Our fear of the atom had metamorphosed from the accidental gigantism of everything including common insects, rodents and the occasional slowly-driven-mad citizen to much more tempered, though not always realistic, pondering of civilization after a full-out attack...and most of these films played out on the other side of our windshields.

So, spray on some bug repellent, haul the TV out to the garage, and enjoy some Mom's-car make-out sessions with your spouse. This film makes it 1985 all over again.
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