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George's Island (1989)
Worth a look...if you can find it.
Never officially released on DVD, there may be a region 0 out somewhere, George's Island was played to death on HBO when I was kid. It's the story of an outcast, George, with a kooky grandfather and a teacher who thinks he would be better off in foster care. And, there is that little bit about the treasure of Captain Kidd, on George's Island, that is protected by the ghosts of pirates. It may seem from it's synopsis like just another vapid kid's flick, but it manages to surprise with low budget charm and by not going where you might think it would. There isn't much pirate stuff in it, if that is what you are looking for, and the treasure is more of a lark than anything else. Ian Bannen, Braveheart, and Maury Chaykin, My Cousin Vinny, provide low watt star power. George's Island will never be a classic, but it is a decent movie that is far more enjoyable than a lot of the tripe made for younger audiences.
P.S. eBay usually has a couple of VHS copies up, most of the time.
Not very tasty.
George Washington was a cannibal! That is about all this has to offer in the joke category. The man you thought was a patriot just wanted to eat virgins. Once you get past the easy laugh, there isn't much to enjoy. Dull conspiracy, some hiding, and looking for allies. It all ends in a showdown where the baddies explain everything you always wanted to know about cannibalism, but where to afraid to ask before being slaughtered for the freaks that they are. It's all fairly mild and unimpressive and I would have left it at that had it not involved good old George. He may not be today's idea of a perfect man, but if you are going to come at him, it should at least be a little more complex than bad teeth and cherry jokes.
Not so much.
There is only one good reason to like this movie and that is the always watchable Liam Neeson. Like what he did with the abysmal Phantom Menace, Neeson makes this viewable. I could easily see this with someone else, Jean Claude Van Damme, in the lead as a direct to tape feature. When you look at Taken in that way, it deflates like a popped balloon. It all feels like warmed up Bourne leftovers. The worst part may be the condescending human trafficking angle which reminds me of stuff like Brokedown Palace or Fear. This movie could find it's way onto Lifetime for a heavy rotation. The best scene is in the trailer, when his daughter is kidnapped and Liam's character throws down the gauntlet. For that one moment, the movie is alive and you are taken with it.
Truth be told.
There is a fascinating story in the life of Domino Harvey that would make a great movie. There was a desire to be dominant and a need for everyone to realize that she was strong, a true Leo. She seemed to be spending so much time "having fun", that she lost sight of herself, destroyed herself. She became what she was running away from. Ironically, Tony Scott spends so much time trying to shock us with lap dances and severed arms that we never get to know her, which probably would have suited Domino just fine. Scott tells you at the beginning that this is a true story, sort of, and Domino states that she just wants to have fun. The movie gets lost between those two needs, telling the truth and having fun, two things that rarely go hand in hand. To me the most telling part is one of the details. When the Hollywood suit wants to make a star out of Domino, they want to move Ed, the guy who has done this for a living, out of the center of the poster to put Domino there. They refuse, because it's just not true. But, look at the main page for the movie Domino and who is in the center. Like almost all of Tony Scott's work, having fun is way more important than telling the truth. Sadly, it ain't even that fun. Domino plays like some strange melding of Natural Born Killers, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Usual Suspects and all the fancy camera tricks in the world won't make that exciting.
Bella Loves Jenna (2004)
The loving of the title takes place early on in this stinker and is a huge let down. Jenna Jameson, playing a cannibal with the ability to, ahem, raise the dead, reanimates Belladonna and treats her with a mild tongue bath. She may have raised the dead, but she didn't do much for me. Actually, Belladonna is far better in this. Why she isn't the biggest name in porn is beyond me, she'll do anything and is ridiculously pose able. You'll see that in the best scene of the film where she contorts for head. And that brings me to the worst part of the film, the best scene features some fugly guy in pigtails watching while pleasing himself. Throughout the film he either does that or rides around on a tricycle ringing a bell. I'm sure that he is supposed to represent the child side of Jenna's personality desperately trying to escape as this is, after all, a high minded film. All in all, with guys doing Colonel Klink impressions, a speculum inspection by scarface, and that random "twilight zone" guy, this is best left in the bizarre end of the wasted opportunities category.
The film is split into seven pieces, each one showing a different aspect of witchdom as it relates to The Middle Ages. There is a lot to like: level headed descriptions of faith's structure of the universe, paintings and motion models of hell and and it's disciples as imagined, and scenes of the revelry and torture of suspected witches. Benjamin Christensen, the director, even shows up as the devil, decked out in horns, hair, and a wagging tongue. The only flaw is the ending, where witches are compared to "modern" women with dementia. But the peculiar ending can't mar the rest of the film that holds up well as a portrait of man's inhumanity to woman, it just shows that even a smart man had his head in the devil kissing position.
30 Days of Night (2007)
113 Minutes of Despair.
I envy the victims in this film, at least they went easy. Yeah, it's another vampire movie with the same old standards that you have been watching for the better part of a century. Actually there are a few twists, thrown in from zombie movies. I command you to watch Nosferatu, Dracula, Martin, and Near Dark. Then try to call this great. I'd rather watch the credits of any those films. And, the first person to mention The Lost Boys loses an eye. As for TDoN, Josh Hartnett and company hide in the dark for a long time, some die, and it ends. Mercifully. Having said that, I have little doubt that the comic is, if fact, awesome. There is an appearance by the ever popular person who gets someone killed, played by an old man with Alzheimer's, Ben Foster as The Lonely One confederate, and...the pudgy guy from The Constant Gardener as the leader? This belongs in a triple feature with The League of Extraordinary Gentleman and something like Steel or that Captain America movie.
Roadside Prophets (1992)
It's another one of those collections of weirdos movies which seem to be the modus operandi of independent filmmakers. The best cameo belongs to John Cusack who plays Casper, the friendly pirate. He believes that there should be "free food for everyone." Yeah man, like, yeah. John Doe, everyman in name and features, takes an annoying dead guy's ashes to the homespun casino where everybody knew his name and they were glad he spent his money. It takes him the better part of the film to find it. He asks many, including Timothy Leary, who couldn't help him either, and finally dumps his remains in the desert. If, like me, you were perusing the oeuvre of Jennifer Balgobin, you may be interested to know that after an amusingly spastic exotic dance, she reveals her right nipple. Nice, but not worth having to listen to Abbe Wool's hippie logic or Adam Horowitz's every word. Best enjoyed by those who lived, and liked, the 60's or those who think that Easy Rider is a classic.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
One of John Carpenter's few comedies.
Imagine a movie that makes a hero out of a man so dense that he can't keep up in most conversations and is useless in a fight. That is Kurt Russell's Jack Burton, played with a slight John Wayne impersonation and a massive superiority complex. Most of the heavy lifting is done by "sidekick" Dennis Dunn as the high flying Wang Chi and Victor Wong as the mysterious Egg Shen. James Wong is fantastic as both the ten foot tall roadblock and the little basket case on wheels, Lo Pan, who kidnaps Wang's girl and Jack's partner in sexual tension. What passes for a plot, which is just an excuse for fights and silliness, has the two of them storming Lo Pan's castle for their damsels, several times, until they it right. The only sad thing is that this marked the beginning of the end of Carpenter's hot streak. People, including those in the studio, didn't get this movie and he had more then enough of their talk. If some don't love it, they just have poor reflexes.
P.S. The commentary by Russell and Carpenter is classic. Two old friends shooting the breeze, reminiscing about a movie they loved making. As a matter of fact, the commentaries from The Thing and Escape From New York are a blast too.
Masters of Horror: Sick Girl (2006)
This episode had me up until the ending where the bug impregnates the two girls and they are just fine with being shot up with insect splooge and the fact that the bug was sent by one of their fathers. So, apparently, if you are disappointed in your daughters lifestyle choice, it's OK to rape her via insect and get her pregnant with world dominating bugs. Right... The episode makes more sense when you find out that Ida Teeter was originally Ira Teeter and that Roger Corman was to direct. Then, it's just a father who doesn't like his son's choice of mate so he sends his curse of the conquering womb, which is still creepy, but much less offensive. Praise should be given to Erin Brown aka Misty Mundae aka Pale Rider, who shows more acting ability than she is given credit for. Her best scenes are early on when she is being wispy, or misty, in love and the amusing roomy scenes with Angela Bettis. The single greatest shot has to be when she is shown naked as one of the fairies that she likes to draw. As to Bettis, she is given a lot credit, but she is really annoying in this and her almost butch delivery of lines like, "slap my skin honey bee," is painful to hear. Worth a look if you like anyone involved, but not the pinnacle of Masters of Horror.
How about why?
What seemed like a fantastic opportunity, Without a Trace's Lapaglia and CSI's Peterson playing odd couple, is pushed to the back seat behind a dull case involving some missing kid and a low rent psycho, the very watchable John Hawkes. It's nothing more than dull episodes of both shows mushed together. The writers bring these two together and all they can come up with is this generic fluff? Having said that, there are some good moments. Brass gets upset over Jack's helicopter entrance, Jack slams Hodges when he puckers up in his oh so obvious way, and one of Grissom's old lines, "Sometimes to go fast, you have to go slow," is pushed aside by the typically Jack response of, "I like to go faster by going fast." It's not as much of a disaster as it could have been, unlike the snore fest that is the Without a Trace half, but something more personal for the teams, like connecting two old cases Tammi Felton style, would have made for much more exciting television.
It's a gift.
Tony Shalhoub's Adrian Monk is a classic character, a mix of Holmes' smarts and Columbo's tenacity. The most interesting thing to watch is Monk's inability to find joy in anything except in solving the puzzles that plague his already troubled mind. You have to love the way Adrian needs to figure out what isn't right in any situation, either someone is lying or there is some minute detail that everyone else misses. On the other hand, he also needs to touch things, lamps, parking meters, or car antennas, and arrange everything do that it looks right to him. The first two and a half seasons, with Bitty Schram, are the best. Schram's Sharona just gets, and fits, Adrian better than Howard's Natalie. Rounding out the regulars are Ted Levine as the gruff voiced captain. He is more famous for playing the villain, The Silence of the Lambs and Joy Ride, but he, along with Jason Gray-Stanford's lovable doofus Randy Disher, supply comic relief. My only qualm is that the show too frequently revels in Monk's pain and that there isn't enough forward movement in his life. Finding Trudy's killer won't cure Monk, so it's almost sadistic dragging it out this long. I can't help it, I just have to quibble. It's a curse.
The Associate (1996)
What happened to sisters are doing it for themselves?
Whoopi Goldberg feels held back by her gender, so she gets a makeover as a man to jump start her ad agency. A lot of women defend this movie, but it seems like they should be insulted. Goldberg is reduced to getting fashion tips from a drag queen(man), getting inside tips from a mouse(man), and looking like a demented John Adams when she is remade as a white man. The movie would be really empowering if she did it herself, which everyone knows she could. Whoopi is far too talented and independent to be playing such a poorly conceived character. Also, the original story was about how liberating it was to do the things you wanted in a visage that everyone believed, but that ultimately you could be yourself by yourself. All the women power stuff was added unnecessarily, just casting a woman would have gotten the same point across without rubbing the audiences noise in it.
Episode on the Edge of Forever.
This is the episode mentioned when the question of the best episode of the original series is broached and with good reason. Kirk may have the benefit of hundreds of years of knowledge, but he is left with the kind of decision that no man can make easily. This has to be the episode that inspired one of Spock's greatest pearls of wisdom, "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." McCoy, mistakingly drugged, goes back in time, changes it, and makes it impossible for the crew to leave the planet they are on. They must go back and set it right, but could you let one good, forward thinking person die to save the future? The last scene in the past is haunting, McCoy has been nursed back to health by the person and tries to save them when they step into traffic, but Kirk grabs his friend and the three can only look on. The future is saved. The best episode to watch to understand what Star Trek was all about.
They came to see a killing and a drama broke out.
Most of these slasher-thrillers have arrogant or stupid people in them that you want to see dead. At first glance, Vacancy seems no different. The characters, played well by Luke Wilson and Kate Beckensale, spit venom at each other, not realizing that they are methodically being pushed into a corner by a couple of psychos, but once that happens, they realize just how much they mean to each other. It takes this horrible event, equally as traumatizing as the event that made them split up, to bring them back together. Sadly, the screenwriter feels the need to indulge in too much sadistic snuff eye candy, as is obvious by the DVD extra that shows an unnecessarily rough ten minutes of the uncut tapes. The couple is also separated towards the end of the movie so that the wife, who is on medication and was being carried through the ordeal by her husband, can break out of her fog. That's makes narrative sense, but having him get injured, forcing her to lead, would have made the same sense while keeping them together. It's a better than average buildup with good actors and smarter characters that could have used a more character driven third act.
88 Minutes (2007)
88? Isn't that Pacino age?
Al Pacino is too old to be playing the hip, womanizing professor. Watching him romance girls young enough to be his grand-daughter feels wrong. More importantly, the script seems to have been written with a younger man, about twenty years, in mind. He isn't bad, but with the age factor and the seen it before feeling for Pacino, Insomnia and Sea of Love, he and his badly colored hair are a distraction. It wouldn't matter much though, because the script is mostly stale. There is a good number of suspects to ponder and the way that Pacino's Gramm "reads" people is hinted at, but none of the suspects are fleshed out and the real culprit is a surprise in a bad way. Her? It's all unimpressive, but it's nothing atomic.
P.S. Yeah, I know, Pacino is only 67. Watch those other movies, Sea of Love and Insomnia, they are similar, but better.
The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)
The Mysterious Bettie Page.
Gretchen Mol gets under the skin of the pinup queen. She nails the playful Page. Watching her in the buff or dominating her fellow models in knee high boots brings Bettie's photos to life and that is the strength of the film. It's when anything is said that the movie sags thanks to the weak screenplay from Guinevere Turner, writer of Uwe Boll's Bloodrayne. The dialogue is simplistic and there isn't much that happens once we see Bettie getting into the fetish business. The audience, who should be at least somewhat knowledgeable about Page's photos, is never given much insight into the woman herself. The real Bettie Page, who had nothing to do with the film, was less than ecstatic despite this being a love letter to her.
I Am Legend (2007)
I think not.
I am Legend is filled with laughably, fake looking infected "people" who look like they were taken straight from a bad video game. They are literally colorless and bring no tension or suspense to the film. That leaves Will Smith as the last man alive to liven up the movie. He does well as a scientist who has spent the last few years of his life on a quest to cure the virus. The only conversation that he has through most of the movie is with mannequins and the best scene is where one of the them pops up somewhere else ands Smith's character questions it at gun point to see if it's real. When other people finally show up, they are just as forgettable as the infected. The director also unwisely chops up the flashback, showing it in pieces throughout the movie, despite it being painfully obvious what happened to Smith's family. Disappointing variation on the end of the world that somehow made a ton of money.
When it Raynes, it sucks.
Uwe Boll's latest exorcise in futility is the tale of a half human half vampire looking for revenge on the bloodsucker that killer her mom. Along the way, Kristanna Loken, Michael Madsen, Michelle Rodriquez, Meatloaf, Udo Kier, Billy Zane, and a cast of tens read their lines either in a blank monotone, with pretentious pausing, or in horrible accents. Then there is Sir Ben Kingsley, I didn't think anyone could make more of a fool of them self than Meatloaf as the gayest straight vampire in history, but Ben goes through the motions in a role that seems more suited to the talents of Bruce Payne. He should have starred in Cleaver instead. As for Boll, God help me, I think he is getting slightly better. Yes, he has no sense of character or narrative flow and he is far too obsessed with the spurting of blood, but the action scenes aren't nearly as silly as the ones in House of the Dead or Alone In The Dark.
P.S. I can't wait for Bloodrayne 2, where Rayne takes on a vampiric Billy the Kid. Good God...
Linda Lovelace for President (1975)
I think she'd have Bill Clinton's support.
With the better part of the decade conflict in Vietnam and the debacle that was Richard Nixon, trust in the government was low. It isn't a surprise that a farce like this came out. A committee of diverse stereotypes, angry black man, angry woman, cheery gay man, pious preacher, and a Nazi, come together and after rejecting many individuals, choose Linda Lovelace for president. Why? They say it's because she's a nice girl. Actually there never really is a reason other than it's funny, which seems to be the mantra of the movie. Just laugh, it's funny. Sometimes, it succeeds, like when two politicians haggle over what they'll conceal about each other's candidates. Linda Lovelace is a good gauge of this movie. She isn't allowed to perform her greatest talent, has her freckles covered by makeup, and is given a bunch of lame jokes to hint at the thing that she can't show us. The movie doesn't even have much respect for her and I don't think anybody could make some of these jokes work. It's not bad for a few laughs, but if you really want to see why Linda is revered, watch Deep Throat.
Devil in Miss Jones (1973)
The Reems in Miss Spelvin.
You have to give Gerard Damiano some respect, he put thought into his movies. Sure, there are some porn staples like the lesbian rub down, fellatio, and two threesomes, MMF and FFM. There is even a scene where Georgina Spelvin takes time to eat some fruit, after adding some of her special sauce to the grapes, she gives a whole new meaning to the word bananarama. But it's the genuinely creepy framing sequence that bookends the movie that adds a whole new twist. Deep Throat was about a woman helping men find pleasure in a way that gave her pleasure as she looks for the perfect man. The Devil in Miss Jones is about the dangers of carnality for carnality's sake. Jones does four men, two women, a bunch of fruit, and a snake, just for the hell of it. A snake? Gee, I wonder what that's supposed to symbolize. So when given the chance to repent for taking her own life, Miss Jones just wants to get her freak on, so she ends up in her own private hell with no one to ring her bell, trying to turn on a guy, played by Damiano, who is far more interested in the digestive tract of an elusive fly. Man, this movie just might have more going on then every other porno put together. Therein lies the problem, whether Damiano was just trying to add some meaning or responding to the flack that Deep Throat received among "serious" critics, nobody wants too much big head stuff during little head time.
Star Trek: The Cage (1986)
One of the better episodes.
Which is a shame considering that people weren't able to see it for a long time. Fans of the series will be disappointed that only Leonard Nimoy's Mr. Spock is in the original pilot and he is clearly not himself. He is expressive and feels the need to shout, as he would for the second pilot as well. Majel Barrett is also stuck in the thankless role of Number One, who is in love with Captain Pike. The story is the best part about this first pilot. A race of people with the ability to read and control minds, or Parkman, destroys itself. They lure the Enterprise in order to use the Captain as a breeder to replenish the planet. A great example of the more docile, friendly aliens that Star Trek would introduce. The veins that bulge in their heads are creepy as is the blank stare of the original captain. A must see for fans, but don't expect the Star Trek that you remember.
Perhaps the best depiction of a serial killer ever put on film.
It took four years for the general public to see Henry, what they saw was one of the more disturbing portraits of the depths of humanity. Henry is a fascinating character played with depth by the under-appreciated Michael Rooker. He is a vicious killer with little or no morals, but he shows flashes of humanity around his best friend's sister, Becky. She sees a kind, gentle man. Really, in comparison to her vile brother, Otis, Henry is these things, at least to her. Otis and Becky almost represent good and evil to Henry. Otis, given a second chance at life, uses it to kill and torture those around him, while Becky is looking to use her chance to make a life for herself and her daughter. The ending is one of the more horrifying aspects of the film and seals it's place as a classic. The character study would be enough, but the ending is a perfect, although despairing, end.
P.S. Although the release of this was held up and it does contain some gore and violence, this is a cerebral horror film. The reason for it's shelving has more to do with the moral tone. To be fully drawn into it, you have to do what the film wants you to do, relate to Henry. That is far more terrifying than any gush of blood.
Star Trek (1966)
Boldly went where no show had gone before.
Star Trek was one of the first major studio releases to take Science Fiction seriously and it will always be revered for that fact. There are even some episodes which are still very good, including The City On The Edge of Forever and Space Seed. However, the show overall has not aged well. The prejudices of the time that kept a women from being Number One as well as the fight first mentality of William Shatner's Captain Kirk don't fit in with the peaceful tone of the space exploration concept. Still, the likability of the crew as well as the idea of an evolving society where there is peace on Earth makes Star Trek an enjoyable, landmark series; the influence of which is still being felt today where Sci-Fi shows are on almost every major network.
Deep Throat (1972)
Deeper than deep, your throat.
Silly film about a girl who can only achieve sexual fulfillment by fellatio. God bless her. Linda Lovelace plays that girl and with her freckles and petite frame looks like the girl next door. It also has to be mentioned that willingness to take whatever she is given with a smile on her face, literally, is very admirable. It's also admirable to know that even some women in the 70's shaved the stairway to heaven. Besides Lovelace's cavernous throat, this movie features the goofy Harry Reems, who juggles having two hot nurses at the same time like a real trooper. No doubt the reason for the giddy military music during a few scenes. There is also a version of Love is Strange featuring the lyrics, "Love, love is strange. A lot of people take it in the mouth." True. A fun little porno that is more for people looking for some laughs with their sex.
Helen (pulling a guy's head out of her crouch): "Do you mind if I smoke, while you eat?"