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Wild at Heart (1990)
7/10
We got some dancin' to do!
25 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern are commanding as a pair of lovers on the lam: Sailor Ripley, a.k.a. Elvis, and Lula Fortune, a.k.a. Marilyn. Her harridan of a mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd, Derns' real-life mom), does NOT want the two of them together, so she makes deals with characters like private investigator Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) and crime kingpin Santos (J.E. Freeman) to track the youngsters down. Meanwhile, Sailor and Lula have a variety of surreal encounters on the road, meeting people like the depraved Bobby Peru (a memorable Willem Dafoe).

Filmmaker David Lynch has always done very well at telling interesting stories that bring out the most offbeat qualities in his characters. Here, he pours on the style and the sordid melodrama, alternating between excess and some subtlety as he lays out the romance at the core of the tale. Basing his script on a novel by Barry Gifford, he gives his typically eclectic cast some juicy dialogue to deliver.

Now, granted, some of the actors & actresses barely have time to leave an impression, but there's a lot of talent here, so minimal screen time is not as much of an issue as it could have been. Lynch occasionally pours on the graphic violence (the demise of Peru is a highlight), but thanks to an entertaining story and these incredible actors, he keeps his grip throughout.

Cage is amusing as he does his best to exude "cool"; he and the sexy Dern do make a good couple. In addition to those supporting actors already mentioned, people like Crispin Glover (as the cousin with the Christmas fetish and the roaches in his underwear), Calvin Lockhart, Isabella Rossellini, Grace Zabriskie (one of this viewers' favourite character actresses, cast as a crazed, crippled hit woman), Sherilyn Fenn, Marvin Kaplan, William Morgan Sheppard, David Patrick Kelly, Freddie Jones, John Lurie, Jack Nance, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Frances Bay, Frank Collison, and Sheryl Lee all turn up as well. KoKo Taylor makes a musical appearance. Several years later, the Rossellini character, Perdita Durango, got a movie of her own, where she was played by Rosie Perez.

All in all, this is certifiably odd in the Lynch tradition, complete with "Wizard of Oz" references, but it does hold ones' attention, ultimately ending the yarn with some degree of satisfaction.

Seven out of 10.
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Mausoleum (1983)
7/10
There's some strange *beep* going on in this house.
25 August 2019
Bobbie Bresee (the temptress in "Ghoulies") stars here as Susan Walker Farrell, whose family history is colourful, to say the least. It dictates that she will fall victim to demonic possession as an adult, when she is married to concerned nice guy Oliver Farrell (Marjoe Gortner, "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?"). Various people are killed off by her while she is in this demon incarnation, and it will be up to her longtime psychiatrist, Simon Andrews (Norman Burton, "The Gumball Rally"), to do his reading on the Nomed family (the name is a clumsy clue) and find out how to save the day.

The 80s live on in ultra-cheesy spectacles like this one. While hardly a "good" film, that matters little. The truth is, it's a VERY amusing low budget horror / sleaze / schlock film, complete with negligible acting, ropey visual effects, decent gore, a dose of nudity from Ms. Bresee, entertainingly designed creatures (the "demon breasts" are the most original touch), melodramatic music by Jaime Mendoza-Nava, and a fair amount of humour, at least some of which I believe IS intentional. The silly script is credited to Robert Barich (who pulled triple duty; he was also a producer and the cinematographer) and Robert Madero. The film is never more fun than when Ms. Bresee is undergoing her monstrous manifestations. These are always worth hearty laughs.

Marjoe, commendably, looks very serious as the distraught husband. The same goes for the great character actor Burton. Bresee is very sexy, but not much of an actress. Laura Hippe ("The Swinging Barmaids") plays Susan's aunt Cora. Maurice Sherbanee ("Charlie Wilson's War") is the horny, seedy gardener; La Wanda Page of 'Sanford and Son' fame is priceless as the maid who just might be the smartest character in this whole thing. And that's Bill Vail, Kirk from the original "Texas Chain Saw Massacre", as the final incarnation of the demon.

"Mausoleum" is a hoot and a half, a film very much of its time that can barely be considered scary, but is awfully damn entertaining much of the time.

Seven out of 10.
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The American (2010)
8/10
"You cannot deny the existence of Hell. You live in it."
24 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Producer / star George Clooney dials down his charisma for a much graver, more thoughtful performance as Jack / "Edward", an assassin and weapons expert. He retreats to the Italian countryside after a job goes bad, after which he agrees to one last gig before leaving the business. He will put together a firearm for a female assassin named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). In the meantime, he falls for a gorgeous Italian prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido), and makes friends with a talkative priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli). He will find that trying to distance himself from his line of work to be a tough proposition.

Based on a novel by Martin Booth, this is much more a character study / drama than action movie or thriller. That's not to say that there isn't any action, but this is the exception rather than the rule. It's a sombre, serious film, with little in the way of humour. It's also beautifully shot (by Martin Ruhe) on various picturesque Italian locations. Directed by Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn ("A Most Wanted Man", "Control"), a veteran of rock and pop videos, it's very European in its approach, and especially in its leisurely pacing. And Clooney is effectively low-key in the central role, giving us a fairly interesting, commanding character to watch who's fascinating in his attention to detail. Watching this craftsman piece together the tools of the trade is enjoyable. (The priest, who's very perceptive, sees him as more of a craftsman than an artist.)

The story is entertaining and intelligent and nuanced, drawing us in with its moody quality and natural tension without falling back on major set pieces. Some people might be able to predict the way that the tale ultimately resolves itself, yet it remains a compelling bit of cinema. With Clooney doing a fine job in the lead, and being well supported by a strong international cast (in fact, Clooney is the only American cast member), "The American" is a strong film that's worth a look.

Eight out of 10.
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Reign of Fire (2002)
6/10
Let me stand next to your fire.
22 August 2019
As far as movies pitting humans against dragons go, "Reign of Fire" is reasonably enjoyable, although 1981s' "Dragonslayer" is still the high water mark for this genre as far as this viewer is concerned. This one has decent action, excellent atmosphere (it was filmed in the mountains of Ireland), variable special effects (some of the CGI is good), and appropriately weary performances. It focuses on the human struggle to survive, in a world dominated by legions of fire-breathing dragons. Christian Bale plays Quinn, more or less the leader of a group of people trying to get by. Then along comes gung-ho American military man Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), and his team, and they prefer to take action against the beasts.

What was missing for this viewer was a stronger emotional connection to the material and the characters; they just didn't engage him as much as he would have liked. Still, at the least, "Reign of Fire" is not boring, creating some intense moments during its running time. It doesn't take long to get going as the first of the dragons are glimpsed not ten minutes into the story. From then on, this is an appropriately serious-minded - but not sentimental - portrayal of an apocalypse of a different kind, as creatures of mythology are placed into a futuristic society (the tale largely takes place in the year 2020).

The performances are good, especially from McConaughey. Decked out in tattoos and sporting a shaved head, this character is unlike many others that he's played. Van Zan is outspoken, brave, and has a commanding presence. None of the roles are really fleshed out all that much, though, which doesn't give the actors that much to work with. It was nice to see the lovely Alice Krige (who plays Quinns' mother) again, albeit very briefly.

Overall, this is entertaining if not memorable. One highlight is undeniably that world-gone-to-Hell production design, courtesy of Wolf Kroeger.

Six out of 10.
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Fright Night (1985)
8/10
Welcome to Fright Night...for real.
21 August 2019
Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is an ordinary teenager who comes to realize that Jerry Dandrige (Chris Sarandon), the handsome, suave man who's moved in next door, is actually a vampire. Naturally, he can't get anybody to believe this, but he ultimately receives some unexpected help from TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), "the great vampire killer of the movies".

Screenwriter Tom Holland, who'd given us the much-better-than-expected belated sequel to "Psycho", began his filmmaking career with a flourish, writing and directing this energetic and entertaining, very 80s horror film. It's chock full of great effects (by Richard Edlund), good music (by Brad Fiedel), stifling atmosphere, and ingratiating performances. McDowall in particular is a delight as the bitter old horror star who bemoans the age of the slasher film; he would seem to be in over his head in a real-life horror situation, but he does rise to the occasion. And Sarandon successfully walks the line between charming and menacing in his portrayal of the cunning blood sucker. Amanda Bearse of 'Married...with Children' fame is an interesting choice for the role of the imperilled love interest. Stephen Geoffreys is a constant hoot in his memorably quirky interpretation of "Evil" Ed Thompson, seemingly the closest thing that Charley has to a friend. Ragsdale himself is a personable hero. Jonathan Stark (as Jerry's housemate / daytime protector Billy Cole), Dorothy Fielding (as Charley's mom), and Art Evans (as an exasperated detective) co-star; look for Nick Savage from "Friday the 13th Part III" in a small part as a bouncer.

Holland clearly has great respect for not just the great vampire films of the past, but the whole horror genre in general, and his film is quite fun. It never drags (even at an hour and 47 minutes), and builds steadily towards the inevitable big showdown, which pulls out all the stops. It's also quite sexy, but not as violent as more squeamish viewers might fear. Hollands' script does have some good dialogue along the way, as well, and ends up sending viewers away with a smile.

Followed by a sequel and a remake (with the remake getting a sequel of its own).

Eight out of 10.
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7/10
A film worth watching.
20 August 2019
Art Carney is a delight in his Oscar-winning performance as aged New Yorker Harry, a retired teacher. He's forced out of his longtime apartment when it's slated for demolition; he spends some time with his son Burt (Philip Bruns) and his family before realizing that his presence stirs up a little too much tension. So, ultimately, he hits the road, with his faithful cat Tonto as companion.

The script by Josh Greenfeld and director Paul Mazursky is episodic, but effective in the way that it shows the affable Harry reacting to and interacting with the various people whom he meets on his journey. Harry can be stubborn and argumentative, but is basically a very good man who's led an interesting life. And Harry adjusts to changes in the American popular culture quite well, enjoying the time that he spends with a teen-aged hitchhiker named Ginger (Melanie Mayron).

Through it all, Carney remains endearing, creating a character who can bring us from one encounter & episode after another with grace and earnestness. He's surrounded by reliable, familiar actors & actresses: Ellen Burstyn (whose role is actually rather brief), Larry Hagman, Chief Dan George, Rene Enriquez, Herbert Berghof, Avon Long, Cliff De Young, Josh Mostel, Louis Guss, Mike Nussbaum, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Arthur Hunnicutt, Barbara Rhoades, and Andre Philippe. The sequence with Chief Dan George is particularly fun, as the old medicine man gives some assistance to Carney as they share a jail cell.

A likeable fable that doesn't go overboard on the sentimentality, "Harry and Tonto" will certainly strike a chord with viewers, doing so in a subtle and memorable way.

Seven out of 10.
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6/10
A lesser Hammer thriller, but still entertaining.
18 August 2019
Judy Geeson is at her loveliest and most appealing as Peggy Heller, a 22 year old bride who accompanies her new husband Robert (Ralph Bates) to his new gig as teacher at a boarding school in the country. But while this is going on, she's being repeatedly attacked by a one-armed antagonist, and she can't seem to convince other people that she's in peril.

It's up to the very capable actors to carry this story, concocted by Michael Syson and director Jimmy Sangster. (The latter being a veteran Hammer screenwriter, in his third and final directing job.) There's an inherent creepiness to the campus setting since this is a time when the school is nearly deserted. Sangster doesn't milk as much tension from the scenario as this viewer would have liked, but things *do* get progressively more interesting and involving as the tale winds towards its final act. Whether or not the audience figures things out ahead of time, it's commendable that Sangster & Syson try to keep things ambiguous as to the idea of Peggy having an overactive imagination.

Keeping things off-centre are the performances of old pro Peter Cushing, in one of his finest performances as a subtly strange headmaster (named Michael Carmichael), and a perfectly snooty Joan Collins as his hot-to-trot younger wife. Geeson is vulnerable enough to earn our sympathies, while Bates does a solid job as the concerned husband.

Excellent location shooting is a plus, as well as an effectively melodramatic music score composed by John McCabe. There are not a lot of characters, so a fairly intimate feeling is created, but top character actor James Cossins (as the doctor) and Gillian Lind as Mrs. Beamish are well worth watching in supporting roles. The modern setting is a nice touch for a company whose bread and butter for years was Gothic horror.

Ironically, for a film titled "Fear in the Night", a lot of the story takes place during the day.

Six out of 10.
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Maneater (2007 TV Movie)
6/10
Not as tacky as one would think.
17 August 2019
A Bengal tiger is on the loose in the woods near a North American community. The local authorities can't seem to do much to stop its rampage, and the National Guardsmen don't look like they'll be much use. A young boy (Ty Wood) feels a connection to the beast, and feels some sympathy for it; meanwhile, a veteran tiger hunter (Ian D. Clark) would appear to be the most knowledgeable and capable person on the scene. The local sheriff (Gary Busey, the movies' one name actor) tries to warn citizens of the danger.

'Maneater' earns some points for not being the usual ultra-cheesy creature feature that this viewer was expecting. We do occasionally see the tiger attack, but kills are often performed off screen; we only see the gory aftermath. Plus, these filmmakers look like they used an actual animal much of the time (on the few occasions when we see the beast); there's no ropey CGI to turn the story into a live-action cartoon. Plus, the scenario is treated with some gravity. The viewer won't see any self-aware or self-referential humour here. The actors put on their best poker faces in this thriller that is therefore a bit more nuanced than what one is used to if they've seen a lot of made-to-order monster movies, whether done for TV or home video.

The performances are generally decent. Nothing spectacular, but they get the job done. The hunter, the kid, and the sheriff are the three roles that get fleshed out to any degree. The kid, in particular, is amusing because he's the product of an isolated existence, home-schooled in a trailer in the woods by a deeply religious mother. But he has no fear of constantly traipsing through these woods and possibly being mauled by the big cat. He also possesses great tracking abilities.

Overall, this is very passable stuff. Hardly inspired, but it's not nearly as goofy as this viewer thought it might be. It was filmed on location in my home province of Manitoba (Canada).

Six out of 10.
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Serendipity (2001)
7/10
Sweet-natured romantic comedy.
16 August 2019
John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale are a winning couple in this endearing fable about the nature of fate when it comes to romance. How much in life is random? And just how much in life is all part of some grand design? Can two people be destined to be together? Jonathan (Cusack) and Sara (Beckinsale) meet in Bloomingdale's while Christmas shopping and spend a few wonderful hours together. But she decides that they should let fate determine if they should ever see each other again.

Years later, they're both engaged to other people, but they can't let their memories of that night dissipate; aided by their best friends, they embark on quests to find each other again.

"Serendipity" is a rather sweet yarn, concocted by screenwriter Marc Klein and directed with style and sensitivity by Peter Chelsom. Chelsom brings out the best in his appealing lead duo. Although Cusack and Beckinsale spent limited time with each other on set, much like their characters, they generate some real chemistry.

Many of the characters are endearing; there are absolutely no villains here. The two fiancees in the movie, Lars (John Corbett) and Halley (Bridget Moynahan), are portrayed in an even-handed way, and you know that nobody in this scenario really deserves to have their heart broken. But Jonathan and Sara don't feel the same degree of "magic" with these two as when they so memorably got together.

Wonderful support is provided by Molly Shannon as Eve, Sara's gal pal, and Jeremy Piven, as Jonathan's best man Dean. And as an additional treat, we get Eugene Levy in a very funny turn as a salesman who reluctantly gives Jonathan some assistance. The film does send us away with a smile when it brings back his character at the end.

Definitely recommended to romantics everywhere.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
If we have overlooked any sizeable groups of lovers, we apologize.
15 August 2019
This feature film version of the popular TV series of the time continues with the same brand of utterly goofy, tacky, silly humour. The Dynamic Duo, Batman & Robin (Adam West and Burt Ward), have their hands full when their four most deadly enemies combine their forces. The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether) are a force to reckon with when they kidnap a character named Commodore Schmidlapp (Reginald Denny) and intend to put his invention to evil use.

Suffice it to say, people who love the series should be pretty satisfied with this movie. Although it goes on a little too long, it does manage to maintain some momentum and liveliness, in a completely cartoon-like way. It establishes its tone immediately with the pre-opening credits "dedications", and lets people know soon after that this is going to be played very tongue-in-cheek. An extremely phoney rubber shark clamps onto Batman's leg and refuses to let go; when he uses his patented Shark Repellent on it, it explodes as soon as it hits the water.

This movie does really attempt to give viewers their moneys' worth, from the production values to the action sequences to the "Rogues' Gallery of Villains". Some people may prefer that the characters and their environs be taken very seriously, but in this world, there IS room for both approaches, and the series & movie do have their fans. It's colourful (figuratively and literally) nonsense that is always quick with the dopey lines and situations.

West & Ward really did seem born to play these roles; Wests' delivery is so absurdly sincere that he can be a riot. The villains, of course, are a treat, especially Meredith as The Penguin. He always looked like he was having the time of his life. Other regulars from the series - Alan Napier as Alfred, Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, Stafford Repp as Chief O'Hara - all prove to be as reliable as ever. It's just so much fun to see these actors show such conviction, in the face of such campiness.

A hard-to-resist product of its time.

Seven out of 10.
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6/10
Better than expected.
14 August 2019
Unrelated to "The Curse" (1987) and "Curse II: The Bite" (1989), this in-name-only sequel stars Jenilee Harrison of 'Three's Company' fame as Elizabeth Armstrong, wife of a farmer in 1950 East Africa. She and her sister meddle in a tribal ceremony (they don't want to see a goat get sacrificed), much to their regret. The local witch doctor (Dumi Shongwe) summons a powerful demon of the sea to slaughter these foolish whites for their interference.

Co-written and directed by Sean Barton, a veteran editor whose credits in that capacity include "Return of the Jedi", "Curse III: Blood Sacrifice" is actually a pretty enjoyable B horror flick. It gets most of its impact from its on-location shooting in South Africa, and has a very good atmosphere. It can also get rather gory at times. Barton and company are wise not to give the monster too much screen time; it's largely unseen until the end, and when we finally get a good look at it, it's got a reasonably impressive design (by Chris Walas, the effects man who gave us the Gremlins and the 1986 version of The Fly). The music score composed by Julian Laxton & Patric van Blerk is another big plus. "Curse III: Blood Sacrifice" goes through its paces with skill, building up a decent body count and giving us an incendiary finale.

One doesn't exactly feel too much sympathy for the victims, but at least some of the cast deliver okay performances. Harrison has some appeal as the heroine. Henry Cele has a powerful screen presence as the character Mletch. Co-star Gavin Hood, who plays Robert, may be better known now as a director of such movies as "Tsotsi", "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", and "Ender's Game". The true star power in "Curse III" is provided by ever-reliable Sir Christopher Lee, who doesn't get that much screen time despite his top billing. But he makes every moment count.

Overall, not bad at all. The novelty of the African setting helps to make up for the routine storyline.

Six out of 10.
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Stay Tuned (1992)
6/10
Don't change that channel.
13 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
A moderately amusing comedy as well as a pretty blunt comment on the nature of boob tube addiction, "Stay Tuned" offers up some decent entertainment, if no real comedy fireworks. Two proven TV stars, John Ritter and Pam Dawber, are front and centre as Ritter plays shameless, unambitious couch potato Roy Knable, who unwittingly enters into a contract with one of Hells' top salesmen, Spike (Jeffrey Jones). Spike has just sold Roy a super-elaborate satellite system that sucks Roy and wife Helen (Dawber) into a TV netherworld that forces them to participate, whether they're trapped in a game show (You Can't Win), wrestling, or a private-eye mystery.

Admittedly, the segment that works best is the cartoon supervised by the legendary Chuck Jones; it really does feel like vintage Looney Tunes, and is a hoot to watch. The rest of the material yields modest chuckles throughout, with regular shots taken at TV and film titles that are given macabre spins: Driving Over Miss Daisy, Three Men and Rosemary's Baby, Northern Overexposure, etc. The actors make the best of the situation, with Ritter as a reasonably likeable guy who seems like a useless lump at first, but who will ultimately rise to the occasion. Jones is an effective antagonist; some of the biggest guffaws come from seeing him and Ritter in the Salt N Pepa music video. The supporting cast features some solid and reliable character faces: ever-endearing Eugene Levy of 'SCTV' fame, Don Calfa ("The Return of the Living Dead"), Erik King ('Dexter'), Bob Dishy ("Brighton Beach Memoirs"), etc.

Overall, "Stay Tuned" is fairly mild stuff, but it does make its points succinctly. It wraps up in a trim hour and a half, delivering in terms of pace and liveliness. The visual effects are also pretty good.

Any fan of Ritter will laugh out loud at the scene approximately 74 minutes into the running time, acknowledging his most famous role.

Six out of 10.
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Deadly Force (1983)
5/10
Deadly Force gives you Wiiings.
12 August 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"Deadly Force" is a thoroughly routine B cop movie from the 1980s, with thoroughly routine characters. This starts with our hero, Stoney Cooper (Wings Hauser), your standard-issue maverick cop character who has issues with such things as authority and procedures. Living in NYC, he returns to LA to help an old friend (Al Ruscio, "The Godfather Part III") when the latters' granddaughter is the latest victim of a serial killer. Upon his return to the City of Angels, he tries to start over with his fed-up estranged wife (Joyce Ingalls, "Paradise Alley"), and is hassled by his former commanding officer (Lincoln Kilpatrick, "The Omega Man").

One gets no points for connecting the dots in this patently predictable storyline. But, as cliched and unoriginal as this feature is, it entertains in basically adequate fashion. Even lacking style, its action sequences are basically decent enough; the director is Paul Aaron, who'd previously directed Chuck Norris in "A Force of One". (He must have liked titles using the word "force".) The supporting cast is fine - deep-voiced Paul Shenar is cast as a unsubtly menacing motivational speaker - but what really makes the difference is Wings. He'd been such a memorable villain in "Vice Squad" a year previous, and got boosted to star status here. He's not the ultra-macho mass of muscle one often sees in action movies, but he does have an amusing personality and the same kind of tenacity that served him so well when he played "Ramrod".

Familiar actors such as Ned Eisenberg ("The Burning") and Paul Benjamin ("Escape from Alcatraz") have small roles; 'Golden Girls' fans will have the delight of seeing Estelle Getty in a brief role near the beginning of "Deadly Force" as a live-wire cabbie.

The screenplay is credited to Ken Barnett, Robert Vincent O'Neil, and Barry Schneider; Sandy Howard was the producer. O'Neil and Howard were also veterans of "Vice Squad", so "Deadly Force" was a reunion of them and Hauser. The combination of talents here doesn't yield the same incendiary results, but if you adore 80s B cop flicks, you can definitely do worse than this one.

Five out of 10.
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Gran Torino (2008)
8/10
An excellent latter-day Eastwood vehicle.
11 August 2019
Producer & director & star Clint Eastwood here fashioned a completely disarming fable that showcases him to memorable effect. Walt Kowalski (Eastwood) is a retired Ford auto worker who's just lost his beloved wife of many years. He's also a Korean War veteran who's very free with his politically incorrect views, and doesn't particularly care for the Hmong immigrants that have moved into his neighbourhood. All the same, he finds himself driven to look out for the troubled teenager (Bee Vang as Thao) who lives next door. When things get ugly and melodramatic, Walt rationally looks at ways to remove negative influences from Thao's life.

"Gran Torino" (the title taking itself from the 1972 vintage automobile that is Walts' prized possession) is compelling every step of the way, with Clint doing extremely well in the colourful lead role. His evolution as a character is central to the story (concocted by Nick Schenk and Dave Johannson), and it's believable and realistic all the way. Walt doesn't just miraculously shed himself of racist views overnight. We can see that he's become something along the lines of a stereotypical Grumpy Old Man, but Clint always makes him a real human being and not a cartoon character. The other characters are also treated respectfully and interestingly, and while the subplot with the Hmong gang may ultimately drive the tale into more conventional melodrama trappings, Clint keeps things rooted with an interest in ruminating on the whole idea of life and death. Walt may have lived the bulk of his life already and have little to lose, but he doesn't want to see his new friend blow it all for the sake of vengeance.

The supporting cast is variable, but the earnestness of Vang, and Ahney Her as his sassy sister, does count for something. The gang members are the kind of unrepentant scum who make for absolutely perfect villains. Clint anchors everything with an appealing, nuanced performance that *could* be viewed as an aged variation on Dirty Harry Callahan, but in truth is something deeper and more affecting. He's always been ambitious in terms of performances and projects, and here we get to see him flex typically sharp filmmaking muscle.

Not to be missed, for any fan of classic film stars such as Clint.

Music composed by Michael Stevens & Clint's son Kyle; another son, Scott, appears on screen as Trey.

Eight out of 10.
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The Unnamable (1988)
6/10
Pretty mild as Lovecraft adaptations go.
11 August 2019
The basic set-up here is simple enough: college students get caught in a house of horror in the woods, falling victim to a creature that is more than mere legend. Randolph Carter (Mark Kinsey Stephenson) seems to know the score, but the focus is more on Randolphs' friend Howard (Charles Klausmeyer) and the serious-minded Tanya (Alexandra Durrell).

The back story garners more interest than the balance of the yarn in this okay but unspectacular low-budget attempt at an H.P. Lovecraft story. It's not terrible or anything, but it certainly lacks any truly interesting features. Director Jean-Paul Ouellette, who also wrote the screenplay, fails to generate much tension or atmosphere. In the end, his film is pretty generic stuff, albeit featuring a fairly imaginatively conceived "unnamable" monster (played by Katrin Alexandre). Fortunately, Ouellette is wise not to give the monster too much screen time until near the end. He delivers the goods when it comes to gore: there is some effective nastiness on display here. R. Christopher Biggs, the man behind the makeup effects, can take a well-deserved bow. But the tale being told here is just too familiar to carry much weight for anybody other than die hard horror buffs.

The main debit here is a pretty charmless and not overly talented cast. Durrell is particularly bad. Klausmeyer, at least, is earnest and moderately likeable as the hero. The most amusing performer here is Stephenson, who does appear to be well cast. But the way he just sort of disappears from the film for a while only serves to keep things from being completely satisfying.

If you are an avid horror fanatic, and particularly enjoy seeing filmmakers attempt to film Lovecraft's stories, there is some entertainment to be had here. But, overall, it lacks a little pizzazz.

Six out of 10.
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7/10
"The guilty don't deserve to die as quick as the innocent."
10 August 2019
Producer / director Cornel Wilde ("The Naked Prey"), working from an adaptation by Sean Forestal & himself of the John Christopher novel, fashions this material into a decent exploitation-message film. Ultimately, it's a retread of earlier films like "Panic in Year Zero", but it's generally well done. It's certainly well acted, and Wilde does come up with ways to make the film visually striking. (Such as the countryside littered with animal corpses.) He gives the story a polished presentation, complete with some harsh and uncompromising moments.

The idea is that humans have finally contaminated their home planet so badly that a virus has emerged that affects things like grass, wheat and rice. London descends into a state of utter chaos, and amid this societal breakdown, the Custance family makes the very long trek up North to where John Custance (Nigel Davenport) has a brother (Patrick Holt) with a farm. The Custance family acquires numerous other travelling companions along the way.

The deliberately stylized "flash forward" shots are a little disconcerting, but mostly Wilde sticks to the meat and potatoes of the tale. He's not afraid to show things getting grim, showing us that, in the end, survival can be a pretty ruthless business. And basically good people like the Custances can make alliances with a somewhat shady individual named Pirrie (Anthony May).

Wilde lays on the message a little thick with the opening minutes of stock footage, but soon draws us into the story proper, thanks to an effective, time-honoured premise and generally good acting. Davenport is solid as a no-nonsense, take-charge kind of guy, with the real-life Mrs. Wilde, Jean Wallace, cast as his wife. John Hamill, Lynne Frederick, Anthony Sharp, George Coulouris, Wendy Richard, Nigel Rathbone, Christopher Lofthouse, Ross Allan, and Christopher Neame comprise a very fine supporting cast.

Overall, a respectable effort that also works because the Custances and their followers do create a strong sense of community.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
Solid Eurotrash from one of the masters of the genre.
9 August 2019
Jess Franco is in fine form here with one of his typically idiosyncratic ventures into depravity. His longtime wife and muse, Lina Romay, stars as Anne, a performance artist who participates in bizarre exhibits that a defrocked priest turned writer (played by Franco himself) mistakes for actual black masses. So, of course, the priest, who has severe psycho-sexual issues, embarks on a quest to purify the world of sin - in his own debauched way.

Existing in various forms and under various titles, the two basic incarnations of "Exorcism" are a 99-minute film that stresses the sexual components, and a 70-minute film, "Demoniac", that is more horror-centric. "Exorcism" actually isn't wall-to-wall sex and nudity, which may disappoint some of Franco's fans, but he's to be commended for taking his time and taking the effort to tell a story, if a rather familiar one. That's not to say that the women present don't show the goods with a pleasing regularity. Romay, as could be expected, just throws herself into her role with abandon.

The presentation is stylish, with Franco accomplishing some good visuals, and the music, by Andre Benichou and Daniel White, can be haunting if also repetitive. One good thing is the sense of humour present; the chief inspector on the case (Olivier Mathot) is a stubborn dummy, while his supposedly naive young partner (Roger Germanes) is much more on the ball and astute when it comes to figuring Franco as a suspect when some people in Annes' circle are graphically murdered.

Overall, pretty entertaining as far as Jess Franco cinema goes, with the director giving an amusing performance as the unhinged antagonist.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
Kurt Russell is outta sight here.
7 August 2019
The second of the "Dexter Riley" Disney feature film vehicles for Kurt Russell, this is good, amiable, goofy fun. Sure, it's not exactly "great cinema", but it sure as Hell isn't trying to be. It follows its formula to a tee while serving up a respectable amount of decent invisibility effects and engaging laughs.

This time, Kurts' Dexter Riley is in a science class, and by accident he manages to perfect an invisibility spray. The problem is, of course, that master criminal A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero) finds out all about it, and figures to exploit the spray for his own ends. Dexter and his friends (chief among them, Michael McGreevey as Richard Schuyler and Joyce Menges as Debbie Dawson) must work overtime to both give their grumpy dean (Joe Flynn, who's in very fine form) an assist, and ultimately foil bad guy Arno.

"Now You See Him, Now You Don't" is great fun for anybody looking for a lively campus comedy. As said before, the special effects are pretty decent, and director Robert Butler maintains a reasonable pace. (Things go along kind of deliberately until the typical, manic Disney finale where the studio pulls out all the stops.) Kurt is a joy in this recurring role of Dexter, who may not be a top student, but has the personality of a hero and a definite charisma. Romero is fun as usual as the bad guy; other reliable and familiar actors in supporting roles include Jim Backus, William Windom, Richard Bakalyan, Alan Hewitt, Kelly Thordsen, Kurt's dad Bing in the small role of Alfred, George O'Hanlon, John Myhers, Edward Andrews, and Ed Begley, Jr. Legendary and extremely prolific voice-over artist Frank Welker has one of his early career, on-screen roles as one of Dexters' many associates.

If you're a fan of Kurt, or any live-action Disney from this period, this is guaranteed to deliver some agreeable entertainment.

Followed by "The Strongest Man in the World".

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
A solid beginning for the series.
5 August 2019
Sir Christopher Lee began essaying the title villain with this film, the first in a series of five. Fu Manchu, it seems, will no longer be a threat to the world, as his nemesis, Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard (Nigel Green) has witnessed his execution. But Smith is right to be skeptical, as the still very much alive and well Fu Manchu resurfaces. The fiend puts into motion a plan to subvert the population of the Earth to his will by threatening them with an all-powerful poison.

Series producer Harry Alan Towers, using his Peter Welbeck pseudonym, scripted this entertaining B action picture from the work of Sax Rohmer. Australian-born Don Sharp directs, with engaging results, a story that concentrates more on the heroes, not giving the bad guy too much screen time. And it is fun to watch our heroes think on their feet and avoid danger.

Excellent 1920s atmosphere and a wonderful international cast are the principal virtues. Sir Christopher, as always, provides great presence and menace. Green is a tough and intelligent good guy, well supported by Joachim Fuchsberger as the two-fisted Carl Jannsen, and Howard Marion-Crawford as the reliable Dr. Petrie. Karin Dor is lovely and appealing as the daughter of the professor character (Walter Rilla) whose services Fu Manchu requires. James Robertson Justice supplies a hearty "guest artiste" cameo as Sir Charles. And the sexy Tsai Chin is alluring as Lin Tang, Fu Manchu's vampy and sadistic daughter.

Although modern audiences may wince at what they deem political insensitivity here, the fact of the matter is that "Face of Fu Manchu" IS a fun flick, in an agreeable check-your-brain-at-the-door sort of way. It's got great settings (Fu Manchu is headquartering right under the noses of the English here), appropriate music, and violence that is effective without being particularly gory.

Definitely recommended if you love the cast.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
Appealing rumination on romance from Woody Allen.
4 August 2019
Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are two sexy young American tourists taking a summer holiday in Spain. They are both drawn (reluctantly, at first, for Vicky) to a lusty, soulful Spanish painter named Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem). Things threaten to get even more sticky when Juan Antonios' ex-wife Maria Elena (Oscar-winning Penelope Cruz), an unstable artist, re-enters the picture.

"Vicky Cristina Barcelona" is a pretty good depiction of different approaches to love, romance, and affairs, as well as functioning as a fantastic travelogue. Obviously, it would be hard to knock any film with so much aesthetic value and attractive women as this picture has going for it. Writer / director Woody Allen makes sure to keep characters and situations reasonably realistic, giving his story a good foundation. Of course, it does get a real shot in the arm in the second half with Cruz' entrance into the picture. Her fiery performance is quite intoxicating.

But the whole cast is fine. Juan Antonio may be a passionate sort of guy, but he also has no desire to be a home-wrecker given that Vicky is already engaged to another man (Chris Messina). Patricia Clarkson and Kevin Dunn round out a main cast in this yarn of people struggling to find their version of happiness.

Accompanied by a lovely musical soundtrack, "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" may not be on the same level as Allen's weightiest works, but it's far from being mere fluff. It's actually a pretty intelligent script backed up by very attractive settings.

This viewers' only annoyance was with the ever-present, and largely unnecessary, voice-over narration.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
It's not how good you are. It's how good you wanna be.
2 August 2019
Tim Conway and Don Knotts once again make a comfortable comedy team, playing a dumb boxer and his goofy manager in a tale set in the 1930s. The two of them are struggling and starving, but catch the attention of young mobster Mike (Robin Clarke, "The Formula"), who uses them as pawns in his scheme to acquire the gym of crusty old trainer Pop Morgan (David Wayne, "Adam's Rib"). Bags (the boxer) participates in a series of fights which he doesn't know are fixed, all on the way to confronting the reigning champion, "The Butcher" (Michael LaGuardia, "Total Recall").

Filmed on location in Atlanta, this film benefits from the local atmosphere. As far as the comedy content goes, this may not be a prime Conway & Knotts vehicle, but one can certainly do worse. There are enough laughs and good moments to qualify this as pleasant, if not uproarious, fare. There is some hilarity involving Mikes' dotty, senile mother (Mary Ellen O'Neill, "Galaxy of Terror"), but this material seems to exist in a different movie altogether. Conway also concocted the story and wrote the screenplay, with co-star John Myhers ("Willard"), and he and Knotts are in typically fine form. Wayne stands out among the supporting cast, which also consists of Cisse Cameron ("Space Mutiny") as Mikes' mistreated moll, child actor George Nutting (in one of only two movie roles for him) as orphaned kid Timmy, and Irwin Keyes ("House of 1000 Corpses") as Mikes' henchman.

The Bags method of fighting is certainly good for some laughs. He mostly just runs around trying to avoid the fists of his opponent, until connecting with a supposedly superior right hook which he doesn't know is NOT that effective.

All in all, a decent comedy, geared towards a family audience and mostly avoiding too much unpleasantness.

Seven out of 10.
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6/10
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
31 July 2019
Neil Simon scripted this film version of his play, in which an almost constantly flustered Alan Arkin plays Barney Cashman. Barney is a middle-aged owner of a fish restaurant who feels rather dissatisfied with his ordinary life. He mistakenly thinks that the way to inject some spice is to have an extramarital affair, and as fate would have it, his mothers' apartment is vacant one afternoon a week. He meets with a succession of women whom he tries his mightiest to seduce: Elaine (Sally Kellerman), a cynical, unemotional sexpot with a very direct approach, Bobbi (Paula Prentiss), an air head, obnoxious entertainer, and his own friend Jeanette (Renee Taylor), a cuckolded wife suffering from melancholia.

Directed by Gene Saks, this never really comes off as cinema but more a photographed play, even with a number of outside shots. As such, it's very reliant on characterization and dialogue, and it proves to be fairly watchable. The performances, especially from Arkin, are basically stage performances that come across as over the top on film. And it's kind of hard to care all that much about this average-Joe schmuck in the lead role, and why he feels so compelled to cheat on his wife. The sequence with Kellerman tends to be the most amusing; she's fantastic in her role. Prentiss is a little much; her character could definitely be annoying to some viewers. Taylor is fine, but this woman she's playing will likely be a matter of personal taste: can a miserable person with self-esteem issues be all that funny under these circumstances?

Simon, of course, does come up with some entertaining lines of dialogue, and admittedly, Arkins' reaction to getting "stoned" is a hoot as Prentiss convinces him to try marijuana.

Fans of Simon and the cast will likely be a lot more forgiving than the average viewer.

Six out of 10.
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Antiviral (2012)
7/10
A creditable debut for the young Cronenberg.
29 July 2019
For those who fret that Canadian filmmaking legend David Cronenberg left his "body horror" phase behind long ago, rest assured that Davids' son Brandon keeps that tradition alive here. Caleb Landry Jones stars in this slightly futuristic tale (written by Brandon as well) as Syd March, an employee for the Lucas company. Lucas has built a thriving business selling viruses to devoted fans eager to experience the same things as their idols. Pretty "sick", huh? Syd also smuggles the viruses out of the lab, using his own body, to later sell them to pirates. His trouble arises when he carries the disease recently acquired by starlet Hannah Geist (Sarah Gadon); it ends up killing her, and he must find out how to avoid the same fate, while becoming a hot commodity in his hideous line of work.

Some horror fans are sure to get a kick out of this. Although it's too quiet and too slowly paced for some tastes, anybody who's ever complained that a film wasn't gory enough won't be quick to gripe watching this one. Brandon does stay true to his dark and nasty mandate, delivering an ultra-creepy tale that really gets under the skin. (Most of the shots of needles penetrating skin are for real, so maybe avoid this one if you can't stand stuff like that.) The premise is preposterous enough to make for a good satire about the nature of celebrity worship. There's even a subplot about butchers making cuts of meat taken from the cells of celebrities. If nothing else, Brandon is always good at going for the gross-out.

He employs a striking visual aesthetic, as there are lots of stark white backgrounds, and not much variety in terms of colours - excepting, of course, usage of the red stuff.

Jones is an intense actor with a bright future; he definitely reminds this viewer of a young Brad Dourif. The supporting cast includes a number of familiar Canadian faces. Among them is Nicholas Campbell, who'd actually worked with Brandon's dad a few times, as Syds' boss. Malcolm McDowell does "special guest star" / "token name actor" duty, and does a typically solid job.

Brandon hasn't done another feature-length movie for a while now, but perhaps he has been waiting for inspiration to strike. If his next film is anything like this one, it will also be something to remember.

Seven out of 10.
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Cold in July (2014)
7/10
Not a great film, but definitely a good one.
28 July 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Michael C. Hall of 'Dexter' fame stars here as East Texas picture framer / family man Dane, who blows a burglars' brains out one spooky night in 1989. It's believed that he killed Freddy (Wyatt Russell), the lowlife son of ex-con Russel (Sam Shepard). Naturally, Russel starts to intimidate Dane and his family, but it isn't until Dane starts to doubt the cops and follow them around that he realizes that there are more layers to the story.

Director Jim Mickle directs with style, adapting the Joe R. Lansdale novel with co-star Nick Damici (who plays the Sheriff). And yet, this viewer never felt that he was trying to call attention to himself, instead trusting the material and taking the time to tell an absorbing story. It's not perfect by a long shot, as it left this viewer with some unanswered questions. But it still holds ones' attention with its utterly somber quality (it's not without humour, but never, ever veers into outright comedy) and grim atmosphere.

The good thing about the story are the turns that it takes. It's the kind of yarn that goes off in a direction or two that the viewer might not expect.

Hall is good and under-stated in the lead role, an ordinary man obviously in over his head. The late, great Shepard is commanding as the sullen former jailbird, determined to see his son. Vinessa Shaw is given precious little interesting moments in the unfortunately under developed role of the concerned wife. Damici is good as the Southern lawman. Russell is effective as a character who's never given much screen time; you just know soon after you see him that he's pure scum. But it's Don Johnson who tends to steal the show as a chipper, slick private eye / pig farmer who fills in the gaps for Dane and Russel. Johnson, Hall, and Shepard do make for an amusing trio.

Overall, solid entertainment; this viewer particularly enjoyed the haunting, John Carpenter-esque electronic music score composed by Jeff Grace and the moody cinematography by Ryan Samul.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
Good fun, although maybe not sleazy enough for some tastes.
28 July 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"Gas Pump Girls" is an amiable and breezy 1970s drive-in T & A comedy, with the basic premise that a bunch of young people get together to save the failing service station run by Uncle Joe (Huntz Hall of "Bowery Boys" fame). The conniving jerk at the major chain service station across the street tries various underhanded means to ruin the kids' success, but they display some sneaky ingenuity as well.

Interestingly, director Joel Bender, who co-wrote this with producer David A. Davies and Isaac Blech, seems determined to get the T & A out of the way with the opening raunchy scene at the high school graduation. Therefore, viewers may feel that it comes up short in the sleaze department overall. But it's an entertaining story, brought to life by engaging characters, including a trouble-making motorcycle gang named the Vultures (Steve Bond ("Massacre at Central High"), Ken Lerner ("Unlawful Entry"), and Demetre Phillips ("Stone Cold")) who turn out to be good guys after all.

And, of course, the young ladies are lovely whether they're clothed or not. Kirsten Baker ("Friday the 13th Part 2") is the appealing heroine who bursts into song at one point! (The film is not quite a musical, but there are numerous funky disco songs on the soundtrack.) Her friends are played by Linda Lawrence ("Death Dimension"), Sandy Johnson (Judith Myers in the original "Halloween"), Rikki Marin (ex-wife of Cheech Marin who co-starred in a few Cheech & Chong movies), and Leslie King ("The Great American Girl Robbery").

Other familiar faces include Joe E. Ross ('Car 54, Where Are You?') and Mike Mazurki ("Some Like It Hot") as a pair of moronic strong-arm men, Dennis Bowen ("Van Nuys Blvd.") as Bakers' boyfriend, Morris Buchanan ("Coffy") as a gas truck driver, and exploitation veteran John F. Goff (John Carpenters' "The Fog") as a lusty redneck driver.

Overall, the movie is decent fun, refraining from ever being too unpleasant or mean-spirited. It doesn't end quite the way you expect it to, but it still concludes on an upbeat note that allows the audience some satisfaction.

Seven out of 10.
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