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Runaway Jury (2003)
Silly stuff with a good cast capable of performing this kind of thing in their sleep.
Here's another movie lamely based on another lame law potboiler by John (yuck) Grisham. There's a pretty heady cast here, what with Cusack, Hackman and Hoffman, and that's about the only thing commendable about this movie. The ludicrous set up has us choosing jurors in a covert CIA-style set piece that should be laughable, even for the most gullible of viewers. The less said about the law suit against a gun company, the better; the politics are all elementary level here. All the suspense is derivative of like-minded pictures and without a trace of originality or style. Fleder directs in Hollywood factory style. Hackman outshines everyone else in the cast, but playing the apathetic villain was probably the easiest job on this picture. The New Orleans setting adds to the proceedings a bit, but not enough to make this anything more than a forgettable courtroom thriller. Yawn.
Mondo cane (1962)
The source of all those drive-in Mondo potboilers of the sixties is still quite a hoot today.
As retro films go, Mondo Cane is still a refreshing take on schlock, documentary filmmaking, hilariously camp in it's motives and of more than passing interest in this age of reality TV. The setups and prurient approach that made these films popular at the time of their release is only re-reflected in the equally blatant, reality trash that has successfully been permeating TV since the turn of the new century. It's stunning just how the tastes of pop-culture audiences have changed in the last 50 years or so. A retrospective of the Mondo film genre is represented beautifully in a nicely-packaged DVD box set, which includes a terrifically interesting documentary on the two filmmakers, Jacopetti and Prosperi, who started the trend with this Italian potboiler back in 1962. MONDO CANE is not as dated as some would lead you to believe, particularly if you examine the motives behind it, and the method of it's humor and social commentary. Perhaps the most significant contribution MONDO CANE offers as a film chronicle, and undeniably the most artistic, is the Riz Ortolani/Nino Oliviero music score which includes one of the great melodies of the 20th Century, MORE. MONDO CANE is a "reality" movie sure to please even the most jaded multiplexer. Beautifully photographed and scored.
Freaky Friday (2003)
Another remake, with Disney milking an old Jodie Foster vehicle for some adolescent bucks at the boxoffice.
You could do worse than this Disney rehash of one of their better older movies. It's well cast and relative in quality to a good TV sitcom, but hardly worth investing in for a night out at the movies. It's no better than the Jodie Foster/Barbara Harris original, and more of a reflection of the lack of imagination now permeating Micheal Eisner's Disney Corporation. Curtis is a talented comedienne, and should be seen more often, but Lohan and the younger players are perky and cute in the worse sense of the word. The teenage episodes are annoying and dim, and there's a dreadful rock-band premise to bring the whole thing to a screeching halt. Unnerving, but good for an adolescent laugh or two.
Deadly Species (2002)
A low-rent creature feature that's not silly or fun enough to please, even as throwaway Matinee fare.
This low-budget monster movie tries to cash in on the old terror-in-the-woods creature feature formula, but tries way too hard for its own good. It's mostly annoying for taking itself too seriously. By the time you reach the climax, you're bored, even with a less-than-ninety-minute running time. Most of the bad parts are way worse than the rubber-suited monster harassing our protagonists; in fact, the creatures are amusing enough in a 50's sci-fi kind of way. The acting is soap-opera caliber, but the female lead is particularly homely and shrewish, which is a big mistake in a cheap thriller like this. The worse thing of all though, is an outdoor make-out session by a couple of disposable co-eds during which they feel up each other's blue jeans. While there is some throwaway, gratuitous nudity, it's not milked to the point of satisfaction and undercut by the constant and witless bantering between the cast. I'll reiterate, the women in this are all unappealing, a major mistake for this kind of flick. Unforgivable!
Conan the Barbarian is toned-down for TV as expected, with sidekicks and a moralistic tone that should have been sublimated with erotic and S&M undertones.
All the episodes of this sword and sorcery series simply capitalize on the formula that made the HERCULES or BEASTMASTER TV shows successful; but a couple of these in syndication is enough. What was needed here was something more edgy with a fantasy/noir atmosphere. Bodybuilder Ralf Moeller is ideally cast, but his character is decidedly too friendly and heroic to be taken as a barbarian thug, which is the proper way to develop the Conan character. Where is the stimulating eroticism and fetishistic bondage situations that make a loinclothed hero satisfying. Even on TV, you can push the envelop to reasonable limits in these two critical areas. What we don't need are cutesy, self-righteous sidekicks or a little-man buddy (reminiscent of many a schlocky Italian peplum pic). Another thing that keeps this kind of thing interesting is a cool, sadistic villain, and this series fails miserably here, too. The key wizard villain is far from sinister and his bantering interludes with a "potted skull" slow down the proceedings irreparably. Not nearly enough bang for your buck here.
Myra Breckinridge (1970)
An amusing DVD package enjoyably brings this dated collage of tasteless kitsch into the new century.
This incredibly uneven film version of Gore Vidal's racy mid-century sex fantasy is, as many reviewers have stated, never boring and certainly intriguing. Much of the disparate views behind and in front of the camera are laid out in gossipy commentaries (one by director Sarne and another by star Raquel Welch) and the AMC tabloid-style documentary supplement.
The Gore Vidal book on which it's based is a wickedly witty tirade on sexuality and the movies. The film is a playful adaptation of one-liners and vignettes more akin to a TV sitcom than a racy sleaze satire. What little cynicism and wit the film does provide, is actually thanks to the alluring Ms. Welch, who delivers admirably well for the most part. The rest of the cast, except for John Huston, is totally inept, and that includes Miss Mae West, long over-the-hill and inappropriately cast and catered to by Director Sarne (to the utter dismay of Ms. Welch).
There's much to enjoy here, and as a curiosity, the film does deliver. My advice would be to read the book, which is excellent; and then go watch the film, which is merely weird. Both are wildly engaging no matter how you look at it; and the DVD is absolutely terrific fun.
A typical western of the late sixties era, noticeably missing the Duke, but with James Stewart making up for it.
This circa 1968 horse opera lacks the violence that was in vogue in most American Westerns of that time (thanks to the immediate success of the Spaghetti variety and Peckinpah's WILD BUNCH). This film is actually a somewhat gentle study of post-civil-war brothers who've drifted apart but want to maintain loyalty to each other. Stewart and Dean Martin are less-than-convincing as the brothers, but Martin holds his own with Jimmy playing up the sentimentality and romance. Raquel Welch is simply window dressing here, astonishingly attractive, but still just scenery as the love interest. She plays it with a self-indulgent Mexican accent that is sultry and amusing. The supporting cast is top-notch as these things go, and Jerry Goldsmith wrote one of his more jaunty themes for the title track. The new Fox DVD is crisp with well-saturated color and a surprisingly directional matrixed stereo soundtrack, livening up immensely Mr. Goldsmith's contribution.
In the Cut (2003)
Meg Ryan seems to be looking for Mr. Goodbar here.
This overripe Jane Campion film is just as pretentious and oblique as LOOKING FOR MISTER GOODBAR was melodramatic and blunt. Yes, I found this to be a loose rehash of the old disco potboiler that gave Diane Keaton a chance to dish out the sleaze to counter-balance her plucky comedic image. Campion's film allows Meg Ryan to do the same, and this motive is annoyingly obvious while viewing IN THE CUT. I'm not familiar with the Susanna Moore novel, but her screenplay here certainly has an annoying air of familiarity to it. The murder plot is conventional and Meg's feminine dilemma is clear enough here, too, but the sleazy environment and graphic sexual moments are uneventful. The flashback romantic fantasy-on-ice is goofy, just like the heavy-handed, fortune-cookie sayings in the subway. At least this is a chick-flick with some welcome dirty passages. Kevin Bacon is a standout in a walk-on role. Mediocre masturbating mostly for Meg and Jane fans.
Walk on the Wild Side (1962)
MEEE-OOOWWWW, a potboiler in the best sense of the word featuring Elmer Bernstein's substantial music over a terrific title sequence by Saul Bass.
This sleazy bit of melodrama, loosely based on a racy Nelson Algren book, is now dated kitsch; but can be enjoyed for what it is, thanks to the Hollywood team that put it all together. It's trashy intentions and heavyhanded delivery work in it's favor nowadays, so the brilliant Columbia DVD transfer is well worth checking out. The highlight of the movie is the Elmer Bernstein score; a masterwork with a life all it's own. The cast is a hoot: Barbara Stanwyck standing out as a lesbian brothel owner, a stiff dyke, hardly correct as a New Orleans Madame; Jane Fonda is a pouty, sultry slut, overdoing her overaged, nubile nymphette act; Laurence Harvey stretches all credibility as the good-boy Texas heartthrob searching for his lost love; an utterly miscast Capucine, playing an artsy, elegant whore-with-a-heart-of-gold; and Anne Baxter is quite humorous as a Mexican cafe owner. It's hard not to enjoy a movie with lead characters whose names are Dove and Kitty Twist, and a title song performed by Brook Benton with lyrics like: "Chances of goin' to Heaven, 6 to 1!".
Le cercle rouge (1970)
Elegant, clinical French noir, decidedly chauvinistic in atmosphere and blunt in it's cynicism.
Melville's highly-regarded film deserves it's reputation and patrons. Philosophics rule at the expense of plausibility; no problem. Ambivalent eccentricities abound between cops and robbers, giving us one of the clearest visions of the fine line between law enforcement and criminal behavior. Above all, Melville's clearly delivered notion that "we are all guilty" is explored methodically, cleverly and with a stylish clinical precision. The subtle background jazz is by Eric DeMarsan; very cool. The blue-toned photography is by Henri Decae; icy. The cast is exceptional and Alain Delon is the king of the trench coat. Very smooth. The Criterion DVD captures the film with accuracy and supplements the feature with an entire second disc of follow-up interviews with cast and director.