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Storm Surfers 3D (2012)
For surfing fanatics only
I have to admit up front that I just don't 'get' surfing. I never have and never will. Then again, I don't 'get' most thrill-seeking sports (or sports in general). Despite this, however, I went into "Storm Surfers 3D" with great enthusiasm, if only because I expected some spectacular cinematography, and in that respect I was not disappointed. What WAS disappointing, though, is that despite some often-stunning cinematography, the film overall is, dare I say it, dull. I neither liked it or hated it but its effect was not unlike a lesser IMAX feature: pleasant enough but not particularly engaging and immediately dismissed from one's mind. Perhaps because I'm not a fan of surfing, I didn't necessarily feel drawn into the drama and excitement one is supposed to feel during the scenes of waves being ridden. However, what WAS exciting, even exhilarating, are those moments when the camera perfectly captures the balletic rise and fall of waves, or inside a curl. These are visually stunning, neither because of nor despite the surfing aspect. The film focuses on two internationally-renowned Australian surfers, Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones; of the two, Tom Carroll is the most interesting, not least of all because he remains an incredibly attractive human being. You can easily relate to him and his outlook on life, and his demeanor is that of an everyday guy. Clarke- Jones, on the other hand, is not entirely likable, at least to me; he alludes early on to being 'a kid', though he's easily in his 50's by now, and maintains the belief that he's akin to a 'rock star'. Quickly tiresome is his endless reliance on calling his partner Tom 'a girl' for being concerned with such mundane matters as overall health and how his actions might directly affect his wife and three daughters, particularly as someone who is no longer a young boy. Clarke-Jones comes across as one of those guys who is endlessly amused by himself, with nary an ounce of depth or life beyond the waves. For those who are interested in seeing this, however, by all means if you are an surfing enthusiast, you are likely to enjoy it; be warned that though it's entirely suitable for children, if the two little kids (5-7 years old) I saw at my screening are any indication, they were bored and restless early on. Older kids (10+) might find it enthralling. If, however, you can take surfing or leave it, it's best to leave it: this movie won't change your mind.
The Lair (2007)
Ho-hum...watch "True Blood" instead
What IS it about low-budget gay entertainment??? It may be true that real talent doesn't always come cheap but surely - SURELY - there must be SOME actors out there, willing to "play gay" (whether they ARE gay or not), who have actual honest-to-goodness talent. Unfortunately, none of those actors are involved with "The Lair", a vampires-are-among-us series created for a gay audience. Utilizing the same nudity and sexually-charged situations that made "Queer As Folk" such a big hit, "The Lair" may initially draw in viewers simply because of that; what KEPT "QAF" popular, though, was its storytelling AND the fact that the performances were solid, creating characters you could actually care about or want to continue seeing. Not so with "The Lair", which truly values style over substance: most of the men presented here were chosen strictly for their looks. The summary of the show is that a newspaper reporter is investigating a series of strange deaths of unidentified men dumped in various spots; his investigation leads him to a gay sex club called (of course) The Lair, which is really owned and operated by vampires. (This is in no way a spoiler as this is clearly spelled out in the first few minutes of the first episode.) Naturally, this means the viewer is offered lots of men in soft-core situations. For those who aren't too demanding, the show may provide some entertainment. But I personally find this show's soft-core aspect dull and lifeless; everyone is young, trim, muscular, blah blah blah. It's all just so cookie-cutter! Don't get me wrong: I like looking at men as much as the next person but...I happen to like variety. All shapes, colors, and sizes. Apparently, though, only young white men of a particular style inhabit the world of vampires and "The Lair". I give it a rating of two only for the flesh shown, though even that hardly salvages it. That the show is directed by Fred Olen Ray doesn't help; he's directed countless exploitation flicks, made cheaply and poorly, for a seriously undemanding audience. Until now, his canon seems to have been created primarily for straight men (lots of T-and-A). This ranks (and I do mean "rank") right down there with them all! The show is boring, lifeless, rather UNsexy. The acting runs the gamut from wooden to melodramatic; the writing is simple-minded and seems to be there only to get from one sex scene to the next. It also seems to have been created under the guise that gay people are so starved for gay-themed entertainment that they'll watch anything put before them. Watch this show if you must but I say if you're going to watch guys going out it, why not just get some real porn and have at it?
It Had to Be You (1993)
Sadly, never given much of a chance
While this was hardly ever going to be a classic sitcom, it had potential to be a GOOD one; unfortunately, CBS - in its infinite wisdom - ignored that potential and canceled it after little more than a month. Critics were brutal in their reviews, and ratings weren't exactly strong, to say the least. That said, it WAS a decent show, helped immeasurably by the chemistry of its leads, Faye Dunaway and Robert Urich. Poor Dunaway: she, above all else, received the brunt of the show's vicious criticisms, and while it's true she was a bit unsure of herself as a comedienne - this WAS her first attempt at comedy in quite some time - I think she did well, considering. Certainly, a number of other sitcom stars were hardly "comedy gold" when THEIR shows began: Candace Bergen, Roseanne Barr, Brett Butler, just to name a few. Bergen, in particular, was downright STIFF when her show began but found her own pace, her own rhythm, and I do truly believe that if CBS had given Dunaway - and this show - half a chance, she, too, would have proved herself to be just as funny.
Date Movie (2006)
Why, Alyson, why?
I'd heard all the bad press when it came out. But tonight, while surfing the TV, HBO played it and, well, I decided to see for myself just how bad it really was. Why not, right? There was a chance I could like it. "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" seemed to bring out the worst in everyone, but I thought it was a hoot. Lightning could strike twice...Right? You can't blame a boy for hoping. Sadly, everything you've heard is true: this isn't just BAD - they haven't even come up with words to describe just HOW BAD this movie is! I love parody movies, even if they HAVE been done to death. Some of the "Scary Movie" series was laugh-out-loud hilarious. Mel Brooks, of course, had it down to a science (though, thankfully, he stopped after that lead brick, "Dracula: Dead and Loving It"). The makers of this film have apparently watched every parody ever made...and promptly forgot everything that made the great ones great, while simultaneously remembering everything the lousy ones did wrong. The ONLY thing "right" they did was in hiring Alyson Hannigan as their star; like Anna Faris in "Scary Movie", she has a winsome style, a real charm, not unlike a young Goldie Hawn, complete with spot-on knack for physical comedy. With a proper director and good, tight script, I'd bet money she'd be a bigger star today. She has that potential. Wait. I lied. They did one other thing very right: also hiring Jennifer Coolidge, here channeling Barbra Streisand as the 'Roz' character from "Meet the Fockers", and she is, as usual, a real scene-stealer. In fact, while they have nothing in common physically, she, Alyson Hannigan, and Anna Faris (who is NOT in this movie) DO share that same quality Lucille Ball had: that willingness to make a fool of herself on camera for the sake of a good laugh. Alas, I'd like to say that despite this quality, poor Alyson is given nothing - oh, and I do mean NOTHING - to work with here; I can't remember a single laugh, though she tries manfully to make it work, despite itself. Beyond her, and Coolidge, the rest of the cast is pitiful. Yes, even the ubiquitous Fred Willard is substandard, and THAT is saying something about the state of this movie! Adam Campbell, as Alyson's love interest, displays near-zero comedy abilities, a trait shared by one Sophie Monk (as the supposedly-hot love rival of Hannigan). Worse still is the appearance of a man who can bring ANY film down with one fell swoop: Eddie Griffin. HOW does this man maintain a career as a "comedian"? Like Jerry Lewis at his very late-60's worst, he's truly convinced of his own "greatness". Uh...yeah. Right. He's as laugh-free here, as ever. The film makers further scrape the bottom of that barrel by tossing in, at the last moment, Carmen Electra, who, just like Pamela Anderson and Jenny McCarthy before her, seem to believe they're funny just because they're buxom, and ready and able to disrobe in half a heartbeat. But I digress from what TRULY makes this movie one of THE very worst ever made - and I don't make that assessment lightly: as a lover of bad-bad movies, I've seen hundreds, maybe even thousands - the (ahem) "jokes". I will do my best to offer up a partial list of the films parodied within its 80-or-so minutes: "Bridget Jones' Diary", "Napoleon Dynamite", "Hitch", "Kill Bill", "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", "Meet the Parents/Fockers", "Dodgeball", "When Harry Met Sally", "Mr & Mrs Smith", "Say Anything", the latest "King Kong", "Lord of the Rings", "Legally Blonde", "Sweet Home Alabama". Yes, there are more, and no, I'm sure I didn't get all the references. But think about it: how many of those movies listed is SO iconic that it is RIPE for making fun of? Yes, a few MAY be big enough but...well, so bereft are the writers, director, and producers that they even stoop to copying off the very scene from "When Harry Met Sally" that you'd expect them to. And it goes on. And On. And ON. AND ON. Adding insult to injury, some of those films are just TOO OLD to be referenced successfully! I swear, it's like they went through a movie-review book, opened a page, stuck a pin in, and mocked whatever flick they landed on! One user here said it's as if they copied scenes whole, note for note, and, unfortunately, that's right on the button. But simply replaying scenes, note for note, but with a funny face, or tossing it in without any reason, or throwing in potty humor, doesn't make it funny. These guys wouldn't know "funny" if it bit them. Seems they also made the current, "Epic Movie", the previews of which look like a walking, talking DISASTER. If Uwe Boll can be ripped a new one for HIS craptastic masterpieces, these doofuses SURELY must be next! To be avoided at ALL costs.
***Spoilers may be contained within*** According to this movie's "trivia" section, the book's author, Dean R Koontz, was sorely disappointed in the movie adaptation and asked that his name be removed. He had every right to be peeved. I saw this in theatres when it was released and was soundly disappointed, too. The previews seemed kind of interesting but I have to admit I'm a Christine Lahti fan, even though her role in this is strictly "the wife". The story is that of a man, played by Jeff Goldblum, who, following a near-death experience, finds he is psychically linked with a serial killer, played by Jeremy Sisto, who decides to go after Goldblum's daughter (Alicia Silverstone). A cat-and-mouse thriller with sci-fi overtones. I've never read the Koontz book on which this is based. Goodness knows it can't be any worse. As lead, Goldblum is OK, I guess, though he's given this basic performance before. Lahti, unfortunately, is wasted in a part that could be played by just about ANY actress; it's a step up from "and how was YOUR day, dear?" but not much. Silverstone, charming in "Clueless", here is little more than an irritant, nearly making one rather root for the killer, but she can often be irritating in films, so I can't say if it's the fault of the part as written or the actress. As said villain, Jeremy Sisto has obviously watched every other psycho-on-the-loose movie and decided to "juice it up" a bit: he rolls his eyes, leers, laughs "maniacally", tries to seem intimidating by staring through lowered eyes. Every trick in the book is trotted out in his performance and for naught: he's about as terrifying as a computer geek. Sisto can, in other performances, be hammy, and he's no less so here: one nearly expects to see him studded with cloves and pineapple slices. Oh, it's not TOTALLY his fault, since the pedestrian script practically BEGS for overacting; I suppose if he DIDN'T chew the scenery, it might actually be less entertaining than it already IS. Beyond its psychic-link tricks, the film, in its less-than-chilling climax, throws in, seemingly out of nowhere, the twist that this is almost literally a battle between (of course) good and evil. This is revealed with a scene when Goldblum and Sisto are finally staring one another down, and a shot of red flames are visible in Sisto's eye; suddenly, in response, we see a flash of white-blue light in Goldblum's eye. A moment later, flames shoot and rise from Sisto's body, forming a fireball above him; blue-white rays of light pour forth from a kneeling Goldblum, forming a vaguely female form above him. The combination of film-school "special" effects (if they look cheesy on the SMALL screen, you can't IMAGINE how bad they were in the theatre!), this last-minute twist, and the inability to stretch one's suspension of disbelief any longer, is fatal. I heard several voices in the audience yell out, in unison, "Oh, COME ON!" From some of the reviews listed here, this movie has a fair number of supporters. I can only wonder just what version of this movie they saw.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
A million other films in one - all of them redone badly. VERY badly.
I like horror films. Always have. But, sadly, the genre seems to have taken a powder over the past 10 years or so, particularly the last 5, I'd say, and this "film" is a perfect example: by now, one expects lackluster direction, lousy acting, and derivative storytelling but this one hits an all-time low, for it's a million other movies you've already seen, thrown into a blender, and left to stew in the sun to spoil even further. Worse still, for those fans of the "Halloween" installments, except for the opening sequence featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, this film bears little real relation to any other film in the series. The recycled ideas provided here as "entertainment" are nearly endless: teens being stalked by a killer? Too many other movies to count but let's start with "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer", to name a couple. Teens staying in a haunted house over night? Saw that in "House On Haunted Hill", "The Haunting", "Night of the Demons", you name it. Stupid people doing stupid things that cause their own deaths, or aid in it? Or horny teens getting whacked for doing what comes naturally? How 'bout "Friday the 13th"? Helpless, screaming, white heroine who can't do anything without a man around to save her? In this girl-power age, we don't see that much anymore but just about every older flick has it. A group investigating weird happenings while capturing it all on video? "Blair Witch Project" all over again. And, just like "Blair Witch", this is an unmitigated disaster all around. There isn't a single scare or moment of tension throughout, "helped" neither by a director who'd be hard-pressed to successfully direct a grammar-school play, let alone a big-budget film, nor a cast of unknowns who greatly deserve to stay that way. They're awful. Not one of them has any screen presence, or creates a character worth caring about (though of course there aren't any characters written, just stock figures from any other horror film). The only "names" of note - besides Curtis, who has little more than a Drew-Barrymore-in-"Scream" cameo - are model/"actress"/talk show hostess Tyra Banks and rap "artist"/"actor" Busta Rhymes, and when Banks and Rhymes are your biggest names, boy, are you in trouble! Imagine the producers talking this one over: "Okay...the last installment had Michaael Myers killed in a very satisfying wrap-up of the series. How can we bring him back AND upset everyone who loved the films? Maybe we can kill off Jamie Lee Curtis! Yeah! But who to replace her with...? Hmmm... I know! Busta Rhymes! When I think of horror-movie legends, I think of Jamie Lee Curtis and Busta Rhymes. And maybe we can get one of those Victoria Secrets models? Any one of 'em will do. Let's get one who THINKS she can act but really CAN'T so we can kill HER off, too!" Banks IS a bad actress (not Cindy-Crawford-in-"Fair Game" bad but close) and disappears, thankfully, about halfway through. Unfortunately, that means we're stuck with Mr Rhymes, whose idea of acting is screwing up his mouth and face in attempt to come off as 'street', with some out-of-nowhere Jackie Chan moves thrown in for the "big" finale. (Yes, you read right: Busta - taking himself seriously - breaks into pseudo-ninja action, complete with the vocal sounds you'd expect. He's so impressed with himself, and it's all so ridiculous, that you've just gotta laugh out loud.) Oh, and did I mention that for a physically huge and powerful, unstoppable killing machine, Michael Myers has the lithe grace and body control of a dancer because AT NO POINT IN TIME does his hulking presence on the steps or floorboards of a decades-old house create ANY noise whatsoever? I wasn't sure if I should be scared for the characters or impressed with the carpentry. Goodness knows the carpentry would be the ONLY THING to be impressed with. Everything else in this flop is pure cash-cow desperation.
A Kiss Before Dying (1991)
Poor Sean Young. Once upon a time she was an actress with such a bright future, poised, seemingly, for great stardom. She even had a quality that recalled some of the glamour and allure of the 40's and 50's. Put to good use in such films as "Blade Runner" and "No Way Out", there seemed nearly no end in sight. And then her "difficult" personality got in the way and Oliver Stone fired her from "Wall Street", in which she was to have a major part; then her alleged relationship with former co-star James Woods, and subsequent "Fatal Attraction"-style antics against him, in addition to her amusingly disturbing all-out efforts to snag the role of 'Catwoman' in the first sequel to "Batman", seemed to have a snowball effect, effectively curtailing her trajectory and reducing her to such projects as "Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde" and numerous direct-to-cable/video duds. While "A Kiss Before Dying" has a much better pedigree than "Dr Jekyll and Ms Hyde" ever could, thanks in part to being based on a solid, little Ira Levin book and blessed with at least two respected actors (Diane Ladd and Max Von Sydow), it, too, is a near-total failure, and Sean Young is, sadly, a major factor as to 'why'. With a strong director and viable material, she has proved to be a good actor and oddly charismatic, even when the film didn't warrant it (see "Blade Runner"). She was never a GREAT actress, mind you, but had an unmistakable appeal. Here, however, even that appeal seems gone, for nothing can disguise her sleepwalking performance in a dual role as twins, one of whom is murdered (her death scene is brutal), the other of whom decides to investigate the death, never believing it was the suicide it was assumed to be. Soon after her investigation begins, she meets the man who, unbeknownst to her, murdered her sister. This man is played by Matt Dillon, who is supposed to be charming, seductive, secretive, elusive, and ruthless. While one can easily imagine an actor as physically pretty as Robert Wagner - he wasn't just 'handsome', he was 'pretty', let's face it - Matt Dillon is simply wrong, in every manner, for this part. Totally miscast, he is neither particularly charming nor seductive, and seemingly unable to register the ruthlessness and danger the part calls for. His thick, New York accent is also a distraction, at least in this role. That he and Young have absolutely no chemistry doesn't help matters any, making yet another major quibble a minor one: both seem a bit too old. In supporting roles, as Dillon's mother and Young's father, Diane Ladd and Max Von Sydow provide much-needed class to the potboiler/neo-noir proceedings, though Ladd comes off more successfully; Von Sydow is utterly wasted. ANY actor could have done his role - why choose someone SO spectacularly talented for such a thankless part? As for the screenplay, though based on the book, it seems to be stuffed with every cliché from every modern-day thriller, right down to the routine and predictable climax (apparently reshot after test audiences didn't approve) and the pointless, if limited, sex scenes, which might titillate some (thanks to mild nudity) but do nothing to further the plot or add to the tension. The direction, too, is at fault: since everything here is something you've seen before (and in much better films), and nearly each moment is telegraphed well in advance, there are practically zero chills or thrills to be had. Strong actors may have been able to smooth over these problems, but again, the film is done no service by its leads, particularly Young, who is plain AWFUL. It surely stands with Demi Moore in "The Scarlet Letter" and Elizabeth Berkley in "Showgirls" as being one of THE worst performances in a major motion picture - and, perhaps, even WORSE because Young is playing TWO parts. She rightfully won her 2 Razzies (for Worst Actress and Supporting Actress). But, as said, Dillon's not too much better. A little bit but not much. HIS line readings, at least, don't suggest a coma. Unfortunately, for the audience, a coma might just be preferable to sitting through this lot.
Unworthy remake; worth a laugh (or two or three or...)
The original "Gloria", a 1980 John Cassavettes film starring his wife Gena Rowlands, was an instant classic; be it his direction, the acting (particularly that of Rowlands, who so deserved her Oscar nomination for her performance as the titular character), the gritty look of the film, the authentic New York City locations in all their pre-Guiliani glory, or the screenplay, the film worked on just about every level. This remake, however, stands in pale (VERY pale) contrast in virtually any aspect one can think of. When the film opens, Gloria (Sharon Stone), a gangster's moll, is released from prison and returns to the home/hangout of her lover, Kevin (Jeremy Northam). By the time she arrives, she meets a young Latin boy, Nicky (Jean-Luke Figueroa), whose family Gloria's lover has had killed. Seems the young boy's father worked for this gangster and not only "knew too much" but was about to tell all. Having believed her lover's story that there would be money set aside for her while she cooled her heels in prison, Gloria soon finds out there is nothing, so, enraged and knowing the boy's worth, she kidnaps him at gun point and off they go, on the run from the mob. Poor Sharon Stone: trying SO HARD to match Gena Rowlands but constantly tripped up by a "Noo Yawk" accent that's often downright funny. Still, it's so apparent she's trying so hard that, throughout, you can't help but feel for her, a feat helped by the fact that she is obviously the only cast member who tries to create a character, though as written it's still the "hooker with a heart of gold" type, which is NOT the case with the 1980 film. In the original, Gloria is indeed a former gun moll, kind of ballsy but classy, never really hard-edged; here, as written, she's little more than a cheap, hard floozy. Jeremy Northam, a talented British actor, is slumming here, complete with laughable accent that rivals Sharon Stone's. As the boy Stone goes on the run with, and with whom she is supposed to bond with, Jean-Luke Figueroa isn't necessarily untalented, and in a better-made movie he might even be good; however, be it the dialogue or direction, he makes very little impact, a fact not helped by the lack of ANY chemistry between he and Stone. Bonnie Bedelia (as Stone's sister) and George C Scott (looking very ill, as a Mafioso head) are featured in small supporting roles but are essentially wasted. Sharp-eyed movie lovers will also notice the ubiquitous Mike Starr as a 'heavy' (he's the one who hangs on to the car Stone is driving); like character actor Dan Hedaya, Starr seemed to inhabit just about every film Hollywood made in the 90's, though here, Starr's part is strictly dramatic and not his usual comedic one. Behind it all is Sidney Lumet, a once-talented director who has helmed a few masterpieces in his time; however, whatever muses guided him towards those masterpieces has, in the last decade or two, abandoned him, for here he is again, delivering yet another celluloid stillborn. Not since 1982's "The Verdict", with Paul Newman, has he given the world a solid success. He isn't helped any by a screenplay that manages to ape the original while making absurd "updates" and taking liberties that cleanly toss out such things as believability and common sense. For instance, at the end, Gloria meets with the Mafioso head and asks that she be absolved of any wrongdoing AND to have the kid. He agrees. And off they go, into the wild blue yonder. In the original, Gloria has to shoot her way out to keep this young boy alive. One doesn't have to be particularly wise to mob life to understand that a Mafia capo isn't exactly going to let someone with that much knowledge just walk away. I absolutely adore the original film; I think it's exciting, moving, thrilling storytelling. If you feel the same way, avoid this picture at all costs. I happen to like Sharon Stone; I think in some ways she IS underrated as an actress, though one wishes she'd choose pictures that didn't suck. If you like her, you may enjoy her performance, if not the film. She tries, perhaps too hard. But like so many remakes, this one's a bust in every respect. Stick with John Cassevettes' original and understand why they shouldn't have even bothered with this new one.
Lucky Louie (2006)
Nothing new here...just more vulgar
Another user of this site has taken my original review to task for my presumption that, because it's on HBO, it should be as groundbreaking as, say, "The Sopranos" or "Sex in the City". He suggested that this show was never meant to be in that class. Pardon me but last time I checked the channel's motto was STILL "It's not TV. It's HBO." "Lucky Louie" is the first HBO show to use a live audience. That this show is on THE premium cable channel, home to such breakthrough programming as "The Sopranos" and "Sex in the City", should have meant it, too, was a breakthrough. Alas, the whole affair is little more than "The King of Queens" with fouler language and more ribald situations. One could also add it's pretty much similar to any sitcom out there now that features the out-of-shape, blue-collar guy with the attractive, slimmer, usually-loud-mouthed wife: he's irresponsible and insensitive, while she is loud, obnoxious, and demanding. Creator/star Louis CK, presumably a well-known comedian (usually the creators of this type of show) seems content to mine the same comedy ore Kevin James has for a number of years now with "The King of Queens". In fact, the wholesale aping of "King..." goes as far not only as stealing the goofy, man-child friend but the wife, here portrayed by one Pamela Adlon, who seems to have studied every movement and line reading of Kevin James's screen partner Leah Remini. While on the one hand it might be initially 'refreshing' or more 'realistic' to have a blue-collar couple use language in situations you'll never, ever find on network sitcoms, all the vulgar language in the world can't make funny - or original! - scenes totally lacking in direction or with actors who already think they're hilarious. Not a single performer on this show is as funny as he or she believes themselves to be, and right there the comedy is squashed. Worse still is this live studio audience, whose reactions are as instantly annoying as those on many an earlier, usually urban-set, sitcom: every kiss, every leer, and every hint of sexuality, garners waves of hootin' and hollerin', as if they were all a bunch of horny teens seeing something "naughty" for the very first time. There may be the occasional giggle that sneaks through, and I suppose HBO must be given credit for trying something new and different (now that "Carnivale", "Deadwood", and that Lisa Kudrow show have all tanked); it's a shame that the show they're trying it with doesn't live up to their standards - or that of its audience.
Backyard Habitat (2005)
GREAT info but a so-so show
The Animal Planet's "Backyard Habitat" is a welcome wealth of invaluable information regarding the animals, insects, and plants used to attract them. A make-over show, its hosts visit a family and amend their backyard so that it can officially be regarded as a (what else?) Backyard Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation. Hosted by Molly Pesce, who is listed as "a TV personality", and David Mizejewski, a member of the NWF, each episode concerns the couple's, or family's, desire to attract a certain type of insect and/or animals to their yard or garden. This is where the hosts come in, offering their ideas, tips, warnings, etc., on just how to do this. The information provided on the flora and fauna is absolutely fascinating and will provide much opportunity for viewers to jump-start their own attempts at creating a welcoming garden atmosphere. HOWEVER...amongst this fascinating information one must endure its female host, Molly Pesce, whose raspy voice, rapid-fire speech, pushy demeanor, and grating forced laughs, will have some viewers (like us) ready to hit the fast-forward button on the TiVo! She completely overpowers her baby-faced co-host, David Mizejewski, who is much more laidback and a bit soft-spoken; however, just like Molly, he speaks far too quickly. It's almost as if they have a fire to get to sometimes! This is probably as much to do with where they come from as it does with trying to jam-pack as much information as possible within its half-hour time frame. (And, while I can make no certain declarations as to his sexuality, as gay men it's refreshing to see "our own" seemingly represented on-screen, though at no time is there anything overt about him; it's one of those "if it looks like a duck..." things.) It's hard to tell, really, if there's chemistry between he and Pesce, for EVERY SINGLE MOMENT is scripted to death! Unlike, say, BBC's "Ground Force", there isn't a trace of spontaneity, right down to the reactions and questions from those whom our hosts visit (this is especially where Molly's forced laughs come roaring in, and they stick out like that proverbial sore thumb). Also, to be quite frank, Pesce comes off not just pushy but often downright LAZY: we have yet to see the woman do ANYTHING other than work her jaws! Adding insult to injury is a rather disturbing but undeniable feeling of sexism working within the show: when it comes time to do the digging, planting, etc., Molly and the females will go off and chitchat with plant or animal experts while David and the adult male are left to do the grunt work. Why, exactly, is that? Just as bothersome is that the families they visit don't really need much help in their gardens, save for a few plants and a proper breeding house; other than this, this show's hosts, especially Molly, haven't much to do, making Molly seem even LAZIER than she already does! Even more so than Molly Pesce's abrasiveness, laziness, and the show's inherent sexism, is that the producers center SOLELY on people who won't soon be in line for their government cheese; when you're working with, say, a former astronaut who has what appears to be ACRES of land AND a sizable body of water, it's hard to get too excited about these "amazing" changes its hosts have supposedly worked. My suggestions for the producers? Find some people who ACTUALLY NEED THE HELP (i.e., those of us in the world not blessed with a half-million dollar home), can the incessant scripted banter (and, if the hosts can't handle it, get different hosts), which leads me to...get rid of Molly Pesce, this so-called "TV personality". She's an irritant, almost enough to make us turn the channel. Appreciate the show for all that you can learn; grit your teeth through much of the rest.
Night of the Juggler (1980)
Lurid camp, and hysterical, to boot!
Ah, "Night of the Juggler"! Someone has called it a "New York Sleazefest"; unfortunately, they got it all wrong, for it is more a "New York CHEESEfest". This tale of a former, disgraced, ex-cop whose daughter is kidnapped by mistake and his search for her and the man who has taken her, tried desperately to be gritty and 'real' but manages only to be as pure ham as its villain, Cliff Gorman, who continued here to swallow scenery - and fellow actors - whole, just as he had in every single movie unfortunate to have him in it. Perhaps nothing prepares the viewer for how bad the proceedings will be better than its opening scene, wherein Gorman violently douses a plate of eggs and bacon with ketchup, all meant to suggest how "unhinged" he his. Not for a moment off-putting or disturbing, as it's intended to be, one can only laugh at its absurdity. Soon after the eggs-and-ketchup-as-blood bit, we're treated to overly earnest, bearded he-man James Brolin, bedecked in the era's best flannel shirt and jeans, and his pubescent daughter, played by one Abby Bluestone. It is at this point when the film jumps clearly from amusing schlock into thigh-slapping camp, as the director, cinematographer, and especially the costume designer seem determined to humiliate the poor actress: from the get-go, she performs in a manner that suggests...well...mild retardation, what with her slow-as-molasses line readings, whiny voice, lumbering movements that suggest any movement beyond reaching for a Happy Meal will sap all her energy, and a costume that is, at best, an insult to any young woman, let alone one who is, um, quite so "cuddly". While it's initially refreshing to see a plus-size young girl on screen in lieu of any number of underfed so-called beauties, WHO exactly decided to put this already-unattractive chubette in a shapeless Osh Kosh B'Gosh denim overall and give her that hideous Richard Simmons white-boy afro??? If this getup was supposed to suggest a certain tomboyish quality, it fails, for you can't help but notice just how much she resembles that "It's Pat" character from those unfunny "SNL" skits. While you pity the poor thing this cross to bear, her acting only inspires greater laughter. Once she's abducted by Gorman, who - I swear - rolls his eyes, licks his lips, and would, if he had one, twirl his mustache, things get even hokier, as Brolin manhandles all who get in the way of finding his kid, including the ubiquitous Dan Hedaya in an early appearance as a less-than-receptive cop who has his own beef with Brolin. Hedaya matches Gorman toe-to-toe in their attempts to out-cheese one another (though they share no screen time), and he nearly wins. Hedaya's scenery-chewing, and the film's ridiculousness, reach new heights in a scene where he chases Brolin through the streets of this pre-Disney/Pataki/Guiliani New York City, shooting up everyone and everything, presumably without much recourse...until, of course, Brolin punches him out. Of course! Along the way, Brolin meets up with a young Mandy Patinkin, here miscast as an Hispanic cabbie (replete with Speedy Gonzalez accent), porn star/health activist Sharon Lawrence (as an exotic dancer in a an adult bookstore - back when NYC still had them!), Linda Miller as his ex-wife (she's one of those actresses who can sob and sob but magically produce no visible tears) and, finally, Julie Carmen, who decides to help him. The scene where the Latin street gang chase them is, alone, worth countless laughs as - you guessed it! - Brolin doles out his special brand of brawn and shows them what-for. I particularly enjoy a moment during the gang chase where Brolin and Carmen seem to merely be jogging away from them. Things degenerate when the film tries to become lurid and sensational with the twist that Gorman has just kidnapped this ungainly kid not only for ransom but for 'romantic' purposes, to boot. The scene where he tries to force her to wear a dress is a hoot, instead of being tense, thanks to two rotten performers bouncing off one another: Gorman, all tics and actor's tricks, emoting for all the world to see; and Bluestone, whiny and generally unsympathetic (other than the fact that she's a kid, one doesn't really care about her). What makes it all that much worse is that, despite numerous opportunities to escape, this girl does nothing, for the most part, and when she finally DOES attempt a getaway, you'll be biting your lip as this pudgy pubescent waddles her way over assorted rubble. If it sounds like I'm being cruel, or "fattist", let me add here I, too, am not food-shy and have plenty of extra baggage of my own. So, quite frankly, if the makers of this film, nor its actress, nor anyone else involved, cared enough to present her in a flattering light, why should the viewer make apologies? Finally, the showdown between Brolin and Gorman comes, and it takes place underground (pathetically underlit, in the old video transfer I own). Try and suppress those giggles as the filmmakers want us to believe Gorman is any match for punch-first-ask-questions-later Brolin. Those same suppressed giggles will automatically be unleashed at the moment when, sensing he's lost, Gorman attempts one last attack on Brolin and lunges for him, emitting this high-pitched, utterly girlish, squeal that'll have you rolling on the floor. A few moments later, all and sundry walk off into the sunrise and an ill-fitting disco tune rears from nowhere over the end credits. While it may appeal to the action-flick crowd, or a less-demanding audience, its REAL appeal lies at the feet of those of us who truly treasure lousy movie-making. If that's you, go ahead and indulge. WALLOW in its awfulness. My friend Michelle considers this one of the great laugh-out-loud experiences. Give it a shot and see if you don't agree.
Choose Up Sides (1953)
"Beat the Clock" for the wee ones
Until Game Show Network started running this in the early morning hours recently, we'd never heard of this program - and my partner was 10 years old when this aired! Apparently, this program didn't last long, and it's kind of easy to see why: its fun stems more from nostalgia than anything else. Just like its older brother, "Beat the Clock", the stage is bare-bones, with game props that are simple (footballs and cardboard boxes, in one thrilling moment) and often designed to make the contestant look more than vaguely silly. What differentiates this from "Beat the Clock" - or any number of game shows or children's shows - is that there is something if not creepy than downright sadistic, as its prepubescent contestants are asked to perform stunts or acts that are well beyond their capabilities. It's at once hilarious and disturbing. Gene Rayburn is as chipper and good-natured as he was on "Match Game" and the other game shows he presided over, and he interacts as well as any one could with his young charges, who are grouped into two teams (such as "Space Pilots" or "Bucking Broncos", say). But as the other reviewer has commented, these same young charges often seem horrified, though this could be as much due to camera-shyness as to mortification that they're expected to gleefully humiliate themselves on-camera. Even at the moment of victory, not a single child seems glad they won! There's something downright exploitive about it. Nostalgiac? Sure. Creepy? You bet! Fun? Well...that's something else entirely. Surely one of those "you've got to see it to believe it" shows - and I'd see as quickly as you can because I can't imagine it running too much longer. Definitely a curiosity piece!
Initially promising, ultimately tiresome and disjointed
For most viewers, the beginning of the 2004 television season brought with it mighty high expectations for "Friends" spin-off, "Joey", and for many it was an immediate disappointment since they were, after all, expecting "Friends". Early on, comparisons naturally had to be made and, understandably, "Joey" suffered when stacked against its now-classic sibling, but a few episodes in revealed a show that was at once desperately trying to retain the "Friends" aura while attempting to find its own voice, and to an extent it succeeded...until, by that first season's end, it became all-too-obvious that, while amusing, the 'Joey' character simply wasn't funny enough to carry his own show, a dilemma not exactly helped by often-immature writing and a tendency by its actors to go slightly overboard or try too hard to wring big laughs from material that just didn't warrant it. "Joey" and Matt LeBlanc were further done a disservice by a lack of continuity in character tone: numerous episodes found his character saying things that were pure 'Chandler' from "Friends", giving one the idea that, perhaps, after 10 years, there wasn't really anywhere to go with this character. Ten years on, and this character is still doing and saying things that are unbelievably stupid, inane, or simple-minded, and yes, while we know he's supposed to be an actor of minor renown, just HOW, exactly, is he able to afford such a large, pop-culture-friendly apartment? (The same, of course, could be asked of the characters on "Friends".) Then there are the problems of the supporting cast and/or their characters: Drea DiMatteo, fresh from "The Sopranos", has displayed often-surprising comedy chops but, like her brother, her character really can't go anywhere, and by mid-season she'd been reduced to little more than walking into a scene, making a wisecrack, and moving on. As the nephew verging on manhood, Paulo Costanzo is appropriately geeky and awkward and is usually spot-on with his portrayal. Andrea Anders, as the young, blond, WASP-y neighbor who not-so-secretly loves Joey, gives it her all but is, alas, provided a character who is strictly one-note, as written; it's as if the writers have decided to crib from every single female character ever put in a sitcom, most notably "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". Only Jennifer Coolidge, as Joey's agent, hits a bull's eye each and every time, and that is strictly due to her talent, though even this laugh-out-loud character is an obvious take on another breakout NBC character, 'Karen', from "Will & Grace". Unfortunately, the second season brought with it an instantly annoying sidekick for Joey, portrayed by Miguel A Nunez Jr; it's hard to say if HE is annoying or if the character is, so I'll just say it's a draw. Either way, someone involved with the show seemed convinced this character was a necessity, as more and more screen time seemed to involve him. A major mistake. Further mistakes - examples again of sloppy writing and network interference - were the total evaporation of Joey's end-of-season-one romance plot, in which he and Madchen Amick had decided to take the plunge and begin a relationship in earnest; the next season her character, and the relationship, had vanished with neither a trace nor an explanation, since NBC, recognizing both the serious drop in ratings and increasingly brutal reviews, had decided to 'retool' the show and take it in a slightly different direction. Instead of finally giving Joey a chance to grow not only as a character one could actually relate to, all involved decided to continue offering a character whose main trait is being simple-minded, and while there are probably some who prefer to keep things as they are, it's apparent so many of us expect SOMETHING more. Something we're not getting from this show. We don't expect "Friends". I certainly don't. "Friends", too, had grown tiresome by the time it ended its run. But as much as Rachel, Chandler, Phoebe, and the rest may have retained their essential loony qualities, by the end they had been allowed to exhibit changes that real human beings happen to experience: birth, marriages, loss, and so on. "Joey", and Joey, much like that half-wit relative who has been pulling the same jokes for the past billion years, long after they stopped being even mildly amusing, would never be so lucky. NBC brought the show back for a second season, despite audience apathy, in the hopes that, with a little 'operation', this puppy - and their egos - could be saved. Well, the operation failed. It's time to put this dog to sleep.
The Four Seasons (1984)
Call it an end-of-'Season' clearance
I was a TV junkie in the 70's and 80's, devouring as many of the shows and made-for-TV movies as I possibly could. Unfortunately, time has erased the total experience of some of these programs, and this is one of those cases. I can't recall each episode, no. But what I DO remember is that, despite the quality behind the show - and it was, if anything, well-produced - it still managed to elude the best part of the film which inspired it: the undeniable chemistry between the film's cast members. In the film, which I watched just yesterday (on cable), you really could believe this group of actors - and not just the character they're playing - had been best friends for years and years. THAT, in addition to solid writing and directing by Alan Alda, are what drove the film and turned it into such a success in theatres and on cable. Alas, three years down the road someone decided to turn it into a TV show and, with none of the leads from the film (save for Jack Weston), they came up with something forced, leaden, with a cast devoid of much chemistry. I've never been a fan of Tony Roberts and particularly remember him being a pretty sorry substitute for Alan Alda. Sad to say, unlike the network (which I believe was CBS), I gave up on this show just several episodes into its run. As it is, it seems to have lasted just half a season. Call it an end-of-'Season' clearance.
The Opposite Sex (1956)
Why? More importantly, WHY???
At nearly every turn, you'll hear the same thing, repeated ad nauseum: "Why can't Hollywood come up with something original?" If you think that sentiment is something new for this generation, all you need do is catch this the next time it's on Turner Classic Movies (or on DVD) and you'll discover a lack of originality is hardly New Age. MGM, for whatever reason, apparently decided to remake one of THE classic comedies of ANY age, let alone the 1930's, Clare Boothe Luce's "The Women", directed by George Cukor (perhaps the best director of women ever) starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, veteran scene-stealer Rosalind Russell, and a whole crew of other very talented actresses. In the original, as it is already well-known, men may have been the topic of every conversation but NEVER were they shown on-screen (right down to the books, all written by women). The writing was arguably the crispest, sharpest, wittiest, played to the nth degree by a sterling cast and guided by peerless direction. Alas, in this remake, you get none of that. It's hard, really, to begin to say just WHERE the problem lies, but I'll start with the mildest offender: the men, absent on-screen in the original, are now on display for all to see and this twist does little, if anything, to help. Oh, sure: Leslie Nielsen is quite a hunk and does as well as anyone probably could with such a one-dimensional character, but he is the ONLY male to make any impact whatsoever, apart from Jeff Richards, who plays Buck, an ambitious country singer who's more than willing to help divorcees-in-the-making get over their pains: Richards is totally bland as can be, with a hilariously inept "southern" accent to boot. Then there's the direction: where's George Cukor when you need him?!?!? David Miller, as one look at his list of directorial duties will immediately make clear, wasn't exactly a Golden Boy when it came to helming films; save for two or three films, none of the movies he helped bring to the screen can even come close to being called "classics" and most are probably well-forgotten, a batting average well on display here, for the film as a whole is just THERE, rudderless and bereft of a sure hand. The screenplay also takes a handful of liberties with Clare Boothe Luce's classic, throwing in some "modern" twists and changing things about, here and there, and the effect is lethal. (Characters are melded into one, or used sparingly, or cut entirely.) And then there's the music - oh, the music! Oddly, though this is, officially, a musical, there really isn't much music to be found, which, judging by what music IS offered, ain't such a terrible thing: in a song-within-a-play number, Dick Shawn oversells it all, practically knocking the audience over the head; in another number, Joan Collins, as the man-stealing hussy once played by Joan Crawford, is asked to do the simplest dance moves and is as stiff as a board (it's a hoot!); the aforementioned Jeff Richards also offers up a number, the unforgettable "Rock and Roll Tumbleweed", the title of which provides you with all you need to know. The worst, though, is the film's star, June Allyson, whose husky voice seems perpetually off-key in EVERY tune. Allyson is also a major liability in other aspects: while I'm sure she's the sweetest person in real life, she was NEVER a very good actress, and CERTAINLY all wrong for the role of a goody-two-shoes wife whose husband leaves her for another, more exciting woman, a role originally portrayed by Norma Shearer. Where Shearer added bite to her performance, Allyson smiles stoically and offers moist eyes to the heavens, as if expecting a halo to suddenly appear atop her head, a head already bedecked with a severe, matronly 'do that is NOT flattering to a woman who's too old for the part to begin with (and if Allyson WASN'T too old for the part, well, honey, she LOOKS it!). Also a sore disappointment is Joan Collins, already type-cast, perhaps, as a tart, but those expecting "Dynasty"-style bitchiness should look elsewhere: Collins is a novice, and, while physically stunning, is too much the novice to really sink her teeth into the dialogue, which she rushes through as if she has somewhere else to be. She tries but it's no cigar. No cigar, indeed! Ann Sheridan is sympathetic as Allyson's truest friend but she's given almost nothing to do except look as butch as possible. (She's probably supposed to be an amalgamation of Shearer's mother and the "old maid" - read: lesbian - columnist from the original.) Joan Blondell is a welcome sight as the ever-pregnant friend but as another reviewer has so adeptly noticed, she's also a bit long-in-the-tooth for her role. Ann Miller, in the Paulette Goddard role, and Agnes Moorehead, as the Countess, do as well as they can, and aren't bad, really, but are really also given very little to do; in the case of Miller, it's mind-boggling WHY, in a musical, of all things, she's just there to model clothes. Only Dolores Gray, as sniveling weasel Sylvia Fowler, comes close to reaching the level expected by fans of "The Women", but she's still at a loss, thanks to a terrible script and fellow performers who just aren't up to the task. A director who doesn't care, stars woefully miscast, laughable musical moments, and an interminable pace all spell disaster. The only worthwhile aspect of sitting through it is as a period piece, a curiosity piece, a campy number or two, and to see a pre-"Dynasty" Joan Collins. Otherwise, a two-hour snooze-fest. You've been warned.
Fair Game (1995)
The only "Fair Game" is the audience
The 'action' crowd - much like the 'horror' crowd - is an awfully forgiving bunch: probably due to expectations that are already pitifully low, they seem happy to get whatever they're handed, no matter how clichéd, derivative, and/or poorly acted/directed it may be. If they're men - particularly straight men - they often say, with puffed-up chest, that they don't care about "crap" like acting, writing, directing, or anything else. They just want good action and lots of it. Don't get me wrong: I like action flicks myself! But what's wrong with expecting something in the way of quality? It's probably far too late in the game to look forward to originality in the Action genre, so why is it too much to ask for, say, clever writing, inventive stunts, crackling-good dialogue, solid acting, and direction that doesn't look phoned-in? "Fair Game", essentially a remake of a painfully funny 1986 turkey, "Cobra", starring Sylvester Stallone and then-bride, hulking she-beast Brigitte Nielsen, tells the story of a beautiful lawyer and a studly cop being chased by baddies. Many people die and even more things blow up in the process. The cop is played by William Baldwin; the lawyer by model Cindy Crawford, in her acting debut. From the film's outset, they are at odds, but it doesn't require a Master's Degree to figure out they're going to get along JUST FINE before the end. This is one of those films where, in the midst of being chased endlessly by a ruthless band of Russian thieves, the two leads find time to disrobe and get intimate. Just like real life. It's also the type of film in which, no matter how brutally our leads get beaten, or how bruised and battered and bloodied they be, they somehow manage to look merely tousled and none worse for the wear. Just like real life. As for those Russian baddies, you KNOW they're bad because they ARE, after all, Russian, and in Hollywood you know what THAT means: one of them will be a steroid-riddled she-male (kind of like former WWE star, Joanie "Chyna" Laurer). That role this time belongs to Jenette Goldstein, best known as that fabulously butch soldier in "Aliens". In "Fair Game" you KNOW she's not to be messed with because: 1) she's outfitted in bulky black leather, 2) she speaks with a generic Eurotrash accent and says "witty" things like "Let mama make it feel better!" while beating up Baldwin, and, most importantly, 3) she's given a brutal haircut and has bright red lipstick slashed across her downturned mouth. It's like she's fresh from playing a warden in a women-in-prison flick! Alas, these camp moments provide the only levity in a pretty sad affair, made none the better by its stars, who share absolutely ZERO CHEMISTRY. Baldwin is his usual self: pretty. Cindy Crawford is also HER usual self: pretty. And therein might lie the problem: they're both stunningly pretty, which makes the action less-than-believable, somehow. (In fact, HE'S even prettier than SHE is!) Action stars should have a little roughness, if not overtly then around the edges. Runway-model beauty is fine for drama and romantic comedy but an action flick? It just doesn't seem to work, at least not here. It sure ain't helped by a hapless director who seems intent on pleasing both his stars by maintaining his stars' prettiness at all costs, even when the effect is downright comical. (As mentioned earlier, they come through fights, brawls, gunshots, whippings, you name it, with only the teensiest of scratches on maybe an arm but never - and I mean NEVER - on the face. Just like real life.) Baldwin has never really been much of an actor, and he often seems to have little, if any, chemistry with his female co-stars (perhaps because he's usually prettier than them?), but I suppose he tries his manful best to give a credible performance (or at least as credible as is possible with this movie). As for Crawford, well...bless her heart, she tries. She really, really tries. Unfortunately, as soon as she opens her mouth to say her first line, the truth becomes achingly obvious: she simply cannot act. You give the poor girl credit for trying, but let's face it: in what bizarre alternate universe would YOU believe Cindy Crawford to be a high-priced, amazingly successful lawyer? To make up for this and other mistakes, the makers decide to throw in explosions and gunshots almost at random, or whenever the tempo slows. They even manage to throw in some violence during a lovemaking scene (on a freight train, no less). Said lovemaking reaches the levels of "The Specialist" at its robotic best: she flashes her breast, he shows his posterior, and the lighting in the freight car goes all cool blue as they bump, grind, and gnash their teeth in imagined ecstasy. Then, suddenly, a gunman arrives to take care of our 'heroes'. However, said gunman is quite the gentleman because even though he has the clearest shot in the world, he waits patiently for Crawford to see him, pick up a conveniently placed gun, and shoot him. What a guy! In fact, MOST of the bad guys here do the same thing, again and again: run up to fire at their target, then pause while Baldwin or Crawford can shoot first. It's refreshing to see that even though they're Russian, they have such an incredible sense of manners! But who watches this stuff for manners, anyway? You want action and blowin' up and killin' and shootin'? You'll get it here. All the time. Even when there's no reason for it. You want Cindy Crawford in an ever-shrinking tank top? You get that, too. (Body-conscious female viewers might want to keep that in mind next time they're being chased by international killers: make sure to wear pre-shrunk tank tops.) But if it's fun you're after, look elsewhere. Goodness knows I wish I had!
Oh, that commentary!
Like so many other American police-video shows, "World's Wildest Police Videos" features (supposedly real) footage that is often deeply affecting and upsetting and, yes, sometimes amusing (stupid drunks CAN be funny), and for that, the producers can be lauded for perhaps doing a service to viewers by showing the affects of drinking, drugs, mental instability and all-around poor judgment. (And, like "Cops" before it, officers are sometimes shown in less-than-flattering light, usually due to their own inflated sense of importance and the presence of the cameras.) Unfortunately, any good is virtually overwhelmed by its host, former sheriff John Bunnell, and officer CW Jensen; Bunnell, with his lantern jaw and blinding white teeth, offers up commentary with prose so purple you can hardly believe it - no cliché is spared, and none of this is helped by his incongruously high-pitched, rather queen-y and nasal speaking voice and smug, "I told you so" intonations; Jensen, on the other hand, is supposed to be the 'voice of reason': calm, measured, soothing. However, it also appears this 'voice of reason' is unable to appear on camera without a treasure trove of make-up. Both Bunnell and Jensen INSIST on telling the audience EXACTLY what is going on on-screen, which often inspires the viewer to reply, "No sh*t, Sherlock." I've seen British takes on this type of programming and they featured tasteful commentary, used judiciously, opting to let the footage speak for itself. Not here! Displaying our usual American bombast, Bunnell and company AT NO TIME allow us to have a moment to decide for ourselves how to feel or think, for they offer words of the knee-jerk, lowest-common-denominator variety. Even worse than its hosts are the insipid, INSTANTLY ANNOYING and NON-STOP SQUEALING SIRENS THROUGHOUT EVERY SEGMENT, even when it's all-too-obvious that there is NO WAY the sound of sirens could possibly be heard by the cameras, particularly in the myriad news and police helicopter footage (by the way, both news and police helicopters the world over have THE EXACT SAME commentator, as the voice heard belongs to one man and one man only) , giving not-so-subtle credence to the feeling that much of what you're watching is, if not entirely fabricated, undeniably doctored. Still, its popularity, even several years after finishing production, says plenty, so it must have done something right. A time-waster but little more.
Beyond Tomorrow (1940)
Sentimental, hokey, corny - and entirely charming
"Beyond Tomorrow" is most definitely a child of its time: as one user has already commented, most definitely because of its theme it would be a lovely combo with "The Wizard Of Oz", released the year before, though it hasn't a tenth of the budget of the latter and isn't at all a musical (despite 2 or 3 songs performed). I believe a comment was made regarding its almost film noir look and that's spot-on, though, of course, the idea isn't to display shadows for the sake of creating drama as much as it is for helping to hide a small budget. I've no idea if this was a popular film in its day (I've the feeling it may not have been, due perhaps to that aforementioned budget) but one can easily imagine it deeply affecting a nation torn by war and loss of loved ones, with its images of Christmas, selfless love, death, rebirth, and those who've died being called to heaven. The tale, as already told by some, is about three moneyed gentlemen in New York City who decide, on a whim, to test how true of heart their fellow denizens are by impetuously tossing their wallets out onto the sidewalk, then waiting to see who brings them back. One fails to be returned, picked up as it is by a slick, round-heeled woman, a radio performer, who takes the money inside and tosses the wallet over her shoulder with nary a second thought; the other two are quickly brought back fully intact to their owners by a tall, handsome crooner, Jimmy, and a quiet young woman, Jean, respectively. Upon seeing one another, it's love at first sight, a fact that doesn't go unnoticed by the three older men and their devoted maid and butler, refugees from Europe. Soon, they decide to do what they can to encourage this romance between these two good souls, who are quickly engaged. Then, despite a warning from their maid, they take a plane for business purposes...which crashes. The young couple and the two devoted servants are devastated, but three old men return as ghosts (despite limited funds, the special effects are entirely successful), not realizing at first that they've died, though the maid senses their presence (the only one who does, as a matter of fact). They soon decide to continue doing what they can to help guide the young lovers (who cannot hear or see them but who react to their suggestions, similar in style to the gimmicks in "A Guy Named Joe" and its remake, "Always") but Jimmy is soon 'discovered' by the scheming woman who had found the first wallet (and taken its contents) and falls under her spell, deserting his bride-to-be. Alas, in the midst of helping their two protégés, one by one the old men are 'called'; the first, a lifelong cynic, to a dark, dark place; the other, to heaven, when his long-dead son comes to take him home. The third, Mike, however, refuses to go until he can fully restore the union of the couple whom he knows should be together. No sooner does this occur when the radio performer's ex-husband follows his former wife and the Jimmy to a lounge, where he shoots and kills them both. Soon, Jimmy joins Mike as a ghost, distraught at both the pain he's caused Jean by leaving her and by dying so suddenly, but Mike offers a word of wisdom and almost instantly he is called home again; this time he doesn't refuse - he only asks that Jimmy be returned to the land of the living, a request that is granted, and as the film closes, Mike is joined by the friend who had originally gone to a very dark place and together they climb, literally, the stairway to heaven. Corny? Oh, yes. Hokey? Sure. Sentimental as all get-out. But the film is unbelievably charming and so openly wears its pure, little heart on its sleeve, that you can't help but be carried away by it. At fade-out, I couldn't help but imagine how the last few minutes (those images of death and rebirth and the belief that the dead might be safe and at peace) must have touched audiences living through that time of war, especially at Christmastime, when the absence and loss of fathers, husbands, sons, and lovers had to have been more painful than it already was. As the trio of helpful old men, harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, and especially Charles Winninger (as Mike), are exactly the kind of men you'd love to have as either a grandfather or mentor: warm, loving, wealthy (in all manners of speaking), and as kind as can be. As the young couple they look out for, Richard Carlson and Jean Parker are sweetness and light personified; sure, they may be somewhat TOO good but you just can't help but root for them. (And was New York City EVER this populated by such honest, good-hearted people?) I found my DVD copy, believe it or not, in a dollar store; apparently, a number of older films and TV shows of varying quality are being processed to DVD especially for dollar stores, so, as you can imagine, picture & sound quality - though surprisingly OK - are average, and with neither chapter stops or extras. Still, in whatever form you can find this lovely little fantasy-romance, please take advantage of it. You'll be rewarded with a film that just might become a perennial Christmas favorite for the entire family.
What's worse: the film or Pacino?
Having seen this over 20 years ago on cable, I recently decided to see if the ensuing decades could make me appreciate this, and the answer is "NO". I thought then, and think now, that the film overall and its lead performer were and are over-hyped to the point of hysteria. I even call into deep question Pacino's standing as one of America's "great" actors; for all those who love "The Godfather" series (I'm not one of them: I think they, too, were equally overdone), I suggest taking a gander at such "classics" as "Author! Author!" (ever wonder why he doesn't do more comedy? A quick glance at THIS will tell you why). In the hands of the unreliable De Palma - for every "Carrie", you get "The Fury" - a man who, despite his blatant desire and attempts to be Hitchcock reborn, is at heart a lover of the overblown cinematic image, Pacino is allowed to give his tiresome ticks and actor's tricks full display in a part that SHOULD have been played with subtlety. If the film is watchable - and it basically is NOT - it is due to the scenery-chewing; Pacino hardly starts with nibbling; no, instead he swallows each shot whole, inspiring his fellow actors to go overboard along with him. For each laugh one has at the actors' expense, however, one needn't be Cuban to be even slightly offended: SURELY the makers of this film could have found more than ONE honest-to-goodness Cuban (co-star Steven Bauer being it). The accents, particularly Pacino and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, are akin to those in the old "Speedy Gonzalez" cartoons - you almost expect poor old Juan Valdez to be trotted out, too, just for good measure. But how about the story-telling, the technical aspects? Well...once you get past the hammy performances - quite a struggle, believe me (you'll be tempted to bring out the cloves and pineapple) - and the assuredly overcooked direction, you are left with something that rambles on for nearly 3 hours, though with little reason beyond wanting to become a modern-day "epic saga" a la "The Godfather". As for the LOOK of the film, it's not an especially attractive one: the print on cable - no, I haven't seen the DVD and don't care to - STILL looks downright muddy at points, as if copied from an old slow-speed video tape, though this could be as much to do with pan-and-scan as anything else. The much-lauded score by Giorgio Moroder is, THERE: not memorable, as with "Midnight Express", but not a total failure and it DOES fit the cool, shiny-plastic beauty of Miami and its denizens as shown in this film (everyone seems to be dipped in either oil - the "natural look" apparently never made it down in Florida - or sweat, for Pacino never seems to stop perspiring, which is understandable, what with the effort it must have taken to overact AND speak with some marble-mouthed, faux-Latin accent). No matter, though, what the film looks like, or how it's written (poorly; example: Michelle Pfeiffer, sporting one of her other noses, just disappears towards the end), or how long it goes on (and on, and ON, AND ON...), people watch this for the acting, the violence, and the love of the "f" word (uttered 182 times), and they have dubbed this and "The Godfather" as "classics", all of which goes to show that if you say it long enough, some people believe it.
When the Circus Came to Town (1981)
Where, oh where, have the great late-night TV movies gone?
Originally broadcast as a "Movie of the Week" by CBS in 1981, "When The Circus Came to Town" is a thoughtful, lovely, quiet film about a woman nearing middle age, bored with a sheltered and sterile life, who suddenly decides to leave home and join the circus when it comes to her small town. In the process, her eyes are finally opened to life, for better and for worse, but she is awakened and, ultimately, content. Elizabeth Montgomery gives yet another of her patented superior performances; there isn't a false note. She is helped enormously by supporting players, sure-handed direction, and the kind of TV-movie writing that has sadly and completely disappeared over the years. Also to be lauded is the fact that this is the only film involving circus life in which its denizens aren't portrayed as sleazy, oversexed losers or out-and-out scumbags, though they ARE outside the "norm". It is refreshing to see a sensitive viewpoint. For all these reasons, this was quite a successful broadcast for CBS, and was thereafter often found on many a late-night-movie schedule, back in the days when they HAD late-night-movie schedules. Alas, those days are long gone and many worthwhile TV films from the Golden Age of the TV Movie - the 70's & early 80's - have disappeared altogether, without even the benefit of a video release. Such a shame. Perhaps amongst the glut of DVD's being released this, too, will find a new home and audience. It certainly deserves as much.
State Fair (1945)
Lesser Rodgers & Hammerstein, and corny, too - but FUN
I've never seen the 1933 film version of this; I wish I could say the same about the 1962 mistake, the one with that Black Hole of movies, Pat Boone, a man so bland, he sucks the color from anything he's near. THIS version, however, while certainly not up to what many would probably consider Rodgers & Hammerstein 'standards' (MGM, desperate to release a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, but stymied by the continuing run of "Oklahoma!", quickly made this new version of "State Fair", according to information on the DVD), is gloriously corny, old fashioned, innocent, warm, romantic, those-were-the-golden-days fun, with at least two songs that have truly entered the realm of 'classic': the Oscar-winning "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "It's A Grand Night For Singing". The story is simplicity personified: a mid-western farm family heads to the State Fair. The parents have their eyes and ears on winning their respective competitions (he, for his prize pig, Blue Boy; she, for her pickles and mincemeat), while the children, both young adults, find love and heartache along the way. As the parents, Fay Bainter, born to play mothers, is her reliably warm self, while Charles Winninger brings solid humor to every scene. Dick Haymes plays the son, and gets to sing a few tunes, quite capably, and has a bittersweet romance with Vivian Blaine. (Alas, their union is the only unsatisfactory note in the entire movie: it is established Haymes' character has a sweetheart he's hooked on but when she cannot accompany him to the Fair, he almost immediately falls for Blaine and is straight-away promising his undying love for her, seemingly forgetting about his love back home...until the final moments, when he suddenly has her in his arms. It's a false, almost jarring note.) But Jeanne Crain, despite this being an ensemble piece, easily steals the show, and though it's a shame she didn't do her own singing, she still manages to ably give the impression of a restless young woman yearning for something 'more'. Her romance, perhaps the real core of this film, with Dana Andrews, seems much more real than that between Dick Haymes and Vivian Blaine, and they have definite chemistry, which makes the required "happy ending" a delight. Do I wish it had more weight, more heft, to it, like "Oklahoma!" or "The King & I"? Well, the movie is what it is: a light, airy, corny piece of Americana. Were R & H pandering to the tastes of the common man with this movie? Sure they were! But what's wrong with feeling good? Who exactly is harmed by classic songs, winning performers, a simple story line, and a happy ending? If you're looking for weightier or darker fare, there are any number of musicals to whet your appetite; however, if you're looking for pure fun - and for great tunes that'll stick in your head all day long - look no further: here it is! You'll have a terrific time at THIS "Fair".
Compromising Positions (1985)
Enjoyable & witty comedy-mystery
This adaptation of the 1978 Susan Isaacs novel, adapted by the novelist herself, is a solidly enjoyable, often witty, and amusing comedy-mystery centering around the murder of a lecherous dentist (Joe Mantegna, appearing VERY briefly in the opening shots) who has, it seems, "entertained" most of the housewives in an upscale neighborhood. Susan Sarandon plays Judith, a former journalist turned mostly-happy housewife (with a yen for excitement, of course), who was a one-time patient of the deceased and takes it upon herself to begin investigating the murder, with the help of her best friend, a clever, worldly-wise, bitchy-witty, dry-humoured artist played to perfection by the splendid Judith Ivey, and a handsome homicide detective (Raul Julia). Sarandon is nicely cast in the lead, and makes her character seem positively real; her line readings are just right, in just the same way most people would say them. Her chemistry with Ivey is sheer delight, and Ivey easily steals every scene she's in; Sarandon also has a very nice on-screen rapport with Raul Julia, with whom there is a tangible romantic tension. However...
***SPOILER ALERT*** ...unlike the novel, the romantic tension between Sarandon & Julia's characters remains just that: tension, and it is a major disappointment, particularly since Sarandon's Judith is married to the singularly unspectacular, even annoying, Edward Hermann, a likable enough actor but here playing one of those movie husbands whose sole job is to drive his wife into the much-more-deserving arms of another man; alas, Judith remains true to her husband, and the result is not feeling she's remained true to herself but that she's simply settled for a whole lot less and for no really good reason, at that. Perhaps this was changed because Isaacs and/or the producers felt this married woman should remain 'faithful', or perhaps it's because Sarandon is obviously pregnant, despite the attempts to conceal this fact (long, baggy shirts, jersey sweatsuits, holding things or crossing her arms, etc.). The lack of resolution between Sarandon & Julia, and the irritating character of her husband, are probably the major faults of Isaacs' screenplay. (Still, no matter its faults, it remains LIGHT YEARS better than Isaacs' other book-to-screen transfer, "Shining Through", which had its guts ripped out.) This movie could never win any awards - I just don't think it was designed to be, and it is, as usual, not nearly as entertaining as the book, but it was certainly enjoyable enough to warrant 5 viewings back when it was in theatres, and it is still a good time. Give it a try, if only for Judith Ivey. If only the movie were even a tenth as all-out terrific as she is...
Kinski: perfect! The film: a mess
The early 80's seemed to be a ripe time for espionage-themed films and, taken as a whole, is probably somewhere in the middle in terms of quality (goodness knows there were worse!). However, what makes it worth seeing are two things: its European locales (all in monochromatic greys and browns) and, first and foremost, the astonishing and eye-achingly beautiful Kinski, in what may well be her ripest, fiercest, most raw performance captured on film. What surrounds her, unfortunately, is either standard or downright embarassing: wooden supporting performances (particularly Nureyev, who looks singularly uneasy and clodding, ironic for someone who spent a lifetime being praised for his graceful moves), an often senseless plot, and direction that veers from shameful to confused, none of which is helped by sometimes-spastic editing. And yet...there is Kinski, breathing life into this dull affair in spite of itself, wiping everyone else from the screen and the audience's eyes and minds. Here, she is a force to be reckoned with, radiating an intriguing blend of natural awkwardness and just-enough confidence: in essence, she is 100% REAL. There isn't a single false moment delivered by her, as a young woman who falls into the world of both modeling and espionage, giving the film as a whole the unmistakable air of 'what-could-have-been'. If this movie had a tenth of what she provides, it would still rate, despite being dated, as a modern-day classic. As it is, it IS, whatever its many, many flaws, worth seeing (for it's often-silly early-80's fashions, as a time machine, those aforementioned locales) but she is the main reason why. She is brilliant.
The First Wives Club (1996)
A "should-have-been" kind of film
I'd like to say I find this movie a major disappointment because I read the book first...but I didn't. No, the movie disappointed me all on its very own, which is SUCH A SHAME because its three leads are a gay man's DREAM TEAM! Hawn, Midler and Keaton work seamlessly together, and appear to be having just so much fun, that they, through sheer force of will, make this movie work to whatever extent that it DOES work. The film had EVERYTHING going for it...and yet it remains a 'should-have-been'. It SHOULD HAVE BEEN terrific, a modern-day classic, and there are millions out there for whom it is exactly that: classic. I wish I could be among them because I SO WANTED TO LOVE THIS MOVIE. As mentioned, the three leads are magnificent, each in a role that plays on their strengths, perhaps even their stereotypes; however, the screenplay seems almost to be a mishmash, and one needn't have read the book to feel that whole scenes and entire subplots were or may have been jettisoned after being filmed, giving the film a sometimes-jarring, slightly unfinished edge. Sarah Jessica Parker and Marcia Gay Harden, just to name a couple of performers, especially seem to have suffered at the editor's hands. The screenplay is just as much to blame as the editing, veering dangerously into cartoon territory: at times, the husbands, mistresses and children seem to have arrived straight out of some Hanna-Barbera creation, and they aren't helped any by supporting performances that can only charitably be called overdone: Dan Hedaya, Victor Garber, Elizabeth Berkley (here exhibiting the same level of "fine" acting that garnered her a Razzie for "Showgirls"). I suppose what bothers me most is that this film very early on loses touch with what's real, settling instead for cheap yuks and easy potshots, and is also full of horses**t: the whole "it's not revenge, it's justice" thing just smells of PC, new-age, girl-power pap. You know...I STILL cannot QUITE put my finger on exactly what is wrong with this movie, but I CAN tell you this: watch the movie, then read the book. Everything that works in the book suddenly makes clear what is missing from the film, and maybe what that thing is is its heart, its soul. What a shame.
Notorious for lasting just ONE episode
Long after Melba Moore's singing career came to a standstill, CBS provided her with this, her very own sitcom. Alas, for her, CBS, and all involved, it had the distinct misfortune of arriving the night of the first space shuttle disaster, garnering THE lowest ratings EVER for a first-run show and was canceled immediately. I happened to be one of the very few, probably, who caught this show and the space shuttle disaster merely hastened what was inevitable: cancellation. One cannot always base a review on just one episode, particularly a pilot - just as in life, a show must find its way, develop its own voice and flavor - but this was obviously another attempt by CBS to try and capture some of the audience the way NBC and "The Cosby Show" had, and it was done poorly, with writing that was, at best, mediocre and very forced, with hardly an honest-to-goodness laugh to be found, and featuring a leading lady who, while not without her charms (Moore comes off as a nice enough person and not without talent), seemed distinctly uneasy shouldering the burden of an entire show, something made all the clearer by a lack of any real chemistry with anyone else on-screen. Still, she tried, but it was a lousy show and what CBS did could only be called a mercy killing. If anyone remembers this show - and I don't profess to remember much about it, just how I felt about the show! - it's as a footnote in the history of Very Bad TV.