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Lions for Lambs

First Order Change.
In any adversarial exchange, socioloi hv foun more thn on possible response with a likeihood of good pay off -- whether the exchag donsists of mritl spat or global warfare. The first -- and usually the simplest and dumbest -- is first order change.

Fight fire with fire. He insuts you? You insut him right back, more viciously than before. At it's most extreme, we find it in movies like "The Untouchables," in which Sean Connery advises Keven Costner"He brings fists ita tha fight, you bring a knife. He brings a knife, you brig a gun. He brings a gun you put one of his in the morgue."

That's pretty much what the movie is about. Tom Cruise is a grease-up go getting Washingtonian with his eye on th presidency. Meryl Streep is a star reporter who hisensto Crruise's bombas in a state of puzzlement. Redford is a professsor who is tryingto turn his better stents onto the fat tht there is more to life thn]n hypothetical imperatves. And as the fim cuts back nd forth between the enlightned and soullessly crepy, two men of a special forces unit are trapped on hillpot in Afghanistn and must be rescued within minutes. To go means escalation. To hesitate means a loss. And what do the Amrican people want? They want a WIN! Yes --life as football game.

dThat's Cruise's argument. Maybe hes right. A survey of students at George Mason fiund they have difficulty in ietifyingpivtus f Jo Bn an Ronald Regan but had less trouble wtih Km Kardshian. (The article -- in the Daily Caller -- blames all that ignorance on "the liberal left.")

I suppose Cruise's response would be a resrt to frst order change -- outlaw the liberal left media, That'll teach 'em. Nothng but fair and balanced from now on.

The Secret of Convict Lake

Six convicts escape from a Nevada prison, barely surviving winter storms, and find a tiny village of women, the men all having been called away. Leader of the convicts is Glen Ford, innocent of the crime of which he's been convicted, of course.

Excluding Cyril Cusack as a good-natured "Limey" comic, the others tend to ride a little on the nasty side. Zachary Scott, in particular, signals his desire to debauch Ann Dvorak the way a traffic light signals its status. In this case, Scott, with this toothy grin and salacious experessions, signals "rape."

The performances aren't bad and the plot is just complicated and coincidental enough, but the black and white photography doesn't really capture the brutal winter. Everything just looks grimy.

Super Tornado

Nicely Done,
A good doccumentary on the 1974 tornado superoutbreak in the Midwest. Some 143 twisters wound their way through a dozen states, from Canada to Georgia.

You won't find much in the way of video clips because videocams weren't yet availabe. Enactors play the roles of victims andd investigtors wth inserts of real interiews.

The visual effects are modern and quite good.

The Substitute: Failure Is Not an Option

Well, it had potential -- thrown away in the first few minutes when the potential mystery is disposed of and the chop-socky action start.

The evil guys sneer and are pure evil. The good guys are jovial and good.

The plot has something to do with Williams sent to a military aademy to smoke out a subset of fascsts. It takes five minutes. The rest is shoot-em-ups and whirling bodies.

From hunger.

The Phantom of Paris

Decent Talkie
Many of these early talies seem to have been ground out with little attention paid to character, or to story for that matter. A parade of murder mysteries and bathetic romances.

This one is different in that it has a narrative that is not only coherent but interesting in itself. If, that is, "The Count of Monte Christo" is interesting, so is "The Phantom of Paris," though far less rich in detail.

Gilbert is supposed to have fallen from grace in Hollywood because of his squeaky voice. I didn't notice it here. He looks and sounds like any other matinee idol of the period.

It's a watchable flick.

The Hound of the Baskervilles

They Were the Footprints of a DOG!
Not a travesty, this version of Conan-Doyle's most famous and most filmed novella opens in accordance with the printed version, with Matt Frewer as the world's first and only consulting detective, pacing around the room and dramatically throwing off hypotheses about the nature of the recent visitor who has left his walking stick behind. At that, the film limits the number of conclusions drawn by Holmes. (Eg., the breed of DOG that carried the walking stick for its master.)

All of this is attended by Kenneth Welsh as the skeptical Dr. Watson. I hate saying this because I wish all filmic preparations of the canon well. But if there is something tic-y and overripe about Frewer's portrayal of Holmes, there is something impassive and vacant about Welsh's Dr. Watson. He's barely there. Ever.

The movie follows the narrative fairly closely at first, even introducing us to Miss Laura Lyons, typist, whose role is given some importance. She's almost always deleted. The story leaves Conan-Doyle behind at the climax. He may still be struggling in one of those bottomless bogs in the Great Grimpin Mire for all we know. I won't describe it except to say that the hound isn't too terrifying.

The departures from the original narrative do some damage to the film as a whole. Too bad. Grenada TV's version, from the series with Jeremy Britt, is frankly better.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

E For Effort.
What a lot of imagination and work has gone into this phantasmagoric tale of an 18th-century liar saving his city from an attack by the Turks. In his haste to be a hero, Munchausen takes us on trips around the world, under the sea, and to the moon. Everything seems cluttered, fast, headlong, thoroughly overacted.

The Munchuasen stories were originally used as fairy tales. Kids will enjoy the tempo and surprise of the present narrative but I suspect much of the humor will be over their heads.

I may be wrong. Do kids know that "Mayday" (from French "m'aidez") is a distress call? How about "cogito ergo sum" or the twisted varient used by Robin Williams as the King of the Moon: "Cogito ergo es", "I think, therefore you is"?

The kids -- especially boys approaching puberty -- will get one of the most memorable scenes: A clam shell opening to reveal a naked Uma Thurman as Botticelli's Venus.


Don't Think About It, Just Do It.
Like other charming and sentimental romantic comedies, this one treads the thin line between the right amount of sentiment and charm, and too much damned sentiment and charm.

Mostly it stays upright, only occasionally lapsing into unintentional bathos. Professor Einstein (Mattau) is compelled by convention to suffer a non-heart attack so that he must spend time in his hospital bed, weakly dispensing endorsements while his friends choke back tears. It's a death bed scene although there is nothing wrong with Einstein. Next time we see him he's back on his feet cranking out common sense and wisdom.

As for the story, it's not unfamiliar but comes off okay. It's about Einstein promoting the romance between his neice Kathy (Ryan), a mathematical wizard, and a smart but otherwise ordinary garage mechanic (Robbins). She happens to be engaged to an experimental psychologist (Fry) whom everyone seems to dislike because -- well, because he gets in the way of the plot.

It has its amusing moments. Robbins, the fake physicist, is trying to take a demanding public test on the subject and is signalled the correct answer by Einstein and his four dwarfs in the audience. Any resemblance to "Ball of Fire" is probably not coincidental. That may be the best scene, as the hospital visit is the worst. The dialog has its sparkle too. "If you had a nickel for every nickel HE has -- you would have a lot of nickels."

Matthau gets Einstein down right, a kind of avuncular archetype. Ryan couldn't be cuter. If she were, she'd deliquesce. Robbins, however, is an inexpressive mope and adds little liveliness to a movie that, at times, really needs some -- the kind that Tony Shalhoub brings to the role of the owner and manager of Robbins' work place.

Guns of the Timberland

Sort of Sad.
Conflict between newly arrived team of reckless loggers, led by Ladd, and the peaceful folk of the town, led by Craine, whose livelihoods will be ruined if the loggers remove the trees and the top soil that animates the town's economy.

It's routine without being bad. Most of the characters are fleshed out, some capable of moral growth, except Paul Anka maybe, who plumb can't act. Unexpected developments: good old reliable bad guy, Lyle Boettiger, turns out to be on the side of the angles, and reckless testosterone-ridden Gilbert Roland is a traitor to the evolving cause.

What makes it sad is that Ladd was still soldiering on in these uninteresting vehicles. I like Ladd. He was GOOD in "Shane", so much so that it's difficult imagining someone else in the role. He was doing liquor and barbiturates at this point, and his features were sufficiently puffed that when he was forced to smile, his round cheeks and prominent incisors evoked a chipmonk.

Der Untergang

Docudrama, A Good One.
Not just another "See Hitler Get It" movie, with Alec Guiness or someone with a little mustache going mad. I stumbled into this and couldn't leave, gripped by the fine acting and credibility of events.

It's a sad movie. Hitler and his Myrmidons may have reaped what they sowed but it's still depressing to see an entire social structure fall apart. And then there is poor dumb Eva Braun, and the half dozen beautiful children of Mister and Mrs. Goebbels, who didnt know the meaning of the word "war", poisoned and murderered by their own mother. And that's only to mention the unwitting passing of Hitler's dog Blondi.

It's a long story but it had to be. The climax is not Hitler's suicide in the bunker but the harrowing escape of his secretary, Trudl Junge, through the Russian blockade to safety.

The Last Stand

Forgotten But Not Gone.
It isn't so much that Schwarzenegger is older. After all, that happens to all of us, and in fact his wrinkles and slightly gargled voice give him a certain amount of character that was missing from his earlier efforts.

The chief problem is that he shows no more acting skills here than he did twety years ago. He's not helped at all by the script, which has him and a few small-time comrades throwing up a barricade against the forces of evil -- in this case a notorious drug kingpin and his army of ugly goons -- who are about to attack Arnold and the small town of which he is sheriff, in order to escape into Mexico. Guess who wins the final battle.

I always thought he was a decent governor.

3:10 to Yuma

Tense and Entertaining.
Van Heflin is a hard-up small-time cattleman hired to take outlaw Glen Ford to the town of Contention and see that he boards the train to Yuma Territorial Prison, but never mind all that.

Heflin's character carries one of those bland workable names like Dan Evans, but Glenn Ford, the prisoner, is called Ben Wade. My own scholarly research shows inarguably that no cowboy, outlaw, or gunslinger has ever carried the name of Wade, Clay, Matt, Yancey, or Ringo. As a matter of fact, the most common names among cowboys were Governeur, Montmorency, Noble. The details are in my manuscript, "Onomastics of the Post Civil War West", never published and never will be.

Back to less important matters. It's a nicely structured narrative. Can the upright Heflin get the smirking Ford to Contention before Ford's gang of goons sees to his release? Heflin takes the job out of desperation. He needs the money badly because the draught is starving his stalwart wife and two brashly honest young sons. The viewer can relax as the clichés follow one another. The comic sidekick is murdered. Heflin's horde of enthusiastic supports drop out one by one as the odds against them become more clear.

It's one of those westerns in which you have to admire the attentions of the studio barber and his team. Heflin: down at the hells rancher. Ford: gang leader on the lam. Yet -- even in choker close ups -- not a single whisker shows up, so that they look like Hollywood movie stars freshly groomed rather than dusty residents of the Wild West.

It is, as I said, entertaining, enlivened by Ford's taunts and wisecracks. Some reviewers claim it's too slow. I would agree, but only in comparison to today's films, all of which resemble the inside of a whirling kaleidoscope.


Brace Yourself
The juicy featured Anne Hathaway is a clinical psychologist assigned to do grief counseling with the survivors of an airplane crash. She is enthralled by one of them, Patrick Wilson, and has an affair with him. No special effects to speak of, little tension, evocative photography, lots of unanswered questions, and a resolution whose impact eluded me.

I didn't care much for it. Hathway's psychologist should have been cashiered in graduate school. She's easily upset, shrieks readily, radiates self consciousness, and seems uncertain about herself.

I didn't like her paramour either. He's TOO sure of himself and smirks too often as if aware of his own phermomones. And he's hitting on her for the first few minutes of the movie and thereafter. She gives it up after a refreshing night-time dip in some arctic waters. Verboten. Some might call it transference. I call it baloney.

Andre Braugher, a fine actor, should have had more screen time.

Apparently it's appealed to some viewers. You might want to check it out.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Of Thinly Disguised Identities.
These fracnhises have replaced the weejkkly adventure series on televvision. It doesn't matter who the stars are or what the plot is. Everything and everyone are replaceable. Okay, Connery and Stallone are out, but Damon and Cruise are now in. No more SMERSH but then we have "The Syndicate." If there are any consistent themes, they are advanced technology and the superior combat skills of the protagonist.

Well, I suppose there are other iterated shots at a more molecular level -- an armed man is fighting an unarmed man and there is a shot of the weapon skidding across the floor; one combatant slams his forehead against that of the other and disables him, and to hell with Newton; a shoe stomps on the accelerator cut to a tire burning rubber and raising a cloud of dust. This film as at least one example of each cliché. It's just added evidence that the fall of civilization is at hand.

Here's another I'll throw in for the cognocenti among us. An assassination attempt -- mostly out of Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much" -- takes place during an opera. It's "Madam Butterfly." Now guess which aria you're going to hear. At least no one will sleep during the bullets and acrobatics.

The villainous organization here has no particular plan in mind. It's not an underground nest of rich Nazis or rabid drug dealers. It's only purpose, we're told, is to "destroy the system that created it." Right.

You can watch it if you like. Personally, these sequels drain me of energy in the way that Hollywood has been drained of imagination.

The Jane Austen Book Club

Inoffensive Romance
A tap root into the subterranean strata of popularity in (1) Jane Austen and (2) "Sex and the City", both apparently having peaked at about the same time as this film was released. I'll bet Jane Austen never wrote such a clumsy sentence as the one I just finished writing.

Five women -- all in varying degrees of domestic distress -- discover that they have a common interest in Jane Austen's novels and form a club to discuss them one at a time. They even invite a guy who pretty much holds his own. There are rough parallels between Austen's plots and the romantic careers of the club's members. I'll have to assume the parallels are there because they've been so often alluded to. I've never read any of the books. I've seen most of the available film versions but the characters and narratives are similar enough that I get them mixed up, just as I do with Dickens.

You'll probably enjoy it more if you're already an Austen fan because some of the comments that crop up during the club meetings sound as if they make sense, although it may be going too far to suggest that the separation of eggs in the preparation of flan is symbolic of the divorce of somebody's parents. None of the performances really stand out but Emily Blunt is always oddly appealing and Maria Bello is precisely emotional enough.


Boys Just Want To Have Fun.
Four cowboys meet by happenstance in the Western wilderness, have lots of fun, and then are subject to serious transgressions by a corrupt sheriff and some evil cattlemen. Kline, Glenn, Costner, and Glover are the initially happy travelers. Their characters' names are Padem, Emmet, Jake, and Mal. I conducted a scholarly study of cowboy names of the period and not one of them had a name like Padem, Emmet, Jake, Mal, Matt, Link, Ringo, Jesse, Clay, or Latigo. As a matter of fact, the four most common names were Governeur, Montmorency, Noble, and Bolingbroke. The results can be found in "Onomastics of the Post Civil War American West," readily available in the back of the bottom shelf of my grand garçon, never published and never will be.

The movie? It starts out kind of fun. Costner is a light-hearted young man and a dead shot. You'd have difficulty imagining him in his later roles. Danny Glover is a dead shot too, with his Henry rifle. In fact they're all dead shots and fast draws except the bad guys who are uniformly slow and ragged in their aim. Linda Hunt has a rather prominent role as a saloon manager. She was born with hypopituitary dwarfism but is a fine actress and actually looks pretty good here. Ben Goldman is an overdressed professional gambler, a sneak who sides with Brian Dennehy, the corrupt sheriff, although how and why he does so, only the editor knows.

A few laughs and action aplenty without bath tubs of gore. All the usual conventions of the genre are adhered to. It's diverting and sometimes fun.

The King and Four Queens

Gable Leaves Hormonal Path.
On the run from the law, spiffily dressed cowboy Gable rides into town and hears tell about Wagon Mound, a settlement outside of the cosmopolitan urban center, run by the five McDade widows. Yep, there's the old lady who runs the spread with a gnarled and iron fist, Jo Van Fleet, who deserves an oscar every time she plays a stubborn old lady, either for acting or for overacting. Then there's these four young widows, Jean Willis, Eleanor Parker, Barbara Nichols, and Sarah Shane. They all get gussied up just because there's now a man around but Van Fleet will have none of that flirting and frottage and other stuff. She don't hold with it.

But why, you -- the discerning viewer ask -- why did Gable want to get into this nest of mixed-up women in the first place. Well, I'll tell you. He done heard in the big city that there was one hundred thousand dollars buried someplace on that land but nobody knew where it was. The widows' husbands stole it but then got theirselves blown up without revealing where they'd kept the stash. One of the McDade boys got away but he's been gone for years. So Gable is now in loco visitor. Just curious, kind of, about the location of all that gold.

Van Fleet remains skeptical and keeps a weather eye on Gable but the others get glandular by degrees. Nichols is anxious to hop in the sack with Gable at once. Willis too. She even stops smoking cigars. Shane is girlishly eager. Only Eleanor Parker, using a throaty voice that virtually crackles with hostility, holds back. She and Gable had something in common, too, she being from Cedarville and he from Cadiz, both in the great state of Ohio.

Act Two gets a little sluggish and talky. It has Gable investigating the four poor sobbing widows who are overjoyed to see him. He wafts from one to the other, leaving a cloud of pheromones behind him and inquiring about the location of that buried gold. En fin, he discovers it and runs off with Eleanor Parker after seeing to it that the gold is returned to those who earned it. The end is abrupt and strains credulity. I kept expecting the return of one of Ma's "boys" and a final shootout. But no.

It was shot around what was then the little town of St. George, Utah. I, an alien gentile, enrolled in the tiny community college not long after the picture was completed and some of the structures still stood -- more or less. The community seemed to take with aplomb the fact that so many Westerns and historical epics had been filmed there. I tried to sign up as an extra for "They Came to Cordura" but was rejected when I expressed doubt about my ability to gallop a cavalry horse. My plea that I was a quick study and that they had so few horses in Newark fell on deaf ears.


This Town Ain't Big Enough....
Sent to London to bring back an American fugitive, tough Lt. John Wayne constantly runs afoul of municipal sensibilities. Scotland Yard, in the person of Richard Attenborough, takes him to breakfast at a fancy men's club.

Wayne: I'll have a couple of strips of fried bacon, two eggs over easy, and a short stack.

Sir Dickie: I think what the lieutenant means is that he'll have three rashers of bacon, two eggs fried equally on both sides, and a few pancakes.

The narrative is a bit tortuous and I won't go into the difficulty Wayne has in recapuring the now-at-large fugitive except to say that none of the expected action scenes are missing and that, in the course of being executed, they take us on a grand tour -- the changing of the guards, a high speed pursuit across Tower Bridge, a barroom brawl, and a suspenseful episode on Picadilly Circus.

Wayne is his cheerful and sarcastic self throughout, even when the goons try to blow him up on the toilet. There's nothing very original about it, but it's an entertaining and diverting flick.

How We Built the Bomb

Some New Stuff.
There have been a number of feature films and documentaries about the building and the delivery of what was called in 1945 "the atomic bomb." Each is different from the others in its focus.

It's interesting to witness the evolution of the character of Leslie Groves, the army engineer in charge of security and discipline at Los Alamos. Here, he's an unimaginative, somewhat ambitious pragmatist. In "Day One," Brian Dennehy gave us a proud army officer faced with a challenging task. In "Oppenheimer", Groves was a jealous, suspicious, man trying with some success to control the impudent egg heads under his command. In "Fat Man and Little Boy," Paul Newman project a gruff and practical man of action.

The character of Oppy usually remains about the same, brilliant, a good organizer, whose career was torpedoed during congress's post-war hunt for Soviet sympathizers who might be spies. Oppy, who wrangled the whole untethered mess together and brought about the quick victory in the Pacific, lost his security clearance and was sent into exile, if you can convince yourself that a position at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton is "exile." Well, maybe it is. Princeton only had one decent French restaurant.

It's an arty kind of flick, consisting of interviews with actors playing the parts of the real characters while being interviewed by an off-camera reporter. There is some interpolated footage of the goings on at the Los Alamos base.

There is some new material too. Claus Fuchs, one of three Soviet spies, gets to make a brief statement. The late Richard Feyman, rarely if ever mentioned in the other treatments, is as close to a central figure as w get -- an engaging graduate student at the time who was later able to explain in plain English to an astonished public, why the Challenger had exploded in flight.

"Oppenheimr" is probably the most nuanced and thorough of the lot, but this isn't bad.

Class of 1984

Do You Feel Rundown, Helpless?
Perry King is a music teacher in the kind of school found mostly in movies. Not that high school kids treat the physical plant or the teachers with any respect, but the kids here aren't just noisy, inattentive, and largely absent. They're demonic. There is a gang led by Timothy Van Patten. They dress in black leather adorned with chrome knobs and plates and they've spray painted every available surface with graffiti. On top of that, they're arrogant, use swear words in class, mock ordinary students, hang out in louche dives, and wear white after Labor Day.

Perry King has a tough job ahead of him. He objects to their behavior, complains to the principle and the police. Even when he sees the naughty kids burn his car, there's nothing the authorities can do. He's helpless.

They beat the crap out of King several times and frame him for assault, but it isn't until they gang bang and kidnap his wife that he gets really annoyed. What happens next shouldn't happen to the most impudent sophomore.

The Madwoman of Chaillot

Coming To Terms.
Admired the covert ridiculousness of the first hour -- five extremely wealthy crooks of majestic stature sitting around one of those tiny café tables on a Paris sidewalk, discussing loudly and shamelessly their next plan to screw the public and further enrich themselves by destroying part of the city with oil rigs.

It's a witty and well-written scene. Yul Brynner is the leader of the gang and a real narcissist. A rag picker passes by while Brynner is holding forth and he finds some money on the sidewalk. Rag picker: "Someone dropped this money. Is it yours?" Brynner: "I never drop money." Rp: "Well then I guess it isn't yours." Brynner: "It's more mine than yours! (Snatches it out of the rag picker's hand.)

Each person at the table, in order to prove he's rotten, must confess to something evil that he did. Oscar Homolka as the German representative, side steps the question, but the phony preacher confesses that, well, he once accepted a rather large donation from an organization "with extreme anti-Semitic views" -- and here the preacher, played by uber-handsome James Gavin, ends with a hilarious smirk combining pleasure, guilt, modestry, and pride.

The preacher is there for a reason. The movie descends into something resembling a genuine morality play. Katherine Hepburn is dotty and still lives in a past in which such corruption doesn't exist and everyone is nice to everyone else. But when she must visit the preacher she gets to ask all sorts of semi-philophical questions about religion, making a hash of Christianity.

The keen and antic wit remains, though the sparks grow sparser. One of Hepburn's friends -- there are three nuts all together -- is Giuletta Masina, who spends her afternoons in the park sitting on a bench and watching the men visit the pissoir. They all know her and tip their hats. But she's shy and easily embarrassed. Hepburn makes some remark about husbands and is warned, "Don't forget. Our friend is a V-I-R-G-I-N." Hepburn: "She can't be all THAT naive. She has canaries."

At a mock trial, the rag picker (Danny Kaye), introduces the three ladies to modern life which, in his view, is profoundly dismal. Tears form in Hepburn's eyes.

At that point, I more or less lost interest, but you might not.

Race for the Yankee Zephyr

If you've ever wondered what the high country of New Zealand's south island looks like, this will provide decent introduction. It looks a little like the video clips we've seen of the Falkland Island, only with mountains, rocky snow-veined crags.

The story features Ken Wahl as an adventurous helicopter pilot, his bibulous side kick Donald Pleasance, and the requisite young lady who gets swept up in the race to find the Yankee Zephyr, an American C47 that crashed during WWII, carrying a cargo of Purple Hearts, whiskey, cash, and gold bars. I don't know why everyone in the movies finds wrecks filled with treasure. All the old crashed airplanes I''ve found contained nothing. The wrecked ships were worse.

In any case the three good guys are doing their best to find the wreck, the drunken Donald Pleasance not being too sure of its location. In hot pursuit are the bad guys, led by George Peppard, one of those suave villains who sounds like he graduated from college and is dead set on demonstrating it. I can't locate his accent. I won't tell you who wins.

It's all fast paced with obvious direction by David Hemmings. The editing is a bit clumsy and the film is overscore. The music is mostly generic adventure but shoehorns in a little Sibelius. Leslie An Warren looks pretty good.

It's harmless entertainment, along the lines of "High Road to China."

Death Wish II

For Specialized Tastes.
Basically a remake of Death Wish but without the "philosophy." It stinks.

It follows the usual pattern of assault piled upon insult, just to get us on the murderer's side, and then keeps us there as he works his way through a gang of ill-dressed rapists and killers.

"Dirty Harry" offered no such excuse. Harry was a man of principle, doing his job, who forgot that he's working for someone else, not just himself. This cartoonish abortion avoids any such complexity. The original "Death Wish" went to great lengths to justify Kersey's slaughter and his final exile from New York City, an excuse Dirty Harry didn't have.

This piece of meretricious garbage doesn't bother with all that. The gang gang bangs Kersey's housemaid and retarded daughter and then kills them both. Kersey no longer needs to be talk into seeking out and killing the miscreants. He's already learned how to do it.

Los Angeles as a population of roughly 3,800,000 people. How is Kersey to find the grandly tattood punks in this crowd? No problem. He dresses like a bum, hangs out in louche neighborhoods, and finds them -- period.

Hollywood at its worst.


By The Numbers.
Most of the reviews capture the main elements of the movie. If it missed a cliché, I missed the missing of it. Just an example. We know that in slasher movies the supposedly dead villain leaps back to life. The earliest and best example of such an event is from "Wait Until Dark" (1967). Here, one of the more dislikable heavies -- Kiefer Sutherland as the pompous representative of Rome -- gets to pull the stunt twice.

There are three blacks in the movie. They're all friends and caretakers of the white people. One by one, they are picked off. Usually the white hero and heroine (Kit Harrington and Emily Browning) get away alive, but in this case everyone perishes, with the two lovers turned into upright statues of ash.

Those clumsy looking human forms that we've all seen from Pompeii are interesting. None were upright, of course. Pompeii was buried under thirty feet of ash, left alone for some 1,700 years, until in the early 19th century some of the men wielding shovels found that their shoes sometimes broke through the crust into hollows below. Then archaeologists began to locate the holes and fill them with plaster.

But that's neither here nor there. Without giving the matter much if any importance, I picked up scenes (or suggestions of scenes) from "Gladiator," "Spartacus," "Titanic," "The Horse Whisperer". and one or two others I've forgotten.

In return for sitting through the formulaic events, you get in return a massive display of visual effects: flaming meteors, boulders falling from the sky, a giant tsunami, fires, earthquakes, landslides, a monstrous pyroclastic flow, and praising the chocolate cake at one of your own restaurants. It's such a shattering experience it will make you think twice. Twice but not three times.

Informative datum. Pompeii had a red light district and the cobblestone street was worn down an inch or so by the heavy wagon traffic, like inverted railroad tracks.

Across 110th Street

Interesting but Unpleasant.
A couple of fine actors here -- Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Koto. Anthony Franciosa is less spastic than usual. And the story itself, in which just about everyone in New York, including the African-Americans in Harlem and most of the police force supposedly arraigned against them, are crooked. Even the less admirable characters are given some humanity: Quinn is about to be sidelined on the NYPD because of his age, and one of the three blacks causing all the uproar and murder has epilepsy. Black against white, with crookedness cutting across the castes like overlapping Venn diagrams. It's pregnant with possibilities.

But, alas, it's undone by the direction, editing, and musical score. It's not worth going into in too much detail. The director, Shear, has overwhelmed the plot with crowded scenes and overlapping dialog, or else huge choker close ups of sweaty faces. Some important scenes are deleted. The film is overscored and the music is loud and distasteful. Suspenseful scenes are backed by rattling mariachis.

The story itself is good enough to overcome some of these weaknesses but on the whole the impression it makes is one of hasty shooting on the cheap.

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