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Terrible, but not without a point
There seems to be two extremes among viewers of this movie: you either love it or you don't. I found myself torn between being incredibly bored and incredibly turned off by Sandoval and his aimless friends who seem to fill the day with bongs, booze, and absolute drivel. It's even more aggravating to learn that Sandoval is a dead beat dad who chooses all this over caring for his young son. If you hate these types of people in the real world, there's no chance they're going to win your respect here.

And they shouldn't. The movie was almost over when the point of all this finally starts to become clear. About the time when Sandoval and his equally braindead girlfriend run out of money and pack up with the expectations that they'll just hit the road and do whatever, only to return to where they started. These kids are naive to the point of being pathetic. Though the tagline says that the future is dependent upon it's youth, I'm not sure this was the best example of the critical flaws. This is more like worst case scenario.

Whether it was worthy of the accolades received at the SXSW screening, I think this probably won the hearts of pretentious hipsters that pack the festival.

Desert Son

And now... for a NOT Joke
'Desert Son' seemed like a movie with an idea, but not much is there to back it up. It was intended to be a thriller, I suppose, but the audience is supposed to rely on much of what the filmmakers give, without much explanation as to why. Everything just seems to happen.

The story begins with teenage Phillip being abandoned by his vindictive stepfather in the middle of the desert. Eventually, he's discovered by Lucy, a teenage runaway who shares an abandoned house with another runaway, Jack.

Even with unconvincing storytelling, this movie would have been far more tolerable had Jack not been the most annoying character in the history of film. Without explanation, he loathes the world, including at times, Lucy. Naturally, he's not very welcoming when Phillip shows up.

Still, having nowhere else to go Phillip is permitted to stay (very much to Jack's chagrin), permitting that he learns and helps in their methods for survival. And then somewhere along the way, Jack, as God's gift to humanity, goes on a sudden killing spree. Luckily, Lucy and Phillip are there by his side, yelling at him and not doing much else.

Great acting! Great story! Great movie! .... NOT.

D.O.P.E. Death or Prison Eventually

On the mortality of celebrities.
D.O.P.E. focuses on the similar rise and falls of four first, second and third generation skateboarders. Dennis Martinez and Bruce Logan came from the generation of gymnast-styled skaters (think headstands and 360 flatground spins) in the 1960s, a style that was ultimately rendered obsolete once the legendary Dogtown skaters in the early to mid 70s. The team included the rambunctious and talented Jay Adams, among others. And in the 1980s, Christian Hosoi dominated as one of the top vert skaters.

However, while each of these skaters found commercial success in doing what they loved, the dramatic ebbs of skateboarding's commercial excess forced those in skateboarding to realize their own mortality, which goes with the territory of "celebrity." Each of the former skaters in this very direct, cautionary documentary recounts their descent into heavy drug abuse which eventually landed them in prison. In Hosoi's case, this was something already documented in "Rising Son: The Legend of Skateboarder Christian Hosoi." Jay Adam's drug use, too, is to some extent already documented in Stacey Peralta's Z-boy documentary, which begs the question as to why the subject must continuously be revisited, especially when there a few incidents like these in recent pro skating (saying a lot about the drug cultures of the 70s and 80s).

Granted, this film is trying to make a point about the consequences of life in the fast lane. A lot of these pro skaters were very young when skateboarding started gaining commercial success, and were being turned into celebrities as soon as their early teens. There is a substantial amount of interview footage, though Martinez and Hosoi seem to be the most willing and most open about their past. It isn't really a film for skate fans as the documentary spends most of its time going into great detail about each of the skater's descent into addiction. It presents little about skateboarding itself, but instead focuses on the personalities, and gets a bit too overzealous.

What kind of impact this will have on the young viewers the filmmakers hope to reach (this being freely distributed to high schools) is unclear. Many are probably aware of Hosoi and Adams, and possibly Bruce Logan because of the continued existence of the Logan company. But, why Martinez is chosen is puzzling, especially when Dave Hacket and Jeff Grosso, both pro-skaters from Hosoi's era, fell into the same trap, but were not included. Chances are younger viewers would heed the lessons of their more recent idols.

Neon Maniacs

Warrants the MST3K Touch. (spoilers)
'Neon Maniacs' reminds me of Rick Sloans awful 80s horror movie, 'Hobgoblins'. The former is not quite as bad, and hence never really popped up on any Worst Of Lists, but it is that kind of 1980s dubious horror in that, despite the urgency of the situation (hideous monsters who "live so that others may die"), the characters carry on like it's just any other day. And this happens right from the start in 'Neon Maniacs,' where the music and opening credits are more appropriate for a sappy drama than something where a park massacre occurs not more than five minutes into the movie.

The Neon Maniacs are these demonic creatures that look like a Mad Max rip off. Kind of post-apocalyptic, though it's not clear where they come from or whether there is any purpose for being there. Their idiosyncrasies sound like something out of 'Gremlins.' They don't like water. They only come out at night. They live under the Golden Gate Bridge. That's pretty much all anyone can tell about them.

Ditched by her oversexed friends in the park on her birthday, one teenager, Natalie, is lucky enough to narrowly survive the killing spree. Of course, the cops, who don't conduct any sort of crime scene investigation and are led by a detective who looks like a Jake and the Fat Man reject, and well, the rest of the neighborhood think that either the kids went missing or Natalie had something to with their death.

Meanwhile, the Neon Maniacs, forced to disappear into the night when the cops showed up and rescued Natalie that night, aren't about to accept a loss and call it a day, they take pride in their undefeated record! So they follow her around the streets of San Francisco, which definitely ruins at least one date, but thankfully puts a halt on a pretty cheesy school dance (yeah, they even find time to do normal teenage stuff!).

Enter the pseudo-heroic shy, fashion-victim soft-rocking boyfriend and a horror movie fan that is the only one who really investigates what is going on (Natalie spends a lot of time by the swimming pool when she's not going ga-ga for the boyfriend), and someone finally realizes that, oh yeah, there's these things and they're wreaking havoc on our city. Of course, even this is fleeting and it looked like Neon Maniacs might have been left open for a sequel. Luckily, that never happened since there were already enough bad 80s horror movies by 1986.

Regardless of the filmmakers never having explained the origin or purpose of the band of villains they call Neon Maniacs, nor even that the movie operates on the nauseatingly unoriginal plot of their teenage prey left to their own vices to figure out how to stop them. Even with these, a horror movie, even a dated one like this, can be entertaining. But when you combine it with the fact that half the time, it doesn't seem like anyone's reacting like their are psychotic weapon welding monsters running around the neighborhood, there's no reason to care about what goes on on-screen. It would've been perfect material for an MST3K episode.

Rescue Me

Benelovent Kidnapper Caper (spoilers)
It may be an obvious disclaimer, but don't expect much from this kidnapper caper. There's plenty to make this an unconvincing story, but I'm sure that viewers will mostly be interested in its nostalgic factor, particularly since it's young stars include pre-fame Stephen Dorff and 80s mischief comedy regular, Ami Dolenz. Dorff plays Fraser, a smart, shy teen who is smitten with the untouchable bubbly blonde cheerleader, Ginny Grafton. Of course, he goes to great lengths to play hero when she is kidnapped by two bumbling drug dealers when Ginny and her obnoxious jock boyfriend (Danny Nucci) inadvertently interfere in the deal. A young, rugged looking Michael Dudikoff plays Mac, who was on the receiving end of this failed drug deal and is blackmailed by Fraser, who happened to be hiding in the trees waiting to photograph his dreamgirl skinny dipping at the lake, but instead, caught Mac, the kidnappers, and Ginny on film instead.

Fraser blackmails Mac into helping him rescuing Ginny, but the film breaks from the thrills of the chase with incessant father-figure bonding between Fraser and misunderstood Mac as well as Fraser's hopeless quest (a little late in his years) to get a girl to like him. In particular, Ginny - who seems caught up in her own world to even give much care to the fact that she's been held for ransom by Rowdy (Peter Deluise) and Kurt (William Lucking). Fraser's sensitivity seems to overtake much of the film, and aside from a few humorous moments between the dufus kidnapping duo, the rest of the movie becomes irritating, so concentrated on Fraser's desperation.

If they had a written a decent story and stuck to the whole caper aspect of the movie, this might've been a pretty decent (though likely still obscure) story.

Black Books

The Wonderful Genius of Dylan Moran.
Dylan Moran plays one of the greatest sitcom characters Bernard Black - an unkempt irritable chain-smoking-and-drinking bibliophile who owns Black Books, a bookstore. He takes the same approach to the value of books and despise for superficial customer desires as Jasper Fforde does in his novels about literary detectives. Bernard's constant companionship is, on the one hand, flat mate and coworker Manny (Bill Bailey). Lovable and slightly oafish, he is Bernard's polar opposite. And among them both, is neutral Fran (Tasmin Greig). It's a rather ordinary setting with not so glamorous characters who all seem to share some kind of amusing social awkwardness.

Consumers of American television should break from the confines of poorly written sitcoms to indulge the refreshingly situational Brit-coms. Among the best of them are 'The Mighty Boosh,' 'Garth Merenghi's Darkplace' and this -- 'Black Books.' Running only three seasons, it had the unique quality of hitting it's prime at the start of the first episode before somewhat running out of situational humor by the final six episodes. The dialog is its shining quality, and perhaps the best of it were those episodes co-written by Dylan Moran and Graham Lineham.


Snapping, crackling and popping for your entertainment.
If Thrasher Magazine's Hall of Meat were videotaped incidents instead of stationary pictures of the aftermath, they'd be... well, they'd be viral video on the Internet, which is where Mtv seems to get much of it's material for the latest in morbid entertainment (and probably a good lesson in ways of taking care of yourself when on a board, bike or skate).

The show is fairly standard MTV material - it starts out with a pretty stern disclaimer followed by the "extreme" montage opening credits, full of nasty falls and hook scream-core. Jacoby Shaddix (of Papa Roach) is your typical loud, animated all-American host in stereotypical garb and body decoration (including eye makeup!) and serves up plenty of fodder for the numerous spoofs on the show that now circulate the Internet. He tends to be the more annoying element of the show, but if you have the stomach (or are prepared to get desensitized) for a lot of the cringe-worthy snap, crackling and popping of body parts upon impact many a young athlete (if you formally define all of these activities as sports) face at some point, it can be entertaining.

It's MTV playing the cheap in order to add another show to its list of music-less fare, and entertaining as it may be, the twenty or so episodes (as of this writing) add very little variation.The setup is usually the same - five people are selected each week to recreate their harrowing events of utter pain, usually something that comes after telling how long they've been doing that sport, what they were doing that day, and then the mess that followed the third or fourth decent attempt of a trick. It's usually followed by pictures of emergency-room side shredded faces or X-rays of hardware in bones followed by at least 10 replays of the fall.

It's better taken in moderation, and not just because some of those disgusting body kinks caught on tape are sometimes too horrific to watch on the first try.

Life of Ryan

Pretty white people with problems.
At age 13, skateboarder Ryan Sheckler was a novelty when he beat Eric Koston on the street course at X-Games. But at age 18, he's a just another painfully dull teenage celebrity. The relationship with his parents appears to exist purely as business deals and his friends look like a carefully selected entourage of trust fund babies. Skateboarding, in fact, has become an aside. Assuring audiences that he's trying to live life as the normal teenager despite circumstances (a stupid comment to make once releases are signed to allow the superficial voyeurism to begin with), Life of Ryan is your typically scripted "unscripted" Reality-TV show where otherwise idiotic teenage drama is milked for all its worth. Even Ryan's friends (including fellow skateboarders) look increasingly bored of the nauseating discussion of girlfriends and divorce. It's all Ryan all the time.

Fresh Horses

Lost in Translation? (spoilers)
Screenwriter Larry Kreton adapts Fresh Horses, originally a play, for the big screen. Perhaps it was the desire to recreate something via casting decisions with the Pretty in Pink duo, McCarthy and Ringwald re-teaming for similar roles, or just in the failure of this particular play to translate so neatly to film, but something was missing that makes Fresh Horses instantly forgettable.

McCarthy never seems to offer much emotion, even in the roles intended to be more romantic. He's just the inert character with some pre-determined purpose that has to be filled for two hours or so. Here, he plays Matt Larkin, the college preppy who breaks off his engagement when he falls for the mostly unsympathetic Jewel (Ringwald, written to be an almost complete dimwit), a girl who is essentially his opposite and fits the "broken home" stereotype that he feels obliged to rescue. Of course, despite urgings from his best friend Tipton (Ben Stiller in a role probably better suited for Paul Rieser) to quit playing it safe all the time and live a little, his friends are suspicious of Matt's new love interest.

The movie might disappoint those looking for something similar to McCarthy and Ringwald's previous romantic pairing in Pretty in Pink, since there is so little sincerity and direction. And, neither of the leads are particularly likable - from beginning to end, Matt can't seem to decide for himself what he wants or has the guts to act on it; and Ringwald's character, too, is at times so ignorant and so shady. It doesn't exactly make for a particularly interesting love story.

The Android Affair

Do Androids Dream of Naked Women? (spoilers)
Based on Issac Assimov's science fiction tale, The Android Affair is the story of a state-of-the-art medical teaching facility where surgeons learn to perfect their craft by practicing on androids. One surgeon is assigned to an android (Griffin Dunne) with a heart problem. But the android, more interested in the world beyond the testing facility, convinces the surgeon to help him escape so that, at least for a day, he can see the world outside.

So it kind of starts out like the typical story of the Android who wants to explore human feelings and emotions, and exhibits at least some capability of doing so. But the remainder of the movie is a fairly ridiculous cat-and-mouse thriller where the head of the medical school (Ossie Davis)sends his goons to track down the surgeon and android when he learns of their escape. As the surgeon will soon learn, the android is much more than just a life-like robot with a heart problem. The second half of the movie, where the bulk of the action occurs, becomes fairly ridiculous mostly because the action feels pretty unbelievable and the dialog gets fairly sappy. But for a cheap, c-grade science fiction production, it isn't the worst thing that's ever been made.

Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold

The Hollywood Hoopla. (spoilers)
Whoever wrote the synopsis for the VHS version of this movie (aka, Dancing in the Shadows) must not have watched the entire film. To sell an otherwise forgotten drama, the marketers had to capitalize on it's then woefully pre-stardom cast members Kim Basinger and Don Johnson. Indeed, Kim Basinger does play the sadly naive young Texan with dreams of becoming a big star in Hollywood. And that is essentially the whole movie--Katie, the Centerfold model who gets the runaround from agents and actors and everyone else running the show in Hollywood. It's very simple, though Katie doesn't seem like a very sympathetic character, despite practically being stalked by drooling guys who carry around the magazine that Katie poses nude for like they're carrying around their driver's license. And with hopes continuously dashed, it is an exaggerated movie that ends rather sadly.

The funny part is that the synopsis says that Don Johnson is said to be the hero who tries to rescue Katie from the decadence she finds herself swallowed by out in Hollywood, only to become entangled in it himself. If you're expecting much of Don Johnson in this movie, you'll be disappointed. Otherwise, the movie itself is just dreamy 1970s and probably just enough for nostalgic Basinger fans.

The Breed

Filling in the blanks on the horror template. (spoilers)
It seems likely that the only thing getting 'The Breed' off the shelves is the lure of it's young cast, and in particular, its co-stars Michelle Rodgriguez and Oliver Reed. Or, at least it might suffice, as the random date movie title for younger viewers. For all else, The Breed, is little more than a template horror movie that, although has the rare incentive of decent acting, offers extremely limited thrills or even decent writing.

The story centers on a group of friends--two of them being brothers--who return to their uncle's old cabin on some forested island, unaware that it is infested with a pack of vicious dogs that have either contracted a furious case of rabies or have escaped a genetic experiment (the writers seem to have a hard time deciding on which they'd rather go with, despite the stupidity in character's reasoning for the former). And that is essentially what the eighty some minutes of screen time boils down to--escaping the dogs. And of course, all that follows is from beginning to end is completely standard from the black guy getting killed first to the divergent brothers forced settle their differences when their lives depend on it.

It's quite the forgettable movie.

Bone Sickness

High on gross-out. Low on everything else.
Bone Sickness is an obvious no-brainer from the start. With a title like that, it's likely anyone gearing up to watch the movie has certain expectations about what follows. The seasoned horror viewer might. Or rather, it should be an obvious indication, had it been a better written movie to explain the details of the sickness that has inflicted one young man (and the home-made cure appears to be a mix of ground bone marrow and ground meat of corpses) in a low-budget zombie movie that has the feel of friends who shot somewhere in a small town where permits weren't necessary.

But the gory details and probably are likely to earn this movie mention, despite their being something of an afterthought of intensity (as did the gratuitous nudity), at least according to the director in the Uncle Creepy interview that is included on the DVD. For anyone who doesn't find this a selling point, at most Bone Sickness should be watched in the company of less-than-sober friends purely for riffing entertainment.

The Last Time

Culling an audience. (minor spoilers)
The Last Time seems, at first glance, like a forgettable, unrecognized title in which Brendan Fraser and Michael Keaton, both known for their career-making roles of better movies, appear to have settled for paychecks here. And the movie itself seems predictable, the story of one egregiously disillusioned salesman (Keaton) partnered with the dubious optimist (Fraser) who warns him that he will soon realize what everyone has already concluded: "life is sh*t." The plot seems too utterly simplistic - that eventually Fraser is going to realize that sales is not a piece of cake and that his symbols of success are not fixed with any certainty. That, as Fraser faces mounting failure, sinking him deeper into acceptance of Keaton's character initial determination about the truth of life, Keaton's character is revealed to be the strategic softee who has more in mind than scoring a few sales, which seem to be effortless of him in the first place. But, the beauty of this movie, besides the performances of its stars that model the black comedy style of "Swimming With Sharks" is that viewers are presented with things that are not always as they seem. Just as culling of elephants is the motivation for the actions on screen, the audiences, too, are being culled. This is certainly a title deserving of attention, but remember: things are not always what they seem.

No Country for Old Men

"He'd kill you just for... inconveniencing him. "
Twenty-three years after their collaborative film debut, Blood Simple, and seven years from the last break of comedy productions with The Man Who Wasn't There, writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen return to their second comfortable genre--noir--with the unflinching No Country for Old Men. Taken verbatim from Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel, the story unfolds on the parched terrain of isolated, southwestern towns so typical to these stories of greed and consequence; these settings outline the borders of hell where righteous humanity is scarce. "The Old-Timers never even used to carry guns" begins the nostalgic narration of Sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) who, throughout the film, offers the commentary of the uncontrollable taint of Man. This is no longer a country for old men.

Lewewlyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is not the typical noir protagonist. Nothing in his character suggests much previous innocence, nor even moral judiciousness towards the choices that set events in motion. While hunting antelopes in the mountains, he stumbles across the failures of a Mexican heroine deal. In something like a circled wagon train. The ground is covered with shells. Bodies lay in pools of blood drawing flies. And the trucks are covered in bullet holes and shattered glass, some of the drivers laying slumped over the wheel. And amidst the carnage, an unclaimed satchel full of money that Moss collects.

Moss has such a matter-of-fact approach to his gamble. In modern noir, redemption is not always a guarantee. And, at least here, it is not even an option. Viewers are likely to reason that stealing from a drug dealer, and especially a villain who lays everything to waste without question, is not really a damning fault. Though, it can be a very stupid thing to do. And, in classic noir form, where greed and conscience are often odds, Moss's inclination towards the latter, pose the challenge for his own survival.

Moss's crucial worry is not the aging Sheriff Bell (Jones) nor the understanding federal drug agent Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), but rather his black-hearted personal reaper, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, closely resembling a young Raul Julia). "He won't care if you return the money," Wells explains to Moss when he is recovering in a hospital from the men's first face-to-face encounter. "He'll kill you just for inconveniencing him."

The story of the greedy man turned drug dealer's prey has been told countless times before and yet, Joel and Ethan Coen have produced a film of such immediate applause (already achieving a top 40 spot in the IMDb top 250 movies list as of this writing). The initial lure is likely the solid starring and supporting cast. The film itself draws on the love affair for retro atmosphere that directors like Quentin Tarrantino have made a trademark, and the only real reference calling audiences back to this century is the comical mention of an ATM machine. But this nostalgia appears to offer a more primitive playing field for the characters. The fancy digital packages that worked for characters in Disturbia, for example, are of no use in this dusty arena. They're not even an option. But perhaps the most effective device in this film are characters cut from a more convincing reality. Lewewlyn Moss is an intelligent man who suspects early on that someone, whether dealer or the law, will come for his claim and he is quite adept in protecting himself. Perhaps his only idealism is that he is convinced he can killed Chigurh.

Chigurh, on the other hand, is the unfathomable mold; the man without conscience. And worse, he seems indestructible in ways that suggest nothing will end as we expect, much to the chagrin of audiences expecting easily manageable explanations and showdowns as the final marker in this narrative spectrum. That is not to say that we are left with overwhelming complexities and uncertainties. But, the audience will have to do some of their own work to understand how this tale ends and it almost requires abandonment of typical frames of moral logic.

30 Days of Night

Abandon Your Comfort Zone. (spoilers)
'30 Days of Night' is quite the impressive modern American horror fare, especially when considering that most of that market bulges with bland remakes, sequels and poorly written movies. And while operating on some convention, such as the creepy kid who becomes infected or the excessively gory visual punch (a whole head gradually becomes detached from a body with an ax), '30 Days of 'Night' works well because it loads enough well-timed action, suspense and psychological stir that forces viewers from their comfort zones.

Though, this is an easy accomplishment where the story itself dictates extremely limited mobility of its characters--survivors in a rural Alaskan town desperately try to defend themselves a sudden vampire infestation at a time when the sun disappears for thirty days. They are placed in a situation with such dubious odds of survival against very powerful adversaries who may or may not be susceptible to traditionally held rules about killing vampires ("it doesn't mean that what worked against Bella Legosi will work against these guys")--or even how they should be presented (they speak in their own language). Once bitten, the transition to life as a bloodsucker isn't as swift, but once it occurs, the ruthless vampires are incredibly fast moving and their senses extremely deft compared to townspeople armed with regular artillery and weaknesses against the elements.

The filmmakers don't need periodic gotcha's and typically written characters like foolish teenagers to get the blood pumping, your eyes glued to the screen and your mind guessing what will happen next. Moreover, this film presents a commendable psychological angle, in which morality is questioned among the survivors in ways reminiscent to John Carpenter's 'The Thing' and, in challenging the viewer's own expectations about how tales such as these should end, it is as similarly short on happy endings. '30 Days of Night' is definitely worth seeing.


Would've sufficed as a cheesy 80s thriller. (spoilers)
Yes, Betrayal is a B-thriller. Though, the opening sequences hint a sort of 80s made-for-TV movie quality, which this movie might've done better as. That, or, if the writing had been strong enough, a psychopath exploitation movie of the 60s and 70s. Instead, Betrayal is poorly written, and at times, poorly acted.

Here, the stories of two groups of people collide. On the one hand is the seductive Jayne, a ruthless hit-woman who settles a contract for a mob boss, but then decides to run off with money meet her partner somewhere in Texas. She's quick with a gun and has a "nuclear weapon between her legs," so the henchmen have no easy task ahead of them trying to get to her. On the other hand, you have a seemingly quaint mother and teen son who are heavily in debt. So, the bonehead son (and this is not his first of flubs), having connections to street thugs, decides to help his mother by delivering some cocaine for a gangster. Only, he is jumped and the stash is stolen. And the gangster thinks that the son tried to rip him off (though, other than a drive-by shooting, he doesn't seem convinced enough to stick around looking for him). So his mother decides that now, they have to flee to Texas to stay with her mother. So of course, they cross paths with Jayne who concocts a story so she can hitch a ride with them. And now they have mafia, crooked cops, and the FBI on their tail... the chase is on.

Only, despite the forced meeting of the characters, the movie might've been more enjoyable B-movie fare if the events transpired in a more believable way. Given, the scenes between the mother and son at the train station, you'd think it was just another day they were going to visit grandma rather than the necessity to flee from a gangster looking for his stash of cocaine. There are also several opportunities for them to escape from Jayne just as there are opportunities for the hit men to kill Jayne. As the movie progresses, things proceed almost haphazardly as though it were a light dress rehearsal. In absence of the budget for greater action sequences like chase scenes and the like, the writing should have at least been much stronger.

Death Sentence

Effective revenge thriller. (spoilers)
Upon seeing the previews to the 2007 thriller-drama, Death Sentence, my first impression was that this was the updated, male version of the Sally Field movie, 'Eye for an Eye' in which an average suburban woman avenges her teenage daughter's murderer. Here, Kevin Bacon plays the seemingly happy-go-lucky husband and father of two. One night, while driving home, his eldest son becomes the victim of a gang initiation. Because the District Attorney has little concrete evidence for a strong case against the killer, who is promised to serve at least a three to five year term, the grieving father decides to take matters into his own hands. Yet, his actions set off a gang war from which he now must defend both himself and his family.

This movie is much more effective than the standard revenge thriller as it promises plenty of action and even, in Bacon's transformation from white collar risk-management analyst and happy suburbanite to something of a fast-thinking, quick-shooting gritty gangster, it sustains an air of "cool" which goes well beyond movies like 'Eye for an Eye,' 'Man on Fire' or 'In the Bedroom' (though the latter is arguably outside of this action-packed genre) in terms of sustaining interest as he tracks down his adversaries, culminating of course in the ultimate showdown. The film maintains its steady pacing and delivers to audiences not just the elements of drama, but enough juicy action sequences (and a cherry chase scene) throughout the film to the point that the atmosphere of the finale stands in stark contrast to the opening of the film. Moreover, it presents a story that doesn't press black and white morality, but instead, leaves for plenty of gray area. Bacon is neither the clean hero and even the gangsters are sometimes glorified. It also helps that the cast give terrific performances.


A hodge podge of cheap scare tactics. (spoilers)
'1408' is the latest hodge podge of cheap scare tactics. The kind that might make date-movie styled horror fans occasionally jump in their seat and scream in your ear, but disappoint audiences searching for a little depth and direction.

John Cusak plays a writer who's made a career of writing books describing his experiences of staying in rumored haunted hotels. Despite assurances by patrons and owners that ghosts roam the halls, there is little to make him a real believer in the paranormal. When he learns of the history of Room 1408 at the Overlook Hotel--no wait, I mean, Dolphin Hotel in New York City--he decides it would make the perfect closing chapter to his latest book. But, Samuel L. Jackson, playing the hotel owner, strongly attempts to dissuade his guest with narration of the atrocities that have occurred in theat room since the hotel's opening many years ago. The story is simple and we, as possible skeptics, must sit through Jackson's lengthy foreshadowing ramble.

In other words: be afraid! Be very afraid!

Of course, it would be easy to convince audiences that they've just paid to see an edge-of-the-seat thriller if it didn't take so long to build up to this point. And also, if what followed was a lot more than cheap "boos" that become so frequent and arbitrary that eventually, you might soon expect them. The temperature in the room changes automatically. The walls drip with blood. The fearless writer can't open the door, etc. And after nearly an hour and a half of delivering these to audiences promised big thrills, you might sit and hope that at least you can be wowed by the ending. With suspicions of dream sequences and other derivative time-wasters, even that fails to quell our doubts that before the movie is over, we might finally have something to make the movie a little less than completely forgettable.

Despite grand performances (as always) by Cusak, who essentially is the entire film, most everyone else of note is wasted (i.e. Samuel L. Jackson) in insignificant minor roles. The true mystery here is how this movie received such a high viewer rating. Ballot-stuffing ghosts?

Date Movie

The first scene is a good indication... (spoilers)
'Date Movie' continues the seemingly never ending franchise of comedies intended to lump together every cliché from recently popular films, a trend set off by the 'Scary Movie' series. The story essentially follows a hopeless over-weight girl (Alyson Hannigan) who spends about 80 minutes trying to find true love. What might actually seem like a good couple of laughs, at least judging from the trailers, actually falls apart fairly quickly. If you don't find yourself laughing by the opening sequence of the film, then there really is no point to watching the rest, as the jokes hardly improve. There are far better spoof comedies out there to pass time with.

Evan Almighty

Going Overboard. (spoilers)
Evan Almighty continues the mainstream Bruce Almighty franchise, this time with newsman turned freshman Congressman from Buffalo, Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), at it's center. A wholly innocuous (and not even really self-doubting) man, God (Morgan Freeman) decides to enforce some sort of quest upon Baxter, in order to illustrate the importance of... reciprocal kindness, so that Baxter can "change the world" (aka, pay it forward).

Think of Evan Almighty as a wholesome derivative of 'Distinguished Gentlemen.' Baxter is not a con, but his colleague, Congressman Long (John Goodman) wants his unquestioned support on a bill that essentially, is harmful to the environment. And well-meaning Baxter, knowing the importance of networking and visibility, is willing to support him.

In addition, with the new job comes more responsibility, and Baxter is in a sense, vilified, for not spending enough time with his family.

So God, decides to give Evan Baxter some guidance by forcing him to become the modern day Noah. His orders: build an ark. Except, while it may be mildly humorous to see Baxter's transformation to the "weirdo with a beard-o," there doesn't seem to be much point to this whole thing which becomes abundantly clearer when the climax of the film fizzles. (SPOILERS: if none of the population is killed by the "flood", then what was the point of summoning the animals... or at least the ones that obviously weren't from suburban Virginia? or, more importantly, if all Baxter had to realize was that Long's projects faltered in their quality, then why did he have to build an ark?).

So, although a comedy like this needn't be a hysterical laugh-riot, it was certainly one made far less enjoyable as it was crammed with far too many homilies (and not all from Morgan Freeman) and action that seemed intended for a film of more epic events.

Thank God You're Here

Don't let the laugh track fool you.
With NBC's "Thank God You're Here", the network may be trying to replicate the successes of ABC's improv sitcom, "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" in which host Drew Carey would judge the performances of a handful of cast regulars asked to improvise scenes of some kind. In the NBC show, Dave Foley and co-host Dave Alan Grier oversee a handful of notable comedians who must improvise their way through various scenes which all begin with "Thank God You're Here." It takes itself far too seriously (why must viewers be repeatedly reminded that the actors have never seen the sets before), both co-hosts seem less then enthused. After watching the continuously sub-par, unfunny attempts by the actors to solicit some laughs, I am left wondering whether the live audience is genuinely laughing at what transpires, or whether they, too, are improvising. Expect this time slot filler to be a very short-lived one.

My Stepmother Is an Alien

Quaint and Predictable. (minor spoilers)
'My Stepmother Is An Alien' is likely to find it's lasting following among 80s fans who probably grew up watching it repeatedly in the way that others might be fond (sometimes, obsessed) with other titles that have become sentimental cult classics. The movie itself offers little more than a rushed, quaint, and predictable story that is much than longer than it should be (relative to substance) and unconvincing.

Dan Akroyd plays a nerdy workaholic scientist who's latest project accidentally penetrates an alien planet. The aliens see this as an opportunity to find a solution to their impending doom: they face a planet on the edge of extinction. So, they transport to Earth an alien (Kim Basinger) and her talking eyeball sidekick that she carries around in her less-than-ordinary handbag. The alien's job is to basically get close to the scientist (and the courting, marriage, honeymoon and sappy ending all occur in the course of just a few hours) so that she can get what she needs to in order to save her planet. So of course she and the scientist fall in love while the aliens expect to destroy the humans for the alien planet's own protection and I'm sure you can figure the rest out.

It's not really a movie that has enough going on to keep the viewer entertained. Better alien assimilation movies can be found in titles like 'Earth Girls Are Easy' (which doesn't take itself too seriously) or even the family-oriented 'Step-Monster'. And even much more cornier, obviously poor efforts are still more entertaining (as unintentional humor) than this, though viewers will probably be drawn (if not out of nostalgia, than curiosity) to see young Alyson Hannigan as Akroyd's daughter, Juliette Lewis as her friend, and Seth Green as her date to the school dance. There's not much other reason to keep reminding people about this movie.

Talent for the Game

not much meat on the bone (minor spoilers)
the appeal of this movie, aside from the standard cliché of the underdog and the principled hero, may be in its star, edward james olmos who gives a fine performance as baseball talent scout, virgil sweet. facing the possible end to a career and last brush with professional baseball, fate leads him to discover a great pitcher, sammy bodeen (jeff corbett) who he takes from an idyllic idaho town to playing for the California angels. of course, as the cliché goes, all of the odds are against sweet and especially bodeen, who everyone adores as the new hope for a poorly performing team, but in the end whom everyone doubts really has the talent for the game.

while a nicely acted little film held together by the strength of its star in particular, there is little substance to this movie for someone seeking a more action-packed baseball drama. the movie centers largely on sweet's dynamics and as such, takes a long time to generate something more than just sweet auditioning players on the one hand and contemplating the future of his career on the other. even the final stages of the film, in which the team's new owner threatens young bodeen's chances to really prove himself, hardly offer much of a real climax but instead feel like the point of a movie where you expected the events to occur as they did as though there were not any other real way to wrap up the movie.

it is a nice little time waster especially for olmos fans, but the film doesn't offer much meat on the bone.


Why would Rick Sloane think this merited the need for a sequel?
Wow, I just finally managed, after several attempts, to finish watching this god awful movie, only to learn that Rick Sloane and his production team have completed a straight-to-video sequel this year.

Of all movies reviewed by MST3K--and they truly dig from the bottom of the barrel, screening the reputationally bad 'Manos,' 'Werewolf,' 'The Incredibly Strange,' and the lesser know disasters like 'Laserblast,' 'Zombie Nightmare,' and 'Time Chasers,'--this certainly has to be the absolute biggest pile of garbage they'd ever shown (which makes it perfect for riffing). Very simple, the movie is about a bunch of Munchies-like gremlins on the loose, exploiting people's desires for fame, fortune, prowess, and of course, sex in ways that end up with people getting killed. But this is the kind of movie where the acting is so ridiculous (a test of machismo, for example, is illustrated by two guys who battle in the front yard with garden tools), the writing is so forced (such as the oft-described scene of a gremlin hanging on the arm of one girl who would notice it, if only she turned her head a quarter to the left... and this isn't the first time in the movie this happens), and the story is so... rarely given attention (hence the MST3K riff about a "law in the future where films have to be made by FILMmakers), that you actually root for the furry puppets to kill off everyone on screen. Worst movie... ever.

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