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The Accused

A powerful film. Not perfect, but definitely memorable.
This film made quite an impression back in the late 1980s when it was released. Adding to the buzz of course was the fact that it was loosely based on a real case when men were apparently tried and convicted for encouraging a rape to happen in a bar. That, the rape scene itself, and a great Jodie Foster performance put it over the top. Despite the many fine qualities of the film, it still suffers from being made in the late 1980s. This was a time when even many of the most noteworthy of films tended to look kind of cheap and somewhat truncated. This film was made in British Columbia for a somewhat modest sum of cash, but it generally overcomes this.

The plot centers around a young rape victim (Foster) attempting to help see that her violators are brought to justice. We know from the first few minutes that she was brutally raped, but it isn't until much later in the film that we actually see the horrific crime take place. There are plenty of witnesses in this crumby blue collar bar, but Foster's character was dressed kind of "slutty" and she has a police record and was drunk and stoned at the time. The lead prosecutor (Kelly Mcgillis) knows it will be tough to get convictions with long prison sentences in this case. She pleads down to "reckless endangerment" and the rapists get a basic slap on the wrist. Foster is understandably peeved and has a violent confrontation with a sleazy guy (Leo Rossi) who cheered on the rapists. This motivates McGillis to try the three guys who cheered it on. The 3rd act is basically their trial and the rape scene.

The rape scene is really tough to watch. Three guys rape Foster on a pinball machine. The first guy kind of looks like a tall Joe Piscopo. The next is the "college boy" played by smug-looking 80s actor Steve Antin. He's even a worse guy than he was in Last American Virgin. Do you believe this guy used to date David Geffen?? The last guy is either very meek or mentally challenged. The working-class schlubs that cheer it on are scary looking at best. Antin and his college buddy look way out of place in that bar. The verdict is predictable but I don't recall what sentence was handed down to the peanut gallery guys. I'd say definitely watch this, but be prepared to see some awful behavior. The film is good but lacks the timeless feel and polish of something like A Few Good Men, or something. 8 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

Endless Love

Don't listen to relationship advice from Tom Cruise.
I'll start by saying this film is not the terrible bomb that many people say it is. For the most part its watchable, and at least the first hour is fairly interesting. Its in the final scenes (taking place in New York City) where the film completely loses its way and falls flat on its face. The story deals with teen-aged lovers whose affair is too hot for their families to handle, and some bad decisions ruin everyone's lives. Apparently the novel this is based on is well-thought of, and the film strays far from it in terms of story construction. The young man in question is named David. He is a senior in high school and played by some guy named Martin Hewitt. His performance isn't bad at all. In fact, the acting is generally fine by all involved. Except Cruise, but he was just starting out. So was James Spader, and his character is made out to be an A-hole. Brooke Shields is Jade, a fifteen year old who loves David as much as he loves her. David's self-absorbed parents never really meet Jade, as they are often over at her house. At first David seems to be like one of the family at Jade's place. A guy destined to one day be their in-law. But when the intensity of their love affair becomes a disruption to her family, David is quickly scorned by her father and brother. He is forbidden to see Jade for the last month of the school year. That's when things take a terrible turn. David makes a huge mistake and things are never the same for anyone again. He is institutionalized and forbidden to ever see Jade again. Will these two lovers be separated forever?? Go ahead and see for yourself. Maybe you will be able to figure out the last half hour better than I could.

The setup, being the portion of the film leading up to the house fire, is good. I was interested in these characters. Jade's would-be hip father who is proven to be a fraud when he begins to feel jealous of his daughter's love and his wife's wandering eye, is quite memorable. We don't seem to learn as much about David's parents, other than they seem to be Jewish and also Socialists. Maybe his father was supposed to be an attorney, if I recall. Brooke Shields is just freaking gorgeous in this movie. Maybe even more so than in The Blue Lagoon. And she doesn't embarrass herself in the acting department, too. Its just too bad they didn't know what to do with these characters in the last half hour. The film is so oddly constructed towards the end, that its hard to tell if what we see is actually happening, or is it just a fantasy had by David while hes rotting away in jail. The title song is very nice, though. 5 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

Final Jeopardy

Not too shabby.
Kudos to whoever put the great-looking restored version of this up on Youtube. This is one of those TV movies (the 80s had plenty of them) that were good enough that you'd remember at least part of them as an adult. Final Jeopardy is like a tense version of The Out of Towners, or some such fish out of water type story. It involves a yuppie and his wife visiting some big American city (not sure they even named which one, but it mostly seemed to be Chicago) for a job interview and maybe a nice dinner before heading home to some unknown suburb to get back to reality. Maybe it wasn't an interview. On second thought, the guy may have been just looking for an investor for a business venture. Anyway, it hardly matters by about 10 minutes in. The first guy he meets isn't interested, and the next guy he is supposed to meet never shows up at the bar he expected him to be. Oh, well... maybe he can meet up with his wife and have a nice dinner... oops. This is before American cities started with urban renewal and having any sort of entertainment open downtown after about 7:00 pm. No sooner does our couple rendezvous, then they quickly realize they are stuck downtown with no hotels/buses/cabs available to them. It gets worse as four-person gang of muggers begins chasing after them. Will the couple be able to find a safe place to hide for the night? Can they even find a cop? Someone helpful? Anything?

Although many details of how this couple becomes isolated are contrived, and a bit hard to believe, the tension is successfully established early on. You have to keep in mind that many cities might have been this deserted at night back then. Since I've been an adult, every city I've been in has at least some kind of nightlife downtown until at least midnight. Later on the weekends. But back then who knows. So I will reserve intense criticism for the mostly-deserted streets they encounter. The little street gang is not terribly intimidating. How one meek-acting yuppie and a limping wife can keep them at bay is one of this film's credibility issues. Everyone else they encounter is either rudely indifferent, clueless, or hostile. The gang appears and disappears randomly when the script needs to increase tension. The direction is above average and the acting is generally excellent for such an endeavor. Richard Thomas is particularly good as the yuppie protagonist. He's had a long career. You may chuckle when you initially see him, though. He looks like a young Principal Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off! The wife is well-played by the attractive Mary Crosby; one of Bing's many children. Some interesting casting for peripheral characters. The guy playing the bartender in an early scene is "the most interesting man in the world" from the Dos Equis commercials. Too bad the yuppie didn't order one of those! Nobody played a Chicago cop like Dennis Farina, but his role is way too small. I love any scene in the movie with a train in it, even if the one here is impossible to believe.

If you have time to check this one out, go ahead and do so. After a few minutes of it, you may find you remember it from 1985. Seeing it again as an adult reminded me of being stranded outside of Madison Square Garden during an August blackout in 2003. My first day ever in NYC and THAT had to happen! Lots of indifferent people there too, but at least there were lots of cops. I was told by more than one official to check with Port Authority to see if they could get me where I needed to go. What the heck is that, anyway?? 7 of 10 stars.

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The Rage: Carrie 2

How many spear guns do you keep in your gun case?
In this movie, there is a house with at least six of them, but that's just one of the many faults with The Rage: Carrie 2. I happened to stream this yesterday afternoon, as it somehow appears on Youtube in its entirety this month. I recalled some of it from when it first came out, but time has made me more cynical since 1999, and less apt to accept elements of a poor movie that takes itself seriously. The original Carrie from the 70s is considered somewhat of a classic now, and stunningly I've never seen it all. But even with my limited knowledge of that one, its clear that part 2 is a pale imitation. The story deals once again with a troubled teen girl dealing with bullying schoolmates while coming to terms with telekinetic powers she apparently has. Shes's a girl with a good heart, but troubles at home and at school might lead her to lash out....

You can see the conclusion from a mile away here. But before we get there, we are treated to some of the most repulsive characters you could ever believe. Rachel is tormented by rowdy jocks, snotty girls and awful foster parents. Only her dog is truly likable, and he gets run over by a truck for his trouble! One of the popular boys becomes her boyfriend for the bulk of the film, but his attraction to her is inexplicable. All the romance does it set the table for extreme carnage later. Amy Irving from the original film is tacked on only to receive a horrific death along with just about every mean teen at a swanky party. The conclusion offers little reward for sitting through this.

Emily Bergl as Rachel does not do a bad job, she is just miscast. You can hear her English accent quite clearly in a scene where the jocks are terrorizing her at her house. Jason London is passable as her love interest. Watch for future American Pie stars Eddie Kaye Thomas (Finch) and Mena Suvari, who was never as attractive as the people who cast her thought she was. The film just kind of has a mean undercurrent; mean even for a film where a kid gets his junk shot off by a spear gun. Also, plastic CDs are not strong enough to shred a person, even if launched by a girl with super powers. I'm guessing whoever wrote this had a bad experience with high school football players. Oh, and the soundtrack is really awful, too. I even heard a ska band in there. Wasn't that not hip by 1999? Seems like more of a 1995 thing. 3 Stars.

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Sharks' Treasure

A Curious Vanity Piece.
Every now and then, Turner Classic Movies shows us a film more "notorious" than classic. That explains the recent showing of Shark's Treasure. This is a would-be adventure film about a group of Speedo-wearing men attempting to recover some lost Spanish treasure in the shark-filled waters of the Caribbean. After massacring several small sharks, the group seems to be finding some good loot, but then they are accosted by 5 escaped criminals, who literally appear instantly on their boat. Can these men fight off the convicts and still save their treasure?? If you must, go ahead and find out.

This film was written, directed and produced by its "star", some guy named Cornel Wilde. I have seen many a movie in my life, old and new, but I really don't know anything about this guy. He apparently had a career spanning back to the 1930s. Good for him. You can tell this is little more than a vanity piece. Wilde wears little more than a Speedo for the entire film. He makes sure his pecs are oiled and he even shows off his ability to do push-ups using just his fingertips. He spends a good bit of time also lecturing the others about not drinking too much and eating the right things. Just weird, uncomfortable dialogue that disrupts the already thin plot. He also tries to mentor the young member of his crew. He even offers counseling to the submissive homosexual member of the convicts who is abused by the group's leader. Weird, yo. But you have to give Wilde his due. He does look to be in fine physical shape. The only other actor I recognized was Yaphet Kotto who always gives a good performance in any movie.

Look, I don't have a problem with this movie's general premise. If you want to see this plot done better, I'd recommend The Deep which came out a couple years later. And that film has Jacqueline Bisset in a wet white tee shirt at the beginning. A much better sight than middle aged men in Speedos. The action in Shark's Treasure is sparse, and mostly worthy of its PG rating. The music is an awful keyboard score. The editing is just strange. As far as Wilde is concerned, I'd just tell him (and all fitness enthusiasts) that longevity is not necessarily due to exercise and diet. Wilde died at age 77 of cancer. My own father just turned 81. He has smoked at least a pack a day, drinks at least one stiff drink per day, and never really has exercised. Wilde at one point in this film claims every ounce of alcohol you drink takes your brain 5 weeks to recover from. If that's true, I shudder to think how many weeks behind my brain is from the rest of me!! HA! I'll give this film 3 of 10 stars.

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The Nickel Ride

Not great but glad I finally saw this.
This low-key film is almost more of a character study than a thriller, but some scenes are brimming over with tension. Jason Miller plays a guy named Cooper who has an interesting job, to say the least. He manages warehouses in downtown Los Angeles where the mafia store stolen goods. In addition to this, Cooper seems to have other Mafioso-type jobs such as fixing fights. He is under a lot of pressure to close the deal on acquiring a new block of warehousing, but the word is quickly getting around that Cooper doesn't have the gravitas to do his job anymore. Those above and below him are starting to show him less and less respect. His young wife is often griping at him, too. When a hotshot cowboy from out of town begins showing up everywhere he goes, Cooper suspects the worst. His suspicions are unfortunately right.

There is a lot to like here. The acting, by all character actors, is excellent. Except I couldn't buy Hillerman as a mobster. Even in a non-Italian mob movie he just seems too WASPish. I enjoyed the aging downtown settings of L.A. that are now definitely skid row if they are even still standing today. Miller is an acting stud. Do you believe after all the movies I've seen and even reviewed on this site, I've never seen The Exorcist? I'm sure he's great in that too. The movie is of course dated but no so bad that it distracts from the story.

My main criticisms would be with the story, or lack thereof. I wanted to know more about these characters. I wanted to know more about the secrets stored in those warehouses. That whole chunk of the movie taking place at the canyon seemed out of place. Like almost from another movie. I would have spent more time in the grime and guts of their urban world. And did the purpose of the Turner character have to be so obvious? What if he could have helped Cooper out? It would have been a nice surprise. The fix was just too in here. Cooper really had nobody who could have bailed him out. I wonder who the next guy was to get those keys. 7 of 10 stars.

The Hound.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Watchable, almost in spite of itself.
Definitely a strange entry in the never-ending Halloween series, part 5 picks up exactly where part 4 leaves off with Michael Myers shot several times before falling into a deep mine shaft or well. Dynamite is dropped into the well, theoretically blowing him to bits, or maybe hell. You'd think that law enforcement would want to recover his body rather than blow him up, but any trace of logic was long gone from the series by then. Naturally Myers survives the explosion and is nursed back to health for a year by some hermit loving along the river Myers escaped to.... I believe the Cinema Sins guys would call this Hermit ex-machina. Anyway, by next Halloween, Myers has recovered from his injuries and goes back to chasing poor little Jamie and slaughtering the teenagers in her life.

Jamie, after the trauma of part 4, is now mute and living in a children's hospital. Dr. Loomis is still lurking around, trying to decipher the bond between her and uncle Mike. Donald Pleasance was reportedly too sick to work for very long on this project. Rachel is still around, but unfortunately not for very long. Who are Tina and her friends, exactly? How is Tina seemingly closer to Jamie than even Rachel? Hard to say. Many characters in this episode are not clearly explained, and some of their actions defy any logic at all. But that is ultimately part of the charm of part 5. Whereas Dwight Little and writer Alan McElroy gave a more straight forward narrative in part 4, the new director (a Frenchman with a long name) takes some stranger paths. Some of them work, some are questionable and some are ridiculous and inexpiable. Actors on this set were apparently routinely told that everything they were doing would be explained in the next film. Not!

There are just too many things this film does right to dismiss it though. The film aesthetically looks terrific. Autumn looks like it should, even though it was not filmed during that season. Chase scenes are well-filmed and conceived. Plenty of attractive women. Ellie Cornell just out of the shower and lying on a bed in a towel.... mmmmm! There is a good deal more gore than in previous Halloween films, too. Mustapha Akkad seemed to learn from having to shoot additional gore scenes for part 4 after test audiences complained it wasn't graphic enough. Hats off to Danielle Harris, too. Her performances in parts 4 and 5 are some of the best child acting I've seen. So many children make annoying characters, but not her.

On the down side... the Man In Black. Need I say more? The comic relief policemen (complete with sound effects, no less!). Losing Rachel 10 minutes in?? Weird decisions, y'all. No less than 3 writers credited may have been the biggest problem. I'll give the whole thing 6 of 10 stars. A perfectly suitable movie to have on in the background while passing out candy to random kids at the door.

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Boring made-for-tv movie.
How is it that I don't review any movies on here in like forever, and the first two I do all summer end up being obscure titles with Robert Logan in them?? Weird. Anyway, I sat through this 1977 small screen epic yesterday morning, and came away a bit disappointed. I recall there were plenty of decent tv movies when I was a kid. Don't Go To Sleep, Disaster on the Coast Liner, and perhaps the greatest of them all... Dark Night of the Scarecrow, but Snowbeast is nowhere near those in quality. It is a missed opportunity on many fronts. It takes an interesting premise, a solid cast of typical supporting players, a potentially frightening creature, and just ends up boring the audience.

The concept of a yeti, or bigfoot has been the stuff of legends for many years here in America. So many people claim to have seen one, and many are still trying to prove its existence. But would he be some terrifying beast, or some harmless big ape-like animal? Well, this film shows him (or mostly doesn't show him) as being a blood-thirsty almost bear-like creature who attacks and kills humans on sight! Mostly skiers who ski too close are his victims. And of course the local town is doing some sort of big celebration or something common in these 70s monster movies such as Tentacles, Piranha, or others. This puts even more people in peril. Can a former Olympic Skier, his wife, the local law enforcement, and the resort owner's son team up to stop him??

Snowbeast is at least an improvement over 1970's Bigfoot, but that is hardly an accomplishment. Way too much time is spent watching people ski or ride around on snowmobiles. The photography is poor, and that is hard to believe with beautiful Colorado scenery as the backdrop. Oddly enough, when we do get brief glimpses of the beast, he looks quite scary! But they hardly show him. Not too much gore, but more than an average tv movie probably had back then. Another downfall is the running time. With commercials thrown in, this thing doesn't have the goods to hold interest for two whole hours. There are at least two Scooby Doo episodes with this same basic plot, and they are more worth your time. 4 of 10 stars. The Hound.

A Night in Heaven

In class, he's an F. In bed... at least a C. Let him pass, teach!
Here is a head-scratcher of a movie. I recall when this first came out, it was marketed only as a movie about a teacher who sees a strip performance from one of her students, then has an affair with him. Yes, that does indeed happen, but the movie is as much about her husband and his midlife crisis. Also thrown in for good measure is her sister's (I think it was her sister) marital troubles, some uninteresting back-story about the stripper and his friends. Also the stripper wanting to start a career in hotel management, so he can support his tired old mother who has been a waitress her whole life and is now exhausted. All of that in just over 80 minutes! Needless to say, a lot of the principal photography of this one probably hit the cutting room floor, and most of what was left dealt with the sexier ideas of the story.

The movie stars capable actress Lesly Ann Warren as the teacher and Chris Atkins of Blue Lagoon fame as the sexy young stud student. Gone is his late 70s white man's afro from Blue Lagoon. In this one, he looks more like Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back. Not terribly muscular, either. Whatever. I've never completely understood why women find some men so sexy. Warren looks like a frigid librarian when in class, but of course looks beautiful when in a nice dress and out with her friends at the strip club. Her marriage is not going well... at least not total bliss. Her husband (named Whitney, no less) works at NASA, and seems conflicted from the first moment we see him. It appears now (because its the 1980) they want him to develop weapons instead of launch rockets into the far reaches of space. That evil warmonger Ronald Reagan! Oh, you mean the one during who's presidency was perhaps the most peaceful time (certainly during my lifetime) in all of human history? That Ronald Reagan? You mean the one who took down the Soviet Union WITHOUT firing a shot at them? That warmongering Ronald Reagan? Yeah.... well, never mind the facts. Anyway, Whitney isn't happy, and it certainly isn't helping their sex life. All it takes is a night at the strip club known as Heaven (get it?) and Warren and Atkins are bound to hook up.

With Warren, her motivation is clear. She is a frustrated house wife who sees a chance and takes it. With Atkins, however, the motivation is not as clear. Is he doing it so she'll pass him in the speech class after originally flunking him? Maybe at first, but he really does seem smitten by later in the film. Maybe he has had so much sex with girls his age, he sees the older woman as more of a challenge. While their affair is going on, Whitney seems to have a chance to fool around too with an old friend. Whether he does is not clear, or maybe it hit the cutting room floor. The conclusion of this film is a little bit suspenseful, but ultimately logical. Just too damned abrupt. This director, the late John Avildsen, had some big hits and much bigger titles on his resume. Rocky, Karate Kid... This finished product seems beneath his talents. I'm guessing the studio is to blame. Events are so randomly thrown in, at first I didn't even think I was watching the right movie. The whole opening sequence shows some of NASA's finest hardware, and Whitney riding his bike past it on his way home from work. Until I saw Atkins and Warren's names go by in the credits, I was convinced it was not the same movie I remembered seeing commercials for in 1983. There is some decent sex in the film, I will give it that. But once it was over, about the only thing it made me do is play some old Bryan Adams music! The overall film is not very residual. 4 of 10 stars. The Hound.

Everything, Everything

Predictable, but charismatic cast and a few quirks make it somewhat enjoyable.
Everything, Everything may not win any Oscars this spring but there isn't any fault in these young stars. This film deals with a teenage girl who lives her life sealed up in her house, and under close medical supervision by either a nurse or her mother who is a doctor. Her only sibling, a brother, and her father were apparently killed in an accident. she has to do her schoolwork online. It's a pretty lonely life for young Maddy, who suffers from some disease where she has a very weak immune system and cannot be exposed to typical germs. At least she doesn't have to live in a bubble like John Travolta or Jake Gyllenhaal. It looks like a nice house, anyway. Big windows. Big enough to let her flirt wiyh the new boy Olly who just moved in next door, anyway. Olly is apparently a cute boy, but he has a rough life. His dad is an abusive drunk who can't hold a job, forcing them to move often. These two kids are in need of a good romance, its safe to say. But how can these kids get to know each other when Maddy isn't supposed to be in the room with other kids??

With the help of her nurse, Maddy and Olly are able to strike up a little bit of a relationship. Plot complications involving her mother seem to stop it before it can get beyond a 4th of July kiss, though. Maddy is compelled to do something bold. She purchases tickets for herself and Olly to take a romantic trip to Hawai'i! I guess she'd theoretically rather die of every possible germ imaginable than spend another day locked inside her house. And what a fun trip it is!


Of course once this trip is taken, there are only 2 paths this story can take. The film dangles one in front of our face, then hits us over the head with the other. And it was no surprise to this author that Maddy was not really sick, but think of what that says about her mother. By the film's end, their relationship is still up in the air as Maddy's childhood was proven to be an unnecessary lie. Do Maddy and Olly end up together? Take a wild guess, but you'll feel they've earned their happy ending.

This is a better than expected film, and the young stars get a lot of the credit. Amanda Stenberg in particular will hopefully use this film to vault herself to great things. Despite many predictable parts, there are some nice touches involving Maddy's architecture projects coming to life, and her astronaut guardian angel. Despite the PG-13 rating, the film has little explicit material, save for one scene of I'd call it "implied intimacy". Will this film's target audience of teens get the Nurse Ratched reference? Will their parents know what it means when they are asked?? 1975 was a long time ago.

The Hound.

Silent Rage

Interesting premise. Underrated Norris vehicle.
Silent Rage just might be worth your time. Though far from perfect, this film is a cut above the other Norris films made up to that point. Not only do we get to see him kick some tail, we also get some good comic relief from Stephen Furst. And at the heart of it all is a plot involving a genetically engineered psychopathic killer. In addition to some good fight scenes, there is slasher- style suspense and some atypical characters in the periphery.

Norris plays a small town Texas sheriff who in the process of responding to a domestic violence call, finds himself face to face with a homicidal maniac. The man known as John Kirby is a mental patient who completely snaps and kills a couple people he lives with. I don't recall his relationship with this family he attacks. They may be his relatives, or just someone he rents a room from. I would have liked to know more about that home situation. Anyway, Kirby won't let the deputies take him in without them having to unload their weapons into him, leaving him comatose. At the hospital a group of doctors attempts to revive Kirby using some kind of genetic formula. Not sure exactly what their miracle drug was made of, but definitely not something approved by the FDA. The doctors give him so much of it, not only does Kirby survive, he becomes an unstoppable killing machine, preying on the doctors, their families, Norris... anyone he can get his hands on. Can Norris stop him? And still have time to save the town from motorcycle gangs? And have have time to swing in a hammock with his girlfriend while a cheesy love song is playing???

Maybe I was in too good of a mood the other day when I saw this. The story is impossible to believe, Norris is as wooden as ever, some of the suspense is clumsily handled... but something about this killer and the way these doctors try to engineer him... I found it an interesting idea. The supporting cast is surprisingly strong. Furst is likable, as well as Ron Silver as the doctor with a conscience. The lead doctor is outstanding as well. He's played by Steven Keats who you may remember as Bronson's meek son in law in Death Wish. A guy named Brian Libby plays Kirby. Weird looking guy. Perfect for this role. As the audience we want to know more about his back story.

Give Silent Rage a chance. Try it again if its been a couple decades since you've seen it. Its held up okay. Not quite on the level of the Missing In Actions or Delta Forces that would come later for Norris, but still pretty good. 7 of 10 stars.

The Hound.


Better than average Canadian slasher.
Every now and again, Canada produced a competent horror film back in they day. Though not quite as memorable as Black Christmas or My Bloody Valentine, Curtains offers some good acting, atmosphere, and a few chilling scenes. The plot centers around a sleazy veteran director who invites six young actresses to his secluded property in order to audition them for a big part in an upcoming project. Its also clear from early on that these women mostly feel obligated to audition in the bedroom, as well. But before all of this is to happen, the director has his usual lead actress committed to an insane asylum, presumably to research the part, but more likely to get her out of the way in order to use the other actresses. She is able to get out just in time to participate in the auditions. And the moment these women show up, someone wearing a hideous mask begins killing them. Who is doing the killing? Stick with it to the conclusion to find out.

The film scores early points for depicting the depressing and frightening world inside an insane asylum. You can see the toll it would take on someone, even if they weren't initially insane. The atmosphere shifts to that of isolation once the actresses find themselves snowed in with the domineering director. Early victims of the murdered are thought to have just left because they couldn't take the pressure. "Even with the roads impassible?" someone asks. This is simply dismissed, but it seemed like a good question. One flaw the film makes is not letting us get to know these women any deeper than one or maybe two traits. Most are just there to be slaughtered. The killer is pretty creepy. I hadn't seen this in at least 25 years up until this morning, but I always remembered the "skating scene". Genuinely frightening. Also any scene with the creepy doll.

The acting is quite good. Especially from John Vernon and Lynne Griffin. He is pompous and sleazy, but not over the top. His character seems to know how to elicit a good performance, one way or the other. This isn't the first memorable Canadian film for Griffin. I remember her as the first victim in Black Christmas. Wasn't she in Strange Brew, too? As far as guessing who the killer is... the longer you watch, the more obvious it is. Clearly it is one of the women, but as more of them die, you lose potential suspects. And of course the most logical person could not be the actual killer. I think the ending on youtube is different than I remember it from back in the 80s. I thought it had Patti performing her stand-up routine in front of all the dead victims. But here she was giving it to the zombie-like patients of an asylum. Either this is a different version, or I didn't remember it correctly. Either ending works. 7 of 10 stars.

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The Island

Arrrrr, matey! The book was so much better.
By all means, read Peter Benchley's novel. It's a shame what he had to do to his story in order to get it filmed into this odd Michael Caine swashbuckler. Caine (terribly miscast, but still entertaining) plays an investigative journalist who travels with his son to the Bermuda Triangle in hopes to figure out why so many yachts have been vanishing in the region. They aren't there long before the two of them are taken prisoner by a colony of pirates who have been undiscovered for centuries! Yes! They are descendants of Long John Silver or Jack Sparrow, even. They have some modern weapons, but anything new they have is just what they've stolen from local pleasure craft. The mysteries behind how they've remained undetected by the authorities for so many years are not explained by the film, nor is the structure of it consistent in any way. There are some memorable scenes, and some decent action (the finale is a terrific burst of rage and mass-murder), but it looks like the editing room ruined what could have been a better movie. Bits of plot and possibly helpful exposition seem to be missing. Caine's relationship with a female pirate is much more detailed in the book. She is allowed to keep him alive until he can impregnate her with a healthy baby. Caine actually killed her husband while the pirates were taking he and his son hostage. Caine's boy is taken under pirate leader David Warner's wing and groomed to be an eventual leader, himself. So many of these details are not thoroughly explored by this script. Benchley likely had to grin and bear it and hopefully cashed a nice check. There are some performances that elicit chuckles, and some scenes do, as well. But this film is awfully gory at times, and that seems to offset any humorous tone that so many good action films sustain. There is one particularly ludicrous scene in which one victim on a yacht the pirates have just taken uses some odd kung fu moves to hold them at bay before being gutted. The finale takes place aboard a Coast Guard ship which ventures too close to their dreaded island colony. And yes, these pirates have what it takes to take an entire coast guard ship, killing the crew, but then a few moments later are wiped out by only Caine! Its a fun scene, impossible though it may be. Youtube has it. Just type in Michael Caine the Island 1980 and you can see him mow these scuzzy guys down. Even though logistically it does not appear likely that a .50 cal machine gun mounted in that position could hit anyone on the deck immediately below it! Overall, the Island coulda and shoulda Been done better. Michael Ritchie had much better films that this. I love Michael Caine and David Warner though so I'll be generous and give it 6 of 10 stars.

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Looking for Mr. Goodbar

Diane Keaton goes all out in this critically maligned film.
When I was a little kid, my parents let me watch most anything back in the early days of cable TV. The Blues Brothers, Caddyshack, Alien...I saw a lot of grown-up stuff in the late 70s/early 80s, barely out of kindergarten. But not this one. The night my mother was planning to watch this, I was sent to bed. After finally watching the whole thing, its easy to see why. Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a sexed-up misogynistic tale of a young teacher (Keaton), raised in a strict Catholic home, now on her own and eagerly diving into the swingin' 70s singles bar scene. After a rugged affair with her jerk of a teacher, she moves on to a series of increasingly intense affairs and drug use. As one would expect, it can be difficult to be an effective teacher of hearing-impaired students if you're living such a raging lifestyle every night. Clearly something has to give. After seemingly seeing the light Keaton makes the mistake of going home with the wrong guy, with terrifying results.

The biggest problems with this film are the (likely) exaggerated scene she falls into, and the lack of any kind of likable male character. William Atherton (the jerk in so many 80s movies) is a sensitive-seeming lover. Every time it seems Keaton is making anything deeper than a superficial connection with him, she pushes him away. Though they weren't yet major stars, you wish we would learn more about Richard Gere, Levar Burton, and especially Tom Berenger's characters. You'll see why if you watch this. You'll want to know their backstories to see what made them either dangerous or impenetrable. Keaton is terrific. She went all out for this role, at a time in her career when it probably made more sense to play it safe. Even though she is making such terrible decisions, but you end up feeling sorry for her since most men in her life treat her worse than dirt. The disco soundtrack is outstanding. And how about hearing legendary broadcaster Johnny Most talk about Boston Celtic basketball in the background of the family home? A nice touch. Also it was interesting how we see detailed teaching techniques for hearing-impaired kids. This film could have merely glossed over that, but they didn't. The film is difficult to watch at times, but you won't likely turn it off. 7 of 10 stars.

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A Serious Man

Life sucks, then things get even worse.
This is a skillfully crafted, yet ultimately impenetrable film that will not be for all audiences. For my money, Coen brothers film really run a wide gamut in terms of how good they are. You have some spectacular efforts (No Country for Old Men, Fargo), some very good efforts (Raising Arizona, Blood Simple.), overrated fare (Big Lebowski), and some downright tedious (Burn After Reading). A Serious Man would rate above average in terms of the Coen catalog. It is funny, dark, richly-textured, but it really ends abruptly and doesn't seem to have a specific point. Beware that this review is written by a "goy", and much of the Jewish symbolism and possible inside pool are unknown to me.

After a Yiddish prologue that takes place in a Jewish village many years prior to the main events of the film, we are then introduced to man with many, many problems living in late 1960s Minnesota. The Coens' own upbringing is obviously the inspiration for the world this man, Larry Gupnick lives in. He seems like your average mild- mannered college physics professor, and that's exactly what he is. But for reasons we never really understand, EVERYTHING bad that could happen seems to be happening to him. His wife is leaving him for a pompous widower, his children are ingrates, an Asian student is attempting to bribe him and accuse him of defamation all at once, a neighbor is encroaching on his property, an annoying relative has moved in.... you name it. Is this all a punishment from God? If so, why? Who can he turn to for help? Lawyers? Too expensive, considering his wife has emptied their bank account. The rabbis of their synagogue? They talk in circles, and don't seem capable of offering any helpful advice. All we are left to do as an audience is feel sorry for Larry. But we are basically left in the dark as to what he has done, if anything, to deserve it all.

The film is an interesting character study, but where it really shines is in the detail of its production design. Its as if the Coens took every detail from all of their family albums or home movies and crafted a world for these characters that only someone who lived in this environment could have captured. I love No Country for Old Men, but even that film did not convince me it was happening in 1980. They did much better this time around. The son's bar mitzvah ceremony (while he was stoned) is perhaps the film's most memorable scene, and probably based on one of the most memorable events of their own lives. Overall, a very good but mysterious film. Coen fans will appreciate it a lot more than casual viewers. Don't expect to figure out the meaning of life by the time the credits roll, however. 7 of 10 stars.

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Rogue One

A Tale of Sacrifice.
First off, this was so much better than I anticipated! Possibly better than all three prequels combined. Overall, a spectacular blend of the best aspects of all Star Wars films. I was impressed last winter by Episode VII, and I'm excited to see where those new characters take us, but for now, this Episode serves as a wonderful present under the holiday tree!

There are various reasons why Episodes I-III fell short of many of our expectations as long-time fans. Too much reliance on CGI, wooden acting, clichéd writing at times... Lucas seemed to be phoning some of it in. Rogue One is intense, intelligent where it needs to be, and a wonderful blend of modern effects with a retro production design. Even the comic relief character is tolerable! One thing I really like about this film and Episode VII, is the different and more detailed ways they film ship movement in relation to planets and other ships. Space seems to be more three-dimensional. The acting is quite good. Unfortunately, the nature of this story does not give is characters that we will get to know over several episodes. They perform their functions, and the well-crafted story allows us to see what their sacrifices will ultimately lead to. It takes special skill to make us care about a story that can only lead to a certain place. Rogue One has this quality more so than the prequels.

By all means, see this film. A bravo effort from a mostly unheralded cast full of action and exotic set pieces both familiar and new. The Star Wars Universe is capable of expanding... if you do it right.

9 of 10 stars.

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Der ewige Jude

Shocking, to say the least.
This would-be documentary is one of the most outrageous and dangerous pieces of propaganda ever conceived. At just over an hour, this indictment of the Jewish people fails at almost every level. It is biased, factually incorrect, cheaply thrown together, poorly structured and edited, and just plain hateful. About the only thing it has going for it is the shock value that the presentation creates. In other words, its like a terrible car crash you can't help but take a look at and thank your lucky stars you weren't involved in. The sheer brutality of WWII and the 40 million or so lives it took are the reason that films like this, and those who made them cannot and must not be forgotten. Every now and then we have to look, no matter how terrible the sights may be.

The Eternal Jew was thrown together by Fritz Hippler, a crony of Dr. Goebbels, and it doesn't pull any punches regarding the Nazis' feeling toward Jews, not only in Europe, but world wide. It starts out by showing Jewish daily life in the Polish ghettos. The narrator starts with some truly ridiculous claims. Since I have only seen an English language version, you wonder if anything was lost in translation. The narrator states that "Jews have not suffered from the chaos of war like the native Pole." Huh?? So the Nazis didn't put them in those ghettos after stealing their possessions? We are shown footage of dirty, possibly starving Jews haggling in the streets, while urgent music is playing like Jews doing business is akin to the most terrifying moment in a horror film or something. The narrator sounds almost snarky as we see footage of Jews being forced to clear rubble. He says something along the lines of "These Jews aren't used to working... and don't like it either!" That's just the first few minutes, and it sets the tone for the rest of the picture.

The film goes on to try and explain how Jews have wandered from place to place "mercilessly looting the rightful inhabitants" and other allegations of wrongdoing. The film goes to great lengths to warn that Jews who are surrounded by non-Jews will always attempt to conceal their identity, and that this is "the greatest danger" and such. The middle of the film lists various Jewish political figures and tries to explain how they have intermingled into royal families and exerted global political and financial interest through illegitimate means. It also attempts to blame Jews for corrupting the arts and sciences. It even claims Charlie Chaplin was a Jew which he most likely was not. The final segments are equally repulsive, with graphic footage of the Kosher slaughter of cows. True, this is hard to watch, but honestly is there a truly humane way to kill an animal and eat it? The final moments of the film proclaim Hitler and the Nazis as the only solution to the "Jewish plague". We all know how that turned out.

Who is this film for? I guess people like myself who are curious about such tragic events in history and are maybe trying to somehow understand them. But a film like this probably leaves more questions than answers. Neo-Nazis may find this film entertaining, and may even get off to it. Persecution of Jews did not begin in Nazi Germany, nor has it ended with their defeat. Interesting that Nazi filmmakers like Hippler and Riefenstahl were not severely punished for their works and both lived into this century. I can't really even rate this film due to its incompetent style and shocking niche material.

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Das Goebbels-Experiment

A must-see curio for history buffs.
Perhaps if this diminutive propaganda minister hadn't been such an outcast as a youth, he wouldn't have grown up to be such a jerk. The Goebbels Experiment is definitely worth your time if you're into WWII history, and hope to learn what might have made some of these villains tick. Kenneth Branagh lends his voice to an hour and a half of diary entries from Joseph Goebbels, a would-be novelist, poet, propagandist, and fascist anti-Semite who rose from obscurity along with Hitler, and helped his fuhrer terrorize a great many people. We learn of his painful and lonely childhood marred by crippling polio and then being shunned by his schoolmates. We hear the angst felt by many during the Weimar years, and the antisemitism pooling inside him. By the early 1920s, Goebbels has fallen under Hitler's spell, and the two men's destinies are intertwined for the rest of their lives... until their brutal suicides.

Anyone looking for insight into the cause of this man's hatred of Jews won't find much. Antisemitism in Europe hardly began with the Third Reich, and didn't end with it either. The bulk of this film centers around squabbles within the party, and Goebbels' ideas of what make good or bad propaganda. Despite his extramarital affairs (which he only hints at), Goebbels still attempts to portray himself as the quintessential German family man. With WWII raging around him, he still lives the high life by hobnobbing with actors, traveling to swanky Paris and Venice, all the while enjoying the power his position has afforded him. The journal entries turn noticeably pessimistic and more urgent, from the moment he mentions reading a letter from a commander on the eastern front. Suddenly, the fortunes of war seem to be turning. Not much in the way of specific battles are mentioned. Again, this is not exactly a blow- by-blow account off the war. Just the musings of one of the key players. His relationship with Hitler starts as some sort of a man-crush, then goes through a phase of distrust, then ultimately ends up trying to reason with him over mistakes he has made fighting the war. Goebbels also claims to be one of the few Nazi leaders respected by their soldiers on the battlefield.

From the time he hears of the trouble in Russia, Goebbels can most likely guess that his future, and that of the people closest to him, looks quite dark indeed. Still he urges the German people to fight on, and many do... until the very end. And we see this end in graphic detail. Do we the audience feel in any way sorry for him? Maybe for his family, but the words of this man deserve a harsh punishment. And they must never be forgotten. The Goebbels experiment is worth your time. A good blend of newsreel footage, speeches, and an inside look at one of the most notorious figures of perhaps the most evil regime of all time. 8 of 10 stars.

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Nice Dreams

But if we legalize it, does that nullify years of great stoner humor?
With so many people here in the US hell bent on legalizing recreational marijuana, and some states actually doing so, where does that leave the decades of stoner humor we've had in so many films? This is a question we will ponder later in this review. But first, I implore you to sit back and watch this fitfully funny Cheech and Chong effort in which the duo sell their high-quality weed from an ice cream truck, evade the cops, chase scantily clad women, make a fortune, get locked in a mental institution, lose the fortune, somehow get it back, and then apparently lose it once again. As far a crisp direction (from Chong), and a tight story line, forget it. This largely improvisational film is a series of oddball vignettes and typical drug humor. With Chong at the helm, instead of Lou Adler from Up In Smoke, this film meanders more than it should, but still contains plenty of laughs. Many of them are supplied once again by Stacey Keach, reprising his Sgt. Stedanko role from Up In Smoke. Apparently he has never recovered from his freak-out in front of the rock club while standing too close to the duo's burning pot van. Now he has gotten a hold of a specialized form of pot the duo have been growing in their laboratory at the bottom of an empty swimming pool. It turns anyone who smokes it into an iguana. Yep, its better if you don't ask any more about this plot.

As I was chuckling through this film, one major question kept gnawing at me.... what would nation-wide legalization do to the concept of stoner humor? Think back to all of the films and characters in movie history that have used marijuana to define themselves as counter-culture. Think back to Easy Rider, and Fonda and Hopper introducing Jack Nicholson to pot while sitting around a campfire. Think of everything Cheech and Chong have done. Think of Jeff Spicoli. Harold and Kumar. The Pineapple Express.... Would legalizing this stuff throw all of that out the window? Or would it grant them their place in American history as some sort of pioneers? As someone who hasn't touched the stuff in over a decade, it's hard for me to say. I do not look down at people (many of whom I know) who still use Marijuana, but I cannot help but think it wouldn't be as fun if it were legal. I think of something I heard from filmmaker John Waters once homosexual marriage was declared legal here in the states. Waters, out decades before it was considered acceptable, was almost lamenting the fact that it wasn't as fun to be gay anymore. It was almost too mainstream for him! Anyway, my instincts tell me that marijuana use may lose its edge if it becomes legal everywhere. Were it legal, would stoner humor even exist anymore? Would a couple of stoned characters be any more humorous that an couple guys drinking a beer? Well, Strange Brew was funny enough, I guess....

7 Of 10 stars.

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Wall Street

Neither perfect, nor subtle, but a very good film.
Definitely one of Oliver Stone's better films, this indictment of corporate raiders and unscrupulous stock brokers hasn't lost any of its impact since the same type of activities are still in practice, and the gap between rich and poor in the United States has never been higher. But nowadays, since Wall Street has learned to finance the Democrat Party and pay lip service in the press to liberal causes, we hear a lot less about "wall street greed" in the national media. Now many of them are just as hypocritical as they are greedy. But Stone's film is all about the Wall Street of its day. In other words, we get lots of suspenders, big gray cell phones, women with big hair, and shots of people smoking in public. Throw in a scene with a cheesy robot, and you have a an 80s film on your hands. Seriously, what was is with lame robots in 80s films? Rocky IV, R.O.T.O.R., Revenge of the Nerds, Short Circuit.... digressing here.

The plot deals with a fresh-faced, but oily-haired Charlie Sheen working as a hustling young stock broker. He doesn't seem to be doing that well at it, he is mired in debt, and his working-class hero father doesn't respect his line of work. He spends every free minute trying to get into business with Michael Douglas, who is one of the most feared and respected traders in the business. Finally a box of Cuban cigars hand delivered on his birthday is enough to get Sheen into the door. Desperate to get on Douglas's good side, Sheen leaks some insider info about the airline his father works for. It ends up making Douglas some $$, and starts Sheen on his way quickly up the financial ladder. But as you'd expect, Sheen wants it all too fast, and he ends up not only using illegal insider trading practices, but he also ends up as a pawn in Douglas's plan to take over the the airline. You don't have to know all that much about the business to follow the story, but it helps to pay attention. There is a lot of dialogue, and most of it is important.

The casting is exceptional. Charlie and Martin Sheen make a great father-son pairing. Probably better than they do in real life. Martin Sheen gets to do plenty of sermonizing about the value of hard work and whatnot, and you have to think he loved the chance to play this character. Michael Douglas gives probably his most memorable performance as the evil Gordon Gekko. "Greed is good..." etc... He is almost good enough to convince you his character isn't even that bad of a guy. Douglas actually rises about the character in a sense. Hal Holbrook is on hand as a veteran broker who tries to talk Sheen out of chasing the quick buck. He is always appreciated in any film. Wall Street strikes out, however, with its two main female characters. Darryl Hannah is lost as Sheen's tacked-on love interest. Its a thankless role she isn't even talented enough to handle. Honestly, why was she wearing a wet-suit in her scene on the beach. Wouldn't some kind of swimsuit have been more logical or hot? And Sean Young as Douglas's wife?? Always a train wreck, she was apparently such a problem on the set that her role was drastically reduced. Overall, a very good film though. 8 of 10 stars.

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Glen or Glenda

He is not a hermaphrodite any more than he is a pseudo-hermaphrodite... he just likes to wear angora sweaters..
Over half a century before Bruce Jenner decided to step out as a woman, Edward D. Wood Jr. came out with this daring, yet incompetently filmed would-be documentary about cross-dressing and sex changes. Wood, a notorious cross-dresser, insisted he was the perfect director for this subject, and with a budget smaller than the amount of change in a normal person's couch cushions, he sort of made a little movie about these themes. At just over an hour, this hodgepodge of stock footage, poorly written and acted scenes, odd fantasy sequences, and old Bela Lugosi rambling on about life and death is truly a finished product that defies a typical synopsis. "Pull the stringk!!" Lugosi shouts, and he theoretically represents some sort of a puppet master presiding over the human condition.

Though Wood should be applauded for his courage in dealing with these subjects, one cannot forgive the incredible ineptitude with which this thing was thrown together. Some of its more interesting and racy moments were apparently thrown in post-production by the producer who obviously wasn't expecting any attempt at a thoughtful documentary from his director. The dramatic scenes deal with a young man (played by Wood under the pseudonym Daniel Davis) engaged to be married, but he's hiding a huge secret. The man loves to wear women's clothing, particularly angora sweaters! Should he tell his fiancée? How should he tell her? What if she doesn't want to marry a guy like that? The horrors! The scenes dealing directly with this plot make up about a third on the screen time. The biggest chunk of time has a doctor narrating about the differences between transvestites/homosexuals/hermaphrodites among many other things while at the same time explaining them to a police detective. It is in these scenes where some of the most laughable use of stock footage ever can be found. The funniest is perhaps where Wood has inserted footage of a steel mill and two off-screen blue collar types are talking about transsexuals while railroad rails are being forged out of molten steel and sparks are crashing all around! Other random shots of traffic and stampeding buffalo are thrown in. There is a suggestion that some random guy changing a light bulb in a rail yard might be wearing pink satin panties or something... hilarious!! The fantasy scenes go on for about 15 minutes, and make very little sense.

Finally, we see the story of a WWII veteran who goes through a sex change. I'm sure they thought this was graphic back then, but its mostly a shot of doctors looking down at the patient while the narration explains in very general terms what is taking place. And the WWII veteran angle only gives Wood even more chances to throw in stock footage of soldiers in battle. The film's conclusion would probably not satisfy the militant LBGT (or is it LGBT?) community of today. It seems the doctor thinks and recommends that the young transvestite man can somehow be cured from his fetish, but I forgot how. Somehow his wife ends up taking the place of Glenda (his cross- dressing alter-ego) and they live happily ever after. Whatever. Anyway, give Wood some serious props for attempting to take a thoughtful look at trans-gender and transvestite issues at a time when they were probably only hinted at within the moldy pages of dime detective novels. 4 of 10 stars.

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When a Stranger Calls

Effective thriller, despite awkward story arc.
When A Stranger Calls does so many things well, that you can almost forgive the fact that acts 1, 2 and 3 don't really seem to fit together so well. The first twenty or so minutes deal with a teen-aged baby sitter receiving anonymous phone calls from a creep asking if she has "checked the children", a question we the audience also find ourselves asking since the kids are upstairs, apparently sick, and she never once checks on them. Being the 1970s, there is no caller ID at the house, and it takes the police a while to trace the call... to another line inside the same house! Yikes! This scenario is based on an old urban legend, and had been used before in Black Christmas. However the encounter is well-filmed and undeniably suspenseful. After a moment of sheer terror, this situation seems to be resolved.

The remainder of the film takes place seven years later after the psychotic killer from the the beginning of the film has just escaped the mental institution where he had been confined. The father of the dead children from the first scene attempts to hire the now-retired police detective from the case to track this man down and kill him. The ex-cop, realistically played by Charles Durning, agrees. Finding him doesn't prove that difficult. The eccentric Englishman with no concept of social restraint leaves a trail of fear and bad feelings everywhere he goes. And he sticks out like a sore thumb among the skid row missions of downtown Lon Angeles. But actually catching the man can be a difficult thing for an aging, out of shape former cop. The middle part of the film, dealing with Durning's attempt to find the killer, is its best. The third act just isn't plausible in any sense of the way. Nothing about the film's conclusion is truly possible, and it all basically seems tacked on. I'm sure the killer knows where the babysitter from seven years ago is out to dinner with her new husband.... how hard would that really be to find out??

Truth be told, the film has plenty going for it, particularly in the acting department. The fact that Tony Beckley was never heard from again could only be explained by his death shortly after the film was made. He is terrific as Kurt Duncan, the psycho. Not cold, boisterous, or sophisticated like some arch villain. More nervous, fragile, desperate... even pathetic. But very dangerous. The other characters aren't stereotypes either. They are people. Anyone expecting a better than average thriller will appreciate that. But maybe not the ending so much. 7 of 10 stars.

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O Lucky Man!

If you decide to skip this film, YOU ARE A LUCKY MAN!
To refer to this 3 hour monstrosity as simply "self-indulgent" would be an understatement of breathtaking proportions. I write this brief review as a warning, and nothing more. To waste time critiquing its many pointless scenes would be useless, since many are just forgettable. But what we have here is a very talented cast wasting our time and theirs with several useless, random scenes barely intertwined into a dated critique of capitalism. And don't believe what you've heard about the music, either. Even that is bad. The basic plot synopsis that you will read on this site and in many film review books covers only a small fraction of what this film actually contains. It plays like a series of twenty minute short films, held together only by McDowell, and the little rock band. As good as McDowell is (and he acts well here too) even he can't sustain your interest. I mean this film is BAD. About the only other positive aspect of this is a young Helen Mirren who looks kind of like Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle. That's as good of a compliment I can come up with. That's how bad this is. Don't see it! 3 stars is all I can muster. Only for McDowell and Mirren.

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Night of the Ghouls

Bang that gong!
Night of the Ghouls (or the more appropriately titled Revenge of the Dead) is yet another silly low-budget effort from Edward D. Wood, Jr. The plot deals with the police investigating strange goings on at a secluded house where a phony swami is bilking money out of elderly people hoping to connect with their departed loved ones. The film has many of the elements typical of Wood films, including stock footage, incompetent policemen, poor special effects, and a serious lack of talent and budget. Too bad Lugosi isn't on hand. He could have at least brought some bravado to the Dr. Acula role.

Apparently this is supposed to be some kind of a sequel to Bride of the Monster. It even has Tor Johnson reprising his Lobo role from that film. His burn makeup is actually one of the more impressive elements of this film. But instead of Lugosi as a mad scientist, we get this phony Dr. Acula guy. Kenne Duncan, one of Wood's drinking buddies, is just basically a guy in a suit with a cheap turban on his head. He isn't scary or mystical, he's just kind of an a-hole to everyone around him. True he is theoretically supposed to be a phony, but this setup only allows Wood the freedom to cut even more corners than usual with the production. You say the séance seen looks cheap? Of course it does. The guy performing it is a fake! You get the picture...

A good chunk of this film is actually taken from a previous short film with the police detective walking around a theater in a tuxedo. That explains the ludicrous reason they have him wearing one in this picture! "I was just on my way to the opera when I got your message...." Ha! Some of the biggest chuckles are from: Wood's stock footage not matching up with the movie theme. Criswell, who narrates and also plays a small role, is talking about juvenile delinquency and the footage we see is just of some kids dancing at some kind of 50s malt shop. The bumbling Paul Marco is also back as Officer Kelton. His lines are so terrible, you will fall over laughing! The film's centerpiece is the previously mentioned séance scene. Dr. Acula has some old buzzards on one side of a long table, and some plastic skeletons on the other. We hear an off-screen gong bang several times. A trumpet is lazily hung by a string and it keeps blurting out some off-key notes, randomly. There are a couple of random shots of a guy in black-face mumbling incoherently. Some guy with a sheet over his head randomly dances around as someone plays an old fashioned slide whistle. None of it makes sense. The old buzzards just stare ahead, not reacting to any of it in any way. In other words, this scene is everything we've come to endear about Wood films. There is a nice little plot twist at the end that makes it all worth it. Kind of. Like many wood films, this can only be viewed for novelty effect. Definitely worth a look, but Lugosi would have improved it. He may not have even been alive by the time it was filmed, however. 4 of 10 stars.

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A Boy Named Charlie Brown

A classic for Peanuts fans and kids of all ages alike.
This late 60's gem is a terrific showcase for everything there is to love about the Peanuts gang. Many themes and ideas from the legendary comic strip are woven together into this feature length story about Charlie Brown and his world. Unlike the less-successful Snoopy Come Home, this film is a better blend of the emotional highs and lows that a little boy can experience. Snoopy Come Home is almost like an extended wake by comparison.

Much of A Boy Named Charlie Brown deals with him entering a school spelling bee, doing surprisingly well, and then heading to NYC for a national competition. But we also see plenty of other Peanuts themes play out along the way. We see Charlie Brown and his team get demolished in a baseball game, we see Lucy pull the football away when he attempts to kick it, we see Snoopy have some interesting adventures, we see Lucy flirt with Schroeder, Sally flirt with Linus.... all the things we'd expect from a Peanuts strip. And Charlie Brown also cannot fly a kite to save his life. Plenty of funny moments abound. Perhaps my favorite is where Schroeder, who plays catcher for the baseball team, walks out to the pitcher's mound to go over the signs for the days game. He says to Charlie Brown, "One finger will mean the high straight ball, two fingers will mean the low straight ball." Charlie Brown is miffed. "What about my curve? Or my slider..." and other pitches he doesn't really know how to throw. Schroeder simply repeats, "One finger will mean the high straight ball, two fingers will mean the low straight ball." Good Stuff.

Does Charlie Brown win the national spelling bee? Does he finally get to kick the football?? This is a feel-good story, but its still a movie about Charlie Brown. In addition to the funny moments, the film strikes gold with its innovative (for the time) art design, and some truly wonderful musical bits. The instrumental bits actually work much better than Rod Mckuen's lyrical ones. Vince Guaraldi's jazz score is outstanding. The music we hear when Snoopy is skating at Rockefeller Center was used briefly in the 1965 Christmas Special. It still works. And anyone who insists that Charles Schulz didn't believe in God needs to pay attention during Schroeder's piano solo and re-evaluate their thinking on the matter. 9 of 10 stars.

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