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Rock 'n' Roll High School Forever

Not a patch on the original film.
The iconic rock 'n' roll comedy of 40 years ago got a belated sequel with this uninspired bit of mayhem. Corey Feldman, at his most obnoxious, plays Jessie Davis, lead singer of a band called the Eradicators. When they're not pulling pranks, they're cranking out their so-so tunes. Then they have to deal with a new VP of Discipline at Ronald Reagan High: the tyrannical D. Vadar (har, har), played by cult actress Mary Woronov.

This viewer would have liked to have enjoyed this a bit more. As it is, it aims hards for the same sense of chaos and anarchy created by the first movie, but falls short. It simply wasn't very funny, at least not to this viewer. It's got lots of energy, but it's energy used to service an underwhelming script (by director Deborah Brock, who'd previously helmed another sequel for her boss Roger Corman, "Slumber Party Massacre II"). It also doesn't have the same sort of hip appeal; it can't boast the presence of a popular band like the Ramones. (Although it *does* feature a musical cameo by Mojo Nixon.) The soundtrack isn't entirely terrible; there is at least a groovy title theme song by Canadian rock band The Pursuit of Happiness.

The main appeal lies in watching the enchanting Woronov basically rehash her character from the 1979 film. She gives this fiendish antagonist plenty of goofy and quirky flair. It's clear director Brock encouraged much of her cast to be as cheesy and campy as possible. Certainly, Jessies' pals and bandmates are an interesting bunch: Liane Curtis ("Critters 2"), Evan Richards ("Society"), Steven Ho ("Mortal Kombat"), and Patrick Malone ("Grand Canyon"). It's fun to see Jason Lively of "European Vacation" and "Night of the Creeps" fame cast against type as a smarmy preppie jerk. Michael Cerveris ('Fringe') is amusing as he inherits the role of Eaglebauer, but he WON'T make you forget Clint Howard. And Larry Linville of 'M*A*S*H' fame gets very little to do as the timid principal.

Fortunately, this does lead to an admittedly bravura finale that does recall the ending of the original feature.

I would recommend people just revisit the first "Rock 'n' Roll High School" instead.

Five out of 10.

Game of Thrones: The Wolf and the Lion
Episode 5, Season 1

"What sort of imbecile arms an assassin with his own blade?"
More intrigue, effectively nasty violence, and blatant sexual elements add to the mix in this typically zesty episode. Ned Stark is taken aback at his Kings' reaction to the news of Daenerys' pregnancy; the King now wants her and her offspring dead. A disgusted Ned then resigns from his position as Kings' Hand. Meanwhile, Catelyn takes her prisoner Tyrion to her sister Lysa (Kate Dickie) for punishment, only to receive a stern rebuke. Finally, an incensed Jaime confronts Ned about Tyrions' predicament, leading to an ugly scene indeed.

'The Wolf and the Lion' is typically compelling entertainment, done with style and also a large amount of wit. This episode can be quite amusing at times. It also carries some real weight in the dialogue-heavy scenes between characters, such as a moment with the King and Cersei Lannister.

This viewer is not one to complain about the level of brutality; rather, he feels that it adds an incredible visceral quality. It may be disturbing to more squeamish viewers, but it adds to the overall impact of the storytelling. It helps to create this idea of a world that is harsh and uncompromising.

As for those sexual elements, well, none are more twisted than our introduction to Lysa; if anybody reading this is familiar with the trashy 1981 Italian zombie film "Burial Ground", they may experience a feeling of deja vu.

This viewer may be late to the party in terms of checking out this series, but so far he's enjoyed what he's seen.

Eight out of 10.

The Incredible Invasion

Yet another example of "so bad it's 'good'" cinema.
Boris Karloff once again gives a performance that outclasses a shoddy production. The last of the four Mexican-American cheesy B's that the genre star made before his death, it stars Karloff as John Mayer, a scientist in 19th century Europe. He's perfected a ray machine; it attracts the attention of a rather harmless looking spaceman. Believing that Mayers' invention must be destroyed, the spaceman (Sergio Kleiner) forces lady killer Thomas (the hulking Yerye Beirute) to work for him, and the psycho infiltrates the Mayer household.

Also starring Enrique Guzman as young scientist Paul Rosten, Christa Linder as Mayers' lovely niece Laura, and an appealing Maura Monti as Mayers' disfigured assistant Isabel, "The Incredible Invasion" a.k.a. "Alien Terror" may be just the thing for some lovers of cinematic trash. Granted, it can be slow and dull at times, with uninspired direction and a silly script co-written by actor Karl Schanzer (whom you may remember as the sleazy lawyer in "Spider Baby"). It doesn't have any real atmosphere, and the score is hilariously ineffective. But it does offer some fun, provided you're partial to this sort of thing to begin with.

As with the other movies, this had Mexico-lensed scenes helmed by Juan Ibanez, and Jack Hill (the B movie great who gave us classics like "Coffy", "The Big Doll House", and "Switchblade Sisters") handling the L.A. studio scenes. (Jose Luis Gonzalez de Leon is credited as a co-director.) Sadly, Karloff's failing health is apparent; he couldn't move about very much, and required the use of a mobile oxygen unit, but he's still effortlessly delightful, giving as much as he can to a fairly standard kind of genre character.

It may be of some interest to people to compare these four movies and decide how best to rank them. This isn't the most entertaining, but neither is it the worst of the bunch.

Five out of 10.

The Matador

"Just consider me the best cocktail party story you ever met."
Star / producer Pierce Brosnan exercises his comedic chops in this rather nuanced look at the life and career of a veteran hitman. Julian Noble (Brosnan) meets a struggling businessman, Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) when their paths cross in Mexico City. The two become good friends - better friends than we even realize at first, because after Julian has botched more than one job, he becomes a dead man walking. And it is Danny to whom he turns for help. While Danny and his wife "Bean" (Hope Davis) are understandably dismayed at the presence of a professional killer in their home, they get over it, becoming rather intrigued by this charming, eccentric individual.

The supporting cast features some solid actors - Philip Baker Hall, Dylan Baker, Adam Scott - and Davis is enchanting as the loving wife, but the main reason that "The Matador" works as well as it does is due to the interplay between two interesting characters. Brosnan and Kinnear play this extremely well; indeed, Brosnan has never been quite this endearing or amusing before. Also, "The Matador" is a highly offbeat affair, foregoing some of the trappings that one might expect from a tale about a hitman. It forgets about violence (for the most part) and action set pieces, concentrating on its poignant moments and its humour.

Written and directed by the talented Richard Shepard, "The Matador" spends some time globe trotting and offering up some international locales. The title stems from Julians' enjoyment of watching bullfights, and belief that the spectacle is not without honour. The struggle of our haunted main character to overcome his mental blocks and emotional problems does make him vulnerable, and certainly as likeable as any person could be who earns their living killing people.

The brief sight of Brosnan in a cheerleaders' outfit is absolutely priceless. He'd made a good living playing debonair types, but here he really cuts loose for once, and the film is all the better for it. But this is not meant to sell Kinnear short, as he does an excellent job at playing the "straight man" with a tragic past and uncertain present.

Seven out of 10.


Ready, Gus. Oich!
"Gus" is an engaging if typical example of the kind of goofy live-action slapstick produced by Disney in the 60s and 70s. Gary Grimes plays Andy Petrovic, a Yugoslavian farm boy who has to live in the shadow of his brother, a famed soccer player. Then people in the States get wind of the fact that Andy's pet mule Gus can kick 100-yard field goals with incredible accuracy. In short order, Andy & Gus have been brought Stateside to be the half-time show for the last place California Atoms. Of course, they soon move from half-time show to full-fledged team members, with Gus kicking the way to victory for the troubled team, who are now inspired for the very first time. Still, there are unscrupulous types who try mightily to ensure setbacks for the Atoms.

A first-rate comedy cast (Edward Asner as the team owner, Don Knotts as the coach, Bob Crane as a super-obnoxious, annoying announcer, Harold Gould as the nefarious Charles Gwynn, Dick Van Patten as his associate, etc.) provide big laughs in this formulaic but fun movie. Unsurprisingly, it's Tom Bosley & Tim Conway who often steal the show as con-men lowlifes who scheme on behalf of Gwynn. (Such as ensuring that Gus can't make it to a game, or getting him drunk, you name it.) But this being Disney fare, you're never in any doubt that the good guys will reign supreme in the end, and dole out some priceless over the top comeuppance for Bosley and Conway. To that end, the highlight of the movie is a riotous chase through a supermarket. The best parts would be when Gus would bray "laughter" at the bumbling crooks.

There are a number of familiar faces littered throughout the cast (Ronnie Schell, Titos Vandis, Liam Dunn, Kenneth Tobey, Richard Kiel, Iris Adrian), with Grimes and the pretty Louise Williams making for very likeable young protagonists. Gus himself is quite endearing, of course; several real-life football personalities (such as Dick Butkus, in a featured role) appear on screen. Crane is a hoot the way that he yammers on and on, and barely allows Johnny Unitas to get a word in edgewise.

Good entertainment, for those who enjoy solid sports comedies, animal comedies, or both.

Seven out of 10.

Game of Thrones: Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things
Episode 4, Season 1

"Your next tumble with Ros is on me. I'll try not to wear her out."
This fourth episode of the popular TV series exists mainly to further explore characters and their relationships. Story threads include Ned's investigation into the death of Jon Arryn, whom he discovers was perusing a rather boring volume. A self-confessed coward, Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), experiences a rough training as he prepares for the Nights' Watch, and Jon Snow decides to protect him. Viserys raises his hand to his sister, and she vows that he'll lose both his hands if he ever does so again. And Tyrion makes the kind gesture of arranging for a special saddle to be made so that Bran can once again ride a horse.

Once again, this capable cast and crew excel at world-building, and creating vivid, memorable characters. The actors simply couldn't be better, with standout monologues for the likes of Aidan Gillen (a.k.a. Baelish) and Owen Teale (a.k.a. Alliser Thorne). It's especially riveting the way that female characters such as Daenerys and Catelyn resolve on a firm course of action. The antagonists are great malevolent fun as always; Viserys is such an arrogant little p.o.s. as to have viewers eager for his eventual comeuppance.

Most interesting to this viewer was much talk, in one key scene, of those magnificent flying dragons that have been discussed but not yet seen at this point in the series.

Eight out of 10.


"Oh, terrific. The old dangling-in-a-cage routine."
The adventures of Supermans' female cousin were first brought to the big screen with this so-so adventure. Kara (cute-as-a-button 19 year old Helen Slater, in her starring film debut) arrives on Earth in search of a powerful device called the Omegahedron. Unfortunately, it has already fallen into the clutches of the worst possible recipient: Selena (a highly theatrical Faye Dunaway, back in "Mommie Dearest" mode), a witch with grandiose plans for world domination.

"Supergirl" is certainly not without its faults. Overly silly and dumb at first, it suffers from a pretty bad script. Only in its second half (this viewer watched the international cut, running two hours & five minutes) does it start coming to life, as Selenas' powers start becoming much more impressive. The script also finally starts managing some interesting wrinkles in how it plays out.

The special and visual effects are generally pretty good, as the filmmakers attempt to give you a lot of razzle-dazzle and spectacle. They also offer quite a bit of dopey humour, as Selena tries to snare a hunky lunkhead gardener (handsome Hart Bochner, who's best known as the sleazy Ellis in "Die Hard") who falls in love with Supergirl instead.

Slater definitely looks great in the costume, but is also effective in the sense of how she conveys an essential innocence and desire to do good. Dunaway is so campy as to be outright goofy; adding sass is the under-rated Brenda Vaccaro as her sidekick. Marc McClure once again plays Jimmy Olsen, who romances Lucy Lane (younger sister of Lois), portrayed by Maureen Teefy. Peter O'Toole is essentially just picking up a pay check as genial wizard Zaltar; Mia Farrow and Simon Ward play Karas' parents, in quick cameo roles. Peter Cook is a hoot as Nigel, Selenas' former cohort whom she soon kicks to the curb. A young Matt Frewer, in one of his earliest movie roles, plays a lecherous truck driver who soon receives some comeuppance.

Overall, this is not a patch on the first two Christopher Reeve "Superman" films, but it's watchable, with a majestic score by Jerry Goldsmith. It's probably best not to take it too seriously.

Followed by the current TV series, which debuted in 2015.

Six out of 10.


"Language, Logan. And you're screaming at a machine."
"Logan" turns out to be quite the interesting and satisfying closer on the saga of the Wolverine character. Wolverine, a.k.a. Logan (Hugh Jackman, giving a powerful performance), is now a very weary old mutant in the future year of 2029. Mutants are now all but extinct, yet he soldiers on, basically so he can care for the ailing Professor Xavier (a wonderful Patrick Stewart), who's suffering from Alzheimer's. Into Logan's life comes a mute little girl (debuting Dafne Keen) who's on the run from some very bad guys, including a smiling henchman (Boyd Holbrook) and a maniacal mad scientist (Richard E. Grant). He has just days to transport her to safety (with Professor X in tow), to a supposed "Eden".

Although not necessarily a big fan of comic book adaptations and superhero movies, this viewer was drawn to "Logan" due to what amounts to a very mature - and sombre - nature. This is a film that definitely earns its R rating (so parents be warned), with plenty of F-bombs and lots of hard-edged (albeit digitally rendered) violence. At its core is the struggle of its haunted main character to deal with this bleak existence, and what he believes to be the ultimate solution. Jackman is utterly compelling as Logan, making the most of the material as well as embracing the physicality of his role. Stewart provides additional heart and resonance; he and Jackman give emotional weight to the proceedings to add to the expected visceral thrills. Young Keen does a good job as the childish mutant (revealing her abilities in an explosive manner), remaining mute until well into the story. Holbrook and Grant are superb as unsubtle villains whom the audience will enjoy booing. Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, and Quincy Fouse are appealing as a rural family whose fate is sealed when they make the acquaintance of Logan and company.

James Mangold does a solid job with the direction, also authoring the story and co-writing the screenplay. One of his most interesting touches is to heavily reference the legendary Western "Shane".

Although a very long film at two hours and 18 minutes, Mangold wastes no time, making every second count and contrasting the colourful life of the X-Men in the comics with the cold, hard reality facing our characters in this tale.

Eight out of 10.

Hill Street Blues: Presidential Fever
Episode 2, Season 1

Another solid episode of this groundbreaking series.
Lt. Frank Furillo once again has a lot of things to deal with. Making the first of her appearances is Grace Gardner (pretty character actress Barbara Babcock), who is on a mission to make the station house more aesthetically pleasing. Officers Renko and Hill are not getting along after surviving that shooting in the pilot episode. Two officers (Mark "Neidermeyer" Metcalf and Steven Bauer) intend to dish out some vigilante justice after being embarrassed on the job. Frank is having some problems with his ongoing relationship with public defender Joyce Davenport. And, most importantly, the President of the United States intends to visit the precinct, and Goldblume comes up with the bright idea to hold a "summit meeting" with local gang leaders and crime figures to tell them to be on their best behaviour.

The various subplots help to make the overall storytelling quite compelling, as usual. The first-rate cast is just a pleasure to watch, with Michael Warren and Charles Haid truly commanding ones' attention during their big confrontation scene. And the serious and poignant details are always counterbalanced with some humorous touches, like the scenes with the priceless Detective Belker. (Bruce Weitz is such a hoot in the role). Belker is out to nab the rapists that have been terrorizing St. James Park. Fay makes another of her outbursts while confronting Frank with the realities of her post-divorce life. But, through it all, Frank does an admirable job of keeping his cool and simply doing the best he can in any given situation.

There is fun in spotting familiar faces in small, pre-stardom roles: David Caruso as the leader of an Irish gang, and Merritt Butrick (Kirks' son in two of the "Star Trek" feature films) as an under-age rapist whom Belker fears will get away with his crimes.

Eight out of 10.


A man oughta do what he thinks is best.
John Wayne again commands the screen in this likeable little Western, as he essays the role of "Hondo" Lane, an Army dispatch rider. He encounters a young mother, Angie Lowe (Geraldine Page, a stage actress making her second film appearance), and her young son Johnny (Lee Aaker), living alone in the isolated wilderness. The local Apaches are angry over a broken treaty, and their uprising is imminent, but Angie is not too concerned. Apache leader Vittorio (Australian actor Michael Pate) and his people have always treated her and her son fairly. Unsurprisingly, Hondo becomes a father figure to the impressionable Johnny, but then Vittorio is also something of a fatherly presence in the kids' life.

Director John Farrow (father of Mia F.) handles things with great sensitivity and skill; this was an early colour Western that beautifully captures the scenery on screen. It was also an earlier example of the more mature direction that the genre would start to take, with more complex characters, and heroes & villains that weren't so "black & white", as the saying goes. Notably, it treats its Indian roles - especially Vittorio - with a higher degree of respect and dignity than one would ordinarily see in Westerns from previous decades. Genre veteran James Edward Grant scripted, from the Louis L'Amour story (one that helped to put the author on the map), and the dialogue is often literate and colourful, with Grant giving The Duke the kind of lines that he could savour. The action sequences are first-rate.

The whole cast is solid, with Page doing an endearing job in the only substantial female role. Pate, much like The Duke, has an effective screen presence. Also appearing are longtime Wayne co-star Ward Bond as the amiable "Buffalo" Baker, James Arness, Rodolfo Acosta, Leo Gordon, Tom Irish, and Rayford Barnes. "Pal", the original screen Lassie, plays Hondos' canine companion.

Originally shot in 3D, at a time when studios thought that the process was the be-all, end-all gimmick to lure people away from their TV sets. However, there are not very many shots in the film that actually play to the 3D.

The unit production manager is Andrew V. McLaglen, who would go on to direct The Duke in several later pictures like "McLintock!".

Seven out of 10.

High Fidelity

Sharp, funny, and appealing.
John Cusack is the star, and one of the screenwriters and co-producers, of this likeable adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel. At its core, it capably tells a good romantic story, and does a very amusing job at poking fun at people who lord their supposedly superior musical knowledge (and tastes) over others. It's got an attractive and endearing cast, and it naturally also has a non-stop, eclectic soundtrack.

Cusack plays Rob, the neurotic owner of a record store that is far from prosperous. His employees are the timid Dick (Todd Louiso) and the far more brash Barry (Jack Black, who walks away with the film). After his longtime girlfriend Laura (charming Danish actress Iben Hjejle) dumps him for another man, it forces him to take stock and reflect on the major relationships - and break-ups - of his life.

Cusack is typically engaging, although this viewer could have done without that over-used device of having the main character directly address the camera. The film itself, despite being a little overlong, has some good laughs. I cracked up when Rob fantasized possible reactions to the annoying Ian (an amusing Tim Robbins), including a scenario of him, Barry, and Dick beating the almighty hell out of him.

Some intelligent and pointed dialogue is brought to life by this talented cast, with a steady parade of lovely ladies (Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lili Taylor, Joelle Carter) as the women who have caught Robs' eyes over the years. Rob himself is not too sympathetic for much of the running time, but then, that is the whole point as it takes a while to pinpoint himself as a common denominator, and have his eventual epiphany.

Nice cameo by rock star Bruce Springsteen, too.

Seven out of 10.


Imperfect, but still a hell of a ride.
"Ragtime" may have some flaws, but overall it's an impressive recreation of NYC of the earliest years of the 20th century, and tells a VERY compelling series of stories. Scripted by Michael Weller, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, it has an eclectic cast, just FULL of familiar faces, that bring life to a colourful array of characters. Among the story threads: a piano player named Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Howard E. Rollins, Jr.) comes into the life of a upper crust white family (James Olson, Mary Steenburgen, Brad Dourif), a pampered young wife (Elizabeth McGovern) makes the acquaintance of a talented street vendor (Mandy Patinkin), her husband (Robert Joy) is incensed over a nude statue for which she supposedly modelled, and Coalhouse is motivated to righteous fury when racist whites foul up his prized car, and he isn't able to obtain justice through the normal channels.

Ultimately, the film does lose a little something once it drops other story threads to focus on the Coalhouse Walker saga, but it's beautifully done in so many ways: period recreation, music (by Randy Newman), atmosphere, etc. It's appropriately uncomfortable in detailing the incredible racism displayed by some of the white characters, but that is contrasted with much more open-minded and compassionate individuals. The cast couldn't be more engaging; chief among them is top-billed legend James Cagney, in his first feature after a 20 year hiatus, and which would turn out to be his final feature film appearance. This viewer will refrain from wasting paragraph space in listing all of the talent that director Milos Forman parades before us, but it's worth noting that Jeff Daniels and Samuel L. Jackson both made their feature debuts here.

Real-life characters such as Stanford White, Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, and Police Commissioner Waldo (Cagney's role) mix with fictional ones in material that would have seemed a natural for Robert Altman (who was, in fact, the original director). It's rich in emotion, and has some humour to it, as well. It may not be completely effective all the way to the end, but it's quite the experience anyway.

Eight out of 10.

Iron Will

It pushes viewer buttons with fervour.
"Iron Will" is typical, formula Disney filmmaking, the kind that has you cheering for an underdog all the way even as he faces incredible odds. Will Stoneman (Mackenzie Astin, the son of John A. and Patty Duke) is a young man during the WWI era. After the death of his father (John Terry), he realizes that his one chance to save the family farm and provide for his own future is to enter a challenging dog sled race that stretches from Winnipeg, Canada to St. Paul in Minnesota. Often running on sheer determination, he has to win over the dog Gus who was his fathers' favourite while dealing with the evil machinations of a ruthless fellow racer (George Gerdes) and a greedy rich man (Brian Cox). In doing so, he captures the hearts of Americans, earning the nickname "Iron Will" from a reporter (Kevin Spacey) who's just as determined to make a name for himself.

While watching this, this viewer felt quite manipulated as the filmmakers pulled on the strings, doing everything possible to win over the audience. Overall, it's very predictable, turning what was a real-life story into a "root for the good guy" sports drama intended to inspire its viewers. (Unsurprisingly, the true story apparently played out differently.) It certainly has you hating the bad guys; even Spacey is very self-motivated at first, and it's hard not to cheer when Astin slugs HIM at one point.

Basically, it's well-made, with Charles Haid, a.k.a. Renko on 'Hill Street Blues', in the directors' chair, and an old script by John Michael Hayes given modern polishes by Djordje Milicevic and Jeff Arch. The cast is just fine, with Astin as the kind of youthful hero with whom kids can identify; also appearing are August Schellenberg, Richard Riehle, Penelope Windust, David Ogden Stiers, and Rex Linn. The only one out of all the canines used that really is given some sort of personality is Gus, an endearing pooch who seems to eye his young master with reproach after Astin seriously considers a cash offer from Cox to drop out of the race!

Wonderful wintry scenery & photography, some decent action & thrills, and the sincerity of the cast do help to keep this one watchable.

Six out of 10.

The Dunwich Horror

Not a bad little horror film.
"The Dunwich Horror" stars "Gidget" babe Sandra Dee as a too-trusting, virginal college student who is personally selected by the creepy Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell) for his diabolical plans. You see, Wilburs' great-grandfather was a warlock publicly executed for his crimes, and now Wilbur is determined to realize what the original warlock and Wilburs' grandfather (Sam Jaffe) could not do: bring about the arrival of "The Old Ones" (ancient demons from another dimension) on Earth, to vanquish mankind.

H.P. Lovecraft admirers tend to denounce this adaptation for not being all that faithful, but taken on its own, it's a respectable attempt to create otherworldly horror. As befitting a directorial gig for a former production designer, Daniel Haller, it's often pretty interesting visually, ex: the Whateley family manor, and the way that the destructive demon views the world (in negative). It does live up to the word "horror", rarely offering a let-up until its big finish. Granted, it's not perfect: the story is resolved a little too quickly, and it would have been better had we never seen the demon at all (this effect does cheapen the proceedings). But it does have a certain intense energy, and a decent body count. It also has a wonderful score by A.I.P. veteran Les Baxter.

Stockwell is very low-key, but you can still tell from the start that he's a weird one, and you want to warn Sandra away from him. The great character actor Ed Begley is effective as the occult-expert hero of the piece; sadly, it marked one of his final appearances in film before he passed away. Ably supporting them are Lloyd Bochner as a helpful doctor, the aforementioned Jaffe as the crazed old man, Joanne Moore Jordan as the doomed Lavinia, Donna Baccala as Sandras' concerned friend, Jason Wingreen as the local sheriff, and a young Talia Shire, in her second feature film appearance, as Bochners' nurse.

One of those credited with the screenplay is future director Curtis Hanson; Roger Corman was the executive producer.

Seven out of 10.

Sometimes a Great Notion

A compelling saga.
Paul Newman stars in and directs this adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel (Kesey being best known for "One Flew Over the Cuckoos' Nest"). It's the sometimes compelling and very well made story of an Oregon family in the logging business. They're at odds with folks in town, partly due to their unshakable "never give an inch" motto. Arriving back at the family homestead is long-estranged Leeland (Michael Sarrazin), half-brother of the story's main protagonist, Hank (Mr. Newman).

Newman is a good director telling an entertaining story in capable fashion. The location shooting is first-rate, with excellent widescreen photography and plenty of local flavour. The films' most memorable scene is both incredibly tragic and yet darkly funny, as a character slowly drowns. The many sequences of loggers going about their business are fascinating, as we see these rugged men plying their trade. And the music score by Henry Mancini is just wonderful.

But the main reason to watch is a truly superior cast. Henry Fonda is ideally cast as Hanks' cantankerous, old-fashioned father; he's often very amusing. Newman is solid, but Lee Remick as his wife looks perhaps a bit too glamorous for a housewife living a supposedly simple life. Sarrazin is fine, if not as masterful as his veteran co-stars. Richard Jaeckel, in an Oscar-nominated turn, is the true standout as Joe B., Hanks' born-again, amiable brother. The supporting cast contains some very familiar, top character actors: Sam Gilman, Lee de Broux, Roy Jenson, Joe Maross, Roy Poole, and Charles Tyner.

Overall, this is a fine film, even if it is a simplification of a complex novel. It does drive home some salient points: Would it really hurt that much to "give an inch", for once? And pride and stubbornness can often get in the way of true common sense. That said, it's hard not to give some sort of cheer in the concluding moments.

Seven out of 10.

Creature of the Walking Dead

The fountain of youth is filled with blood!
No, this slight, silly, forgettable feature is not a spin-off of a certain popular TV series. It's yet another of schlockmeister Jerry Warrens' shameless "cut and paste" jobs: he takes copious footage from a Mexican horror movie, "La Marca del Muerto", removes its soundtrack, adds hilariously moronic narration, and adds some newly shot scenes of his own.

The story has a young scientist removing his grandfathers' body from a mausoleum, using blood and lab equipment to resurrect grandpa, and finds out that - surprise, surprise - grandpa is evil, and he will continue to abduct hapless young victims, and replenish himself with their blood. Meanwhile, in the newly added Warren material, characters basically lounge around and talk about the plot.

Normally, this viewer loves schlock, but this is pretty dull overall. Although there are indications, as usual, that the original foreign film is at least fairly decent, it's all but ruined with the clunky revised soundtrack, and the flatly directed scenes from Warren. This material has dialogue that seems to go on forever, and is not of the slightest interest.

Familiar faces pep things up just a bit. Warren again works with regulars such as Lloyd Nelson, Katherine Victor, and Chuck Niles. Bruno Ve Sota, a corpulent actor and filmmaker who turned up in a fair bit of B movies from the 50s and 60s, is mildly amusing as an inspector who yammers on while getting a massage from Niles' character.

"La Marca del Muerto" does look like it may be worth checking out, due to its Gothic flavours and atmosphere. It's too bad that Warren did it no favours here.

Four out of 10.

Lovely Molly

Worth a look.
Molly (Gretchen Lodge) is a janitor who marries Tim (Johnny Lewis), a long distance truck driver. They move into her old family home, but since Tim is away a lot of the time, it leaves Molly alone with her unpleasant memories of her youth; obsessed with filming things, she comes to believe that there is some unholy, spectral presence in the house.

Commendably, Eduardo Sanchez, best known for "The Blair Witch Project", never dips his toes all the way into supernatural waters, preferring to leave us with an ambiguous take on a young woman losing her sanity and her health. This is also a young woman so deeply traumatized that it doesn't take much to send her over the edge. Indeed, she is a former junkie who is soon using once again. And Tim and Molly's sister Hannah (Alexandra Holden) are at their wits' end trying to cope with Molly's behaviour.

The film does keep visual effects to a bare minimum, but gives lovers of more visceral horror some good gore to enjoy. What "Lovely Molly" really is, is a good "slow burn" type of psychological horror film, the kind we don't get all that often in an era where genre cinema typically depends on jump scares. One of its main assets is the sound design, which Sanchez had perfected with BWP and a minimal budget. It's guaranteed to keep some viewers on edge. The other major point of interest is a gripping, bravura central performance by Lodge, who makes Molly sympathetic enough to sustain the films' 100 minute run time. But the acting from all of the principals is engaging, including Field Blauvelt as the genial Pastor Bobby.

Location shooting in Maryland, cinematography, production design, and music are all well done, but ultimately take a back seat to the journey undertaken by our haunted main character.

Seven out of 10.

Blind Date

Not bad, but very predictable.
After attaining TV stardom on 'Moonlighting', Bruce Willis got his first starring role in a feature film with this comedy from farce expert Blake Edwards (and screenwriter Dale Launer). Bruce plays Walter Davis, a rising young executive who needs to impress everybody during a corporate dinner. Desperate for a date, he agrees to a blind date with Nadia Gates (Kim Basinger), the cousin of his brothers' wife. She's a knockout, and seems utterly charming.

The hitch is that she CANNOT tolerate alcohol. And what does the moronic Walter do? He's soon giving her champagne. "One drink's not gonna make you go CRAZY..." It's not long before she tosses her inhibitions out the window, and proceeds to make a shambles of the night out. Not helping at all is the constant annoying presence of her psychotic-jealous ex-boyfriend David (John Larroquette). Ultimately, the overstressed Walter ends up utterly losing it.

While it is a little hard to be that sympathetic towards Walter, the predicament taking place has its moments. The humour tends towards the obvious, and truth be told, the film can get a little tiresome. This is not Blake Edwards at the peak of his abilities.

That said, the pacing is pretty decent, and the cast works hard to sell the material. Willis is amusing, and has good comic chemistry with the stunning Basinger. Larroquette, who mastered the portrayal of pure smarm with his Emmy-winning role on 'Night Court', is a hoot. Hartman is great as always, as the slime ball brother. Numerous familiar faces turn up in supporting and bit parts: William Daniels, George Coe, Mark Blum, Stephanie Faracy, Alice Hirson, Graham Stark, Joyce Van Patten, Georgann Johnson, Sab Shimono, Armin Shimerman, Brian George, Timothy Stack, Diana Bellamy, etc. Musician Stanley Jordan makes a guest appearance; also performing on screen are Billy Vera and the Beaters (who had that big 80s hit with "At This Moment").

Certainly there are some good laughs to be had, such as David and his traffic accidents (Edwards commendably stops short of beating this joke to death).

The final shot is quite funny.

Six out of 10.

Game of Thrones: Lord Snow
Episode 3, Season 1

"When winter does come, gods help us all if we're not ready!"
Among the assorted story threads of this solid third episode of the series: Ned Stark arrives at King's Landing, and is dismayed by the reckless spending done by the King. Poor Bran learns that he has been crippled for life after his fall. Daenerys starts to acclimate well to the life of a queen, also learning that she has become pregnant (with a boy, she believes). Jon Snow, Ned's illegitimate son, undertakes the training necessary to become a member of the Night's Watch.

As usual, this viewer is impressed with the level of care and precision that the cast and crew of this series show off. 'Game of Thrones' was given a true cinematic flair, indeed, with some incredible sets and locations alike, and the cast absolutely shines in their colourful roles. They grace us with some truly excellent performances, totally immersing us in this antiquated, classic fantasy world. Sean Bean in particular has always been one of this viewers' favourite actors, and it's nice to see him as the lead protagonist in a series when he'd made his name playing various villains. (Leading to that amusing running joke of how often he's been killed off in movies.) It was also a treat to see such veterans as Julian Glover ("The Empire Strikes Back", "For Your Eyes Only") and Peter Vaughan ("Straw Dogs", "Brazil") in guest starring roles.

The dialogue is still an invigorating mix of antiquated speech & delivery, and pointed use of cuss words. Best of all, 'Lord Snow' successfully walks a line between very serious and heartfelt moments and some priceless humour (like Tyrion urinating off the top of The Wall at one point).

The series continues to be fun to watch.

Seven out of 10.

House of the Black Death

A (very) minor but amusing genre item.
John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr. headline this micro-budget horror flick about a family called the Desards that are always at odds with each other. Lon plays Belial, decked out with forehead horns and supposedly bearing a cloven foot. He's the antagonist seeking to wrest power away from his more benevolent brother, black magician Andre (Carradine). Caught in the ensuing battle are Paul (Tom Drake, who acted with Lon in "The Cyclops"), their brother, and Valerie (sultry young Dolores Faith, "The Phantom Planet"), their sister. A pair of psychiatrists, Eric Campion (Jerome Thor, "10 to Midnight") and Katherine Mallory (Andrea King, "The Beast with Five Fingers") are brought in to lend some assistance.

The story goes that this schlock epic was begun by one group of hack filmmakers, but not finished, and *another* group of hacks stepped in to try to salvage the production. Harold Daniels ("Bayou"), Jerry Warren ("Teenage Zombies"), and Reginald LeBorg ("The Black Sleep") were all involved, to one degree or another. It's fortunate that the story (credited to Richard Mahoney, who based it on a novel by Lora Crozetti) is at all coherent or entertaining, although the limited funding available shows at every turn. What counts as either the high point or the low point, depending on your sensibilities, is the hilariously inadequate werewolf makeup seen on one character near the end. Overall, the film is on the dull, uneventful side, but this viewer couldn't really bring himself to hate it. It's watchable, if hardly a "good" film. Other people, however, might cringe seeing Lon and Carradine in this, and feel that they couldn't possibly have sunk any lower. Both men had a tendency to say "yes" to a lot of scripts when it might have been best to say "no".

The running time is padded out with a couple of scenes of attractive young ladies belly-dancing, and to be honest, one of the brightest unintentional laughs comes from watching this film on DVD with the English SDH subtitles on. The word "(dancing)" actually appears on screen whenever these scenes take place!

Pay attention to see one of Warrens' regulars, Katherine Victor, as one of the coven members.

Five out of 10.

Xia nan yang

"With friends like you, who needs enemies? I spit on you!"
"The Black Dragon" is good goofy fun from that era in martial arts cinema when everybody wanted to cash in on the great success of "Enter the Dragon". This is obviously low budget, and is pretty crude, but it's lively and funny. The violence is potent enough to give the film a true visceral feel, and the characters are all quite easy to watch.

Jason Piao Pai plays Tai-Lin, a muscular hero who leaves his life as farmhand to seek fame and fortune in the Philippines. He befriends Siao-Mao (Ruel Vernal), a lowly street rat, and goes to work on the docks. He realizes that he is working for a crime organization that is smuggling opium, so he teams up with other local martial artists to teach his crooked boss and his cronies a lesson.

If you seek this out as a fan of four time world champion Ron Van Clief, be warned that he doesn't have much screen time. He's one of the other aforementioned martial artists; at first, he just seems like a troublemaker, but then you realize that he has an agenda. Ron is solid at kicking ass, but this really is Jasons' film, and he carries it quite well.

Of course, if you're watching the edited, dubbed North American release, there's a lot of entertainment value in the ridiculous performers doing the English language dialogue. These people are priceless. And the music is likewise a real hoot, as the filmmakers appropriate other scores, like the memorable 'Young and the Restless' theme and even Morricones' soundtrack for "Once Upon a Time in the West"!

A must for people who adore the cheesier side of chop-socky cinema.

Six out of 10.

September 30, 1955

A great showcase for Richard Thomas.
Richard Thomas of 'Waltons' fame stars here as Jimmy J., an Arkansas undergrad in the 1950s who idolizes rising film star James Dean. He feels a kinship with the young actor, thinking that their lives have mirrored each others'. When he learns of Deans' death, he goes a little crazy, dragging his friends into assorted escapades that ultimately have a sad result.

Written and directed by James Bridges ("The China Syndrome"), this little period piece seems to be somewhat forgotten nowadays. It's not always terribly compelling or interesting, but it's still worthy of some respect, considering the way that it examines the fascination that some people feel for movie stars. Dean in particular had an iconic presence that resonated with a generation; it's not hard to believe that his passing was deeply felt by people like Jimmy J.

A mixture of comedy and drama, "September 30, 1955" is sometimes amusing and sometimes poignant, leaving us with one memorable showcase speech for Thomas, and the idea that life is not really "like a movie" as some folks might think.

The period recreation is pretty good, and the film benefits from a touching score by Leonard Rosenman, who had scored the Dean vehicles "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause" once upon a time. But the main reason to watch is the talented, engaging young cast, some of them making their feature-film debuts. Thomas is wonderful, and his supporting actors make for an endearing ensemble: Deborah Benson (leading lady in the superior slasher "Just Before Dawn") as Jimmy J.'s girlfriend, Lisa Blount ("Prince of Darkness") as the fellow free spirit and Dean devotee, Thomas Hulce ("Amadeus") as the roommate, Dennis Christopher ("Breaking Away") as the sidekick, and Dennis Quaid as the jock. Collin Wilcox Paxton ("To Kill a Mockingbird") plays Jimmy J.'s mother, and Susan Tyrrell ("Forbidden Zone") plays Billie Jean's mom.

A semi-autobiographical tale for Bridges, who grew up in Paris, Arkansas himself.

Seven out of 10.

The Man with Two Brains

Get that cat out of here.
Few comedy actors can be as brilliant as Steve Martin when he's on top of his game. During the "wild and crazy" part of his film career, when he often collaborated with director Carl Reiner, he practically raised silliness to an art form. "The Man with Two Brains" is undeniably dopey, but it's hilariously so, coming up with enough verbal and visual gags to sustain it through an energetic hour and a half. The very funny script (by Steve, Carl, and George Gipe, the latter a writer whose works include the novelizations of "Gremlins" and "Back to the Future") can't help but lose some momentum as it goes along, but it remains quite watchable through to the end.

Steve is a hoot as the brilliant (according to him) brain surgeon Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, who has pioneered "screw top, zip lock" brain surgery. Into his life comes sultry, scheming witch Dolores Benedict (a radiant Kathleen Turner), who treats him like garbage. A ray of hope then enters his life when he falls in love with a brain in a jar, voiced by Sissy Spacek. He then goes about figuring out how to create a new "home" for the brain, whose name is Anne.

Steve, Carl, and company show that it takes very clever, and intelligent, comic minds to come up with such engaging foolishness. While the film does exhaust most of its best gags in the earlier parts, it's so wonderfully played by all that it still wins you over. The delivery of the lines is often breathless. As has probably been said numerous times before, two of the best bits involve the decor of Dr. Necessiters' (David Warner) condo, which looks like a much more traditional mad scientists' lab on the inside, and the identity of the fiendish Elevator Killer, once of the most priceless payoffs that you'll see in a film of this kind.

A rich variety of familiar faces pop up to lend Steve able support: Paul Benedict, Richard Brestoff, James Cromwell, George Furth, Earl Boen, Francis X. McCarthy, Randi Brooks (as the drop dead gorgeous hooker with the off-putting voice), Bernard Behrens, etc. Carls' wife Estelle, who went on to have that great cameo in their son Robs' film "When Harry Met Sally", appears as a tourist / victim; Jeffrey Combs, pre "Re-Animator", has a bit at about the seven to eight minute mark.

Zany fun, with a funky electronic score by Joel Goldsmith, that is perfect for anybody who just wants to relax their brain for 90 minutes of levity.

Eight out of 10.

Bitter Moon

This takes us on quite an interesting journey.
Co-writer / producer / director Roman Polanski again delivers a memorable bit of entertainment that touches upon serious relationship and personality issues. Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas play Nigel and Fiona, a reserved British married couple who go on an ocean cruise. They make the acquaintance of loud, obnoxious paraplegic Oscar (Peter Coyote), a failed writer, and his stunningly sexy French wife Mimi (Emmanuelle Seigner, who'd had her breakthrough role in Polanski's "Frantic"). Oscar has singled out Nigel, and is determined to tell Nigel the entire sordid story of his union with Mimi. When Oscar and Mimi first met, they were passionately in love, but over the years their relationship devolved into something far more twisted. And Oscar realizes full well that Nigel is developing an infatuation with his wife.

Coyotes' hilarious, bravado performance really carries this movie, even at it takes its time and goes on for approximately two hours and 20 minutes. He's fascinating to watch, as is Ms. Seigner. "Bitter Moon" is largely the story of these two people, with ample use of flashbacks, and it's compelling to watch as the bloom comes off the rose, and their chemistry takes on this bizarre, disturbed nature. Mostly, what Grant and Scott Thomas do is *react* to these new acquaintances, leading to an absolutely delicious finale when she finally decides to cast aside any predisposition towards repression. Victor Banerjee is engaging as a fellow passenger; Stockard Channing has an unbilled cameo as a literary agent.

Overall, Polanski does an expert job of pulling the strings and having this game play out for us, with Oscar assuring Nigel that the story isn't over yet - far from it. His use of Paris locations (where the extended back story takes place) and studio sets is exemplary, and it's all set to lovely music by Vangelis, well known for his scores for "Chariots of Fire" and "Blade Runner". Polanski wrote the script with frequent collaborator Gerard Brach and John Brownjohn, based on the novel by Pascal Bruckner, and the dialogue is fun; Oscar sure talks the way a writer would, with his tendency towards the grandiose.

At times, the film *does* come off as melodramatic trash, but in Polanski's capable hands, the results couldn't be more diverting. It does leave the viewer pondering what might become of Nigel and Fiona as "Bitter Moon" draws to a close.

Eight out of 10.

Full Eclipse

Entertaining junk.
Mario Van Peebles plays Max Dire, a cop going through some rough times. He's seen some weird and supposedly tragic things happen to his partner Jim (Tony Denison), and of course his marriage is on the rocks as well. Then a fellow cop named Garou (Bruce Payne) who heads a "special squad" goes about trying to induct Max into his team. They're supposedly dedicated to wiping out crime, but in truth they're not much better than the bad guys on the streets.

If you get a kick out of genre crossovers, this action-cop-melodrama-horror flick may provide you with enough amusement. Overall, it's pretty standard - the writing, the acting, the effects, etc. Still, its central hook is enough of a hoot to reel in the viewer, and the filmmakers try to draw parallels between the actions of the special squad and drug addiction (these guys and gals regularly inject themselves with something that gives them superhuman abilities). But at least it gives a little fresh life to the ultra-predictable "dead partner" trope.

Van Peebles has some good chemistry with the smouldering Patsy Kensit, as a member of Paynes' team. He himself does an okay job, but it's Payne, an actor who's typically specialized in villain roles, who dominates much of the film. It IS fun to see him and Kensit play Americans; for the most part, they are able to suppress their natural accents. And there's a steady stream of familiar faces in the supporting cast: Jason Beghe ("Monkey Shines: An Experiment in Fear"), Paula Marshall ("Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth"), Dean Norris ('Breaking Bad'), Willie C. Carpenter ("Hard Target"), Victoria Rowell ('The Young and the Restless'), Scott Paulin ("Teen Wolf"), and Mel Winkler ("Devil in a Blue Dress").

This is preposterous stuff, but it's slickly made (genre veteran Anthony Hickox ("Waxwork" and its sequel, etc.) is the director), and reasonably paced, wrapping up in a fairly trim 98 minutes, and it includes enough sex and violence to hold the attention of its audience.

Six out of 10.

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