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Dog Years

Heartwarming and Endearing Story on Aging
The 80-something Burt Reynolds stars in a touching part written especially for him by director Adam Rifkin. As a worn-out and hard-aged has-been named Vic Edwards, Reynolds is virtually reflecting on his own cinematic career at the final stages of his life. Once a celebrated and highly venerated movie star and sex symbol during the 1970s and early 1980s, Vic as an old and frail shell of a man can scarcely bear to look at himself in the mirror each morning. He is a lonely and faded relic of the past, living at home with only his pet dog as a companion. When he is forced to put his dog down due to illness, Vic is then truly all by himself.

One day while out sharing a typical luncheon with his one friend (Chevy Chase), Vic reveals that he has been approached to be guest of honor to receive a special lifetime achievement award at a special screening of his life's work, in Nashville, Tennessee. Though completely disinterested at first, Vic is convinced by Chevy to take advantage of this last opportunity for personal glory and recognition.

From the moment he touches down in Tennessee, everything seems to go wrong. Vic is picked up at the airport by a young, rude, tattooed millennial brat named Lil (Ariel Winter). She is to chauffeur him around in a barely-running wreck of a car, as she argues endlessly with her boyfriend on her cell phone when driving. Worse still, the hotel Vic is staying at is a cheap fleabag dump. The indignity of the situation is brought home for good once Vic arrives at the venue and discovers this glorious event is being held at a local bar, and hosted by little more than a fanboy group of devoted geeks who like watching Vic Edwards films in their basements. Completely humiliated by the experience, Vic leaves and asks Lil to drive him three hours to his hometown of Knoxville. It is there where the fallen idol will come to terms with who he was, who he is now, and what he will do with what remains of his future.

Reynolds gives a very endearing performance. Ariel Winter is properly irritating and gruff as hell at first, but as the story moves ahead, she managed to win me over as her character goes through an awakening along with Reynolds'. Although I am nowhere near Burt's age at this time, I am well over middle-age and this movie made me take more stock in myself as well. It is a very human story and quite rewarding. It's also so refreshing to enjoy an actual story with characters in a new movie for a change, instead of suffering through endless CGI trickery and special effects overkill (though some such liberties are sparingly taken in a few dream sequences incorporating moments from Burt's popular movies, such as DELIVERANCE and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT). Well worth watching, especially for older viewers. *** out of ****


Ben (1972) *1/2
In 1971, WILLARD had been a surprise box office hit about a twisted young man and his morbid obsession with harboring an army of rats to do his bidding. So along comes this lukewarm sequel that fails on just about every count.

Starting out promisingly right from the final scene of the first film, a cop and news reporters investigate the grim attic of Willard Stiles, where his dead body lies. Through the finding of Willard's personal diary (a nice plot touch) they discover how he trained a squadron of rats (headed by king rodent "Ben") to kill for him.

From there it's all downhill as we switch over to Danny (Lee Montgomery), a sweet lonely child with a heart condition. He's due for another operation that may even kill him. He lives with his mother and an older sister, Eve (a young Meredith Baxter, pre-FAMILY TIES). A chance encounter with Ben the Rat brings Danny his only true friend, and he entertains his squealing furry buddy with sing-alongs, puppet shows, and toy train rides. Danny even composes a song of tribute to Ben, his friend to the end. At the same time, Ben's nose-twitching comrades are festering around the city, scaring people and trashing whole supermarkets as they scavenge for food. Danny is able to actually converse back and forth with Ben and understand squeak-talk, so he tries to impress upon him that he and his rodent friends can't just do whatever they want, because people don't like that. The police are positively baffled as to how to locate and destroy the rats.

Playing more like a wholesome Walt Disney family flick (in fact, lead child actor Lee Montgomery DID previously star in Disney's THE MILLION DOLLAR DUCK), this is a dull and saccharine affair with every other cardboard adult character being more uninteresting than the next. The best thing going for this is the likably pleasant hit song featured at the end, and recorded by Michael Jackson - it even won a Golden Globe and was nominated as "Best Original Song" at the Academy Awards! The movie, however, earns a Turkey.

*1/2 out of ****

The Ape

The Ape (1940) **1/2
During the brief 1937-1938 lull in horror film product, Boris Karloff worked for the cheap Monogram Studios, making a series of rather lackluster Mr. Wong detective pictures. When scary movies became in vogue again after the smash hit of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1939, Monogram decided to make Karloff's last contracted movie a horror one.

In THE APE, Boris falls into his comfortable niche of portraying a well-meaning and kindly old doctor. As Dr. Adrian, he is devoting all his time and effort into curing a beautiful wheelchair bound girl of her inability to walk. He has had some success with spinal fluid injections taken from recently deceased people, but finds he requires more and more of the serum to perfect a more permanent cure to end the girl's paralysis. At the same time, a savage gorilla has escaped from a local circus and is wreaking havoc right near the dedicated scientist's laboratory.

Without revealing more details, the plot that is hatched from here on is potentially absurd and unbelievable. Yet, owing largely to Karloff's professional attitude and straight-forward performance, he helps the story rise above its silly premise. Boris is just perfect in his part, neither overacting nor just phoning it in. And this is what makes all the difference.

**1/2 out of ****

The Circle

The Circle (2017) **1/2
In this updated reworking of "1984", young Mae Holland (Emma Watson from the Harry Potter series) scores a great job working for "The Circle", a social media type of corporation which functions more or less as a cross between Facebook and Apple. The company employees are all too eerily devoted to the workings of the job, which includes harboring all intimate information on each other, and placing tiny cameras practically everywhere in public in order to peer into all citizens' private lives. The two creators of this firm are played by Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt. Their agenda dictates that privacy is equal to thievery, and that being under constant surveillance keeps people honest. They take Mae under their wing and she eventually works her way up the ladder - she even volunteers to let herself be "transparent", which means she wears a camera constantly (except for bathroom breaks) and allows her whole existence to be screened "live" all around the internet.

That's enough of that. Emma Watson does a good job in her part and feigning her American accent, and since I don't follow Harry Potter I wasn't sure until afterwards if she had faked an English accent for that series, or if it was the other way around for this. However, since I AM a big fan of THE KING OF QUEENS TV sitcom, I had a rougher time buying the comedic geek Spence Olchin (ie; Patton Oswalt) in his serious role. Tom Hanks is a good actor and was really suitably despicable and frighteningly disingenuous. The problem was, there are good ideas here but not the best level of storytelling or plot flow. Some questions, too - such as the very last shot of the movie not making any sense, given the climax that had occurred shortly before it.

At age 55 as of the viewing, the film's privacy invasion theme did at least make me leave the theater quite relieved that I'm as old as I am at this time, and maybe that I wouldn't mind being a little older, even. I grow more and more disgusted at the Facebook/social media/loss of security that abounds all around us these days. Hey, to the all infants and children out there: it's your world now, and you can gladly have it. I wish you all nothing but good luck.

**1/2 out of ****

Voodoo Man

Voodoo Man (1944) **1/2
The last of nine films that horror icon Bela Lugosi made for the ultra-cheap Monogram studio. It's certainly one of the more intriguing in this series, thanks to a twisted story and a cast of vintage old reliable scare men.

Sneaky gas station owner Nicholas (George Zucco) steers young women down the wrong road whenever they get lost in their automobiles and require directions at his place. After sending them off on their gullible way, he hot tails it to the telephone to alert Dr. Marlowe (Lugosi) that another victim will soon arrive. The doc utilizes his dimwitted henchman Toby (John Carradine) to help kidnap the girls and take them to his basement, so Bela can place them into a trance and use them to restore life to his lovely but brain dead wife. The method is for Lugosi and Zucco to don voodoo garb and chant bizarre rites while Carradine bangs maniacally on a drum, in an effort to transfer the life spirit out of the hypnotized victims and into the doc's unresponsive spouse.

Sounds like a hoot, does it not? This film got an extra boost around the time of this writing due to a wonderful newly restored Blu-ray release from Olive Films. Looking way better than ever before or than it probably deserves, this is a slight hour of absurd fun. Lugosi is restrained and has some emotional moments when caring for his wife's well being, and it is such a laugh to see Shakespearean veteran Carradine making an utter buffoon out of himself. How did he do it? Lord knows they couldn't afford to pay him enough. **1/2 out of ****.

The French Connection

The French Connection (1971) ***
Throughout my life with movies I have seen excerpts of this highly respected film, but only recently did I devote the time to watching it in its entirety -- twice. The true story of two real New York City cops who exposed one of the biggest drug smuggling rings of all time. Gene Hackman plays bad cop "Popeye" Doyle, while Roy Scheider is his more laid back partner, "Cloudy". Through pure instinct they follow suspicious characters and hit the jackpot when their hunch pays off. The film benefits from a real gritty and dirty vibe that captures what the city was like in the early '70s.

It's a good cop film. My final verdict is that it's one of those movies that was likely much stronger at the time of its release. Not that it doesn't have its moments, but to win FIVE Oscars -- really? I don't see that. Gene Hackman's turn as the loud-mouthed and prejudiced Popeye Doyle is only really an incredible performance when you later factor in through the audio commentary that Hackman in real life is nothing like the obnoxious tough guy he's portraying. William Friedkin's direction is pretty good, but an Academy Award? Roy Scheider's character is underwritten and in the background. The celebrated car chase (or is it a train chase) here is admittedly quite suspenseful, but I prefer the one in THE SEVEN-UPS (1973). *** out of ****

Somewhere in Time

Somewhere in Time (1980) **1/2
My girlfriend's favorite movie, which she asked me to watch with her. I've since learned that this is an extremely revered cult film with a devoted following. After sitting through it, the reasons "why" frankly perplex me. It's an ordinary film at best, and for die-hard romantics only.

I will say that Christopher Reeve gives one of his better acting performances as Richard Collier, a 1980 playwright who becomes infatuated by a portrait of a beautiful young actress from the early 1900's (Jane Seymour). He is driven by a strong obsession to travel back through time and meet her. Luckily for him, after consulting a professor he discovers that time travel is indeed possible through self-hypnosis (?). So Collier dresses himself in the proper period 1900's attire, makes a home cassette tape of his own voice re-asserting over and over that "this is 1912... it is 1912...1912....", closes his eyes while lying down on the bed, and -- voilà! --- he is transported back to meet his lover.

Well, there's a little more to the circumstances ... such as Collier in the opening of the film being approached in modern times by an elderly woman who gives him a watch and pleads with him: "come back to me" (she's supposed to be the same actress from the past, now nearing her death), which adds to his desire to know more about this woman. But I couldn't get past the ordinary trappings of these events, and - most of all - the unbelievable idea that time traveling is in any way possible simply by hypnotizing oneself! I am very good at suspending my disbelief when it comes to watching movies, but maybe that's if the film overall is working for me. The fact that Richard Matheson, a favorite science fiction writer of mine, came up with this idea is really odd. **1/2 out of ****

Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy (2014) ***
Though not many will be able to tell by the title, this is a bio film on Brian Wilson, the genius behind The Beach Boys. The feature is well designed by going back and forth from the "young Brian" of the 1960's (Paul Dano) and the "middle-aged Brian" of the 1980's (John Cusack). In the '60s we witness 20-something pop star Wilson starting to develop anxiety disorders and mental psychosis, and he has to deal with an overbearing and abusive father ... yet he is still compelled to take the old surfing sounds of the earlier Beach Boys to a higher level. Inspired by The Beatles' RUBBER SOUL album, Brian delves into more experimental territory and spearheads the unusual PET SOUNDS project which is now thought to be one of most classic and influential albums ever made. When jumping into the '80s we encounter Brian as a frail and troubled shell of a man, and under the unscrupulous control of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who humiliates and dominates him. But Wilson is headed for a road to recovery when he meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) who takes an interest in him and sees Dr. Landy for what he really is.

A good film overall, this really succeeds due to the effective performances. Though I liked Dano and Cusack as the young and old Brian (even if Cusack doesn't quite look like Wilson), it was Paul Giamatti's turn as the opportunistic "Dr. Feelgood" which stood out best. The only flaw I found was that I felt perhaps the movie could have done better in showing us just how talented the young Brian was, and how he was able to accomplish so much. As it appears in the story, Brian is so screwed up that it becomes hard to conceive how this individual managed to achieve what he did. I think we needed more of the "creative genius" Wilson in addition to the "troubled" Wilson. *** out of ****

Terminator Genisys

Terminator Genisys (2015) ***
I had severe doubts that this old worn-out series could be successfully revisited at such a late point in time, but wow was I wrong! This fifth installment for me ranks third best of the franchise, following just after 1 and 2. Not a great movie, but a fun popcorn ride which is all the fans should expect. Arnold Schwarznegger makes a triumphant return to the saga as a protective terminator fondly nicknamed "Pops", and the plot point which explains his reappearance as an elder-looking cyborg was smartly written.

The core of the story: we revisit the original's plan in having the futuristic John Connor (Jason Clarke) sending Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984, except that this time a mishap alters the events as they first played out in Cameron's THE TERMINATOR. For one thing, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) has now been awaiting Reese's arrival, and so has her longtime friend and guardian, older T-800, Pops (Arnold). No need to spoil how and why things have drastically shifted ... it's best left to view for yourself... but somehow this idea makes for a workably rebooted jumpstart that mostly delivers all the expected goods. Though one needs to pay close attention, the script offers satisfactory explanations as to why its characters are now thrust into different positions.

Schwarzenegger fits back into his T shoes comfortably; it's like he never left the movies for politics. There are the usual quibbles as in most of today's action free-for-all's -- perhaps too many lingering fight scenes, and an unnecessary surprise at the end (sigh). I thought Emilia Clarke looked too young as Sarah in comparison to the original's Linda Hamilton (though Clarke is up to the performance), and Jai Courtney isn't the greatest physical match for Michael Biehn. But, like I said -- quibbles. This is an entertaining Terminator romp. *** out of ****

Little Fockers

Little Fockers (2010) **
The third, probably the last, and definitely the least of the "Focker" trilogy. All the principles return, only this time there's no real idea what to do for a story and thus this thing veers all over the place. Despite its title, the script is not really about the offspring of Ben Stiller's loins, either. Robert De Niro's character has a heart attack, and so he begins to think about having Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) as his successor. Trouble brews when dad has yet another contrived reason to mistrust his suspicious son-in-law. Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand make very limited appearances as Gaylord's parents. It's not without a very rare chuckle on occasion, but it's a hit and miss-miss sequel that is easily skipped. ** out of ****


Rambo (2008) ***
Living a lonely and quiet existence in Thailand after twenty years, John Rambo is asked by a small group of missionaries to take them by boat to war-torn Burma. Rambo tries to tell them that they can't change anything there, but reluctantly gives into their persuasions. Once the bleeding hearts arrive in savage Burma, they are captured and it's up to Rambo and a team of mercenaries to venture in and save them.

After the original FIRST BLOOD (1982), this is the next best entry in the four-film series. What first stands out after so long is that the 60-year-old Sylvester Stallone (who also directed) was successful in making this work. His John Rambo appears strong if aged, and he is still the same action hero who first appeared on screen 26 years earlier. The plot here is simple, but that's not an issue because the film delivers. It is relentlessly bloody and gory, with body parts and devastation by the truckloads. We really can sense the primitive atrocities taking place in Burma, not only against strangers but even against their own people. I do not ordinarily recommend movies relying so much on sheer blood and guts (and much of the carnage here is rendered via obvious fake-looking CGI effects, I should add), but this action packed Rambo installment succeeds at what it sets out to do. Fortunately, the over-abundance of gore is balanced by Stallone's heart-felt personage of John Rambo. The ending of the film was the perfect way to finalize this series. *** out of ****

First Blood

First Blood (1982) ***1/2
First and best of the series has former soldier John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) traveling through a small town in the hope of visiting an old army friend. He is spotted by bigoted sheriff Teasel (Brian Dennehy) who promptly escorts him off his turf. When the peaceful Rambo turns around and defiantly starts walking back into the town, Teasel has him arrested. Mocked, mistreated, and beaten at the police station, Rambo snaps with agonized flashbacks of Vietnam, escapes the police, and flees off to the woods where he is pursued by law officials. What they don't realize is that Rambo is a Green Beret, trained for survival and conditioned to endure pain and weather. Teasel and his men have now set Rambo off, and he wages a personal war on them that "they won't believe". Rambo's old commanding officer (Richard Crenna) arrives on the scene to try and calm things before his man goes too far.

This is surely one of Stallone's finest films and characters, and Sly looks his best in FIRST BLOOD. His John Rambo here is someone we can sympathize with, and his balance of calm followed by extreme self-preservation intensity is well realized. This film is smaller and more independent in feel than the sequels which came after it, and this gives it more appeal. Brian Dennehy is quite good as the hateful town sheriff whose prejudice has resulted in Rambo's wrath. Richard Crenna was a last minute substitute for Kirk Douglas (who backed out eventually), and perhaps occasionally appears a tad theatrical in his approach. The ending of the movie contains an emotionally charged speech by Stallone which is often criticized as being incomprehensible, but if you pay close attention you can decipher just about all of it. ***1/2 out of ****

It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) ***1/2
Often and arguably considered "The Greatest Comedy Ever Made", this Stanley Kramer Epic is certainly the biggest. It's a wild and zany free-for-all which runs nearly three hours and boasts the talents of many of the funniest comic actors of the time. It all begins when elderly robber Jimmy Durante crashes his speeding car off the road, and several other motorists stop and reach out to help him. Just before dying, the old man tells them they're entitled to take the $350,000 loot he's stashed in a national park, buried for years "underneath a Big W". At first the eight people at the crash site try to compromise, but ultimately all hell erupts in a greedy "every man and woman for themselves" frenzy.

This sets the crazy pace for several different humorous vignettes, as the participants all race to the park to be the first to get the stolen money: Jonathan Winters is a big lug of a truck driver who gets into a disastrous altercation with two nerdy gas station attendants (Arnold Stang & Marvin Kaplan). Milton Berle is a suffering dweeb of a husband who's controlled by his wife (Dorothy Provine) and his loud-mouthed mother in law (Ethel Merman, perfect here in a suitably irritating comic performance). Dick Shawn is Merman's dimwitted playboy bum of a son. Sid Caesar and Edie Adams are a couple who get locked in a hardware store but can't seem to get out. Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett are two pals forced to fly their own airplane when drunken pilot Jim Backus knocks himself out (Carl Reiner is the air traffic controller). Along the way, other opportunists worm themselves into the chase: Phil Silvers is a gem as a real sleazy snake with eyeglasses and no scruples. Terry-Thomas is a proud Englishman in constant patriotic conflicts with American Milton Berle. Peter Falk and Eddie Anderson are two clueless cab drivers. And observing all of these clashing characters is straight man Spencer Tracy, in the role of the aging Police Captain Culpepper, who has been tracking this case of the stolen money for fifteen years, and is now looking to find a way to retire himself off to Mexico.

On and on the mania goes, with some fun car chases and many gags, some of which work better than others. There are so many other comedians given tiny guest spots here and there, that it's hard to remember them all... but keep on the lookout for cameos by: Don Knotts (as a nervous motorist), Jack Benny, Leo Gorcey, Jerry Lewis, Joe E. Brown, Buster Keaton, and even The Three Stooges. It's not a perfect film, nor in my opinion is it the most drop-dead funniest comedy ever, but I have to love its sheer sense of size, scope, and all-out craziness. The ending is perfect, and probably the best laugh of the show for anyone who's stuck with it through to the end. ***1/2 out of ****

The Seventh Victim

The Seventh Victim (1943) **1/2
A very young Kim Hunter (in her very first film role) plays the part of Mary, a school girl who learns that her older sister and provider, Jacqueline, has disappeared. This leads the young Mary to Greenwich Village in New York City, in an attempt to find out what happened to her. Along the way she meets three older men who try to assist her: a lawyer, a psychologist, and a writer. In time she discovers that Jacqueline was a member of a cult of devil worshipers who decided to leave the group and must now pay the price for her betrayal.

It's frustrating when beginning a review by trying to assure the reader that you do, in fact, ordinarily appreciate the very type of film you're reviewing, even though you're disappointed by this one. So in this case I will start by saying that I am a fan of Val Lewton's 1940's horror films for RKO, as well as '40s horrors in general. Now that this is out of the way, I'll let you know that I have devoted several viewings to THE SEVENTH VICTIM over the years, and though I always wish I could praise it, it's really too flawed in a number of ways to be considered anything more than an above-average noirish drama, perhaps with a hint of the morbid. The photography, as in all the Lewton thrillers, is foreboding and well done. While this movie was unliked by critics upon its original release, over the decades it has become praised as an early forerunner of future satanic cult horrors such as ROSEMARY'S BABY. As such, I can respect it for paving the way more than I actually feel it was successful in doing it.

I suppose Kim Hunter is adequate at best in her early movie role as the naïve student Mary. There is precious little emotion from her throughout, and indeed just about all the other main characters in the film are equally dire in attitude and under-played. The plot is somewhat muddled. For openers, there is no reason for Mary and the lawyer to suddenly tell one another they've fallen in love towards the end, when all they've done is meet briefly, and share some uninvolved words about trying to locate the woman's missing sister. This feels like it was thrown in simply because it was some kind of expected obligation.

Then we have much confounding nonsense as follows: the suicidal sister Jacqueline is captured by the self-professed "non-violent" cult and brought to their room, and is urged for hours and hours to pick up a glass and drink poison to kill herself for her betrayal, but she keeps resisting ... so they let her go home free (?). And when Jacqueline gets home, what is the first thing she does? Hangs herself anyway! Meanwhile, she has been stalked all the way home (in the classic "Lewton Walk" style) by a knife-wielding hit-man who had exited the cult meeting right along with her (I thought they were "non-violent"?-- and even if they changed their minds, why send her home and have a guy follow her to stab her, instead of knifing her right at the meeting?).

Most disappointing of all is the very end where the good guy confronts the harmless "devil worshipers" on their own turf. (All this time they have consisted of high class types, sitting around as if at a dinner party, dressed to the nines and drinking wine while chatting, more like a lodge meeting, and not doing anything even remotely satanic). All it takes is for the hero to recite a part of The Lord's Prayer, and then the members bow their heads in shame. Very weak. **1/2 out of ****

A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) ***1/2
I went into the theater with no real familiarity of Seth MacFarlane's previous work (he wrote, directed, and stars in this movie). I just went because I thought Charlize Theron looked delicious in the trailer, and I wouldn't mind a couple of hours of light comedy, if this was done right. So, harboring no prejudice against MacFarlane, I was thoroughly entertained by this very good Western farce, which I consider more or less "BLAZING SADDLES for the 21st Century". Yes, the movie was done right... it had a good amount of funny moments, even if MacFarlane relied too often on typical modern toilet humor and sexual gags. However - he redeemed himself with a script that also offers some strong characterizations and a love story amidst the chuckles.

Seth MacFarlane looks like a misplaced Peter Brady in the role of Albert, a fish out of water living in the Old West of the 1880s, and whose sensibilities are more suited to our own modern world. His troubles adapting to ancient frontier life become even worse when his girlfriend (Amanda Seyfried) dumps his poor sorry ass and she hooks up with the mustached Foy (Neil Patrick Harris), who is the town's rich and prominent store owner. Taking matters into his own hands, the incompetent Albert desires a gun fight with Foy, but can't shoot to save his life. So when a pretty and experienced cowgirl named Anna (Charlize Theron) arrives in town, she befriends Albert and sets out to teach him how to handle a gun. But Anna has troubles of her own, since she has an estranged jealous husband (Liam Neeson) who's out looking for her, and also happens to be the most feared and dangerous gunslinger of the West.

The cast acquits itself nicely, beginning with MacFarlane and Theron, but also Harris and Neeson as the two villains. Sarah Silverman is perfect as the town whore who'll have casual and sloppy sex with everyone except her own boyfriend. We also get some fun cameos from Gilbert Godfried and Jamie Foxx. If the movie would have toned down the notch on at least some of the obligatory sleaze humor and substituted more clever jokes in their place, this would be perfect. The music and theme song were well done. All I know is, I had a good time at the movies and walked out feeling fine. And that's a rarity for theatrical experiences these days. ***1/2 out of ****

In & Out

In & Out (1997) **
Another of my girlfriend's DVDs I watched with her, just to placate her. The premise is that Kevin Kline plays a popular high school teacher in a very small backwards town in Indiana. He is all prepared to be married to Joan Cusack when someone (it's not important who) broadcasts on national television that the teacher is gay. Now, Kline has to try and "prove" he is heterosexual, but perhaps he may just be in denial of his homosexuality.

It's pretty hard to believe this story takes place in 1997 when everyone in this Mayberry town behaves as though it's 1957. This is only a standard level comedy, though it's not too unbearable at only around ninety minutes. Kevin Kline is well cast for this part, but the best moments come from the hysterical antics of Joan Cusack (who it may be argued has never been very attractive, and yet I found her quite appealing in this film). Bob Newhart is okay as the bigoted high school principal. Tom Selleck seemed out of place to me as a gay news reporter who mentors Kline. Oh, and there is a grand, vomit-inducing, sappy happy ending at the end, which just seems phony. ** out of ****

The Lords of Flatbush

The Lords of Flatbush (1974) **
In 1958 Brooklyn, we follow the Lords (or grammatically incorrect "Lord's", according to their jackets and the main title), a group of leather-wearing, greased-haired, immature, high school tough guys. At the head of the gang is Stanley (Sylvester Stallone), an intimidating thug with a guarded heart of gold, who's in a dilemma when his rough-talking girl Frannie (Maria Smith) announces she's pregnant. Her best friend Annie (Renee Paris) is dating the handsome Chico (Perry King), but Chico only uses her for sex while really setting his eyes on the new girl in school (Susan Blakely). Butchey (Henry Winkler) is the most bright of the Lords, and could make something better of himself if he wanted. Wimpy (Paul Mace) is a short member of the group who hangs out with his friends for the security it gives him.

Most of what occurs on screen has no plot, and consists of vignettes with its cast members. Stallone fares best of all, and some good moments include him bullying a rival gang member in a pool hall, and especially the film's best scene near the end that takes place inside a jewelry store, when Frannie and Annie push Sly into buying a $1600 engagement ring against his will. Henry Winker's promising part was, unfortunately, under-written... but he's got one good scene occurring after hours alone in the local candy store hangout, where the shop owner tries to drill some sense into his head about how much more wisely he could be spending his time. Perry King's Chico is the main character, but he's such a jerk in the movie that he's hard for us to invest in.

Ultimately, the movie has a good deal of problems and is only average. At best, this is watchable to me every few years as being one of those nostalgic guilty pleasures that I first saw in the theater when I was around 11 (it even featured the now-defunct Sunrise Drive-In, which was not far from where I lived back then). It's a very cheap film that was shot on 16mm and blown up, which accounts for its rough looking quality, and also for some poor sound issues that make it difficult to discern occasional dialogue. It's got a 1970s rock n roll soundtrack of made up '50s tunes of varying quality, some of which drown out moments of talking at times. But it's still worth at least one viewing to see a young Sylvester Stallone (who would later become ROCKY) and Henry Winkler (in a rough draft for his Fonzie character of HAPPY DAYS) getting to shine in a couple of brief moments. ** out of ****

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) **
SPOILERS- I didn't really need or want to see this, but I had a few hours to kill one afternoon and this was the most accessible movie at the theater. It's not that I don't appreciate Spidey; I grew up a fan of Marvel and Spider-Man, and I had seen the first three Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films already. When Andrew Garfield played the part again in yet another needless reboot called THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN two years ago, I refused to bother, so soon after Sam Raimi had already done a new series. I found that as much as I don't think much of Tobey, I thought he still had made a better Peter Parker than Garfield.

Let's get down to business. So this Part 2 of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was about what I expected, no less -- but also, unfortunately, nothing more. Typically overdone special effects... a movie that feels way too long, with too many climaxes... and also trying to cram in too many bad villains for one movie (so what else is new in Superhero Cinema?). To begin, Jamie Foxx is ridiculous as a sniveling Max Dillon, who turns into "Electro". I couldn't believe we had to sit through yet ANOTHER take on "The Green Goblin" (Dane DeHaan)... come on, with all the classic Spidey villains over the decades, must you rely on a character we've already seen in the last recent series? And the final joke of all was a completely out-of-place tacked-on climax with Paul Giamatti as a thug in an over-sized mechanical robot contraption, who is allegedly supposed to be "The Rhino" (I remember The Rhino from the comics -- and this metallic monstrosity looked more like J. Jonah Jameson's "Spidey Slayer", or the one that Thunderbolt Ross manipulated to thwart The Incredible Hulk!). And speaking of J. Jonah Jameson... where the hell was he in this picture, anyway? He was a vital part of Spider-Man. Was he in the first movie? Not that I'm going to see it.

Sally Field is a terrific actress, and she tries hard in this movie as Peter's old Aunt May. The only problem is, she doesn't really look or feel anything like the real Aunt May from the comics, and -- I hope Sally will appreciate this -- she's not old-looking enough. Or maybe I'm just still used to seeing that sweet and chubby little face as GIDGET or THE FLYING NUN.

Emma Stone was okay, I guess. Nothing that stood out, certainly, in her performance as Gwen Stacy. The one kudo I'll give to the film (can we still call these things "films" nowadays, or are they now "digitals"?) is that I was crossing my fingers that Gwen would meet her death like she did from the comics, and I'm glad the movie did not waffle there; however, her death scene was so over-staged and sensationalized: falling, falling, falling, falling...still falling! ... amidst slow-motion, in mid-air drama...with cartoon debris effects littered and flying all about the air... Enough. ** out of ****


Fatso (1980) **
Anne Bancroft wrote, directed, and acted in this uneven comedy that doesn't know quite what it wants to be. It's somewhat about a likable fat man (Dom DeLuise) who loves his food, but it's also about him yearning for a young woman (Candice Azzara). When Dom's younger brother Salvatore drops dead at only age 39 from being morbidly obese, Dom is pestered by his overbearing sister (Bancroft) to get his butt to a doctor and lose some weight. While this could have been a sure recipe for some really hilarious stuff, the script just isn't that funny, and it veers from humorous attempts to some pathos that don't really come together. Instead, Dom only half-heartedly bothers with his dieting dilemma, and quite frankly, DeLuise is not really THAT fat here to begin with. The best funny scene occurs one evening when Dom cannot control his appetite and maniacally awakens his sleeping brother (Ron Carey) while brandishing a gun and a knife if he won't unlock the fridge. But such ripe opportunities for some good laughs are few and far between. ** out of ****

Gypped in the Penthouse

Gypped in the Penthouse (1955) ***
For my money, this is one of the funniest Shemp films he did with The Three Stooges, and especially considering that at this time he was age 60-ish and would pass away later that year. Columbia Studios was usually re-cycling older Stooge films at this period and only rarely did we get an all-new short with premiere footage. GYPPED IN THE PENTHOUSE is one of these rare newbies, and it is especially interesting in that it features the Stooges in three separate parts. Shemp and Larry are old acquaintances who bump into each other at a "Woman Hater's Club", and they reminisce in flashbacks about a cheating woman they each dated and what about her drove them to swear off females forever. Moe plays the jealous and punchy husband (>POW!< -- "Oww! - Didn't you make a mistake?"..."Yeah, I hit the wrong eye!" >POW!!< ... "OWWWH!!"... *** out of ****

Fling in the Ring

Fling in the Ring (1955) ***
The Three Stooges (Moe, Larry, Shemp) are boxing trainers forced by their boss Big Mike to de-condition their star prize fighter "Chopper", because the boss has bet a load of dough on the big galoot losing the match. This was one of the latter shorts by the aging Stooges which relied on recycled old footage from a previously produced film. In this case, most of the running time is taken from 1947's FRIGHT NIGHT (which had also been Shemp's first comedy with The Stooges). However, the new scenes shot for this re-issue are very funny and for my money make this redo an even better experience than FRIGHT NIGHT! New scenes include: the boss playing practical jokes on the Stooges by having them smoke exploding cigars; Moe's fingers getting jammed in a door (Moe: "I think I broke my eye-poking fingers!" ... Larry: "Good, now you can't poke us in the eyes! > POKE <- Owwww! I hadda open my big mouth!"), and Moe nervously swallowing and choking on a cigar when Big Mike sneaks up behind him. *** out of ****


Godzilla (2014) *1/2
The stench of Emmerich's 1998's GODZILLA remake has been permeating in my nostrils for 16 years, so when I heard that Gareth Edwards was going to attempt a serious new 2014 reboot with Godzilla more or less resembling himself, I figured I'd give it a try. Besides, Toho Studios in Japan hasn't made a new Godzilla picture in something like 10 years... so what's the worst that could happen? If this new version flops at the box office, Godzilla remains dormant. If it succeeds, the possibilities are endless - perhaps even for Toho to return to their own series. So I was willing to give this the benefit of the doubt.

The new GODZILLA doesn't suck as hard as the '98 remake did, but it still does nibble quite a bit. The main problem is that it takes forever for Godzilla to appear - something for like one hour into this bloated 123 minute feature. Now, I've always been a viewer who mostly prefers fleshed-out characters and intriguing story development over all-out brainless action ... but this is a Godzilla movie, damn it! I didn't check the time, but I wonder if Godzilla was seen on screen for 10 minutes total; it was like he was giving a cameo appearance in his own movie. And if you're going to attempt a dramatic first act or two with characters in an action-oriented premise, you'd better make them interesting. Unfortunately, the leads here are strictly one-dimensional. As the young lead hero, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is an expressionless cardboard cut-out. His wife (Elizabeth Olsen) does not make much deeper of an impression. The lead Japanese doctor (Ken Watanabe) barely has much to do other than stand around looking seriously constipated. (Of course, they couldn't help naming the token Japanese doctor "Serizawa", after a character in the original 1954 GODZILLA; why do these makers of lesser reboots always think they're going to score points by name-checking people and things from older movies?). There were some semi-interesting early sequences featuring Bryan Cranston as the young hero's dad, but even he began to wear on my nerves after awhile.

Twice I seriously considered walking out of the theater. The first time was after squirming too long in waiting for Godzilla to show his face (seemed like an hour, or longer); the second time was, after finally seeing him, getting continuously c**k-teased -- more than once, when it appeared as though an enticing action moment was mercifully about to begin, but the scene abruptly cuts away to something else, as if slamming a door in the audience's faces (and that literally happened during one crucial cutaway moment of excitement!). While I think of it, isn't it quite a coincidence how the main characters always seem to be right there each time a building falls or a monster sticks its head forward? It's also a small world even amongst hundreds of scattered victims, as they still manage to find their missing loved one amidst the hysteria.

Some good things: first, I think it was wise to not make this another "origin movie"; instead, it's as if Godzilla has always existed, but has been laying low for many years. Which leads me to the second good thing: having Godzilla awaken as a helper to mankind (I've always felt that a typical scenario with a villainous Godzilla angrily smashing the city gets tired really fast after one film). Third: having two other evil monsters for Godzilla to battle with -two gigantic, robot-like, insect-beasties (one male, one female). When these three monsters are ultimately allowed to tussle together, this resembles a true Godzilla movie and the effects are quite spectacular; regrettably, by this time it's too late. It's what we came here for, but there are times in viewing cinema where a plodding movie has over-stepped its welcome and is beyond total redemption. *1/2 out of ****

Loose Loot

Loose Loot (1953) ***
LOOSE LOOT is a latter day Three Stooges short, and it's recommended as a satisfying never-ending assault of physical slapstick and insanity for all fans of the comedy trio! The first half begins with Moe, Larry and Shemp (in re-used older footage from 1947's HOLD THAT LION!) being conned out of their inheritance money by the shifty Ichabod Slip (Kenneth MacDonald), so the Stooges plot to confront the crook at a dance theater to get back their cash in the second half (which is all new 1950's footage matched to flow with the old). This is just nonstop and cartoonish madness from start to finish, as the Stooges mercilessly beat the tar out of MacDonald, who must have been paid well enough to endure such rough but comical abuse! I have always been impressed at the way Columbia managed to synchronize older and newer footage together, and in this case you could never tell unless you had already seen HOLD THAT LION!. *** out of ****


Mothra (1961) ***
Definitely one of Toho's finest giant monster movies of all. An evil businessman (Jerry Ito) abducts two adorable foot-tall twin fairies from their remote island, in an unscrupulous plan to exploit them for his own monetary gain. The two "peanuts" call to their protector Mothra for aid, and the title monster travels to Japan to save the little ladies, while leaving unintended harm and destruction in its path.

Mothra is a sympathetic character which became popular and went on to co-star in many more Toho adventures. The female creature starts out as a gigantic crawling caterpillar, but late in the movie emerges out of its self-spun cocoon, as a huge and colorful flying moth that causes intense catastrophic winds when flapping its wings. Jerry Ito is a perfect hateful lead villain, but he is counterbalanced partly by the agreeable presence of comedian Frankie Sakai on the side of the good guys. The story is involving, and the pacing very comfortable. I have always been a big fan of the charming little song that the twin fairies sing in honor of their savior, Mothra. The English language version is well dubbed, and there are some differences between the U.S. and original Japanese versions; but either one is good and enjoyable.

*** out of ****


Earthquake (1974) **1/2
For a brief time within the 1970s, so-called "disaster films" became something of a genre all their own, and the heroic Charlton Heston was often featured in most of them. This one is Heston's first, as he plays a middle-aged architect in L.A. who realizes that the types of buildings he's helped erect should have been an obvious mistake for an area plagued by regular earthquakes. He's stuck in a dead pseudo marriage with a real bitch of a wife who you'd just love to slap (the aged but once-gorgeous Ava Gardner). Her dad (BONANZA's Lorne Greene) is Heston's boss and father-in-law (hold on a second... Greene and daughter Gardner are only a few years off in age ... what, did Lorne father her when he was seven??). Anyway, Heston's character is smart enough to be openly cheating on his old battle-ax with a younger chickie pooh (Genevieve Bujold).

Of course the bizarre castings are always part of the charm of these "jeopardy pictures". So we've also got side plots with Richard Roundtree as an Evel Kenieval type of motorcycle daredevil, whose partner is played by Gabriel Dell (of the old Bowery Boys comedies). George Kennedy is a lot of fun as a hot-tempered cop who gets suspended from the police force for anger management issues. Marjoe Gotner plays a nerdy supermarket cashier who becomes a crazed gun-happy National Guardsman when pressed into public crisis mode -- and he's got the hots for a young and bosomy Victoria Principal (sporting a terrible afro). Walter Matthau provides intermittent comic relief as a drunk at a bar who remains oblivious to anything that's occurring around him in this disaster.

There are a few earthquakes, with the Big Rumble being one occurring mid-movie that lasts several minutes, and levels all of Los Angeles. Chuck Heston joins Lorne Greene and George Kennedy in trying to save everybody else. The special effects still are mostly impressive and deliver the goods, except for an occasional misfire (like the spattered blood in a falling elevator). The main draw of a movie such as this is the catastrophic tragedy of it all, and this is well realized even if the sub stories going on around it are mainly fodder. When EARTHQUAKE was released in theaters in 1974, a special audio trick called "Sensurround" was developed to give the effect of the movie seats rumbling as if during an actual earthquake. **1/2 out of ****

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