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Joe's Apt. (1992 TV Short)
"A Classic. Deserves To Last As Long As The Cockroach"
2 October 2015
By Dane Youssef

THE COCKROACH is said to be the first living life form there was that is still going strong today. They outlasted the dinosaurs, who had a run of 65 million years. They pre- date the world's oldest profession. They may have been around since the big bang. They can live just about anywhere. They clearly know what they're doing.

I strangely couldn't help but wonder what personal connection the film's author John Payson must've had with these little guys. I'm sure they occupied his first place. He probably couldn't bear to lay out a roach motel or set a bug bomb off. He must've had some kind of strange kismet with them.

Now this one really was a classic. A grand milestone benchmark moment in all of MTV Like the "Aeon Flux" shorts or the very first "Cornholio" episode of "Beavis and Butthead."One of those grand short films back when MTV occasionally showed things that weren't music videos. And then realized, "Hey! We can show things that AREN'T Music Videos." And… then stopped showing music videos altogether.

Many fell in love with roaches—-love at first sight as Joe himself must've. We see them before we meet just about anyone else. This place really belongs to the roaches.

And their good friend Joe finally managed to scare himself up a date tonight and odds are, his association with a legion of cockroaches doesn't assure he's got an active romantic life. But… the roaches want to help. And… it's actually kind of sweet how they do.

It worked so well… Maybe that's… why the full-length orchestrated theatrical version didn't do so well. Too much of a really great thing. A really great thing that… To be fair, everybody who saw it… really did love it.

I remember after it was over… I sure wanted more. I wanted to stay at Joe's Apartment. More than that. I wanted to live there. I wanted those little guys as my roommates, my friends. I wanted to be one of them. Pets, not pests.

Somehow, someway… for some damned reason… we walk away having a lot more affection for those little buggers. Them and guys like Joe. Who knows? Maybe someday… there will be peace among all of us. Probably just before the bomb drops. And… then, there will be total peace on Earth. Except for the cockroaches, who I'm sure will stick around well before and after the next stage of life comes around...

--Loving Joe and All His Little Buds, Dane Youssef
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Why Does It HAVE To Be Seen? Well...
25 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
by Dane Youssef

IT'S THE KIND OF THING that happened all the time back in those days. And by such, I mean that they had these sort of tales in books, movies, magazines and tales around a roaring campfire. They were everywhere at the time. The whole "It's A Wonderful Life" gimmick applying to some product or device. Ordinary average people cursing the frustration of some product—and wished it away with all their heart.

A man in the glorious year of 1940 is simply tired of looking at springs when he has to fix the busted couch in his home. He misses a golf game with his buddies. Fed up with even so much as the sight of springs, he utters those words that a lot of the folk in these things would utter: "I wish I'd never been born—er, I mean I wish this particular substance doesn't existence anymore!" Then right on cue, a little Jiminy Cricket-like cartoon conscience-like character pops up — obnoxiously cheerful and perky. He's literally a cartoon spring—goes by the moniker of "Coily the Spring Sprite." Why bother wishing upon a star?

And we then have to witness how every product that uses this substance just instantly falls apart. He wishes that "I never have to look at a spring as long as I live." And… every product with a spring in it… now… simply doesn't. Little "Coily the Spring Sprite" casts a spell… sending all the springs in the dear man's life away. Forever and ever… Well, no. Just until our hero wises up. Not even a full minute, I think.

Our hero, after getting the inevitable good fortune to un-wish a world free of the burden of springs, is a changed man. He is now over the moon that springs exist. And when he's finally able to play a game of golf with his buddies, he kills on the golf course. His game puts theirs to shame—while he bores and irritates them to tears by talking about the importance and usage to springs. His pals p It's like he just had a near-death experience. He becomes the spokesman for spring use. Well, thanks Mr… Hey, you know… they never gave us his name.

Jam Handy made a nice little string of films to let you know how important and life-crucial the products he and his company was cranking out were.

Jam Handy wants you to know damn well they're making a product that's as important to life on this planet as water—as oxygen itself. OK, OK, OK. Springs serve a vital purpose. Point made. But we knew that already.

How good it is? Oh, it needs to be seen. Why? Because the good people at the affiliate of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" gave it a good once-over. Now we've all heard that immortal expression metaphor more than one point in our lifetime: "You can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse." I mean… how do you do that? Well, you can turn literal you-know-what into grade A+++ fertilizer. And that's what "MST3K" always did. Hell, it's what everyone seems to be doing nowadays. Huh. We're all living in a very good time.

"A CASE OF SPRING FEVER" is pretty much pure camp… entirely laughable all by itself. We might not even have needed our beloved angels of salvation from "MST3K" to roast it at the stake. But… I say we should be grateful they showed up anyway. Hell, no one in this day and age would have seen this now- embarrassingly tacky educational ad newsreel if the "MST3K" band hadn't had their way with it. God Bless them. And everyone else bless them too.

But… our beloved friends, our guardian angels… the boys at MST3K give it the essential treatment it deserves.

--Now Fully Realizing The Importance of Springs, Nostalgia and Spoof, Dane Youssef
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Suicide Kings (1997)
"The Best--Or Worst Way To Kill Yourself? A Caper That Must Have Doomed From The Beginning"
1 January 2014
by Dane Youssef

"Tarantinoesque (adj) – referring to or reminiscent of the work of the American film-maker and actor Quentin Tarantino (born 1963), known for the violence and wit of his films." --Collins English Dictionary

Tarantino never set foot in a film school. He might not even have taken TV Media in high school. But he still changed the genre. With "Reservoir Dogs," he was established. With "Pulp Fiction," he was God.

Hollywood is like high school. When one does something that really gets popular, it sparks... the trend. And all the others follow suit-- following the leader like cult lemmings. And in film, influence can be essential. Or just sad and embarrassing. Tarantino inspired many--a lot of particular imitators. Some good. And... as for this one?

"SUICIDE KINGS" dares to spin a yarn of a quartet of wealthy privileged youngsters who dream up... and then try the most desperate and daring of schemes...

The reformed mobster is on his way home one night after an invigorating evening out. There's an ambush, he's attacked. He comes to... only to find himself bound-and-gagged in a chair somewhere. What the hell's going on?

A hostage film. A mob-crime flick. And also eventually... kind of mystery "whodunnit?" thriller, the plot twists and turns--especially in the last quarter of the picture.

Just a bunch of boys having fun. Bein' boys--not unlike "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction."

"The Godfather in question" finds in a cabin somewhere surrounded by rich collegiate in nice suits who seem to fancy themselves their own independent Mafioso. He sees red--on someone's shirt, as it's covered in the Goodfella's blood. The whole plan goes as wrong as we'd expect and the spoiler richies panic--and then these dumb rich silver spoons all turn on each other.

"SUICIDE KINGS" boasts one of those casts that we'd expect from the latest Tarantino picture. Christopher Walken, Laura Harris, Jeremy Sisto, Brad Garrett, Jay Mohr, Johnny Galecki, Sean Patrick Flanery, Henry Thomas, Laura San Giacomo and Dennis Leary.

OK, not quite the highest-of-profile names for the most part. But still, everyone does a worthwhile job. Only Walken, Leary and Galecki only really stand-out.

Walken confirms the belief that any scene he's in--just flat-out works. Even when the screenplay gives him the most ludicrous insights: "But I come from out there, and everybody out there knows, everybody lies: cops lie, newspapers lie, parent's lyin'. The one thing you can count on - word on the street... yeah, that's solid." Uh-huh. That's why so many schoolyard and water-cooler rumors are considered holy fact.

Walken sees how nervous they all are (who wouldn't be?) and attempts to get them to turn on each other. Seeing as it's a typical hostage situation with the victim being tied to a chair--he tries the usual of divide-and-conquer. "There's an inside guy. A mole," he tells them. "But who?" When they do finally start playing poker, Walken reads them easily.

Leary has the most fun in his role doing what I suppose can best be described as "the quintessential Denis Leary role." He's "Denis Leary in the mob." Ranting about his wife and his expensive footwear. Doing a good deed and then bring down his usual Biblical wrath.

Galecki is kind of fun as the rich worrywart nebbish whose family owns the place and seems a lot more concerned with mud being tracked on the floor, what happening to his father's favorite chair than the fact that a mobster is bound and he know everyone's name...

All the other actors--they get a passing grade, but they don't quite stand out. "SUICIDE KINGS" is like that--hit-and-miss.

The whole abduction is so badly planned--the movie itself even takes notice of this. At one point in the movie, Walken's character says to his captors: "You guys didn't think this through too good, did you?" Anyone with a handful of working brain cells will be thinking the same thing. I kind of wanted to ask the filmmakers this. The amount of obvious mistakes these guys make. Oh, they're clearly not professionals.

The movie's screenwriters Josh McKinney, Gina Goldman and Wayne Allen Rice take Don Stanford's original short story "The Hostage" from and heavily "Quentin Tarantino-ize it." Some thought they paid homage real proper. Some thought all this seems like something at best he might have in the bottom of his drawer--and forgot about forever.

Director Peter O' Fallon has real flair and style. He certainly films this thing with a lot of energy to spare. The kind we've seen best in... well, you know where. He gives a lot of wild-child style and so does everyone else involved.

Heist/kidnapping movies that deal with "inside jobs" just gotta have that moment where the ship's going down in flame and the rats all turn on each other.

"SUICIDE KINGS" is still worth a look for a slow night. Better than a lot of the merde being crapped out of Hollywood's big uncreative anus. "SUICIDE KINGS" doesn't beat the house and take the pot, but like poker, it's not a bad way to spend a slow night with your friends.

And in the end... Well... This is all pretty unbelievable. The ending however, is inevitable. And makes all the sense in the world.

See, for me--The Suicide Kings seems more like Jon Favreau's "Swingers" than the Reservoir Dogs. Hey, maybe that was another source of inspiration!

You might have to see it more than once to really get it all straight. Take notes, if you have to. Not to give anything away at all, but just to close it all on this one poetic line: "Sometimes the ends really do justify the means. Or at least define the meaning of the words 'karma' and 'justice'".

--Having Really Enjoyed It, Dane Youssef
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The Twilight Zone: Eye of the Beholder (1960)
Season 2, Episode 6
"In The Eye Of The Beholder, This Remains An Important Piece With Crucial Messages"
18 March 2013
by Dane Youssef

If there is truly any and all episode that best sums up what "THE ZONE" is all about, it's this one. Serling told us at the end of last week's episode to tune in for this episode as he remarks: "... It's called 'The Eye of The Beholder' and it comes recommended."

This time, Serling takes us to an anonymous hospital which could probably be anywhere. He takes us right away head-first into room #307 where a woman with a grotesquely misshapen face is awaiting her last attempt at corrective surgery. Her whole life is just lying in that bed, bandaged from the neck-up like a mummy they've just started work on.

The rest of the medical staff talk about what a poor soul she is. The nurses try their best to accommodate her with the best "bedside manner" physically possible. They certainly sound sympathetic. The doctor asks why such prejudice seems to exist in a society. Aren't we supposed to all be on the same team? Isn't that the purpose of civilization? Our heart breaks right along with hers--and Doctor Bernardi's in one touching speech that takes place in the employee break-room.

Janet Tyler sounds like such a tender soul. The kind of decent person there just isn't enough of in this cold, cruel world. And this world seems more fascist than our own. We hear of "The Apparently this time, Serling has brought us to a hypothetical land where Hitler won. There is only one world leader, one way, one regime. We hear him on the early flat-screen TV's praising "the glory of conformity". The delight of our unified The whole world is one giant united annexed totalitarian dictatorship. We all know what it's like to want to belong, to flourish. To be part of humanity. And we want that for her.

It's true that opposites tend to attract more than they repel. And we do tend to attack and destroy that which is different to us. Even as children. Even this day in age. But as those who opposed fascists like Hitler knew... doesn't conformity limit our humanity rather than strengthen it? Is this form of oppression and de-humanity the only way there will be total world order and peace?

And it's true that anyone with a working brain cell can see the trademark "Big Rod Serling Twist" coming a hundred thousand miles away... from space even, it isn't about whether or not we can guess what the big ironic or karmic ending is--it's about the whole journey there and what it all means. And pop culture has only made the finale more known.

And in the end... what's really ugly and frightening... is how much this world isn't really galaxies away from our own.

Still in the end, Serling's message still remains as relevant as it did about half a century ago.

And this was one of the episodes that was re-made for the re-incarnation of the series in 2002. Technology had improved, particularly the make-up and the TV flat screens. And believe it or not, the re-make followed Serling's original script more faithfully--and the "surprise" (notice that's in quotes) was a little less obvious. The acting was terrible however, with few exceptions.

The cast here is all solid and the acting rarely comes across as campy, with a few exceptions. The two actresses doing "Ms. Janet Tyler," the "Before " and "After" play it for all it's worth. Maxine Stewart does a better job that Donna Douglas, but Donna does exactly what she was meant to. Douglas and Edson Stroll have a moment right out of "Gone With The Wind" that seems appropriately turned on it's director Douglas Heyes does a fine job of capturing the right mood, playing with the light and camera angles to establish the right feel... as well as making the conclusion pretty clear. The make-up is pretty silly and unconvincing by any standards, but in the end--the point remains intact.

One thing's for sure... You'll never think of the labels of "beautiful" and "hideous" the same way again...

--For Rod Almighty... God Serling Himself... And All That Ever Happened In His Almighty Zone, Dane Youssef

NOTE: This review is dedicated to Rodman Edward Serling, a man who not only fought to protect our country and our way of life in WWII and took a fair amount of injury for it. But also fought the censors on TV twice as hard to make sure his vision was seen and heard. When TV was about shows like "Leave it to Beaver" and "Donna Reed," here was a man who wanted to use the box to illuminate serious problems like the cold war, racism, anti-society, paranoia and other destructive elements that come from within us. He was buried with military honors. I hope television honors as well. All he wanted was to remembered as a writer.

Well.... I remember....
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Dog Park (1998)
"The Truth About Dogs and... People. Hmmm, Might Have Been Nice. But... no."
14 May 2012
by Dane Youssef

ONCE-TIME "Kid-In-The-Hall "Bruce McCulloch has one good-as-gold nugget of an idea here. 'Cause speaking from personal first-hand experience, the dog park is one special, magical place. The true place for any dog, dog owner and dog lover.

The dogs are given some amount of room to roam and socialize, good or bad. And so are their owners.

And you know.... movies are filmed all the time in Canada, American movies even! For the sake of wide roaming space and less cost. There are Canadian movies... made in Canada. But so very, very few.... But... this does.

Garofolo's pretty much just phones in the stock-type Garofolo role, knowledgeable about relationships and life with the usual sardonic wit. Except her usual genuine humor here is gone, thanks to her un-character and lines due to the "script" courtesy of McCulloch. She might have been better cast in the Lorna role. But no, Janeane has too much of a pulse.

Bruce actually gives himself a substantial supporting role as the "his" of a pathologically married "His and Hers" couple with Garofolo. She still seems almost human, almost possible. She seems to persevere through this incompetence.

He's always been a bad actor, but in skits, it's easier to forgive. And with this unfinished first draft of a script and monotone direction, all the actors more or less sink. These actors can act. But his movie manages to convince you they can't. So Bruce's horrible thespian attempts fit right in.

Every ounce of blame goes to the man who half-conceived this big ball of half-considered, unfunny awkwardness-- McCulloch. The characters, duller than dullest. Nearly every single line of dialogue and scene feels awkward and mishandled.

Not one person in this whole damn thing... comes off as believable. Or really all that insightful.

All throughout, McCulloch seems to lack the ability to write a decent romantic scene, a full-fledged written character or a line of dialouge that hears well. When it comes to writing personally, he should well- stick to skits. Or maybe just checks--if any of them are any good. Better than this.

"Dog Park" has no mood. Every scene is badly staged. It was so bad, I damn near expected this thing to have a laugh track.

While many of these types exist out there in the world (the sad-sack jilted lover, the cynical sage advisors, the seemingly perfect couple, the superficial couple, the weird oddball, the nypho and the love-scorn pessimist), the movie takes these stock-types and injects no humanity into them whatsoever. No one feels authentic, or even interesting.

Other Canadian folk like Harland Williams nothing special and especially awful. He plays the Neo-weirdo Lorna goes out with after she reaches that point when a woman gets so lonely and dying from cabin-fever, she rushes to go out with the first guy she sees. But after the date... he calls her back with a message she desperately, desperately needs.

But yes, Bruce and co. I agree wholly that Andy 'n' Lorna are made for each one another. These two, so boring--without any personality or interest--that you'd have to go the morgue to find people who are less alive. These two were made for each other. Two big empty non-existent zeroes.

Over the years, McCulloch has developed one tin cauliflower ear for dialogue.

As been said by pretty much every other on the planet who saw this, the only performance, character and scene of fellow "Kids In The Hall" brethren Mark McKinney as Dr. Cavan, an insightful and bizarre dog psychiatrist.

There's just not much about the movie overall. Just no real effort. No special insights about dating, relationships, nature--human or canine. No interesting people, philosophies about relationships or anything resembling a good movie-going experience.

Now if you'll excuse me, as I write this, it's 7:30 on the dot. The dogs are at the door, with Christmas morning anticipation. Tails wagging, eyes fixated on the door. It's time for our evening constitutional, the high point of our day.

As dog owners know, the local dog park is a treat. They're like late-night singles night clubs up in the city after hours. Anything goes, and often does...

--A Long-Time, Long-Term, Life-Long Dog-Lover, Dane Youssef
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"The Player" meets "Office Space." The Inside Dope On Hollywood Off Of The Red Carpet.
21 September 2010
by Dane Youssef

Now here's a movie for those looking for an attack on white-collar corporate office life, the spinning gears of Hollywood.

"Swimming With Sharks" seems to owe more than a little something to "Dilbert." The movie is more about Corporate America than Hollywood. There are a lot of white-collar touches that apply to offices, cubicles and other such rather than the Hollywood spin machine. Like Robert Altman's "The Player," this is one of those thrillers about people in "the biz" who are driven to the breaking point by how cruel L.A. can really be.

The film's writer/director George Huang himself was a former personal assistant to some of the biggest names in Hollywood, has described the movie as "20% autobiographical." Much of this one is said to be based on his experience working for noted mega-mogul producer Joel Silver for Columbia Pictures. So it should come as no surprise what-so-ever that his first crack at film was his own life story.

Surprise, surprise, huh? Well, more or less.

Despite Kevin Spacey being the big name in this movie and him getting first-billing, Frank Whaley ("Career Opportunities") is the star of this one. Most of anything with him head-lining is a sign of a bad movie ("Cold Dog Soup" and "The Jimmy Show"), but this is one of those where he shines because he's allowed to. He's not the most versatile actor, the best-looking or the most charismatic. He's had a rep as being something of the life-long "bit player." But when he's given a movie, script and part which allows him any headway, he damn well manages to make the most of it.

Spacey, being one of Hollywood's finest and renown, is able to pull off the screaming antagonistic drill-instructor and the restrained, tortured hostage here pitch perfectly.

Whaley effectively plays the green, naive wide-eyed rookie to the Hollywood roulette wheel with his usual perfection, but when the other shoe drops, he doesn't quite pull off the scorned, disgruntled employee seeking revenge. His Jekyll isn't as convincing as his Hyde. He doesn't scare us. He never seems truly unhinged. Maybe that's why Whaley sticks to the youthful deer-in-the-headlights. Whaley doesn't really seem as demented and unhinged as he should in his captor scenes. He's best as a whipping boy--which is why he plays so many.

1994 was the official year for Spacey. He got his breakout with the TV series "Wiseguys," and made the big screen transition with worthwhile fare like his Oscar-winning supporting role in "The Usual Suspects," "The Ref," "Se7en" and this. Spacey monopolized himself in the '94 as "absolute talent" (my term).

Benecio Del Toro, the "Brad Pitt of Mexico" (someone else's quote, believe me, I never dubbed him such) has a quickie cameo as Spacey's assistant who's given his three weeks' notice and is on the way out, making way for Guy. But not before giving Whaley some final parting words of wisdom. "Protect his interests, serve his needs. What you think means nothing. What you feel means nothing. You have no brain. He yells all the time. It's a lose-lose situation." This job is a fast-track shortcut to the top and if Guy does right and keeps his mouth open wide to catch all of Buddy's crap, he may very well be someday on the same mantel as Buddy and his former assistants. Everything Guy'll ever need to know about his job, he learns on day one.

Enter Dawn Locklard (Michelle Forbes of "Guiding Light" and "24"), another powerful Hollywood producer who Guy doesn't have the best first meeting with. She doesn't show a lot of warmth, which explains why she's a producer.

She herself is angry and cynical, and throughout the course of the film, we will see why. She eventually warms up to Guy and asks him out. Guy is stunned. But she needs Buddy on her side and is interested in him getting behind her new project. Guy sees this as an opportunity. Her new project for the studio, "Real Life" may just be Guy's window of opportunity. She seems to be interested in Guy because he's the most real thing she's seen in the Valley for the longest time. But does she really feel something for him or is she just using him? Is Buddy two- faced and back-stabbing or is Dawn? Guy no longer knows what's real and what's what?

Although when Guy starts to show some spine after a lot of Buddy's tantrums, the payoff is almost evenly matched with the faux-sugar scene. Buddy gets to emotionally, verbally (and at times, physically) abuses Guy (and apparently all his assistant's) on every possible occasion. He also gets to skewer just about everyone who crosses his path.

"Swimming With Sharks" is no featherweight comedy for a slow night about a bullying boss like the trailer lead you to believe. It's a film which deals with white-collar office comedy and torturous drama. Shifting from a lightweight comedy to a torturous thriller. It's sort of schizophrenic thing. We're laughing heartily one minute and horrified the next. A lot of time, this one keeps us guessing as it criss-crosses from Buddy torturing Guy to vice-versa.

But there's a lot (maybe too much) about this one that rings too-true to life. A lot of moments filled with the harsh insights and disillusioned truths that one learns from living an uncharmed life. And so there's illuminating light and lessons, as well as laughs. Not to mention some great heavier moments where ugly secrets about Buddy and... well, surprisingly Dawn are revealed.

The plot is over-developed and the ending is more poetic than anything else. But most of the movie really does work and really does sticks with you... like all the great ones do.

--Hoo-Ray For Corporate Hollywood, Dane Youssef
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"Blaxploitation, Still Alive And Thriving..."
20 August 2010
by Dane Youssef


But movies on the stripping game don't seem to. They never seem to be well-made, or much fun. Why? What's going on here? The characters and plot are so non-existent, they fall under the category of pornos without sex.

And who wants to see that?

Such on the form as "Showgirls" made one wish the makers had followed pornography by example and not tried to have plot.

Good readers, take a deeep breath of relief that "The Players Club" has slightly higher-quality of strip than glitzy dives like "Showgirls" and "Striptease." Not quite the British Oscar contender level of "The Full Monty"... but not quite a "Striptease."

Written and directed by old-school rap superstar Ice Cube, "The Players Club" is a posh, yet harsh feature dealing with women needing big money really fast and giving themselves over to this way in order to get it. Stripping changes who you are all over. Inside-and-out, Diana says.

But hey--everybody needs money. Everyone wants more. Even if you're Trump, every single dollar... just isn't enough. We've all heard of the girl who turns trick in order as last resort. There are women who get into stripping 'cause they want worship, adoration. To control every man in the room--and her career.

But there are those who just need to make mad money mad fast. When we meet Diana (LisaRaye), she's just had a fight with father over college. He throws her out. She leans on a guy for support. He gives her more than that. He gives her a child. Then he leaves her.

Single black woman raises baby on her own, no means. Such a sad, familiar story.

To make ends meet, she gets at a shoe-store job. Some strippers come in and tell her there are ways of making more money--much, much more. In high demand. You're in charge of your career, your clientèle, yourself. Diana, you're suddenly in charge of life.

The "The Players Club," a ritzy men's club it Atlanta. The place is always hopping like a horny-toad on hop with the kind of people you'd like to know.

"Players" has a lot of the gimmicks as "Striptease." One can only wonder... did The Ice see that movie... just before he wrote up this?

A lot is pretty warmed-over. But despite blaxploitation roots and intentions, "The Players Club" boasts an A-list cast and production values, thanks to the powerful status name of The Ice Cube and New Line.

Bernie Mac gives in his plum of the "Players Club" owner "Dollar" Bill. A eccentric cartoon who dresses like a pimp, promotes himself like Don King with that philosophical wisdom that one picks up on the street, from the school of hard knocks. Business, yet ghetto.

John Amos and Faizon Love are a pair of sorta dirty-cops who frequent. They got that Amos and Andy-shtick with Amos playing it straight and Love going for laughs.

Oscar-winner Foxx of "Ray" fame got his start in the biz as stand-up and here as Blue, it might've served him (and the freakin' movie) better had he done some of his act. You'd think the DJ at a strip club wouldn't be important (Bill even tells Blue that to his face at one point), but he proves to be the very thing that Diana needs--even pulling it all together in the final act.

Looking at all this, I kept waiting for Pam Grier to pop up in some cameo (where she at least keep her clothes on).

"Players Club" does make a lot of its characters colorful and eccentric while keeping a lot of them fairly human. Cube tries to juggle, not making it a specific genre--but a "life film." His movie is comedy, drama, a thriller, and action flick...

As a filmmaker, Ice dons the indie hat here--as screenwriter, executive producer, director and bit-player.

Though at times, Cube's stuff feels tired, underdeveloped. He's credited also as exec producer, which I think means he green-lit his own project. It pays to have an objective eye. Could Cube's old director from "Boyz 'N' The Hood" Singelton have come down to give former "Doughboy" some sage advice?

Despite it's blaxploitation roots, "Club" mostly tries to sidestep a lot of opportunities to make the whole thing really, really campy, going for the "so bad, it's good" laughs that helped the earlier "white-stripper" movies get some viewers. But there is some camp here and there--all unintentional, I'm sure. Cube ain't Spike Lee.

He doesn't make all the women into the kind of creatures they seem to be in their act. He doesn't make all their customers into crazed rioting monkeys. Oh, no. No, no. The Ice has more respect for this than all that. And doesn't just fall back on the easy crutch of just peddling shots of naked flesh from near beginning-to-end.

I wished Cube's partner-in-crime Chris Tucker from "Friday" had popped- up. Tucker is on-par with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence as comic presence. Such talent, he's can bring even the deadest scene to life. Ol' Smokey made "Friday" a must-see, he could've made this all the better.

There are times when Cube doesn't capture energy he needs to. As director, he seems to be just recording. The camera is on auto-pilot rather than capturing mood.

No classic, no AFI's 100 Best, no one's absolute fave of all time--no. Still worth seeing.

And blaxploitation is still alive, still thriving... somewhere in this world. Not thriving like the stripping game, or the world's oldest profession.

But yeah, it's there...

--A Believer in Big, Bad Black Cinema, Dane Youssef
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The Wizard (1989)
Universal Presents "Nintendo 1989: The Movie"
19 August 2010
by Dane Youssef

"THE WIZARD" isn't any new moniker or fun new twist on the classic story of a little girl from Kansas who gets caught in a tornado and finds herself not only over the rainbow, but in a wonderland of Technicolor and strange characters.

Well, at least not exactly.

This "Wizard" dealt with kids in peril, feeling trapped where they were. Video games were their outlet. One boy so disturbed, he became mute and later committed after witnessing the death of his sister. The older brothers living with the father after the divorce. When a child is lost, a family is too.

"The Wizard" open with a small, determined soul walking along a long stretch of road in the pursuit of something. Some goal, some destination. Some form of escape.

There's something... he's looking for. He's on his way... somewhere. Somewhere special, somewhere important. Somewhere he needs to be. It fades in like a sunrise... where is he going? We don't know. This boy's name is Jimmy. And he has a goal. He tells us, "California..."

Jimmy, in a major institution, yet breaking loose again and again like the family cat. One day during a visit, big brother Corey takes little Jimmy and the two break loose--together. At an arcade, Corey first-hand witnesses Jimmy is Bobby Fisher's predecessor at Nintendo. They use his skills to play for money. And because it's a road trip movie, they have to pick up a woman along the way.

It's a PG flick for little kids (once again, Nintendo fans), so it has to a preteen like them--and they have to be just friend. Her name is Haley, an adolescent drifter. She claims to know the score... and she can raise the money to get them where they need to go.

And Halley is one sizzling hustler. Wait 'til she's old enough to develop sex appeal to add to the mix.

It was my mother who recalled that old song from the "He's A Pinball Wizard" by The Who and suggested maybe that's where the movie got its namesake. The little ditty of some soul who was a wonder at that one arcade game. It was his world. Whoever he was. Well, if anyone could relate to that...

'Would've liked to hear that on the soundtrack at maybe some point.

A lot of the world said that the "Wizard" is stuffed to the gills with commercials. But no, they were wrong. "The Wizard" WAS a commercial. For Nintendo and Universal.

If we'd gotten scenes where we see Jimmy's connection to these games, how he becomes Zen, there might have actually been some real significance. We're just watching video games being played. And... that's all we as kids wanted from "The Wizard."

No really powerful piece of cinema, but to just see kids like us running loose without parental supervision and Nintendo being our source of rebellion. Children as resourceful as can be doing incredible things with the toys we played with and loved.

Screenwriter/producer David Chisholm seems to have cobbled this together out of spare plot threads and gimmicks. Usually filmmakers do this when they're just doing the obligated rush hatchet job and don't have their heart in the project they're working on. And you can tell--Chisholm doesn't love this screenplay of his. This is no personal project for him. This is just a Hollywood crowd-pleaser designed to feed the cult masses.

The choir (us) loves video games, lives for them, thrives on them. But the makers of this movie don't. They don't care about any of this except--"Here, buy this. Spend your money on..."

For all of those who belonged to the mass cult of Nintendo, this was the third coming.

Seeing it again now with older, more experienced eyes... like an old man going back into his childhood home, the bedroom we once lived in, the bed once ours, looking over our own toys and photos... and, and... what the hell was I thinking? Was that even me? Who was that?

What is "Wizard"? A film of our adoration for Nintendo from our childhood, which weaved together our love of movies featuring us kids as the heroes and our undying love of the video games.

... Jesus, what were we thinking?

Fred Savage stands as one of the finest child actors there ever was. The Savage was just that--even better. And Luke Edwards is all right for what this role calls for--acting terminally shy at all times.

For a movie about the kids and their toys, "The Wizard" holds some surprisingly good adult performances. Steven Grives as the electrified Video Armageddon Announcer who's like a British Christopher Lloyd as the charged-up Master of Ceremonies. And Will Seltzer as one scummy bounty hunter who tracks down runaways.

Beau Bridges, commendable. Christian Slater himself, a fine actor, very fine. Like fine china. And he's given virtually nothing to do in his "eldest brother" role.

Hey, the kids don't care about Bridges or Christian Slater--they care about Nintendo. Well, there's not much Nintendo either.

For some reason, after seeing "The Wizard" again with older eyes, I just somehow didn't feel like video games for the time being. I wanted to get out and physically do something. Take some real action with my life. It was a few days before I picked up a Game Boy.

As I was playing my usual "Tetris" round and trying to break my old record, I was singing quietly to myself, "He's A Nintendo Wizard..."

--Still A Game Boy, Dane Youssef
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The Twilight Zone: The Masks (1964)
Season 5, Episode 25
What Do You See When You Look At Me?
2 January 2010
by Dane Youssef

"The Twilight Zone" was a turning point in television because of its entirely human characters, its situations, its usage of the supernatural and the astronomical and it's perplexing surprise endings which were a study in divine poetic karma.

But what's really made so much of this series stand the test of time and the measuring stick for what the quality of "quality programming" is measured is the fact that the show was a lot like a fairy tale. Or the Bible, or any religious tome.

This time, the "Zone" shines it's twilight on an elderly wealthy man on his last gasp. His doctor tells him how critical his situation at this point. He may not have years or even months... he may not even have more than days or minutes.

This particular rich elder still has a few more tasks and loose ends to tie up before he shuffles off this mortal coil. one final task His family is downstairs. But Mr. Foster is not fortunate enough to be embraced by the bosom of a warm embrace full clan when he makes his way down the stairs. His kin is not there to spend the holiday of Mardi Gras with someone they care for deeply in his last few moments.

They are only there to assure they will inherit everything of value once Jason passes. He is not entirely pleased to see them. He knows why they are all there.

The family are the type who have not only character faults, they wear them quite prominently. The family almost seem to be living embodiments of the seven deadly sins. But they all withhold two precise to heart--greed and absolute evil.

After a magnificent meal, he tells everyone he has a surprise for the whole family. He presents a collection of masks hand-made by an old Cajun.

He informs the family that a custom of Mardi Gras is to wear masks that are the exact opposite of a one's true self. Thereupon, he says sarcastically that these masks are just that. The family refuses. He threatens to disinherit them. They agree.

The masks almost seem inspired by the seven deadly sins. When the masquerade ball itself ends and the masks themselves are to be removed...

This is one of Serling's most famous episodes. And with good reason. There isn't a lot of action and topical subjects such as the Cold War and conformity to be had here. It deals with a timeless subjects such as family and love.

Actors are all fine here, they all seems as big as life--flesh-and-blood. But the show of course belongs to one Robert Keith who plays the terminal Jason Foster.

But of course, the real star of this one is as always the teleplay of one Rodman Edward Serling. The man not only penned the bulk of what was seen on "The Twilight Zone," he raised the bar for what was seen on the tube and what "well written" really meant. He took home six Emmys, more than anyone had in history back then. After him, scripture for television became a respectable pursuit.

NOTE: This review is dedicated to Rodman Edward Serling, a man who not only fought to protect our country and our way of life in WWII and took a fair amount of injury for it. But also fought the censors on TV twice as hard to make sure his vision was seen and heard. When TV was about shows like "Leave it to Beaver" and "Donna Reed," here was a man who wanted to use the box to illuminate serious problems like the cold war, racism, anti-society, paranoia and other destructive elements that come from within us. He was buried with military honors. I hope television honors as well. All he wanted was to remembered as a writer.

Well.... I remember....

--Accepting The Devil's Rejects, Dane Youssef
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Sideways (2004)
A Glorious Vintage. May It Age As Well As "Citizen Kane."
2 April 2009
by Dane Youssef

"Sideways" is one of those movies that seems to be made entirely for the scholarly and intellectual. The artsy, deep, hip and high-brow. Films about those people going through a turning point in their lives. Mid-life crisis's and the like. And ones like this in particular always seem to reap critical praise, a crowd of fervent fans and prestigious award nominations.

The movie uses wine and wine country as a backdrop, yes, but the movie is about more than just the symbolism of wine and it's drinkers. It's essentially about people who are connected and realize how hard, brief and fragile life itself is and pursue happiness by any means necessary. And they're so true and worthy of it, we want them to find it and thus, assure we will find it ourselves. It has the mixed feeling of life.

It's stars, Miles Richmond and Jack Lopate have been buddy-buddy since their college dorm years. And have always been (and will be) total polar opposites. Miles is just a sad-sack neurotic nebbish with a bundle of neuroses that seem unwilling to disappear no matter how much therapy or medication he can get his hands on. His book won't get sold, his ex-wife is remarried (not that Miles was happy with her), he seems to be closer to death than life and he hasn't made an iota of the impact he wanted to.

Jack's a less-than-successful actor who's most respected credit was a short-lived role on a soap opera years ago. Now his more recent stuff is the voice-over who mumbles the warning for the side effects from non-prescription meds near the end of the commercial. Jack is living an ideal life otherwise and Miles has seen better days. In fact, he's borderline suicidal--taking plenty of meds and alcohol, usually all at once. Jack is about to get married. He wants to go out to local wine country and bring Miles with him, and hopefully out of his funk.

Jack is a self-satisfied animal who enjoys giving in to his baser animal instincts. A total tomcat who enjoys being "on the edge" and flirting with danger, he sort of enjoys toeing the line. The most outrageous thing about Jack is he often gets off lighter than he should. We all root for Miles and idolize Jack.

Maybe a trip out to wine country is just what Miles needs. We all know some big things are about to happen over the course of this one week.

One of Miles' true passions that does bring him happiness in wine. The right wine. And with great wine, you have to know what you're talking about. You treat it as an art, as yourself. It's not like any other drug. It becomes a way of life, not only as art, but as a way of who you are.

Paul Giamatti is simply an actor who never ceases to amaze me. From his breakthrough role as the anal-retentive watchdog station manager in "Private Parts" (he was one of the bigger surprises in that movie. The fact that he was passed over for an Oscar nod for this one (as well as "American Splendor" and "Cinderella Man") borderlines on criminal. On felony.

Thomas Hayden Church, who was pretty much just vaguely remembered for his stock idiot character Lowell, the mechanic on the one of the world's most generic sit-com, "Wings" simply rivets here. As Jack, he has the charm of a stud who's about to peak, but doesn't realize or care. A serial philanderer, he is literally willing to cheat on his fiancée without second thought or guilt right before the wedding. We encourage his cheating. Let's see where his libido might lead him. To pleasure, now, yes. But we all know it'll lead him into a hornet's nest eventually. And we're anxious to see how.

When the arrive at their destination, two women come into the picture. A waitress, Maya (Virgina Madsen) and a hostess, (Sandra Oh) come into the picture. We know they're the ones who are going to put everything into play.

Sandra Oh, writer-director Payne's then-wife, moves us in a big way as one of the wine hostess who falls for Jack and his animal way. They wind up having a fast relationship and one of the most surprising moments comes when we realize where all this is going. We know Jack is sticking his pride and joy into a hornet's nest and we want him to, because we know he'll have a blast and we'll do the same just watching. She isn't just a hottie, she has a wild spirit we'd all want to get into.

And Virgina Madsen plays the kind of angel from above here on Earth, walking as a mortal that Miles seems to have been praying for. And when she's on screen, we all feel that Miles may be finally saved. And is there a chance someone like her will rush down at save us when we really need it? The film knows the most effective comedy and drama comes the ordinary plight of the human condition. It's the kind of movie where you keep thinking, "Yeah, this is life. This is so exactly true to life... right down to every last detail."

The filmmakers have fashioned this into a natural true-to-life way all about the fascination of human nature. The ways of ordinary life--laughter, anger, frustration and brain candy--all translate to a cathartic experience for it's little characters as well as it's audience. Composer Rolfe Kent gives "Sideways" a light, loose jazzy score. Sometimes rocking. Payne not only directs beautifully and passionately, but manages to get the right feel in every frame. We even identify with the slapstick scenes.

One of those rare and precious years where the Academy actually got it right.

--Straight, Dane Youssef
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Bobby (I) (2006)
A disappointing film, but a moving love letter...
29 February 2008
by Dane Youssef

Emilio Esztevez's "Bobby" celebrates not only one of the greatest political icons to die before his time, before he had the opportunity to live up to even a fraction of his potential, but a seven-year effort to get it on the screen.

Esztevez is not as renown in the business as his father and brother are. Nor does he have such a sparkling track-record. Let's be honest. Most of the man's movies (paticularly those made after "The Mighty Ducks") borderline on unwatchable.

But just because a man has a few "Battlefield Earth" and "Catwoman"-like stinkers doesn't mean he's totally incapable of putting out anything at all decent. I know we love to skewer a star when they're down. But let's give a poor guy an even shake...

Because of Estevez's experience in the biz, as well as his family's, "Bobby" is chock-full of big-name walk-ons. Yes, it's good to be able to employ the best and biggest names in the business, but I don't know if it necessarily works here. There are so many familiar faces that pop up like a Jack-In-The-Box and then disappear just as quickly, that it's actually distracting.

They're all not on camera long enough so that we see the characters, not actors playing a role. We keep getting the feeling that all we're looking at is super-star after supers-star just here to do some temp work, have fun, do a favor and pay respect to a great political icon.

This is an ensemble vehicle, in the tradition of the late Robert Altman. Like every ensemble vehicle, the star is subject matter--RFK himself.

As for it's much-touted heavy-hitter cast: Christian Slater is one of the best out there, but any schmuck standing in line at "Hot Dog On A Stick" could have done as good a job as he's allowed to do there. Hey, maybe some of that trademark reptilian demeanor of his might have helped. He's a racist who's as interesting as plain white-bread. Heather Graham is equally ineffective (has she ever given a really great performance?) Joshua Jackson (who worked with Esztevez in "The Mighty Ducks" films) isn't really given anything to do at all.

Ashton Kutcher thankfully sheds his tired "Kelso" scthick as a spiritual drug dealer who introduces to LSD. He wears glasses, has long mop-like hair and beard. He seems to be in serious danger of becoming just another flavor-of-the-month like those before him (and after him). With roles in movies like "The Butterfly Effect" and this, there may be hope.

Lawrence Fishburne almost steals the movie as a veteran cook at the Ambassador. He has a deep philosophical mind and some theories on the way the world is... and how to survive in it. How to make it yours. He sounds so insightful, like an older, seasoned veteran not miles away from Kennedy himself. He talks about how anger is toxic and his admiration for Dr. King and how it hurt when...

Legendary Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins appears as the elderly doorman who won't retire because the boredom and feeling of uselessness gets to him. His role is pretty unremarkable, although he brings the same grace and dignity he does to pretty much any role he's in. It's nice to see him away from his "Hannibal" repertoire. And "Bobby" is a vast improvement over Ron Howard's desecration of "The Grinch."

Director Esztevez and Demi Moore appear together as a couple for the first time in Esztevez' nearly unwatchable "Wisdom," which contained none of what was promised. Or anything else worth seeing. They have some worthwhile moments as a show-business couple, especially Moore. And it's one of the few sub-plots that work.

The only true stand-outs here are Lawrence Fishburne, Sharon Stone, William H. Macy, Martin Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. Everyone else seems is just coasting. Because they're all distinguished veterans, we want them to make an enormous impact. The kind where the scene and line becomes a legendary quoted movie moment. But each shot just shows big-name marquee headers doing what just about anyone could have done.

But does it work? The most crippling flaw in "Bobby" is that because of the contemporary faces and their underdeveloped characters and underwritten scenes, we're never convinced we're back there during that fatal day. And when RFK walks through the door, onto the stage... we're never really convinced that he's in that room at this moment.

Throughout the whole film, I was aware that they were just using old footage of Bob and the entire cast--er, members of the Ambassador were cheering facing a camera crew.

There are some moments that alone make Bobby worth seeing: A scene where a deception is going on and is revealed--we see the victim's tears and pain, a conversation in a kitchen that really stays with you, two buttoned-down campaign volunteers who volunteer to embrace something more have than Kennedy, the reporter dying to see the senator in the flesh. All story lines that could have really packed a wallop if they're were written more. Was Esztevez on a schedule?

In the end, what truly makes this a movie to see is the passion. The passion that Esztevez has for Bobby and has had ever since dear Emilio actually came in contact with him when he was but five years old.

"Bobby"'s finale (yes, that is the correct phrase) comes to no surprise, but what is so astonishing is how much such an act can still touch us as if we are actually there and then. It helps give the film more of an impact than everything leading up to it did.

What matters really is not when or how Kennedy left, but that he was there. Now that he's gone, it's says sad things about us how much we need him now...

--For Bobby, Dane Youssef
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Nil by Mouth (1997)
Gary Oldman's Nil by mouth... something to say...
15 January 2008
by Dane Youssef

"Nil By Mouth" is the very first film written and directed by the great Gary Oldman, a seasoned veteran actor who has still yet to give a bad performance. Oldman grew up in the poorest ghetto of South London, where this film takes place.

And while rumored and believed to be a semi-autobiography of Oldman's childhood and family (who wouldn't watch this movie and believe so?), Oldman himself has said that this is not him or his family.

Hey, I believe him. Although he grew up in this environment, he was not directly in the line of fire, if you follow me.

"Nil By Mouth" represents many of the other families in South London, not Oldman's. We've seen many abusive types in movies--usually one-dimensional and sanitized. But Oldman refuses to white-wash. The fact that this is not a big-budget Hollywood star-vehicle allows this to be a real film-going experience.

This is one of those frightening on-screen performances in recent memory. Ray Winstone deserves high praise and immortalization for his acting here in the role of Ray. He seems to be one of those unsavory, brutal characters in movies that stay with us. Like Hannibal Lecter in "Silence Of The Lambs," Like Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet," Like Norman Bates in "Psycho," this performance haunts us like a ghost.

Ray is not merely an abusive drunk; he is a horrible bastard, always prone to violent outbursts. When his wife hangs out with a casual male acquaintance, he suspects the worst. And does the worst.

Ray Winstone delivers a powerhouse performance in the role of Ray, a working-class man who loves his family, especially his daughter. But this man has demons that are so numerous and deep, they cannot be repressed. He can be a likable, laid-back guy, like everyone else.

But we see that without serious provocation, he instantly becomes raving and homicidal. A side that most movies (and people) tend to shy away from. He'll make your blood run cold and make you cry right along with him.

Kathy Burke, best known for her role on "Absolutely Fabulous" takes an enthralling dramatic turns as Valerie, Ray's wife who's sole purpose seems to be to keep the family strung together while putting up with her husband's monstrous outbursts, almost sadomasochistic ally. This is an unforgettable performance.

Whenever there's someone like Ray, there's almost always someone like Mark. Mark is sort of a sidekick or cheerleader for Ray and his violently domestic antics. He seems to be something of a drama queen, hitching his trailer up to the pain in Ray's life. It perhaps gives him an excuse to explode and go ape-s**t the way he does. It's mentioned at one point that Mark himself was worked over by Ray's father---maybe this explains the tie that bond these two.

Jamie Forman is effective as Ray's little right-hand man. Apparently, Forman himself is the son of a real-life legendary London gangster.

Is he just a great actor? Jamie may actually have some demons himself.

And while Ray may be the black sheep of this family, all that really means is he's the blackest of the black. No one here is walking on water. Valerie smokes and drinks despite knowing full-well she's pregnant. No one around her really speaks up in protest about her indirect poisoning of her child.

Valerie's little brother, Billy is a severe heroin addict. Despite the fact that he's occasionally allowed to sleep over at Ray and Valerie's, Ray even feeds him and gives him a banknote here and there, Billy steals a score of dope from their flat.

You can only imagine how Ray takes to this. Billy is scorned, but although he is cast out, he still stays with his side of the family and even retaliates against Ray, stealing an irreplaceable family heirloom.

Billy is a severe junkie and spends a lot of time with his friends. And since Billy is a junkie, there's only one kind of clique of friends he can afford: more junkies.

One of his pals, Danny is one of the movie's strangest characters. Danny is literally covered from head-to-toe with tattoos and body-piercing. He defines the term "body art." His whole body is like a big collage explosion.

But he's not the one-dimensional freak/weirdo/thug we'd expect just by getting a quick glance at him. He shows compassion and even sweetness at time like all the other characters, even Ray.

Nearly everyone drinks and smokes. Nearly everyone says "fuck" and "cunt" on a far more-than-regular basis. And their endless stream of profanity and brutal violent mistreatment of one another is like a sad testimony to how tragically pathetic they are.

And we can't help but think about the little five-year old daughter and the unborn second child of Ray and Val, how their parents impact will undoubtedly shape them. It is running rampantly throughout the world, and shows no signs of breaking.

You can almost hear the violins playing on the soundtrack to their lives. They are the victims of their life, their family, their environment, each other and themselves.

Oldman films using the now-traditional and all-too-common (but at the time, novel) hand-held camera technique and 16mm film, thus giving "Nil By Mouth" not the look of a polished, slick and lavish film, but raw, unkempt footage of very real life. As if we're "there, in the heat of the moment."

This is just one of those movies that… after it's over, you want to do something… something to make things better.

The title comes stems from a medical instruction in the hospital not to give a patient food or drink as they're about to go into surgery. The connection in that this movie makes with that title is poetically heart-breaking, like the rest of the film.

--For God, Empire and Oldman, Dane Youssef
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Drawing Flies (1996)
Draws Quite A Picture, But Not Much of A Conclusion
8 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
by Dane Youssef

The Canadians approach to film-making is either bland, campy or downright blood-and-guts (usually in the "campy" gory vein, of course). Most Canadians are as good at the art of film as mimes are at capturing the art of sparkling conversation.

Ever hear the expression, "it was halfway decent? Comes up halfway? Meet me halfway?" I had that thought stuck at the top of my head after viewing this one.

That's about the perfect way to describe "Drawing Flies," a Canadian-based indie featuring a sprinkling of an American-based cast and crew.

The first half of the movie starts out as a variation of the whole "Dazed and Confused" or "Slackers" genre, where we see some contemporary socially-relevant slacker types in Canada living on steady welfare. Then we see them go on the big self-discovery trip that's the big turning point of their lives.

The Canuck Government cuts them off and they take the last bit of money they have in the world, pool it together and instead of paying the necessary monthly rent check, they blow the whole damn thing on a cover-charge at some party and dope.

Now totally and completely bankrupt, they move out of their place (they're living four to a single apartment) and hit the road. They then exile themselves to the deep, deep woods where they plan to make permanent residence. Thus, this is where the real journey-theme of the movie kicks in. This is where the part of their lives that has worthy interest to be a movie kicks in.

Or should anyway.

Jason Lee (as always) proves that any movie with him in it alone is worth seeing (OK, except for the unforgivably bad sedated-comedies "A Guy Thing" and "Stealing Harvard"--well, hey, if Tom Green's in it). His performance starts out earnest with life-affirming optimistic hope and child-like charm, but then U-turns into angry, road rage and his long-repressed dementia kicks in. It's the type of character he's played in damn near everything, but it's still thrills and shakes.

Mewes' performance here is kind of uneven. I mean, he's not really an actor--he's basically just a friend of filmmaker Kevin Smith who plays himself in movie after movie. Like Julia Roberts, he's not really an actor--he's more of a TV talk-show personality. Jason Mewes stretches (somewhat) as a welfare-starving slacker who curses and smokes the dope, but not nearly at the level that his legendary Jay character does. He (like most of the cast) seems to have trouble swallowing the overwritten and unrealistic dialogue.

He doesn't talk so much about getting laid and eating out pussy as much, either. Mewes' Az character is more of somewhat-more-down-to-earth regular Stoner than a near-cartoon comic relief.

Carmen Lee (they were married at the time of this one) does the worst job in this one. Every word, every facial reaction, every moment from her sounds horribly unconvincing. She is here, beyond a doubt, not only the absolute worst performance in the film, but the worst acting I've ever seen. Hopefully, Carmen will stray from acting and find almost any other day job. She would be more adept to make a living donating sperm.

The movie's plot echoes "The Blair Witch Project:" A group of friends go on a long, long trip in the deepest woods on earth and into the great unknown. Then, a hidden agenda is revealed. One that may bring wealth and legendary status. It sounds (of course) to everyone else like s collision of insanity and stupidity. But doesn't every ground-breaker at first? Everyone sneers and turns against each other. It's all sides divided. Bedlam, as always. The Loch Ness Monster. Sasquach. The Boogeyman. They're all just good old fashioned monster folklore stories, aren't they? There's always evidence (of course) that tilts to the contrary.

Like I said from the start of this review (where you came in), "Drawing Flies" is a "halfway decent" film. If you only see half the movie, you'll walk away having a better cinematic experience than you would if you saw the whole thing. Just see half. That FIRST half.

The movie starts off in one frame of mind, then shifts jarringly in another direction at the final quarter, practically derailing the entire picture. Because damn it all, the two just don't mesh. They clash wildly like yogurt and broccoli. Just imagine for a second that resulting, lingering taste.

Doesn't draw much attention... or even much interest.

(WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS A MILD SPOILER--It does not reveal the entire film nor does it give away the ending, but it does reveal a brief surprise… that disappoints) Indie-idol Kevin Smith (the fat hairy one himself) pops up in a bit part that feels like an extra.

He's at the party scene, he doesn't have so much as a word of dialogue, and he's dressed just like well… Silent Bob. And I mean SILENT BOB. He wears the same clothes he's worn in the first three movies.

And it's not like there much here to distinguish this bit part from his legendary Silent doppelganger. Smith dons the same outfit, same mime facial expressions. He even sports the exact same beard. What, the budget was so low, he couldn't afford a shave or at least a trim? Or time to get another set of clothes from out of his closet? Hey, it's a no-budget film, they couldn't afford a wardrobe department as his character is referred to as "John." You kind of wish there was just a little more of a punch line or pay-off, but….

But this time, there is no moment where he breaks the silence. The only difference between "John" and "Silent Bob" is… one is something, one is not. Like the movie...

--Still Looking For A Good Movie Like People Are Searching For Sasquatch and The Lochness Monster, Dane Youssef
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Willow (1988)
Sorry To Say, But Willow Comes Up Short
29 December 2007
by Dane Youssef

This one wasn't much when it first came out. The budget was extravagant and the box-office returns just barely covered the big fat price tag. And as measly as a movie as this was for it's day on it's own merits, it's dwarfed even further by the immortal "Lord Of The Rings" saga.

"Willow" is the film the impish Warwick Davis is renown for his participation in most, not counting the never-ending "Leprechaun" schlock movies.

This was his first lead role and he brings a likable and earnest charisma to the role instead of just trying to be little and cute like so many child performers and other midget actors. Thankfully, he proves himself as to be more than just a cheap gimmick like so many other "bit-players." He allows himself to really give a true performance and the film itself doesn't go for the cheapest of shots with any of the height of it's little people.

As a filmmaker, George Lucas is and has always been a homage-payer. He's one of those filmmakers who always tries to re-make those old films he loved during his own adolescence. With space operas: "Star Wars," With Matinée Adventure flicks: "Indiana Jones," With futuristic sci-fi adventures, "THX 1138." And now with "Willow," he attempts to do the same for the sword-and-sorcery genre.

The whole universe is derived from the whole medieval sword-and-sorcery genre. And it's a full bar and buffet smörgåsbord here: We've got "Lord Of The Rings," "The Story of Moses," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Gulliver's Travels" just to name a few.

Val Kilmer is pound-for-pound one of the great heavyweight champion actors from here The 20th century and the 21st saw few better thespians. He truly delivered an Oscar for his re-birth as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's "The Doors." Here, anyone could have done the same job he does. It's his most unremarkable performance to date. They didn't need the great Kilmer for this one.

Any stock actor with a SAG card or with one year of high school drama class experience could have done as good a job.

Jean Marsh does a good job as Queen Bavmorda, but just about any random British actress on the planet could have done the same and gotten the same results.

Sadly, this one just stands toe-to-toe with the He-Man "Master Of The Universe" movie from 1987.

Even though Ron Howard Opie Cunningham was at the helm for this one, just about any hack with access to a tripod (that tilts low) could have done the same and gotten the same results.

The real problem with "Willow" is that it's totally unremarkable. It's about a likable little guy with a big heart for his family. He has a magical gift and uses it to make a name for himself. He meets a great warrior with a shady record who may find love along the way.

They do battle with a wicked queen who happens to be a powerful witch with a great army, a two-headed dragon, a menacing lieutenant General who wears a mask scarier than his own face, yada yada yada yada.

Do you even care?

There are two little like the 3-inch tall people in "Gulliver's Travels" called Brownies named Rool and Franjean with helium voices and ethnic caricatured French accents that would have been considered embarrassing in the '30's. They irritate and confuse, but never amuse. Unlike R2D2 and C3PO or Marcus Brody, they never provoke as much as a smile.

Lucas planned for this to be something of a series saga of films. But since this one barely made any return whatsoever, Lucas wound up scrapping the film "trilogy" and continuing the story in books. Hey, anyone out there ever actually so much as read a copy of the continuing "Willow" story? With "Star Wars," "THX 1138" and "American Graffiti," Lucas swung for the fence like a dominant male gorilla. He pulled out all stops and then some. This one is on-par with your average episode of a Saturday Morning TV series, even for the day.

You can see anything just as good and inspired/thrilling/etc. every Saturday morning on just about any network.

Unlike "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" or "Cocoon," this is not a product of theirs that defines the genre it's from.

And what is it with baby Elora Danan? She's so much of the damn plot and yet, all she does really is smile and cry on cue. There are babies in diaper commercials who have characters with more depth.

I like the two-headed dragon. It doesn't look like the traditional fire-breathing dragon. It hardly even looks like a serpent. This one is kind of inspired. As a change of pace, it has more of an ugly look to it with long and furry serpent necks, almost like an ostrich. It's really weird.

Although, it's one of the few inspired touches in this routine medieval epic.

It's a Lucasfilm Ltd. production, so the special effects are (as it goes without saying) in the Oscar nomination territory. Enthralling for the day, some even by today's standards still shine. Lucas has made a bigger name for himself as a innovator of special effects than as a filmmaker.

While it was a defining role for actor Warwick Davis and it employs more midgets and dwarfs than any other production (and respectively), for anyone else, "Willow" is never anything special, nor does it attempt to be.

Even for it's day "Willow" was unremarkable. Seriously, how many tales of swords, sorcery, kings, queens, dwarfs, dragons, trolls had we seen in movies, TV, books, fairy tales and what-have-you before this came along? Yet another case of, "Too little, too late."

Nearly 20 years later, that old axiom proves even more true.

--For The Little People, Dane Youssef
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P.S. (2004)
One of the best of 2004. The cast sparkles and the movie beams.
10 December 2007
by Dane Youssef

"P.S." is one of those rare movies that tells a story which feels too good to be true--the kind that's escapist-fantasy and only seems to happen in movies and in our most desperate dreams.

But then again, sometimes we see and here that it does happen in real life. Once in a blue moon. It's every great success story. Like movie-star Lana Turner getting discovered when working in a pharmacy or Muhammad Ali's almost inhumanly-impossible success with his career in the ring, who talked like a professional wrestler.

"P.S." is a movie like that. It tells a story as sweet as a fairy tale, that maybe could happen in life. Where a woman feels like when she loses someone, she loses her chance in life. But then something else comes along that is so incredible, it feels like the divine hand. Is God giving her a do-over? And not being so subtle about it? Laura Linney continues her streak of must-see movies and Oscar-caliber performances here as Louise, a middle-aged admissions director who's been through a real losing streak throughout her life. She's recently divorced from her husband, a compulsive sex-addict who's diddled anyone who's set toe in his class. Her best friend seduced away her boyfriend in high school and is now married in an upper-middle class suburb to a man she threatens to cheat on if he doesn't fulfill his "husbandly duties." She's living the kind of life every woman wants to in her most cynical, vengeful, self-absorbed fantasies. She's getting older, life's getting harder (and it hasn't been very charmed to begin with). She begins to see all her hopes and dreams fading fast. And things get even more interesting when see has a private one-on-one interview with a potential art student.

This guy is just her type. Not only, but… he bares an uncanny resemblance to her late college boyfriend, an art major with a passion that matched hers. This guy doesn't just look--he sounds, acts, behaves and his art is even similar. Louise is in shock.

What is this? Coincidence? Incidental? Has she been working herself too hard? Stress? Reincarnation? An escapist-fantasy movie-plot? Whatever it is, Louise is rubbing here eyes while warming up to this guy. Getting to know him… finds herself feeling something…. While trying to keep her feelings at bay. She's a skeptic. She's got one heck a heck of a track record.

One of the most refreshing things about the actress Laura Linney is that she's not just another manufactured beauty from off the assembly line. She's not just another actress. She's not "one of a million." She's just so real. She's not movie-star-ish.

She doesn't wear designer clothes wherever she goes, live in a six-story mansion of Muhulland Dr, smoke cigarettes from a long black holder and have a private trophy room for all her honors. When she acts, it doesn't feel like acting. You feel you know her. She's a real person.

The same hold true for Topher Grace, which explains his success as an actor. He seems so adult, so grown-up for his age. Grace is charismatic and seems smart, his gift and his power on-screen doesn't come from a natural Brando-like acting talent, but his face, his body, his voice, his personality. Somehow, everything he says sounds like he means it. He's so square, so on-the-level. All he has to do is speak to convince you that he's legit. As an actor, Grace has a style all his own which may or may not be intentional. He has an Anti-Brando method. He never changes his appearance or voice at all in his roles, but he has an earnest, open-faced, true-to-life and genuinely human way in every movie he so much as touches. Which explains why Hollywood keeps throwing mountains of scripts his way and why every movie he's in, he's given a nomination for something.

This is some of the best acting either Linney or Grace has ever done so far, pure and simple.

Gabriel Bryne, one of the finest actors in the world brings his trade-mark debonair and charisma in the role of Peter Harrington, Louise's ex-husband who's nasty habit primarily caused their divorce. There scenes that poke fun and make light of his "f-----g" habit are almost worth the rental price.

Which is why he takes home award after award for nearly every movie he does, because something about his whole appearance and personality makes it come across like he's just himself being himself, not an actor.

While "P.S." may just come across as a woman's picture (and it may well be), this isn't just a moody, sensitive, overly-emotional "chick-flick" to be seen on a "woman's day." This is a movie about some people who are seriously dealing with the trials of life at a turning point of age.

Paul Rudd, who been the key performance in some damn good movies, has basically just a little cameo, but as the estranged brother, he gives us further magnified scope into Louise's little life. He's a reformed junkie with a condescending, sadistic streak towards his big sis.

The movie has a deep, human, true-to-life atmosphere all throughout. There's nary a moment that is written or executed in a way that feels contrived. Nothing in "P.S." needs willing suspension of disbelief. Everything feels so beautiful and natural as the falling of the rain.

Movies like "Birth and "Return To Me" have tackled this subject before, but here it feels so legitimate. Like "Rocky," this one makes us believe clichés can happen… and make us care.

--P.S, Dane Youssef
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Blaxploitation and indie-film unite!
27 November 2007
by Dane Youssef

Movies in general are so formulaic that even most independent films are pretty routine and by-the-numbers.

Maybe that's why "Hollywood Shuffle" feels so refreshing, like a much-needed change of pace. Most indies are made almost entirely by hand---one man writing, directing, producing (hey, they need every single spare cent they can get their grubby hands on) and this one is no exception.

Townsend wears all the indie hats here… and he wears them proudly.

This is the film that introduced the world to Robert Townsend. Well, that was it's whole purpose. Like "The Brother McMullen," this star-vehicle was written and directed by Townsend about his dream to make it as a professional actor, trying to break into Hollywood, while at the same time, trying to over-come the cruel limitations mainstream Hollywood has set up for black people who want to act... and actors, in general.

Whereas the '70's was the birth decade of the blaxploitation, so many of them were just cheap, cheesy, corny knock-offs of popular white films. Blaxploitation got more blacks into films, but the films themselves weren't really about anything. "Hollywood Shuffle" is a Blaxploitation film that really has something to say... that has an agenda.

There is so much burning talent, so many struggling entertainers wanting to make something of themselves, that Hollywood can afford to treat the auditioning talent the same way a really strong cleanser treats germs.

Townsend's efforts to make this movie are inspiring--he borrowed every dollar he could, asked for movie footage that was left on the cutting-room floor, called in every favor he could, threw everything he had and more to get this one made.

To tell his story, get his foot in the door... and at the same time, tell a story about what this kind of life is like. For those with talent who dare to dream big.

Greats Keenan Ivory Wayans and John Witherspoon have bit players as people who work at a hog stand in the neighborhood who don't ask for much out of life... and don't get it. They're the kind of cynics who believe, "You're a fool for following your dreams."

When you near the end of your journey in this world, you really fully understand the meaning of the old phrase, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Townsend interlocks a variety of skits with this all-too autobiographical tale, all of which are pretty funny and inspiring. You have to admire the way that Townsend wants to put out some legitimate roles for black actors to play and black actors to idolize. But most of his skits go on too long after the point has been made and there are quite a few moments that feel like someone (Townsend obviously) should have punched up. Townsend is a far better actor than he is a writer/director.

Perhaps because he is only a filmmaker by necessity for this one. He's more interested in using this to make up of all those dream roles he never got to play and showing his chops as an actor than really making a great movie.

There's a scene where he takes-off "Siskel & Ebert"--before everyone started doing it. Almost all the skits (where Townsend is fantasizing his dream roles as an actor) go on way too long, probably because Townsend is far less concerned with how funny the skits/movie is and more interested in using this movie to play all the dream roles he never got to before.

Every actor is perfectly cast, especially Townsend himself. It's great to see him playing all these roles you know he's always dreamed of doing (he plays them while his character actually IS day-dreaming).

The movie captures the struggle of the out-of-work actor just right. We see lines and lines of actors warming-up, rehearsing their roles, going into the audition... all to hear, "Thank you, next!" But some blessed, precious few are picked.

But those that are black are given racially-biased drivel to perform. Ethnic caricatures that shame and set back their race. Brothers and sisters who talk like stock characters from the slave era, wearing redneck farm clothes, picking cotton, eating chicken and getting stinking drunk. Townsend tirades many black archetypes, most of which went out of style around the same time as black-face. Lil' Bobby obviously wants to say something about the way the brothers and sisters are treated in the biz. There are some moments here you'll roar with laughter at, as well as put a lump in your throat and a strange feeling of hope and pride.

Like many other breakthrough films, especially independents, "Hollywood Shuffle" was another arrival of a fresh new talent. It happens as often as the rise and setting of the suns, but here is a film where it feels a little more special… because Townsend was really about something. You can see it here, not only in some of his satirist scenes, but some of the quieter moments where real drama in brewing and dreams are at stake.

We see where Townsend is asking himself if he's good enough, if he face the whole world (which is how it is when you're struggling to make it as an entertainer… or in life) and when life-long happiness is at stake. It almost hurts. And at the end of it all, when we wonder for Townsend's character, Bobby's sake… what will become of him? And then we realize we already know. We just found out.

It's like looking in the sky at the stars like you always do… and then there's a brand-new star shining in the night sky, standing out just a little bit bigger than the others. Haven't seen that one before. Hey, is that a new one? Couldn't be, could it? I don't remember… there are so many. Another star is born.

Or made.

--Love (or Like), Dane Youssef
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Heavy Traffic (1973)
Not just one of the best, not just one of the best of '75... but Ralph Bakshi's absolute best.
4 November 2007
by Dane Youssef

This is rumored to be animation-pioneer Ralph Bakshi's favorite among all his projects. And no wonder. This is his story! A 22-year old Jewish-Itallian spends his time playing pin-ball non-stop and drawing. He still lives with his parents, an Itallian man who cheats on his wife and a Jewish woman who's so emotionally torqued up--such a drama queen, that when Angelo comes home after a night with his lady, she hits him over the head with a frying pan and sticks his head in the oven.

There's always domestic unrest in any family, particularly with interracial married couples who lived in the Bronx around this time. But they're so wound-up, so ready to snap--they come to blows and sharp instruments a little too quickly.

Way too quickly, in fact. Angelo and Ida's Punch-and-Judy relationship--coupled with the problems that reside outdoors in the Bronx--Michael seems doomed to have some of it rub off on him. "You hang around garbage long enough, you start to stink," as they say.

But Michael has an outlet for his angst and confusion. Rather than fall into the trap many around him seem to, he vents himself at the drawing board. He draws a lot of the people and places in the Bronx. Although he seems to dislike many of them, they're so broad and colorful and wired, they translate easily to caricatures.

Bakshi takes us to all the usual haunts we visit in his movies--trashy ghetto neighborhoods with buildings that look condemned, dirt-cheap apartments, behind the wheel of cars, rooftops, nightclubs, bars, brothels.

The lives of all of the Bronx inhabitants: Jews, Itallians, blacks, drag queens, junkies, vagrants, hookers, cops, thugs and the like. And by using animation, Bakshi (and Michael) sort of illustrate their world and their eccentricity, which is so dangerous, it borderlines on insanity.

I wasn't particularly crazy about the disco remix of "Scarlbrough Fair." What can I say? I fell in love with the original.

But I suppose it does fit in with the nature of the film. Bakshi uses a lot of shots of Michael playing pinball. He's a big pinball fanatic. It's obviously a metaphor, perhaps for the hectic universe in which Michael bounces from one scenario to another, for which he's constantly out of place.

Carol is a black woman who works at a local bar where Michael draws on the roof. She's loud, she's opinionated, she's passionate. And she really seems to be about something. She's not just an ethnic joke.

Like all bars, there are lots of colorful locals there, plenty of dangerous ones to be sure.

Michael tries to score free drinks with his art. But that's all he tries to score Michael's no ladies' man and he knows it. He's a deep, sensitive, skilled artiste. And a sitting duck for some of the louder, tougher guys who make up the city.

It doesn't help matter that he's a virgin and everyone knows it. At one point, some greasers try to hook him up with a loose woman who's eager to have it with a guy who's so fresh and green. Although this leads to a disaster. Even his own father tries to hook him up. Now there's a true loving father for you.

Michael has an eye for Carol (many people at the bar she tends do), not because he's dying to get laid like nearly every other male. But he seems to genuinely feel something real for her. When she offers it up to him in gratitude for a favor, he faints. He wants her, but he's just not ready.

Ida is fussy and over-protective of her son, just like a mother hen. Or rather a Jewish mother. Angelo wants his son to be more of a "man's man." Like all of Bakshi's films, this contains a lot of graphic violence and sexual images, as well as caricatures in the ethnic vein.

But surprisingly, in the strangest way, it contains real heart, as well as some sweetness. The relationship between Michael and Carol has to be seen. Bakshi could've made her just an archetype like everyone else and he didn't. She's just as developed and human and relative as dear Michael is. These two deserve one another.

"Heavy Traffic" is wildly imaginative and thrilling in all it's glory. Like "Being John Malkovich," we actually feel like we're inside the author's head rather than his film. This truly ranks as Bakshi's best. He deserves more credit for this than "Fritz The Cat." How much of all this take place in Michael's mind and how much of it takes place in his reality? Maybe they're one and the same. Maybe not. Maybe we're supposed to figure it out. It up to us. Just like Michael's life is up to him.

The characters in the city are so damn cartoonish and erratic already, they transfer them into cartoon characters without losing anything in the translation.

Bakshi doesn't paint a pretty picture of the city and it's locals. But then again, he never has, has he? That's one of the things he's known for.

But that's not the only thing. Let's hope that when he goes... he'll be remembered for a lot of things.

Especially this one. It is... not only his best, not only one of the year's best... but of the best.

--For Ralph Bakshi, for film, forever, Dane Youssef
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Coonskin (1975)
Don't Let The Title Throw You. This Is Definitely One To See....
25 October 2007
by Dane Youssef

"Coonskin" is film, by the one and only Ralph Bakshi, is reportedly a satirical indictment of blaxploitation films and negative black stereotypes, as well as a look at life black in modern America (modern for the day, I mean--1975). Paramount dropped it like a hot potato that just burst into flame.

But this is a Bakshi film, controversial, thrilling, and a must-see almost by definition alone. Not just another random "shock-jock" of a movie which tries to shock for the sake of shock. It's by Ralph Bakshi. Anyone who knows the name knows that if HE made a movie, he has something big to say...

Although it's roots are based in cheap blaxploitation, "Coonskin" isn't just another campy knock-off of mainstream white film or any kind of throwaway flick. "Coonskin" wants to be more. It aims it's sights higher and fries some much bigger fish.

The movie doesn't just poke fun at the genre. Nor does it just indict black people, but actually seems to show love, beauty and heart in the strangest places.

"Coonskin" tells a story out of some convicts awaiting a jail-break. The fact that it's even possible to break out of a prison in the "Coonskin" world alone makes it old-fashioned.

One of the inmates tells a story about a trio of black brothers in Harlem named Brother Bear, Brother Rabbit, Preacher Fox who want respect and a piece of the action and are willing to get it by any means necessary. The Itallian mob is running all the real action.

Big name black musicians star: Barry White and Scatman Crothers, as well as Charles Gordone, the first black playwright to take home the Pulitzer. Something big is happening here obviously.

The movie plays out like a descent into this world, this side of the racial divide. From an angry, hip, deep, soulful black man with a hate in his heart and a gun in his hand.

Bakshi's films never know the meaning of the word "sublety." This one looks like it's never even heard of the word. But maybe a subject like this needs extremism. Real sledgehammer satire. Some subjects can't be tackled gently.

Bakshi is god-dammed merciless. Here, no member or minority of the Harlem scene appears unscathed.

The characters here are "animated" to "real" all depending on what the mood and situation are. The animated characters and the human ones all share the same reality and are meant to be taken just as literally.

Bakshi never just shows ugly caricatures just for shock value. He always has something to say. Nor is black-face is gratuitously. Here, unlike in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled," he seems to be using it to try and really say something.

Like 99.9% of all of Bakshi's films, this one incorporates animation and live-action. Usually at the same time. Bakshki isn't just being gimmicky here. All of this technique is all intertwined, meshing together while saying something.

Somehow, this one feels inevitably dated. Many of these types of films (Bakshi's included) are very topical, very spur of the moment. They reflect the certain trend for the day, but looking back of them years later, there's just an unmistakable feeling of nostalgia (as well as timeless truth).

Even though the music, clothes, slang and the city clearly looks like photos that belong in a time capsule, the attitude, the spirit and the heart remain the same no matter what f--king ear it is. Anyone who's really seen the movies, the state of things and has been in company of the people know what I'm talking about.

Even some of the of the black characters are a bunny (junglebunny), a big ol' bear and a fox. One of the most sour and unsavory racist characters is a dirty Harlem cop who's hot on the trail of these "dirty n-----s" after the death of a cop. But for him, it's not just business. Nor is it for the rest of the brothers who wear the shield. It's just pure sadistic racist pleasure of hurting blacks.

The sequence involving the Godfather and his lady is one of the most moving pieces in the whole film, of which there are many. It plays out like an opera or a ballet.

The promo line: WARNING: "This film offends everybody!" This is not just hype. Proceed with extreme caution.

You have been warned...

--Happy Viewing, Dane Youssef
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North (1994)
If they outlawed child abuse, child labor and molestation, they should outlaw this
7 October 2007
by Dane Youssef

Ah, "North." The "Showgirls" of family films.

Now here is a movie so wrong-headed, wrong-hearted, wrong-made... so wrong, you'd think the old axiom of a broken clock that's right twice a day would prove. But nope. Doesn't. By a long shot.

One of my most depressing experiences as a child was seeing Rob Reiner's "North." In fact, as extensive internet research has shown me, it was a painful experience for many as children and stayed with him throughout adulthood.

One of the worst movies of the year. One of the worst movies of the decade. One of the worst movies ever made. One of the worst ever. And when I say "worst", I'm comparing it to things like the Plague, Holocaust, World Hunger, AIDS and Leperocy.

Elijah Wood is a wonder-boy who is constantly ignored by his parents despite his best intentions and efforts that make most parents beam like the sun with pride. He spends a lot of time feeling ignored and sits in a chair in a furniture store at the mall to think. He decides he deserves better parents than the ones he's got (who doesn't?) and divorces them.

He travels all over the globe and finds surrogate folks which are not right for him. Not loving, caring, nurturing... or very funny or interesting.

His best friend from school is enthusiastic about the divorce and gets the word out to all parents that children deserve better and thing better change or else.

I was actually in physical pain watching how badly the film's plot is handled.

While it is a thrill to see Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus together as a married couple and action legend Bruce Willis in an easter bunny suit... believe me, it doesn't last. The bad outweighs the good. Oh, HOW the bad outweighs...

The big-name celebrity bit-players are many: Aykroyd, McEntire, Lovitz, Willis, Greene, Vigoda, Belzer, Stein, Godunov, McGillis, Ritter, Johansson and Arkin; among others.

Films with a big-name cast doing walk-ons is kind of tricky. Often this leads to a bunch of actors embarrassing themselves in bit throwaway roles for a quickie paycheck and "the sake of work." It all really depends on the film itself; the screenplay and director.

When a film with such a high pedigree of actors and filmmaker, Mr. Rob Reiner, you have to wonder why this whole damn thing went so incredibly wrong. And then kept going. And going and going. I am reminded of the legendary quote, "Only those who dare to fail greatly, can achieve greatly." And just about all who flaunt this picture have achieved greatly at one time or another. So... there you go. The Ying to the Yang.

The result can be "Traffic." Or the result can be "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues."

You know, it's funny. When I first saw the trailer, I thought to myself, "Wow. This looks like a good movie. I'm gonna see this one."

And yes, the trailer damn well made this look like a good one. It just goes to show you... advertisements can make anything look appealing. Hey, remember "Babe: Pig In The City?" The ads didn't make the movie look like much. But the movie was... wow.

Hey, come to think of it-- I would like to advise to everyone who was unfortunate enough to see any more of this one that what they used for the trailers (so much as a frame more) to go out and rent "Babe II."

It's an ideal antidote. Of course, you may need a few days of bed-rest and antibiotics right after seeing "North," but after that... please... don't let this one put you off movies. Or any of the truly gifted people who were associated with this abomination.

Wood is one of the most talented actors ever to grace the business and the man seems unable to do a bad job on screen. Just check out "Radio Flyer" for evidence. But hey, like I need to tell you, right? But while his acting is on-par with Brando, Guiness, Hopkins, etc; not every movie to come his way compliments his talents. Just after the disastrous misfire "The Good Son," this one floated it's way into theaters like a chunky, nutty, crooked turd after a whole year of improper diet. Adding further insult to injury.

Seriously, I actually picture Jesus H. Christ himself on the cross, thinking to himself, "I died for this... ? If I'd known, I wouldn't have bothered." We all make mistakes, even colossal ones. Even the best of us.

Hell, especially the best of us! Disney was an anti-Semite, L. Ron was a pedophile, R. Crumb is a racist and misogynistic sycophant. And I myself...

In summary, "North" is a childhood trauma that refuses to be repressed. For many, including myself. Don't let it be yours.

Still, we are all mortal. We are all human. We all make mistakes, we stumble, falter. No one of us are infallible. Rob Reiner has delivered us "When Harry Met Sally," "The Sure Thing," "This Is Spinal Tap," "The Princess Bride" and "The American President." Surely, can't we forgive "North"? "Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly."

And Reiner has clearly done both. Let us at this as one of humanity's greatest follies... and try to find laughter in it. Not at the movie itself, which is clearly impossible, but at the movie's expense. Laugh, my children.

Laugh, not with, AT, you see.

OK, Mr. Reiner. You are officially forgiven. I already look forward to your next effort behind the camera. May you achieve as big a piece of the rock as fellow '70's-era actor-idol idol Ron Howard.

Good luck, Godspeed... and let's hope--sorry, PRAY another abomination like this isn't in the works.


--Love, Dane Youssef
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The Nutcracker (I) (1977 TV Movie)
Of all the "Nutcrackers," this shines brightest... like a star... like the sun...
29 August 2007
by Dane Youssef

Perhaps the best interpretation of "The Nutcracker" ever made. Baryshnikov's finest hour. And as even the most ballet-ignorant know, that bar's set pretty high.

I have seen Mikhail Baryshnikov dance in the much-praised chick-flick "The Turning Point." And I have seen him dance his own interpretation of "Don Quixote." Good. Great, even. But not as much as fellow Russkie ballerino Nureyev's stab at "Quixote." And I have seen much more of him dancing. The man defies gravity, as well as many other laws. A ballet dancer, in the country of America, has been treated like a movie star. But this may very well be his best work, artistic-wise.

Mikhail Baryshnikov is man who hardly needs an introduction, as he is a man who is synonymous with ballet. The man is a household name, Baryshnikov is at his best here, which is more than difficult, even for him. Celebrated USA ballerina Gelsey Kirkland (who was a regular partner and even girlfriend of dear Misha at the time) actually proves to be a credible match. And even takes it to a higher level than he does in HER solo scenes.

This was the first "Nutcracker" I've ever seen. I have seen several interpretations of "The Nutcracker" since then, and this one still stands as the best of the lot. There are no real children in this cast. The children's roles are played by adults in adolescent-looking wigs.

The idea to make this a movie rather than a live stage piece kind of works. It allows for more visual effects than a straight live piece would have.

There is a moment where Ms. Kirkland dances a solo all by herself, that sequence actually left be breathless. When she shakes her pointed feet like bells, the music jingles in pitch-perfect sync. She doesn't seem to be following the music at all. The music seems to be following her.

It's so beautifully and perfectly done, that as someone who takes ballet and has danced on the stage, that it actually hurt to watch.

The day that I can move as gracefully and exquisitely (on her worst day, I mean) may never come. Kirkland actually, in that one scene, manages to steal the movie away from Baryshnikov. Baryshnikov's leaps, turns, jumps and pirouettes are as breathtaking as always, and somehow never seem to get old. Misha's striking presence and Peter Pan-like mobility just.. well, makes you want to get up and dance. Or just jump around. He doesn't so much leap as much as soars.

Baryshnikov puts some little touches of humor here and there. There's a lovable old man at the Christmas Party who attempts to dance and hurts himself, as well as a toy soldier who stubs his toe. Baryshnikov has always seemingly had the soul of a child and the heart of a clown.

The Arabian Coffee Dance has been deleted for running time, I'm sorry to say. As has Mother Gigogne. Not to mention The famed "Waltz Of The Snowflakes" is a powerhouse, the ballet corps sway to the music so beautifully, for the briefest moment, we actually forget about Baryshnikov and Kirkland.

Is Baryshnikov trying to give himself more screen time, Clara or the ballet itself? Alexander Minz proves to be invaluable as a supporting player in the role of Drosselmyer. I was reminded of Fred Astaire. He moves around with his long, willowy limbs in a way that seemed almost inhuman. I seriously doubt ever got half the credit he deserved throughout his life.

He had an effective, amusing cameo in "The Turning Point." Baryshnikov continues to prove time and time again what we already know--the greatest ballet dancer of any generation will always be a Russian.

The choreography is riveting, some of the best I've ever seen. Although, the honor for "World's Greatest" go to "Singin' In The Rain." Maybe the Russian could put dances together now. He's reportedly a great teacher of dance as well.

While many of the special-effects look a bit outdated, it remains a riveting experience. After all, most ballet movies are just filmed dancing and this one takes the effort to actually be something of a movie.

The acting is not much, nor is there as much plot as is traditional, a as this "Nutcracker" focuses more on the dancing and music. The pyrotechnics (the dancer's rapidly-moving muscular limbs and the way they and the music truly gel).

Despite Mr. Baryshnikov in the title role and given prominent first billing, the star of "The Nutcracker" is Gelsey Kirkland as Clara, as this is all Clara's story.

Mnay movies have attempted to translate this legendary dance story to the screen, usually with disastrous results. For example, the mistake the 20th Century Fox movie "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker" made was if they were going to made the ballet into a movie, they should have done something for the movie that they couldn't do for a live production. Alas, they did not. It moved so slowly and the whole movie was so badly-lit, it looked like somebody boot-legged the whole thing with a camcorder.

The solo duets are just as enjoyable. The dancers, are in fact, so good that they almost threaten to outdo the leads.

It's a beautiful story, more with flair and style in it's depth. It's a revised fairy tale.

When Misha and Gels prance together, their body movements almost in perfect parallel... it's beautiful and breath-taking. They seem to be connected internally somehow. These are two people brought-en together by dance. It's every little girl's dream... and that's exactly what the "Nutcracker" should be.

--For Baryshnikov, Kirkland, "The Nutcracker" and Ballet Itself, Dane Youssef
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An art film... without anything to say...
28 August 2007
by Dane Youssef

"THE BROWN BUNNY" plays out like an Andy Warhol-inspired exercise that was warped into a vanity project.

Some moments are quietly effective and inspire little musings in our heads. But far too much feels like something little that a brown bunny left behind... that's also brown.

Either the bunny or Gallo. He serves as writer, director, producer, composer and cinematographer. Hell, there's probably more...

The film stars Gallo as Bud Clay, a professional motor-cycler going on one big long odyssey on the road to his old haunts to rediscover himself.

He will uncover a lot of things along the way, particularly that he is trapped inside a movie that just plain isn't very good.

Vincent Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" is a self-indulgent exercise in futility. Although Gallo may consider this a compliment, I mean the making of the film itself, not this hero's story. So masturbatory, I actually wished I was blind before I was even 1/4 of the way through.

But it could have been. If Gallo had cut more of the scenes (and I don't just mean a few), put some music down on the soundtrack, shown more of the beautiful outdoor landscapes... and less of the interior of the car, Gallo himself just sitting there, preening. Striking a model-like pose in long, long, unbroken shots that feel endless.

Gallo is a strikingly good-looking man, but not nearly so that we can watch him for that long without getting itchy and restless.

You kind of wish the filmmaker (and there's only one--Gallo himself) had conjured up more music and put it on the soundtrack. Some music might have helped pump up a lot stillborn scenes. Gallo keeps the entire "Brown Bunny" moving at the pace of moss growing on a tree or rock.

There's a lot of flat, still dialouge with a lot of dramatic pauses (in a pathetic attempt to pump it up), the acting isn't much (except for Gallo and Sevigny) and the long, unbroken static shots with Gallo is staring off into the distance (which there are more than TOO MUCH of) inspired me to itch so much, I thought I came down with a horrible rash.

I know that the cut of the movie that was screened at Cannes (the film was not finished yet, but Gallo was pushed into releasing it) was indefinitely worse. But although I think that much of the editing was for the better (from what I've heard, it was vital), Gallo still needed to cut a few more scenes out of the movie and lay some more music here and there.

Despite talent on Gallo's part and some ambition to tell a worthwhile story, "Brown Bunny" moves at the pace of moss growing, no one throughout the film as a character is particularly intriguing or well-developed, not even Gallo's own character (the exception is Chloe Sevign) and there are too many slow spot where we're just waiting for something, anything to happen.

We don't have any idea exactly what Bud is thinking most of the time (or God help us, Gallo even). Maybe we're supposed to figure it out for ourselves. Perhaps Gallo wants our minds to speculate and wander. Is he leaving the thoughts of this Odyssey up to our imagination? Or did he just not think this one through.

Also, much of the dialouge throughout every scene throughout the film was written is so badly recorded, I couldn't understand a word they were saying, I had to turn on the SUBTITLES.

I'm capable of appreciating a deep, slow-paced movie. But this one isn't just slow, it's d.o.a.

Many European filmmakers know how to make a slow movie work like a chess match or a staring contest, so that even when nothing is happening, it FEELS like Hell itself is breaking loose. Gallo obviously hasn't mastered that himself. He should have seen more of their work and studied it before putting "The Brown Bunny" into effect.

But Gallo himself has admitted he is no filmmaker--or artist. In any sense of the word. He is a hustler. A Midnight Cowboy of sorts. He has acted, modeled, directed, wrote, painted... have I painted enough of a picture myself? He is a man of innumerable talents. But he has no major. He hawks skills at any given moment. He may not be a household name, but those that do know his name... look at him as something more than mortal.

Curson, Frank and Gallo are credited for the musical score. At least Gallo admitted he needed some outside help there.

Reformed supermodel Cheryl Diggs doesn't really provide anything else but filler to kill the static. Hey, maybe she serves a vital purpose after all.

Chloe Sevigny ("Kids" and "Trees Lounge") is such a good actress and has such a touching character, it's a damn crime against cinema she doesn't have more scenes. She should have been such a more substantial part of the film. She is a part of the fourth act where the comatose "Brown Bunny" bursts to life.

At the end of it all, there is catharsis. Not just for Gallo's character, but for Gallo. And us. And his film. The powerful finale helps the effect of the whole film overall. Is it better to have an impressive two acts and a disappointing third or a mundane first two acts and a hard-hitting third?

And I can't help but wonder, what of that brown bunny that sits in the cage? That holds the film's prominent title? What of it? What's it's story? I would have loved to see this world through it's eyes.

What would it have to say? Do you wonder... ?

--For Bud, Daisy and That Little Bunny, Dane Youssef
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Joe the King (1999)
Whaley attempts therapy on screen
7 August 2007
by Dane Youssef

Frank Whaley's "Joe The King" has been called by the filmmaker himself "semi-autobiographical." And such a story about so much misery just makes to almost want to see it just to see how this guy got where he is today. It so damn downbeat, you have to ask yourself, "How will all this turn out? This poor boy... Is there a happy ending?"

Like lots of actor-helmed vehicles, this one's loaded with big name walk-ons, "Joe The King" is also chock-full of trite and truths to life--the lead that seems to be born into the hard-luck life of an abusive alcoholic father, the weak whimpering mother who doesn't care if her husband pounds on her kids as long as he doesn't pound on her, the guidance counselor who's all thumbs--aren't they all? A cliché' in movies, but what guidance counselor has ever been worth in damn in life? Was yours?

There is a moment where it's "Careers Day" at an elementary class where it's revealed that Joe's dad is the janitor. He is ridiculed an lashes out (very mildly) at an obnoxious little teacher's pet and the teacher drags Joe and spanks him in front of the class. The knife is further pushed and twisted when she makes it personal by muttering angrily so he can hear, "Just like your father..."

Whaley is clearly dealing with old wounds and knows how to use them so they feel fresh and make you cringe and relate.

"King's" full of downbeat moments and times where life shows it's ugly face. It seems as if God is very skillfully finding ways to torture Joe... and then skewering it further in smaller ways. In a moment of desperation, Joe attempts to do what his parents can't seem to... save the day. Joe is not only starving, he descends into petty theft. Then takes it even further.

He attempts to dodge his father's outbursts and reach out to his brother, who is trying to eke his way into the "in-crowd" and doesn't want Joe's jinx streak to rub off on him, even to the point of at one point sleeping the closet to get away from his brother's sad vibes.

But "Joe The King" is not just one long crying jag. There are lithe moments of humor, sweetness and tenderness. People may differ about the nature of the ending, but in the strangest, saddest way, it offers hope.

The children swear in the tradition of "Stand By Me," the child-abuse is in the tradition of "Radio Flyer" and the atmosphere is reminiscent of many working-class life stories. "King" doesn't feel like it belongs solely in the era. It takes place in the 1970's to be sure, but this feels timeless.

Noah Fleiss gives the best performances he's probably ever given, although how many movies has he really made? And how many of them really have allowed him to shine? This is it.

Val Kilmer is awesome turn as Bob, Joe's deadbeat dad who's one of the biggest problems in Joe's life. He owes money to most of the town. He dodges creditors like bullets, drinks pathetically and lashes out monstrously at his family. Kilmer, known for playing dazzling roles and pretty-boy parts, puts on a great deal of weight and shows nastier edges that he has since "The Doors."

Since Whaley and Kilmer first worked together in that film, Whaley obviously saw how powerfully Kilmer could play a violent sadist, always under narcotic influence. Kilmer has had trouble getting work because he's damn difficult to work with, so the two were clearly doing each other favors. Ethan Hawke plays a friendly, but useless counselor who hopes to get Joe out of his slump. And because it's Joe, he makes things worse.

Karen Young is adequate in a brief supporting part as Joe's mother. And Hispanic wunderkind John Leguizamo, a natural comedic talent, takes a dramatic turn here as a flamboyant busboy in an extended cameo at the rat-hole diner where Joe is working illegally.

Whaley seems to capture the flavor for this kind of working class life and seems to bring out the best in child actors, as well as his more distinguished adult friends and peers. He also sends us back to the day.

I was surprised that this screenplay won the Waldo Salt Screen writing Award. The Open Palm nomination for the film itself, that, I can see. The dialouge is altogether realistic, without being necessarily sharp or too memorable. And the characters are believable without being too fresh.

Writer/director Whaley does an effective job of capturing the atmosphere of this Upstate New York working-class life and bring out the best in child actors and big-name celebrity walk-throughs. Whaley has said this story is inspired by the childhood of himself and his brother, who is featured on the soundtrack and has a bit part.

Good ol' Frank himself also has a directors cameo walk-on as Jerry, one of many who the deadbeat Bob owes money to. He makes a personal house call, and he seems madder than the others Bob owes money to. He seems ready to kill Bob and after it's over, the sins of the father are, once again, visited on the son.

"Joe The King" breaks no new ground. But this is a slice-of-life, and while technology, trends and ideals constantly change, some things remain trite and true whatever era you're living in. Whaley chooses some appropriate music and some nice visuals.

"Joe The King" is kind of an acquired taste, like many coming-of-age stories. It's more of a confessional than anything else. If you've lived a life somewhat like this, or in this part of the world or in this enviorment remotely, you'll understand...

--God Save The King, Dane Youssef
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The Vagina Monologues (2002 TV Movie)
Fascinating... yet disgusting.
26 April 2007
by Dane Youssef

"The Vagina Monologues" is something that was inevitable. And essential to it's target audience. Or should I say, it's "built-in audience?" A built-in audience which makes up more than half the population on this planet.

One thing I could not understand for the life of me...

Now keep in mind...

I understood why so many women got into it. I understood why it was a big hit, even the foundation for a revolution. And I understood why the thing eventually This thing won an Obie for Best New Play. Why? This is NOT a play. This is nothing like a play. It's a bunch of, well... vagina monologues. Jokes and stories about... "the smell," jokes and stories about sex, bleeding and whatnot. The vagina is an opening to the woman herself.

Not merely her body, but who she truly is as a person. An opening into another whole world... her world. I couldn't finish it cause I got too creeped out by what was going on. Yeeesh. I told my sister Brie about some of it and what I was reading and she was horrified. "That's sick! I don't wanna hear about any of that nasty stuff!"

Hey, she was right. This is the kind of thing that is for women who are comfortable with their... you know.

"TVM" contains... well, exactly what the title promises. Musings, insights, poetry... even stories of sex, rape and abortion. All deep links as to... what's going on "down there." And how it connects... to everything else around.

Most guys would rather hear a group of women talking about their monthly... you know... than hear this.

I recommend this for women... who want to hear touching female stories and experiences. But not for any guy. Anywhere. Ever. It's "The Vagina Monologues." You know what to expect. You know if you're the audience.

You know who you are.


by Dane Youssef
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Dice Rules (1991)
Has some moments, but... actually, after that... YUCK!
18 April 2007
by Dane Youssef

Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Bill Cosby, Bernie Mac, Darryl Hugley, Jerry Seinfeld, Steve Harvey. What do they all have in common?

They are all stand-up comedians who have had the honor of having their stand-up acts get filmed into movies.

"Dice Rules" is one of the few to actually make it to theaters. And with good reason. Dice is one of those comedians who has a strong persona and stage presence. As a matter of fact, that's stronger than any of his material.

The very beginning of the flick where the Diceman croons is almost worth the rental price. He has such pipes, you kinda wish he actually put more use into them. He did a first-rate job in his first (and only) Hollywood star-vehicle "The Adventures of Ford Fairlane" where he sings "But I Ain't' Got You." He does the same here with an opening bit "Can't You Take A Joke?" But before we're treated to the main course (Dice in a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden), we get an appetizer. You know, so these things feel more like an actual movie than just some tape-recorded stand-up bit.

The opening clip entitled "A Day In The Life" features a cock-and-bull prologue about who he was (Andrew Silverstein) before he became "The Diceman." Eddie Murphy has a brilliant one in his stand-up movie "Raw," and Martin Lawrence had an effective one at the beginning of "Runtelldat" where the press is airing out Lawrence's dirty laundry and kicking him when he's down on his knees.

That quickie movie in "Dice Rules," is the biggest abomination and folly since Napoleon and Waterloo. Dice has NEVER been this unfunny. Has anyone?

The Jerry Lewis vocalizations are painfully annoying. Not just annoying really, but actual torture. Like bamboo under the fingernails or death by a thousand cuts. I know he's know for that s--t (he's known for breaking into on occasion), but it irritates to the point that we feel like we're being interrogated. The people antagonizing his ass, riding him like a damn pogo stick, until he's ready to break. It's so horribly done. It's not even so bad, it's funny. It's more like... unforgivable. And the payoff (I can't believe I just used that term), is so patronizing, it's the most offensive thing in the whole movie. Not the goddamn stand-up material.

I read right here on IMDb that the whole "Diceman" character was largely inspired by Jerry Lewis in "The Nutty Professor." Fine, but that mock Lewis voice is excruciating. And the other actors are just as bad. Well... almost as bad.

Good Lord, and he wrote this bit? I was so sick, I couldn't even vomit.

Then this mini-colonoscopy ends and we're treated to centerpiece. The minute we see the Diceman pull on his luxurious studded trademark leather jacket, we know something big is happening. As if Elvis himself has resurrected and is performing for one night only. Perhaps for them, it is.

His impersonation of an Itallian accent is so thick, you could choke on it. It's a miracle he doesn't.

The weirdest thing about the film is the audience members in concert. The audience doesn't stay quiet while he tells his jokes and then laugh when the punchline comes. They spend almost every second throughout the film cheering. Every time he opens his mouth, every time he says something---anything--the audience cheers like mad. Hell, every time he finishes a sentence (even before he actually even begins to make a point), the whole damn crowd gives him a standing ovation.

Jesus, throughout the whole damn movie, the cheering never stops. Dice may the star here, but it feels like we hear the damn crowd more than him. I... I must confess, I actually someone to start heckling them. I wanted to start throwing tomatoes at the crowd.

Remember the "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry gets heckled by Kramer's girlfriend, so Jerry, in retaliation, goes to where she works to heckle her? Yeah, I wanted to grab every one of them and scream, "Hey, idiots! You're in awe of the Dice, I can see that, but I can't hear HIM! DAMN!

Oh, and you know that whole "Jerry Lewis" vocal shtick I was talking about? Yeah, he keeps doing it throughout the whole movie. Whenever he's impersonating someone else, especially some woman. Lord, it makes you want to kill. Him.

Dice's usual subjects---women, sex, homosexuals, New Yorkers, the elderly, the ill. Hell, birds and insects, even. I gotta admit, I laughed at that. Damn freaking' birds & insects.

Still, as a stand-up concert film, this one's kind of a strike-out. The opening bit is too dumb and horrible to inspire anyone to do anything, but feel pain. And the rest of the stand-up, well... if you're a Dice fanatic (and you damn well who you are), then well.. hit-and-miss.

Dice is polarizing. You love the MF or you want him dead. There's no middle ground.

So, if you are reading these words right now... this review, and ANY of the other registered user reviews on IMDb for this one... that means that...

A)Youv'e been wanting to see this movie since you first fell in love with Dice. But it's been hard to find, especially on DVD. Not exactly "Casablanca."

B)You already have and you're just curious to see what others had to say about it.

Otherwise, you'll give yourself rabies, beat yourself to death, swallow fire (and more) before you even glance at one frame at anything related to Dice.

Still, "Ford Fairlane" continues to be his best work. I'd like to see Silverman actually cut a whole album full of music with himself on vocals and maybe push back for a while on the possibility of another comedy album anytime soon.
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Bloody brilliant. The definitive film of the genre--Cheap, gory low-budget campy Serial Slashers
19 March 2007
by Dane Youssef

Rob Zombie is without a doubt one of the most versatile and true-to-his-genre artists out there. "The Devil's Rejects" is the kind of movie uptight censors and worried parents always warned you was gonna get made some day.

A movie where the leads are psychopathic murderers, the violence is excess and the gore is so voluminous, that you have to ask: "Does this movie satirize this kind of sadism... or celebrate it? Is it a fun campy parody... or a sign that we may have gone too far with our ultra-violent-based entertainment?" This movie actually defines the term "overkill." Three of the more interesting deranged killers from "House Of 1000 Corpses" get their own spin-off in the "Frasier" or "Jeffersons" tradition. The three, who are a family, actually (a father and his son and daughter) go on a mass killing spree and are racing out of the country to legal freedom on the other side of the border. They seem to echo the Manson Family.

Their sense of humor is the kind of acquired taste like the movie itself has. It stems from the experience you'd get from... watching slasher movies throughout a lot of your life. Like lime green Jell-O, anchovies, fish eggs and black licorice, this is not for all tastes.

The movie is actually a lot smarter and more complex than you might imagine, if you're unfamiliar with what Zombie's movies are about. It's akin to films like "From Dusk 'Til Dawn," "Vulgar," "Desperado" and "Freaked." If you like these types of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Friday the 13th" re-vamping in the video-geek traditions, here is a movie you may hold up as one for the history books. The dialogue is written a twisted brilliant way and the direction has a real retro-'70's homey-quality to it. In a way that doesn't feel contrived.

Sid Haig, Bill Moseley and Sheri Moon are all so perfectly demented in their roles, you have to wonder what they're like in real life. You pray they're nothing like they are here... and hope you never come across anyone remotely like this either.

Sheri Moon, wife of director Zombie, looks more like a typical American model-actress than the degenerate rank-skank she plays here. Moseley is real-life, was actually a columnist and Heig often played scuzzy thugs, but played the judge in Tarantino's "Jackie Brown."

I find it incredibly strange that some people seem to be COMPLAINING that the pursuing cop character (the sheriff, John Quincy Wydell) is as sadistic and mentally unbalanced as the family killers themselves. Why?

Yes, he is. But... why?

Why is that a bad thing? In any way at all?

Look, if there's anything history and government have taught us, it's that it takes one to catch one. Not just in the movies, but in life. And not just in real life, but in movies as well. You see, it's not just an opinion. It's a fact. It's the way of the world.

People... do we all not remember Tommy Lee Jones in "The Fugitive"? His I-Will-Catch-him-By-Any-Means-Nessicary-Law Enforcer way was one of the true milestones in the movie, and it got him an Oscar. Would we want any of the other major characters to be far less interesting than the leads?

When you eat a meal of any kind, you don't just want a rich main course and the side dishes to be as tasteless as styraphone. You want a whole meal you can taste.

And the stuff with the sheriff and the rest of the cops IS something to see. Why? Because he isn't any kind of undeveloped character. Zombie made him (and everything else) just as big, broad, colorful and energetic as the '70's genre that this one stems from.

There's some humor with the Kentucky-Fried Sheriff and the rest of his "Good Ol' Boys" in Blue. It goes without saying that in a small town, the cops are all red-necked. The way the stereotype of the small-town cop in a campy-slasher pic is handled with more laughs than usual. And there's a great moment where they call in a specialist, a film historian (see: uber film geek) to help them with the investigation and this film critic.... well, suffice to say, he insults the name of God in the house of the Lord and that's all I'm gonna say.

We all know Zombie is a neo-talent outside of the music biz. He did the LSD effect in "Beavis & Butthead Do America."

The end may justify the means, in this case. The hick cops and the colorful killers... in the end, it's an ending we all knew we deserved.

Speaking of Zombie, his film debut "House of 1000 Corpses," was a film I found to be embarrassingly bad. I'm a fan of those types of rock-horror camp movies in the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "House Of Wax" vein. SEVERED vein, in this case. But everything was played out so campy, so cheaply, so maudlin, so without suspense... that Zombie, I felt, made a movie that seems to be an insult, rather than a tribute to those horror-show camp classics.

But he's redeemed himself with this one. He's working without a net and it all could have gone horribly, pathetically wrong. So I give him props. BIG, BIG PROPS.

As I'm writing this now, he's currently re-making "Halloween." Though I wish he wouldn't, really. Why re-paint the Mona Lisa? Give it eyebrows, what? Will that REALLY be an improvement?

Brace yourself. Not for all tastes. Procceed with caution. Use extreme care.


by Dane Youssef
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