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7/10
'Only the most ridiculous parts of this story are true.'
24 January 2020
"The Hunting Party" is an incredible-but-apparently-true story about Simon Hunt (Richard Gere, at his cocky and charismatic best), a disgraced war correspondent. Hunt convinces his old friend "Duck" (an excellent Terrence Howard), who was his loyal cameraman for years, to join him on an actual hunt for a notorious war criminal, "The Fox". They are joined by a nerdy young journalist, Benjamin Strauss (an appropriately cast Jesse Eisenberg), who got his network gig through nepotism, and who is eager to show his father that he has what it takes. Naturally, things go seriously awry, with one hair-raising and life-threatening incident after another.

Based on an Esquire article by Scott Anderson, who was one of the reckless real-life journalists (and who has a cameo, along with some of his cohorts), this is an interesting, offbeat comedy-action-thriller that injects some humour into the premise. Mainly, it works because Gere and the amiable Howard are believable as old friends, with Howard as the straight-man to the crazed Gere. The scenario IS preposterous, but screenwriter / director Richard Shepard knows that very well, and has fun with the insanity of the whole enterprise. What's more, there are plenty of funny details and solid supporting characters along the way. Dylan Baker (who'd acted for Shepard in his previous film, "The Matador") is a hoot as a glum CIA operative, and Diane Kruger is delicious as a Serbian gal who claims to have inside information on the whereabouts of the villain. Said villain is a fairly colourful sort, well played by Croatian actor Ljubomir Kerekes, and his primary henchman (Goran Kostic) is also an effective creep.

Superbly scored (by Rolfe Kent), shot (by David Tattersall), and just bursting with European flavour (this was actually filmed on location in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), "The Hunting Party" was rather ingratiating to this viewer. It was amusing to see how people would react to our unlikely team of protagonists, always assuming they were with the CIA and refusing to believe that they were just a bunch of dummies.

Some very amusing text after the film and before the end credits reveals some of the "real life" details and fates of principal characters.

Seven out of 10.
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4/10
Not exactly Treats' finest hour.
22 January 2020
John Beck (the original "Rollerball") plays Dr. Maurice Hunter, a so-called "treasure hunter" who's located a doomsday device supposedly created by Tesla back in the early 20th century. It can create mayhem on the power of thought alone. Naturally, you know there will be bad guys out there eager to get their hands on such a weapon. And they hijack (with little effort) a plane carrying Hunter, his daughter Nadia (Julie St. Claire, "Ballistic"), and assorted others. After the plane crashes, some survivors stay back to fend for themselves, while Nadia, and cheery C.I.A. super-agent Jason Ross (Treat Williams, "Deep Rising") avoid relentless villain Julian Beck (German actor Hannes Jaenicke, "Half Past Dead").

Working from an ineffective screenplay by Steve Latshaw ("Jack-O"), director Jim Wynorski does his best to create mindless entertainment for 93 minutes. And make no mistake, it IS mindless. Genuinely bad writing and dialogue mix with copious stock footage cribbed from "Cliffhanger", the remake of "Narrow Margin", and "The Long Kiss Goodnight". And the characters are mostly inane or just plain boring. The villainous Beck lacks a truly colourful personality. However, knowing Wynorski (here using his frequent pseudonym "Jay Andrews"), he does inject plenty of humour, and the ladies present are all quite attractive.

There's an interesting variety of familiar faces here playing the dopey and mostly unsympathetic characters. Treat is amusing as he recalls his "Deep Rising" hero by often wise-cracking his way through intense situations. Gary Hudson ("Road House"), Playboy Playmate Ava Fabian ("Dragnet" '87), Steve Franken ("The Party"), Susan Blakely ("Over the Top"), John Putch ("Jaws 3"), Allan Kolman ("Shivers"), and Richard Riehle ("Office Space") co-star, with ever-hilarious George "Buck" Flower ("They Live") putting in a cameo appearance as a train conductor.

Overall, this is pretty stupid, and only true die-hard B movie enthusiasts may get some entertainment value out of it.

One has to ask themselves this: how can St. Claire and Jaenicke make their way to either shelter or civilization quite easily, yet that one group is stuck on the mountain for God knows how many hours?

Four out of 10.
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2010 (1984)
7/10
My God. It's full of stars.
20 January 2020
Writer, cinematographer, producer & director Peter Hyams, a filmmaker who's given us some pretty good pictures over the decades, attempts here what must have seemed to viewers of the period to be near-impossible. How DOES one follow up such an iconic science-fiction film as "2001"? Well, Hyams may be no Stanley Kubrick, but he capably guides through this engrossing story, which he scripted from the novel by Arthur C. Clarke.

The Cold War was still in full swing at this time, and American and Soviet governments are on the brink of war while a joint Russian-American mission is launched into space. These astronauts will do their best to probe the mystery of what went wrong on the Discovery spacecraft several years ago. Leading the Americans is likeable Everyman Heywood Floyd (played in Kubricks' film by William Sylvester, and here by Roy Scheider).

The most obvious criticism to be made of "2010" is understandable, in that it tries to explain as much as possible, taking away from the mystery and enigma of "2001". As a result, it's not as provocative or stimulating, and leads to a rather familiar ending for science-fiction films.

Still, the film is well paced, and VERY well designed and photographed in widescreen. It may not be a truly great film for the genre, but it is definitely a good one, with a majestic score by David Shire (not a composer typically identified with the science-fiction genre) and a wonderful international cast. Roy is just the right anchor to hold everything together, and he receives strong support from John Lithgow, Helen Mirren (a delight in a real character role), Bob Balaban, Keir Dullea (reprising his role of astronaut Dave Bowman), Douglas Rain (once again supplying the relaxed voice of computer intelligence HAL-9000, who is reawakened), Madolyn Smith Osborne, Dana Elcar, James McEachin, Mary Jo Deschanel (wife of cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and mother to actresses Zooey and Emily Deschanel), Elya Baskin, Jan Triska, Herta Ware, and Robert Lesser. Look hard for author Clarke on a Washington, D.C. park bench.

I would agree that this is *not* a weak film. It tells a good story, and certainly held this viewers' attention for the better part of two hours. It's reasonably intelligent fare that will appeal to sci-fi lovers looking for more adult entertainment.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
"I'm going to wash off your stink."
19 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Ever-engaging Michael Sarrazin, an actor whose star shone brightly in the late 60s and well into the 70s, is the title character here. Peter Proud is a college professor with a hottie girlfriend (Cornelia Sharpe). His life seems to be great, but he's currently being plagued by recurring nightmares about a woman (Margot Kidder) whacking a swimming man (Stuart Thomas) fatally with a paddle. While having these nightmares, he will actually speak in the murder victims' voice; it would seem that he is an honest-to-God reincarnation of the dead man. Seeking answers, and an end to his dreams, he seeks out their locales in reality. He eventually encounters the now much older Kidder as well as her now-grown daughter (Jennifer O'Neill).

While "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud" misses its chance for true greatness by holding no real surprises, it plays out in a very entertaining, compelling way. It's kind of like a supernatural soap opera, with an array of interesting characters and a passing nod to parapsychology themes and study of dreaming individuals. It includes many quick cuts to flashback moments, that allow people in the back story to get fleshed out. As we come to see, Kidder is notably more sympathetic than her victim, who was NOT a good man in life. It would seem, however, that his spirit is hellbent on vengeance.

This is a good, solid film with elements of both melodrama and thriller, and a number of capable performances. Sarrazin is appealing through it all, wanting to do the right thing although he can't deny his attraction to O'Neill. She is similarly enchanting, playing the kind of gal a guy could easily fall in love with. Kidder does well in a true character role, although the makeup department doesn't go to great lengths to "age" her; in real life, she was actually *younger* than O'Neill by a couple of months. Lending fine support are Paul Hecht as Peters' concerned new friend, Thomas as the studly but rotten murder victim, Norman Burton as a psychiatrist, Debralee Scott as helpful kid Suzy, Steve Franken as Peters' doctor & tennis partner, and Addison Powell as Ken from the tennis club.

While the ending does fall short of being completely satisfying, it's an interesting move on the part of director J. Lee Thompson and company to conclude in such an abrupt manner. While there are light and charming moments, as well as some humour, there is a somber feel to the proceedings overall.

Scripted by Max Ehrlich, based on his novel.

Seven out of 10.
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Hill Street Blues: Politics as Usual (1981)
Season 1, Episode 3
8/10
This is such a great series.
18 January 2020
The men at Hill Street Station are still busy preparing for the Presidents' arrival in the neighbourhood, and the gang members are still loudly voicing their opinions on the matter. While nothing is really resolved on that issue, another story thread finds closure, as Hill and Renko deal with remaining feelings after they'd been surprised and shot in the debut episode. The ever-hilarious Belker reluctantly agrees to a blind date arranged by his mother. LaRue finds himself in some trouble when he seems to accept bribe money from a crooked detective (well-cast guest star Dan Hedaya). And Frank is thrown for a loop when ex-wife Fay tries to strong-arm him into paying more child support. Yet, her vulnerability towards the end of the episode - not to mention Joyce's wise advice regarding the subject of divorce - obliges Frank to realize that he doesn't really bear Fay any ill will.

It's a tribute to the writing talents of Michael Kozoll and Steven Bochco, the creators of the series, that this plays out so compellingly. Everything is played with such sincerity, yet there is still some room for humour, of course. Pickpocket (the priceless Nick Savage) makes another appearance, during which Belker gets the standard call from his mother. There are truly heartfelt, tender moments between the cast members: Michael Warren & Charles Haid, Daniel J. Travanti & Veronica Hamel (who take a bath together), and even Travanti & Barbara Bosson, with the latter making Fay less shrill and more sympathetic than usual. At the end of it all, we realize what a good man Frank is.

The roll call has its own moment of levity, with Esterhaus commenting on the spelling mistakes made by graffiti artists in the restrooms.

David Caruso appears again as an Irish gang member; look also for character actor Art Evans ("Fright Night", "Die Hard 2") in a small role.

Eight out of 10.
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Freejack (1992)
5/10
Nibble my ear.
17 January 2020
Veteran writer & producer Ronald Shusett scripted this one (along with Steven Pressfield and Dan Gilroy), inspired by the novel "Immortality, Inc." by Robert Sheckley. It's a far cry from the heights attained by "Alien", which Shusett had concocted with Dan O'Bannon, but at the very least it's mildly amusing, the kind of movie for which the phrase "mindless diversion" was invented. It's silly stuff, but delivers a lot of gunfire and a lot of chases, not to mention a tacky visual approach (Joe Alves, production designer on the first two "Jaws" films and director of the third, was the p.d. here). Most of the cast have been better utilized in other projects, but it's still nice to see a bunch of familiar faces here.

Emilio Estevez, not anybody's image of the ideal action hero but reasonably likeable, is race car driver Alex Furlong. Moments before he would have met his maker in a fiery crash, his body is snatched and transported into the "future" year of 2009. Now, for all the other characters, 17 years have passed, but for him the trip is instantaneous. And now he has to run, run, run, since his body is a prized possession for the person who sponsored his "trip", and he's being pursued by relentless "bone jackers", led by legendary rock star Mick Jagger in a blatant case of stunt casting.

Emilio is ably supported by lovely leading lady Rene Russo (who married Gilroy shortly after the movie was released), a slumming Anthony Hopkins (who literally "phones in" his performance), a highly animated and amusing David Johansen as Alex's shameless "friend" Brad, Jonathan Banks of later 'Breaking Bad' and 'Better Call Saul' fame (at his cold-eyed, contemptuous best), Amanda Plummer (a hoot as a gun-packing, computer-savvy nun), Grand L. Bush, Frankie Faison, Esai Morales, John Shea, and Jerry Hall. But, alas, Jagger is one of those classic "don't give up your day job" type of deals: he's simply boring as the antagonist.

Overall, "Freejack" is plenty dumb, but it's dumb enough, noisy enough, and energetic enough to rate as a true "guilty pleasure". The director is the late, talented Kiwi filmmaker Geoff Murphy, who'd previously guided Emilio in "Young Guns II"; in the 80s he did a picture called "The Quiet Earth" that is much more interesting than this junk.

Kicking off the closing credits with a solid Scorpions tune, "Hit Between the Eyes", was one good idea, in any event.

Five out of 10.
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Klute (1971)
8/10
Everybody brings their A game on this one.
16 January 2020
Jane Fonda took home the Best Actress Oscar for her superb performance in this complex, nuanced film, the second directorial effort for conspiracy thriller specialist Alan J. Pakula. It functions mostly as a character study, as private detective John Klute (Donald Sutherland) takes on a missing-person case. This leads him to Bree Daniels (Fonda), a call girl who may have once met the missing man.

The evolving relationship between Bree and John takes up much of the running time, as Bree realizes that she's reacting to him in a way that's alien to her. To date, she has prided herself on being very independent. She's interested in taking up modelling and acting work, but enjoys the life of a call girl because that's where she can exude the most control. This is an intriguing, provocative character, and Fonda is compelling every step of the way. Sutherland does his usual solid job, but while the film may be named after his character, make no mistake: this is Brees' story.

That said, the procedural aspect to the tale (concocted by Andy Lewis and David E. Lewis) is definitely effective in its own way. Even when Klutes' leads seem to be drying up, he doesn't panic: he merely starts approaching the case from different angles.

In addition to the sterling performances by our two leads, "Klute" further benefits from an excellent supporting cast: Roy Scheider as Brees' former pimp, Charles Cioffi as the concerned business executive Peter Cable, Dorothy Tristan as one of Brees' fellow call girls, Rita Gam (the first wife of Sidney Lumet) as Trina, Vivian Nathan as the psychiatrist, and Nathan George as a police lieutenant. Look for Veronica Hamel, Rosalind Cash, Jean Stapleton, Candy Darling, Harry Reems, Kevin Dobson, and Richard Jordan in small roles, some of them uncredited.

Almost 50 years later, "Klute" is very well regarded as one of the great 1970s NYC films. It has an ominous atmosphere, brought to vivid life thanks to the cinematography of the renowned Gordon Willis. It's engrossing stuff, never going for the cheap thrill, and even the finale wherein the antagonist explains themselves is done in a subtle way, with no over-acting on anybody's part.

Wonderful score by Michael Small, too.

Eight out of 10.
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Wonder Boys (2000)
7/10
Utterly absorbing for the better part of two hours.
14 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Douglas immerses himself in one of his more interesting roles in a long time: author / college literature professor Grady Tripp, whose life is currently devolving into chaos. He's been having an affair with the chancellor (Frances McDormand), whose husband (Richard Thomas) oversees Grady's department. His wife has left him. He's working so hard on the follow-up novel to his breakthrough book that he literally can't stop writing. Making matters worse is his top student, a talented but very troubled kid named James (Tobey Maguire), who adds to the chaos by shooting the pet dog of the Thomas character.

Steve Kloves wrote the screenplay, based on the Michael Chabon novel, and it's a compelling study of flawed but engaging characters, characters with whom this viewer enjoyed spending time. Even better, the story does have a fairly unpredictable quality where one can't be sure exactly how everything will be resolved. It's all very well directed by Curtis Hanson, who gives us a provocative portrayal of academia, and in particular the life of the writer.

The whole cast is first-rate in this thing, although in the grand scheme of things, Rip Torn doesn't get very much to do as a self-satisfied brand-name sort of author. McDormand is wonderful as the patient love interest who's willing to sort out her affairs on her own without the input of the rather unreliable Grady. Maguire is well cast as the eccentric, tight-lipped student who gradually comes more and more out of his shell - and who feeds his unsuspecting prof a steady stream of BS regarding the life he leads. Unsurprisingly, Robert Downey Jr. tends to walk away with all of his scenes, playing Grady's wacky editor. Katie Holmes is appealing as a student who may not have James' talent, but who comes off as a levelling influence in the face of others' erratic behaviour. Also appearing are Jane Adams, Alan Tudyk, Philip Bosco, George Grizzard, and Kelly Bishop.

This never once feels boring, and although possessed of an obviously literary quality - complete with narration by Grady - it doesn't smack of pretentiousness, remaining endearing for 112 straight minutes.

Seven out of 10.
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Proof of Life (2000)
8/10
Great acting all around.
12 January 2020
Meg Ryan and David Morse play Alice and Peter Bowman; he's an engineer with a big oil company whose purpose is to build a dam in a South American locale. Then he is kidnapped by a profit-minded bunch of goons, and they demand a huge sum for his safe return. Taking Alice and Peters' case is a top K & R (Kidnap & Ransom) specialist named Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), who decides to stick with Alice and do his job even after hope starts dwindling. Terry is not alone in his efforts, working with a feisty colleague named Dino (David Caruso).

The characters are all quite engaging and sympathetic; Alice seems relatively unfazed at first although the tears do come eventually. What's great about Peter is that he fights back every chance he gets, trying his best to remain defiant. He doesn't just roll over and accept his fate. Granted, our protagonists have to deal with authoritarian types (including Peters' boss, played by Anthony Heald) whose hands seem to be perpetually tied.

Written by Tony Gilroy, and directed by Taylor Hackford, "Proof of Life" is one of those solid humanistic outings that scores on both an emotional and visceral level; one is stimulated by the violence (without a lot in the way of gore) and action scenes while also caring about the characters. The whole untenable situation is stressful for just about everybody, including Peters' sister (Pamela Reed), whose family finances make up the bulk of what can be offered to the kidnappers. The story mostly avoids political ideologies and points; our antagonists are a group that started out with an agenda, but eventually became all about the money. The film further benefits from some excellent location shooting in Ecuador.

The cast is solid, although Crowe (whose character realizes that he's becoming romantically interested in Alice) comes off better than co-lead Ryan. Caruso threatens to steal the movie away from everybody, with his flamboyant portrayal: proof positive that he's best in supporting roles, or as part of an ensemble, than in leads. But the excellent supporting cast is full of reliable thespians such as Stanley Anderson, German actor Gottfried John (who does give Caruso some competition in terms of walking away with scenes), Alun Armstrong, Michael Kitchen, Margo Martindale, Mario Ernesto Sanchez, and Michael Byrne.

Although padded out to a degree and thus overlong, "Proof of Life" is compelling entertainment - slick, rousing, and well directed from beginning to end.

Eight out of 10.
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7/10
"What's done?" Ha ha ha ha ha!
12 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
'Make Me Laugh'. Godfrey Cambridge plays Jackie Slater, a struggling comedian who constantly bombs, again and again. Making the acquaintance of a supposed "Guru" (special guest star Jackie Vernon), Jackie learns that the Guru is in desperate need of making a successful miracle for somebody. Jackie challenges him: Can you make others laugh at my jokes? Well, the "Miracle" backfires in the expected way: people react with uproarious guffaws no matter what the comic says. So he realizes that this is not what he wants. He now wants to be taken seriously. The final "punchline" is ultimately sad, in this decent but unexceptional tale written by Rod Serling himself. Co-starring are Tom Bosley, as Jackie's loyal (actually, not THAT loyal) agent, and Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis. Directed by none other than Steven Spielberg.

'Clean Kills and Other Trophies'. Another original by Serling, this segment is given a lot of juice from the flamboyant portrayal by Raymond Massey as Archie Dittman, a man with a fervent passion for big game hunting. Disgusted with his wimpy son (Barry Brown), Dittman is determined to make a man out of him: it's either go out and kill a deer, or be left without an inheritance. This is another rather obvious yarn with a predictable (if fitting) final twist, and an anti-hunting agenda, but it's very well acted (Herbert Jefferson, Jr. and Tom Troupe co-star), with Massey taking centre stage in a truly impressive way. Good fun for fans of the macabre. Directed by Walter Doniger, a TV veteran whose features include "Duffy of San Quentin" and "The Steel Jungle" (and who was also the screenwriter for the 1991 action flick "Stone Cold"!).

Seven out of 10.
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Godzilla 2000 (1999)
7/10
Look out, Tokyo, here he comes again!
8 January 2020
Fans of The Big G will be happy to see him back in full destructor mode, in a modern, technology-driven update that at the least is preferable to the American feature film of the previous year. Ignoring most of the sequels, it picks up as Godzilla shows his face (Right at the beginning! There's no build-up in this thing.) and causes chaos. But at the same time, a "meteorite" found at the bottom of the sea reveals itself to be an alien spacecraft, capable of changing form into the hideous beast Orga. Naturally, Godzilla and Orga are going to be on a collision course, reducing Japanese landscapes to ruin in the process.

This film, brought together sooner than planned due to the poor performance of that aforementioned American feature, offers generally good entertainment. It has decent human characters, and an amusing subplot that helps to fill in the spaces between Godzilla appearances. Commendably, Toho continued with the tradition of having a stuntman inside the Godzilla costume, while complementing this approach with some CGI. Our heroes are likeable sorts; initially, the aggressive reporter and the precocious child come off as annoying, but they endear themselves more to the viewer as the film goes along. The striking Hiroshi Abe has an excellent screen presence as human antagonist Katagiri, at odds with good-guy professor Shinoda (Takehiro Murata). Some of the English-language-version dialogue is pretty bad, however.

Excellent music - that appropriates cues from classic Akira Ifukube Godzilla soundtracks - and good atmosphere, along with a reasonably rousing "creature title fight" finale in the Godzilla series tradition add up to amiable viewing. "Godzilla 2000" is not destined to be one of the truly great entries in this franchise, but one could certainly do a lot worse.

Seven out of 10.
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5/10
Moderately amusing, at best.
6 January 2020
The original over the top 1990s sci-fi / action blockbuster got itself this routinely (and ineptly) written sequel that purports to show us how the human race finally learned to get along after uniting against an extraterrestrial menace. Moreover, we've benefited from learning about their weapons and technology. The catch, of course, is that they've also had 20 years to prepare for another attack on us. A number of holdovers from the first movie - or their offspring - band together to launch a major offensive. They also get some help from an unexpected source.

The bottom line is that if you HATED the first film, you'd probably loathe this follow-up even more. It has the same dumb, sappy character writing and laughably bad introductory sequences. Some of the scenes are just cringe-inducing, for example the ones with a resurrected Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) as he fumbles about with a laser he invented and otherwise acts like a goofball. The Will Smith hero is replaced with his now grown-up son, Dylan (Jessie T. Usher), but other protagonists like ex-President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) make encore appearances.

The sense of scale and the visual effects are pretty darn impressive - at least, as far as CGI goes, and director Roland Emmerich and company offer plenty of action. It's just hard to care all that much about whether this bunch of heroes save the world this time. To make matters worse, the five credited writers crib ideas from a certain other Fox franchise, since they obviously couldn't come up with good enough concepts of their own.

The actors can't have been too happy about their sub-standard material, but likely the paychecks helped to make up for that to some degree. Some of the roles are pure cliches, such as the Liam Hemsworth character, a macho, risk-taking pilot, and his buddy Charlie (Travis Tope), a nerdy, hungry-for-love type. It's too bad Emmerich & his cohorts couldn't be bothered to really care about their characters. And if they couldn't, then why should we? Co-writers Nicolas Wright and James A. Woods also have roles in the movie, with Wright giving an embarrassing performance as the fumbling Rosenberg.

Sadly, this marked one of the final film appearances for veteran actor Robert Loggia (VERY briefly reprising his original role, without dialogue); the movie is dedicated to him.

Let's hope Emmerich and friends don't subject us to any more of these movies another 20 years from now.

Five out of 10.
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7/10
An episode that does benefit from Serlings' touch.
5 January 2020
"The House". The lovely Joanna Pettet plays Elaine Latimer, a former mental patient who has constantly been dreaming of visiting a beautiful country estate. Then, upon her release from the sanitarium, she finds the place to be real. So, of course, she impulsively buys it, despite the realtors' (Paul Richards) obligatory warnings about the place, which neither of them take seriously. In general, this IS an appealing segment, scripted by Rod Serling himself from a story by Andre Maurois. But Pettets' endearing performance basically has to carry it, since it's resolved in a rather obvious way. But she's so good (and is ably supported by Richards, and Steve Franken as a sympathetic psychiatrist), that one doesn't mind spending time with this character. Directed by actor John "Gomez Addams" Astin.

"Certain Shadows on the Wall". Serling again writes the script, taken from a story by Mary Eleanor Freeman. This stars Old Hollywood veterans Louis Hayward and Agnes Moorehead. He plays Stephen, a disgraced former doctor and Emmas' (Moorehead) brother, who reads Dickens nightly to his ailing sibling. After she dies, her shadow takes up a permanent spot on one wall of the house, as if to accuse him. Again, a viewer can make a reasonable guess as to how this all turns out, but that doesn't really mean that the end is ineffective. And again, it's a pleasure to watch these veteran actors (Grayson Hall and Rachel Roberts play the other two siblings) at work. This segment is a little better, overall, generating decent results for the 50 minutes plus run time of the entire episode. Directed by character actor / acting teacher Jeff Corey, who had co-starred in the first episode of the series.

Seven out of 10.
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5/10
Amiable nonsense for younger viewers.
4 January 2020
Young girls will likely enjoy this more than most other viewers; this is a youth-oriented spy caper done in producer / director William Castles' typical attention-getting manner. He conducted a worldwide talent search to find the 13 young gals who here play boarding school students and the daughters of diplomats. The main character is the plucky Candy Hull (Kathy Dunn), a Nancy Drew type with a crush on spy Wally Sanders (Murray Hamilton, in a rare case of top billing). She studies from an old spy manual, putting her newly acquired knowledge to good use, and becoming known as the notorious "Kitten", confounding heroes and villains alike.

Admittedly, "13 Frightened Girls!" is not something that this viewer would call "good", but it has definite camp appeal. Dunns' charm is required to carry it a long way. It's watchable, fairly light entertainment, but does play for high stakes; characters do die on screen. As Candy seeks help from her Chinese friend Mai-Ling (Lynne Sue Moon), they must figure out how to extricate Candy from this mess.

For many of the girls, this was their first - and last - film appearance, although co-star Judy Pace would go on to become a familiar face in blaxploitation features of the early 70s. All in all, the cast is engaging - Joyce Taylor as Wally's colleague & girlfriend, Hugh Marlowe as Wally's boss (and Candy's dad), Khigh Dhiegh as Mai-Lings' sinister uncle, Charlie Briggs as the amiable chauffeur Mike, Norma Varden as the headmistress of the school, Garth Benton as the nefarious Peter Van Hagen, and an unbilled Emil Sitka as Ludwig the bus driver.

The title may mislead you into thinking this is a typical Castle horror flick (and the girls of the title rarely have reason to be "frightened"), but in truth it's an amusing, silly diversion that fortunately is not too dark or violent to be enjoyed by its target audience.

Castle, of course, came up with a gimmick to help promote this: movie theatre patrons were given "lickable" lottery cards for a chance to win a prize.

Five out of 10.
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8/10
A sexual re-interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood?
3 January 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Two lovely woman, a stepmother (the iconic Jean Seberg) and a stepdaughter (Marisol), are at odds with each other in a lovely mansion in the Spanish countryside. The husband / father disappeared seven years ago, not to be heard from since, and apparently he was a real piece of work. Then another man comes between them: a charismatic drifter named Barney (Barry Stokes). And he arouses passions in both of them. Meanwhile, it's possible that this stranger who's entered their lives might just be the psycho who's been offing locals for a long time.

It's true that there are interesting layers to this entertainingly sordid, fairly exploitative drama. Some people refer to it as a Spanish Giallo, but in truth it's more of a character study, and the murder mystery elements only start to pay off towards the end. Soon Ruth (Seberg) and the titular Chris (Marisol) are revealing another aspect to their relationship, one that will be sure to satisfy fans of Eurotrash.

Overall, the package is slick and stylish, and the picture offers eye candy of both the human and the scenic variety. It's an exceptionally good looking film, well shot in widescreen. It runs close to two hours, but never gets boring. Like many stories that utilize a mystery aspect, it's effective the way that it holds off on giving you essential information until near the end. Granted, the identity of the psycho comes as no great surprise, but "The Corruption of Chris Miller" knows how to sink its hooks into its intended audience, and it amuses and thrills all the way to the end.

The performances are quite engrossing, although Seberg comes off better than her younger counterpart. As the stud who becomes between them, Stokes is amiable. Perla Cristal, Rudy Gaebel, and Gerard Tichy (an actor you'll often find in Spanish exploitation and horror films of the period) round out a good cast.

Director Juan Antonio Bardem, who appears on screen as Pedro (and who was the uncle of Javier Bardem), does know how to get your attention right away, as a young woman is killed by her lover, who is in a Charlie Chaplin costume at the time.

Quite gory, and pretty sexy, "The Corruption of Chris Miller" offers nuances that keep it from being easily classifiable.

Eight out of 10.
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7/10
Above average of its type.
31 December 2019
Director Jean Brismee kept the "old dark house" horror formula alive and well with this moody, enchanting examination of moral strengths and weaknesses. During WWII, a Baron (Jean Servais) murders his newborn daughter. He's disappointed that he sired a daughter and not a son. What is the reason? That is eventually made clear; two and a half decades later, a group of tourists visit his isolated Belgian castle. Amid warnings of a "succubus" and her evil intent, the tourists eventually begin to be murdered while in the act of committing one deadly sin or another.

This viewer liked the idea of characters buying the farm due to displaying one moral failing or another - be it gluttony, greed, or lust. The story itself doesn't hold very many surprises, although it does have an interesting ending that the viewer may not see coming. The overall presentation is exemplary, with lavish settings, great atmosphere, a little bit of gore, and generous doses of sex. The music score (composed by Alessandro Alessandroni) is pretty and haunting. The first hour or so of the running time may require some patience on the part of some viewers, due to all the set-up, back story, and exposition, but they will be rewarded with the effectively staged murder scenes.

The European cast, including some very attractive ladies, is quite watchable. Erika Blanc ("Kill, Baby...Kill!") is front and centre as a young lady arriving at the castle after the main group has been there for a while. Lucien Raimbourg is amusing as the cranky old Mr. Masson, Jacques Monseau is solid as the serious-minded young seminary student, Servais and Maurice De Groote are an impressively sinister-looking pair as the Baron and his butler Hans, and Daniel Emilfork, a man with a great character face, is memorable as a smiling Satan. He does not get much screen time, but he leaves quite the impression with what little time he has.

Belgium, historically, was not a country that really left a mark in terms of this genre, but this somewhat overlooked little effort does deserve to be seen and re-assessed.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
"We specialize in 'risk management'."
30 December 2019
Writer / director C.M. Talkington doesn't go about trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to "lovers on the lam" cinema. He merely tells a decent, straightforward story (albeit with some pretentious narration), with the usual amount of sex and violence, as well as humour, style, and some irreverence. The main hook is that the couple at the centre of this tale are not inherently vicious, violent people; they merely resort to it when forced into a corner.

Hell, our main protagonist, "Watty" Watts (handsome Gil Bellows) is a veteran robber who regularly uses guns that AREN'T loaded, in an effort to avoid bloodshed. But he has a problem because he still associates with a fellow ex-con named Billy Mack (a memorable Rory Cochrane), an utter psychopath with an itchy trigger finger. They attempt a robbery, it goes bad, and "Watty" flees with his gal Starlene (the enchanting Renee Zellweger); Billy, a pair of loan sharks (Jeffrey Combs, Jace Alexander), and the law pursue them.

"Love and a .45" is an amusing, visceral modern crime thriller with some fun touches. It acknowledges the debt that all movies of its kind owe to the granddaddy of them all, "Bonnie and Clyde". It also seems influenced by Tarantino, but in truth this was filmed *before* "Natural Born Killers", to which people often compare this one. It wouldn't work quite as well if we didn't like the two main characters to some degree, and "Watty" and Starlene make for a pretty engaging coouple. Granted, he does get annoyed with her towards the end, since it's clear she's enjoying her status as a "celebrity", and sometimes courts trouble.

The whole cast is great in this thing; it's too bad that Bellows and Cochrane never became bigger stars (of course, we all know that Zellweger went on to bigger things). They're supported by a variety of familiar faces. Peter Fonda is a hoot, well cast as a modern hippie who now has to speak using one of those voice generators. Michael Bowen, Jack Nance, Ann Wedgeworth, Wiley Wiggins, and Charlotte Ross round out the cast. It's particularly fun to see Combs outside the horror genre and delivering a flamboyant, priceless performance.

Aided and abetted by its soundtrack, "Love and a .45" is worth a look for those movie lovers who seek out efforts like this that never quite got their due.

Seven out of 10.
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5/10
Okay. I wish for a better sequel.
29 December 2019
A.J. Cook ("Final Destination 2") plays Diana Collins, a university student who is the latest person to inadvertently free the Djinn (John Novak) from his imprisonment inside a precious gem. He spends the majority of the movies' running time masquerading as hapless Professor Barash (Jason Connery, son of Sean C. and Diane Cilento), while aggressively seeking out Diana. As we all know, he has to grant her three wishes before his kind can bring about the destruction of the Earth.

Screenwriter Alexander Wright and director Chris Angel don't bring very much that's fresh to this now familiar formula. For the most part, the script is quite routine and uninspired, the execution basically competent but highly undistinguished. There is still some mild amusement to come from the backfiring wishes granted to supporting and incidental characters, but little imagination is shown. The gore is fairly good, and the visual effects passable.

The Djinn remains an interesting franchise character, but it isn't given great material here. Inheriting the role from Andrew Divoff, Novak is okay - he does seem to be enjoying himself - but he lacks the creepy charisma and genuine sense of malevolence that Divoff displayed. (And, for that matter, so does Connery.) Importantly, Cook does have some appeal as the requisite heroine. The supporting cast is attractive, but lacks any truly interesting features.

The only element here that struck this viewer as amusing - albeit ridiculous - was Dianas' second wish, allowing for a new presence to enter the story. This leads to a bunch of truly silly fight scenes that add to the fact that absolutely none of this should be taken seriously.

Followed by the last sequel to date, "Wishmaster: The Prophecy Fulfilled".

Filmed on the University of Manitoba campus, in Winnipeg, Canada.

Five out of 10.
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Weeds: You Can't Miss the Bear (2005)
Season 1, Episode 1
7/10
A good introduction to these characters.
29 December 2019
Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker) is a suburban "soccer mom" whose husband has recently passed away, and she has resorted to dealing pot in order to make ends meet. Business is reasonably good, but her life isn't free from wrinkles. Her neighbours' daughter (Haley Hudson) has asked permission to have sex with her son (Hunter Parrish), and her younger son (Alexander Gould) is feuding with a bullying peer. She finds out that her friendly young competitor (Justin Chatwin) has been dealing to kids as young as 10, but she does find out something about him that she can use as leverage against him.

Bearing a vague similarity to 'Breaking Bad', except played for laughs, 'Weeds' does show promise with this debut episode. The cast excels at playing these foul-mouthed, lively characters, with Elizabeth Perkins stealing her scenes as the snippy Celia. Parker is quite winning in the role of this unlikely small-time criminal, and the material is generally amusing, with some good and funny lines. "Uh, technically, we're not under your roof." The solid ensemble includes talented funnyman and SNL alum Kevin Nealon, Romany Malco ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), and Tonye Patano ("The Savages").

The suburban setting provides a bright, sunny look for these entertainingly seedy goings-on; the opening song is pretty brutal to listen to, but is fortunately finished quickly. The title of this pilot episode derives from a catch phrase uttered on a TV program watched by some of the principal characters.

Seven out of 10.
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6/10
Don't go out of your way to see this one.
28 December 2019
Just 10 years after the first official big screen adaptation of the legendary Spider-Man comic book, Sony saw fit to reboot the series, with another rehashing of the now familiar origin story. Granted, it plays out with some minor differences, but the end result is pretty much the same.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, inheriting the role from Tobey Maguire) is a high school photographer with an aptitude for science as well. He makes the acquaintance of Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a scientist who was working with Peters' father (Campbell Scott, in a VERY brief cameo). Connors' experiments go seriously awry when he injects himself with a serum derived from lizards, and therefore becomes The Lizard, one of Spidey's familiar nemeses. Peter, who's acquired superhuman abilities after being bitten by a genetically enhanced arachnid, realizes that it's his duty to stop him.

One might as well watch the 2002 film with Maguire, since these filmmakers don't bring anything truly fresh to this material. There's the usual smorgasbord of CGI effects (although director Marc Webb and company supposedly wanted as many practical stunts as possible), and mayhem. The writing isn't particularly good, and indeed some of the dialogue can be rather cringe-inducing. Worst of all, the film makes a waste of some of its acting talent, giving old pros like Sally Field (as Aunt May) and Martin Sheen (as the ill-fated Uncle Ben) little to do. At least Peters' love interest, Gwen Stacy (a radiant Emma Stone), gets to do her own bit during the heroism of the final act. As for Pete / Spidey, Garfield comes off better once in costume and incapacitating bad guys, nailing some of the cockiness of the character. Ifans is good as the well-intentioned (or is he, really?) antagonist who becomes the monster. Denis Leary is okay as a Captain Stacy who criticizes the efforts of this "masked vigilante". And Stan Lee, naturally, has his usual cameo.

If the prospective viewer is a superhero / comic book adaptation junkie, they may derive some entertainment out of this, as unnecessary as it all is. Some of the cast members helped raise this viewers' rating by a point, anyway.

Followed by one more Spidey movie with Garfield; this film is dedicated to the late Laura Ziskin (producer) and J. Michael Riva (production designer).

Six out of 10.
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7/10
A classic espionage yarn.
27 December 2019
"The Riddle of the Sands" tells the story (set in 1901 Europe) of two English chums, Carruthers (Michael York), a clerk in the Foreign Office, and Davies (Simon MacCorkindale), a yachtsman. Davies comes to discover that something sinister involving the Germans may be transpiring, and draws his reluctant friend into the mystery. They work, and work hard, to be discreet while observing the characters with whom they come into contact. Serving as a mild distraction for Davies is the enchanting Clara (Jenny Agutter, at her loveliest), daughter of a German seafarer named Dollmann (Alan Badel).

The source novel by Erskine Childers is considered by buffs to be a prototype for the modern spy thriller, and the film certainly seems quite respectful. It was a dream project for debuting young filmmaker Tony Maylam (who wrote the screenplay with John Bailey); Maylam went on to do the American slasher "The Burning" next. (Definitely an interesting choice for follow-up project.) Period recreation is effective, the storytelling capable, and director Maylam proves capable of generating suspense. One standout sequence has Carruthers and Davies travelling by dinghy to a remote German island through the fog, with only Davies' navigational genius to guide them. The music score by Howard Blake is simply wonderful, combining a real majesty as well as an ominous quality.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with York and MacCorkindale believable as old buddies. Agutter is radiant and appealing, just like always. Badel leads a superb European supporting cast also consisting of Jurgen Andersen, Michael Sheard (Admiral Ozzel in "The Empire Strikes Back"), Hans Meyer, Wolf Kahler (Dietrich in "Raiders of the Lost Ark") as the Kaiser, Olga Lowe, and Ronald Markham.

"The Riddle of the Sands" doesn't seem to be too popular 40 years later, but it does deserve to be better known. As was mentioned, it's more about suspense (and atmosphere), rather than much in the way of action set pieces. Overall, it's worth a look for lovers of the espionage genre.

One of the last few films to be financed by The Rank Organization.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
No great shakes, but still a solid example of its genre.
22 December 2019
"Fort Yuma Gold" offers some good entertainment for lovers of the Spaghetti Western genre, with another charismatic performance by Giuliano Gemma a.k.a. Montgomery Wood. The story & screenplay (credited to six people!) are set after the Civil War has ended, and concern Gary Hammond (Mr. Gemma), an imprisoned Confederate raider who agrees to a dangerous mission. He must inform the people at Fort Yuma that a raid on their fort - and gold reserve - is being planned. During a subplot, he also briefly accompanies a gorgeous blonde saloon singer named Connie Breastfull (!) (played by Sophie Daumier). Among the villains Gary will face: a physically imposing thug named Riggs (Dan Vadis) and the maniacal Southern major Sanders (Jacques Sernas).

"Fort Yuma Gold" delivers to its audience plenty of two-fisted action (including a major barroom brawl) and gunfire, leading to a fairly memorable finale inside a mine. The story may not be anything special, but it holds' one attention capably enough, with some diversions along the way. (Such as performances by sexy female bit players.) It pretty much paints its characters in "black & white" shades, with no doubt as to who the good guys and bad guys are. And the bad guys are pretty good antagonists for this sort of fare. (If you recognize the studly Vadis, it's because he became a regular player in Clint Eastwood movies of the 1970s and early 1980s.) Angel del Pozo is effective as the weaselly Captain Lefevre; this guy might just as well be twirling his moustache constantly. The handsome Gemma is once again a worthy genre hero, and the stunning Ms. Daumier is appealing as his love interest.

The majestic score is credited to both Gianni Ferrio and the great Ennio Morricone, although the story is that the producers borrowed some Morricone compositions from the film "Malamondo" just so they could put his name in the credits. And later, Morricone took them to court over the matter!

Well acted and well photographed, this shows SW admirers a pretty good time.

Seven out of 10.
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Femme Fatale (2002)
7/10
Both De Palma and Romijn-Stamos are in fine form here.
22 December 2019
Brian De Palma crafts a typically engaging erotic thriller, one that has a great deal of respect for film noir and femme fatales of legend (especially "Double Indemnity" and Barbara Stanwyck). Rebecca Romijn-Stamos is quite easy to watch as Laure, a sexy criminal who double crosses her partners during an elaborate robbery (all of this while the Cannes Film Festival is going on). Then she finds an opportunity to live the straight life (and the high life) for a while, until she ends up back in Paris where she's at real risk of having her past come back to haunt her. Sealing her fate is a slightly shady photographer, Nicolas (Antonio Banderas), who is tasked with snapping a picture of her.

While the script itself is not flawless, De Palma still tells a pretty entertaining story, one that holds the viewers' attention regularly. Certainly his filmmaking skill was still quite sharp at this point, especially when one considers the true highlights of the film: that aforementioned jewel robbery, and a scene in a strangers' home. These take place without much dialogue, and it just goes to show how the directors' style can carry scenes practically by itself. The exotic French setting is also a real asset to the picture.

The mostly French cast acquits itself well, with Romijn-Stamos clearly having fun playing a bad girl who knows full well how bad she is. She can really wrap guys around her finger, such as the hapless Nicolas, or Watts (a very likeable Peter Coyote), the nice-guy American ambassador to France. Gregg Henry, a semi-regular in De Palmas' films, is also solid as a strong-arm man working for the ambassador. Eriq Ebouaney has a great screen presence as the formidable criminal mastermind "Black Tie", while Thierry Fremont is amusing as a French police inspector annoyed at having to deal with Nicolas.

One of the more interesting touches occurs around 12 minutes from the end. While some viewers may be annoyed at the use of such a device / revelation, it allows for our main character to second-guess herself, and make different choices.

A must if you are a De Palma fan.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
Mostly worth watching for the middle segment.
20 December 2019
"Room with a View". A sickly middle-aged man (Joseph Wiseman) with a smoking hot young wife (Angel Tompkins) makes a point of getting to know his young nurse (Diane Keaton) a little better. The reason for this is soon made clear, as this is quite a short segment. Unfortunately, it leads to an underwhelming resolution that comes as no great surprise. This is made watchable by the acting (Keaton is cute and adorable, in one of her earliest roles), but is no great shakes. Directed by Jerrold Freedman ("Kansas City Bomber", "Borderline").

"The Little Black Bag". The lengthiest portion of the episode, this is scripted by Rod Serling himself from a story by C.M. Kornbluth. It's wonderfully acted by old pros Burgess Meredith and Chill Wills, as bums who discover a medical bag from the future that has accidentally been sent back to 1971. Meredith, a former doctor, is ecstatic at what this could mean for medicine, but Wills merely wants to make a bundle. This is wrapped up in a very effective and fun way, recalling Serlings' legendary 'Twilight Zone' series in the way that its revelation is so potent. Directed by Jeannot Szwarc ("Jaws 2", "Santa Claus: The Movie").

Finally, "The Nature of the Enemy". Another very short segment starring Joseph Campanella as a man at Mission Control overseeing a rescue mission on the moon. It's great at stressing the mystery element for a while, until it resolves itself with such a funny bit of business that it makes one think that Serling (who also scripted here) was basically just having a bit of goofy fun. Directed by TV veteran Allen Reisner.

Familiar faces in supporting roles and bits include George Furth, Arthur Malet, James Sikking, Albert Popwell, and Jason Wingreen.

Seven out of 10.
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7/10
"You couldn't sell hacksaws in a jail!"
18 December 2019
"The Apple Dumpling Gang" is quite agreeable, providing a generous amount of laughs and excitement as it delivers the Disney formula to a T. Adapted from a novel by Jack M. Bickham, it stars TV legend Bill Bixby as Russel Donavan, a gambler and rogue who shuns responsibility. When he comes into possession of three orphaned kids, he at first tries mightily to dump them on someone else. But surprise, surprise. The scoundrel turns out to be a pretty good parental figure. But the true sparks fly when the kids themselves come into possession of some honest-to-God gold. And naturally, EVERYBODY in town wants to get their hands on that gold, including a notorious outlaw (Slim Pickens) and two incompetent former associates of his, played by top comedy actors Don Knotts and Tim Conway.

The script is brought to life with some real zest, and as usual for Disney, it's a decent example of some good, straightforward storytelling, spiced up with fine period recreation and solid action scenes. But as any fan of this classic can tell you, it's Knotts and Conway that really steal the show. Knotts is perennial flustered straight man to the REALLY dumb Conway, who's hysterical. And of course, their union was fruitful enough to spawn more Knotts-Conway vehicles, some made for Disney, some not.

But the rest of the cast is quite engaging, and full of familiar faces and top character actors & actresses. Susan Clark is feisty fun in a de-glamourized role as a stagecoach driver, and love interest for Donavan. Harry Morgan is great as always, playing the local sheriff / barber / justice of the peace. The three kids are played by the endearing Clay O'Brien (who became a real-life cowboy), Brad Savage, and Stacy Manning. A running joke has Manning constantly needing to run off to urinate. Also to be seen in this most welcome ensemble are David Wayne, John McGiver, Don Knight, Dennis Fimple, Iris Adrian, Fran Ryan, Bing Russell, and Jim Boles. Richard Farnsworth has an uncredited bit as a mover.

Rollicking entertainment, complete with a feel-good theme song.

Followed by a sequel four years later, with Knotts & Conway reprising their roles.

Seven out of 10.
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