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A Cinematic Blast
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez take us back to the good old days of the drive-in B movie double feature. Complete with fake movie trailers and the scratches and pops common in older films, Grindhouse is an entertaining look back for those of us old enough to remember the drive- ins of that era. I'd consider it an entertaining first look for those who aren't.
Planet Terror, directed by Robert Rodriguez, is set during a man-made zombie apocalypse. A bio weapon created by the army turns people into flesh eaters. A small band of survivors tries to stop the soldiers and the end result of their weapon while escaping with their lives. Tarantino and Bruce Willis both appear as soldiers. Rose McGowan has a gun for a leg. Does anybody else that's kinda hot?
Death Proof, directed by Quentin Tarantino, is set in Tennessee with Kurt Russell as a scarred stunt man using his car to murder women. Tarantino appears again as a bar owner.
If you're an aficionado of 60's and 70's movies, you'll see little nods to several throughout. Checkout Grindhouse, it's a trip.
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
I was initially drawn to this movie by James Woods. He's been my favorite actor for many years. Then the story drew me in further.
The five beautiful Lisbon sisters are living in a virtual prison run by their fanatically religious parents (Woods, Kathleen Turner). Things go from bad to worse when one of the girls commits suicide.
Josh Hartnett was pretty fresh off his very solid performance in The Faculty. Here he plays Trip Fontaine, a school football player. Kirsten Dunst plays Lux Lisbon, the object of his affection.
When Trip and three friends manage to get permission to take the sisters to the homecoming dance, this is when things take a little turn for the bizarre. Lux arrives home way after curfew and their parents, particularly their mother, lock them down even tighter.
The scene I found the most touching was the girls and the boys communicating by phone using records to say what they wanted to say. The story was set in 1974 so yes, records.
On the whole, the movie was a real downer. No happy ending for anyone. As I write this, I've not read the book, so I have no basis for comparison there. I will say that the time I spent watching this movie was time well spent. The actors turned in top flight performances and Sofia Coppola's career as a movie director flew out of the gate with this movie.
Slums of Beverly Hills (1998)
Does Poor Mean Poor?
Slums of Beverly Hills is one of those movies that can make you laugh and touch your heart within the same scene.
The beautiful and talented Natasha Lyonne plays the part of Vivian who, with her brothers and her father (Alan Arkin), skip from one cheap apartment to another trying to stay within the Beverly Hills city limits. Murray (Arkin) likes the schools.
Vivian has her own issues to deal with. She hates that they move so much, she hates that they're poor, she hates her boobs. But she likes Eliot (Kevin Corrigan), the pot dealer next door.
As if all this isn't enough, enter Rita (Marisa Tomei), Vivian's promiscuous, drinking, pill popping cousin. Her father doesn't know what to do with her, so Murray offers to take her in, if her father will finance a bigger and nicer apartment for them. One disaster follows another as their family situation implodes. Carl Reiner and Rita Moreno have a cameo as Rita's parents.
There is a moral to the story. Money doesn't buy happiness. We've all heard that one before. It proves true in this case, as Vivian and her amusingly dysfunctional family do have one thing her rich relatives do not. When all's said and done, they have each other.
Dead & Buried (1981)
A Classic Piece of 80's Horror
A classic, low budget, living dead horror film, Dead & Buried takes place in the fictitious little town of Potter's Bluff. James Farentino plays the role of Sheriff Dan Gillis, the local lawman trying to solve a string of violent murders taking place within the town. Jack Albertson is suitably creepy in the role of William G. Dobbs, the local funeral director/undertaker with a God complex.
During his investigation, Dan finds a book on black magic and witchcraft his wife Janet (Melody Anderson) has hidden in a drawer. He starts to wonder if there's black magic involved in the recent murders. He's proved right as the corpses of the recently killed are being reanimated. This leads to a confrontation between the sheriff and the undertaker. Some surprising truths are revealed leading to the twisty ending.
Look for some familiar faces among the townspeople. Bill Quinn, Barry Corbin and a pre Freddy Krueger Robert Englund all appear in the film. The special effects are not great by today's standards, but were pretty state of the art for the time. On the whole, I found the movie fascinating and I believe it has done George Romero proud.
Check this one out if you can, I think you'll be equal measures pleased and creeped out.
Night of the Demon (1980)
Of Its Era.
Night of the Demon (not to be confused with Night of the Demons from 1987) is one of those movies you either enjoy or despise. It's pretty typical of the multiple murders in the woods type movie the 80's had many of. There are no Oscar caliber performances here, though I'm sure the title alone will tell you that.
Professor Nugent and several of his students set out into the woods in pursuit of a legendary creature said to prowl the area. Enter Bigfoot, some strange townspeople, some of whom worship the Bigfoot creature, and one hermit lady who had been raped years earlier by the creature.
The whole story is told by the professor who, as it turns out, is the only survivor of Bigfoot's wrath besides Wanda the hermit lady. The doctors and the cops listen to his story and ultimately decide he's crazy.
If you happen to be an aficionado of the 80's horror genre, you could do better than this, but you also do worse.
I Regret It Took Me So Long
I just saw this amazing film for the first time today. This is several months after I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar winning performance in Capote. Hoffman earned that Oscar, no question. I believe Toby Jones' performance was unfairly lost in the shadow.
Upon hearing of the murders of the Clutter family in Kansas, Capote, along with close friend Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), travel there to get responses from the locals. Upon the arrest of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, Capote takes his novel in a different direction. He wants to get the story from the source.
Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) speaks openly, Perry Smith (an unrecognizable Daniel Craig) is closed and suspicious. Capote spends much of the film trying to establish a relationship with him. What starts as a love/hate relationship evolves into one of trust and respect and, dare I say it, love. Not romantic to be sure, but love nonetheless.
The whole story, from meeting the two killers for the first time, until their eventual execution set the stage for the remainder of Capote's life and death less than 20 years later. The ending, so very simple, speaks volumes.
But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)
You Can't Not Be Touched By This Movie.
I'm usually not a person who goes for romantic comedy or romantic drama for that matter. There have been a few exceptions over the years. This was one of them.
One evening I was channel flipping and came across But I'm a Cheerleader on the Indie Channel. What the hell, there wasn't much else on so I decided to watch. Natasha Lyonne plays Megan, all-American cheerleader and all around good girl. John Waters fans, Mink Stole plays her mother. Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) plays her father. Suspecting Megan is gay, they stage an intervention with her friends and Mike from True Directions, played hilariously by RuPaul not in drag.
The True Directions campus is every stereotype you could imagine. Pink for the girls, blue for the boys among other things. Here, Megan meets Graham (the amazing Clea DuVall) and begins her journey through sexual re-identification or whatever you want to call it.
Other faces you may recognize, Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull), Melanie Lynskey (Rose from Two and a Half Men), Eddie Cibrian (who plays one of the gayest characters in the movie), and Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court).
All around, I found this movie campy, silly, funny, touching, a little of everything. When, in spite of the best (or worst) attempts to turn her around, Megan embraces and owns who she is and professes her love for Graham, I was left utterly raw. But in a good way. Three subsequent times I watched the movie and felt the same way. If this movie doesn't touch, you have no heart. For the record, I'm a straight, bearded, tattooed, Republican veteran.
The Night Listener (2006)
I just saw this gem, in its entirety, for the first time. I regret that it took me so long, but better late than never.
Robin Williams plays radio host Gabriel Noon, a nighttime radio host who spins yarns for his listeners. He is given a book written by a young cancer patient and begins an over-the-phone friendship with the young man. As time passes, he wishes to meet him in person. However, to his increasing frustration, fate seems to work against him. As more time passes, he begins to wonder if the boy even exists or if he is simply a creation of his adoptive mother.
Robin Williams plays Gabriel surprisingly subdued manner. But he does an excellent job bringing his pain, frustration and anger forth in such a way that you can't help but feel it right along with him.
Toni Collette plays Donna Logand. Is she a fan? An antagonist? A little bit of both perhaps? Rory Culkin supplies the voice of Gabriel's young fan, Pete Logand. Sandra Oh is Gabriel's friend Anna, who tries to help him unwind this incredibly twisted tale.
I had been wanting to see this movie for several months now and I'm happy the opportunity finally arose. I believe Robin did a wonderful job in this role. You like a mystery with a twist? Check out The Night Listener. Pardon the misspelling of Gabriel's last name. IMDb keeps auto correcting me.
The Twilight Zone: Escape Clause (1959)
A Personal Favorite.
Walter Bedeker, hypochondriac, thinks every germ in the city is zeroing in on him. According to him, his doctor's a quack and his wife's a nag. He feels cheated, as though his life is nothing more than an insignificant blurb in the great scheme of things.
Enter Mr. Cadwallader. He has an offer that will be very difficult for Mr. Bedecker to refuse. Immortality in exchange for his soul. After some back & forth haggling, Bedeker agrees. But he finds it's not all it's cracked up to be. No thrill in it for him.
David Wayne plays Walter Bedeker as an whining, overbearing blowhard, which suits the character pretty well. Thomas Gomez does an excellent job as Mr. Cadwallader. He plays his devilish role as something of a sleazy salesman who knows just what to say to make the deal. He also gets the last very hearty laugh at Bedeker's expense. As Rod Serling showed us many times during the run of the show, the grass really isn't greener on the other side.
Psycho Cop Returns (1993)
Vickers is back.
Bobby Ray Shafer and his wisecracking, satanic alter ego Officer Joe Vickers did their second go around in this almost comedic horror movie.
Instead of chasing college kids through the woods, he's invading a clandestine bachelor party in an office building. After overhearing two of the office drones talking about the upcoming festivities (Cop cliché, he's having coffee and a doughnut at the time), he toys with them in his own disturbing way and leaves.
Opening credits and a police cruiser full of human body parts with satanic symbols drawn in blood. Now don't you figure a casual passerby would have noticed? Oh well, no point in over-analyzing.
Larry (Rod Sweitzer) and his paranoid buddy Brian (Miles Dougal) make their way to their crummy jobs in a depressing office building with a terminally grouchy boss, excited over the possibilities the evening holds.
Booze and strippers abound, not to mention two office workers carrying on in the copy room. Enter the uninvited guest with murder on his mind. Laughing and slashing his way through the building, Officer Vickers like the first movie, has a one-liner for every occasion. Sometimes two or three. He also has some pretty creative ways of taking out his victims.
The ending was a cliffhanger, but no third movie has materialized.
I have to admit, I actually found this one more enjoyable than the first. Though I can't help but be curious where Joe in the three or four years that had passed. Oh well, I'm over-analyzing again. If you want to enjoy a couple of campy slasher flicks, spend an evening with Officer Joe Vickers.
Psycho Cop (1989)
Not quite what I expected.
I went into this expecting some cheesy Maniac Cop knockoff. But Joe Vickers (played by Bobby Ray Shafer) and Matt Cordell (played by the late Robert Z'Dar) are two very different animals. Cordell was an undead cop out for vengeance. Vickers is a devil worshiping cop who's out for blood. Cordell committed his killings with not a word spoken. Vickers has a cheesy one-liner (or two, or three) for every occasion.
Psycho Cop was also a bit more formulaic. The typical 80's horror movies, as a general rule, included a bunch of horny young people at a camp site or a house, always out in the woods. Easy targets for a killer.
Some of the more annoying parts of this flick are the overuse of the word paranoid (in all its forms), the many references to the caretaker (Vickers' first victim), and the highly unlikely way Vickers met his demise.
On the whole, I found the movie quite enjoyable in a "so bad it's good" kind of way. But, if I had to choose between Joe Vickers and Matt Cordell, I choose Cordell hands down.
A Comedic Twilight Zone
I've seen this lighthearted episode several times and, I must admit, it never gets old.
Silent screen legend Buster Keaton plays the part of Woodrow Mulligan, a janitor working for an inventor back in 1890. He's dissatisfied with his job and the world around him as he sees it as becoming increasingly expensive and dangerous. After overhearing his boss and his helper talking about his latest invention, a time travel helmet, Mulligan decides to try it for himself. He propels himself 72 years into the future and a crazier and more dangerous place than he had left.
While there, he meets Rollo played by Stanley Adams (you may not know his name, but you've no doubt seen his face). Rollo imagines 1890 as the more desirable time. After having the helmet repaired, both men find their way back to 1890. Mulligan is quite content to be back, but Rollo misses the modern conveniences 1962 had to offer.
This episode was played mostly for laughs but, as with every Twilight Zone, there was a lesson to be learned from it. Both Mulligan and Rollo may have had their own ideas about how they imagined a different time than their own, but that doesn't mean they'll be happy there. Big thumbs up to Richard Matheson and Rod Serling.
The Twilight Zone: A Game of Pool (1961)
One of Rod Serling's best.
Jesse Cardiff is an arrogant and frustrated pool shark. He's beaten everyone whose ever entered the pool hall. But he suffers the inevitable comparisons to the legendary Fats Brown. Fats, however, had died 15 years prior. Jack Klugman made his second appearance on the Twilight Zone in the role of Cardiff. He does an excellent job showing the anger and frustration of Jesse Cardiff, a man whose let his life pass him by in order to prove himself the best.
However, that's not good enough. Alone in the pool hall, he says aloud that he would give anything to play Fats Brown. Enter the man himself. Jonathan Winters shows that he's much more than a comedian in the role of Fats. He agrees to a game with Cardiff, but the stakes are very high. Namely Jesse's life. All the while Fats tries to convince Jesse there is more to life than pool. He also warns him to be careful what he wishes for. He just might get it.
Rod Serling made it one of his trademarks to include a moral message in his episodes. He put a good one in this episode.
A Little Shaky.
This could've been a pretty interesting episode. In the right role, Kirstie Alley is a pretty fair actress. This was clearly not the right role. As out-for-herself reporter Jane L., she came across as though she wanted every line to stand out. In other words, she over acted.
Andy Summers, legendary Police guitarist, and the man who supplied the original music for this episode, was a fine counterbalance to Alley's annoyingly over-the-top performance. His little swing on Billy B's guitar was a nice added bonus.
Brad Dourif did the best job with his role as Billy Baltimore Jr. I've seen him act in several different movies and have never been disappointed. Standing in for his supposedly dead father, Billy Jr. did the 60's thing with a lot of flair.
On the whole, this was far from the strongest episode in The Hitchhiker series. However the positives, though barely, outweigh the negatives.
This dark, somewhat comedic episode contains two things I never thought I'd see. A zombified Travis Tritt holding his head on and Ben Stein cursing. I don't know which one I found stranger.
Hank Azaria and Travis Tritt are Richard and Charlie, two highly inept security guards working the night shift at a local morgue. They team up with a crazy doctor named Orloff, played by Austin Pendleton. He's obsessed with finding the gland where the soul resides. Charlie struggles with his conscience while Richard looks to fatten his wallet. The wacky doctor discovers the soul gland cannot be harvested from a person already deceased. By season 6, it's pretty clear the series is waning, however this is episode is definitely one of the best of the season. My hat's off to Travis Tritt, he stole the show here.
What could've been.
Done right, this could've been an incredible episode. It could possibly have been a pretty worthy horror movie. After a fairly intense beginning, it became choppy and confused. It was as if pieces of the story were left on the cutting room floor.
A little explanation of what happened to Elliott between departing the hospital and his second attempt at his experiment would have been helpful. What did he do? Where did the bodies come from? Were they significant in some way? Also, what did he see in the book? Was there a big rush to get this episode out? Would someone on the production staff mind explaining that one?
In my opinion, there was one bright spot. Roger Ashton-Griffiths. The character of Valdemar Tymrak could've given Freddy Krueger nightmares. A little more of him would not have hurt.