Month: June 2020

Movie Review – Housesitter

Category : Movie Review

Director: Frank Oz

Starring: Goldie Hawn, Steve Martin, Dana Delaney

Year: 1992

Housesitter is basically What About Bob 2, but how could that possibly be a bad thing?  What About Bob is one of the (if not the) greatest comedies of all time, so bringing that style back to the big screen is a smart idea no matter how you slice it, as long as you have the cast and the idea to cover your butt.  Frank Oz, almost the exact same music, a big New England house with a round drive, a small town, a kooky catastrophe; the similarities are pretty striking when you watch them unfold, but, again, that’s not a bad thing really, since they didn’t try to make a sequel (which would have failed), they just took the concept and rewrote it, presenting it to us in a different form because they knew we loved it so much the first time around.

Newton Davis is an architect in Boston who recently built a house for a girlfriend, asked her to marry him, and was dumped in turn.  She just wasn’t ready, he’s too much of a nut, but now he doesn’t know what to do; he’s going broke, going nowhere, out of ideas, and slowly spiraling downward.  When he meets the mysterious Gwen, they hit it off right away; she’s smart, funny, weird, a free spirit, and is likely to do anything, including using the information she gets from Davis to go ahead and move into his empty dream home, pretending to be his wife when the townsfolk ask.  It’s a con game that can’t last too long, but when Davis finds out the pair strike a deal; Gwen can keep up the charade if she also helps Davis win back Becky, the girl he can’t forget, the one who broke his heart, but perhaps the woman he’s destined to be with.

If you’re gonna replace Bull Murray and Richard Dreyfuss in an oddball comedy that follows the same path, there probably aren’t two better prospective actors than Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin, geniuses each.  And Hawn really steps up, because she’s not the ditzy blonde this time, she’s the swiftly lying con artist who has everyone right where she wants them, until she starts to fall for Steve Martin, who plays the lovable idiot so very, very well.  The plot is silly, obviously, but man is it funny, with these two leading the charge as the game goes off the deep end and all we can do is watch the main scheme fall apart.  It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s iconic; this movie is simply pure entertainment, from beginning to end.  It’s not quite a perfect performative classic, but it’s a film that holds up all these years later and can definitely highlight a random evening in.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – The Swan Princess

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Rich

Starring: Michelle Nicastro, Howard McGillin, Jack Palance

Year: 1994

In the 90s, my dad, who is a career salesman, worked for Nest Family Entertainment, selling and advertising their series of animated bible stories and also their collection of animated American hero tales.  He would travel to trade shows and expos, play the movies on TV stands, and try to sell sets to churches, schools, families, what have you.  Nest was owned by Richard Rich, a former director for Disney, who followed others like Don Bluth in creating his own animation studio when Disney started going south in the early 90s, before their Renaissance.  Nest would produce, along with Pillsbury and Turner Hone Entertainment, their first feature in 1994, and that film was The Swan Princess.  That’s how I first watched it, I always felt a special connection to it, and now I’ve passed that relationship on to my own kids, who understand that it’s no Little Mermaid, but that it’s also worth seeing.

Heirs to neighboring kingdoms, Odette and Derek were destined to be wedded.  Their parents planned it from the moment the little boy met the baby girl, it just made too much sense not to agree to, the two nations becoming one, united forever by the bond of love.  One small problem though; Derek and Odette hated each other.  They were forced to spend the summers together, forced to fall for one another, but that only drove them further apart, until the year they both grew up, saw each other properly, and finally felt a real connection.  But just as all the pieces seemed to be falling into place, the evil Rothbart attacked, killing the King and taking Odette as a prisoner.  He turned her into a swan with his dark magic, and with an eye toward obtaining her kingdom, but Derek vowed to find her some day, if he had to spend his whole life searching for the girl he grew to love.

The story is based on Swan Lake, with some clever Disney-style plot lines thrown in for originality, and the entire thing feels like a real, old-fashioned tale, not some second-rate animated clunker.  Very few saw this film, but it’s better than some Disney flops, and at least holds its own with some of the Disney Princess musicals.  Speaking of the music, that might be the best part, with memorable songs that are stronger than you’d think: This is My Idea, Practice Practice Practice, Far Longer than Forever (the big number), No Fear.  A couple of the songs are dumb, but most are solid, and the overall score is pretty great too.  The voice talent is a roller coaster, mostly filled with no-names, but with a few celebrity cameos: Jack Palance, John Cleese, Steven Wright, Sandy Duncan.  The animation is on par with others from the 90s, the climaxes are intense, the animals are fun, there’s humor blended with fantasy, it’s quite a nice little package, and it’s too bad it didn’t get more attention, because it’s worth your notice.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Sorceress

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jack Hill

Starring: Leigh Harris, Lynette Harris, Roberto Nelson

Year: 1982

There’s fun-bad and then there’s plain-bad, and Sorceress is so far gone into the dark pit that is the latter category that it almost ceases to be a movie anymore, becoming pure torture instead.  I know I’ve said before that we want a little silly from our 80s fantasy, that we want a little wrong and messy and goofy and fun, but that can be taken too far, and this film can be taken as an example.  Everything that something like Beastmaster or Conan or Red Sonja does right, Sorceress does wrong, showing that you really do need a little talent to pull off a b-movie, that you can’t just shovel ideas into a hopper and hope sparks catch.  This is a cool idea gone wrong if ever there was one, and you should stay far, far away.

Twins Mira and Mara don’t know who their parents are and don’t even know that they are girls; they’ve been supremely sheltered all their lives in order to keep them safe.  Their mother was killed by their father when he attempted to learn which of the twins was first born so he could sacrifice her, and they’ve been living in secret ever since.  Now he’s back and wants to gain ultimate power through dark magic, so he’ll need his daughters again, which the light side can’t let happen, or all will fall evil’s way.  The girls team up with an unlikely band of misfits, but a group who are true and brave, and who vow to keep them safe no matter the cost.

I’m a fan of the silly 80s fantasy genre, but this is going too far.  You have to see it to believe it; the voices that seem like dubbing, the acting that’s as good as a middle school play, the story that must have been made up one night when everyone involved was high as a kite.  It’s a movie that makes absolutely no sense and is so stupid you feel insulted that it actually exists.  And what’s more, it’s really sexual, but like a soft core porn that wasn’t even brave enough to go far enough to get on Cinemax.  I guess that should have been entertaining, but it wasn’t, it was just creepy, because you get the sense that no one knows how far they’re supposed to be going, what buttons they’re supposed to be pressing.  It’s a disaster from beginning to end, stocked with the pieces that we think we would want, but delivered in such a way that all of them feel kinda funky and basically gross.

My rating: ☆



Movie Review – Dragonslayer

Category : Movie Review

Director: Matthew Robbins

Starring: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke

Year: 1981

Dragonslayer is more Ladyhawke than Beastmaster, and that makes all the difference.  It was released in 1981, so it’s a frontrunner of the cheesy fantasy genre than dominated the decade, and which I happen to love, but it also missed several marks, in part perhaps because it didn’t have many others to draw from.  Or perhaps, looking back, the sillier movies of that style work better than the ones that took themselves too seriously; watching now, what we really want are spells, warriors, biceps, boobs, and all the trashy content that b-movies can deliver so well and so wonderfully.  This film isn’t exactly “b”; it’s more an attempt at something that it was never going to achieve, and therefore becomes one of the genre that you can definitely miss.

Galen is a young wizarding apprentice learning from an aged master, and there’s a real chance he’ll turn into a great magician in the future, if he continues to study.  One day, a band of men come from a nearby kingdom to request the wizard’s aid in defeating a dragon.  Their land has been the dragon’s territory for years, and their king has decided to sacrifice a virgin girl to the monster twice a year, for which the dragon remains pacified.  But when the wizard sets out on the journey to help the villagers, he dies, leaving Galen to take up the quest.  He’ll have to use his wits as well as his magic, and he’ll need the aid of the brave Valerian, if he’s to destroy the threat before he is destroyed himself.

If they had just made Dragonslayer more of a comedy I think it might have worked; as it is the entire thing fails miserably.  It’s not funny or even slightly over-the-top, it’s not that fun romp that we’ve come to expect, that enjoyable experience that’s silly but so entertaining.  This was one of the first, it didn’t have that formula perhaps, and maybe it was better at the time, I don’t know, I was -2, but watching it back it simply doesn’t carry the same weight as some that have the unique quality to become cult classics.  I expected MacNicol to be better, or at least a little goofier, since that became his persona; I guess he wasn’t there yet.  He just can’t lead the cast, the plot is stupid, not enough really happens, and there’s nothing to really hold on to or hold up, to declare a success, not even the smallest pieces.  I do see a little Lord of the Rings in it, so maybe it borrowed from Tolkien, and maybe Peter Jackson borrowed from it, but even that connection didn’t make a difference; this film can go ahead and be forgotten.

My rating: ☆



Movie Review – The Beastmaster

Category : Movie Review

Director: Don Coscarelli

Starring: Marc Singer, Tanya Roberts, Rip Torn

Year: 1982

Fantasy movies made in the 80s featuring heroes and heroines in loin cloths and fur is a spectacularly entertaining genre of film, and one of my personal favorites.  I am by no means an expert, especially since I was only born in 1983, so missed experiencing them immediately and first hand, but I’ve tried to make up for lost time, and I’ve tried to seek out both the best & the baddest the style has to offer.  There are few better than Beastmaster, a recipe for others to follow if what they’re trying to make is pure sword-swinging fun, clad in as little clothing as decently possible.  This movie is solid gold, b-level enjoyment, and it helped set the stage for many more to follow, so bravo to Beastmaster.

As a child, Dar was magical ripped away from his mother before his birth, in an attempt to assassinate the heir to the kingdom that he would someday rule.  The plan failed partially when Dar was saved from death at the last moment by a villager, who raised the boy as his own with no knowledge of his heritage.  Years later, when his community is destroyed by an evil, pillaging people, Dar seeks his vengeance, only to find his bloody past wrapped up in the kingdom’s troubled present.  The twisted Maax still wishes to rule all the world, it was he who tried to eliminate our hero, and it is he who will fall to Dar when the prodigal son returns to claim what is rightfully his.

Deathstalker, Barbarian Queen, Red Sonja, Conan, Sorceress, Hundra; you know what you’re getting into if you dive into this genre, it’s one hell of a ridiculous good time, but worth every minute.  The movies are short, fantasy-based, larger than life, there are boobs and bloodbaths and myths and monsters and shirtless heroes; it’s a romp that you don’t want to end.  Beastmaster is the cream of the crop as far as I’m concerned, an insanely enjoyable joke of a flick that somehow works because it never takes itself seriously.  And, what’s more, there are pieces that actually work, namely the first half, which is filled with smart, gruesome, and downright scary moments, so good sometimes that you forget what era you’re in.  By the end the story has gone to hell in a hand basket, but it hardly matters then; you’ve already met Dar’s animal companions and you love every one of those guys.  Beastmaster is just awesome, not perfect, so don’t judge it too harshly, but respect it for the doors that it helped open and the thrills it can still give willing audiences.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – 365 Days

Category : Movie Review

Director: Barbara Bialowas, Tomasz Mandes

Starring: Anna Maria Sieklucka, Michele Morrene

Year: 2020

Until now, we might have used Fifty Shades as an insult to other movies, to mean that they were sexy but stupid, appealed to bored housewives maybe but didn’t have a cinematic bone in their bloated bodies.  Well, we now have a new movie to use as an insult, and it’s so much worse than any moronic romantic flick that has come before that we’re going to have to create a new category that it can inhabit all on its own, just to signify how bad it really is.  365 Days is not a film, it’s also not porn, it’s not even fiction; there’s not a word in the English language that would describe it, which is probably a good thing, because that word would immediately be outlawed.  Just when 2020 couldn’t get any more terrible, along came this, a film that will go down as perhaps the single worst feature that anyone has ever willingly watched.

Massimo is the hunky head of a Sicilian Mafia family, after his father is killed and he takes over the business.  He is ruthless, angry, dominating, and forceful, always getting what he wants in the business world or in the bedroom.  Laura is a Polish businesswoman, young and successful, beautiful and determined.  When the pair happen to catch each other’s eye at an airport, their fates become linked, and only time stands in the way of being together.  But the road there is bumpy, to say the least; Massimo kidnaps Laura, making her his slave, vowing not to take her until she is ready, but promising that they will eventually fall in love.  As the nights heat up, she becomes less a prisoner and more a trophy, and he her loving master.

After you read this review destroy it as soon as you can, cancel all record that you ever heard of this movie, and run far, far away, before you become curious enough to watch it.  I was weak, I heard it mentioned enough times that I was intrigued, and hey I wanted to see hot people doing it Fifty Shades style, nothing wrong with that.  But 365 Days isn’t a film, it just isn’t, it’s something much worse than that, like a skit with money or a mad scientist with bad taste and a government grant.  It’s so much worse that you can imagine; no plot, no acting, no talent, no shits given, it’s just one giant mess masquerading as a steamy thriller.  I mean, it’s sexy in a certain way, but also repugnant at the same time, and you won’t get what you want out of it; just go watch some porn instead, it’s better quality and at least you’ll get some money shots.  It’s almost as if something was lost in translation, like instructions for an Asian toy that make no sense when changed over into English; someone should have left this terrible idea alone where they found it and spared us all this misery.

My rating: ☆


Movie Review – Dirty Dancing

Category : Movie Review

Director: Emile Ardolino

Starring: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach

Year: 1987

Apparently I’ve learned to love Patrick Swayze, because I’ve recently revisited Ghost and Dirty Dancing and I’ve been blown away both times.  Whoopi was amazing of course, and so was Jennifer Grey, but Swayze has a magic that can’t be defined, and it’s a tragedy that he’s no longer with us.  The Outsiders, Grandview USA, Red Dawn, North and South, Dirty Dancing, Road House, Ghost, Point Break, To Wong Foo, Donnie Darko; he had one hell of a career.  He was at his best when he was a sensitive strong man, an emotional mountain, an example of all the positive parts of masculinity, with so much love underneath the exterior that the handsome outside becomes nothing compared to the beauty within.  That’s how he appeared to us, that’s how he still seems every time we pop in a tape, and that’s a legacy that will live on.  Because of this, and because so many other pieces worked so spectacularly, Dirty Dancing is not just great but reaches an all-time level that may be surprising but can’t be denied.

In 1963, the Houseman family goes on vacation to Kellerman’s, an upper-class resort in upstate New York.  It promises to be two weeks of bingo, charades, fine dining, and a good amount of dance, as the resort hires professionals to teach groups as well as run one-on-one sessions.  It’s less exciting than it sounds, since dance at Kellerman’s is still stuck in the 50s, even if the instructors aren’t.  The youngest Houseman, everyone calls her Baby, is heading off to college in the fall but has yet to experience anything exciting in this world; her family is boring, Jewish, her dad’s a doctor, her whole future is planned, it’s all going well, it’s just so dull.  But then she meets the staff, who have a whole community parallel to that of the guests, and it’s a whole different world.  Even the way they dance is so sexy, so vibrant, so full of life, and Johnny Castle is at the center of it all, this alpha male with the heart of a puppy dog.  When his dance partner gets “in trouble”, Baby steps in to join Johnny in a routine for the area hotels, but also finds herself falling in love with a boy who is definitely from the wrong side of the tracks.

I’m not sure how to put this other than to say I fell for this movie hard.  Sure I’d seen in, it was a common TBS feature, I’ve seen pieces of it a hundred times and probably watched it all the way through at least once or twice.  But perhaps I wasn’t ready, perhaps none of us were, for, while Dirty Dancing might be a bit of a cult classic, I still don’t think it gets the respect it deserves as a downright masterpiece.  The coming-of-age tale, the campground setting, the romance in the air, the struggles with right & wrong, and my god the music and the dance; it’s rare to get things this right.  How they made this a 60s and an 80s movie at the same time I’ll never know, and how they pulled off this amount of dance without coming off as silly is perhaps even more shocking.  The heart of the movie is simply pure; this is love, this is growing up, this is making mistakes, this is falling head over heels, this is learning how to like yourself.  And the little pieces add up too; the soundtrack, the sex appeal, the side characters, the smooth quickness of the pace, the sense of honesty within every little detail.  I might adore Patrick Swayze now, but Jennifer Grey was an absolute star in this film, a perfect vehicle for us to go on this journey with, a naive but well-intentioned little rich girl who had so much to learn.  The chemistry was perfect, the mood was exactly right, the story sweeps us off our feet; Dirty Dancing is really the stuff of legends, no matter how you look at it.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Da 5 Bloods

Category : Movie Review

Director: Spike Lee

Starring: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters

Isiah Whitlock Jr, Norm Lewis, Chadwick Boseman, Johnny Nguyen

Year: 2020

Spike Lee has done better and will do better, believe that, but Da 5 Bloods is a whoops where  BlacKkKlansman was a wow, a clumsy misstep from a director who we know can move much more smoothly.  His messages have never been subtle, but he’s talented enough to pull off being brave, we respect him for being honest, invigorating, and original.  But everyone makes mistakes, and this Netflick is Lee’s.  It’s somewhat rushed, surprisingly clumsy, and never feels like a real film, more like a brainstorm that an artist might have had but wasn’t able to translate fully, or perhaps a melding of ideas that was never going to work as one complete product.  However you dice it, Da 5 Bloods simply isn’t great.

Four friends, all veterans of the Vietnam War, or the American War as it’s called there, have returned to the place they lost their commanding officer in a quest to find his grave, and ultimately bring him home.  Being black men in the Vietnam War was a struggle of conscience, as their brothers back home were being killed in the streets fighting for their rights, while their brothers in arms in the jungle were killing the Vietnamese people in war that the United States had no business being in.  It was a time of confusion, and losing their commander only threw the four friends further into chaos.  Along with the body, the group hopes to recover a trove of gold they buried as well, at the same site and at the same time.  But local politics and ancient wounds will make this mission a disastrous one, and anyone who makes it home with his life will be considered one of the lucky ones.

I’ve seen people proposing that this film can at once be extremely flawed and quite good.  Now, I’m willing to see that, I’d definitely want to see that if I was trying to give the benefit of the doubt to a director who was my personal favorite, or to someone who I knew was trying to get the right message across, even if the delivery wasn’t perfect.  But I have a hard time going that route with this film; I just think it’s too messed up.  The acting isn’t great, the editing is bad, the deaths are ridiculous, the plots are jumbled, Chadwick Boseman feels out of place, and the side characters are distracting: Melanie Thierry & Jeno Reno as the French, Jasper Paakkkonen & Paul Walter Hauser as the sidekicks.  There are like a dozen important roles within the story, a handful of angles within the main plot, and about a hundred different lessons we’re supposed to be learning.  A history refresher, a brotherhood drama, a war tale, a thriller, modern political commentary; this film wears too many hats, and so can’t keep its head straight.

My rating: ☆ ☆


Movie Review – Pinocchio

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Starring: Dickie Jones, Cliff Edwards, Christian Rub

Year: 1940

Disney’s second animated release, coming three years after the debut of Snow White, Pinocchio shows positive changes while still holding strong to the groundwork that the company laid with their first five features, rounded out by Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi.  Then WWII came and major works were put on hold for a while, until the 50s, but those original five are as solid as solid gets, and, what’s more, re-watch extremely well.  Pinocchio in particular is both bold and comfortable, layering in lyrics and lessons in waves until audiences are mesmerized with music and morals.  It’s a fantastic movie that views just as well in any decade, an early gem with a message for the masses that we can still afford to listen to today.

Geppetto is a simple toy maker and wood carver, living with a fish and a cat in a quiet village, longing for one of his marionettes to become a real live boy, so that he can finally have a companion in his old age.  He makes a wish upon a star, and the most marvelous thing happens; his wish comes true.  Well, halfway anyway; the wooden boy, Pinocchio, comes to life, but he’s not a real boy yet, first he has to prove himself brave, selfless, and honest.  As he enters the world for the first time, Pinocchio is tempted to walk many false paths by many false prophets, and it’s harder to stay true to one’s word than he would have thought.  To become fully human, he’ll have to learn his lessons well, and quickly, before his foolhardy mistakes take him too far down the wrong road.

What a lovely re-visit, and what a wonderful story, surrounded on all sides by magical moments to remember for a lifetime.  Pinocchio, Geppetto, Jiminy Cricket, Cleo, Figaro, Stromboli, The Coachman, Gideon & Honest John, the Blue Fairy; so many characters to adore.  And the songs are better than they get credit for: When You Wish Upon A Star, Give A Little Whistle, Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee, I’ve Got No Strings, and even Little Wooden Head.  The morals are strong, the pace is quick for an oldie, and the animation, wow, it’s a great step in the right direction.  Pinocchio is prime Disney, unheralded for all it does so well, but not to be denied.  Re-watch with confidence and with your family, because films this fantastic don’t come around every day.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Equilibrium

Category : Movie Review

Director: Kurt Wimmer

Starring: Christian Bale, Taye Diggs, Angus Macfadyen

Year: 2002

If you were looking for a knock off version of The Matrix starring a better actor but directed by someone with no taste, look no further than Equilibrium, the poor man’s dystopia where everything is stupid.  Had this film not starred Christian Bale, it would either be the most ridiculed movie in history or completely dismissed without a ripple to show it ever existed; it’s his presence, combined with that patented Matrix feel, that got audiences in their seats.  That he’s a better actor than Keanu Reeves isn’t even debatable, but his talent wasn’t enough to propel Equilibrium out of the sewers and into the light, since its story was stolen and its director was pathetic.  No, this movie should have been forgotten or never seen at all, or else mocked until its dying day; it’s bleak-future sci-fi at its very worst, and that’s a long drop.

War has been cancelled.  Crime has been eliminated.  The hate that drove us apart has been removed, thanks to a powerful new regime that preaches calm above all things.  The only price; your feelings about anything.  In fact, feelings are illegal, you are not allowed to sense anything beyond the most basic, physical stimuli.  No love, no art, no tears, no emotion, and so no problems, right?  Yet there are still those who insists on feeling, and on refusing to take their hourly drug dose, an injection that dumbs down all desires, until almost the entire populace is a docile herd.  It’s John Preston’s job to hunt down those who defy the law on feeling, and he’s a highly-trained killing machine, a priest for a modern age where guns have replaced crosses as the symbol of ultimate good.  That is, until he begins to have emotions himself, a turn of events that leads him down the path to personal freedom and public execution.

The Matrix combined with Gattaca and any dystopian book you ever read in a high school English class, Equilibrium is only outdone in its blatant thievery by its crappy, crappy delivery.  It even has a shootout scene among a hall of pillars, with armored troops being riddled with bullets while our hero does his bloody work.  It’s insane the amount that this is an idiotic version of that ground-breaking film, to a point where it’s insulting to anyone who’s ever watched a movie.  The story relies heavily on the emotionless robot society trope we know very well, and then the entire thing jumps the shark with overzealous action sequences and insane death parties.  You can almost forgive it because it seems like it wants to go too far, but then no, you still have to watch it, even if it’s intentional, and the watching is the hardest part.  If it weren’t for Bale, this would be the comic disaster of the century; even with him it was a nightmare of farce attempting to balance itself with fighting.  Diggs, Macfadyan, Sean Bean for a bit, Emily Watson for some reason, William Fichtner who is in everything; what a weird cast, and an even weirder world they were placed in.  Some might call Equilibrium a cult classic, because it’s so grossly ridiculous, but where something like American Psycho worked around the same time going farther than we thought would be comfortable, this film fails to pull off that feat, becoming simply too far gone.

My rating: ☆