Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Thursday's Game (1974)


ABC Circle Films
Directed by Robert Moore
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(VHS, Starmaker/Anchor Bay)

Gene Wilder is a struggling TV producer in NYC. He hangs out with pal Bob Newhart one night a week, ostensibly for a poker game but mostly to get away from their wives. He eventually loses his job and consults employment agency head Nancy Walker to find a new one. His marriage gradually disintegrates and he contemplates an affair. Old pal Newhart gets up the courage to leave his wife, claiming to have become a homosexual. Wilder wonders whether or not it is true, a plot point not fully explored, but certainly open to question after their weekly nights out. Slow-moving, dated comedy-drama, bolstered by an eclectic cast and Wilder's usual commanding, yet gentle, screen persona. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Let No Man Write My Epitaph (1960)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Philip Leacock
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Teen James Darren lives with his single mom Shelley Winters in a crime ridden Chicago neighborhood. She loses her job as a waitress and starts working in a bar, where she hooks up with dope dealer Ricardo Montalban. He gets her hooked on heroin sending their already dismal life spiraling downward. Family friend Burl Ives, himself an alcoholic and in love with her, tries to get his own life together to save them. Ella Fitzgerald has a supporting role as a drug addicted blues singer. Jean Seberg is Darren's young love interest. Eclectic cast does what it can with such a melodramatic story.

Best in Show (2000)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Christopher Guest
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

Pampered pets tale a second seat to their eccentric owners at a national dog show in Philadelphia. The result is rarely funny but often offensive, including gay stereotypes, a running joke about a woman's sexual past, a pair of bickering Starbucks-loving yuppies, and Guest  himself as a slow-talking southerner with a bloodhound. Worst of all is Fred Willard, who is allowed to run amok as the color commentator during the competition.

Man Without a Star (1955)


Universal-International
Directed by King Vidor
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Universal)

Drifter Kirk Douglas takes a job as a ranch hand in Wyoming. He clashes with his bosses, makes love with the new owner, teaches his young pal how to shoot and plays the banjo in the local saloon. However, when rival ranchers start putting up barbed wire on the free range pasture he won't have any part of it. Fairly routine western livened up by Kirk (and his hair's) unrestrained enthusiasm, but also filled with sexist dialogue and shot mostly on the Universal back lot.

Room (2015)


Academy Awards, USA 2016

Won
Oscar
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Brie Larson
Nominated
Oscar
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Ed Guiney
Best Achievement in Directing
Lenny Abrahamson
Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
Emma Donoghue

A24
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, A24)

A woman and her young son live alone in a one-room shed in suburban Ohio. They are being held captive by a man who rapes the woman regularly while the boy sleeps in a wardrobe closet. After several years, she devises an escape plan, which miraculously succeeds. They move in with her parents, who have undergone their own changes over the years, and struggle to adapt to the outside world. Well-acted and conceived, but also cold and aloof. Attempts to be philosophical by including narration of the boys point-of-view, growing up in an alternate reality consisting of one room and a TV, seem like an afterthought.

Waiting for Guffman (1996)


Castle Rock Entertainment
Directed by Christopher Guest
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDh
(DVD, Warner Bros.)

An all-American town in Missouri celebrates its sesquicentennial by putting on a play. They hire local celebrity Christopher Guest to write and direct it. He puts together a cast of local "talent", none of whom can act or sing. During rehearsals he invites a Broadway producer to the premier, leading the cast to believe a positive review could land them in New York. After many trials and tribulations, the show goes on, but will the Broadway producer show up? Guest basically defined the "mockumentary" genre with this film, but unfortunately it is loaded with offensive stereotypes and just isn't very funny.

Shoot First, Die Later (1974)


Titanus
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

A Milan police officer receives accolades for his work, only to be exposed as corrupt. On the payroll of a local crime syndicate, they blackmail him into tampering with evidence to cover up a murder. This leads to the tragic deaths of close friends and family members. A couple of good chase scenes but also some very violent ones, including unnecessary animal cruelty. Bottom-of-the-barrel Di Leo for sadists only.

Kidnap Syndicate (1975)


S.J. International Pictures
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Two teenagers are kidnapped outside of their Milan school: one the son of a wealthy industrialist and the other of a local mechanic. They demand money, but the industrialist wants to negotiate, leading to the tragic death of the kids. His father the mechanic vows revenge on those responsible. The first half is a rather predictable drama involving the inept police, unknown kidnappers and distraught parents. The second half is a rather routine, if bloody, vigilante revenge flick. British star James Mason is dubbed in Italian, to strange effect.

Naked Violence (1969)


Daunia Film
Directed by Fernando Di Leo
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Students at an Italian reform school viciously gang rape and murder their teacher. An angry cop tries to root out the killer among the misfits. He takes one of them home hoping to win over his trust. An ugly film bookended by the graphic rape scene, and a middle populated by stereotyped homosexuals, street criminals and a loud, angry, impatient police detective.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Pixote (1981)


Unifilm/Embrafilme
Directed by Hector Babenco
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

Set in the slums of Brazil, where minors are above the law until they reach the age of 18. Instead, they are sent to reform schools, overpopulated and understaffed, where they are treated as subhuman by the police, and each other. 10-year-old Pixote learns that crime not only pays but keeps you alive. Along with his pals on the inside, they escape the horrors of reform school, only to end up back on the streets as thieves. They eventually befriend a prostitute and rob her unsuspecting johns for money. It doesn't end well. Well-intentioned story succumbs to excessive sex and violence, and given the age of the characters involved frequently crosses the line of exploitation.

The Big Picture (1989)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Christopher Guest
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Mill Creek)

Recent film school graduate Kevin Bacon becomes the talk of Hollywood after winning an amateur film award. He is wooed by a filthy rich producer, pursued by a sexy actress and represented by an overzealous agent. All of this causes him to leave his girlfriend and abandon his best friend. It all falls apart when the producer is fired by the studio, forcing him to take any job just to make ends meet. In the process, he regains his self respect and his friends. The best moments occur during brief flights of fancy that spoof iconic films, but otherwise is plain vanilla with a sappy, predictable ending.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

This Is Spinal Tap (1984)


Embassy Pictures
Directed by Rob Reiner
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, MGM/Fox)

Silly rock "documentary" about a fictional heavy metal band from the UK undertaking a disastrous tour of the US. Skewers the obvious empty-headed tendencies of the worst of that musical genre, but played completely straight which actually detracts from the comedy. The songs are so close to the real thing (except for the lyrics which are hilariously over-the-top), that I found myself actually forgetting this was supposed to be funny. Rob Reiner overstays his welcome as the fictional interviewer following the band around. I thought the best jokes actually occurred under the final credits.

Luv (1967)


Columbia Pictures
Directed by Clive Donner
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Mill Creek)

A despondent Jack Lemmon is saved from jumping off a bridge by old college pal Peter Falk. Unhappily married and in love with a much younger woman, Falk sees an opportunity to get out of his marriage by introducing his wife to Lemmon. Despite Lemmon's eccentric behavior and disconnection from reality, they hit it off. The divorce goes through and the two new couples are soon married. However, it isn't long before reality sets in and they realize it was all a mistake. The former husband and wife must somehow convince the increasingly unstable Lemmon to a divorce so they can get back together. Black comedy of the finest variety with Lemmon totally unhinged. Underrated.

Chronopolis (1982)


Saint-André-des-Arts (France)
Directed by Piotr Kamler
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(YouTube)

God-like beings who live in a city in the sky manipulate various objects for their own amusement. They have batons with which they manipulate pieces of primordial clay, eventually creating a human which falls to the earth They also seem to be quite fond of grid-like structures resembling computer chips. The plot, such as it is, takes a back seat to arresting stop motion animation and a soundtrack by composer Luc Ferrari known for his experimental tape manipulations of found sound and electronics. The end result is as if M.C. Escher met Rene Laloux at a John Cage performance.