I Can’t Stop Watching (Mostly Bad) Movies!

March and April 1999:
April 30: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961, 114 minutes): Others adore her, but I was put off by Holly Golightly. Reminded me of too many irritating gals I know in real life. Too precious. All that eyelash batting. The clothes were fabulous, but then again, only if you’re gorgeous and built like a stick.

April 27: Wild Things (1998, 108 minutes): Tasty trash, a Basic Instinct for teens, plus a shot of Kevin’s Bacon. Matt Dillon is the Grade A good-looking high school teacher accused of molesting a rich student. Hi-jinks ensue. Bill Murray, is fabulous, as always, playing a small-time shopping-center-strip-based lawyer, with quiet dignity and a neck brace.

April 23: Boogie Nights (1997, 152 minutes): Entertaining, very funny in places (the drug buy, the album recording). Of course, we all guessed the porn business had to be so colorful! Ultimately, it’s kind of a lighthearted romp, since we never quite get to know the characters, understand them. Every gets assigned one background crisis, but it almost feels like a checklist - kids, money, infidelity, drugs. Burt Reynolds doesn’t have a lot of acting to do - but ya gotta give him props. Watching this film, you totally forget about Burt Reynolds. Most of his roles, well, they’re about being Burt Reynolds.

April 23: Big Wednesday (1978, 126 minutes) : Yummy, Southern California meat parade. It brings tears to my eyes to recall a time, 21 years ago, when William Katt, Gary Busey and Jan Michael Vincent played shirtless surf gods effortlessly. Long lean and sinewy. Now, Busey is bloated and all tore up from helmetless motorcycle crashes, William Katt - who? what? where? And the tabloids say Jan Michael Vincent panhandles. Male melodrama interrupted occasionally by big waves.

April 22: Basquiat (1996, 108 minutes): The title said "Basquiat" but every other name is Schnabel! Remember the tireless self-promoting 80s broken plate artist? Well, he directed this bio-pic, plus co-wrote the script and provided some music. Additionally, half-a-dozen Schnabel family members are in the cast and another is in the crew. Oh and Gary Oldman plays a Schnabel-like artist. There’s two big things wrong with this portrait of Jean-Michel Basquait, 80s art sensation and Warhol protégé. One, he’s a big drug-taking, bridge-burning mess, but we don’t learn or understand why really. Hoo-hum, watching some jerky mystery man nod off on drugs again. Two, the explosion of art and big new money, the Cult of Art-and-Artists, especially in Manhattan, in the Eighties needs some big hindsight lights shone on it. Schnabel was there, but he doesn’t provide any insight or commentary. What was the climate that propelled the self-conscious-street kid to bad-boy art world darling? Is selling a stack of painted tires to a stock broker art? Or nervy bullshit? Don’t look here for answers. And, David Bowie as Warhol is too terrifying! With his stuttering, nervous tic, white fright wig and mid-Atlantic accent, his take on Mr. Andy veers awfully close to Martin Short’s old SNL mad-albino-giggler, Jackie Rogers.

April 19: Ode to Billy Joe (1976, 105 minutes): Starring 70s teen-throbs, Robby Benson and Glynnis O’Connor, as in "whatever happened to…?" Inspired by the 1967 Bobby Gentry dirge, the film takes a flying leap and solves the mystery of Billy Joe McAllister and the Tallahatchie bridge, but it’s pretty farfetched. The whole mess is written and acted like a high school send-up of a Tennessee Williams play. Imagine 1950s rural Mississippi kids saying things like, "Sir! I beseech you to consider my good name." "But, my very soul is on fire for you!" Uh huh. Pass the biscuits please.

April 15: Clerks (1994, 90 minutes): The minute-to-minute hell of working at a convenience store. Rough-edged and occasionally over-done, this talkie is still pretty fun. Lots of hilarious throwaways like the dumb video renter and the Russian heavy metal guy.

April 14: Batman Returns (1992, 126 minutes): I much prefer this dark and decidedly-not-kid-friendly Batman film to the macho-y 1989 Batman and well, who saw 1997’s Batman and Robin? Not I. Danny DeVito was born to play a penguin. Christopher Walken is slick and smary. Michele Pfeiffer is all shiny black vinyl. The sets are fabulous. For a big Hollywood production, it’s got a lot of bleak nastiness. A marvelous anti-Christmas movie.

April 11: Copland (1997, 104 minutes): Accept the curious premise that all corrupt New York City cops live in one small idyllic New Jersey town across the river. When the shit gets too deep, the center in Cop Mayberry does not hold. Smallish film that moves along nicely, Sylvester Stallone lobbied hard (and took a big pay cut) to play the ineffectual NYC-cop-wannabe sheriff of the town. Stallone can’t quite cut it with real boys of Small Films like DeNiro and Keitel. Hell, even Ray Liotta looks more "actorly" than Stallone. But I was fascinated how Stallone-the-actor ruined it for himself, subjecting us to decades of his puffed-up super hero persona. You sit through the movie puzzled why the Stallone character doesn’t just go into full-metal overdrive and blast his way to justice.

April 11: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997, 10 of 98 minutes): I couldn’t stomach more than 10 minutes of it. I have uncovered a movie so lame even I can’t sit through it. Supposedly a biting look at how movies get made, a satire, I was cramping up in the first five minutes. "The Keith Moon ___ "? Stop. Please.

April 7: Scent of a Woman (1992, 149 minutes): Hoo-HAH! Endless, mostly pointless ham dinner. Al Pacino plays, with terrifying gusto - hoo-HAH! - a cranky ex-military man who has gone blind (cue Oscar!). He drags bowl-of-Jello Chris O’Donnell around NYC on a big last fling weekend. Hoo-HAH! Most of the plot makes no sense. The interminable Manhattan playground scenes are book-ended by this utterly illogical "honor" lesson about rich boy boarding school snitching. An After-School Special but with bigger props and more F-words.

April 5: Deathtrap (1982, 115 minutes): From the twisty, turny play. About a twisty, turny play. Michael Caine punches-the-clock with a half-loser-half-devilish turn he trades well with. Christopher Reeves is just… well… very tall. Dyan Cannon looks, acts and shrieks like a crazed Pomeranian.

April 4: The Boost (1988, 95 minutes): A rollicking mess! Remember the "horror" of high-rolling 80s Yuppies on cocaine binges? You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll grasp the leather seats of your Mercedes. Much of the plot of this film seems to be lifted from the Eagles’ then 10-year-old song, "Life In the Fast Lane." (But in fact, it’s based on a 1980 novel Ludes by Ben Stein. Ho ho.) James Wood is the boostin’ tax loophole salesman, his performance is so manic throughout, you can’t tell if he’s on drugs or off drugs. Sean Young is his semi-suffering, semi-boosting wife (Is this the movie they went nutty on each in real life?)

March 31: Futureworld (1976, 107 minutes): Sequel to Westworld. Sequel? Hell, it’s the same movie! OK, it has more state-of-the-date mid-1970s special effects, which today look like public access 50-cent effects involving colored lights and a Spirograph. Peter Fonda in the then-popular earnest young investigative reporter busting wide a conspiracy role. Blythe Danner - from whom daughter Gwyneth Paltrow clearly gets her irritating simpering from - plays the girl reporter who isn’t as smart as the boy reporter.

March 30: Ringmaster (1998, 90 minutes): The movie version of the Jerry Springer Show. What’s different from the already totally staged Springer show? Here, we get some background build-up to the dysfunction. The movie can’t touch the real life surrealism of the Springer show (now almost entirely without sound - just the beep of the censor, leaving you to fill in your own dialogue.) Jerry just floats through this film, befuddled. The jokes are stupid, and the film makes a huge flaw by trying to have it both ways – mocking the trailer trash families and then asking us to understand and empathize with their poverty and ignorance.

March 28: The Ice Storm (1997, 113 minutes): Brrrrrrr! Mid-70s Connecticut nice suburban families are chilly indeed. They’re wife-swappin, boozin’, bad TV movie watchin’ shopliftin’, drug takin’ – and still nobody’s happy. Go figure. Nice performances all ‘round, but the stand-out is the ice. Fabulous ice in this movie. Just super, a very impressive ice storm.

March 27: Wayne’s World II (1993, 94 minutes): Not so Excellent!, not so Party On! as the first Wayne’s World. A handful of giggles and a delicious sleazeball performance by Christopher Walken, who brings his chilly dementia to even a dumb Saturday Night Live sequel flick.

March 25: Unmade Beds (1997, 105 minutes): Semi-documentary (evidently some dialogue was provided) about four New Yorkers searching for love through the personal ads. The constant cut-away shots through windows of abstract New Yorkers doing things and Manhattan skyscapes are dull, but two of these four were such fascinating repellent characters, I stuck it out. People are never more misguided when it comes to assessing their own attractiveness.

March 22: Great Expectations (1998, 111 minutes): Lame re-make of the Dicken’s tale. Anne Bancroft plays the jilted Miss Dinsmoor (Havisham in the book) and eats up all the rococo scenery in her swampy Florida home. Gwyneth does that Calvin Klein ice-princess thing you either love or hate. Ethan Hawke, well, he’s cute, but utterly unbelievable as a crawfisher or a brilliant young artist. The tale kind of putters along, lacking ooomph to really push it over the top into Bad Movie Fun. Dickens had two different endings for his novel, and the movie opts for the lame one. Also, they neglect to kill off Miss Havisham in a fiery wedding dress blaze, my favorite scene from the far superior 1946 David Lean movie adaptation.

March 20: Half Baked (1998, 84 minutes): Whoa dude, drug humor. Some New York City slackers get totally baked, and then work on baking Manhattan. All the "classic" stoner jokes: munchies, memory loss, people called "Mary Jane", Jerry Garcia, bongs, etc. Some funny cameos from Jon Stewart, Janeane Garafolo, and Pothead Emertitus, Willie Nelson. Movie is dumb, but surprisingly amusing, carried along mostly on star David Chappelle’s engaging charisma. I saw it with a beer. Your mileage may vary.

March 20: Stuart Saves His Family (1995, 95 minutes): Like when I see an ugly dog, I feel sorry for all big movies made from already-dumb-and-washed-up Saturday Night Live skits. Sentimental that I am, moved with pity, I just want to take them home and pet them. This one really laid a turd on the carpet though. The Stuart Smalley skits on SNL were send-ups of our rampant 12-step culture and its nutty, infantile Doublespeak. The movie takes dysfunction and the subsequent curing of it seriously, so where’s the humor? I’m not kidding, this movie ends with a sobbing Group Hug! I put this dog back out on the street.

March 15: Color of Night (1994, 121 minutes): Whoo-hoo! From the gratuitous opening shot of the lipstick-smeared gun fellatio to the closing atop an inexplicable 100-story art tower in Los Angeles (during one of L.A.’s popular cinematic thunderstorms), this movie sucks loudly, totally – and marvelously. Supreme trash. Not a single actor went home hungry, there is so much scenery chewing! Cheech Marin musta turned down the role of the potty-mouthed, wise-cracking Latino cop, so Ruben Blades barrels into it. Ay yi yi. The genre is one of my new favorites in the Bad Movie Canon: the Psycho-Sexual Killer Thriller. Somebody in a group therapy session has killed the therapist. Part psychological thriller, part Die Hard, where Bruce Willis, Substitute Therapist, engages in several high-speed multi-car chases and gets in a nail gun battle. A pretty lame exposition though, I guessed the shocking conclusion very early on, but it was pure pleasure watching this mess unfold.

March 14: The Parallax View (1974, 102 minutes): Part Watergate (the heroic grubby rules-eschewing investigative reporter), part Manchurian Candidate (brainwashed political assassinations), part star vehicle (Warren Beatty at his shaggiest), all 1970s wide-screen, slow-shot paranoia film. You could drive a AMC Pacer through the plot holes, but 1970s paranoia films are an interesting sub-genre to me. Gray morals. Everyone’s in on it. It’s unstoppable.

March 13: Excess Baggage (1997, 101 minutes): An Alicia Silverstone vehicle from last year that I’m sure nobody saw. Blech. She brings little charm to her character, a rich pushy brat who fakes her own kidnapping to win Daddy’s love. Her co-star and romantic interest does a mumbling junkie stupor thing. I wanted both of them to drive off a cliff in the first reel. Christopher Walken - still with the bright orange hair! - plays the caring uncle-slash-nutty hardboiled killer. His yummiest scene is when he con-charms the terrifyingly big-bosomed Sally Kirkland.

March 12: Mad City (1997, 114 minutes): Mad City tries to be a contemporary update on The Big Carnival aka Ace in the Hole, and elicit our horror and disgust at media manipulation. Well, duh. It’s like this film sat in the can since the early 70s. We are all of us so beyond post-post-modern on media manipulation about media manipulation. John Travolta is just terrible in this, playing some kind dimwitted bi-polar everyman. I’m beginning to think his much-heralded comeback in Pulp Fiction was just a fluke.

March 11: The Wedding Singer (1998, 96 minutes): Amusing. The love story part is kind of a yawn, though not as sappy as it might have been. The best scenes are at the wedding parties. Steve Buscemi steals the movie in the first five minutes. "Best man? The BETTER Man!" My complaint, and I almost always have one, is the Eighties angle was too self-conscious and forced in some places (the kitchen help wearing and quoting from a "Relax: Don’t Do It" T-shirt while singing "Der Komissar" – Belabored!) and shockingly absent in others. They needed a lot more hair mousse! Drew Barrymore was so 1990s. Billy Idol though should be grateful for the meager cameo paycheck. He looked so awful, I thought he was an impersonator.

March 2: William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996, 120 minutes): I figure people either loved or hated this movie. I’m mostly with the former. I loved the TV news opening and the flashy set-up, the gas station shoot-up. The sight of surf dudes spewing Shakespeare was jarring, but hey, why not? Shakespeare wasn’t high-brow way back when. Leonardo DiCaprio was sure cute (before he packed on all those post-Titantic party-hardy pounds) but I think his acting was mostly fabulous for the pre-teen set. The actual Shakespeare text bogged me down finally, but I dug the look of the film, it had a weird brashness I was into.

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