December 30: 10 Things I Hate About You (1999, 90 minutes): Shifts the plot of The Taming of the Shrew to a contemporary high school. Ergo, the popular younger sister canít take the sweet nerd guy to the prom, until some longhaired transfer student dude breaks her older bitchy sister of her stand-offish riot grrl ways. First-time director Gil Junger acknowledges the Bardís help with the script, but 10 Things also owes a lot to the other pining-Seattle-teens-in-love 1989 classic, Say Anything. A couple scenes seem lifted straight from it Ė or do all young lovers perform wacky serenades? Ultimately, this film is not as sharply written as Shakespeareís play or as genuinely off-beat as Say Anything. Thereís few surprises on the road to true love Ė just the usual diversions of alternative rock soundtrack, picture postcards shots of sunny Seattle, cute cars and paintball romps.
December 29: Office Space (1999, 89 minutes): The first live-action comedic feature from TV cartoon creator Mike Judge, Office Space spotlights three software engineers (Ron Livingston, Ajay Naidu and David Herman) whose lives and joy are worn away by their tedious jobs. Thereís some minimal plot involving downsizing, a revenge scenario and a waitress love interest (Jennifer Anniston, the filmís only "star") but mostly Office Space is a living diorama of todayís soulless offices. Judge is right on the tiny hellish details from the meaningless company name (Initech) to the grim office birthday celebration. For you fluorescent-lit cubicle drones suffering with quietly deranged co-workers, malfunctioning fax machines, Kafka-esque company "mission statements," and suspender-wearing bad bosses, Office Space is no great work of art, but at least somebody has told your story.
December 28: Nick of Time (1995, 89 minutes): A stupid non-thriller. Johnny Depp gets kidnapped by a moustaschioed Christopher Walken and told he has 90 minutes to assassinate the governor. Then Walken just follows 6 inches behind Depp the whole time, begging the obvious plot query: Why doesnít Walken take out the governor? So dumb. The "climatic" end is a weird rip-off of Manchurian Candidate and the other Walken-political-assassination vehicle, Dead Zone.
December 27: A Night at the Roxbury (1998, 81 minutes): Hereís a first for me, I watched this full-length movie based on a Saturday Night Live skit without ever having seen the TV skit. At least it had some freshness! Actually, I kinda liked this, even though it was dumb. Self-absorbed idiot guys in shiny suits, a very easy target, but I guess I was on a slow brainwave night. Richard "21 Jump Street" Greico plays himself as a puffy washed up minor celebrity. Is it post-modern yet?
December 26: All-American Murder (1992, 93 minutes): Terrible co-ed murder on campus video schlock! I reckon the only reason itís still on the shelf is that it has Josie "Melrose Place" Bissett naked and writing in it. Oh, and Christopher Walken as a cranky cop. His opening scene - taking down a criminal with insults - was so funny we rewound and watched it several times.
December 24: Psycho (1998, 45 of 120 minutes): Buzziní around the dial, watched the critical 45 minutes - from hitting the road to the car sinking into the swamp. This shot-by-shot remake is bizarre (thereís a couple new shots, like the one of Norman jerking off, how helpful!) If youíve seen the original Psycho, this film is pointless. Iíd be curious what somebody utterly unfamiliar with Psycho would make of it. Probably paced way too slow for todayís kids.
December 24: Cool As Ice (1991, 100 minutes): Drop that zero! Get with the hero! Yo yo yo yo! Itís Vanilla Iceís movie! Heís an idiot who thinks heís cool. (Tough role!) There is some ridiculous subplot about the federal witness protection program, but the high points are Iceís misguided preening and his jaw-droppingly awful clothing.
December 20: The Terminal Man (1974, 107 minutes): Genuinely creepy techno-drama about a violent man whose undergoes an experimental medical procedure, where doctors implant a computer in his brain to control his rages. Settings and costumes all have a weird sterile futuristic look, and though that makes the film seem a little dated today, it is still provocative.
December 16: Woo (1998, 84 minutes): Woo, like woo-hoooo!, did this stink. Itís not like I had any respect for Jada Pinkett going into this film, but sheís so bereft of talent that it appears she canít even play herself - a sassy, urbane fun-loving young black woman.
December 13: Jack Frost (1997, 90 minutes): While being transported to his execution, Jack Frost, convicted madman, "survives" a terrible auto accident where he is drenched in experimental goo and morphs into an evil snowman. He returns to the small Colorado town (Snowmonton, geddit?!) where he was captured and begins his holiday reign of icy terror. Pretty low budget film. Itís a stretch to imagine such grisly mayhem coming from what looks like three large stacked styro-foam balls. Mostly for fans of sick humored slasher films, itís occasionally funny. Even a small army of blow dryers canít hold this bad snowman back!
December 12: The Addiction (1995, 90 minutes): When philosophy majors turn into vampires! Odd Abel Ferrara flick that manages to be fascinating and boring pretty much simultaneously. Easy parallels between vampirism and drugs/AIDS. Sometimes smart fun, sometimes pretentious ramblings. Human beings and their inherent evil, blah blah blah. Lili Taylor, as the blood-craving philosophy doctoral candidate, carries the film, sheís super. And speaking of academia, this film features the wackiest, wildest dissertation party!
December 12: The Funeral (1996, 98 minutes): Three intense indies faves - Christopher Walken, Chris Penn and Vincent Gallo - are cast here as three brothers (could you pick three guys who look less like each other?!), doomed by the family legacy of hate, madness and violence. Flashbacks, not-clearly-identified characters and whispered mumblings from Walken make this film a bit tricky to follow at first, though overall an interesting if downbeat crime-family portrait.
December 10: Alligator (1980, 94 minutes): Bad things happen when a baby alligator is flushed into the sewer, the same sewer that an evil bio-chemical company is discarding mutilated animals used in growth-hormone experiments into! To wit Ė a monstrously huge alligator that is terrorizing Chicago (A Chicago that looks very much like the San Fernando Valley, palm trees and all!) Cranky cop Robert Forster and reptile biologist Robin Riker save the day in this better-than-average munch-fest. (John Sayles wrote the script.)
December 10: Silent Night Deadly Night 5: The Toymaker (1991, 90 minutes): The original Silent Night Deadly Night wasnít available for rental, so I choose Part 5, which features Mickey Rooney! This ainít no Andy Hardy Christmas. Somebody Ė possibly the elderly toymaker, Rooney -- is sending murderous toys around town. But it might be his troubled son? Or the stranger wandering around townÖ? Surprising amount of plot for a Part Fiver. And beware, if the box says, "Do Not Open Until Christmas," resist the temptation!
December 9: The Ref (1994, 93 minutes): Itís bad enough thereís wise-acre gun-toting burglar in the house Xmas Eve, but not the relatives too! A black-ish dramedy of a nasty family evening, with Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey and Glynis John slinging most of the bile. Burglar Denis Leary ends up playing counselor and maybe - just maybe - restoring some peace and goodwill.
December 9: Die Hard (1988, 131 minutes): If you thought your office holiday party was bad, at least you werenít held hostage by German terro-robbers like the poor working schlubs in this movie. (And what cold-hearted boss throws the company party on Xmas Eve night?! Small wonder the president doesnít make it through the first reel!) Luckily uninvited guest Bruce Willis kicks butt, and eventually restores the proper seasonal cheer. A new holiday classic.
December 8: Desparately Seeking Susan (1985, 104 minutes): Rosanna Arquette follows free-spirit Susan (Madonna) around Manhattan. Yikes, that 80s downtown look is dated! Also jarring to see Madonna when she was a normal shape and not that exercised-into-oblivion scrag of beef jerky she looks like today.
December 8: Prophecy (1979, 95 minutes): Many ridiculous subplots are introduced Ė unwanted pregnancy, the medical woes of the poor, playing the cello Ė but the main gig is this: Robert Forster and Talia Shire head up to Maine to study some potential environmental damage a paper mill might be causing to Indian-owned land. Those early subplots never come to fruition because one and all are soon under siege by crazed animals. (Though benign, one highlight is the 20-foot salmon!) Not so friendly is the gigantic inside-out "bear" (either mutated from the mercury run-off or conjured up by the medicine man) that tears up everybody in the movie.
December 8: Sleeping with the Enemy (1991, 98 minutes): Could have my vote for least suspenseful thriller! The only fun scenes are in the first 15 minutes when Patrick Bergin is mind-controlling Julia Roberts. Thereís time for an extended bathroom break during the extra-cutesy trying-on-funny-costumes-falling-in-love-to-Van-Morrison-lite-rock sequence all just intended to showcase Miz Robertsí smile. Bleh.
December 8: Ed Wood (1994, 127 minutes): This entertaining black and white big budget flick is both homage and biography of the infamous 1950s low-budget cross-dressing filmmaker, Ed Wood Jr. Director Tim Burton presents a generous and affectionate portrait of a cinematic visionary (however bereft of vision!) operating cheerfully and undaunted in the fringes of Hollywood, employing lovers, psychics, wrestlers and chiropractors. Johnny Depp is engaging, if a little cartoonish, as Wood. Burton wisely anchors the bad movie-making chuckles with a deeply moving story line about Woodís friendship with the forgotten and drug-addicted actor, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau in a superb and poignant portrayal for which he won an Oscar.) Ironically, Ed Wood, surely a terrible director, ultimately achieved pop icon status, and as Burton suggests, today exists as an inspiration to marginalized entertainers consumed with personal vision.
December 6: Freeway (1996, 102 minutes): Violent, vulgar, profane and often funny update on Little Red Riding Hood. Reese Witherspoon is the bad teen on the run; Keifer Sutherland is the big bad wolf/serial killer.
December 5: The Players Club (1998, 104 minutes): A bi-polar movie. One side is a sympathetic portrayal of a young single mom working at a strip club to put herself through college. The other side is mean-spirited, extremely misogynistic back-room-boys-look at the hos who work strip clubs. Written, directed, produced and co-starring Ice Cube, who plays a particularly nasty "playa."
December 1: Cruel Intentions (1999, 95 minutes): This film is "suggested" by the eighteenth century Choderlos de Laclos' novel, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, but deeply indebted to the 1990s television series, Melrose Place. A gaggle of gorgeous, obscenely rich, unsupervised Manhattan teens take mind-games and revenge scenarios to a new low in a series of bed-hopping, partner-swapping and shocking wagers. It sounds more deliciously fun than it is since none of the actors are skilled enough to pull off the outrageous knowing campiness of the story. The grand settings and slutty couture costumes provide some entertainment, as does the incongruent spectacle of kids behaving as very bad "sophisticated" adults.
November 29: The Day of the Animals (1977, 98 minutes): Look out Ethel! Low-budget 70s eco-scare flick. Aerosol cans have wiped out the ozone layer and now all the animals at higher elevations are going blood-crazy. Damn, and Christopher George has just taken a disaster-movie mixed-up group of people for a camping trip in the high country. Lots of stock footage of pacing animals and a lustful, shirtless Leslie Neilsen as you never want to see him again.
November 29: Android (1982, 80 minutes): Low low budget space thriller. (So low budget, the sets were evidently left over from a Roger Corman film.) Nutty German Klaus Kinski (looking like Sigfreid and Roy) is the mad scientist alone on his spaceship banished after some androids he built went crazy in Munich. Well, not totally alone. He has an android assistant, Max, who could easily pass for a mime on earth. Then, some space bandits crash land on the ship. Android Max gets his circuits blown by the smooching lady bandit and the predictable bad things happen. Surprisingly entertaining in a low-effort kind of way.
November 27: Holy Man (1998, 120 minutes): Even though TV Home shopping channels are an easy broad target, they are also such a weird phenomenon Iíd love to see a smart funny movie skewering them or explaining why millions shop from perky TV androids and how all that cheap schlock becomes so appealing at 3 am. Well, this ainít that movie. I guess, it wants to be the Jerry Maguire of TV home shopping, some feel-good mish-mash where conscience triumphs over capitalism. Blech.
November 25: The Imposters (1998?, 90? minutes): Such a sleeper, I canít even find a listing on the net for the date and time! An homage to 1930s screwball farces, this cleverly-written period piece casts two lovable losers - aspiring thespians Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci - adrift (and on the lam!) aboard an ocean liner. A cast packed with your indie and character actors faves. A truly enjoyable, at times gut-bustingly funny film. Tucci especially is a marvelous physical actor.
November 22: The Late Shift (1996, 100 minutes): The real-life tale of the behind-the-scenes machinations for control of late night television. Wither Johnny Carson? Who will have his chair? Or time slot? Or network? Letterman v. Leno. The issue long since resolved, it seems like centuries ago the two late night L-men duked it out. An entertaining look at capricious nature of big business TV. Kathy Bates has the plum role as Lenoís agent, Helen Kushnick.
November 21: A View to a Kill (1985, 131 minutes): A real yawner of a James Bond film. Endless. You can see the make-up caking on Roger Mooreís face. The action sequences have all the spark of two old guys shoving at a baseball game. Even Christopher Walken as the East German Nazi-experiment villain is bland.
November 20: The Big Hit (1998, 91 minutes): Any admiration newish actor Mark Wahlberg may have earned in 1997ís Boogie Nights is squandered in this stinker. Wahlberg plays a professional hit man Ė or so one hopes, thereby justifying the fifty people that he blows away in the first five minutes. Heís a killer with a soft side, stomach pains, mortgage trouble, two greedy girlfriends and oy! Lainie Kazan and Elliott Gould, his Jewish maybe-in-laws who donít care for him. The Big Hit is an "action-comedy" with predictable dumb action and strings of twelve-letter bad-boy curses substituted for humor. Consistently unfunny, except for the bizarre sequence where Walhberg and the Japanese schoolgirl heís kidnapped spark sexually while preparing a Kosher meal. Despite plenty of respectable B-grade actors (Bokeem Woodbine, Lou Diamond Phillips, Avery Brooks, Lela Rochon), director, Che-Kirk Wong, fails to set the tone and turns The Big Hit into a big miss.
November 19: National Lampoonís Christmas Vacation (1989, 97 minutes): Two words: Randy Quaid. One word: Hilarious. Hit-n-miss holiday-from-hell film. Watch it again and again for Quaid.
November 19: Planes Trains and Automobiles (1987, 93 minutes): Getting home for the holidays nightmare. The scenes with John Candy are great. The padded nonsense about family, sleeping wives in Chicago and the belabored off-tone ending are awful. A shame, cause this could have been a consistently funny film.
November 18: At Close Range (1986, 115 minutes): Wow, a dream come true Ė Sean Penn as Christopher Walkenís son! Film is based on the true tale of a rural Pennsylvania family gang (specialty, stealing John Deere tractors). (One brother recently escaped from jail, so the story was in the news again. Movie seems bizarre at times, but itís all quite true.) Walken is the family head; Penn is long-estranged son, who at first wants to be like Dad (who has an awesome rotating collection of muscle cars), but then once in the gang, has qualms. A relatively quiet crime story thatís about family, loyalty, ethics. Better than average. The final inevitable stare-down scene between Walken and Penn is exhilarating for fans.
November 18: Chasing Amy (1997, 111 minutes): While not perfect, this film is head-and-shoulders above Kevin Smithís two previous efforts. Comix artist Ben Affleck falls for maybe-lesbian comix artist, Joey Lauren Adams. Watch him make every dumb male mistake in the book. Scenes set in the weird milieu of comic book fandom are fun.
November 16: The End of Violence (1997, 122 minutes): A sprawling L.A. ensemble piece, loosely centered around violent movie producer, Bill Pullman, his abduction and subsequent re-birth as a new peaceful person. A second major thread involves Gabriel Byrne as the reluctant keeper of some all-city video surveillance system. All threads sorta weave together commenting on fame, privacy, movies, ethical responsibility etc. More ambitious than effective.
November 10: Life is Beautiful (1997, 122 minutes): (This is the review I wrote for the paper cause I didnít feel like making a scene (150 words or less) about a Holocaust movie, but honestly, I found it much too twee, and hence somewhat distasteful.) Award-winning Italian actor/director, Roberto Benigni tones down his usually broad slapstick manner to deliver an unusual fable about love and survival. The first half of the film is picturesque landscapes and brightly colored parties where the plucky waiter Guido (Benigni) cavorts. Then, during World War II, Guido is sent with his wife and small boy to a grim, gray concentration camp. To protect his son from the horror, Guido re-casts the camp miseries as parts of an elaborate contest they must survive to "win" a prize. Itís a grand conceit, transforming death camp survival into the illusion of game. The success of the film, both as tragedy and comedy, hinges on the viewerís compliance with this fantasy.
November 9: The Avengers (1998, 89 minutes): As bad as everybody said it was! Big big budget remake of the popular 60s TV show. Somehow (cause itís not really worth thinking hard about it), from the first shot, they get the TONE of the film wrong Ė then everything that follows just smells. All that saves it as a viewing experience is the What Now?! Factor. Just when you think youíve seen the stupidest plot exposition, outrageous set or bad Uma Thurman outfit, something twice as inexplicable happens.
November 8: Home Fries (1998, 93 minutes): After a ten minute bizarre off-kilter opening scene involving a fast food hamburger restaurant and a killing via military jet (yes, it technically makes sense), the film just ends up being nice guy likes nice girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks. If your fantasies involve sweetie-pie Drew Barrymore lurching around 8 months pregnant, rush to rent this.
November 8: Teen Wolf (1985, 91 minutes): Small town teen turns into a werewolf. Seems lycanthropy runs in the family. The normally hairless Michael J. Fox morphs into the very full-bearded Teen Wolf, who is some kinda party animal. Teen Wolf plays great b-ball, flirts with ease, sniffs out lost marijuana, and generally has a swell time in high school. A benign wolf who doesnít eat anybody. Stay tuned for valuable life lessons about accepting yourself for who you are, and learning that your true friends like you even when you arenít a wolf.
November 6: Whatever It Takes (1998, 105 minutes): Hey, Andrew Dice Clay! All is forgiven, please come home! That unreconstructed slab of New Jersey cheap beef barks his way through this low-budgeter about two cops (Clay and Don "the Dragon" Wilson) who go undercover to break up a steroid ring supplying professional wrestlers. Itís pretty stupid, but the real-life freakishness of Clay kept me watching.
November 6: F/X (1986, 106 minutes): Bryan Brown is the special effects expert hired to fake-out a Mob killing. Itís all pretty unbelievable, but the behind-the scenes "secret" effects tricks make it fun enough.
November 5: Sweet Nothing (1995, 90 minutes): Smallish film about a decent enough, working class young guy with family (Michael Imperioli) who gets into crack cocaine and messes everything up. Smarter than most into-drugs-descent movies. According to the end credits, story is real, based on a diary found in New York.
November 3: The One and Only (1978, 98 minutes): When was the last time you heard the words, "Henry Winkler vehicle?" This period piece about a 1950s struggling actor who ends up making it big in television pro-wrestling just skirts lameness. The second half is best when the film shifts to the wacky milieus of the wrestling world, and even Winkler shows some spark in the ring.
November 3: Full Moon High (1981, 94 minutes): A loose, slapstick, hit-and-miss comedy about high schooler, Adam Arkin, who gets bitten by a wolf and turns into a werewolf. Not too scary though -- most of his nightly forays involve just pretty girl ass-bitings. Film features a very weird performance by Ed McMahon as Arkinís wacky 50s right-wing, anti-Commie, paranoid, whoring single dad. His self-inflicted death in his bomb shelter is pretty funny.
November 3: Il Postino (1994, 116 minutes): Slo-mo sentimental piece about a shy Italian postman who uses his unlikely friendship with a famous visiting poet to win the heart of the local girl. Sweet, though the end is a bit jarring.
November 2: Wolfen (1981, 115 minutes): A curiously timely movie for Pittsburghers, it features a pack of super-smart-wolfs opposed to the gentrification of New York City who eat the big-money developers. The wolfs may or may not be conjured up by Native Americans working on bridge construction. Itís as dumb as it sounds. (Youíll want to see Edward James Olmosí naked wolf dance on the banks of the East River!) For all the laughs, the film is tedious, even with the bizarre scenes shot in Wolf-Vision. Albert Finney stumbles through this film as the shaggy, drunken cop who comes to believe in and respect the super-wolfs.
November 2: An American Werewolf in London (1981, 97 minutes): Badly bit by something hideous on the Yorkshire Moors, David Naughton awakes in London to discover he is a werewolf. Now, he must wander the earth in torment, eating people, until heís killed. Too bad, because his free-loviní nurse Jenny Agutter has just taken a shine to him. A likable and faithful update on the classic werewolf myth.
November 1: The Waterboy (1998, 90 minutes): Adam Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a simple-minded man-child, living on the Louisiana bayou with his devil-feariní mama (Kathy Bates). He spends his days dispensing water to and enduring ridicule from a local college football team. After his dismissal, he signs on with a rival inept team, poorly managed by a washed-up coach (Henry Winkler.) Here, with some guidance, he channels his pent-up rage and becomes a star football player. The plot is irrelevant Ė itís just a slim stick on which to hang gags and to showcase Sandlerís squeaky-voiced, good-hearted goofy character. Lots of cameos by real American football players and coaches, but a sports background isnít necessary to enjoy most of the jokes (man hit on head, man wearing womenís shoes, man falling down) if thatís your brand of humor.