The Bad Movie Back Files -- Jan-March 1998

March 1998:
March 28: The First Wives Club (1996, 102 minutes): Iíd enjoyed the novel on some airplane trip, but this film really stank. If your idea of entertainment is listening to three middle-age women shriek, then rush to rent this. I was mystified Ė this film made the old gals look shrewish and silly when the point of the story was the opposite.

March 28: Slingblade (1996, 136 minutes): This film putters. I enjoyed it Ė Billy Bobís transformation is quite amazing - but I was restlesss here and there. You already know whatís gonna happen, so itís like you just gotta wait it out. I donít know from Dwight Yoakam, but John Ritterís performance was a pleasant surprise.

March 25: Avalon (1990, 126 minutes): Several generations of a Jewish Baltimore family Ė from Russian immigrant to sensitive 80s guy. This film is erratically paced. Big sections ooze by with little point; then 30 years disappear in a re-arranged living room. Some scenes work and are affecting; others - feh.

March 24: Rain Man (1988, 128 minutes): Yuppie drives his amusing (arenít they all?) autistic brother across country. Man, Tom Cruise owes us all a refund. I know he sells tickets, so he gets parts, but I wonder if he really thinks he can act?! This was such a TV-movie-of-the-week, and Iíll give a million bucks to the next director who can make a cross-country road film without using a classic convertible.

March 21: About Last Night (1986, 113 minutes): Basic mismatched-girl-meets-guy romance set in exciting Chicago! The major attraction of this film is seeing Demi Moore pre-surgery. Thereís some tight shot sex scenes where you canít tell if itís Rob Lowe or Demi Moore. Now, rent Striptease and be amazed by technology.

March 18: Austin Powers (1997, 89 minutes): I "won" this videotaped movie by getting up on stage at the Warhol Museum and relating a tale at a Bad Date party. Itís pretty amusing for a single joke film Ė some fabbo costumes and set pieces. Mike Myerís chest rug should got to the same Hall of Fame as Bill Murrayís comb-over in Kingpin.

March 14: Fear (1996, 97 minutes): This Fatal Attraction for teens has moments, but it doesnít ultimately hold up. Really yawner of a conclusion. I was grooviní on the perfect-Seattle-home-is-really-dysfunction angle, til the family members all bonded. Boring. I did finally see Marky Markís third nipple though!

March 5: Larger Than Life (1996, 93 minutes): I just donít get how Bill Murray Ė who can be so funny Ė makes these idiotic films. As always, thereís a couple of great Murray mugs, but -- ??? A movie about taking an elephant across country? People get paid to write this?!

March 3: Going Beserk (1983, 85 minutes): Essentially the cast of SCTV in a lamebrained Manchurian Candidate send-up. John Candy Ė same as Bill Murray! Whatís the deal?!

February 1998:
Feb. 28: The Distinguished Gentleman (1992, 122 minutes): Factor this! A con man gets elected to Congress (so as to rustle up bigger cons, natch!) and once on Capitol Hill, turns into goody-good. Madre mia. The first half of the film is intermittently amusing, Eddie Murphy does a funny con man routine, but who phoned in this implausible plot twist?! Lots of DC location shooting, so I got pumped when they said they were going over to the EPA. If youíve seen the actual EPA building, youíll know why I was so excited Ė the Waterside "Mall", the escalator to nowhere! Bitter disappointment when they subbed another normal looking building. Bah.

Feb. 28: Waiting to Exhale (1995, 121 minutes): Probably would have been more fun to see this in a theater of hooting women since the funniest scenes were of Really Bad Sex. Supposed to be a film about women, etc. etc. but the male characters were entertaining. Hey, is Whitney Houston made of wood? She has one facial expression. And these gals lived in some Ugh-leee "contemporary Arizona style" houses. Oh, and this movie was filled with fake smoking. If actors donít want to smoke, then donít smoke! In one mega-dramatic scene, Angela Bassett simply held this cigarette with about an two inches of ash on it. Please, smoke it, tip it or cut it from the scene. Little annoying details like this add up to bad movies.

Feb. 27: Pretty Woman (1990, 117 minutes): I avoided this movie for years Ė I had to wait till I got over being mad about the success of a film that makes a fairytale out of prostitution. Man, what a fool I was! If Iíd only known how romantic it is to be a Hollywood Boulevard hooker?! So easy to meet the Perfect Man! Actually, fans of this "genre" should check out The Nights of Cabiria, Felliniís 1957 flick about a hooker with a heart of gold who meets rich guy and wants to go straight. Superior movie, and genuinely poignant. Ultimately, Pretty Woman just killed some time, and man, was it sooooooo Eighties.

Feb. 26: The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996, 126 minutes): Oy! I canít stand Barbra Streisand but I was so fascinated with her Fingernail Narrative in The Prince of Tides. I had to see this movie Ė the ugly duckling transformed into glamorous swan, surely thereíd be a lot of gratuitous nail shots?! Nope. Yikes, this movie stinks. Dumb plot. Ms. Streisand, who directed, lavishes lots of fuzzy camera work on herself. Hmph, why canít there more shots of that yummy Pierce Brosnan?

Feb. 25: Mother (1996, 104 minutes): Mommie Dearest for passive-aggressive types. This would probably be funnier if you didnít have a mother. Not as funny as some other Albert Brooks film. The food gags are the best.

Feb. 19: A Summer Place (1959, 130 minutes): Gorgeous Technicolor and so sparkly! Superduper hubba-hubba melodrama that bravely tackles divorce, extramarital affairs, Swedish trial marriages, bouncing boobs, teen pregnancy, that special pain guys feel, alcoholism, voyeurism, child custody, frigid women and Frank Lloyd Wright. A classic.

Feb. 15: Two Days in the Valley (1996, 107 minutes): Fed up with Tarantino? Well, sure we all are, but youíll feel better about him after sitting through some faux-Tarantino. This film is such a mess, I couldnít even recognize the well-known actors in it. Watch and wince.

Feb. 14: Shadow of a Doubt (1943, 108 minutes): Joseph Cotton is nice and creepy, but Teresa Wright is so stylized-movie-perky, itís hard to feel sorry for her. Some nice shots. The movie does briefly address that bizarre phenomena of tunes-stuck-in-your-head can travel from person to person seemingly by telepathy.

Feb. 14: Jackie Chanís First Strike (1996, 110 minutes): The only reason to watch Jackie Chan films is for the hilarious stunts and in this film, it takes about an hour before you get the first batch. I just love how Jackie Chan does this Three Stooges schtick whereby he executes a series of unbelievable stunts, fends off 10 ugly men, and howls in pain when he stubs his toe. Earlier Chan movies have funnier and better stunts.

Feb. 10: Private Parts (1997, 109 minutes): I have never been a Howard Stern fan (though I fully support his position on Kathie Lee Gifford), but I enjoyed this movie. Maybe itís the small doses of Stern-on-air, or the right spin, that makes Howard surprisingly likeable. Rather than hours of rambling Stern, the film sets up simple us v. them scenarios, so you can get behind Howardís button-pushing moments. I canít believe it happened so marvelously in real life, but the Match Game routine had me howling. And stick through the credits Ė thereís a funny bit right at the end.

Feb. 7: All The Presidentís Men (1976, 138 minutes): A huge hit in Ď76, this film is pretty darn confusing a couple decades later. Thereís a problem with condensing two-and-a-half years of complex history into two-and-a-half hours. Names, events and acronyms fly by unexplained! Brush up your Watergate. (Start here.) Iím no slouch in contemporary political history, but I was lost frequently. The stand-out in the film is the perfect Washington Post newsroom set! Not that everybody would recognize this, but I temped there a lot. My own Deep Throat tells me that the Post shipped the production all their trash, so the piles of paper are real journalist junk.

Feb. 5: Endless Summer (1966, 90 minutes): I love this movie, Iíve seen it a couple of times. Easy on the eyes and oddly soothing. The ur-surfer cult hit. A loose documentary of two L.A. surfers who follow the sun and waves through remote parts of the Southern Hemisphere, its charm is this goofy innocence Ė a small quirky world of surf nuts decades before hype and marketing.

Feb. 5: Sudden Death (1995, 110 minutes): Of course, I have to see every movie filmed in Pittsburgh, no matter how bad (Backstreet Justice). This flick is in the Deep Lame category. The beloved local Igloo (the Civic Arena) with its retractable dome roof has more personality than the star, Jean-Claude Van Damme. This movie was based on an idea of Karen Baldwin, not coincidentally the wife of Pittsburgh Penguins owner, Howard Baldwin, so the whole film is a silly exercise in Penguin-Civic Arena marketing. No romantic sub-plot though, thank goodness.

Feb. 3: Twister (1996, 114 minutes):It sucked, it blew - it was the most boring bad weather Iíve ever seen! The plot unspooled like somebody was making it up as they went along. Yes, Iím talking to you, Michael Crichton. I really cared about these weather-jargon spewing geeks. Not. Hell, I could hardly tell the extra-bland cast apart! Oh wait, heroine in white and bad guys in matching black vans. I got it. Not one but TWO silly scenes where women decide to have relationship issues in the middle of life-threatening storms. Buy a new book of movie cliches, already! Millions spent on fake-o tornado footage and yet, they couldnít cough up some fake injuries - our plucky heroes survive a Force Five tornado with nary a scratch. And just what kind of magical pick-up truck is that?! Barely dented! I hate to give away the ending, but Coke fans beware: The whole future is saved by - - - Pepsi.

Feb. 3: The Young Poisonerís Handbook (1995, 106 minutes): Evidently, this story of a English teenage chem-whiz and poisoner is a true story, and a bizarre tale indeed. Deep black humor, so sign me up! The supporting characters are all ordinary, yet real-life irritating (those co-workers you try to avoid) so I was really behind the poisoning schemes. Also, bonus points for a deliciously bad TV-pop-lounge singer, "Dickie Boone."

Feb. 1: Strangers on a Train (1951, 101 minutes): Robert Walker is yummy as the demented, obsessed rich man-boy who conjures up the murder-swap plan. Film moves along at a great clip, few superfluous scenes, and the tennis-match-to-carnival end is marvelous. Nice use of Washington, DC locations.

January 1998:
Jan. 29: Blazing Saddles (1974, 93 minutes): Iíd never seen this film before, supposedly Mel Brooksí masterpiece. Like all Melís films, thereís some extra-dumb parts that are tedious (like all scenes with Brooks!), but thereís plenty of big laughs here too. Lots of jokes based on derogatory stereotypes (race, gender, foreigners) that were probably well-meaning as "commentary" at the time, but theyíre fairly jarring by todayís very-cautious standards. The "French" dance number at the end killed me, PC -standards be damned!

Jan. 28: Scream (1996, 110 minutes): A lot of fun, and not too scary. Basic pop culture knowledge is adequate for most of the in-jokes, but if youíve never seen even one teen slasher flick, rent Halloween first. Despite the title, there isnít much screaming. End of the movie had me rushing to the box of 80s singles to see who had done the original version of theme song, "Whisper to a Scream."

Jan. 25: Meet Wally Sparks (1997, 104 minutes): A parody of outrageous talk shows (as if real talk shows are letting us down in the vulgarity category!), but itís pretty dumb. The usual shameless folks have cameos - Geraldo, Roseanne, some already-canceled-and-forgotten talk shows hosts, Tony Danza. Iíd hate to recommend this rilly stupid film, but there were several laughs during the first 30 minutes and lengthy (ha ha) boner gag. Probably for Rodney Dangerfield completists only.

Jan. 25: The Long Good Friday (1980, 109 minutes): I could watch Bob Hoskins in anything. This London gangster drama is tricky to follow, but Hoskins is a delight. (Special cameo from a young, hunky, dripping wet Pierce Brosnan as a swimming pool pick-up.) This film started with something Iíd never seen before Ė a glossary! Before the opening credits, a screen popped up defining four bits of slang: grass, ponce, manor and bottle. Just those four words. On your own for the rest, sunshine.

Jan. 24: Halloween (1978, 90 minutes): Scream is on cable this month, and Iíve yet to see any of the films it riffs on. Iíve never been a big fan of being scared for fun, and in my day, those films played in dark theaters - kids, far scarier than TV-VCR viewing. This flick gave me the heebie-geebies with the lights on, glad I donít see it back in í78. Fans of the genre should check out a pretty good Canadian screamer, Black Christmas (1975), that predates Halloween with some of genreís conventions - the killer POV-cam with heavy breathing, "The call is coming from inside the house!", the bad girls go first, and a surprising end.

Jan. 24: Jerry Springer: Too Hot For TV (1997, 54 minutes): Bitch-slapping, hair pulling, tit shaking, butt gyrating, punching, profanity, full-on family dysfunction Ė this tape delivers all it advertises! (I screened the extra-footage version - the bonus section is mostly breasts of the Demi-Moore-reinforced-plastic variety.) Of course, itís become de riguer to be extra outrageous on The Jerry Springer Show, itís expected. (The Star this week is reporting itís virtually planned backstage! It canít hold the same thrill as the Geraldo chair incident of 1988 or the old Morton Downey fisticuffs. Ironically for all the advertised bad behavior of this tape, one of the biggest laughs is when a guy simply, and without provocation, falls off his chair. That said, thereís no explaining the bizarre mating habits and bad manners of our species and the inexplicable revelation of it all on TV. Recommended for fans, others should probably stay away.

Jan. 23: Smoke (1995, 108 minutes): Consciously low-key film about five New Yorkers whose lives intersect at a smoke shop. My favorite part was the Keitel characterís photo project. He took the same photo of the same intersection everyday for 20 years. Kept Ďem all in a book. Iím into that kind of random photography. We argued over the ending and agreed the film would have been better had it stopped a few minutes earlier. Interwoven narratives seemed a little too too. On the upside, Harvey Keitel keeps his clothes on and Ashley Judd spews potty-talk.

Jan. 22: Vegas Vacation (1997, 95 minutes): Another brain-dead but semi-amusing road-romp with the Griswolds. Retread of all the other Vacation movies, but the bizarre footage of Siegfried and Roy is almost worth the price of admission. One of them is inexplicably wearing this gigantic Clockwork Orange codpiece thing! Is it to keep the male tigers in line?

Jan. 21: Absence of Malice (1981, 116 minutes): Coincidentally, watched this flick the night of the breaking media frothing over Prez. Clinton and details of his alleged extra-marital activities. Thatís what this filmís looking for Ė the line between freedom of the press and the individualís right to privacy. The film trots out Wilford Brimley (always scary) at the end to shade and balance the grays. Ironically, this week, the tabs were reporting the details of Mr. Brimleyís alleged philandering.

Jan. 18: Angel Heart (1987, 112 minutes): This is the movie that begs the question Ė Whatever happened to Lisa Bonet? and answers the question Ė Wonder what Lisa Bonet would look like flopping around naked covered in fake chicken blood ? If you donít guess the "shocking conclusion" within the first 30 minutes, you donít watch enough pretentious thrillers.

Jan. 15: Secrets and Lies (1996, 142 minutes): Fantastic not-waste-of-time. When writer-director Mike Leigh is good, he is very good. Some high-drama scenes in this film run astonishingly uncut for minutes. Imagine if every movie you saw featured people who could actually act . Like all Leighís films, itís the small scenes and touches that are much more heartbreaking than the big narrative drama.

Jan. 15: Leon the Pig Farmer (1993, 98 minutes): Oy and double oy! Idiotically plotted "comedy" about a young Jewish Londoner who finds out his real dad is a pig farmer. (Insert laughs here.) Parts of this movie verge onto so-bad-itís-good territory, like the appalling scenes where the Yorkshire pig farm family decide to act "New York Jewish" (the wife goes from pleasant to nagging!) Baffling ideology, and worse, not funny. Oh, and donít even ask about the kosher pig the kid creates!

Jan. 14: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971, 94 minutes): Normally, itís hard to go wrong with a Vincent Price cheesy horror flick, but his hamminess is underutilized here. Comedic subplot of bumbling coppers doesnít gel properly with Grand Guignol revenge murder spree. Much better done in the 1973 Price masterpiece Theatre of Blood.

Jan. 13: Whatís Up Tiger Lily? (1966, 90 minutes): Itís only been two weeks after Woody Allenís marriage to Soon-Yi, and hereís the opening credits where an animated Woody Allen crawls over the breasts of young Asian women. Like the way one canít look at Elvis footage anymore without seeing the stylized moves of a thousand impersonators, one is forever condemned to searching for Allenís bizarre private life in his films, even films that are 30 years old.

Jan. 12: The Omega Man (1971, 98 minutes): Charlton Heston Ham Fest. Itís post-apocalypse L.A., thereís nobody left alive, except Chuck (whoís munching every bit of scenery in sight) and some cranky albino druids. And speaking of cheap pink meat, Heston goes shirtless a lot. And no it doesnít look good. Kill me now.

Jan. 9: The Milagro Beanfield War (1988, 118 minutes): Inexplicably rated-R, forced "magical" film, post-Local Hero. Of course, being a piece of all-American whimsy, the resolution involves gun battles and high mountain chase sequences. And speaking of resolution Ė gee, the poor farmer with the beanfield versus the golf resort developer? Quel suspense. The narrative is poorly developed; the acting lame. The guy who plays the bean fielder is cast straight outta Grease. Ay Chihuahua, indeed.

Jan. 10: Free Willy (1993, 112 minutes): A boy and his whale. Jokes for American Lit majors: The boat that first captures Willy is called Pequod. Who says Hollywood is culturally bereft? One thing Híwood is: anthropomorphic! Recommended for those who believe whales understand English. Me, I donít know much about marine biology, but Willy seemed like a nice enough whale. Go, Free Willy, go! See you in Free Willy 2!

Jan. 8: Blink (1994, 106 minutes): The premise Ė a chick with wacked-out ocular problems "sees" a murderer Ė is more interesting than the execution. Pretty standard thriller, with a tacked-on Robin Cook-type solution. I suppose the filmmaker should be commended for not showing the rape-murders in loving detail as most thrillers do. But, the filmmaker should be pilloried for the gratutious Michael Jordan sequence.

Jan. 7: The Wedding Banquet (1993, 111 minutes): Comedy (with occasional drama) about a young gay Chinese New Yorker who gets married to please his parents. Children of various other parental-guilt-trip cultures will squirm with recognition. I was down with this movie til the end, when I thought it wussed out big-time in favor of feel-good-dom. Also, the film made me hungry, they do talk about food a lot.

Jan. 7: Fierce Creatures (1997, 93 minutes): One or two laughs, but still a fairly weak piece. The writing is horribly amateur, reducing funnymen Michael Palin, Ronnie Corbett and Robert Lindsay to bad sitcom performances. Kevin Kline, playing both father and son, is funny as the Rupert Murdoch-like pater and cheese-grating as the unctuous son. Atypically, Jamie Lee Curtisí breasts are under-utilized. Thereís not even a bra shot.

Jan. 6: Lone Star (1996, 134 minutes): This movie I dug. Not the Greatest Film of All Time (as some Sayles fans are wont to blurt out with each new release) but nicely put together. Lots of interweaving storylines, so pay attention. Fans of Frances McDormandís bizarre turn as a bi-polar football manic should check out the odd childrenís flick, Bingo. Those who sit through the credits are rewarded with Patsy Montanaís, "I Want to Be A Cowboyís Sweetheart." Yodel on, girl.

Jan. 5: Sleeping With Strangers (1994, 103 minutes): Well, the year is young, but so far this has my vote for Worst Movie Seen This Year. I was just a hair from turning it off. I have no idea why I taped this - nothing about the title or "stars" or plot seemed familiar. Possibly taped by mistake. A pale, pale bedroom farce, unrelieved by any wit, originality or nudity.

Jan. 4: Atomic Cafe (1982, 86 minutes): I checked this video out of the library. They have free rentals, but only of the PBS variety. Iíve been obsessed recently with the Louvin Brothers and heard this film might feature their great gospel tune, "The Great Atomic Power". (It didnít.) Never seen this film before. Am glad now I didnít catch it when it first came out and I was living in Berkeley, with all those self-righteous film-goers who feel the need to boo and hiss during films. Without the context of the Cold War or any back-history of it, this cobbled together collection of news clips, civil defense promos and military training films is almost like science fiction. Iíd like to watch it with a Cold War-free 12-year old.

Jan. 1: A Very Brady Sequel (1996, 89 minutes): Enjoyable fluff. One good tiki sight gag.

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