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

January and February 1999:
February 28:The Detective (1968, 114 minutes): Frank Sinatra in a "sensitive" role as a moody NYC police detective with a high moral code and a nymphomaniac wife. Other daring subject matter for the time includes gay pick-up murders, police thumping "confessions" out of the mentally challenged, and open marriages. There’s a bizarre scene where they bust a gay "nightclub" that is inside a tractor trailer.

February 21:Bean (1997, 90 minutes): The long version of the hilarious Rowan Atkinson half-hour British TV shows. A few laughs, but here’s the big flaws: (1) Too many other characters. The charm of the TV shows was it was just Atkinson in his own demented world. (2) Too much plot. Again, the TV shows were brilliant in that Atkinson could make you laugh for 15 minutes while just trying to do up his zipper. Really only a minimum of context is required. (3) The film ultimately makes Mr. Bean bumbling, kind and lovable. The Mr. Bean of the TV shows was a self-centered, misanthropic jerk. His selfishness and pettiness caused much of the hilarity like line jumping, trying to wipe a booger onto somebody else, and all his vain preening.

February 20:Creepshow (1982, 120 minutes): Another re-tread of vignettes based on old horror comics. This one is pretty lame. Almost none of the tales are shocking or even surprising. There’s one good creepy gag with Ted Danson’s head, a beach and a VCR, but then there’s an interminable tale starring a badly mugging Stephen King (who wrote the screenplay.) Just dumb.

February 12: Gorky Park (1983, 128 minutes): A black-market geo-political thriller. Some random murders in Moscow have big international implications. William Hurt is on the job, as a Russian cop with an English accent. Real-life history flies by so fast. I had trouble remembering how it *used* to be in the old Soviet Union. One day this film will make no sense at all.

February 10: The Manchurian Candidate (1962, 126 minutes): The classic Cold War mind control paranoia thriller movie, it got shelved after the Kennedy assassination, and finally re-released about ten years ago. Alternately creepy, prescient, funny, campy, epigram-y (Janet Leigh’s pick up of a clearly mental Sinatra on the train makes no sense.), it nonetheless holds up pretty well as entertaining and provocative.

February 6: King of the Hill (1993, 102 minutes): One of those little movies that came and went. A down-on-their-luck depression era family living in a residential hotel. From the bright 12 year old boy’s perspective. Alternately lively and moody. Better than average child actors. The kid nailed the final scene.

February 5: Walking and Talking (1996, 83 minutes): Indie-ish talker about four friends on the eve of a wedding. Some fine passive-agressive relationship dialogue and bad dates. I cringed right along. Light, but sharp in places and amusing overall.

February 4: Last Man Standing (1996, 100 minutes): Based on the Kurosawa story/film Yojimbo (help), two rival gangs in some tiny Depression-era Texas town (dress code: three-piece suit and Fedora) take an hour and half to shoot each other up, except…surprise, Bruce Willis! Film is mostly all orange. In the Walken canon, and here he is high nutty – bright red hair, huge facial scar, strangled voice and a psycho killer. Sadly, though in one scene he walks past a mariachi band, there’s no little Walken dance-move in this film.

February 3: Americathon (1979, 85 minutes): I elected to see this as one in our continuing series of movies: The Presidency in Crisis. I didn’t see this much-noted bomb when it came out. Was shocked to discover the action takes place in 1998, and even weirder, the only costume in the entire film - everybody - was Nike sweats. There were all these weird Nike in-jokes. (All clothing is manufactured by the "National Indian Knitting Enterprise" (NIKE) who are also holding the country hostage.) Nike must have had some deal with the film, though a quick look through their history books uncovered nothing. They were then, the poor sister in sports clothing, eager to get celeb endorsements, but maybe they’d like to put this bomb film behind them too. Swoosh swoosh swoosh. Spot on for the late 90s. At one point, President John Ritter even parsed out "is is" just like Clinton. Also odd to watch a film that was an entire riff on the mid-70s energy crisis, less than an hour after seeing the real news, "gas is now 70 cents a gallon" cheaper than water. The "famous" Elvis Costello scene is literally phoned in.

February 3: Timecop (1994, 98 minutes): Jean-Claude Van Damme. The Muscles from Brussels. The man with the grapefruit ass. Thirty minutes into this film about rock’em sock’em time travel and he’s already done three sets of splits. He’s no Jackie Chan though. Poor old Jean-Claude lacks any charisma, he is like so much canned tanned meat.

February 2: Freejack (1992, 108 minutes): Emilio Estevez, or a tree trunk, same dramatic difference, is a racer from 1991 yanked forward to the future to be used as a spare body part. He escapes, and roams around New York 2009, trying to prevent his body from being melded with Anthony Hopkin’s mind. He is pursued by the Leather-by-Mad-Max-clad, Mick Jagger, who with just one pouty expression does manage to run dynamic circles around Mr. Estevez. An interesting sci-fi premise that pretty much dissolves into boring car chases.

February 2: Death Race 2000 (1975, 78 minutes): Cult classic. Cross country race where bonus points are scored for running down pedestrians. Cheesy, but gory. Funny send-up of sport-media coverage. Gratuitous but real breasts. David Carradine plays the "too perfect" race car driver, kinda like Jeff Gordon.

February 2: Rollerball (1975, 128 minutes): Imagine this: In the future, Big Corporations will control professional sports, and we will all be dumb enough to take whatever they offer. This movie is making more sense every day. The scenes of the death-match rollerderby still play tough and effective.

January 30: The Associate (1996, 113 minutes): White men run Wall Street. Booo. This had the promise of a decent genre gals-do-business romp like Nine to Five or Big Business. The first few minutes – the set-up of how unfair the corporate world is to biz whiz Whoopi Goldberg was good and infuriating, and I settled in for some redemption, honey! Humph. Film took a long damn time to get going, and didn’t score many hits on what is an easy target. The scenes of Whoopi Goldberg in white man drag (mask modeled on Marlon Brando!) are just weird not funny.

January 30: Powder (1995, 111 minutes): Powder is this bone-white, hairless teen who looks like a cross between Michael Jackson and Marilyn Manson but in cool retro clothes (and we’re supposed believe he isn’t popular in school?!) Besides being the smartest person on earth, he’s also an electrical generator, a magnet and has the power to draw newts into his hands. The film tries to be touchy-feely about "difference" and man’s incapacity to be really smart, but it’s weak. The kid looks very cool though. I’d date him.

January 29: Shine (1996, 105 minutes): Bio-pic of Australian piano child prodigy, David Helfgott, and his subsequent breakdown. Movie is heavy handed in places – domineering dad glowers, music goes thump-thump-thump, kid looks pained. Also, the trouble with some bios is that the interesting parts of life are not at the end. Thus, the dramatic energy of the film sort of peters out in the last quarter. I liked the middle best - the young adult Helfgott in London, where Sir John Gielguld does some light hamming (as befitting his age and title), and there is an effectively done break-down scene. On my quest for dumbest movie credit, this one is tops already: "Geoffrey Rush hand double: Himself". Can you double for yourself? I guess if your agent can finagle it.

January 27: The Postman (1997, 177 minutes): It’s astonishing that after the debacle of the self-indulgent Waterworld, they’d even let Kevin Costner near another three hour, post-apocalyptic, totally stupid idea, movie. But, never underestimate the power of tall white men I guess! It’s 2013, the United States, after some wars, has become a hardscrabble nineteenth century kinda place. Costner finds an old mail jeep, and decides to deliver the long overdue letters. And so, he saves civilization. Really. As if the glorification of the postal service has any contemporary relevance. Screening this film so soon after the other hardscrabble, nineteenth century self-indulgent three hours plus film, I dubbed this, "The mail comes to the Heaven’s Gate." It’s also one of those irritating set-in-the-near future movies that looks instead like it’s from 1900. 2013, and none of our plastic crap survived? I find that hard to believe. Tom Petty has a small role near the end, and never was I so aware that this costumed schlock wasn’t a 3-minute music video, but a 3-hour piece of nonsense. Best Line Uttered in Seriousness: "A dead man can’t deliver any mail."

January 26: Gia (1998, 120 minutes): HBO bio take about Gia Carangi, a top fashion model in the late 70s, early 80s, who crashed-and-burned pretty quick, and pretty hard. (She was one of the first women in the U.S. to die of AIDS and in a charity ward no less!) Angelique Jolie plays Gia, she doesn’t have the same smoky stunning looks that the real Gia had, but she turns in a pretty fearless performance as the wild and tormented Gia. The film plays down some of the real-life grimness (see the book, Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Suepremodel Gia by Stephen Fried). Mercedes Ruehl, who doesn’t make enough movies, already, is great as Gia’s wishy-washy mother.

January 24: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997, 101 minutes): A shrug. Not nearly as sharp or clever as Scream. No nudity, though I was mesmerized by what seemed to be the imminent unveiling of Jennifer’s Love Hewitts, but no luck. They were just so…present. This film was paced all wrong – the "shocking conclusion" went on forever. More than anything, I felt sorry for kids today, who are condemned to the soundtrack sickness that infects any film aimed at age 25 and under. This film had one of the worst: A bunch of classic rock songs replayed by crunchy and/or gloomy alterna-bands. Kids, I urge you to rise up against this. Deep Purple already had the wacky version of "Hush", forget about these bands-of-minute and their pointless re-makes.

January 23: King of New York (1990, 106 minutes): A Christopher Walken star vehicle, Abel Ferrara film, so look out for lots of bang bang bang and lurid living. Walken is a newly released drug lord, out to take over the NYC market and he turns in a standard performance – morally ambiguous, odd, nattily dressed, sardonic, ultimately unreadable. I’m beginning to notice, no matter what the role or plot, Walken’s characters always do a little song and dance. This film is no exception.

January 14: Carny (1980, 102 minutes): Not much plot in this tale of traveling carny life. Evidently, this film started out as a documentary, then they tossed in a little love triangle to make it a fiction. Seems pretty realistic, a lot of real carny people probably made the cut. Gary Busey makes a good carny-type. Jodie Foster, the teen runaway who joins them does not. Her performance is awkward, very mannered.

January 11: U-Turn (1997, 125 minutes): It twisted and turned, but it was pretty easy to guess what was gonna be around the corner. Sean Penn, playing kinda screwbally here, gets trapped in a small town with assorted interwoven nefarious plot threads. Claire Danes, who is usually pretty cute and good, thumps around in a drop-dead BAD performance. Oliver Stone makes you sit through a lot of that flashy, quick-cut, slo-mo in-your-face stuff he’s so enamored of recently. Some laughs, not unpleasant.

January 9: Heaven’s Gate (1981, 220 minutes): Whoo-hoo! I’d been dying to see this for years! -- ever since I read Final Cut by Stephen Bach, the book that detailed the utter disaster that was the making (and limited showing) of Heaven’s Gate. (The short wrap-up: Budgeted for $11 million, it cost over $40 million, 5 people saw it, 5 people hated it, and it wiped out an entire studio, United Artists. The most famous bomb.) The book is highly recommended, gripping even without having seen the movie, but whet my appetite it did. Heaven’s Gate was gonna be this blockbuster, the eagerly awaited follow-up to writer-director Michael Cimino’s red hot The Deer Hunter (1978). Instead, Heaven’s Gate was critically savaged, and with good reason. Giant, long, huge film, with hardly any plot. "Acting" from Kris Kristofferson. Four hours long, excessive detail, yet nary a minute is spent in character development and the narrative still feels like there’s whole sections missing! Beautifully shot in Montana, but the soundtrack is such a mess - the lovely river flowing by sounds like a 1000 toilets running. I’ve seen my share of inexplicable, stapled-on ends, but the epilogue to Heaven’s Gate takes the cake. I was literally yelling, "Who? What? Where? Why?" during the film’s final seconds. Astonishing how many famous people WERE in it, considering you hardly ever hear of it, like it’s this bad thing that never happened! Worth seeing for the historical and novelty value (particularly in conjunction with the book). Of course, after seeing it, I instantly re-devoured Final Cut, which curiously, made me want to see the movie again. This is a loop I should probably walk away from…

January 8: The Bad Seed (1956, 129 minutes): I suppose once this tale of super-bratty little girl, Rhoda, (who kills people when she doesn’t get her way) was shocking. All I kept thinking during it was how much the kid reminded me of so many of today’s badly behaved, utterly-indulged children. Well, Rhoda gets hers in the end, though it is admittedly a pretty lame, tacked-on end.

January 7: Touch (1997, 96 minutes): Part of the Christopher Walken canon. A lighter role here, he plays a semi-sleazy religious con man. Skeets Ulrich, you know that guy that looks like Johnny Depp, plays a faith healing guy with stigmata. Bridget Fonda is just there. Lolita Davidovich has a small funny part as a stripper whose kid gets healed. Not much going on here though.

January 6: Red Line 7000 (1965, 110 minutes): Wow. Really. Wow. This movie has it all – real stock car racing, go-go dancers, peg leg pants, Euro-sluts, flame-out deaths, slot cars, girls in pointy bras, insane dead-pan non-sequitors, a love theme. And what a mess! I was shocked to see this ensemble tale of stock car driver and their women was a Howard Hawks film. It really stinks! But in a totally enjoyable way. See it soon, vroooom.

January 5: Notorious (1946, 101 minutes): I’d never seen this Hitchcock classic about Nazi collaborators in Rio. I found it a little passive-aggressive. OK, so now I sound demented, but I thought the whole Grant-Bergman set-up needed a decent wake-up call, so I couldn’t really get behind it. Another one of those super-scary Hitchcock moms, this guy sure had some unresolved issues about domineering mommas and their sons!

January 4: Atlantic City (1980, 104 minutes): Interesting contrast to Con Air, which uses the real-life tear-down of casinos in Las Vegas to pump up the Macho Explosion Crash Boom Bang factor – whereas in Atlantic City, the real-life tear down of the decayed beach resort is a perfect visual bridge – down goes the shabby, once stately old Atlantic City, and up comes the new plastic narrow-focus casinos. Burt Lancaster is an old gangster’s runner, a semi-loser of the shabby, slightly genteel old town, and the tale follows him through a few critical days in the "new" Atlantic City full of fresh losers, drugs, corporately sponsored gambling and no sense of history. A great movie.

January 3: The Personals (1982, 90 minutes): Also on my Personal Ad Pop Culture tape, but this film was more fun. A "little" film, mostly a talkie (reminiscent of those Jaglom films) -- half a dozen unknowns in Minneapolis. A lonely divorced man tests the personal ads waters. Film is smart about the personals, some clever set-ups and funny bad dates. More than anything, the film is some real-life snapshot of well-educated proto-yuppies with a slight granola bent in 1980. Weird little time capsule. Remember when Vidal Sasson was considered a designer shampoo? Roller skating in the park? Divorced men in little British sports cars?

January 2: Personals (1990, 93 minutes): Piece o’ made-for-TV schlock I’d taped in my larger pursuit of Personal Ad Pop Culture. Pretty standard – a psycho-killer is using the personals as bait.

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