Bad Movies Back Files: May - July 1998

May, June and July 1998:
July 25: Stripper (1986, 90 minutes): A documentary about a half-dozen strippers who trek to Las Vegas hoping to win the Stripper of the Year prize. Parts of it feel staged and re-shot after the fact, but I soon got into the stories. Ultimately most of the tales are pretty sad. Historically interesting in that none of the gals had silicone breasts. After so much bad stripping on cable, itís hard to recall such a time ever existed.

July 18: Zebrahead (1992, 102 minutes): White boy loves black girl in the Detroit Ďhood. Iím not sure which if there is a neighborhood in Detroit where kids from the same high school would live in either burned out ghettoes or palatial mansions, but itís a necessary plot device for this movie. Michael Rappaport is mostly annoying as the white homey, though since this film is 6 years old, I reckon this affectation has only gotten worse among kids. The best scenes are in this warren of an old blues/R&B record store. Drool city.

July 17: The Hawk (1992, 86 minutes): British (maybe TV? Felt like it.) movie about a housewife who thinks her boorish husband might be a serial killer. There were moments when it seemed like the film might go somewhere, but nooooo.

July 17: Song of Freedom (1938, 70 minutes): AMC ran a wad of Paul Robeson films recently, and I taped most of them. Supposedly, this was the film he was most proud of Ė a British production, and far more dignified than the usual singing grunt worker films he did in U.S. Robeson and his life Ė too interesting to go into here. Look it up. And if youíve never heard Robeson sing, well, go track down some of these movies.

July 15: This Woman is Dangerous (1952, 100 minutes): Pretty standard mid-career Joan Crawford vehicle. Sheís a gangster gal, who needs an eye operation. Enter handsome young doctor.

July 14: Conspiracy Theory (1997, 135 minutes): The famous big-budget movie about a zine! (Though weíre stretching the definition. Gibsonís characterís screed is on-topic for a zine, but it turns out he only has one subscriber.) Mel Gibson gets to do a ham-fest playing (another!) amusing mentally ill person, Julia Roberts just stands around looking worried. The plotís a mess, even at two hours plus, I was like "Wait, what?!" Film wussies out into love story, pat answers and miracle cures.

July 13: Barbarians at the Gate (1993, 107 minutes): Funny HBO-movie somewhat based on the all-too-true-and-terrifying tale of the RJR-Nabisco leveraged buy-out. Whoa, the 80s were so weird. Itís all becoming clear now. The film just covers the tip of the iceberg, for instance there are no lawyers in the film Ė and boy did the real life lawyers clean up on that deal! (Read the full and engrossing story in the book of the same name.) James Gardner is great as the RJR CEO, Ross Johnson, though the movie casts him sympathetically, probably unlike real-life. Jonathan Pryce plays the cold-fish take-over king, Henry Kravis. (Luckily for the real-life Mr. Kravis, Mr. Pryce is considerably taller. Ouch.) There were, though, many cell-phone anachronisms in this movies. Late 1980s cellular technology is a bizarre specialized knowledge of mine. I fear such anachronisms will only increase, as the world forgets there was ever a time when you couldnít call anybody from anywhere using a pocket sized phone.

July 12: Champion (1949, 99 minutes): Boxing rags-to-riches-to-jerk tale. Maximum Kirk Douglas bare chest screen time! Plus some exercise sequences so we can see truly that Kirk is a man-god on the mat.

July 9: Sun Valley Serenade (1941, 86 minutes): I only really watched this to see the great Nicholas Brothers dance sequence. Worth taping and watching several times. You wonít believe those splits. (See also Stormy Weather, a better film all Ďround anyhow.) They made this move to maximize on Olympic skater Sonja Henieís talents, but they seem pretty lumpy and clunky compared to contemporary ice skaters. Harmless fluff.

July 8: Safe (1995, 121 minutes): Low-key, but stark tale of a L.A. Yuppie who decides sheís "allergic to the twentieth century." ( Well, lucky her! Thatíll soon be over!) Like another odd film about L.A. yuppies, Rapture, I couldnít decide if the film was supposed to be an endorsement or scorching indictment of nutsy behavior Ė in Rapture it was rabid born-agains. Here, itís environmental illness (and I do use that term grudgingly.) Since I believe L.A. to be filled with folks way too self-absorbed for their own good, I went with biting social commentary and thought the film was pretty darn funny. Your mileage may vary.

July 7: Days of Thunder (1990, 108 minutes): Tom Cruise is a NASCAR driver, Nicole Kidman is a brain surgeon. Sure, makes sense to me. Guess who wins the big race? A Simpson-Bruckheimer power-blast-o-rama, but the most impressive shots are the aerial views of these speedways packed with 125,000 shirtless fans. Look for a puffy, drugged out Donnie Simpson asÖa stock car driver! Of course!

July 6: Lolita (1962, 152 minutes): I love this movie. Sure, the unseemly bits are watered down from the novel, but itís still a weird and very funny film. Shelley Winters is excrutiatingly great as the "cosmopolitan" housewife.

July 4: Vernon, Florida (1981, 55 minutes): This film is so low-key I had some trouble getting interested. Maybe itís where I live now, but these Florida oddballs didnít seem so odd to me like they might have several years ago. Nonetheless, a pleasant diversion and worth it to hear about that radioactive sand from White Sands.

July 4: Watermelon Man (1970, 97 minutes): Some movies do not age well, and this is one of them! A suburban white man wakes up black Ė trouble and lessons ensue. The film isnít paced very well, shifts from drama, preaching and low comedy awkwardly. The weirdest scenes are in the too-long beginning, when Godfrey Cambridge with terrible make-up plays a white man. The main character is not very likable, so who cares what happens to him? Maybe his wife leaves him because heís a self-centered little boy, not because he turned black overnight.

July 3: The Trip to Bountiful (1985, 102 minutes): This film is from a play and in places thatís real obvious. Still, itís a nicely acted simple story of an old lady who wants to see her old farmstead. Perfect movie to take to your parents or grandparents. Some nice vintage Greyhound buses in it.

July 2: The Last Detail (1973, 103 minutes): One of those well-known movies Iíd never seen. Halfway through it I suddenly remembered the Mad magazine send-up of it, where everything that ballooned out of Jack Nicholsonís mouth was "%#$&@". I appreciated the end - donít want to give it away, but it wasnít no Days of Thunder moron-o-fest.

July 2: Romy and Michelleís High School Reunion (1997, 91 minutes): This was better than I expected! Once I "got" the characters. I was unsure at first how I was meant to read them, but then I settled in nicely. There was some freshness to this popular plot Ė weirdo returns to high school, though I canít help being mystified these days by the ever-changing dynamic. In my day, it was out to be out. Now, it seems like itís in to be out, so whatís the conflict? These two gals didnít really seem like theyíd be that unpopular in high school, but hey, Iím not gonna sweat the realism of a fun movie, already.

June 30: Stakeout (1987, 117 minutes): Piece oí crap. I begged for Richard Dreyfus to be tied and gagged but the movie just kept feeding him more lines and worse, a romantic sub-plot! I want to see more movies about cops that act like 13 years olds. Yeah sure.

June 30: The Grapes of Wrath (1940, 129 minutes): Never seen it. Should have. I donít much care for Henry Fonda which is why I think I never saw this. But, this film is great - beautifully shot by Greg Toland (Citizen Kane), all leftie and grim. The movie ending has been toned down from the novel, but this is still a powerful and harrowing film.

June 25: The Bad and the Beautiful (1952, 118 minutes): I just love movies Hollywood makes about making Hollywood movies! This one is nasty, a quad-love-hate-fest of actress, writer, director and producer. Makes you wonder who these on-screen characters are thinly disguised stand-ins for! Nice snarky Kirk Douglas role, plus he keeps his shirt on.

June 24: Donnie Brasco (1997, 126 minutes): Less a crime movie, than a melancholy buddy movie. This movie bummed me out, but I liked it. And what a relief to see Al Pacino playing a washed-out middle-aged nobody, instead of the usual conceit, where weíre supposed to believe heís the dreamy hero the 19-year babe wants. I wish these other old timers (especially the ones not aging as well as smoothie Pierce Brosnan) would buy a big clue. Fuhgeddaboutit!

June 23: Traveller (1996, 101 minutes): Did this movie even play theaters? Small film about family of con-artists working the south. It could have been a little snappier, a little edgier Ė but it was OK, amusing, and thereís a great mindbending con at the end.

June 22: Jerry Maguire (1996, 139 minutes): Ow! Why do I watch this shit?! Show me the door! This movie is so over-rated! Tom Cruise, he is a one-note pair of walking sunglasses. The depth of an orange. I tell you, he was more believable as a NASCAR driver than a man with a soul. "You complete me". Oy, my dog could write better dialogue.

June 22: Midnight Run (1988, 125 minutes): Funny, even for those contributing to the Charles-Grodin-Must-Die fund. His whininess used effectively here. A road-buddy movie to be commended for a smart script, no thumping bad rock soundtrack, no dumb love interest and no cross-country convertibles.

June 21: Mad Love (1995, 95 minutes): Hey, another movie about how fun mentally ill people are -- well, at least until you get stuck in some border town with them and not a Starbucks in sight! Drew Barrymore giggles and pouts, Chris OíDonnell just stands there, and I wonder why I sit through this stuff.

June 21: Lost in America (1985, 91 minutes): I delighted to say this movie is holding up nicely after so many years. Sometimes Albert Brooks doesnít quite work, but this movie skips along nicely on his neurotic manic energy. A hilarious antidote to the cliched genre of road movies. Youíll never think the same way about Las Vegas again!

June 18: The Disappearance of Aimee (1976, 110 minutes): A TV movie starring Faye Dunaway (at her height!) and grande dame Bette Davis. Iíd never heard of it Ė and Iíve been obsessed with the tale of 1920s evangelist Sister Aimee Semple MacPherson for years. A low-budget tale of Aimeeís famous disappearance, but I wouldnít recommend it if you didnít already know who, what and where.

June 18: Animal House (1978, 109 minutes): I busted every bone in my body laughing when this film came out. Sat through it 2 or 3 times. Today, itís not so funny. Maybe because itís been copied so many times, or because the jokes and best scenes have been repeated ad nauseum (Toga, food fight). Historically important though Ė the movie that spawn so many of its ilk!

June 15: Pet Sematary (1989, 103 minutes): Yuck Ė Stephen King penned the clunky screenplay (and gave himself one of those annoying cameos he favors) about the cemetery where the dead donít stay dead. The acting is miserable. The end is a gore fest gross-out. Mitigating factor: The Ramones sing the title song.

June 14: Face/Off (1997, 138 minutes): If you like John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, then youíll dig this ripping yarn Ė how they swap faces, voices, identities and mannerisms. Accept that this is technically possible and then have a blast. Great drive-in type fun, smarter than any asteroid or alien movie. John Woo - bang bang bang. The filmís a bit longer than it needs to be, but whatever.

June 12: Paradise Lost: The Robin Hood Hills Child Murders (1996, 150 minutes): Iíd put off watching this cause I heard it was unrelentingly grim. Thatís about it. Itís a docu-piece from the same guys who did His Brotherís Keeper. The film covers the crime and trial in West Memphis, Arkansas, of three 8-years olds allegedly killed and mutilated by three teenage boys. The filmmakers have extraordinary access to all participants. With such wide access and months of filming over the course of the trials, I was aware of how much material they must have had to work with and was extremely conscious of what they chose to include. The film lacks real heroes and villains - at various points, I vacillated between sympathy, disgust and even empathy for everybody. Itís certainly a provocative film - lots up for discussion: class, religion, justice system, family, ignorance, media, the very film itself. Ultimately, itís about an awful thing that happens in this small town that cannot be resolved - not in West Memphis, not for these people involved and not for the viewer. A very unsettling film and be forewarned Ė thereís some graphic crime scene photos and footage.

June 12: Escape From New York (1981, 99 minutes): I love this idea ĖManhattan is a penal colony. Of course, this film is from Ď81 when it was generally assumed Manhattan wouldnít make it to the millennium. (Story takes place in the "future", 1997.) The only "off" thing in this film is the pointless inclusion of Adrienne Barbeau, in some flimsy decolletage leotard. Sure, I guess the occasional hard-crime women would be cast into this penal colony, but (1) how long would a zaftig hoochie-cooch mama like Barbeau last in a hard-core male prison! and if she did hook up with someone it would be the reed-thin, nebbishy Harry Dean Stanton. Oh well, I think she was the directorís squeeze at the time.

June 11: Mo Money (1992, 97 minutes): Damon Wayanís antics may have seemed fresh at the time, but watching this movie now, you realize heís got one joke and we were all tired of it 5 years ago. This film gets way bogged down in unnecessary "serious" plot, the humor is dumb and mean-spirirted without being funny.

June 11 Leap of Faith (1992, 110 minutes): Iím a long-time observer of wacky evangelists, so I screened this Steve Martin dramedy about a crooked traveling evangelist. There a flashes of what could have been a nasty little story, but (1) none of the actors are up for it and (2) the plot takes a terrifying Speilberg turn anyway. Liam Neeson is just plain awful as a small-town Kansas sheriff.

June 10: The Man Who Would Be King (1975, 129 minutes): I donít normally take to these male derring-do type of films, but this is one of the better ones that is genuinely enjoyable. A John Huston flick based on a Rudyard Kipling tale about two English rounders slog their way into Kafiristan, determined to plunder it. Michael Caine and Sean Connery are super and the Masonic plot thread is delicious. I saw this film on the big screen when it came out and was so struck by the ending then, that I recalled it almost verbatim 23 years later. A cautionary tale about becoming godlike -- it should happen to Puff Daddy.

June 9: The Razorís Edge (1984, 129 minutes): Say, why not make a bad TV movie of the Somerset Maugham novel (rife with anachronisms!) and make sure to insert Bill Murrayís standard lovable goofball character (a la Stripes, Caddyshack) into it. A mess, though not unwatchable. Reminiscent of Hudson Hawk where you just canít figure WHAT was ever intended! (besides the obvious answer: vanity piece.) This movie just ends abruptly and inexplicably, they like lost the last two chapters of the book.

June 8: Summer Lovers (1982, 98 minutes): Woof. Woof. OK, follow me here. Two Americans (the no-talent Daryl Hannah and Iím-so-serious Peter Gallagher) spend the summer on some Greek island. Our hero becomes infatuated with a French ingenue (in the movie, an archaeologist in hot pants!) with an impossibly long name. Well, because men write and direct this shit instead of just growing up and getting on with their adult lives, of course, the three of them bunk up together. Itís perfectly OK with dimbulb Daryl to share her man with Frenchie. A big chunk of this film is watching Gallagher smirk as he ambles about Greece with a topless chick on each arm. The film never delivers a proper three-way Ė the two gals never get it on. Presumably theyíre content to wait their turn with Mr. Stud. A head-shaking mess, filled with bare breasts and an insane Euro-disco soundtrack ("Je suis le jet-set"), highly recommended (or not, depending on your tolerance for this sort of uber-trash.) I loved it.

June 8: Swingers (1996, 96 minutes): The Man of the House was in near hysterics throughout this film, so it must touch some deep male nerve. Funny film, delivers the men-are-idiots-and-must-learn-they-are-idiots basic plot premise with some welcome freshness.

June 7: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997, 107 minutes): I thought I would like this but I didnít. It just didnít work. It wasnít black enough to be funny, and enough already with the romantic subplot. Problem is, if you accepted the romance, then the film collapsed. "Oh youíre a hired killer with no moral center who I havenít seen in ten years? Sure Iíll drive off into the sunset with you." Other irritating things: the actors were all way too old, did high school kids in the early 80s in one of Americaís richest suburbs really listen to all that ska music? Werenít they preppies? And Minnie Driver! Johnny-One-Note school of acting.

June 7: Trial and Error (1997, 98 minutes): Hereís the test, can you watch Michael Richard play a goofy, bumbling dude and not think "Kramer"? Sometimes. A pleasantly dumb movie Ė again, letís have less romantic subplot and more silly courtroom antics, please! Actually, if you cut out the courtroom parts of this and Liar Liar and stuck Ďem together (abandoning all the emotional family/love crap) youíd have a funny movie. Rip Torn is sadly underused until the very end when he gives a hilarious "life story."

May 28: Presidio (1988, 97 minutes): The only thing I remembered about this movie when it came out was that my friend Tom went to go see it and didnít like. Surprise. Itís sucks. Man, it sucks ALL over. The only good thing is the Presidio itself, surely the most dramatically-situated army base on earth (under the Golden Gate Bridge) but they donít even make good use of this. Who knew Meg Ryan has been doing the same irritating little pouty girl schtick for so long? Make her go away. Mark Harmon, phone in for a clue. One mitigating factor: the "Grateful Dead inside lingo" scene was so beyond awful, it was almost an high art form.

May 27: Presumed Innocent (1990, 127 minutes): I have a new taste for bad legal thrillers so here we are. This film is middling at best. Too much confusing local political sub-plots to follow. No real tension. Itís so obvious Harrison Ford didnít do it, that the film is just a wait-and-see -- Oh, what secondary character is the real murderer?

May 26: The Frighteners (1996, 109 minutes): Defying most movie rules, the second half of this film is better than the first. The first half is a little too Ghostbuster/Beetlejuice for my tastes. I watched this because I loved Peter Jacksonís other film, Dead Alive. That was a gut buster, this one has Michael J. Fox, say no more. Odd use of New Zealand for L.A. though! L.A. never looked so good!

May 25: Trees Lounge (1996, 94 minutes): I dig Steve Buscemi and this was a Steve B.-fest! By accounts, grim and funny, a few days with a go-nowhere Long island loser and associates. You probably already know this guy in some other local incarnation. Great little film.

May 24: Flashdance (1983, 96 minutes): Since moving to Pittsburgh 5 years ago, Iíve been DYING to see this film again, because of course now I know that this is the city of 18 year-old girl-welders-slash-artful-strippers-slash-ballerinas! And what could possibly go wrong in a film with all these names attached: Adrian Lyne, Giorgio Moroder, Jerry Bruckheimer, Don Simpson, Joe Eszterhaus, Peter Guber and Jon Peters?! I shit you not! What a colossal pure-80s power line-up. What a feeling!

May 22: Midnight (1939, 94 minutes): OK screwball comedy. This film has one of those non-gay-gays in it, a Hollywood closet standard from the old days, a bitchy male best friend. Naturally, he has all the best lines and gets to go hat shopping.

May 16: Fools Rush In (1997, 108 minutes): We only watched this because of the Chihuahua in it. The dog got a fair amount of screen time, but it was a negative portrayal. I donít condone this behavior in dogs, but we cheered when it bit Matthew Perry.

May 15: Sherlock Jr. (1924, 60 minutes): The classic, the one-and-only Buster Keaton film to see if youíre just seeing one. 75 years later, the sequence of "special effects" (simple editing!) in this film still looks sharp and a damn sight more entertaining than those boring digital dinosaurs.

May 13: Our Hospitality (1923, 74 minutes): Perhaps a little long and not as consistently funny as some other Buster Keaton films. Still charming though and the waterfall scene at the end is a classic.

May 11: Cockfighter (1974, 83 minutes): One of those "little films" from the early 70s. From the Charles Willeford novel, this is an odd tale of a purposefully mute cockfighter on the traveling circuit throughout central Florida. Compact and nicely shot, especially the fight scenes. Not recommended for the sensitive. I certainly donít advocate real-life cockfighting, but it was somewhat refreshing to see a film without one of those sanctimonious "No animals were harmed in the making of this film" disclaimer they tack onto any film now that shows a dog walking across the street.

May 9: Breakdown (1997, 93 minutes): Immediate points for having a Yuppie couple traveling cross-desert on a road trip in a NON-convertible. A competent drive-in flick, menacing big-rig action and because Iím-a-victim-of-society, I laughed madly at the pile-on-the-gruesome ending.

May 7: Zorro the Gay Blade (1981, 93 minutes): Back in the dark ages of the internet when you could read everything, somebody used to post a weekly guide in rec.arts.tv that listed any show or film on TV that week with gay content. Week after week, this film would make the list (undoubtedly, it is a cable staple and on every week). It piqued my curiosity, so I finally watched it. Ouch. This film has Hollywood drug-addling written all over. Ill-conceived (Zorro?! And it never stops, a new Zorro is due out soon!) and badly executed, this film hurts. There is something mildly captivating watching the scary-tanned George Hamilton preen (he seems to take in cheerful stride this new career low), but the "babes" Brenda Vacarro and Lauren Hutton just flop around like dying fish. The "gay content" turns out to be Zorroís brother, Bunny, (also George Hamilton) who the Liberace of swash-bucklers. It is all too terrifying.


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