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

May and June 1999:
June 30: Harlem Nights (1989, 118 minutes): Remember when Eddie Murphy just kinda disappeared? Here’s one reason why – this turkey vanity piece, he wrote, produced, directed and starred in Harlem Nights, a fanasty-1930s-Harlem heist flick where everybody wears immaculate white top coats. And the waste of talent! Richard Pryor gets stuck playing the straight man, Redd Foxx is a one joke character, the late funnyman, Robin Harris, has one line! Eddie Murphy just preens and shoots people – old men, women, don’t matter. Arsenio Hall has a cameo playing a shrieking, wailing gangster, who Eddie Murphy takes way too long to kill. (When Arsenio starts caterwauling, go get popcorn.) Della Reese, here, has been Touched By A Sailor. All she shouts is "Kiss my ass!", unless she’s mad, then whoo! will your ears be burning! Plus, she takes on Murphy in a sucker-punching, back alley brawl. In a cocktail gown (!), albeit a really big one. Film looks like it was shot in Disney’s Upscale Harlem, absent of any reality or New Yorkers. Eagle eyes can spot Eddie Murphy’s wife, Nicole (the stand-by-her-man of the tabloids), walking through the casino as a extra – and staring point blank into the camera.

June 29: The Siege (1998, 115 minutes): It’s the FBI v. the CIA v. the Army v. some Islamic terrorists, who are bombing New York City. The solution? Lock down the Big Apple, detain all Arabs, and hence find the killers. More thriller than pure action flick, _The Siege_ is a geo-political primer on international terrorism interrupted by explosions, epigrams and some perfunctory detective work. The film’s grandest fantasy, the overnight militarization of an enormous city by its own army, is barely depicted. (Or perhaps, that part fell into a plot hole, of which there are many.) Ho-hum stock characters ensure one-note performances -- Denzel Washington, the plodding, moral FBI man; Annette Bening, the CIA’s Islamic operative (once you accept the unlikely premise that the CIA would send a high-glam, white woman into Iraq to co-ordinate Islamic rebel groups); Bruce Willis, the hardline Army General; and Tony Shalhoub, the Lebanese-born FBI agent, and stand-in for all law-abiding Arab-Americans, lest the film be charged with offensive ethnic stereotyping, which it probably deserves.

June 29: Doomsday Rock (1997, 110 minutes): Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – a giant asteroid is headed for earth. This movie is the scariest of the space-rock-vs.-earth movies ‘cause it asks us to put our faith in Connie Selleca to avert global disaster. Yaauughh! Well, no woman with a fresh set and blow-dry like Connie’s is gonna let time stop tomorrow, so you betcha she gets it done. Well, and after her father takes over an nuclear missile silol, but that’s another story. Doomsday Rock was once a mini-series, now shortened to a movie that still drags by.

June 28:Armageddon (1998, 150 minutes): This may be the stupidest film I’ve ever seen, and that’s allowing for that fact that it was summer action candy. The premise is instantly MST3K worthy – A gigantic asteroid is heading for earth (chances are also good that the asteroid would go right through a huge plot hole and leave the planet unscathed.) Overnight, NASA sends a motley crew of offshore oil drillers into outer space to stop it. Why? Well, because the best way to stop the asteroid is to bomb it – not from the outside, but by drilling a big hole and dropping a nuclear bomb down into it. Well duh. I’m shocked to learn the government doesn’t have fully-trained astronaut-slash-roughnecks standing by for this inevitability. There’s lots of 1’s and 0’s being racked up as digital explosion after digital asteroid goes by, but despite all the technology, it all looks a bit cheesy, videogame-ish. The asteroid surface set looks only marginally fancier than that evil planet TV Captain Kirk was always getting stuck on. But what this film reminded me most of were those Hardhat Harry and His Giant Construction Equipment videos they sell for kids. That’s all this is but bigger - men playing with their giant drills and earthmovers. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis, Steve Buscemi gets all the best lines and Liv Tyler stands around Houston Control biting her lip with worry a lot, ‘cause every soul she knows on earth, is now actually on an asteroid hurtling back at earth. Huh. That’s a Xanax moment, alright.

June 26: Can’t Hardly Wait (1998, 98 minutes): Re-tread of The Breakfast Club – when all the disparate high school sorts assemble in one room and learn valuable life lessons. This time it’s the big graduation party, and everybody’s here – the hippies chicks, the dweebs, the jocks, the pretty girls. Jennifer Love Hewitt is supposedly the fairest and flyest of them all, but I fail to see it. Seth Green (aka Dr. Evil’s bratty kid) has the funniest part, playing a suburban white hip-hop gangsta. Dope. Word. Ouch.

June 25: Love Jones (1997, 108 minutes): When this film opened with a poetry slam, I got kinda queasy, but then it quickly got on with the chit-chat business of l-o-v-e. Age-old plot, couple meet, connect, then have trouble with trust and commitment, while you chew your fingernails watching cause you know they’re really truly in love. The exposition drags a bit at the end, film is about 15 minutes too long, but most of the dialogue is pretty snappy. Look for former MTV himbo, Bill Bellamy, as a smarmy wiseacre and hearse driver.

June 25: Mallrats (1995, 95 minutes): Ewww-yew. Kevin Smith’s sophomore (and sophomoric) slump after the rough but amusing Clerks. This time out, he’s got color film and proper cameras but that just shows up how consciously overwritten and miserably underacted this film is. A super-slim tale of some suburban mall brats who break up, then stage lame-ass Three Stooges-type routines to get back together. When I say Shannon Doherty is the least irritating cast member, heed my warning. Snide side note: Dreamboat du jour, Ben Affleck, plays an anal date-rapist – for laughs! Ha ha.

June 14: Meteor (1979, 103 minutes): Sean Connery, who clumps around this film in both his patented Angry-Scotsman-Mode and a scary inside-out-shaggy sheepskin jacket he must have picked up at Jim Morrison’s going-out-of-business sale, is a Rocket Scientist. Yup. Actually, he’s the architect of that Star Wars outerspace defense thing Ronald Reagan dreamed up (or saw in this movie?!) Here, it‘s nicknamed Hercules, and it gets to mate with the Soviet equivalent called Peter the Great, because - gasp - a giant meteor is headed for earth. Since we know with such unprecedented USA-USSR co-operation, the planet will ultimately be saved , the film tosses a bunch of dinky meteors at us so we can scope some destruction. And this lame film has it all – floods, mudslides, fires, collapsing cites, avalanches, earthquake-like jolts, people trapped in subway cars, a tidal wave. Wacky casting that works: Brian Keith as a Soviet rocket scientist. Oddly, waif-y Natalie Wood is utterly unbelievable as a Soviet brainaic.

June 13: Wilder Naplam (1993, 110 minutes): Answers the question: "What IS the worst movie Dennis Quaid ever made? And sure there’s some mighty fine competition, but this is it. Ok, it’s kind of a dramedy about two feuding brothers - they’re in love with the same woman, natch - but they’ve also parted ways on what to do about their special family skill – being able to shoot fire out of their hands with their mind. Quaid’s working a sideshow (and every hambone in his body) hoping to torch up the Letterman show. His meeker brother, Arliss Howard, exhibiting all the dramatic nuances of a sulky David Duchovny, sits all day in an empty Fotomat hut, hiding his light under a bushel. The dame in dispute is Debra Winger (imagine!) who flops around in a green mini-dress like a shrill, oversexed fish-out-of-water. A bad bad film, and sadly, even with the Chihuahua, Jim "Hey Vern" Varney, the doo-wop singing firemen and an exploding pee-wee golf course, just not bad enough to be good again. (Evidently this film grossed a laughable $56,000!)

June 13: Heaven Can Wait (1978, 100 minutes): Warren Beatty, a new-age-y football quarterback (?!), dies pre-maturely and returns to earth on some kind of angelic loaner plan, where he gets to inhabit other men’s bodies. A big problem with this comedic premise -- outside a schlub, inside the caring, carrot-munching Warren -- is the film never shows the viewer the outside of the other men. We only see Warren, while presumably every other cast member in the film is looking at Mr. X or Mr. Y, and wondering why he’s acting like somebody Warren Beatty might play. It’s a big flaw, but let’s face it, in real life, (1) Warren Beatty is enamored of Warren Beatty, why give up the screen time? and (2) those years, much of Hollywood was running on substances less healthy than carrots. It shows.

June 12: Charly (1968, 103 minutes): Film based on the book, Flowers for Algernon, about a mentally retarded man, Charly, who with an experimental operation becomes a genius, but it lacked the first-person power of the book. (Disclosure: I haven’t read it in probably 20 years…). There’s a extended rizz-razz freak-out scene in the movie, meant to shock us with Charly’s new-found anger and depravity, but today, it looks like outtakes from Austin Powers, baby.

June 12: Mr. Jealousy (1997, 105 minutes): Could have been funny but wasn’t. Bah. Eric Stoltz is jealous of his girlfriend’s past lovers, so he angles into a therapy group containing her most obvious ex, a freshly minted, hot young novelist, so he can possibly hear about their former relationship. It’s as dumb and belabored as it sounds.

June 11: The Harvest (1993, 97 minutes): This film had one of the stupidest trick endings I’ve ever seen. If this movie was alive and in my house, I’d have slapped it, right there. Before the lame end, it’s kind of a zig-zag, orange-y noirish tale about a blocked Hollywood screenwriter, trying to investigate a murder in Mexico.

June 8: Tron (1982, 96 minutes): Curious film, and even stranger premise. Let’s go inside a computer and make all the components human, as in "Hi, I’m RAM…" Pit enough bits of data and program against one another, and you have a "real-life" high drama computer videogame inside the computer, being played out for the very control of the system. It’s a clever and flashily executed idea (early computer animation effects, plus this odd retro Metropolis look), but frankly tricky to follow, as it expects the viewer to understand the inner working of a computer, because that is the plot. Program execution v. memory capability. I did ok, but it’s 1999 and I learned DOS back in the dark ages of the mid-80s, and look what year this film came out! It's definitely baffling, who did they reckon would get it? I recall it coming out with much fanfare - it was a PG-rated Disney film - and bombing - no duh! It would probably bomb today (easy-to-use graphic interfaces like Windows means people know even less about hard drive data storage and resident memory, plus the "games" in the film are like advanced Asteroids), yet it's trying to play with cyberspace sci-fi ideas - that information has space, motion and integrity, even petty emotions -- all very trendy. Tron really held my interest as a curio piece, and was pretty watchable. Why isn’t a cult film today?

June 7: The Enforcer (1976, 96 minutes): The third feature in the Dirty Harry series, and probably the nastiest. There’s little rooting for Eastwood here, he plays Harry like a sick psycho, adrift from all humanity. But what can you expect from a movie that opens with him crashing someone else’s car through an entire liquor store just to stop a dinky robbery? Police call this "overkill". You’ll shiver when getting demoted to a desk job after this incident, Clint hisses malevolently, "Personnel? That’s for assholes." So, the brass hooks him up with chick-cop-rookie, the purse-fumbling, Tyne Daly, and well, there’s some incident with the kidnapped mayor and Alcatraz and more car wrecks and student revolutionaries and you know… Feel lucky? Make my day. Eat my shorts.

June 5: Clockwatchers (1997, 105 minutes): Little-ish film about four temps in some hellish banking company. They bond against the dumb work (Indie queen, Parker Posey is the gang leader), then their unit crumbles in the face of some office thievery. If you’ve ever temped, some scenes will throb with authentic horror. A quieter, slower film than you’d expect. Not much meat on the bone, but a start. With half the country temping, this is fertile ground. (Yes, The Temp rocked, but not in its depiction of real-life temp drudgery and soulless-ness.)

June 3: Physical Evidence (1989, 99 minutes): There’s trouble in Beantown and all the TV-cop-show-type evidence points to Burt Reynolds, a former badge with some axes to grind and few squad house tomahawks left in his own back. Luckily, Theresa Russell is a Yuppie gal slumming as a public defender and together - you guessed it - they take on some organized crime and crooked cops. It’s dumb, and since Reynolds plays a cranky ex-cop, the damn thing’s not even mitigated by his usual devilish charm.

May 31: Jackie Brown (1997, 155 minutes): Enjoyable heist flick, with props going to the actors (Pan Grier, Robert Forster, Samuel Jackson - who does funny-evil just great) and the source, an Elmore Leonard novel – and not Quentin Tarantino. Dude, film’s too long, multiple versions of same scene pretty pointless and hackneyed, and some shots just struck me dumb with how badly they were framed and set-up. If it’s intentional, dude, it didn’t work. Still, the good outweighs the bad. You can see it all coming, but it’s a fun ride. Q’s over surf music, this time out, he gives the hipster nod to the Delfonics. Sha-la-la-la…

May 28: Cookie’s Fortune (1998, 118 minutes): A by-the-book trot-out of every hokey southern fried cliché – small town lawyer with bicycle and bow-tie, the high-acting aging Southern belles, best friends - nutty old wealthy white woman and rascally but amiable and true middle-aged black man, cranky old cop, earnest young cop, the jailhouse as social center where the sheriff and inmates are all cutesy Scrabble experts – and the thin plot was no better. Old lady dies, black man falsely arrested, kindly sheriff wades through a swamp of oh-so-quirky oddballs and sorts it all out. This film has all the histrionics and broadswipe accents of a dinner theater Tennessee Williams, with a special shout-out to Glenn Close, who is capable of a dignified performance, but here, is all arm-flapping, parasol-twirling and southern-style shrieking. A Robert Altman flick, maybe all this obviousness had a Point, but it sure escaped me.

May 27: Wide Sargasso Sea (1992, 98 minutes): Call me ignorant, but I’m still wondering where this Sargasso Sea is! Some place with lots of seaweed that traps men and sucks them under, according to the intro. The film never identifies where it’s taking place - obliquely, on the other side of this sea, and in what I’d wager is the Caribbean, and probably Jamaica. Somewhere colonial, jungle-y, steamy, sexy, voo-doo-y – it’s the sensual semi-native girl and the uptight Englishman. Hubba hubba. Will he be sucked into the lush nature and primal booty, and lose his way? If Red Show Diaries had a bigger budget, and put a little more thought into a production, this might be it. Plenty of sweaty his-n-her nudity. Based on a Jean Rhys novel, that was a prequel to Jane Eyre.

May 25: The Van (1996, 105 minutes): The third in the Barrytown trilogy, based on Roddy Doyle’s novels, (see also, The Commitments and The Snapper), this episode focuses on the hapless boozy North Dublin dad, who takes on a hamburger and chip van with his buddy. Naturally, mishaps with the chipper ensue, but the film is just not that charming or funny or rowdy to really click.

May 24: The Real Blonde (1997, 105 minutes): Despite a nice collection of decent or amusing performers – Catherine Keener, Christopher Lloyd, Marlo Thomas, Kathleen Turner, Elizabeth Berkley - after Show Girls, how can you not love her?! -- this ensemble film about struggling actors, models and assorted industry people doesn’t gel or get funny. Plus, most of the film focuses on whiny Matthew Modine, who irritates me.

May 23: A Perfect Murder (1998, 105 minutes): Do you think Michael Douglas employs a full-time separate agent just to get him these rich-guy/gray-morals roles? Well, here he is again - in an amalgam of Wall Street (he’s a bond guy), The Game (he starts shifting the plot around), and Basic Instinct/Fatal Attraction (it’s that extra-marital sex thing again…) Matching wits with him (though she looks like she couldn’t tell you how to tie a shoe), is his wispy wife, The Gwyneth Paltrow. A re-make of Dial M for Murder, you’ve seen this flick a million times before - the plot twists and turns, and somebody always falls out a high-rise window. High-gloss, perfectly entertaining variation on the same.

May 23: Absolute Power (1997, 120 minutes): The worst prolonged opening set-up in any recent film I’ve seen - who are these people? Where are they? Why are they killing each other? Oh, and then who just pulled up outside? Why are they cleaning up the blood? Who is the guy in the closet? No need to explain til the second reel. Sure whatever. Here’s some clues: Gene Hackman is the U.S. President with a taste for rough sex. Clint Eastwood is a famous burglar. Judy Davis (in the worst role of her career) is the President’s assistant. Ed Harris is a homicide detective. That should get you started.

May 21: The Dead Zone (1983, 103 minutes): For the first five minutes of this movies, Christopher Walken looks and acts normal - he laughs, he loves, his hair looks decent. Then, the freak accident that turns his brain supersonic – he can see Death coming via handshakes – and he becomes the nutso Walken we know and love. This is one of the better movies based on a Stephen King tale, and has a twisty end with a nod towards The Manchurian Candidate.

May 17: City of Angels (1998, 117 minutes): Nicholas Cage is a broody black-trench-coated angel (!) with a receding hairline (at what point in the afterlife do you get your youthful hair back?) in love with a perky, cutesy, heart surgeon (!) Meg Ryan (full head of hair, tousled just so). A lot of the times he’s invisible to her and just moons around in the background, groovin’ on all the bad lite rock this movie spins out, and wishing he could eat and feel fruit. Based on Wim Wender’s German flick, Wings of Desire, this USA version is a schmaltzy primer about love, redemption, sacrifice, massage therapy and hits every goony angels-are-here hot button. My favorite detail is learning that angels, when they’re not saving us mere mortals from being hit by taxicabs, hang out in huge bat-like clusters IN LIBRARIES! Huh.

May 9: John Grisham’s The Rainmaker (1997, 135 minutes): The earnest young lawyer, still green from the bar exam versus the big giant based-in-another-state insurance company in the case of the young man who died as his benefits were purposefully held up. Such suspense. How ever will it turn out? Additional subplots involving a battered young wife and a kooky old dame with money grubbing relatives are utterly pointless and only make this two hour-plus movie seem even longer! Matt Damon - he’s there, he’s not there, who can tell? Dan DeVito, the self-described, "para-lawyer" who can’t seem to pass the bar, gets the few snappy lines. Look for the formerly dishy Mickey Rourke as a dragged-put looking sleazeball, and way-back formerly dishy, Jon Voight, in one of those heavy bad-guy roles he’s been favoring lately. Everybody takes on a bad southern accent except Danny DeVito, who presumably knows better than to even try.

May 6: The Prophecy (1995, 96 minutes): Quick! We need somebody to play the Archangel Gabriel as a leering, sneering, quipping black-leather psycho who sucks the souls out of little orphaned girls! Christopher Walken? Perfect! Based loosely on some "lost" part of Revelations, this film will get you up to speed on the real Holy War - Bad Angels v. Mortals v. Good Angels. Yes, it’s confusing as hell, except it’s heaven-and-earth, and honestly nobody promised the afterlife would be any less chaotic.

May 3: Primary Colors (1998, 143 minutes): By now of course, no work of fiction can come near last year’s real life Presidential Potboiler. Watching this, I felt like I didn’t want to know any more about Bill Clinton, please! and was watching Emma Thompson in the Hillary role, looking for clues to last year’s big unsolved mystery - What About Hillary? Slim pickings. Billy Bob Thornton’s manic hillbilly trash turn, though, invites much juicy speculation about how unreconstructed James Carville might be in real life. The oddest scene in the film is the slow tracking shot that riffs on Edward Hopper’s famous late night diner painting, Night Hawks. The camera moves slowly in, towards a greenishly-lit Krispy Kreme donut hut, glowing alone in the darkness. Inside, of course, is blobby John Travolta, the Clinton-clone, shoveling in sugar-glazed dough and commiserating with the common man. Film is entertaining, certainly more engaging than some of Travolta’s other recent work.

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