September 7: Guyana Tragedy (1980, 240 minutes): A still-disturbing TV movie tracing the rise of preacher Jim Jones and the 1978 mass suicide of his cult. Powers Booth is excellent as Jones, nailing his creepy diction and charismatic but low-budget feel. Often forgotten in shocking aftermath of 913 dead was that Jones left the U.S. with his flock to evade legal troubles, but also to erect a utopian Marxist commune, Jonestown, in Guyana. That it went so horribly wrong is a chilling rebuke to the pursuit of isolated utopias.
September 8: The Lost World (1925, 62 minutes) From an Arthur Conan Doyle tale, this remarkable silent film will educate those who believe exciting cinematic dinosaurs to be the exclusive province of gazillionaire Steven Speilberg and digital computer effects. Plucky adventurers burrow deep into the Amazon to report on a “lost world”, a mysterious plateau where dinosaurs still exist. Convincing dinosaur action is achieved through stop-motion animation by Willis O’Brien (who later did King Kong ’33). A must for fans of early animation techniques, and for lovers of dinosaur mayhem. Imagine a brontosaurus loose in London!
September 9: The Stepford Wives (1975, 114 minutes): Tasty satire of suburban conformity and the male suppression of feminism. Dated, sure, but still creepy. Hip Katharine Ross moves with her family to postcard-perfect Stepford, where all the wives wear gingham maxi-dresses, speak vacuously about oven cleaners and live to please their dweebish husbands. Seems that the men are turning their wives into submissive replicants, and she’s next.
September 10: Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980, 95 minutes): Made-for-TV movie that fails to satisfy the outrage left behind after The Stepford Wives rendered all those independent young women into androids, even though the long-gowned robo-gals go nuts all at once and kill Stepford’s evil overlord. Utterly humorless, the film’s one unintentional joke is that frumpy, jabber-jaw Julie Kavner can not be turned into a docile android, the force of her irritating personality is that strong.
September 11: Bad Influence (1990, 105 minutes): Something of a re-work of Strangers on a Train, but packed with hilarious Yuppie anxiety -- financial analyst job ladder, big money wedding blues, industrial area lofts with glass block walls, trendy members-only nightclubs. James Spader is the spineless fool who meets the scheming evil Rob Lowe accidentally. Before you can say “Amstel Light”, Lowe’s got Spader hurtling down a drug-fueled collision course. Lowe won’t be happy til he strips every bit of morality and grey worsted from Spader. Highly entertaining psycho-sexual thriller nonsense.
September 12: Old Yeller (1957, 84 minutes). “The best doggone dog in the West” goes the theme song. The big yellow mutt lives up to his hype, befriending two boys and protecting the manless Texas frontier family from cranky cattle, ornery hogs and rabid wolves. This Disney classic by today’s touchy-feely standards is surprisingly unsentimental about domestic animals as per farm life, but the tears will fall when Old Yeller gets hydrophobia.
September 12: White Fang (1991, 109 minutes). During Gold Rush days in Alaska, Ethan Hawke rescues a wolf-dog, White Fang, from professional dogfighters. His charity proves a wise investment as White Fang holds off nefarious bandits and digs Hawke out of a collapsed mine shaft Hawke tumbles madly for the beast, ultimately rejecting a promising career in California hotel management, to stay behind in frozen north with White Fang. An agreeable dog-boy tale, with ripping adventures and gorgeous scenery.
September 13: A Dog of Flanders (1999, 100 minutes). A poor but plucky lad and his ageing grandpapa (hammy old Jack Warden who clocks about six death scenes in this film before eventually succumbing) foraging in the woods find a shaggy black sofa. After dragging it home, they discover, it’s a dog -- a massive hairy Bouvier herding dog. Oddly, there’s virtually no doggie discourse in this film. The dog just plods along, finding the occasional lost item and barking at mean landlords. Even when the young’un is freezing to death in a snow storm, the dog lends no help. Instead, the boy is led to safety by the ghost of painter Peter Paul Reubens while the dog naps on. The Reubens subplot is a wacky twist in this otherwise sappy and poorly acted family film.
September 14: Rock Around the Clock (1956, 77 minutes). Fleeing from the death of big band music, music promoter Johnny Johnston arrives in nowheresville where all the kids are jivin’ like crazy to a rockin’ new combo, the Comets fronted by some big goober, Bill Haley. Johnston’s no square daddy-o; he gets the Comets booked pronto into the Big Apple despite a bizarre subplot involving a blood feud with his unusually mannish ex-flame, who just happens to be the only promoter for the whole East Coast. Frankly it’s great to see such a powerful dame in a hokey old flick, and the substantial footage of Bill Haley and his Comets rockin’ away with pianos, slide guitars and saxophones is worth tuning in for.
September 14: That Thing You Do! (1996, 110 minutes). A bubblegum piece of film about a one-hit wonder band that features some great mid-60s TV stage sets. Director Tom Hanks wrings some dry humor from his role as the band’s blasé insta-manager (though it’s largely a reprise of his role as the weary manager from A League of Their Own).
September 15: This is Spinal Tap (1984, 82 minutes). The accolades for this mockumentary are plentiful, the film’s gags now cemented in pop culture shorthand. The band is deliciously (and affectionately) skewered, but my favorite two characters in the film have always been the managers, those less-visible but equally petty and powerful rock-and-roll fixtures. The band weathers two typical managers with predictable results -- the butt-kissing, unctuous road warrior (Tony Hendra) who’s finally fed up with the band’s antics, and the ill-advised managerial appointment of a know-it-all, know-nothing girlfriend (June Chadwick) that thoroughly disrupts the band’s fragile balance. Hit the road with Tap again, and watch how perfectly these two “manage.”
September 17: Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976, 105 minutes): Join boozer Bill Cosby, sex kitten/feminist Raquel Welch, suspected meth dealer/cop Harvey Keitel and insensitive pig Larry Hagman on the streets of L.A. as these four unlikely ambulance workers struggle to score patients, keep beer cold and get laid. A mish-mash film -- part lowbrow comedy, part tragi-drama -- that owes much of its look and feel to TV’s paramedic masterpiece, Emergency!
September 18: Boys Don’t Cry (1999, 116 minutes). This fact-based film of a 20-year-old woman in rural Nebraska who opts to live her life disguised as a man, “Brandon,” is at once fascinating and harrowing. Brandon (Hilary Swank), his girlfriend Lana (Chloe Sevigny) and their pals -- all troubled youth -- ache to escape, whether through recklessness, drugs or romantic fantasy. Ultimately, Brandon’s gender deception results in tragedy. Swank remarkably transcends the drag effect of her role – a woman playing a woman playing a man. (When the man is physically revealed to be female, it’s startling even to the informed viewer.) Also worth watching is the 1998 documentary, The Brandon Teena Story, which offers candid interviews with Brandon’s friends, family and tormentors, as well as a more accurate account of the murder which was more horrific and pathetic than as presented in the fictionalized Boys Don’t Cry.
September 19: Being John Malkovich (1999, 112 minutes). Scruffy puppeteer John Cusack, while laboring at the world’s oddest office, discovers a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich. Soon Cusack and his wife (Cameron Diaz) vie to “be” Malkovich for the sheer pleasure of being someone else while still themselves -- the ultimate pulling-the-puppet-strings trick. As the actor, each strives to woo Cusack’s aloof co-worker, Catherine Keener, who starts a sideline business renting time in Malkovich’s head to eager strangers as some kooky psychic carnival ride. Malkovich plays himself superbly in a tricky role as himself-yet-not-quite-himself. This first feature from music video director, Spike Jonez, from an astounding screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, brilliantly kicks about issues of identity, fame, sexual attraction and mortality while still remaining a goofy, pure pop pleasure comedy.
September 20: Lake Placid (1999, 82 minutes). Could a peaceful lake in woodsy Maine be harboring a gigantic crocodile? It seems unlikely but several headless game wardens and disemboweled big moose floating to the surface say something underwater is awfully big and mighty hungry. This horror-comedy scripted by TV-writer David E. Kelley (The Practice, Ally McBeal) doesn’t break much fresh ground in the oversized-rampaging-beastie genre, but part of the fun is revisiting the conventions. Bridget Fonda is a mite whiny as the paleontologist; Bill Pullman a bit bland as the head game warden. Oliver Platt, in a rump-shaking performance as a bitchy eccentric crocodile-mythologist, just steals the movie with super wisecracks. He’s ably abetted by Brendan Gleeson who plays the dim-witted local sheriff. Recommended for fans of the genre -- the fake crocodile looks very good -- and fans of the increasingly dependable moonfaced Mr. Platt.
September 21: Ghost Dog (1999, 116 minutes): In Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Forest Whitaker is Ghost Dog, an enigmatic contract killer who fashions himself after the ancient codes of the Japanese samurai. A complication on a hit job disrupts his solitary existence, as he becomes entangled with the local mob who have their own traditional codes of war and honor. There is a tremendous amount of killing in Ghost Dog, but the film is not overly violent; it drifts along like a post-noir dream, each episode punctuated by excerpts from The Way of the Samurai. As such, Ghost Dog’s actions gain context, though as with Jarmusch’s other films, much remains intentionally curious. American cinema has often tapped samurai mythology, most notably in Westerns. Ghost Dog is a fascinating re-work of the weary contemporary crime drama of urban street thugs and mob revenge infused with the philosophy of the ancient samurai.
September 21: Road to Wellville (1994, 120 minutes). Based on a funny novel by T. Coraghessan Boyle, about the real-life health-obsessed eccentric John Harvey Kellogg, this film flounders, bogged down in draggy subplots, hammy acting and too much information about the food faddism of the early 20th century for any non-scholar to possibly appreciate. Perhaps the film needs a good purge from one of Kellogg’s patented enemas. There is certainly no shortage of scatological material in this movie, though tricked out historically and scientifically, a fart of PBS caliber is still a fart.
September 21: Gang Related (1997, 106 minutes). Tupac Shakur’s final film before his probably gang-related death. However, in this slightly off-center cop thriller (a certain irreverence runs throughout), Tupac’s not only a police detective, but also the moral center! Tupac and his partner, Jim Belushi, are dirty dirty cops, using police evidence to set up fake drug deals, collecting the cash after killing the “suspects.” They pick the wrong dealer, the wrong gun, the wrong fall guy -- and the scam goes south fast.
September 22: Boyz in the Hood (1991, 112 minutes). Ice Cube grabbed his first film role in John Singleton’s ambitious film about a group of young black men growing up in South Central L.A. Ice Cube’s cast as the bad boy, and it’s not much of a stretch from his gangsta rapper persona. Certainly, his experience on the mic serves him well in delivering most of the film’s sharp lines right between violence and humor. Ya gotta tip your 40 to Cube; he has some tricky scenes at the end of the film, and he nails them with an emotional complexity and genuineness that was moving and unexpected.
September 23: The Fly (1958, 94 minutes). The researcher’s wife reminds him about the potential dangers of fooling with new technology too rapidly. (Like other horror flicks of its time, The Fly is a reaction to and a warning about our post-atomic, inventing science faster than ethics technology spree.) Nonsense, says the obsessed husband, it’s just a like a television before blithely dispatching the household cat through the disintegrator, whereby it vanishes into zillions of unattached atoms never to be reintegrated. (The cat is shattered into atomic particles, and yet the air is filled with its plaintive meows? Fascinating unanswered question.) The missus was right: When he takes a trip through the disintegrator with a household fly, their atoms get mixed up and he becomes hideously half-man half-fly. Of course, some poor none-ego-driven fly gets burned too, stuck with the scientist’s head and arm.
September 23: Return of the Fly (1959, 80 minutes). Now, the son of the fly-guy is grown up, and decides to continue his father’s experiments. This sequel lacks the intrigue of the first; most of the mystery is how will the son and the fly end up in the matter transmitter together. Watch out for that nefarious lab assistant. Dear old Vincent Price returns as well, and never one to let a insect-man abomination get all the acclaim, he performs some mighty hamming … while sleeping!
September 24: The Fly (1986, 96 minutes). An intelligent, thoughtful remake from director David Cronenberg (film remains terrifically gross, but you can’t look away). Cronenberg wisely updates the fly-man combo to a DNA splicing incident, sparing contemporary audiences the hokiness of a fly-head mask and acutely foreshadowing potential bio-genetic disasters. After his mating with the fly, Jeff Goldblum rots away from the inside physically (his buzzing manic fly mode is genuinely alarming), while becoming perversely self-aware and more sympathetic (as his human body parts fall off, he saves them in a “museum” of himself). Look for Cronenberg in a cameo as a gynecologist.
September 24: The Fly 2 (1989, 105 minutes). Or Son of the Goldblum Fly. Directed by Chris Walas, makeup and animatronics guru on The Fly, this version has good icky effects, but by now, the tale is numbingly obvious. Additional narrative about the fly-child kept in a secret lab is tedious, and casting Eric Stoltz and Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place) as leads doesn’t give this film any needed heft or dimension. To summarize all four: Flies, good; fly offspring, predictable.
September 26: Divine Trash (1998, 105 minutes) Divine Trash (1998, 105 minutes): Fun loose documentary about the career of cult filmmaker, John Waters. Features plenty of contemporary interviews with cast and crew, but one of the highlights is the footage of Waters filming such classics as Pink Flamingos. In this footage, it’s easy to see how low-budget it all was (all those near naked scenes in Pink Flamingos were shot in the dead of winter, the poor cast huddled in cheap coats around burn barrels) and more interesting, how directorial Waters was. There’s a distinct lack of silliness on his part, and interviewees cite again and again how single-minded and focused he was. Outrageous yes, but free-wheeling, no. Fans will love the interviews with his still befuddled parents, and Water’s nemesis, the Maryland state film censor.
September 27: Welcome to Hollywood (1998, 90 minutes) An amusing little mockumentary film about a slightly pretentious hot new film director who declares his next project to be the documentary of making a star. To that end, he needs a Joe Average to mold into stardom, who must agree to be filmed in his pursuit of fame, warts and all. He ends up with a schlub, who while eager for fame, just simply can’t make a go of it, even getting dumped from his “big break” hollering one line on Baywatch. Director Adam Rifkin plays himself; co-director Tony Markes plays the hapless would-be star. Numerous cameos from actual stars.
September 30: Wirey Spindell (1998, 101 minutes): A comedic coming-of-age tale not unlike recent indie-ish coming-of-age tale by neurotic sex-obsessed men. To its distinction, Wirey Spindell has some fairly explicit sexual situations, and to its credit, it has some sharp, funny observations. Will no doubt play better on the small screen, but your ultimate enjoyment may be determined by how much tolerance you have for navel-gazing men who can’t grow up.
October 1: American Virgin (2000, 87 minutes): Eeek. Packaged to glom onto Mena Suvari’s It Girl American Streak (American Pie, American Virgin), this is pretty unfunny comedy about a teen who decides to get back at her porn-producer dad, by being deflowered on his rival’s Pay Per View show. Much hollering from Robert Loggia and Bob Hoskins who are doing some serious slumming here.
October 3: The Astronaut’s Wife (1999, 109 minutes): Really, this is The Devil’s Advocate, except this time Charlize Theron is married to a turning-to-evil-slime astronaut, instead of a turning-to-evil-slime attorney. OK, Devil’s Advocate plus Rosemary’s Baby, since there’s a good chance that Theron is pregnant with an evil alien baby. Predictable fare.
October 4: True Lies (1994, 141 minutes). This 200% dumb big bloated film about Arnuld the spy is stupid, even for car chase and explosion eye candy. Any normal person couldn’t possibly sit through some of the hyper-dreck of this film like the degrading strip teases Ahnuld makes his mousy wife perform. (Or conversely, that jerk-off director James Cameron makes actress Jamie Lee Curtis do?) In fact, the whole subplot about Ahnuld stalking his neglected wife is just plain creepy. Film could be 141 minutes too long, but at bare minimum, it could easily lose an hour.
October 5: Erin Brockovich (2000, 131 minutes). Former indie director, Steven Soderbergh, delivers a fun, straightforward legal drama about a feisty single mother, Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts), who while filing at a small law firm discovers that a utility company has been poisoning the water in a small town. Untrained, but ballsy, she rallies the law firm, its frumpy head (Albert Finney) and the townspeople into a landmark court case. Roberts is the surprise delight in this film, dropping the batting eyelashes for a refreshing earthiness. Though the film is based on actual events, it’s guilty of romanticism in the name of narrative convenience and feel-goodness, but the film moves at a brisk and entertaining pace, and frankly, who doesn’t like to see the plucky gal beat the big evil corporation once in a while?
October 7: Ready to Rumble (2000, 107 minutes). I don’t understand the appeal of this film’s star, David Arquette. He reeks of flop sweat. Now, I love bigtime wrestling, and it seems an easy enough phenomenon to parody, but did I mention David Arquette stars in this film?
October 9: American Psycho (2000, 97 minutes). Director/screenwriter Mary Harron has brought Bret Easton Ellis’ infamous slasher-yuppie satirical novel to the screen and found fertile ground in what was considered to be an irredeemable work. Harron successfully pitches this story of a young privileged investment bank (Christian Bale) who kills compulsively somewhere between a black comedy, a horror film, and a rumination on the self, the self-obsessed and fantasy. As such, the film seems to lack a clear point, but other clues -- the many reflective surfaces, the clever conceit that all male go-getters look alike and can be interchanged without notice, the deliberate shallowness of the characters -- suggest the vagueness may be intended. Spared most of the gruesome detail of the book, the film is minimally a pot-on, wicked satire of 1980s conspicuous consumption in Manhattan, rich with vignettes of business card one-upmanship and absurdly trendy restaurants.
October 9: Honkytonk Man (1982, 122 minutes). In this low-key vanity piece for director-actor, Clint Eastwood, he fancies himself a Depression-era country performer trying to get to the Opry before tuberculosis gets him first. Allusions to the late TB-plagued Jimmie Rodgers notwithstanding, Eastwood wastes most of the movie on lame road trip goof-offs. For life imitating art: Eastwood’s character collapses for the last time while recording and a session musician played by C&W star Marty Robbins steps in. Heart diseases would claim 57-year-old Robbins right after making this film. Actual C&W Stars Featured: David Frizzell, Ray Price, Merle Travis, Shelley West, Porter Wagoner.
October 9: Honeysuckle Rose (1980, 120 minutes). A road tour flick that’s mostly an excuse for Willie Nelson to sing and scamper away with his lovable bad-boy image. Late in the movie, a melodrama pops up -- Willie cheats on his good-hearted missus, Dyan Cannon (the tightest jeans in Texas), with the daughter (Amy Irving) of his best pal. It’s a mite icky in concept, and turns worse when Irving starts copying Nelson’ look, filthy headbands and all. If you don’t care for Nelson’s idiosyncratic singing, maybe you’ll dig his flatline acting. Don’t ask about Cannon and Irving’s singing. Actual C&W Stars Featured: Emmylou Harris, Hank Cochran.
October 10: Nashville (1975, 157 minutes). Robert Altman’s 24-character sprawling masterpiece covers five days of intersecting politics and country music entertainment in contemporary Nashville. Altman’s dense, layered technique, along with many fine acting performances, works so effectively delivering a wry, pointed comedy as well as an insightful critique of power, fame and American dreams. Still sharp and vital today. Actual C&W Stars Featured: Hardly any besides fiddler Vassar Clements, but the fun is picking out the movie characters based on real-lifers like Loretta Lynn, her husband Mooney, Hank Snow and Charley Pride.
October 11: Romper Stomper (1993, 92 minutes): A pack of neo-Nazi skinheads in Australia get in terrifically nasty brawls and later self-destruct. The charismatic, but violently unstable, gang leader (Russell Crowe, exuding a patented edgy virility) makes a troubled runaway girl his lover, but she ultimately finds his best friend more sympathetic. Film is flashy in places, it finds a certain exhilaration is the violence (of which there is a lot), especially in marriage of sex, violence and driving skinhead punk rock music. What starts out as a potentially fascinating, however disturbing, look at contemporary neo-Nazi gangs ends up focusing on a love triangle (that age-old story that generally needs little illumination).
October 11: Soft Fruit (1999, 110 minutes): Mom’s dying so her four variously troubled adult children reunite for her last days. A bittersweet comedy of sorts, it’s at time a bit too fanciful, a little too much on the forced quirkiness. I suppose, unlike any American film, it should get pints for showing lots of ordinary non-gym-style nudity.
October 12: Stella (1989, 109 minutes): If Bette Midler thought this was her deserved vanity piece, she sure picked a turkey. This film is all about her, but it showcases all her blowsiness, and watching a middle-aged woman working overtime to play a middle-aged woman is a scary sight indeed. This is a remake of the 1937 Barbara Stanwyk weeper, Stella Dallas, about the working-class mom who rejects her daughter (though her heart is breaking) so that the child may move effortlessly into a better class. Such anachronistic noble sacrifices don’t make a lick of sense in this contemporary version, but Midler trots them out anyhow. Look for a young Ben Stiller miscast as a Italian greaser hood.
October 12: Pride and Prejudice (1940, 115 minutes): A top-of-the-line adaptation of Jane Austen’s comedy-of-manners about five sisters scheming for suitable husbands just bursting with all the goodies the Big Hollywood System had to offer -- luminous stars (Greer Garson is the independently minded Elizabeth; sultry young Laurence Olivier is perfect as the haughty Mr. Darcy); marvelous character actors in supporting roles, opulent sets by Cedric Gibbons, gowns by Adrian and a wickedly sharp script adapted by Adolus Huxley.
October 13: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935, 75 minutes): This dark moody film finds Dr. Frankenstein forced into making a mate for his original monster. (Not unlike director James Whale, after the success of the first Frankenstein, who sly notes this.) Trouble all ‘round -- the townspeople are angry, his mentor Dr. Praetorius is insane, and ouch, the bride rejects the lonely monster. (A poignant scene, when the monster meets the old blind man in the forest, has been forever robbed of its tenderness by Mel Brooks’ shot-for-shot parody of it in Young Frankenstein. I kept waiting for the blind man to pour hot soup on the monster’s head.)
October 13: The Exorcist (1973, 120 minutes): Never having seen this I took myself and some warm Iron City beers out. Sadly, the movie wasn’t very scary anymore (heard about it too much, knew all the shocks); not like the post-apocalyptic totally wrecked deserted theater I was in, buried somewhere deep in the concrete bowels of the failed Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. Still, it was good to see finally -- and you do register some shock at how young Reagan is, just 12.Today, they would never make such a movie about a child. It’s still an unsettling movie, you don’t really feel sure if the good guys win -- and the new enhanced sound was super (even in the shitbox theater I saw it in).
October 14: Red Planet Mars (1952, 87 minutes): One of the nuttiest movies to come out of the Cold War. Upstanding scientist (Peter Graves) builds a transmitter/”hydrogen tube” (using pilfered Nazi technology!) and sends messages to Mars. Amazingly, Mars wires back. And have they got plenty to say -- about the peaceful, abundant society they’ve created. The messages from Mars create widespread panic and financial collapses as America realizes they’ve screwed up. But wait, the messages are really coming from renegade Nazi scientist (Marvin Miller) who’s escaped to the Andres and is under the control of the Soviet Union, who hope to destroy the U.S. But when the Soviets send the fake message about God, God gets mad and sends his own message. The chaos goes global. Terribly paced, but astounding subject matter from start to finish.
October 14: I Saw What You Did (1965, 82 minutes): Roger Corman cheapie about a couple of teenage girls making crank phone calls. As luck would have it, they ring up a murderer, and inform him “I saw what you did and I know ho you are.” Moderate camp value, light on thrills or logic.
October 19: The Bride (1985, 118 minutes): The film opens bang with Dr. Frankenstein (Sting) instantly creating a wife for his male monster. No sooner does the gauze wrapped honey (Jennifer Beals) step off the gurney then the doctor decides he’d rather keep her. Time must be tough when a rich doctor with such telegenic bone structure can’t get a date with a live woman. Much intense brooding from Sting and nasty hissing from Beals. Imagine waking form the dead the captive of an arrogant MTV puffy-shirted fop. Many howlers in this sublimely bad film, including a lavender-coiffed Quentin Crisp as a lab assistant and the purported intention of Frankenstein to mod a woman as equal as any man. Yes, this is the worthy goal of most mad scientists.
October 19: Capricorn One (1978, 127 minutes): Have you ever been to outer space? Know anyone who has? So, really, all these trips to outer space could have been faked -- you really couldn’t say for sure, could you? We only have the government’s word, and that and a dime won’t get you a phone call these days. Capricorn One has this great, lunatic premise -- the U.S. can’t afford to lose space spending, so they fake a trip to Mars rather than risk a screw-up. The Feds actually kidnap the astronauts and make them act out the Mars landing in some Arizona warehouse. Another avenging reporter tale from the 70s -- Elliott Gould sniffs out this earthbound rat plot. Casting bonuses: O.J. Simpson as an astronaut, Telly Savalas as an avenging cropduster pilot. Infinitely silly, but highly entertaining.
October 21: Election (1999, 103 minutes): A quite delicious satire of politics and manners set in the seemingly benign atmosphere of a small, clean Midwestern high school. Reese Witherspoon is the vaguely annoying overachiever who’s a shoo-in to win class president. Matthew Broderick, an irked teacher, opts to alter the inevitable and convinces a sweet, but dumb, jock (Chris Klein) to run against Witherspoon. This one reckless act wreaks havoc before the “right” order to restored. Broderick is a delight in this film; his scruffy, puppy-left-outdoors look is perfect for the lowly teacher whose ethics have been undone by his own adolescent pettiness.
October 22: Annie Get Your Gun (1950, 107 minutes): This super glossy Technicolor film version of the popular Irving Berlin musical has been unavailable for years, but is fresh out on video soon. (Re-release contains some bonus material including two creepy numbers featuring a haggard Judy Garland before she was dropped from this film for “health reasons.”) Too long we’ve suffered with Ethel Merman’s take on sharpshooter Annie Oakley, singing and shootin’ her way through Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, when there was the adorable, spunky Betty Hutton version. She tackles Annie’s role with relish, cheerfully outshooting the pompous marksman, Frank Butler (Howard Keel). Of course, “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and poor Annie has to fake a miss to win a husband, but despite that anachronism, the film’s a load of fun, packed with big musical numbers, fabulous costumes and a feisty gun-happy heroine.
October 22: Kicking and Screaming (1995, 96 minutes): Four friends from college refuse to get on with their lives; instead they mope around campus, picking up undergraduates and whining about what to do. A film in the talkie style of Whit Stillman’s films (Stillman regular Chris Eigeman stars and does his patented world-weary acerbic) it has flashes of humor and insight, but it also borders on the annoying. Like Whitman’s films, all the mal leads seem to look and act alike, and it takes forever to get them sorted out. Women, as usual, are mysterious creatures to be captured, never really fleshed out.
October 25: Ghost (1990, 127 minutes): This mostly silly, overly sentimental film about love-from-beyond-the-grave poses some interesting questions about the physicality of the afterlife. Seems you can walk through doors, but not fall through floors. You can enter other human’s bodies, but this “wears you out.” Wears you out? What are you doing for the rest of eternity anyhow? So Patrick Swayze is one of these dead, but visible ghosts. Probably would have been a better film if we couldn’t see him either, but also note how many patented Swayze action-dance moves his ghost gets to make. So he moons around his widow, the somnambulant Demi Moore, communicating with her through shyster medium, Whoopi Goldberg. The whole nonsense romance plot builds to the demented moment when the Swayze ghost inhabits Whoopi so that he can touch Demi. And here, the film totally forgets its own plot -- showing us Swayze and Moore canoodling, instead of Moore and Whoopi. Chickens! I’ve seen Demi Moore do just about everything for attention -- I’m ready to see her get it on kinda-lesbian style with a middle-aged black woman. But, the film’s capitulation is some odd way makes this scene even more deliciously creepy.
October 27: Johnny Handsome (1989, 96 minutes): Mickey Rourke loves to mumble-method-act, so it’s a natural he’d hop on this role of a small time New Orleans hood whose face is so disfigured he can only make guttural noises. For the first 30 minutes of the film. Then he gets a new face -- standard Mickey Rourke look -- and sets out to avenge the death of his buddy. Maybe do a heist. Or, hook up with some bad women. Lots of bad southern-fired acting from junky thriller movie stalwarts Ellen Barkin, Lance Hendrikson, and of course, Sir Rourke himself.
October 28: American Women (2000, 90 minutes). Released theatrically to no notice as The Closer You Get, it’s a shame that this light ensemble comedy has been re-packaged as Porky’s-goes-to-Donegal. The pathetic attempts of five assortedly mis-mannered young Irish men to entice “sporty” American women to visit their tiny west coast village and subsequently marry them plays more like Diner meets Local Hero. The gags depend on a ridiculous conceit that time has stood fixed near 1950 for this contemporary town, but it’s a small concession to make for what is an enjoyable, often quite funny little film.
October 29: Toy Story 2 (1999, 85 minutes): Buzz Lightyear, Woody and all their toy pals are back in this clever sequel to 1995’s computer-animated hit, Toy Story. This time Woody must be rescued from the clutches of an evil toy collector. Kiddies will love Toy Story 2, but it’s adults who’ll appreciate all the smart referential humor about soulless collectibles, cheap marketing ploys and even animated toy shows. (The animation in this film is so remarkable, you quite forget it’s not real – how surprising then to see the “archival” footage of the 1950s black-and-white Woody TV show with its cheesy cardboard marionettes.) Also, in this age of too-sweet children’s films, it’s juts marvelous that these toy characters are at time vain, petty, jealous, dumb and squabble fiercely amongst themselves (though they do unite under crisis). A super return trip for the Toy Story crew and a delight for the whole family.