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

September and October 1999:
October 24: BASEketball (1998, 103 minutes): A sports comedy from the minds of the South Park guys who star as inventors/players of a new hybrid sport. Lots of dumb f-word "humor" and Look at me! shock gags, but if you’re in a beer-mellowed mood, there’s some fun to be had. I dug that the film was an indictment, however silly and easy, about the current big-money, no-loyalty state of pro-sports. Won’t give it away but some of the best laughs were the names of the baseketball teams and stadiums. Also, plenty of big name sports and entertainment figure cameos. Pop a top.

October 23: Barcelona (1994, 100 minutes): Entertaining talkie about two young men – a salesman and a Navy liaison – living in 1980s Barcelona, amidst much anti-American sentiment. There’s some funny stuff about how other countries only see the USA through filters, much of them erroneous. There’s a hilarious explanation of the despised American right-wing, union-busting fascist AFL-CIA. Dating smart young Spanish women proves both fulfilling and hazardous.

October 22: True Crime (1999, 127 minutes): Clint Eastwood plays a half-crazed caricature of a hard-bitten newspaper reporter who gets assigned a last-minute story about a man on death row with only 12 hours until the execution. After looking at one page of the trial deposition, he decides the man is innocent, and that he can solve the crime. Guess what happens? Eastwood’s "solution" to injustice is pathetic. If only there were more drunk-driving, skirt-chasing, rule-breaking reporters with "hunches", no innocent men would die on death row! Lots of odd casting – funny man Michael McKean as a humorless priest, fast-talker Denis Leary as a silent editor, and 69-year-old Eastwood as object of young women’s lust. There is a terrifying scene with Clint in just a towel, and frankly, the winds of time have whipped his chest into a soggy pudding.

October 21: Zero Effect (1998, 115 minutes): Weird detective story. Bill Pullman plays some super-hype genius of a private dick who operates under utmost secrecy, using a go-between, straight-man Ben Stiller, and disguises to do his work. The idiosyncrasies piled up on the character are pretty irritating, but if you can make it through the first 30 minutes, the rest of the film ain’t so bad. A huge Ryan O’Neal plays like William Shatner playing a blackmailed corporate honcho.

October 19: Don King: Only in America (1997, 120 minutes): An HBO flick that is a Acting Gimme for Ving Rhames. He clearly is having a blast playing boxing promoter Don King as some larger-than-life, flawed (but who cares), beaten-but-never-down triumph of rags to riches – only in America! Hurrah for the street smart gazillionaire! Film reminded me of Howard Stern’s Private Parts – as in this tale was more about entertainment than veracity, but all the more enjoyable for it.

October 19: Hush (1998, 95 minutes): Tasty stinkeroo from Miss and Mrs. Oscar-Winners, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jessica Lange. Lange is fatally attracted to her horse farm and her son, who has the nerve to bring home his new bride, Miz Paltrow. Soon, the ladies are locked in a bitch-slappin’, mind-twistin’, kill-or-be-killed psycho drama. Utterly predictable, but you’ll laugh yourself silly.

October 18: …All The Marbles (1981, 113 minutes): An odd film from ages ago, when wrestling, especially chick wrestling, was pretty marginalized. A chopped up mish-mash film that still kinda works. The first half is glum, as manager Peter Falk drives around the deep-winter rust belt with his two gal wrestlers, scrounging for $200 gigs. Smells like Fat City. Then, the film goes into Rocky-comedy mode as our plucky gals go for the big gold in Reno. Falk is his usual cranky fun; the two gals sure aren’t actresses, but somehow they come across as genuine.

October 17: The Mask of Zorro (1998, 136 minutes): Yet another re-telling of the legendary Robin Hood-like avenger who defends the poor of Old California against the greedy colonial Spanish. Anthony Hopkins is curiously cast as the older Yoda…uh, I mean, Zorro, who grooms a young outlaw Antonio Banderas to carry on his avenging. Banderas makes a decent go of being "Zorro," bolstered mostly by his good looks, tight leggings and a refreshing lack of irony. There’s a lot of padding to establish what is a very simple story, but if you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned, noble hero v. dastardly villain, lighthearted swashbuckling romp (with generous portions of sword-play and acrobatic stunts), the two-plus hours should just whiz by.

October 16: Tucker: The Man and his Dream (1988, 111 minutes): Francis Ford Coppola’s love song to Preston Tucker, the forgotten American hero of automobile innovation squashed by the Big Three – and to himself, I reckon, since this film can easily be read as another of Coppola’s grumbles of the crushing studio vs. the "smarter" independent filmmaker. I found the cartoonish look and feel of the film off-putting at first, but was later won over. Though I like her, Joan Allen was horrible miscast as Mrs. Tucker, mother of many. The stick-thin glamorous Allen looked about 18, while the real Mrs. Tucker (shown in photos in the closing credits) was - surprise - a stout middle-aged woman.

October 14: An Act of Murder (1948, 91 minutes): Most old-studio melodramas are about women’s domestic crises, but here’s a twist – a male melodrama! Frederic March is by-the-book judge who must confront his grayer ethics when his beloved wife becomes terminally ill. Should he kill her to spare her pain, his pain? Is it murder, a mercy killing? Pretty standard melodrama but with more interesting subject matter.

October 13: Palmetto (1998, 114 minutes): Woody Harrelson is a frustrated ex-reporter and ex-con who is just dumb enough to tumble right back into trouble. Small Florida town, beach cottage, the greedy wife of a dying rich guy, her sexpot teenage stepdaughter, the brother-in-law chief of police, a fake kidnapping – why what could go wrong?! Poor Woody thinks he’s being clever, when he’s just being set-up by everybody in town. Played mostly for laughs, not thrills. Not great, but entertaining enough.

October 11: The Day After (1983, 120 minutes): Uh oh. Kansas is gone. Much-talked about TV movie from the Reagan Years. Yup, something went wrong in Berlin and the Soviets took out the Midwest with some A-bombs. Doesn’t stop Jason Robards, Steve Guttenberg and a small army of TV actors from clomping around in the wreckage, emoting.

October 10: The Parent Trap (1998, 127 minutes): Why a remake of a popular movie with an inevitable conclusion takes over 2 hours to unspool I’ll never know! It’s a big family-fantasy 90s style – all cell phones and white butlers who do "jive". Gag me. Picture-perfect, wealthy parents (London-based wedding dress designer [oh, the irony!] Natasha Richardson and Northern Californian vintner Dennis Quaid), some of those dry quipping eleven year old girls and then the crux of the tale, the myth that two cute – and rich! -- moppets can "fix" the divorce. Hop on Concorde! Rent a yacht! Urgh.

October 10: Jacob’s Ladder (1990, 115 minutes): Uh? And I do mean uh. I was in spite of myself enjoying this flashy, chip-choppy thriller about a Vietnam veteran, now a New York City postman - Tim Robbins, acting! - with weird dreams or flashbacks or multiple lives or postal distress or something! I was salivating for the answer and then, there was the "end" that just baffled me. Accepting explanations from the general public. (Update: A number of helpful people have since enlightened me to the film’s religious allegory. OK. Duh. Went right over my fuzzy head. But, when I see the words "directed by Adrian ‘Flashdance’ Lyne", it’s not like I start thinking…)

October 7: The Man with the Golden Arm (1955, 119 minutes): Frank Sinatra’s on the needle! The big H, though the film never explicitly says. He’s a card hustler, back from detox at Lexington, returned to the one-block set he lives on and slipping back into darkness. By today’s standards, the film is a fairly pat. The "cold turkey" scene teetered between tedious and laughable, but then what do I know…?

October 7: Niagra Niagra (1998, 100 minutes): Oddball lovers on the run, but the new angle here is that the gal character, Robin Tunney, has Tourette’s Syndrome. At first her performance seems like showboating, but then it settles in. The troubled boy on the run with her is Henry Thomas, all grown up and twisted since you saw him as the kid in ET. Some parts are affecting or intriguing, but once I saw the gun, I sighed. Lovers on the lam with a gun - a much overworked genre. Bonus points for a good soundtrack - lesser known chicks with guitars mostly.

October 5: The Matchmaker (1997, 96 minutes): Ick. Lots of twee going-ons in Ireland. I’m sure the pitch was – let’s put bad-attitude Janeane Garafalo in cutesy seaside Ireland. See her pout when her cell phone doesn’t work. Then sigh when she falls for the local Luddite in the Aran sweater. The other cranky American Abroad, Denis Leary, gets to stay edgy, but obviously snappy women just need a man with a shaggy dog to take the edge off ‘em. Blech.

October 4: Little Buddha (1994, 123 minutes): This movie is so slow, I felt like I was watching the unfolding of one of the world’s oldest religion in real-time. It’s two movies intercut into one – the orangey re-telling of the ancient Buddha/Siddartha story and the bluish one where some Seattle Yuppies wonder if their kid is the re-incarnation of some Tibetan monk. The Seattle story line suffers from total reality suspension, since the plot depends on some over-protective single child Yuppies letting their kid go off with some orange-robed guys who show up at the door and say, "We think your kid is our monk buddy, can we take him to Bhutan and doublecheck?" But then, Chris Isaak and Bridget Fonda couldn’t be any more immobile in their performances, as said-Yuppie couple. The orangey myth story suffers mostly from Keanu Reeves, cast as Siddartha, speaking in a sing-song eastern surfer patois. With his jet black pompadour, Kohl-ringed eyes and colorful body-wraps, he looks like the lost member of a Flock of Seagulls.

October 3: The Faculty (1998, 120 minutes): The pitch for this shaggy, but likable horror film must have been Invasion of the Bodysnatchers meets The Breakfast Club." A ragtag band of high school students – geek, freak, jock, Miss Popular, bad boy and new girl – combine their strengths to take the school back from invading aliens who are transforming both faculty and students into worm-filled bland replicants. The Nobel Committee won’t be calling, but the story is marginally smarter than the average teen-screamer. The film asks: What is high school today after all but a big confusing mess of conformity, alienation and it’s-cool-to-be-alienated conformity? That actual space aliens are physically transforming the school into same-acting pod people is just a weird coincidence.

October 1: Angie (1994, 105 minutes): Geena Davis is really huffin’ and puffin’ in this film about a high-spirited single gal who has a baby. Not during the inevitable "OW! It hurts!" scene when she gives birth, but through it all, working overtime to play this broad, blowsy New York Borough chick. The story is about 50 melodramas at once - single parenthood, abusive husbands, deformed babies, runaway moms, mental illness, step-families, near-death experiences, charming Irishmen who can’t commit – it’s too much, you can’t possibly care about any of it.

September 30: The Big One (1997, 95 minutes): Loose account of author-provocateur Michael Moore’s book tour. Some laugh-out loud funny parts; some cringe-worthy staged stuff. Moore’s repeated point in the film is the miserable state of the economy, so the film plays a little weird against 1999’s boom times. Of all unexpected things, the film is a funny peek at the wacky hell that a 40-city book tour must be, even for a relentless self-promoter like Moore.

September 27: Flipping (1996, 109 minutes): One of those post-Tarantino time-shifting crime-gone-bad set-ups. Director-writer-producer-actor Gene Mitchell probably sat through Reservoir Dogs 100 times. The story has one weird twist that almost makes it worth seeing. Recommended I guess, if you can never get enough of these type of films: Guys in suits screw up the crime, and kill one another.

September 26: Gods and Monsters (1998, 120 minutes): Set in 1957 Hollywood, lonely retired film director, James Whale (a marvelous Ian McKellen) develops an unlikely brief friendship with his young hunky gardener, Clayton (the broad-shouldered Brendan Fraser.) Clayton’s youth and guile attract the vulnerable, ailing Whale, who under the pretense of sketching Clayton’s picture, shares confidences and forgotten memories. This is an artfully-constructed movie that opens up smooth parallels between the constructs of Whale’s own uneven and re-invented life (a class-jumper and an homosexual at a time when both were frowned upon) and those within his greatest, and most poignant, creation, the 1935 film, The Bride of Frankenstein. Though it’s also an amusing peek at old-time gay Hollywood, be warned: I used up a lot of hankies blubbering.

September 24: The Flim Flam Man (1967, 115 minutes): Screened this after George C. Scott died, this being the only George C. film I had on the shelf. Not surprisingly, I didn’t see this film listed in any of his post-mortem career re-caps! Scott plays a roving petty con artist, who hooks up with Army deserter, Michael Sarrazin. Together they travel through the South, unspooling bad Southern accents. Scott, operating here in a Shelley Winters mode, tackles his country woods swindler role with terrifying relish. Add some bumbling local cops and most of the film plays like the long lost prequel to Smokey and the Bandit .

September 23: Homegrown (1998, 115 minutes): A shaggy, low-key heist flick, though here the loot is acres of deep woods marijuana. Film moves at a stoner’s pace, but quite pleasantly. Billy Bob Thornton and Hank Azaria as two kinda dumb, kinda smart pot farmers, carry the film, make it fun.

September 22: Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976, 111 minutes): Semi-autobiographical tale from director Paul Mazursky about a wannabe actor who moves to Art Central, Greenwich Village New York in the 1950s. There’s a lot of overacting and too-precious look-at-me scenes from Lenny Baker and Shelley Winters. The whole thing was shot on some totally fake one-block backlot. The delight of the film for me was that young Chris (!) Walken was cast as the totally normal Lothario poet. Probably his first and last matinee idol role.

September 21: Next Stop Wonderland (1998, 105 minutes): Thoughtful young Bostonian Hope Davis is suddenly single when her loser boyfriend (the always funny Phillip S. Hoffman) takes off. Her mom places a personal ad for her, and she slogs through the bad dates. Her story is intercut with that of Alan Gelfant, a plumber struggling to be a Marine biologist. Of course, they’re destined to meet, but whoosh, they keep just missing connecting. Light film, but smart. Bossa nova soundtrack.

September 20: Slums of Beverly Hills (1998, 90 minutes): Funny, somewhat poignant film about a slightly fractured family holding it together in the late 70s Beverly Hills. Dad, Alan Arkin, moves his motherless disaffected brood in and out of the cheapest apartments in Beverly Hills, ostensibly for the kids’ school opportunities, but mostly for his own dignity. Nutsy niece, Marisa Tomei shows up, disrupting this fragile existence even further, but these "slum-dwellers" are pretty feisty and tough.

September 18: American History X (1998, 118 minutes): An ambitious attempt to poke beneath the surface of contemporary white hate groups. Told through a series of artfully shot black-and-white flashbacks, the film highlights watershed events in the lives of two Los Angeles neo-Nazis teenagers – the charismatic leader, Edward Norton, and his floundering, impressionable younger brother, Edward Furlong. American History X is an unwieldy venture though, trying in two short hours to uncover all the likely roots of racially motivated hate, and then, shift the cards about to relate a less-believable, uplifting tale of redemption. Though at times pensive and almost dreamlike, be forewarned: this film is punctuated with scenes of shocking brutality. Norton’s great performance almost makes it work, but ultimately the film is a muddle of good intentions and too-simple plot lines.

September 18: There’s Something About Mary (1998, 118 minutes): The surprise of this film to me wasn’t the shock-gross-out-gags, but that Matt Dillon was the funniest guy. Like in Wild Things, he’s reborn from pretty boy to play the sleazy scammer. Who knew?

September 16: The Color of Money (1986, 119 minutes): Not Martin Scorsese, nor even perhaps God himself, can make the shooting of pool cinematically interesting! There is no angle, no gimmick, no slo-mo, no lighting that can render the rolling of pool balls across a table captivating. And in this darkly lit film - even less so, because nobody ever explains just exactly how this particular game of pool is played, even though the plot twists on these moments when certain balls disappear into certain pockets. Scorsese takes time for a little vanity voice-over in the beginning about "luck," that’s not the least bit helpful. I’m sure this movie has its fans - everything about this film smacked of private male-bonding-code-of-honor that I’m sure resonates with some viewers, but for me, an utterly boring film about pool hustling. An update of sorts on The Hustler. Tom Cruise, as usual, is just terrible, though I was digging his awful puffy hairstyle and his "acting" tantrums.

September 15: Antz (1998, 83 minutes): Groan. The Woody Allen whiny neurotic schtick just isn’t funny anymore. This film had clever moments, but I’d have preferred another voice on the lead ant anti-hero. Oh, and on the girl ant too, lipped here by Sharon Stone. Whoever hires her for her voice? This film featured Christopher Walken’s voice, as a bad ant, natch. The best scenes - visually - were outside the ant hole, where you can dig the cool power of animation, as it renders the extremely ordinary bizarre. The trek through the trash from an ant perspective was neat-o.

September 14 :Fade to Black (1980, 100 minutes): One of those films where it’s so easy to see how it tanked. A weirdo guy, obsessed with old movies, goes on a killing spree dressed up like old movie stars. You can bet a studio green-lighted it after the recent success of dress-up slasher flicks. But the movie wants to have its sensitive side too, laying bare this pathetic schlub’s life so you root for him. Nah. Doesn’t work, and it isn’t outrageous enough to be campy, though the ridiculous "Top of the world Ma!" White HeatJames Cagney re-enactment atop Graumann’s Chinese Theater had potential. It’s all just too clunky.

September 9: Brain Candy (1996, 88 minutes): Bright and colorful, this send-up of feel-good pharmaceuticals has the odd moment of laughter. Mostly just a smile movie though. The Kids in the Hall guys are super, in all the dress-up and cross-dressing roles. Too bad they didn’t have a snappier script.

September 7: Payback (1999, 110 minutes): A professional thief, Mel Gibson, is robbed of the relatively minor sum of $70,000, and kills a couple dozen folks to get it back. The movie tagline crows, "Get ready to root for the bad guy!" The bad guy who Gibson sort of is? Or the bad guy Gibson is pumping bullets into? Or the other bad guy who exchanges jaw-breaking blows with his Chinese dominatrix? Nobody is likable. The script is flat and pointless. (Please spare us the violent act followed by ironic quip.) And for unknown, artistic reasons, the entire film is lit gunmetal blue. Payback is based on the same Richard Stark novel, The Hunter, as the late 60s oddity, Point Blank. But, Mel Gibson is no ice cool Lee Marvin; in fact, in this flick, he’s no Mel Gibson! Just some cranky violent guy who wants his money back.

September 6: Suicide Kings (1997, 106 minutes): Yikes! Five "hip" young actors take on The Master, Christopher Walken, and lose. A lame-ass Tarantino type plot - five rich slightly amoral boys kidnap middle-aged crime lord Walken to use as leverage in resolving some other problem. Complications occur. Very stagey - most of the action takes place in one or two rooms. If it had a better script, if these five guys could act, if the action was something more sophisticated than everybody screaming "Shut up!" at one another - then MAYBE it coulda been a quirky little crime story. Walken, tied up to a chair, ran circles around these no-talent clowns, and I mostly stuck out the movie waiting for the inevitable scene where he kicked their asses.

September 5: Deep Impact (1998, 120 minutes): Good Lord! It seems another set of giant asteroids is headed straight for earth. Plucky Washington DC news reporter Tea Leoni discovers the horror! Alert President Morgan Freeman. Call up astronaut Robert Duvall. Are you scared yet? This time, everybody on earth has a few months to ponder The End, so folks run around atoning or acting bad, depending on their true character. A thinking man’s asteroid movie. Lots of noble sacrifice. And then a big tidal wave at the end. This is about my fifth asteroid-to-earth movie this year, and it’s agreed by all – the only way to stop these big rocks is to go into space and blow them up with all our leftover Cold War nuclear weapons. Proof you should keep everything, you never know when you might need it.

September 4: Pleasantville (1998, 123 minutes): In this comedic fantasy, a pair of disaffected contemporary youths, nerdy TV-rerun junkie Tobey Maguire and his slutty sister, Reese Witherspoon, reach for the wrong remote control and zap themselves back into a 1958 black-and-white TV sitcom, Pleasantville where everything is perfect. Their arrival spurs quiet chaos, as the town diverges from the 40-year-old plots and shifts to "color" - literally, and metaphorically, as residents develop inner lives of intellect and sexuality. The first hour of the film is imaginative and even thought-provoking, but the second half becomes a "Gee, isn’t life grand?!" fable without much bite. Still, the look of this film is good. The fixed sets and starched costumes have that unreal too-real gloss of genuine 50s sitcoms, and the blurring of TV and life undoubtedly plays much better on video than on the large screen.

September 3: Hardcore (1979, 108 minutes): I’d just finished reading this super fun book about 70s film industry, Easy Riders Raging Bulls, which discussed director, Paul Schrader’s west Michigan strict Dutch Reform Calvinist upbringing – and how he and his brother fled to Hollywood and lived big messy 1970s L.A. lives. So, here’s this film about the Dutch Reform Calvinist dad from Grand Rapids whose teenage daughter runs away to L.A. and gets mixed up in porn flicks. Dad goes west, descends into the strip clubs and sex shops, morphs into a sleazy porn financier and hooker caretaker, all in the pursuit of rescuing his daughter. With so much personal info about Schrader on my plate, I was utterly fascinated by this film - some kinda inverted roman a clef? A dig at disapproving churchgoing dads who might be this close to sleazoids themselves? The film’s point seems scattershot. It wants you to understand dad’s horror and outrage at his daughter’s fate, but it also seems to take digs at dad by sneering at what a out-of-touch prude he is. And the end of this film is very unsatisfactory. But according to the book, by this point, everybody was a big coke head and what was logic, focus, anyhow?

September 2: The Big Sleep (1978, 100 minutes): Tedious, bland re-make of the Chandler novel, and 1946 Bogart-Bacall classic of the same name, reset in the 1970s, and in London. Yes, London England. Though shot on location, it’s as if a neutron bomb went off. In one of the world’s busiest cities, there‘s no people, no traffic, no noise. Just the bizarre mixed cast - half American hack actors, half British hack actors. Robert Mitchum is Marlowe. Film has slim attraction as oddity.

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