Monday, November 30, 2015

Shtickmen (2003)

Directors: Jeff Hays, Eric Jewell

Writers: Jeff Hays, Eric Jewell, Dean Lewis

Composer: David Jewell

Starring: Dean Lewis, David Wilk, Johnny Crass, Burton Gilliam, Jeff Hays, Chad Cline, Dave Little, Buff Tanner, Soozy Martin, Bob Coonrod, Grant James, Troy Grant, Chuck Cason

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Dying is Easy... Comedy is Hard

Plot: This mockumentary focuses on the life of small time comedian Jerry Martin and his ability to strive for the "big time" while having to do awful comedy related jobs just to survive.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

I love stand up and I'll watch anything Burton Gilliam did.  That guy cracks me up.  That said, I barely laughed at all and when I did it was during the last act when the students took the stage.  The thing is, I should have been howling all the way through but I was taken out of the picture early on.  It looks rather cheap and it's obvious that people are acting, especially the students and some of them take it too far.  The characters are often too broad and the film would've benefited from scaling it back more to be more realistic.  I guess you could say that about Christopher Guest's mocumentaries but a lot of his characters are more genuine or at least beautifully performed.  I really didn't care for the picture until the last act.  The editing of the performers was good.  The purposefully bad jokes, which were revealed in the class, were funnier when bandied about on stage.  There's a spark missing from this film that would give it the life it needs.  I like the idea behind the picture and I wanted it to succeed but when it was all over, I'd hardly laughed and that doesn't bode well for an out and out comedy.  The Victory DVD has a bunch of extras.  You get three 4-minute stand up sets from three of the guys in the film, 5 short films by the folks who brought you this movie, a trailer for a fake documentary called HIT, 15 minutes of outtakes and the trailer (which inexplicably is nowhere to be found online). 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Colosseum: A Gladiator's Story (2004)

Director: Tilman Remme

Writers: Georgann Kane, steven Manuel, Chris Ould

Composer: Ilan Eshkeri

Starring: Robert Shannon, Derek Lea, Jamel Aroui, Lotfi Dziri, Hichem Rostom, Dorra Zarrouk, Ross Kemp, Michael Pennington

More info: IMDb

Plot: Verus, a slave captured in the Balkans, sees a gladiatorial career in the arena as a preferable alternative to life in a rock quarry.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

This fascinating documentary/drama tells the true account of a slave, Verus, who became a gladiator and fought in the opening games of the newly built Colosseum in 18 C.E.. Like the POMPEII: THE LAST DAYS (2003) film that accompanies it on the BBC DVD, I learned a lot from this, more than I already knew about this period and of the lives of gladiators (I really should pick up a book sometimes).  Because of the nature of the subject, there's a lot of action and some violence so the fun factor is way up before it gets going.   It's a lot of fun and I highly recommend taking 45 minutes out of your day to watch it (free on YouTube above).  The DVD offers a nice anamorphic widescreen print and you get more extras for this one than you do the POMPEII film with close to a half hour of interviews with many folks involved with the many aspects of making the picture as well as 5 trailers for other BBC documentaries. 

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Director: Sam Peckinpah

Writers: Frank Kowalski, Sam Peckinpah, Gordon T. Dawson

Composer: Jerry Fielding

Starring: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine, Emilio Fernandez, Kris Kristofferson, Chano Urueta, Donnie Fritts, Jorge Russek, Chalo Gonzalez, Don Levy

More info: IMDb

Tagline: It's got guts!

Plot: An American barroom piano player and his prostitute girlfriend go on a road trip through the Mexican underworld to collect a $1 million bounty on the head of Alefredo Garcia.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

This is the third time I've seen this and with every view I think I'm not going to watch it again until the final act where the shit hits the fan and it gets damn good (for the last 45 minutes).  Once that even sets off Bennie (Oates), he's unstoppable and we get to see a grittier side of him than we've known so far.  It's REALLY good.  Before that the story moves along nicely I suppose but it's almost meandering around the obvious plot point of Bennie and the title of the picture.  Of course there's more to it than that and his relationship with Elita and Bennie's finding his place in life is the central part of the story...but that ending...oh, boy!  It's not your average road picture, that's for sure.  I LOVE the gringo bounty hunters/assassins that are also out for Garcia's head and who push Bennie further into his abyss.  The first time I watched this I was really struck by Elita's actions concerning the "rape" scene with the two bikers.  It really made me uncomfortable and it gives her character some added depth and maturity that you don't see in films.  I really dig a lot of Peckinpah's work.  He was a rough around the edges dude but he also made some mature, rough around the edges films that will stand the test of time.  The MGM DVD has a great looking anamorphic widescreen print. The only extras you get are a trailer (anamorphic wide) and a commentary track with Paul Seydor, Garner Simmons, Weddle and moderator Nick Redman.  Now where's the Blu-ray for this?  Peckinpah deserves a nice Blu box set.  Hell, he only directed 14 pictures and half of them are classics.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Pompeii: The Last Day (2003)

Director: Peter Nicholson

Writers: Edward Canfor-Dumas, Peter Nicholson

Composer: Ty Unwin

Starring: Alisdair Simpson, Tim Pigott-Smith, Jim Carter, Jonathan Firth, Rebecca Clarke, Inika Leigh Wright, Martin Hodgson

More info: IMDb

Plot: A dramatized recreation of the destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

My rating:7/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

The good?  The science and documentary portions of this picture.  The bad?  Well, it's not bad but the dramatic recreations tend to linger too long. At only 50 minutes, this docudrama does a great job of presenting what we know (which is a lot more than you'd think) of what happened to Mt. Vesuvius on August 25, 79 C.E..  That was fascinating.  The dramatic "story" bits are interesting but only to a point.  I found too many scenes hanging around longer than they should, making me anxious to get tot he real meat of the story.  Finding out the details of what happened in the hours after the eruption was remarkable and it makes this a must-watch for fans of ancient history.  The BBC DVD has a great anamorphic widescreen print.  The DVD also includes another like film called COLOSSEUM: A GLADIATOR'S STORY (which is more fun to watch) and you get some good extras for each picture.  The ones for this film include interviews with the producer/director and costumer (about 11 minutes in total).  You also get 5 trailers for other BBC documentaries.  You don't need the DVD to see it.  It's available for free on YouTube (above).

Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak (2009)

Directors: Lance Bangs, Spike Jonze

Composer: ???

Starring: Maurice Sendak, Lance Bangs, Lynn Caponera, Spike Jonze, Catherine Keener

More info: IMDb

Plot: Sendak offers a rare, intimate, and unexpected look at his exceptional life.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

It's only 39 minutes long but it's Sendak talking non-stop.  He's fun and interesting.  He's got a neat story about the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby.  One thing I learned that surprised me was that he wrote Where the Wild Things Are very early in his career and the story behind it is cool.  The Oscilloscope DVD extras include extra footage and interviews that last as long as the film (a must watch) and trailers for 16 Oscilloscope pictures (but not for this film).

Friday, November 27, 2015

Swing Shift (1984)

Director: Jonathan Demme

Writers: Nancy Dowd, Bo Goldman, Ron Nyswaner

Composer: Patrick Williams

Starring: Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Christine Lahti, Fred Ward, Ed Harris, Sudie Bond, Holly Hunter, Patty Maloney, Lisa Pelikan, Susan Peretz, Joey Aresco, Chris Lemmon, Charles Napier, Stephen Tobolowsky, Belinda Carlisle, Roger Corman

More info: IMDb

Tagline: When America marched off to war the women marched into the factory. From then on...nothing was the same.

Plot: A woman finds romance when she takes a job at an airport plant to help make ends meet after her husband goes off to war.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

IMDb misled me into thinking this was a comedy.  I was robbed of any funny because it's a romantic drama with the focus on drama.  Rumor has it that the theatrical film isn't anywhere near as good as Demme's original cut and the studio/producers changed a lot after he finished it.  Having seen it, I can believe it.  It's neat seeing so many great still-working actors in their early years.  It's not boring or even too slow but the drama wears on and it gets bleak before it gets better.  It has a nice WWII feel to it that gave me that 1941 (1979) vibe which had me wanting to watch that picture instead of this one. I like Carly Simon but the song she sings that opens and closes the film is poor to average and it sounds like it's trying to hard to fit in the period of the film.  The Warner Bros. DVD has a very nice anamorphic print with the only extra being an anamorphic widescreen trailer.

Colors (1988)

Director: Dennis Hopper

Writers: Michael Schiffer, Richard Di Lello

Composer: Herbie Hancock

Starring: Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Randy Brooks, Grand L. Bush, Don Cheadle, Gerardo Mejia, Glenn Plummer, Rudy Ramos, Sy Richardson, Trinidad Silva, Charles Walker, Damon Wayans, Fred Asparagus, Seymour Cassel, Courtney Gains, Mario Lopez, Tony Todd

More info: IMDb

Tagline: 70,000 gang members. One million guns. Two cops.

Plot: An experienced cop and his rookie partner patrol the streets of East Los Angeles while trying to keep the gang violence under control.

My rating:  6.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Call me crazy but it seems like this movie underplays the dangers of being a cop in 1980s L.A.. I have nothing to base it on other than, you know, other movies and documentaries that show a much harsher, violent side to gangland activity back then.  The closest I ever got to being in a gang in the 80s was me and some friends riding our bikes together to go to the arcade in '82.  We blew a lot of quarters that day and drowned ourselves in Coke and Little Debbies at the refreshment counter between hardcore bouts with Joust and Ms. Pacman.  Good times.  COLORS feels like it's got something to say but it doesn't go nearly as far as it should have.  Bob (Duvall) is the veteran cop who knows how things work on the street and Danny (Penn) is the fresh, young hot shot who thinks he's the guy to tame it.  By the end of the film Danny acts like the vet when he teaches the new guy who has Danny's old role.  It doesn't feel like Danny has earned that right yet.  You've got hot and cold but nothing in between.  The performances are all fine and it's great seeing a lot of now-famous faces early in their careers.  Herbie Hancock's score is very bland and most of the cues seem interchangeable with one another as if he wrote some tunes not knowing where or how they'd be used. I saw this around 25 years ago and I my opinion of the film hasn't really changed.  I don't know who put it out (MGM and 20th Century Fox are both on the packaging) but it's on a double bill with another Penn flick, AT CLOSE RANGE (1986).  The print is anamorphic widescreen with not a single extra.