Monday, May 2, 2016

Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

Director: Danny DeVito

Writer: Stu Silver

Composer: David Newman

Starring: Danny DeVito, Billy Crystal, Kim Greist, Anne Ramsey, Kate Mulgrew, Branford Marsalis, Rob Reiner, Bruce Kirby, Joey DePinto, Annie Ross, Raye Birk, Oprah Winfrey

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Owen asked his friend, Larry, for a small favor...

Plot: Larry Donner is an author and writing professor who tutors people that want to write books. Larry's life has become a misery when his ex-wife Margaret has published a book he wrote under her name and has gotten rich over it. Owen Lift, one of Larry's students, offers Larry to kill Margaret, and in return Owen, wants Larry to kill his horrible mother. Larry thinks it's a joke, until he learns Owen killed his ex-wife. And Larry has now become the prime suspect.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Maybe.

It's been nearly thirty years since I saw this and it's held up nicely.   The casting is perfect, especially with Anne Ramsey as Mama.  She was born for the role.  DeVito hits the right beats of a simple man, straddling that line of being sympathetic and sad.  And Crystal is the wisecracker that's forced to deal with a serious predicament.  If you don't laugh as much as you'd expect (or want), it's probably because the expectations are high considering the cast but it's still an often funny movie.  David Newman's score has some great Hitchcockian moments that bring some cool from an unexpected source.  The MGM Contemporary Classics DVD serves up the film with a nice anamorphic widescreen print.  The extras are lean but you get four deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer (anamorphic widescreen).  I'm surprised DeVito didn't do a commentary track on this one as he's done with his other pictures.  Love that guy's work and his commentaries are enthusiastic, informative and entertaining.

Return of the Seven (1966)

AKA: Return of the Magnificent Seven

Director: Burt Kennedy

Writer: Larry Cohen

Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Starring: Yul Brynner, Robert Fuller, Mulian Mateos, Warren Oates, Claude Akins, Elisa Montes, Fernando Rey, Emilio Fernandez, Virgilio Teixeira, Rodolfo Acosta, Jordan Christopher

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  Between the law and the lawless - SEVEN again... MAGNIFICENT again!

Plot:  When a bandit leader wants to build a church in memory of his dead sons, he raids three Mexican villages and kidnaps all the men for labour. One of these men is Chico, formerly of the original Magnificent Seven. His wife Petra immediately sets out to look for Chris and Vin, the other surviving members of the Seven. Chris recruits four others (a playboy, an avenger, a highwayman and an orphan) to reform the Seven, once again defending farmers from their oppressors.

My rating:  6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

I guess you could make the case that this is a decent follow-up to the smash hit THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) in that it ties itself to the previous film, it brings back at least one of the main actors, and in some ways it follows the same general plot.  That's all well and good as long as the picture is entertaining.  The trouble is this one does one thing right that was about the only aspect of originality and that's the villain's motivation.  They should've put that fucker down in the first movie so they would have to think of a better way to keep this now-franchise alive.  The cheesiest thing about the first movie was ported over to this one and that's Chris and his counting as each member is recruited. 

There was an even cheesier shot of the fingers later on but I couldn't find it.  It brilliantly showed the extent they were committed to the finger counts when it came to shot composition.  It was awful and funny.  Once the new band of brothers takes off to the Mexican hills to defend the village, it gets much better.  There are some nice character moments like when Frank (Akins) talks candidly about his dark past and Colbee (Oates) is fun.  The scenery is gorgeous and it's a good looking, well-shot picture but there's too much of the first film in this one to make it stand out, down to the same score Bernstein composed for it, too.  I'd rather watch the first one again (which will happen).  I am keen on watching the next two films in the series but not enough to watch any of the ones that came decades later.  The MGM DVD presents the film in anamorphic widescreen but the sole extra, the theatrical trailer, is in non-anamorphic widescreen. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Surveillance (2008)

Director: Jennifer Chambers Lynch

Writers: Jennifer Chambers Lynch, Kent Harper

Composer: Todd Bryanton

Starring: Caroline Aaron, Hugh Dillon, David Gane, Gill Gayle, Kent Harper, Michael Ironside, Pell James, Cheri Oteri, Julia Ormond, Bill Pullman, French Stewart, Charlie Newmark

More info: IMDb

Plot: Two FBI agents attempt to clarify the murders occurring in a desolate region. They approach the witnesses of the latest incident with the help of the local police. All of them hide something and all have wildly different stories to tell.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

Great crime thriller!  Really.  Imagine the cops in SUPER TROOPERS (2001) but very, very dangerous and sadistic.  Yeahhhhhhh.  This is one of those pictures I didn't know a single thing going in and I just gave myself to it and boy did it pay off.  It's not pretty, from the opening shots until the closing credits roll.  People die.  Almost all of them and it's great.  The performances are great, especially Kent Harper.  This guy's only got 20 credits over the last fifteen years.  He needs to work A LOT more in front of the camera.  It's great seeing French & Oteri in serious roles.  French is one of the fucked up cops.  There's some great tension and awkwardness throughout and the ending is fucking awesome.  Highly recommended.  The Magnet DVD has the film in anamorphic widescreen and there are a bunch of extras starting with a commentary with Lynch (she's the daughter of David, by the way) and actors Miller and Newmark, a behind the scenes doc (15 minutes), an HDNet short doc (5 minutes),  2 deleted scenes and an alternate ending (with an optional commentary from Lynch - this ending would've pissed me off to the point of never watching this film again. The original ending is superior in every way) and 9 minutes of trailers from Magnolia Home Entertainment.

One Down, Two to Go (1982)

Director: Fred Williamson

Writer: Fred Williamson

Composers: Herb Hetzer, Joe Trunzo

Starring: Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, Richard Roundtree, Paula Sills, Laura Loftus, Joe Spinell, Tom Signorelli, John Guitz, Richard Noyce, Peter Dane, Victoria Hale, Warrington Winters

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  Forget the A-team. This is the kick-ass team!

Plot:  During a high-stakes east-west karate tournament, coach Chuck suspects the match is rigged against him. When looking around the other team's locker room gets him shot, he calls in Cal and J, his partners from California. After exercising a little persuasion and a lot of brute force, they discover who's behind it all. Now the only problem is getting back the money Chuck is owed.

My rating:  5/10

Will I watch it again?  Nope.

It's a shame this wasn't made a decade earlier.  It might've had the added benefit of that great 70s look and feel when it came to Blaxploitation flicks.  You don't need a great story to make a fun movie.  You don't have to have great acting or any number of things.  Sometimes it boils down to charm, sometimes innocence, budget and so on.  Besides looking good, this film, though, suffers from a lot of things, the most of which is fun.  It's just not fun.  It's neat seeing these Blaxploitation icons all in the same movie but it's too bad it's not a better vehicle.  It feels different, the action is OK and the music is below average.  It plays more like an 80s action movie that went direct to video.  There should be a better sense of camaraderie from these guys.  I realize the story isn't a fun one for the characters but the picture mostly sits there.  I was bored but I really wanted to like it.  If it was made 8 years earlier with a fraction of the budget and with a rag-tag bunch of film makers, this could have been a hoot.  I would say that this great bunch of guys deserved a better movie than this but then one of them wrote, directed and starred in it.  The Anchor Bay DVD presents this with a nice anamorphic widescreen print.  For extras you get a commentary track from Fred Williamson and the theatrical trailer (anamorphic widescreen).  On the flipside of the disc is BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH (1976) which was a lot more fun despite being in shitty fullscreen.  As an aside, a couple of years ago I met Williamson at a ComicCon and he was cool as shit.  I don't know who is smoother, him or Billy Dee Williams but Williamson has charisma to spare.  And his autographs were only twenty bucks.  What a guy. 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Gingerbread Man (1998)

Director: Robert Altman

Writers: John Grisham, Clyde Hayes

Composer:  Mark Isham

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Embeth Davidtz, Robert Downey Jr., Daryl Hannah, Robert Duvall, Tom Berenger, Famke Janssen, Clyde Hayes, Mae Whitman, Jesse James, Troy Byer

More info: IMDb

Plot:  Lawyer Rick Magruder has a one-night-stand affair with caterer Mallory Doss. He becomes hooked on her, and when he learns her nut-case father Dixon is threatening her, he puts the weight of his law firm behind Mallory, has Dixon arrested and subpoenas her ex-husband Pete to testify against Dixon in court. Dixon is sent to an asylum, but escapes from there and the lives of many people are in danger.

My rating:  6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

Remember back in the 90s when Branagh was all over the place in movies?  Yeah?  Well this is one of them.  It's a decent drama but it lacks the tension it takes to make this a decent thriller, which is surprising since this is from Robert Altman.  Granted, it was his first foray into the genre but surely he could've chosen something better.  I guess people thought that Grisham could do no wrong.  Surprise.  The Brit Branagh's Southern accent is good but someone should've stopped Downey from speaking with one.  He should've stuck with his normal dialect.  Not everyone in the South has an accent, you know.  Downey's is pretty bad and at times it's like an Elvis impression.  The Universal DVD has the film in non-anamorphic widescreen.  You get two extras, the theatrical trailer (non-anamorphic widescreen) and a commentary track with Altman.  That's it. 

Over the Top (1987)

Director: Menahem Golan

Writers: Gary Conway, David Engelbach, Stirling Silliphant, Sylvester Stallone

Composer: Giorgio Moroder

Starring:  Sylvester Stallone, Robert Loggia, Susan Blakely, Rick Zumwalt, David Mendenhall, Chris McCarty, Terry Funk, Bob Beattie, Allan Graf, Magic Schwarz

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  Some fight for money... Some fight for glory... He's fighting for his son's love

Plot:  Lincoln Hawk (Stallone) is a struggling trucker who arm wrestles on the side to make extra cash while trying to rebuild his life. After the death of his wife, he tries to make amends with his son who he left behind 10 years earlier. Upon their first meeting, his son does not think too highly of him until he enters the World Arm Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas. His hope is to receive the grand prize of $100,000 and an expensive current custom semi-truck and thus start his own trucking company.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

It would be really easy to tear this film apart but it's so likable.  Stallone is a likable guy.  The kid starts out being an ass that needs the switch taken to his backside but he eventually comes around to being nice.  His transition from shit to good is pretty quick but then this flick doesn't have all that much time.  Robert Loggia is great as usual.  One big issue, technically, is the arm wrestling B-story.  I always thought this movie was all about that and it was more of an action movie but then I never saw it until now.  Instead it's more of a father getting in touch with his son and, oh, by the way, there's this World Series of arm wrestling happening in Las Vegas.  I didn't mind the disjointedness of it at all.  There's some dumb shit in the movie but it's professionally crafted without being great.  Everything works out too well for Stallone.  You can see it coming a mile away but it's still entertaining and the movie files by.  It's a reasonably fun, predictable movie. that beer drinkers and Stallone fans can sit through without yelling at the TV.  It could've been a lot worse and that would be just too bad.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Swimming with Sharks (1994)

Director: George Huang

Writer: George Huang

Composer: Tom Hiel

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley, Michelle Forbes, Benicio Del Toro, T.E. Russell, Roy Dotrice, Matthew Flint, Patrick Fischler, Jerry Levine, Sabryn Genet, Kyle Reed

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Back Stabbing - Two Faced - Revenge

Plot: A young, naive Hollywood studio assistant finally turns the tables on his incredibly abusive producer boss.

My rating:  8/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

This is not a comedy despite what the poster and trailer try to convince you.  It's a revenge drama.  It can be darkly humorous to see Guy (Whaley) being bullied by Buddy (Spacey) but it's mostly painful.  Really painful.  Spacey's performance alone makes this a must-see.  The Whaley and Forbes are excellent as well.  Del Toro is only in it for maybe five minutes in one scene.  This picture doesn't play out like you think except that it's easy to see Guy losing it and going to the extreme of attacking his boss.  I'm sure most of us have fantasized that shit a few times.  Even after having seen this twenty years ago, I couldn't remember how it ended (but I kept a fondness for the picture thinking it was funny) and I'm glad as I had no idea how this played out.  It's a cynical film and it's a good one with a great cast and a stupendously good performance from Spacey.  He's amazing in this.  The Trimark DVD I soon-to-be-had presents the film in non-anamorphic widescreen and the only extras are four trailers (including one for this film) in fullscreen.  I'm hoping the special edition has a print that's anamorphic.  It does have a lot of extras and I'm keen to hear some stories from Huang about his experiences that lead to making this picture.