Sunday, April 19, 2015

American Experience: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (2014)

Director: John Maggio

Writer: John Maggio

Composer: Gary Lionelli

Starring: Thom Hatch, Michael Murphy, Michael Rutter, Ken Verdoia, Lee Jensen, Robert Jensen, Joshua Marrufo

More info: IMDb

Plot: The historical account of outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, whose turn of the last century exploits made headlines, led them to be pursued by Pinkerton detectives hired by the railroads, and inspired a hit 1969 film.

My rating: 9/10

Will I watch it again? Yes!!!

Here's a quality TV documentary that doesn't waste time with fluff and recapping. That it's THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and it's on PBS helps a big heap.  I dislike The History Channel and others like it and their documentaries that feel the need to kill time with a lot of garbage. Anyway, this one is outstanding and it jumps right into telling the story of Butch Cassidy and not only what he did but giving us the circumstances for what propelled him to do them.  At 48 minutes they pack an awful lot of information and it's of high quality.  The wonderful score fits the doc to a "T".  It's a well-produced film all around and my sole complaint is that it's not long enough.  I just wanted that train to keep on going.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chicago Overcoat (2009)

Director: Brian Caunter

Writers: John Bosher, Brian Caunter, Andrew Dowd, Josh Staman

Composer: Greg Nicolett

Starring:  Frank Vincent, Kathrine Narducci, Mike Starr, Stacy Keach, Armand Assante, Danny Goldring, tim Gamble, Martin Shannon, Barret walz

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The glory days are back

Plot: The fates of an aging hitman and a washed up detective become entwined when one last job leads to one last chance to settle an old score.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

Lou's (Vincent) existence in the Mob is a lot lonelier than you see in other pictures.  It doesn't help that he's out-lived most of his friends (age will do that).  The story does have a lot of the organized crime cliches but then it's got to be tough to avoid all of them since we've been seeing these kinds of pictures, and there have been a lot of them, for more than forty years now.  What it does right is give some fine performances from nearly all of the cast.  There are some line deliveries that don't quite make it (maybe shooting time was limited) but by and large this is a great cast.  It's nice to see Vincent in a leading role after so many outstanding smaller roles in classic films like GOODFELLAS (1990) and CASINO (1995).  The MVP for acting in this picture though without question goes to Danny Goldring, the cop who's after Lou.  Great fucking job.  And the ending?  Loved it AND it took me by surprise.  I dig it when a picture does that.  While it might not make most people's top 20 Mafia pictures list, it's definitely worth a look for fans of the genre.

...Now go home and get your fucking shine box!

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall (2013)

Director: ???

Composers: Bruce Stephen Foster, Extreme Music

Starring: Budd Friedman, Judd Apatow, Richard Belzer, Lewis Black, Russell Brand, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon, Kathy Griffin, Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Mark Lonow, Bill Maher, Ray Romano, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, Damon wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans

More info: IMDb

Tagline: They all had to start somewhere

Plot: Several comic greats pay tribute to the legendary stand-up stage founded by Budd Friedman in 1963.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Maybe.

As a stand-up comic fan, shit like this is a no-brainer.  This hour long film is more of a bunch of comics telling stories of their experiences with Bud Friedman and performing at The Improv, there's not nearly enough said about the history of the club and that's a damn shame, you know, 'cause that's what's implied by the title!!!  But who the hell cares.  It's got loads of great comedians shootin' the shit and goofing off for an hour and that's alright by me.  It's fun on that level but I would have preferred a longer show with more than just a Cliff Notes version of the famous comedy joint. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

Director: Steve Gethers

Writers: Steve Gethers, Darcy O'Brien

Composer: Gil Melle

Starring: Richard Crenna, Dennis Farina, Billy Zane, Tony Plana, James Tolkan, Karen Austin, Matthew Faison, Robert Harper, Mary Jackson, Rosanna Huffman, William Bassett

More info: IMDb

Tagline:From October 1977 to February 1978 ten young women were brutally slain.  Their bodies were dumped on a hillside in Los Angeles.

Plot: The true chilling story of the "two of a kind", killin' cousins Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, better known as the Hillside Stranglers.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

When it comes to films based on real events, it's hard not to compare them.  THE HILLSIDE STRANGLER (2004) is a better film all the way around and I highly recommend that one.  This one, though, feels like it has the trappings of an average TV movie complete with some filler and not always 'on' performances.  For the most part, though, the acting is pretty good.  It's nice to see Farina in the role of a bad guy but he's not given nearly as much to do as his presence deserves.  Of the two killers, the focus is more on Zane's character and he's fun to watch, too, especially with that goofy mustache.  Crenna has moments of good and no so good.  One laughably bad moment happens near the end when Grogan's (Crenna) girlfriend, J.D. (Austin), puts herself in harm's way of getting killed by Buono (Farina).  Boy was that not only a dumb move but a dumb, ill-fitting scene.  It screamed amateurishness.  Another big offender was Gil Melle's out of place score.  There were times I thought that a producer with a tin ear pulled Melle's cues from another film entirely.  Bizarre, man.  For fans of true crime, this really only holds interest from the standpoint of the actors on screen and not so much for what the good guys and bad guys did.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Time Limit (1957)

Director: Karl Malden

Writers: Henry Denker, Ralph Berkey

Composer: Fred Steiner

Starring: Richard Widmark, Richard Basehart, Dolores Michaels, June Lockhart, Carl Benton Reid, Martin Balsam, Rip Torn, Khigh Dhiegh, Yale Wexler, Alan Dexter, Manning Ross, Joe Di Reda, James Douglas, Kenneth Alton, Jack Webster, Edward McNally

More info: IMDb

Tagline: This is the face of war you've never seen before!

Plot: During the Korean War former POW Major Cargill admits to having collaborated with the enemy but military investigator Colonel Edwards wants the details.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

I must've blinked when Karl Malden's name came up as the director.  It's his sole film in that capacity.  It's a good one, too.   The picture starts off much lighter than it ends (the last act is pretty intense) and the performances intensify as the film progresses toward the truth which is withheld until the final moments of the picture.  There's a good story here as well, one that shows you how not everything is black and white and how being by-the-book isn't always the right choice when faced with the lives of men in your hands.  The big payoff, of course, is the last act when we see first hand what went down with the death of an American POW, the son of a high ranking officer who brings in Col. Edwards (Widmark) to get to the bottom of it by way of Maj. Cargill (Basehart), the man charged with treason in relation to the case.  It's a good war drama that deserves a look.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Achievers: The Story of the Lebowski Fans (2009)

Director: Eddie Chung

Composer: Greg Kuehn

Starring: Joe Blevins, Jeff Bridges, Lu Elrod, Jerry Haleva, James G. Hoosier, Jim James, Becky Jones, Robin Jones, Stormy Lang, Will Russell, C. Scott Shuffitt

More info: IMDb

Tagline: You're not dealing with morons here.

Plot: This film follows the intertwining lives and sub-culture of "Achievers," fans of "The Big Lebowski."

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I've been a big fan of the Coen brothers for nearly thirty years but I've never understood the cult-ish appeal of THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) after having watched it at least twice.  This documentary helps break down the reasons why so many people are drawn to it to the point that I'll watch it again with an adjusted pair of eyes.  As far as the documentary goes, it's alright.  It's more about the people who started and participate in the main Lebowskifest that's been going on for some years.  Cool?  Jeff Bridges is in it and he's having a great time.  Ridiculous?  The one chick who's one goal in life is to win the first place trophy for the trivia contest. She's rabidly obsessed with winning it.  Wow.  Just wow.  It's on Netflix instant and it's worth a look for anyone who is a huge fan of The Dude or for those like me who just don't get the gushing fan base.

Monday, April 13, 2015

For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism (2009)

Director: Gerald Peary

Writer: Gerald Peary

Composer: Bobby B. Keyes

Starring: Roger Ebert, Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael, Patricia Clarkson, Leonard Maltin, Janet Maslin, Elvis Mitchell, Rex Reed, Richard Schickel, and tons of other film critics

More info: IMDb

Plot: The history of American film criticism.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Probably not.

I'm obviously a movie fan/freak and I love talking about and hearing people talk about movies so naturally, this is right up my alley.  It's a great little history of just what it says it is.  When you think of movie critics, most people can probably think of two and that begins and ends with Siskel & Ebert.  What I found interesting is not necessarily how many of these critics got their start (which is usually what I dig about these pictures) but how film criticism began and evolved.  Nowadays it seems like it's a lot of bozos like me praising and bitching but there's a whole history to film critics that I never knew existed and it's pretty darn interesting.  I've never found a critic that I agree with all the time and that's OK.  Hell, I've never met anyone I agreed with 100%.  I'd be both delighted and afraid if I ever did.  But it's the reviewers that know the history of the type of film they're writing about and have a talent for entertaining and informing that I dig the most.  Ultimately it's still praising and bitching but some people can disguise it with charm and wit to make it more easily digestible without leaving a bad taste in your mouth.