Archive for the ‘1-Star Movies’ Category

Delinquent Daughters! booga booga

January 14, 2008

Delinquent Daughters comes on a DVD set called Cult Classics, so there’s just no possible way that the movie’s any good, right? Right. There’s nothing good about it, except that it’s… no, sorry, there’s nothing good about it, period. It’s not good in the so-bad-it’s-funny way. It’s not good in any way at all.

Released in 1944, Delinquent Daughters is part of the same “message” family as such legends as Reefer Madness, Marihuana, and The Cocaine Fiends. Yep, you guessed it, it was supposed to be a way to steer kids away from the horrors of illict drugs and debauchery. Nowadays, a movie with this sort of theme would play to empty houses, as the kidlets would find other, more awesomer movies to go see. But back then, you had pretty much one choice when it came to movies – whatever your local theater was showing. Yes, it’s true, kids – once upon a time, there was not only just one theater in town, it showed only one or two movies, and almost never at the same time! Why, you could see two or three showings of the same movie, all for a shiny nickel! Why … hey, where are you going? Come back here!

In Delinquent Daughters, some dopey teen doped up on dope or completely straight, I can’t recall which, jumped to her death on purpose. The police call it suicide; I call it a crying shame they didn’t let the audience watch. But I digress. As the cops investigate the cause, they unearth a gang of marauding teenagers who steal from candy stores and gas stations! Who smoke and swear (well, they think bad words) and show absolutely no respect for their elders, the dang spoiled nitwits! (I love how when the kids are stealing, they get like $4. Yes, four dollars. What the hey hey? ‘Course, that was like $4000 in 1944 money.)

Throughout a lot of the movie, the screen’s almost entirely black. No, it’s not that the picture’s bad on the DVD player or TV, no sir. I can see the outline of a teen there, or maybe that’s a large dog. Or a car. Or the President of the Bobby Vinton fan club. Anyway, there’s something there. It’s just what we might call “poor lighting,” but here, I say it’s a benefit, as it keeps us from merely hearing bad acting instead of seeing it as well.

A huge waste of time. You’re welcome.

Delinquent Daughters: *

Trouble in Paradise with Zombies

December 18, 2007

Caught two movies last night. (No, really.) Both from Netflix, although I viewed one online and one on my very own DVD player.

 First up, we had The Astro-Zombies (1967). As you might ascertain from the title, this was a huge stinker – which is why I wanted to see it! I actually took the trouble of adding several bad bad movies to my NF queue, just for the heck of it.

In Astro-Zombies, John Carradine (cast with type!) plays a scientist who’s trying to transfer memories from the recently deceased into, well, other dead bodies. He accomplishes this using 1960s technology, so you can expect plenty of smoking beakers and lots of lights and buttons that apparently don’t do squat.

Meanwhile, there’s subterfuge afoot. A crime gang (led by cult actress Tura Satana) figures out that mindless zombies are behind it, although I can’t remember why, and they plot to track down Carradine in his lab so they can use his knowledge to further their diabolical plans. Carradine’s Dr. DeMarco, it should be noted, is not a mad scientist, not even an evil doctor; he’s innocent and genuinely hopes his creations will cause good! So he’s kind of bummed to find out that’s not the case.

The CIA (?) gets wind of Dr. DeMarco’s experiments, too, because of the recent killings and the fact that Dr. DeMarco was kicked out of his research lab for his experiments.

 The best part of this is the zombies. They kind of look like Tusken Raiders, only if the Raiders were “special” people you wouldn’t trust with a sharp pencil. They move as slow as zombies are expected to move, which means, of course, that no one can out run them. Or overpower them – it’s like being undead makes you strong.

Anyway, the movie’s pretty awful, also Satana is a lot of fun to look at. A lot.

Then we have Trouble in Paradise (1932). This is a classic screwball comedy by director Ernst Lubitsch, who was known for subtle wit in his direction. Herbert Marshall and Miriam Hopkins play jewel thieves who fall for each other and team up to con a wealthy socialite, played by Kay Francis. Ah, but Marshall falls for Francis – or does he – and madcap fun ensues. Also in the cast are Charlie Ruggles as a stiff-backed major trying to win Francis’ hand and Edward Everett Horton, another rich sap who’s trying to do the same.

It’s a well-written, quick-witted film with plenty of laughs and physical comedy; Marshall, Francis, and Hopkins are wonderful together, and in real life the latter two were close friends. The premise is timeless, although the setting and execution do feel a tad dated now. But the inspiring, energetic performances by the three leads – as well as the supporting cast, particularly Horton – boost this one to classic status.

 The Astro-Zombies (1967): *

Trouble in Paradise (1932): ****

356 – The Ex

November 25, 2007

Originally, this movie was titled Fast Track, since it’s about an up-and-coming marketing guy who’s on the proverbial way up at his father-in-law’s firm. But then it was changed to The Ex, which shifted the focus from the workplace to the home. But let’s get this straight: Either name is infinitely better then the unhealthy dollop of mean-spirited junk that appears after the title card on the screen.

Tom (Zach Braff) has been fired from his job as a chef at a hoity-toity restaurant, so he and his wife Sofia (Amanda Peet) and their newborn baby schlep from New York to Ohio, where Sofia’s dad Bob (Charles Grodin) has not only set Tom up with a new job but also has procured a nice little houe for them to raise their new family in. Aww, ain’t that sweet. But things don’t start off well for Tom at the marketing firm, which turns out to be both new age and, well, wacko. You know, a place where such “creative” aspects as casual dress, unwalled offices, an imaginary ball of ideas or something abound. Tom has some issues with fitting in with the eclectic, quirky crew, but more importantly he clashes immediately with his new supervisor, Chip (Jason Bateman), who just happens to be a former schoolmate of Sofia. Oh, and a paraplegic, of course.

But don’t worry; although it seems like this is a romantic comedy about jealousy and redemption, about a young couple getting past their differences to survive as a unit, it’s set up to be more like a slapstick comedy, with many jokes at Chip’s expense. (Which is okay, because Chip is a real jerk.) The sad reality, though, is that the movie fails at both genres. Women won’t like it, because there’s no real romance, no genuine feelings on anyone’s part. (Sorry to generalize, ladies.) Guys won’t like it, because there’s not nearly enough physical humor. That would be fine, except there’s hardly any subtle humor, either. What you’re left with is just vicious, mean-spiritedness that drains every ounce of humor from an otherwise talented cast.

Braff’s not terrible, but I never got the sense that he was, well, believable as someone women would desire. But what do I know, I’m a straight male. The affection between him and Peet seemed forced, tentative, and unnatural, sort of like unwilling siblings. Peet wasn’t bad, either, but she didn’t have much to work with – on a positive note, she doesn’t come off as icily unappealing as she does in most of her other films.

And man, check out Charles Grodin. I had to check to see who was playing Sofia’s dad – Grodin, who hadn’t been in a movie in 13 years, looks about 85 years old here. I thought he was Bob Eubanks. There’s one scene, too, in which Bob utters the f-word. For no freaking reason other than to have Charles Grodin, septuagenarian, drop an f-bomb.

Interestingly enough, the unrated version of the movie runs about five minutes shorter than the rated one that was seen in theater. And, having seen the unrated one, I couldn’t tell you about any particular scenes that were so raw that they would have pushed the rating to an unwanted NC-17. So I have to assume that the rated one was even tamer, and thus even crappier.

Sad and predictable in its attempt at comedy, The Ex is a waste of time. You’ll be clawing your eyes out at the numbing awfulness.

348 – Bug

October 27, 2007

I can’t possibly give this movie the rating it truly deserves. This is one of those movies that fools you into thinking it’ll be a pretty decent film, only to not only not be decent but to be hands-down one of the worst movies of the year. If I had a rating system of one to ten, with ten being the best, Bug would rate at about a negative infinity. But perhaps I’m being a little harsh on it unnecessarily.

Bug is about a stereotypical lonely midwestern woman who lives in a crappy, run-down motel in the middle of Nowheresville, Oklahoma. She has the standard crazy ex-husband who’s just been released from jail and the standard lesbian best friend who works with her at the honkytonk cowboy bar down the road a piece. Agnes (Ashley Judd) is kind, considerate, saucy, sassy, and gorgeous. Agnes is supposed to be sort of broken down; she has just her one friend R.C. (Lynn Collins) and doesn’t like to party – although she does snort her share of the cocaine. Still and all, she seems like a right nice sort, although in typical Lifetime movie of the week fashion she’s instantly cowed by her psychotic ex (Harry Connick, Jr.).

One day R.C. brings over a guy she found at their bar, Peter (Michael Shannon), a man who seems even more distant and unsure of himself than the lovely Agnes. Peter takes to her, and she to he, despite not knowing a damn thing about him. He has no home, no car, no nothing. Dude’s not even handsome, like her ex. But there’s something kindly, if off-putting about Peter; he seems to listen, you know, care. Chicks dig it if you fake caring about them, you see. At any rate, Agnes lets him spend the night, chastely on the couch.

But it quickly transpires that Peter’s not all there. He’s a former war vet, and he’s a little batty about bugs. Sees them everywhere. Once, in the middle of the night, he insists he’s been bitten by an aphid and tears the bed apart looking for it. When he does find it, though, Agnes can’t see it. No one can see it. You know why? Because it’s not there. That doesn’t stop Peter from bitching about it. The next day, he’s spread flystrips all over the motel room. Oh, and somehow gotten a hold of a microscope, the better to look at slides containing his own blood. You know, normal stuff.

Now, you or I might think, “Hey, Peter’s whacked from being tested with drugs by sinister Army doctors!” and that he clearly needs some freaking medical attention. R.C. points out to Peter that aphids don’t bite, and he in turn accuses her of selling him out to The Man. And of course, at that point, as you might predict, Agnes goes crazy at her friend, screaming at her that she’s trying to take away the only thing Agnes has left in her life, and yadda yadda yadda, and it all ends with a classic line of “Get out of here! And don’t you ever come back!”

Knowing that logic has been jettisoned might actually help the viewer here, because plainly a lot of stuff here just isn’t meant to make any sense. It’s a screenwriter’s crutch, really, having a character be so completely off the wall that one can’t relate at all. Peter goes from being simply creepy (and, it should be noted, not someone a fragile, single woman should ever allow into her home) to certifiable in the wink of an eye. Much worse, though, is that Agnes goes from being intelligent and romantic to being… well, really, really dumb. Suddenly nothing she says contains one iota of smarts. It’s as if Peter’s enormous head (seriously, go look at Michael Shannon) was sucking all the brains out of Agnes. Or she sucked the crazy out of him. Because, come to think of it, she wasn’t loopy until after she slept with him.

I have to wonder, though, if this movie is supposed to be ironic. Because it’s loaded, absolutely chock full, of seemingly unintentional comedy. Here’s an actual line. Actual line, mind you: “Agnes! Tell me what you don’t know!” I am the dumber for having typed those words. Watching this movie is like being hit repeatedly about the skull with a blunt instrument. It’s badly written – this stuff wouldn’t make sense on paper, why would it make sense in a movie? – terribly acted, and an overall embarrassment. One plus: Judd is naked for quite a bit of time, rare for such a high-caliber actress.

*

Glen or Glenda?

August 16, 2007

Is there anyone out there who remembers when this came out in 1953? (I sure don’t.) Anyway, it’s from the infamous – that’s more than famous! – Edward D. Wood, Jr., who stars in as well as directs and writes this turkey about a man who loves to wear women’s clothing and longs to wear the angora sweater of his betrothed (Dolores Fuller).

The movie’s stories are told in documentary fashion, but don’t kid yourself while watching it – this is not a mock documentary at all. It’s all perfectly straight-faced and legit. Straight-up legit, yo! Transvestites, represent! A crusty police inspector (Lyle Talbot) comes to a reknowned doctor to find out more about transvestites, since one’s just wound up a suicide. The doctor then regales the cop with tales of patients who’ve had surgery to go from man to woman and patients who just wear the clothes of their opposite gender. Meanwhile, we get flashbacks to the various stories, told from the patients’ points of view, plus lots of stock footage. Oh, and to cap it all off, a completely out-of-place Bela Lugosi narrating events from a mysterious, rain-soaked manse. “BEVARE!” he chants, apropos of nuttin’. Bevare of a crappy, crappy movie.

But it’s so bad it’s good, sort of, in that you can laugh at the unlaughable and sneer at the 1950s attitudes. Although I will give the film this much – never are transvestites presented to us as absolute freaks, irredeemable in the eyes of the Lawd; they’re shown as real people with real problems. So it’s kind of refreshing to see they’re not demonized.

Still, the movie sucks. Might be better if you take a big bong hit first, though. Your brain cells won’t know the difference.

*

Things to catch up on . . .

May 12, 2007

Ok, you’re thinking, I’ve added the RSS feed of this site to my reader, but you never ever update the thing, so why should I keep it? It’s a good question, really, and I don’t blame you for wondering. The best blogs update not only every day, but many times a day.

One thing that prevents me from doing so is laziness. I admit it – I just don’t have the energy to do it. Then there’s the fact that for the most part I put movie reviews on this blog, and watching movies takes time. And then there’s the fact that when the weather turns nice – usually May in the Washington area – I don’t watch as many movies anyway.

Plus, when I do go to the movies, I go alone, and I don’t have anyone encuraging me to go (with them or not). It’s all on me, and frankly I’m not always very good at persuading myself.

Anyway! Enough of the half-assed excuses, right? Let me get you caught up on some movies I’ve recently seen through the wonderful gift of Netflix.

The Body Snatcher (1945): Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s eponymous short story, this is about a doctor (Henry Daniell) who uses newly buried corpses for medical experiments. Then the supply begins to dry up, so the doctor’s supplier (Boris Karloff) kills people to ensure his income. Produced by the inestimable Val Lewton, The Body Snatcher is soaked in turn-of-the-century London atmopshere, with stark black-and-white photography and mood lighting to send chills down the spine. Karloff is sensational, and it’s one of his all-time best. Bela Lugosi shows up as well. ***1/2

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) The movie-musical version of George M. Cohan’s life is highly entertaining, of course. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it. There’s singing and dancing and stuff, because Cohan was a bigshot singer/dancer/playwright back in the day. Well, as long as “the day” was 60-70 years ago, but still, it’s a timeless flick of pomp and patriotism. Or jingoism, depending. Cringe moment, though, when the Cohan family dresses in blackface. Even with that, it’s a classic. ***1/2

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne) is retiring from the US Cavalry, but he’s gonna help his troop against them darn Indians one last time before he goes. Unluckily for him, though, there’s a wagon o’ womenfolk who need to tag along for the purposes of the plot. Can Nathan scout out the evil Indians while protecting the frail, helpless women? I love the sensibilities of the old movies. You try getting a manly man movie like this made in this day and age. I’m sure it could be done, but the Indians would be a lot more benevolent and open to compromise – if we even saw them. And there’d be one uppity girl who stood up to Nathan, who’d be played by Kevin Costner. ***1/2

Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) Yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title – I didn’t add it. This is from infamous bad-movie auteur Herschell Gordon Lewis, and it’s about this funky town in the Deep South that lures Yankee tourists in order to slaughter them in meaningful and varied ways, all on the centennial of the town’s razing and pillaging by a stampeding Union army during the Civil War. So they get these six disparate people (well, all lily white, of course, none of those troublesome black folk) and tell ’em they’re the guests of honor for the centennial, and then they kill the heck out of them. Sounds interesting, at least from a horror standpoint, but it’s technically terrible; sometimes the dialog is virtually inaudible, the camera shots are awkward, the pacing is nonexistant, and so on. Not terribly gruesome, either, and there’s no acting to speak of. Bad, bad movie. *

Jackass: The Movie (2002) and Jackass Number Two (2006) I’m combining these two because they’re basically the same movie. It’s not as if Two was more intense or wacky than One. The movies aren’t going to win any conservative, uptight people over, of course. If these stunts aren’t your cup of tea, you won’t get into the movie, and if they are, you won’t be overwowed, a word I just coined. Me, I like the stunts where the guys do things to themselves, but I’m not a big fan of the sketches in which they humiliate or mess with innocent people. There are some funny scenes, to be sure, and any time you shoot someone into the air strapped to a rocket, you got a winner. But overall, the movies didn’t do too much for me. ** for both.

On the Town (1949) Another sprightly MGM musical, this one about three sailors on leave in the Big Apple for 24 hours. What shenanigans will they find? Not many, as it turns out, because this is a musical from the forties. It’s not as if they’ll wander from whorehouse to bar and back for the day. No, one of them (Frank Sinatra) is a nerdy tourist doof, while his pals (Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin) want to find girls. Girls to go to dinner with, not shack up with. The forties were so quaint. Anyway, Kelly sees a poster in a subway with a pinup, and he wants to find that girl in particular, and soon the boys are searching New York with the help of a wisecracking female cabbie. High comedy. As musicals go, it’s a real treat – I mean, you get to hear Kelly and Sinatra sing, so that’s something. ***1/2

The Night Listener (2006) Robin Williams is a gay late-night talk-show host who is contacted by a teenager who recently wrote a book about his traumatic past. But then questions arise about the boy’s identity – is he real, or is he a clever ploy by the boy’s adoptive mother (Toni Collette) to hype the book? And it’s based on a true story, apparently. Sandra Oh and Joe Morton costar and do a lot with the little screen time they get, but this is Williams’ show, and he’s really quite good. For all of the times in which he’s played a maudlin, sappy character, this one makes up for ’em. ***

For Your Consideration (2006) Christopher Guest, who excels in improv-style behind-the-scenes type movies, turns in somewhat subdued product this time, about the making of a feel-good family film called Home for Purim. Before you know it, there’s Oscar buzz on the Interwebnet about the elder leading lady (Catherine O’Hara), then about the elder leading man (Harry Shearer). Then the studio wants to broaden the appeal of the movie so it’s not a Jewish movie, and there’s cattiness, and unctuous agents and producers, and it all culimates with the announcement of the Oscar nominations. It’s mostly good, with the leads doing a fine job as always, but it’s missing some of the soul of Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman. It might be that there’s too much focus on the characters of O’Hara and Shearer, but the whole thing just feels a little too antiseptic. **1/2

307 – Ghost Rider

February 23, 2007

Ghost Rider is hilarious. Unspeakably, hysterically funny. Sadly, though, it’s all unintentional humor. The movie manages to pack in every comic book and action movie cliche imaginable, laughable casting, an illogical script, wooden acting, and jarring direction for straight-faced amusement.

Johnny Blaze is a seventeen-year-old tyro who works in a circus as part of a daredevil motorcycle act with his father. When he learns his dad’s got cancer, Johnny makes a literal deal with the Devil (played by a cardboard cutout of Peter Fonda) to save his dad’s life. That lasts about one day, because the next evening Johnny’s dad dies during a performance. “Nooooooooooooo!” shouts Johnny. “Nooooooooooooooooo!” Which is kind of what you’ll be yelling when you watch the movie.

Johnny has a girl, too, Roxanne. The night before the fateful performance, she tells him she’s moving away – her dad, skeptical about Johnny’s ability to stay alive in such a dangerous line of work, is sending her to live with her mother. Roxanne informs Johnny of this the very moment he’s done carving an elaborate “Johnny + Roxanne Forever” mark into a huge, old tree. Apparently she didn’t want to ruin his concentration before dropping the bombshell. The two decide to run away together anyway, but then Johnny’s pop dies, and Johnny runs off on his own to become the World’s Awesomest Motorcycle Dude.

Meanwhile! The nephilim, elemental angels in league with the Devil’s son, Blackheart, are trying to get a contract giving them control over the souls of some long-dead town. With these souls, Blackheart can rule the world, or something. (It’s unclear how all of the souls of one tiny town in the middle of nowhere would give anyone the power to rule anything bigger than a hamburger stand.) And, it seems, when Johnny made his deal with the Devil he became the Ghost Rider, the being responsible for transporting the contracts of souls to the Devil; Blackheart wants to intercept the contract so he can usurp power from his dad.

Fast forward one year later. Yes, one year. Johnny has changed from being 17 to being… Nicolas Cage. Cage is 43 years old. He is playing an 18 year old. This makes no sense. Oh, and of course he runs into old flame Roxanne, too, now played by Eva Mendes. Or, more accurately, played by Eva Mendes’ chest, which is prominently on display whenever possible. Mendes is 32 years old. She is, ostensibly, playing an 18 year old. Even more amusingly, Roxanne is now a television reporter. At 18, it’s more likely she’d be assistant gopher to the producer, but perhaps with her enlarged bosoms leading the way she was able to finagle an on-air position. Ever the professional, even when on the air Roxanne wears low-cut tops, the better to distract the viewer from her inane questions.

One gets the impression that Cage signed on to this role merely because he sports a Ghost Rider tattoo, which, ironically, had to be covered up for the movie. It’s kind of as if Jerry Seinfeld were tapped to play Superman. You get all of Cage’s mannerisms – the tics, the hangdog expression, the mouth-agape gaze, the laconic attitude. Not really what you expect from a comic-book hero. Mendes is fun to look at, but her delivery is paradoxically flat. She’s about as believable as Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist.

Rounding out the cast are a couple of old timers – Sam Elliot plays Caretaker, a wiley old coot as only Sam Elliot could play him. Elliot’s a fantastic actor, and he’s a much better fit for his role here than anyone else in this sludgy claptrap, but he can’t save the movie. Heck, he’s not even onscreen until around the halfway point of the movie. Peter Fonda, looking weathered and sort of beaten-down, is The Debbil His Own Damn Self (my words); he’s sort of aloof and unconvincing. Oh yeah, and Wes Bentley, who once was in American Beauty, is Blackheart, sans Joan Jett. Geez, they could have gotten any gothy-looking nitwit to play this role, it was so over-the-top. Bentley does not make a good villain.

Let’s be clear here. This isn’t supposed to be a funny movie. It’s a straightfaced, comic-book tale of a haunted young man. And yet the movie’s so ineptly presented, one can’t help but laugh. Questions abound: Why does Ghost Rider not even show up until a good way into the movie? Why are we told Johnny’s jumping 300 feet (a football field) when the distance is longer than that (360 feet)? Why, when Johnny asks the Devil if he’s the one responsible for keeping Johnny alive through all his death-defying feats, does the Devil say, “No, that was all you, Johnny”? (Was it? Cmon. If you’re the Devil and you NEED this guy to be your Ghost Rider dude, and your guy is in a line of work in which he’s constantly in harm’s way, wouldn’t you help him so he doesn’t, you know, die?) When Johnny stops his cycle on a busy freeway so he can chat with Roxanne, blocking traffic, how come no one drives around his bike and her van? There are two lanes. Why, if Blackheart is a supernatural (and presumably immortal) being, does Caretaker toss Johnny a kick-ass shotgun with which to attack Blackheart? Why is the church where Caretaker lives and works sacred, hallowed ground that Blackheart cannot trod upon, but other churches – including the one in the tiny, middle-of-nowhere village – are not? Why, when Ghost Rider races through the city one night, inadvertently causing destruction, does exactly one car flip up and smash into a window, despite there being dozens of other vehicles around it? How come Ghost Rider can be hurt if you stab him in the shoulder blade, but you can’t wound him by shooting him? (Some of these questions may have actual answers, but I didn’t get them from the movie.)

In a movie such as this, the big draw other than the comic-book angle, will be the special effects. Simple fact: They weren’t. It looks like the fx crew took an old skeleton, dipped it in kerosene, and lit on fire. Ghost Rider’s voice was created by some not-Nic-Cage dude speaking the lines and then filtering them through three sets of animal growls; it sounded like a seven-year-old using his My First Dictaphone. (I guess they wanted to avoid comparisons to a much-tougher character, Skeletor.)

So the movie’s pretty much useless, and in a week or so we’ll have forgotten it ever existed. It’s poorly acted, directed, and written and offers little in the way of solid entertainment – unless, of course, you’re looking for some unintentional laughs.

*

Son of 1995 blurbs

January 15, 2007

(Originally published spring 1995 in The Gleaner of Rutgers University-Camden.)

Airheads: This could have been a fun one. Three dimwitted metalheads are desperate to have their demo tape played on the radio, so they take over a station armed with toy guns and a lot of cahones. This plays out like Wayne’s World meets Dog Day Afternoon, although any resemblance to those two superior movies ends there. Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler star, with support from Michael McKean, Joe Mantegna, Chris Farley, Ernie Hudson and Michael Richards. *1/2

Baby’s Day Out: Another comedy from John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), who seems to be returning to the Home Alone well. Baby Bink has been kidnapped, and somehow eludes his captors long enough to wander New York City untethered. Story is simple, but effects and the baby’s charm are so good, who cares? ***

Blown Away: Perhaps the only real crime perpetrated by this film was that it came out in the theatres around the same time as Speed. Jeff Bridges is a bomb-squadder in Boston; an over-the-top Tommy Lee Jones is his nemesis.. Plot is predictable, but effects are eye-popping and nearly make up for the over-acting. **1/2

The Client: The third John Grisham novel turned into a movie, about a boy who may know a crucial Mob secret, isn’t bad; although it takes several liberties with the plot. (For example, Susan Sarandon’s character was an older black woman in the book.) But overall it’s fine entertainment, with Sarandon’s endearing work and Tommy Lee Jones’ galvanizing performance major assets. Only drawback: the abrasive, shallow portrayal of the boy himself. **1/2

I Love Trouble: Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte star as competing Chicago reporters after the same breaking story. They start out at each other’s throats, but (surprise!) they fall for each other in the end. Few sparks fly between the leads, and this miscasting (plus a stilted script) sink this film. **

Maverick: Side-splitting western/comedy stars Mel Gibson as the itinerant gambler; Jodie Foster as his love interest, a bettor herself; and James Garner as the intrepid lawman keeping tabs on them both. Fantastic performances by all three charismatic leads, a hilarious script, and some excellent action scenes make this a must-see for everyone. ***1/2

North: Elijah Wood (Forever Young, The Adventures of Huck Finn) plays a boy who decides he’s had enough of his neglected parents, so he declares himself a free agent and travels the globe looking for replacements. Rob Reiner’s (This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally…) comedy was supposed to be funny and touching, but fails miserably. Too many stereotypes and too many colorless jokes remove any potency this film may have had. Bruce Willis contributes in a hilarious minor role as, among other things, a giant bunny rabbit. **

Renaissance Man: Danny DeVito, an out-of-work ad man, is relegated to teaching slightly mentally deficient Army soldiers remedial English. Penny Marshall (Big, A League of Their Own) gives us another heartwarmer, but this one doesn’t jump into sappiness, thanks to DeVito’s personality. If only all Shakespeare was taught like this. **1/2

The Stoned Age: Terribly inferior rip-off of Dazed and Confused, with lots of loud, hard-edged music and little else. Two druggie high school pals are in search of the perfect party… among other things. Amateurish acting is supplemented by godawful script. A waste of time. **

True Lies : Watch out! Arnie’s back in the action biz again! For those of you who loathed Last Action Hero, here’s your reward! Schwarzenegger plays a super-spy for a super-secret U.S. organization who’s successfully hidden his true job from his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis)… until now. Arnold’s great as always, and James Cameron can direct an actioner like no one else, but the effects are the big attraction here. Watch a bridge get torched by missles and Arnie pilot a Harrier jet. ***1/2

Wagons East!: John Candy died while making this turkey; you’ll die watching it. And I don’t mean by laughing, either. This offensively bad comedy/western has nothing going for it; even Candy’s role careens between pathos and slapstick, and doesn’t do either emotion well. A lot of talent wasted, and hardly a fitting end to such a glorious career. *

Galactic Gigalo (1988)

August 8, 2006

So I was getting a little bored with the usual awesome movies and such and decided to look for some really awful movies. You know the type, the so-bad-they’re-good vibe emanating off them like the stench off a polluted creek. I found a whole bunch that seemed to fit the bill (naturally), and this was the first of them.

I want to disabuse you of one notion: This is not a porn film. Yes, it has an adult-sounding title, but aside from some toplessness (okay, a lot), there’s nothing… er… naughty about it. Well, a tad naughty, perhaps. The nuns in your life should not watch this. They would not be amused.

And, of course, neither will you. The short story. A broccoli from a planet of vegetables has won a trip to Earth in a game show, a sort of take off of You Bet Your Life. The idea is that the broccoli goes to Earth as a human and proceeds to have sex with every female in the town to which he’s been sent. Nice vacation if you can get it. He looks like a seedy insurance salesman, all plump and balding, and somehow he’s going to score with scores of hot women? Well, turns out Eoj (his oh-so-clever nom de coitus) has Special Powers, and his mere voice and gyrations cause women to swoon and such. So, problem solved.

The production values are pretty nonexistent, as is the script, the comic timing, the direction, and any kind of effects. It’s poorly made in really every facet. Even so, it did have me laughing a couple of times. It’s not offensive enough to be well and truly awful, but not funny enough to warrant anyone’s attention, unless perhaps you’re the long arm of the law and are looking for mid-80’s actors, since a lot of these people did little other than this piddling movie.

Remember, I’m here to watch these so you don’t have to. Just in case you were contemplating viewing the grandeur that is Galactic Gigalo.

*

PS: Don’t be shy! I know you guys are out there, at least according to the blog stats. Are you reading this? Why? Who are you? What do you think of my riveting analysis of the legendary film Galactic Gigalo?

271 – The Weather Man

June 11, 2006

Caught The Weather Man, starring Nicholas Cage and Michael Caine. You know how once upon a time the subtitle of this place was “I watch them so you don’t have to?” It was thought up for movies just like this one – the ones that look somewhat promising on the outside, with an interesting cast and premise, but turn out to be utterly unwatchable.

I’ll save you some time. Cage is a local put-upon weatherman who shares custody of his two kids with his cute-blonde wife (Hope Davis), who’s now seeing another guy. The kids are doing so hot – twelve-year-old-daughter Shelly is overweight and smokes; older brother Mike’s in rehab. Yep, a real Norman Rockwell family, these people. Toss in crotchety Michael Caine as Cage’s old man, and you have a recipe for dysfunction.

But it’s not funny dysfunction, and it’s not good drama, either. At first, I thought we were supposed to sympathize with Dave (Cage). There’s a running gag about how people throw fast food at him, and Cage naturally has that sad-sack look about him, anyway. But it quickly became apparent that Dave wasn’t really all that sympathetic – he was an ass to be around, treating those around him with an odd mix of disdain and suspcion.

I thought maybe we were supposed to feel bad for the kids, except they’re positioned as selfish brats. Well, Shelly much more than Mike, who seems an eternal victim/nice guy. Dave, in an attempt to connect with his daughter – and help her lose weight by giving her a positive hobby – helps her to learn how to shoot a bow an arrow, but this self-absorbed, petulant brat can’t appreciate his effort.

The plot thread surrounding all of this familial woe is Dave’s possible new job as the weatherdoofus on a national morning program (Bryant Gumbel plays himself; perhaps it was to be set in the 1980s?). Should he take the job and move his family? Or not? You know what, who cares? I stopped giving a rat’s ass about these people about five minutes into the film. Drive ’em all off a cliff, I wouldn’t shed a tear.

Caine lends much more dignity to the movie than it deserves, and Davis is excellent in her few scenes. Cage, who can be quite good, glumly sleepwalks through the role.

There, I just saved you the effort. This is why you need to pay attention to me!

The Weather Man: *

King of the Zombies

March 27, 2006

Tonight it was another el cheapo horror movie, 1941’s King of the Zombies. There’s no one of note in it, but it’s thankfully pretty short, as most el cheapos are. Three men crash land on a remote island in the Caribbean and are taken in by an ominous-looking “doctor” who, it turns out, is involved with voodoo and hypnotism and zombies and such. Madcap hilarity ensues.

There’s nothing to recommend about this except for the odd (but welcome) comic stylings of Mantan Moreland, although his “acting” is more along the lines of a minstral show. He plays the valet (!) of one of the he-man heroes, and he gets all the funny lines.

Still, it’s pretty much a waste of time. Hey, I watch ’em so you don’t hafta.

I Eat Your Skin (1964)

November 10, 2005

No, not really. I merely sniff at it disdainfully.

This 1964 movie was originally titled Zombies but wasn’t released for six years, probably because it’s really awful. Then distributor Jerry Gross (ha!) bought the rights to it, because he wanted it on a twin bill with his own I Drink Your Blood. Hence the renaming.

A he-man writer travels to a remote island with his agent and the agent’s faux bitchy wife so that the hedonistic writer (kind of Mickey Spillane and James Bond combined, although without the character depth) can be inspired to write another crappy book. Turns out, of course, that the idyllic paradise contains a zombie army and voodoo rituals and other fun stuff. There’s also a hot daughter of a scientist for whom Our Hero falls; the scientist, naturally, is working on a cure for cancer.

This cheapie has virtually nothing going for it, including some spectacularly bad acting and writing (typical line: “I love your place! It’s so…. TROPICAL!”) and hardly any, despite the location, great scenery. At least the womenfolk are sort of attractive. Oh, and the zombies look pretty nifty, as long as you can convince yourself they’re not just actors covered in some silty white powder and with what appear to be cucumbers on their eyes.

Despite the title, there’s no actual cannibalism, which is a shame. It’s not that I feel misled, it’s that such an angle might have helped the movie. Imagine! Voodoo zombie cannibals! All they’d have to do then is add robot ninja pirate monkeys, and it’d have rocked!

I checked out the credits of the six main characters, and most of them never acted again. I can’t imagine why. A small plus is the short run time (only 84 minutes); overall, it’s on the level of most of Edward D. Wood Jr.’s movies.

I Eat Your Skin: *

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229 – Crash

November 7, 2005

Crash is about thirty-six hours in the lives of various, disparate people in Los Angeles, told as a series of interconnecting vignettes. Some of the people are good, hardworking souls just trying to scrape by, and others are bad people bent on destruction and menacing. By the end, though, some of the good people have done bad things, and some of the bad people have done good things. And they all grew as people as a result.

This wasn’t an easy movie to get through. To begin with, nearly every character is despicable in his or her own way. Not so much that one can easily classify them as Bad, no – it’s more as if each was being presented as a Good person with Flaws. The downside to that, though, is that it makes rooting for any of the characters is nearly impossible.

Another problem is the writing. Everything is film with such a heavy, hamfisted attitude! Person A has something happen to them, so of COURSE they’re going to emerge as a better person as a result. I mean, I’m glad that things don’t always turn out like rainbows and unicorns and happy crap like that for our brave characters, but does their redemption (or fall from grace) have to happen so obviously? It’s as if the viewer has been hit over the head with a frying pan – BAM! THIS PERSON DID A BAD THING. THEY ARE NOW NOT AS GOOD AS YOU THOUGHT. And then BAM! you get hit again, because the same knucklehead did something else.

I didn’t like anybody, and I had a strong sense that if I ran into any of them, anywhere, they sure as heck wouldn’t like me, either. What a bunch of miserable, whiny, self-obsessed, self-absorbed twits these people are. Convinced they are right, they haphazardly stomp about the movie, glaring menacingly at people who are different from them, which naturally is supposed to teach us, the unwashed audience, that Different Is Good, and these people Just Don’t Get It (Yet).

Paul Haggis wrote, directed, coproduced, and wrote some of the music for the movie. Interestingly enough, the Scottish dish haggis smells just as bad as this movie. What should have been melodramatic was instead uproariously funny; it helps when you’ve actively decided to dislike the characters. I wished for their deaths, and I bet some of you will, too.

Don Cheadle continues to prove he’s a great actor, and Ludacris was surprisingly convincing, walking away with most of his scenes. But the rest of the gang was dull and trite, doing little with the admittedly awful material with which they had to work. But don’t feel too bad for them, folks, because at least they didn’t have to listen to the soundtrack, which seemed to consist of one long Enya-like tribute. I suspect it was actually several songs, but it seemed like a continuous stream of overemoting – and inappropriately, at that. You know how in horror films there’s this music that’ll play that lets the audience know Something Bad Is Gonna Happen? That’s what the music here was, only it never stopped.

Crash: BOMB

201 – Sin City

May 1, 2005

The most striking aspect of Sin City, aside from its amazing cinematography, is that it’s in the wrong medium entirely. Based on a series of graphic novels by Frank Miller, Sin City manages to be both provocative and ridiculous, and to achieve the former it requires that the viewer not only suspend disbelief but throw it out of the window of a moving car over a large body of water.

The movie is split into three stories that overlap each other slightly: “The Hard Goodbye,” “The Big Fat Kill,” and “That Yellow Bastard.” All of them take place in a mythical hellhole called Basin City, whose appelation is, of course, shortened by all who reference it, given the death and sex and violence and other varied depravities that take place in it.

In the first story, Marv (Mickey Rourke) is an ugly, scarred thug who wakes up to find that the girl next to him in bed, Goldie (Jaime King) has been murdered during the night – and that the cops are on their way to get him for the crime. Marv doesn’t go quietly, naturally, and vows not to rest until he’s found Goldie’s killer and avenged her. The second story is about an ex-photographer (Clive Owen) who – with the help of gun-totin’, knife-wielding hookers – kills a cop and then has to cover up the crime. And the third story is about an honest-joe cop named Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who saves a little girl from molestation and death – but is himself framed for the crime.

If the movie had been presented in realistic animated form, it would have been such an easier sell. When I watch a cartoon, I know that the anvil landing on Wile E. Coyote’s head isn’t hurting the poor canine. But I do expect that most of the laws of physics should apply – if the coyote throws something into the air, it will indeed come down eventually. When I watch a live-action movie, I expect every one of the laws of physics to apply – or, at least when they don’t quite follow those rules, my brain doesn’t register it and instead focuses on the nifty special effects.

But this movie is kind of stuck in the middle. Marv runs *at* a speeding police car and jumps at it, his legs driving into the windshield. Okay, if that were a cartoon I wouldn’t give it a second thought. If it were a live-action movie, I might – unless Marv were some supervillian bent on world domination and his ability to jump into windshields at 80 mph could thus be explained. But because he wasn’t – he’s just some giant schlub with a lot of scars – my brain immediately did a double take – “Huh? Wha?”

Aside from logic, there’s the dialog itself. In comic books – sorry, graphic novels – the dialog is *supposed* to be melodramatic, even stilted, especially when the story is set in a noirish age (think 1940s New York City). But in a live-action movie, this just plain doesn’t work. Indeed, the dialog was completely unconvincing and insincere; it sounded more fitting for the back of a cereal box. Miller’s dialog was childish and absurd; at no point did his words allow me to buy into the entire concept of a “translated” graphic novel. (Example: On two occasions someone utters, “Yeesh!” in reaction to some kinda bloody mess. Who in the world says “Yeesh”? Honestly.)

The very first scene – a meeting betwen Hartigan and his partner, Bob (Michael Madsen) was howlingly awful, and I initially thought the dialog was intentionally being exaggerated for (melo)dramatic effect. Then I quickly discovered that the entire movie was going to be like that, that this wasn’t some sly commentary about how awful the dialog was in old-time mystery films.

Given that Robert Rodiguez codirected (with Miller) and that Quentin Tarantino was listed as a “guest director,” I expected some wit, even if it were in the form of gallows humor. Sadly, none was to be found, and the movie was instead as soulless and empty as the denizens of Sin City itself. The bad guys weren’t charming, the good guys weren’t normal, and even the reverse wasn’t true. No one was likeable, which is a good thing in a purportedly gritty crime drama, but neither was anyone unlikeable; the fact is, I didn’t care anything about the characters one way or another, and that’s a serious misstep on the part of the screenwriter.

Far too long (124 minutes, but it felt like five hours), Sin City misfired for me on all cylinders. Booze, broads, and bullets (to take a phrase from the film) are all great, but even the explosions and gunplay – not to mention scads of scantily clad women holding said guns – couldn’t overcome the vast pile of ineptitude in nearly all aspects of the movie, from casting to dialog to pacing to good ol’ fashioned logic. Only saving grace is the excellent cinematography, but it’s not enough to resuce an abysmal effort.

Sin City: *

Poison (1991), Pride of the Yankees, The Prisoner of Second Avenue

February 5, 2005

Poison (1991) * Todd Haynes’ Poison is three movies in one. Word to the wise, though: When your movie is only 85 minutes, maybe splitting it into thirds ain’t such a hot idea. What you’re left with is just an anthology of unrelated short films.

“Hero” is about a strange seven-year-old boy who murders his father and then flees; “Homo” is about (surprise!) a relationship between fellow prisoners; “Horror” is about a whiz-kid scientists who somehow drinks a potion containing the human sex drive – and inexplicably turns into a murderous leper.

None of these sounds like a “normal” movie, and that’s all well and good. “Hero” is shown in documentary style, trying to lend an air of authenticity to the story. “Horror” is told in fifties’ sci-fi style, with the usual theme of “science run amuck.” Each is very well filmed; with “Homo,” a real lurid atmosphere is created. You can almost feel the actors breathing on you.

That’s about it as far as positives go. “Horror” might have worked if it had been played as a parody of those old films. Instead, it took itself completely seriously; instead of mocking, it was mockable. And to tell the truth, I wasn’t the least bit interested in the characters of either of the three stories.

Some may look at this as fine independent film-making. All I see is a tortured, inescapably dull undertaking.

Pride of the Yankees: ***1/2 In today’s era of greedy athletes and their employers, the story of Lou Gehrig seems almost quaint. Here’s a young man who by all accounts was selfless, kind-hearted, and rather introverted. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that he was also a very good baseball player too. Put him on a lineup card today and he might not be the same player. Up until a few years ago, Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played was a record, a record that many thought would stand forever. For 16 years he was in the lineup as the Yankees’ first baseman, never asking out for any reason. That alone should show you how special a person Gehrig was.

This biography is pretty straightforward. Unlike many of its kind, it doesn’t show its protagonist somehow succeeding against all odds. Gehrig didn’t have an abusive mother, he wasn’t beaten up by kids at school, he wasn’t learning-disabled, he didn’t have attention-deficit disorder, he didn’t come from abject poverty. He was simply a son in a working-class, immigrant family, as many were during the early decades of this century. And that’s why Gehrig is so special to so many people – he symbolises their own hopes.

Gary Cooper is aces as Gehrig, and Teresa Wright is wonderful as his wife, Eleanor. If there’s anything imperfect about the movie, it’s that it is…well, a little predictable. That’s something biopics can’t avoid, of course, so it’s no big problem. But even if most of the film doesn’t impress you, the final speech at Yankee Stadium – when Gehrig was suffering visibly from the disease that would eventually be named after him – will move you past tears. And even better, when Gehrig’s done his brief speech, he walks offscreen. If that movie were written today, he’d play another game and hit a game-winning home run. It’s this film’s honesty and sincerity that win you over.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1975) ** Ordinarily, you would think a movie adaptation of a Neil Simon play starring Jack Lemmon as a very harried New Yorker would be perfect cinema – and ordinarily, you’d be right! Think of The Odd Couple and you have a good idea of a ‘good’ Simon film.

Lemmon’s character, Mel, is a Manhattan businessman who’s going through a bit of a midlife crisis. We’ve seen this sort of thing before in the movies – Lord knows we have!! – but the problem is, we’ve seen it much better. There’s a fine line to be walked here between maudlin and funny/touching, and sadly that line is crossed early on in the movie and never recrossed.

Mel suffers through a lot of problems in this movie, and your closeness to NYC life will dictate just how much sympathy you have for his plight. But be warned: Simon doesn’t combat these problems with wit and wisdom; to me, Mel just yells and screams and basically is thoroughly obnoxious – only Anne Bancroft as his suffering wife gives an appealing performance.

Bottom line is that unless you’re a diehard Simon or Lemmon fan, you might want to avoid this collection of angst, agita, and aneurysms waiting to happen.

114 – Panic Room

April 23, 2002

Any movie that builds an entire plotline around one room in one house is just begging for trouble. I don’t care if that one room’s outfitted like Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurants; if you limit your setting, you’re asking for yawns. But that’s what Panic Room does. Sure, there’s a lot of action – such as it is – outside the room – but even what isn’t contained within the ultrathick walls of the safe place is contained within the relatively small house itself (or maybe just the ultrathick walls of the screenwriter’s mind).

The gist of the story is that Meg Altman (Jodie Foster), who’s recently been divorced from her husband, a very wealthy pharmaceutical dude, is buying this upscale brownstone in Manhattan for her and her generic kid (although not a cute generic kid; looks like they ran out of “cute” at Child Actors R Us and had to settle for not-so-cute-but-oh-so-spunky). Even though the fee is more than she’s willing to pay and even though it’s a little weird looking, our plucky heroine throws caution to the wind and buys the place. And immediately moves in – which, you homeowners know, happens with all the frequency of a loan getting approved quickly.

The place has this complicated security system – it doesn’t look all that large, frankly, but the system separates the house into zones, all “armed” at night. Sounds safe, right? When the house was being shown to Meg, she noticed that the master bedroom was smaller than it should be – surprise! There’s a hidden room! Oh, what fun! What’s it for, you ask? It’s explained to Meg that if someone breaks into the house, she can get to the room and call the police from the handy-dandy not-connected-to-the-main-line phone; even if the main line’s cut, you see, she can still call Officer Bob.

Now, I don’t know about you folks, if, while being shown a new place, I am told that the house has an awesome “safe room” in case someone breaks in – I’m getting the hell out of there. Wouldn’t that tell even the biggest dunce that there’s a crime problem in the area? I mean look – there’s a friggin’ security system! They’re saying that a) people will break in, b) the security system won’t do squat, c) you can’t call the cops from the main line because they’ll show up next week, so yay! We have this neato safe room for you.

So to begin with, the premise is mired in utter stupidity. In fact, I sit here dumbfounded by its stupidity.

Naturally, the first night Meg and her daughter Sarah are sleeping in the house, someone breaks in. Three burglars are there to recover something from the panic room’s vault, but of course they don’t expect anyone to be in the house. Okay, common mistake. One of them, Burnham (Forrest Whitaker), almost decides to call off the thing, since people are in there and he’s got this thing against hurting people, and all that. But don’t worry, he’s soon talked out of it by Junior (Jared Leto), the nominal head of this happy bunch, which also includes the unexpected Raoul (Dwight Yoakam – didn’t he used to have a music career, or something?).

Whoosh! Meg and the youngster rush to the panic room, where they proceed to panic.

A lot of contrivances abound. For one thing, Meg’s claustrophobic, so she has problems dealing. For another, Sarah is diabetic, a fact that plays an unfortunate major role in the movie. Can Meg save her child before the bad guys get to her? Oh, can she?

You know, just as an aside, I remember when Forrest Whitaker was just starting out in show biz. Remember Good Morning, Vietnam? That boy made some great career moves – Smoke was another. He’s a great supporting-role kinda guy. It’s just a crying shame this movie depends on him so heavily. He’s the only one – yes, only one – who turns in even a decent performance. And since he’s a bad guy, I should have been rooting against him, right? Ha! Guess again, Dr. Watson. I was hoping Burnham would escape.

Jodie Foster, on the other hand, gives one of the most constipated performances of a lifetime. Did she check out her contract before agreeing to this crap? This woman’s won OSCARS, for crying out loud! Geez, they couldn’t get Ann Archer to do this role? Or Christine Lahti? Or Kathleen Turner? Or anyone else whose career has slowed down a bit?

Eleven people, including me, were in the theater when I watched this movie. Eleven! It’s a new movie, too! And because there were 11, I tried my darndest not to laugh out loud at the moronic dialog, inept direction, and incompetent camerawork. Really. I tried hard. But failed. I mean, I didn’t want to embarrass myself, much as the actors onscreen were embarrassing themselves.

Oh, and to add more insult to the whole shebang, the director is the same guy who brought the creative Fight Club and Seven to the big screen. Talk about slumming! Did he owe someone a lot of money?

This turkey is rated unwatchable. The movie was somehow allowed to rise from somewhere in the murky bowels of Mother Earth to fester like a cold sore in the mouth of the American audience.

Panic Room: 1

61 – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

February 21, 2001

Words fail me.

No, wait. I found some.

The Blair Witch Project was, if nothing else, an interesting movie. Many people thought it was the most revolutionary movie of its time, owing in no small part to the realism. Audiences found themselves believing every step of the movie. And, of course, the endless Internet hype didn’t hurt. Many of us watched that film before the popular press piled on – and nothing kills a movie quicker than overhype. If critics tell you a movie’s wonderful, your expectations are massive, sometimes insurmountable. This is perhaps why a lot of people I’ve talked to hated, hated, hated The Blair Witch Project. They illogically thought the movie would be the best thing ever created, even better than sliced bread, hot tubs, the Internet, or shoe horns. Imagine their disappointment when it was just a movie!

That said, the sequel – which was made with a much, much bigger budget, was even more hyped, although not in the underground, independent-film style of its predecessor. Book of Shadows was marketed in a wide multimedia campaign, boasting of its shock value and of its relation to the first film.

It has failed in every possible way to be entertaining.

The story has a “tour group” prowling the forest around Burkittsville, Maryland, the site of the first film. The recovered videotape from the first movie has led to a huge influx of tourist to the area and its beleaguered residents. Naturally, people make money off the tourism, and a few give tours of the forest. The movie focuses on one of these tour groups, comprised of a couple of lovers, a couple of witches, and the arrogant SOB who’s running the tour itself. These people couldn’t get much more caricatured.

Many years ago, William Castle held a nationwide casting call for a movie called 13 Frightened Girls. The movie wound up being one of the worst of its kind (a haunted-house mystery), and most of the very amateur actors in the movie never acted again. Book of Shadows does not have that level of professionalism or of thespian promise.

Remember those cheesy movies – in the 60’s, it was beach movies; in the 70’s, it was biker movies; in the 80’s, it was arcade game movies – that you and your pals laughed at and threw popcorn at? The acting was bad, the production was bad – you even got lucky some times and saw an errant microphone.

The difference between those films and Book of Shadows is that this movie had a budget. But the acting is atrocious. Every line is delivered either flatly or with wild, over-the-top emotion. These kids have no idea how to act. They ACT like they’re acting! Sure, you’re saying, the original’s actors weren’t actually veteran actors, either. True, true, I concur, but those actors were playing their roles naturally, as if we were watching them voyeuristically. Book of Shadows didn’t even attempt to do this. Much of Blair Witch was shot in black and white with handheld cameras – held BY the actors. Not this time. Professional cameramen held their expensive cameras while their decidedly amateur cast screwed up their deliveries. It’s like going to an acting class for nonactors – people who can’t act have a tendency to overact, to overplay, overenunciate, overindulge, and just plain overestimate the audience’s capacity for dull, uninteresting crap.

Then there’s the effects. I could probably come up with better special effects on my tiny PC with one little graphic program. The editing was childish. The cinematography was below anyone’s standards, even if one had a tiny budget. With a bigger budget, you would think better filming would take place. Au contraire!

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie this horrid in every way. Oh, and the ending? I won’t be dumb enough to give it out to you, but it’s no mystery. This is a stunningly awful movie, content to make its bed in the den of The Blair Witch Project. It’s like an overprivileged son who doesn’t feel he needs to stand on his own two feet to survive, only to learn his wealthy daddy won’t support him.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2: 1