Movie Review: Guadalcanal Diary (1943)

During World War II, there were a number of Hollywood movies made about what was going on the front lines. The basic purpose of these films was to boost public morale. Many of these flicks had no lasting value after the end of the war and have since been consigned to the vaults of obscurity. However, there were a few of these movies that proved to have lasting value. One such quality contemporary production from the war years is the motion picture at hand, 1943’s Guadalcanal Diary.

Unlike most Second World War era morale boosting flicks, Guadalcanal Diary was based on a book of the same name by a war correspondent named Richard Tregaskis. Tregaskis was an eyewitness to the events depicted in both book and movie. This gave Guadalcanal Diary a much firmer grip on the reality of what was really happening on the front lines than most other war morale boosting flicks.

The focus of Guadalcanal Diary is on the operations of the 1st Marine Division during the 1st half of the Guadalcanal Campaign. This phase stretched from the capture of the island from the Japanese in August, 1942 to the relief of the Marines by the troops of the U.S. Army’s XIV Corps in 1943.
As you can expect, the movie portrays the Marines as being the exemplar of the American fighting spirit.

Guadalcanal Diary uses an ensemble cast to tell the story of a Marine platoon. The focus of this movie, unlike the vast majority of the morale boosting flicks of WWII, is not on the fighting and battles, but on the soldiers themselves. This movie portrays the war’s violence realistically without being graphic. Like most of the other wartime war movies, it was shot in beautiful black and white. Unlike what passes for war movies nowadays, this flick is not a roller coaster ride of slick action sequences coupled with pulsating music and massive vulgarity. This movie depicted the fear felt by the troops and the fact that death can come to even the bravest soldiers. The battle cinematography by Charles Clarke is visually exciting. The language used by the soldiers in this movie is reflective of how actual soldiers spoke including such notions that would strike many ivory tower types today as being politically incorrect such as referring to Japanese soldiers as “monkeys” and “monkeymen.”

One notable aspect of Guadalcanal Diary is the narration of Reed Hadley who would later be known as Captain John Braddock of the 1950-1953 TV series “Racket Squad.” Hadley’s narration makes the film’s atmosphere gel quite well. The script of Hadley’s narration is quite formal and as such contrasts with the everyday language of the soldiers’ dialogue.

Guadalcanal Diary is an excellent motion picture from the World War II era. It proved a hit at the box office and provided a major boost to many of the actors who appeared in it including Richard Jaeckel (who made his debut in this movie), Lloyd Nolan & Anthony Quinn.

Guadalcanal Diary is well worth your time.

Movie Review: A Killing Affair (1986)

During the last few decades, a movement has arisen calling itself “independent filmmaking” or “indie film” for short. Typically low budget productions, these films are purported by their advocates to be “real,” “honest,” “artistic” endeavors as opposed to those oh so commercial movies produced in Hollywood. These flicks are championed by such media outlets as the “Film Threat” website and all too many movie reviewers nationwide who have drunk the Kool-Aid dispensed by this alleged movement. A more objective look at indie film reveals a lucrative circuit of film festivals and “art house” theaters that exhibit what is oftentimes inferior cinema produced by poor little rich kids with big trust funds who like to think of themselves as being “artistic” filmmakers even though their endeavors are highly derivative of Hollywood creations.

Throughout history, Hollywood has loved to trash folks who live in the Appalachians and the Ozarks as being “white trash” and “hillbillies.” There have been numerous movies such as the Ma & Pa Kettle flicks that were devoted to portraying folks who live in rugged rural areas as being hopelessly backwards and pretty much illiterate. Even now, hill folk are one of the few groups of people that normally politically correct Hollywood feels few compunctions about denigrating. One example of the way that Hollywood treats folks in the rural mountain regions is 1986’s A Killing Affair. Of course, the genuises behind this movie would protest that they are “independent filmmakers,” not to be confused with Hollywood types, but as we shall see there really is not much different between the way that mountain folk are treated in most Hollywood productions and in A Killing Affair.

A Killing Affair is set in West Virginia during World War II. A man named Pink Gresham has been murdered and his wife (Kathy Baker) discovers his corpse hanging in the shed. She gets flustered and runs to a black neighbor for help in tracking down the murderer. The black matriarch comes out of her house holding a baby that has a distinctly lighter complexion than either the rest of her kids or her husband. She tells Mrs. Gresham to get lost. So, the newly widowed Mrs. Gresham gets lost and basically loses all interest in finding her husband’s killer to the point that she fails to report his death to the authorities. She does, however, in true Hollywood “hillbilly” fashion take a shot at a lone person at a significant distance away from her since Hollywood hill folk are always portrayed as being fearful of strangers and taking a shoot first, ask questions later attitude.

That night, two important things occur. First, the movie goes from being in color to black and white. This is repeated both the next night and also during a day time thunderstorm. This must have been due to budget constraints coupled with the apparent belief of the indie filmmakers that the audience would be too stupid to notice. And you thought that Hollywood had a low opinion of moviegoers!

The other important occurrence is that a desperate man (Peter Weller) breaks into her home and tells her that he murdered her husband. Contrary to human nature, she does not seem terribly afraid of him and actually seems attracted to the handsome stranger. He tells her that the reason why he did the grisly deed was that her husband had murdered his wife and kids the preceding Saturday. Of course, she takes him at his word. On top of that, she takes her clothes off and entices him to engage in bedroom perversion. Typical Hollywood portrayal of a “hillbilly” female who regularly goes to church and talks a storm about morals and values, but at first oppotunity is perfectly willing to engage in immoral acts with just about anybody, including the unrepentant murderer of her husband.

At this point the oh so artistic indie filmmakers throw in a plot twist from left field. The reverend of the church that the dead man and his family attend and the county sheriff show up at the house while the murderer hides. Since her conscientious worker of a husband has not shown up to work, they figure that something must be wrong. Right there, she has an opportunity to inform the authorities of the crime, but she says nothing and even claims that her husband is still alive. Unconvinced, the sheriff decides to call out a posse and in short order, the murderer is exposed and gunned down. In yet another plot twist from straight out of the thin blue sky, the widow, in response to questions about why she shielded her husband’s murderer, says that he had every right to kill her husband. When the reverend tells her that the killer was a liar since her husband was in his presence almost all day that Saturday and so could not have killed the wife and kids of the man who murdered him, she calls him a liar apparently on the grounds that if you can’t trust the man who murdered her husband, then who can you trust?

Just when you thought that this movie could not insult your intelligence any further, the producers of A Killing Affair throw in yet another contrived scene at the very end. The widow and her kids are on the train preparing to leave West Virginia and she has a conversation with the reverend who tries to persuade her to stay. She tells him that she is convinced that her husband deserved to die and that she has lost all faith in Christianity since the reverend dared to contradict the story that the admitted killer of her husband told her. She tells him that she intends to move to a city and get a job and forget everything that she learned in church. She also accuses him of having sold her into slavery.

This last statement is completely out of the blue. Along with numerous other statements made by characters, not to mention illogical plot twists, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that there must have been an awful lot of footage that was either cut from the film or left unshot due to budgetary constraints. As it stands, A Killing Affair is an incredibly illogical, not to mention idiotic, movie. While this production was considered “artistic” enough to be shown at an American Film Institute festival in 1988, among other venues, the American moviegoer has rejected it to the point that this writer was able to pick up a DVD of it for the price of $1.

A Killing Affair is contrived, illogical drivel that is not worth watching on an “its so bad its good” basis. Its just plain bad.

Script: 3
Acting: 4
Cinematography: 4
Originality: 2
Tilt: 1

Overall: 2.8

Movie Review: Trapper County War (1989)

There is a local radio station that has a late night weekend show hosted by a guy who seems to think that he is an authority on film. On one recent show, this talk show host took some time to opine about stars and movies that he felt did not receive the praise that they deserved. One such star was actress Betsy Russell whom he confessed was the object of many of his teenage fantasies whilst growing up during the 1980’s. The radio show host made it clear that he believed that Russell was not only gorgeous, but that she was a talented actress as well who deserved better treatment at the hands of studio bosses. He also praised several of the movies that Russell appeared in as being more or less forgotten classics including “Private School,” “Cheerleader Camp,” and its sequel “Cheerleader Camp II,” and the movie at hand, Trapper County War. All this was most interesting since this writer is almost the same exact age as the radio guy, yet had no real recollection of either Russell or the previously cited movies. Naturally, curiosity was aroused and this writer wound up checking Trapper County War.

Throughout history, Hollywood has loved to trash folks who live in the Appalachians and the Ozarks as being “white trash” and “hillbillies.” There have been numerous movies such as the Ma & Pa Kettle flicks that were devoted to portraying folks who live in rugged rural areas as being hopelessly backwards and pretty much illiterate. Even now, hill folk are one of the few groups of people that normally politically correct Hollywood feels few compunctions about denigrating. One example of the way that Hollywood treats folks in the rural mountain regions is 1989’s Trapper County War.

Trapper County War begins when city guy Ryan Cassidy (Rob Estes) takes a wrong turn while on vacation and winds up in a backwoods North Carolina county run, owned and operated by the evil Luddigger family that is hell bent on lording over everyone else. Naturally, the city slicker does not have the sense to get the hell out of Dodge, err Trapper County, and gets himself deeper and deeper in trouble. He makes common cause with one of those Vietnam veteran psychos who populate Hollywood productions (Vietnam veterans are another group that Hollywood loves to trash) against the Luddigger tyranny. He also meets and immediately champions the cause of the abused stepdaughter of the Luddigger family, Lacey (Betsy Russell). What follows is just another cookie cutter formula action thriller that seems to have been originally intended as being a ripoff of the 1st Rambo movie, “First Blood.”

Trapper County War is basically just another rendition of the Hollywood theme of enlightened city slicker vs. the crazed backwoods creeps. The whole idea that taking a wrong turn on vacation gets someone in this kind of trouble is just ridiculous. The acting talent, such as it was, must have found it especially difficult to keep straight faces while spouting what passes for dialogue in this movie. As for the radio show host’s beloved Betsy Russell, she is quite beautiful in this movie, but evinces all the acting talent of a tree stump. Then again, she may have been doing this turkey of a movie strictly for the money. This writer will take at least one more shot at the work of Betsy Russell to see just how talented Mr. radio talk show host’s favorite forgotten actress really was.

In any event, Trapper County War is only worth your time if you enjoy ridiculing bad movies.

Script: 3
Acting: 3
Cinematography: 5
Originality: 2
Tilt: 1

Overall: 2.8

Movie Review: Pact with the Devil (2001)

Over the years, Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” has been made into over a dozen Hollywood motion pictures. Naturally, the folks at DEJ Productions figured that they could take a crack at making the classic novel into a movie too. However, the producers took some liberties with Wilde’s work by substituting photography for paintings as the focal point of the movie. They also made their version under a new name, Pact with the Devil. Unlike most instances of producers monkeying around with the author’s work, this particular version actually works.

The movie begins with one Louis (Ethan Erickson in his first starring role) working as a go-fer for a blonde fashion photographer (Jennifer Nitsch). One of the other photographers, Henry Wooten (Malcom McDowell) takes an interest in Louis. Henry talks to Louis about his interests and it turns out that Louis is trying to become a professional photographer in his own right, but is going nowhere in his quest. Henry tells Louis that with his good looks, he ought to be “in front of the camera.” In other words, Louis should endeavor to become a male model. Louis agrees to hire Henry as his business manager and as a result, Henry takes some photographs of Louis and shows them around to other photographers. Soon, Louis’s career as a model is booming.

However, there are problems. Louis’s girlfriend (Amy Sloan) gets jealous of his accomplishments and accuses him of “selling out.” Also, Louis comes to realize that his new career will last only as long as his good, youthful looks do. Henry, however offers Louis a solution to his problem, which Louis comes to call a “pact with the devil.” Louis changes his name to Dorian Gray. Henry takes a photograph of “Dorian” that is blown up to large size and framed. As long as this photo exists, Dorian will maintain his youthful good looks and enjoy perfect health while his framed photo ages. In other words, the image of Dorian ages the way that the human being formerly named Louis would have if he did not make his pact with the devil Henry Wooten. If the picture is destroyed, then Louis’s looks will revert to what they were in the picture at the time of its destruction and Louis’s health will be similarly impaired. Truly, Louis/Dorian’s arrangement with his business manager Henry Wooten is a pact with the devil.

So, how does Pact with the Devil compare to previous movie versions of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”? Its not the best version, but its one of the better productions. While changing its focus to the fashion photography scene, it stays true to the basic plot of Wilde’s novel. The cinematography is first rate and the acting is pretty strong too.

Ethan Erickson has a rare combination of strong acting talent coupled with tremendous good looks. He should go far in his acting career. Although Jennifer Nitch was great as a fashion photographer, she passed away in a freak accident in 2004. Malcom McDowell turns in a strong performance as the satanic Henry Wooten who literally exudes both suave debonair and malevolent evil.

Pact with the Devil is a good movie, one well worth your time.

Script: 7
Acting: 9
Cinematography: 10
Originality: 6
Tilt: 9

Overall Grade: 8.2

Movie Review: Force 10 From Navarone (1978)

Among the many mysteries of Hollywood, one of the most baffling is how has Harrison Ford kept his superstar status despite starring in a lot of bad movies that completely bombed at the box office. Following his success in “Star Wars,” Ford has starred in such turkeys as “Hanover Street,” “The Frisco Kid,” “Regarding Henry” & “The Devil’s Own.” And yet, up until 2003’s “Hollywood Homicide,” these disasters did little to tarnish Ford’s status as a major star. However, following “Hollywood Homicide,” Ford’s standing in Hollywood dropped to the point that he changed his mind about starring in another “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie.

By contrast, Mark Hamill aka Luke Skywalker starred in a 1978 flick “Corvette Summer” that was neither bad nor a box office dud and yet it was deemed by both media and Hollywood executives alike to be proof that Hamill had little star power. Indeed, outside of the “Star Wars” films, Hamill’s career has been such that you would never guess that he has held the starring role in 3 of the most popular movies of all time. The same lack of post-“Star Wars” trilogy success also afflicted the careers of Carrie Fisher aka Princess Leia, David Prowse aka Darth Vader and Billy Dee Williams aka Lando Calrissian.

One of the biggest abortions, in terms of both quality and box office receipts, that Harrison Ford starred in was 1978’s Force 10 from Navarone.
This movie was the first big budget production that Ford was in after the success of “Star Wars.” It was also the sequel to the popular 1961 flick “The Guns of Navarone.” Both movies were based on the novels of the same name by popular action adventure writer Alistair MacLean. However, while “The Guns of Navarone” for the most part followed the original novel, the producers of the sequel decided to trash the novel that it was ostensibly based on and the end result was an ungodly mess.

From beginning to end, Force 10 from Navarone is a series of highly contrived events that are strung together in the mistaken belief that dreck can turn into gold. For instance, instead of just simply sending Force 10 on its mission to Yugoslavia in 1943, the producers of this movie would have you believe that Allied commandos would have to break into an Allied air base and steal an airplane to carry out their mission. Whilst doing so, the commandos pick up a black sergeant (Carl Weathers) who was somehow at the whites-only air base. This proves a problem for Force 10 since special forces need to blend in the countryside and local folks in order to fulfill their mission and having a black guy along for the ride does not help matters any.

Upon arriving in Yugoslavia, the commandos go through a series of improbable events that severely strain the audience’s suspension of disbelief. Among other things, this movie made the huge historical error of making the Chetniks supporters of the Nazis. In real life, the Chetniks were the toughest opponents that the Nazis had to fight in Yugoslavia. At the time, the Soviet Union and Communists all over the world carried on propaganda campaigns to the effect that the Chetniks were really on the side of the enemy and that the Partisans of Marshal Tito were the only truly anti-Nazi group of Yugoslavian resistance fighters. Although Allied intelligence always recognized that the Chetniks were on our side, the Communists eventually succeeded in getting Allied politicians to drop support for the Chetniks and unreservedly support the Communist Partisans. In the years since World War II, historians have come to realize that the Chetniks were smeared as being pro-Nazis. Unfortunately, Force 10 from Navarone repeats that smear.

The movie winds up with one of the most ridiculous about-faces in movie history. The commandos decided that they did not have enough explosives to blow up the targeted bridge. Then, they decide that since there’s a dam up the river, why not blow it up and cause the bridge to fall over. Only problem is that the dam is much bigger than the bridge, but the producers ignored that little problem. The producers also provided the dam with little German security with the result that the commandos had a ridiculously easy time gaining entry to plant their bombs. Despite the fact that the dam did not factor in their pre-mission planning, the commandos had special knowledge of the dam’s layout and the precise location of where best to plant the bombs. After the dam blows, the water released from it could not possibly have brought a real life bridge down, but the producers contrived to make it so at the expense of the credulity of the audience.

Force 10 from Navarone is pure drivel. Watch it only if you enjoy ridiculing stupid movies.

Movie Review: Foolproof (2003)

Movie Industry Welfare. Try that on for size. You normally think of welfare as being government assistance for poor folks. However, in Canada, the film industry regularly receives government subsidization to the point that no matter how poorly a movie fares at the box office, the producers will make out like bandits.

And how has the Canadian experience with movie industry welfare fared? Consider this quote from a critic of the program: “the typical Canadian movie concerns a turn of the century suicidal and terminally ill Saskatchewan farmer having gay sex with a dead moose.” Not exactly the type of movie that most folks want to go to, is it? When you have welfare programs for movies, what you wind up subsidizing is precisely the kind of stuff that could not possibly make it in a free enterprise system. It does not help the situation that the folks who have been placed in the offices and positions of power that decide just which types of movies receive the welfare are a bunch of elitist pig whoremonger perverts whose values (if you can actually call them “values”) are seriously at odds with those of the average Canadian.

However, following widespread discontent with the program combined with the fact that hardly anyone actually goes to watch Canadian movies, the Canadian government has revised its policies. It still provides welfare to Canadian filmmakers, but now it wants to fund potential blockbusters. Or at least what would pass for a blockbuster by the traditionally pathetic box receipts generated by Canadian movies.

It is because of this change in government policy that the movie at hand, Foolproof came to being. Its producer was Atom Egoyan who was personally responsible for many of the turkeys that were funded under the original policy. Obviously, he could not pass up the opportunity for more movie welfare despite the fact that he was manifestly unqualified to produce a blockbuster, let alone anything more ambitious than a home movie of the Egoyan family’s latest reunion.

The whole premise of Foolproof is ridiculous. There are these 3 hacker buddies (who are of course 2 guys and 1 gal despite the fact that there are hardly any female hackers) who have this little game they like to call “Foolproof.” This game consists of their meticulously devising, planning and rehearsing complicated burglary operations that they have no intention of ever carrying out. To make things even more ridiculous, an evil criminal mastermind has discovered their little game and stolen one of their plans. In what is one of the most ludricous scenes in a recent movie, the big bad guy blackmails the trio of friends to carry out that plan for his enrichment or he will inform on them to the police. In a move that shattered whatever suspension of disbelief that this writer still had, the ex-hackers agree and become his pawns.

From this point on, Foolproof follows the same hackneyed formula that so many other movies have followed. You can practically predict everything that follows right down to the sequence of events. As for the acting, directing, script and other things, Foolproof is just plain god awful.

As for how this would be blockbuster fared, it sank like a rock even in Canada. Despite a production budget of $8 Mil. and a promotion budget of $2 Mil., Foolproof failed to gross even so much as $500,000. Yes, the poor Canadian taxpayers sure got their money’s worth with this one. Weep not for the likes of Atom Egoyan, since he still made out like a bandit with video and DVD licensing rights. Besides, the whole budget was handed to him on a silver platter. With the Canadian government’s policy of movie welfare firmly in place, you can bet that the likes of Atom Egoyan will be living high on the hog producing dreck for years to come.

Foolproof is a movie to avoid.

Movie Review: Falling Fire (1998 TV)

Way back when plans for the creation of the Sci-Fi Channel were announced, science fiction fans were in a state of ecstasy. Now, their favorite genre would have its own cable TV channel! It would have all the best shows and movies and would also feature brand new series and made for TV movies. In short, it would be everything that SF fans had always wanted from American TV.

In the years since, that gleeful anticipation has turned to feelings of dread and horror. The Sci-Fi Channel has proved an artistic bust. Its highly profitable, but aside from reruns of a few shows such as the original “Battlestar Galactica,” little if anything of any merit is run on it. This is especially true of its original productions. One such made for TV movie that was produced for the Sci-Fi Channel was the 1998 effort Falling Fire starring Michael Pare.

Pare is one of those rarities in American cinema who has both good looks and good acting talent. However, this combination has not really worked out for him career-wise, despite having starring roles in such movies as “Eddie and the Cruisers.” As a result, he has increasingly tended to show up in made for TV movies and low budget flicks that typically have limited theatre runs before showing up in video and DVD.

And just how low is a step down from the likes of “Eddie and the Cruisers” is
Falling Fire? Well, for one thing, Falling Fire is terminally boring. It is as interesting as watching paint dry.

The thing that makes Falling Fire worthy of review on this website is that it is dullsville despite the fact that it not only has Michael Pare serving up his usual good performance, it has several plot elements that you would normally think would make for a really interesting production. These include:

*A cult that is hell-bent on orchestrating the simultaneous suicide of millions of folks.

*A giant asteroid is headed towards Earth that has the potential to wipe out humanity.

*Many of the characters hate each other and engage in frequent acts of violence against each other.

*The 2 main characters have a passionately romantic marriage.

*A terrorist group is hatching a plot to spread fear and havoc as the asteroid approaches.

There are other developments as well. However, except for Pare, the cast is made up of hacks who were undoubtedly making the union minimum. The script and direction is awful. The CGI special effects are strictly dullsville. This is an abortion of a movie.

This movie was the work of hack low budget filmmaker Roger Corman. Originally, Corman was a good producer of such movies as the Vincent Price movies “The Raven” and “The Tomb of Ligeia.” However, after the success of an ultra low budget flick called “Dementia 13” that was filmed in 2 weeks and reaped fantastic profit margins, Corman abandoned quality works in favor of low budget “quickies” aimed at achieving the highest profit margins possible. Falling Fire has all the earmarks of one of Corman’s quickies and the low quality of the production shows. Too bad. This movie had a lot of stuff that in the hands of capable filmmakers interested in making a quality show, could have resulted in an entertaining flick.

Movie Review: Evil Alien Conquerors (2002)

Ever since the death of the Hollywood studio system, movies have been made more and more for strictly mercenary reasons. Because of over utilized product placement, movies often seem like glorified commercials. Other movies are made strictly for the purpose of losing money so that its investors can write it off their taxes. Worse of all, are the movies that are made for both of the 2 above reasons. One such dreadful flick is 2002’s Evil Alien Conquerors .

One product that was obviously displayed for commercial purposes was a certain pornographic magazine that won’t be named here. Another one was much more frequently featured. This was a certain alcoholic beverage that the evil alien conquerors loved so much that they dropped their evil agenda of conquering the Earth so they could get themselves drunk with it as much as possible.

The alleged plot of Evil Alien Conquerors was that these 2 losers were sent to Earth by this loser ruler of this loser planet far off in the Milky Way to conquer planet Earth in 2 days. They are equipped with only swords for the task of beheading everyone on the planet. If they fail, then this 100 foot tall loser giant will be sent to Earth to both kill all the humans and the 2 losers who were sent out in the first place.

Upon their being sent via defective transport device, they arrive at Earth only to find that their swords have shrunk to the size of toothpicks. However, they fail to factor this development in their plans, so they go around telling the earthlings that they encounter that they are “evil alien conquerors” and that they will behead everyone in the next 2 days. When anyone laughs at them or tells them that they’re insane, the aliens say in unison, “you will die without mercy!” There is nothing funny in any of this. Finally, some loser befriends them and takes them in his apartment for the night even though they keep on threatening him and his roommate with beheading.

The very next day, they acquire chainsaws and take their new friend out to a farm where they will demonstrate their prowess in beheading on a cow. They give a lecture to the cow about what great warriors they are. The cow gets bored and walks away from them. They give chase and wind up getting kicked around by the cow. Ultimately, they retreat from the farm shouting threats at the cow that they will return to kill it “without mercy.” The cow scene is the only part of the movie that is even mildly amusing. Unfortunately, this scene lasted only 5 minutes out of a 89 minute motion picture.

This film was one of the the most disgusting, boring, badly acted, awfully directed, poorly written, insulting to the intelligence movies made thus far in the 21st Century.

Evil Alien Conquerors is not a movie that was made to entertain anyone other than its cast, crew and above everyone else, its investors. The producer of this film obviously had no intention of turning out anything even resembling a legitimate movie. This film was one of the the most disgusting, boring, badly acted, awfully directed, poorly written, insulting to the intelligence movies made thus far in the 21st Century. Its not even in the category of “so bad its good.” Its just plain bad. To give you an idea of just how bad this movie was, Tori Spelling successfully demanded that her name not be in the credits. Since Tori Spelling, one of the worst so-called actresses of our time, has proudly associated herself with all sorts of dreck, its really saying something about just how bad Evil Alien Conquerors is.

This is a movie to avoid like the plague.

Movie Review: Dark Descent (2002)

Throughout the last few decades, Hollywood producers have shown an increasing inclination to rip off previous movies. Some of these ripoffs actually have some merit to them. Most, however, do not. Perhaps the worst kind of ripoff is that which throws novel ideas into the mix in a desperate attempt to avoid the ripoff label. If the filmmakers have original ideas, then why not make an original motion picture based around them instead of ripping something else off? Almost always, these amalgamations of ripoff and new ideas winds up becoming a mess. One such mess is the movie at hand, Dark Descent.

Dark Descent is a ripoff of the 1981 science fiction flick “Outland” that starred Sean Connery as a United States Marshal on a futuristic outer space mining colony where a crooked mining operator is exploiting his workers. Dark Descent stars Dean Cain as a United States Marshal at a futuristic underwater mining installation where a crooked mining operator is exploiting his workers. In both movies, the tool of exploitation is illegal drugs that cause the miners to work like crazy until they go insane. In both cases, the marshal is incorruptible and the mining operator decides to hire hit men to finish them off. In both cases, the main actors and actresses are clearly just going through the motions and are in these movies just to make money. Both movies also feature the extensive use of technology that would have been hopelessly obsolete long before the characters were even born.

To be sure, the creators of Dark Descent do add in some interesting plot developments of their own. Not only does Cain’s U.S. Marshal character have to deal with the crooked mining operator and his hit men, but he also has to deal with the fact that a legal technicality has resulted in some obviously guilty criminals to get off scott free. They are headed back to the underwater mining center to wreak their revenge on both the marshal and on the law abiding citizens who aided him in putting them behind bars. Additionally, there is a goofy bald headed mad scientist type that the marshal has to deal with.
Furthermore, Dean Cain’s marshal is willing to blow up the underwater mining colony and everyone in it to ensure that the bad guys will not get out of the place alive. However, little intelligent use is made of these added ingredients and the result is a mess.

Dark Descent is certainly nothing special and does not have even the charm of the original “Outland.” One problem in watching this flick is that you keep on expecting Dean Cain to tear off his shirt to reveal a “Superman” uniform and then summarily deal with the bad guys. Another problem is that the hallways look just like the hallways of the starship Enterprise from “Star Trek.” There is no sense of urgency, energy, zip or even fun in Dark Descent. Despite the fact that this movie is allegedly set in the future, there is extensive use of 2002 era computer technology without any attempt to take the computers and add something spiffy to them to make them seem futuristic.

Dark Descent is just a mess without any redeeming values. Avoid it.

Movie Review: The Guns of Navarone (1961)

Throughout history, Hollywood has often turned major bestsellers into major motion pictures. Usually whenever the movie stays true to the book, the end result is a good movie. This is because what works in the book also works in the movie. However, Hollywood has often messed around on their versions of the author’s work. Oftentimes, these alterations are in the form of taking the dough of the book’s plot and using cookie cutters on them in prearranged formulas. More often than not, movies that trash the original novel do not fare well at the box office. When that happens, Hollywood blames the book’s writer and not the producers for screwing things up and as a result, the original author sees his/her stock in Hollywood going down.

The Guns of Navarone is a good example of how messing around with the original novel in the screenplay works to the detriment of the movie. The Guns of Navarone was based on the classic novel of the same name by action adventure novelist Alistair MacLean. MacLean was one of the best writers of his generation and every book he wrote is still in print. He is one of the classic writers of the last half of the 20th Century.

When the producers of The Guns of Navarone purchased the rights to the novel, it was their intent to faithfully replicate the novel onto the silver screen, creating a masterpiece in the process. They assembled a cast that included such luminaries as Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn and James Robertson Justice. They hired one of the best screenwriters in the business, Carl Foreman whose script closely adhered to the novel. It looked as if a classic movie was in the offing.

The plot of The Guns of Navarone is that of a daring commando mission to the fictional island of Navarone. There, the Germans have huge radar controlled guns. Earlier, the British landed 2,000 troops on the island of Chios. Now, they must be withdrawn. However since the previously unknown German installation on Navarone has since gone operational, it is impossible to safely evacuate those British troops. Either the commandos succeed in sabotaging the German guns at Navarone, or the British garrison on Chios will be forced to surrender.

The Allies assemble a crack commando unit called Force 10 to go on a do or die mission to Navarone. In the first half of The Guns of Navarone, the movie stays true to the book and is an excellent example of an action adventure suspense flick. The trouble came in the second half of the movie.

In the original novel, it was discovered that the big Greek trooper Andreas was the traitor who had sabotaged Force 10’s explosives and had been leaving clues for the Germans to follow and harry Force 10 ever since the commandos first landed on Navarone. However, when it came time to film the scene where Andreas is unmasked as the traitor and shot, Anthony Quinn raised a storm saying that he would not consent to his character being labelled a traitor. Quinn, who had always played manly roles, was acting like a woman. Since the studio bosses backed Quinn, the producers had to choice but to fundamentally alter MacLean’s narrative and instead make one of the female characters the traitor. In the novel, Andreas’s character had played such a key role than when he was eliminated, it created tension since it now seemed to the reader that the odds against Force 10’s succeeding had been raised to incredible heights. However, in both the novel and the movie, the role of the traitoress was so minor that her elimination did nothing to heighten the suspense. The impact of the revealing of the traitor was reduced to that of a wet noodle.

From this point on, the movie lacked much of the suspense of the novel. The odds against success was much lower in the movie and as a result, the eventual success of Force 10 was that much less heroic. In other words, making Anthony Quinn happy spoiled the film.

The Guns of Navarone is still a better than average movie owing to the good performances of the cast coupled with the great cinematography. However, it could have been a classic in its own right. Its a shame that Anthony Quinn’s ego got in the way and that the studio bosses did not have the backbone to stand up to him.

Script: 5
Acting: 9
Cinematography: 8
Originality: 5
Reviewer’s Tilt: 5

Overall Rating: 6.4

Movie Review: The New Girl (2003 TV)

Espionage and fashion modeling have long been subjects for movies. However, its rare that both of these glamorous occupations would play equally important roles in the same movie. This is what makes the strangely fascinating made for TV movie The New Girl unique. This is one flick with no-talent actors and actresses, but an original story even if it is rather flaky.

The movie opens in an unnamed Midwestern town where this blond chick named Arielle (Juliana Kincaid) is preparing to move to Los Angeles where she will attend college majoring in history while living with her glamorous fashion model cousin Tracy (Diana Espen). Her boyfriend shows up with engagement ring in hand in a desperate attempt to persuade her to stay with him. She tells him that she wants to be a public school teacher and the only way to do that is move to Southern California and live the high life with her cousin while going to school with the sons and daughters of movie stars.

Arielle moves in with her glamorous cousin and before you know it, she’s a model herself. Arielle learns that in order to make it in the modeling business, you have to engage in immoral acts with the photographers and the other persons at the agency, irregardless of how they look or behave. You also have to engage in immorality with whomever they tell you to. Since she’s getting paid $5,000 a week irregardless of whether she does any work or not, that does not seem like a bad deal to Arielle, especially since she can put the seduction techniques that she’s been taught at the modeling agency to good use making sure that she gets great grades regardless of whether or not she actually attends classes or does any homework. Life is sweet for Arielle.

That is, until the cable guy shows up when Arielle is alone at home. He identifies himself as Special Agent Brewster of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and takes her downtown to FBI HQ in Los Angeles. There, she is informed of the awful truth behind the glamorous modeling agency. For instance, the premiere photographer with a French accent is actually an Italian guy whose vocal cords were surgically altered so he pass himself off as being French. The models are actually members of a “seduction squad” that picks up intelligence for terrorists who are planning a reign of terror in LA. The models have been brainwashed into becoming the pawns of the terrorists and they have some way of gaining top secret materials and then sending it to the terrorists that the FBI has not been able to figure out. The FBI tells Arielle that since she’s new on the job, she has not been brainwashed yet, but her cousin has been. The FBI makes an offer to Arielle that if she works for them, they will spare Tracy and on top of that, de-brainwash her. Naturally, Arielle agrees.

Arielle proves a pro at spying on her fellow models. She discovers their secret lines of communication. You see, the models take darts with them on their seduction missions. After they render their marks unconscious, they hitch the darts up to their laptop computers and download their files. They then open the window and throw out the darts. Each dart has miniature rocket engines and they fly off to the waiting terrorists. Arielle provides the FBI with the goods and the FBI brings down the curtain on the evil enemies and their putrid plot. End of movie.

Despite the fact that The New Girl borders on being a pornographic flick (its R rating should have been NC-17), its a surprisingly fun flick despite its unlikely plot. At least it is far more original than big budget movies and has very nice cinematography. However, due to the facts that this writer was able to pick it up for $1 and that it does not show up on IMDB, this is one obscure movie. It deserves better.

Script: 9
Acting: 1
Cinematography: 10
Originality: 10
Reviewer’s Tilt: 8

Overall Grade: 7.6

Movie Review: Air Speed (1998)

Over the years, a consensus has formed among movie buffs that the 1959 flick “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is the absolute worst movie ever made. So firm is this consensus that a certifiable cult has grown up around both this movie and its writer/director/producer Edward D. Wood, Jr. Wood’s life has been chronicled in books, ducumentaries and even a feature length film directed by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp playing the awful filmmaker.

Now, however, there is a recent flick that bids well to replace Plan 9 in the Hollywood hall of shame. This is the 1998 movie Air Speed that is a disaster flick in more ways than one. This movie is so goofy that it makes 1980’s “Airplane!” look like a serious drama by comparison.

Elisha Cuthbert stars as Nicole, who is one of the most spoiled rotten brats ever to besmirch the silver screen. Nicole is 13 years old and her proudest achievement in life thus far is the sheer number of elite boarding schools for rich little girls that she’s been kicked out of. She is completely alienated from her parents and for good reason. Her parents care only for making as much money as they can and spend as little time with her as they can.

However, due to her misbehavior, they have arranged for her to come home on their private jet which looks a lot like a large passenger aircraft. She is confined to a huge room that could not possibly fit into even the biggest aircraft known to man. In this room are 2 folks who are best described as Dull Man & Dull Woman, both of whom give the impression that they’d rather be dead than be with Nicole.

As the fickle fingers of Fate would have it, the guys in the cockpit pilot the aircraft straight into a storm just 5 minutes away from the airport. Lightning strikes the plane, sending blue lights that the filmmakers intended to simulate high voltage throughout the plane. Everyone on the plane dies on the spot except for Nicole who is miraculously spared without a scratch. The lightning blows a huge hole on the side of the plane where the room is, yet there is no wind inside the airplane or air suction. Clearly, God is on Nicole’s side.

The guys in what must be the world’s shortest airport control tower are not exactly panicked. The air traffic controller is a Hairy Guy who looks more like a street vagrant than a seasoned professional. Enter the parents who act as if the whole thing is an inconvenience for them. The father is especially pathetic since he acts as if his daughter’s being in mortal peril is no more bothersome to him than if he had been told that his luggage would be delayed a little bit.

Hairy Guy concocts some schemes to rescue Nicole involving a air tanker. In one scheme, the tanker’s arm is to extend into the hole into the stricken aircraft and a guy on the tanker is to walk across the arm like a circus trapeze artist at 20,000 feet or so above the Earth with both planes flying at high rates of speed. Yes, you read that right. When that idea doesn’t work, Hairy Guy comes up with the idea of having Nicole’s plane land on top of the tanker. Yes, you read that right too. Even though the automatic pilot obligingly shut itself down, this gambit fails to work.

The tanker is forced to withdraw due to turbulence and then everything goes wrong. The automatic pilot comes back to life, so poor Nicole can’t continue her flying lessons. The radio and cell phone both go dead, so she can’t talk to Hairy Guy anymore. Then, the air in the plane suddenly realized that when there is a hole in the side of the plane, there is supposed to be air suction and before you know it, one of Nicole’s expensive shoes is flying out into the atmosphere and her hair becomes all messed up.

Now, if this was anything like real life, the throughly unlikeable little brat would get herself killed trying to land the plane. However, this is Hollywood and Nicole is quickly able to solve all her problems simply by banging the controls with a baseball bat. The automatic pilot shuts off and the air suction comes to an end. What happens next should be easily predictable by even the most naive movie fans.

Air Speed is a disaster. Unless, you want to spend your time deciding if this really is worse than Plan 9, avoid it at all costs.

Movie Review: Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll (1999 TV)

Over the years, made for TV movies have taken a major fall in quality. Originally, they were made with much the same production values as the movies that were made for theaters. There were even cases of movies such as “The Killers” starring Lee Marvin & Angie Dickinson and the “Battlestar Galactica” pilot movie and a 1966 “Dragnet” movie, among others, that were originally made for TV but were released in theaters and made lots of money in the process. The “Battlestar Galactica” movie’s success was perhaps the most notable of these successes since it had aired on free network TV in the Fall of 1978, yet less than a year later in the Summer of 1979, it was a major hit in theaters.

However, ever since circa 1985, the quality of made for TV movies have severely declined to the point where many folks automatically assume that if a show is a made for TV movie, then its automatically no good. Nowadays, made for TV movies have cheap production values and have glossy looks to them. There is even a term of derision that is often applied to theater movies that critics do not like: TV Movie Syndrome.

TV Movie Syndrome concerns bland, homogenized products that are mixed in a blender with previous made for TV movies and then the results have a cookie cutter applied to it. These movies may be ostensibly different from each other, but essentially they are the same exact thing, only with different labels attached to them. None of the characters have any rough edges or interesting quirks. As a result, they come across as being humanoid robots. Subleties and nuances in the stories are glossed over. When you add it all up, you get something that is movie length, but really is not a movie.

The absolute worst made for TV movies are what are unfortunately the most common type of TV movie. That is, ripoffs of better movies from yesteryear. In the case of the movie at hand Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll, what you have is a 1999 ripoff of a 1978 theater movie, “American Hot Wax” that was nothing short of dreadful. The amazing thing is that as awful as the 1978 original was, Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll has somehow managed to be even worse than the original. Such is the state of made for TV movies today.

Judd Nelson stars as Alan Freed, a disc jockey in Cleveland who recognized early on that rock and roll was not just some fad. In real life, Freed was a sleazy character who claimed that he created rock music and whose claims were repeated by largely gullible reporters. Freed associated with a number of unsavory characters including mobsters. In Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll, Freed is the dullest man alive who is married to the dullest woman alive. Needless to say, Freed in real life was a far more interesting character than what he comes across in this TV movie.

The incredible thing is that Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll repeats all the mistakes that “American Hot Wax” made 21 years earlier. Freed is made out to be some sort of civil rights crusader, which is ridiculous. For instance, Freed is made out to be the victim of evil law enforcement agencies. This show even has FBI director J. Edgar Hoover saying that rock music is even more of a threat to America than Communism. There is nothing in Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll about the fact that in 1962 Freed pleaded guilty to 2 counts of payola. Nor was there anything about the fact that Freed’s death in 1965 has been shrouded in mystery and controversy with many believing that he was murdered as opposed to the official findings that he had died of natural causes.

The real life story of Alan Freed is most interesting and could be the subject of a great movie. Its bad enough that Freed was the subject of a bad movie in 1978. Its even worse that it was the subject of a poor grade made for TV movie in 1999. Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll is a movie to avoid like the plague.

Movie Review: Deadly Recruits (1986 TV)

Ever since the 1960’s, espionage has been the subject of a fair number of movies. All too often, these shows have been James Bond fantasies with evil madmen bent on world domination. Espionage thrillers are usually grossly unrealistic flicks that are good only for some relaxation and popcorn. However, there are some espionage movies that are both realistic and intelligent. One such show is the 1986 made for British TV movie Deadly Recruits starring Terence Stamp as Dr. David Audley, Oxford professor of history who is also an intelligence agent with the British Ministry of Defence.

Dr. David Audley is a longtime fixture in British espionage novels and TV. He is the main character in a series of 19 novels by Anthony Price. These novels began with “The Labyrinth Makers” in 1970 and ran through “The Memory Trap” in 1989. These espionage novels are far more realistic and intelligent than the ballyhooed James Bond novels of Ian Fleming. Price’s novels became the basis for a British TV series called “Chessgame.” Deadly Recruits was originally a made for TV movie that was part of this series.

Deadly Recruits begins with the investigation of a motorcycle accident. United Kingdom government agents discover in the course of the investigation that an unusually high number of top students at Oxford University have either suffered mysterious deaths or have been forced out of school due to scandal. One Oxford professor suspects that the Soviet KGB is responsible for it all. Audley is skeptical of this theory but, after discussing it with one of his superiors, decides to check it out.

The investigation uncovers a network of intrigue and deception among Oxford students. Audley enlists his young wife (Carmen du Sautoy) to search for a missing female student. Another agent checks out the home of the student who was killed in the motorcycle accident only to find that it has been set on fire. He pursues the arsonist who runs into a fire engine and perishes. Audley and the other agent engage in a series of double crosses and mind games with one of the KGB’s top agents who is the mastermind behind the whole sordid business.

Audley comes to suspect a particular student who hails from one of the Commonwealth nations as being a Soviet agent. Audley has the other agent pose as an expert on Roman Britain and got to Hadrian’s Wall as part of the deception. Meanwhile, Audley takes the suspect student and another student out to the countryside near the section of Hadrian’s Wall where the other agent is.

The KGB agent is also a top sniper who deliberately misses when he has a clear shot at Audley and the 2 students. Audley takes note of this failure since this particular sniper has an excellent record as a marksman. Clearly, something is up. Audley is determined to get to the bottom of things and solve the case.

Deadly Recruits is an unusually good espionage action movie. It is much better than what you would normally expect from a made for TV movie. Due to its intelligence and sophistication, it requires much closer attention from the viewer than the great majority of movies. If you like movies that engage you intellectually, then you should find this movie an enjoyable experience.

Script: 8
Acting: 9
Cinematography: 6
Originality: 9
Reviewer’s Tilt: 9
Overall Grade: 8.2

Movie Review: Cover Story (1993)

There exists a genre of film that Hollywood would much prefer that nobody ever talks about. This is the kind of movie that when its over leaves you wondering, “just what were they thinking when they made this?” In other words, this is the genre of the idiotic, stupid, bewildering and just plain incomprehensible.

One movie that fits squarely in this genre is the 1993 flick Cover Story. This movie stars one William Wallace as a journalist named Matt who moves to a new city. At his new apartment, he finds a box of photographs belonging to a previous tenant. This tenant was a strange female who often wore white makeup all over her face and weird outfits. When he asks the apartment manager just who this girl was, the manager attacks him with a baseball bat and Matt defends himself with a golf club. After the assault, it is never mentioned or alluded to again, just like it never happened.

Matt starts searching for her despite the fact that he has no idea what her name is. Without any apparent effort, he finds an old man who knows a lot about her and even has a videotape of her in goofy outfits and saying all sorts of weird things. Matt takes the videotape and quickly deduces on the basis of no apparent basis that the answers to his questions are to be found in a weirdo department store. The store is run by a homosexual drug dealer named Julian (Leland Orser) who sics one of his clerks who moonlights as a hit man on Matt. They struggle and then, all of a sudden, by some miracle of divine intervention or something, Matt is teleported to a grocery store while the bad guy is left wondering just what the Hell happened, as is the viewer.

Matt just so happens to bump into a gal who bears a vague resemblance to the girl who he’s searching for and causes a bag of groceries to fall out of her arms.
They laugh about it and he picks it up and before you know it, she’s in his bed in his apartment. While they lie in bed engaged in immoral behavior, there is a series of shots in which we see them in bed, then see a guy walking down a dark hallway, then back to the bed and back to the hallway and then back and forth until the viewer is being literally driven up a wall. Finally, it all ends when he asks her if she’s the gal in the photos and she replies, “I can be anybody you want me to be.”

Naturally, Matt is positive that she is the one. So are the department store weirdos who send a hit man after Matt and after Matt shoots him, he wails about how, “I can’t believe that you shot me!” Matt then decides to visit a gym for homosexuals and transvestites that is run by the same guy who ran the department store. The enterprising weirdo has his heavies grab Matt and hitch him up to some sort of latter day torture rack right in front of dozens of exercising clients who are all potential witnesses. Upon the rack, the bad guys chop off one of Matt’s testicles, causing poor Matt to cry out in mortal agony.

All of a sudden, the bad guys stop the torture and decide that they can meet the mystery girl at the since vacated department store. The ride to the store must have been quite strenuous since the flaming homosexual drug dealer/crime lord goes from being able to see quite well without glasses to being blind. At the store, they are beset by the mystery girl and a big time rapper and his band who decide that being stars did not pay enough, so they commit crime on the side. There is lots of shooting after which the only 2 survivors are Matt and the girl. They talk. Then, we hear sirens in the distance. Instead of deducing that when lots of bullets are fired, the police have a tendency to check it out, the girl accuses Matt of being in law enforcement. Matt tells her that he’s a Federal Agent who’s wired for sound and that she’s under arrest. She shoots him. The Feds come into the store with local cops and pump several hundred bullets into her. Matt lives and is sent to the Caribbean for a new assignment. End of movie.

In case you are wondering, apart from the fact that Matt’s superior was masquerading as his shrink until the last scene, nothing was left out of the above summary. The plot really does have all those gaps of logic and reasoning. There was an awful lot of characters in this movie coming to snap conclusions on the basis of practically nothing. Hardly anything in this movie made any sense. Unless you really like seeing good acting being wasted on an otherwise awful movie, Cover Story is a film to avoid.

Script: 1
Acting: 7
Cinematography: 3
Reviewer’s Tilt: 3
Overall Rating: 3.5

Movie Review: The Proud and the Damned (1972)

Beginning in the 1960’s, the Western genre has seen a sharp drop in popularity. The audiences for Westerns went into decline and as a result, Hollywood reduced the number of Westerns it made. Producers also tried to retool the traditional Western into new forms in an effort to win back the audience. One such movie was 1972’s The Proud and the Damned.

The Proud and the Damned is an unusual Western since it is set outside the United States. It concerns a band of ex-Confederates who are irreconcilable with the Unionist victory in the Civil War. As a result, they became mercenaries who sell their military services to the highest bidder. Fortunately for them, Latin America at this time was rife with strife and there were many bidders for their services.

The Proud and the Damned is set in 1870, 5 years after the end of the Civil War, in an unidentified South American country. Sergeant Will Hansen (Chuck Connors) and his men have done reasonably well for themselves as mercenaries. As the movie starts, Sergeant Hansen sells their services to a General Martinez who is aiming to make himself the supreme dictator of the country. Hansen and his men are to infiltrate into the rear area of General Martinez’s primary opponents and spy for the general. Specifically, they must find the main headquarters of the opposition and determine just how many men Martinez’s enemies have at their command.

From the beginning, the mercenary band has misgivings about working for General Martinez since he is an evil little dandified punk who is completely corrupt and is in no way fit to rule the country. However, a job is a job and they go about their business. However, the mercenaries are captured by Martinez’s enemies. They must decide whether to join the other side or keep their deal with the general and escape. Complicating matters is the fact that one of Hansen’s men is in love with a gypsy girl who has an evil father.

Connors as Sgt. Hansen is a father figure to his men and Connors is very believable in this role. Cesar Romero (who is best known for the role of the Joker in the 1960’s “Batman” TV show) plays the role of the leader of the opposition to General Martinez quite effectively. The rest of the acting in this movie is generally okay.

The The Proud and the Damned is an uneven movie. The script and the acting is decent. The action scenes are generally not well done and the cinematography is uninspired. The film’s music is uninspired. And yet, you cannot help but like this film.

One reason is that it is a different kind of Western, set in rural Latin American where the ex-Confederates are strangers in a strange land. This movie is also unpredictable with several scenes where you figure that they are going to do something, then they go do something else. In other words, this is not a cookie cutter formula flick.

When it was released, in 1972, The Proud and the Damned was one of the more unusual Westerns being released by Hollywood. It had both an unusual plot and setting as well as plenty of action. It should have done well at the box office. However, it went quickly by the wayside and was ignored by film critics. There are no known reviews of this movie on the Internet. This is a very obscure movie that has not reached a proper audience.

If you have an hour and a half to kill and want to see a decent Western, then The Proud and the Damned makes for a pretty good idea.

Script: 8
Acting: 7
Cinematography: 5
Originality: 10
Reviewer’s Tilt: 9

Overall Grade: 7.8

Movie Review: New Jack City (1991)

As previously related in the review of Velvet Smooth, there was in the decade of the 1970’s an independent inner city cinema movement (the so-called “blaxploitation” flicks) that both Hollywood and the black leadership saw as a threat to their power. After the suppression of this movement in the late 1970’s, there was but little in the line of new movies about the inner city for over a decade. Eventually, due to both the aspirations of minority filmmakers and the bottom line, Hollywood came to produce movies about life in the inner city, but just so long as they were fully acceptable to the ruling class in Hollywood.

And so it was that a movie like 1991’s New Jack City would be both produced and released by a major studio. This motion picture is about the crack cocaine epidemic and the devastating impact that it had on life in the inner city. This is a tough and uncompromising flick that back in the 1970’s would have been denounced as “blaxploitation,” but now would be accepted by film critics as being a legitimate movie.

The main character in New Jack City is Nino Brown (Wesley Snipes), the leader of the Cash Money Brothers (CMB) gang that is one of the biggest crack cocaine trafficking outfits in New York City (NYC). Together with his partner Gee Money (Allen Payne), Brown lives a glamorous life of luxury, fast cars and hot chicks. To put it mildly, Brown is a poor role model for inner city youth.

As Brown’s CMB empire grows, he becomes ever more arrogant. The CMB takes over an apartment building and evicts the inhabitants, including an elderly World War II veteran. The CMB is becoming big, fat and out of control. The CMB is hell bent on contaminating the NYC inner city scene. Brown even dreams of taking down the Mafia so that the CMB can become the dominant organized crime gang in NYC. Brown initiates action against the Mafia and scores some success. The shootouts between the CMB and the Mafia are very well done.

Eventually, the top brass at the New York Police Department (NYPD) wake up to the CMB menace and resolve to do something about it. Two of its best detectives, Scotty Appleton (Ice-T) and Nick Peretti (Judd Nelson) are assigned to the case. The detecting duo get a big break when they come in contact with a druggie named Pookie (Chris Rock). The detectives put Pookie on the road to recovery and Pookie agrees to infiltrate the CMB for the NYPD.

New Jack City is a most interesting movie. On the surface, it is just another cops and drug dealers movie, but it is really more than that. It is a tough, realistic portrayal of the damage wrought to the inner city by the crack cocaine epidemic. It presents an involving story with a strong anti-drug message. This movie really makes clear just how bad the drug problem is in the inner city and how illegal drugs have ravaged the community.

New Jack City is a well executed movie. It features strong performances by such actors as Ice-T and Wesley Snipes, who have generally not made strong performances on other movies. It has a strong script and an involving plot. It probably should have won the Academy Award for Best Picture, yet it was not even nominated for an Oscar in any category. This was because, for all its great points, New Jack City was generally regarded by both the critics and the Hollywood elite as a “black” movie and as such unworthy of being considered as legitimate cinema irregardless of how much money it earned for its releasing studio.

The ultimate irony of New Jack City is that although it was made and released by Hollywood, there was not a dime’s worth of difference between it and many of the films released by the so-called “blaxploitation” movement of the 1970’s. This movie was both entertaining and educational in that it taught this country’s youth the dangers of drugs and how it
leads to a person’s downfall. The message of this film was plain and
simple: Crack cocaine can destroy a person’s life and damage the lives
of others. If we do not continue to fight the war on drugs, then drugs
will continue to destroy our country. Back in the 1970’s, independently made films with the same message were widely denounced as “exploiting” blacks and other minorities. Now, movies with the same exact message can be released by major studios and earn grudging respect from the critics, but in the end as far as the Hollywood elite is concerned, they are “black” movies and as such unworthy of consideration for the awards or any legitimate respect.

Movie Review: The Long Riders (1980)

One of the most interesting developments in the history of post-World War II cinema is the decline and fall of the Western genre. For decades, almost since the beginning of the American film industry, Westerns were the most popular genre. There were entire production companies and studios whose output was mostly or, in some cases, strictly limited to Westerns. There were many actors, directors and others in Hollywood whose work was limited to Westerns.

Now, all that is changed. Where Hollywood once released hundreds of Westerns every year, now hardly any Westerns are produced. On TV, the Western is in the same situation. At one point during the late 1950’s, there were 15 Western TV shows. Many of these were highly rated productions such as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun, Will Travel & Wagon Train. Now, outside of an occaisional made for TV movie, there are no more TV Westerns. Even on reruns, Westerns are scarce. For all practical purposes, the only way to watch TV Westerns is on video and/or DVD.

For some reason, the public has lost interest in watching Westerns. For some reason, that lack of interest does not extend to reading Westerns as a visit to any bookstore will demonstrate. Perhaps this is a side effect of the growth of the SF genre. The new frontier of space has replaced the old frontier in the public imagination. Another possible reason is that in many ways the inner city has become a frontier area in a way as reflected in many recent movies and TV shows.

The decline of the movie Western is not the result of a slew of bad Westerns in the theaters. In fact, the quality of the Western cinema of the last few decades has been higher than that of movies in general. One good example of a great movie Western that did poorly at the box office despite its quality is the movie at hand, 1980’s The Long Riders that was about the Jesse James gang and its ultimate downfall at Northfield, Minnesota in 1876.

The Long Riders is a movie where the producers went way out of their way to ensure high quality for their show. For instance, in most movies actors are cast as siblings without regard if they resemble each other. In this movie, real life brothers were cast as the brothers in the outlaw gang.

As a result, the roles of Bob Younger, Cole Younger & Jim Younger were played by David Carradine, Keith Carradine & Robert Carradine. The roles of Frank James and Jesse James were played by Frank Keach & Stacy Keach. The roles of Clell Miller & Ed Miller were played by Dennis Quaid & Randy Quaid. The roles of Bob Ford & Charlie Ford were played by Christopher & Nicholas Guest.

Not only did this casting result in brothers who actually looked like brothers, it also ensured that they acted towards each other on screen like brothers too. Even outlaws have families and loved ones too. This brilliant casting makes The Long Riders a classic Western. Of all the movies dealing with the Jesse James gang, this is the very best one. It is also historically accurate, which is an added bonus.

This is the very best Western of the 1980’s. However, that is partly because there were so few Westerns made during that decade. One big reason for this dearth was the fact that The Long Riders was a dud at the box office. Hollywood took note of this and decided that if such a great movie such as The Long Riders could lose money, then the Western genre was a loser as far as the public was concerned. As a result, the production of Westerns declined considerably to the point where the Western is, for all practical purposes, a dead genre.

Love, Honor & Obey (2000)

Most movies are basically straight narratives. However, there are others that experiment with various and sundry subplots and other departures from the main plot/narrative. One recent example of this kind of movie is the 2000 British movie, Love, Honor & Obey.

Love, Honor & Obey is about a guy named Johnny (Jonny Lee Miller) whose best childhood friend, Jude (Jude Law), grew up to become an important gangster while he himself wound up stuck in a dead end job delivering parcels. Naturally, he wants in the gang and after persuading both Jude and Jude’s gang boss uncle (Ray Winstone), he becomes a member of the gang. During a series of actions, Jonny rises in the estimation of both the gang boss and his fellow gangsters.

However, this success is not enough for Johnny. He becomes quickly bored with what he sees as a gang that operates like a criminal business and wants a war. He obsessively watches war movies and discusses the Falklands War of 1982 with Jude. With Jude’s help, he both kills a pair of mobsters with another gang and steals their cocaine. This ignites a war between the 2 gangs. Only problem is that neither gang can shoot straight, resulting in great comedy mixed in with the sordid gangster lifestyle.

That is the main plot/narrative of Love, Honor & Obey. This part of the script is very well written, acted and executed. If the whole movie was this good, then Love, Honor & Obey would have been a great movie. The problem is that the rest of the movie fails to measure up to this standard.

There are various subplots that never really get anywhere. For example, the gang leader chases out with a TV actress and scandalizes his mother in the process. Another subplot is that one of his hitmen is attempting to raise a family while simultaneously trafficking in cocaine. Had the time spent on these pointless subplots been spent on fleshing out the main narrative, then Love, Honor & Obey would have been a much better movie.

There are also a number of scenes in the movie that have nothing to do with anything else that’s going on and which are never returned to. For example, some gangsters dress as Arabs and do a lot of talking about Viagra for no apparent reason. There is a scene involving talking like Italians. In one scene, Jude Law masquerades as a Mexican pimp for no apparent reason at all. There is another scene that involves guys dressing as women for no apparent reason at all. Characters have conversations about nothing that has anything to do with anything else going on in the movie. These interludes are pointless and a complete waste of time.

One interesting innovation in Love, Honor & Obey is the use of musical numbers to introduce the scenes that mark turning points in the movie. The best of these is Jonny Lee Miller’s song about why guys like him become gangsters. The opening song involving many of the cast members that’s about the gangland lifestyle is pretty good too. However, not all of these musical interludes are well executed and at least one of them is cleary actors lip synching instead of actually singing.

Love, Honor & Obey is a missed opportunity. More to the point, it is really 2 movies in 1. On the one hand, you have a great 45 minute main plot/narrative focused on Johnny’s gangster life and the war between the gangs. One the other hand, you have about 45 minutes of more or less irrelevant filler that does nothing to advance the movie or make it interesting. Add it all up and what you get is an average grade crime flick. This is a shame since it had the potential to be a masterpiece.

Movie Review: S.W.A.T. (2003)

Once upon a time, in the mid-1970’s, there was a lackluster cop show about police Special Weapon Action Team (S.W.A.T.) units called, with typical Hollywood imagination, S.W.A.T. that was distinguished only by a disco hit theme song. It was cancelled after 2 seasons and was forgotten almost immediately. The show proved a dud in reruns. Then, Hollywood decided that since a lot of other bad TV series had been made into movies, why not S.W.A.T.? The end result, as you might expect, is a mess of clichés and thrill free action movie drivel.

Colin Farrell stars as a Mr. Know It All Cop of the type that exist only in Hollywood productions. Michelle Rodriguez is supposed to be a horrible person, then pretty much disappears from the movie without a chance to fully develop her character. The script is laden with cliches and absurdly short lines.

Unlike the original series, S.W.A.T. makes no attempt to emulate real life cops and S.W.A.T. units. Olivier Martinez plays the super wealthy son of a European gangster family who is hunted all over the world. After he is captured, he declares to the cameras that anyone who frees him from the police will be rewarded with $100 Mil. This brings out the local lunatics in the woodwork, armed in true Hollywood fashion with all sorts of weapons that real-life criminals do not have access to. What ensues is something that has already been done to death in countless generic action flicks. When will Hollywood try making a movie based on a TV show that actually sticks to what that show was really about? Why can’t Hollywood try making reality based movies instead of this cheap action fantasy melodrama garbage?

This is a strange movie in that it was made for a teenage audience that has no recollection of ever seeing the original TV show, not even in reruns. One wonders just why the studio did not turn to the countless quality TV shows of yesteryear that have not been made into movies first: Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Sky King, Ramar of the Jungle, Racket Squad , My Little Margie , The Public Defender, The Lineup, M Squad, Tombstone Territory, I Led 3 Lives, etc. These shows have not been in the reruns in the past 2 decades or thereabouts, so they would be hardly more recognized by today’s teenagers than than S.W.A.T.. However, any of these shows would be much better source material than S.W.A.T..

Then again, if today’s Hollywood producers got their hands on Mr. & Mrs. North, then Mrs. North likely would be a prostitute while Mr. North would be her pimp.