Thursday, April 10, 2014

Foolin' Around (1980)

Directed by Richard T. Heffron. I could have sworn I saw this movie as a kid at a drive-in as the second feature with "The Buddy Holly Story" but the Buddy Holly biopic was released two years earlier so it doesn't seem possible. Strange. I must have seen it as the second feature with something else, but also saw "The Buddy Holly Story" two years earlier at the drive-in.

Gary Busey is one of those guys I think people expected quite a bit and this movie captures that it was not to be.

Though we should have known. Despite Oscars and accolade, "The Buddy Holly Story" was not a quality movie. Hollywood's interest in biopics was refreshed and that particular movie benefited from good timing and public interest. But "The Buddy Holly Story" has all of the hallmarks of the worst biopics: composite characters, fictional incidents and constant inaccuracies.

Busey, years away from trauma-induced cranial dementia is charismatic, though it's possible that big roles didn't follow from his 1978 Buddy Holly turn because the arrogant bully the public knows today had already emerged behind Hollywood's closed doors.

And so, two years after "The Buddy Holly Story" we have "Foolin' Around," in which Wes (Busey) arrives from Oklahoma to attend a university in Minnesota, falls in love with psychology student student Susan (Annette O'Toole), a wealthy debutante engaged to snobbish social climber Whitley (John Calvin). Fortunately Susan's grandfather (Eddie Albert) respects Wes's grit and hates Whitley because he's that unrealistically creepy slimeball that we have no reason to believe that Susan should see anything in. But that's the way it always is in this movie, which you've seen the likes of 1,000 times.

But usually this kind of movie is full of talentless nobodies, so this one is a little different. Look for what's gotta be one of William H. Macy's earliest roles, playing a crooked bookseller. In addition to the unnecessary and dumb references to "Rocky" and "The Graduate" there is trite uselessness.

Recommended for late night.

Lassie's Great Adventure (1963)

Directed by William Beaudine. Admittedly, it's been said many times, but only because it's so true: Timmy is a godforsaken idiot. He was blessed with Lassie because he otherwise would have died 90 deaths before his 12th birthday if it weren't for the baffling devotion of that beloved mongrel.

In "Lassie's Great Adventure," a 1963 theatrical release that devilishly strings together five episodes of the 1954 season of the "Lassie" TV series, Timmy accidentally falls into a hot air balloon and is carried away into the Canadian wilderness. I know, right? If you were Timmy's parents, wouldn't you just assume that saving for college is just money down a rat hole?

Lassie joins Timmy for the ride, seemingly by choice, which calls into question her whole reputation. Eventually the balloon lands among the highest treetops of the Canadian Rockies -- a great place to spot the lost boy and dog. Instead, Timmy decides to wander all over the place, showing off expert Boy Scout skills such as knot tying, fishing, and creating the second act of the movie -- really anything other than knowing he should probably just stay put.

An IMDB review comments, "There is no bad language or anything like that. We also enjoyed the action and wonderful nature scenes." I also enjoyed the action, particularly the scene in which Timmy beats a wild boar to death with a log, slaughters the corpse with his Boy Scout knife and roasts it over an open fire. This really happens and if you don't believe me, now you have to see this "movie."

However, there are really no nature scenes to speak of. Because this is just strung together TV episodes, a miserable amount of its supposed "outdoor" scenes are filmed on a studio soundstage. A few actual outdoor locations were used for scenes that use horses, helicopters and Richard Kiel (who would later play the assassin "Jaws" in James Bond movies). Kiel wears dark makeup in his role as Chinook Pete, a mentally unstable Native American. In a long standing Hollywood tradition, Chinook Pete is treated insensitively and disgracefully, so there's that to be said for this family film.

Recommended for fans of dumb kids.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Trouble With the Curve (2012)

Directed by Robert Lorenz. This movie, for which Hollywood's working title was "Skeletor Plays Baseball" was Clint Eastwood's first since 2008 ("Skeletor Is Gunned Down In the Street for Liking Koreans"). This is surprising because he is such an omnipresent media personality (2012's "Skeletor Hates the President") and busy director of films that he does not appear in ("J. Edgar," 2011; "Hereafter," 2010; "Invictus," 2009). I can make fun of his appearance all I want, Clint Eastwood is damned productive for an animated corpse.

In "Trouble With the Curve" Eastwood plays Atlanta Braves baseball scout Gus Lobel. In the literal sense the title refers to a problem he senses in a young pitching prospect in North Carolina, though more to the point of the flick, it seems to relate to the expression "around the bend," since for at least 15 years some element of all Clint Eastwood movies is how much aging sucks. This one firmly focuses on how much aging sucks, specifically needing the help of others.

It makes you wonder if it's a coincidence or not that, while this film was as personal as any Eastwood has ever directed himself, it was not directed by him but is the first film directed by Robert Lorenz, Eastwood's second unit director of many years. Just as the character of Gus Lobel requires the help of others for some of the tasks of his job as a baseball scout, including driving but also up-close observation of players, perhaps Eastwood prefers to collaborate more to keep up his current level of productivity.

Maybe I should collaborate more to just to watch movies. I spent all of this movie thinking that Isla Fisher wasn't looking up to par in this when at the end I found out it was Amy Adams. That explained everything. Also, this film includes more support for the notions that Justin Timberlake is a genuine talent.

Recommended if you have patience for a lot of grumbling.

Five Fingers of Death (aka "King Boxer" aka Tian Xia Di Yi Quan) 1972

Directed by Chang-hwa Jeong. This is one of the greatest martial arts films ever made and a must-see for anybody with an interest in the genre even though one of the most available DVD editions out there brags on the package "105 Minutes of Non-Stop Action" and fortunately this is a ridiculous lie. The two best things about "King Boxer" are that, first, the non-action sequences effectively increase anticipation for the fights, and two, they are hilarious.

First of all, here's what it's about: "The Karate Kid." Not exactly, but kinda. Earnest martial arts student and decent sensei are bullied by rival martial arts school/terrorist organization intensifying to a big tournament. Amid all this, a little something for the ladies: romantic sub-plot. Two women vie for the attention of our hero, Chao Chih-Hao. One would be the proverbial girl next door if she hadn't grown up in the same house as him, the other is a singer of the weirdest songs ever.

I have so many favorite parts of this movie, it's nuts. First and foremost there are the brutal beatings. One guy only kills people with his forehead. Two henchman with shaggy haircuts are clearly the inspiration for a legacy of similar characters you've seen forever. A pair of Baoding balls rolled by another character foreshadow the fate of a fink.

In between chops to peoples heads, middles and backs, Chih-Hao sends a letter home to his beloved first Sensei, in stereotypical Asian tradition it is end-to-end honor and devoid of any actual information (I am not making this up):

Dear Honoured Teacher:

I am indebted to you for raising me. I should serve you in order to repay my gratitude. Unfortunately, since my departure, not a day goes by that I don't think about you and sister Ying. I am now under the mentorship of Master Suen but I still remember what you have taught me. I aim to do well in the competition and have cherished sister Ying's words deep in my heart. I will not let you or Ying down. Words cannot express my regards.

-- All the best.

Chih-hao

 And these are the actual lyrics to one of singer Yen Chu Hung's songs (again, I'm not making this up, it's from the movie): 

There is a pair of sisters on the farm who are looking for a husband
The loser will have to choose an ugly and short, lazy husband.
The elder sister pretending, a Phoenix opening its wings
The younger sister pretending, a dragonfly skimming the water's surface
Their competition is well-known in the village
The elder sister finally scores 99, and the younger sister scores 101
Elder sister is shy, younger sister smiles
Elder sister has picked an ugly, short and lazy husband 

Most highly recommended.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tony Arzenta (1973)


Directed by Duccio Tessari. "Tony Arzenta" is the original title of this Italian mob flick about a professional hitman who wants to retire to spend more time with his son, presumably in order to teach him some manners because this kid's got a mouth on him, let me tell you. Anyway, if you're thinking that this is probably the one movie where the mob shakes a guy's hand, tells him that it's been nice working with him and sends him on his way with a parting gift, you're wrong. Instead their feelings seem kind of hurt and they express this by solving his problem with the mouthy kid in an unnecessarily extreme fashion. As you might expect from one or two similar films you may have seen of this sort, Tony is not just bummed out. And now we've got a movie.

The success of a movie like this depends on a few things. We have to feel Tony's rage, which despite him seeming possibly better off without the child, we do, thanks to a fine performance by Alain Delon (whom you probably enjoyed in Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 film, "Le Samourai," in which he played...a hitman).

Also, for a movie like this to work there have to be creative methods of enacting revenge. And there are. This is always simultaneously the best part and the least believable part of any movie like this. We never hear or see a protagonist plan out these crazy acts of revenge, we just watch each unfold, wondering what he'll do next with something he's making, or stealing, or by spending time with a person he's taking into his confidence.

Also released under the title "Big Guns" (useless) and "No Way Out" (more telling but really hacky), we know that what drives Tony into this rage is the loss of his son and thus the fact that he no longer had anything to live for. This makes his revenge possible, but the consequences inevitable. He is a martyr for your movie time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Real Steel (2011)


Directed by Shawn Levy. If you see only one boxing robot movie this year, you should pray on your hands and knees that somebody makes one, so that it won't be "Real Steel." The movie is rated PG-13 for disturbing scenes of Hugh Jackman acting manly. And because of it's graphically violent fight scenes of computer animated robots, one of which -- in a sad scene -- bleeds a puddle of transmission fluid or something.

"Real Steel" tells the heartwarming story of ex-boxer Charlie Kenton, who has no interest in his estranged son until the boy demonstrates his value in the underground gambling world of robot boxing. The movie takes place in the futuristic year of 2020, by when we will have apparently abandoned not only interest in the sport of boxing using human beings, everyone will have forgotten it ever happened. To be fair, this plot is more plausible than the one in Levy's last film, 2010's "Date Night." He also made those "Night at the Museum" movies, so this proves that those could be far worse.

But as disappointing as "Date Night" was, that was still more entertaining than this. Hey, robots have feelings too. Or they don't, and it's important to remember that technology can never take the place of your family. Or technology can bring a family together, if that's what initially tore it apart? Who the hell knows.

Too violent for kids, too stupid for grown-ups. It's all so action packed, you'll never guess that they win the big fight at the end. Whoops, spoiler.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Enforcer (1976)


Directed by James Fargo. Clint Eastwood IS...The Enforcer! No, wait...Clint Eastwood IS Dirty Harry...in THE ENFORCER! No, wait...Clint Eastwood STARS as Dirty Harry Callahan...in THE ENFORCER! No, wait...Clint Eastwood is BACK as Dirty Harry Callahan...in THE ENFORCER! Yeah, that's it.

The second sequel to "Dirty Harry" could not help but succeed because the first two films keep him off the screen enough to leave you wanting more. Of course, smart cinema fans are like gourmets, they know when to push away from the table and say, enough. They know that less is more. Too much of a good thing is not good.

I'm not like that. For me, "The Enforcer" is delightful from start to finish, for example, when Captain McKay (Bradford Dillman) yells at Callahan for using excessive force and causing $14,000 in damage ("I've been on the phone with the mayor all morning!"). Hahahahahaha.

But underneath it all this film tells the story of Callahan's struggle with the burgeoning suffrage movement, which by 1976 has apparently reached San Francisco, as real live women are joining the police force...and Dirty Harry is assigned a new partner (Tyne Daly, in a female role).

AWK-WARD.

Meanwhile, a group of scum-baggy terrorists kidnap the mayor, who suddenly has less time to spend on the phone hassling Captain McKay. The terrorists demand $2 million ransom and hold the mayor prisoner on Alcatraz Island, presumably because it makes for better aerial shots than old tenement buildings.

Anyway, a lot of bang-bang-bang, a little c'mon out, one or two ooh you got me's, and suddenly Dirty Harry is a little more enlightened than he was a mere 90 minutes ago. But at what price?! At what price I ask you?!

Recommended! Alongside all four other Dirty Harry masterpieces: "Dirty Harry" (1971), "Magnum Force" (1973), "Sudden Impact" (1983), "The Dead Pool" (1988). One or more of these may be reviewed elsewhere here.