Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ghost Dad (1990)

Directed by Sidney Poitier. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that this film represents one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time in that absolutely nothing works. There is not a single line of dialog, plot element, story theme, acting performance or special effect that works effectively here. If you ever see this -- and I urge you to stop reading this and begin planning a party to screen this in your home for as many people as you can right now -- you and the guests at your Ghost Dad Screening Party will swear that re-shoots were scheduled because initial footage was shot that was too convincing and entertaining.

I won't belabor the point, but the most critical thing here that doesn't work is what the movie is actually about. This is basically a re-make of "Heaven Can Wait," though it's weirdly unclear why our protagonist is caught between life and the afterlife. According to the Netflix summary: "When workaholic widower Elliot Hopper (Bill Cosby) is killed in a tragic accident...[he] has three days to return from the dead and get his family's finances and priorities in order." That alone is more helpful than the first act of the movie itself.

However, don't just take my word for this. There is tremendous debate regarding "Ghost Dad." Sample from the always insightful Netflix member reviews which, as always, I am NOT making up:
  • "A touching movie about a dad who dies..."
  • "Fun for the whole family. While it's probably a little lame for any kid over the age of 12."
  • "The parent-child relationship is every bit as gripping as the relationship between Michael Corleone and Vito Corleone in 'The Godfather'."
  • "Better than 'Leonard Part 6'."
  • "The special effects are astounding."
I agree with that last guy. The special effects were astounding. I didn't know that by 1990 anyone making a movie would still make someone fly by having them swing around on a wire, or disappear by having everyone in the room stand still so they could push them out off the set and then turn the camera back on.

A must-see. Obviously.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)

Directed by Thor Freudenthal. I guess the true test of whether a movie like this is any good is whether it's target audience loves it and my kid does. He's read all of the books in this series at least a few times, counted down the days to when this movie was released, and saw it in the theater twice. He also told me the song played during the end credits was his favorite song ever, which suggests to me that he left the theater with the same pit in his stomach that I left the theater feeling when I was 9 years old.

As the parent of a nine year-old, I've recently noticed that when you ask kids about that age what the message is behind just about any story they will always tell you that it's that you should never give up. No matter what the fuck the story was about. It occurs to me that the reason for this is two-fold: first, it's all we ever tell them, and second, it's what most of their dumb-ass stories happen to be about. So they've learned that if they default to that, most of the time they'll be right.

This film has two nice qualities. The first is that it's message is not that you should never give up. The second is that I'm pretty sure most kids will pick up on that. It's not as if it's message is much more sophisticated than that. It's message is to be yourself, which obviously ranks second on the most defaulted to list of messages we expose on our kids.

And I doubt it does much good. There are two kinds of kids. The first is happy to be themselves. It doesn't really occur to them to be otherwise. Naturally, they come in all kinds of sub-categories that range from delightful to I-would-love-to-kick-you-in-the-head. The second kind is uncomfortable in their own skin and can not be themselves because they have no idea who that person is, and is doomed to spend many years figuring it out. Yes, they come in all kinds of sub-categories as well. These range from the kind that only think they've learned how to socialize to the absolute best people you could ever want to spend time with.

But about this movie. The bullies. What the fuck? When junior high school kids are targeted for cruel and relentless harassment by their peers, those peers are called bullies. When junior high school kids are targeted for cruel and relentless harassment by fully-matured high schoolers in a suped-up pick-up truck, those men are called pedophiles. This is still another example of Hollywood portraying sociopathic behavior as conventional.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

Directed by Steve Pink. It's no insight to consider that this screenplay was pitched and sold solely on its title and there's no question that it delivers exactly what it promises. It was smart for the mayor of Hollywood or whoever it was to appoint John Cusack to be in this movie because that somehow made it seem more like a real movie than it if it had been one of those kids from the Disney Channel, or like C. Thomas Howell.

The film's co-writer, Sean Anders, also wrote this year's "She's Out of My League" and 2008's "Sex Drive," which was written off as a trashy teen sex comedy despite it being an exceptionally good trashy teen sex comedy. Director Steve Pink co-wrote Cusack a couple of very good vehicles "High Fidelity" (2000) and Grosse Point Blank (1997).

It's really not worth getting into what the movie is about because, whatever you think it's about can't be too far off, and who cares anyway. You know the story; a bunch of guys are unhappy with their lives and -- amid hilarity -- a time travel experience shows them that it's up to them to control their respective situation. There's a lot of "what are we gonna do?" but surprisingly little "how can we make sure he doesn't break the window before that other guy slips on the ice?" Meaning that as time travel movies go, this one is definitely the lightest you will ever see on the metaphysics. They jump into 1987, they jump out. No games.

A time travel movie is bound to make a handful of anachronistic little errors in the music or references it uses and "Hot Tub Time Machine" is no exception, though I'd say this film's biggest mistake is believing actor Rob Corddry (who figures in this heavily as "Lou") is a lot more charming than he is.

I don't have anything against Corddry per se, he's just in a little over his head here, particularly to support the musical montage featured in the end credits here. This movie's greatest strength is knowing its place, and suicidal, redemption-finding Lou definitely does not have that light quirkiness you tend to find in the sort of character featured in a Crazy One-Joke Credits Montage.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Directed by Spike Jonze. I was genuinely affected by the opening 20 minutes of this movie, when it is not like a high budget "H.R. Pufnstuf." I imagine some folks saw it the other way around, but by 40 minutes into this I found myself wishing the land of the Wild Things was more like that movie where Denise Richards and Neve Campbell run around in cutoffs.

The problem is simple: because this is based on an arguably perfect story of only 350-words there isn't a hell of a lot for these CGI puppets to do that won't over-complicate things. In the original tale a boy named Max uses his imagination to get out of his head because he needs a break. Eventually he calms down, reassured that his expressions are normal and healthy, and his home is a safe place. In this film, director Spike Jonze makes Max's revelation more elaborate, ultimately having Max identify with both the joys and pressures associated with leading a family. The wild things represent people in his real life -- including himself -- and are dealing with metaphors for the developmental stages and struggles he and his family are working through at home.

Max spends many days with the wild things as their king, adapts their social structure, and experiences various successes and failures as their leader. Ultimately he is forced to identify with how much his mother's life sucks as a single mother. He goes home.

It all seems kind of unnecessary. For kids this is dark and boring. For grown-ups the additional issues are as an excuse to fill things out. Coming soon, a long-awaited feature-length adaptation of "Green Eggs and Ham" that's really an allegory about the consequences of mass-consumption of genetically modified foods.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (2008)

Directed by Robert B. Weide. Is there any real-life profession more subject to cinematic mythology than the journalist? Is there any wider gulf than the one between the reality of the real-life journalist and the movie journalist? The lives of doctors, lawyers and even models and actors are portrayed more exciting than they really are, but writers -- man, this is a whole other league of fantasy. Ever since Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman tore it up in "All the President's Men," the Fourth Estate has been portrayed as a combination between a funhouse and the Playboy Club.

In a way this movie tries to correct all that by moving "The Devil Wears Prada" to a magazine (presumably based on "Vanity Fair," with Jeff Bridges in the Meryl Streep role being a big prick portraying VF's editor Graydon Carter). But by trying to create a fish-out-of-water plot for earnest newcomer Sidney Young (Simon Pegg), the movie just creates a whole new set of hogwash.

See, poor but earnest Sidney arrives at the magazine to find its writers and editors seem more interested in advancing their individual careers rather than putting out a good magazine. Articles are nothing more than promotional vehicles for media figures who have agreed to appear on the magazine's cover. Sidney is outraged! He offers chance-taking ideas and submits examples of a bold, new direction that are met with sneers and bullying. "I think you know how the game is played," he's told. At one point, a publicist sitting inside a limo closes the window on his fingers, forcing him to his knees on the wet pavement outside. "Beg me to write a profile of my client," she says, before driving off.

What it all reminded me of is people who are bitter about high school. Maybe they weren't popular. Maybe they wished they could hang around with the most visible people or go to the most visible parties, but they didn't. And they imagined that the people who did were evil and loved to hurt others, as opposed to simply enjoying themselves without a second thought -- a line dangerously close to being vapid and among many, an Olympic-quality broad jump over that line.

The real-life equivalents of the journalists and editors in "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People" aren't evil, they're just vapid. They're perfectly happy to trade cover photos for interviews, pass off PR as gossip, and pass off exploitation as investigative journalism.

And it doesn't make a bit of difference. In the movie world, when a magazine article comes out, everyone knows about it, the phone is ringing off the hook, people are stopping the writer on the street and either buying him drinks or throwing garbage at him. It's just stupid. In real life, nothing happens. Writers go home. They go to bed. Nobody cares.

To be fair, the only way to accurately film a metaphor for the real life of a journalist might be to set up a surveillance camera in a hen house, where the chickens just sit in pens in the dark, dutifully laying eggs and getting fat. Though who'd watch that?

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (2009)

Directed by Neal Brennan. I have read and heard through Hollywood gossip that Jeremy Piven (who stars in this movie) is an asshole, though the stories people tell to illustrate the point don't sound all that different from any other story you've ever heard of a Hollywood asshole. Which doesn't get him off the hook, it just means that he is probably not a unique form of asshole, just a bigger one than normal.

That's the way this movie is. It's not very good. It's one of those mean-spirited comedies where the characters are all cut from some weird one-dimensional cloth bought from that textile mill the Farrelly Brothers founded 15 or so years ago. If you fill a movie with enough of them, nobody has to have an actual conversation. Each character just needs to lean in every now and then and do something crazy that fulfills their wacky quirk: racist, creepy gay, child molester, sassy black, nutty Asian, evil boyfriend -- you get the idea.

Pretty much all of this flick takes place on a car lot, where I have been spending some time. I crashed my car on Route 128 just outside of Lexington, Mass. a couple of weeks ago, hydroplaning on some slush in the left lane, and sliding across four lanes of rush hour traffic and caroming off guard rails on both sides like a pinball, and forcing some poor soul in a minivan to T-bone the passenger side of my Mazda. Fortunately there wasn't even a ding. Just kidding, it was totaled. So I'm negotiating to buy a Prius, which goes sort of like this:

ME: "Here's a stupid low amount I don't expect to pay for your ugly ass car."
THEM: "Here's a broomstick I plan to shove up your ass, as well as a higher figure I know you won't pay for this death trap that you are a fool for buying."
ME: "How's about we split the difference?"
THEM: "O.K. Want a cup of coffee?"
ME: "I take it black."

And that's how it works. This movie may or may not have been inspired by the 2004 John Landis-directed documentary "Slasher," which I highly recommend. "Slasher" studies Michael Bennett, a sandpaper-voiced sales expert called in by used car lots to help clear out old inventory. As you might expect, a guy like Bennett has a complicated past and some personality issues and "Slasher" exhibits this with a detached fascination.

In "The Goods," Jeremy Piven attempts to portray the same sort of character, make you like him, and resolve the conflict. The problem is that handling this kind of mean-spirited comedy is almost like heart surgery and in the wrong hands it has no warmth, you don't like anybody and it just doesn't work.

Actually, this isn't 100% true. Will Ferrell has a surprise cameo and his boundless charisma pushes through the flick's limitations, easily making his two scenes the most likable, especially the laugh-out-loud first one. Try to find it on YouTube, otherwise don't bother.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Trailer for "Ride Rise Roar" (2010)

Directed by Hillman Curtis. Have a look at the trailer for Ride Rise Roar, the David Byrne concert film (premiering March 14 at SXSW in Austin, Texas) and see if you don't agree that it looks like it just might be as beautiful and exciting as 1984's "Stop Making Sense."

Unless you are my Dad, odds are you're aware that "Stop Making Sense" is the 1984 concert film of Byrne's art-pop act, Talking Heads (by Jonathan Demme) that could have revolutionized concert films had anybody bothered to pick up the gauntlet.

Prior to "Stop Making Sense," concert films tended to be horribly boring. For one thing, rock artists did not bother to think about what elements of their performance might or might not translate interestingly to film. This meant that, other than maybe Neil Young, nobody thought to produce a show that catered especially to the film goer. Also, it hadn't occurred to anybody to shoot concerts with the lights on, something movie film desperately needs to work -- especially prior to the advent of digital video. This resulted in dark, grainy films that strain the eyes.

"Stop Making Sense" was a beautiful revelation, with its brightly lit, tastefully minimal stage set. In fact, minimalism was a deceptively satirical theme in the show's subtle attention to a movie's three-act narrative structure. Simply put, the film is beautiful to look at and a joy to watch.

Unapologetically artsy, "Stop Making Sense" manages to balance its intellectual presentation without ever feeling pretentious. In the same way that "This is Spinal Tap" earned its smirk with spot-on satire, "Stop Making Sense" earns its straight-faced artiness with sound, color, movement, beauty and an overall uniqueness the likes of which had never before been seen.

The film barely grossed $1 million when it was released, though it's soundtrack record sold well. In retrospect, a very fortunate thing happened -- nothing. The success of high concept music videos for marketing music pretty much guaranteed we wouldn't see a bunch of shitty imitations of "Stop Making Sense" featuring the Police and Van Halen. Instead, Billy Idol punched the air, David Lee Roth swung from a wire, Madonna rolled around in a lot of outfits.

Now, almost 25 years later, we can hope that Ride Rise Roar holds a candle to "Stop Making Sense."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Must Love Dogs (2005)

Directed by Gary David Goldberg. I'm going to go ahead and call this a must-see for students of Hollywood film-making. I've been accused of being cynical but even the purest, least jaded and most optimistic fan of movies would have to notice that this movie is not actually about anything.

Since "Serendipity" made me want to jump into the screen, "Sherlock Jr."-style and slit the throats of its characters, it probably was not smart to see another John Cusack rom-com this soon. So part of me is tempted to give the benefit of doubt to just being short tempered after that whole debacle, but I don't think that's the case. I'm not mad at this movie like I was at "Serendipity" (which portrayed sociopaths as romantics and their abused fiancees as foolish shrews). In fact, I almost want to see this again to make sure there is as little going on here as I think there is.

In fact, I'm not sure where Netflix gets their plot summaries, but the one they have online for this movie is a big fat lie. It claims this is about two people courting but both pretending they own dogs because they met under the premise of loving dogs. While this may have been in an early draft of the script and used as the marketing platform for the flick, by the final cut not only were no dogs harmed in the making of this film, virtually no dogs were used at all. In truth, there are a couple, but they're here about as much as "Animal House" uses a horse.

This is the weirdest spoiler alert ever because there is nothing to spoil. This movie tells the story of Sarah (Diane Lane) and Jake (Cusack), two good-looking white people who just ended unhappy marriages and are looking for new relationships. Their respective friends and families try to hook them up and recommend online resources. They date around a bit and have some odd experiences. Around the middle of the story they meet each other and there's some attraction. By the end of the movie they're willing to acknowledge that if they are going to find love with each other, they'll need to be honest with themselves and each other. That's it. How many people do you know who have lived this?

Especially during the '90s there were a lot of independent and foreign films that played like those New Yorker type short stories that simply study a character and don't feel a lot of pressure to let a lot happen. They just sort of end with a feeling of "isn't life kind of ironic sometimes." This wasn't even like that. I think this movie is for people with so few problems, they will think that the few things that happen here on screen count as a plot.

It's like the blandest movie ever made. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Jennifer's Body (2009)

Directed by Karyn Kusama. If you have always dreamed of seeing a possessed Megan Fox vomit black acid while devouring the flesh of her lovers then this is the movie for you. No, this is not a backstage documentary of the making of "Transformers 2" -- hahahaha! It's her first "topline" role, meaning her first movie where the poster isn't of a robot. Also, Diablo Cody ("Juno") wrote the screenplay.

I would say this movie would be greatly aided by robots or anything that made "Juno" good, which probably means either being directed by Jason Reitman or just being a different movie. My guess is that when "Juno" broke it was time for Diablo Cody to grab any script lying around her apartment and this was left over from some forgotten screenplay workshop. Megan Fox plays Jennifer, a metaphoric maneater who becomes a real-life one once she is possessed by a supernatural force.

But Jennifer isn't to be saved, she's to be slayed because the hero of the pic is her best friend Needy (get it?), who is played by Amanda Seyfried ("Mean Girls," "Mama Mia!") and looks a lot like Jan Brady in this. For the first half of the film there is subtext that Jennifer is SO HOT that Needy has been wrestling with homosexual thoughts her whole life. This is subtle until the actual point that subtlety is put aside and they just make out a lot. But Needy knows and declares ("This is crazy!") that Jennifer must be killed along with those nasty lesbian tendencies.

The great question is whether Megan Fox is hot enough to make this all worth bothering with. These movies are designed to keep you questioning that to the end, when it's too late to bother.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)

Directed by Robert Redford. "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" is the "Citizen Kane" of movies in which a magical black man teaches whitey the ways of life. Sidney Poitier is the all-time great go-to guy for that role, not just in "Dinner" but in a zillion other films with a similar theme, some good, others not so good. Will Smith starred in 1993's "Six Degrees of Separation," a thinly veiled companion piece to statement by his publicist to make him the Sidney Poitier of a new generation.

Although similarly themed, "Six Degrees of Separation" was not bad and "The Legend of Bagger Vance" is a steaming pile of horse shit. The irony of the title is, of course, is that all 126 minutes of this movie go by without the audience learning one bit of the legend of Bagger Vance. Bagger is an incredibly minor character in this tale. This story is about white golfers and pretty young debutants, while Smith's character of Bagger, could easily be replaced by a magical leprechaun.

I think it's supposed to be fascinating how he appears out of nowhere, helps everybody, and then when he feels like he's done his job, walks off into the night, but if you're not stupid, you will understand that this is just a bullshit cop out. There is NO LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE. The guy actually a celebratory minstrel-style shuffle dance on his way off-screen. For the leprechaun it would be a little jig. It would have made as much sense to animate Sonny, the Cocoa Puffs Bird into this role.

I'll say this, these days a lot of people write about shitty movies and say, 'this was so bad I can't even say it was so bad it was good.' But I think this was. This was so bad it was good. So have some friends over. Recommended.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Public Enemies (2009)

Directed by Michael Mann. In this incredibly challenging acting role, Johnny Depp makes the life of John Dillinger seem boring. Good God. Historically accurate right down to seeming to take place in real time over the course of many years, this movie is bewildering. Just how can a story so real, so accurately told, and so well acted be so goddamn bland? There just doesn't seem to be any chemistry between anybody here, nobody has any charisma, nothing works. In a way, it's fascinating. At times, Johnny Depp seems influenced by Ray Liotta's turn as Henry Hill in "Good Fellas," and the overall sprawl of this seems to want to have the electricity of Brian DePalma's delightful 1987 retelling of "The Untouchables." But this desperately needed Robert DeNiro to walk on and do something broad, historically inaccurate and entertaining. When the FBI finally catches up with Dillinger and shoots him in the head, you can't help but think his greatest crime was boring you. In case you're curious, there is no mention of Dillinger's legendarily huge honker. Supporting player Christian Bale does not use his Batman voice, though Marion Cotillard, who played Dillinger's Chicago-born girlfriend should have tried that, because she couldn't hide her French accent for crap. Also, Leelee Sobieski is growing up to look less like a midget version of Helen Hunt, but no less peculiar than when she did.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bedtime Stories (2008)

Directed by Adam Shankman. Adam Sandler is not a gifted comedian and does not make me laugh but it does seem like the older he gets the sweeter personality elements of his characters seem more believable, more endearing and sometimes less maudlin. There's no way I could see something as loud and outrageous as another "Little Nicky" or "The Waterboy" but he was perfectly tolerable in "Funny People" and I caught myself liking this movie despite all of its stupid parts.

This is one of those dumb movies where the themes and plot are much too sophisticated for children to follow but the story, moral and characters clearly have in mind a movie for kids. In the end it ends up perfect for nobody. It's a movie that probably gets Sandler laid because it makes him seem really sweet.

It's got a good gimmick but one that, as usual in a movie of this sort, Hollywood gets tired of playing around with somewhere in the second act and just abandons. Sandler plays Skeeter, a guy who, for no apparent reason explained by the otherwise extensively detailed back story, sometimes seems to be perfectly well-mannered and normal and at other times speaks in that growly, angry Adam Sandler voice and seems to have no sense of decorum. Anyway, Skeeter has to take care of his niece and nephew for a few days and tells the bedtime stories and, again for no apparent reason, whenever the children contribute ideas to the stories, contemporary versions of their contributions come true in Skeeter's own life.

And in the end, he learns how to love.

I just talked myself out of liking this piece of shit.

Boxboarders (2007)

Directed by Rob Hedden. I could easily see this becoming a popular cult comedy with some groups of young movie fans, although specifically fans of crappy movies, because cult appeal or none, this one sucks. It has no story, the acting stinks, much of the dialog would have been impossible to say convincingly anyway, but the biggest problem of all is that there are no good ideas here.

In what little story we have to watch in Boxboarders, a pair of thrill-seeking nerds pioneer a new extreme craze that doesn't so much sweep the nation as portions of a small faction of their high school. The craze is 'boxboarding,' really just rolling down a hill with your vision obstructed. But if that's what passes for innovation these days, sign me up. I have a new "edgy" twist on ice cream cones where you eat it out the bottom.

I'd say hijinks ensue, except they mostly don't. The mean rich kid tries to ruin everything but -- spoiler alert -- doesn't. Though with the super-deluxe ultra-slick rich-kid boxboard that he brings to the big race at the end of this he does point out that boxboarding is nothing more than soapbox derby and that these kids are hardly innovators.

Films Wanted

The Rythmatist (1985)

Made in Paris (1966)

Raquel! (1970)

Directed by David Winters. This is not quite a movie in the sense that it is not at all a movie but a 1970 TV special starring Raquel Welch. So, clearly this is totally worth anyone's while. On the one hand, in 1970, Raquel Welch was a devastating American beauty and TV specials were insane and mind blowing.

Plus, Raquel Welch has always been only marginally talented, so the already trippy weirdness of the period's production values were ramped up many times over as a means of hiding the negligible amount she had to offer. This includes outrageous costumes, which are obviously a huge reason to see this, in part because they definitely show off her obscenely perfect body but also just because they look like they were designed by Black and Decker.

Also, for fans of ridiculous musical arrangements, the musical arrangements here are, well, ridiculous. And if I challenged you to guess the songs she sings, you'd get at least a few. I'm sure. "Games People Play," "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," "California Dreamin'," "Here Comes the Sun." It's really lame, tame, stuff. Music for people who don't really like music, as Karen often describes it.

But it's the best "Age of Acquarius" ever. With this segment, you will realize that this is not simply something to see and tell others about but truly something that must be seen by everyone. In fact, if you or someone you know has any hand in allocating a local small arts fund, I would highly recommend spending on a public exhibit of this, maybe projected on the side of a large building in front of a wide open area where huge crowds of people can gather.

If the guy with the hat that rises into a horse statue isn't enough to make your head explode during the "Age of Aquarius," be patient because in the next segment, Raquel tells a story that combines knights, royalty and flirting with Tom Jones, who then lipsyncs to the LP mix of his hit "I, Who Have Nothing" that my mother used to play around the house when I was a kid.

Next is a "rock and roll" medley by Raquel and Tom of the sort that make actual fans of rock music write open letters of apology to black people. Then she visits John Wayne on the set of what looks like "The Train Robbers" and to try to hide how lame his old ass is, they add a laugh track, I am not shitting you. Then Bob Hope shows up and they really need the laugh track, though at least he's telling jokes.

Then it's over and you're so weirdly disappointed and desperately glad at the same time. It's messed up.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

(500) Days of Summer (2009)

Directed by Marc Webb. If you don't already dislike "(500) Days of Summer" by it's final 30 seconds, I'm not sure how that couldn't convince you. The last line of dialog
and the final shot are so painfully maudlin I could hardly stand it. The movie is basically a remake of "Annie Hall" for the kind of young people who wear messenger bags and desperately want you to know what bands they listen to.

The good part of this movie is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as Tom. I liked this guy in 2007's "The Lookout" and I've been wanting for a long time to see a 2005 thing called "Brick" that he's supposedly very good in. Gordon-Levitt is very convincing but is not enough to save this disconnect between direction and story.

Both "(500) Days" and "Annie Hall" detail, from the male perspective, the rite of passage of the doomed relationship. Marc Webb's major innovation on Woody Allen's 1977 Oscar winner is to tell the story out of order. Other than that it's the same old mish-mash of references to this film style and that film style. The difference of course is that Woody Allen was funny while Marc Webb is decades late and mostly unclever.

There are moments that are just dumb, like when Webb imitates scenes from Ingmar Bergman movies that feel not so much funny as self-congratulatory. Then there are moments where narrative devices are used -- documentary style interviews and voice-over narration -- where we can't tell it's used as part of the multi-style motif or as a truly slipshod moment of directing.

Yes, I liked the part where the screen split during an evening out and we saw Tom's expectations vs. reality.

But the big problem here is that all of these little tricks: the genre references, the music tricks, the dance number and animation -- there's no real reason for it grounded in these characters. It's not as if Tom is a screenwriter or a cinemaphile who has a problem with reality. The guy writes greeting cards. Yes, that stuff makes the movie entertaining, but when there's no connection between the little tricks and the story, it's just showing off.

And by the way, Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True" is on its way to being the new "Walking on Sunshine" as a song that shouldn't be in movies anymore. Enough.

The Honeymoon Machine (1961)

Directed by Richard Thorpe. This relatively early Steve McQueen outing is very different for him, a romantic screwball comedy that looks to be based on a play, judging from the few sets used and the simple staging. Well over half of it takes place in one hotel room.

Here’s the basic plot; a trio of Navy buddies offshore in Venice are using a computer on-board their ship to calculate spins of a roulette wheel in a casino in the hotel. Someone on the ship uses Morse code to signal the calculation, they place the bet and – presto! – everybody wins. They simply have to avoid being seen in the casino, where they are not allowed, and are hiding the scheme from the girls they are dating in order to make the movie hilarious.

This kind of works, even though Steve McQueen is not really the Cary Grant-type, which is what the dialog style here is definitely going for, in that rapid-fire, wiseacre but sexy “His Girl Friday”/”Bringing Up Baby” kind of way. Maybe I give him too much of a pass because I like Steve McQueen. His girl here is Brigid Bazlen, who doesn’t have too much to do here, though Paula Prentiss does, who’s much better and looks awesome, and Jim Hutton is here too and he’s good, as well as Jack Weston, who plays a drunk and good God it doesn’t get much better than that.

Hard to find but recommended.

The Working Girls (1974)

Directed by Stephanie Rothman. This ensemble cast-driven exploitation film has too much going on and never pursues any part of it to develop a theme but also never sticks with anything too long to bore you. The end result is that this never quite good nor quite bad.

This is actually a famous movie in the exploitation realm. It’s highly creative home video title in the U.S. on VHS was “Elvira Naked” because actress Cassandra Peterson, more famous for Vampirella-styled TV-hostess Elvira has a strip scene in the flick.

Otherwise, a huge cast makes the overall acting competence score here typical; nobody is great, some are better than others. The comic stand-out is Solomon Sturges as Vernon Sudsmith IV, a multi-millionaire who gives an unusual job to Honey (Sarah Kennedy), who seems like the main character of the film until about the 15-minute mark when the plotline goes haywire.

In addition to Honey’s career crisis, we see Jill and Nick struggle with a doomed relationship because their jobs as a strip club manager and a small-time gangster get in the way. We also watch Denise struggle as a painter despite being the only one in the whole lot with a place to live – a palatial townhouse far nicer than anything I’ll ever own. We see Mike’s descent into drug addiction and folk music, with no hint of which is worse.

As a melodrama it moves quickly and has a pretty damn good ending, and as an exploitation flick it has the strip club storyline that supplies nudity and all of the actresses are great looking. Female directors were exceedingly rare in this genre and it’s a shame Stephanie Rothman never made another film. I plan to see her 1973 flick, “Group Marriage,” which I recently got a copy of, sometime soon.

The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

Directed by Norman Tokar. Disney had a slick way of starting with something simple like a cat and making a family movie that works. Here they accomplish the feat despite a simple plot, bland characters and some unappealing casting. I pre-screened this to see if it was appropriate for Max, (who will be nine in a couple of months) and decided it was though I wasn’t sure if he’d think much of it. It sat on our AppleTV box for nearly a year before he had any interest in sitting down to it but to my surprise, he loved it.

The main plot involves this cat, Jake, who crash lands on Earth and needs to fix his ship with the help of -- in his 1,237th Disney role -- Dean Jones. To do it, they need a lot of gold, which they get the money for by gambling. The whole thing takes place mainly on a military base and heavily involves McLean Stevenson and Harry Morgan although they do not play Colonels Blake or Potter. However, Sandy Duncan is presented as an appealing young woman, who was not, raising the question why the hell Marlo Thomas never made any Disney movies.

The voice of Jake is played by Ronnie Schell, who is one of the great character actors of all time, but to be honest, he leaves a lot to be desired. If you’ve ever seen “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,” in which Michael J. Fox provides the voice of a dog who may or may not grow up to travel through time to cure Parkinson’s Disease, you will both see a great voice acting performance and then be a little disappointed in Ronnie Schell here. However, you will enjoy seeing Schell in a whole other role in the movie, as Sgt. Duffy, which will confuse the hell out of your kid when you try to explain to him or her that it’s the guy who is doing the voice of the cat.

Caution: the chase scene that anchors the third act goes on forever.