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MOONSHINE LOVE (1969) **

A thief gets knocked on the head after pulling a job and loses his memory. He winds up in the care of an oversexed moonshiner’s daughter who wastes no time getting him in the sack. Eventually, his former crew come looking for the money and he of course has no idea where the dough is stashed, which leads to a big brouhaha.

Moonshine Love features several scenes of women getting in and out of their skimpy costumes, but it never once feels sexy, steamy, or dirty. There is one sequence in which our heroine makes love to a vegetable that is worth mentioning. And by “vegetable” I don’t mean she makes love to an invalid person. I mean she masturbates with a carrot. I’m sure you raised your eyebrow while reading that last sentence. Trust me, the scene itself isn’t sexy at all and goes on forever.

Speaking of which, Moonshine Love is only an hour long, but it feels a lot longer. The dialogue scenes go on at a seemingly endless clip. However, if you keep an eye on your DVD player’s digital readout, you’ll be dismayed to learn that only precious and few minutes have actually passed. Still, I have to commend the filmmakers for cramming in as much rampant nudity (not to mention the sex-with-produce scene) in a 60 minute running time. Because of that, the film skates by with a Two Star rating just in terms of the sheer amount of skin alone.

AKA: The Sod Sisters. AKA: Head for the Hills.

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JENNIE: WIFE/CHILD (1968) **

A hot and horny child bride is all grown up and lusting over a shy farmhand. She’s pissed at her husband for not buying her fancy dresses and yells, “The only thing you covered my body with was yours!” Of course, she runs off with the farmhand, but you know, he just might have a thing for the town floozy.

There are some highlights here to be sure, although I admit they are few and far between. It isn't corny enough to be enjoyable as a campy melodrama nor is it well-acted enough to work on its intended level. There just aren’t any sparks between the members of the central love triangle, and because of that, the drama is often tepid. It also doesn’t help that there are several lulls throughout the running time. We do get a glimpse or two of some brief nudity, but not nearly enough for the film to skirt by on titillation alone.

The music is the best thing about Jennie: Wife/Child. Davie Allen and the Arrows do the awesome theme song, but the best song comes during the amazing sequence where Jennie strips down to nothing and frolics in a pond while "Birthday Suit" plays. This song is terrific and will have you tapping your toes. (There was a soundtrack album available!) Throw in some nice cinematography by the great Vilmos Zsigmond and you have yourself one heck of an odd and uneven sexploitation flick.

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RETRO PUPPETMASTER (1999) * ½

Toulon (Guy Rolfe) flashes back to his days as a young Puppet Master during the turn of the century. While he’s off making wooden puppets, some Egyptian sorcerer is looking for an old wizard. He sends some mummies after him and the mummies have to turn into a bunch of sunglasses-wearing assholes in order to blend in. The wizard dude seeks refuge with Toulon and imparts to him the magic necessary to turn his puppets into living creatures and fight the mummies.

Retro Puppetmaster was the seventh entry in the long-running series and it’s pretty much all over the place. The opening minutes packs in enough flashbacks, wizard battles, and mummies that it’ll make your head spin. Things settle down quickly though and the flick becomes dull pretty fast.

I kinda dug the “Retro” design of the puppets. They’re similar to the ones in the other movies, but they look just different enough to keep them feeling fresh. I especially thought the Cyclops was pretty cool.

You can’t argue with the 70 minute running time, but even then, it feels like there’s a lot of padding. (The slow motion fight scenes help to tack on an extra minute or two.) Speaking of slow, the whole thing is slow moving and there’s not a heck of a lot of action or puppet mashing to be found. (They don’t come to life and start killing people until the third act.)

The acting is pretty bland too. The actors look ill-at-ease while wearing their costumes and speaking in forced accents. Because of that, their dialogue scenes feel like a bunch of cut-rate Masterpiece Theater-type shit.

Despite all of this, Retro Puppetmaster isn’t really all that terrible, especially when you put it into context with the rest of the series. I’ve sat through about 70% of what the franchise has to offer, and I have to admit this one falls in at about the middle of the pack. I’m not saying it’s “good”. Not by a long shot. What I’m saying is there are a lot worse Puppet Master sequels out there that you can waste your time on.

AKA: Puppet Master 7.

HYBRID (1998) **

Hybrid is a hybrid of a post-apocalyptic action flick, monster movie and Skinamax film. I had high hopes for it since it was directed by Video Vacuum favorite Fred Olen Ray and co-executive produced by the one and only Jim Wynorski. Sadly, it just doesn’t make the cut.

J.J. (Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold) North, Brinke Stevens, and some other guys are making their way across the wasteland, scavenging for supplies, and seeking shelter. They wind up spending the night in a military installation and wouldn’t you just know it? The place was recently home to an experiment where some scientists got together and morphed a snake, cockroach, and a man together to make a hungry killing machine. Before long, the monster is running around and making lunchmeat out of our cast.

And what a cast we have. J.J. North once again delivers a great performance and so does Brinke Stevens. The film also features Ray regulars Tim Abell, Peter Spellos, and Robert Quarry. Enough about them though. J.J. and Brinke are the real winners of the cast, and I’m not just saying that because they take a steamy lesbian shower together.

Okay, maybe I am.

Basically what we have here is a remake of Creepazoids, Fred Olen Ray style. We can definitely tell it’s his baby because of the recycled footage, stock players, and the unmistakable way he films the sex scenes. It’s a hodgepodge that never quite works, although it’s certainly watchable enough. Heck, the shower scene alone is worth the price of admission. I mean North (who I believe to be one of the most unsung Scream Queens of the ‘90s) only made a handful of these things, so you’ve got to take them when you can get them.

AKA: Hybrid: The Outer Limits of Horror.

KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016) ***

Kubo is a small boy who is on a quest to find his father’s suit of armor. He is pursued by his sinister aunts and evil grandfather, who have murdered his parents and plucked out one of his eyes. Kubo is a hard kid to keep down though. Protected by a talking monkey and a beetle samurai, Kubo begins to perfect his living origami technique (which he uses his guitar to activate). When the monkey and samurai prove to be no match for Kubo’s wicked family, the young lad then summons up his courage to face his grandfather for the final showdown.

Kubo and the Two Strings, if you can’t already tell, is a dark and sometimes confusing kid’s movie. While some of the mystical mumbo jumbo and perplexing mythology doesn’t make a lot of sense, I just sort of rolled with it and wound up enjoying it immensely. A lot of that had to do with marriage of the impressive voice cast (that includes Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, and George Takei) and the intricate stop-motion animation. The actors all infuse their characters with a lot of humanity while the animators bring them to life in a rather unique fashion.

The coolest animation feat is the giant skeleton. It is a jaw-dropping creation. Be sure to stay after the credits for a brief behind the scenes peek that shows the effort it took to bring that thing to life. There are also a bunch of underwater eye monsters that are rather nifty too. Only the final monster fails to impress. It just looks like one of those alien ships from The Avengers.

Despite its patchiness, Kubo and the Two Strings is a worthwhile kid’s flick. From a technical standpoint alone, it’s pretty cool. I’m sure somewhere Ray Harryhausen is smiling.

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MOTHRA (1962) ***

Mothra is a cool monster because it goes through a metamorphosis throughout the picture. It starts off as an egg, then it hatches and a giant worm hops out. This thing goes swimming around the ocean, knocking over boats until it reaches Tokyo. There, it wreaks more havoc until it turns itself into a cocoon. Then, an enormous fuzzy moth monster emerges and when it flies, the force from its wings causes cars to fly through the air and buildings to topple. Mothra also has two tiny twin princesses he protects. These girls are as cute as a button too, even if they do have a tendency to sing some annoying songs that are guaranteed to make your eardrums split.

The movie surrounding the monster itself isn’t quite as cool, sadly. It’s awfully talky, especially in the early going. The human villain is bland as all get-out. His main crime is stomping all over an ancient civilization and exploiting the princesses for his own financial gain. (He puts them in their own Vegas-style stage show.) Did his actions really necessitate the city of Tokyo getting smashed up, causing untold millions in property damage, not to mention loss of innocent lives? You see what I’m getting at here is that this is one of those thought-provoking types of monster flicks. They just don’t make them like they used to, folks.

Besides, let’s get real here. We don’t judge a monster movie on its human characters. We judge it on its monster mashing. The monster mashing scenes in Mothra, while they are rather similar to the ones found in Rodan, are really entertaining. I’ll admit, they sort of run out of stuff for Mothra to do by the end of the film, but that doesn’t necessarily hurt it. I mean the only way they could’ve improved on the formula is by having him (or her, it’s hard to tell) fight another giant monster. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long until we got Godzilla vs. Mothra, which was even more entertaining.

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STRANDED IN SPACE (1973) **

Glenn Corbett stars as an astronaut who wakes up in a mysterious hospital after his shuttle crashes. Cameron Mitchell is the shady government agent who wants to know all about the astronaut and orders his mind probed while he sleeps. Corbett eventually has enough of the constant experimentation and he escapes from the hospital. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that although it looks like Earth, he’s actually on a twin planet named “Terra”. With the help of an old geezer, he tries to find a way to sneak aboard another rocket ship and make his way home.

Stranded in Space is a Made for TV movie that was designed to be a pilot for an ongoing series. Well, that series never materialized and it’s easy to see why. There isn’t a lot of action and the so-called sci-fi aspects are minimal at best. (The effect of the three moons looks pretty cheesy.) It’s not necessarily bad or anything as all of it is fairly watchable. However, it’s far from engrossing stuff.

Overall, Stranded in Space has the feeling of a dull episode of The Fugitive crossed-pollenated with a weak Twilight Zone episode. Corbett is merely OK as the hero and his blandness fits the ho-hum material to a tee. Luckily, the great Cameron Mitchell is the villain and he gets one or two decent monologues to back up his villainy. It’s nowhere near a highlight of his career or anything, but his sliminess does help keep the film afloat.

COMMON LAW WIFE (1963) **

“Shug” Rainey (George Edgly) is a rich old dude who wants to replace his aging live-in girlfriend Linda (Annabelle Weenick) with his sexy niece, Jonelle (Lacey Kelly). Linda then visits a lawyer in hopes of protecting her financial interest in her decrepit sugar daddy. This angers Jonelle, who is more than ready to kick Linda out of the house and start going through her uncle’s money. Jonelle’s sheriff brother in-law (Max Anderson), who also happens to be her ex-lover, wants her all to himself, which causes even more tension. Jonelle eventually hooks up with a tubby moonshiner with an itchy trigger finger and ropes him into a murder scheme so she can get her grubby hands on the money.

Common Law Wife starts off well enough. The scenes of the old codger acting crazy and throwing darts at his girlfriend’s head are good for a laugh. The combination of hateful dialogue and bad acting (not to mention dubbing) is worth a chuckle or two as well. The film soon goes off the rails once the plot stops focusing on the common law wife and more on the tart niece. Sure, whenever Kelly’s on screen, there’s plenty of overcooked melodrama to go around, but things get awfully dull in the third act.

All of this is made even more disappointing considering the fact that the flick is called Common Law Wife and the common law wife of the title winds up being more of a supporting character. If it was called “Trollop Niece” maybe I could’ve been a bit more forgiving. If you can forgive the filmmakers for their bait-and-switch title, maybe you’ll get more enjoyment out of it than I did.

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM (1993) ***

I loved the ‘90s Batman cartoon when it first came out, but I had pretty much tuned out by the time it made its leap to the big screen in the form of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. I initially turned my nose up at it because I thought it was going to be nothing more than a feature length episode of the animated series. Well, more than two decades have passed and I’ve finally gotten around to seeing it. As it turns out, my gut reaction was pretty spot-on. It’s fairly entertaining and all, but it’s really no better or worse than your average episode of the series.

A villain named Phantasm (voiced by Stacy Keach) is going around Gotham City bumping off old gangsters. Naturally, Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) gets blamed for the killings and goes out on the hunt for Phantasm. His quest is marred by the reintroduction of a former flame (voiced by Dana Delaney) who may or may not be tied to the Phantasm’s sordid past.

The big problem is the structure. It relies heavily on flashbacks, which occur at a constant rate and often ruin the flow of the film. Curiously enough, the flashback scenes are actually a lot better than the present day plot. I liked the scenes (inspired by the “Year One” comic book run) of Bruce Wayne’s initial trial run as Batman, minus the famous cape and cowl. Had the creative team focused more on this aspect of the plot instead of a lot of lame love story mushy stuff, it would’ve worked much better.

Phantasm is also a weak villain. He looks like he came out of an episode of Scooby-Doo or something. Thankfully, The Joker (voiced by the one and only Mark Hamill) is around just long enough to infuse the film with some much needed juice.

The good news is, like the show that inspired it, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is often moody and atmospheric. There are times in which it looks like a modern day Fleischer cartoon. Although it’s a bit spotty, overall, this is an entertaining, breezy, and welcome entry into the Batman mythos.

CITY LIMITS (1985) *

Fifteen years from now, there’s a big virus that kills off most of the adults, which means you’ve got a lot of twenty-somethings riding around the city on motorcycles and engaging in Warriors-style gang warfare. John Stockwell wants to horn in on that action, so he rides to the city and tries to ingratiate himself with “The Clippers”. Darrell (the dead guy from Men at Work) Larson is the leader of the Clippers and he takes a shine to him. After a lot of rigmarole (involving a gladiatorial motorcycle fight inside a museum), Stockwell joins the gang. Trouble starts brewing though when an evil corporation tries to use a rival gang to muscle the Clippers out of their turf, which leads to an uprising.

City Limits is a rather lame, boring, and useless post-apocalyptic movie that manages to waste a helluva cast that includes James Earl Jones, Kim Cattrall, Robby Benson, and Rae Dawn Chong. If you’re wondering why none of their names were mentioned in the plot breakdown, it’s because none of them are ever given very much to do. Stockwell does most of the heavy lifting and although he doesn’t give a bad performance, he doesn’t have the chops necessary to carry the film. It’s not really his fault though because the movie’s focus is sort of all over the place and there are a lot of unnecessary characters that gum up the works.

The film was directed by Aaron Lipstadt, who bathes a lot of the movie in almost total darkness. He also stages the fight scenes in an uninspired manner. The only action sequence worth a damn is when James Earl Jones joins the fray and starts blowing up people with explosive remote-controlled airplanes. Even then, it’s too little, too late. The end rap song is awful too.

Lipstadt also directed Android, and like that flick, it co-stars and was written by Don Opper. He gives a pretty embarrassing performance in this one. Try not to cringe during the scene when he eats “Pussy Nibbles”, a post-apocalyptic cat food.

Robby Benson probably fares the worst though. Seriously, how are we supposed to buy Robby Benson as an evil corporate villain? Especially when all he does is sit behind a desk and stare at a phone for most of his screen time. He does get a decent death scene, but even that takes place behind a desk.

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ELVIS AND NIXON (2016) ***

The infamous picture of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon shaking hands is one of the best known photographs ever taken. It’s so famous that it inspired not one, but two movies on the subject. Allan Arkush’s Elvis Meets Nixon was highly entertaining and I was hoping for good things from Elvis and Nixon, especially since you have the magnetic Michael Shannon playing The King and Kevin Spacey as Tricky Dick. Somehow though, even without the big name acting talent, Elvis Meets Nixon managed to be a heck of a lot more fun.

Elvis and Nixon spends as much time building up the meeting of the two legendary titans as it does on the actual meeting, which sort of hurts the momentum. The scenes of Shannon as Elvis trying in vain to be seen by the President’s aides are particularly weak. A lot of that has to do with Shannon’s portrayal of The King early on. He underplays Elvis a bit too much in these scenes, which I think was a miscalculation. I’m sure it was probably because he didn’t want to turn his performance into a caricature, but by doing so, it takes some of the fun out of it. (It also doesn’t help that he doesn’t look anything like Elvis.)

Spacey pretty much nails Nixon though. Except for the eyes, the make-up is pretty good and his body language is pretty close to Nixon. Unlike Shannon, Spacey isn’t afraid to swing for the fences and because of that, he winds up delivering a helluva performance.

Although the pacing is a bit sluggish early on, once Elvis and Nixon finally meet, it’s damn good times. It’s here where Shannon loosens up a bit and does the King proud. (I also liked the monologue he has about his stillborn twin brother too.) The chemistry between Shannon and Spacey is electric and they are so good together that you almost forget the overall lightweight and disposable nature of the whole affair.

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The Incredible Melting Man is kind of hard to pin down, and I don’t mean just because of his inherently slippery exterior. The movie flirts with working here and there (mostly whenever the slimy, globular main character is front and center), but the rest of the time it’s pretty much a bore. Still, the film is JUST bad enough to be sporadically amusing. From the odd music and sound effects on the soundtrack to the perplexing compositions of shots to the wooden acting, there is just enough here to keep you amused. Well… almost.

The plot has an astronaut (Alex Rebar) returning home from a space mission with a chronic case of the melts. When he wakes up in the hospital, he kills a fat nurse and then goes around murdering more people. It’s then up to one of his colleagues (Burr DeBenning) to find him and stop him.

The Incredible Melting Man himself is pretty cool. He’s a nifty creation of Rick Baker (just a few years away from winning an Oscar for An American Werewolf in London) as he just oozes and drips and sloshes around for 90 minutes. The rest of the film is not so nifty. It’s basically a throwback to the old ‘50s sci-fi films, except with a better monster. Too bad the acting and filmmaking techniques were better in the ‘50s.

There is one scene though that cracked me up. That of course is the scene where the two old people go out fooling around in the woods and become fodder for the Melting Man’s ire. In actuality, this scene runs on far too long and is fairly stupid, but I liked the fact that writer/director William (Galaxina) Sachs opted to use an old couple as victims. I mean the monsters can’t ALWAYS kill teenage couples in these movies, now can they?

It has its faults to be sure, but The Incredible Melting Man is the only movie I can think of in which the monster gets mopped up by a janitor at the end, so that is worth something at least.

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PREPPIES (1984) **

Preppies is a Teenage Sex Comedy that was made exclusively for The Playboy Channel. It was directed by the prolific Chuck Vincent, and as far as his work goes, it’s definitely no Hollywood Hot Tubs. Like most of Vincent’s joints, you can at least pass the time by spotting all the porn stars that show up in small roles (the most notable here being Jerry Butler playing a dimwit soap opera star).

One of the titular asshole preppies is in jeopardy of losing his trust fund if he and his buddies don’t ace their final exams. His kinky cousin wants the money for himself so he hires some sexy girls to distract them from their studies. Alleged hijinks ensue.

Man, you can tell it’s 1984 from the gratuitous breakdancing scene. If that didn’t tip you off, then the fashions probably did. Or the fact that the girls drive around in a van that looks like it could’ve come from The A-Team. In fact, ‘80s nostalgia probably helped gain this movie an extra half-star.

Most of the cast isn’t very funny, but you might at least recognize a few familiar bodies. I mean faces. That one chick from The Toxic Avenger is pretty hot and future director Katt Shea (who inexplicably does a Katharine Hepburn impression the whole time) scores a laugh or two as our hero’s prudish preppy girlfriend.

There are just enough jokes here to qualify this as a comedy. None of them are exactly funny though. However, there’s plenty of nudity, so that at the very least makes it watchable.

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I had the pleasure to contribute this review of the Robert Davi actioner, The Dogfighters to Exploitation Retrospect’s VHS Wednesday column. I hope it will tide you over until I can get the old It Came from the Thrift Store column up and running again. (Which will probably be sometime in the fall when my work schedule eases up.) Enjoy!

http://eronline.blogspot.com/2016/08/vhs-wednesday-dogfighters-1996-starring.html

FANTASTIC PLANET (1973) **

On the planet of Ygam, humans (or “Oms”) are the pets/playthings of giant blue-skinned aliens named “Draags”. One baby named Ter, who saw its mother killed cruelly by Draags grows up to be the pet of a young Draag who makes him dress up in stupid outfits. When his owner does her alien homework (by wearing a crown on her head that beams the information directly into her brain), Ter is able to somehow pick up on the wavelength and gains a vast understanding of the alien culture. He then uses the information to escape and with the crown in tow, teaches other Oms to stage an uprising against the Draags.

The animation for Fantastic Planet looks like one of those cheap Bible cartoons they used to play in Sunday school with a bit of ‘70s trippy psychedelic thrown in. Sometimes though, nothing at all is animated as the camera sort of pans around a hand-drawn background, which I’m sure, saved the production company money. Although the animation may be a little crude in spots, at least the design of the aliens is pretty cool.

The plot is a bit of an old hat as it resembles Planet of the Apes in a lot of respects. I didn’t really mind that though as the scenes of Ter leading his revolution work up to a point. However, the final act is rather sloppy, rushed, and unsatisfying. I don’t know if they ran out of money or time or what, but at the end, the movie just sort of throws up its hands and gives up.

While the film has its lapses, I did like some things about it. For one, it’s got a lot of animated boobs, so there’s that. I also dug some of the random creatures on the planet. Their interactions with the characters, whether they’re trying to eat them or just off doing little side business in the background are fun to watch. Too bad the rest of the movie isn’t as much fun.

AKA: Savage Planet. AKA: Planet of Incredible Creatures.

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THE SIEGE OF FIREBASE GLORIA (1989) ***

The Siege of Firebase Gloria was directed by Australian exploitation movie maverick Brian Trenchard-Smith. It’s hands down one of his best movies, and in a career that includes Night of the Demons 2 and Leprechaun 3, that’s really saying something. It’s a Namsploitation flick of the highest order. While guys like Oliver Stone and Michael Cimino took the war and used it as an examination of what happens to men in combat, Trenchard-Smith uses it as an excuse to gun down and/or blow up as much stuff as possible.

The great R. Lee Ermey (who narrates) leads a platoon of soldiers in Vietnam on the eve of the Tet offensive. His right hand man (Wings Hauser) is slowly losing it, but when they find a young boy, the sole survivor of a massacred village, it gives him a reason to go on. Naturally, the Viet Cong attacks their base and they have to dig in and fight off the Commie dogs of war.

This is more of an exploitation film than war movie. The scene where Ermey and Hauser explore the massacred village and find piles of dead bodies and heads on sticks has a real Cannibal Holocaust vibe to it. Trenchard-Smith fills the flick with tons of shootouts and lots of explosions. While it doesn’t have a lot of heart, we do get some moments of levity along the way (like when two soldiers have a conversation about Mighty Mouse and Underdog).

Trenchard-Smith isn’t making a think piece here. He’s making a blood n’ guys shoot ‘em up. As such, it’s as a relentlessly paced war movie as you’re likely ever to find as there isn’t any down time to be found among the non-stop shootouts and explosions. Because of that, there isn’t a lot of room for things like character development, but when you have guys like Ermey and Wings in the cast, they sort of provide their own character development.

Wings does a good slow burn in this movie. His eyes get a little wider and wilder as the film goes on. He doesn’t quite go up to the extreme levels of craziness like he did in Vice Squad, but then again, how in the world do you ever expect him to top Ramrod? My favorite Wings moment in this is when he shoots some seemingly unsuspecting women who are secretly carrying explosives and they blow up real good. He also gets a lot of quality dialogue. When a female doctor yells at him for beating up a prisoner, he quips, “This ain’t Nebraska, lady!” Later, when Ermey asks him what happened to the prisoner he was beating up, Wings says, “He’s probably shaking hands with Buddha right now!”

Ermey also gets to hurl a couple of good insults, but they’re not nearly as inventive and funny as the ones in Full Metal Jacket. He does gets the best line of the movie though: “I want you to protect this base like it was your daughter’s cherry!”

AKA: The Firebase.

Here’s a link to some reviews of the film from a few Friends of the Vacuum:

Comeuppance Reviews: http://www.comeuppancereviews.com/2015/02/the-siege-of-firebase-gloria-1989.html

Exploding Helicopter: http://explodinghelicopter.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/the-siege-of-firebase-gloria.html

Exploitation Retrospect: http://www.dantenet.com/er/ERchives/reviews/s_reviews/siege.html

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STAR TREK BEYOND (2016) ***

Like the past two J.J. Abrams produced entries in the Star Trek series, Star Trek Beyond is a perfectly adequate, albeit slightly underwhelming film. It not-so boldly goes where just about every entry has gone before, but the results aren’t all bad. I guess what’s amazing is the fact that after thirteen movies, they haven’t made a Star Trek flick I didn’t like yet (although they came close with Generations). However, ever since Nemesis, each ensuing entry has been slightly worse than the last one. If this rate of trajectory continues, the next one is going to dip into ** ½ territory.

The film finds Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise more than halfway through its five-year mission. Kirk’s tempted to take a Vice Admiral position and kiss the stars goodbye, but when the Federation gets a distress call, he gathers the crew and takes off for space. Naturally, it’s a trap and the evil Krall (Idris Elba) and his fleet destroys the Enterprise. The surviving crewmembers hop into escape pods and head down to Krall’s planet where they are splintered into different factions. Kirk and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) try to salvage what’s left of the ship while McCoy (Karl Urban) tends to the wounded Spock (Zachary Quinto). Meanwhile Scotty (Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the script) comes into contact with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a warrior woman with a searing hatred for Krall. The crew eventually reunites and tries to take down Krall before he can commit a deadly act of terrorism against the Federation.

Early in the movie, Kirk complains that life in Starfleet has become “episodic”. You might feel the same way. In fact, it seems like every fourth entry is basically like a big budget episode of the old series. The Motion Picture, The Final Frontier, Insurrection, and now Beyond all feel like self-contained stories. Each of those films work better on the small screen and I’m sure the same will eventually be said about this one.

So far, it feels like the J.J. Trek era has been directly referencing the old movies. Star Trek ’09 and The Motion Picture were both reintroductions to the characters. Into Darkness was a riff on The Wrath of Khan. In this one, the Enterprise is destroyed, just like in The Search for Spock. If the rumors are true and the next one is about time travel, then it will definitely be paying homage to The Voyage Home. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the destruction of the Enterprise is handled quite well. I just hope that J.J. and company had more up their sleeve this time out.

There is some cool stuff here, namely Krall’s fleet. They’re little single-man ships that fly in formation the same way bees swarm. The way they are able to take out the Enterprise before she can even put up a fight is impressive. The fight scenes with Jaylah (who looks like an albino Darth Maul) are solid too.

I was afraid that director Justin (Fast & Furious) Lin was going to amp the action up to a point that it would no longer look like Star Trek. Sure, there are some needlessly bombastic sequences (like the fight in the multi-gravity planed space station), but Lin actually gets to the heart of the characters better than Abrams did in his outings. The scenes of Kirk talking about his dead father are genuinely moving as are the scenes of Spock reflecting on the death of his older self (Leonard Nimoy, who despite his absence still holds a presence over much of the movie). At the very least, Lin did find one way to incorporate The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” into the movie without making your eyes roll into the back of your skull, so kudos for that.

The stumbling blocks are numerous, although they don’t detract a whole lot from the proceedings. There is some stuff in this movie that is just as stupid as the Big Hands Kirk scene in Star Trek ’09 (the awful-looking miniature warmongering CGI aliens). However, when the focus of the film is on the characters, it works more often than not.

The cast is the reason to watch it. Pine has grown comfortably into the role of Kirk. He’s no longer the hotshot he used to be, although we still see glimpses of that (*cough* dirtbike *cough*). He’s become moodier and more introspective, but he still has the brazen streak about him that is pure James T. Urban is also excellent as McCoy. Some of his banter with Spock is priceless. Quinto will probably forever be in the shadow of Nimoy, but with his performance in this one, he is showing growth. He no longer seems to be a nerd dressed up in cosplay and there are one or two moments in which he actually comes close to all-out Spock-iness. Pegg gives himself some funny dialogue and his rapport with Boutella is engaging enough. Yelchin and Jon Cho as Sulu aren’t really given much to do, although they do make their brief screen time count. Zoe Saldana on the other hand pretty much takes one giant step backwards as Uhura as she is pretty much the damsel in distress (even though that’s more of the screenwriters’ fault than hers). As for Elba’s Krall, he’s a decent adversary, although not a particularly memorable one.

There is one scene that sort of got to me though. At the end, Kirk raises a glass to the crew and makes a toast to absent friends and then the camera cuts to Chekov. It put a lump in my throat. I don’t know if they cut it that way before Yelchin’s death or if they changed it afterwards to honor him, but it’s a nice little moment.

Star Trek is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. Sometimes it looks like a fifty-year-old guy in the middle of a midlife crisis. The new special effects are similar a fifty-year-old guy going out and buying a new sports car. The new cast is like an injection of Botox or a trip to Hair Club for Men. The blasting of Public Enemy and The Beastie Boys music is something a fifty-year-old guy might do to try to make himself look “hip”, although by doing so, he just looks pathetic. Still, that sort of superficial stuff doesn’t really matter. In the end, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and this Trek has enough of that old glory days magic left in it to make up for the ravages of time.

As far as Part 13s in a big budget franchise go, I’d say it’s pretty good.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS (2015) *

Even though I’m a dude, I’m proud to admit that I was a huge Jem fan back in the day. When I heard they were making a big screen version directed by Jon M. (G.I. Joe: Retaliation) Chu, I was excited. Sadly, this piece of shit never once comes close to being outrageous, let alone truly, truly, truly outrageous.

Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) is a musician who doesn’t think she has talent. When she puts her music on YouTube, she becomes an overnight sensation. A greedy record mogul (Juliette Lewis) wants her to break away from her band of sisters, but of course, she won’t do it.

I don’t know what the fuck they were thinking on this one. Gone is the bright, poppy escapist fun of the cartoon. Instead, this is a dark (I mean in terms of lighting), lumbering, and realistic take on the material. I don’t know who thought turning a cheery ‘80s cartoon into a no-budget mumblecore movie was a good idea, but they should be shot.

I mean half the movie was filmed on someone's fucking phone. Other parts are taken from webcams or security camera footage. If you’re wondering why the fuck they did it the stupid way instead of, you know, making it like a real goddamn motion picture, it was because it was produced by Jason Blum, the mastermind behind that Paranormal Activity bullshit.

This is just one cheap-ass looking movie. The budget was so low that the concerts look like a fucking joke. They look like they were filmed in a parking garage or an abandoned shopping mall or something. It’s really telling when the camera gets real tight on the crowd of about ten or fifteen people squeezed into a cramped space in a shameful effort to make it look like there are more people there.

To make matters worse, there are a bunch of scenes in which losers from YouTube videos are randomly interjected into the action. Sometimes, the sound for the YouTube video is even used as a replacement for the music on the soundtrack. What in the actual goddamn fuck? Who does that shit? If I wanted to watch dumbass YouTube videos, I’d watch it on my goddamn computer, not in the middle of a live-action adaptation of one of my favorite ‘80s cartoons, thank you fuckers very much.

To make matters worse, they turn Synergy, the supercomputer with magic powers into this fucking BB-8/Wall-E/Earth to Echo looking robot!

The songs suck too. I guess that was to be expected because most of the music nowadays sucks. Still, couldn’t we at least been given a remix of the original theme song or something?

This is a bad fucking movie. Surprisingly enough, as far as Hasbro films go, it’s still marginally better than the first two Transformerses. One reason for that is the completely random cameo by The Rock (although I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising since he was in Chu’s G.I. Joe 2). That, and the awesome post-credits scene in which Ke$ha shows up as the leader of The Misfits in a Marvel Cinematic Universe-style set-up for a sequel that won’t happen because this was a total fucking disaster at the box office.

It’s telling when the best part of the movie happens AFTER it’s already over.

FIFTY SHADES OF BLACK (2016) * ½

Marlon Wayans wrote, produced, and stars in this obvious and mostly unfunny spoof of Fifty Shades of Grey. As far as Wayans brothers parodies go, it’s well below the likes of Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood and Scary Movie. Quite honestly, Fifty Shades of Grey was actually funnier.

Wayans plays “Christian Black”. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny because the guy in the other movie was named “Christian Grey” or if it’s because Wayans is black and he’s playing a guy named “Christian Black”. Either way, it isn’t very funny. Anyway, he gets it on with this mousy virginal chick (Kali Hawk) and shows her the (ahem) ropes of S & M.

The scenes that copy Fifty Shades aren’t very funny. Neither are the lame parodies of Magic Mike and Whiplash. You may find some amusement from seeing Florence Henderson debasing herself and Jane Seymour acting racist, but I doubt it.

The only jokes that really score don’t have anything to do with spoofing movies. Surprisingly enough, it’s the relationship-based stuff between the two leads that is actually funny. I’ll also admit to laughing at the part where a pair of sticky panties is thrown against a wall and it slowly crawls down like a Wacky Wall Walker. Other than that, much of the gross-out humor just doesn’t work and there are long lulls in between the laughs.

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GHOSTBUSTERS (2016) ** ½

I was six when my dad took me to the theater to see the original Ghostbusters. It was one of the best movie-going experiences of my young life. This weekend, I got to take my six-year-old daughter to see the new Ghostbusters remake. She pretty much loved it. With that, the circle is now complete. Say what you will about all of the pre-release social media hoopla that has for good or ill plagued the film since it was first announced. At the end of the day, whether you are for or against a Lady Ghostbuster she-boot, is irrelevant. The smile on my daughter’s face was all that mattered.

Remove the film from the fanboy hate and the overly-sensitive kneejerk defense from social media watchdogs for a second. Keep your cherished memories of the 1984 classic aside. Do that, and what you get is a movie that is unworthy of the hate that was spewed against it. However, it’s not quite a winner.

I know that’s hard to keep your love for the original Ghostbuster gang at bay, especially for someone like me who worships the original. I mean if you hold it up to that standard, you’re never going to get anywhere. Even if you’re able to drive the memories of the original out of your mind, it still comes up a bit short.

I’m not saying it’s bad. Not by any means. In fact, when the film is doing its own thing, it’s often quite funny. It’s only when it hews close to the original does it fall short.

The plot is similar enough to the original that it feels like a legit Ghostbusters movie. The ghostbusting scenes themselves, while benefiting from a CGI makeover, are fun for the most part, but they lack the pure joy of the original. If only the script was tighter (and sadly, funnier). Although we get some good gags here and there, like I said before, the most successful stuff comes from scenes without any ghosts.

Chris Hemsworth steals the movie as the Ghostbusters’ clueless secretary, Kevin. As with Vacation, Hemsworth shows he can be a deft comedian with wicked timing. There’s a running gag with his glasses that’s pretty damn funny and he gets laughs just from standing around and acting clueless.

The other MVP is Kate McKinnon as Holtzmann, the gadget maker on the team. Like Hemsworth, she gets laughs just from standing around on the sides of scenes and being goofy. She does a hilarious dance routine to “Rhythm of the Night”, which is capped by a great one-liner by Melissa McCarthy: “I hate to DeBarge in on you!” Sadly, ¾ of the female cast is kinda disappointing. McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Leslie Jones are surprisingly subdued and don’t get a lot of opportunities to go all-out. That’s okay though because McKinnon is simply great and makes up for the lack of spark among the team.

I liked the film enough to give it a semi-recommendation. If you’re on the fence about seeing it, this review won’t convince you. It will never replace the original, but if you want a pleasantly diverting comedy, it will fit the bill. I liked the overall vibe enough to welcome a sequel with the same cast. If they get a better script, crisper jokes, and a stronger villain, it might be a contender.

Sure, it might be uneven, but any movie that contains a scene in which the characters discuss Road House as well as a visual nod to Die Hard 2 can’t be all bad.

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TWICE UPON A TIME (1983) **

While people sleep, good guys throw what look to be raspberries into the ears to make them have good dreams. The bad guys, led by Synonamess Botch, like to use vulture-like creatures to drop “nightmare bombs” on the populace. When Synonamess steals the magical “Cosmic Clock”, Ralph the “All-Purpose Animal” and his slapstick buddy set out to stop him.

The behind-the-scenes story of Twice Upon a Time is kinda more interesting than what ended up on screen. None other than George Lucas helped the directors find financing and distribution and future directors Henry (The Nightmare Before Christmas) Selick and David (Seven) Fincher were a couple of the animators. The film was also severely tampered with by distributors who put in (PG rated) curse words to appeal to the “college crowd” against the director’s wishes.

Because of that, the film falls into a middle ground. The curses aren’t bad or anything, so it’s kid-friendly, but it’s hard to imagine a kid actually being engrossed in all this. Since the curses are very mild (it probably could play on Cartoon Network with a minimum of bleeping), adults aren’t probably going to get a lot out of it.

The animation is pretty cool. It looks like cardboard cutouts or something. It’s just a shame that the story is pretty weak and the script isn’t very funny.

One part I did like was the gorilla with a TV for a face. There’s one cool moment in the film where the gorilla plays scenes from Lucas’ Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Even though it’s really not laugh-out-loud funny or anything, it’s easily the best gag in the entire flick.

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MODESTY BLAISE (1966) *

Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti) is hired by the government to foil a diamond heist. She calls upon her partner in crime Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp) to aid her in her mission. When the government double-crosses Modesty, she decides to steal the diamonds for herself.

I’ve sat through a lot of bad Bond rip-offs in my time, but this is one of the worst. You’d think having a female lead would make it work. However, Monica Vitti is completely vapid and doesn’t have a lick of screen presence. The only one in the whole movie who shows a bit of pluck is Terence Stamp. Too bad he isn’t given anything worthwhile or memorable to do.

Modesty Blaise is a lifeless and dull affair from start to finish. It just sits there. One scene leads to another, but it never really goes anywhere and nothing ever really happens either. There’s hardly any action to speak of, and humor isn’t funny at all.

The music is particularly bad. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, Vitti and Stamp break out into song. The results are just plain horrible.

Modesty Blaise is so half-baked and uninteresting that it makes one yearn for the overstuffed buffoonery of 1967’s Casino Royale. In fact, as far as Bond rip-offs go, this one is even worse than Casino, if you can believe it. I never thought a ‘60s Bond rip-off could be any worse than that one, but there you go.

GLEN CAMPBELL: I’LL BE ME (2014) ****

The Rhinestone Cowboy himself, Glen Campbell goes public about having Alzheimer’s and re-enters the public eye as he embarks on a farewell world tour. His family comes along with him, acting as his backing band. Some of them have reservations about the tour, thinking folks will laugh at him if he forgets the words or begins behaving erratically. Much to everyone’s surprise, the audience is right there with him, cheering him on, even when he makes a misstep.

If you came expecting a history lesson on the impact and legacy of Glen Campbell’s career, you’ll probably walk away disappointed by the film. Directed by actor James (Moving Violations) Keach, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me is instead a chronicle of one man as he struggles to perform a worldwide tour while dealing with a debilitating illness. It is both a loveable underdog story as well as a snapshot of one family’s bond. I’m not afraid to admit that even a stonehearted individual like me got a little choked up on this one.

I’ll Be Me is a testament to the Campbell family's determination. There are musicians in perfect health that don’t tour this much, let alone perform 150+ shows the way Glen and his family did. It’s also a testament to how great of a performer he still is. He can still hit all those notes he used to and still has some awesome guitar chops too.

Glen has his good days and bad days. When you see him struggle, it will really pull at your heartstrings. He may forget who the president is, and what day it is, but when he gets his guitar in his hands, he plays like a man on fire. In fact, the way his family kept him immersed in music probably prevented him from declining.

Throughout his various ups and downs, Campbell tries to keep a sense of humor by talking like Donald Duck and making fun of himself. His family’s support also plays a big part in keeping him going. Keach doesn’t shy away from the downs. When Glen throws tantrums when he forgets things, his wife tries to take it in stride.

This is a sad and poignant movie. It’s also a triumphant one. An important one. And a moving one. It’s also one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time.

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FLESH-EATING MOTHERS (1988) ½ *

A lot of people know that I spend a good part of my time watching bad movies on purpose. A lot of those people have told me life is too short to watch bad movies. I never thought I would agree with them. Then I watched Flesh-Eating Mothers.

This is a movie that is cheap and amateurish in just about every respect. The acting is piss-poor, the lighting is too dark, and the pacing is lethargic. Now I’ve sat through countless other bad films before, but it’s never ever taken me this long to finish one. It’s nothing for me to fall asleep on a film and then try to watch the rest the next night. Very few times is the flick in question so bad I have to turn it off and give myself a few days to psyche myself up to watch it again. Finally, after the fourth day of off-and-on watching, I decided to let it play out in the background as I ate dinner, tooled around on the internet, and did assorted housework.

What I’m getting at here is that Flesh-Eating Mothers is like the sun. A little exposure every now and then is okay. You could do permanent damage to yourself if you look directly at it though.

The story concerns an STD that turns cheating suburban housewives into flesh-eating mothers that chow down on their loved ones. This MIGHT have worked if the humor was actually funny, but it’s often painful to watch. The only thing keeping it from entering No Stars territory is the gore, which isn’t even all that great. At least we do get one good face-ripping shot. Sadly, it’s in the very last scene.

If watching cannibalistic mothers eat their young has any value to you, maybe you’ll like it. For the most part, it makes Troma movies look like Merchant Ivory material. I’m sure I’ve sat through worse movies than Flesh-Eating Mothers, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a film so bad that it actually made me question why I do what I do.

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THE 400 BLOWS (1959) **

I guess I’m just not a French movie kind of guy. I give it my best shot. I honestly do. I try to go into these things with an open mind. I’d like to think of myself as a film snob, but sad to say I rarely find myself enjoying the works of Francois Truffaut or Jean Luc Godard.

Truffaut’s The 400 Blows is probably his best known work. It was groundbreaking in that it followed a kid around as its main character. Although this had been done before, it was mostly done for comic effect. This is more of a matter-of-fact drama. The stark black and white cinematography accentuates the kid’s less-than-ideal living situation.

Basically, the kid gets in trouble at school, argues with his parents, and runs away. This is sort of the cycle of the movie. It starts repeating itself and by the end, I admit, I was having trouble keeping my eyes open. I mean there was this one shot where the kid ran and ran and ran and ran and RAN that just went on forever.

I will say there was some good stuff early on in the movie. I liked the scenes of his teacher trying in vain to cope with the little hellions he was teaching. (We need this level of strictness back in our schools.) Sadly, the film doesn’t go anywhere (or at least anywhere meaningful), and it goes on much too long to boot.

I can’t say The 400 Blows blows or anything. It’s not bad, but I can’t say I see what all the fuss is about. Even though I didn’t get much out of it, I’m still glad I saw it.

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BARRY LYNDON (1975) ****

When people gather around and discuss the great Stanley Kubrick movies, Barry Lyndon often gets the short end of the stick. That might be because movies like Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining were groundbreaking cinematic triumphs. With Barry Lyndon, Kubrick simply tells a more or less straightforward story, but he does so in a way that only he could. The results are mesmerizing and unforgettable.

Ryan O’Neal stars as Barry, a peasant who is in love with his cousin. When he offends the soldier she is betrothed to, he arranges a duel to settle the matter. After he believingly kills the soldier, he runs off and joins the army, then escapes and joins another army, before living the life of a gambler, rogue, and all-around charlatan.

The film is divided into two halves. The first half is engaging, plucky, and fun. If you have any preconceived notions that the flick is a stuffy period costume drama, you couldn’t be any further from the truth. Barry Lyndon is often hilarious, thanks largely to the droll narration, which puts acerbic punctuation on the many predicaments that Barry finds himself in.

Kubrick abruptly switches gears in the second half as Barry turns from callow youth to callous husband. He marries a rich widow solely for her money, treats her like shit, and severely punishes his stepchild while doting on his own. (Some sequences even feel like a warm-up to The Shining.) The final duel between Barry and his stepson is simply a masterpiece of mood, tension, and suspense, and is one of the best sequences Kubrick ever filmed.

What makes the two halves so great is that Kubrick never really reveals WHY Barry turns into a complete asshole (other than “raising his sphere in life”). In the span of an intermission, Barry goes from a likeable hero, to an insufferable lout and the way Kubrick and O’Neal reveal the character’s sudden inexplicable transformation is exhilarating. I mean how often do you have a movie in which the hero of the first half winds up being the villain in the second?

Ryan O’Neal has never been better. The role fits him like a glove. We all know he could handle the foppish side of Barry well enough, but he surprisingly excels at playing the asshole womanizer side too. (He blows smoke in his wife’s face like a goddamn pimp.) O’Neal also gets to show off his dramatic chops too as the scene where he tells his son a bedtime story will probably bring tears to even jaded movie fan’s eyes.

In short, this is an underrated and overlooked masterpiece. If you’ve been dragging your feet because it isn’t as well-known as Kubrick’s other films or because of the inflated three-hour running time, I’m here to tell you to forget all that. Barry Lyndon is badass moviemaking of the highest order.

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THE BOY (2016) * ½

You know, from the previews, The Boy looked like a solid addition to the durable Killer Doll subgenre. The excellent cinematography (by Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Daniel Pearl) is top notch and the film often looks atmospheric. In fact, the set-up (an American babysitter moves to England and is hired by an eccentric old couple to watch their “son” who happens to be a creepy doll) is well done. From then on out, it’s all downhill.

This is one of those cases where if the film was a half hour tale told as part of a TV show or an anthology movie, it might’ve worked. However, at feature length, all of the rigmarole revolving around the doll mysteriously disappearing and ominously reappearing is repetitive and gets on your nerves rather quickly. The boring scenes of the babysitter’s ex-boyfriend tracking her down and stalking her further add to the padded nature of the narrative.

Throughout all of this, The Boy at least manages to be watchable. Then, things go right into the shitter in the final act. By the time the awful “twist” ending rears its ugly head, you’ll be itching to pop the flick out of your DVD player ASAP. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that the twist at the end pretty much ruins everything that came before and more or less negates the entire premise of a Killer Doll.

Boy, oh boy, does this Boy ever suck.

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Any fan of ‘70s humor will enjoy this breezy, fun, and funny look at how the National Lampoon changed the face of comedy in the latter part of the 20th century. We see the magazine go from its humble beginning as the Harvard Lampoon to becoming a nationwide phenomenon. Eventually, the magazine began to branch out to radio shows and live performances (and later movies like Animal House and Vacation). The world of television took notice and Lorne Michaels snatched up a bunch of performers and writers for his brand new show, Saturday Night Live. This move, along with the death of its founder, Doug Kenney, more or less gutted the creative force behind the magazine.

This is a solid documentary through and through. It’s especially fun to hear from some of the more famous members of the Lampoon. There’s also a lot of unexpected heart to the film and it’s pretty sad to see the usually aloof Chevy Chase tearing up while talking about all the friends he lost to drug use.

The only frustrating thing is the ending. No one it seems wanted to go on record and talk about the Lampoon’s demise, which is odd. I don’t know if it was a legal thing or what, but the fact that nobody talks about why the magazine went under leaves things up in the air. Oh well. We still get lots of great old footage and audio from the Lampoon at its peak, so it’s hard to get too mad about it.

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HARPER (1966) **

Harper kicks off with a terrific introduction to its title character, a badass detective, played by the one and only Paul Newman. He wakes up with a massive hangover, so he fills the sink with ice cubes and cold water and sticks his head in it. Then he goes to make coffee and discovers he doesn’t have any coffee grounds. So what does he do? He grabs yesterday’s grounds out of the trash can and makes coffee with that! Brilliant!

This scene instantly endears us to his rough-and-tumble character. From that moment on, we are with him, no matter what. Unfortunately, his journey is a long and muddled one. Essentially, what we have is a great character in search of a movie that deserves him.

Harper gets hired by Lauren Bacall to find her no-good husband. Along the way, he runs into a series of oddballs and kooks, including a drunken floozy (Shelley Winters) and a cult leader (Strother Martin). In typical detective movie fashion, Harper sort of stumbles upon clues and wanders in and out of dangerous situations. However, the way director Jack Smight presents these situations leaves a lot to be desired.

I loved Newman’s character, but frankly, nothing that happens to him is remotely involving. Smight’s direction is listless and William Goldman’s script has a tendency to meander. The film also clocks in at a whopping two hours. It could’ve stood to lose about a half hour of pointless noodling around.

Newman’s charm carries the film whenever the plot begins to wander. I especially loved the scene where he crank calls to his soon-to-be ex-wife (Janet Leigh). Sadly, his considerable charm can’t quite make this one work.

Maybe the problem with Harper was its timing. It still has one foot in the detective genre of old while at the same time trying to remain “modern”. The problem with that is that it was made in 1966; just before the Swinging ‘60s were… uh… in full swing, so it doesn’t feel very modern. (The hippies hadn’t quite reared their heads yet.) Harper may be an old school kind of guy, but his surroundings feel more dated than he does.

AKA: The Moving Target. AKA: Detective’s Story.

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I walked into producer Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot with no expectations and walked away pleasantly surprised. Although I pretty much hated the character design of the Turtles, the interaction between Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Leonardo was spot-on and there were enough fun moments there for me to proclaim it at least on par with the original 1990 film. Now that I’ve seen Bay’s follow-up I can not only assure you that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is even better, it’s also the best live-action Turtles movie of all time.

In my X-Men: Apocalypse review, I remarked that we are now at a stage where CGI technology is so refined that you can pretty much dream up anything and put it on screen and it looks (mostly) convincing. The same holds for Out of the Shadows. For the first time ever, we have what looks and feels like a live-action version of the old cartoon series. We have Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett), the brain-sized alien slithering around inside a robot’s abdomen. We have Shredder’s henchmen, Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus) turned into animal men and yucking it up. We also have a great sequence where the Turtles drive their Shellraiser garbage truck, which has been tricked out with as many gadgets as a James Bond vehicle.

It’s enough to make a TMNT fan shed tears of joy.

The plot is about what you’d expect. Shredder (Brian Tee) teams up with Krang to bring his army from another dimension to take over the earth. The Turtles and their reporter gal pal April O’Neil (Mega-Fox), along with their new vigilante buddy Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) try to stop them.

I can’t say this is a home run or anything. It has its fair share of lulls and some of the dialogue lands with a thud. However, there was at least one memorable catchphrase that I’m sure I’ll be saying for years to come (“What would Vin Diesel do?”), so it’s got that going for it.

Speaking of Vin Diesel, the film has at least one outstanding action sequence that’s worthy of a Fast and Furious movie. The Turtles are doing battle with Bebop and Rocksteady inside a cargo plane. Inside one of the packages is an armored tank. Then, Rocksteady, the rhinoceros man, hops in the tank and starts shooting at the Turtles WHILE THE PLANE IS IN FLIGHT!

Folks, I live for shit like this.

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