Male menopause fantasies of John Turturro

Fading Gigolo (2013)fading-gigolo-remain-in-light

 

Blu-Ray $13.99 at Amazon 

[Rating: 3/5]

Pros: some entertaining scenes

Cons: whole that is much less than the sum of the good parts

“Fading Gigolo,” the 2013 film written and directed by and starring John Turturro is a clear case of the whole being less than the sum of the parts. The cinematography of Marco Pontecorvo, the music of Abraham Laboriel and Bill Maxwell, and the cast, including Turturro the actor are very good, and I especially liked the scenes of Turturro and Woody Allen (whom I don’t recall appearing in a movie written and directed by someone else in almost fifty years), Turturro and Sharon Stone, Turturro and Vanessa Paradis, Vanessa Paradis and Live Schreiber, and Woody Allen and the kids (one set of six black kids with whose mother (Tonya Pinkin) Allen’s character lives, and another six of the widow played by Paradis.

On the other hands, Turturro the screenwriter fails in multiple ways. The two families are underdeveloped and many of the plot bases are confusing and/or ludicrous. It would be difficult to credit Turturro launching a career as a thousand-dollars-an-hour gigolo and all the more so as one rented by Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara (both of whom manage to dance wearing perilously high heels). One can see these as male menopausal fantasies of Turturro’s, but what is impossible to credit is that the dermatologist played by Stone would ask a patient old enough to be her father if he knew anyone who would fulfill the fantasy of her character’s and Vergara’s to have a threesome (or even to tell her aged patient of the fantasy).

Similarly, it is possible to suspend disbelief that the character played by Liev Schrieber (who was born in San Francisco) has been in love with Avigail, the character played by Vanessa Paradis (a Parisian) since childhood in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, but not that Schrieber’s gang of Hassidic goons could seize a non-practicing Jew (Allen) off the street and drag him to a rabbinical trial. There is a nice Kafkaesque note to Allen not knowing what he is being charged with, but, like his adopted (black) family, there is no payoff: the trial is just dropped from the movie.

Not even to get into the repugnance many have for seeing Woody Allen (whose schtick I’ve never found funny) onscreen.

 

 

A Nicely-Composed Portrait of NASCAR Royalty: I AM DALE EARNHARDT

I AM DALE EARNHARDT

Spike TV website 

(4/5) cool

Pros: Well-selected archival materials; provides exactly what one would want in a documentary about “the Intimidator”
Cons: Nothing major – though this clearly was produced for and by NASCAR

Roughly 75 minutes in length, the 2015 Spike TV documentary I Am Dale Earnhardt chronicles the life and career of the iconic stock car driver. Born in small town North Carolina, Earnhardt grew up watching his father tear up the local short tracks, learning a level of aggressiveness that would make him one of the most polarizing talents in the world of auto racing. While there was no doubting Earnhardt’s driving ability, his tendency to do anything to win – including spinning out any car in his way – would land him in plenty of hot water throughout his career and bestow on him the nickname of “the Intimidator.” Winning his first points championship in 1980 – just a year after capturing the Rookie of the Year title, Earnhardt went on to six more championships and 76 race wins before being killed in a last-lap accident during NASCAR’s premier event, the Daytona 500 in 2001. Nearly fifteen years after his death, Earnhardt’s legacy still looms large over the sport of stock car racing, and it’s unlikely that that situation will change anytime soon.

Dale and the #3
Dale and his famous #3 car.

Though he’s most identified as being the driver of the black number 3 car, Earnhardt started out as a journeyman driver who went racing primarily to provide for his family. The documentary certainly emphasizes the sacrifices that Earnhardt made in pursuit of his dream, and devotes a lot of time to discussing the hardships that he faced in his life. Knowing this information makes the material relating to his relationship with son Dale Jr., who started his own racing career in the late ‘90s and continues to race today, all the more heartwarming. Another major point of focus in the documentary is on Earnhardt’s talents as a entrepreneur: though perhaps an unlikely public figure, Earnhardt’s business savvy made him one of the most recognizable figures in the world of sport, largely through his own marketing of his “man in black” image.

swagger
Say what you want about his driving style, Dale Earnhardt had swagger.

Directed by Jeff Cvitkovic and highlighted by a combination of well-chosen archival footage and photographs, I Am Dale Earnhardt is presented in roughly chronological order and covers the most famous and well-known events from the driver’s storied career. Though I’ve distanced myself from stock car racing over the past fifteen years, I always like seeing footage of how things used to be back in the “good ol’ days” of motorsport. Covering such legendary events as the infamous “pass in the grass,” the 1982 Pocono flip, Earnhardt’s triumph at the ‘98 Daytona 500 after twenty years of trying, and even some of his heated confrontations with other drivers, the documentary was very enjoyable for me personally since I remember when many of these things took place. The dramatic scenes relating to Earnhardt’s fatal accident are quite moving and illustrate just how much he was not only loved by his fans, but respected by the NASCAR community as a whole.

slinking
Slinking out of a destroyed race car after flipping at Pocono.

As might be expected, the documentary also includes substantial commentary from fellow drivers Darrell and Michael Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, and Rusty Wallace, sports reporters Marty Smith and Jack Arute, pop culture figures like actor Michael Rooker (who played a character patterned after Earnhardt in 1990’s Days of Thunder), former MTV VJ Riki Rachtman, and filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, and even Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who today is by far the most popular driver in NASCAR. These interviews compliment the film footage nicely, and I appreciated the fact that the program went a long way toward explaining Dale Earnhardt the man, as he was away from the racetrack. Vintage interviews and conversations with the man himself provide an insight into Earnhardt’s mind, and a viewer really gets a sense of how his most rewarding moments in life took place when he was working on his farm or enjoying the outdoors with friends.

friendships
Despite his fearsome on-track reputation, Earnhardt enjoyed close relationships with many of his competitors.

Ultimately, the fact that Earnhardt was a “country boy” very much like the majority of the NASCAR fan base at the time earned him an incredibly loyal following, and I think one of the more interesting aspects of I Am Dale Earnhardt is the contrast between Earnhardt and other drivers of his era and the ones which populate NASCAR today. Over the past fifteen years, a sport that once was regarded as primarily a “redneck sport” has become much more polished and commercialized – one only has to listen to a contemporary driver interview and notice all the corporate sponsor name-dropping to see how the sport has evolved. Compared to a legitimately hard-nosed driver like Earnhardt who paid his dues and worked hard to get where he was, many of today’s drivers (even the so-called “bad boys” of the sport) seem like crybabies and whiners who have been handed the keys to the kingdom. Furthermore, in today’s high-profile, ultra-competitive motorsport, the team a driver is signed up with seems to matter more than actual driving talent, making it intriguing to ponder whether a rough-around-the-edges personality like Earnhardt would even get a shot at big-league stock car racing – or have a chance to truly shine – if he was trying to break into NASCAR circa 2015.

2015
NASCAR has change significantly since Dale Earnhardt’s death, and I’m not at all convinced that it’s gotten better…

During the film, sports reporter Marty Smith relates a story in the film about how people have exclaimed that they can’t relate to NASCAR drivers in the wake of Dale Earnhardt’s death, which says a lot about this driver and his relationship to his sport. The “old school” nature of stock car racing quickly became extinct once Earnhardt wasn’t around, and NASCAR has never quite been able to compensate for his loss in my opinion. Even if I might complain that the documentary seems to gloss over some parts of the story and over-dramatize others, I Am Dale Earnhardt is in the end, very worthwhile: a treat for Earnhardt fans and a fine starting point for those either new to stock car racing or unfamiliar the driver that was arguably its most iconic personality. It might not have wide-reaching appeal, but this documentary provides precisely what a viewer would want and is right on par with ESPN’s outstanding 30 for 30 series. I’d have no problem recommending it.
booyah

Strange novel/document from the end of the life of Ludwig van Beethoven

Conversations with Beethoven

965672b382b52d8d51ea9251b9a95a4b

$13.08 at Amazon 

(3.2/5)

Pros: last parts

Cons: confusing, not knowing who wrote what, lack of Ludwig’s side of “conversations”

It is well known that Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was totally deaf in his last years. The title “Conversations with Beethoven” might then seem peculiar, but Sanford Friedman’s novel posthumously published by New York Review Books is based on notepads on which visitors wrote messages to Beethoven.

The master replied and only letters he dictated were written down. The conversations are, thus, pretty one-sided. Moreover, the reader does not know who wrote what. There are successions of questions and remarks that in print are generally impossible to attribute to one visitor or another, though Beethoven’s beloved nephew Karl (1805-58, whose father, Beethoven’s brother, died in 1895), whose future is the predominant concern— tied up with the second, money—in the book.

ludwig-van-beethoven

At the start (July 1826) Karl has shot himself in the head. Surviving, he joins the Hapsburg army and his uncle uses his influence to get Karl aimed at being commissioned an officer, while deploring the choice of career.

The far-from-affluent composer is eager to keep Karl from ever seeing his mother and trying to ensure that she will not profit from his estate through her son. Near the end, Beethoven relents, asks her to come to see him, and apologizes. She gets the last word(s): an account of the death and funeral she sends to Karl who arrived too late for the funeral (in fact, Karl attended the funeral).

I found it impossible to keep reading every line, skimming through the disconnected jottings until the visit of Franz Schubert (1798-1828) and the soon following visit of Johanna, Karl’s mother, and her lengthy letter to Karl.

I don’t know how much Friedman (1928-2010) took over from the surviving notebooks, how much he invented. (NYRB has also reprinted Friedman’s 1965 novel Totempole, which I read and admired once upon a time (not on its initial publication. Friedman wrote a number of plays in his youth as the brief introduction to the book by Richard Howard mentions twice.)

 

karl-van-beethoven-1806Karl in the only known portrait, dating from 1806. He survived long enough to produce a son, who emigrated to Michigan, btw.

Drab and nihilistic film about a young, suicidal nihilist

Robert Bresson’s penultimate film, “The Devil, Probably” (1977) devilprobably

$24.95 at Amazon 

(1/5)

Pros: a bit of Monteverdi

Cons: look, construction, endorsement of suicide for the sensitive

I think that Robert Bresson (1901-99) made two very great films — “A Man Escaped” (Un Condamné à mort, 1956) and “Pickpocket” (1959) — following a pretty great one, “Diary of a Country Priest” (1951), and a good one (Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, 1945). I don’t like any of the six he made after “Pickpocket” that I’ve seen (though there are things I admire in the bleak “Mouchette” (1967), and I like the penultimate one, “The Devil, Probably” (1977) least of all.* In fact, I loathe the nihilistic film about a nihilist whose suicide is announced at the start.

Twenty-year-old college dropout Charles (Antoine Monnier) has excelled at school and has two attractive young women devoted to him, Alberte (Tina Issari) and Edwige (Laetilia Carcano). They and ecology activist Michel (Henri de Maulbanc) from whom Charles has taken Edwige, are concerned that Charles is suicidal, keep watch over him. Charles is seeing a psychoanalyst (Régis Henrion) who gets nowhere with him (in his own view, and seemingly Bresson’s, Charles’s only problem is that he “sees things [the rot of the world] too clearly.” Bresson himself claimed that it is “a film about the evils of money,” though money barely figures in it (in contrast to his last film, “L’argent” (an adaptation of very alte Tolstoy) which follows a counterfeit banknote around Paris).

After a similarly desultory stab at religion, Charles fails to overdose (in an empty church, with Monteverdi’s “Ego Dormio” on a turntable), but the junky(Nicolas Deguy) he shot up with is willing to accompany Charles to Père Lachaise and shoot him (some residual Catholic concern about not committing suicide, though he wills his annihilation).

devilprobably3In addition to depressing newsreel footage (including clubbing a baby seal), a bleak non-narrative, and an affectless protagonist, Bresson framed shots to annoy viewers (often by not showing the heads of people photographed, a perversity he would repeat in “L’argent”).

The movie had no American release (a single screening in NYC) and the DVD has no bonus features—and the feature is a glum defense of suicide by a man who, despite proclaiming suicide “absolutely necessary,” lived to the age of 98.

 

For a portrait of the student generation of 1968, Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers” (2003) is far more interesting (not to mention kinky, though there is some gratuitous male rear nudity in “Devil”).

*I remember being very bored by “Lancelot of the Lake” (Le Graal, 1974), but not much else other than frustrations at the framing of midsections (mostly in armor) lopping off heads and feet. I rated it 4/10 stars.

 

 

 

“Don’t Offend Sabata…” Too Late! RETURN OF SABATA

RETURN OF SABATA (a.k.a. È tornato Sabata … hai chiuso un’altra volta)

Sabata Trilogy Box Set at Amazon

(1.5/5) ugh

Pros: Trademark Van Cleef scowl; music and photography are well-done

Cons: Dull storyline with comedic overtones that never quite work; horrendous dubbing and drab production

The third and final film in the official Sabata trilogy of Italian-made westerns (which started off with 1970’s Sabata and continued with the following year’s Adios, Sabata), 1971’s Return of Sabata also marks the return of Lee Van Cleef to the title role after the actor was replaced in the previous film by Yul Brynner. This time around, the sharpshooting Sabata finds himself facing off against a land baron named McIntock who has imposed a series of taxes on the residents of a small Texas town. Though McIntock claims to be using the money collected for improvements to the town, none of these improvements have materialized thus far. The situation raises the suspicions of Sabata who, believing McIntock is scamming the townspeople, initiates his own plan to steal the money for himself.

Sabata and the Lieutenant
Van Cleef and Schöne ponder their next move.

Return of Sabata starts off with a scene in which the titular character faces off against a half dozen gunmen who have cornered him in a barn. After Sabata, who carries perhaps the most unintimidating gun ever seen in a western, has apparently killed all of his stalkers whilst a group of well-dressed men inexplicably watch from a nearby table, clowns burst through a door and establish that the whole opening sequence was a trick-shooting demonstration taking place at a traveling circus. This more or less sets up the way in which director Gianfranco Parolini’s film works from then on out: as an uneven mixture of western movie action/adventure and goofy comedic elements. The previous two Sabata films also played out in much this same manner, but the formula had been all but played out by this third entry in the series – the western movie elements are tolerable, but the comedy frequently falls flat.

Sabata
Sabata – he’s a bad mutha…oops wrong movie.

Co-written by director Parolini and Renato Izzo, the film offers up little to distinguish itself from the hundreds of similar Spaghetti Westerns made around this same time, instead seeming quite gimmicky and downright muddled. A viewer is never quite sure of any of the character motivations – particularly true with regard to a casino owner and a carriage driver who wind up standing with Sabata in opposition to McIntock. From one scene to the next, the nature of these characters seems to change drastically with little regard for consistency or logic. Certainly some of the ambiguity here is intentional: the flip-flopping does create tension among the major players in the story and adds twists and turns to an otherwise familiar plot. Still, poor writing and haphazard story development ensure that it’s increasingly difficult to follow what’s happening in the film at a certain point.

Clowns?
Clowns? Why not! The whole movie is jokey and gimmicky.

Adding to my disinterest in this picture was the fact that Sabata manages to conveniently weasel his way out of any potentially dangerous situation he encounters, with the writers not so much as even trying to explain how much of this is possible. If I didn’t know better, I might say that the Sabata character is built up as a sort of superhero: “the only invincible man in the countryside” (as the theme song says), with a lucky streak that won’t quit and a sense of premonition that alerts him to any hazards ahead of time. Since there’s never any honest or believable threat to Sabata’s well-being then, the film quickly becomes downright boring. One watching the film is all but certain of what’s going to happen in the end, and probably can even predict the way in which it will happen…which begs the question: what is the point of watching an entirely predictable movie about an indestructible smart-ass who has his way with everyone and everything he encounters?

drum
Yep – a drum filled with revolvers. They were all over back in the wild west…

Honestly, without the appearance of one Lee Van Cleef as the aforementioned indestructible smart-ass, there would be virtually no reason to watch Return of Sabata. Though the actor could easily sleepwalk through a role of this sort, he has a confident swagger throughout this picture, making it significantly more tolerable and even watchable. It’s always cool to see that devilish Van Cleef scowl – after all, the guy could pierce steel with his glare, and listening to him bark out his lines with authority and a playful disdain for the other characters is undeniably enjoyable. In the supporting roles, we have Reiner Schöne as the casino owner who has a debt to settle with Sabata, the rotund Ignazio Spalla as the buffoonish carriage driver, and Giampiero Albertini as McIntock, performances which are largely undermined by atrocious English-language dubbing (the Irish accent given to the McIntock character is especially horrific). That it’s impossible to take Schöne and Spalla seriously is not so bad – their characters are more humorous in nature, but having Albertini cast as an ineffectual and almost laughable villain may be the deal-sealer that sinks the production. It’s worth noting that the villains in the first two Sabata films were also unimposing – the lack of defining, well-crafted “bad guys” may be the ultimate reason why this series pales in comparison to the so-called “Man With No Name” trilogy.

action sequences
Action scenes in the film are actually decent, but as a whole, Return of Sabata lacks vitality.

Technically speaking, Return of Sabata isn’t bad. Sandro Mancori’s photography is magnificent even if the overall production is drab, and Marcello Giombini’s score is memorable – particularly the opening title. As was the case in the first two Sabata films, director Parolini creates some good individual sequences. Return of Sabata’s action scenes are generally well-staged, and I especially liked a shot in which the camera offers a first-person perspective of a man lining up and firing a slingshot drawn between his legs. Unfortunately, there’s not enough pizazz in in the film: at 105 minutes, the film seems overlong and really lags in between the standout moments. In the end, it’s doesn’t seem a coincidence that the utterly unremarkable Sabata films have been largely forgotten to time: this series simply can’t compare to Leone’s grandiose westerns or even the outstanding B-grade Spaghetti’s by the likes of Corbucci or Martino. Devotees of the Italo-western may want to give this final Sabata film a look just for completion’s sake, but it’s certainly not among the best of its type.

lee

disc deets
Trilogy box set from 20th Century Fox contains all three Sabata films in widescreen format with no extras.

blood & guts
4/10 : Typical western gun violence and fisticuffs with some blood.

smack talk
1/10 : Occasional rough language; one instance of profanity.

fap factor
2/10 : “Women of leisure” feature prominently in the story, and though there are a few sexual references, there is no onscreen sex.

whack attack
3/10 : Easily the weakest of the Sabata trilogy and a pretty forgettable Spaghetti Western overall.

GI JOE
“If ya wanna get money, and if ya wanna get rich / If you wanna good life, you gotta be a son of a BUM-buh-BUM-buh-BUM-bum-bum…

smile

Two highly suspect (Polish) pasts

“Ida,” Oscar-winning best foreign-language filmida

DVD $17.99 at Amazon

[Rating: 2.3/5]

Pros: cinematography, saxophonist

Cons: lack of character development even with startling revelation about title character’s past

I had not heard of the movie “Ida” before it received the Academy Award for best foreign-language film (which should have gone to “Timbuktu”). If I’d known that it was another confrontation with the holocaust, I’d have been less surprised by the Academy choice… and perhaps somewhat less critical of the short, somewhat opaque, black-and-white, 1.37:1-aspect movie that is now streaming on Netflix. I guess that writer-director Pawel Pawlikowski, who studied at Oxford was hailed for the thriller “The Woman on the Fifth Floor,” which starred Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott-Thomas, but I have seen neither it nor his documentaries for British tv.

 

Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) is an orphan/novitiate aged 17 or 18 who is scheduled to take final vows as a nun in a small Polish convent. The mother superior orders her to visit her only living relative, Wanda (Agata Kulesza) an alcoholic former prosecutor for the communist government since having been part of the underground resistance to the Nazis. The time is not specified, but must be the late-1950s (or very early 1960s).

ida2

Wanda informs her niece that she is a Jew, whose parents named her Ida Lebenstein. The two women go to the farm where the Lebensteins (including Wanda’s young son) were sheltered… until they weren’t. The confrontation with the members of the family that are still on the farm than belonged to the Lebensteins are fraught, and there is a bland romantic encounter with a saxophonist whom Wanda picked up hitchhiking (personable Dawid Ogrodnik), but Wanda’s motivations (past and present) remain pretty enigmatic, and I have no idea what Anna/Ida thinks about anything she learns or does. That is Trzebuchowska is pretty but blank-faced. Lack of previous acting experience is not always a positive thing!

The bleak interiors and exteriors were artfully shot by Łukasz Żał. The lack of specificity about when the events are supposedly occurring is matched by opaqueness of motivations for both of the women on a road trip to the past of Polish/Roman Catholic complicity with Nazi genocide.

 

BIKINI SPRING BREAK Delivers Plenty of T&A, But Is No Fun Whatsoever

BIKINI SPRING BREAK

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See it at Amazon 

(1/5) ugh

Pros: Attractive female eye candy along with lots and lots of bare breasts

Cons: That’s literally all the film has going for it.

While primarily known for their horror and sci-fi films (Sharknado 1 and 2 and Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus among them) and so-called “mockbusters” which are patterned after major-release Hollywood films, in recent years production company The Asylum has branched out into making teen sex comedies, and why not. Considering the minimal amounts of creativity and talent (to say nothing of money) that goes into the typical Asylum film, this genre seems a good bet for them – after all, technical quality and acting ability don’t much matter in the standard sex comedy so long as a maximum amount of skin and rowdiness is put on display. Which leads to 2012’s Bikini Spring Break, as terrible a movie as could be imaginable. The film follows the world’s smallest and most moronic community college marching band (all five members of it) as they attempt to make their way cross-country to attend a national competition. Upon reaching Florida, the band’s bus breaks down, forcing the downright idiotic five women traveling in it to come up with some rather outlandish ideas of how to raise money to make sure they arrive at the competition on time…most of which revolve around taking off their shirts.

wanna see
Wanna see any of these women topless? If so, you’re in luck.

A made-for-video production apparently written and directed by a gang of horny fourteen-year-olds (actual guilty parties: writer/director Jared Cohn and co-writer Naomi L. Selfman) and tailor-made for late-night cable airings, Bikini Spring Break takes a minor story detail from the American Pie series (“…one time, at band camp…”) and turns it into a puerile mess of a film that heaps on the cliches and rowdiness but can’t for even a second be described as entertaining. OK, I’m lying – I may have chuckled twice, but by most any standard, this script is just jaw-dropping and populated by one of the worst gatherings of characters I’ve ever seen in a film that saw any kind of release. Frankly, I’m astonished that anyone would agree to star in this bomb: the five young women at the center of the picture are (literally) fleshed out as stereotypical bimbos completely oblivious to anything happening around them. Their sole purpose in the film is to periodically disrobe for a series of completely gratuitous – and fetishistically-photographed – scenes complimented by a soundtrack of lousy alternative rock.

locker room scene
What would a sex comedy be without a locker room scene? Probably a better movie.

Events such as a Jell-o wrestling match, bikini car wash, mechanical bull-ride, and wet T-shirt contest are photographed in slow-motion, with the camera pointed almost exclusively on the frequently bouncing breasts of any females in sight, thus providing any teenage boys in the audience with exactly what they’d want to see. It doesn’t speak well for anyone involved in this production however – Bikini Spring Break is about the most immature film one could ever hope to see, having precisely no connection with reality or – imagine this – good taste. As if the scenario itself isn’t bad enough (and let’s be clear, this film has plot holes that could swallow the galaxy), Cohn and Selfman’s script is loaded with soul-crushingly awful dialogue and unnecessary profanity. The constant bickering between the main characters, overbearing hysterics, “hip” exclamations (“FML” and “OMG” prove these writers are on top of modern culture), and supposed humor (the main running gag deals with one girl’s poorly-endowed boyfriend who’s belittled as being gay at every opportunity) quickly become tiresome, leaving a viewer with little to sustain interest.

unfunny
No one can get between Zoe and “Charlie the Euphonium.”

It’s pretty sad to see Robert Carradine (best known for his role in Revenge of the Nerds) reduced to acting in this film to collect a paycheck. Sleepwalking through the role of the band director, Carradine’s line delivery is atrocious and he seems wholly uninterested in the proceedings. Sorry to say, the females in the film (Rachel Alice playing the perpetually oblivious Alice, Virginia Petrucci as the clumsy Zoe, Samantha Stewart as the “leader” of the group, Jamie Noel and Erin O’Brien as the pair of relatively minor characters whose main job it is to complain about anything and everything, and Erika Duke as an obnoxiously cheerful girl trying to “ban” spring break) are probably worse. To be honest, I’d almost have to say that some of these folks have potential as actresses if they were given proper roles, but Bikini Spring Break is hardly flattering in its portrayal of their characters. This almost seems like a film it’d be difficult to move on from in terms of developing an acting career, which is perhaps the most unfortunate thing about it.

Oh look!
Oh look – a wet T-shirt contest.  Unfunny to the point of being painful to watch, no one over the age of fifteen would have any interest in this film.

The one and only saving grace in this film is that it features topless nude scenes from a variety of generally attractive actresses. Every one of the main female characters gets naked at some point, and the camera lingers over their bare bods for minutes at a time. If a viewer enters this film for the sole purpose of attaining some masturbatory material, Bikini Spring Break won’t disappoint, but anyone expecting any kind of decent movie should find something better to do than waste 87 minutes on this P.o.S. It’s shocking that something this reprehensible and pervasively, mind-numbingly dumb would be produced in the first place, and while this film satisfies on a certain, purely lascivious level, it’s not fun at all.

There’s simply gotta be a better use of a potential viewer’s time out there. The seedy side of the internet, for one.

doh!

disc deets
No extras on the widescreen DVD from Asylum Home Entertainment.

blood & guts bobby
0/10 : It’s harmless sure, but I’m not sure I’d call this fun.

smack talk
7/10 : Plenty of profanity thrown in for no reason whatsoever.

fap factor fap fap fap
9/10 : Mesmerized by bare titties? If so, this is the movie for you.

whack attack
3/10 : Even the copious nudity can’t do much to improve this pathetic excuse for a movie.

GI JOE
“…So this camera could change our lives forever? Do you want me to attach it to my euphonium?”

Trailer: (Warning! Not suitable for intellectuals)

Decoding Satellite Imagery on Science Channel’s WHAT ON EARTH?

WHAT ON EARTH? on Science Channel

Science Channel Website 

(3.5/5) decent

Pros: More science and evidence than is common for this type of speculative documentary; fine presentation

Cons: Recycling of topics from other shows; no real answers provided

Filling the void left when shows such as America Declassified (which hasn’t returned following its first season in 2013-14) and The Unexplained Files aren’t delivering new episodes, Science Channel’s new series What on Earth? (which premiered on February 10, 2015) continues to explore the realms of the unknown. Though it traverses much the same realm of conjecture as History Channel’s trendsetting Ancient Aliens, What on Earth? would seem to have significantly more credibility than the typical program of this nature. In recent times, a large number of surveillance and observation satellites have been launched into orbit, many of which have the goal of surveying and mapping areas of the globe which previously had been largely undocumented. During the course of this survey process, various anomalies of one sort or another have been uncovered and photographed and What on Earth? focuses its attention on these frequently strange but indisputably authentic images in an attempt to promote thought about what they actually are depicting.

ruins of El Dorado?
Could these ruins, revealed from space, be the remnants of the legendary El Dorado?

Set up like the typical television documentary, this program features a familiar mixture of archival footage, an inquisitive, omnipresent narration (provided by Steven Kearney), expert analysis from a veritable “who’s who” of persons who regularly appear in these sorts of programs, and actual evidence and documentation; in this case, the satellite images themselves. The straight-forward presentation of this “hard evidence” is easily the show’s main draw, and there’s no denying that the topics discussed during this program (which are examined on both a macroscopic and microscopic level) would be fascinating for those interested in science and the world around them. The show’s debut episode featured a variety of stories, covering topics ranging from the so-called “band of Holes” which snakes through the Peruvian Andes to an image which seems to show a humongous tsunami heading towards Hong Kong. Also discussed is an extremely shadowy submarine base in China, a huge Florida sinkhole which contains several-thousand-year-old human and animal remains, and a lake in Iraq that appeared blood red when photographed from space. As is about the norm in programming like this, What on Earth? doesn’t so much try and explain everything, or indeed, anything. Instead, the goal seems to be to make a viewer aware of some interesting phenomena and various hypotheses surrounding them so that he can do some additional research on his own if desired.

sandy island
Sandy Island, off the coast of Australia, as seen from Google Earth’s satellite. Strange thing is, shortly after this photo appeared, the island, originally documented by Captain Cook, vanished completely.

While this show’s level-headed presentation may be its best characteristic, I also really like the fact that What on Earth? doesn’t draw things out to a ridiculous level. A significant problem in shows like UFO Conspiracies, The Unexplained Files, and even Dark Matters: Twisted but True is that individual segments are stretched out to the point that each episode only features the examination of two or three separate topics. What on Earth? only devotes about ten minutes of screen time to each subject it discusses, so the program is able to cover significantly more topics per episode. I’m a fan of this approach since, at a certain point, there’s really nothing more to be said about any single thing. I’d rather a show of this nature move on and cover something else than beat a dead horse for a half hour just to satisfy time requirements or an established format.

USS THRESHER
One of the strange, obscure stories that popped up in the series’ first episode was the tale of the USS Thresher, which sank under mysterious circumstances in 1963.

On the downside, it seems like this is another program on an educational channel that’s recycling topics that have been discussed previously elsewhere. In relation to this debut episode, the “Band of Holes” had been covered previously (several times) on Ancient Aliens and the topic of so-called “red rain” had been the subject of an episode of The Unexplained Files. This repetition of material is somewhat frustrating: considering that I believe that the same audience would be interested in most if not all programs dealing with these sorts of unknown phenomena, since nothing significant is added to the discussion here, it seems mostly pointless that What on Earth? would cover the same topics as have been dealt with in other shows. You’d think (especially given that a new “unsolved mystery” type program seems to pop up every other week anymore) that these programs would want to stick out from the crowd and have some element of distinction to them, but I guess the producers are more content to stick to tried and true subject matter. If it works for Hollywood….

area 51
What would a speculative documentary be without some good conspiracy theory to mix things up?

All in all, What on Earth? does exactly what it sets out to do I suppose, a well-executed television documentary that remains compelling even if it does seem to talk about the same sorts of things as any number of vaguely similar shows. My favorite aspect of shows like this are the esoteric anecdotes that one inevitably gets while watching, and this new Science Channel series certainly provides a few of them per episode. In my opinion, What on Earth? doesn’t think far enough outside the box to be truly outstanding, but there’s more than enough food for thought here to please viewers who would watch a show like this in the first place. The fact that the program is based on actual evidence is a definite plus, and I’d urge interested parties to check it out if they get a chance.

many evidence

THE KILLERS ARE COMING! PROM NIGHT

PROM NIGHT

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See it at Amazon 

(2.5/5) meh

Pros: Film has its moments…along with plenty of  DISCO MADNESS!

Cons: The horror movie tricks and treats are a long time coming

Made in Canada and released in 1980, just a few months after the original Friday the 13th, Prom Night is yet another horror flick based around a date or prominent event. While playing a tag-like game in an abandoned building, a young girl named Robin Hammond is accidentally forced from a second story window and falls to her death. The four children who witnessed the accident immediately take an oath of secrecy to hide their involvement, police pick up a convicted sex offender they believe is responsible, and the incident is all but forgotten…or is it? Six years later, as the date of their high school prom approaches, the now-teenaged kids involved in Robin’s death are being harassed by an unknown stalker. Could it be that the “disfigured, schizophrenic psychotic” who was convicted of the crime, sent to a nearby asylum, and recently escaped has come back to clear his name? Has the super skeezy school janitor finally lost his marbles and become a pervert murderer? Or is there someone else out there who wants to avenge the young girl’s death?

who could it be?
Who could this ax-wielding maniac be?

Considering the familiarity of the material, it’s somewhat inexplicable that Prom Night has achieved and maintained a substantial amount of popularity since its production. Written by William Gray from a story by Robert Guza, Jr., this film includes virtually every slasher film cliché imaginable. When Gray’s script introduces a character who, much like Halloween’s Dr. Sam Loomis, has a vested interest in the escaped mental patient or a Carrie-like revenge plot that’s ready to play out at the prom, it’s pretty clear that not a whole lot of genuine inspiration or creativity went into this thing. Try as he might, director Paul Lynch can’t do much to add vitality to an excruciatingly talky script that devotes way too much time to pointless and inconsequential character development. To make matters worse, Gray’s choppy script can’t even stay focused long enough to build any single character up as being entirely relatable or even remotely interesting.

lots of drama
A viewer will be in for a lot of typical high school drama in getting to the film’s “big payoff” moments.

By far the worst of the issues is that Prom Night delivers nary a single moment of legitimate action or suspense for more than two-thirds of it run time. A viewer of this film has to sit through an hour of buildup before there’s any serious threat of murder and even once the kill scenes are primed, set, and ready, Lynch interrupts the action for an extended disco dancing routine. Hell, the entire last thirty minutes of this picture pulsates to the beat of a never-ending string of faux-disco hits (made exclusively for the film by composer Paul Zaza), which can either be viewed as a good or a bad thing depending on one’s tolerance for bad music. It also should be pointed out that while most other slashers of the early ‘80s went the “bigger is better” route and featured body counts in the double digits, the number of kills in Prom Night can be counted on one hand.

yes that's leslie
Yes, that’s Leslie Nielsen of Airplane! fame doing the hustle.

It’s a good thing then that director Lynch makes sure that at least some of the murders here are memorable: a slow-motion throat slashing in which Robert C. New’s camera focuses not on the gaping wound and pumping blood, but rather the distressed eyes of the victim is actually very effective at conveying the horror of the situation. Another rather brutal sequence finds a young woman being stabbed repeatedly in the chest and throat after her sex games are interrupted (remember kids – have sex and you die!). Other than these two moments however, Prom Night plays by the book and is relatively bland, delivering an extended scene in which an ax-wielding prowler chases down a hysterical teen and a decapitation that may as well have been pulled straight out of Friday the 13th. Oh, and there’s also a vehicle somersaulting down a cliff and exploding. Can’t forget that. Gore effects are adequately done but fleeting, and the element of the film that may be the most shocking is the sheer number of boom mics clearly visible in the final cut. I counted at least six instances in the first twenty minutes or so where this occurs and there seems to have been almost no effort made to correct this problem – the mic just sits onscreen for minutes at a time. Frankly, this is completely inexcusable and points to the amateurish nature of this production as a whole.

rutrow
Rutrow!: post-coital activity of an unfortunate variety.

Jamie Lee Curtis stars as the film’s main character Kim Hammond, the most popular girl in the school and Robin’s older sister. This was Curtis’ third horror role (following Halloween and The Fog, both made for director John Carpenter), and she’s believable enough as a hot to trot teenager getting ready for her prom date with boyfriend Nick (played by Casey Stevens), who’s one of the kids semi-responsible for Robin’s death. Par for the course in these sorts of films, these lead actors do all right when they’re tearing it up on the dance floor, but can’t for the life of them inject any sort of emotionality into the more dramatic moments. Particularly strained and laughable is a scene in which Nick comes close to telling Kim the whole story about her sister’s death – watch as Stevens contorts his face to convey his “inner torment!.” Leslie Nielsen meanwhile walks the straight and narrow for a change as the school principal and Kim’s father, Michael Tough plays Kim’s brother, and Mary Beth Rubens, Eddie Benton, and Joy Thompson are the promiscuous girls and obvious murder victims. I’ve got to give credit to David Mucci (playing the school’s chain-smoking tough guy), Sheldon Rybowski (as a would-be ladies man named “Slick” who tools around picking up women in his van), and Robert A. Silverman (the hilariously stereotypical pervert janitor) for making the most of their goofy minor roles: it’s them and not the leads who ultimately add a sense of fun to the proceedings.

i bet
I bet there, bud. I bet.

Even if it’d be easy to trash director Lynch’s handling of this film, he does manage to create a few standout moments. I liked the way in which a handful of rather ambiguous flashback sequences tell the story of how Robin’s death was pinned on a sex offender with no connection to the case. It would have been easy to spell this out for the viewer but instead, Lynch and Grey insist that the viewer put the pieces together for himself, which is commendable: I’m always a fan of making the viewer use his brain. Additionally, scenes in which the raspy-voiced killer phones and threatens his intended victims have a definite creepiness about them, especially due to their use of a jagged editing scheme, and the lengthy aforementioned “DISCO MADNESS” scene boasts nice choreography and photography (seems someone watched Saturday Night Fever a time or three). Sad to say, I’d almost be more comfortable with calling this dance sequence the true climax of the film since Prom Night is a definite letdown in the horror department. Despite its many problems and shortcomings however, similar to a film like Sleepaway Camp, I think most horror fans would want to see Prom Night just to say that they did. It’s not a perfect film by a longshot, but I’d give it a slight recommendation.

ARGGGH!

disc deets
Special edition Blu-ray from the always reliable Synapse Films includes a commentary track with director Lynch and screenwriter Gray, a 25-minute making-of featurette, nine minutes of additional scenes (added for TV broadcast) and outtakes, as well as a still gallery and collection of trailers. The film is presented in an outstanding anamorphic widescreen version with optional English subtitles – a top-notch home video package. I should also point out that viewers should avoid the Alliance Atlantis print of the film (which occasionally pops up on cable) at all costs – the print is so dark as to be almost unintelligible.

blood & guts
4/10 : Slow-going for most of its run-time, then releases a handful of fairly low-key but decent kill scenes in its last half hour. Moderate gore, including a decapitation by ax.  Minor drug content.

smack talk
3/10 : I noticed one f-bomb, but these teens keep it mostly clean.

fap factor
3/10 : A pair of sex scenes with just a hint of topless nudity.

whack attack
6/10 : Has its admirers for sure, though for my money, there are much better ’80s horror flicks out there.

GI JOE
“Lieutenant, you’re asking me to comment on a catatonic schizophrenic who was disfigured and institutionalized six years ago.”

Trailer:

The Stranger You Seek – Amanda Kyle Williams gives us something different

The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

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See it at Amazon 

(3/5)

Pros: a few things that make this book different from the rest

Cons: the ending was not the best

I read a whole lot of thrillers.  And I frequently complain about how they all start to sound alike after a while.  How I long for something “different” within the genre.  Well, I have to say that The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams does bring some new items to the table.  That’s not to say that I loved the book.  In the end, it was just “ok”.  But, still, I have to give credit where it’s due, for having the guts to take some different turns.

It’s your basic “serial killer has town in fear” story.  In this case, men and women are turning up dead, in some cases, horribly beaten.  And in all cases, left in humiliating poses.  The police haven’t a clue.  Literally.

They ask Keye Street to help.  She’s an ex-officer – lost her job due to alcoholism a few years back.  But she’s still the best profiler around, so they call on her when they need her.  Despite the fact that this case triggers her emotionally, she sticks with it, even when the hunter becomes the hunted.

So – I said this book was “different”.  Let me give some reasons why.  First of all we have a very flawed main character with a complicated past that still haunts her to this day, affecting every aspect of her life.

There’s another character in the story who sustained a traumatic brain injury, completely altering his personality… I found this character to be fascinating.

Our killer enjoys blogging, on a knife-fantasy site.  This type of site is definitely a new one, for me.  And while the writings are graphic (as is the level of violence in this book) I still found it a fascinating glimpse into something that was certainly different, for me.

Keye’s other job – when she’s not helping the police – leads her to a variety of “interesting” folks, some of which added some nice humor to the story.

So, yes, The Stranger You Seek has some nice qualities to it, some things that make it just a bit different from the norm.  But a story still needs to be exciting, and the ending needs to be satisfying.  And this is where the book fails.  The ending was horrid.  I’m all for twists and surprises, but not ones that make absolutely no sense.  And, worse, leave a whole bunch of unanswered questions.

So, in the end, The Stranger You Seek is just an “ok” thriller.  Some good points, some bad points.  Read it, but don’t look for that awesome ending.

A COLLECTIVE OF TOP REVIEWERS