Monday, May 24, 2010

'Snavely Classics': SNL Cast Members and Val Kilmer': 'Top Secret', 'Real Genius' and 'Neighbors'

'Snavely Classics: SNL Cast Members and Val Kilmer: 'Top Secret', 'Real Genius' and 'Neighbors'

Watching the terrible "MacGruber" movie that stars a "Saturday Night Live" cast member and a talented Val Kilmer, I looked back at better movies that are some of my favorites. They contain a much better comedy with SNL cast members and much funnier Val Kilmer movies.

'Top Secret' (84) (PG) (3 1/2 stars)

Writers: Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker
Directors: Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker
Starring: Val Kilmer, Omar Sharif, Lucy Gutteridge, Peter Cushing, Christopher Villiers

"Top Secret" was another hilarious and neglected Zucker Brothers, Jim Abrahams classic. This is the team behind two of the best spoofs in comedy history in "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun". They also made a very clever and funny movie with Danny Devito and Bette Middler called "Ruthless People". "Top Secret" was a spoof of Elvis movies and the spy film genre. This was not two genres that were begging to be spoofed and it should have come off as lame. Leave it to the Zuckers and Jim Abrahams to pile on more smart jokes that hit then miss. This movie should have got better love and a better reception from moviegoers and critics. I think it stands up to "Airplane" and "The Naked Gun" in pure insanity and hilarious, outrageous comedy. It also gave us a very talented actor in Val Kilmer whose first major Hollywood movie this was. The movie bombed but Kilmer got more roles and his work here is perfect for the job. The performance has to be taken serious as the jokes bounce off of it and Kilmer is perfect here being the straight man. I laughed a lot during this movie and I appreciated that they tried to throw a lot of jokes at us and that they made it work so well. It takes very smart men to write and direct a movie like this and most have failed since. Except for a few writers since their heyday, Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker were the masters and "Top Secret" is a neglected classic.

'Real Genius' (85) (PG) (4 stars) (Highest Rating)

Writer: Neal Israel
Director: Martha Coolidge
Starring: Val Kilmer, Gabriel Jarret, Michelle Meyrink, William Atheron, Deborah Foreman, Ed Lauter, Jonathan Gries

I knew watching Val Kilmer in "Real Genius" that I was seeing someone special, smart and funny. Not many before or since have owned a movie like Kilmer does here. Along with Michael Keaton, this is one of my favorite comedy performances by actors who were just starting to make a name. What also helps is that besides Kilmer this is a very smart, funny and charming comedy that is one of my favorites. Many did not see this movie and Kilmer's performance was neglected but I think it is a brilliant movie and Kilmer's performance is Oscar caliber. This has a smart story with some of my favorite characters ever. It takes place at a fictional college for geniuses called Pacific Tech. Val Kilmer plays a slacker but also a very brilliant student named Chris Knight who takes under his wing one of the youngest kids ever to attend a college like this. The kid's name is Mitch Taylor and he is totally corrupted by Chris which might be a good thing. There are also a lot of assorted oddballs who I absolutely loved including a very fast talking and funny girl who goes without sleeping for weeks. The girl is played by Michelle Meyrink and she almost steals the movie with her very funny line delivery. The director here is Martha Coolidge who two years earlier directed one of my favorite high school movies in "Valley Girl". She was on a major role for a little and was making very good movies in the age of John Hughes. There is also a very smug and perfect bad guy played by great character actor William Atherton. Atherton was the go to guy for a smug, jerk bad guy and he was best known for his smug reporter in the "Die Hard" movies. There is also one of the best and most brilliant sight gags that ranks up there with the classic "Ghostbusters" ending. Val Kilmer is so great here that I would rank this comic performance up there with a Bill Murray type performance. He owns this movie which turns out to be one of the best and smartest comedies of the 80's. Many haven't seen it and they should!

'Neighbors' (81) (R) (4 stars) (Highest Rating)

Writer: Larry Gelbart
Director: John G. Alvidsen
Starring: John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Cathy Moriarty, Kathryn Walker, Tim Kasurinsky, Tino Insana, Lauren-Marie Taylor

There is always that movie that someone loves and can see over and over and others just hate the movie. I hate "Dune" from 1984 and it is probably my least favorite movie of all time but others have gotten mad and say they love it. "Neighbors" was a very twisted and black comedy that I absolutely love. I have to see it when I can because I miss John Belushi more than anyone I have ever missed on screen. "Neighbors" actually proved that Belushi could play the straight man just as well as he played the wild man. Sadly this was his last movie and he also proved that the World would miss out on a comic actor that would have given serious performances. Before Bill Murray and Jim Carrey proved they could do drama or straight men performances Belushi was the king of it. Of course there is the classic "Blues Brothers" and "Animal House" which are wonderful. Then there was the very great Chicago based romantic comedy "Continental Divide" which was as good as a Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn romantic comedy. He was proving he could do that kind of genre but in the dark comedy "Neighbors" he plays the straight man flawlessly.

Belushi plays Earl Keese who is a business man who commutes to the city to work and comes home to a humdrum life. He doesn't have many friends and his wife doesn't treat him as well as she does the dog. In to his life comes Vic and Ramona who are the new neighbors and they are very strange like in an Addams Family kind of way. Vic is played by Dan Aykroyd who changes places with Belushi in playing the crazy guy. I think Aykroyd is outstanding and very funny here and proof that I think he is one of the most under rated actors we have. Ramona is played by Cathy Moriarty who gives a very sex, hilarious and finally sweet performance. Ramona and Vic pretty much torture, mess with and heckle poor Vic and I think what they do to him is cruel but yet dark and hilarious. At first we think this is a crude and mean comedy and that it is just about Earl being picked on. Then something wonderful happens and the movie grows a heart without losing the wonderful weirdness. Vic and Ramona need friends just as much as Earl does. They all need to find something new in their life and that might include close friends and a sense of belonging. This turns out to be one of the best movies ever about friendship.

The writing is smart and the writer is Larry Gelbart who wrote fro the television show "Mash" and many other brilliant comedies. It is adapted from a novel and the jokes, sight gags and humor are very dark and twisted and I am a huge fan of dark and twisted. This is one of my cult classics and favorite black comedies. I would say it was a guilty pleasure but it is not to me, I think it merits as a classic comedy that is smart and has a heart. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel were the only ones besides me that love it so I am not the only one. It is unfairly blasted, contains brilliant performances by the cast and it is damn funny. I also love the weird Spike Jones type musical score and I love the dark and gloomy look. Tom Hanks tried to rip this off later with "The 'Burbs" and that also proves how great "Neighbors" is. It is John Belushi's last movie and it makes me very sad through the laughs. We lost a brilliant actor who could do hilarious comedy and drama and I think would have received an Oscar nomination had he lived.

'Shrek Forever After'

'Shrek Forever After' (PG) (2 stars)

Writers: Josh Klausner and Darren Lemke
Director: Mike Mitchell
Starring the Voices Of: Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Walt Dorhn, Julie Andrews, John Cleese, Lake Bell, Mary Kay Place

Watching "Shrek Forever After" I realized how special and damn good the original "Shrek" was. The magic is very much gone especially with these last two "Shrek" movies. You would expect fireworks from the last installment of your enchanting franchise. The fourth "Shrek" movie makes the third one look much better for I only chuckled maybe five times during this movie. The voice work is awesome as it has always been and the character's good will makes this at least watchable. The problem is the jokes aren't as rapid fire, witty or clever as the first one which was brilliant. There are some good sight gags but my favorite ones are going to go way over the head of adults just as much as kids. The charm is gone for the story seems tacked on and boring. The newest character is the evil Rumpelstiltskin who is very well voiced by Walt Dorhn. The problem is I would have liked to see more creative, new characters. The main characters aren't as fun as they once were and the movie feels like everyone wanted to get this over with and were forced to make it. It is a lazy movie even though it does get busy but substituting smart jokes with manic action is a disservice to "Shrek" Fans.


'MacGruber' (R) (1 1/2 stars)

Writers: Will Forte, Jorma Taccone and John Solomon
Director: Jorma Taccone
Starring: Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillipe, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe, Mark Henry, Kane, Chris Jericho, MVP, The Big Show, The Great Khali

"MacGruber" tries to be funny with material that was already done much better back in the 80's and the 90's. There is always room for the vulgar spoof of any serious genre but it has to be funny. You know you are in trouble when the pro wrestlers that act in your movie come off better than you do. I like Will Forte on "Saturday Night Live", a show that hasn't been funny since the 90's. Here Forte's shtick gets very old after a half hour. "MacGruber" is based on the SNL skit which is a parody of the television show "MacGyver". First off all I might be in the minority but I found the SNL skit to be lame and stupid. Really? You are spoofing a television show from the 90's? Really? Mercifully the skit only lasts for a few minutes. If you see this in the theatre you are tortured for an hour and a half. I don't mind dumb jokes but the dumb jokes here aren't even a good kind of dumb. It is mostly a one joke movie that has one good joke. That is how the characters use the villain's last name which is Von Cunth. That is somewhat clever but after the umpteenth time it is used it gets old especially if the other jokes suck. Val Kilmer is somewhat good here but he has done this thing before much better in the 80's. This is really the Kristen Wiig show who hands down has the only true talent of the current SNL cast. She is in the only truly funny scene in a coffee shop as an explosion very far away takes place. She is the only reason I didn't walk out of the theatre after a bit. I can only take one let alone two shots of a man without pants sticking a piece of celery up his butt as he dances around. There, I just saved you precious minutes of your life.

Friday, May 21, 2010

'Letters To Juliet'

'Letters To Juliet' (PG) (3 stars)

Writers: Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan
Director: Gary Winick
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal, Franco Nero

"Letters To Juliet" is a romantic, sun drenched film that is beautiful to look at and puts you at ease. This is what the romantic comedy should be like instead of the obnoxious dreck that has been forced down our throats lately. It is not a great movie but it is not forced, it is relaxing and very charming just by being itself, nothing more. It also has another radiant and nice performance by Amanda Seyfried who just looks beautiful in front of the breathtaking Italian locations. The camera loves her, it loves her big, piercing blue eyes and she has that screen presence that spells out star quality. After another good showing by her in this movie she will be getting a lot more roles soon. The movie is also very beautiful to look at like I mentioned before. The movie for the most part takes place in Tuscany, Italy and boy does it make you want to go right away. I have been to Tuscany, it is my favorite place that I visited in Italy, and it captures it just right. Seyfried plays Sophie who is engaged to a man who will soon be opening a restaurant in New York. The boyfriend is very well played by Gael Garcia Bernal who is also pretty easy on the eyes. Before he opens the restaurant the couple decide to go to Italy for a honeymoon before the wedding. As they do their separate things Juliet finds a group of ladies who answer lovelorn letters from women who have had their hearts broken. When women are dumped or lose their loved ones they write letters to Juliet of "Romeo and Juliet" fame, stick them on a wall and then they are collected. Sophie finds a letter hidden about a woman who left her true love to soon and longs to see him again. She tracks down the woman played by Vanessa Redgrave and also meets her stuffy British son. We pretty much know where this is all headed but we don't care. Seyfried is beautiful and makes an impression like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams have made earlier in their careers. This young woman is going to be a huge star! I loved seeing Vanessa Redgrave who still looks beautiful and when she meets up with her Lorenzo, played by the legendary Franco Nero our hearts still melt. The romance between Sophie and the son is charming and nicely felt. The movie is also beautiful to look at, like a picture perfect postcard. This isn't a very good movie but it is not annoying and it gets the job done. It actually reminded me of "The Notebook" but it is actually better because it doesn't try to hit us over the head.

'Harry Brown'

'Harry Brown' (R) (2 stars)

Writer: Gary Young
Director: Daniel Barber
Starring: Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Iain Glen, Sean Harris, Liam Cunningham

"Harry Brown is a cold, British revenge thriller that reminded me of an earlier Mel Gibson movie this year "Edge of Darkness". It has a succinct, generic title and a lead performance by an older veteran actor. The performance by Michael Caine here is very good, detailed and effective like Gibson was. Like the Gibson film, that is really all there is to recommend the movie. I felt the same about both movies, I have seen it before and I just didn't get invested in the story. It is well directed, acted but very useless in my opinion. This is basically another version of "Death Wish", the terrible Charles Bronson film from 1974 that pushed a lot of buttons back then. Now the story just seems pretty ridiculous and just an excuse to see Caine shoot dead bad guys. The story takes place in an urban setting in London where teenagers are selling drugs and harassing senior citizens. Caine plays Harry Brown who was in the army and sees one of his friends and bar mates get beaten to death by these kids. He seeks revenge while at the same time two police officers are trying to get to the bottom of it all. The only fresh thing in this movie is that one of the officers is a woman and is played very well by the radiant Emily Mortimer. I liked Mortimer, Iain Glen as Harry's friend, Liam Cunningham and Sean Harris. The performances are good and Caine is great but after the movie was over I just felt blah and indifferent. I have seen this before as recent as this year and a few years ago with Kevin Bacon's "Death Sentence" which was effective but crude and forgettable. This is really just a new "Death Wish" like the third one where senior citizens where being harassed by thugs and Bronson helped them fight back with a little bad acting involved.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

'Snavely Classic: Thelma and Louise'

'Thelma and Louise' (R) (91) (4 stars) (Highest Rating)

Writer: Callie Khouri
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Brad Pitt, Christopher McDonald, Michael Madsen, Lucinda Jenney, Stephen Tobolowsky, Tomothy Carhart

Watching Ridley Scott's version of "Robin Hood" got me thinking to what I thought were my favorite Ridley Scott movies. This is a very talented film maker who has a rich tapestry of monumental movies. The three I thought of first were the classic horror film "Alien" and then two of my favorite movies of all time "Blade Runner" and "Thelma and Louise". Either movie is Scott's finest hour and strongest periods of his career but I will focus on "Thelma and Louise". This movie blew me away when I first saw it in an empty theatre in North Carolina. This is the first time I found out that Ridley Scott was more than just a commercial formula director. This is one of the strongest women pictures ever made and at the time there was a huge controversy concerned with a very shocking but powerful scene. This scene caused a controversy because critics of violence against females thought it was a a wrong way to deal with an attempted rape. The reaction with the small crowd I saw this with was a burst of applause and catharsis. It is one of the most powerful scenes in any movie I have seen. The other criticism was that all the male characters were evil, one note and stereotypical pigs. That criticism is so easy to point at this movie and it should never have been brought up. This is a female centered movie dealing with serious issues and situations and it is geared towards female viewers and males that are open minded. First of all you can not tell me that this is the only movie ever made that had a bunch of evil male characters. Second of all how many movies have stereotypically weak and false female characters? I can name a lot of movies were women were tortured and raped, horror movies and such, just for thrills with no consequences. There is a major consequence that these women suffer for what choice they make and how they handle their situation.

If you have not seen "Thelma and Louise" you are in for a very fun time. This movie is very funny, thrilling, intense, cathartic and important. It deals with serious issues but it is one of the most entertaining, Hollywood commercial films I have seen in the 90's. You also get the major arrival of a future movie star and heartthrob in Brad Pitt who made his first big movie debut in this classic. You knew in the few scenes he was in that this actor was going to become a huge success and movie star. It is a sexy and funny performance with big screen charm. There is also a very funny performance by an actor who has become one of the best character actors in Hollywood. That performance is by Christopher McDonald and it is a classic comic performance. To counter attack the criticism that all the male characters are evil and superficial, there are two sympathetic males played by Michael Madsen and Harvey Keitel whose character tries to save these two women. The movie deals with two female friends played brilliantly by Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. This is definitely Geena Davis's best performance of her career and Sarandon is magnificent like she always is. The two friends decide to get away from their abusive husband and distant boyfriend.

In the the big controversial scene they are confronted by a drunk man who first flirts with the two and then tries to force himself on one of them. The result of this scene feels right, could have happened in a real situation like this and it is very powerful. The women are now on the run and are pursued by a small town sheriff played by Harvey Keitel. This becomes a road movie and one of the best ever made plus it is very unpredictable and fresh. It is also one of the most beautiful looking movies ever shot. The cinematographer is Adrian Biddle and it is one of the best cinematography jobs done by anyone in the business. The roads, the dessert scenery, the small town picture postcard look is gorgeous! As the movie nears it's end you are already so far into this ride and you care so much about these two women. It also leads to one of the most haunting and most powerful endings I have seen in a movie. It ends in a freeze frame shot that also got criticized for being cheap and incomplete. I can't for the life of me see anything wrong with the ending or how it is delivered. When the end credits were finished rolling I couldn't get out of my seat. The movie got to me so much I couldn't stop thinking about it. I had to go see it again the next day and then a week later with someone else and it blew me away every time. This is one of my top 50 movies of all time. It is rewarding, entertaining, powerful and one of the most groundbreaking movies made about two main female characters. It is one of the strongest women pictures and it creates two original and wonderful characters. It also creates a story that is timeless and contains two of the best performances by any two actresses ever on screen. Since it first played in 1991 I can count on just my one hand any movie that matches it's strong female centered power.

'Robin Hood' (10)

'Robin Hood' (10) (PG-13) (2 stars)

Writer: Brian Helgeland
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Max Von Sydow, Mark Strong, Danny Huston, Scott Grimes, Matthew Macfayden, Eileen Atkins, Mark Addy

"Robin Hood" is like sitting through History class in high school as the teacher drones on and on about a particular period in time. When I go to see a summer blockbuster like "Robin Hood" I expect a rip roaring, swashbuckling time. Is Ridley Scott trying to get serious for an Academy Award bid like he did with the over rated "Gladiator"? I liked "Gladiator" because at least it was fun, exciting and intense even if it is not Best Picture material. "Robin Hood" is a very lifeless and unnecessary version of a story that has been done to death. Does anyone need another "Robin Hood"? I wouldn't mind if the two leads had chemistry, the action was exciting or the performances were alive. That is not the case with Scott's version and I am a little surprised. This is one of our most exciting film makers and he may have made his weakest movie yet. "Robin Hood" starts off okay and there is some good humor amongst Hood and his merry but rough men. Those parts only take a half hour so the rest is a patience trying slog. Russell Crowe is a very great actor but when the material is weak and dull he comes off as a mumbling bore. This is not one of his most intense performances. Cate Blanchett plays Maid Marion and she is fine but there is no chemistry with Crowe. She just comes off as a beautiful bore and William Hurt barely registers in a small part. When I was reading the end credits I had to be reminded that he was in it. The actors who play Robin's merry men have the best parts because they share the only comical moments. This movie is way too serious and the action scenes seem plodding and are not Scott's finest hour.

There was a cheesy Kevin Costner version in 1991 where Costner lost his British accent every so often but at least the movie had life and was somewhat fun. It also had a scene stealing villain in Alan Rickman. I don't even know who the true villain is in this movie which makes it a movie with one of the weakest bad guys. The go to guy for the evil villain these days is going to the very fine actor Mark Strong but he is not used well here. He was the bad guy in the disappointing "Sherlock Holmes" but again that is a better movie than this one. I don't mind that Ridley Scott has made a serious take on "Robin Hood" but he forgot to lighten up just a tiny bit.

P.S. If you want the real deal for a Robin Hood movie check out Richard Lester's "Robin and Marian" with Sean Connery and the legend Audrey Hepburn or even the hokey but fun "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" with Costner.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

'Please Give'

'Please Give' (R) 2 1/2 stars

Writer and Director: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Catherine Keener, Rebecca Hall, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, Sarah Steele, Ann Guilbert, Lois Smith, Josh Pais

Writer and director Nicole Holofcener has written some very funny and provocative movies in the past. She is a very gifted writer who writes strong female characters that have been played by many wonderful actresses. Her most famous movie is "Friends With Money" with Jennifer Aniston and Frances McDormand. Her best movie is "Walking and Talking" and she has used the wonderful Catherine Keener in her movies. Holofcener's new movie "Please Give" has some very funny moments and a very deep message. It involves a couple played very well by Oliver Platt and Catherine Keener who buy furniture and things from dead people to resell to others. The Keener character feels guilty a lot lately as she feels sorrow for homeless, her job and for the people that live next door. Next door there are two sisters played by Amanda Peet and a wonderful new actress Rebecca Hall. They take care of their grandmother who is very old and not the nicest person. The Peet sister doesn't really help that much with caring for the grandmother but the Hall sister does a lot for her. The other couple also have a daughter and she is in pursuit of the perfect pair of jeans and she has growing pains like every teenager. The movie has a lot of great characters and there are great moments but there are also two problems. The pace of the film drags a little and there are too many characters and too many messages. The movie gets over crowded and it has a lot to say but doesn't really end with a point or a profound statement. Holofcener's other movies had more to say, were more compelling and had more focus. On the great side are the performances that are worth a rental. I especially am liking Rebecca Hall as the good sister who has been amazing in all her movies so far like "Frost/Nixon" and "Vicky Christina Barcelona". She is a talent that should have a wonderful and long career ahead of her. I also completely love Catherine Keener in every thing she is in. She has a screen presence that puts you at ease and she is always funny. She has a great way of saying things and she always makes me smile. "Please Give" is good most of the time but you should wait till it comes on DVD.

'80's Snavely Classics, The Teenage Years': 'Foxes', 'Valley Girl' and 'My Bodyguard'

'80's Snavely Classics: The Teenage Years'

Growing up in the 80's, going to movies with my father was the biggest treat. I remember going to the Plitt Hawthorn Theatres for $1 Tuesdays where all the big releases were $1. A lot of my wanting to become a movie director came from these movies. I also remember first getting cable and wanting to stay up all night and trying to in the summer of 1981 when I was 13. I stayed up all night the first evening we received cable but didn't make it the second when I woke up and found that I was watching the third Omen movie and got scared. Though I did end up watching a lot of obscure movies that would become my favorites, movies that a lot of people haven't seen but I loved. a third of my movie loving experiences were found on cable late at night and I am not talking Skinamax. With the recent passing of John Hughes I picked two of my favorite 80's high school movie classics. Two of them I found on cable and they blew me away, the third I saw with my father at the Hawthorn theatres and it is now my favorite high school movie of all time.

'Foxes' (80) (R) 3 1/2 stars)

Writer: Gerald Ayres
Director: Adrian Lyne
Starring: Jodie Foster, Cherie Currie, Sally Kellerman, Randy Quaid, Lois Smith, Kandice Stroh, Marilyn Kagan, Scott Baio, Richard Romanus, Adam Faith, Laura Dern

In 1981 I was watching Cinemax and I decided to check out a movie that was scheduled at midnight. It starred a young Jodie Foster and it started what would become a very long crush on what I consider the best actress ever. Jodie Foster was coming from a powerful performance in Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and was now an adult actress who was making very bold choices. She was in one of my favorite horror thrillers of all time in "The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" and the extremely fun comedy "Bugsy Malone". This was right before Foster went to college and what we had here was an extremely brilliant and daring new actress. "Foxes" deals with four teenage girls in Hollywood who share an apartment where they can get together when home life is bad. Foster plays one of the girls and two newcomers in Kandice Stroh and Marilyn Kagan played two other girls. Stroh and Kagan weren't the best actors but the fourth girl was played by a rock star making her debut and she had raw acting talent and great screen presence. Little did I know that 30 years later I would find out she was the lead singer of a rock group called "The Runaways" with Joan Jett. Cherie Currie was tall, blond, very sexy and her performance is one of those you can't take your eyes off of and where you know something magical is happening. Part of my love of this movie is based on Foster and Currie and boy did I have major crushes on both. I have seen "Foxes" so many times because of them but also because the movie is deceptively dark and powerful. This is not light John Hughes material but that is good because Hughes's comedies are set in the suburbs and "Foxes" is set in Hollywood where I believe I am right in saying it is not a safe place to grow up in. There is real and raw growing pains here including a father who beats his daughter up, a house party that turns deadly, a teenage runaway who might not have any chance to become an adult.

The main power of the film though deals with a mother and daughter in Foster andSally Kellerman (Kellerman is so good here she could have received an Oscar nomination). The mother is divorced and there are struggles with making ends meet and the daughter is becoming rebellious. The scenes where they fight and make up are real and intense and with these scenes Foster was proving that she was going to be building an iconic career. The acting in these scenes is very strong and amazing. Some of "Foxes" is dated and corny and some of the acting is a little weak even though Scott Baio and Randy Quaid are outstanding. The movie might elicit some giggles but it still holds up as one of the most powerful movies about teenagers ever made. It has a dark and scary feel to it and it doesn't sugarcoat life growing up in Hollywood at all. When I was 11 I was blown away by it and actually thanked God I had a home life and didn't live in Hollywood. In "Foxes" I found something special in a movie that gave me one of my favorite actresses growing up and a feeling that I wanted to make movies about my years as a child growing up. All I know now is back in 1981 I saw a movie that touched me, gave me a lot of wonderful new discoveries and blew me away. I have seen it recently and it still holds up.

'Valley Girl' (83) (R) 3 1/2 stars)

Writers: Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane
Director: Martha Coolidge
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Deborah Foreman, Coleen Camp, Frederic Forrest, Cameron Dye, Elizabeth Daily, Michelle Meyrink

When I saw the previews for "Valley Girl" on television I thought it looked really stupid. It was Rated R so I wasn't going to see it on my own and I know my father wouldn't want to take me (He was more interested in movies like "Porky's" to take me to). I caught it on cable a year later and what I discovered was 1.) an interesting actor who would later become one of our biggest stars. 2.) a very cute and charming actress and 3.) a very funny high school movie with one of the best soundtracks a movie has ever given us. "Valley Girl" is a real head trip, funny, charming, raunchy and finally a movie with a lot of heart. This is actually, and I am not joking here, one of my favorite love stories of all time. I saw this movie a lot the month it debuted on cable and I bought the soundtrack, wore it out and still wear it out to this day. There is some special alternative music on here including songs by "The Waitresses", "Sparks", "The English Beat" and "The Psychedelic Furs". Deborah Foreman, who had one of the best smiles on film, played a valley girl who spent a lot of time with her valley friends at the mall. She sets her eyes on a very strange boy who is decked out in punk clothes and definitely not looking like her friends. He is from the other side of the tracks in Hollywood and he is played by Nicolas Cage. Now at that point Cage had small roles in movies like "Fast Times at Ridgemont HIgh" but watching "Valley Girl" and his performance you just knew he would become one of our finest actors. The performances by the two leads are wonderful and you find yourself rooting for these two different kids to get together.

This was a low budget movie that was supposed to be a dumb, raunchy teenage comedy but turned out to be a critcal darling and it deserved it. The movie has a lot of laughs but it turns into a touching love story with a legendary rock soundtrack. It also gave us an actor who would hit it big and would develop eccentric tastes in movies. With his choice of "Valley Girl" to break out in we should have seen it coming.

'My Bodyguard' (80) 4 stars (Highest Rating)

Writer: Alan Ormsby
Director: Tony Bill
Starring: Chris Makepeace, Matt Dillon, Adam Baldwin, Ruth Gordon, Martin Mull, Joan Cusack, Paul Quandt, John Houseman, Tim Kazurinski, George Wendt

"My Bodyguard" is my favorite movie about high school ever made with "Lucas" (86) right behind it. It is also one of my ten favorite movies filmed in Chicago and one of my all time favorite movies(maybe in my top 50). I saw "My Bodyguard" with my father at Hawthorn theatres for $1 and this is my choice of the movie that made me want to become a film maker for real. This is also one of the best uses of Chicago locations ever captured on film. "My Bodyguard" tells the story of Clifford, a teenager whose father manages a big, fancy hotel in Chicago. He also lives with his crazy grandmother played by Ruth Gordon. Before Clifford was enrolled in a private school but now he is going to a city school that is a little more rough. There he is confronted by a bully named Moody wonderfully played by Matt Dillon. Dillon really makes you hate this character and what I said about Jodie Foster in "Foxes" goes for Dillon here also. This was the period I thought Matt Dillon was was very cool and I wanted to be him. Along with Jodie Foster I consider Matt Dillon my favorite actor growing up. I hated Moody in this movie but I also felt sympathy for him because Dillon was so cool! After being bullied for too long he tries to recruit a hulking kid who is falsely rumored to have killed a kid and maimed a bunch also. Clifford can't get to this kid until he finally explodes in a very powerful and funny scene and convinces the big kid to help. The big kid Ricky was played by Chicago actor Adam Baldwin. No he is not one of the Baldwin brothers but he is really good here. Baldwin quietly has become one of my favorite actors over the years and he is equal to Jeff Bridges in being unfairly ignored by Hollywood. Catch him also in "Full Metal Jacket" where he is in the most powerful scene in that movie. Ricky confronts Moody and at that point a lesser movie would end predictably with the aftermath. What surprises us is that Ricky and Clifford become great and close friends.

The reason this is my favorite movie about high school is that it doesn't go in all the predictable directions. It gives us a powerful and uplifting story of friendship that has heart and great poignancy. At the end, this movie had us all cheering in the theatre loudly with a great closing scene. Of all the movies I saw in the 80's this movie, "The Karate Kid", "Rocky III", and "Aliens" had the loudest cheers of any audience I saw a movie with. This movie makes Chicago look so real, vibrant, cool and majestic and it is one of the ten best filmed in Chicago. The characters are real and the movie makes us want to cheer for them. There is a very funny performance by Paul Quandt as one of Clifford's friends and it is sad we never saw Quandt again in any movie. There is a very young Joan Cusack who is very good in a very small part (this was before her brother John started acting). Along with "Lucas" six years later this movie captures teenage life better than any movie from the 70's or 80's and even the 90's. It also inspired a very bad movie many years later called "Drillbit Taylor". It also gave us Matt Dillon who has been a joy to watch for me ever since. "My Bodyguard is a classic and it is one of the best crowd pleasing movies of all time. I wish movies about teenagers these days were half as good and yes it is better than any John Hughes movie.

Friday, May 7, 2010

'Ironman 2'

'Ironman 2' (PG-13) (3 stars)

Writer: Justin Theroux
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Samuel Jackson, Garry Shandling

"Ironman 2" has a tough act to follow in what was one of the best superhero movies in recent history(it was on my top ten list). The movie soars on the charm, humor and acting bravado of Robert Downey Jr. Downey just might be more iconic and reliable than Johnny Depp. The original movie was a cut above the rest due to the characterization and acting of Downey. If the character wasn't memorable then the action and explosions don't mean squat. I am happy to report that "Ironman 2", while not as great as the original, is a lot of fun and worth the hype. This is a surprisingly hilarious movie with awesome fight sequences. It also has one of the best casts ever all on their A game. The dialogue written by Justin Theroux might be too jokey but creates a lot of laughs. The acting in this movie is way above what you expect from an all action sequel and it all starts with the genius of Downey Jr. His line readings are flawless and the way he bounces dialogue off of Gwyneth Paltrow is priceless. This is really a screwball comedy wrapped in a superhero movie. A movie like this rises or fails based on how good the villains are. "Ironman 2" has two great villains and the performances by Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell are just as good as Downey Jr's. Mickey Rourke gives an unusual method performance as Whiplash and I am glad he took the role seriously. His bad guy is menacing and a great match for Ironman. Sam Rockwell now just might be my favorite actor working today. His line deliveries and performance are equally great as Downey Jr's. I have been touting this actor for ten years and Hollywood was ten years behind me, not anymore. He is a pure delight and he steals every scene he is in. You might be tired of Scarlett Johansson but she is very good here . I might be in the minority but I think she is very sexy here. Gwyneth Paltrow is a perfect casting choice as Pepper Potts. She brings an intelligence to this film and her scenes with Downey Jr. are priceless. You really root for them to get it on and become a real loving couple. Also very good are Don Cheadle and Samuel Jackson who has the corniest but best line in the movie. Director Jon Favreau is building quite a nice resume of directing with these Ironman movies and "Elf" and I think he is the perfect choice. Only the writer of "Swingers" could pull off this perfect timing of witty dialogue. Soon Favreau will be known as more than just Vince Vaughn's buddy. The action scenes and special effects in "Ironman 2" are awesome but I think the acting and comedy writing stand on it's own without the action. While not as great a sequel as "Superman 2", "Spiderman 2" and "the Dark Knight", "Ironman 2" could have been a disappointment but I had a lot of fun.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

'The Square'

'The Square' (R) ***

Writers: Joel Edgerton and Matthew Dabner
Director: Nash Edgerton
Starring: David Roberts, Claire Vander Boom, Joel Edgerton, Anthony Hayes

" The Square" is a tight, nifty and suspenseful thriller that gets the job done with crisp directing and suspenseful moments. You get what you expect from "The Square" and that is not a bad thing, it just won't surprise you that much. This is not on the level of a "Body Heat" or a "Blood Simple" but the Edgerton brothers have some talent. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next after this fine Australian movie debut. This is a classic tale of adultery, theft, blackmail and murder. Director Nash Edgerton is a former stunt man who has a knack for creating good suspense like a Coen brother. His brother Joel co-wrote the screenplay and acts in it and his story wastes no time in revealing itself. I kind of knew where this movie was going but the ride is addictive. It sets up it's characters right away and by a half hour in we know everyone. Then the movie picks up steam and gets complicated but in a good way. It is all heading towards an explosion at the end that leads to a nice shoot out scene. This movie is tight, intriguing and all the acting is great. It helps sometimes when you see actors for the first time because with well known stars this movie could have sunk. This is the perfect movie to catch at home, settle in and enjoy what is a suspenseful and fun thriller. The movie is playing at The Music Box downtown but probably won't be staying much longer.

Right before the feature starts there is a short film that was made by Nash Edgerton a few years back. This 10 minute short film is nasty, crude and ingenious and it shows that Edgerton could become a master film maker. The short is better than the main feature and the only thing I have to complain about is that the the feature film could have been nastier. The short is called "Spider" and it's a small masterpiece.

'A Nightmare On Elm Street' (10)

'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (10) (R) 1/2*

Writers: Wesley Strick and Eric Heisserer
Director: Samuel Bayer
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Connie Britton, Clancy Brown, Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner, Katie Cassidy

The remake of "A Nightmare On Elm Street" might be the biggest waste of talent and screen time of any movie ever made. On the heels of the "Friday the 13Th" remake which was pure crap, this is another movie remake that will have you scratching your head. Why did this movie have to be made? The "Friday the 13Th" remake was more tolerable because the original is the worst horror movie ever made so who cared if they screwed up that remake. The original Nightmare was a somewhat better movie than the Friday the 13Th movies so I don't know why you need to remake it. There have been a plethora of Nightmare sequels even very recently and the series is worn out. Though if you are going to remake a so called classic you shouldn't make it as lazy and lackluster as this remake is. This is a horrendous and insipid remake that has not one scary moment, bad makeup and so many boring moments. Ironically I almost fell asleep watching this snooze fest. I am not a fan of the original movie because I found it too complicated and never really scary. It was actually a gimmick movie with a weak story and Freddy never became an interesting killer until the third movie. Compared to this remake though the original is "Psycho". We all know that "Halloween" is the role model for all slasher films so maybe someone should come up with a fresh and scary new monster and horror franchise that is actually scary. The slasher film is dying with all these retreads and remakes.This is the worst of all the horror remakes because it is lifeless, boring, not scary at all at any moment and Freddy's makeup looks like a kid in grade school applied it on. I love that Jackie Earle Haley has made an acting comeback but playing Freddy in a very terrible movie is a step back down. Anyone could have played him and the dialogue he has to say is tenth rate and Freddy does not look scary at all. What is also amusing is that the special effects are actually no better than they were in the 1984 original. This is a terrible time waster and I only give Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) a half star because I like her, the movie Zero stars. I really hated this movie and I am not a fan of the original. I can bet that people who love the Nightmare series will be more pissed off than I am.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

'The Secret In Their Eyes' (El Secreto de sus ojos)

'The Secret In Their Eyes' (El Secreto de sus ojos) (R) ***

Writers: Juan Jose Campenella and Eduardo Sacheri based on his novel
Director: Juan Jose Campenella
Starring: Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Guillermo Francella, Javier Godino

"The Secret In Their Eyes", the 2009 winner of the Best Foreign Film Academy Award, is a dreamy thriller that plays much better as a love story. This is a carefully constructed thriller that has strong characters so we care what happens to them. Ricardo Darin plays a State prosecution investigator and judge who is trying to solve an unresolved murder that has spanned 25 years. He reconnects with his former colleague and judge played by Soledad Villamil who is very beautiful. The film then delves into flashbacks showing us their past relationship and the murder case that still hasn't been resolved in 25 years. I don't think the murder case is the point and purpose of this movie since I knew pretty much everything that was going to happen. The movie's strength is in the love story and it is very poignant. I would love to see the movie a second time and just concentrate on the love story. This movie to me seems too dreamy but that could be another strength, the movie pulls you in. This is a very great looking couple and the movie is strong when it pretty much teases the two main characters that they need to wake up and fall back in love. The movie is really about the journey the investigator takes to find closure in his life and in the murder case. The performances are top notch and the direction is hypnotic. There is also some funny moments involving the inspector and his partner played by Guillermo Francella. This movie is a much more compelling movie than fellow nominee "The White Ribbon" which I found pompous. I think it deserved to win the award but I would be interested in seeing the three other nominees. "The Secret In Their Eyes' is very good film making and a satisfying and intricate thriller that strives when dealing with lost love that is found again.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

'Doctor Detroit' (83)

'Doctor Detroit' (83) ***1/2

Writers: Bruce Jay Friedman, Carl Gottlieb and Robert Boris
Director: Michael Pressman
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, James Brown, Kate Murtagh, Donna Dixon, Lynn Whitfield, T.K. Carter, Howard Hesseman, Fran Drescher, Lydia Lei, George Furth

I thought I would start my weekly reviews of what I think are classics with a very cheesy 80's guilty pleasure of mine. I will be reviewing true classic movies, cult classics, movies I think should be cult classics and also guilty pleasures. Most of my movies I pick as classics were not well received by critics but that is what is good about the movies, we all like good crap as much as the prestige films and we all have our own classics we watch over and over.

I will start with a very dumb but addictive early 80's movie starring Dan Aykroyd. Dan Aykroyd, after the loss of his friend John Belushi, made some truly terrible movies in the 80's. "Doctor Detroit" is a huge step above 95% of his other 80's movies. Hey, this is the movie where Aykroyd met Donna Dixon who became his future wife so this movie can't be all bad. Written for John Belushi to be in right before he passed away, "Doctor Detroit" concerns a nerdy professor named Clifford Skridlow played by Aykroyd. This movie could have been very different if Belushi was in it but Aykroyd does well here. Clifford while running on Chicago's Lake Shore Drive gets splashed by a limousine driven by a pimp played by Howard Hesseman (WKRP in Cincinnati). The pimp takes Skridlow out with the help of his call girls and his assistant out in the city of Chicago for some night life. This movie might not be smart or deep but I have never seen Chicago look so beautiful as it does here in a film. If you are talking the best looking movies filmed in Chicago this is in the top five. As the night passes an evil, huge lady named "Mom" pays a visit. She is the main Mother of all the prostitutes in Chicago. She wants Hesseman to give up his women but he skips town so the girls are now in the hands of Skridlow. The professor has to come up with a powerful alter ego and he comes up with "Doctor Detroit" the bad man from Michigan. When Aykroyd raids the prop department at the college theatre department he comes up with an awful disguise. This includes a wild wig and a very ugly green and yellow pimp suit. The costume is ridiculous but it kind of grew on me as does Aykroyd's performance as "Doctor Detroit". This movie is fast paced, looks beautiful, shows off Chicago very well and I thought there were some genuinely funny moments. There's a classic line of dialogue given by the Doctor that is one of the best of the 80's. It has 80's staple T.K. Carter who I think is the most under rated comedy actor of the 80's. There is a screwball ending that is very well directed and is capped off by an awesome James Brown dance number and then a sword fight (don't ask). I don't know but I have seen this movie more than 50 times and I like it every time I see it so there you go. Yes this movie is dumb but I can compile a list of more than 100 comedies in the 80's that are worse. Sometimes a movie that seems to be so bad grows on you and I think this movie is misunderstood. When it came out there were a plethora of movies about hookers and pimps. Of course there was "Night Shift", "Angel", "Vice Squad" and the list goes on. You might find "Doctor Detroit" dumb but I know you have a favorite movie that people call bad that you love. The movie is classic junk food, it might not be good for you but it goes down fast.