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FELLINI SATYRICON (1969) (***1/2)

Federico Fellini as a director had two periods in his career. His early work takes a neo-realistic approach while his later work is absurdist and surreal. His film 8 1/2 is the bridging film in his resume that makes the shift from realism to surrealism. SATYRICON definitely falls into the latter category.

Part historical drama, part modern social satire, the film follows two students Encolpio (Martin Potter, NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller) as they stumble through 25 distinct adventures in ancient Rome. We first meet them as they are fighting over the affections of the boy Gitone (Max Born, only screen performance). Throughout the film, Encolpio finds himself at an orgy-like party, sold as a slave, married off to a gladiator, taken prisoner, having a three-some with a slave girl, enlisted in the army that leads to meeting a nymphomaniac in the desert, kidnapping an albino hermaphrodite healer, committing murder, facing a minotaur, being forced to impregnate a queen, visiting a witch and partaking in a very strange last request.

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RODENTZ (2001) (BOMB)

It’s been so long since I’ve seen a film this bad that I had forgotten just how fun a bad movie can be. Inept is too light a word to describe this piece of rat droppings.

It’s a jumble of horror clichés as old as the movies. A mad scientist named Professor Irwin (Guy Vieg, FLASH!) is doing experiments on rats that have gotten him ostracized from the scientific community. However, his dutiful, but clumsy assistant Walter (Allen Lee Haff, DEEP FREEZE) still thinks he’s brilliant. Now cue drunken college students. Alicia (Leah Rowan, LOST FOCUS) is Walter’s girlfriend and she convinces her party-hardy friends to pay a visit to the lab.

The friends are supposed to represent classic types like the jock and rebel, but the performances are relatively interchangeable and all look like they bought their clothes from the same preppy store except that the “rebel” can accessorize better. I’d list them but I’ll just save the actor’s the embarrassment and I’d probably mix them up anyway. So anyway they’re in for some trouble because the professor’s florescent green formula has leaked into the basement and transformed one of the rats into a six-foot man in the worst rat suit in film history. It makes Godzilla look good.

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PRIZZI'S HONOR (1985) (***)

This gangster spoof is a dark comedy that’s more ironic than it is funny. The film begins with Don Corrado Prizzi (William Hickey, MY BLUE HEAVEN) making a blood oath to be like a father to the newborn son of Angelo Partanna (John Randolph, CHRISTMAS VACATION). Then we jump forward in time to when the baby boy, Charley (Jack Nicholson, AS GOOD AS IT GETS), has grown up to be the top soldier in the crime family. At a wedding, he instantly becomes enraptured by the beautiful blonde Irene Walker (Kathleen Turner, BODY HEAT). A passionate and quick romance springs forth between them. However, she turns out to be not what she seems.

The film pits the honor of the gangster code of loyalty against love. Nicholson plays Charley as a slightly dim thug. His performance ranges from subtle to just hamming it. Turner plays Irene as a chipper go-getter who doesn’t think twice about the world of violence that she has entered. Great supporting work comes from Anjelica Huston (ROYAL TENENBAUMS) as Charley’s ex-fiancee Maerose Prizzi, Lee Richardson (THE FLY II) as Maerose’s gangster boss father Dominic and Robert Loggia (AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN) as family lawyer Eduardo Prizzi.

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PHILADELPHIA (1993) (****)

In 1993, the topic of AIDS wasn’t groundbreaking, but for mainstream cinema it was a topic untouched. The film follows Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks, BIG), a lawyer at a top firm in Philadelphia. He’s gay and has AIDS, but has kept it a secret from the firm’s partners. One day, one of the partners notices a lesion on Andrew’s forehead and soon an important file goes missing from Andrew’s office and he is soon fired for incompetence.

Beckett searches Philadelphia for an attorney to take a suit of wrongful termination, but no one wants to go up against the legendary firm. Beckett goes to black personal injury lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington, GLORY) as his ninth choice. At first, Miller is like all the rest, but the lure of money, fame and an incident of discrimination he witnesses at the library spurs Miller to take the case.

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PARENTHOOD (1989) (****)

Ron Howard’s PARENTHOOD just gets better each time you see it. The major part of the film’s success is its amazing screenplay from Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (FEVER PITCH, CITY SLICKERS, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN). The film is like a Robert Altman film in that it has a huge cast of characters.

However, the film clearly has a central character in Gil Buckman (Steve Martin, THE JERK), who has three kids and is sick with trying to balance home life and work. His wife Karen (Mary Steenburgen, WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?) is a stay-at-home mom, who is debating whether or not to go back to work. Their oldest son Kevin (Jasen Fisher, HOOK) is a sensitive boy, whose school wants to move him into special ed classes.

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DISORDERLIES (1987) (*)

I loved the Fat Boys when I was 10. The album with “Wipe Out” on it was one of the first tapes that I ever got. I remember really wanting to see this movie when it came out, but never did. I certainly haven’t been missing anything for 19 years.

Winslow Lowry (Anthony Geary, UHF) is in huge debt with gangsters, so he plans to hire three inept orderlies — Markie (Mark Morales), Buffy (Darren Robinson) and Kool (Damon Wimbley) — so they will inadvertently kill his ailing uncle Albert Dennison (Ralph Bellamy, TRADING SPACES), spurring Winslow to inherit all the old man’s millions. So the Fat Boys move into the mansion and wreck havoc on the place, inadvertently making Albert better.

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DETOUR (1945) (****)

This film shouldn’t work at all. The low production value is obvious. The film is filled with technical errors. The acting is all at one pitch. The plot on face value is contrived beyond belief. However, all of these issues work to make the film better. This is mainly true because it’s a film noir. The film is gritty, dirty and unkempt just like the genre.

Al Roberts (Tom Neal, ANOTHER THIN MAN) is the epitome of noir loser. The good guy who goes bad. He narrates the film like a whiner. He’s in love with Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake, THE RETURN OF RIN TIN TIN), a nightclub singer in New York. He’s her piano player. She tells him she’s moving to L.A., but he stays behind then later hitchhikes across the country to marry her.

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CORPSE BRIDE (2005) (***)

Tim Burton ventures back into the world of spooky stop-motion animation like he did with A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS with this ghoulish tale of a nervous man who mistakenly marries a corpse.

Based on a Russian folk tale, the film follows Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) who is being set up with Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson, BREAKING THE WAVES) in an arranged marriage. Victor’s parents Nell and William (Tracey Ullman, THE TRACY ULLMAN SHOW & Paul Whitehouse, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN) are fish merchants trying to move up in society by marrying their son off to the daughter of Lord Finnis and Lady Maudeline Everglot (Albert Finney, BIG FISH & Joanna Lumley, ABSOLUTELLY FABULOUS), who are trying to marry off their daughter to someone with a little bit of money because they are secretly destitute.

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TOPPER (1937) (***1/2)

The story behind this film has been done numerous times. Marion and George Kerby (Constance Bennett, 1934’s MOULIN ROUGE & Cary Grant, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY) are carefree socialites that paint the town red on a nightly basis. Cosmo Topper (Roland Young, KING SOLOMON’S MINE) is a banker who wishes that his extremely conservative wife Clara (Billie Burke, THE WIZARD OF OZ) would let him live a little.

George is on the board at Topper’s bank and Marion sees the adventurous side in Topper and wishes to bring it out. After dying in a car crash, ghosts Marion and George feel they have to do one good dead to get out of limbo and into heaven. Their mission is to treat Topper to the wild life.

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THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982) (*)

The first 10 minutes of this trash fest were hilariously bad. From boo moments that had me laughing out loud to a lingering shower scene that has a fetish for the female buttocks, I was entertained with the pure camp of it all. Then it starts to go into copy HALLOWEEN mode and loses its campiness and replaces it with pure boredom.

Trish Devereaux (Michelle Michaels, DEATH WISH 4: THE CRACKDOWN), besides getting naked, likes to throw slumber parties, where her pretty female friends wear the skimpiest clothing possible. Trish wants to invite the new girl from next-door Val (Robin Stille, AMERICAN NINJA 4: THE ANNIHILATION), but the other girls don’t like her because she makes them look bad at basketball.

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PRIME CUT (1972) (***)

This strange archetypical gangster film derives much of its success from its unexpected setting and its performers. Nick Devlin (Lee Marvin, THE BIG RED ONE) is a top enforcer for the Chicago mob who is sent on a mission to Kansas City to collect $500,000 from a former associate named Mary Ann (Gene Hackman, MISSISSIPPI BURNING), who runs a meat packing plant that fronts for his drug and prostitution trade. Previous, bagmen have either failed or have been turned into hot dogs by Mary Ann’s oafish brother Weenie (Gregory Walcott, NORMA RAE).

Nick and Mary Ann have a past, which certainly involved Mary Ann’s beautiful wife Clarabelle (Angel Tompkins, THE BEES). During Nick’s first showdown with Mary Ann, the enforcer rescues drugged up orphan Poppy (Sissy Spacek, CARRIE) from being displayed naked in a pen for gawking men.

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THE NIGHT PORTER (1974) (ZERO)

When this film was released, they marketed its controversy and played it up as a daring artistic experiment. The wonderful Criterion company released it on DVD. Criterion usually picks films that are sure masterpieces, hard-to-find foreign films from important filmmakers or daring experiments. THE NIGHT PORTER falls under the latter category. Definitely daring, but also definitely a failed experiment.

Max (Dirk Bogarde, A BRIDGE TOO FAR) works as the night porter at a fancy German hotel. He becomes shocked and nervous when he catches sight of Lucia Atherton (Charlotte Rampling, SWIMMING POOL), who has the same reaction to seeing him. We then flashback to World War II when Max was an SS officer and Lucia was a prisoner. He becomes infatuated with her and rapes her. Max is about to go on trial for his war crimes and Lucia is one of the only remaining witnesses. So why doesn’t she turn him in right away? Because she liked it. Staying in Germany, after her husband leaves, she goes to Max and rekindles their sadomasochistic affair.

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MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991) (***)

Gus Van Sant’s second feature is a clear example of an artist trying to find his voice. The film is part realistic drama, part contemporized version of Shakespeare’s HENRY IV as well as some flares of whimsy.

Mike Waters (River Phoenix, STAND BY ME) is a narcoleptic prostitute, who comes from a poor, turbulent family. His best friend is Scott Favor (Keanu Reeves, BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE), another male hustler, who isn’t really gay, but uses sex for its power and rebelliousness. Scott comes from a rich and powerful family and will inherit a fortune when he turns 21.

Mike’s story is told naturally, but Scott’s story is told through the poetry of Shakespeare. The tone swifts are abrupt and don’t mix well, creating a bit of a disjointed feel throughout the film. It keeps the audience at a distance. Scott is supposed to love his street mentor Bob (William Richert, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK) more than his own father, but we never have an emotional connection to their relationship.

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MY BODYGUARD (1980) (***1/2)

Some movies come out of left field and surprise the heck out of ya. I caught this charming film on a Big ‘80s marathon on Encore, having followed the dubious LOVER BOY. For a teen film, the movie has real weight and grit.

Clifford Peache (Chris Makepeace, VAMP) is the new kid in his school. Bully Melvin Moody (Matt Dillon, CRASH) extorts money from kids to protect them from rumored psychopath Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin, SERENITY). After taking just too much abuse, Clifford actually gets Ricky to be his bodyguard. Clifford wants to thank Ricky for his help, but the tall loner doesn’t really want to make friends. But Clifford is persistent. The rest of the film develops the strange friendship that develops between the wealthy Clifford and the poor Ricky.

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MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981) (**)

This Canadian-produced teen slasher flick is actually better than any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies that it rips off. But that’s not saying much.

T.J. Hanniger (Paul Kelman, BLACK ROSES) left his small coalmine town, called Valentine’s Bluff, to make it big in the big city. But after falling on his face, he’s returned home to work in the mine he left town to avoid. Now his former girl Sarah (Lori Hallier, THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD) is dating Axel Palmer (Neil Affleck, SCANNERS). There are other characters, but who cares about them, because they’re just fodder for the killer, who is rumored to be a miner who was buried alive and went crazy.

Twenty years prior he escaped from a mental institution and killed people in town, demanding that they never hold a Valentine’s Day dance again, for it was the party that everyone was rushing off to when the mine collapsed.

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THE INCREDIBLY TRUE ADVENTURE OF TWO GIRLS IN LOVE (1995) (**)

With such a whimsical title, one would expect a bit of whimsy, but the film for most of its running time plays as a dramatic (also a bit fantastic) coming-of-age tale.

Randall “Randy” Dean (Laurel Holloman, TV’s THE L WORD) is a teenage lesbian, who dresses tomboyish and only has one friend — a gay boy named Frank (Nelson Rodriguez). Randy lives with her lesbian aunt Rebecca (Kate Stafford) and her girlfriend and her ex-girlfriend. She’s been having an affair with a married woman named Wendy (Maggie Moore, AMERICAN SPLENDOR). Then one day, Evie Roy (Nicole Ari Parker, BOOGIE NIGHTS) stops by the gas station where Randy works and Randy is smitten.

Later, the two run into each other in the bathroom at school and talk about Evie’s recent break up with her boyfriend. Soon enough the two girls are hanging out together and Evie doesn’t seem bothered that Randy is gay. The developing romantic relationship between Randy and Evie is made complex by the fact that Randy is white and Evie is black; Randy is poor and Evie is rich; and Randy is a loser and Evie is popular.

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HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962) (***)

This is the kind of film that’s enjoyable enough while you're watching it, but I’ll probably forget I saw it two weeks from now.

It chronicles four generations of a family who participated in taming the Wild West. It’s epic and filled with Hollywood legends from John Wayne to Henry Fonda to Jimmy Stewart to Gregory Peck. It has all the conventions of the Western crammed in from rapid runs to mountain men to Indian attacks to wagon trains to stampedes to a train robbery. Everything about the film smells of a Hollywood product and that’s why it works. It’s a treasure of a kind of filmmaking that doesn’t happen anymore. It’s the same gimmick that makes the OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies so fun.

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GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) (***)

The title tells you straight out what historical episode this Western deals with. The film is quintessential 1950s Hollywood — bright colors, high melodrama and such a squeaky clean Wyatt Earp that you’d think he was visiting from the cast of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. What makes the film fun and not something to laugh at from a 21st Century perspective is the performance of Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday and his interaction with Burt Lancaster’s Earp.

The film develops the unexpected friendship between moral lawman Earp and killing gambler Holliday. The film emphasizes a Western moral code that probably only existed in the movies. Earp kicks off the friendship when he rescues Holliday from a lynch mob. Throughout the film Holliday struggles with his raging desire for revenge and his promise to Earp to not kill anybody.

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THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS MOVIE (1987) (*1/2)

The main reason I wanted to see this film was because I wasn’t allowed to see it when I was a kid. I collected the trading cards and love them. The movie actually disappointed me. You might be thinking — well, what were you expecting. I was expecting something so bad that it was good. Some elements are like that, but the lead character story is just a mediocre after school special drama. It’s not completely awful.

Dodger (Mackenzie Astin, DREAM FOR AN INSOMNIAC) is a small 14-year-old who is always being bullied by Juice (Ron MacLachlan) and his gang. Sadly Dodger has the hots for Juice’s girl Tangerine (Katie Barberi). He works at an antique shop for eccentric owner Cap’n Mancini (Anthony Newley, 1967’s DOCTOR DOLITTLE), who has a mysterious garbage can in the shop. One day it gets tipped over and out come the Garbage Pail Kids, who are played by little people in costumes with animatronic heads.

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CLASS (1983) (**1/2)

The film has a solid foundation, but what it builds on top seems to have been built with no blueprint. The film doesn’t know if it wants to be a more serious take on THE GRADUATE, a buddy flick or a teen sex film.

Jonathan Onger (Andrew McCarthy, ST. ELMO’S FIRE) is a high school student at a top boarding school. His roommate and best friend Skip Burroughs (Rob Lowe, AUSTIN POWERS) is from an extremely wealthy family and struggles to live up to his father’s (Cliff Robertson, SPIDER-MAN) expectations. After an embarrassing mishap, Jonathan is band from going to the school dance. So he ventures out to a bar were he starts up a heated affair with the much older Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset, DANGEROUS BEAUTY), who thinks Jonathan is a grad student. What Jonathan is surprised to learn after visiting Skip’s home on Christmas break is that Ellen is Skip’s mother.

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CATWOMAN (2004) (*)

The film is a poorly executed foray down the clichéd road of superhero revenge tales. Patience Phillips (Halle Berry, MONSTER’S BALL) is a klutzy graphic designer for a huge cosmetics firm. She will be fired by her tyrannical boss George Hedare (Lambert Wilson, THE MATRIX RELOADED) unless she redesigns her campaign within 48 hours.

On the way to deliver her new designs, she overhears George’s maniacal wife Laurel (Sharon Stone, BASIC INSTINCT) talking about the deadly effects of the new beauty product the company is about to launch. Subsequently, Patience is killed and then is brought back to life by some cats, giving her superhuman powers and making her the next in line of free-spirited catwomen.

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BABY FACE (1933) (***1/2)

This film recently appeared on TIME Magazine’s top 100 movies of all time list. It was an unusual choice because the film isn’t widely considered a classic. However, the simple tale works quite well and the provocative subject matter seems to jump off the screen with more daring just knowing the year in which it was made.

Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck, THE LADY EVE) is the daughter of a speakeasy owner, who pimps her out to his wealthy clients. After her father’s untimely death, Lily, along with her black friend Chico (Theresa Harris, OUT OF THE PAST), moves to the big city and sleeps her way to the top of a large bank. Her fling with the young executive Ned Stevens (Donald Cook, 1936’s SHOW BOAT) and then his boss J.P. Carter (Henry Kolker, HOLIDAY), who happens to be Stevens’ fiancee’s father, creates great scandal.

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APRIL FOOL'S DAY (1986) (**1/2)

This film for most of its running time is a standard teen slasher movie. Muffy St. John (Deborah Foreman, WAXWORK) is a rich girl who invites her friends to stay with her for a weekend at her remote mountain estate. Friends include: hot and mopey medical student Rob (Ken Olandt, LEPRECHAUN), Rob’s girlfriend Kit (Amy Steel, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2), conservative Texan Harvey (Jay Baker, SHAG), slutty Nikki (Deborah Goodrich, JUST ONE OF THE GUYS), jokester Skip (Griffin O’Neal, GHOULIES III: GHOULIES GO TO COLLEGE), prudish bookworm Nan (Leah Pinsent, WAKING THE DEAD), perverted filmmaker Chaz (Clayton Rohner, TV’s INTO THE WEST miniseries) and hornball cornball Arch (Thomas F. Wilson, BACK TO THE FUTURE).

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ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951) (***1/2)

Based on the classic Lewis Carroll novel, Disney’s animated adventure is a cornucopia of craziness, saturated with silliness from the moment we enter Alice’s wonderland. For Carroll's story, the lucidity of animation seems perfect, and the Disney animators are up to the task in this underrated gem.

Alice (Kathryn Beaumont, PETER PAN) is a young daydreamer who finds herself chasing a white rabbit with a pocketwatch (Bill Thompson, LADY AND THE TRAMP) down a rabbit hole into a strange new world. At first Alice is taken in by the nonsense of the land, but after some time becomes tired of the insanity.

The film is one delightful set piece after delightful set piece, which have a subversive message of predators on children underneath. In addition, depending on your persuasion, the film either has an anti- or pro-drug message as well. The top highlights of the film include the manic un-birthday party led by the Mad Hatter (Ed Wynn, MARY POPPINS), March Hare (Jerry Colonna, MAKE MINE MUSIC) and Dormouse (James MacDonald, THE RESCUERS) and the pompous, hypocritical Queen of Hearts (Verna Felton, PICNIC).

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THE 47 RONIN PART 1 (1941) (***)

Split into two parts, Kenji Mizoguchi’s epic samurai picture is the most well respected film to come out of Japan during World War II. Mizoguchi is considered one of the Japan’s best filmmakers of all time. The only other film I have seen of his is UGETSU, which is amazing. THE 47 RONIN is more of a political intrigue story than an action adventure epic like those of Akira Kurasawa.

Lord Asano (Yoshizaburo Arashi) attacks and mildly wounds court officer Lord Kira after he is insulted by the bureaucrat. Because Kira is a royal butt-kisser — literally — the officials rule that Lord Asano must commit ritual suicide. Lord Asano’s loyal samurai petition for their master to be spared while the motives of Chamberlain Kuranosuke Oishi (Chojuro Kawarasaki), Asano’s second in command, are brought into question.

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