Thursday, December 30, 2010

One A Week Reviews #52: Shoot the Hero!

A odd hallucination of a sleek shoot-'em-up, reviewed by moi for for your safety...

Shoot the Hero!

Official Synopsis

30-something couple (Jason Mewes and Samantha Lockwood) unintentionally become involved in a botched jewel heist while shopping for wedding rings. The plot thickens when the crooked casino owner (Danny Trejo) who engineered the heist hires two unassuming hit men to clean up the mess, and the soon-to-be husband and wife find themselves discovering new things about themselves and their relationship.

Our Take

Three strung together, inter-connected crime vignettes, Shoot the Hero certainly has lots of pretty style, but how's it work for substance?

Part one is “Nate & Kate” and features the (completely unlikable) couple shopping after-hours for wedding bands only to be interrupted by a jewelry store robbery. The idea they'd be discussing their relationship problems in the middle of a shoot-out is not only outlandish, it's off-putting. What happens after strains all credulity as the burglars choke on their own machismo in a “I've seen way too many cool action movies” moment. Guys trying to steal millions in precious gems and other items do not take a break to kick-box one another. Why should we invest in violence that clearly has to consequences to characters we haven't even related to yet? This fact hobbles the film right out of the gate.

Jason Mewes plays nebbish and shows versatility beyond his typecasting as part of “Jay and Silent Bob.” His verbal sparring with relative newcomer Samantha Lockwood (the shrewish Kate) is entertaining, but so detached from reality they provoke guffaws when the film wants awe. Plop their self-absorbed couple in a different film and you'd have some entertaining sparring.

Part two, “The Smith Brothers,” features squabbling siblings (Mike Hatton and Nic Nac) lugging garbage bags through the desert night. Their kvetching is, unsurprisingly, interrupted by a shootout of another kind. The pleasure of Fred Williamson making an appearance to chew scenery like his trademark stogies goes a long way, but doesn't salvage this muddle of slackers and “Keystone Cops” survivalists that keeps threatening to slide into slapstick.

The first two segments dovetail into the third, which sparks audience enthusiasm by opening with B-movie legend Danny Trejo as crime lord “Crazy Joe.” He and Nick Turturro's jewel robber bring their careers playing bad guys to good effect. They're a short-hand to raise the stakes and capture the audience late in the game. Sadly, the illegal casino “Mexican Standoff” strains all credulity and wastes the cachet they bring.

The film looks and sounds good, with a slick sheen and fine pacing. The problem is the content. Unrealistic characters in stories with predictable twists. In the real world, innocent bystanders tend to get a bit stressed when trapped in the middle of gunplay. In the world of Shoot the Hero, they get glib. An odd mix of happy ending and toxic post-Tarantino violence, Shoot the Hero is a mix that never quite gels.

(Side note A: Why is Taylor Negron's name misspelled on the DVD packaging?)

(Side note B: Katie Morgan, the baby-voiced adult film star who brought memorable sweetness to Zack & Miri Make a Porno, appears briefly as Crazy Joe's moll. She's arm candy here but worth keeping an eye on. Her woozy comic presence should lead to a bright future.)

Special Features

Shoot the Hero! Is presented widescreen with an option for Spanish subtitles. The Bonus Features menu offers about 26 minutes worth of video production and director's diaries, both three-part featurettes. There are video interviews with director Christian Sesma and Jason Mewes, a photo galley. The DVD also features a trailer for the far more interesting looking documentary, Restrepo.


Shoot the Hero is built out of painful, straight-outta-film-school scenes of “relationships vs. violence” that probably reads better than they play. The whole shebang is a pretty “boy's toy” of an action film choking on it's own “hey, look what I can do” coolness, tension-free gunplay, and an uncomfortable mix of flippancy and violence. Sesma has a great eye, but his excesses make for hard viewing. I look forward to his work once he steps away from his “Tarantino & Rodriguez” checklist.

For fans of absurdly exaggerated, glossy shoot-'em-ups only.

Overall Picture
Movie: D+
Extras: B-

Monday, December 27, 2010

One A Week Reviews #51: Robert Klein: Unfair & Unbalanced

HBO celebrated their 35th year of comedy specials by bringing back the man who started it all. Here's my review for

Robert Klein: Unfair & Unbalanced

Official Synopsis

Comedy Legend, Award-Winning Actor, Improvisational Master, Bluesman Extraordinaire, Robert Klein made hilarious history with the first-ever HBO stand-up special. Now, Klein returns for his ninth stand-up special, an hour of uproarious new takes on society's foibles and follies, plus several memorable music interludes backed by a symphony orchestra. From philandering congressmen, hypocrisy in Washington, pop culture obsessions and job outsourcing, to comedic musical numbers about Barack Obama, medical marijuana, gay marriage, and why he can't stop his leg, Klein grapples with the truly important issues as only he can – with trademark insight and timeless humor.

Our Take

Robert Klein is an elder statesman of stand-up comedy, and in Unfair & Unbalanced he presents nearly a full hour of witty music and wry observations, 35 years after his first HBO special. I personally don't remember when I last saw his stand-up and know him more as an actor. The show's open, a musical number about President Obama, seemed to really be there just to rehash old Clinton jokes didn't bode well at the outset. There's lots of reheated political humor here, less “up-to-date” than “greatest hits” of the last two years. David Vitter, Larry Craig, Eliot Spitzer, all these sacred cows got ground to burger long ago. Jokes about The Sopranos and Judge Judy also are, to be generous, dated. Adult jokes fall a little flat but have a good-natured spirit that makes them enjoyably inoffensive. Observations about aging come off oddly curmudgeonly, and don't quite work coming from a man as vital and energetic as Klein. You're not a “geezer” at 68 anymore. Klein also fancies himself a song and dance man, with a cute pair of songs about medical marijuana and gay marriage.

All in all, this is a pleasant diversion filled with easy laughs. Time well spent with an expert of comedy.

Special Features

The special is presented in widescreen with Dolby 5.1 audio, but there are no extras and no frills. What this disc should have is his first HBO special from 1975 as the obvious bookend.


While perhaps a bit mellowed with age, Robert Klein brings as still-acidic outlook to urrent events, vulgarity, and aging. With George Carlin gone, he inherits HBO's crown for stand-up king and takes it in a more “Borscht Belt” direction. A must for his fans and a great introduction to those unfamiliar with his stand-up comedy. Nothing cutting edge here, but Unfair & Unbalanced is a light hour of easy entertainment.

Overall Picture
Movie: B-
Extras: D-

Monday, November 15, 2010

One A Week Reviews #50: Fireball (2009)

Not great, not horrible - reviewed for Exploitation Retrospect. You really should check that fabulous site out!


Ever watch a movie and get annoyed by some character trait that seems to be nothing more than some piece of business shoe-horned in by an actor in a fit of "inspiration?" You've seen it before. A limp, an accent, some truly bad hair, a facial tic. Something where the actor can say "I'm acting" while the crew stands aside, awkward and embarrassed because it's not worth anyone's job to stop them.

In Fireball, Ian Somerhalder's character has a repetitive shtick involving flicking a purposely-unfilled Zippo lighter to not light a cigarette, since his character is trying to quit smoking. While I'm sure he's a lovely and talented man; this, along with a performance that seems to be made of solely of poses and winces, makes for so rough going. It's hard to empathize with a movie when all you want to do is douse the pretty lead actor in gasoline and break out a proper Bic.

Fireball stars Somerhalder as a standard-B-movie-issue FBI agent ("Agent Cooper," no less) along with Lexa Doig (looking the same as she did in Jason X a decade ago, ageless and lovely) as a "book-smart" Fire Investigator in a little town that seems to have it's fair share of arson. You'll thrill to their perfectly pedestrian and chemistry-free character arc as they investigate crimes, have a cute date, and leap out of the way of a few fireballs!

Also starring is Alexis Paunovic as disgraced Football star Tyler Draven (no, I'm sure the screenwriter wasn't aping "Tyler Durden" of Fight Club here. Of course not...), who through a mix of "steroids keyed to his particular DNA sequence" and a chance encounter with a burning building winds up becoming a human match. He's capable of starting fires he uses to fulfill an agenda of petty vendettas, offing those he thinks have done him wrong. Clearly a man with some roid-rage issues, he's already a rampaging mess in a bad wig prior to becoming a state-of-the-low-budget-CGI-art Supervillain. At this point, while he should be heading off to do in the people he sees as ruining his career he instead decides to hunt witnesses, Judges, and a sleazy reporter who really does deserve it. Blowing up cars and propane tanks, he escalates to leaving smoldering footsteps in his wake and slagging bullets. Paunovic grimaces and growls out a series of profoundly stupid, quasi-religious one liners while mediocre special effects create hurling fireballs as he escalates from microwaving a hotel room to deciding to nuke a nuclear power plant.

The movie loses some points for a truly stupid "I know how to stop him" plan that involves getting Durden to stand completely still while they dump sand on him, and another plan which relies on sucking the oxygen out of a totally non-airtight room with a giant pit in the middle (one with a wobbling ring of "concrete" around it). The scene where they slice a fireball in half with an axe is more likable than you'd wish it to be. As a "show-stopper" effect, it charms a smidge more than it should. Shot on video and obviously low-budget, there's still some good photography here. The actors aren't bad. Things are just... not inspired. This is a "SyFy Premier" movie, and I'm always willing to give them a pass for their hokey and good-natured fun. I love these "Saturday Night Specials" and Fireball is no different... even if it lacks a giant sea beast, sand serpent, or half-man half-mantis creature.

Now, usually, it's not good to give away quite as many details about a film as we do here. I feel like I'm entitled to, however, because this is one of those flicks where the trailer gives away the entire movie. Seriously, it's a linear collection of every low highlight in the flick. If the filmmakers don't want to save anything to be enjoyed by the audience, I don't see any reason to. Don't get me wrong, Fireball is enjoyable, and a good "stay in with a few brews" flick, but if you're going to catch it, skip the previews.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One A Week Reviews #49: Giallo

Getting my hands on a new Dario Argento film is always a fraught thing. The candy-colored fever dreams that got me hooked on Euro-Horrors like Suspiria and Phenomena (Creepers), are a far cry from the more drab and cruel affairs of his later work. None of that lavish visual flair remains- a victim of budgets, I'd assume- though the twisted, nonsensical plots remain. The Card Player was a blunt hammer of a film and Mother of Tears was a surprisingly stomach-churning near-miss. Argento's Masters of Horror offerings, Pelts and Jenifer, were so mean and grisly as to be almost unwatchable. Giallo is a supposed return to Argento's thriller roots and was long-awaited by many a fan, though it wound up not being released to much... fanfare.

The trademark Argento shots of the killer's hands are heavily featured, as is the flashbacks that seem an integral part to many of his films. The film is creatively, crisply shot, but that visual glory is a thing of the past. It's a handsome movie, cold and cruel, though the sound is oddly flat. At least the voices, some background ones dubbed English, don't jump out so badly now that every line isn't looped. There's a visual stunt, a close-up of an injection into a tongue, that's the kind of touch reminiscent of his older work.

Adrien Brody stars (recently in the news because evidently he didn't get paid for the film), in his best late-career Al Pacino impression, as Enzo, an American detective in Italy. He chooses a vocal affectation here, a bit of a clipped New York accent, that is so muttered it's almost harder to understand than those who speak English here as a second language. The Spanish Elsa Pataky is a fashion model kidnapped by a mad killer and the French Emmanuelle Seigner is her flight attendant sister, teaming up with Brody to try and find her before it's too late. Sadly, Pataky mostly just gets to whimper and scream here. A shame as I enjoyed her in Beyond Re-Animator. Seigner is still stunning to look at, though she's traded in dewy freshness for formidable maturity.

Pretty standard plot all around. A thin one, really. It should always be so easy to catch a criminal. Brody and Seigner chase down clues and victims trying to find the "yellow" man. (Giallo is, for the uninitiated, the term for the genre films of the Seventies and so-named because the lurid thriller novels of the time all had yellow covers.) I'm not sure why we need a flashback to the Yellow man's childhood. It's unforgivably hokey. The flashbacks to Enzo's childhood shock in violence. This is the character who, in real life, is more likely to become the crazy killer.

The other problem with the Yellow man, and this isn't a spoiler, is he's obviously played by Brody under some not-very convincing makeup. I assume the appeal of working for Argento and getting to play a dual role is what recruited him to this film, and he's clearly laboring here, but Brody doesn't seem to be having much of a good time here. The Yellow man is a collection of noises and ticks, all exaggerated.

The mystery and suspense are decompressed here and, while the pace doesn't dawdle, the goings are pretty slow. In the end, Giallo is worth it for the Argento fan, but it's doubtful it'll create new converts.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

One A Week Reviews #48: The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

You know you've been waiting to see this one. The highest concept movie in ages, reviewed by me for and your nauseated pleasure... also, this is my first review of a Blu-Ray. Score!

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

Official Synopsis: 

The plot is diabolically simple: two stranded American tourists are given shelter by a famed German doctor (a maniacally intense Dieter Laser) who made his fortune surgically separating conjoined twins. Now his mad genius is pushing the doctor to do the reverse. He tells the women that they will be surgically attached to a Japanese businessman - mouth to buttocks, one after the other – and thus will be born a net creature: the human centipede! Compellingly perverse, hilarious, and shockingly straightforward, director Tom Six's new film is hands-down one of the most memorable horror films ever.

Our Take:

Sigh, what do you do with a movie like this?

This reviewer scrupulously avoided spoilers and reviews before viewing The Human Centipede (First Sequence). Armed with only the description on the box cover and a general understanding of what would be encountered, I have to admit my second response was: is that all there is?
My first response was something along the lines of “Eww! Eww! Gross! What is he going to... no... NO... yuck!” This is a good thing, actually.

What you read on the box really is most of the film – no spoiler there – but thankfully, there's a little more to it than that. This is maybe the highest-concept movie ever made. It's all concept. You take your dread and squeamishness with you coming in, and it's paid off evenly. The highlight of the film might not be the surgeries or grisly conclusion, but rather Dr. Heiter (Laser) explaining exactly what is involved in the surgery. The film likes to mention “100% Medically Accurate” in the advertising. I don't know about that, but even the most hardened gorehound may not make it through his Med School 101 presentation without squirming. Three people, sewn together. 'Nuff said. It should also be noted this is not of the “Torture Porn” school, though it seems to have been sold as such. It's much more in the body-horror vein of David Cronenberg and the recent Splice.

The amazing Dieter Laser, a German actor who seems an odd union of Christopher Walken and Lance Henriksen, comes off like Udo Kier's dour brother. The glimpses of perverse black humor he lets slip through the coldest, most clinical bedside manner ever put to film, are the fuel driving the picture. If you have no other interest in seeing the film, put it on for his performance. Ashley C. Williams, the relative newcomer playing middle segment Lindsay, is the only actor with a lot to do, and half her performance is in her eyes. It's her wedge of face we turn to every time the ante of the impossible situation is upped. She is the figurative and literal center of the film.

The first watch is all marvel and disgust. The second brings black humor and you may be impressed that they sold this at all. The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is a lean, baroque, concept, and should be given at least one spin, if just to test your stomach.

Audio and Video:

The picture on this Blu-Ray in near-perfection. A slight artifact or two, but mostly the cool, blue florescent lighting of the surgical areas and warm, golden sunlight come through vividly. The picture is so crisp that some scenes with trees create such a depth of field as to give the illusion of 3D. The clean, spare widescreen compositions are presented intact.

The Audio is flawless, with subtle sounds jumping to your attention when least expected. Presented in English 2.0 (German and Japanese are also spoken and subtitled) with a spare score and fleshy, crunchy sound effects, it's worth turning up to let the audio wrap itself around you. Check out the Foley Session featurette for a truly nauseating look at the Butcher's Counter products used to create the films...ambiance.

Special Features:
  • Trailers
  • Deleted Scene
  • Behind the Scenes featurette
  • Director Interview
  • Casting Tapes
  • Foley Session
  • Alternative Posters
  • Directors Commentary Track
While it doesn't live up to the hype, The Human Centipede (First Sequence) is maybe the highest concept movie ever made. What you hear you're going to see is what you get, but the sense of dread and body-horror revulsion built along the way make it a discrete, baroque experience.

Overall Picture:
Movie: B
Video: A-
Audio: A
Extras: B

One A Week Reviews #47: Kung Fu Master

The oddest of ducks, this live-action videogame may be just the choice for the next time you tie one on. Reviewed for, but probably never forgotten...

Kung-Fu Master

Official Synopsis:
One man is faced with a life-altering choice when he is approached with the greatest honor but declines, forcing him to destroy the Kung-Fu Master Alliance in order to protect his people.

Our Take:
Does China have a SyFy-type channel for “Chopsocky” films? Kung Fu Master looks like it would belong there. This shot-on-video, low budget adventure has the feel of their “Saturday Night Specials.” The production values give the film the feel of a cable history show with actors playing dress-up for snippets of staged recreations.
In between over-choreographed fight scenes featuring silly dubbing and too much mugging for the camera, there's a story here of master fighter Tan Zong being called by an evil General to be the Army's drillmaster. With Kung Fu schools across the country destroyed, Tan Zong must confront various groups of fighters in scene after scene of dance-like anarchy, interrupted only by his prayers to “O, merciful Buddha. It seems like every transition leads to more action. The choppy, episodic structure makes the whole thing feel like watching a friend play a video game, broken up by those animated breaks for plot exposition.

The overall structure is also weirdly hallucinatory. This one might be good after a few drinks while you use your Playstation to watch the disc.
The joy of Kung Fu films are the acrobatic fights that seem to cheat nature. In this film, it's too much, though. Everything here defies physics. The spins and leaps go too high and far. Silk sleeves crack stone and tensed skin stops iron blades. It'd be less off-putting either dialed down a bit, or presented as a Saturday morning cartoon. It's inventive, but so over-the-top it seems like a spoof. It's all just too, too much.
Special Features:
Kung Fu Master is presented in widescreen with both English and Mandarin 5.1 Dolby Digital audio options. English and Spanish subtitles and a few trailers are the only extras on the DVD.

Weird cable TV production values and atrocious dubbing add a surreal flavor to Kung Fu Master. For enthusiasts of Kung Fu cinema, video game storytelling, and psychotropics only. The fighting is inventive and hypnotic to watch, but “O, merciful Buddha,” take it away. For a night in with buddies who can appreciate this odd concoction, this live-action cartoon would get a grade of “B-," otherwise...

Overall Picture:
Movie: D+
Extras: C

One A Week Reviews #46: Elvis & Anabelle

Like an Indie film teleported in from 1994 to see the future, this stylistic throwback I reviewed for has charm that wins one over in the end.

Elvis & Anabelle

Official Synopsis: 
Blake Lively ("Gossip Girl") and Max Minghella (Syriana) star in this sexy, romantic love story with an unusual twist. Groomed to be the perfect pageant candidate, Anabelle (Lively) is on the verge of winning it all when she tragically dies onstage. Her body is delivered to the funeral home of Elvis's family, but just as she is ready to be embalmed, her spirit returns. Trying to make sense of it all, she turns to Elvis (Minghella) for comfort and finds a new chance at love. But after death has brought them together, will life tear them apart?
Our Take:
First off, in most of America, the Funeral Home is the nicest house in town. In Elvis & Anabelle it looks like the house from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Much like "Six Feet Under," this is an oddball take on life in a funeral home, where Elvis Moreau (Max Minghella, looking about all of eighteen) takes pictures of every "guest," sometimes with props. When he finds Anabelle Leigh (ahem), the local bulemic beauty queen, on his slab, the last things one would expect are resurrection and love.

Admittedly, "during embalming" is perhaps not the best way to "meet cute." At least, not this side of Re-Animator. The type of movie one uses "quirky" and "idiosyncratic" to describe, it's set in some concept of Texas that could only exist within a film. Anabelle understandably winds up attracted to the Mortuary and, by extension, to Max. In this odd structure they go on to have a pretty standard "opposites attract" love story. If you've seen a lot of these Indies you'll be groaning when they start painting the house together, but the movie's heart is in the right place. Stifled at home, she runs away to live with the Moreaus, leading her mother to start a manhunt.
The kids go on the lam for the last third of the film and you know they'll grow closer as they learn to embrace life in a travel and trying-on-clothes montage. Even as the other shoe eventually drops, they're still worth joining along their trip, though the end of the film features events that may alienate viewers who's lives have been touched by certain types of loss.
Keith Carradine, Mary Steenburgen, and Joe Mantegna (getting to play both physical and mental handicaps) all shine and seem to be having a good ol' time. Minghella and Blake Lively both show promise for relative newcomers. It's also no stretch for Lively to be playing a beauty queen, though she doesn't sell the Texas accent quite as well. The movie looks good, with a soundtrack that, like everything here, screams "Indie Film." Familiarity and morbidity aside, Elvis & Anabelle is mostly a sweet and generous love story.

Special Features:
Elvis & Anabelle is presented in widescreen and English 5.1 Dolby digital audio. The disc features English and Spanish subtitles, trailers and a featurette interview with writer/director Will Geiger.

The patented "Quirky Indie Romance" with a hit of death and a scoop of Texas oddity, Elvis & Anabelle benefits from great actors, but suffers for coming after far too many of its type. The film is sweet and romantic enough to overcome some odd choices and lazy plot points to be an overall rewarding date night watch.

Overall Picture:
Movie: C+
Extras: C

One A Week Reviews #45: Manson My Name Is Evil

This is an odd duck of a film - like a college theater production committed to film - that I reviewed for Perhaps you'd best judge it for yourself...

Manson, My Name Is Evil (Leslie, My Name Is Evil):

Official Synopsis:
Manson's bloodlust left a trail of dead bodies across the Los Angeles landscape. His resulting trial connects Perry, a sheltered chemist, to Leslie Van Houten, one of Manson's murdering minions.

Our Take:
Originally called Leslie, My Name Is Evil, the Canadian production Manson, My Name is Evil is a surprisingly bleak, somewhat comic look at the life of Leslie Van Houten. Skipping across the events of her life like a stone on a lake, her broken home and teenage pregnancy are glossed over as she's delivered into the hands of the Manson cult. The former Homecoming queen and other Manson girls are depicted like characters in a CW show, and balanced by the comic, Fifties-square Perry and his religious girlfriend Dorothy. They play like a sketch comedy look at wholesomeness, making for an odd contrast with the Manson crowd. Perry winds up a juror in this stage-play-like interpretation of the Manson trial and falls in love with Leslie in the process.

Van Houten has spent more of her life in prison than out at this point. The historical events she was involved in are such a sensitive American touchstone, still fresh in living memory, that the presentation here strikes an off note. Theatrical and experimental, with news footage and photographs of the time edited in to establish the tone of the era, the film combines the drama of the Manson family with Perry's sitcom life. The tone clashes sharply. Kristen Hager, playing Van Houten, Is passive, girlish, and awkward. She conveys the confusion of a drug-addled, lost adolescence convincingly. An empathetic anchor to the otherwise theatrical style of some of the proceedings.

Manson's first appearance, sixteen minutes in, lashed to a crucifix in a barn for his stagey introduction to Leslie is the test moment. If you have an appreciation for history, perhaps it's best you tune out then. This clean-scrubbed, rosy-cheeked Family, petulantly following pleasure down the path of Manson's crazy, is hard to relate to. Manson himself is presented as rather silly here, a counterpoint to all the looming images of Richard Nixon that pop up throughout. The Tate murders are dispensed with in exchange for some spinning newspaper headlines. More attention here is paid to Perry and Dorothy necking on the beach. We're not spared the LaBianca murders, as Van Houten was personally involved in those. The talented Hager's passivity up to here makes the sequence the disturbing center of the film. Her performance keeps the film from flying off into the land of total satire. Gregory Smith as Perry (and it's just “Perry”) seems to belong in another story entirely, one that's a humorous spoof about sexual frustration in the repressed end of American Sixties culture. His bloody, Freudian dream sequence at the hour mark is one of the entertaining highlights of the film, mostly by virtue of being so over the top.

The mistake here, I suppose, is that the filmmakers are using the details of real life events here. If fictionalized, this would be truly effective. The moments of Psycho Beach Party tone and college theater staging clash with the Helter Skelter details.

Special Features:
Manson, My Name is Evil is presented in widescreen with English 5.1 or 2.0 Dolby Digital audio. There are Spanish subtitles available. The only other extras are trailers.

After a glorious opening montage of images, the odd, stagey black comedy Manson, My Name Is Evil is a weirdly satirical look at the Manson Family murders. There's great talent here, as director Reginald Harkema and leading lady Kristen Hager are worth watching. However, the film is a theatrical meditation on the life of Leslie Van Houten. Performance art played out in front of giant crosses, American Flags, and Tricky Dicks. It lands sadly short of what the story deserves in it's telling.

Overall Picture:
Movie: C
Extras: C-

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One A Week Reviews #44: Suck

A gem of a horror-comedy reviewed for Highly Recommended!


Official Synopsis:

The Winners are a down and out band who find their road to stardom by riding rock-n-roll's highway to hell. It all begins when their bass player, Jennifer (Jessica Paré), disappears with a mysterious vampire and reemerges with a sexual charisma that drives the audiences wild. Now, The Winners are topping the charts and blazing a bloody trail across North America with legendary vampire hunter Eddie Van Helsig (Malcom McDowell) hunting them along the way. Who knew fame and immortality could "suck" like this?

Our Take:

Rob Stefaniuk is rather smartly shortcircuting reviewers from taking easy shots at this rock-n-roll vampire movie by bluntly naming it Suck. So... does it? To get it out of the way, no. If anything, he can stand boldly behind the name as this is a surprisingly near-perfect horror comedy.

The Winners are a mediocre bar band barely making ends meet while on tour, so when the bassist shows pale, ruby-lipped, and making everyone fall in love with her it's a god send... even if she's noshing on the occasional person while on tour. Next thing you know they're climbing the ladder of success thanks to some good old-fashioned blood-sucking. It's a humorous way to ask the old question: "What price success?"

The cast of Suck is uniformly good. Stefaniuk cast himself as band-leader Joey and Jessica Paré is first charming, then show-stopping once a vampire. Paul Anthony, Mike Lobel and especially Chris Ratz as the Renfield-like Hugo each shine as the rest of The Winners. Dave Foley pops up as the band's manager and Malcolm McDowell gleefully chews scenery as vampire hunter Eddie Van Helsing (nice touch, that). McDowell brings his usual intensity while also seeming unusually playful. Frankly, he looks like he's having an excellent time. (The incorporation of footage of him earlier in his career in a flashback spices up some rote back story, as well.) Musicians Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, Moby, Iggy Pop, and Alex Lifeson show up to lend "stage cred" to the proceedings. For stunt casting, they're all charming performers and each shines in their cameos.

The construction here is "music video." The music is incorporated through montage and performance to the point where you could call this a musical. The editing, cinematography, and effects nicely straddle the horror-comedy divide. Everything looks lavish, while still feeling small-scale. Color changes in the lighting and stop-motion animation are effectively used to transition scenes. Keep an eye out for the running gag of shots that reproduce famous album covers. While the vampire aesthetic is all pasty skin, red eyes, and good lighting, things stay humorous even when the blood starts flowing.

Superficially, one could say the metaphor here is "vampirism as a metaphor for success," but mostly Suck is simply high-concept comedy done right and worth seeking out.

Special Features:

Suck is presented in widescreen with 2.0 and 5.1 Surround Sound Audio options in English with English SDH subtitles. Extras include trailers, a 45 minute making-of documentary "Down To The Crossroads," an audio commentary track with the writer and director, along with a music video by Burning Brides.

A tongue-in-cheek musical lark of a vampire story, Suck is campy and fast-paced fun. A nice surprise and highly recommended. Be sure to "try some groupie" and give it a watch.

Overall Picture:
Movie: A-
Extras: B

One A Week Reviews #43: Mercy

A Love Story rehashing reviewed for boredom beware...


Official Synopsis:
A best-selling novelist (Scott Cann of Ocean's Eleven) one-night stands his way through LA until he finally meets his match with Mercy (beautiful newcomer Wendy Glenn), a book critic who calls his bluff in this powerful romance that Caan wrote, produced and stars in. Featuring Dylan McDermott ("The Practice"), Erika Christensen (Oscar-winning Traffic, TV's "Parenthood") and directed by photographer superstar Patrick Hoelck in his film debut, Mercy is a riveting drama. It's also a memorable moment of cinematic history when rising Hollywood star Scott Caan shares the screen with is legendary father James Caan (The Godfather). Their combustible scene together is the beating heart of this bittersweet look at lost love.

Our Take:
Writers and filmmakers turn to what they know for inspiration. This is why you get so many novels and films about writers and filmmakers. For the layperson, this doesn't always equal access. Stories of tortured artists, frequently insulated by wealth and success, can alienate an audience. Mercy is another example of this. Here, Scott Caan has written himself a character, Johnny Ryan, where he plays a young, successful novelist who runs with a famous crowd, including Kelly Lynch and Balthazar Getty, playing themselves.

Johnny, a slick, successful, promiscuous fireplug of a man, gets taken down a peg or three by Mercy, the type of glib, sparring woman most people only encounter in film. She must, of course, write the only harsh review of his universally lauded new novel, leading him to want to badger her into approving of him, probably out of some selfish need for approval. She's less love object than she is a plot mechanism. As he and his friends are prone to unenlightened navelgazing rants about "love," it tends to make for a long 87 minutes. Their whirlwind courtship, tilted "before," turns to an actor's exercise in "after," as Johnny lashes out because of something clearly telegraphed at the 27 minute mark. He fights, he cries, he rocks a beard symbolizing the changes he's gone through. He also writes some decent scenes for James Caan to sink his teeth into. Always nice to see a seasoned pro at work.

For a film full of charming actors and well-written dialogue, it's kind of surprising just how distant the film feels. It's sumptuously photographed and scored, just distant as a magazine layout. I've always found Scott Caan an engaging, underrated actor, but I just can't cotton to Mercy.

Special Features:
Mercy is presented in Widescreen and in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio. The DVD includes subtitles in English and Spanish, Trailers, a deleted scene, and a behind the scenes photo montage.

Scott Caan is a talented writer and actor and Patrick Hoelck is a promising director with a great visual sense. Mercy is gorgeous, but distant. A story of lost love that just didn't engage.

Overall Picture:
Movie: C-
Extras: C+

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One A Week Reviews #42: Tormented

This review for DVDsnapshot was a fun one. A British teen slasher with a supernatural angle...

Official Synopsis:
Can revenge reach beyond the grave? When Darren Mullet, an awkward, bullied boy commits suicide, few kids at his school can do anything but snicker, except for sweet Justine, who delivers a eulogy but admits she can't remember ever meeting the boy. But Mullet knew her, and remembered every humiliation he suffered at school. When his unrepentant tormentors begin getting weird and threatening text message from the dead boy's phone, they believe they're being pranked by his only friend, the timid Jason. But when taunting texts turn to actual torture and murder, no one at school is safe and everyone is a suspect – even Justine. The biting and suspenseful Tormented features a bright and talented young cast, including Tuppence Middleton (Chatroom), Alex Pettyfer (Tom Brown's Schooldays), Olly Alexander (Bright Star) and Calvin Dean (The Duchess).

Our Take:
There's something refreshing in getting reminded that “adolescents are mean, horrid, monstrous creatures” is an international condition. Lovely, quiet, “Final Girl” Justine is getting courted by Alexis, who draws her into his elite group of friends at the top of the High School social food chain. She eventually learns her new friends were complicit in the death of social outcast Darren Mullet, thought to be a suicide. At the post-funeral party, they start getting threatening texts from the dead boy's cell phone as someone is out for supernatural revenge. Justine's ignorance and complicity-after-the-fact, wanting acceptance, makes her Mullet's target soon enough. She starts scaling the social heights, but it gets easier as the ranks get thinned out in this Brit-take on the teen-slasher film. There's some I Know What You Did Last Summer mixed with some One Missed Call in Tormented.

Besides the humanizing angle of Justine realizing Mullet carried a torch for her, the kids' personalities are all drawn in broad strokes: goths, nerds, cool kids. That's okay for this sort of film. It makes for easy storytelling when the chic clique is so obnoxious you're rooting for their demise before the opening credits are done. As British Society is more seriously regimented than in America, it shorthands an extra-vicious power structure. In fact, all the students are such magnificent jerks you're disappointed the ghostly Mullet isn't MORE creative in his methods of dispatching them. Not sure why he wastes time with kids from lower in the food chain but the killing eventually picks up speed The tubby Darren Mullet plays like the Japanese Ghost Girls, peering out behind a curtain of hair. When he appears, bad stuff happens to worse people.

While the overall pace of the film is a little pokey, it has a good visual look and the music is age-appropriate without immediately dating the story. You've seen this sort of thing before, but Tormented is, while not a classic, almost the “British Cozy Mystery” of the teen slasher genre. Bullying is a real problem, with very real consequences. This story would be terrifying without the ghost.

Special Features:
Tormented is presented in Widescreen aspect and English 5.1 Dolby Digital with English and Spanish subtitles. Trailers and a behind the scenes featurette are included on the DVD

Tormented is an adolescent revenge fantasy with a supernatural-slasher bent that's an A+ for anyone who fantasized they could have pushed back against the bullies in their past a little more... forcefully.
For everyone else it's an enjoyably evil watch for a Saturday night with one's “mates.” You'll feel much better about your own friendships.
Overall Picture:
Movie: B-
Extras: C

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One A Week Reviews #41: Held Hostage

A Lifetime TV thriller reviewed for DVDsnapshot...


What if the ultimate nightmare is just the beginning? After three masked gunmen break into her home, bank manager Michelle Estey (Julie Benz, TV's “Dexter”) and her young daughter are duct-taped with explosives and threatened with death unless Michelle cooperates in a daring bank heist. Terrified, Michelle agrees to their demands. She and her daughter are left unharmed, but Michelle soon realizes that, after the robbery, they are still very much in danger. Unguarded by police, shunned by her colleagues, she becomes a suspect in the crime and her shady past is exposed in what becomes the fight of her life in this tense thriller.

Held Hostage is a Lifetime TV movie “Based on a True Story” in the “woman in jeopardy” film tradition. The first half is a thriller focusing on Michelle Estey, a contented, independent single mother who's made a good life for herself and her daughter, Breea. A bank manager, she's targeted by a group of robbers who break into her home and terrorize her into holding up her own bank by strapping both her and her daughter with dynamite. It'd be a little too shrill and highly-pitched if not for the talented Julie Benz, mostly known for playing the vampire Darla on “Buffy” and “Angel” and Rita, the traumatized girlfriend on “Dexter.” She keeps the feverish thriller half of the film grounded in reality.

The second half takes a turn as the traumatized duo is pretty much left to their own devices by the police, exploited by the media, and left to recover from their ordeal. This is the side of life thrillers never show you; children terrified by every voice in the hallway and families waiting for criminals to get caught so they can move on with their lives. Estey winds up forced to reach out to a family she's separated from and must defend herself when accused by the criminals of being a co-conspirator in the crime. She winds up not also having to defend her past when it gets dredged up and held against her. Bruce McGill appears as a police detective who occasionally seems sympathetic to the viewer while he grows more and more hostile to Ms. Estey.

There's a little bit of flashy editing and cinematography, and the “thrills” are front-loaded on the first half of what seems to be two different films bolted together at the middle. The trial half certainly plays to the back row and manipulates the audience. Watch this mostly for the story of a maddeningly twice-victimized woman that would be overwrought and unbelievable if not for the compelling Benz.

Held Hostage is presented in Widescreen and in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound. English and Spanish subtitles, along with a few trailers are the only options.

Held Hostage is a “Based on a True Story” Lifetime TV movie. An okay thriller that turns into a drama about crime victims being victimized again by “The System,” it's serviceable for a weeknight in, that's mostly a satisfying vehicle for the talented Julie Benz.


One A Week Reviews #40: Outrage Born In Terror

This film, reviewed for DVDsnapshot, may just be the biggest stinker this side of... yes... The Room!

Official Synopsis
A young woman (Natasha Lyonne) is forced to re-live a traumatic childhood event, when a vacation in the woods turns into a nightmare with an ex-military sniper (Michael Madsen) hunting them down. She now has to confront her inner demons to come out alive.

Our Take
Four friends gather at the cabin of one's father, not realizing 2 other have already been killed by some mysterious rednecks and a sniper (Madsen) who've been squatting there. As a lightning-struck redneck-caricature Billy (played by the Executive Producer) provides some moralizing narration, the film skips from genre to genre. The Sniper and co-horts (essentially a crazy Larry, Darryl, and Darryl) hunt the hapless cityfolk, Halloween-toothed Billy points out “outrages” and occasionally reminds us about “the powers up yonder.”

The muddled tone of this movie is ridiculous. One minute you think it's found some old-time religion, but then it jumps into backwoods-stalker territory. Michael Berryman (“The Hills Have Shamans?”) shows up to perform some magic tricks as a healer with his sidekick, Mr.“Dueling Banjos” This movie doesn't know if it wants to be moral parable or horror film, but as Christine (Katie Fountain) comes to terms with a trauma from her childhood, she learns important lessons on conquering her fears... with the help of a ghost and some lessons in changing her patterns of thinking. It's not an action thriller, it's “The Secret!”

The editing and audio are as atrocious as the seriously uneven tone of the movie. Most of the actors are amateurish to the point of painful. Natasha Lyonne (playing a character different than the one indicated on the box) seems like a completely different actress than the one we met in Slums of Beverly Hills. Bloated and seemingly drugged, she's painful for her fans – and I am one – to watch. Michael Madsen is collecting a paycheck, but at least he brings some presence.

This movie is weird, moralizing, and doesn't know what it wants to be. It's too hokey to please thriller fans and too hippie-dippy to please fans of religious-themed films. It's a soft, soggy “action thriller” with a spiritual bent. If nothing else, you'll (ahem) “thrill” to some of the most senseless character self-sacrifice in the history of movies. Each time you think your jaw can't drop again, it does. This is the most off-kilter film I've seen since The Room, except that movie may just be... better.

Special Features:
Outrage is presented in 16:9 full-screen and English 2.0 Dolby English. The only extras are trailers.

A muddled movie essentially based on the principles of “The Secret,” it's best to ask the Universe to take it away. If you ask and believe, you will receive... if not a better movie, then at least some free time. Outrage is the backwoods cousin of The Room.

Overall Picture:
Movie: D
Extras: D

Monday, September 6, 2010

One A Week Reviews #39: Laughology

A Canadian documentary I reviewed for DVDsnapshot. I think you'll find it's worth a few... laughs? (*Groan* sorry, couldn't resist)


Laughter... Plato hated it. The Bible discouraged it. The school you went to, probably, banned it.

The first ever feature documentary about the subject, Laughology is a "screamingly funny" groundbreaking odyssey into why we laugh and those who would stop us.

When filmmaker Albert Nerenberg realized he needed to lighten up after a family tragedy, he goes on a quest to find the cure for seriousness. What ensues is a journey to discover the meaning and power of laughter in a world that desperately needs a good laugh.

From the opening treating the subject like the outbreak of a terrible, infectious virus, Laughology is a thoughtful and playful documentary about laughter: what is it and why do we need it?

Albert Nurenberg was touched with far too much death in his family's lives and was inspired by his child's laughing to find out how to get his own laugh back. As he discovers, all babies learn to laugh on their own. It's a universal behavior everyone expresses, even animals, who's panting sounds are the evolutionary root and cousin of human chuckles. We express joy through laughter and it heals us.

Anthropology, medical sciences, religion, entertainment and education are all checked-in with on this trip through the human history of the healthiest of all contagions (excepting, of course, the African outbreak of "Laughing Disease," which is covered in the doc). Turns out society has a long history of surpressing joy and encouraging seriousness (and here I thought it was just in my life). Some of the anecdotes include how "laughtracks" can calm caged, nervous dogs and a look at "Professional Laughers." Hired originally to be the audience for the TV show "The Nanny" (due to security threats to Fran Drescher), this crew of "Pros" were hired on the QT by several shows and for a golden while, were very lucky people with the enviable job of sitting around together and just laughing. What a marvelous job.

Best of all are a visit to the Inuit to learn of their laughter games and strongly encultured respect for the power of laughter and a look at Norman Cousins, a man who possibly healed himself from a degenerative disease through overdosing on "Candid Camera." Being reminded you won't survive if you don't express joy in your life is something we all need to hear.

Watching people laugh thoughout the hour, you might find yourself going from a straight face, to a grin, to perhaps being inspired to laugh a little yourself. Even if much of it seems forced in the documentary, it's still a reminder that we need to share laughs.

Extras on Laughology include the trailer and some 40 minutes of extra/extended interviews including a look at what the "Laughing Yogi" teaches, which by all rights would make for a killer youtube video. The film is presented in English and in Widescreen, but no subtitles or other options.

A quick hour-long documentary about laughter, you might find yourself smiling along. Not necessarily as joyful as it could be, it's hard to be critical of any story as good natured as this look at laughter. You'll be booking a trip to go visit the Inuit and play their laughing games.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

One A Week Reviews #38: Finding Bliss

Practically a sitcom about the "wonderful world of Porno", this feature reviewed for dvdsnapshot does have it's charms...


Aspiring filmmaker Jody Balaban (Leelee Sobieski) takes a job at an adult entertainment studio, planning to use the company's lush facilities to secretly film her own movie after hours. When Jody's ruse is discovered, she's forced to collaborate with infamous adult entertainment director, Jeff Drake (Matt Davis) – an initially fractious relationship that simmers into an unexpected romance.

Apple-cheeked and overly optimistic film student Jody Balaban takes a student award, one encounter with Garry Marshall, and a lot of hope and promptly moves to Los Angeles to fall on her face trying to break into the movies. Desperately taking an editing gig with an adult entertainment production company; she starts plotting, sassy scamp that she is, to make her own film with the production house's facilities after hours while imagining conversations in her head with Bliss, the porn star she can project her neuroses onto. She winds up using the cast and crew to make her own movie, “Mickey and Judy putting on a show” style, while working on editing the porn film.

Personally, I think this all just sounds rather exhausting, but the film keeps things fairly light and sunny. You'd think porn casts were the cutest group of wacky co-workers ever to spring from a sit-com style reimagining of Boogie Nights. (This was originally developed as a Showtime series, and that “Group of wacky TV characters” feel definitely still lingers.) Pretty much everyone's seen pornography, rather they admit it or not, and it's certainly nicer to picture the cast and crew as a sweetly dysfunctional family than whatever the reality might be. Jody goes on to spar romantically with Jeff Drake, the director of the dirty movie. Matt Davis and Leelee Sobieski have friendly chemistry but not romantic, however that's not that big a deal for this frothy comedy. Also, she starts out as something of a prude but we all know she'll loosen up considering the circumstances. If you don't think she won't learn, grow, and fall in love, then you've never seen a romantic comedy before.

Sobieski has grown to be both a sober and amusing lead, while Jamie Kennedy (all of him, ahem), Caroline Aaron, Denise Richards, Ron Jeremy and Kristin Johnston bring their woozy, addled comedy stylings to keep the varied characters amusing and easy to relate to. I find it hard to believe these two groups, the porn stars and the straight world, would have so much trouble with the so-called “awkward gulf” between them. Discovering common ground is part of the journey.
Finding Bliss keeps the comedy light – with silly sex toy and porn industry humor. This is comedy with adult content, but it's wholesome at heart, even if there's a big scoop of cheese at the end when there really should be whipped cream.

Finding Bliss is presented full-screen with both French and English 2.0 stereo and 5.1 Dolby Surround sound. Included are Deleted and alternate scenes, storyboards, and a musical “shake it up” montage and trailers for Adventures of Power, I Do & I Don't, and Play the Game.

A wholesome sex comedy set in the porn industry (and we should all have such nice coworkers); Finding Bliss is cute enough you could watch it on a date. I wouldn't recommend showing it to the kids, though.


One A Week Reviews #37: OSS 117: Lost In Rio

A delight reviewed for I definitely recommend this one...


The pride of French intelligence, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath – code named OSS 117 has a new mission that takes him to the Bossa Nova Brazil of the 1960s. Teaming up with a sexy Mossad agent, he sets out to capture a Nazi blackmailer with an embarrassingly long list of World War II French collaborators. With a jubilantly retro score and production design, along with flair for the cinematic vocabulary of the 1960s, the filmmakers again have the perfect man to send up Western arrogance, French chauvinism, and bigotry in general with biting satire and scathing with.

Do you like the Swinging Sixties? Nostalgic for men in dapper suits, brylcreem and shorty robes? Do you miss Sixties spy films? Even if you haven't seen the European OSS 117 series, any fan of old James Bond, Matt Helm, or Derek Flint is going to be familiar with the flavor of OSS 117: Lost In Rio. Fans of Maxwell Smart aren't exactly left out in the cold, either.

From an opening featuring our super-spy partying with a gaggle of chippies that's interrupted by a gang of armed men, OSS 117 sets a breezy tone of girls, guns, and unflappable Sixties cool. A sequel to OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, this second outing stands amusingly alone. An absurdist plot kicking off with a former Nazi, some microfilm, and a trip to Rio quickly gets complicated with killers with speech impediments, killer crocodiles, Mexican Wrestlers, Big Top flashbacks, silly costumes, and a general breezy, chuckling approach to the murder of henchmen and armcandy. OSS 117 has jet-setting adventures and even learns and grows a little along the way as he faces the changing world of the Sixties.

Are Americans all viewed by the world to be as bluntly vulgar as the Bill character in this film? I hope not. He's at least matched by OSS 117's offhandedly sexist when teamed with an Israeli Army Colonel in a miniskirt. The causal jabs at racism, sexism, and antisemitism add to the retro feel of the proceedings, and actually goose the humor along rather than stilt it. OSS 117 thuds thru scenarios, an oblivious caveman in a glossy world. Playing the attitudes of the past with tongue firmly in cheek, the film mocks the genre and changes in culture. Surprisingly, the humor translates for fans in any language.

OSS 117 is a pleasure to watch. The movie has that Sixties glamor down pat. The suits are great, the gals are hair-sprayed and Pucci'd, and the cars are authentic, if not flashy. The visuals play with splitting up the screen for jazzy emphasis of stylish character entrances as we jet from one exotic location to another. There should be more cocktails and cigarettes, but no film is perfect.

OSS 117: Lost In Rio is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen in French with English subtitles. Included are a Making of Featurette, Blooper Reel, Deleted scenes and a set of trailers for other European films.

Nudity, violence, free love, drug humor, unenlightened attitudes on everything, OSS 117: Lost in Rio is a retro delight with humor that crosses language barriers to delight fans of Sixties Spy films everywhere. The look, tone, and cast are perfect while things get sublimely zany towards the end. Give it a spin and you won't be disappointed.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

One A Week Reviews #36: Galaxy of Terror

Now THIS is a movie that starts out quick and dirty. A sci-fi mash-up of Battlestar Galactica, Forbidden Planet, and Alien, (and evidently a heavy influence on Event Horizon) Galaxy of Terror hits the ground running with a deadly prologue that rolls right into the launch of a mission to a strange planet. I assume it's ostensibly to check out what happened to the people who died in the prologue but frankly there's so little plot development you'll be damned if you can follow what's going on. It doesn't matter though. Our dispatched B-movie crew does some of the fastest space travel ever put to film before starting to drop like flies while facing a monster of the id channeling their nightmares. Not only will they die, they'll go mad while they do it.

I think Event Horizon lifted a lot from this film, and I'm gonna have to watch it again to compare. I do mean "drop like flies," too. I don't think I caught more than 2 character names through the whole she-bang. Character development? No thanks.

This is a Roger Corman quickie and it wrings fairly high production values out of a tiny budget. Deliciously good lighting, sometimes reminiscent of Italian grind-house fare (one shot of a slime-covered lass really reminds me of Lucio Fulci), and surprisingly good matte and miniature effects, it looks better than it has any right to. The cast features some real B-movie stalwarts, and they're all pros. Edward Albert and Erin Moran (as the Universe's least-empathetic psychic) get top billing, but you'll find Grace Zabriskie (playing what seems to be her current age), Ray Walston, Robert Englund, a slient-but-deadly Sid Haig (seriously, he makes frequent faces that look like he's passing serious gas), future soft-core porn auteur (and terrible actor) Zalman King, and Taaffe O'Connell, in an evidently notorious rape-by-giant-maggot-with-LOTS-of-goop scene. I say "evidently" because this is just now hitting DVD and has been out of print on VHS for years.  This one is also known for having pre-fame James Cameron and Bill Paxton working behind the scenes on effects. Beisdes the lighting and matte paintings, there are some great puppet creatures, terrific backpacks that seem to be made of car headlights, and supposedly old styrofoam clam-shell boxes for burgers lining the spaceship walls. One shot has some of the most seamless split-screen I've ever seen in a movie.

A neglected, VERY nasty 1981 Sci-Fi trash classic, and definitely worth a watch. Don't wait - go buy it, now, lovers of sci-fi sleaze!

Monday, August 9, 2010

One A Week Review #35 - Skyjacked

Your boy is back after a couple weeks (okay, a couple months, really) hiatus and he's got a gem to kick off a new round of One A Week reviews.

Skyjacked is an odd, "A Picture" rip off of Airport that has all the Seventies "disaster film" tropes you know I love. It even has that terrific head shot poster practically required for this kind of movie. It's as luxe as Airport  but has the slightly trashier storyline more apropos to Murder on Flight 502. You have an "all star cast" headlined by Charlton Heston (did he carry this character on to Airport 1975? I choose to think so.) and Yvette Mimieux at her Breck Girl best (seriously, there's a killer "romantic flashback" that'd make a perfect shampoo commerical).

A dashing, pipe-smoking-in-the-cockpit Airline pilot and his head Stew ex-girlfriend are on a flight to Minneapolis that gets "skyjacked" with threatening notes to Anchorage. Thankfully it's a plane right out of the works of Arthur Hailey populated with a bomber, pregnant gal about to pop, mysterious Senator with a son romancing a hippie gal in first class, and Claude Atkins as George Kennedy.

They're supported capably by an overacting James Brolin, Walter Pidgeon at his Walter-Pidgeon-iest, plot point pregnant lady Mariette Hartley (you see her belly before you see her), and cast against-type-as-a-Cellist Rosie Grier. Susan Dey, Jeanne Crain, and Leslie Uggams (even classy in a rainstorm on an inflatable emergency slide) show up to decorate the airplane set with their (ahem) star-wattage.

Most impressive is the totally set-bound interiors (you see the wrinkles in the "sky" background at one point) and the sequences featuring one or more planes in flight. This was a time before CGI, after all. They're flying real planes, sometimes in what looks to be very close formation. There's a nice 1972 sheen to the whole thing with fantastic fabrics, a conservatism hungover from an older day of film-making, and stewardesses who bother to learn every passengers name and whip out the occasional Bloody Mary at the request of a woman eight months pregnant. Did I mention the captain smokes a pipe in the cockpit?

I don't know how I had never heard of this film prior to a couple of weeks ago, when I accidentally stumbled on it on Netflix.  It's really just Airport 1.5 and pleases the palate well enough for any lover of plane dramas and disaster films. In the end, it suffers what so many Hollywood pictures of the time are afflicted with. With a bomb, birth, the threat of a midair collision, unconvincing Judo, the Cold War, and more, it's still not trashy and melodramatic enough. (Lord knows they try with some truly awful flashbacks.) There's tension, soap opera, barely there subplots, and an impossibly lovely set of actresses. That's a crime, but this is still a decent way to kill a couple hours with an old-fashioned time capsule of a movie.

I just wish at some point the Stewardess got to fly the plane...