Category Archives: Themed Reviews

Bargain Bin(ge): Movie Exchange (Houston, TX)

Movie Exchange is a local buy/sell/trade media chain with six locations around the Houston, TX metropolitan area. Like many other similar stores around the country, it has a selection that includes DVDs, Blu-rays, and a smattering of video games, but also notably still has a significant stock of VHS, which is rapidly becoming a rarity.

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The deals on movies were generally pretty good, but I was much more enthralled with the selection of more rare and off-the-wall features (which ultimately comprised most of my haul). Just check out some of the BBC DVDs of old school Doctor Who features below.

2 3Likewise, I was surprised to see a copy of Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper, which isn’t a DVD that you would casually stumble upon every day.
6Anyway, on to the handful of movies I actually walked away from Movie Exchange with:

The Changeling

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The Changeling stars George C. Scott (of Patton and Dr. Strangelove) in one of the most memorable haunted house movies you’ll ever come across, or so I’m told. I’ve never actually seen this movie, nor have I ever come across a DVD copy of it in my travels. I’m a big fan of horror movies that are done well, so I am eager to give this a shot.

Straw Dogs

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Straw Dogs is probably the most controversial movie in Sam Peckinpah’s notoriously violent filmography, and that is really saying something. Dustin Hoffman and Susan George star as a couple who are new residents in a small town, and rapidly become the targets of intense harassment from a gang of vicious locals. This movie taps into a fear that I don’t think it used enough these days in features: the sinister potential of the every-man. Your neighbors, if they were so inclined, could turn your life into a living hell in a mere instant. I can certainly say that Straw Dogs makes a compelling case to avoid the remote countryside at the very least.

Targets

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This movie kick-started the feature film-making career of one of the New Hollywood luminaries: Peter Bogdanovich. While his career has been one with pronounced highs and lows, his first Roger Corman produced b-movie influenced the future of the entire horror film genre by shaking it to the core. It may not be the pinnacle of his career, but I’d dare say that Targets has has about as much influence on film as a whole as any of his later features. This has been a movie on my list to dig up for a long time, and I can’t describe how thrilled I was to finally find a copy of it out in the wild. Keep your eyes peeled, because it will wind up back on the blog before too long.

Zeus and Roxanne

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Look, I don’t really have much to say about this. I honestly felt like I had to leave the store with something at least a little light-hearted after picking up Straw Dogs, The Changeling, and Targets. I mean, that is one hell of a trio of dark violence and depression. So, here is a Steve Guttenberg movie about a cross-species relationship between a dog and a dolphin. If that doesn’t sound like a winner, I don’t know what does.

Twixt

Twixt

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Today’s entry into the continuing spotlight on bad movies by good directors is Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt.

Twixt was written, produced, and directed by New Hollywood legend Francis Ford Coppola, whose works include Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, The Godfather, The Godfather Part 2, The Godfather Part 3, Dracula, The Outsiders, and The Cotton Club. However, he is also well known for having one of the steepest career declines in cinema history, in which he descended from being one of the greatest working directors in the business to being an at-best middling player.

The cinematographer for Twixt was Mihai Malaimare Jr., who has most notably shot The Master, Tetro, Youth Without Youth, and A Walk Among The Tombstones.

The editor for the film was Glen Scantlebury, who also cut Armageddon, Con Air, Stolen, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 take on Dracula.

The makeup and special effects work on Twixt was provided by a team that included Aurora Bergere (Joy, Gone Girl, The Master, Argo), Doug E. Williams (Moneyball, Howard The Duck), and Dick Wood (The Running Man, Freejack, Starman, Jaws 3-D).

The visual effects unit for Twixt included Michal Cavoj (Salt, Blackhat), Catherine Craig (Van Helsing, Willow), Ales Dlabac (Perfume, Season of the Witch), David Ebner (The Happening, Dracula 2000, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Core), Benjamin Hawkins (Spawn, After Earth), and Lukas Herrmann (Snowpiercer, Perfume), among many others.

The cast of Twixt includes Val Kilmer (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Heat, Red Planet, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Batman Forever, Top Gun, Alexander), Bruce Dern (Nebraska, The Hateful Eight, The Burbs, Bloody Mama), Elle Fanning (Babel, Super 8), Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line), Joanne Whalley (Willow, The Man Who Knew Too Little), David Paymer (Get Shorty, Drag Me To Hell), Ryan Simpkins (Space Warriors, A Single Man), and Tom Waits (The Cotton Club, Mystery Men, Seven Psychopaths).

twixt3The plot of Twixt is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A writer with a declining career arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl. That night in a dream, he is approached by a mysterious young ghost named V. He’s unsure of her connection to the murder in the town, but is grateful for the story being handed to him. Ultimately he is led to the truth of the story, surprised to find that the ending has more to do with his own life than he could ever have anticipated.

Twixt currently holds Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 29% from critics and 18% from audiences, alongside a 4.8 user rating on IMDb. The movie only got a limited theatrical release, which means that it came up far shy of its $7 million budget.

The cinematography and visuals in Twixt for the most part look pretty good, if not a bit over the top, but there’s certainly no indications of this being Coppola’s handiwork. It looks like it could have been a debut picture for any semi-anonymous indie director nowadays, which isn’t saying much. The colors are certainly memorable throughout the movie, but I couldn’t help but feel like it went a bit overboard with the contrast.

However, Twixt does have a huge weakness that makes it nearly unwatchable: the writing lacks even the slightest semblance of coherence, as if Coppola was deliberately trying to outdo Twin Peaks and went a few steps too far into the void in the process. It might not be immediately evident from reading this blog, but I’m for a good art movie. That said, there is such a thing as trying too hard, and this movie absolutely reeks of it.  My guess is that Coppola over-corrected in the hopes of creating a laudable and redeeming art movie, and the result is transparently desperate.

twixt2Personally, I don’t think Twixt is a total failure of a movie. There are certainly some redeeming aspects to it, and I understand why some people have found it enjoyable. Personally, however, I really couldn’t get past how muddled the story and writing were. Despite some really good performances from Val Kilmer and Bruce Dern, as well as some decent cinematography, I would generally advise avoiding Twixt. Unless you have a high tolerance for nonsense or are on a completion crusade through the filmography of Francis Ford Coppola, give Twixt a pass.

Saturn 3

Saturn 3

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Continuing my current spotlight on the “Worst of the Best,” today’s feature is Stanley Donen’s 1980 science fiction flick Saturn 3.

The story for Saturn 3 is credited to John Barry, a production designer who worked on Star Wars, A Clockwork Orange, and Superman, and who was initially set to direct the film. The screenplay, however, was provided by acclaimed writer Martin Amis, and is to date his only listed screenplay credit on IMDb.

Saturn 3 was directed and produced by Stanley Donen, who is best known for memorable movies like Singin’ In The Rain, Charade, Funny Face, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and Bedazzled, but also closed out his career with a string of failures like Blame It On Rio, Lucky Lady, and Saturn 3.

The cinematographer for the movie was Billy Williams, whose career shooting credits include Gandhi, On Golden Pond, The Manhattan Project, and Voyage of the Damned.

The editor for Saturn 3 was Richard Marden, who cut movies like Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Blame It On Rio, and Sleuth, among many others.

Outside of director Stanley Donen, the producers for Saturn 3 were assistant director Eric Rattray, who was a producer on Labyrinth and an assistant director on Dr. Strangelove, and Martin Starger, whose credits include The Last Unicorn, Sophie’s Choice, Nashville, and The Muppet Movie.

The effects team for Saturn 3 included Colin Chilvers (Tommy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Superman), Ann Brodie (Supergirl, Moonstruck, Barry Lyndon), Leonard Engelman (The Island of Doctor Moreau, Burlesque), Pauline Heys (Supergirl, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Michael Dunleavy (Judge Dredd, Aliens, Supergirl, Krull), Peter Hutchinson (Moon, Star Wars Episode I), Terry Schubert (The Dark Crystal, Event Horizon), Roy Spencer (Lifeforce), Peter Parks (DeepStar Six, Leonard Part 6), Chris Corbould (Hudson Hawk, Highlander II, Supergirl), and Joe Fitt (Legend).

The musical score for Saturn 3 was composed by Elmer Bernstein, who also provided music for movies like Wild Wild West, Slipstream (1989), My Left Foot, Spies Like Us, Leonard Part 6, Ghostbusters, Heavy Metal, Airplane!, and Animal House, among many others. However, very little of his original score was used thanks to significant re-edits and the change of director on the film.

The cast for Saturn 3 is made up of Kirk Douglas (Paths of Glory, Spartacus, In Harm’s Way, Gunfight At The OK Corral, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), Harvey Keitel (Star Knight, Beeper, Bad Lieutenant. Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs), Farrah Fawcett (Logan’s Run, The Cannonball Run, Dr. T and The Women, Myra Breckinridge), and Roy Dotrice (Swimming With Sharks, Suburban Commando, Beauty and the Beast, Amadeus).

The plot of Saturn 3 is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Two lovers stationed at a remote base in the asteroid fields of Saturn are intruded upon by a retentive technocrat from Earth and his charge: a malevolent 8-ft robot. Remember, in space no one can hear you scream.

saturnthree2Saturn 3 had a change of director part way through filming, when Stanley Donen, who was initially just a producer on the project, took over many directing duties, which led to first time director John Barry leaving the production. Barry tragically died not long afterwards in 1979, while working on The Empire Strikes Back.

Bizarrely, Harvey Keitel’s voice is dubbed over throughout the film by character and voice actor Roy Dotrice, reportedly because Stanley Donen disliked Keitel’s natural Brooklyn accent.

Saturn 3 received three Golden Raspberry nominations in the first year of the award’s existence. The “Razzies” are now annually given out to the judged worst films and performances of a given year. Kirk Douglas and Farah Fawcett were both nominated for Worst Actor/Actress respectively, and the film as a whole was nominated for Worst Picture.

Currently, Saturn 3 holds an IMDb user rating of 5.0, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 10% from critics and 31% from audiences. The film’s budget was reportedly cut early on, but it almost certainly failed to turn a profit with a $9 million total domestic gross.

First off, the dubbing work done over Kietel is beyond strange to me. The man has a distinct and instantly recognizable voice, so it seems bizarre that he would even be cast if there was an issue with his accent. The change in director part-way in might explain that to some degree, but Donen was already involved as a producer before taking on directing duties. Either way, it is impossible that a Brooklyn accent would be less distracting than an odd dubbing.

Kirk Douglas and Farah Fawcett, who are undoubtedly the core of this movie, couldn’t possibly have less chemistry between them. Personally, I’m shocked that both of them were cast, because the story essentially mandates a legitimate and believable level of compatibility between an older man and a younger woman, which just isn’t delivered here at all. Without that emotional center, the already flimsy story certainly doesn’t hold any water.

Speaking of which, the film is written almost entirely about anxieties over romantic age differences, with a thin veneer of science fiction on top. While that isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard, the result here just isn’t terribly interesting. Whereas Logan’s Run and Soylent Green successfully tapped into anxieties relating to age and aging, Saturn 3 manages to completely miss that mark, and fails to resonate at all as a result. The casting certainly contributed to this, but I don’t think the writing did them any favors either.

saturnthree3Roger Ebert was always at the top of his game when he wrote reviews for bad movies, and Saturn 3 was certainly no exception. His coverage of the movie nicely sums up one of its most glaring issues: the story and content is both astoundingly shallow.

The love triangle between Douglas, Fawcett and Keitel is so awkwardly and unbelievably handled that we are left in stunned indifference. The purpose of Keitel’s visit is left so unclear we can’t believe Douglas would accept it. The hostility of the robot is unexplained.

This movie is awesomely stupid, totally implausible from a scientific viewpoint, and a shameful waste of money. If Grade and Kastner intend to continue producing films with standards this low, I think they ought instead, in simple fairness, to simply give their money to filmmakers at random. The results couldn’t be worse.

Overall, Saturn 3 is a movie that had a potentially interesting vision behind it, but never quite got realized. It is mostly just a boring feature to sit through, but there is a peculiar sort of nostalgic value to sitting through it that helps fill in the void of conventional entertainment offered. Bad movie fans could certainly find something to enjoy here, but I don’t think it would hold much for general audiences.

The Ward

The Ward

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Today’s entry into “Worst of the Best” is John Carpenter’s 2010 effort, The Ward.

The Ward was written by the duo of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who also wrote the movies Long Distance, Dark Feed, and The Inhabitants.

The Ward is (to date) the final directorial effort of John Carpenter, who is highly regarded for both his horror and action movies, including Halloween, They Live, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Starman, Christine, The Thing, and Vampires.

The cinematographer for the film was Yaron Orbach, who has worked extensively on Orange Is The New Black, as well as on movies like The Ten, Birds of America, The Open Road, and The Joneses.

The editor for The Ward was Patrick McMahon, who cut the 2008 remake of It’s Alive, Little Monsters, Strange Brew, P2, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, among others.

The producers for the movie included Peter Block (Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Crank), Doug Mankoff (Nebraska), Mike Marcus (You Kill Me), and Hans Ritter (Hard Candy).

The musical score for The Ward was provided by Mark Kilian, who provided music for movies like Traitor, Rendition, Pitch Perfect, and the television series Castle. This is particularly notable because historically, John Carpenter has provided most of his film’s scores himself.

The makeup effects were provided by a team that included Howard Berger (976-EVIL, Intruder, The People Under The Stairs, Vampires), Greg Nicotero (The Black Cat, Dreams in the Witch House, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, From Dusk Till Dawn 3, Maniac Cop 3), Kerrin Jackson (Son of the Mask, Jonah Hex), and Kevin Wasner (Catwoman, Jennifer’s Body).

The special effects unit for The Ward was made up in part by Brian Goehring (The Last Airbender, Species), Stephen Klineburger (Drive Angry), Dirk Rogers (The Stepford Wives, Collateral, Death Proof), Casey Pritchett (Vampires, Face/Off), Ray Brown (Class of 1999).

The cast of The Ward was made up of Amber Heard (The Rum Diary, Drive Angry, Zombieland), Mamie Gummer (Cake, Side Effects), Danielle Panabaker (The Flash, Friday the 13th), Laura-Leigh (We’re The Millers), Jared Harris (Dead Man, Lost In Space, Mad Men), Mika Boorem (The Patriot, Hearts In Atlantis), and Lyndsy Fonseca (Agent Carter, Kick-Ass).

The plot of The Ward is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An institutionalized young woman becomes terrorized by a ghost.

theward1The Ward currently has an IMDb user rating of 5.6, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 33% from critics and 27% from audiences. Financially, it lost a significant amount of money: on an estimated budget of $10 million, is grossed barely over $1 million, almost entirely from international markets.

The Ward isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Really, it isn’t anywhere close to the worst. However, it represents a really disheartening fall from grace for both John Carpenter and the genre as a whole, because it is just so overwhelmingly mediocre and familiar. If there is anything that John Carpenter has never been in his career, it is familiar. Even his other arguable missteps, like Ghosts of Mars and Escape From L.A., still feel like John Carpenter at the end of the day. The Ward, however, seems like it could have been made by any half-assed horror director in Hollywood, and people just expected something better than that from Carpenter.

The most similar film in Carpenter’s filmography to The Ward is probably In The Mouth of Madness (though it is a stretch). Comparing the ways that the two movies (and the two versions of Carpenter) deal with a similar steady blurring of fiction and reality reveals a lot about why The Ward feels so tired and unremarkable. In The Mouth of Madness presented an eerie world from the start, where things feel off-kilter naturally, and the environment steadily declines until the conclusion of the second act, when sanity takes a nosedive. It is a profoundly surreal movie that utilizes fantastic effects work and visuals to create the atmosphere of a world descending into a Lovecraftian hell. The Ward, on the other hand, is never quite so dramatic. It is a slow story punctuated solely by jump-scares (a tired tactic), where the entire world seems to exist in a bland scale of sepia tones. The visuals are never particularly compelling, and the tension is mostly reliant upon musical cues. The world doesn’t feel as curious or strange on the whole, which ruins what could have been a really cool claustrophobic atmosphere. The whole direction of The Ward strikes me as passionless, like Carpenter went into autopilot and just wanted to color between the lines.

That said, there are some definite positives to The Ward. Specifically, I think that the performances are solid from top to bottom: Amber Heard deals with her leading responsibilities well, and Jared Harris absolutely kills it as the hospital’s primary doctor. The last act also sees the story and action start to kick into gear, and makes for a pretty compelling last 25 minutes or so.

Overall, The Ward isn’t bad so much as it is disappointing. I don’t think it is worse than the field at large, but Carpenter’s reputation looms over it, and might have put expectations on it that it couldn’t possibly have been lived up to. Regardless, it may very well stand as the final entry in Carpenter’s filmography, as much of a shame as that might be. However, for what it is worth, I though it was better than the flaming garbage pile that is Ghosts of Mars. Stay tuned for that one.

1941

1941

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Today, I am continuing a new segment on bad movies by good directors, called “Worst of the Best.” Today’s specific feature is 1941, a 1979 comedy by the legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

1941 was written by the duo of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, who are best known for Back To The Future, with an additional story credit given to producer John Milius, who also wrote Apocalypse Now, Magnum Force, and wrote and directed flicks like Red Dawn, Dillinger, and Conan The Barbarian.

1941 was, as mentioned previously, directed by one of the most commercial and accomplished directors in Hollywood history: Steven Spielberg. His films have ranged from commercial blockbusters like Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to science fiction films like Minority Report, War of the Worlds, A.I., E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to acclaimed award-winners like Lincoln, Schindler’s List, and Munich.

The cinematographer for the film was William Fraker, who shot movies such as SpaceCamp, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Rosemary’s Baby, Bullitt, The Exorcist II, WarGames, and Street Fighter, among many others over his career.

1941 was edited by frequent Spielberg collaborator Michael Kahn, who also cut the movies Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, The Goonies, Fatal Attraction, Twister, Reindeer Games, Catch Me If You Can, War Horse, and many others.

The team of producers for the movie included co-writer John Milius, editor Michael Kahn, Janet Healy (Shark Tale, Despicable Me, The Lorax), and Buzz Feitshans (Total Recall, First Blood, Tombstone).

The musical score for 1941 was provided by the legendary John Williams, who is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable film scorers of all time. His other credits include Catch Me If You Can, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Jaws, SpaceCamp, Jurassic Park, Sleepers, and Superman, along with countless others.

The special effects team for 1941 inlcuded A.D. Flowers (The Godfather, The Poseidon Adventure, Apocalypse Now), Donald Myers (Waterworld, Blade Runner), Steve Lombardi (Once Upon A Time In America, The Philadelphia Experiment), Steve Galich (Face/Off, Maximum Overdrive), Eugene Crum (The Postman, North), Ken Estes (Lawnmower Man 2, Thinner), Logan Frazee (Dollman, Willy Wonka, Chinatown), and Terry D. Frazee (Point Break).

The 1941 visual effects unit included Robert Short (Chopping Mall, Splash, Piranha), Matthew Yuricich (Die Hard, Ghostbusters, Logan’s Run), Frank Van der Veer (Orca, Flash Gordon), Gregory Jein (Laserblast, The Scorpion King), Ken Swenson (The Core, The Faculty, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), and Robin Dean Layden (Judge Dredd, Ghostbusters).

The massive cast of 1941 includes notables like John Belushi (Animal House, The Blues Brothers), Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Dragnet, Grosse Pointe Blank, Ghostbusters), Ned Beatty (Network, Captain America, Deliverance), Christopher Lee (Dracula AD 1972, Horror Express, The Wicker Man, The House That Dripped Blood, Gremlins 2, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Lord of The Rings), Toshiro Mifune (Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo), Lorraine Gary (Jaws, Jaws: The Revenge), Warren Oates (The Wild Bunch, Dillinger, Badlands), Robert Stack (Unsolved Mysteries), Slim Pickens (Doctor Strangelove), John Candy (The Great Outdoors, Spaceballs, Uncle Buck, Vacation, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles), Nancy Allen (RoboCop, RoboCop 2, RoboCop 3), Treat Williams (Dead Heat, Night of the Sharks), Murray Hamilton (The Graduate, Jaws), Dick Miller (Chopping Mall, Gremlins, A Bucket of Blood), John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Darkman), and Mickey Rourke (Sin City, Iron Man 2, The Wrestler, Double Team, Angel Heart).

19412The plot of 1941 is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Hysterical Californians prepare for a Japanese invasion in the days after Pearl Harbor.

John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, who were cast members together on Saturday Night Live and close friends/collaborators in real life, share no screen-time in 1941 outside of a single deleted sequence.

Surprisingly, 1941 wound up nominated for three different Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects, Best Cinematography, and Best Sound. It ultimately lost out in all three categories.

1941 was the feature film debut for both Dan Aykroyd and Mickey Rourke, who have gone on to have significant successes on screen, though in very different ways.

Cinematographer William Fraker was reportedly fired and replaced late into shooting on 1941 due to creative differences with Spielberg, but still received full credit for the work. As mentioned previously, he was even nominated for an Academy Award for the cinematography on the movie, which is a particular rarity for someone who was fired from a film.

Despite its reputation as a public failure, 1941 did ultimately make a profit, though it relied heavily on foreign box office returns to bring in $60.7 million of its eventual $92 million take. Domestically, however, it dramatically underwhelmed, particularly for a work by Steven Spielberg. Likewise, 1941 currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.9, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 32% from critics and 49% from audiences. This makes it an incredible rarity in the career of Steven Spielberg: a disappointment, both commercially and critically.

One of the biggest problems with 1941 is summarized in the New York Times review of the movie by Vincent Canby:

It may possibly be that Mr. Spielberg has chosen gigantic size and unlimited quantity as his comedy method in the awareness that he has no gift whatsoever for small-scale comic conceits. The slapstick gags, obviously choreographed with extreme care, do not build to boffs; they simply go on too long. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the director or of the editor, but I’ve seldom seen a comedy more ineptly timed.

Essentially, my opinion is that 1941 is a movie with an immense amount of talent behind it on all levels, but the humor within it is spread incredibly thin over a poorly-paced run time and across an unnecessarily large cast, which dilutes a movie that should have been a classic into something that is only vaguely entertaining through relying on “gigantic size and unlimited quantity.” Some of the sight gags and slapstick moments work, as Canby notes in his review, but they hang just a little too long. For instance, a number of moments in the club brawl scene and subsequent riot are funny on paper, but are drawn out far too long on screen.

Likewise, the opening to Roger Ebert’s review of 1941 is spot-on if you ask me, and compares the film to Doctor Strangelove, which struck me as a key inspiration for the film:

It’s not fair to say Steven Spielberg’s “1941” lacks “pacing.” It’s got it, all right, but all at the same pace: The movie relentlessly throws gags at us until we’re dizzy. It’s an attempt at that most tricky of genres, the blockbuster comedy, and it tries so hard to dazzle us that we want a break. It’s a good-hearted, cheerfully disorganized mess that makes us appreciate “Dr. Strangelove,” just a little bit more.

I can’t help but agree with this assessment: 1941 is a loud and zany movie, to the point of being exhausting and obnoxious. There’s a reason that Loony Tunes cartoons are usually short: if they go on too long, they lose their entertainment value and become abrasively annoying, which is exactly the case with 1941 if you ask me.

People certainly seem to have softened on 1941 over the years, at least in part due to the involvement of John Belushi, for whom 1941 was one of his precious few prominent film roles. That said, while his contribution is a highlight, he is a very limited part of the movie. The whole film is filled with astounding performers, who unfortunately all fail to live up to their potential given the limited nature of the ensemble structure.  I can’t help but imagine what Toshiro Mifune and Christopher Lee on screen together could have been like under different circumstances and under someone else’s direction. In any case, there is a novelty aspect to seeing all of these performers under one large roof, but excellent ingredients don’t always make for an excellent product. At best, 1941 is a mildly charming curiosity, and an experience worth having for the sake of trivia alone. I’d loosely recommend checking it out, but I can’t do so with a whole lot of enthusiasm.

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The Wiz

The Wiz

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Today, I’m launching a new segment for the blog: “Worst of the Best,” where I will spotlight movies by legendary filmmakers that aren’t on par with their lauded reputations and careers. To start it off, I’ll be taking a look at Sidney Lumet’s film adaptation of The Wiz, from 1978.

The Wiz has the rare distinction of being an adaptation of a re-imagining. The original story behind the movie is, of course, pulled from L. Frank Baum’s legendary 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. However, The Wiz is a direct adaptation of an acclaimed 1974 Broadway musical version of the story, which was written by William F. Brown. The screenplay for this filmed version of The Wiz is interestingly credited to Joel Schumacher, who is mostly known for his later directorial efforts (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Falling Down, The Lost Boys, Flatliners).

The Wiz was directed by highly-acclaimed film-maker Sidney Lumet, whose long list of credits spanned over five decades, and includes a number of modern classics: Network, 12 Angry Men, Fail-Safe, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon, among others.

The cinematographer for The Wiz was Oswald Morris, who also shot The Dark Crystal, Oliver!, and Stanley Kubrick’s take on Lolita.

The editor for the film was Dede Allen, whose other credits include The Breakfast Club, Serpico, Slap Shot, Dog Day Afternoon, Bonnie & Clyde, The Missouri Breaks, and Slaughterhouse-Five, among many, many others.

The team of producers for The Wiz included film-maker Rob Cohen (Stealth, Alex Cross, xXx, The Skulls, DragonHeart), assistant director Burtt Harris (Freejack, Marathon Man, The Devil’s Advocate), and the legendary music producer Berry Gordy, who also had a heavy hand in The Last Dragon.

thewiz3The effects work for the movie was done by a team that included special effects guru Stan Winston (Congo, Lake Placid, Bat People, The Island of Dr. Moreau, How To Make A Monster, Small Soldiers, Leviathan, Predator 2), Scott Cunningham (Ganja & Hess), Al Griswold (Leon The Professional, 8MM, The Devil’s Advocate), Carl Fullerton (Glory, Goodfellas, Philadelphia, The Silence of The Lambs), Robert Laden (Thinner, Wolf, Scent of a Woman), Michael R. Thomas (Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters 2), Allen Weisinger (Face/Off, The Last Dragon), Albert Whitlock (The Exorcist II, Killdozer, The Car, The Blues Brothers, The Thing, Dune), and Bill Taylor (DeepStar Six).

The music for The Wiz was originally composed for the Broadway musical by a man named Charlie Smalls, which earned him a Tony Award. Smalls was interestingly a child prodigy musician, who began attending Juliard at age 11. Sadly, he died in 1987, before he did any other film scores.

The cast for The Wiz includes “The King of Pop” Michael Jackson (Thriller, Moonwalker, Miss Castaway), famed singer Diana Ross, legendary comedian Richard Pryor (Superman III, The Toy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil), Ted Ross (Police Academy), Mabel King (Scrooged, The Jerk), and Theresa Merritt (Billy Madison, The Serpent and The Rainbow).

The plot of The Wiz is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An adaption of “The Wizard of Oz” that tries to capture the essence of the African American experience.

In December of 2015, NBC produced a live version of the Broadway musical of The Wiz, which has resulted in a new audience being made aware of the curious cult classic movie adaptation from 1978.

There are conflicting reports as to how the original director for the film, John Badham (WarGames, Short Circuit, Saturday Night Fever), left the production. However, there doesn’t seem to be any disagreement over the cause of his departure: the casting of Diana Ross, then 33, in the role of the written-as-14 lead character of Dorothy was a decision he disagreed with vehemently. Ross apparently lobbied hard for the role, and may have been the key influencing factor that brought Michael Jackson to the project.

thewiz2The budget for The Wiz was estimated to have been around $24 million, on which it only managed to make back $21 million in its lifetime theatrical release, making it a net loss from a financial perspective.

The Wiz currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 30% from critics and 65% from audiences, along with IMDb user rating of 5.2. In spite of the underwhelming response to the movie, it has grown into its own as a cult classic over the years. Additionally, it wound up with four Academy Award nominations, though it failed to win in any of the categories.

While watching The Wiz, I was reminded quite a bit of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which released in the same year. Both of them star talented and popular musicians (without any real acting talent), and they both subsequently have decent songs as a result. However, The Wiz is certainly better constructed than Sgt. Pepper, as it has some really cool production and set design. The aesthetic of the movie is unlike just about anything else you’ll see.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives really end with The Wiz. It looks and sounds good, but the movie is more of a music video than a movie. The minute any of the performers are expected to actually act, things fall apart fast. I can certainly see how this could fly well on a stage with trained musical actors, but with pop stars like Diana Ross and Michael Jackson in the roles, it just doesn’t gel. Particularly, Ross is not up to the task of leading this movie: she was miscast to start with, and doesn’t prove to have the acting chops (if you ask me) to overcome that issue. Even worse, however, is the supporting cast, which is uniformly composed of obnoxious characters that did little other than grate on me. Surprisingly, Michael Jackson was probably the most watchable of the lot, which says more about the cast as a whole than it does about his acting talents.

Overall, I suppose I understand why this movie has a special place in the cultural mindset: in a lot of ways, it is unforgettable. It was also a major cultural coup to have a Hollywood production with an all-black cast, which is still not a particularly common sight. In 1977, it was unthinkable for many. However, I think The Wiz, in retrospect, is the perfect example of a gilded movie, with plenty of flash on the outside, but nothing compelling underneath the surface.

When it comes down to it, I think the biggest issue with the movie is that the wrong people were picked for the production, and not just Diana Ross (though that is certainly an issue). I think the production was in a serious rush, and Sidney Lumet was the first available person to take the job, and was picked for his reputation of staying on budget rather than for his skillset being suitable for the movie. Two years earlier, he made on of the best satire films of all time (Network), with defining dramatic performances for the modern era of film. Then, he was put in charge of a fluff musical project? It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

I still think The Wiz is worth checking out for bad movie fans, mostly because it is such a cult movie with nostalgic connections for so many. Personally, I’m not a big fan, but I can understand why the movie has an appeal for some people. If you ask me, Sgt. Pepper offers the same sort of musical nonsense, but with a far more hilariously terrible plot and final product. If a good-bad movie is what you are looking for, I would advise going to that one first. Or, if you are particularly daring, take them on as a double feature.

As far as Sidney Lumet goes, I’m sure I’ll be getting around to more of his movies soon. There’s sort on an inevitability that such a long and prolific career would produce a few duds here and there (and there certainly are some), but that doesn’t negate his highlights in the slightest. Network is one of my favorite movies of all time, and 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, and Serpico are also required watching for film buffs if you ask me. Sidney Lumet is a master, and one who doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves as one of the greats.

Suing The Devil

Suing The Devil

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Today’s feature is a Christian courtroom thriller/drama that is as self-explanatory as possible: Suing The Devil.

Suing The Devil was written, directed, and produced by Timothy A. Chey, who has worked on a number of Christian movies that are designed to be inconspicuous, including The Genius Club, Live Fast, Die Young, and Gone.

The cinematographer for the film was Tom Gleeson, who has done some camera work on films like Happy Feet.

The effects for the movie were done by a team that included Ricardo Echevarria (Eight Crazy Nights, The Iron Giant), Ross Newton (Argo, Ant-Man), and Stacy Lande (The Prophecy).

The cast of Suing The Devil includes Corbin Bernsen (The Dentist, The Dentist 2), Tom Sizemore (True Romance, Natural Born Killers), and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange, Caligula), who also served as a producer. A number of the lead roles, however, are filled in by unknowns, like Shannen Fields and Bart Bronson.

The plot of Suing The Devil is described on its IMDb page as follows:

A down-and-out law student sues Satan for $8 trillion dollars. Satan appears to defend himself and the trial of the century takes place.

As with many Christian films, the reviews for Suing The Devil from both critics and audiences were dramatically polarized. It currently holds a 4.8 rating on IMDb and a 39% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, but both user-submitted review sites feature a whole lot of 1-star and 5-star reviews, with very little in between.

suingdevil2As you would expect, the message of Suing The Devil is beaten over the audience’s head constantly: everything bad is Satan’s fault, Satan is real, etc. This is a consistent aspect of many Christian movies I have watched: they get so wrapped up in their message that they forget to do literally anything else, which ultimately (and, I suppose, ironically) weakens the message as a result, by not providing it any realistic foundation.

As far as specific problems with this movie go, the first and biggest one is with the premise itself, and the movie’s abysmal writing. The biggest question in the plot, obviously, is: “How do we know Malcolm McDowell is Satan?” If he isn’t proved to be Satan somehow, then the trial at the center of the movie has no foundation. This is brought up early on by the judge, but totally dropped after she is distracted by the room getting uncomfortably hot. This is the equivalent of a Looney Toons misdirection gag, and the result is that McDowell is not proven to be Satan, but the trial goes on anyway. Eventually this issue of identity comes back up late in the movie, but the idea proceedings would have gone anywhere without proof of identity is beyond absurd. Going further than that, that premise that Satan exists at all (regardless of whether it has a physical form, let alone a Malcolm McDowell form) is completely brushed over, as it is assumed in the courtroom that the Bible is literal fact. The ultimate “resolution” to these issues comes late in the trial, when McDowell is prompted to vomit computer-generated fire after he has a bible passage read to him, because only evil supernatural beings are capable of pulling off such shoddy effects.

The characters that fill out the background of Suing the Devil are a bizarre lot. Satan’s assumed supporters include three distinct groups of people, who apparently make up most of the world’s population in this Christian persecution fantasy-land: Satan-worshipers, theists who dislike God (Satan’s entire defense team), and atheists, who really shouldn’t have a dog in the fight, but apparently are universally evil and operate oil companies. Speaking of folks who have no investment in this religious trial, it is casually mentioned that countries like Pakistan and North Korea are live-streaming the court case. I think the writers meant this to represent that evil countries were pulling for Satan, but that makes no sense whatsoever, and reveals quite a bit about their limited knowledge of religion and world affairs.

Suing the Devil has one of the most distinct gulfs of on-screen talent that I have ever seen in a movie. On the positive end is Malcolm McDowell, who, even though he is clearly only present to receive his paycheck, has some solid moments as Satan. Honorable mentions also go to Tom Sizemore, who briefly hams up a performance in his handful of appearances, and Corbin Bernsen, who apparently loves showing up in this schlock Christian movies. However, the lion’s share of the primary roles go to actors who sound like they wouldn’t make the cut for a community theater production. The lead, for instance, has some of the worst deliveries I have seen in a very long time, and he spends most of the movie in frame. At the very least, I would say it is a little surreal to see sub-amateur performances interspersed with decent Hollywood actors slumming it for a paycheck.

suingdevil1I would love to be able to recommend this movie based on the premise and Malcolm McDowell alone, but this film is one of the most boring and inane things I have ever sat through. The bafflingly terrible performances are only entertaining for so long, and the writing has no sense of pacing, style, or subtlety. That makes the movie as a whole about as interesting to watch and listen to as a sermon without any charisma. If there was a super-cut of the movie (which clocks in at an agonizing 2 hours long) of just the Malcolm McDowell sequences, I would recommend watching that for the humor factor of the bad writing and performances. The whole thing, however, is not worth sitting through.

Bargain Bin(ge): McKay Used Books (Chattanooga, TN)

Ah, McKay Used Books. I covered the Nashville location a while back, but this time my travels took me to the Chattanooga location of the immense media store.

mckay10The chain is very small, with only three locations throughout Tennessee. It is distantly related to the similarly-titled Edward McKay Used Books chain in North Carolina, though the connection is apparently tenuous and ancient at this point.

McKay is distinguished both by its immense size and low prices: all of the locations are two stories, and packed to the gills with used media of every fashion. The bargain section for DVDs even features massive laundry bins filled with movies on sale for less than $2, which is about as good as a deal is going to get.

mckay8 mckay9As always, I came away from McKay’s with a nice little haul of movies:

Death Race 2000

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Death Race 2000, for those not familiar with it, is one of the key Roger Corman classics. It includes an early appearance of Sylvester Stallone, David Carradine in top form, and some social commentary scattered amid the gory action. There was a remake in 2008 by Paul W.S. Anderson that wasn’t entirely terrible, but missed the oddball tone of the original. If you haven’t seen it, definitely give it a shot.

Fortress 2

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Fortress 2 is a sequel to Stuart Gordon’s Fortress, which I covered a while back. I don’t know anything specific about it, though apparently the premise is that the jail is in space this time. I can only hope that things careen into something resembling an episode of Superjail!

Kingdom of the Spiders

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This is another off-the-wall find. Kingdom of the Spiders is a little cult classic creature feature starring William Shatner just before Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I regard it as the middle ground between “young” Shatner and “old” Shatner, like the missing link in the evolution of Captain Kirk. Also, the movie features a boatload of live tarantulas acting as the monsters. No camera trickery or rubber suits here.

The Mangler Reborn

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At first, I assumed that this was the sequel to The Mangler, the infamous tale of a murderous laundry folding machine. Unfortunately, this is actually the third movie in the series, and rounds out the inexplicable Mangler trilogy. I may have to dig up a copy of Mangler 2 before I give this one a watch. I mean, what if I miss some important plot information?

Assault on Precinct 13

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I absolutely love this movie, and it has proven to be a surprisingly difficult DVD to dig up. This was regarded as the professional debut of John Carpenter, who wound up conquering the late 1970s and 1980s with highly-regarded cult movies like Halloween, They Live, Christine, Escape From New York, and The Thing. However, the shock of Assault On Precinct 13 is what launched him into notoriety. This movie is high tension action at its best, capturing the menace and claustrophobia of a modern siege situation like no other movie has. Also, the soundtrack is fucking awesome.

Pocket Ninjas

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Pocket Ninjas is regarded as one of Robert Z’Dar’s most terrible movies, and that is saying a lot for a guy who made an impressive career exclusively out of being in shit movies. I haven’t seen it, but I am expecting something nearly unwatchable if the IMDb rating of 1.5 is to be believed.

Jack Brooks Monster Slayer

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Jack Brooks Monster Slayer is a horror comedy that I know nothing about, but apparently Robert Englund shows up in it at some point. I could see this going in a lot of different directions in regards to quality, but I figured that it was worth the gamble.

Bargain Bin(ge): Unclaimed Baggage / Nerdtopia (Scottsboro, AL)

Scottsboro, AL is approximately in the middle of nowhere. I’ve grown up with a family lake house nearby, so I’ve been going in and out of the small city for many years. However, I’ve never considered it much of a location for DVD hunting, so I never expected to cover it here on the blog.

One of the city’s few claims to fame (outside of racism) is Unclaimed Baggage: the mythical place where all lost luggage items from airlines eventually go to stay. As you might imagine, it has an interesting collection of media and electronics (as well as one of the creatures from Labyrinth, weirdly enough).

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However, the downside is that the store doesn’t exactly discriminate based on quality, so the selection is mostly special features discs and single discs from dvd sets. If you have the time to spend, you might find something decent in the muck. For example, I picked up an old Doctor Who dvd there for a couple of bucks once. However, on this particular round I didn’t have a lot of time to kill. That said, I still found a little something amidst the stacks:

The Kid Stays In The Picture

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This is an acclaimed documentary about Robert Evans, one of the key figures of the New Hollywood era. He had hands in movies like The Godfather, Chinatown, and Marathon Man, among many others. However, he is definitely a polarizing figure, and his interactions with Coppola on The Godfather are particularly legendary (depending on who you ask about them). I’ve read a bit about him in an assortment of books about the era, but I’ve never actually gotten around to this documentary. I’ve heard plenty of good things, so picking it up for a buck or two seemed more than worth it.

Elsewhere in Scottsboro, a new little store has popped up: Nerdtopia, located right on the town’s square.

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While it didn’t provide much of a selection for movies, it is certainly a spirited little eclectic store. It was filled with comics, trading cards, vintage toys, albums, tabletop games, video games, and even a little box of ancient pre-laserdiscs (!) that I didn’t even recognize in the corner. I considered picking up the Tron one just to act as a piece of wall art.

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I did wind up picking up a solid compilation of classic bad movies to give them some support, but this place is worth checking out in spite of the limited movie selection. These little nerd shops off the beaten trail especially need support from their local geeks and passers-through, so I recommend dropping by there if life ever lands you in Scottsboro, AL.

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Bargain Bin(ge): CD Warehouse (Marietta, GA)

Marietta, GA sits just Northwest of the Atlanta, GA beltline, just on the edge of the greater metropolitan area. It home to one of the few remaining CD Warehouse locations in the area, along with sister shops in Duluth and Roswell. I’ve been to a few different locations of the chain in Tennessee and North Carolina over the years, but they have been rapidly dying off in recent years as they have generally failed to adapt to the new landscape of the business.

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As far as quality goes, it has always been a crapshoot with CD Warehouses for me. Sometimes they would have terrible selections and awful prices, and other times they would have a wealth of off-the-wall flicks on sale. After wrapping up at DragonCon, I decided to drop by the Marietta, GA location on my way home to see what they might have laying around. (Side note: conventions like DragonCon are garbage for DVD hunting. You might find a bootleg of a rare video, but you are just as well-off hunting online for how much vendors will charge and how bad the quality will be. Unless you want the novelty of directly purchasing a movie from Troma, don’t buy movies at cons.)

ware15Lucky for me, this turned out to be a fantastic haul, and probably the best I have ever pulled out of a CD Warehouse.

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Death To Smoochy

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With the death of Robin Williams last year, I feel like people have been going back to give this movie another shot. Critics at the time panned it, but it has gained some cult acclaim over the years after running on Comedy Central through countless late night blocks. This may very well have been a nail in the coffin of Danny DeVito’s directing career, as he has since careened into the world of self-parody. However, I have always liked the twisted take on the competitive world of children’s entertainment, and personally regard it as on par with (or better than) DeVito’s other directorial works. That said, it has been a while, and I’ll be interested to see how it holds up now.

Robot Jox

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Until the Shout! Factory release of a Blu-Ray this summer, it was not particularly easy to come by a physical copy of Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox. Back when I reviewed it, I happened to come across the flick on YouTube, but I won’t deny that I desperately wanted a physical copy of this cult classic robot beat-em-up. Sure enough, I finally have myself a copy of the original DVD release! This is a movie that I can’t recommend highly enough, and it is nearly mandatory viewing for fans of good-bad movies. I might still pick up that blu-ray soon as well…

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe / Gamera 2: Attack of Legion / Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris

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This is a collection of the Hesei era Gamera movies, also known as the Gamera trilogy. I did a marathon of the hilarious Showa era Gamera movies last year, but I have been hearing that these Hesei flicks are actually pretty fantastic watches. Now that I have copies (on Blu-Ray no less), I’ll have to finally give them a watch.

Batman: The Movie

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We all know this movie. The feature-length spotlight on Adam West’s campy version of Batman is unforgettable, from the cast of villains to the giant bomb to the shark repellent bat spray. At the very least, this movie is a nostalgia trip of the highest order.

Wolfen

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This is arguably the most under-appreciated werewolf movie out there, and it is also a flick I have never had the chance to sink my teeth into. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, but had never come across a copy of it until I spotted it here.

Bad Influence

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James Spader and Rob Lowe are two guys that I just can’t help but like, regardless of the movie or television show they pop up in. David Koepp, the writer on this movie, has been responsible for everything from the Dolph Lundgren cult classic I Come In Peace to blockbusters like Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible, as well as the tragically underrated Nic Cage / Brian De Palma movie Snake Eyes. Director Curtis Hanson went on to helm flicks like L.A. Confidential and 8 Mile, so I have every reason to believe that this is going to be a movie that is worth my time. It made some money back when it released, but never got big enough to enter the public consciousness, which is probably why I have never heard much about it. The premise and casting has me curious though, so I’m eager to see what it has to offer.

Reign of Fire

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The career of Matthew McConaughey in the era before the McConaissance was a dark and strange place. Back in 2002, he starred alongside fellow future-stars Christian Bale and Gerard Butler in the bizarre dystopian fantasy film Reign of Fire. Some people remember this flick fondly, but critics and audiences at the time widely panned it. That said, reviews seem to have softened over the years, indicating that it may be time to give it another shot. I have’t watched it in roughly a decade, so I’m curious to see how it holds up.

Catch Me If You Can

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Catch Me If You Can is one of my favorite Steven Spielberg movies, if not my hands-down favorite. Really. I think it is John WIlliams’s best score (or at least in the running), one of both Leo’s and Hanks’s best performances, and is one of the best biopics out there. It blends suspense, comedy, drama, and style effortlessly, and is a rare movie that seemed to please audiences and critics alike. For whatever reason, it often gets shoved aside when discussing the career of Spielberg, which I think is unfair. The movie is one of the most well-balanced films in his filmograpy, which is made of up of a mixture of man-child indulgences (E.T., 1941, Hook), blockbuster fodder (Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds) and excessively heavy dramas (Amistad, Schindler’s List, Munich) with not a whole lot in the middle ground. Catch Me If You Can showcases every side of Spielberg: his flair for drama, his love of child-like wonder, his heart for adventure, and his ability to create a film with the widest possible appeal. The more I think about it, the more I look forward to re-watching this flick.

Creepshow III

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I know what you are thinking: “there was a Creepshow III?” As a matter of fact, there was! And no one in the entire universe gave half a damn, because it is absolute garbage. The movie released nearly 20 years after Creepshow 2 to absolutely no acclaim, and currently holds an abysmal score of 2.9 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 0% from critics and 11% from audiences. The only things I know about it are that it exists and that it is nearly unwatchable, so I’ll be giving it a go soon enough.

Raising Cain

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Brian De Palma has had a career filled with ups and downs. 1992’s Raising Cain released immediately following what was arguably his lowest low: 1990’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. It also immediately preceded a bit of a De Palma revival with Carlito’s Way and Mission Impossible, along with a personal favorite of mine, 1998’s Snake Eyes. I don’t know anything about this particular flick, but I’m interested to see where it falls on the wide spectrum of Brian De Palma’s career. From another angle, I’m interested to see how John Lithgow is in this movie. Audiences today can certainly buy him as a menacing presence since his acclaimed role on the television series Dexter, but 1992 was a very long time ago for Lithgow’s career. People might have recognized him from The Twilight Zone movie, or Harry and The Hendersons, or perhaps from Footloose. At this point, he hadn’t even become recognizable for his role on 3rd Rock From The Sun. Given his next role after this was as a villain in a Sylvester Stallone action flick (Cliffhanger), I’m pretty sure this didn’t break any boundaries for him. I’m sure it’ll be an interesting watch for his performance all the same, because he is not a man who is known for phoning it in.  I mean, just watch the trailer for this movie. Somehow, I think Lithgow will keep things entertaining.

Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball

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Smokin’ Aces is, if you ask me, a damn fun crime movie. It isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but I’ve never not had a good time watching through it. Smokin Aces 2, on the other hand, is a very different story. I remember watching this on VOD when it first came out, and I’ve never gone back to it since. Honestly, I only remember brief flashes of it, and the feeling of unsurprising disappointment when all was said and done. Looking back at the cast list now, however, I’m curious to give it a re-watch. Ernie Hudson? Tom Berenger? Michael Parks? I recalled Vinnie Jones, but not the rest of these folks. Maybe there will be more to redeem it on this go-around?

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

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The combination of director Mike Hodges and leading man Clive Owen worked wonders in the cult classic, Croupier. A few years later, the tandem tried to re-bottle the lightning with I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, with a supporting cast that included Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Malcolm McDowell. Despite a few positive heralds, it generally didn’t fly with critics or audiences at the time, due primarily to its perceived dullness and a convoluted ending. I remember seeing this go in and out of my Netflix queue a few times over the years, but I never had a chance to sit down to watch it. I generally like Clive Owen’s work, particularly in crime dramas, and I am also a big fan of Malcolm McDowell when he isn’t phoning in a role for a paycheck. I’m interested to see if this slow-burner is deserving of its negative reputation.