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To Live and Die in L.A. (1985, William Friedkin)

If you’ve ever started watching To Live and Die in L.A. and turned it off because it’s terrible or just heard of it and thought you should see it, let me say… there’s no reason to see it. Or sit through it. Not even morbid curiosity. Or unless you want to see John Pankow’s butt. Director Friedkin does seem to be trying to start a macho male nudity thing with L.A.—including… umm… Little William L. Petersen, but he also does some homophobia in other parts. Not anti-lesbian though. Friedkin’s pro-objectification there.

Also… some vague racism. By some I mean every time someone who isn’t White is around. But all of it—even the dingus—is C-level L.A. shenanigans. They leave far less impression, for example, than the incredible stupidity of Secret Service agents Petersen and Pankow. Though at one point Pankow identifies himself as a Treasury Agent. L.A.’s based on a novel—by co-screenwriter Gerald Petievich—and for some reason I’d assume Petievich would’ve at least looked up the difference. Not Friedkin (the other screenwriter). Friedkin doesn’t even seem aware real guns weigh more than the rubber guns his actors strut around with.

To Live and Die in L.A., when you toss aside whatever is going on with bad guy counterfeiter Willem Dafoe, is about how adrenalin junkie, dirty Secret Service agent Petersen corrupts straight-edge Pankow, teaching him how to blackmail, exploit, and rape comely ex-cons (Darlanne Fluegel gets all the sympathy for being in this one), strut around in tight jeans (though Pankow doesn’t go with two to three inch lifts like Petersen) and shirts unbuttoned to two above the navel, and… I don’t know, act tough or something.

The scary part of L.A. isn’t the idiotic, toxic masculinity is good, actually, sentiment—Friedkin must’ve read some amazing male empowerment books in the eighties—but the idea it’s an accurate representation of the Secret Service. Though, wait, didn’t they get busted for something stupid and… oh. Yeah.

Okay, so it’s probably legit.

Otherwise the movie would be famous for the agency suing them for how they were portrayed. Because they’re idiots. Like, even if you’ve only watched “CHiPs,” you have a better idea of how to run an investigation than this group of dimwits.

The movie starts with a suicide bomber going after Reagan. The stupidest suicide bomber in the world, who comes up with a rappelling thing when he has enough explosive to just take out the hotel or whatever. Once the bomber fails—in an Islamophobic portrayal out of a GOP campaign ad—we get the Secret Service guys getting hammered and Petersen showing off his base jumping.

Every man wants to be a macho, macho man… you know what, L.A. set to Village People instead of Wang Chung (yes, really, it’s got a Wang Chung “score” and, no, it’s not good). But then Petersen’s partner, Michael Greene, three days from retirement, goes off to the middle of nowhere to investigate a counterfeiter who turns out to be Dafoe. Dafoe gets the drop on him because Greene’s an idiot too and so Petersen swears vengeance.

The best performance in the film is probably… Dafoe? Of the leads, anyway. Petersen and Pankow are risible, like they’re doing a spoof of themselves and don’t know it. Dean Stockwell’s kind of okay but then not, which is too bad because he starts better than he finishes. Fluegel’s not good, just sympathetic because she’s so exploited. Robert Downey’s terrible in a stunt cameo. John Turturro… I mean, you can tell he might be good someday but certainly not here. Debra Feuer, despite having the most potentially interesting story, isn’t any good as Dafoe’s muse.

Some of the Robby Müller photography is good. Some of it is not. They go handheld a lot, which would be a questionable choice if there weren’t so many just plain terrible choices Müller and Friedkin make. M. Scott Smith’s editing… is not bad. It’s not good, but it certainly seems like it’d be bad given Friedkin’s vibe here. It’s not. It’s tolerable. So much in L.A. is intolerable—like Lilly Kilvert’s production design and Linda M. Bass’s costumes—the tolerable parts shine.

To Live and Die in L.A. is an excruciatingly bad two hours. It’s hilariously pretentious and full of itself, but it’s got no laugh value; the joke is on whoever’s watching it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by William Friedkin; screenplay by Friedkin and Gerald Petievich, based on the novel by Petievich; director of photography, Robby Müller; edited by M. Scott Smith; music by Wang Chung; production designer, Lilly Kilvert; costume designer, Linda M. Bass; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Petersen (Chance), Willem Dafoe (Eric Masters), John Pankow (John Vukovich), Darlanne Fluegel (Ruth Lanier), John Turturro (Carl Cody), Dean Stockwell (Bob Grimes), Debra Feuer (Bianca Torres), Steve James (Jeff Rice), Robert Downey Sr. (Thomas Bateman), Christopher Allport (Max Waxman), and Michael Greene (Jim Hart).


Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959, Edward D. Wood Jr.)

There’s not a lot to say about Plan 9 from Outer Space. It’s comically inept on almost every level—the uncredited sound editor (unless it’s also director Wood, who wrote, produced, and edited) does all right. The chirping crickets in the graveyard as the cast mugs their way through an alien zombie invasion give it a distinct feel. Even when it’s obvious they’re on the same set, even when Wood goes through the same footage over and over (special guest star Bela Lugosi died during production—or at least the Ed Wood movie says).

And before Ed Wood, there might have been more to say about Plan 9. At the time of its release, maybe one could gin up enough enthusiasm to blather about it. Or maybe just plain gin would help.

But as to Plan 9 being “so bad, it’s good,” I mean… it gets really boring at fifty minutes. It’s been getting more and more boring but once space aliens Dudley Manlove and Joanna Lee get introduced it’s a snooze-fest. Even with Tor Johnson zombieing around, though it turns out he’s a disappointing zombie; almost nothing’s more amusing than Johnson deliver his cop dialogue with a heavy Swedish accent. Well, maybe Duke Moore rubbing his gun barrel all over the place. And Manlove’s temper tantrum at the end. Manlove’s temper tantrum is where Plan 9 could have really done something.

But most of the movie is just bad actors giving bad performances in a poorly written, poorly directed movie. I guess William C. Thompson’s photography is all right. It’s nowhere near as incompetent as the scenes its lighting anyway.

Wood, as writer, has a silly narration—Plan 9 is presented (by vitamin slinger Criswell) as a true story so the narration does a documentary thing—but he occasionally hits just the right amount of absurd in the dialogue for it to be amusing. Momentarily. Again, Plan 9 gets long fast and its inconsistent in the amusing badness. If you gave up early, you’d miss Manlove’s temper tantrum at the finale but you’d also miss whatever else, which probably makes up for it. Leading man Gregory Walcott is really bad in an unlikable fifties alpha male kind of way. Moore’s at least silly bad. Tom Keene is kind of not terrible. You can tell Keene has occasionally not been terrible. No one gives that vibe. They all seem like they’re always as terrible as they are in Plan 9.

Wait, wait—flight attendant Norma McCarty and co-pilot David De Mering; they’re kind of amusing. Wood writes them this strange flirting scene and it doesn’t work but it’s… endearing. Ish.

And leading lady Mona McKinnon is nowhere near as bad as husband Walcott; she gets some sympathy being married to him.

Cops Carl Anthony and Paul Marco are funny bad.

There’s just not enough funny bad to keep Plan 9 going.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written, produced, edited, and directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.; director of photography, William C. Thompson; released by Distributors Corporation of America.

Starring Gregory Walcott (Jeff Trent), Mona McKinnon (Paula Trent), Duke Moore (Lt. Harper), Tom Keene (Col. Edwards), Carl Anthony (Patrolman Larry), Paul Marco (Patrolman Kelton), Tor Johnson (Inspector Clay), Dudley Manlove (Eros), Joanna Lee (Tanna), John Breckinridge (Ruler), Lyle Talbot (Gen. Roberts), David De Mering (Danny), Norma McCarty (Edith), Maila Nurmi (Vampire Girl), and Bela Lugosi (Ghoul Man); narrated by Criswell.


Signs (2002, M. Night Shyamalan)

It’s impossible to overstate what a profoundly, risibly bad movie Shyamalan has made with Signs. As the end credits started rolling, after the most disappointing “epilogue” Shyamalan could’ve come up with—it’s not just disappointing, it’s also pointless (pointless is the probably the best adjective to describe scenes in Signs)—my wife joked the movie took two weeks to film. To which I responded, “Thirteen and a half days longer than it took to write.” Because even with all the bad in Signs—and there’s so much bad—the writing is the worst.

And Shyamalan does this non-committal “camera as POV” thing—cinematographer Tak Fujimoto should be ashamed of himself for enabling Shyamalan to do it and embarrassed with how poorly he shoots the thing; Signs looks terrible–so, in other words, there’s a lot of competition for what’s worst in Signs. Shyamalan’s direction of the talking heads scenes—and there so many talking heads scenes because Shyamalan, who’s ego is literally oozing from every grain of film–involves characters almost looking directly into the camera but then just a little diagonally. Shyamalan is going for something with Signs, with his very intentional direction, his very intentional casting of himself as the guy who kills star Mel Gibson’s wife in a traffic accident (Shyamalan was asleep at the wheel) and vehicular manslaughter isn’t a thing and it just turns reverend Gibson into an atheist (but they never say the a-word because while Signs is definitely a millimeter thinly veiled Christian movie, there’s still the veil and it’s never going to get confrontational about it). Also… Shyamalan wrote the movie, so he did kill the wife.

Symbolism. Pass it on. Like the dog tchotchkes at the end to remind the viewer there are dogs, even if everyone forgot about them because they don’t matter because Signs is insipid.

Signs is full of symbolism but not really full because there’s not much because Shyamalan gets frequently bored with things like mise en scène because there’s better things to do like write the awful scenes between Gibson and his family. I went into Signs at least thinking Gibson would get through it unscathed (performance-wise). No. No. Not at all. It’s a godawful performance. He is incapable of pretending to be a former reverend, a widow, a husband, a father, a brother, and a farmer. The scenes with Gibson and kids Rory Culkin (who’s kind of terrible; it’s not his fault, Shyamalan seems to be having him do a Macaulay impression circa Uncle Buck but he’s still bad) and Abigail Breslin, who gets terrible material and terrible direction, but is still phenomenal. Shyamalan can’t figure out how to direct her because she’s not terrible like the rest of his cast.

Though, not Joaquin Phoenix. He’s leagues better than Gibson, though it helps Phoenix’s character is a dope. Gibson’s ostensibly functional enough to get to this point in his life—whereas Phoenix apparently always had Gibson to lean on—yet Gibson is real dumb. Real dumb.

Other bad things about Signs? Cherry Jones. She’s awful. Ted Sutton is so bad SAG should’ve shut the production down. Bad editing from Barbara Tulliver; Tulliver’s editing, cut for cut, is probably even worse than Fujimoto’s photography. Tulliver—presumably unintentionally—screws up all of Shyamalan’s jump scares. Larry Fulton’s production design is bad.

James Newton Howard’s score, while inexplicably a complete Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock rip-off (oh, wait, was Signs in the middle of Shyamalan being the new Hitchcock era), and poorly utilized, isn’t poorly composed. It’s competent, just misapplied. Everything else is incompetent and misapplied.

I was looking through Rodale for a good, fresh adjective to describe Signs but I think vapid does the job best. It’s worse than I expected it to be, which is saying a lot, but it also surprised me. I had no idea Gibson would so spectacularly fail or Phoenix would be—with a lot of conditions—so much better. And I guess Shyamalan managed to be inventively terrible, it’s just he’s a pointless kind of inventively terrible.

Oh, you know what… there’s the word.

Puerile.

Signs is puerile.

CREDITS

Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Larry Fulton; costume designer, Ann Roth; produced by Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer, and Shyamalan; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Mel Gibson (Graham Hess), Joaquin Phoenix (Merrill Hess), Rory Culkin (Morgan Hess), Abigail Breslin (Bo Hess), Patricia Kalember (Colleen Hess), Cherry Jones (Officer Paski), Ted Sutton (SFC Cunningham), Merritt Wever (Tracey Abernathy), and M. Night Shyamalan (Ray Reddy).


Rogue One (2016, Gareth Edwards)

Sadly, the Writers Guild of America does not publish their arbitrations for writing credits, because the one on Rogue One has got to be a doozy; I desperately want to know how they go to this script. Did it actually start as a video game or did director Edwards really have no idea how to do action scenes not out of a video game? Was there ever a satisfying conclusion to the various characters or was it always going to be amid the biggest Star Wars action sequence featuring the toys—sorry, spaceships–from the Original Trilogy ever mounted.

Because you know how they do all the rest. They do it with CGI. They even bring Peter Cushing back in CGI and credit some guy named Guy Henry who… stood in? Got CGI’ed over? Cushing doesn’t look real, he doesn’t even look alien (though the alien designs in Rogue One are like sixty percent good and forty percent perplexingly odd). He kind of looks like a video game character but maybe a little better… whenever he’s on, I wish I was just watching CGI further adventures of the Original Trilogy cast. I mean, probably not anymore because I wouldn’t want to see what the do with Carrie Fisher but still. There’s a novelty in it.

There’s no novelty in CGI Cushing in Rogue One because they still haven’t gotten the acting down. The face makes expressions but pointlessly. Kind of like the James Earl Jones cameo. His inflections make no sense. Partially because the exposition-full dialogue plays worse onscreen than George Lucas’s. Again, that Writers Guild arbitration has got to be some great reading. Like who wrote the Darth Vader cameo, which I’m not going to consider a spoiler because you should be able to get a “Rogue One Darth Vader” playset, complete with the bigger looking, Darth Helmet homage perhaps helmet.

The reason the dialogue is so bad is because they’re targeting a younger audience. There’s this really silly “Rosebud” running throughout the movie and it gets repeated time and again before it finally comes into play and then they even explain it. Because they’ve got to hit the eight year-olds, which is nice, right? It makes an eight year-old feel smart… which is kind of Star Wars in a nutshell.

Anyway.

The big space and land battle plays with all the good toys. There are ships from various movie periods fighting each other and whatnot, there’s AT-ATs, there’s… a samurai. There’s everything you could want. And lots of callbacks to the original movies, both in shots and dialogue.

As bland as the action direction, Edwards does pretty well with the pseudo-main plot, involving the creation of the Death Star (the first one, so pre-Star Wars; the movie assumes you’re very familiar, because otherwise why would you be watching Rogue One). Empire scientist Mads Mikkelsen tries running away but gets brought back by bad guy Ben Mendelsohn (who’s great but has to play second-fiddle to CGI Cushing, which is a choice); Mikkelsen’s wife dies and their daughter is rescued by Forest Whitaker. Jump ahead fifteen years and now the daughter is Felicity Jones and Whitaker’s an old man (so they can make prequels to this prequel, which would still be sequel to the prequels), and they’re estranged. Blah blah blah, needlessly complicated plot to get Jones and Whitaker reunited, bringing in Rebellion spy and secretly soulful assassin Diego Luna, who, with his trusty reprogrammed attack droid (voiced by an over-enthusiastic given the writing Alan Tudyk), will reunite father and daughter and hopefully save the universe.

Along the way Luna and Jones team up with Jedi Temple protectors but not Jedi Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. They’re like Jedi groupies. Yen gives what’s probably the best performance… and there are good performances. Not just Mendelsohn. Luna’s a strong lead until Jones takes over for… ten minutes or so. She’s good. It’s a silly part, but she’s good. Riz Ahmed’s really good as the Imperial spy. Forest Whitaker’s good. Until they get to the direct prequel to Star Wars stuff, it certainly seems like it might add up to something for its cast. But once Threepio and Artoo show up… it’s just a countdown to their suicide mission overtaking them and clearing the board for the actual heroes to show up.

The ginned up martyrs all get their big exits but they play trite, mostly because the script, some Edwards. Michael Giacchino’s score almost, almost, almost finally makes it work but then he doesn’t because he never makes it work. Giacchino’s score is middling when it’s not aping or anti-aping John Williams and much worse when it does.

Rogue One is a successfully executed Star Wars prequel slash midquel, which says nothing about it as a good use of $200 million or two hours and ten minutes…. In those terms, it’s an abject, even desperate fail and a complete waste of its (human) actors’ time.

I assume CGI Peter Cushing has nothing better to do.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Gareth Edwards; screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, Greig Fraser; edited by John Gilroy, Colin Goudie, and Jabez Olssen; music by Michael Giacchino; production designers, Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont; costume designers, David Crossman and Glyn Dillon; produced by Leifur B. Dagfinnsson, Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy, and Allison Shearmur; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Alan Tudyk (K-2SO), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe), Wen Jiang (Baze Malbus), Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso), Jimmy Smits (Bail Organa), Alistair Petrie (General Draven), and Genevieve O’Reilly (Mon Mothma).


The Enforcer (1976, James Fargo)

The Enforcer is cheap in all the wrong ways, both in terms of budget and narrative, which probably ought to be clear in the first scene, when the movie opens on a butt shot of Jocelyn Jones in Daisy Dukes. She’s hitchhiking but it’s all a setup for the villain reveal—Jones is in an ostensible militant beatnik organization with a bunch of Vietnam vets (Enforcer’s politics are a whirlwind trip of anti-Vet, pro-Cop, anti-Government, anti-taxpayer, anti-equality, before you even get to the low-key racism and high-key sexism) and they’re about to ransom the city. The bad guys—led by a terrible DeVeren Bookwalter and a mediocre Michael Cavanaugh—ransom the city two times without anyone really taking much notice because the budget isn’t high enough for big set pieces. So instead it’s all smaller action stuff on location; The Enforcer has an A (enough) cast, an A crew (minus director Fargo), great San Francisco shooting locations, and at best B action sequences. Even when they’re on great locations, they’re never good enough.

Because Fargo, mostly. Fargo rarely directs a good scene and he often seems disinterested when the film actually gets reasonable as far as character development goes. Of course, Enforcer has multiple instances of the cop actors having to remind themselves to point their guns straight so no one’s particularly invested. During the action-packed (for Enforcer) showdown on Alcatraz, Clint Eastwood seems particularly bored. Or maybe I’m projecting. The Enforcer is ninety-six long minutes.

This Dirty Harry sequel features some more players from the original, Eastwood’s commanding officer, Harry Guardino (who’s absolutely disinterested in every scene but still has way more charm than he should given the material), and partner, John Mitchum. Mitchum is not good. Fargo’s direction of Mitchum is godawful, but Mitchum is… rough. Especially during the liquor store hold-up where Eastwood first encounters uppity minorities, in this case a rather terrible Rudy Ramos. Look fast for Joe Spano as Ramos’s (uncredited) accomplice.

Wish Joe Spano was in more of the movie.

Anyway, once Eastwood saves the day and costs the taxpayers a bunch of money, bureaucrat captain Bradford Dillman (in a particularly lousy performance in a particularly lousy role), busts him down to personnel where Eastwood meets Tyne Daly. She’s being promoted through affirmative action. She’s never had an arrest, never been on the street, so they’re going to make her an inspector. And once Eastwood’s on the terrorist case—though it actually turns out Bookwalter’s not about the beatnik peace stuff; he’s a common thief—anyway, once Eastwood’s on that case, Daly’s his new partner.

And here’s where we get to see Eastwood practice abuser tactics—being mean to Daly, then being nice to her, over and over. He’ll go on to do something similar with Black organizer Albert Popwell, who’s rather likable. Sadly, the best scenes in the movie—by far—are when Eastwood and Daly are palling around (in the apparent lead-up to a cut romance) or when he’s being a dick to Popwell. It’s kind of ironic it takes the minorities—Daly and Popwell—to get some effort out of Eastwood, which he can’t be bothered with when he’s in scenes with his fellow White man.

Though Eastwood’s delivery of one-liners is all right.

The film’s technically solid enough—Charles W. Short’s photography of the San Francisco locations is gorgeous, even if he doesn’t do anything to help Fargo with the action sequences (Fargo manages to bungle a chase across San Francisco rooftops)—so it seems like it might just skate through. Then the third act, which brings back in showstopping bad M.G. Kelly, crumples fast. The exciting Alcatraz finish is a snoozer.

Pretty good Jerry Fielding score and Daly’s good in a crap part.

Enforcer starts a why bother and ends a don’t.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Fargo; screenplay by Stirling Silliphant and Dean Riesner, based on a story by Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr, and characters created by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink; director of photography, Charles W. Short; edited by Ferris Webster and Joel Cox; music by Jerry Fielding; costume designer, Glenn Wright; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Harry Callahan), Tyne Daly (Kate Moore), DeVeren Bookwalter (Bobby Maxwell), John Mitchum (DiGeorgio), Bradford Dillman (Capt. McKay), Harry Guardino (Lt. Bressler), Albert Popwell (Mustapha), Michael Cavanaugh (Lalo), Samantha Doane (Wanda), Jocelyn Jones (Miki), M.G. Kelly (Father John), Rudy Ramos (Mendez), and John Crawford as the Mayor.


Clueless (1995, Amy Heckerling)

I really didn’t want to bag on Clueless when I watched it this time, the first time since the theater, almost twenty-four years ago. It got good reviews on release, which I fully disagreed with—I’d forgotten how much audiences in the eighties and nineties liked farcical sitcom-level characterizations. Particularly in the nineties with the lusterless, generically appealing male leads–Clueless has no standout male performances, not even Dan Hedaya playing Dan Hedaya playing a movie dad. Paul Rudd is a twenty-one year-old who ogles his fifteen year-old ex-step-sister, Alicia Silverstone, and presumably is her first lover, waiting until she’s sixteen. Rudd’s not playing it self aware.

Yes, Clueless would be a very different film if he were, but it might be at least somewhat honest. Jeremy Sisto is the creep who tries to force himself on Silverstone, then leaves her in a bad neighborhood to be mugged at gunpoint after she rebuffs him.

Breckin Meyer’s the stoner who Silverstone’s friend, Brittany Murphy, secretly likes but can’t tell Silverstone because Silverstone doesn’t approve of stoners. Meyer’s charmless but somehow too mediocre to be bad. Ditto Donald Faison as Silverstone’s best friend Stacey Dash’s boyfriend. There’s a lot to unpack with Dash and Faison as the only two Black people in the movie. I guess Sean Holland, as Faison’s friend, but… Holland’s not in it much.

Oh, and then there’s Justin Walker as Silverstone’s crush. There’s a lot to unpack with Walker too.

But I don’t have the vocabulary or experience to unpack Clueless. There’s even something about the phrase Clueless and who taught Silverstone—who frequently calls people clueless in her narration, which isn’t good either—to call people clueless and who to call clueless. Give me a Roman Polanski movie about demonizing a woman’s sexuality to talk about; I don’t feel comfortable talking about what writer and director Heckerling is doing with this one. Other the writing and directing an immediately dated, desperate for MTV credit (it is Paramount), dumbing down of Jane Austen’s Emma for audiences who would be embracing the original setting just a few years later.

Oh, wow. You know who gave it ★★★½. Oh, of course he did. Immediately disqualified. Holy cow, he doesn’t even talk about Rudd perving on a sixteen year-old. Hello, 1995.

I feel like I’m back in high school again describing how narrative arcs work. What’s really funny is… they work the same way I said they worked back then as they do now; now, after I’ve read a couple hundred actually great novels, done a bunch of undergrad (shudder) workshopping, and gotten an MFA in writing.

Anyway.

What’s so funny about Clueless is how much I wanted it to succeed. I mean… I knew it wasn’t going to happen from the opening credits, but I really did want it to be a win. I really wanted to be remembering it wrong. I really wanted Heckerling to have some good reason for the Paul Rudd thing—which, given the movie avoids ever letting Hedaya know about the “like, it’s not actually incest, Flowers in the Attic much” romance after building up his legendary anger the whole movie—but she doesn’t. It’s a combination of “well, see, it’s like Emma, see” and so Heckerling doesn’t actually have to write anything like actual character development. Why bother when you have a montage sequence.

Clueless is… oh, crap, I can’t say it’s clueless, can I? I can’t go so cheap. Clueless is tedious, best pinned to the wall of historical item to be examined. Though, sadly, not for anything Heckerling intentionally does in the film. She can’t even direct the actually funny parts well, which makes everything even more distressing.

Clueless is badly done.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Amy Heckerling; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Debra Chiate; music by David Kitay; production designer, Steven J. Jordan; costume designer, Mona May; produced by Scott Rudin and Robert Lawrence; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alicia Silverstone (Cher), Paul Rudd (Josh), Dan Hedaya (Mel Horowitz), Stacey Dash (Dionne), Donald Faison (Murray), Brittany Murphy (Tai), Breckin Meyer (Travis), Justin Walker (Christian), Jeremy Sisto (Elton), Elisa Donovan (Amber), Aida Linares (Lucy), Wallace Shawn (Mr. Wendell Hall), Twink Caplan (Miss Toby Geist), and Julie Brown (Ms. Stoeger).


The Boondock Saints (1999, Troy Duffy)

What’s so incredible about Boondock Saints is how David Della Rocco’s atrocious performance distracts from lots of other terrible things going on in the film. At least when Della Rocco is onscreen. When he’s off… well, then the omnipresent deficiencies proudly scream their presences.

Della Rocco gets all of the film’s racist jokes and I think all of the misogynistic ones, unless there’s some sexist jokes during the Willem Dafoe sequences. Dafoe’s an apparently self-loathing gay FBI agent—you can just hear writer and director Duffy telling someone it’s not homophobic because the character’s gay so it can’t be—and the performance is weird combination of horrifying and exhilarating. Dafoe plays it to the nth degree; sadly because Duffy’s a terrible writer and terrible director, none of it’s successful but the scene where Dafoe acts out an action movie scene is the closest to “good” Boondock ever gets. If only it weren’t so stupid.

Identifying when, how, and why Dafoe’s scenes are offensive is fodder for a doctoral thesis. Not even getting to the transphobia.

Boondock Saints tells the story of brothers Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus. They don’t have the most successful Irish accents but aren’t actually particularly bad… because the roles are absolute nothing parts. They discover they’re really good at killing gangsters and go Frank Castle, only with godawful banter and lousy action scenes. Dafoe’s ostensibly on their trail but he’s having a crisis of conscience because he deep down thinks they’re right.

Della Rocco is their low level gangster friend who ends up joining their crusade but without any of the moral imperative. He just wants to kill people. And hit women.

Though given the film introduces Flanery and Reedus beating up a female coworker because, hey, they’re Irish guys and why can’t she take a joke, it’s Saint Paddy’s Day. Or something.

I understand Boondock Saints is low budget, but they really didn’t think to get any actual news footage of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in Boston? Like, the scene of it in the movie is seven or eight guys at the bar in an otherwise empty establishment.

Anyway. Most of Della Rocco’s most offensive stuff is in his solo scenes or at least solo shots, like Flanery and Reedus’s agents were like, maybe don’t be in the room with him and Ron Jeremy deciding how to be the most racist or the shot where he assaults a woman. There’s also this thing, which has less to do with Della Rocco and more to do with Duffy, about how Della Rocco’s girlfriend is a druggie… who’d do anything for a “dime bag” (of weed). Because… those pot addict women really are… something.

Like everything in Boondocks any thinking about it is overthinking.

Technically, the least incompetent feature is probably… the editing. It’s not well-edited and the action sequence editing is silly, but Bill DeRonde’s cutting isn’t noticeably bad. Duffy’s composition is lousy but Adam Kane’s photography still manages to make it worse. The lighting is bad. Jeff Danna’s music is bad. Robert de Vico’s production design and Mary E. McLeod’s costumes, they’re bad. But the cutting’s okay. It doesn’t make an impression, which is the best you can hope for with this one.

Performances… I mean, Dafoe’s doing a tour de force no doubt, but it’s not one worth seeing. Even if it weren’t problematic, it’s still not worth suffering the bad direction and script. Flanery and Reedus seem to get better as the film progress, which is more Della Rocco being in it more and being so amateurish. Billy Connolly’s cameo is… the nearest the film gets to actually funny. David Ferry and Brian Mahoney might actually give the most solid performances as a couple local detectives. Otherwise the cops are all bad.

The gangsters are all bad.

Everything’s bad. And never in interesting ways. Because interesting would be too much for Duffy and Boondock Saints.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Troy Duffy; director of photography, Adam Kane; edited by Bill DeRonde; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Robert de Vico; costume designer, Mary E. McLeod; produced by Chris Brinker, Robert N. Fried, Elie Samaha, and Lloyd Segan; released by Indican Pictures.

Starring Willem Dafoe (Paul Smecker), Sean Patrick Flanery (Connor MacManus), Norman Reedus (Murphy MacManus), David Della Rocco (Rocco), David Ferry (Detective Dolly), Brian Mahoney (Detective Duffy), Bob Marley (Detective Greenly), Carlo Rota (Yakavetta), and Billy Connolly (Il Duce).


Mighty Joe Young (1949, Ernest B. Schoedsack)

From the first scene, Mighty Joe Young is concerning. There’s a nice establishing shot of an Africa plantation, with some great matte work, then little White girl on the plantation Lora Lee Michel sees a couple African men passing with a basket. She wants what’s in the basket, so there’s a nice lengthy barter sequence where you try to figure out not if it’s racist, but in how many ways it’s racist. Michel’s supposed to be adorable but is annoying and bad, which is more than Mighty Joe can handle. It’s going to be bad way too frequently; annoying and bad is just too much. Michel gets the basket and the baby gorilla it carries. When dad (a completely checked out Regis Toomey) gets home, he says she can’t keep the gorilla but of course she can because she’s precocious and mom’s dead.

Toomey’s foreshadowing for the supporting performances in the rest of the movie, which is familiar faces giving—at best—checked out performances and, in the case of Nestor Paiva, annoying ones. Though maybe it’s not Paiva’s fault; he’s playing the part like you want to see him get eaten by lions but Mighty Joe Young is a cloying kids’ movie and there’s not going to be any great feline feasting. Worse, there’s going to be lots of lions thrown around for stunts.

The film skips ahead twelve years and 8,000 miles west to New York City, where promoter Robert Armstrong is gearing up for an African expedient. He’s opening a new safari-themed Hollywood night club, even though sidekick Frank McHugh thinks it’s a bad idea. You know who doesn’t think it’s a bad idea? Out of work rodeo cowboy Ben Johnson, who’s character’s last name is Johnson and you feel like it’s because Johnson would forget anything else. Johnson’s not unlikable or annoying—actually quite the feat—but he’s beyond amateurish. Director Schoedsack does nothing for his actors.

So off Armstrong and Johnson go to Africa, joined by one of the aforementioned checked-out supporting performers, Denis Green (really, it’s hard to fault any of the actors when Ruth Rose’s script has the blandest dialogue and Schoedsack’s got zero interest in directing the cast). They’re just about to come home with all the tigers Johnson and his fellow cowboys have lassoed when Mighty Joe Young comes a-knocking–previewing the film’s impressive composite shots, where stop motion Joe will interact with the live action—and Armstrong, feeling his Carl Denham coming on, decides they’re going to rope it and bring it back with them.

Only after Joe beats up a bunch of cowboys—the cowboy thing, which goes away for most of the movie after this sequence, seems the most desperate bit of quadrant hunting—does Terry Moore appear and calm the the mighty ape. Moore is playing Michel grown-up; though, in the weirdest, definitely ickiest while not for sure being intentionally gross quadrant hunting, she’s not yet legal age, which means the contract she signs with Armstrong to do a night club act isn’t legal and also it means when thirty-year old Johnson is her love interest, he was going to have to take Moore back to Oklahoma to marry her because even in 1948 it seems like California wasn’t okay with literal dudes taking child brides. Oklahoma was, of course.

Anyway.

Things go terribly wrong and there’s a long Joe wrecking Safari-themed night club scene and fighting lions. The strange thing about the action is what the film’s willing to do stop motion and what it’s not. It uses stop motion lions sparingly, instead cutting in the real ones, usually just when a thrown lion hits something, giving the aforementioned air of animal abuse. With the horses too, in the Joe vs. cowboys scene. It also seems like the kind of movie where they’d hurt animals, while the main plot is about how you shouldn’t hurt an animal. After the night club, Johnson and Moore have to get Joe out of town—the cops want to shoot him dead—so Armstrong helps them get out.

The climax isn’t even about Joe vs. the cops or Joe escaping, it’s this out-of-nowhere orphanage fire, where Johnson, Moore, and the ape have to save children. That sequence is pretty good. The lasso thing comes back and is dumb, but it’s at last suspenseful. Most of it, anyway. They push it, which isn’t a surprise.

The stop motion’s good, but underutilized. While nothing about Joe is interesting—it feels like budget King Kong, especially the model design on Joe; the movement is great, the model itself is eh—some of the other effects, particularly with the occasional person, clicks. There’s some potential to it.

About halfway through it seems like the film’s greatest tragedy is wasting Armstrong, who’s sort of spoofing himself, sort of just doing a broad comedy performance. It rarely all comes together—Rose’s script and Schoedsack’s direction work actively against it—but, again, the obvious potential is visible. Armstrong and McHugh really ought to have been a lot more fun together.

Moore’s awful. She’s not unlikable but she’s tiring. Johnson’s at least not tiring, but it might be because he’s so unmoving you forget he’s not scenery.

A distressingly bad score from Roy Webb doesn’t help either.

From go—well, okay, from the first scene with actors—Mighty Joe Young is clearly in dire straits. The special effects sequences are technically engaging but rarely dramatically. Who knows what better writing and better direction might’ve wrought. Perhaps something entertaining, but at least the great performance Armstrong can so obviously deliver, if only someone were interested in him doing so.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack; screenplay by Ruth Rose, based on a story by Merian C. Cooper; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Ted Cheesman; music by Roy Webb; costume designer, Adele Balkan; produced by Cooper; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Robert Armstrong (Max O’Hara), Ben Johnson (Gregg), Terry Moore (Jill Young), Frank McHugh (Windy), Denis Green (Crawford), Nestor Paiva (Brown, a drunk), Douglas Fowley (Jones, another drunk), Paul Guilfoyle (Smith, yet another drunk), Lora Lee Michel (Jill Young, as a girl), and Regis Toomey (John Young).


Magnum Force (1973, Ted Post)

With forty minutes left in its way too long 124 minute runtime, Magnum Force starts getting real tiresome. The film’s already gone through multiple set pieces, with the Clint Eastwood ones pointless to the narrative but apparently what screenwriters Michael Cimino and John Milius think is character development, while the ones related to the a plot—a cop assassinating San Francisco’s top criminals—somehow even less interesting. After an okay first one, director Post runs out of composition ideas but still pads out the hits.

In the meantime there are the women throwing themselves at Eastwood, which is sort of amusing because he gets to mug charm a bit and Christine White showing sexual agency in a housewife in 1973 is kind of unintentionally progressive (ditto Eastwood’s “gay rights” moment, so long as they shoot well, less the film’s sexualizing women of color, Adele Yoshioka and Margaret Avery, in its “see, they can be objectified too” approach), and then the red herring suspect for the killer cop. All the red herring stuff does is make Eastwood look dumb because it’s obviously not the red herring.

Oh, and then there’s Hal Holbrook. So much Hal Holbrook. Holbrook’s Eastwood’s boss and a flag pin wearing straight edge dweeb who berates Eastwood in front of everyone and cracks jokes about him being a killer then flinches whenever Eastwood looks his way. Far more macho are the motorcycle cops, who end up being the de facto suspects because… well, Milius and Cimino aren’t really very adept at mystery plotting. Especially once the movie starts sharing all the information with the viewer and it’s just Eastwood paying catchup. The motorcycle cops are rookies David Soul, Tim Matheson, Kip Niven, and Robert Urich, and then Eastwood’s old buddy and weathered, drunken veteran Mitchell Ryan. Ryan’s also married to White; it’s obvious why she’s snuggling up to Clint versus Mitch Ryan.

Eastwood’s partner this time is Felton Perry, who’s around to be a positive Black character (i.e. only gets called the n-word by White criminals). Perry’s really likable and pretty good–Magnum Force does not have much in the way of good performances, so Perry’s a bit of a godsend. You at least aren’t sorry when he’s around, which can’t be said for, you know, Holbrook, Matheson, Ryan, or Soul. Soul’s probably the best of the bunch, performance-wise, but it’s such a thin character–with the primetime supporting cast and Post’s pedestrian direction (the car chases are dismal), Magnum Force often feels like the action for a bad TV cop show with some scenes from a poorly written Clint Eastwood vehicle thrown in. But never enough of the Eastwood vehicle; he doesn’t get an arc, unless you count hooking up with Yoshioka—and whatever Post thought lingering on what appears to be Eastwood’s character’s wedding photo (the last movie established he’s a widower) just before he gets slamming with Yoshioka… well, it doesn’t work. Even if it’s supposed to be weird. It’s not lingering enough to be weird. Because weird would be some personality and Magnum Force has zip to offer in that department. Even Lalo Schifrin’s scant score disappoints. And when he uses the original movie’s themes… it just reminds this one is such a downgrade.

Frank Stanley’s photography isn’t bad. The three times Post wants him to do things with focus, Stanley can do them. The rest of the time, it’s all well-lighted, just rather boring Panavision. You’d think the poor composition would be better than Post’s terrible direction of actors—who, to be fair, get lousy dialogue from Cimino and Milius—but the third act convinces, no, actually Post’s bad composition is a bigger problem.

Somehow a shootout on an aircraft carrier is boring. Bravo Ted Post. The bad guy frequently shoots six rounds at nothing, reloads, shoots six more rounds at nothing. It takes until the finish, but I guess being bewilderingly in its badness is better than being mundane in it.

The only other thing of note is a scene where Albert Popwell—returning from Dirty Harry but presumably not playing the same punk who didn’t feel lucky—brutally murders a woman. The movie just pauses and says, “Welp, we need some brutal violence against women in this movie, so let’s make it as garish as possible.”

Doesn’t help Popwell’s victim is one of the film’s only likable characters.

As for Eastwood… it’s not a good vehicle. While his material’s not good, it’s also not atrocious; it’s just he has to play stupid without ever actually acknowledging he’s playing stupid because he’s Clint Eastwood, which only makes it more obvious when he’s not smart enough on the pickup. But he’s kind of barely in it? Eastwood’s love life subplot is about as big his non-main plot cop stuff.

The script’s also got some spoofy laughs in it, like it’s a satire of the original Dirty Harry. But it can’t be because Post’s not good enough for it.

It’s an exhausting, unrewarding two hours and four minutes.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Post; screenplay by John Milius and Michael Cimino, based on a story by Milius and characters created by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink; director of photography, Frank Stanley; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Robert Daley; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Clint Eastwood (Harry Callahan), Felton Perry (Early Smith), and Hal Holbrook (Lt. Briggs), Mitchell Ryan (Charlie McCoy), Christine White (Carol McCoy), David Soul (Davis), Tim Matheson (Sweet), Kip Niven (Astrachan), Robert Urich (Grimes), Richard Devon (Ricca), Tony Giorgio (Palancio), and Adele Yoshioka (Sunny).


Fresh Horses (1988, David Anspaugh)

The surprise tragedy of Fresh Horses is Molly Ringwald could’ve been good in it. Even though she’s top-billed, she doesn’t get a scene without Andrew McCarthy until almost halfway through the movie—she’s the white trash object of his working-to-middle class sexual lust—but she’s not good in that scene. Actually, it’s her only scene without McCarthy in the movie, I think. Wow. Anyway. She has this scene where she shocks the three girls McCarthy and best friend Ben Stiller have brought to she and McCarthy’s love nest (a shack alongside the railroad) to party and, if Stiller has his way, orgy. It’s not a great monologue by any stretch but it does show agency, which Ringwald’s without the rest of the film even when it pretends she’s got some.

But that scene… it’s where Fresh Horses, for the first time since the first act, has some potential to go somewhere good. The film’s so far past the point of no return but for a moment, it seems like it might. Maybe because of the awesome rainy sequence at these stairs (the Serpentine Wall in Cincinnati), when it seems like McCarthy and Stiller are going to go for some wholesome bonding as they take McCarthy’s dad’s boat out on the river, which is actually the opening titles.

They don’t. They go to try to get laid, which ends up being the most passively offensive sequence in the film (as opposed to the actively offensive ones like when McCarthy accuses Ringwald of making up sexual assault or, you know, hits her… Fresh Horses is truly fucked up). McCarthy and Stiller on the prowl isn’t just why the sequence—they crash rich girl Molly Hagan’s house, where she’s having a pool party with Welker White and Rachel Jones—is so offensive, but because it turns out the three girls are just waiting for the guys to validate their existence with the gift of McCarthy and Stiller sticks. There’s an actual line of dialogue—from a female character—about how men don’t realize how lucky women feel to get laid.

Now, in a better world, I wouldn’t have given Fresh Horses enough time to get to that point in the film. Director Anspaugh can shoot a mean Serpentine Wall in the rain but it’s not like his direction is good. His instincts are terrible, especially with the actors—like, no one thought we should actually hear McCarthy break up with rich girl fiancée Chiara Peacock or maybe have the scene after McCarthy gets beat up for not pimping out Ringwald where they see each other. The subsequent scene to the sad fade out on beaten McCarthy is Ringwald asking surrogate mom Patti D'Arbanville if she’d ever been the object of working-to-middle class sexual lust and D’Arbanville–Fresh Horses doesn’t just reject Bechdel, it rejects the idea of it—D’Arbanville wistfully tells Ringwald she’d trade one McCarthy for all her experience, which doesn’t so much sound romantic as make all of D’Arbanville’s encounters sound like rape.

But writer Larry Kenton (who adapted his apparently just as fucked up play) doesn’t… have a concept of consent. The film’s a relic of toxic masculinity among the beta males, as Stiller (who’s got a serious girlfriend, Marita Geraghty, but spends most of the movie on the prowl) explains it to McCarthy—it’s hard to make male friends so you have to make sure not to lose the ones you’ve got, even if it means making sure they don’t get to be with the girls they want to be with. See, Stiller’s buds with college scuz bucket Doug Hutchison who gossips about Ringwald actually being sixteen and married, which leads to the first time McCarthy lays hands on Ringwald. Not the hitting scene. That one comes later, after he smuggles her into his house—the film doesn’t establish he lives with his parents until that point, in fact, given Peacock being so ostentatiously wealthy, it seems more like McCarthy’s similarly classed—and she makes too much noise.

Fresh Horses makes you wonder if the men who made it regretted it after they had daughters.

Actually, the first big tell of problems isn’t the strange opening credits where you can never follow the vapid rich folk conversations because no one could be bothered to really write them, it’s when McCarthy’s leaving his class (he’s an engineering student in college who also knows his rules of grammar because he’s going to correct high school dropout Ringwald on occasion, including when she’s telling him about being assaulted)… McCarthy pointlessly says, “Hi, Mr. Berg,” to this guy in the background. The producer. The producer put a cameo in the movie where the movie star lead has to identify him by name and show some deference. So I did learn one thing from Fresh Horses. Avoid movies where stars have to suck up to the producers onscreen.

Is there anything good about Fresh Horses? Is Viggo Mortensen good as Ringwald’s definitely abusive maybe husband? Umm. He’s not as bad as some people. You feel bad for D'Arbanville; her character runs a rural Tennessee party house where rough men play poker and pool and D’Arbanville serves them liquor and perv on her fifteen year-old daughter. Fresh Horses is basically a White guy’s shitty short story with a romance subplot grafted on. I know because it’s the kind of shitty short story I would’ve written because I grew up on crap like Fresh Horses.

Oh. What are Fresh Horses? They’re women. Once you tire out one horse, you get another. But they also get tired out by other riders so you don’t want those ones either.

Fresh Horses is terrible. You shouldn’t watch it. I shouldn’t have watched it. I feel bad I made my cat sit through it. I’m sorry, Fozzy. I’m very sorry.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Anspaugh; screenplay by Larry Ketron, based on his play; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by David Foster and Patrick Williams; production designer, Paul Sylbert; costume designer, Colleen Atwood; produced by Richard Berg; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Matt), Molly Ringwald (Jewel), Ben Stiller (Tipton), Chiara Peacock (Alice), Marita Geraghty (Maureen), Doug Hutchison (Sproles), Molly Hagan (Ellen), Rachel Jones (Bobo), Welker White (Christy), Viggo Mortensen (Green), and Patti D’Arbanville (Jean).


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