Archive for the '3 Star' Category

21
May
08

Death Proof (Grindhouse: Death Proof)

 Death Proof [2007]

Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s 5th major movie and is also a part of the Grindhouse collaboration.

Kurt Russell plays ‘Stuntman Mike McKay’, an ex-stuntman that now, for whatever reason, roams the streets in search of young ladies to  murder.  His weapon of choice is some Detroit muscle.

But not just any car will do. Before he puts the pedal to the metal, he must “death proof” his car. This is a old stuntman tradition, done by heavily reinforcing the fame and placing an intricate web of roll bars into the car. When he is strapped into his seat harness, he is in an almost magical way, invincible. With this in place, he can now prey on helpless women around the highways with no fear of getting injured himself.

The movie can very easily be described in halves. Most people who have seen this movie know that there is the first set of girls and the second. Each set takes up a little under an hour to wrap up and tell their part of the story.

OK, this is gonna be a long one, so you want me to start with bads or goods first? Fine, lets get it out of the way.

The bads are quite a list to say the least. WOW. Where to begin. First of all, boring. Boring, boring, boring, boring. The first 45 min of the movie is hard for ANYONE to watch and be 100% engaged into the film. Why is that? Well, because the story, for the most part, follows around 4 of the most uninteresting young women you could ever hope to not meet.

These would be girls you see that work at Mervyns and are always outside on a smoke break. The girl that gave you a quick ride home last year. Remember? When you got in her car, it smelled SO bad and was completely trashed from top to bottom. She thought after High School, she would meet a doctor and run away. But he never showed up, so they continue their vain attempt to find a decent guy using booze and cheap perfume to lure him. For some odd reason, she has multiple PETCO P.A.L.S. cards in her purse. You get the picture. I already know too much about these girls based on their lifestyle and appearance. Why would I want to know more? Well too bad. You get novels of dialogue between them. Back and forth. Talking about weed, humping guys, bars, liquor, laziness, and…………………………. under ground, rare, impossible to find, old, soul music?

Wait… what?????

My main problem with the dialogue in this movie, is that it is obviously writen by a guy. These girls talk like guys. And not just any guy. They all talk like Quentin Tarantino himself. Its shown with their quirky taste in everything from t-shirts, poems, music, and yes, movies too. You ever wonder why Big Bank Hank from the Shugarhill Gang sounds like Grand Master Caz? CAUSE GMC WROTE HIS RHYMES! The same goes for this. Its TOTALLY obvious. The first 45 minutes is almost completely unbearable and I always find myself fast-forwarding through parts.

The first half also has the ‘Grindhouse’ feel with the cheap horror music, bad editing, and damaged film. This look is one of the better parts of the first half… but for some reason… its gone in the 2nd half? Totally doesn’t fit or make sense.

Another thing about this movie is that is almost a collage of references. As if it was the art project where you cut up magazines and make a big ugly poster of all the things you like. Its no secret Tarantino is a fan of the old road movies, so you may call it a “tribute”, but it borders on the line of straight unoriginal. Its everywhere. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Convoy, Vanishing Point, Gone in 60 Seconds, Smokey and the Bandit, Gator… the list goes on! Every time I see a road movie, I see something that Tarantio took! There are so many ‘nods’ in this movie, it may as well be a giant bobble head!

Sounds pretty abysmal doesn’t it? Well, he’s not the great “QT” for nothing. He can work wonders at times… It seems he needs a big knock out to recover from this brutal beating. Can he pull it off?

Well, there is many great things about this flick as well. The 2nd half of girls have much better lines and its way easier to care and follow whats going on. Although its still obvious a geeky film buff wrote this script, based on their very niche interests. The acting is better, the lines are better, and the pace is better.

Tarantino is not of big fan of CGI (nor am I for that matter!). And this is clear as he set out to make a car movie with no computer animated driving or stunts. THANK YOU QT! Because of this film, he put plenty of old stuntmen to work. Hollywood now a days doesn’t want real action. It costs too much and takes too much time. They would rather pay some gord in his parents basement to computer animate a sequence because its faster and cheaper. The chase scenes are some of THE BEST in history in my opinion. Gets me excited every time. Hats off to QT and the stuntmen who worked very hard on this film!

Also, Kurt Russell does a great job of the “Cowardly Lion” like killer. He plays a washed up has-been stuntman that thinks hes still slick. Even though no one has heard of the TV shows or movies he as worked on. He really thinks he is impressing these girls with his credentials and his John Wayne impression! That may work on girls in the 70’s, but not now! What a great out of touch creep he plays. It was said by Kurt that the character was actually based on a stuntman he grew up around.

Every car is hand picked to be a killer! You get a Nova, a Charger, a Mustang, and a Challenger. Great picks and nice variety. The abrupt ending is fantastic, and very ‘Grindhouse’ / B-movie feel. I couldn’t have ended it better!

Well, when its all said and done, this movie drains the life out of you, then pumps it back in. It would easily gain a 5 star rating if they had just been more careful what they put in. But instead you get a 0 star that works its way back up to 3 star.

So, if I confused you, 3 star. You will love and appreciate the best stunt driving in history. The story may make you laugh in the end. And Kurt Russells performance is perfect. But the first half of the movie will drain and drag you down, leaving you to fast forward the first parts over and over.

04
May
08

The Cincinnati Kid

The Cincinnati Kid [1965]

This classic card shark film is highly regarded as the best poker movie of all time.

Steve McQueen is ‘Eric “The Kid” Stoner’.  Edward G. Robinson is ‘Lancey “The Man” Howard’. The Kid is about to play the biggest game of his life against The Man. Once he wins, he will become The Man.

But its going to be much more complex than that. Soon, trusted friend and dealer Shooter (Karl Malden) is threatened by Slade (Rip Torn) into cheating in The Kids favor. Also, Shooter’s wife Melba (Ann-Margret) is constantly attempting to seduce The Kid away from his current rocky relationship. In the end, it is up to The Kid to wipe out all distractions, confusion, and obstacles so he can beat The Man on a fair playing field.

Like most movies starring Steve McQueen, this has that same flowing vibe. OK, so he is the ‘King of Cool’. I hear it all the time. And I DO think he is a cool guy and actor. But I refuse to call it a ‘cool’ vibe, because its different. Its difficult to explain. It’s similar to Bullitt or The Getaway. No filler or fat, all straight forward. This movie is more of that. Flows very nicely.

One great thing is that you don’t need to know poker to enjoy the movie. Everything is played out in such a way, that you can understand whats going on, even if you don’t get the jargon. The story is very gripping, and the acting is extremely natural. It all boils down to the all famous ending that you just cant beat.

Also, Ann-Margret is very easy-on-the-eyes in this film. From what people tell me, she usually is. Although I was shocked to find out she was the not-so-easy-on-the-eyes mom in the rock opera ‘Tommy’. And If you love rare Jazz funerals (like the one in Live and Let Die), make sure to catch the opening!

The downers are there. The movie can appear very ho-hum. At times, it seems overly built up, but the tension is at an all time low. With little regard for audience, the last poker game is casually going by and WHAM you’re suddenly at the last match. Was not a smooth lead in…

3 stars for The Kid! Its very well done and solid. But nothing will really blow your mind, and compared to other Steve McQueen movies, its not as much fun.

03
May
08

The Last Dragon

The Last Dragon [1985]

The Last Dragon stars Taimak as ‘Leroy Green’ AKA ‘Bruce Leroy’. Leroy is a devout kung fu practitioner that idolizes Bruce Lee. He is so in touch with eastern philosophy and arts, he is often uncomfortable in his Harlem setting.

He continues to follow his own path, no matter who makes fun of him or teases him. Soon, by chance, he falls in love with a Video DJ ‘Laura Charles’ played by Vanity. Laura has a popular TV show showcasing video talent for the masses. An evil and corrupt talent agent tries to kidnap Laura to force her to play his lousy acts. Leroy must come to the rescue and all the while battle thugs and other martial artists including ‘Sho Nuff‘ the shogun of Harlem played by Julius Carry. Leroy is also guided by a quest for personal enlightenment… a quest to attain ‘The Glow’.

Berry Gordy produced this little golden gem. As a matter of fact, the technical name is ‘Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon’. It was also used as a vehicle to boost carriers of several Motown artists. Motown was virtually on the brink of extinction in the mid 80s, and a movie would be a great way to make some sweet profits. Did I mention Berry Gordy produced this?!?! There are many shameless Motown plugs. Full songs are displayed with no apology, and even music videos have their own awkward sections that seem to force their way into this movie. Oh yeah! BERRY GORDY produced this!

Taimak is a fighter first, and he had to learn acting on the set while in between scenes. He doesn’t do a bad job, but it helps that the person he is playing is choppy, robotic, and out of touch. Vanity has a little song and dance number. Although I’m sure she is very attractive by 80s standards, her singing made me want to pull a cleaning string in one ear and out the other. And her tacky dancing made me want to turn off the movie.

Another thing that really got me worked up is the generalizing of Asian culture. Is it Japanese? Is it Chinese? NO! Its oriental dummy! He learns kung fu, a Chinese art, from a clearly Japanese teacher. Sho Nuff, a Chinese kung fu master is the Shogun of Harlem. A Shogun is Japanese. Leroy often dresses as a ninja, a Japanese style stealth fighter. Then he dresses like a Chinese rice farmer, but calls his parents mama-san and papa-san. San being the equivalent of Mr. or Mrs. in Japanese. Had they done just a slight bit of research, they could have avoided offending many cultures.

But wait… isn’t that kinda what the great US of A is all about? I mean, we are such a melting pot, its our job to generalize to a degree. Many out there agree that they would rather have Pizza Hut or Domino’s twice a week than Italian style pizza. Lots of Americans prefer teriyaki chicken to some of the other off the wall Japanese dishes. Just like Buddhism, we love to take what we feel are the best of each culture and assimilate it into our own.

Despite all the little nasty things I have to say about this movie. Its still has an undeniable charm. The comedy is over the top on purpose, the action is actually pretty dang good. Its filled with 80s cliches, and the style is awesome. Like a super cute kid that broke your expensive flashlight on accident, you cant stay mad at it. This movie had a lot of heart, a overall good message, and it was thoroughly entertaining.

So, even though we can be overly critical at times, the big question is, did I have fun? Yes, yes I did. And most all will too. 3 stars.

01
May
08

Race with the Devil

Race with the Devil [1975]

Wow, you know, the title says it all. Roger (Peter Fonda) and Frank (Warren Oates) decide to take their wives and vacation in Frank’s new RV. While camping out for a night, Frank and Roger wander in the brush and see what appears to be a ‘wild orgy’ in the distance. Giggling and taking turns with the binoculars, their tomfoolery turns to horror as they realize they are actually watching a satanic cult preform a human sacrifice.

As their wives yell for them to come back to the RV, the satanic cult realizes they have been watched. The rest of the movie, they are chased from highway to highway, town to town, trying to escape the murderous cult.

Race with the Devil has a campy appeal that is sure to thrill those knowing what they are in store for. Low budget, strange premise, and a knack for cheap thrills make this a classic ‘B’ movie.

The action and stunts in this movie stone cold awesome! Also, the acting isn’t half bad. All the players here are seasoned pros. Even the bit parts. Where the movie falls short, would be in the middle. Like having the best looking car in the world, with a mediocre engine option.

The middle is riddled with ‘suspense’ that really doesn’t captivate the mind much. For instance, they receive a satanic note with half written in code. After going to the library to search for a meaning to the symbols, they never really get it figured out. They also play off strangers quite a bit. Everyone is a suspect, so I guess they felt the need to do suspicious staring contests over and over.

But you know what? That first class action and premise I was talking about makes up for quite a bit! Even with its slow parts, there was no bad pacing whatsoever. It moved along like melted butter on hot corn-on-the-cob! Before I wrap this up, let give a common warning for 60s and 70s movies. If you plan on watching this movie, DO NOT SEE THE TRAILER. It shows you all the best parts. However, if you don’t want to watch the movie, and want a general idea, watch the trailer as it really is a super compact version of the full feature!

Race with the Devil gets 3 stars. But before viewing, make sure you are in the total mood for this type of flick to get the full effect.

01
May
08

The Big Hit

The Big Hit [1998]

The Big Hit stars Mark Wahlberg as Melvin Smiley. Despite being a professional contract killer, Melvin is a little teddy bear. He is such a push over in fact, he will do ANYTHING to keep people from disliking him.

Low on cash, he decides with his co-workers, to take a kidnapping side job. Little do they know that the girl they are kidnapping is the goddaughter of their boss. But the biggest thing on Melvin’s mind is keeping everyone around him happy.

Everything falls apart for him when he is fighting with his mistress, his gold-digger fiances’ parents disapprove of him, the kidnapping goes to shambles, and his coworkers decide to throw him under the bus so they appear innocent.

Lucky for Melvin, the kidnapping victim teaches him a valuable lesson. You cannot please everyone.

The acting in this movie does not stand out. And many scenes are so in the time period, it would be hard for someone outside of the 90’s to understand it. There is a lot of ‘green screen’ action and fake smoke and mirrors. Sometimes, it tries so hard to be visually ‘hip’, and doesn’t realize that years down the road, it just looks like a joke.

However, on a similar note, the script seems ahead of its time. The style of the comedy and parody of a hit mans life is well balanced. Although corny at times, the jokes are for the most part, dead on. The movie is sprinkled with many inside jokes to keep it interesting. The movie was also very well paced.

I’m sure John Woo had something to do with the ‘slick’ feel of the movie. The opening shoot out was reminiscent of ‘Hard Boiled’ and most welcome. And does anyone know where I can get Mark Wahlberg’s yellow gun-hands jacket?!?! That’s tight! The icing on the cake was Melvin’s yellow Pontiac Firebird.

Lou Diamond Phillips also was great and you can tell he had a lot of fun in the role. As far as acting goes, he carried the movie.

All in all, 3 stars. Good solid fun. But I wouldn’t pay more than $9 for it.

01
May
08

White Lightning

White Lightning [1973]

Well its only natural to kick off this blog with a Burt Reynolds movie review right? Well, White Lightning just so happens to be the freshest movie in my memory, as I watched it just last night.

White Lightning is the story of a good ol‘ boy moonshiner by the name of ‘Gator’ (Burt Reynolds). After the murder of his younger hippie brother by a corrupt sheriff, Gator decides to walk the path of vengeance.

White Lightning has many good things going for it. Gator is a simple character, without much complexity to him. However, Reynolds does a great job of giving him a realness and true heart. The fact that Reynolds started as a stuntman in Hollywood helped him give the 1971 Ford Galaxie a strong presence of its own. If you have ever driven anything as powerful, big, or long, you know its hard to drive it with authority and presence. Burt makes it look as simple as putting on socks.

The story also does a good job of toying with emotions. Are moonshiners evil? Are they just simple folk looking for a bit of fun in a poor and desolate place? Are hippies long haired pot smokers? Or do they have something more to offer, like when they help protest against southern racism? All these questions swirl around Gator, but don’t faze him. And while everyone seems to think hes on ‘their’ side, he really only has one thing on his mind. Kill the guy that killed my brother. No politics. Plain and simple.
But the movie suffers in other ways. Perhaps its tempting in the deep south, but I don’t find a sweaty, pig faced, gap toothed, dirty barefoot, wrinkled woman all that attractive. She wanders and has the libido of small dog in heat. Yet we are supposed to be drawn, like him, to her. We are supposed to feel bad that she was once an unwed mother. Who cares? She gave out her ‘shaky pudding’ to anyone that wanted a taste.
Also, for a action movie, there was not a whole lot of it. It came in little bits. There could have been more car chases and gun fights. The drama was set up perfect to have some real tense scenes, but they never took full advantage. 
3 stars. Over all, it was good. Not GREAT or FANTASTIC, but also not terrible or worthless.



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