it was bound to happen sooner or later.
I had a pretty good run there for awhile. Plenty of movies I liked.
Some I liked a lot. None I outright hated. I've certainly seen
enough movies to know that this could not last. And when the streak
ended, it would end hard.
Not that this is the worst batch of flicks I've ever suffered
through. Far from it. It's just that even the good ones aren't
great. This week's A-Picture,
for example, is really nothing more than a B-movie. But it is the
movie I enjoyed the most this time around and rules are rules. Those
of you who have missed the Hell Plaza
Octoplex will be glad to see it's once again business as
usual down there. And in between, a fairly large amount of trash
(both Euro and domestic) that, even if I enjoyed, I'd be hesitant to
recommend to many people. So for this issue, more so than usual,
proceed at your own risk.
A-Picture - Runaway Train
You know it's been a rough couple of weeks when the best movie you
saw stars Eric Roberts. Jon Voight plays a hardened criminal who's
spent the last three years welded into his cell in a maximum
security prison in Alaska. He's finally let out of the cage and
promptly escapes with eager sycophant Roberts tagging along. The two
guys make it to a railyard where they have the misfortune to hop a
ride on a train whose engineer has a heart attack just as they're
pulling out. Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, Runaway
Train is often as stupid as a basket full of
brain-damaged puppies, with clunky dialogue and situations that make
absolutely no sense even by the loosest of standards. However, it's
exciting and entertaining enough to make you forget most of that,
Voight is always fun to watch and the snow-covered scenery is
breathtaking. This was based on an abandoned screenplay by Akira
Kurosawa, who I can only assume would have handled the story more
artfully than this. (***)
John Lee Hancock directs this two-hour-plus sleeping pill depicting
the legendary Texas siege. Supposedly more historically accurate
than other filmed versions of this story (which I cannot imagine
would be a difficult goal to achieve), this Alamo is far too
reverential of its subject matter and lacks the good old fashioned
square-shouldered Hollywood mythmaking ability of, say a John Wayne.
Billy Bob Thornton is appealing as David "Don't Call Me Davy"
Crockett... good enough, in fact, that you'll wish you were watching
a movie just about him instead. By the way, turns out there really
is no basement at the Alamo. (* ½)
A documentary look at the wild, wild world of backyard wrestling.
It's a terrific subject but director Paul Hough doesn't quite do it
justice. The movie is frustratingly scattered, as if they just
loaded all their footage onto a computer and hit "shuffle"
instead of editing it properly. And the people that Hough spends the
most time with aren't always the most interesting folks on screen.
Still, it's a pretty amazing spectacle and the creativity and energy
these kids put into their backyard death matches is often
remarkable. The movie is at its best when Hough shuts up and allows
the kids to speak for themselves. The
Backyard is amusing and engaging but not the great,
penetrating documentary that could be made about this phenomenon.
Daddy and Them
Billy Bob Thornton's back, this time as the writer, director and
star of this long-shelved family comedy. When Thornton's uncle (the
late Jim Varney) is arrested for assault, Thornton, his girlfriend
(Laura Dern), and her family take a road trip out to support his
family, which includes Andy Griffith as Thornton's daddy. The first
hour of this is not bad with surprisingly funny cameos by Jamie Lee
Curtis and Ben Affleck as Varney's squabbling, married attorneys.
But after awhile, it begins to spiral in on itself, telling the same
story over and over again until all the charm and humor of the first
hour is just a memory. Billy Bob Thornton is an often great actor, a
talented screenwriter (check out the excellent, underrated One
False Move) and a capable director. Hopefully Daddy
and Them was just the result of an off-day.
Night Train Murders
If you've seen Wes Craven's Last House
on the Left, then you've basically already seen the
Italian rip-off, Night Train Murders.
And if you've made it this far in your life without seeing Last
House on the Left, then you have absolutely no interest
in seeing either it or this. Two young girls are humiliated, raped,
beaten and murdered by a pair of thugs and a mysterious older woman.
When one girl's parents discover this, they take justice into their
own hands and murder the thugs. Good times. Night
Train Murders isn't as vile as Last
House. Few films are. But this also isn't as memorable,
though it does have its moments of genuine discomfort.
Hey, who's up for a good old Women in Prison exploitation flick?
99 Women isn't as much fun as
such classic WIP movies as Jack Hill's The
Big Doll House but it does have a few things going for
it. First and foremost is Mercedes McCambridge and Herbert Lom,
chewing the scenery grandly as the sadistic warden and governor.
Plus, director Jess Franco films the frequent flashbacks with his
usual lunatic style, drenched in lurid colors and spotlighting odd,
disorienting angles. And even if everything else in the movie was
terrible, it's still a great title. By the way, this and all the
other Eurotrash movies this week will be featured in an upcoming
column at The Digital Bits.
An early example of so-called "serious" science fiction
filmmaking, Rocketship X-M is
mainly of interest today due to its weird, dated science. Lloyd
Bridges heads a team flying the first manned rocket to the moon.
Unfortunately, the ship is knocked off course and the crew winds up
on Mars instead (although, according to the chief science officer,
this is a happy accident because now they can explore without
cumbersome pressure suits). Rocketship
X-M may well be an important film in the treatment of
space travel in the movies. But today, it holds up a lot less well
than other, more frivolous sci-fi pictures of the 1950's.
Venus in Furs
Jess Franco's back and this time, I don't even know what the hell
his movie's about. James Darren stars as a jazz trumpet player who
watches while a blonde girl is assaulted and killed by a trio of
wealthy perverts (including Klaus Kinski!). Or was she? Or did he?
Or is it all just a dream? Narratively, Venus
in Furs makes no sense at all (you know you're in trouble
when the voice-over narration just makes things more confusing). But
it is fun. It's a trippy, sexy, switch-off-your-mind and
just-let-it-happen relic of the late 60's/early 70's, complete with
a free jazz soundtrack by Manfred Mann. Venus
in Furs ain't for everybody, that's for sure. But if it's
your happening, baby, it'll freak you out! (**
Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - The Jacket
Which is worse, a horror movie that isn't scary or a
thought-provoking art film that isn't smart? If you can't decide
then this is the movie for you. It's two bad movies in one! Adrien
Brody stars as Jack Starks who, in the film's one good scene, is
shot in the head during the first Gulf War. He recovers and a year
later, we find him wandering the snow-covered roads of New England.
He helps a young girl and her drunk junkie mom fix their truck, then
accepts a ride from someone who murders a state trooper. Brody is
framed for the killing and by the way, this all happens in the first
ten minutes or so. Still with me? Well, it doesn't matter 'cause all
that was pretty much just an excuse to get Brody committed to an
asylum under the care of craggy-faced Dr. Kris Kristofferson.
Kristofferson treats Brody by putting him in a straight-jacket and
shoving him inside a morgue drawer for hours at a time. What
therapeutic value this might have is never made clear but one
unintended side effect is that it sends Brody into the future. 2007
to be exact, where he hooks up with Keira Knightley, the grown-up
version of the little girl he helped at the beginning of the movie.
The Jacket would be incredibly
confusing if it weren't so deadly dull. It isn't scary, it isn't
compelling, and the only thought it provoked in me was that it was
too bad poor Keira Knightley had to do a gratuitous nude scene for
this crap. If you find yourself with two hours to kill, you're
better off watching a jacket than The
Jacket. (* ½)
And that'll slam the door on another two weeks here at The
Electric Theatre. 'Til next time, keep your feet on the
ground and keep reaching for the stars.
Dedicated to Debra Hill
"Electric Theatre - Where You See All
the Latest Life Size Moving Pictures, Moral and Refined, Pleasing to
Ladies, Gentlemen and Children!"
- Legend on a traveling moving picture show tent, c.1900