It’s true that I don’t anticipate many one star reviews in this column. One reason for this is that the material covered here includes films that I have seen previously. Chances are, there aren’t too many films in the one-star arena you find yourself visiting again and again. Because of my admittedly strange way of reviewing films, even notorious howlers like THE ASTRO-ZOMBIES don’t get low ratings, precisely because they deliver on pure entertainment value. Nevertheless, they will pop up, albeit infrequently. Films watched for the first time all the way through which fail to deliver will be called out. Same thing for the even rarer occasion when I revisit an old film to give it another chance, only to be slapped hard in the face by its lack of appeal. And then, there is the opposite spectrum – quite a few films in this column will be given *** 1/2 or higher. The reason is the same. While first viewings are always a crap shoot, films that we enjoy get revisited. Sometimes they don’t hold up as well as we remember, but many times they do.
As you will see, today’s column offers a bit of both – the extremes from the high and low end of film geek commentary.
DAY 12: JANUARY 14, 2013
Believe it or not, I enjoy Jan De Bont’s original SPEED a lot. It is completely ridiculous from beginning to end, but therein lies its charm (same story for De Bont’s follow-up, TWISTER). There are many ways to cram that many insane, logic-defying moments into a movie. When the mixture is wrong, the film is a disaster. But when the mixture is right, you get a deliriously enjoyable popcorn flick.
Keanu Reeves was widely criticized for opting out of SPEED 2, choosing instead to tour with his band Dogstar. Turns out it was one of the smartest moves of his career. Here is a film that has even more clichés than the original, even more ridiculous moments that defy explanation. And yet, every single thing that went right in the first film goes wrong here. The characters, never a strong suit, are insufferable here, including a comical overweight couple and a young deaf girl who only exists to be put in danger. Sandra Bullock tries to amp up the appeal by reprising her role from the original, but it just puts her in the same situations all over again. For all the acclaim he’s gotten over the years, Jason Patric has spent much of his time being so uncommitted in eighty percent of his roles, he might as well not even be there. His protagonist seems to be in danger of fading into the scenery at any moment, and that includes the action sequences. Most egregiously, De Bont forgot that his film was called SPEED. So, instead of a bus racing down the interstate, we have a slow-moving cruise ship. Everything seems slower this time out, with none of the sense of urgency that made the original SPEED so entertaining.
To go with today’s column, I have supplied a picture of Sandra Bullock in a bikini. It’s the only image worth taking from this film. You can thank me for saving you from watching this now. ZERO STARS (out of ★★★★)
ROCKY (1976) – The ROCKY movies went from small success story to huge blockbusters where the Cold War was fought and won in the boxing ring and then back again. But the original ROCKY is still the best. What makes it so great is that it’s more about the people than the ring. Rocky Balboa is a nobody, a bum, a guy who “fights like a damn ape” and makes extra cash by beating payments out of the people in his neighborhood for a local bookie. He doesn’t necessarily want the title – he wants a chance to prove himself. If he can prove that he isn’t a chump. That he can romance the girl of his dreams – the mousy sister of his best friend – and rise himself out of the trap he’s stuck in, that is his victory.
It’s Stallone’s appreciation for the characters in this film that make it not another boxing movie, but an American classic. Stallone is fantastic in the role that he wrote for himself. Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers and Burgess Meredith are all in top form. It’s just a wonderful script, with wonderful direction by John G. Avildsen and a wonderful film all around. If your image of Rocky is glamor and numerous sequels, you need to revisit this original once again. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
LUST IN THE DUST (1985) – first viewing – Not a latenight spankfest of the Skinemax variety, this is actually a quirky spoof of Westerns from director Paul Bartel (DEATH RACE 2000, EATING RAOUL). Tab Hunter and Divine, who starred in John Waters’ POLYESTER together, reunite in this film about an outlaw and a dance hall girl who stop in the middle-of-nowhere town of Chili Verde. Once there, they come up against a crooked madam (Lanie Kazan), a bandit (Henry Silva) and a Bible and grammar-obsessed outlaw (Geoffrey Lewis).
MARVIN & TIGE (1983) – first viewing – A suicidal eleven year old (Gibran Brown) who just lost his mother meets an alcoholic bum named Marvin (John Cassavetes) on the streets of Atlanta. Marvin takes the kid in and the two learn to love and respect each other. They get along great and Marvin becomes a father figure to the kid. But as things get more complicated, Marvin wonders if this is the best place for Tige to grow up. Filmed in 1983 but delayed for two years.
VARIETY (1983) – first viewing – A young woman takes a job selling tickets for the Variety Photoplay Theatre on the seedy streets of New York City. Though at first apathetic, she becomes more and more interested with the films being shown at the theatre, the atmosphere that surrounds her and eventually the customers that enter its doors. This is an independent film that hit the festival circuit before scoring an official release in 1985. John Lurie (DOWN BY LAW, STRANGER THAN PARADISE) wrote the music.
And you don’t get to hear about any of these films. I know, life is cruel. These will be covered on our podcast.
Hopefully, you are well aware of the weekly podcast we run here, FILM GEEK CENTRAL PRESENTS: THE FILMS OF 1985. Throughout 2013, we are covering every film released back in 1985. The first episode is up now with new episodes every Friday! Go have a listen!
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 33
My soundtrack for January 14, 2013: “Gamble on me, baby. Go ahead and place your bet.”