Playing Catch-Up: Crisscross, The Dust Factory, Gambit, In The Arms of a Killer, Overboard, Shy People


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past few weeks!

  • Crisscross
  • Released: 1992
  • Directed by Chris Menges
  • Starring David Arnott, Goldie Hawn, Arliss Howard, Keith Carradine, James Gammon, Steve Buscemi

An annoying kid named Chris Cross (David Arnott) tells us the story of his life.

In the year 1969, Chris and his mother, Tracy (Goldie Hawn), are living in Key West.  While the rest of the country is excitedly watching the first moon landing, Chris and Tracy are just trying to figure out how to survive day-to-day.  Tracy tries to keep her son from learning that she’s working as a stripper but, not surprisingly, he eventually finds out.  Chris comes across some drugs that are being smuggled into Florida and, wanting to help his mother, he decides to steal them and sell them himself.  Complicating matters is the fact that the members of the drug ring (one of whom is played by Steve Buscemi) don’t want the competition.  As well, Tracy is now dating Joe (Arliss Howard), who just happens to be an undercover cop.  And, finally, making things even more difficult is the fact that Chris just isn’t that smart.

There are actually a lot of good things to be said about Crisscross.  The film was directed by the renowned cinematographer, Chris Menges, so it looks great.  Both Arliss Howard and Goldie Hawn give sympathetic performances and Keith Carradine has a great cameo as Chris’s spaced out dad.  (Traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam, Chris’s Dad left his family and joined a commune.)  But, as a character, Chris is almost too stupid to be believed and his overwrought narration doesn’t do the story any good.  Directed and written with perhaps a less heavy hand, Crisscross could have been a really good movie but, as it is, it’s merely an interesting misfire.

  • The Dust Factory 
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Eric Small
  • Starring Armin Mueller-Stahl, Hayden Panettiere, Ryan Kelly, Kim Myers, George de la Pena, Michael Angarano, Peter Horton

Ryan (Ryan Kelly) is a teen who stopped speaking after his father died.  One day, Ryan falls off a bridge and promptly drowns.  However, he’s not quite dead yet!  Instead, he’s in The Dust Factory, which is apparently where you go when you’re on the verge of death.  It’s a very nice place to hang out while deciding whether you want to leap into the world of the dead or return to the land of the living.  Giving Ryan a tour of the Dust Factory is his grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl).  Suggesting that maybe Ryan should just stay in the Dust Factory forever is a girl named Melanie (Hayden Panettiere).  Showing up randomly and acting like a jerk is a character known as The Ringmaster (George De La Pena).  Will Ryan choose death or will he return with a new zest for living life?  And, even more importantly, will the fact that Ryan’s an unlikely hockey fan somehow play into the film’s climax?

The Dust Factory is the type of unabashedly sentimental and theologically confused film that just drives me crazy.  This is one of those films that so indulges every possible cliché that I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t based on some obscure YA tome.  I’m sure there’s some people who cry while watching this film but ultimately, it’s about as deep as Facebook meme.

  • Gambit
  • Released: 2012
  • Directed by Michael Hoffman
  • Starring Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman, Togo Igawa

Harry Deane (Colin Firth) is beleaguered art collector who, for the sake of petty revenge (which, as we all know, is the best type of revenge), tries to trick the snobbish Lord Shabandar (Alan Rickman) into spending a lot of money on a fake Monet.  To do this, he will have to team up with both an eccentric art forger (Tom Courtenay) and a Texas rodeo star named PJ Puznowksi (Cameron Diaz).  The plan is to claim that PJ inherited the fake Monet from her grandfather who received the painting from Hermann Goering at the end of the World War II and…

Well, listen, let’s stop talking about the plot.  This is one of those elaborate heist films where everyone has a silly name and an elaborate back story.  It’s also one of those films where everything is overly complicated but not particularly clever.  The script was written by the Coen Brothers and, if they had directed it, they would have at least brought some visual flair to the proceedings.  Instead, the film was directed by Michael Hoffman and, for the most part, it falls flat.  The film is watchable because of the cast but ultimately, it’s not surprising that Gambit never received a theatrical release in the States.

On a personal note, I saw Gambit while Jeff & I were in London last month.  So, I’ll always have good memories of watching the movie.  So I guess the best way to watch Gambit is when you’re on vacation.

  • In The Arms of a Killer
  • Released: 1992
  • Directed by Robert L. Collins
  • Starring Jaclyn Smith, John Spencer, Nina Foch, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Sandahl Bergman, Linda Dona, Kristoffer Tabori, Michael Nouri

This is the story of two homicide detectives.  Detective Vincent Cusack (John Spencer) is tough and cynical and world-weary.  Detective Maria Quinn (Jaclyn Smith) is dedicated and still naive about how messy a murder investigation can be when it involves a bunch of Manhattan socialites.  A reputed drug dealer is found dead during a party.  Apparently, someone intentionally gave him an overdose of heroin.  Detective Cusack thinks that the culprit was Dr. Brian Venible (Michael Nouri).  Detective Quinn thinks that there has to be some other solution.  Complicating things is that Quinn and Venible are … you guessed it … lovers!  Is Quinn truly allowing herself to be held in the arms of a killer or is the murderer someone else?

This sound like it should have been a fun movie but instead, it’s all a bit dull.  Nouri and Smith have next to no chemistry so you never really care whether the doctor is the killer or not.  John Spencer was one of those actors who was pretty much born to play world-weary detectives but, other than his performance, this is pretty forgettable movie.

  • Overboard
  • Released: 1987
  • Directed by Garry Marshall
  • Starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Edward Herrmann, Katherine Helmond, Roddy McDowall, Michael G. Hagerty, Brian Price, Jared Rushton, Hector Elizondo

When a spoiled heiress named Joanne Slayton (Goldie Hawn) falls off of her luxury yacht, no one seems to care.  Even when her husband, Grant (Edward Herrmann), discovers that Joanne was rescued by a garbage boat and that she now has amnesia, he denies knowing who she is.  Instead, he takes off with the boat and proceeds to have a good time.  The servants (led by Roddy McDowall) who Joanne spent years terrorizing are happy to be away from her.  In fact, the only person who does care about Joanne is Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell).  When Dean sees a news report about a woman suffering from amnesia, he heads over to the hospital and declares that Joanne is his wife, Annie.

Convinced that she is Annie, Joanne returns with Dean to his messy house and his four, unruly sons.  At first, Dean says that his plan is merely to have Joanne work off some money that she owes him.  (Before getting amnesia, Joanne refused to pay Dean for some work he did on her boat.)  But soon, Joanne bonds with Dean’s children and she and Dean start to fall in love.  However, as both Grant and Dean are about to learn, neither parties nor deception can go on forever…

This is one of those films that’s pretty much saved by movie star charisma.  The plot itself is extremely problematic and just about everything that Kurt Russell does in this movie would land him in prison in real life.  However, Russell and Goldie Hawn are such a likable couple that the film come close to overcoming its rather creepy premise.  Both Russell and Hawn radiate so much charm in this movie that they can make even the stalest of jokes tolerable and it’s always enjoyable to watch Roddy McDowall get snarky.  File this one under “Kurt Russell Can Get Away With Almost Anything.”

A remake of Overboard, with the genders swapped, is set to be released in early May.

  • Shy People
  • Released: 1987
  • Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
  • Starring Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey, Martha Plimpton, Merritt Butrick, John Philbin, Don Swayze, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mare Winningham

Diana Sullivan (Jill Clayburgh) is a writer for Cosmopolitan and she’s got a problem!  It turns out that her teenager daughter, Grace (Martha Plimpton), is skipping school and snorting cocaine!  OH MY GOD!  (And, to think, I thought I was a rebel just because I used to skip Algebra so I could go down to Target and shoplift eyeliner!)  Diana knows that she has to do something but what!?

Diana’s solution is to get Grace out of New York.  It turns out that Diana has got some distant relatives living in Louisiana bayou.  After Cosmo commissions her to write a story about them, Diana grabs Grace and the head down south!

(Because if there’s anything that the readers of Cosmo are going to be interested in, it’s white trash bayou dwellers…)

The only problem is that Ruth (Barbara Hershey) doesn’t want to be interviewed and she’s not particularly happy when Diana and Grace show up.  Ruth and her four sons live in the bayous.  Three of the sons do whatever Ruth tells them to do.  The fourth son is often disobedient so he’s been locked up in a barn.  Diana, of course, cannot understand why her relatives aren’t impressed whenever she mentions that she writes for Cosmo.  Meanwhile, Grace introduces her cousins to cocaine, which causes them to go crazy.  “She’s got some strange white powder!” one of them declares.

So, this is a weird film.  On the one hand, you have an immensely talented actress like Jill Clayburgh giving one of the worst performances in cinematic history.  (In Clayburgh’s defense, Diana is such a poorly written character that I doubt any actress could have made her in any way believable.)  On the other hand, you have Barbara Hershey giving one of the best.  As played by Hershey, Ruth is a character who viewers will both fear and admire.  Ruth has both the inner strength to survive in the bayou and the type of unsentimental personality that lets you know that you don’t want to cross her.  I think we’re supposed to feel that both Diana and Ruth have much to learn from each other but Diana is such an annoying character that you spend most of the movie wishing she would just go away and leave Ruth alone.  In the thankless role of Grace, Martha Plimpton brings more depth to the role than was probably present in the script and Don Swayze has a few memorable moments as one of Ruth’s sons.  Shy People is full of flaws and never really works as a drama but I’d still recommend watching it for Hershey and Plimpton.

Cleaning Out The DVR: Women of San Quentin (dir by William A. Graham)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  She’s got over 170 films to watch before the end of 2017!  Will she make it?  Who knows?  She recorded 1983’s Women of San Quentin off of Retroplex on January 25th.)

For some reason, back in January, I felt the need to record several prison movies off of cable.  I’m not sure where my mind was at that I would see a title like Women of San Quentin listed in the guide and think to myself, “That’s something I definitely need to record.”  Maybe I was thinking of pursuing a career as a prison guard.  That seems to be the easiest way to get a show on A&E nowadays.

Anyway, I imagine that anyone reading this review is looking that title and considering the VHS cover art and they’re probably assuming that Women of San Quentin is some sort of Cirio Santiago-directed women in prison film.  And then consider the film’s cast: Amy Steel is best known for Friday the 13th Part II and April Fool’s Day.  Stella Stevens is an exploitation film vet.  One of the prisoners is played by Rockne Tarkington, who starred in a handful of blaxploitation films.  William Sanderson, star of the infamous Fight For Your Life, has a small role.  Yaphet Kotto plays a prison guard here but he’s best known for playing the villain in Live and Let Die.  Gregg Henry plays a sociopath.  Hector Elizondo and Debbie Allen play sympathetic guards.  Even Ernie Hudson, a now-respectable actor with several less-than-savory films on his resume, shows up.  Finally, consider this: Women of San Quentin was written by Larry Cohen, the man who directed both Black Caesar and It’s Alive.

However, despite all of that, Women of San Quentin is not an exploitation film.  Instead, it’s a made-for-TV movie.  (Director William A. Graham has over a hundred TV shows and made-for-TV movies to his credit.)  It follows several storylines.  Lt. Janet Alexander (Stella Stevens) is the tough-but-fair captain who is in charge of one of San Quentin’s most intimidating cell blocks.  She’s great at her job and she has a vaguely romantic relationship with Hector Elizondo but she’s also tempted to find a new career.  Charles Wilson (Ernie Hudson) steps up to lead the prison’s black inmates after another activist is assassinated.  Meanwhile, the leader of the Mexican Mafia plots a prison riot and Yaphet Kotto and Debbie Allen use any means necessary to discover what’s going to happen.

And then there’s Liz Larson (Amy Steel), the newest prison guard who struggles to prove that she belongs in San Quentin.  Sexist colleagues play cruel pranks on her.  The prisoners shout at her whenever she walks past their cells.  When she has to use a gun to break up a fight, she hesitates just a second too long.  Will she be able to step up when real trouble breaks out?  Among horror fans, Amy Steel is remembered for “surviving” several slasher films.  (Her performance as Ginny in Friday the 13th Part 2 largely set the standard for which all final girls are judged.)  Steel does a pretty good job as Liz but, actually, the entire movie is well-acted.  The script is frequently rudimentary but the cast is full of unique talent and it’s always fun to watch so many good actors playing opposite each other.

I assume that the Women of San Quentin was meant to be a pilot for a TV show or something.  It just has that feel to it.  If just for the cast alone, I would recommend watching Women of San Quentin if you get a chance.  I’m as surprised as anyone but, after all, where else are going to get a chance to watch Hector Elizondo, Yaphet Kotto, Stella Stevens, and Amy Steel all hanging out in a bar together?  There are certain opportunities that you just don’t miss.

A Movie A Day #219: Wild Bill (1995, directed by Walter Hill)


The year is 1876 and the legendary Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Bridges) sits in a saloon in Deadwood and thinks about his life (most of which is seen in high-resolution, black-and-white flashbacks).  Hickok was a renowned lawman and a sure shot, a man whose exploits made him famous across the west.  Thanks to his friend, Buffalo Bill Cody (Keith Carradine), he even appeared on the New York stage and reenacted some of his greatest gun battles.  Now, Hickok is aging.  He is 39 years old, an old man by the standards of his profession.  Though men like Charlie Prince (John Hurt) and California Joe (James Gammon) continue to spread his legend, Hickok is going blind and spends most of his time in a haze of opium and regret.

Hickok only has one true friend in Deadwood, Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin).  He also has one true enemy, an aspiring gunslinger named Jack McCall (David Arquette).  McCall approaches Hickok and announces that he is going to kill him because of the way that Hickok treated his mother (played, in flashback, by Diane Lane).  Hickok does not do much to dissuade him.

Based on both a book and a play, Wild Bill is a talky and idiosyncratic Western from Walter Hill.  Hill is less interested in Hickok as a gunfighter than Hickok as an early celebrity.  There are gunfights but they only happen because, much like John Wayne in The Shootist, Hickok has become so famous that he cannot go anywhere without someone taking a shot at him.  Almost the entire final half of Wild Bill is set in that saloon, with Hickok and a gallery of character actors talking about the past and wondering about the future.

At times, Wild Bill gets bogged down with all the dialogue and philosophizing.  (To quote The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: “When you have to shoot, shoot.  Don’t talk.”)  Luckily, the film is saved by an intriguing cast, led by Jeff Bridges.  In many ways, his performance was Wild Bill feels like an audition for his later performance in True Grit.  David Arquette is intensely weird as the jumpy Jack McCall and Ellen Barkin brings the film’s only underwritten role, Calamity Jane, to life.  Smaller roles are played by everyone from Bruce Dern to James Remar to Marjoe Gortner.

United Artist made the mistake of trying to sell Wild Bill as being a straight western, which led to confused audiences and a resounding flop at the box office.  Ironically, years after the release of Wild Bill, Walter Hill won an Emmy for directing the first episode of HBO’s Deadwood, an episode the featured Wild Bill cast member Keith Carradine in the role of Hickok.

A Movie A Day #217: Wyatt Earp (1994, directed by Lawrence Kasdan)


Once upon a time, there were two movies about the legendary Western lawman (or outlaw, depending on who is telling the story) Wyatt Earp.  One came out in 1993 and the other came out in 1994.

The 1993 movie was called Tombstone.  That is the one that starred Kurt Russell was Wyatt, with Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton in the roles of his brothers and Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday.  Tombstone deals with the circumstances that led to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  “I’m your huckleberry,” Doc Holliday says right before his gunfight with Michael Biehn’s Johnny Ringo.  Tombstone is the movie that everyone remembers.

The 1994 movies was called Wyatt Earp.  This was a big budget extravaganza that was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and starred Kevin Costner as Wyatt.  Dennis Quaid played Doc Holliday and supporting roles were played by almost everyone who was an active SAG member in 1994.  If they were not in Tombstone, they were probably in Wyatt Earp.  Gene Hackman, Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Annabeth Gish, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, JoBeth Williams, Mare Winningham, and many others all appeared as supporting characters in the (very) long story of Wyatt Earp’s life.

Of course, Wyatt Earp features the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but it also deals with every other chapter of Earp’s life, including his multiple marriages, his career as a buffalo hunter, and his time as a gold prospector.  With a three-hour running time, there is little about Wyatt Earp’s life that is not included.  Unfortunately, with the exception of his time in Tomstone, Wyatt Earp’s life was not that interesting.  Neither was Kevin Costner’s performance.  Costner tried to channel Gary Cooper in his performance but Cooper would have known better than to have starred in a slowly paced, three-hour movie.  The film is so centered around Costner and his all-American persona that, with the exception of Dennis Quaid, the impressive cast is wasted in glorified cameos.  Wyatt Earp the movie tries to be an elegy for the old west but neither Wyatt Earp as a character nor Kevin Costner’s performance was strong enough to carry such heavy symbolism.  A good western should never be boring and that is a rule that Wyatt Earp breaks from the minute that Costner delivers his first line.

Costner was originally cast in Tombstone, just to leave the project so he could produce his own Wyatt Earp film.  As a big, Oscar-winnng star, Costner went as far as to try to have production of Tombstone canceled.  Ironically, Tombstone turned out to be the film that everyone remember while Wyatt Earp is the film that most people want to forget.

Back to School #19: The Pom Pom Girls (dir by Joseph Ruben)


The Pom Pom Girls was released in 1976, the same year as Massacre at Central High.  It also features two actors who made quite an impression in Central High — Robert Carradine and Rainbeaux Smith.  However, that is where the similarities end because, whereas Central High was a political allegory disguised as an exploitation film, The Pom Pom Girls is an almost prototypical 70s teen comedy.  Whereas Central High was all about subtext, The Pom Pom Girls has no subtext.  Try to look between the lines of The Pom Pom Girls and all you’ll find is blank space.  And, finally, while Central High remains a difficult film to see, I’ve lost track of how many of my Mill Creek box sets include The Pom Pom Girls.

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The Pom Pom Girls is about … well, close to nothing.  Johnnie (Robert Carradine) and Jesse (Michael Mullins) are students at Rosewood High School in California.  Because the film was made in 1976, they spend most of their time driving around in a van and listening to MOR radio stations.  Johnnie and Jesse are also star football players, which is one of the odd things about the film because, while Carradine is genuinely likeable and Mullins makes for a plausible sullen high school student, neither one of them comes across as if they could be football players.  The big game comes up against rival Hardin High, so there’s a prank war that involves a little more nudity than the ones on Saved By The Bell ever did.  Johnnie and Jesse also have girlfriends, both of whom are cheerleaders.  Jesse cheats on his girlfriend but apparently, the audience is supposed to sympathize with him because she refused to go to the beach with him.  Johnnie, meanwhile, has a leather jacket-wearing nemesis named Duane (Bill Adler), who is upset because Johnnie is dating his ex.  As often happens, it all ends with a recreation of the famous “chicken run” from Rebel Without A Cause.  We watch a car explode from three different angles. In order to leave you with some suspense, I will not mention whether anyone was in the car.

You’re welcome.

And a fun time was by all...

And a fun time was by all…

One of the strange things about The Pom Pom Girls is that while the two main characters and their girlfriends are all presented as being rebels, they’re also presented as being the most popular kids in school.  Johnnie and Jesse are the captains of the football team.  They’re dating the captains of the cheerleading squad.  Despite the movie’s attempts to convince us otherwise, these people are not rebels fighting the establishment.  Instead, they are the establishment.  This is actually something that The Pom Pom Girls has in common with Richard Linklater’s far superior Dazed and Confused.  The difference, however, is that Dazed and Confused actually calls its character out on the hypocricy of their posturing while The Pom Pom Girls just tries to have the best of both worlds.  Johnnie is both a star football player and the class clown who breaks the rules.  Jesse is both a great team player and an angry individualist.  I guess that’s the 70s for you.

He owns a van.  It has shag carpeting and a strobe light.

He owns a van. It has shag carpeting and a strobe light.

Back in high school, I was often asked to try out for cheerleading but I never did.  For one thing, I didn’t see why I should have to try out when they could have just easily approached me and said, “Hi, will you please be the new head cheerleader?”  Even beyond that, I couldn’t stand the idea of always having to be happy.  And, perhaps most importantly, my sister was already a cheerleader and I wanted to establish my own thing.  However, I still made Erin watch The Pom Pom Girls with me and I asked her if the film was a realistic portrait of high school cheerleading.  In response, she rolled her eyes which I believe was her way of saying no.

But, even if it isn’t exactly Bring It On, The Pom Pom Girls still does have some worth as a time capsule of the clothing, attitudes, and vans of the 70s.  To be honest, that’s probably the only thing of value that The Pom Pom Girls has to offer because, otherwise, it’s basically a film about a likable guy who spends all of his time hanging out with a guy who will literally not stop whining about being a football player and how nobody is willing to go to the beach with him.

Incidentally, The Pom Pom Girls was released by Crown International Pictures.  Much like the company’s previous film, The Young Graduates, the main message here appears to be that the 70s kind of sucked.

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