Slashed To Thrill: Brian De Palma’s DRESSED TO KILL (Filmways 1980)


cracked rear viewer

Brian De Palma was a big deal back in the 70’s and 80’s, and his films like CARRIE, SCARFACE, and THE UNTOUCHABLES are still discussed. Yet works such as SISTERS, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, OBSESSION, BLOW OUT, and BODY DOUBLE seem unjustly neglected today, and some critics deride him for his over the top sex and violence. DRESSED TO KILL finds De Palma in full Hitchcock mode, an homage to PSYCHO that The Master of Suspense himself cited as more like a “fromage”, but one I find still entertaining.

The film begins with a sizzling hot shower scene with Angie Dickinson as Kate Miller, remarried mother of  science nerd Peter  (Keith Gordon, CHRISTINE ). Kate has problems in her marriage and with her own mom,  not to mention being a nymphomaniac! She’s seeing psychiatrist Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine ), but seemingly getting nowhere. We follow her to  New York’s…

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Film Review: Jaws 2 (dir by Jeannot Szwarc)


The 1978 film Jaws 2 poses a question that has been asked many times under many different circumstances:

When will people learn?

Seriously, you would think that after everything that happened during the first Jaws, the people of Amity Island would be a little bit smarter when it comes to sharks.  I mean, did Ben Gardner, the Kintner Boy, Quint, and Chrissie Watkins all die in vain?  If I lived on Amity Island, I would be so paranoid about another shark attack that I would probably move to Manitoba.  At the very least, I would demand that the beach be closed if there was even the slightest chance that another great white shark was somewhere out there, eating anyone foolish enough to get back in the water.

It’s just common sense!

But no.  In Jaws 2, when another shark shows up and eats two divers and a water skier before blowing up a motor boat, no one is even willing to consider shutting down the beach.  Even after Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) insists that another shark has shown up, no one is willing to listen to him.  “I know something about sharks!” Brody insists but the town council just shrugs him off.  Maybe they think that Quint and Hooper did all the work the last time and that Brody was just along for the ride.

Of course, Brody does bring some of his problems on himself.  Brody spends a lot of this film sitting in the dark, brooding about sharks.  When he sees a shadow in the ocean, he runs down to the beach and starts shooting at it.  “It’s just blue fish!” someone yells while Brody looks a little confused.  How shocked can we really be when the town council fires Brody?  He was a loose cannon.

Before he gets fired, Brody orders his teenage son, Mike (Mark Gruner) to stay out of the water.  Of course, Mike doesn’t listen.  He goes sailing with his friends and his younger brother, Sean (Marc Gilpin).  That’s a big mistake, of course.  As soon as Mike and company are a good distance away from Amity Island, the shark attacks and leaves them all stranded at sea.  Mike is knocked unconscious.  Sean is trapped on a boat all by himself.  One of the teenage girls, Jackie Peters (Donna Wilkes), totally freaks out while her older sister, Brooke (Gigi Voran), suggests that they all play charades to pass the time.  Everyone dismisses her idea but you know what?  I have it on very good authority that sharks love charades.  I think Brooke was on to something…

Jaws 2 is a strange, strange movie.  It’s really two films in one.  Jaws 2 starts out as an almost by-the-book remake of Jaws.  True, Quint’s dead.  And Richard Dreyfuss had just won an Oscar so there’s no way Hooper was going to come back.  But Brody’s back and he’s once again an island police chief who is afraid of the water and who can’t get anyone to listen to him.  Just as Jaws started out as almost a small town comedy, Jaws 2 has an early scene where Brody has to deal with the quirky citizens of Amity Island. (Unfortunately, Harry and his really bad hat don’t make a return appearance.)  A scene where a dead killer whale washes up on the beach is shot to remind us of the scene in the first in which Hooper and Brody examine a dead shark.

But then, halfway through, Jaws 2 turns into a totally different movie.  Suddenly, the teenagers are trapped out in the middle of the ocean and the shark is circling them and Brody is searching from them and the whole movie just goes insane.  Roy Scheider abandons any attempt at subtlety as he becomes as obsessed with shark as Donald Pleasence was with Michael Myers in Halloween.  The shark turns out to be incredibly sneaky.  He’s never around until you stick your hand in the water and then suddenly — SHARK!

How powerful is this shark?  He’s so powerful that he eats a freaking a helicopter!  Seriously, a coast guard helicopter tries to rescue the kids and ends up getting eaten by the shark!  That scene alone is worth whatever’s led up to it.  (I think Jaws 2 might be the first film to feature a shark eating a helicopter.)  The film only gets crazier from there, with Brody eventually reduced to verbally taunting the shark while clutching onto a power cable.

Now, admittedly, those stranded teenagers aren’t the most developed characters in the world.  There’s a lot of them and it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who is who.  Fortunately, this is a 70s films and that means that Jaws 2 is all about the hair.  You may not know their names but you’ll never forget their hair:

Check out some of the members of the Jaws 2 hair club:

Jaws, come out to play…

(Okay, Luther wasn’t actually in the movie but just imagine if he had been!)

Anyway, Jaws 2 cannot begin to hold a candle to the original Jaws but it’s still a lot of fun.  Admittedly, there are a few parts, especially during the first hour, that drag in a way that Spielberg, the consummate story teller, would not have allowed.  I could have done without some of the lengthy scenes where Brody tries to convince the city council that there’s another shark in the water, if just because we already know that the shark’s there and we can guess that the beach isn’t going to be closed.  (After all, if the beach was closed, there wouldn’t be a movie…)

But once the teenagers are stranded in the ocean and the shark is eating the helicopter and Brody is calling it a bastard while hanging onto a power cable, there’s no way that you can resist the charms of this sequel.  Jaws 2 isn’t exactly good but it’s just so entertaining!

Jaws 2 frequently shows up on AMC so keep an eye out for it!

And, for the love of God — stay out of the water!

Guilty Pleasure No. 36: The Legend of Billie Jean (dir by Matthew Robbins)


Two weeks ago, while I was sick in bed, I watched The Legend of Billie Jean, a deeply silly movie from 1985.

Okay, get this.  Billie Jean (Helen Slater) and her younger brother, Binx (an incredibly young Christian Slater), live in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Binx has always wanted to go to Vermont.  That right there should tell you just how silly this movie is.  Not only does it feature a character named Binx but it also features Texans wanting to go to Vermont.  I’m a native Texan who loves to travel but I can tell you right now that the last place I would ever want to go would be Vermont.  In fact, down here, we tend to assume that Vermont’s just a place that was made up by the media.  Bernie Sanders?  He’s just an actor.  Seriously, there’s no way that Vermont actually exists.

Anyway, after Binx throws a milkshake in the face of local bully, Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb), Hubie steals Binx’s scooter.  (If you’re stuck with a name like Hubie Pyatt, it seems kinda predestined that you’re going to grow up to be a bully.)  After getting nowhere with the police, Billie Jean returns home to discover that Binx has been beaten up and his scooter has been dismantled.  Billie Jean goes to Hubie’s father (Richard Bradford) to demand some money to get the scooter fixed.  Mr. Pyatt responds by attempting to assault Billie Jean, which leads to Binx shooting Mr. Pyatt in the shoulder.

So now, Billie Jean and Binx are on the run.

Joining them in their flight are two idiot friends (Martha Gehman and Yeardley Smith) and Lloyd (Keith Gordon), the son of the local district attorney.  Because this is a movie, Billie Jean quickly becomes a media superstar.  Everyone wants to meet Billie Jean.  Everyone wants to help Billie Jean.  A sympathetic police detective (Peter Coyote) is determined to capture Billie Jean without violence but that might be difficult with the media constantly getting in the way.

While hiding out in a motel, Billie Jean turns on the TV and watches the classic 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc.  (I have to say that I’ve stayed in a few motels around Corpus Christi and never once did I turn on the TV and just happen to come across a classic silent movie.)  Moved by Renee Falconetti’s performance in the lead role, Billie Jean decides to cut her hair really, really short (though not as short as Falconetti’s).  I guess Billie Jean is supposed to be a 1980s version of Joan of Arc, which really doesn’t make any sense.  I mean, Joan of Arc heard the voice of God and led the French to victory over the British.  Billie Jean is just trying to get some money to get her brother’s scooter fixed and pay for a trip to the imaginary state of Vermont.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pyatt has recovered from his wounds and is now selling Billie Jean merchandise in his store.  The detective mentions how weird that is but Mr. Pyatt is just out to make some money.  Can you blame him?  The entire country is obsessed with Billie Jean!

As you might have guessed, The Legend of Billie Jean is incredibly silly but likable.   Despite having an inconsistent Texas accent, Helen Slater does a good job in the lead role of Billie Jean and it’s interesting to actually see Christian Slater before he developed the sarcastic style that, for better or worse, has come to define pretty much all of his performances.  Never for a second do you believe that Billie Jean would actually become a media superstar.  (Nor do you ever believe that she’s the type who would have the patience to watch a silent movie.)  I mean, when you get right down to it, it’s a pretty dumb movie.  But, when you’re sick in bed, The Legend of Billie Jean is a perfectly acceptable way to pass the time.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls

4 Film Reviews: Bridge To Silence, The Chocolate War, Kiss The Bride, Wedding Daze


Last week, I watched six films on This TV.

Which TV?  No, This TV!  It’s one of my favorite channels.  It’s not just that they show a lot of movies.  It’s also that they frequently show movies that are new to me.  For instance, last week, This TV introduced me to both Prison Planet and Cherry 2000.

Here are four other films, two good and two not so good, that This TV introduced to me last week.

First up, we have 1989’s Bridge to Silence.

Directed by Karen Arthur, Bridge To Silence was a made-for-TV movie.  Lee Remick plays Marge Duffield, who has a strained relationship with her deaf daughter, Peggy (Marlee Matlin).  After Peggy’s husband is killed in a traffic accident, Peggy has a nervous breakdown.  Marge and her husband, Al (Josef Sommer) take care of Peggy’s daughter, Lisa, while Peggy is recovering.  However, even as Peggy gets better, Marge still doesn’t feel that she can raise her daughter so Marge files a lawsuit to be named Lisa’s legal guardian.  While all of this is going on, Peggy is starring in a college production of The Glass Menagerie and pursuing a tentative romance with the play’s director (Michael O’Keefe).

Bridge to Silence is one of those overwritten but heartfelt melodramas that just doesn’t work.  With the exception of Marlee Matlin, the cast struggles with the overwrought script.  (Michael O’Keefe, in particular, appears to be miserable.)  The film’s biggest mistake is that it relies too much on that production of The Glass Menagerie, which is Tennessee Williams’s worst play and tends to be annoying even when it’s merely used as a plot device.  There’s only so many times that you can hear the play’s director refer to Peggy as being “Blue Roses” before you just want rip your hair out.

Far more enjoyable was 1988’s The Chocolate War.

Directed by Keith Gordon, The Chocolate War is a satirical look at conformity, popularity, rebellion, and chocolate at a Catholic boys school.  After the manipulative Brother Leon accidentally purchases too much chocolate for the school’s annual sale, he appeals to one of his students, Archie Costello (Wallace Langham), to help him make the money back.  Archie, who is just as manipulative as Leon, is the leader of a secret society known as the Vigils.  However, Archie and Leon’s attempt to manipulate the students runs into a roadblack when a new student, Jerry Renault (Illan Mitchell-Smith) refuses to sell any chocolates at all.  From there, things get progressively more complicated as Archie tries to break Jerry, Jerry continues to stand up for his freedom, and Leon … well, who knows what Leon is thinking?

The Chocolate War was an enjoyable and stylish film, one that featured a great soundtrack and a subtext about rebellion and conformity that still feels relevant.  John Glover and Wallace Langham both gave great performances as two master manipulators.

I also enjoyed the 2002 film, Kiss The Bride.

Kiss The Bride tells the story of a big Italian family, four sisters, and a wedding.  Everyone brings their own personal drama to the big day but ultimately, what matters is that family sticks together.  Directed by Vanessa Parise, Kiss The Bride featured believable and naturalistic performances from Amanda Detmer, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brooke Langton, Monet Mazur, and Parise herself.

I have to admit that one reason why I liked this film is because it was about a big Italian family and it featured four sisters.  I’m the youngest of four sisters and, watching the film, I was reminded of my own big Irish-Italian family.  The movie just got everything right.

And then finally, there was 2006’s Wedding Daze.

Wedding Daze is a romantic “comedy.”  Anderson (Jason Biggs) asks his girlfriend to marry him, just to have her drop dead from shock.  Anderson’s best friend is afraid that Anderson will never get over his dead girlfriend and begs Anderson to not give up on love.  Anderson attempts to humor his friend by asking a complete stranger, a waitress named Katie (Isla Fisher), to marry him.  To everyone’s shock, Katie says yes.

From the get go, there are some obvious problems with this film’s problem.  Even if you accept that idea that Katie would say yes to Anderson, you also have to be willing to accept the idea that Anderson wouldn’t just say, “No, I was just joking.”  That said, the idea does have some comic potential.  You could imagine an actor like Cary Grant doing wonders with this premise in the 30s.  Unfortunately, Jason Biggs is no Cary Grant and the film’s director, comedian Michael Ian Black, is no Leo McCarey.  In the end, the entire film is such a misjudged failure that you can’t help but feel that Anderson’s ex was lucky to die before getting too involved in any of it.

Halloween Havoc!: CHRISTINE (Columbia 1983)


cracked rear viewer

Stephen King turned 70 last month, and the Master of Horror’s grip on the American psyche is stronger than ever, thanks to the unprecedented horror hit IT!, now playing at a theater near you. King’s macabre novels have been adapted for the screen since 1976’s CARRIE with  varying degrees of success; some have been unabashed genre classics, others complete bombs, most lie somewhere in the middle.

Top: Stephen King 1983
Bottom: John Carpenter 1983

Director John Carpenter had a string of successes beginning with 1978’s seminal slasher film HALLOWEEN, but his 1982 remake of THE THING, now considered a masterpiece of the genre, was a box office disappointment. Carpenter took on King’s novel CHRISTINE as a work-for-hire project. I recently watched it for the first time, and think not only is it one of the best adaptations of King’s work to hit the screen, it’s one of Carpenter’s best horror…

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A Movie A Day #150: Back to School (1986, directed by Alan Metter)


Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) started with nothing but through a combination of hard work and chutzpah, he started a chain of “Tall and Fat” clothing stores and made a fortune.  Everyone has seen his commercials, the one where he asks his potential customers, “Do you look at the menu and say, ‘Okay?'”  He has a new trophy wife named Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau) and a chauffeur named Lou (Burt Young).  Thornton never even graduated from high school but he gets respect.

However, his son, Jason (Keith Gordon), doesn’t get no respect.  No respect at all.  Jason is a student at a pricey university, where he is bullied by Chas Osborne (William Zabka) and can’t get a date to save his life.  Jason’s only friend is campus weirdo Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Thornton sees that his son isn’t having any fun, he decides to go back to school!

Back to School is a predictable but good-natured comedy.  It is like almost every other 80s college comedy except, this time, it’s a 65 year-old man throwing raging parties and making the frat boys look stupid instead of Robert Carradine or Curtis Armstrong.  On the stand-up stage, Dangerfield always played the (sometimes) lovable loser but in the movies, Dangerfield was always a winner.  In both Caddyshack and Back to School, Dangerfield played a self-made man who forced his way into high society and showed up all of the snobs.  While Back to School is no Caddyshack, it does feature Rodney at his best.

Rodney may be the funniest thing about Back to School but a close second is Sam Kinison, who owed much of his early success to Rodney Dangerfield’s support.  Kinison plays a history professor, who has some very strongly held views about the Vietnam War and who punctuates his points with a primal screen.

Also, keep an eye out Kurt Vonnegut, playing himself.  Rodney hires him to write a paper about Kurt Vonnegut for one of his classes.  The paper gets an F because Rodney’s literature professor (Sally Kellerman) can tell that not only did Rodney not write it but whoever did knows absolutely nothing about the work of Kurt Vonnegut.

So it goes.

A Movie A Day #113: Mother Night (1996, directed by Keith Gordon)


Four years after she played the mysterious (and dead) Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, Sheryl Lee starred as another mysterious (and possibly dead) woman in Mother Night.

Lee is cast as Helga Noth, the German wife of American expatriate Harold W. Campbell (Nick Nolte).  Harold is a playwright, living in Berlin and doing propaganda broadcasts for the Nazis.  Working with Frank Wirtanen (John Goodman), a military intelligence officer, Campbell has developed a series of verbal tics that are meant to secretly deliver information to the Allied Forces.  It is never clear whether Harold’s information serves any real purpose just as it is left ambiguous as to whether Harold believes any of the anti-Semitic propaganda that he broadcasts over the airwaves.  Working as both a propagandist and a double agent, Harold serves both the Allies and the Axis.

In the final days of the war, Helga is reportedly killed on the Eastern Front and Harold is captured by the Americans.  Frank arranges for Harold to be quietly sent to New York City but tells him that the government will never admit that they used him as a double agent.

Harold spends the next fifteen years living an isolated life in New York.  His only friend is an elderly painter, Kraft (Alan Arkin), with whom he plays chess.  Eventually, Harold opens up to the painter and talks about his past.  Kraft, for his own shady reasons, reveals Harold’s identity to a group of neo-Nazis.  Though Harold initially wants nothing to do with them, this changes when they reveal that they have Helga.

Or do they?  Almost no one in Mother Night is who they claim or what they seem to be, especially not Harold.

Based on a novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night suffers from the same uneven quality that seems to afflict most films based on Vonnegut’s work.  It is easy to go overboard when it comes to bringing Vonnegut’s unique mix of drama and satire to the screen and Mother Night does that in a few scenes, especially once Harold reaches New York.  It is still an intriguing and thought-provoking film, though.  Nick Nolte gives one of his best performances as Harold and Sheryl Lee does a good job in a difficult role.

The pinnacle of Vonnegut films remains George Roy Hill’s version of Slaughterhouse-Five but Mother Night is still superior to something like Alan Rudolph’s adaptation of Breakfast of Champions.