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.

A Movie A Day #213: Illegally Yours (1988, directed by Peter Bogdanovich)

This is really bad.

Richard Dice (Rob Lowe, wearing glasses and running around like a speed freak) is a loser who lives at home with his mother (Jessica James), his younger brother (Ira Heiden), and his mother’s boyfriend (Harry Carey, Jr.).  When he gets called for jury duty, Richard thinks that he will be able to easily get out of it but then he discovers that the defendant is someone from his part, even if she does not remember a thing about him.  Ever since the first grade, Richard has been in love with Molly (Colleen Camp) and now she is on trial for murder.  Richard lies about knowing who she is and gets selected for the jury.  When it starts to look like Molly might be convicted, Richard starts to investigate the murder himself.  His investigation leads him to two teenage blackmail victims (played by Kim Myers and Bodganovich’s future wife, Louise Stratten) and a tape of the murder being committed.  Illegally Yours attempts to be a screwball comedy but it just comes across as being frantic, with Lowe especially going overboard.  The actors all speak quickly but that can not disguise how lame most of the dialogue is.  The movie also comes with a clunky narration, a sure sign of post production desperation.

Made at a time when Peter Bogdanovich was mired in an expensive lawsuit over changes made to his previous film, Mask, Bogdanovich has said that he solely did Illegally Yours because he needed the money.  Bogdanovich has accurately described Illegally Yours as being the worst film that he ever directed.  Coming from the director of At Long Last Love, Nickelodeon, and Texasville, that is saying something.

Horror Film Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, dir. Jack Sholder)


You’ll have to forgive me, but I watched A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) back on September 6th, 2008. So it’s been awhile. Luckily, this film doesn’t really ask you to know anything about the original. Also on the plus side, I’ve reviewed Rock: It’s Your Decision (1982) and Law Enforcement Guide To Satanic Cults (1994) this year, so imaginary subtext is still fresh in my mind.


The movie opens up with Jesse Walsh (Mark Patton) riding the bus. Just in case we didn’t notice that Robert Englund is driving the bus, the movie makes sure we know right away that something isn’t right. They have Jesse looking like he doesn’t think very highly of himself in real life. Of course Freddy Kruger is driving the bus and a nightmare sequence ensues. Then we cut to Jesse waking up sweating. Heat plays a major role in this film because of course it does since Freddy was burned.


Unfortunately, Jesse does go downstairs to find that Fu Man Chews cereal is very real. That’s scary! This movie is cerebral. I remember the original also playing with what was real and imagined, but here it’s a little different. The things here are mostly real in that something really is happening in Jesse and it does have him take actions in the real world against his will. Freddy isn’t something that gets you in your dreams. In this sequel, Freddy is inside Jesse slowly but surely taking hold of him. Doesn’t really fit with the first one, but who cares. It’s much better than just getting a retread of the original.


Pretty quickly, Jesse and his girlfriend Lisa (Kim Myers) find a diary written by the girl from the first film. They find it because it turns out Jesse’s family has recently moved into the house from the first movie, unbeknownst to anyone but the dad. One of the things people might latch onto in the hopes of reading gay subtext into this movie here is the “No (out of town) Chicks” sign on his door. Yes, because kids in high school are totally not so juvenile to have something like that on their door. And just in case we don’t remember that kids at that age are that juvenile. When Jesse and his friend are forced to do pushups by their coach on the field because they were fighting, they of course assume the coach must be “queer” because they know he frequents an S&M club.


While we are here. I believe the cleaning the room scene pictured above means he’s gay about as much as I believe the girls from Teen Witch (1989) went home and made out with each other after the I Like Boys musical number.

As stupid as they are, these kind of scenes are all over 1980s movies. Remember this one from Risky Business (1983)?

Hell, going back to Teen Witch again. The infamous Top That! rap is just as goofy.


The first time we really see Freddy truly taking hold is when Jesse appears to leave his house in the middle of the night. He goes to the S&M club where his coach goes. It takes no time at all for the coach to spot him and punish him by making him run laps at the school gym. Of course they didn’t mention the coach was into S&M for anything. I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but movies from this period loved to throw in characters who were perceived sexual deviants, then punish or kill them in a manner similar to what turns them on. That’s what happens here to the coach. However, instead of Jesse waking up in his bed to find out the coach is dead the next day. He is actually brought home by the police, meaning it really happened. This obviously scares the crap out of Jesse.


And things only spin further and further out of control as Freddy manifests himself more and more in reality. This is another scene I’m sure is supposed to seal the deal on the gay subtext.


The gay is trying to get out of him so he flees being with his girlfriend to barge in on his friend. Of course he goes to his friend. This isn’t a big budget film we’re talking about here. The coach is dead, his parents think he’s on drugs, and Freddy just manifested himself while he was with Lisa. Who else is he going to go to but his friend? He’s the only other character of consequence left in the movie.


And this line that Jesse says shortly after coming into his friend’s room means a penis if you are in middle school. This is where the film does run into some issues for me. Up until now, the movie did a good job of showing Jesse slowing losing his mind as Freddy took further and further control, but now he literally appears to jump into reality as if Jesse were an incubator. It eventually kind of explains it, but I wish they could have smoothed this out a bit more. Especially seeing how good of a job I think Mark Patton did up till now with the character of Jesse.


After Freddy runs wild at a party, Lisa goes to where Freddy used to work. There was a scene earlier where Lisa took Jesse there.


This is where Lisa tries to get Jesse to fight Freddy’s control over him. In fact, we can hear Jesse sometimes and it’s clear that Freddy hasn’t destroyed Jesse quite yet. Or you can read this as reparative therapy with Lisa trying to call Jesse back to being straight. Even going so far as to kiss him because that’s never used in films to draw characters back from the dark side in a movie.


Then we get the ending of Ghostbusters (1984) in that Jesse emerges from the charred outer skin of Freddy. And then that little bit at the end of the movie just in case we weren’t sure that they were going to make more of these movies.


And I’m sure you can read this the way you can the ending of Taxi Driver (1976) in that Jesse has only resolved this episode, but hasn’t dealt with the real issue. And I’m just coming up with these things off the top of my head without actually referring to anyone else’s posts.

As a follow up to the original, I like it. They tried to do something different that still drew from the source material. I really did like Mark Patton’s performance in this.

As a horror movie in general. It’s not really scary in the traditional sense. You don’t perceive something or someplace as now being dangerous and a source of fear like a regular horror movie does. In that sense, it’s actually even scarier because Jesse does nothing, but is simply taken over just because. Near the end of last year my brain turned on me and I wound up in the emergency room. They didn’t know what was wrong with me and sent me home. It took around five days or so to come out of it. While I was in it, among other things, I honestly believed I was trapped in some sort of Matrix-like prison that just looked like reality. I kept looking for anything that could be a flaw in what my brain kept telling me wasn’t real. It’s an absolutely terrifying thing.

As for the supposed gay subtext in the movie. It’s just not there. You can add up all the scenes you want and apply any meanings you want to them, but it doesn’t means it’s there. I’m transgender and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) meant something to me as a kid. It doesn’t mean that the scenes where Robert Patrick is seen having transformed into a woman didn’t strike a note in me because they did. But it doesn’t mean that there is transgender subtext in it or anything that happens to have shapeshifting between genders. So please don’t take what I said as trying to take away something that might be special to you. I have no desire to do that. It’s just that you are reading your own meaning into it, not one that was hidden away and discovered by you.

Now I need to get back to something less serious. I’m in the middle of the first Mostly Ghostly movie and it’s not as stupid so far, but pretty close.