No Good Deed

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2014

Screen Gems

Directed by Sam Miller

Produced by Will Packer and Lee Clay

Executive Produced by Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Aimee Lagos, Lindsay Williams, Gleen S. Gainor, Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Rob Hardy

Written by Aimee Lagos

I’ve always said that true racial equality will be established in this country when black actors/filmmakers can make romantic comedies and generic thrillers as badly as their white counterparts. That’s not to say that NO GOOD DEED is altogether a bad movie. Matter of fact I was pleasantly surprised at how much of a good time I was having watching it. I was never scared for the safety of certain characters or worried that the movie wasn’t going to play out exactly the way it did. But it sure was entertaining to watch.  But here’s the thing: it’s actually a movie where the ethnicity of the characters have absolutely nothing to do with the plot. Seriously. The racial make-up of four of the main characters could be switched and have no effect on all on how the situations in the movie play out. Because in NO GOOD DEED the black characters make the same dumb mistakes white characters do and have done in similar movies that have been made for the past forty or fifty years. But since two of the main characters are played by Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson and they play their parts so well, we’re committed to seeing how this By-The-Numbers home invasion thriller plays out.

Colin Evans (Idris Elba) is a man who has…how shall I put it?…very serious issues with women. He’s the main suspect in the disappearance of five young ladies but there was no proof to put him away. What he was put away for was manslaughter, having killed a man in barroom brawl. Denied his parole he escapes while being returned to prison, killing two guards in the process.

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He then shows up at the home of Terri Granger (Taraji P. Henson) whose husband Jeffrey (Henry Simmons) is away for the weekend. Terri has tried to explain to her husband how badly she needs some adult company as she gave up her career as a lawyer to be a full-time stay at home mom, taking care of the infant Sam and young daughter Ryan.  It’s a plea that falls on deaf ears. But her best friend Meg (Leslie Bibb) offers to come by for a girls night and is surprised to find Colin there. Terri explains that Colin had a car accident and is waiting for a tow truck. It doesn’t take long before Terri thinks that maybe there’s something really wrong with her unexpected houseguest. Little things like the phone lines being cut…all the knives in the kitchen knife set block disappearing…and then Meg herself disappearing…

If you’ve been watching movies as long as I have then there’s not a single blessed thing in NO GOOD DEED that is going to surprise you. Well, maybe one thing that I wouldn’t dream of giving away. But on the whole this is a pretty standard thriller that is elevated by the performances of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson. Who must have had some kind of deal with the cameraman as I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a movie where the leading lady had so many gratuitous butt shots. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. But if you go see the movie, count the number of times you get a shot of Ms. Henson’s derriere for apparently no reason at all and then tell me I’m wrong.

The game of cat-and-mouse between Elba and Henson is highly interesting just on the strength of their considerable acting ability. Elba does curiously stimulating things with the conversations he initiates with Henson that appeals to this attention deprived woman.  I gotta admit that I watched in grudging admiration how this seriously deranged man is able to be charming and personable enough to be able to talk his way into this woman’s house. A woman who due to her background should know better than anybody else why you should never let a stranger into your house.

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Once the ante is upped and all the pretense between them dropped the movie then really gets going in an unexpected direction that will have you wondering exactly why the Idris Elba character is doing the things he’s doing but here comes that plot twist and the one “Ah-HA!” in the entire movie.

So should you see NO GOOD DEED? If you go see it, trust me that you’re not going to see it for deep characterization. The movie is a wonderfully lean 84 minutes which means that there is absolutely no fat on it at all. There’s just enough characterization to keep the movie’s plot going and that’s all the movie is: pure plot. Not that that’s a bad thing. A McDonald’s cheeseburger is designed to be a McDonald’s cheeseburger and no more. So it’s stupid to complain that it’s not a White Castle murderburger. If you want a White Castle murderburger then go to White Castle. NO GOOD DEED is designed to be an entertaining time waster, no more, no less. So don’t go in expecting it to be “Night of The Hunter” or “Wait Until Dark.”  But what enriches it and gives it an extra shot of adrenaline are the performances of Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson and they do their jobs exceptionally well and made this one worth my time and money.

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Rated PG-13

84 Minutes

The Idolmaker

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1980

UNITED ARTISTS

Directed by Taylor Hackford

Produced by Gene Kirkwood and Howard W. Koch, Jr.

Written by Edward Di Lorenzo

Original Music by Jeff Barry

There were a lot of great performances in 1980. Robert DeNiro took home the Oscar for Best Actor in “Raging Bull.” John Hurt, Jack Lemmon, Peter O’Toole for “The Stunt Man” and Robert Duvall were also nominated. Great actors and great performances all. Now while I’m not suggesting that Mr. DeNiro didn’t deserve to win what I am saying is that it was downright criminal that Ray Sharkey wasn’t even nominated for his white-hot performance in THE IDOLMAKER. Most people remember him as Sonny Steelgrave in the TV series “Wiseguy.” But me, I’ll always think of him as the rock and roll promoter Vincent Vacarri. Apparently somebody did see him in THE IDOLMAKER because he won the Golden Globe that year for it. Ray Sharkey tragically died at the age of 40 but he left behind some truly wonderful performances. For me, THE IDOLMAKER is at the top.

Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Vacarri is busting his hump trying to break into the rock and roll business during the 1950’s. Rapidly approaching 30, he’s working as a busboy in his brother’s restaurant by day and haunting the clubs by night trying to find that Next Big Act that will jumpstart his career. Vinnie’s mother (Olympia Dukakis) wonders why Vinnie doesn’t just record his own songs. Vinnie tells her he’s too old and doesn’t have the heartthrob looks to be a teen idol and that’s what the industry and the public wants. Sure, Vinnie is talented but he doesn’t have IT.

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Vinnie goes to a club one night at the urging of his friend, saxophonist Tomaso DeLorussa (Paul Land) to watch his band play. Noticing that Tomaso gets the crowd jumping and jiving more than the band’s lead singer, Vinnie convinces him to become a singer. Vinnie teaches him how to move on stage and changes his name to “Tommy Dee.” Under Vinne’s undeniable genius at marketing, Tommy Dee becomes an overnight teen sensation. Vinnie’s street smarts and know-how of the industry attracts the attention of Brenda Roberts (Tovah Feldshuh) the editor of ‘Teen Scene’ and not just in a business way, if you get what I mean.

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Tommy Dee rises like a rocket to the top of the charts and the higher he goes, the more unmanageable he gets. Part of it is rebellion against Vinnie’s near maniacal need to control every aspect of Tommy Dee’s life. Vinnie tells his songwriting partner Gino Pilato (Joe Pantoliano) that they need a backup. Vinnie finds it in Guido (Peter Gallagher) a busboy working at his brother’s restaurant. It doesn’t phase Vinnie in the least that Guido can’t sing or dance. Vinnie’s convinced he can take this no talent kid and teach him how to be a superstar on stage. By now, it’s obvious to Gino, Brenda and Tommy that what Vinnie really wants to do is have somebody he can turn into a sort of avatar so that he can vicariously live out his own unfulfilled dreams of being a star through him. It’s a destructive streak just as poisonous as any drug or alcohol addiction and one that Vinnie is sadly oblivious to.

The thing that sets THE IDOLMAKER apart from other movies of this type is that usually we see it through the eyes of the star. This movie we see through the eyes of the guy who makes the stars what they are. And the thing is that Vinnie is damn good at his job. Maybe too good. Especially with Guido who he renames Caesare and through shrewd manipulation of the media turns the kid into a superstar before he even sings a note.

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Ray Sharkey is backed up by some really excellent supporting players that don’t seem to be working that hard at making an impression on the screen but they do. I’ve already mentioned Olympia Dukakis, Joe Pantoliano and Tovah Feldshuh. Keep your eyes open for Marcia Brady herself, Maureen McCormick, who does a really good job playing a surprisingly sleazy reporter specializing in covering teen idols. And the movie wouldn’t work if we don’t buy Paul Land and Peter Gallagher as the teen idols and they sell it. Tommy Dee is an egotistical but likeable jerk we sympathize with for his just wanting to enjoy the success he never really asked for or sought. He doesn’t have the lofty goals that Vinnie has. He just wants to have a good time. Guido is a scared, insecure kid who simply can’t believe he can get out on stage and perform. But he does. Man, does he ever. Peter Gallagher gets the movie’s show-stopping song; “However Dark The Night” and it’s worth waiting for. And speaking of songs, pay attention to “Ooo Wee Baby” playing during the opening and closing credits. It’s sung by Darlene Love who plays Danny Glover’s wife in the “Lethal Weapon” movies. It’s a nice touch to have her vocals in this movie as she was one of Phil Spector’s artists and sang lead on the #1 hit “He’s A Rebel”

The movie is based on the career of rock promoter and manager Bob Marcucci who discovered and promoted Frankie Avalon and Fabian. Mr. Marcucci served as technical advisor on this movie and perhaps that’s another reason why the story and performances are so strong. There’s a solid stream of truth straight down the middle all the way from beginning to end that’s undeniable.

So should you see THE IDOLMAKER? Absolutely. The songs are actually the movie’s weak link as with the exception of “Ooo Wee Baby” “However Dark The Night” and “I Believe It Can Be Done” they’re pretty disposable teen pop tunes that don’t stick to your brain. It’s the story and the performances that sell the movie and worth seeing just on that basis alone. Especially that really terrific Ray Sharkey performance I can’t praise highly enough. Enjoy.

Rated PG

117 Minutes

The Expendables 3

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Directed by Patrick Hughes

Produced by Avi Lerner, Kevin King-Templeton, Danny Lerner, Les Weldon and John Thompson

Screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt and Sylvester Stallone

Based on a story by Sylvester Stallone

Based on characters by David Callaham

It seems like a small and petty thing, I know. But every time I watch an Expendables movie I always wish I had thought to name one of my characters Hale Caesar before these series of movies started. What does that have to do with my review of THE EXPENDABLES 3? Absolutely nothing. It was just a random thought that occurred to me when Terry Crews showed up on the screen I thought I’d share. The time it took for me to relate that thought is also about the same amount of screen time that Terry Crews/Hale Caesar has before he’s shot by Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson) the man who co-founded The Expendables along with Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) Stonebanks turned on his own team to become an illegal international weapons dealer, forcing Barney to come after him. Barney thought he had killed Stonebanks. He thought wrong.

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Barney’s CIA contact Max Drummer (Harrison Ford) tells Barney he’s got one more shot at Stonebanks as he’s wanted by The Hague to stand trial as a war criminal. For reasons that are never really made clear, Barney fires his current team: His second-in-command and knife expert Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) Sniper Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundren) Demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture) and Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) one of the original Expendables who just might be as good if not better with knives as Lee Christmas and also acts as team medic.

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With the help of “talent scout” Bonaparte (Kelsey Grammer) Barney recruits a younger, hipper squad of Expendables: ex-Navy Seal John Smilee (Kellan Lutz) Hand-to-hand combat specialist and professional bouncer Luna (Ronda Rousy) hacker Thorn (Glenn Powell) and sharpshooter Mars (Victor Ortiz) The one more shot at Stonebanks goes fubar and Barney has to swallow his pride to get his old team back to help him rescue the kids, assisted by Barney’s best frenemy Trench Mauser (Arnold Schwarzenegger) martial artist Yin Yang (Jet Li) and Galgo (Antonio Banderas) expert sharpshooter and professional madman.

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Whew. Sounds like a lot to keep track of, doesn’t it? Well, there are a whole lot of characters and because we’ve got so many characters, the plot seems a lot more complicated than it actually is. While I enjoyed THE EXPENDABLES 3 a lot I can’t help but think that this one should have focused totally on the Stonebanks plot and saved recruiting a new team of younger Expendables for the fourth movie. Because the biggest WTH in the movie is Barney firing the old guys who most certainly have more of a reason for taking Stonebanks down since it’s their teammate he put in the hospital and both Barney and Doctor Death were on the original team betrayed by Stonebanks.

It also sticks out like the moles on Morgan Freeman’s face that the movie adheres to the rule that there can only be one black guy on a team at a time. Me, I’d have had Gunner get shot and near death for most of the movie’s running time. Nothing against Dolph Lundgren, understand. I just like Terry Crews/Hale Caesar more and would have enjoyed seeing him get more screen time and usually it’s him and Randy Couture who get shorted in the two sequels we’ve had.

The acting honors in this one goes to Mel Gibson who played a bad guy in “Machete Kills” and stole that movie like he steals this one. Stonebanks really doesn’t have much characterization or motivation for what he does but he’s a bad guy who so obviously enjoys being a bad guy I ended up liking him a lot. And Antonio Banderas is practically a live action cartoon as a mercenary desperate to join The Expendables who simply cannot stop talking. Banderas acts totally off the wall and is obviously having a lot of fun. Out of all the new Expendables introduced I’d most like to see him and Ronda Rousey return. A female MMA who is ranked at being #1 in the world in her class, she gets some really terrific fight scenes in the climactic battle between The Expendables, old team and new versus the onslaught of Stonebanks’ private army. I really enjoyed the chemistry she has with Banderas and hope they exploit it in the next movie (what, you really think that there isn’t going to be an “Expendables 4?’)

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I’ve heard and read some less than favorable reviews of THE EXPENDABLES 3 and I’m not going to say that they’re not valid. But for me, I went into the movie expecting nothing more an an action movie version of “The Avengers” and that’s what I got. For me it’s just a lot of fun seeing all these actors together on the same screen blowing shit up and shooting everything in sight. I’ve heard some complaints that there’s really no reason for people like Harrison Ford and Kelsey Grammer to be in the movie and that Jet Li should have had more to do. I was perfectly happy with Kelsey Grammer coming in, doing what he’s supposed to be doing and then he’s gone. Jet Li has already been established as a team member so having him show up for the final fight to back up his friends is okay by me.

So should you see THE EXPENDABLES 3? If you saw and enjoyed the first two, then Yes. The action sequences will definitely get your adrenaline pumping and I for one appreciated the effort on the part of the screenwriters to give us a story totally different from from the first two “Expendables” and at least make an effort to take the franchise in a new direction. Now the real test is going to come in “The Expendables 4” Are the new kids going to stick around and we’ll see Barney work at integrating the old-timers with the new kids and teaching them how to work as one unit? I hope so. We’ll see. In the meantime, go see THE EXPENDABLES 3 and have a good time.

126 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

The Baby

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1973

Quintet Productions

Directed by Ted Post

Produced by Abe Polsky, Milton Polsky and Elliott Feinman

Written by Abe Polsky

I am so thankful and grateful that I live in a world where movies like THE BABY were once made. There is absolutely no way on God’s green Earth that THE BABY could have been made today. It’s a movie that is so totally and absolutely batshit insane that even while you’re watching it you honestly can’t believe what you’re watching. And I do not exaggerate, trust me. Just when you think THE BABY can’t get any crazier it ups the ante and gets crazier. And the last fifteen minutes of the movie finishes up the job of blowing what few fuses are left intact in your brain.

Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is an earnest, well-meaning social worker who is assigned a new case involving the Wadsworth family. There’s Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman) and her two daughters: Germaine (Mariana Hill) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor). And then there’s the youngest and strangest member of the Wadsworth family. Baby (David Manzy) is a mentally impaired man in his early twenties who mind is still that of an infant and so he acts as such. The behavior is strongly reinforced by his mother and sisters who treat him as such. His mother never even bothered giving him a proper name and so everybody calls him “Baby.” He sleeps in an oversized crib and crawls around on hands and knees just like….well, just like a baby. And yeah, I know what you’re thinking: that doesn’t seem very creepy or horrific. You just go ahead and watch the movie and then try and tell me that, cousin. David Manzy is a guy who throws himself into his role so well you may end up like me, wondering exactly what he did to prepare for the role.

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Ann takes a special interest in the case, thinking that if Baby has proper training and treatment in the proper facility he can start acting older and more appropriate for his age. No, he’ll never be a “Jeopardy” contestant but at least he won’t be wearing a diaper. Seeing as how she and her daughters are getting a nice chunk of change from the state for Baby’s welfare, Mrs. Wadsworth has a solid reason for keeping Baby exactly the way he is. In addition, Alba gets her kicks from torturing her little brother with a cattle prod while Germaine likes to sneak into Baby’s giant sized crib at night to play Doctor.

But Ann is determined to get Baby the help he needs and gradually it dawns on us that Ann is just a little too determined. It doesn’t take Mrs. Wadsworth long to pick up on the fact that Ann has her own agenda for Baby. One that doesn’t include the Wadsworths.

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In a very weird ass way, THE BABY is a woman’s picture. A cracked woman’s picture, I grant you. Compared to the chicks in this movie, Joan Crawford and Betty Davis in “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane” come off as being almost downright reasonable in their behavior. The few men in this movie are totally ineffectual and useless. I’m sure those of you with a psychological bent could make something out of the fact that the movie comes down to a bunch of women fighting for control of a man who is an infant and can’t take care of himself. Me, I take it as a superior psychological thriller with some surprisingly good performances.

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The production values are also better than you would expect from a movie of such sleaze and exploitation but that’s part of the reason why I love THE BABY so much. It looks much better than it had to and the actors treat the material with a respect and seriousness I didn’t expect. They’re committed to the story, no matter how WTF it is and it shows and that gives the truly surprising conclusion an added wallop to the gut.

So should you see THE BABY? Without a doubt. This is definitely one of those movies that goes on the You Have To See It To Believe It list. It would make an excellent Saturday night double feature with that king of WTF movies; “The Apple.” Enjoy.

PG

84 minutes

Guardians of The Galaxy

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2014

Marvel Studios

Directed by James Gunn

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman

Based on “Guardians of The Galaxy” by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning

I’m just going to come out and say it straight and plain so you’ll know exactly where I’m going with this review and if you disagree with me you can then stop reading and go onto to something else that you feel is worth your time. Watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY gave me the exact same feeling I had when I saw “Star Wars” for the first time way back in 1977. Yeah, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is that good. It’s that good because it did its job of transporting me to an entire universe of brilliantly colorful characters and spectacularly different worlds. Visually the movie is pure cake and pie. It manages the feat of giving me characters that I thought I knew and making them seem fresh and new. And it tells a rousing story of a group of individuals who overcome their own petty interests and personal demons to make the choice to do the right thing. And by doing so they become Heroes.

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When we meet Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) it’s twenty six years after he was abducted from Earth by Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker). Yondu is the leader of The Ravagers, space pirates who survive and turn a credit anyway they can. Quill has become quite the accomplished thief as he proves when he steals a mysterious orb hidden in a forbidden temple on the equally forbidden planet of Morag.

It isn’t long before Quill realizes that he’s got a highly dangerous object in his possession as he’s pursed by not only Yondu, but Korath (Djimon Honsou) as well. Korath serves the Kree religious fanatic Ronan The Accuser who also wants the orb. Quill tries to sell the orb on the planet Xandar but winds up ambushed by not only Gamora (Zoe Saldana) the deadliest woman in the galaxy but by the most mismatched pair of bounty hunters ever; the genetically engineered Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and the tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel).  The whole lot of ‘em are arrested by The Nova Corps, the elite police force/militia of Xandar and are thrown into The Kyln, an inescapable space prison. It’s here that they meet up with the formidable Drax The Destroyer (David Bautista) a warrior thirsting for vengeance on Ronan. It’s also here that Quill learns Gamora is the adopted daughter of Thanos, the mad Titan who and has struck a bargain with Ronan; get me the orb and I’ll destroy Xandar for you. It’s up to our band of misfits to break out of The Kyln and keep the orb out of the hands of Ronan as it contains an Infinity Stone, one of the most powerful objects in the universe.

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Now that only covers about the first fifteen minutes of a two hour movie but if that doesn’t make your heart beat a little faster then check yourself into a hospital because you must be dead. But I admit to being heavily biased in favor of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY because it’s been so long since I’ve seen an honest-to-Flash Gordon Space Opera in the movie theaters and even longer since I’ve seen one done this spectacularly well. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is being called a superhero movie and while it does have its superheroish elements, it actually belongs to a older tradition. One that was pioneered by such astounding writers like Leigh Brackett, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Edmond Hamilton. Other creators such a Alex Raymond with “Flash Gordon” and George Lucas with “Star Wars” made significant contributions to the Space Opera and it’s my hope that GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY will jump start this genre in the movies much as “Star Wars” did back in the 70’s.

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The vibe I get from the entire movie is one of total confidence in the material, the direction and the acting. The movie does its best at throwing the most improbable situations and elements at us and damn if we don’t go with it, grinning and cheering. This has been a terrific year for Chris Pratt. Earlier this year he scored big with “The Lego Movie” and now here he is in a leading role which he carries with such ease that you would think he’s been starring in mega budget summer blockbusters for the past ten years. He had me right from the opening credits where he avoids death trap after death trap on the planet Morag while never missing a beat of Redbone’s “Come And Get Your Love” And I think it was nothing less than brilliant to score the movie with pop songs of the 70’s and 80’s. In a bizarre way I think nobody could have seen coming, the songs fit perfectly and the rationale behind why we’re hearing The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” and “The Pina Colada Song” by Rupert Holmes while flying around in a starship billions of light years from Earth is a poignant one and a constant reminder to us that there is an Earth out there somewhere.

David Bautista really surprised me in this one as I only know him from “The Man With the Iron Fists” He has way more lines in this one and gets to do way more acting and pulls it off quite well. He also provides more than his share of the comedy relief as Drax tends to take everything Quill says literally. Very literally.  Zoe Saldana essentially is playing a green-skinned incarnation of the character she played in 2010’s “The Losers” but she does it so well that I’m willing to overlook it. Karen Gillian is almost unrecognizable as Nebula, another adopted daughter of Thanos that he’s transformed into a cyborg killing machine but she acquits herself well. I enjoyed her Darth Vader-ish I’m-Outta-Here move during the movie’s major battle scene.

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John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro all provide more than able backup in supporting roles and it wasn’t until I got to the end of the movie that I realized just how star studded this movie is and the level of talent involved. You’ve got more than a few in there who have either won Academy Awards or been nominated for such more than once.

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So should you see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY? Chances are you already have but if you haven’t then by all means, stop reading this review and go see it right NOW. For once a movie lives up to all the hype and praise heaped on it. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a movie that for me has saved an otherwise somewhat dull summer movie season and it’s done it by giving me an experience I go to the movies for. It’s action-packed, full of humor and a surprising amount of heart and it’s a movie that I have no doubt will become known as a masterpiece years from now. By all means go see and not only enjoy but be delighted.

PG-13

122 minutes

 

American Pop

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Ralph Bakshi

Produced by Ralph Bakshi and Martin Ranshohoff

Written by Ronni Kern

Music Adaptation and Original Music by Lee Holdridge

How much do I love AMERICAN POP? I saw the movie during its original theatrical run back in 1981 in a Times Square theater. Back then, they didn’t kick you out after each show was over. If you wanted to stay there all day long and watch the same movie over and over, the management didn’t care as long as you behaved yourself. I stayed to watch AMERICAN POP three times that day. And since then I reckon I’ve seen it maybe two dozen times and I’m still enthralled by the story, the music and the animation.

The animation is done in the rotoscope style Bakshi pioneered during his heyday. Live actors are filmed and then the footage is given to animators who actually draw over the live action images frame by frame. It gave Ralph Bakshi’s movies a look totally unlike any other animated movie being done at the time and I think that he never used it better than he did in AMERICAN POP which also uses archival footage to great effect as well along with some really fabulous water color paintings in the opening credits.

I’ve argued at length with those who insist that Bakshi’s “Wizards” or “Heavy Traffic” is his masterpiece and put AMERICAN POP below those two. I don’t agree, plain and simple. None of Bakshi’s urban movies such as “Fritz The Cat” “Heavy Traffic” or “Hey, Good Lookin’” have aged well at all. But movies such as “Fire and Ice” his fantasy film collaboration with Frank Frazetta, Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway along with his “Lord of The Rings” still hold up very well and are still watchable. In fact, in a lot of ways I prefer Bakshi’s single “Lord of The Rings” movie to Peter Jackson’s trilogy but that’s another review for another time.

AMERICAN POP still holds up very well due to the generational saga that it tells about an immigrant Russian Jewish family whose story is told using the history of American popular music as a backdrop. It takes us from vaudeville to the swing era to the big band era to 1950’s jazz, blues and doowop to the 1960’s folk and rock scene and ends up in the 1980’s and hard rock/punk rock ruling the music charts.

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Zalmie Belinsky (Jeffrey Lippa) escapes Imperial Russia with his mother even his father is killed by Cossacks. Once in America, Zalmie is drawn to the burlesque houses and becomes the sidekick of Louie (Jerry Holland) a second rate performer who becomes his best friend and guardian when Zalmie’s mother dies in a fire. The two become an act, performing for the troops overseas in World War I. It is while performing as the bottom half of a horse act that Zalmie takes a bullet to the throat, ending his dream of becoming a singer.

Zalmie passes on his love of music to his son, Bennie. By this time Zalmie and Louie have become deeply involved in organized crime and Bennie marries the daughter of mob boss Nicky Palumbo at his father’s request. But it’s Bennie’s decision to go fight in World War II. A decision with tragic results.

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Bennie’s son Tony (Ron Thompson) grows up to be an unruly, undisciplined youth with no direction and no plan for the future. But he has the same love of music that drove his father and grandfather. And while he has no talent at singing or playing musical instruments, Tony is a genius when it comes to writing songs. Here’s the part where you have to really suspend your disbelief because according to the movie, Tony writes some to the biggest hits of the 1960’s such as “This Train” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” “People Are Strange” and “Up, Up and Away.” The credits at the end of the movie acknowledge the actual writers of the song and thanks them for allowing a fictional character to take credit for the songs for the purpose of the movie. The story is that many of the artists whose songs are used in AMERICAN POP were fans of Bakshi and were delighted to have their music included. And I can believe it because the soundtrack of AMERICAN POP is nothing less than astonishing. Songs by Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Jefferson Airplane, Pat Benetar, The Mamas & The Papas, Lou Reed, Pete Segar and Herbie Hancock, The Doors and Fabian are used and that’s not even half of the soundtrack.

Tony’s the character we spend the most time with next to Zalmie and the most charismatic. He’s the one who seems to feel the burden of his music inheritance on a spiritual level. He combines a sort of Zen like naivety combined with an old soul that is truly appealing. He’s got most of the movie’s best scenes and lines, such as when he tells a carload of hitchhikers he’s picked up in his cross country travel that the car they’ve been riding in is stolen. And the one night stand he has with a gorgeous blonde haired girl he meets in Kansas sets up an absolutely heartbreaking use of Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me”

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The voice work is outstanding with Ron Thompson as the voice of Tony and Tony’s son Pete leading the way. Marya Small is right behind as Frankie Hart who is a Janis Joplin style singer that meets the same sad fate. Richard Moll has a nice funny bit as a poet in a Greenwich Village coffeshop and Jerry Holland as Louie is just fun to listen to. He creates an entire character history with just his voice. You listen to Louie and you know where he’s been.

So should you see AMERICAN POP? If you haven’t then I don’t wanna know you. You homework assignment is to go see it at your earliest opportunity. I look upon it as Ralph Bakshi’s masterpiece and recommend it highly. It’s a great story with an absolutely killer soundtrack and vibrant, exciting animation that looks great in HD. Enjoy.

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Rated R

96 Minutes

Better In The Dark #160: The Fastest American Incubus Wild Car Maidens

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Episode 160: THE FASTEST AMERICAN INCUBUS’ WILD CAR MAIDENS
It’s time once again for the most anticipated show of the BiTD calender year, The Obscure Movie Episode!  Join Tom and Derrick as they discuss Roy Orbison’s first–and only–movie, demonic cars, generational sagas in cartoon form and Shatner speaking Esperanto!  All this plus permanently puckered hands, why adults are scared of teenagers, and secret agent midgets! You know you don’t want to rely on a three fingered special effects man, so get to clicking! (and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @BITDShow)!

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