These films have maybe only one thing in common: we watched them this month.
One a month or so we corral all the movies we watched on late night television into this feature, hopefully casting new light on older or overlooked films that still have something to offer audiences. They only thing they really have in common, possibly, is that we watched them this month.
Probably no one enjoys only one kind of movie anyway, so hopefully more than one of these will strike your interest. Most are available on DVD, except where noted otherwise. Many are also available online and streaming on demand.
1. Danika (2006) – Suburban housewife Danika (Marisa Tomei) begins hallucinating all the evils that could befall her three children coming true over the course of a few days: abductions, morally corrupt teachers, girlfriends with diseases, irate neighbors, household accidents. Though her husband (Craig Bierko) and therapist (Regina Hall) are at first supportive, there’s more to Danika’s reality than is readily apparent.
By and large the film does well under Ariel Vroman’s (Rx) journeyman direction, but Tomei holds the film together through her acting and presence, especially the seemingly requisite twist ending that spins the whole 75 minutes before it into what some viewers might regard as a big – and familiar – cheat. As a rental though, or on cable on a slow night, it’s perfectly entertaining viewing.
2. The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) – This notorious flop probably deserves an entry all on its own just by virtue of its weirdness. Still, it has its moments: when secessionist warlord Butch Cavendish (Christopher Lloyd) kidnaps President Ulysses S. Grant (Jason Robards) and holds him hostage inside an elaborate Western fortress, the Lone Ranger and Tonto (Klinton Spilsbury and Michael Horse) ride to his rescue, partially to avenge the death of the Ranger’s brother and comrades.
Accomplished cinematographer William A. Fraker (Bullitt, Tombstone) gets the sweeping Western vistas right but falls short on directing the actors and pacing the narrative, with a story that’s jumbled and awkwardly-paced when it’s not just odd: seeing President Grant plant dynamite and gun down outlaws would be strange under the best of circumstances; Merle Haggard’s balladeering of the already-simplistic storyline is intrusive and clumsy. Making matters worse, Spilsbury’s voice was dubbed over with Keith Carradine’s, giving his speech a strange disjointed quality throughout. On the plus side: Lloyd is excellent, and seeing actual cowboy Richard Farnsworth (The Natural) play Wild Bill Hickok is a treat.
3. Eight Million Ways To Die (1985) – An attempt to bring mystery author Lawrence Block’s detective Matt Scudder to the screen (though changing his locale from New York to Los Angeles), this undercooked, overwritten neo-noir remains an oddity in the resumes of all involved. It marked Hal Ashby’s (Shampoo) final screen credit, while Andy Garcia made his leading role debut. Oliver Stone and David Lee Henry adapted the Block novel, though Robert Towne (Chinatown) also contributed material.
As the poster suggests, the final film too closely resembles a sleazed-up episode of Miami Vice while enjoying all the artistic freedom (in this case, nudity and profanity) an R rating can provide. When alcoholic cop Scudder (Jeff Bridges, doing his best) fails to keep a high-priced call girl (Alexandra Paul) from getting killed, he teams with her friend and madam (Rosanna Arquette) and a reformed crook (Randy Brooks) to get revenge on the drug dealer responsible (Garcia.) The ensuing drama never reaches its boiling point, even if the warehouse shoot out scene (in the NSFW clip below) is riveting from its first fame. Those cartons are chock full o’ cocaine, by the way.
Despite the talent involved, the film has so far eluded a DVD release.
4. Slayground (1983) – Another attempt to bring the work of a celebrated crime writer to the screen – this time Donald E. Westlake, author of the books that inspired Point Blank and The Grifters – this low-budget neo-noir tries, somewhat unsuccessfully, to merge noir and slasher film tropes, getting neither one exactly right while neglecting plot clarity and depth of characterization. The ending borrows liberally from Blade Runner, The Lady From Shanghai and The Man With the Golden Gun, actually becoming the film’s best segment.
Westlake wrote the script himself, but director Terry Bedford focuses on style and atmosphere instead. The two never completely meet, despite capable performances by Peter Coyote and British actors Mel Smith and Billie Whitelaw, playing criminals and lost souls whose mistakes catch up with them in the form of a psychotic hitman trailing Coyote’s noble thief. A minor entry, ultimately, in the neo-noir resurgence of the early- and mid-80s, even if frequent showings on late night cable television back then elevated it into a humble cult status.
5. Not Another Teen Movie (2006) – Perverse curiosity led to a viewing of this 2001 “spoof,” and anyway when you’re on vacation it’s okay to lower your standards. Though there are several laugh worthy moments, it’s sometimes difficult to understand its target audience, as the level of humor suggests modern high school students while the constant stream of references and meta-jokes pander mostly to the sensibilities of Generation X, with the then-current “Young Hollywood” romcoms She’s All That and Never Been Kissed also the target of biting (if gummy) jabs.
As with so many films of its type, the script throws one joke on top of another figuring you’ll only remember the ones that connect, and when that gets hard it provides something to gross you out or shock you instead. Not as lazy as some of its successors but not exactly inspired, either. And remember, star Chris Evans is your Captain America.
6. The House Bunny (2008) – Scary Movie franchise regular Anna Faris stars in this mildly underrated light comedy about a Playboy Bunny kicked out of the Mansion on her 27th birthday – she’s too old, it seems, to remain of interest to Hef and his followers. After getting snubbed by the wealthy, pretty members of an elitist college sorority, she joins the “misfit” sorority of book worms and wall flowers instead. You can imagine what happens next.
The subject matter is familiar, comfortable territory for Legally Blonde screenwriters Kirsten Smith and Karen McCullah Lutz, while Faris is actually, surprisingly charming and multi-layered in her turn as the dumb blonde getting smart for lack of a better idea. Rising stars Emma Stone and Kat Dennings are sweet in their sidekick roles, and perpetual up-and-comer Colin Hanks is charming as the heroine’s everyman love interest. Hefner, probably figuring there’s no such thing as bad press, makes a guest appearance accompanied by some recent real-life Playmates and concubines. So frothy it almost evaporates, but harmless fun all the same.
We’ll be back next week with reviews of some current movies. Thanks for reading.
- Michael Kabel