The Perfect Man (2005) review-rotten to the core

Sometimes, a movie fails because of poor execution, where a good idea on paper isn’t successfully translated to the screen.

Mark Rosman’s The Perfect Man has an entirely different problem, since its foundational premise is completely faulty and causes the rest of the film to collapse in on itself.

This romantic comedy stars 2000s teen idol Hillary Duff as Holly, a young girl who is tired of having to move across the country every time her mom (Heather Locklear) breaks up with her current boyfriend.

When the family relocates to New York City, Holly vows to find her mom [insert movie title here], even if she has to conjure such a person out of thin air.

So, under the tutelage of a local restaurant owner (Chris Noth), this plucky teenage begins writing her own mother love letters in the hopes of keeping her happy and staying in one location for a longer period of time.

I’m sure you’ve already picked out the massive flaws in this premise, but I’ll spell it out anyway.

For one thing, the movie tries to position Locklear as a relatable single mom who is simply unlucky in love and just doing her best to raise her girls (Duff also has a younger sister played by Aria Wallace).

However, WHAT KIND OF MOM FORCES HER FAMILY TO MOVE EVERY TIME A NEW RELATIONSHIP DOESN’T WORK OUT?!

It would have been way more understandable if Locklear’s character lost her job, giving her at least a financial incentive to uproot her daughters and force them to severe their current friendships.

But no. She just has a terrible taste in men and her children must suffer the consequences, apparently.

And it’s not like this has happened only one or two times either. The film establishes early on that Duff’s character regularly updates a travel blog that details her every move across the country, which means that this process must repeat every couple months.

And keep in mind, all these problems are established in the first five minutes of the film, which doesn’t set a great precedent for the remaining runtime.

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The next line of bullshit this movie expects us to swallow is Duff’s hairbrained scheme to stay in New York permanently, since it involves setting her mom up with a suitor who doesn’t exist.

At no point in the story does Duff’s character divulge how she is going to bring her plan to its natural conclusion, which would have to involve producing some sort of flesh-and-blood man (or at least a robot duplicate).

Instead, she just writes more and more love letters to her mom and eventually moves into email and instant messaging, since that was still a relatively new flavour of courtship in 2005.

This dumb plan isn’t even called into question by the various people who help Holly carry out this scheme, including her nerdy love interest (Adam Forrest) and street-mart best friend (Vanessa Lengies from Popular Mechanics for Kids).

I understand that the movie would have no conflict if Duff’s character concocted an air-tight plan to begin with, but the fact that the movie’s screenwriters never bothered to spell out any sort of endgame is pretty insulting to the audience.

Plus, the mechanics of Duff’s plan to court her mother via an imaginary proxy comes across as extremely creepy, especially when she starts sending Locklear messages online.

If this wasn’t a PG-rated movie aimed at teens, then Duff’s character definitely would have been forced to exchange increasingly lurid emails with her mom.

Now, I don’t usually get hung up on a stupid plot point here and there when watching a romantic comedy (or any genre of film, really). But the people behind The Perfect Man make it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief, since any remotely enjoyable element in this movie is tangled up in a web of dumb plot.

For example, Chris Noth is his usual suave self in his role as Duff’s unwitting Cyrano de Bergerac, and he really makes you believe that he holds all the secrets to wooing any woman.

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In fact, one of the film’s best scenes involves Duff hilariously unloading a bunch of her teenage angst into Noth’s lap, since he is the first male authority figure she’s been able to confide in for a long time.

But, of course, this cute moment is undercut by the Three Stooges-esque hijinks that immediately follow, where Duff has to prevent Noth and Locklear from bumping into each other in a public place (she previously used his likeness to accompany one of her letters).

Even the legit chemistry between Duff and Forrest can’t escape the plot’s gravitational pull.

Despite establishing a charming back-and-forth early on, it’s only a matter of time before Duff’s love interest gets involved in her idiotic ruse by imitating Locklear’s secret admirer over the phone.

And it’s not like the film has some tight direction or great cinematography to fall back on either.

In fact, most of the shots in this movie come across as extremely flat and uninteresting, like something you would find in a Hallmark or Lifetime Channel movie (albeit with more recognizable actors filling up the screen).

A lot of the character writing isn’t above that low standard either, with side players like Carson Kressley’s flaming gay waiter coming across as particularly annoying.

And the less said about Lengies’ terrible Brooklyn accent the better.

Ultimately, I get the distinct impression that The Perfect Man was put into production solely to capitalize on Duff’s rising star in the early to mid-2000s, without giving too much thought as to how each moving piece would work as a whole.

And while I haven’t seen any of Duff’s other movies or TV shows from that period, I can’t imagine those pieces of media being bad at such a bedrock level.

Judging by the trailer to The Lizzie McGuire Movie, at least the premise of that film doesn’t revolve around the teen idol seducing a family member over the internet.

Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Chips Ahoy! Sour Patch Kids cookies (because it’s a complete failure at a conceptual level)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: June 17, 2005

-Budget: $10 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $ 16,535,005 (US) $ 19,770475 (worldwide)

-The story behind The Perfect Man was partially inspired by the life of screenwriter Heather Robison, who sold her first script to Universal Studios in 2004.

-Duff received a Golden Raspberry nomination for her performance in this film and Cheaper by the Dozen 2. She inevitably “lost” to Jenny McCarthy for her role in Dirty Love.

-Mark Rosman directed Duff in 11 episodes of the Lizzie McGuire TV show before helming The Perfect Man.

-Unexpected cameo: Dennis DeYoung, the former lead singer of Styx, makes a brief appearance as the lead singer of a Styx cover band.

-The filmmakers behind The Perfect Man shot an alternate ending where Holly and Adam (her nerdy love interest) meet up at a comic book convention instead of heading to a school dance.

-Musical highlight: “Collide” by Howie Day (plays during the movie’s obligatory sad montage at the end of act two)

Another Midnight Run (1994) review-Flagrant false advertising

You ever buy some frozen food based solely on the strength of the brand name or box art, and it turns out to be some bland, goopy piece of shit? That is what’s it’s like watching Another Midnight Run.

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This made-for-TV movie bills itself as an continuation of the original Midnight Run, a 1988 action-comedy that gained a lot of traction from critics at the time thanks to its potent mix of exciting car chases and sharp dialogue.

It also didn’t hurt that this original project starred Robert De Niro, who injected street-smart bounty hunter Jack Walsh with a lot of edge and gravitas, qualities that would have been neglected by a lesser actor.

However, pretty much all of those elements are missing from this 1994 pseudo-sequel, which retains the names of some of the principle characters from the 1988 original but none of its charm.

That being said, the film does at least mimic the basic structure of its predecessor, since it finds Walsh being hired by a bail bondsman (again) to transport a pair of criminals from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Of course, Walsh’s captors (married con artists played by Jeffrey Tambor and Cathy Moriarty) are always trying to give him the slip every step of the way and go into business for themselves.

But after that promising set-up, it doesn’t take long before the filmmakers reveal that they don’t have any new ideas and are content with poorly rehashing old elements from the original film.

Strike one against Another Midnight Run is the fact that they replaced Robert De Niro with Christopher McDonald in the role of Jack Walsh.

No offense to the future Shooter McGavin, but he leans way too much on buffoonish comedy to play a convincing world-weary bounty hunter and comes across like he’s playing a parody version of the character on Saturday Night Live.

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It also doesn’t help that the screenwriter makes him out to be a complete idiot, who is constantly outsmarted by his captors.

Sure, De Niro’s Jack Walsh was a screw-up as well, but he at least displayed a basic level of competence and quick thinking that helped him get out of sticky situations.

In Another Midnight Run, McDonald can barely tie his shoes without fucking up, let alone keep a pair of career con artists in check.

At one point, the married couple successfully distract their captor by convincing him that a nearby bar patron is giving him the bedroom eyes, which he completely falls for like horny 14-year old.

And without a likable protagonist to anchor the narrative, or any supporting performances on par with Charles Grodin from the 1988 original, the rest of the movie completely falls apart.

Strike two against the film is that it’s hampered by a restrictive TV budget, which means it can’t come close to replicating the intricately staged action sequences that made the original film so memorable.

All Another Midnight Run can offer up in terms of excitement are scenes of McDonald falling into some trash cans or mildly jogging through an airport.

While this downgrade is to be expected when a property makes the transition from film to television, Another Midnight Run doesn’t even have a good script or likable characters to fall back on.

All it can provide in exchange is lame comedy and annoying characters that you wish would just drive off a cliff so the movie could end.

The third and final strike that sends Another Midnight Run back to the figurative dugout is that it comes across as being a big pile of wasted potential.

A motivated director and screenwriter could have used this opportunity to think outside the box and expand on the Jack Walsh character.

Maybe they could have explored his past as a police officer in Chicago or shown us his first stint as a bounty hunter after resigning from the force. You know, typical origin story type stuff that people can’t get enough of.

Instead, the filmmakers decided to play it safe and replicate the basic structure of the original, albeit without any of sharp wit or fun that made it so successful six years ago.

I know most of this rundown is just me bitching about how this made-for-TV sequel pales in comparison to the original film, but the filmmakers definitely invite this criticism.

The only reason Universal greenlit this project in the first place (as well as the two other made-for-TV sequels released in the same year) is because they wanted to cash in on a recognizable name that was still worth something in the mid-90s.

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But rather than putting in the work to remind people why this property was valuable in the first place, all they did was slap the name Midnight Run onto an otherwise generic, low-energy road trip comedy and hope that nobody notices the difference.

And while the film did manage to siphon a couple chuckles out of me here and there, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being grifted by the same kind of con artists and trickster characters that make up two-thirds of the cast.

Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Blue Water Seafoods’ Pacific Pink Salmon (because it promises quality but delivers a sub-standard product instead)

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Fun facts:

-Original air date: Feb. 6, 1994.

Another Midnight Run was followed be another two made-for-TV sequels in the same year: Midnight Runaround and Midnight Run For Your Life. All three films were produced for Universal Television’s “Action Pack” block that aired from 1994 to 2001.

-While the “Action Pack” line produced a lot of duds, like Knight Rider 2020 and Cleopatra 2525, Universal also debuted some landmark 90s television under this umbrella. Not only did they introduce the world to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules through a series of TV movies, but the spin-off Xena: Warrior Princess proved to be even more popular and still has a cult following to this day.

Lady Frankenstein (1971) review-This exploitation film is poorly stitched together, just like the monster itself

Comic book franchises and cinematic universes are all the rage in Hollywood right now, but any keen film historian could tell you that this trend was pioneered way before the Avengers assembled back in 2012.

The Universal Studios monster mash of the 1940s is probably the earliest example of this, where larger-than-life characters like Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein’s monster dominated the box office and would regularly pop up in each other’s movies.

While Universal’s take on the Frankenstein monster was one of the most iconic figures to emerge from this cycle, neck bolts and all, he wasn’t the only version of Mary Shelley’s original characters to grace the silver screen.

Outside of being featured in eight movies made by Universal, Shelley’s Frankenstein characters would play a prominent role in at least 58 other feature films produced by film studios from around the world, ranging from Britain (Hammer) to Japan (Toho).

In 1971, the Italian studio Alexia Films took a stab at adapting this property with Lady Frankenstein,which shifted the focus to a female perspective and injected a healthy dose of sex and violence into the proceedings.

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Even though this movie starts off by following the basic framework of most Frankenstein stories (where an eccentric European aristocrat digs up corpses and uses their limbs to create a unholy monstrosity) the filmmakers begin to deviate from this source material around 30 minutes in.

After completing his initial experiment, Baron Frankenstein (Joseph Cotten) is killed by his creation and the rest of the story follows his daughter Tania (Rosalba Neri) as she tries to carry on the family name by bringing her own “monster” to life.

On the surface this premise is full of potential, since Frankenstein stories aren’t usually told from a female point-of-view. With a motivated creative team behind it, this film could have subtly explored gendered expectations in the 19th century scientific community and how that influences Tania’s monster making process.

However, the filmmaking on display is shackled by grindhouse sensibilities and an extremely low-budget, which means that most of that interesting subtext gets swept under the rug in favourof bad monster make-up and cheap nudity.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with selling your film using this kind of lurid subject matter, but the filmmakers decided to take the laziest possible route to get there.

For example, the screenwriters decided to put their unique stamp on that famous scene from the 1931 Boris Karloff Frankenstein film where the monster accidently drowns a small girl by throwing her into a lake.

In Lady Frankenstein, the monster’s drowning victim is an adult female … and naked, which is an edgy 13-year-old’s idea of making a classic story more “mature.”

This grade school understanding of adult dynamics also pervades the rest of the movie, since Tania’s motivation for carrying on her father’s work is to create the perfect “man” through combining the body of a hunky servant and the brain of her father’s assistant.

This is a big step down from most other Frankenstein protagonists, since they were mainly preoccupied with unlocking the secrets of life and death and couldn’t care less about their own sex life.

The filmmakers pay some lip-service to the idea that Tania’s creation is the only thing that can stop her father’s original monster from rampaging throughout nearby villages, but they seem much more preoccupied with the idea of an Italian beauty like Neri bumping uglies with a reanimated corpse.

Again, this concept could have been salvaged if it was put in the right hands, since acclaimed storytellers like David Fincher and Bryan Fuller have established successful careers through creating high art from trashy source material (like in Gone Girl and the most recent Hannibal TV series, respectively).

However, it doesn’t help that the film’s production values are in the toilet.

I didn’t expect much from a 70s exploitation horror movie, but the least they could have done is sync up the actor’s dialogue with their lip movements, which seems to be off at least 70 per cent of the time.

The film’s editing also operates on the same level of incompetence, since scenes abruptly change without any natural rhythm. These transitions are so sudden that the editor even managed to cut off key lines and important pieces of music.

And since most Frankenstein films live and die based on their unique monster design, the specimen on display here is mostly forgettable. The only interesting thing about Lady Frankenstein’s signature creature is a goofy prosthetic eyeball that looks equal parts fake and laughable.

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Not even a solid lead performance from Neri can salvage this exploitation remake, since she does an admirable job of balancing Lady Frankenstein’s alluring sensuality and her drive to meddle with the forces of nature.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film buckles under the weight of its own unrealized potential, poor production values, and unmitigated sleaze, which makes it much more interesting to talk about rather than to actually watch for entertainment purposes.

Lady Frankenstein isn’t even interestingly bad enough to justify viewing it as a cult classic, which means you might have to dust off that old Blu-ray copy of Blackenstein to get your fix.

Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Cheezies (because they’re just a cheap imitation of a better product)

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Fun facts:

-Original release date:

October 22, 1971 (Italy)

October 1973 (US)

-Budget: Under $200,000.

-Box office gross: ₤ 139.683 (Italian lire).

-This film was distributed in America through Roger Corman’s New World Pictures after this American studio provided the Italian filmmakers with an additional $90,000 to complete principal photography.

-Musical highlight: “Living Dead Girl” by Rob Zombie (Rob samples a line from the movie’s trailer at the very beginning of the song).

-You can watch the full movie on YouTube here.

The President’s Man (2000) review- Everybody gets old, even Chuck Norris

As a pop culture figurehead, Chuck Norris has left behind a very complex legacy.

Despite being lauded as an action movie heavyweight alongside Schwarzenegger and Stallone, the U.S. Air Force veteran turned actor never really got the chance to star in any classic films that have stood the test of time.

Instead, Norris wallowed in B-movie schlock throughout most of the 80s and 90s, riding off his reputation as a real life martial artist and fitness spokesperson to generate box office returns. Even Norris’ lead role in the TV show Walker, Texas Ranger, which ran for nine-ish seasons on CBS, is mostly enjoyed ironically today thanks to comedians like Conan O’Brien and Chris Elliot.

This strain of ironic appreciation was brought to a whole new level in 2005 with the popularization of “Chuck Norris Facts” on the Internet, which cemented the exaggerated power of his roundhouse kicks and facial hair for a whole new generation.

Even though these jokes are old hat in 2018, I think it’s safe to say that Norris was at least vaguely aware of his own vaunted reputation several years before these memes started to spread, since that’s the only way I can explain his ridiculous character in the 2000 TV movie The President’s Man.

In this film, Norris plays Joshua McCord, an American government operative who is such a badass that he’s called in to complete dangerous missions that even the Marines Corps can’t handle. Basically, he’s a combination of James Bond, Batman, and Solid Snake, with a dash of Bushido philosophy thrown in for extra seasoning.

When he’s not busy breaking necks for the good ol’ US of A, McCord also busies himself with playing chess, teaching philosophy at a Dedman College in Dallas, and other scholarly pursuits.

This diverse skill set is put on full display in the first 15 minutes of the film, when McCord is summoned from a Japanese tea ceremony to rescue the First Lady after she is held hostage by terrorists in Rio de Janeiro.

After this latest mission is complete, McCord begins to wonder if he’s getting too old to carry on the mantle of “the President’s Man” and begins to train a younger replacement to maintain his legacy and keep Americans safe from domestic and international threats.

Now, an ambitious director and screenwriter could have taken this premise and elevate the story above what one would expect from the star of Invasion U.S.A and Lone Wolf McQuade.

Similar to what Clint Eastwood tired to accomplish in Unforgiven and Gran Torino, The President’s Man could have easily turned this into a meaningful deconstruction of Norris’ legacy as an 80s and 90s action star and what that means for a whole new generation of film fans.

Unfortunately, since this is a TV movie made by Norris’ production company and co-directed by his youngest son, any promise that this premise might have had is flushed down the toilet in the first 20 minutes, when it becomes painfully obvious that this film was shot for cheap and pumped out as quickly as possible to satiate the Walker, Texas Ranger fanbase watching CBS.

This means that the film is littered with production shortcuts that exposes its status as a TV movie, such as stock sound effects, bad original music, sloppy fight choreography, a generous use of stock footage and sub par acting from a lot of the cast’s major players.

Even someone who is a big fan of Norris won’t really get what they’re looking for here, since he’s not really the main focus of the plot after the first 15 minutes.

By then the movie mostly follows his protégé Deke Slater (played by Dylan Neal), who is doing all the heavy lifting in terms of character development as he trains to become the next “President’s Man.”

As such, Norris is mostly saddled with a mentor role for the next hour, which means all he has to do is give stern looks, dish out fortune cookie wisdom and barely break a sweat during the few action sequences he takes part in.

And despite being in great shape for someone who is over 60, Norris’ age is big detriment to his status as a believable action hero in this movie, since it becomes blatantly obvious whenever a stunt double 20 years his junior takes over on screen.

It also doesn’t help that Neal is much more charismatic and likable that his mentor, who can’t even be bothered to raise his voice a few octave levels above normal once he confronts the man who killed his wife during the film’s climax.

With that being said, I’m still a sucker for these kinds of legacy-hero stories, where a grizzled veteran takes a cocky young upstart under his wing and molds him into a more responsible person who is willing to sacrifice his well-being for the greater good.

Even though this dynamic was done much better in films like The Mask of Zorro and Ant-Man, I still found myself charmed by Neal’s gradual transformation and his good-natured flirting with Norris’ daughter Que (Jennifer Tung), who also serves as his liaison to the President.

However, Norris himself still barely registers as a presence on screen, which is a shame since he is obviously written to serve as the glue that holds this entire film together.

Instead, it’s obvious that he’s only interested in showing up to collect a paycheque and maintain his almost decade long stranglehold on the CBS television landscape.

And while I do think that Norris has earned his place alongside the Schwarzeneggers and the Stallones in the pantheon of American action heroes, The President’s Man is not a good representation of why he earned that reputation in the first place.

Verdict:

4/10

Corner store companion:

Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky (because it’s the manliest snack you’re likely to find, despite being bland and largely flavourless).

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Fun facts:

-Original air date: April 2, 2000 (on CBS).

-Budget: $2 million.

-Chuck Norris’ birth name is Carlos Ray Norris.

-Despite his reputation for dishing out white-hot death through the barrel of a gun, Norris only tallies one firearm related kill in this film. The rest of his fatalities are courtesy of neck breaks, throwing knives, and roundhouse kicks.

-Two years later, Norris would star in this film’s direct sequel The President’s Man: A Line in the Sand. While Tung returns as his daughter Que, Neal wouldn’t reprise his role and the character Deke Slater is played by actor Judson Mills, instead. The only other thing worth noting about this sequel is that it’s actually a lot more competently put together than the original, which makes it much less interesting to talk about.

-Between the original airing of The President’s Man in 2000 and today, Norris would only star in four more feature films. The rest of his film and TV credits roles throughout that time consist of the last two seasons of Walker, Texas Ranger and cameo appearances in movies like The Expendables 2 and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

If Lucy Fell (1996) review- The Sex and the City prequel that everyone forgot about (and for good reason)

Sometimes I feel bad for Sarah Jessica Parker, since she still gets a lot of shit for easily her most iconic role.

Ever since Sex and the City went off the air in 2004, she’s been subject to a seemingly endless stream of think pieces and hot takes about how Carrie Bradshaw is such a bad protagonist; someone who is immature, materialistic, and completely self-absorbed.

This wasn’t helped by the series’ subsequent two big screen adaptations, which arguably made every character on that show look bad by taking their most negative qualities and pumping them up to 11.

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However, after sitting through the 1996 romantic comedy If Lucy Fell, I think its safe to say that Parker’s more famous turn as a quirky New York City socialite on HBO could have gone a lot worse.

In this film, Parker plays the titular character of Lucy, who feels unfulfilled in love despite the fact that she has an amazing job (a therapist) that gives her enough disposable income to live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Sound familiar yet?

But rather than unloading her anxiety on a trio of girlfriends, in this story Parker vents her frustration to her artist roommate and best friend Joe (played by Eric Schaeffer) who’s suffering from similar bouts of romantic frustration.

As the film starts, the pair come up with a solution that’ll fix both of their current predicaments: if they don’t find true love by the end of the month, they’ll both jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and kill themselves.

No, you read that right. You haven’t experience a stroke. The entire foundation of this alleged “romantic comedy” is built upon a death pact that’s initiated because two well-off, highly educated people are mopey that they haven’t found an intimate life partner by the time they turn 30.

It’s a shame that the phrase “first world problems” wasn’t popularized until much later after the movie’s release, because critics at the time could have easily summarized their reviews of this turkey by using those three simple words.

Now, to be fair, this premise could have been salvaged if the filmmakers were self-aware of their shallow premise and the movie was conceived as some kind of dark satire about how seriously some people take the New York City dating scene.

Unfortunately, these characters are played completely straight, which turns them into complete sociopaths.

For example, for someone who is supposed to be a therapist in a professional setting, Parker’s Lucy is completely inconsiderate of people’s feelings in her dating life, since she callously rejects potential suitors before she gets a chance to know them.

Even her attitude towards seemingly platonic friends is questionable, since I’m pretty sure that a licensed shrink shouldn’t, under any circumstances, joke about wanting to kill themselves.

Meanwhile, Schaeffer’s Joe comes across as being an unhinged, creepy stalker, since he’s constantly peeping on his hot neighbour and paints portraits of her as she walks around in her underwear.

There’s an extra layer of “ick” added to Joe’s storyline when you realize that Schaeffer served as the film’s writer, director and producer, which explains why a statuesque blonde like Elle MacPherson (the neighbour) would fall for a man who isn’t even remotely in her league in terms of charm, poise or physical attractiveness.

That being said, MacPherson should be commended for taking on the near insurmountable task of pretending to be turned on by Schaeffer’s obnoxious brand of 90s stand-up comedy when they start getting intimate.

At least when Woody Allen pulled this shit back in the day he had some good writing to back up his auteur narcissism. Schaeffer’s idea of a meet-cute scene involves inviting his love interest to an art gallery and greeting her with the line “I have herpes.”

Even though Parker’s courtship with a dreadlocked buffoon (Ben Stiller) doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s still really boring, mostly because you know that it isn’t going anywhere.

Within the first 10-15 minutes of the runtime, anybody with a brain would be able to predict that (SPOILERS) Parker and Schaeffer are going to end up together in the end, since they both eventually realize that the soul mate they’ve been looking for was in front of them all along.

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I could go on and on about the movie’s adherence to other romantic comedy clichés, including half-baked physical comedy, a script full of fortune cookie wisdom that’s passed off a deep psychological insight, and an indie rock soundtrack that immediately dates the movie by two decades.

But I think the main reason why this film doesn’t work can be boiled down to the two mains leads, who are so repulsive and unlikable that you would rather watch them carry out their suicide pact than be a passive observer in their shallow pursuit of true love.

Say what you will about Sex and the City, but at least it used the backdrop of the New York dating scene to (occasionally) push boundaries and explore ideas that had never been discussed on TV before.

With If Lucy Fell, all the director brings to the table is his ego and desire to get laid, which he should have relegated to a personal diary entry or some kind of unpublished fan fiction.

(Speaking of personal logs, I am aware that Sex and the City already has a prequel in the form of The Carrie Diaries, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it … yet).

Verdict:

2/10

Corner store companion:

Sour Patch Kids (because you’ll be making that same kind of face throughout this entire cringefest anyway).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: March 8, 1996.

-Budget: $5 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $4.5 million (estimated).

-I noticed a weird reoccurring pattern scrolling through Eric Schaeffer’s IMDB page, since he’s attached himself to several projects that include the word “fall” or allude to the act of falling in the title. These include: If Lucy Fell (1996), Fall (1997), Mind the Gap (2004), Gravity (TV series, 2010), and After Fall, Winter (2011). I don’t know if this is indicative of some kind of weird fetish that’s manifesting in his creative pursuits, but I’ll let you make the call.

-Unexpected cameo: A 12-year-old Scarlett Johansson has a small supporting role as one of Schaeffer’s students in his art class.

-The entire soundtrack for If Lucy Fell was provided by the indie rock band Mary Me Jane, whose involvement in the production gave them enough clout and leverage to produce their first studio album with Sony in January 1996.

-Musical highlight: “Twenty-one” by Mary Me Jane.

Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) review- Uncle Sam gets creative with his recruitment techniques

The 1940s was truly a golden age in terms of Hollywood produced war propaganda.

Not only would these productions play as cartoons or documentary shorts before the beginning of a feature film, but sometimes they would take the form of the main attraction itself.

This can even be seen through a screen classic like Casablanca, which was made entirely to capitalize on America’s decision to enter the Second World War and reassure the US public that their government had made the right decision.

John Farrow’s Commandos Strike at Dawn, released at the very tail end of 1942, operates on that very same logic, since its plot and characters are meant to serve as an stand-in for America’s transition from neutrality to outright involvement in the Allied war effort.

In this film, the role of audience surrogate doesn’t go to Humphrey Bogart but Paul Muni, who plays a mild-mannered Norwegian fisherman whose sleepy village is taken over by the Third Reich in 1939.

While Muni’s character originally believes that the best course of action is to simply cooperate until the war blows over, he’s gradually pushed to violence after witnessing the atrocities committed by the Nazis and recruits a squad of British commandos to help liberate his home.

Now, when I use the term “propaganda” to describe this film, I don’t use it in an entirely negative sense. After all, I’m perfectly willing to stomach some ham-fisted messaging in my entertainment as long as the end product is well-made.

For example, even though Casablanca is a pretty transparent World War II allegory, it’s done with a certain level of sophistication and the film contains a pretty timeless love story that still strikes a cord with audiences to this day.

Unfortunately, the same really can’t be said for Commandos Strike at Dawn, since the filmmakers settle for cheap gimmicks that relegate the production to being simply a product of its time.

This kind of tone is established in the first couple seconds of the film, when the opening credits prominently display all the flags of the Allied powers, including the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle. This kind of intro immediately dates the film, especially with the Cold War being right around the corner.

Even though there are times where the movie’s attempts to be timely do work out in its favour (like how the characters mention the persecution of Jews at a time when they were being slaughtered in concentration camps in real life) this kind of tacky filmmaking has way more misses than hits.

Although Muni is a compelling lead, he’s saddled with a lot of corny lines about how “nobody’s going to win the war for anybody else,” which sound like they are meant to lecture the 1942 audience rather than inform the movie’s characters.

The rest of the film’s cast is even more disposable.

Despite the fact that all the major players are given a long introduction through a fairly impressive tracking shot, most of them disappear halfway through the movie as the narrative focuses exclusively on Muni and his mission to coordinate a rescue operation.

The worst example of this is probably Muni’s love interest, who doesn’t affect the plot in any way and only seems to exist to reassure the audience that their protagonist has (if I may borrow a term from Red Letter Media) a “case of the not gays.”

The writers don’t even have the decency to provide us with a main antagonist, and settle for flooding the screen with a bunch of nameless German foot soldiers instead.

With that being said, the one segment of the cast who do manage to make an impression are the “British” commandos themselves.

The climactic clash between them and the Nazis feature some really impressive stunt work, which probably has something to do with the fact that they were played by real-life members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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What’s even better is that director John Farrow compliments their military acumen with some good production decisions, since a lot of explosions are done in-camera and aren’t watered down by post-production trickery.

With that being said, basically none of these commandos are given personalities or even a single line of dialogue, which means it’s hard to get emotionally invested in this climax beyond admiring the pure spectacle of it.

And that’s probably the biggest problem with Commandos Strike at Dawn: it doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Sure, the filmmakers make a big show at the beginning about how they want to present an intimate character piece, but it’s clear by the final frame of the film that that’s all window dressing.

Instead, they’d much rather settle for showcasing flashy pyrotechnics and real-life military hardware, something that would have worked as long as they fully committed to this idea.

As a result, Farrow and his team fall victim to the classic filmmaking mistake of trying to make a movie for everyone, which inevitably means that they made a movie for no-one (especially by 2018 standards).

(Side note: it’s clear that the final climactic battle wasn’t shot in the early in the morning, but I guess “Commandos Strike at Mid-Day” wouldn’t have looked great on a movie poster.)

Verdict:

4/10

Corner store companion:

Bits & Bites Original (because it should have stuck to doing one thing, instead of mixing a bunch of stuff that doesn’t belong together).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Dec. 30, 1942.

-Box office gross: $1.5 million (estimated).

-This film was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture at the 1944 Academy Awards (the same year Casablanca won Best Picture).

-Paul Muni is probably best know for starring in the original Scarface from 1932, when the title character was an Italian gangster named Tony Camonte.

-Even though he’s kind of slumming it in this movie, Muni has five Oscar nominations for Best Actor under his belt, with an eventual win in 1937 for starring in The Story of Louis Pasteur.

-Unexpected cameo: Lillian Gish (a silent movie star best known for playing the pivotal role of Elsie Stoneman in the Birth of a Nation) makes her first screen appearance in almost a decade by portraying one the Norwegian villagers under Nazi siege.

-According to IMDB, the entirety of this film was shot on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Moscow on the Hudson (1984) review-A warm hug in politically divisive times

Most people my age got introduced to Robin Williams’ real acting chops in the late-90s with Good Will Hunting.

One could be forgiven for believing that this was his first foray into serious drama, since most of his other hit movies during that same time period were broad comedies filled with rapid fire jokes, improvised lines, and tons of celebrity impressions (Aladdin, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook).

However, little did we know that Williams had been dedicated to taking on more complex projects a full decade before, with a slew of juicy roles that straddled the line between comedy and drama and netted him a handful of Oscar nominations (Dead Poets Society, Good Morning, Vietnam).

While I’m certainly not an expert on Williams’ filmography throughout the 1980s, I’m confident in saying that Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson, released in 1984, is a precursor to the actor’s future success, since he carries the entire movie on his back with a sweet, funny and understated performance.

In the film, Williams plays Vladimir Ivanoff, a Russian saxophone player who decides to defect to the United States once the circus that employs him makes a trip to New York City. From there, we follow Vladimir’s ups and downs as he navigates the country’s immigration system and does his best to adjust to the American way of life.

Obviously, the biggest highlight here is Williams, who makes the wise decision to avoid adopting a cartoonish Russian accent and ridiculously stilted English speaking pattern to try and generate laughs from the audience.

Instead, his character shines through his empathy, work ethic and good-hearted nature, which comes across as being much more authentic and funny than some kind of broad caricature.

While a lot of the credit for this dynamic goes towards Mazursky’s script, Williams also needs to be commended for doing his homework.

Reportedly, the actor spent about a year learning the language and other Soviet customs before principal photography began, which is a hell of a lot more preparation than some other Hollywood stars have undertaken for playing Russians in the past.

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But Williams’ performance isn’t the only thing that turns Moscow on the Hudson into a real hidden gem.

On top of featuring a thoroughly likable cast who have great comedic chemistry, the people behind the camera should be given a lot of credit for pulling the film’s different elements together into a cohesive whole.

For example, seasoned director of photography Donald McAlpine does a brilliant job of bringing New York City to life on screen. Not only does he shoot the city’s famous landmarks in a way that perfectly mimics the wide-eyed wonder that a newcomer like Vladimir would feel, but his cinematography also has the added affect of making me feel nostalgic for a place I’ve never visited.

Composer David McHugh also makes a big impression by choosing just the right song or musical sting at just the right moment. Probably one of the funniest sequences in the whole movie is Vladimir’s decision to defect in a large US department store, where Soviet marching music plays overtop of scenes of communist circus performers and their KGB handlers shopping for clothes and jewelry.

But by far the biggest star of this whole enterprise is the script, which really does a great job of crafting a “rah, rah” patriotic American film without veering off into the territory of outright propaganda, like some other 1980s properties I could name ….

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With that being said, Moscow on the Hudson still holds the United States in very high regard, portraying it as a global paragon of virtue and morality, especially when compared to the Soviet Union.

But rather than demonstrating the US’s outright superiority through more regressive characteristics like military might or isolationist policies, Mazursky emphasizes that this country is great because of its multiculturalism and welcoming attitude towards immigrants.

Virtually all of the film’s supporting characters are immigrants, whose kindness and strength come from their ability to adapt to their adopted homeland.

Furthermore, most of the film’s second half takes place inside of distinctly ethnic clubs, grocery stores and restaurants, which communicates the idea that American culture is perpetuated through these sorts of institutions.

As a character, Vladimir even embodies this philosophy through his love of playing the saxophone, since jazz is a uniquely American creation.

Some might feel that this ”touchy-feely” approach robs of the film of any tactile conflict, and what conflict exists is rather forced and manufactured, especially after the KGB agents largely leave the picture following Act One.

And I’ll be the first one to admit that this movie is not without its cheesy moments, especially one scene near the end of the film where the characters literally recite passages from the Declaration of Independence out of nowhere.

But given how toxic and divisive the US political climate is right now, Moscow on the Hudson is a breath of fresh air.

And at the end of the day, I’m sure an actor like Williams, who spent his whole career trying to make people laugh, would be happy to know that one of his earlier films still serves as a heart-warming reminder of how the American experiment can be used to bring people together instead of tearing them apart.

Verdict:

9/10

Corner store companion:

Werther’s Original Caramel Hard Candies (because it’s still remarkably sweet, despite how long it’s been in circulation).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: April 6, 1984.

-Budget: $13 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $25.1 million.

-Unexpected cameo: Comedian Yakov Smirnoff makes a brief appearance as “Lev,” one of Vladimir’s new friends in New York who is also an aspiring celestial mechanic and astrophysicist.

-On top of learning to speak fluent Russian, Williams also spent months studying how to play the saxophone for this role. According to the actor’s music teacher, Williams learned in two months what usually takes normal people two years to master.

-For a while, director Paul Mazursky tried to get a sequel called Moscow on the Rocks made, although it never came to fruition. The plot of this follow-up film would have followed Vladimir, now a cutthroat New York City businessman, as he travels back to his homeland for his sister’s wedding and falls in love with a Russian doctor.

-The portions of the film that are set in Moscow were actually shot at Bavaria Studios in Munich, Germany.

-Musical highlight: “Freedom” by Chaka Khan (plays over the end credits).

One False Move (1992) review- It sounded better on paper

After suffering through trash like You Got Served, I was pretty excited to pop in Carl Franklin’s One False Move.

Not only is this gritty crime drama a radical departure from anything I’ve looked at so far, but the behind-the-scenes details relating to its production and release is a real heartwarming underdog story that will reaffirm your faith in the power of independent filmmaking.

Shot on a shoe-string budget of $2.3 million and helmed by a then amateur director, One False Move was originally set to go straight-to-video. However, strong word of mouth from critics helped it get a limited theatrical release and strong circulation on that year’s awards circuit.

Legendary film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were some of the film’s biggest cheerleaders throughout this whole process, with the latter praising Franklin’s “powerful” directing and the “extraordinary” screenplay from star Billy Bob Thornton and his writing partner Tom Epperson.

Siskel and Ebert would even go on to name One False Move their first and second favourite movie of 1992, respectively. To put that in perspective, next year both critics would give their number one spot to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

I mention all of this inside baseball malarkey up front because, unfortunately, it’s a lot more compelling than the actual film itself.

Now don’t get me wrong, One False Move isn’t a bad movie. In fact, there are quite a few things to like about it (especially given its humble roots). But nothing about this film really grabbed me on a visceral level.

And I hate to sound like a smug contrarian, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a standard episode of a 90s cop show stretched out to two hours (albeit with a little more hardcore violence and profanity).

Part of my problem has to do with how the film is structured, since the runtime is divvied up into two parallel plotlines.

One story features a trio of criminals (Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Michael Beach) who are on the run from the law after committing a horrific drug robbery in Los Angeles that resulted in multiple homicides.

The second story follows the two detectives (Jim Metzler, Earl Billings) tasked with tracking down these outlaws, who are eventually drawn to one of the suspect’s old stomping grounds in Star City, Arkansas. There, they team up with a local police chief (Bill Paxton), whose boy-scout attitude clashes with big city cops’ approach to law enforcement.

Now, taken as two separate stories, both plots feature plenty of tension, snappy dialog and nuanced performances from the entire cast.

Special mention goes out to Michael Beach, who plays the quiet psychopath “Pluto” with a complex level of menace that really got under my skin.

However, much of the film’s dramatic impact is supposed to come from the interaction between the cops and the criminals and the two groups barely spend any screen time together.

This is especially true for Bill Paxton’s police chief, whose shared history with one of the criminals is a key part of the movie, since it gradually peels away his benevolent façade and reveals a more sinister side of his personality.

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Sounds interesting, right? Well, to bad, because this element is only squeezed into the last 20 minutes, which doesn’t give it any room to breathe.

These shortcoming aren’t helped by flat direction, poor editing in spots and a dated score which relies heavily on harmonicas and what I like to call “90s sax.”

Some might view this criticism as a little harsh, especially considering that One False Move marks Carl Franklin’s first big film project after spending most of his career acting on TV and directing low budget schlock for producer Roger Corman.

But now that we live in film industry that’s filled with dazzling first-time directors like Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), it’s really hard to go back and pass off a simply “passable” job as something that is “brilliant.”

Again, I don’t get any joy in dumping on a small production like this, especially since, from what I could gather, every member of the cast and crew had their hearts in the right place while making it.

Sadly, good intentions alone aren’t enough to convince me that this movie is some kind of hidden gem. The various moving parts on display just don’t end up coalescing as a whole, which left me feeling like the movie ended 10−15 minutes before its story was complete.

But be sure to take my criticism with a golf ball sized grain of salt, since pretty much every professional movie critic under the sun disagrees with me.

Besides, who am I to second-guess the benevolent wisdom of the great Siskel and Ebert?

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Verdict:

5/10

Corner store companion:

Lay’s Ketchup Chips (because it’s not for me, but I can understand why other people like it).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: May 8, 1992

-Budget: $2.3 million

-Box office gross: $1.5 million (estimated)

-Despite my reservations about his early work, director Carl Franklin took home a number of accolades from his peers during the 1992−93 film awards circuit, including “Best Director” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards and the “New Generation Award” at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.

-Two decades later, Franklin managed to carve out an impressive directing career for himself after his initial success in the 1990s. Today, he’s managed to generate steady work for himself on a lot of hit TV shows, sporting directing credits for: Homeland, Bloodline, 13 Reasons Why, and, most recently, Mindhunter. He was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy after helming “Chapter 14” from House of Cards (you know, the episode with the subway).

-This film marks Billy Bod Thornton’s first film writing credit, which would earn him a nomination for “Best Screenplay” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards. Thornton would eventually walk way with that prize in 1997 thanks to his screenplay for Sling Blade.

-Co-stars Cynda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton got married shortly after filming on One False Move wrapped. They were divorced before the film was released two years later.

You Got Served (2004) review-“How do you do, fellow kids?” the movie

Honestly, I feel like I’m cheating with this one.

Unlike the two previous films that I’ve covered for this blog, Chris Stokes’ You Got Served is pretty well known among millennials my age, which is evident from the massive box office returns that it raked in during its opening weekend back in January 2004.

It’s also well remembered as being a single piece of a larger movement, since Hollywood was completely obsessed with spitting out these “urban” dance movies throughout the 2000s, which were cheap to produce and (usually) guaranteed a tidy profit.

However, unlike a lot of its contemporaries, You Got Served really hasn’t left a lasting legacy in pop-culture outside of its title, which became somewhat of a meme before most people even knew that memes were a thing.

But outside of that, there’s nothing about this film that sets it apart from the rest.

It doesn’t boast the novelty of starring then up-and-coming actors who would go on to find great success in the industry, like the original Step Up (Channing Tatum) or Bring It On (Kirsten Dunst).

Instead, we are saddled with two dull leads (Omari Grandberry and Marques Houston) who aren’t very charismatic or believable, even with the limited character work that they are given.

The film also doesn’t benefit from the impressive production values that characterized some of the later entries in the Step Up franchise, since You Got Served is noticeably cheap looking, especially whenever the characters venture away from the dance floor.

And, probably the biggest sin of all, the dancing on display isn’t even that distinctive. At least a film like Stomp the Yard had the foresight to anchor its premise around something unique and interesting like competitive stepping.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m sure you’re all dying me to talk about the plot to this magnum opus.

Well, surprisingly, there’s a lot going on plot wise in You Got Served outside of the dancing, which is one of its biggest problems.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on this specific genre of film, but from the few 2000s dance movies that I’ve seen I can pinpoint a recognizable formula that works. Most of the time, the plot is just background noise or an excuse to stich together impressively choreographed dance sequences.

But in You Got Served it seems like the dancing takes a back seat to the story, which is horribly clichéd, uninteresting, and full of cringy melodrama.

The main thrust of the plot follows David and Elgin (Grandberry and Houston, respectively) who live out their young lives battling dance crews for cash in a surprisingly sanitized Los Angeles.

The pair have their sights set on greater things, which are never clearly defined, but a number of obstacles stand in their way, including a rival dance crew from Orange Country and the city’s violent criminal underbelly.

Now, this sounds like a simple enough premise, but it gets bogged down in a bunch of extraneous details that detract from the main reason people came to see the film: the dancing.

Here are just some of those dazzling plot points:

  • David starts falling for Elgin’s sister, which drives wedge between the two of them.

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  • David and Elgin work for a drug kingpin on the side, which inevitably encroaches on their lives in the world of dance.

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  • A precocious child called “Lil Saint” hangs around with David and Elgin’s dance crew for the sole purpose of getting himself caught up in some life-threatening situations later on.

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  • Steve Harvey plays the movie’s mentor character called “Mr. Rad”, who organizes all the local dance battles and spews out fortune cookie wisdom while also serving as an unexpected deus ex machina.

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And even though this film is awash with this extraneous bullshit, they still managed to leave out some really important details.

We never find out how David and Elgin originally met, formed a dance crew, or why they are so passionate about what seems like their full time gig (since we never see them in school or holding down fulltime jobs).

Even when the film gets around to the dancing, it’s nothing to write home about.

Director Chris Stokes doesn’t really take advantage of the medium of film, since the camera remains largely slow moving and doesn’t emphasize the impressive athleticism of that its cast clearly possesses.

As a result, the big climatic dance battle at the end of the film comes across as some lifeless b-roll that would play at the beginning of any MTV program from the early to mid 2000s.

Speaking of MTV, one of the most redeeming things about You Got Served is how desperately it’s trying to appeal to the youth of that era.

The script is stuffed to brim with so much dated hip-hop vernacular and celebrity cameos (anybody else remember Wade Robson???) that it’s actually kind of adorable. I can just imagine a boardroom full of old, out-touch-executives trying to cram in as much trendy fashion and pop-culture artifacts in order to reach that lucrative teen demographic.

Basically, this film is the cinematic equivalent of that clip of Steve Buscemi from 30 Rock. You know the one.

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In the end, even though You Got Served is a hilarious viewing experience in spots, it doesn’t make up for the long stretches of film that are a chore to get through.

And since this movie is supposed to be all about high-energy dance moves, being boring is probably its biggest failing.

Verdict:

2/10

Corner store companion:

Listerine cool mint antiseptic mouthwash (to rinse that bad taste out of your mouth).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Jan. 30, 2004.

-Budget: $8 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $40,066,497 (US)

-Became number one at the box office in its opening weekend, which also coincided with Super Bowl 38 (aka, the one where Janet Jackson’s nipple closed out the halftime show).

-Musical highlight: “The One” by ATL.

-Unexpected cameo: Kevin Federline (yes, that Kevin Federline) made his cinematic debut as one of the film’s many backup dancers.

-Both of the film’s leads were members of American R&B boy bands from the mid-2000s, with Grandberry being a member of B2K and Houston belonging to IMx. Several of their tacks are featured on the movie’s soundtrack.

-Personal confession: The copy of the DVD I bought consisted of two discs, You Got Served and You Got Served: Take it to the Streets. I stupidly thought that that second title was a straight-to-DVD sequel, which would have made for a more appropriate to review, since I’ve never heard of it. Surprise!!! It turns out You Got Served: Take it to the Streets is an instructional video, where the cast of the original film walk you through how to pull off those slick dance moves. I haven’t drummed up the courage to watch it yet.

-A straight-to-DVD sequel in name only was finally released in 2011 called You Got Served: Beat the World, which doesn’t star anybody from the 2004 film or have anything to do with the original plot.

Castle Keep (1969) review-You got your Vietnam in my WWII movie

When I originally picked up a DVD titled “5 Classic War Films” for $4.99 I didn’t expect it to include a movie like Sydney Pollack’s Castle Keep.

Judged solely on the low price and the cheesy posters featured on the cover, I strapped myself in to watch some bottom-of-the-barrel, exploitative trash.

The hokey plot synopsis for this film specifically didn’t help matters either, since it centres around a rag-tag group of American soldiers tasked with defending a medieval castle full of priceless art pieces during the Battle of the Bulge.

However, while Castle Keep doesn’t attain “classic” status, as advertised, the filmmakers should be given credit for trying to inject some art house sensibilities into an otherwise formulaic war movie.

Within the first 20 minutes, the movie stomped my expectations into the ground by establishing a detached, laid-back tone that doesn’t initially seem to fit with other “man-on-a-mission” World War II epics of the time (think The Dirty Dozen).

Instead of getting down to business and showing the audience how the castle is being fortified for the on oncoming German assault, most of the first and second act features our main characters just farting around.

They drink, they smoke, they fuck (with several trips to a nearby brothel) and they carry on inane conversations that don’t really go anywhere. Mid-way through the movie one of the soldiers spouts off about how indestructible Volkswagen Beetles are, and that this particular model of car will inherit the earth after the war wipes out all human life.

Coupled together with a dream-like score that seems like it jumped right out of an old perfume commercial, and Castle Keep becomes a truly bizarre viewing experience, to the point where I even wondered if I put in the wrong DVD by mistake.

In the last 40 minutes the story does eventually turn into a more conventional direction, with plenty of explosions and gritted teeth that would satisfy even the most jaded action junky. However, this kind of action climax gets so exaggerated that it veers off into the direction of satire, especially when Germans soldiers start using fire trucks to mount the castle walls.

To be fair, most of these strange choices make sense if you put this film’s release in the right historical context.

By 1969 the United States had been escalating their involvement in the Vietnam War for over a decade, with no real end in sight. With that in mind, it’s understandable that Americans like director Sydney Pollack would have become disillusioned with traditional military heroics and decided to make a film about the tedium and pointlessness that’s involved in a protracted foreign conflict.

Actor Peter Faulk (who plays sergeant Rossi Baker) even reveals the filmmakers’ intentions at one point during the chaotic climax by blurting out “What the hell war is this?”

While the filmmakers should be applauded for this kind of ambition, Castle Keep is not without its problems.

Certain sections of the film suffer from poor ADR and sound mixing, to the point where you can’t even tell which character is supposed to be talking.

Because the movie adopts the look and feel of a waking dream, the middle part of the story really drags, something that could have been solved by chopping at least 20-30 minutes off the runtime.

And while the individual actors do a really good job with the material they’re given, it doesn’t stop them from being flat caricatures with no real depth. This usually what happens when characters are written to hammer home a theme rather than to tell a good story.

Overall, even though I think calling Castle Keep “pretentious” would be a bridge too far, I wouldn’t fault anybody else for using that label to describe it.

After all, the filmmakers are obviously much more concerned about waxing poetic on lofty topics like war, art, and sex rather than telling a good story with fleshed out characters, which definitely prevented me from engaging with the movie on an emotional level.

With that being said, Castle Keep did at least take me by surprise and give me something to think about once it was over. Hopefully this becomes a re-occurring theme throughout my adventures into the darker corners of Corner Store Cinema.

Verdict:

6/10

Corner store companion:

Skor butter toffee (because it looks fancy, but it’s still really just cheap candy on the inside)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: July 23, 1969

-Budget: $8 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $1.8 (Canada/US)

-Two years after this film was released, Peter Faulk (one of the main supporting cast members) would go on to find great success by staring in the series Columbo. Faulk ended up playing the titular, unassuming detective in a grand total of 69 specials, with the final episode airing on Jan. 30, 2003.

-Mass murderer Ronald Defeo Jr. claimed that he was watching Castle Keep right before he shot his parents and four siblings to death in Amityville, New York on Nov. 13, 1974.

-While this film ultimately flopped, both critically and financially, director Sydney Pollack would bounce back with his next project They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, which landed him 10 Oscar nominations (including one for Best Director).