Sunday, September 01, 2013

August 2013

Owing to the fact that I decided to watch all five seasons of Twilight Zone, more or less chronologically, I only wound up seeing four movies in August. Of course, it didn't help that pickings are relatively slim this summer—I'm hardly the target audience for releases such as Planes, We're the Millers, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Smurfs 2, R.I.P.D., et al. Even movies I was looking forward to (Kick-Ass, Elysium, Austenland) earned ho-hum reviews. And now that T-Zone is in the can, I've started Season One of Alfred Hitchcock Presents...and there are a LOT more episodes of Hitch's show (361) than of Rod Serling's (a mere 156), so I don't expect a lot of September entries...

THE CONJURING (2013)—Director James Wan (Insidious, Saw) knows a thing or two about scaring audiences. But despite a strong performance by Lily Taylor, there's nothing new in this haunted-house outing, which plays like a mash-up of The Amityville Horror and The Exorcist. Could have been better with some judicious editing. (6)

RED 2 (2013)—Based on a comic book, Bruce Willis's 2010 action-comedy original was pure escapist fun, with a terrific cast that included the always reliable Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren (the sexiest 68-year-old on Earth). RED 2 reunites the whole gang except for Freeman, who died in the first installment; augmenting them for the sequel are Catherine Zeta-Jones, Byung-hun Lee and the slumming Anthony Hopkins, who gives the movie more panache than it deserves. The result is still entertaining, but slightly less successful than the first outing. Still, a comic book is a comic book, and if there's a Part 3, I'll mostly likely be in the audience. (7)

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (2013)—Sutter (Miles Teller) is a high-school senior who lives for the "now," a kid who's a little too forgiving of his own mistakes and bad habits (i.e., drinking too heavily). He's a charmer who smooth-talks an innocent classmate (Shailene Woodley) who's much less of a bombshell than the girl who's just dumped him; we cringe as his inner fool seems destined to break her heart...but fortunately, this is a redemption story. I dug this a bit less than most critics—spectacular it's not—but the film is competently directed and well acted, even if I wanted Sutter to walk into an open manhole through most of the picture. (7)

CISCO PIKE (1972)—Here's an example of two of my weaknesses leading me to an unfortunate scene. First of all, we lost the great Karen Black in August, so I was curious to check out something of hers I haven't already seen. And because I'm always interested in exploring movies from the 1970s (even though many of the blow), I chose this grimy, sloppily conceived garbage about a musician turned pot dealer (Kris Kristofferson) who is conscripted to sell some primo Acapulco Gold by the cop (Gene Hackman) who previously busted him. Black plays Kristofferson's long-suffering girlfriend, who's had enough of the drug busts and longs for a normal life. The movie starts off with a promising setup, but it's just not engaging enough; I didn't care about the musician character as much as I should have, and Hackman's cop behaves too idiotically for my liking. Moreover, there are something like five songs written and sung by Kristofferson, and it doesn't help that I'm not a fan of his music or his voice. Sexy Karen Black does do a nice topless scene, however. It is astonishing to me that the young, clean-shaven Kristofferson doesn't have a fraction of the appeal of his grittier, bearded persona. (5)

SIDE NOTE: Because much of Cisco Pike was filmed in the neighborhoods of Venice and North Hollywood—with lots of street signs and business landmarks—I was able to take some screen shots from the DVD and pair them up with images from Google Street View. It's not possible to get the exact angles and perspectives that the director shot from, but it's interesting to see how the areas have changed in the past 41 years, so I'm including them below.

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