The Chosen (1981)

Chosen

I rented this movie because I’m borderline obsessed with Robby Benson. After playing Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991), Benson did some truly wonderful voice work for three of my absolute favorite projects in the world: the King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow computer game (1992); The Legend of Prince Valiant TV show (1991-1994); and the light years-ahead-of-its-time Exosquad series (1993-1995). (Not to mention an episode of Batman: The Animated Series [1992-1995] and three episodes of Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa [1992-1994]!) It was like the man’s booking agent knew exactly what I liked as a young teenager 🤣

Anyway, I wanted to see this truly phenomenal voice actor in another one of his early, live-action roles — and The Chosen seemed like a fine flick to take a chance on. (I knew that many people had expected Benson to skyrocket to stardom in the 1980s. But I had only ever seen him in a movie called City Limits [1984], which was so ridiculously bad that it had been featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 [1988-2015]. So I was — and I still am — strangely interested in the man’s extremely unique career.) Although it wasn’t my usual cup of tea, this cute and quirky PG-rated affair was actually quite nice to sit through. Plus, it taught me a bit more about Hasidic Judaism and the bitter infighting among Jewish people that occurred after WWII, when members of the religion were debating the creation of a Jewish state.

Robby Benson and Barry Miller were both very good in their roles, playing two best friends who weather their rocky, formative, pubescent years together despite some rather significant differences in their approaches to spirituality. However, Rod Steiger more or less steals the show with his portrayal of Millers’ father — a strict, orthodox rabbi who throws tons of salt on his son’s bromance. The Chosen was definitely a nice break from my otherwise steady diet of action, sci-fi, and horror flicks — and it only deepened my interest in the enigmatic Robby Benson. But, ultimately, it’s a relatively light, heartwarming family film. And on this weird-ass Web site, such merits only get you so far.

Three pot leafs out of five:
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The Chosen (1981)

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Here’s a niche movie if ever there was one: Viewers must be fairly well versed in Shakespeare and existentialism to fully appreciate this ridiculously verbose, wholly absurd, and at-times completely surreal film. Based on a stage play written in 1966, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a satirical spin on the ubiquitous tragedy, Hamlet, presented from the perspectives of the two titular, but ultimately “minor,” friends of the unstable Danish prince. If that somewhat intellectual premise sounds charming and/or witty to you, then there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy this. But many others, whether their aversion is to literature or to philosophy (the latter of which I can understand, but certainly not the former) will probably be indifferent to — or annoyed by — this weird little flick.

Personally, it didn’t seem like my proverbial cup of tea at first — the Shakespeare theme, that is. (I’m always scouring cinema for new, potentially [r]evolutionary philosophical ideas 😉) But, thankfully, I was able to remember enough of Hamlet from my college days (with just a quick peek at Wikipedia) and keep up with the lightning-fast, Elizabethan-style dialogue that Tom Stoppard wrote — and directed — for his own play. With it, he turns Gary Oldman’s Rosencrantz and Tim Roth’s Guildenstern (or is it the other way around?) into Abbott and Costello-like fools, who have no clear memories of their lives outside Shakespeare’s play. Spouting incessant wordplay, including a memorable, rapid-fire game of Question Tennis, the two baffled characters struggle with their dire, existential crises. Richard Dreyfuss more or less steals the show, however, as the director of the theater troupe that Hamlet pays to perform The Murder of Gonzago. His homoerotic group of actors and macabre monologues regarding blood and death help to remind the audience of mortality, in general — and that the title of the movie is a statement rather than a question.

I must admit that I wound up enjoying this playful, wordy puzzle about life and death. In fact, I reckon it could cheer me up the next time I’m feeling depressed. But it’s so damned silly; at times, it feels like a cerebral Monty Python skit. I had hoped to find cracks in its facade, errors or inconsistencies in Stoppard’s script — and I probed quite thoroughly as I watched — but I wasn’t able to identify any. Actually, I chuckled the whole time, in spite of myself, far from slain, but at least intellectually satisfied.

In the end, we all reach that undiscovered country — and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is a light and funny reaffirmation of that cold, hard fact. It’s a solid production, but it doesn’t delve too deeply into the debates and concerns popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre. I’ll give it three pot leafs out of five for wading into the deep end of the pool — but only three because it’s still wearing those cute, little water wings:
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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990)

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The first movie that The Open-Minded Critic ever reviewed was Goldfinger (1964) — the third entry in the perennial series featuring the foppish, fictional super-spy, James Bond. Since then, I’ve continued — very slowly but surely — to watch the 007 flicks in chronological order. And, although I do realize that it’s rather pathetic I’ve only watched three of them in the past four years, I still think it’ll be fun to revisit the colorful, cinematic universe from time-to-time on this Web site. So, let’s go ahead and take an unnecessarily critical look at the sixth film in the franchise, shall we? It’s likely the least familiar Bond flick — whether you’re an avid fan, a casual fan, or a straight-up hater — for several reasons, anyway.

Seven years (and five feature-length films) after Sean Connery introduced the suave, British misogynist to the movie-going masses, the Scottish actor took a break from the coveted role, and — for a hot second — an Aussie by the name of George Lazenby picked up the mantle. However, Connery returned for one more paycheck in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service represents Lazenby’s only outing as the oh-so-special agent. The man does a fine job, too, showcasing exotic locations and dancing past henchmens’ bullets, delivering silly quips and pistol-whips. Furthermore, Diana Rigg, who plays the “Bond girl” in this one, manages to transcend the role of love interest and outshine every other floozy who’s made the bed springs squeak with our lovable double-0 agent.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service features great, choreographed action; phenomenal sets; and Telly Savalas, who’s always fun to see — and arguably the greatest on-screen cigarette smoker in Hollywood history. The movie has all the campy, but vital, hallmarks of a traditional James Bond flick, and yet — here’s where I start to get picky — it manages to feel slightly off-brand. First of all, the theme song is completely instrumental! There’s no pop star crooning the titular chorus during the opening credits; just the standard, psychedelic visuals that seem to accompany every Albert Broccoli production. There’s also a distinct absence of Q Branch and its funky, high-tech gadgets. (Although the wonderful Welsh actor, Desmond Llewelyn, does, at least, make a cameo near the end of the film.) And, my goodness, what an ending this movie has! I don’t want to print any spoilers here, but suffice it to say that the last few minutes of the movie are absolutely ridiculous. It’s simultaneously the best ending of any Bond flick in the canon and the worst ending of any Bond flick in the canon.

In fact, the very last scene of the film, including the final line of dialogue delivered by 007, is worth the price of admission. So I’d recommend On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to any James Bond completist — but, unfortunately, not to many other people. Overlooking the ludicrous, meandering plot, the movie suffers from consistently choppy editing — the same thing that sunk Klute — and some of the film’s most impressive sequences (skiing, bobsledding, etc.) are rendered nearly incoherent. (If anyone ever bothers to read my reviews, they’ll know that I take a particularly hard line on this subject 🤣)

Anyway, the second — and certainly not the last — Bond flick reviewed by The Open-Minded Critic gets two harsh pot leafs out of five:
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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Fubar (2002)

Fubar

This is a tough one to rate. On one hand, Fubar is a mostly unfunny, low-budget “mockumentary” about Canadian head bangers. On the other hand, it’s an oddly compelling tale of a young man’s battle with testicular cancer. So, my feelings about it are mixed, to say the least.

As far as I understand — and, be aware, there is a fair amount of confusion surrounding this production — Paul Spence and David Lawrence are dudes from Calgary with fantastic mullet haircuts and a “metalhead” shtick that involves shotgunning several beers, vandalizing the neighborhood, burping loudly, farting frequently, and waxing philosophical about absurd and/or irreverent topics. (Imagine the guys from Jackass: The Movie [2002] except significantly less mean-spirited — and way more Canadian.) Their loosely-scripted and highly profane faux documentary, Fubar, “directed” by Michael Dowse, successfully blurs the line between reality and sketch comedy — and it’s worth a few chuckles, at least.

But, halfway through this drunken odyssey, Spence’s buffoonish character goes to the hospital for a testicular biopsy — and when he eventually gets the results, the surgical removal of one of his testicles becomes a strangely poignant subplot of the film! From these moments on, I found it difficult to tell which aspects of the characters’ lives were genuine and which were fictionalized. The movie is billed as a lowbrow stoner/buddy comedy — and it certainly is that — but I also suspect that Spence’s on-screen struggle with cancer was real. (Or, to put it another way, I’d be fairly disappointed and moderately offended to find out that the cancer subplot was fabricated.)

Anyway, Fubar is a simple, immature romp through a niche, North American subculture — but I can think of worse ways to spend 76 minutes. The film doesn’t offer any true value or insight; just debauchery and gross-out humor, drawing your eye like a fiery car crash and then making you feel guilty and slightly subhuman for watching it. (To be honest, I got too drunk to review it properly the first time — and I had to re-watch it the next day with a hangover to get the full effect.)

Still, I’m afraid I can only “give’r” two pot leafs out of five, dudes:
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Fubar (2002)

The Hit (1984)

Hit

I liked this movie. I wasn’t going to run out and rave about it to my friends or anything, but I was genuinely surprised that — during my crime/caper-obsessed youth — I had never stumbled upon this obscure little gem of the genre. Yet, once I had finally watched it as an “adult,” I didn’t immediately understand why it had received the Criterion treatment on DVD.

Then, after a solid chunk of sleep, I realized that this quirky, violent and, ultimately, understated film had begun to haunt me. Now, days later, The Hit is still wriggling around in my brain like a hooked worm. (And I’ve always considered that to be a sign of a good flick!) I should probably watch it again before I review it. (Actually, this movie is making me rethink my whole system here…) But the vast majority of films reviewed by the Open-Minded Critic have been impulsive, knee-jerk reactions so far. So why should this one be any different?

I shan’t give The Hit any special treatment. Nurse! Pass the scalpel…

Honestly, this gangster flick is for folks who don’t really care for on-screen violence — or gangsters, for that matter. But that’s not to say The Hit isn’t a violent movie. It’s actually quite violent. And pretty vicious too. And rather depraved! (I’m thinking of a strangely sensual hand-chewing scene, in particular 🤣) But it’s also such a slow, poetic, and — dare I say — philosophical film that it takes on the air of a complex, Shakespearean play at times, and I suspect that even my cool grandmother would have enjoyed it on certain levels.

The Hit begins with some very cool title music by the extremely distinctive Eric Clapton, and it goes on to feature some of the most gorgeous long shots of the Spanish countryside ever committed to film. Terence Stamp is genuinely superb as a clever and likable, although technically despicable, British criminal/informant/hostage, who remains completely zen right ’til the end. A baby-faced Tim Roth is also fantastic as an overzealous, but sympathetic, henchman to a cold and quiet assassin, played expertly by the late, great John Hurt. But the script does falter occasionally — and meander frequently — and something about the production, overall, keeps me from loving it.

The Hit is a subtle and nuanced meditation on death, just a bit more palatable than Sexy Beast (2000). More than anything, though, it has inspired me to take a long, leisurely drive across Spain one day. I’ll give it three solid pot leafs out of five:
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The Hit (1984)

Quintet (1979)

Quintet

I knew Robert Altman had made some decent films (MASH [1970], The Long Goodbye [1973], The Player [1992]). But I must have repressed all my memories of Popeye (1980) because when I finally realized that Altman had made a science fiction film — Quintet — I rushed headlong into it, expecting something witty and thought-provoking with absolutely no expectations of being disappointed in any way.

But I should have remembered Popeye… I should have remembered Popeye.

It turns out that, as clever and satirical as the acclaimed writer/director was, the man couldn’t produce a sci-fi flick for shit! His sole effort, Quintet, has it’s moments — and hell, it has Paul Newman — but it’s still the most paper-thin post-apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen. (It does, however, hold the world record for “most scenes featuring feral dogs eating human corpses.” [Altman’s bleak vision of the future may be completely devoid of seals, but it does involve an insane rottweiler infestation!])

The movie teases viewers with a handful of interesting ideas and concepts, but then it abandons them as quickly as it introduces them, resulting in a meandering, masturbatory mess. It’s not overly complex or allegorical by any means; it’s just that Altman wasn’t saying much at the time. There are countless dramas from the 1970s that handle science fiction more deftly — and there are several sci-fi flicks from the 70s that explore human drama more effectively. The actors didn’t seem to appreciate the script completely either. The entire cast delivers rather lackluster performances, with the exception of Fernando Rey, who happens to play the most interesting character in the film: a “referee” in a crumbling city without order.

Honestly, though, almost everything about this movie stinks: the perimeter of the lens is smudged with vaseline to obscure the film’s borders, Altman can’t help himself from panning slowly over everything in every scene, and his dystopian philosophies couldn’t fill a freakin’ kiddie pool.

Once again, I’m being overly harsh. But I don’t think there’s any excuse for sci-fi this bad — and I challenge you to prove me wrong in the comments section below. Quintet makes Mad Max (1979) look like Casablanca (1942) so I’m only going to give it one pot leaf out of five:
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Quintet (1979)

The Park Is Mine (1985)

Park Is Mine

This is among HBO’s first feature-length productions, produced in the mid-1980s — and it’s quite a bit of fun. It’s also, without a doubt, one hot mess of a movie. It features a young Tommy Lee Jones, running around, booby-trapping Central Park to a completely out-of-place Tangerine Dream soundtrack. Its non-stop glorification of urban guerilla tactics and rampant domestic terrorism would preclude The Park Is Mine from being produced today, which is certainly part of its charm — and it does, genuinely, try to make a statement regarding the erosion of humanity in this modern, globalized America. But it never quite decides if it wants to be a serious film or an exploitation flick and, when it’s over, you realize that you probably just should have watched First Blood (1982)… again.

I often start these reviews by claiming that a movie is good — and then proceed to point out its faults before, counter-intuitively, rating it rather poorly. But, this time, I want to reiterate the fact that this particular movie is just plain bad — and then I want to spend a little more time highlighting its quirky charms and redeeming qualities. (I promise that I’ll still rate it poorly in the final analysis.)

The Park Is Mine is more-or-less perfect for a teenage sleepover party featuring a pilfered six-pack of beer. The script was written for insomniac 16-year old boys; it’s begging to be riffed with boisterous, uninformed jokes and peppered with spontaneous, inappropriate laughter. It’s absolutely ludicrous in every way, at least by today’s standards, but it never even thinks about winking at its audience — so it’s also impossible not to cheer for Mr. Jones whenever his character outwits another cartoonishly ignorant and ineffectual New York City cop.

Of course, in 2019, a domestic terrorist like his would be executed with a drone strike within the first ten minutes of his siege. (But who the hell wants to watch that depressing movie?) The Park Is Mine provides a slice of pure 80s cheese that couldn’t be duplicated in any other decade — even with great delicacy. Especially since it was produced in Canada! (The DVD I watched included an incredible commentary track with film historian Nathaniel Thompson that was even better than the film itself.) Due to all of this — and, again, because it earnestly tries to speak up for the voiceless and the disenfranchised — The Park Is Mine is far from a flop. But I won’t pretend that it’s brilliant either.

Two harsh pot leafs out of five:
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The Park Is Mine (1985)

The Dark Backward (1991)

Dark Backward

Here’s another truly bizarre flick for the more adventurous cinephiles among you. It’s really sleazy and really gross — actually, there’s a bit of necrophilia within the first 10 minutes of this nausea-inducing satire — but it’s also really uniquely surreal, offering viewers a compound fracture-level break from the typical Hollywood/Cable TV fare that seems to assault us from almost every mainstream media format these days. Plus, it has actors like Bill Paxton, James Caan, Rob Lowe, Wayne Newton, and Lara Flynn Boyle cast in absolutely bonkers roles. And it features a scene with a human xylophone.

I just want to repeat that once: “A human xylophone.”

The Dark Backward’s rather dark narrative revolves around Judd Nelson’s character, who is an unspeakably awkward — and undeniably awful — standup comic in a dreary, dystopian reality, in which all billboards tout absurd products such as Pork Juice, Weaselroni, and Squeezable Bacon. When a third arm suddenly sprouts from the middle of his back, his fellow garbageman (and only friend) — played by the late, great Bill Paxton, who truly turned up to 11 for this particular role — augments his comedy act to highlight the grotesque, enigmatic appendage and, with the help of an unscrupulous talent agent — played by Newton — they achieve a moderate amount of success.

The movie, written and directed by Adam Rifkin, is wonderfully shot — from beginning to end — with brilliant colors and mind-boggling sets, and it’s consistent tone is both deliciously subversive and decidedly punk rock. (Imagine if Repo Man [1984] had been co-directed by John Waters and David Lynch [and maybe Jeunet & Caro for good measure], resulting in something like How to Get Ahead in Advertising [1989]… except not nearly as good.) The Dark Backward is raunchy fun — and it takes viewers quite far off the beaten path — but it never even attempts to transcend its farcical nature or toy with any motifs that are even slightly cerebral.

It’s enjoyable if you have a strong stomach and a pitch black sense of humor but, ultimately, it’s immature and forgettable. I’d give it three pot leafs out of five for its badass, hand-drawn opening credit sequence alone, though:
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The Dark Backward (1991)

Candyman (1992)

candyman

A film’s quality isn’t the main reason a 10-year-old child enjoys it or is impacted by it, especially in the horror genre. This realization has hit me time and again, watching old “favorites”—whether they’re my own (Gremlins [1984]) or someone else’s, which I’ve been introduced to late in the game (Poltergeist [1982]). It was also the source of my concern (and excitement) while heading to the theater on a weeknight to re-watch Candyman (1992)—a childhood favorite of mine that I had seen only once, 25 years prior.

An adaptation of a short story by Clive Barker, Candyman is a near-perfect opus of fears, wrapped in a moderately well-executed tale. The movie isn’t great, really, underperforming when it debuted, in part, due to its somewhat flat acting and disjointed pace. But the story appropriately avoids any attempts to be “scary” by investing heavily in fear and suspense, punctuated by disorientation and gore.

What the film does exceptionally well, for example, is take a bevy of real-life, abstract fears and manifest them into the physical world. Save for concerns like public speaking and heights, Candyman peddles a vast range of fear types—physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual—and has them enter and, ultimately, consume its characters with devastating results.

Growing up two hours north of the Cabrini-Green public housing development and the University of Chicago, where this horrific story is set, provided me with a physical anchor for the fears represented in the movie as well. As I passed by it on the freeway as a kid, I used to think, “That’s where the Candyman lives.” And that’s where, for many years, my fears of the unknown would concentrate, and quietly return gaze.

Because it isn’t particularly scary—definitely not “art” on-screen—but because it’s so well-versed in taking our internal fears that normally only tug subtly at the base of our brains and bringing them to the forefront of our minds, giving us nowhere to hide, I bestow upon this movie that is not to be named a fifth time…

…three pot leafs out of five:
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Candyman (1992)

All That Jazz (1979)

all that jazz

Wow. Bob Fosse was kind of an asshole, huh? I’d never seen Cabaret (1972) or anything that he’d been associated with before. But this movie, which he wrote about himself and then directed, makes it crystal clear that he was a chauvinistic speed-freak for at least a short period of his life. All That Jazz (1979) is the most egomaniacal bit of cinema I’ve seen in quite some time. The whole thing is pretentious and self-absorbed. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing; to be sure, some of the best art on the planet is both pretentious and self-absorbed.

The film is much more morbid than I expected it to be, though: Fosse’s preoccupation with death is established early on and — I’m sorry for this terrible pun — beaten like a formerly living horse right up to the [admittedly haunting] conclusion. The movie is frenetically edited by the apparently obsessive Mr. Fosse, resulting in a relatively surreal musical meditation on mortality (and monogamy) that puts a tight spotlight on the sleazy, “backstage” life of Broadway performers. It also showcases a lot of bare skin and sexuality in the process, which I found quite enjoyable since I am far from prude.

All That Jazz feels a little Felliniesque at times, although its rigid execution ensures a uniquely American tone throughout, and it never achieves the truly-dreamlike quality that seems to come so naturally to many European directors. It certainly packs a lot of interesting, modern philosophy into a colorful, engaging narrative — and Roy Scheider’s portrayal of Fosse is nothing short of fabulous. But it’s also hard to ruminate on your own personal demons while Fosse is delving so deeply into his.

Three pot leafs out of five for being such a rhythmic and raunchy spectacle:
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All That Jazz (1979)