Films Review March

DEE SNIDER’S STRANGELAND (R)

In the production notes for “Dee Snider’s Strangeland,” the former Twisted Sister lead singer said that he came up with the idea of an ultimate horror film after the birth of his daughter. Snider claimed that he all of a sudden became aware of all of the evil and cruel things that can befall a child in the real world.


What began as words of wisdom blossomed into a horror rock opera, which eventually became “Strangeland.” Written by and starring Snider, “Strangeland” proves that Snider is a better singer than a writer-actor, and even then, he’s only a marginal singer. “Dee Snider’s Strangeland” is the celluloid equivalent of a prostate exam: 90 minutes of poking and prodding that doesn’t leave you wanting more. In the same production notes, Snider comments that he watched as many horror-thrillers as he could before writing “Strangeland.” It shows. There isn’t one original thought in this mess of a film that is neither horrifying or thrilling, unless you count Snider’s appearance. This guy is freaky. He may be a nice guy in real life, but he makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and being Norwegian, that’s a lot of hair. Not nearly as much hair that’s on the head of cyber stalker Captain Howdy (Okay, Snider saw “The Exorcist.”). Howdy surfs the Internet looking for vulnerable young women he can lure into his S&M den of torture. Don’t you hate it when people on the Internet pretend to be something they’re not! Captain Howdy’s lair looks like he had the Marquis de Sade do the decorating, or did they just borrow the set from “Silence of the Lambs.” Captain Howdy makes a big mistake when he lures two curious teenage girls into his web of terror, not realizing that one of them is the daughter of local police detective Mike Gage (Played by Kevin Gage, no relation). When his daughter Genevieve’s friend turns up dead, Gage realizes that he must square off against Captain Howdy on the maniac’s terms. Why not? Everything else in the film is derivative, so why not every plot point? The only thing missing in this film is Jodie Foster and Morgan Freeman. Everything is so matter-of-fact in “Strangeland” you soon begin to realize it’s nothing more than a vanity project for Snider. The budget and production values hint that Snider had to get a second mortgage on his house to make the film. Not that any of this matters. “Strangeland” is so ordinary that if the wooden performances don’t force you to hit eject on the remote, then the sight of Robert Englund strapped naked (not really, look closely and you’ll see a patch covering his naughty bits) on a torture table will. Filled with unpleasant images, dreadful performances and trite dialogue, “Strangeland” is the kind of film you rent when everything else at the video store, including “Julia Child’s Bass Gutting,” are out. The DVD is the Unrated version, which equates into a couple of extra moments of nightmarish images (No, not Snider naked, thank goodness). “R” rated or Unrated, it doesn’t matter. It’s all the same at the end: Bad! (Artisan)

GUNFIGHTER (NR)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)Francis Ford Coppola lent his name to this conventional gunslinger tale written and directed by Christopher Coppola. Martin Sheen is the saddle worn gunslinger who recalls his colorful past to a young troubadour played by Robert Carradine. Just as he’s ready to put his past behind him, the Stranger (Sheen) is confronted by an old nemesis, who won’t let the past die until he’s had his revenge. Played out with little emphasis on originality, this direct-to-video western has the prerequisite shoot outs and chases, but it’s not enough to make the film more than it is. (Sterling)

LIVING OUT LOUD (R)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)At first glance, “Living Out Loud” is a brash and sassy comedy about the human condition. Thanks to a literate and funny screenplay by writer-turned-director Richard LaGravenese, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Then you get in your car, go home, and it’s life as usual. “Living Out Loud” made me smile and grin, and laugh out loud, and it even touched me on occasion. The movie is that fresh. It’s also paper thin, like rice candy, and once you’ve sucked off the outer layer, all you’re left with is a mouthful of nothing. Still, that outer layer is mighty tasty LaGravenese, a screenwriter of note (“The Fisher King,” “The Bridges of Madison County“), dishes up a delicious serving of human emotions and humor. He gets excellent support from his tremendous cast, especially Holly Hunter as a recent divorcee trying to establish her own identity. The problem with “Living Out Loud” is that it’s all warm and fuzzy. It lacks the edge that would have made these desperate characters more interesting. The character’s are interesting, but they really don’t go anywhere. They’re there to service the writer’s ego. They say and do clever things, and even when life should be at it’s lowest, they always spring back. That’s Judith Nelson (Hunter), the human spring, whose divorce from her philandering husband (Martin Donovan, understated as usual) is blurring her sense of reality. Judith’s line between reality and fantasy is quickly fading, allowing LaGravenese the opportunity to present both sides of Judith’s state of mind. These little fantasies are humorous, and work well within the context of the film. At first, they catch you off guard, but after the third or fourth go round, you get the idea. That makes it hard to trust the film, which is a big mistake. It’s easy to invest in the characters. Hunter makes Judith someone you would like to get to know. A former medical student who put her career on hold while her husband pursued his dream, Judith comes with a lot of baggage, and Hunter makes a great porter. It’s a bold, brazen performance, and Hunter never flinches. Small in stature but big in heart, Pat is the elevator operator in Judith’s upper East End New York apartment building. Pat is a swell guy, but his life is more like a tidal wave at the moment. He’s just getting over the sting of divorce when his daughter dies of cancer. He also has a gambling problem that gets the better of him. There’s chemistry between Judith and Pat, but she and we know it’s not that kind of movie. Oh sure, there’ll be nervous sexual tension between the two, but the only sack they are going to hit is one filled with rattlesnakes. Pat wants more from Judith, but she’s determined not to complicate her life until she discovers who she really is. Her journey takes her to a nightclub where she meets blues singer Liz Bailey (Queen Latifah, better than she has ever been before), who becomes her confidant and companion in her quest for true love. Judith even has an anonymous encounter with a real charmer (Elias Koteas) in the alley behind the club, goes to a chic lesbian nightclub with Liz, and goes one-on-one with a super hunky masseuse. DeVito is excellent as Pat, a perpetual dreamer who knows there has to be something better than working for his brother (the always impressive Richard Schiff) in a bar. I don’t really care for Rap music, but I really enjoy Queen Latifah in front of the camera. She’s dynamite in “Living Out Loud.” Liz Bailey is the kind of person anyone would want in their lives. She’s sassy and alive. LaGravenese based “Living Out Loud” on two short stories by Anton Chekov, and the screenplay feels like a blend of ideas that never totally gel. The narrative is slim, only providing glimpses of the character’s lives. The time frame is non-existent. The film as a whole looks marvelous. I especially liked the way LaGravenese opens the movie with one of those great, old-fashioned New York skyline shots. Having Queen Latifah sing over the credits is also inspired. The production design by Nelson Coates and gorgeous cinematography by John Bailey are outstanding. “Living Out Loud” is stylish and fun, and elicits the appropriate laughs and emotions while you watch it. When it’s over, it is as memorable as an Aaron Spelling mini-series. The soundtrack stays with you, and luckily, that’s available on CD.

(New Line)

TEMPTATIONS, THE (NR)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)The rise and fall of the popular Motown musical group is chronicled in this made-for-television mini-series that arrives on tape and DVD without all of the annoying commercials. While the performances are okay and Allan Arkush’s direction shows the flair of a veteran and professional, the main attraction is the collection of classic Motown songs that line the melodrama. The teleplay by Robert Johnson and Kevin Arcadie, based on the book “Temptations,” does a good job of covering so much in so little time. Even at 150 minutes, “The Temptations” seems abbreviated. However, the script is also filled with more melodrama than a week’s worth of soap opera, so you can’t wait for it to get over. Interesting cast choices allow the performances and not the performer to take center stage. (Artisan)

WATERBOY, THE (PG-13)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)One of 1998’s most guilty pleasures, “The Waterboy” is a fun goof from beginning to end. Adam Sandler cements his reputation as a theatrical force to be reckoned with in this hilarious yet ultimately heartwarming and winning tale of a Louisiana man who loves three things: His mama, water, and football. Bobby Boucher (Sandler) isn’t the brightest bulb in the garden, but he does have a quality that makes him more endearing than annoying. Satisfied with his job as a college football team water boy, Boucher finds his life turned upside down when he’s booted off the team by a vengeful coach (Jerry Reed, almost unrecognizable). Bobby ends up at a local college, where he’s transformed from water boy into a football star, much to the dismay of his overly protective mama (Kathy Bates, endearing as always). How this backwoods (or swamp) underdog rises to the challenge and turns the tables on his tormentors makes for engaging viewing. Sandler has a unique ability to make his characters both sweet and funny, a major asset for the kind of comedy he does. “The Wedding Singer” was just a warm-up. “The Waterboy” proves that Sandler in the right film is gold. (Touchstone)

WONDERFUL ICE CREAM SUIT, THE (PG)

vidcass.gif (9526 bytes)Director Stuart Gordon (“Re-Animator”) doesn’t spill one drop of blood in this delightful adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s story about five Hispanic men who discover the magical qualities of a pure white suit they each invest in. Joe Mantegna, Esai Morales, Edward James Olmos (you won’t recognize him until he cleans up), Gregory Sierra and Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez co-star as five East L.A. men who pool their resources to buy the suit, and then agree to share it on alternate days. As each man puts on the suit, something magical happens. It’s not hard to let go and enjoy this entertaining romp that was originally shown on cable. (Touchstone)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:

FLAMENCO (NR/New Yorker)

HIDDEN BEAUTIES: THE AWAKENING (NR/Full Moon)

NO LAUGHING MATTER (PG-13/Universal)

TWO FAMILIES (PG-13/Paramount)



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