Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

You know you love the modern movies, with their color film and fancy special effects!

Onward we go!

Grizzly II: Revenge (1983). I doubt if there would be money in it, but the documentary about this movie would be fascinating, even though this movie is really, really terrible. I mean, not really even “so bad it’s good” territory, just lousy. But it’s lousy in such a bizarre way that a documentary about it would probably be amazing. You might have heard of it: it wasn’t released until 2020, it features George Clooney, Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen (who turned down Karate Kid to do this movie!) in tiny roles, as they appear at the beginning and within five minutes are killed by a ferocious grizzly bear, and it has some actual real actors in it doing … whatever the hell it is they’re doing. One of the producers – the money guy – left right before shooting, so there was no money, but the other producer cobbled funds together to get it made, but the Hungarian government (oh, yeah, this was filmed in Hungary but set in a California national park) seized the film for non-payment of dues and threw it in a vault somewhere, and then Cannon bought it in 1987, but they went out of business soon after, so the film just disappeared for 30 years. As there was no money, they used an animatronic bear very briefly, usually just opting for random shots of a grizzly and then actors flying through the air as if they’d been swatted. Louise Fletcher (!!) stars as the manager of the park, who’s staging a rock concert in the park to raise funds, to which she invites a U.S. senator (who’s older and doesn’t look like the sort who would enjoy sitting through an outdoor concert) to discuss … something? It’s never clear. Park ranger Steve Inwood is tasked with hunting down the grizzly (who’s mad at humans because one killed her cubs), and he goes and finds his “Robert-Shaw-in-Jaws,” John Rhys-Davies, sporting a magnificent mullet. Inwood’s daughter, played with plucky adorableness by Deborah Foreman, is working with the concert promoter, and there’s one scene where she gets dumped by her rock star boyfriend … who we’ve never seen before in the movie, but the scene is played like they’ve had some great romance. Jack Starrett, who might be most famous for falling out of the helicopter in First Blood, is there, too, as a no-good poacher who gets his eventually. The movie is only 70 minutes long, and I swear, half of it is footage from the concert, which has absolutely nothing to do with the movie (except that, of course, the grizzly ends up there). We see several bands singing, both in rehearsal and during the concert (which was part of a concert at which Nazareth played, but they’re not in the movie), and there’s a bunch of New Wave 1980s bands that, I guess, were big in Hungary? Plus, there’s a weird song shown during the concert that looks like a video, as the singers are not using microphones and the band is cramped in a small area, and it seems that the footage was filmed decades later and inserted into the movie. It is an absolute bat-shit insane movie, and because it’s so short, I don’t mind the waste of time, even though it was awful. However … man, someone should make a documentary about it. I bet that would rule.

Jennifer 8 (1992). If you take every single cop story cliché in the world and cram them all into one movie, you get Jennifer 8, which should be a lot better but, man, just isn’t. Andy Garcia is a cop recently arrived in Eureka, California, from down south, and he is immediately confronted with a mystery, as the cops find a hand in a garbage dump. Garcia quickly thinks that this is a serial killer, even though no one believes him, and he begins to think that Uma Thurman, who’s playing a blind teacher at a school for the blind, is the next victim. It’s fine, and Garcia and Thurman do decent enough work, but this is really, really a rote movie. Does Garcia have an older partner with a nice life who, of course, must die? Poor Lance Henriksen! Does Garcia fall in love with Thurman, completely inappropriately, and does no one take him off the case because of that or at least tell him more forcefully that he can’t bone her? Of course! Does Thurman teach at a school that’s old and creepy and seems to be abandoned all the time except for a few times that the boss, Bob Gunton (slimy as always), happens to be there? Indeed! Is John Malkovich an annoying FBI guy who investigates Garcia after Henriksen’s death and doesn’t care about the fact that Garcia has some pretty good evidence for a serial killer running around? You bet! Does Garcia go rogue to solve the case? Do you even need to ask? Even the non-cliché parts are annoying – there’s a dude taking photographs of Uma in the bathtub, and we’re supposed to believe that he has some completely silent camera so she doesn’t notice? The same dude calls the cops when Henriksen is killed, and we see his very creepy apartment (with lots of pictures of naked women obviously taken without their knowledge), and no cops check out his apartment and notice all this weird shit? And because of Henriksen’s death, we get a half-assed explanation for the serial killer, which gets lost in the FBI’s investigation of Garcia. It’s just frustrating. I like cop dramas with serial killers and weird murders in atmospheric places (it was filmed in Eureka and British Columbia and looks pretty neat), but you can just miss this one.

Spy Game (2001). I saw this in the theater back in the day and have always liked it, despite the big ol’ plot holes in it (Redford fooling all his bosses at the CIA always seemed weird to me, even when I saw it the first time, and people pointing out the inconsistencies in that part of the plot hasn’t helped). Redford, playing a CIA dude on his last day of the job, gets called in when his protégé, played by Brad Pitt, is caught trying to break someone out of a Chinese prison, something he was definitely not authorized to do. Redford gives his bosses Pitt’s history, which comes as flashbacks, and figures out if he can get Pitt out without anyone finding out, and it’s a nice cat-and-mouse game at the CIA as he find out why Pitt went into the prison and who he’s breaking out. This movie came out at the tail end of my Brad Pitt Man Crush (which ended around this time, as this movie and Ocean’s 11, which came out a few months after this, pretty much were the culmination of it – after this, Pitt became, in my eyes, less crushable), and he does his usual good job, and Redford is always fun to watch work. It’s just a nice, tense thriller with some nice points about intelligence work and what it does to you – Redford hasn’t quite sacrificed his soul for the job, but it’s close – and while it’s a Tony Scott movie and therefore has plenty of jump cuts and jittery compositions, it’s still well done, as Scott certainly knew how to put a slick thriller together. It’s just a solid movie. And hey, Benedict Wong shows up briefly, so good for him!

Whiteout (2009). I saw this in the theater when it came out because the comic is so good, and while it’s nowhere near as good as the comic, watching it again recently, it’s not that bad. Beckinsale is still miscast, but she’s not a terrible actor, just one who doesn’t quite fit here. Tom Skerritt is nice and grizzled, and Gabriel Macht is almost, but not quite, as miscast as Beckinsale. But the story is pretty good, the special effects aren’t terrible, and the sense of isolation is well done, as is the idea of the weather killing you, which is almost does quite often to several cast members. They sort-of combined the two comics series, which isn’t the greatest idea, but it’s fine, I guess. I don’t know – this is just a solid thriller that didn’t do very well at the box office but is a pretty decent thing to watch. I’m just glad Rucka and Lieber got some money out of it!

Logan Lucky (2017). Steven Soderbergh’s “return” to filmmaking (I mean, he was “retired” for less than five years) is this fun heist movie, the Redneck Ocean’s Eleven, as Channing Tatum gets laid off from his job in the mines of West Virginia and needs money to move so he can stay near to his kid, whose mother is moving away with her new husband. He gathers a crew and robs the Charlotte Motor Speedway during the biggest NASCAR race of the year (he wanted to do it during a smaller event, but his timetable got moved up), but of course the FBI is on his trail! It’s a fun movie with a very good cast. Tatum is fine, but his weird brother is played by Adam Driver, and he’s terrific, and Daniel Craig is their munitions expert, and he’s having more fun than he ever had as James Bond, with his drawl and bleach-blond hair. Riley Keough is good as Tatum’s sister, and Seth McFarlane is fun as an obnoxious team owner. Tatum comes up with a very clever scheme, and he actually follows the “rules for a heist” that he has written on a piece of paper, which is nice (I kept expecting him to break at least one). The movie does kind of end weirdly, as Hilary Swank is one of the FBI agents who suspects Tatum and can’t let it go when, after some time has passed, she can’t make any headway in the investigation. The last 10-15 minutes are a bit of a slog, because it’s clear Soderbergh doesn’t want to really punish Tatum but he also can’t let Swank just give up, so it kind of simply grinds to a halt. Other than that, this is a very fun heist movie, and who doesn’t dig a fun heist movie?

The Con Is On (2018). This is a disappointing comedic/caper/con artist movie, disappointing because the cast should have been good: Tim Roth, Uma Thurman (who speaks with a wonky British accent), Maggie Q, Stephen Fry, Alice Eve, Crispin Glover, Sofia Vergara, and Parker Posey seem to have a ball with this, as they get to be weird and wacky (well, I mean, Glover always is, but the rest get to, too!), but the plot is dull and the movie feels edited to the bone, and it just doesn’t work. Roth and Thurman are married con artists with no impulse control who spend a chunk of money that they owe to Maggie Q (playing a Russian mobster?), so they flee London for Los Angeles, where they hope to hide out and maybe get the money to pay Maggie (her real last name is Quigley?) back. Stephen Fry, supposedly an old friend, sells them out, so Maggie ends up in LA looking for them while they’re trying to scam Eve, who’s Roth’s ex-wife and who is now married to Glover, a weirdo film director (he wins an “Oscar” during the course of this movie) who’s banging both Vergara – the actress in his latest movie – and Posey, his assistant. A lot of things happen, but they feel just thrown together, and although everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, nothing works all that well. I don’t know – it’s not all that funny, even though it wants to be, and I get that Roth and Thurman are supposed to be trainwrecks, it seems like someone would have killed them a long time ago. It’s just a weird thing, and I can’t really recommend it even as a curiosity.

SAS: Red Notice (2021). The “Die Hard” template has become such a cliché because it works so well – take your action hero, stick him somewhere that he can’t easily escape, put a bunch of bad guys in there with him, and set him loose! As clichéd as it is, it has given us some very good action movies, so I don’t mind it at all. And here’s another one that doesn’t quite follow the template (you have to mix it up a little bit), but sticks to it for a while. Despite the generic and horrible title, this is decent action movie, although it has some major plot holes. It begins well, because we’re not sure who the bad guys are, which is always fun. Andy Serkis, playing a grizzled British soldier, meets up with Tom Wilkinson and his team of mercenaries in the Caucasus, telling them that they need to “clear” a village so a pipeline can go through. Wilkinson and his team, which is led by his daughter and son (Ruby Rose sporting that horrible haircut she likes and Owain Yeoman, who’s dumb but tough), destroy the place and kill the men, but a woman gets the massacre on her phone and releases it to the media, which causes problems for the government. The PM orders Serkis to take out Wilkinson and his team, and that’s when we finally get introduced to who we think will be the hero: Sam Heughan, playing a rich lord who just happens to work for the SAS. Heughan and his team raid Wilkinson’s house, Serkis kills Wilkinson, but Rose and Yeoman escape, and they get revenge by kidnapping the Chunnel train, a train on which Heughan and his girlfriend, Hannah John-Kamen (sporting her bad haircut – not a lot of good female hair in this movie!) just happen to be. Heughan, naturally, gets away before he can become a hostage, and then he’s trying to take out the bad guys, the SAS is rendered ineffective by a traitor in their midst, and Rose has more than just revenge on her mind, of course! With plots this generic, casting becomes important, and the cast is pretty good. Heughan is all steel-cut cheekbones and attractive wounds, Rose is all business, John-Kamen is good as a doctor who doesn’t like what Heughan does but slowly realizes that sometimes it’s the only way, Tom Hopper is all tall manliness as Heughan’s buddy, Serkis growls and grumps his way through the movie, and the bit players – Ray Panthaki as the PM and Richard McCabe as Heughan’s valet – have fun with their roles, too. The plot holes are a bit much to take toward the end, but overall, it’s a zippy action movie with some good violence and some decent enough twists. Nothing spectacular, but not terrible, either. Although, Sweet Fancy Moses, I hate those kinds of posters. Come on, people come up with something original!

Tollbooth (2021). I’m a bit shocked by this movie, actually, because it’s really good even though it has no business being good. It feels like one of those Tarantino knock-offs from the ’90s that were perfectly fine but were, you know, knock-offs, except this is from 2021. (The writer was born in 1979, which probably explains it – he grew up watching Tarantino movies and their knock-offs!) It’s also, I kid you not, slightly less than 80 minutes long, yet somehow Matt Redd (the writer) and the actors manage to tell a twisty story and create interesting characters in that time, unlike a lot of other movies much longer that don’t. The protagonist, played by Michael Smiley (who never gets a name), operates a tollbooth in the far west of Wales, and one night a local cop, played by the fairly adorable Annes Elway, shows up at his booth – the first words of the movie are hers, when she says to him, “This better be fucking good” (a nice metatextual thing there). He tells her the story of what’s been going on, and it’s very cleverly done – she keeps interrupting him to say she thinks he’s lying and that she can’t keep the events in order, because he’s telling things out of sequence, but he swears he’s not lying to her. We find out that he was a criminal a long time ago, and earlier that day a man from his past drove to the booth, recognized him, and called their old boss, who’s still looking for our man. It also turns out that Smiley has not stopped being a criminal, as he’s the kingpin of crime in this area of Wales, something Elway is blissfully unaware of. So the story is about what Smiley does to get his old boss – played by Julian Glover – off his case. Meanwhile, thieves are wandering around the neighborhood and other criminals are showing up, and it all becomes a bit of a mess. The movie is often very funny (the thieves, for instance, aren’t terribly menacing, although they do carry firearms), and when Elway tries to find out more about Smiley, the locals lie to her in very funny fashion. But it can also be violent, as Smiley is, after all, a criminal. It’s not the most complex plot, to be sure, but Redd’s script works quite well, and director Ryan Andrew Hooper shoots the bleak Welsh countryside nicely, and Smiley, Elway, and the rest of the cast (including Iwan Rheon, who’s probably most famous for his role as Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones) do good work. This is nifty little gem of a movie, and it won’t take up too much of your time!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021). This was a disappointing sequel to the fun first movie, unfortunately. Hardy does what he can, and he’s obviously still enjoying himself, but his relationship with Venom, which actually had some gravitas in the first movie, is a bit too slapstick in this one, even though they do separate for a bit when Hardy gets so angry at Venom that the alien leaves to find another host. In the first movie, the pathos felt a bit earned, but it doesn’t here. Harrelson is fine as the crazed serial killer, and Naomie Harris is ok as the superpowered insane lady he loves, but again, there’s not much there, especially as it’s clear that “Carnage” – the little bit of Venom that “infects” Harrelson – doesn’t like Harris all that much, which is something that the filmmakers could have done more with, but don’t. Mainly, the weakness of the movie comes from the fact that it’s not even 90 minutes long, so everything feels rushed. Tollbooth (above) was short, as I note, but it does a better job with the characters. Perhaps because we need to have the big fight at the end of this one (which, of course we do), the filmmakers rushed the earlier parts, and it just doesn’t work as well as either comedy (which the first movie did quite well) or even as action-adventure. Michelle Williams has little to do, Reid Scott has even less to do, and it just feels like everyone involved in the script and directing is going through the motions. It’s too bad, because Hardy does commit pretty hard to the role, and it’s kind of wasted. I mean, the end credit tease is probably the best thing in the movie, and that’s never a good thing. It’s not a terrible movie, but it just feels like there’s a decent “anti-hero” movie hidden somewhere in here, and it’s never allowed to come out.

Plane (2023). Much like Jason Statham, Gerard Butler sticks to his lane, and he’s very fun to watch in said lane. In this goofy actioner, he’s a pilot on a flight from Singapore to Tokyo, but an electrical storm forces the plane down on a small island in the Philippines, an island which happens to be inhabited by bandits who really like human trafficking. Oh dear. Butler has to save the crew and passengers, and we get a bunch of killing, of course! It’s silly, but Butler’s gravitas makes it work. He gets to use his actual accent, and that smooth Scottish lilt coming out of that handsome face just makes you believe that all will be well, even though you’re about to crash and be human trafficked. On the plane is a bad-looking dude who was convicted of murder years ago but went on the lam and has finally been caught, but of course his handler dies during the storm (he gets out of his seat, the fool!) and our convict (Mike Colter) turns out to be fairly useful in Butler’s lonely war on the bandits. I do like that they never actually tell us the circumstances of Colter’s crime – he doesn’t claim he didn’t do it, but he says that there are many sides to the story and just leaves it at that. We don’t need to know! The only real issue with the movie is that the passengers are just dull. I mean, the hostages in Die Hard don’t get much personality, I get it, but at least one or two passengers could be more interesting. Even the guy who’s a bit of a douchebag realizes quickly that Butler is a good dude and their only hope. The bad guys are actually a bit better developed – not much, but a bit – and that makes it a little more interesting when Butler and Colter are hunting them. But this is just a nice, solid action movie. A nice way to spend a couple of hours!

Thoughts? What about you all? Seen anything good lately?


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    Wow, I have seen exactly none of these, which is rare, for me. Usually I hit at least one or two of these.

    Beckinsale was such a good actor, in Cold Comfort Farm, when she was young; but, then, she was surrounded by great actors, including Ian McKellan, Eileen Atkins, Freddie Jones, Joanna Lumley……..Her father, Richard Beckinsale (Rising Damp, Porridge) was a fine actor; and, her mother, Judy Loe was a decent actress, in what little I saw of her (an episode of Ripping Yarns and the mini-series Edward VII). She just seemed to make a lot of bad choices, in Hollywood. That, or she was elevated by the company and hasn’t had that support since.

  2. Eric van Schaik

    Like Jeff I haven’t seen any of these and seeing your comments about them makes me glad J missed them.
    Last weekend we saw Dune part two (and part one the night before at home). It was in screenX, which meant seeing some scenes with parts shown on the walls next to the big screen. Yeah, a silly effect imo.
    This was way better than the movie made in 1984 which had Sting in an “acting” role.

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Wow, I’ve seen two of these, and even watched one of them more than once!

    Spy Game is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller.

    Logan Lucky is a very fun – and at several places – quite funny heist film. I liked it from start to finish (i.e., didn’t find any part of it a slog).

  4. Logan Lucky didn’t work for me the first time around, but I dug it a lot more the second time. Ocean’s 7-11, as they say. Soderbergh has probably been the most successful director at getting something out of Channing Tatum.

    I did not like Venom 1 and still haven’t seen Venom 2, but I’ve been meaning to give them the old college try again. Though lately I’ve been feeling the pull to revisit the bygone days of 2003 and rewatch Daredevil and Hulk.

    The best thing I’ve seen since your last movie post is probably Leave the World Behind (on Netflix). Directed by Sam Esmail of Mr. Robot fame, it looks great, very tense and unnerving, has a great cast (Julia Roberts, Ethan Hawke, Mahershala Ali) and is about stuff that fascinates me, like our learned helplessness from modern technology, and loss of community.

    Caught The Holdovers, Nyad, and Maestro in the lead-up to Oscar night and liked them all a lot. Carey Mulligan is especially good in Maestro. Bradley Cooper’s performance is a little artificial, but his directorial efforts are great.

    Everybody seemed to dislike Next Goal Wins, but I enjoyed it quite a bit– funny and feel-good, like a Samoan Cool Runnings. Also watched Dicks: The Musical, which is stupid and absurd and also contains maybe the funniest scene I’ve ever seen in a movie.

    Finally caught Last Voyage of the Demeter, which was… fine! Love the premise but it could’ve been more interesting or exciting. In the horror realm, Thanksgiving is better than I expected, a pastiche but not parody of early ’80s slasher flicks.

    And lastly, I watched Ronin (1999, dir. John Frankenheimer) for the first time. Lean, mean, like the surly older brother to DePalma’s Mission: Impossible. Feels like Frankenheimer was trying to make a William Friedkin movie, what with the car chase sequences riffing on both French Connection and Live and Die in L.A., plus a cameo from a cast member of Sorcerer. And like Sorcerer, it’s about a bunch of steely amoral professionals trying to get a job done no matter what. And the cast includes three Bond villains, plus Bobby DeNiro before he gave up.

    1. Jeff Nettleton

      Now Ronin I saw in the theater and loved. Frankenheimer was a car enthusiast and he got to put it on display. I was happy to see Michael Lonsdale, who hadn’t been seen in many things, for a while.

  5. Two for me this time around.
    Enjoyed Logan Lucky; great ‘indie’ (well, it feels more ‘indie’ than Soderbergh’s other efforts) heist movie. Driver and Craig excel at comedy which may surprise the casual tentpole moviegoer who only knows Kylo Ren or Bond. Sebastian (Bucky) Stan has a small role. Bill: Love the “Ocean’s 7-11” remark!
    Has there been any bigger waste of a talent than Hardy in the Venom franchise? Likewise, Williams may as well not have taken part; given so little to do.
    Of current fare, thoroughly recommend Holdovers, Anatomy of a Fall and Zone of Interest as well as Oppenheimer. Had Hollywood not got behind Nolan at last, I think Giamatti may’ve won in any other year. No slight on Murphy, who gave a brilliant performance.
    Maestro I don’t believe has had a wide UK release: not aware my local ‘plex has had it.

  6. daniel

    I really like the two Venom movies. They’re the epitome of so bad it’s good or so dumb it’s fun, it’s like they leaned into making a franchise of off those dorky evil Tobey Maguire moments from SPIDER-MAN 3. And to me it seems everyone is having fun in these movies. Don’t know if that’s really the case, but, yeah, Williams probably could’ve been written off from part 2, but it feels she’s there cuz she likes goofing off with Hardy. Also, I liked how short and breezy it was. Now, MORBIUS, that was a waste of time.

    I generally like Scott, and also always liked SPY GAME, it’s probably one of my favorites of his.

    I really shat the bed with keeping up with new movies last year, so I haven’t seen any of the Oscar nominees yet. Recent stuff that I thought was great was M3GAN, EVIL DEAD RISE, COBWEB and NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU.

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