Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Blast 'Em (1992)

This documentary is still worth a look 20 years after its release.

The obsession with celebrity has only grown since this 103-minute effort from Canadians Joseph Blasioli and Egidio Coccimiglio came out. Consider how much public attention was focused on actress Lindsay Lohan's life falling apart and the vast amounts of space eaten up by Paris Hilton for being Paris Hilton.

Blast 'Em tells viewers some things that don't come as big surprises. We live in a celebrity culture. Magazines such as People, Us and National Enquirer pay cash for candid shots of the famous, usually Hollywood stars. It suggests paparazzi photographers will do just about anything to get the shot they want.


Greta Garbo is in her last days. Albert Ferreira describes how he kept vigil outside her New York residence, followed her to hospital and grabbed a couple of frames before he was whisked away. The screen legend died days later. Ferreira took her last imaages.


blast 'em also offers how paparazzi to advance their careers. It doesn't hurt to have images of actor X if his new movie has just opened. The photos mean free promotion of his latest project. Actress Sally Kirkland (JFK) describes how she enjoys playing it up for the camera and living the life of a movie star. Kirkland makes an appearance at the Academy Awards and is more than happy to pose before the ceremony.

Most of Blast 'Em centres on Victor Malafronte, a 29-year-old shooter who is just starting out as a celebrity shooter. More established photographers can get by on attending one event a night. Not Malafronte. He's hustling to three or four parties, premieres and tributes. Malafronte is getting plenty of grief from his boss out west for the shots he misses, Jon Bon Jovi being one. "If I miss a shot, I'm screwed," he offers early in the film.

Invading the privacy of celebrities isn't a concern for Malafronte. He feels no sympathy for stars pocketing millions of dollars annually. If he's stiffed by a star at an event, it puts the fire in his belly to track him/her down somewhere else. After all, Malafronte needs the shot. It's all about the picture.


Malafronte is focused on getting shots of Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox and his wife, Tracy Pollan. Fox, another Canadian, rarely makes appearances, Malafronte says. When Fox begins popping up regularly, cash paid for shots of him slumps. But, there's still big bucks to be made for shooting Fox, Pollard and their son. Blast 'Em follows Malafronte as he hustles for that precious shot. "I'm slightly invading the guy's life," Malafronte acknowledges. He parks across the street from the couple's residence. Malafronte talks up the doorman to find out when Fox and Pollan are in town and when they walk their child.

Audiences learn some of the tricks of celebrity phographers. We hear them yell out instructions to the stars. Wave. Put your arm around her. Malafronte explains how it helps to have a celebrity doing something rather than standing still. He berates Bill Murray for just standing around next to Robert DeNiro.

Photos of stars displaying emotions suggested in front-page stories of tabloids have long interested me. Blast 'Em helps explain how they come to be. Malafronte shoots Mary Tyler Moore and Lauren Bacall chatting. His shot of Moore ends up on the National Enquirer to accompany a story about her failed breast enhancement operation in the early 1990s.


There are stars galore in Blast 'Em. I just wish the filmmakers would have identified who they, and the photographers shooting them, were. Yes, folks still know what Madonna looks like, but I didn't recognize Kirkland until I saw her name in the end credits. Who's the guy getting into the limo with two women? What about the photographer with an obsession for the Material Girl? Identify, please.

Based on its ranking on Amazon.com, Blast 'Em isn't a must see for lovers of the stars. It's ranked 243,854 in July 2012. That's too bad. People love celebrities and buy the magazines that feautre their images. It might interest them to see how these pictures come to be.

RATING: 8/10

FUN FACTS: Victor Malafronte's second screen appearance comes 20 years after his debut in Blast 'Em. The Invisible String, a documentary about Frisbee, is in post-production.

Egidio Coccimiglio was in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in 2012 to shoot Compulsion with Carrie Ann Moss and Heather Graham. He's a native of that Northern Ontario city.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)

Consider this promise kept.

The first Star Trek motion picture ends with this sentence.

The human adventure is just beginning.

Quite true.

Star Trek continues to entertain movie-goers more than 30 years after this big screen debut. After the original Star Trek crew faded to black, and The Next Generation came and went, JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise with, yes, Star Trek in 2009.


I can't remember if I saw STTMP upon its first release. I do remember mixed reaction to the return of the USS Enterprise at the time.

The DVD I viewed is a director's cut from the legendary Robert Wise (The Sound of Music). Tight timelines prevented STTMP from having all the special effects ready for its December 1979 release.

That's definitely taken care of in this version. The special effects are stellar throughout this film's 136-minute running time. This space trip is definitely worth the ride.


All the original crew is back with Capt. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Scotty (James Doohan), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Sulu (George Takei) and Chekov (Walter Koenig) ready to save Earth from a huge, powerful blue cloud that vaporizes spacecraft at will.

Enterprise, being fixed up in a dry dock (symbolism, anyone?) is the closest Starfleet ship to said cloud.

Kirk, now an admiral, doesn't impress the ship's captain, Decker (Stephen Collins) when he shows up and bumps him down in rank. There's some on-board conflict for you. Decker may be fuming at Kirk, but he's also smitten with the return of Ilia (Persis Khambatta), an old love interest.


STTMP's plot is an interesting one. Where did this cloud get all its power? The answer, revealed at about the two-hour mark, feels a bit like a Twilight Zone episode.

There aren't many laughs, but Bones McCoy gets to deliver what gems there are.

The only thing that doesn't age well is the choice of fashions most of the crew sports. Ouch.

RATING: 8/10

FACTS FROM THE GALAXY: Persis Khambatta died of a heart attack in 1998. She was 49.

Stephen Collins appeared as Mr. Harter in the recent film version of The Three Stooges.

Nichelle Nichols was a dancer in the film version of Porgy and Bess.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Music and Lyrics (2007)

The music video that opens Music and Lyrics generates a lot of goodwill for this fairly good 2007 comedy from director Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice).

For starters, it's a good pop song.

Second, it does a reasonably good job of bringing viewers back to the 1980s when MTV and, here in Canada, Much Music helped bring music to the masses.

The song featured, Pop Goes My Heart, was a huge hit for Pop!, a 1980s band led by Colin Thompson (Scott Porter) and Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant).

Thompson pulled up stakes from the band and launched a very successful solo career. Fletcher countered with a contrived solo effort that still languishes at music shops. While his former partner enjoys an A-list career, Fletcher is reduced to playing amusement parks, state fairs and high school reunions. Even those shows are starting to drop off. He's making enough money from his past glories to pay the bills, but is content being a spent creative force. "I'm a happy has been," Fletcher suggests in the early frames. "It really takes the pressure off."

A huge opportunity turns up when pop goddess, and Pop! fan, Cora Corman (Haley Bennett) invites Fletcher to write a song for her consideration. He only writes music, not lyrics, and hasn't ventured to pen a tune since parting ways with Thompson.

A co-writing partner turns up in the unlikely form Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore), who's filling in to care for his plants. Fisher has a way with words, probably because she has a largely unrecognized writing talent herself. She has bitter memories of a failed romance with an old teacher.

Fletcher and Fisher hit it off, fall in love and write a song that just might catch Cora's ear.

Music and Lyrcis feels like a television show at times. The story, especially in the early to mid stages, feels like a so-so sitcom. What keeps this film going is a steady string of one-liners from Hugh Grant. Many centre on the music business and other 1980s acts including Debbie Gibson and Adam Ant. Bennett gets one great line when Fletcher and Fisher attend her party. "I want to show you the roof," she tells them. "It's upstairs."

Stay tuned through the closing credits when Pop Goes My Heart plays again, this time with pop ups. Groovy!

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: I could have sworn Drew Barrymore's sister was played by Kirstie Alley. Nope. It's Kristen Johnston. Sorry, Kristen! June 2012 update: National Post reports a possible Wham! reunion with George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley.

Wrongfully Accused (1998)

It's a crime this film was made.

Wrongfully Accused is far from the many, many laughs in 1988's The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad which also featured actor Leslie Nielsen and writer Pat Proft.

Put it this way. Wrongfully Accused is about as much fun as The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult which Proft also wrote. It's a film best to avoid. I'd rather remember Proft's wit for the two episodes of Police Squad! he helped craft.

The third Naked Gun and Wrongfully Accused are both silly, rather than funny. The humour isn't subtle. It's pummeled into the viewer's face.

Please watch The Naked Gun, or buy the Police Squad DVD with all six precious episodes, rather than sit through 87 minutes of hard-to-find fun in this weak 1998 effort.

This fan of the cinematic silliness, at best, smiled at some of the jokes in this movie that bases its plot on Harrison Ford's The Fugitive. That film gave some much-needed attention to Tommy Lee Jones as Ford's nemesis. Wrongfully Accused is, sadly, the last feature release starring Richard Crenna.

Poor Richard. As Lieut. Fergus Falls, he gets to speak most of his lines at a rapid-fire pace. But none of it is funny. Crenna's best moment is late in the film and involves a football. That's the type of humour that makes The Naked Gun so much fun to watch.

Here, Nielsen is Ryan Harrison, star of the popular Lord of the Violin concert series. He gets mixed up with a beautiful rich woman (Kelly LeBrock) who offs her husband (Michael York) and plans to kill a United Nations official with the help of terrorist Sean Laughrea (Aaron Pearl). Sean stands out with his one artifical leg, arm and eye.

Cass Lake (Melinda McGraw) is the woman who loves Harrison, or plays him for a dupe. Ryan spends a good chunk of the film trying to figure out whose side she's on.

There are funny moments some of which involve a train in the woods, a certain choice of liquid to celebrate Harrison's concert success and a remote car starter and a submarine.

Too often though, the jokes fall flat.

Viewer beware, the laughs aren't there.

RATING: 3/10

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Major League III

Here's a review I wrote for a proposed movie column to the editor of the paper where I now work.

The column wasn't picked up, but I was hired two years later.

Memo to: Warner Brothers Pictures

From: A worried movie-goer

Re: Major League III: Back to the Minors

Your studio is celebrating 75 years of "entertaining the world" with classics such as Dog Day Afternoon, Unforgiven and Casablanca. With such a proud history, who gave the green light to this awful film?

The original Major League, released in 1989, was nothing to get excited about although it did feature a couple of actors (Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo) who've developed into true movie stars.

Nine years later, the roster is indeed second string with Corbin Bensen and Scott Bakula the most recognizable talent.

Writer-director John Warren has managed to make one of the most painful types of films for a moviegoer to sit through - a comedy that is not funny.

Minnesota Twins owner Roger Dorn (Bernsen) recruits over-the-hill minor league picture Gus Cantrell (Bakula) to give up life on the mound to manage a Twins farm team. 'The Buzz' feature the usual collection of wacky movie misfits baseball fans would never find playing professionally. There's a catcher who has trouble throwing the ball back to the mound and a brainy picture who possesses a fastball which easily falls below city speed limits. The laughs continue with a pair of identical twins who beat each other up during games.

Cantrell displays the required managerial skill, surprise, surprise, and turns his team into a disciplined outfit that starts winning games. The Buzz start making some noise in the league standings.

Meanwhile, the parent club is ailing and owner Dorn cooks up the brilliant idea of an exhibition game between the Twins and The Buzz. Razor-sharp Dorn never considers the fact he'd be the laughing-stock of the country if his major league squad comes up short.

Sure enough, The Buzz are on the verge of winning the game when the stadium's power is suddenly, and suspiciously, lost. A rematch is inevitable.

Major League has some big league problems. Warren's script isn't funny. The characters are caricatures. Do viewers really need to see another Japanese character whose poor knowledge of English makes him say silly things?

Bob Uecker returns for another stint as a far-from-witty broadcaster. His on-going presence, devoid of laughs, makes a bad film even worse. An annoying soundtrack of instrumental music grates on the nerves. Good grief, what was B.T.O.'s Taking Care of Business doing amidst this dreck? This team should be out of business.

Warner Brothers, here's to another 75 years without Major League IV. Please.

RATING: 3 strikes and you're out