Keeping Up with the Classics #2

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Warner Bros.

As COVID-19 keeps all of us indoors, I've taken advantage of the time by viewing as many films as humanly possible, many of them notorious for being the worst of all time, some for being the best.

These are the films I've viewed for the first time over the past week:

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (Dir. Kaos, 2002) - The lowest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes (it currently holds a 0% with 118 reviews), BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER may not be the absolute worst of all time, but it's truly abysmal. It takes something special to craft a movie with wall-to-wall action and have it be this bland. Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu obviously took up this project for the paycheck, and it shows in the way in which they sulk across the screen, giving their little dialogue no charisma or passion.

Beverly Hills Cop (Dir. Martin Brest, 1984) - Funny and engaging, BEVERLY HILLS COP is an entertaining film that has not aged much since its premiere 36 years ago. Eddie Murphy isn't as manic as usual, but, like in 48 HRS. a few years prior, this allows him to effectively demonstrate his dramatic abilities.

Bolero (Dir. John Derek, 1984) - A spectacularly bad vanity project produced by and starring Bo Derek in a performance that ranks with the worst of them, this 1920s-set piece of softcore erotica only exists for John Derek to showcase his wife. Within five minutes of this disaster starting, I was heaving with laughter, and the incredibly graphic sex scenes with gratuitous nudity just add to the amusement. And, oddly enough, BOLERO doesn't feature the song for which it's named. BOLERO is a new favorite.

Bullitt (Dir. Peter Yates, 1968) - Famous for its car chase through the steep streets of San Francisco, BULLITT is a smart, confident thriller with an ice-cold Steve McQueen performance at its center. BULLITT never lets up for a minute and features numerous memorable set pieces, but that car chase is an all-timer due to its complexity and obvious degree of difficulty.

The Day of the Jackal (Dir. Fred Zinnemann, 1973) - The cool, meticulous THE DAY OF THE JACKAL (based on the Frederick Forsyth novel of the same name) about a mysterious assassin (Michael Fox, cold and elusive) who is hired to kill Charles de Gaulle, is one of cinema's all-time great procedurals. Completely lacking in the usual gimmickry used to artificially and cheaply create tension, JACKAL instead trusts in its story and the intelligence of its audience to make it the masterclass of cinematic craft that it is.

Defending Your Life (Dir. Albert Brooks, 1991) - Albert Brooks' films are usually brilliantly cynical films about unlikable people, but the uncharacteristically wonderful, life-affirming DEFENDING YOUR LIFE is a departure while still retaining the bite found in his previous directorial efforts. DEFENDING YOUR LIFE tells the story of Daniel Miller (Brooks), a man who dies early after a head-on collision with a bus and goes to Judgment City where he must defend the way in which he lived his life to avoid being sent back to earth again. Meryl Streep is luminous as Brooks' romantic interest while Lee Grant and Rip Torn tear into their roles as Brooks' prosecutor and defender, respectively. Distinctly an Albert Brooks film, DEFENDING YOUR LIFE is a complete delight that shows that a life lived in fear is a life not lived.

Disaster Movie (Dirs. Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer, 2008) - As close to torture as cinema can get, the juvenile YouTube sketch video stretched to feature length called DISASTER MOVIE is the only film I've viewed during my bad film binge that I nearly turned off. Racist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic, this mean-spirited and pointless pop culture "satire" is, without question, the worst film I've seen up to this point.

Fame (Dir. Alan Parker, 1980) - Alan Parker is the unsung master of the musical (BUGSY MALONE, PINK FLOYD: THE WALL, EVITA are all musts). While FAME's second half is stronger than its somewhat tedious and overlong first half, it's a beautifully-constructed work that follows four years in the lives of students at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. The highlight of FAME is its young actors who give performances of uncommon depth and emotion.

Flashdance (Dir. Adrian Lyne, 1983) - The Oscar-winning title song and the Oscar-nominated cinematography are fantastic, but those are just about the only positive things that can be said about FLASHDANCE, a razor-thin and pointless story about a young woman who dreams of becoming a professional dancer.

Hoosiers (Dir. David Anspaugh, 1986) - This beloved underdog story about a rural Indiana high school basketball team may follow every cliché in the book, but it's so warm, good-hearted, and rich in character that it hardly matters. Featuring Gene Hackman at his finest, an unexpectedly moving Oscar-nominated turn by Dennis Hopper, and a memorable Jerry Goldsmith score (also Oscar-nominated), HOOSIERS is a winner that stands with the best of its genre.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Dir. Eliza Hittman, 2020) - Unflinching and unsentimental in its depiction of a teen girl who travels from Pennsylvania to New York to get an abortion, Eliza Hittman's NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS hits hard and shows the struggles girls like its protagonist, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan in a breakout performance), go through to gain access to an abortion. This should be essential viewing for every human being.

Postcards from the Edge (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1990) - With a brutally honest semi-autobiographical screenplay by Carrie Fisher (based on her book), POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE is at its best when it focuses on the dysfunctional relationship between recovering addict and actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep, Oscar-nominated) and her diva-like actress mother (Shirley MacLaine) and weaker when it focuses on just about anything else. What holds POSTCARDS together, though, is the sharp wit and warmth of Fisher's screenplay and the exquisite comedic performances Nichols elicits from Streep and MacLaine (Gene Hackman is also superb in a small but significant role as a film director).

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Dir. Joseph Sargent, 1974) - THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE is a thrilling film about an NYC subway hijacking that's efficiently-made and genuinely tense. Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw are particularly outstanding as men on opposite sides of the law. And the last shot is perfect.

Three Days of the Condor (Dir. Sydney Pollack, 1975) - As eerie and paranoid as any thriller from the post-Watergate era, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR is a well-crafted and performed piece that has a killer opening and conclusion but a middle that's slowed by an unnecessary love story between Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway.