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Justice League
2 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The idea of a superhero crossover film was taboo twenty years ago. Everything was standalone and that's the way we liked it. Honestly, did we even really know that we wanted to see more than one comic book lead in a film back then. I don't remember myself, but once Marvel began spoon feeding us these tiny cameos in their after credits sequences that became films that had full fledged teams of superheroes it seems as though a hole that we had as movie audiences was filled. Everywhere we look now we get the news that some studio is planning a "cinematic universe" to create an entire slate of films and more importantly revenue.
The main competition on comic books news stands for Marvel has been DC for decades. Marvel has some iconic characters, but DC also has characters that have been a part of popular culture since the late 1930's. The thing is that the stars have never aligned to deliver a film featuring their own team called the Justice League, other than cartoons and an awful TV special back in the 1970's. They're now trying to play catch up with a definite hit or miss game plan as they enter their fourth film Justice League.
The film follows an intergalactic threat named Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds) whose objective is to find three cubes called Mother Boxes that will turn the Earth into his home world. It's destroying to create, ala Genesis in the Star Trek II and III arc. This is a post Superman world and Batman (Ben Affleck) has decided to not be so homicidal and build a team to work together to battle evil across the globe. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) round out the Justice League as they prepare to battle the greatest threat to this world.
The idea of a Justice League film would have gotten me excited ten years ago. Now, not as much as it should have mainly due to the poor delivery of films such as Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (a marquee film that is a waste of stories and characters) and Suicide Squad (a film with a good concept, but no real antagonist). Wonder Woman bucked that trend with a film that is interesting and exciting, but there was still the feeling of dread when this newest DC film came to the local Cineplex.
Even before an audience saw this film the troubled production left many without hope for how Justice League was going to turn out and the verdict is that it is nowhere near a perfect film, but it is a step in the right direction being better than BvS and SS. There isn't that dark despair that punctuated those two films and it feels more like a typical superhero film that actually takes a few beats and has some comic relief. One of my main complaints about Batman v. Superman is that there were no real breaks from the constant action and darkness of characters that were developed so many years ago. Justice League manages to get some laughs, breaking up the seriousness and tension of the film, mainly with Miller's timid portrayal of The Flash, and the general bad assery of Momoa's Aquaman. These characters are more like you would want, except for Wonder Woman who feels like she has been regulated to second fiddle in this film, a shame considering her solo film was such an exciting film.
What causes the problems with Justice League lie in the story. Once again we get Steppenwolf and his collection of video game sprites for our heroes to fight throughout the film, which is something that really polluted Suicide Squad. The character is better than Enchantress, but in the end it feels like you're fighting thousands of the same thing, which has become a well dulled cliché. Then there's the Superman (Henry Cavill) issue. We all knew he was going to come back in this film after being dispatched in Suicide Squad. Sadly, it really isn't very momentous and seems a bit too easy. I know characters come back in comic books all the time, but this really doesn't gel with the rest of the film. The plus is that when Superman does work out his issues, Cavill plays the character more like we are used to instead of the brooding character that was really cutting into Batman's psyche territory.
Justice League is a step in the right direction for the DC Extended Universe. It is an entertaining film that doesn't feel like a two and a half hour depression screening (thankfully they kept the running time at two hours). It is not close to a perfect film, but it does stand as a popcorn movie. I have had an appreciation of these characters for as long as I can remember, so they do hold a special place for me. Hopefully they can keep going in the right direction as they move forward.

Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver (1976)
6 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The main theme flowing throughout the film Taxi Driver is loneliness. A person has the ability to be isolated in their own little world even while working and living in the largest city in the world. Among all of those walls making up the great brick and steel goliaths rising from the ground are the walls that a person puts around them, be it by self exile or sheer awkwardness. A whole other world may reside behind those walls an individual builds for themselves.
The film follows Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) as he works his job driving a taxi and living in New York City during the mid-1970's. When the film begins it feels like the real pulse of the film is this job that Travis gets at the beginning, but as the film continues it becomes apparent that the job serves more as a way to feed Travis' psyche and give him a reason to believe and do the things he does. As the film progresses he gets a date with Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) that goes horribly after he takes her to a porno movie, showing us the awkwardness that Travis has in his life. This is his life and he doesn't understand the way things actually work in that world beyond his walls, which becomes an issue as the film continues onward. He also meets teenage hooker Iris (Jodie Foster) that drives him to do something good in the cesspool that was New York at the time. As the film progresses Travis begins his obsession and manages to lose control at the same time, leading to everything coming to a crescendo to end the film.
Based on Paul Schrader's script, Scorsese delivers a powerful film that really pulls the viewer into the film. The way he pulls this off is casting, with Peter Boyle playing a sort of Jiminy Cricket role to Travis as Wizard, Albert Brooks as Betsy's snarky co-worker, and Harvey Keitel as a pimp. They pull off the task of being entities in Travis' world, haunting him in their own little way, but there is one piece of casting that Scorsese does best and that's showing the city in its worst or best light as he feels the film needs. Watching this film you are in New York right before the black out when the city is filled with nothing but predators and evil- which was the opinion at the time. Whether that is true or not I don't know, but Scorsese plays with that idea throughout the film. No neighborhood looks safe in Taxi Driver, even in daylight. He does such a great job at dressing the city for this film that you can almost smell the exhaust and garbage; you can feel the humidity of a city baking in the summer heat.
Another piece that needs to be mentioned is Bernard Herrmann's score. It is a haunting piece that adds so much power to the images that appear in the film. Mainly consisting of a lonely saxophone playing in the night, it is the musical expression of Travis Bickle. The score for this film is one of the best I have ever heard. It's a brilliant piece from a master who would not live to see the film's release. This was the last film he would put music to.
Taxi Driver is not only my favorite Scorsese film, but it is one of my favorite films in general. That feeling of darkness and being alone is a universal concept that everyone can understand. Life doesn't always build toward a happy ending. This film exemplifies that idea. I get filled with a bit of sadness when viewing this film, though. As crazy as it sounds, I regret not having the opportunity to go to that New York City. I would love to spend a night or two in the "rats nest" just to see if my concept of what it was like fits with reality. Of course it may be better to have my ideal 1976 New York in my head than to see the reality and be disappointed.

Leatherface (2017)
20 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Of all the horror franchises that are out there, the one that has been literally treated like a victim in its films is the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series. How many times has this series been rebooted, re-imagined, or recycled? That would be a daring assignment to figure out with probably no real satisfaction at the end, just a slippery slope into further mediocrity. And when you're about to land at the bottom of the barrel you do an origins film.
Leatherface is a prequel to at least 2013's Texas Chainsaw 3D, a terrible film in its own right. Now why do I say at least? Mainly because I see listings that associate this with the films in the franchise from 1974, 1986, 1990, and 1994 (that being The Next generation, a film thrown in the trash until stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey hit the big time). Who knows? The film follows a young Leatherface from his early days of getting a chainsaw and gutting a fella at his fifth birthday party, which is slightly more painful than a trip to Chuck E. Cheese. Eventually the Sawyer clan, led by the matriarch Verna (Lili Taylor) push their meat harvesting activities too far and end up killing the sheriff's daughter and the wee Leatherface is taken away to an asylum until he is old enough to do whatever he was going to do. I do wonder why none of the family members were arrested for the crime.
We do a time jump and discover an asylum that is full of unscrupulous employees except for the new nurse Lizzy (Grasse). A riot breaks out and Lizzy is taken captive by Ike (Bloor) and Clarice (Madsen) as Jackson (Strike) and Bud (Coleman) go along for the ride. They go on a death race to nowhere while being chased by the same sheriff (Stephen Dorff) as we try to figure out which of these fugitives is going to wind up being the legendary killer Leatherface.
Leatherface is your basic modern era horror film that tries to be coy with the reveal of who ends up being the legendary Sawyer, which is all this film has going for it. The characters are all boxed in stereotypes and the filmmaker's poor attempts at making a plot twist backfires horribly. It will be solved before they even leave the hospital. It's amazing how stupid characters can be written in a film and I understand that many of these individuals are deranged, but I don't buy the idea that has the concept of self preservation at one moment, but they don't at another integral scene. What makes this so difficult to understand is that these people act manic all the time, leading to a sort of cancelling themselves out. Even with the name Leatherface in bold letters to open the film, this is a poor paint by numbers horror film that is banking on the many past glories (and failures).
I'm not big on reboots. I'm even less interested in origin stories, particularly with horror film icons. Rob Zombie made that mistake with his version of Halloween in that he gave us too much back story on the character of Michael Myers as opposed to Carpenter's approach of the mysterious Boogeyman (I'm not counting the sequels, but comparing Halloween to Halloween). Leatherface pulls the same mistakes by giving us not only a back story that eliminates the mystery that a man in a mask has, but manages to do it with some of the worst concepts I've seen in a very long time. Honestly, the opening birthday scene could have been taken out of an issue of Cracked or Mad magazine. It's totally ridiculous.

Bacon Bits
Bacon Bits (1987)
52 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

By 1987 the slasher genre of horror was starting to lose its stride, mainly descending into sequels of already established monsters committing mayhem throughout the countryside or the suburb. Apparently the makers of Slaughterhouse not only missed the memo on how horror films were progressing as the decade headed for its inevitable end, but they also decided to make no attempt at making anything new, otherwise relying on not only the standard tropes of horror films for the last decade, they out and out steal them.
The film does open with something unusual- the processing of pigs at a slaughterhouse. We get a nice look at the shocker and the saws and all of those fun things that go along with a slaughterhouse. Now I'm far from being a vegetarian and I also know that this is a horror movie, but this is a bit much to start with.
What the film amounts to is random people stumbling on the Bacon family's slaughterhouse (Yes, I know the irony of them being called "Bacon") and being wiped out by the resident psycho Buddy (Joe B. Barton), a large hulking man that snorts like a pig and eagerly uses his splitter to dispatch his victims. As progress has taken over the old slaughterhouse looks to be going to either sale or foreclosure the patriarch of the Bacon family Lester (Don Barrett) decides to use Buddy's skills to take care of the people that he feels are trying to steal is property and livelihood from him, while forgetting that even by killing these people I'm sure that's not going to stop the sale of the property for back taxes.
You probably get the idea of how the film progresses from this point. People get killed, other people look for them, and people stumble by and so on and so forth. There are attempts to make a deeper plot to Slaughterhouse, such as the deputy that is having an affair and the local Pig celebration that gets a half hearted build up and an even less enthusiastic execution. It's your basic kill, kill, kill, which is fine if you have something new to say. Slaughterhouse doesn't do that. If you have seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre or My Bloody Valentine you have seen this film as they are the two main victims to the theft that is the plot of Slaughterhouse.
Slaughterhouse was lost in a sea of horror slasher boogey men that were roaming the Cineplex's and few remaining drive ins during the 1980's. A C bill film in a genre that at the time was B level at best. There are a few parts that standout, such as one special effect and a line about being kosher before that effect, but this film winds up being a pedestrian endeavor at a horror film. Doing a bit of research shows that a sequel was planned and it was set up (ala Friday the 13th), but that film never materialized. A person should wonder why there hasn't been an attempt to re-make this film, especially after seeing the glut of horror films that fill or VOD streams (I watched this on Vudu for free). It would be the perfect film to polish up, make with very little money and put a few dollars in your pocket. Maybe that version would be a better film, but we're talking about this film not an imaginary re-make. This film is mostly a waste of time and will be of interest only to people that have exhausted all of the other horror films that use the same formula.

Thor: Ragnarok
3 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

I've never really been a fan of Thor. I know this may make me a blasphemer, but I've never been much into the whole god's thing or gladiators for that matter. You can probably add dragons to that list with the exceptions being Harry Potter and Bruce Lee. So it wasn't really a shock that I wasn't into the either of the first two Thor films. The only word that comes to mind when talking about those films is forgettable because I don't really remember them. Maybe it's just me, but they are the weak links in the MCU.
I have a feeling that the producers and creators of the third outing from the Son of Odin felt the same way because Thor Ragnarok really swerves into something that the previous films did not have. It's an adventure that's tongue in cheek, not taking itself too seriously, which is quite refreshing in the film landscape we have today.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns from high adventure to find his father being mimicked by Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and forces him to find and return their dad to his rightful place. After a bit of cameo by Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) that could have been awkward, but actually works in the tone of this film, they find Odin (Anthony Hopkins) preparing for his death and the eventual return of Hela(Cate Blanchett), the hell beast daughter who wants total control of Asgard, meaning she needs to get rid of her siblings.
They're sidetracked on a world that is dotted with junk and ran by The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum in full Goldblum mode) who uses Thor as a plaything to compete against his champion, The Hulk. Along with the fallen hero Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) they embark on stopping Hela and regaining control of Asgard.
What's great about Thor Ragnarok is that it veers off into territory that is rarely charted with success being even more fleeting. Instead of the typical comic adventure story, this time the camp button is pushed a little bit more than usual delivering a feel reminiscent of Flash Gordon or Big Trouble In Little China. The film is comedic without making the heroes and villains bumbling idiots, which is a tightrope act when making a movie such as this. Even though this is his third solo outing, Thor as a character feels as though he grows the most in this third chapter. He goes from being quite full of himself in the beginning to modesty as a leader during a tragic time for his people. Director Taika Waititi almost reboots the character into something more entertaining for the audience.
The film doesn't take itself too seriously and even keeps running during the Dr. Strange cameo by making the scene fun instead of the typical advertisement. "Hey, we have other superhero movies!" Sure, the scene wasn't really needed, but it still works. It could have bogged down, but didn't. I had reservations seeing this film since I didn't care for the first two, but this one surpassed my expectations. Thor Ragnarok has really set up a track for future films that makes them a bit more interesting and more importantly, a bit more fun. I dare say that at this point this is one of the best films from the MCU.