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Silent Movie
Silent Movie (1976)
2 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

In the 1970's Mel Brooks was the cinematic comedy genius. He created the most celebrated western parody with Blazing Saddles, a wager that paid off. During that same glorious year of 1974 he delivered Young Frankenstein, a tongue in cheek look at the Universal monster movies that he also released in black and white. Brooks wasn't afraid to go way outside the box to deliver his films, which brings us to his 1976 film Silent Movie.

Silent Movie follows the antics of Mel Funn (Brooks), Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman), and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise). The trio has a plan to make a silent movie, forty years after talkies took over the cinema. The main focus of the film is to get big stars for their trip into nostalgia, such as Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minelli, and Anne Bancroft as a way to produce a hit for the studio that is on the edge of being consumed by a conglomerate. Hilarity ensues.

Oh, did I mention that the film is also silent? Yes, Mel Brooks accomplished a silent film in 1976. The man could do no wrong. The first thing we need to get out of the way is that when compared to Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, Silent Movie is the weakest of the three. So if you're expecting an equivalent, don't do it. Now taken on its own this is a pretty funny film. Mel Brooks delivers a film with slap stick and uses silent film conventions in the modern era. The film works, but it's doesn't quite achieve the greatness of Brooks work two years prior, mainly due to the limitations of making a silent film.

The thing I ask myself is that after creating two of the greatest comedies of our time did Mel Brooks submit this film as a joke because the studios thought he could do no wrong? I can just imagine him being asked what his next film would be and him saying, tongue in cheek, that he was going to do a silent movie and the studio went wild over the idea. Even though set with an early 20th century motif, it does comment on the film industry of the 1970's, mainly in the fall of the studios to the conglomerates that gobbled them up. The studio system was dead and this film partially examines its obituary. Silent Movie isn't Brooks best work, but it is a funny film that is lulled by its main premise. It's still enjoyable after 40 years and spotlights the audacity of the film industry's greatest comedic genius.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
2 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai in the 8th Dimension is a comic book film without the comic. A pure adventure that harkens back to interstellar heroes such as Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon, fighting aliens with interesting instruments and an even more interesting crew. Comic book films are built to be flashy anyway (at least in this era), but combined with the 1980's era of excess the film explodes as a flashy piece.

Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) can be classified as the definition of an over achiever. He's a surgeon, physicist, adventurer, and a rock n' roll band front man. He also has a huge following that feels almost cult like in that he is the end all be all of the world. I guess you could compare Buckaroo to a modern day god to be worshipped by this world. When Buckaroo breaks from protocol and ends up passing thru solid matter he encounters an alien race that has been hiding in solid objects, which is really the perfect hiding place if you can pull it off. When news breaks of Buckaroo's exploits Lord John Worfin (John Lithgow), who was a scientist that discovered what lies beneath the atoms but has been possessed for decades breaks free of his room at straight jacket inn and plans to use Buckaroo's tech to raise from the alien raises exile. Throw in representatives from their home planet deliver a message saying that if they can't control the situation they will have to cause Earth to be vaporized in a nuclear holocaust between the current super powers.

Buckaroo Banzai has all the ingredients for greatness, but never achieves them. It's a great premise that keeps a viewer engaged, but it doesn't feel like it really goes anywhere. Where the character of Buckaroo Banzai is an over achiever, this film is an under achiever. The acting is average with Lithgow really chewing up the scenery as Worfin. An over the top film that doesn't go over the top, Lithgow's performance wakes up the audience. Sometimes it's good and sometimes it's a bit too much. As a whole, the film sort of lumbers along like a way too long 1980's music video. There's a ton of glitz, but the substance is very little. It's not terrible, but not perfect. Not even close.

I really wanted to enjoy Buckaroo Banzai. The premise of the film is my kind of film and it is an over blown '80's flick. This film is like a well packaged toy where the box makes you want the product inside, but once you get inside the marketing you get a dull, uninspired experience. On paper you could compare this film to Big Trouble In Little China, but don't be fooled. This is a film that had a ton of potential, yet feels like it's stuck in the mud. An ok film, but disappointing.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
2 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Sharing a distinction with Sunset Boulevard in showing the aftermath of Hollywood stardom, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane goes a step further in that we follow the fallen careers of former vaudeville child star Baby Jane (Bette Davis) and her invalid sister, the former star Blanche (Joan Crawford). How does your life go on when you had access to everything, but end up with nothing but memories and fallen glory. It is truly enough to drive a person mad.

The film opens with Jane being the child star on the vaudeville circuit, with all the spotlight shining on her young face and every whim of the young girl being fulfilled. At such an early age this child is being merchandised by dolls, perpetuating the idea that she is the center of the universe. Hiding in the shadows is Blanche, all but forgotten by their father who focuses on Jane's career. There is a deep resentment in her face as she watches Jane's behavior. We jump to later where Blanche is the star in Hollywood, but insists that Jane also have a film contract even though her childhood talent did not translate into adulthood. Things turn for the worse when Blanche is paralyzed in an incident that Jane is blamed for, effectively ending both of their careers. After the accident Jane has been caring for Blanche in their spacious Hollywood home. Resentment is the main ingredient in Jane's fall into madness and it finally comes to an apex when she learns that Blanche plans to sell the home for something more manageable. Resentment turns to torture, turns to terror as the film plays out.

Casting Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as the sisters was a work of genius. While watching the film I realized that the reason that both actresses took their respective roles was due to the intense competition between the two that had occurred for decades. Joan Crawford could make Bette Davis look terrible and Bette Davis could kick Joan Crawford around for two hours. A wonderful time was had by all. That genuine resentment between the two flows throughout the film, delivering an even deeper experience that pulls the viewer into this world that they created. Blanche is still loved and her films still run on television. Jane's vaudeville career is forgotten. Either actress could have played either role, but they were set in the roles that were best for themselves.

Director Robert Aldrich shoots a film that, unlike Sunset Boulevard, doesn't cast a bleak, dark world, but a world that has continued beyond the careers of the two leads. The sun still shines, people still have a good time. Aldrich follows Jane's spiral into madness, hinting around the psychological and physical torture that Blanche receives. This feeling that the world has moved on fully develops in the ending where the world around them is being entertained while the sisters are literally in the middle, gone and forgotten. An ending that seems weird, but symbolizes the entire theme of the film. No matter how famous you are, eventually the world will move on no matter what. It's a sad truth that every celebrity needs to face and some may take it better than others.

Films about Hollywood are always a touchy subject. The possibility of falling into the pit of over glamorizing is always an issue that can occur and dilute the message that a filmmaker is trying to achieve. With Baby Jane show business really dies in the film when Blanche is paralyzed, something that Blanche accepts, but Jane cannot do. Eventually she descends into replaying her childhood career, a middle aged woman singing songs that a young girl sang all those years ago, becoming a pathetic parody of herself. This film is a more subtle examination of the fallen star than Sunset Boulevard and stands on its own. They may be related, but they're distant cousins. Both with madness, both with terror, but this film is more optimistic. This film is one of the greats and serves as the swan song for the careers of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane is a necessity in cinephile viewing.

Suicide Squad
Suicide Squad (2016)
2 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Let's face it. The main question that everyone had going into Suicide Squad was whether or not this film would resurrect a fumbling DC movie universe. Will this be the film where they burst everything wide open and take over the world or would this be another questionable entry in the Warner owned property. In many ways this film is a bit of a gamble. How would an audience accept a comic book film where the heroes are villains and the villains are, in some not too distant past, would have been considered heroes or good guys. In this film there is no one riding in dressed in white. There are levels of morality between our group of villains.

The film is set in the aftermath of Batman v. Superman where the federal government fears of other supermen. Paranoia fills the air as the thought of metahumans that do not hold the beliefs of Clark Kent could overrun the world. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has a creative idea where she creates an elite unit using super powered beings and extremely talented humans as a reactionary group in the event of an overpowering enemy. Yes, this idea lends a lot to The Dirty Dozen in that there is no coming home from an incomplete mission. The group consists of Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin that never misses. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) an acrobatic psychopath who happens to be the better half of the Clown Prince of Crime The Joker (Jared Leto), who plans on breaking his baby out of her dilemma. Jay Hernandez is Diablo, who literally holds the power of fire in his hands. Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) brings a raw power to the group... and the ability to roam the sewers. Boomerang (Jai Courtney) rounds out the squad as an Aussie villain looking for a way out and using fellow members to do it. The ground baby sitter is Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), who reminds the squad throughout the film that he is the final say on the ground, only answering to Waller. He is also romantically involved with the witch possessed June Moone (Cara Delevingne), causing the typical problems when a hairy situation arises and that situation is that when the witch called Enchantress escapes, she decides to destroy humanity with a machine like the ones humans worship. Initially the Suicide Squad's mission is basic, but balloons to the regular "save the world" motif.

Suicide Squad cuts straight to the point, showing the history of these characters via flashbacks. It would have been nice to explore these characters a little deeper, but we only have 2 hours and if this makes enough money... We get the situation set up quickly with very little baggage, other than Leto's Joker and that baggage is most welcome. When her appears it's a great performance that takes Ledger's take on the character and adds the over the top comic book dimension that this film employs. I'm looking forward to Leto getting more screen time in the upcoming films. Will Smith and Margot Robbie really run with their characters and seem to enjoy the playground they've been given to run around in. This is one of Smith's best performances in a long time and, even though he has become an iconic actor, gets lost in the role of Deadshot. For Robbie, this film will push her to super stardom. All around the film has a wonderful cast that are having fun, which shows in the film and lets the audience in on the good time.

David Ayer treats this film as his own child and it shows. There is a care to not lampoon the characters and it delivers a genuine feel to the film that wasn't in Batman v. Superman. I cared about these characters, some of whom I had very little interaction with. Batman v. Superman, featuring some of the most iconic figures in fiction made me not care about characters that I had grown up with. Been born with practically. Be it due to acting, editing, or direction I had a stake in the Suicide Squad. Batman v. Superman didn't give me that. For that, we have to give David Ayer some credit in nor letting the DC ship capsize.

Not that the film is without issues. The most glaring one is that the villains in the film are weak. Very weak. I couldn't pinpoint where on Cara Delevingne's portrayal of the Enchantress was it too much ham and too much holding back. It was both. She is just there, with her CGI brother, sprouting out countless CGI henchmen. Nameless CGI henchmen like a video game. It is an old saying that I'll throw out there, your film is only as good as its villain. That is the big stumbling block of this film. What is a great journey stumbles in the final act, leveling what could have been a great film down to a little above average. Yes, Enchantress is that bad of a villain.

So what's the verdict? Suicide Squad does run much better than Batman v Superman. As a whole the film makes me feel better about later entries in the DC Universe, but it is not the all out blow the competition away film that they really need right now. There was major stumbling in the third act that holds the film back. The scenes that are the Squad are wonderful. When you throw the weak villain in, it grinds to a halt. Overall, it's a good film. Not great, but not mediocre. As an entire piece I rate it ***1/2, the same as Batman v Superman. BVS rating was shaky, but solidified with the extended cut. SS is a fine, fun film with a lackluster villain and a meh finish. Good, but not great.

Finding Dory
Finding Dory (2016)
3 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

To start with, I'm going to be perfectly honest. Pixar, that company that 10 years ago was practically infallible, has developed a poor record with sequels. Other than the Toy Story follow ups, the sequels they have produced have been empty shells of their predecessors. Monster's University is a lackluster film that doesn't really capture the feel and magic of the original film. Cars 2 was a miserable follow-up. So after all of these years, we have the sequel to Finding Nemo titled Finding Dory, a film that starts strong, but derails during its final act.

The plot of the film is that Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) has suddenly started to remember segments of her childhood and realizes that she does have a family and goes on a journey to find them. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) accompany her as she makes her way to an oceanic institute where she was born and her parents may still be waiting for her to arrive. As with the first film, they encounter numerous characters with various personalities that help or hinder their progress.

Finding Dory is an amazing looking film that visually can be paired with Finding Nemo and the feel from the first film goes along. Hopefully Pixar has learned from their mediocre sequels (prequel) that trashed the concepts of the original films for a dull, sophomoric premise. It's a wonderfully created universe that pulls you in, revisiting memories from the first film and delivering new ones along the way. The story is also strong with another long journey looking for family. I was enthralled by the story as Dory pieced her way to her goal, almost reminiscent of a detective story. This film would have probably been a much better film if it wasn't for the third act. I'll try not to spoil it, but the film becomes so over the top that it slams the brakes on the story, pulling you right out of the film. And you never get it back. I know there were some over the top situations in Finding Nemo, but this film really drove that idea over the edge. A good film becomes a slightly above average film.

Pixar is an animation juggernaut. This is the company that caused the entire industry to revert to computer animations and they are still the pinnacle of the business. When it's an original story they are geniuses, developing a world that immerses you. Their work is amazing. Unless it's a sequel. It seems that a company that rarely did sequels until a few years ago has not been able to repeat (except for Toy Story) any kind of continuation of the original film. Finding Dory comes close. I enjoyed the film, but the ending really kills the film and you find yourself wondering why they didn't finish it simply instead of the over the top conclusion that could almost be considered animated disaster. This is a good animated feature with a huge anchor dragging it down.