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The Pack (2015): 6 out of 10: Nature gone wild films are a particular pleasure of mine because they are, by their very nature, silly. The Pack, unfortunately, is yet another attempt to make a serious one.
Of all the horror genres, nature gone wild is one of the hardest to pull off in a serious role. Recently Liam Neeson's The Grey pulled this off reasonably well, but it had the advantage of well Liam Neeson. The Pack has the always stunning Anna Lise Phillips, who admittedly is a discount Radha Mitchell, but alas she is not Liam.
The Packs much bigger problem, besides tone and a lack of Liam, is a lack of cannon fodder. A good nature gone wild film needs people for nature to go wild against. The Pack has an entire cast of six people.
The main plot of The Pack is about a farmer who is isolated, in debt up to his eyeballs, has had all his sheep killed by wild dogs and whose entire family unit is straining to the breaking point. An evil banker comes by and offers him lots of money and debt forgiveness to "give up his land" and go live in a condo overlooking an Australian beach while his wife works at a nice vet clinic in a strip mall down the street. In grand movie tradition he, of course, kicks the evil banker off his land (the same guy he presumably borrowed money from before the movie started) and declares no one will take his property. (Which no one would if he would stop borrowing against it just saying)
This is a well-worn head scratching trope, and The Packs version is particularly silly. Anyway, the family is attacked by wild dogs. The wife, who is a vet mind you, forgets dogs have a sense of smell and goes for the stay still and be quiet approach. Dogs slowly walk around the house, looking menacingly. And that is about all because once again this is a nature gone wild film with six people.
Well filmed with an excellent cast but it takes itself too seriously and lets itself down when it comes to genre standards. There just isn't that much there, there.
Defiance (2008): 4 out of 10: I have a soft spot for director Edward Zwick. I have a real soft spot for his Blood Diamond flick despite its pedestrian script and subconscious racism. Also, The Last Samurai is another film of his that I loved despite its historical inaccuracies and bizarre lead casting. Defiance shares many of the same endemic faults that plagued those two films. I was not able to brush the flaws of this time; I found them even more discordant as the film went on.
Problem number one is Daniel Craig. He does not look like an Eastern Polish Jew. He seems like he misplaced his Oberstleutnant uniform at the Wehrmacht's cleaners. Even if you were able to accept Daniel Craig as some sort of Paul Newman style Jew who parachuted into Eastern Europe, only Helen Keller would buy him as Lev Schreiber's brother. A mutant dancing Australian is a more believable brother for Schreiber than Craig is.
Craig and Schreiber seem to be in two different films and Schreiber is in the much better one. Schreiber appears to be in the here and now with a robust subtle performance that is the best thing in the film. Daniel Craig's performance is as shaky as his accent. He, of course, is forced to do things like give Braveheart speeches from the back of a white horse, so the fault is hardly his alone. And saying platitudes such as "Our vengeance is to live" and "Every day of freedom is like an act of faith" while gazing at the camera with those, give me an Oscar and I will go back to entertaining you, baby blues don't help his cause either.
Problem number Two is best summarized by one of my favorite ladies.
I don't think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It is like, how many have there been, you know. We get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I am doing it because I have noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust, you are guaranteed an Oscar ... That is why I am doing it. Schindler's bloody List. The Pianist. Oscars coming out of their arse.
ï¿ 1/2" Kate Winslet (Winner of the 2008 Best Actress Oscar for Holocaust drama The Reader) in Extras, 2005
Defiance is Oscar bait. In one scene Daniel "Moses" Craig leads his people through the reeds and swamps and away from the forest (and inexplicably away from decent cover and fortifications) until a Rabbi collapses, sputters out "I almost lost my faith, but you were sent by God to save us" and then promptly dies... oy vey. It is not that easy to make a mainstream Holocaust film, release it in December, and get no nominations* for Golden Globes or Oscars. Defiance is trying too hard.
The third problem is that a third rate cast of Fiddler on the Roof somehow showed up lost in the woods. Somebody call the Jewish stereotype prison, cause there has been a mass escape. Everyone is here. We have the nebbish intellectual who cannot hammer a nail, the passive Jews who are unwilling to fight, the greedy Jew more interested in money than his fellow man. Good lord, it is as if Leni Riefenstahl's traveling troop of stereotypes showed up. Thank goodness, Daniel Craig is here to straighten them all out and lead them to the Promised Land. Yup blond, blue-eyed Daniel Craigï¿ 1/2. Yeah, the movie has issues.
*No nominations except, inexplicably, for its score; which at two hours of crying violins that will test any one's nerves.
The Silence of the Lambs: 10 out of 10: An FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned by her boss (Scott Glenn) to interview Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a serial killer, whose insight might prove useful in the pursuit of another serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill" (Ted Levine).
In the history of the Oscars Silence of the Lambs is one of the most exceptional outliers. It went into wide release on Valentine's Day 1991 and yet swept all five major Academy Awards fourteen months later. (Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role Anthony Hopkins, Best Actress in a Leading Role Jodie Foster, Best Director Jonathan Demme, Best adapted Screenplay Ted Tally).
Only two other films had accomplished this before; It Happened One Night (1934) One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975), and no film has achieved this since. The Silence of the Lambs was a film that kind of opened slow and gathered steam by word of mouth far away from the Oscar bait crowd. Also, The Silence of the Lambs was an R rated horror film a genre severely underrepresented by the Oscars. There is not anything else like it in Oscar history.
The Good: Let us start with the acting. Anthony Hopkins runs away with the movie despite powerful performances from the other three leads. He avoids the undeniable urge to overact and chew scenery. After all, he is playing a cannibal serial killer, and a lesser actor's inclination would be more Heath Ledgers Joker than Masterpiece Theater. By not making any sudden movements and using only his voice and eyes in the opening scenes it sets the character up to be effective when he is tied to a hand truck with a Jason hockey mask covering everything but his eyes.
When Hopkins finally lets loose, he has lulled us into such a state of admiration that it truly is shocking. They told us he was a vicious killer and a cannibal. They tell us of what Hopkins did to that nurse just a little while ago biting out her tongue (Director Demme lets the characters see the photo of the incident but wisely hides it from the audience) Hopkins himself told us about eating the census taker's liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti. He is still a live wire so to speak, but we are so charmed we let our guard down as an audience which makes it that more believable when the characters on screen make the same error.
Jodie Foster's Oscar win was also well deserved. The script and director do her a dozen favors. The way Demme shoots his scenes reminds us just how small and vulnerable Jodie Foster is. The script has every character in the movie subtly (or not so subtly) hit on Jodie Foster's character. Even (or especially) her mentor Scott Glenn. Foster's relationship with Glenn has an undercurrent of tension whether he will risk approaching her outside of the professional bounds and honestly whether she, with her father issues, would be receptive to the same. This vulnerability makes the character work on a level rarely since in this genre. Foster's mastery of both the accent and the physical space add incredible dimension to an already fascinating character.
The Ted Tally's script based on a book by Thomas Harris cheats a bit in at least one memorable scene, and it is a testament to the strength of the story that instead of being annoyed by it I applaud it. The story is complicated enough to be interesting but told in a straight forward manner that avoids talking killers (Well except for Hannibal but that is after all his thing) and those last minute reveals. The entire production has that subtle, realistic midwestern sheen and color palate that reminded me of The Fugitive movie. The movie feels almost a documentary at times as its sense of time and place are so well grounded.
The Bad: Poor Ted Levine. He is the big bad in the best horror movie of the year, and no one remembers him. He was overlooked for an Oscar nomination in a year that wasn't exactly very strong (The best supporting actor category had two nominees from Warren Beatty's Bugsy and the winner was Jack Palance from City Slickers.). His flamboyant wild take on Buffalo Bill would have been the talk of the town in any other movie, but Anthony Hopkins took all the serial killer oxygen out of the room, and bluntly people forget there was another serial killer in the film.
In Conclusion: The Silence of the Lambs is one of the best out and out horror films made. I know since it won a bunch of Oscars people like to call it a thriller but one character eats people, and another skins them alive and wears their skin as an outfit. I am going to go with a horror film for this one.
Justice League: War: 6 out of 10: DC Comics rebooted their entire universe (Yes again. Why do you ask?) in what is called The New 52. So you know what that means, more origin stories. Yup, if there is one thing a comic book fan can't get enough of it is more origin stories. I know I know shoot me now.
So this is the origin story of The Justice League which consists off Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, a black guy who shoots lighting, an Indian who can grow large, a couple of alien twins and their pet monkeyâ¦ hold on I am getting a notification here. Apparently, we have some roster changes.
Well, we at least have Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman still on board. The addition of Green Lantern and Flash are also welcome and make perfect sense.
I do see the pushing of Cyborg continues, however. Yup, Cyborg is in the roster. Heck, he even gets an origin story. (Shock; Surprise; Fainting Couches). Is it the same origin story as before or since? No of course not. Does it make any sense? Not a lick.
Robin, of course, is sent to the curb. Has Robin even been seen since 1997's Batman and Robin? Man, that movie destroyed both real and fictional careers. It's like Showgirls for the comic book crowd. Aquaman is also a no show as well this time around. Instead, we get Shazam of all people. Our bad guy is Darkseid of whom I am not a fan. Oh, and he brought his mother boxes and his faceless mooks... yay.
The Good: It is better than Justice League (2017). Sure they both have mother boxes and CGI mooks but at least Justice League: War has the excuse that everyone else is CGI as well. Plus Darkseid shows up himself. As I have said above and in other reviews, I am not a Darkseid fan, but he is leagues better than Foghat or The Iron Butterfly or whatever the name of that lame villain in Justice League was.
Speaking of Darkseid, without giving to much away, he is in for a rough time of it in this film. These superheroes did not come to play. He won't be watching Un Chien Andalou for a while without wincing. Come to think of it I don't see much cinema in his future at all.
Batman is good in this film. They do his origin in a sentence or two instead of a flashback to Crime Alley, so let us all be thankful for small favors.
There is a decent amount of action in this film. Wonder Woman, in particular, is good in her fight scenes though she does fly without her invisible jet at least once which I don't remember as one of her powers.
The Bad: Let me quote the fantastic Tv Tropes for a moment as they say it better than I can. "the film isn't just dark, it's incredibly mean-spirited to the point of being petty, and the majority of its heroes are completely unsympathetic egotistical jerks."
Let us go down the roster. Batman and The Flash are entirely off the hook. Green Lantern is a bit cocky but honestly, that can work for the character, and it isn't Cyborgs fault his origin and powers wouldn't work in a story told by a five-year-old with an overactive imagination. (He is crushed inside a glorified soda machine, but three minutes after coming back to life he has these little mini-rockets and a targeting system?)
Then we have Wonder Woman and Shazam. Wonder Woman is all over the map. One minute she is using her rope of truth to expose a crossdresser (this is in no way an exaggeration nor a misprint) and not a second later she is marveling at ice cream and threatening people with her sword for more...well ice cream. Is she a five-thousand-year-old diplomat or is she a boy crazy idiot with no ability to talk to other people. Pick a bloody lane movie.
Shazam's problem is two-fold. For those unfamiliar Shazam is a kid who can become a superhero by saying the word Shazam. In this iteration, the kid is an ungrateful thief with a personality that makes one wish an unfortunate accident. As an adult-sized hero, Shazam is fine but having him on the same team as Superman tends to water down his effect as they share many of the same powers, but Superman is... well Superman.
The Ugly: Superman. Man, this is rough. A combination of Alan Tudyk's voice work and a script that doesn't seem to go where it may have wanted to go. Was the script going for Superman as a powerful, angry alien that hates humanity? Because they nailed that. I have a feeling they were trying to go for an edgier Superman, but they missed it by a country mile. If you want to have Superian from The Tick or Ozymandias from the Watchman then put them in the show, don't turn Superman into that because that is not Superman. Also, yes I know there are entire websites, nay careers, dedicated to Superman being a jerk in the comics, but often it was inadvertent. Here they purposely went for darker and edgier in for the one character in the pantheon who doesn't wear it that well.
In Conclusion: I would say a missed opportunity, but the deck was stacked against them from the get-go. The action scenes are well done, and there are some nice bits here and there. Justice League: War may not have been the Justice League movie you wanted, but it could have been a lot worse. I mean watch Justice League again if you don't believe me.
Abigail's Party: 2 out of 10. Abigail's Party is a poorly lit (especially first half) extremely stagy TV show (basically a filmed play.) Highly regarded by some critics but at close to two hours with five very unpleasant people it hardly ranks as entertainment.
The main character Beverly reminds one of Peg from Married with Children but with no Al to provide the counter pointing laughs she remains strangely unchallenged throughout. In fact, the description of Abigail's Party as a comedy is a bit of a puzzler as this is drama writ large. A true character exercise only a stage actor could love.
While insightful into the desperation of some of the middle class of England, countless movies and shows have exposed middle-class foibles with better results. Even a half-hour sitcom like "Keeping Up Appearances" covers the same ground more completely and with many more laughs.
Truth be told these people would be miserable no matter what class they were in and like a trapped guest I was looking to leave Abigail's Party as soon as I could.
The Last Samurai: 8 out of 10: I admit I greeted this movie with low expectations. The idea of Tom Cruise as the last Samurai was laughable. The film altogether suspended this disbelief right until the awful last scene. Tom Cruise plays a drunken Civil War hero who hired by the Japanese government to modernize their army is captured by the Samurai rebels and falls in love with their doomed way of life.
And what a life. Every shot of the Samurai village is postcard perfect almost to the point of unintended parody. Like Robert Redford's take on Montana in "Legends of the Fall," every view is spectacular, every sunset is orange, every leaf is colorful and falls just so, and all the characters are freshly scrubbed and dressed in their Sunday best. You wouldn't be half surprised to see Hobbits pop out at any moment. Of course, the old time Samurai are romanticized to the nth degree. Historically the Samurai at this point resembled Afghan warlords resisting a long overdue central government rather than the honorable colorfully armored knights that are depicted. (Samurai no more wore armor in the late 18th century than the British army did.)
The picture despite one or two faults works, the acting, with one exception is uniformly excellent. The battle scenes are plentiful and full of surprises, and the pacing is excellent. On the dark side newcomer, Nakamura Shichinosuke plays the Japanese emperor like he was channeling Michael Jackson. The voice and mannerisms of the gloved one are as out of place for a Japanese emperor than it would be for the Pope. His strangely self-effacing dialogue doesn't help his cause, yet it truly is his performance that is cringe-worthy. In addition, the last scene is an awful Hollywood copout. I still recommend The Last Samurai highly however as a thinking mans action movie.
Kingpin (2003) Score 5 out of 10: As seen on NBC and inexplicably spread over three DVDs, The six-hour mini-epic Kingpin is now available to all those who blinked and missed it. Visually stunning with great sets and production values Kingpin certainly looks excellent. The story is another matter. Scarface minus the Godfather plus American Family then mix thoroughly with network standards and practices, and you have a mess. The story cries for more sex and violence.
The acting is a mixed bag with Yancey Arias giving an excellent performance as the head guy. Sheryl Lee is chewing the scenery as his shrewish Anglo wife and most embarrassingly Brian Benben hopelessly miscast as an indebted mule/plastic surgeon. Yep, it is Nip/Tuck meets The Shield without the grittiness of either series as well as a lot of unsubtitled Spanish to wade through.
After you watch the first twenty minutes, you will say to yourself hey this is cool. Do yourself a favor and turn off the TV. It is the only way to preserve the feeling.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014): 7 out of 10: Before I start with the spoiler let me say for the vast length of its running time The Town that Dreaded Sundown is a top quality horror film with pleasant atmosphere and some genuinely top notch scenes, it is a remake of the mid-seventies "true story" slasher flick that, like the similarly themed Black Christmas, came out a few years before Halloween but didn't have the magic of that meticulous movie. The remake intelligently folds the original film into its narrative by having a festival celebrating when the horror film was made locally, and the movie opens in a drive-in theater at the heart of that festival.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown has solid visuals, location shooting, and camera work. The film also benefits from the above board, for the genre, acting. It is a delight to see Anthony Anderson back on the big screen chewing scenery and taking names. The late Ed Lauter, an actor you immediately recognize but cannot quite place, is also very good in his last role. (As an aside to this aside this movie also sports Edward Herrmann's last role and while he doesn't quite make the same impression as Ed in this movie he certainly fits the actor you immediately recognize but cannot quite place trope to a T.)
Okay, Spoiler Alert. (Submarine alarm horn alert, interior perspective repeated twice.) The "reveal" for this film is awful. The movie simply cheats. You are supposed to guess which of our heroine's friends is dressing up as an old serial killer and recreating his crimes. The movie spends a significant amount of time on this mystery. It turns out to be two people. The first is our protagonist's boyfriend who is "killed" while they are about to have sex at the beginning of the flick. Why is he a masked serial killer? I think he claimed he was either was bored or wanted to be famous. His motivation is as weak as having him alive. I mean our heroine goes to his funeral the next day. Nobody noticed the body wasn't him? Switching bodies don't usually work during a murder investigation.
Our other killer is the helpful and almost a love interest in his own right Deputy Foster who reveals (at the end of course) that he is the grandson of the killer. Haha just kidding he explains he is the grandson of the killer's last victim named McCreedy. The film even takes the time to visit a local filmmaker historian to declares this unknown (and up to this point unmentioned) McCreedy relative may be our killer. The family was angry because his killing was left out of the original exploitation film apparently. (Fair enough I know the film claims they felt overlooked since the first murder. But come on people. My relative was brutally chopped by an ax and not hit by a train, so our family needs um credit? It is a strange grudge to keep up for a year let alone over three generations.)
Could the ending have worked? Well make the boyfriend's body disappear after being killed (and having authority figures secretly doubt our heroine till the next murders) is a tried and true technique that would have fit well here. Having Deputy Foster named Deputy McCreedy would have also gone a long way to creating suspense (Maybe that filmmaker/historian is right, and if so the killer was at her house the entire time.) In reality, however, the biggest twin problems would remain. Neither character has anything resembling a motivation to go around killing their neighbors and more damning they have no connection with each other. I have no idea how the jock boyfriend and the Deputy even know each other let alone are intimate enough to go on a secret killing spree together.
Up until that point, the film is fun. It can be brutal and has some scares, but it earns them honestly. The film is well acted with an excellent progressive polish that one does not often see in one's backwoods slasher films. Overall a good movie that hits above its weight let down by a poorly thought out denouement.
Frontier(s) 4 out of 10: French take on that old Hills Have Eyes chestnut with the cannibal incest family hunting the wayward travelers. But here the wayward travelers are Muslim cop killing rioters fighting the man and the cannibal incest family are also rapist Nazis. So does that make it better? Let's find out.
The Good: The film seems well filmed, and the acting is decent. If you like torture porn, there is some of that here. The guy getting boiled to death in the steam room was well done. That's about it.
The Bad: Where do I begin. I have a theory that if you make a film in French with subtitles, your brain automatically thinks this is a good movie. Throw in some obvious political metaphors and an NC-17 rating, and this is a hardcore stick it to the man film.
It isn't. It is Wrong Turn 8 or perhaps, in this case, Mauvais Tour Huit. Frontier is so derivative of other films I fear that a drinking game attached to such observations will lead to a death swifter and more horrible than any shown on screen.
I have been around pigs on a farm. Their excrement is a combination of toxic waste and the acid blood from Alien. Nobody is holding each other or kissing each other while covered in this stuff.
If you are going to rip off the second half of Hostel, do your self a favor and rip off the first half as well. If that criticism is too subtle you are making an exploitation movie with an NC-17 rating why is the nazi lesbian incest seduction scene fading to black while still at the panties and bra stage. For a minute there I thought my stream had skipped a chapter. For God's sake, your French filmmakers show some pride.
The Ugly: I am not one who tends to root for the cannibalistic incestuous Nazis. Though with these protagonists it is a tie.
The movies "heroes" are at best a bunch of cop killing bank robbers like in Reservoir Dogs. At worse, they are Muslim extremists who hate France and liberty. Which would explain the obsessions with pigs and the woman all mysteriously clothed, but I digress. There is no-one to root for in Frontier(s).
Now I understand that one of the bank robbers in Reservoir Dogs didn't tip and another cut off a cop's ear and doused him in gasoline while listening to Stealers Wheel, but there were one or two guys in that crew you could admire. There is no-one here to admire. Both sides are doing society a favor by killing the other. Both groups are equally violent, nihilistic, misogynist and overall unpleasant.
To put a cherry on our pig excrement sundae, our final girl makes a decision so wholly out of character and so distatseful you want to throw her on the pyre with the rest of them.
In Conclusion: Unpleasant film about unpleasant people doing unpleasant things to each other in French while covered in pig excrement and fully clothed. Enjoy.
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997): 6 out of 10: Good natured comedy starring Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow as two outcasts in High School who decide to go to their ten-year reunion and pretend they were successful women who invented Post-it Notes. This prevarication does not go as planned.
The Good: There are some excellent lessons in this film. Stop worrying about what other people think and just enjoy yourself is the best one. The film itself takes the high road more often than not and while Kudrow and Sorvino's characters are hardly earth-shaking representations that will change your view of life they are pleasant enough to spend an hour or two with.
The movie also gets bonus points for having a High School prom that looks like a High School prom. I don't know why this is such a pet peeve of mine, but it is.
The Bad: Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is a comedy. It is more a fun comedy than a funny comedy. There are some chuckles here and there, and the characters are well drawn, but the actual laugh quotient was for me at least a little on the light side.
See kids filmmakers were beating that dead horse that was 80's nostalgia all the way back in 1997. I think a viewing today of Romy and Michele's High School Reunion suffers a smidge from the sheer volume of Strangers Things and Ready Player Ones we have nowadays celebrating that decade.
The Ugly: You know what dawned on me while watching this. High School reunions are dead. They are a vestigial tradition in this internet age. You don't have to wait ten years to see if the head cheerleader got fat just stalk her Facebook. Did the class loser end up doing prison time or your secret crush get married? That is also a quick search away.
While Romy and Michele's scheme would not work in the age of Google neither would anyone else facade, we are all open books with a long photographic history. While we aim to only show what we want on social media the truth often peeks around the corner.
Things I should have mentioned in my review but didn't: There was a small kerfuffle when Romy and Michele's High School Reunion was released because it unfairly got an R rating. Outside of a few F words, there is nothing in this movie that reads R rated material. Well, at least nothing in 1997. If it were released today, it would get an NC-17 for the excessive cigarette smoking.
Opinions I should have mentioned in my review but didn't: #$@#$^ Harvey Weinstein. Mira Sorvino is excellent in this movie but after the filming wrapped Harvey got her blackballed in the business for being difficult.
In conclusion: Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is somewhere between the horrible eighties nostalgia of 13 Going on 30 and the superior eighties nostalgia of Grosse Point Blank.
Come to think of it Romy and Michele's High School Reunion's Cyndi Lauper filled soundtrack also is somewhere between the horrible kitsch of Michael Jackon's Thriller in 13 going on 30 and the perfection of the Pixies and the Cure and okay Motorhead in the Grosse Point Blank soundtrack.
Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is a sweet and occasionally funny film with excellent performances and massive cell phones.
Thir13en Ghosts (2001): 4 out of 10: Fantastic set design and creative character (ghost) make-up effects cannot save this deafening, over-edited mess.
The cast ranges from the where is my paycheck crowd (F. Murray Abraham and Tony Shalhoub), to the disappointedly clothed (Shannon Elizabeth about ten years too old to play a virginal teenager and a very cute Embeth Davidtz), and remarkably irritating (Alec Roberts playing a little boy you wish would just die.)
One-upping Alec Matthew Lillard manages the most irritating role he has ever performed, and that's saying something. Finally, we have female rapper Rah Digger channeling every offensive black maid stereotype and inventing a few new ones. (Come to think of it a black maid is so 1960's anyone who is anyone has a European au pair.) Yes, the good old black maid stereotype, Digger is apparently channeling Beulah from The Horror of Party Beach. She states she ain't washing no windows (It's an all-glass house), and for you film historians out there she doesn't birth no babies either.
On the plus side, the ghosts, etc. are very well done; however, they don't have nearly enough screen time and look a bit like the cast of Hellraiser is moonlighting. The set design with a large glass house with beautiful Latin writings on the walls is where the movie shines.
I suspect in a haunted house movie it is the ghosts and house that are the real stars. It is a shame that they had to include this plot and these characters. Truth be told it would have been a better movie without them.
The Italian Job (1969): 7 out of 10: Michael Caine plays recently released prisoner Charlie Croker who comes across a plan to steal Four million dollars in Chinese gold from the Italians. Charlie gets a mob boss (NoÃ«l Coward) to fund the expedition to Turin Italy to steal the gold. With his crew of thieves and drivers and one computer expert (Benny Hill of all people), they plan to create a traffic jam, steal the gold and escape in three mini coopers.
The Good: I can watch Michael Caine in anything. Yes, even Jaws 4 the Revenge. He is simply one of the most watchable actors that have ever come down the pike. He is in full Michael Caine mode here, and this is indeed his movie.
Lovers of old cars are in for quite a treat here. I won't start to list all the great vehicles featured in the film, but it is a lot more than just mini coopers. Okay, I will mention two, there are an absolutely gorgeous Lamborghini Miura and an Aston Martin DB4 convertible, I think the cars in the film are worth more than the gold they steal.
Lovers of cars and Italian scenery are in for a treat as well since, as you can imagine, there is a bit of car chasing going down in beautiful Italian locations.
The Bad: Michael Caine is excellent everyone else isâ¦ well there. Benny Hill is wasted, and I am much less of a fan of NoÃ«l Coward imprisoned mob boss than most. I am in general, not a chap who likes men in prison movies (Women in prison movies tend to be an entirely different genre) and Coward's character's arc seems to contain some of the worse tropes and silliness of the genre. Every time in a film there is a scene where all of the prisoners are cheering the one guy like it's some Adam Sandler sports comedy my eyes threaten to leave my head they roll so hard.
The Italian Job is a very patriotic film bordering on nationalistic. The movie, of course, took place during a bit of a panic in Britain as it was considering joining the European Union, and had had a bit of economic malaise. Such feeling of Britain first became nostalgic as the years went by since the release of the film. With renewed interest in leaving Europe (To say the least), the nationalistic undertone of the film seems somewhat more in the forefront to the modern viewer,
The Ugly: Speaking of nationalistic stereotypes, I am unsure if the Mafia in this film are hilarious or some sort of Italian blackface. I also have mixed feelings about the ending of the movie. Though kudos to taking the term cliffhanger to it's literal extreme.
In Conclusion: This is fun. The scenery is excellent, The fashions are Austin powers O.G., The cars are fantastic, and it has Michael Caine. The rest of it wellâ¦ did I mention the gorgeous Lamborghini Miura?
Joe (2013): 8 out of 10: I can imagine the following conversation on a Saturday night.
What the hell was that Leroy?
I am so sorry honey.
I said I wanted to relax with a fun movie not cry and feel awful.
I am so sorry honey.
I mean if I wanted to see poverty and misery I'd visit my damn sister.
I am so sorry honey.
All you had to do was go to the Redbox and get a mindless action film. How hard is that?
I am so sorry honey. I thought this was a mindless action film we could laugh at.
What made you think that Leroy. What made you think that?
It said Nicholas Cage right there on the cover.
There are more than a couple of Nicholas Cage fans who will pick this up on a lark and wonder what the hell have they gotten themselves into. Add on the fact the movie was directed by David Gordon Green who directed such films as Pineapple Express and Your Highness and the confusion may be complete.
But Cage and Green have a secret. A long time ago before a horrible Gypsy curse caused their respective careers to become laughing stocks they used to make good movies, very good movies. Joe is one of those movies.
It is a simple, quiet, slow tale with a long-simmering burn underneath. Nicholas Cage plays an ex-con who runs a day labor crew that is poisoning trees so the lumber company can legally cut them down and plant a non-native money crop. A kid (Tye Sheridan) stuck in a horrible home life comes looking for work, and Cage takes the kid under his wing and eventually into his life.
The Good: I looked up a bunch of Best Movie Villains of 2013, and I admitted to being both disappointed and bit surprised not to see the name Gary Poulter on the list. Gary is an actual homeless alcoholic that director David Gordon Green recruited for the pivotal role of the kid's father. He gives the best performance in the film. Honestly, Poulter gives one of the best performances you will ever see. He is a genuinely terrific actor. Or that just the way he was in real life and he can't act a lick. We, unfortunately, will never know as he was found dead soon after filming wrapped up drowned in a shallow puddle.
There are a lot of details about time and place that this movie nails to an almost disturbing degree. You forget you are watching a movie and you forget that it stars Nicholas Cage. It almost seems more like a documentary than a fictional piece at times. David Gordon Green's use of real people and locals instead of actors makes a difference.
This movie reminded me more than a bit of that Matthew McConaughey film Mud to the point that I looked Mud up and realized that Tye Sheridan played a similar role in that film as well only a year earlier. That is some tight typecasting.
The Bad: I like my Heroes flawed, but occasionally Joe takes those flaws beyond an event horizon or two. It is hardly a deal breaker, but the frustrating protagonist and the slow pace can make parts of the film feel a bit more of a slog than perhaps they should have. Part of me wishes the whole enterprise was a touch tighter but then it wouldn't be what it is and I like what it is just fine.
The Ugly: I know I joke about it at the beginning of the review, but some of Cage's newer fans are in no way prepared for a slow drama with bursts of violence and cruelty.
In Conclusion: Joe is a slightly better film than Mud due to almost entirely the performance of Gary Poulter. I cannot emphasize enough how refreshing it is to see such a great villain on the screen. Poutlers performance along with the authenticity of the overall production differentiates Joe from a lot of the usual southern gothic poverty porn actors showcases and elevates it to a thriller worth watching again.
Loving Vincent (2017): 7 out of 10: An art film in more ways than one, Loving Vincent is the tale of a postmaster's son asked by his father to deliver a letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo.
Soon this simple task becomes a journey into finding out why Vincent van Gogh committed suicide or even if he did. What we end up with is a Rashomon style story where everyone in the small provincial village where Vincent died has a different and often conflicting story.
The Good: Let's start with the six hundred pound oil painting in the room. Loving Vincent has a gimmick, and it is a doozy. Each frame (all 65,000 of them) are handpainted by a group of 120 painters. The actors are then animated and rotoscoped onto the oil paintings.
Now I know rotoscoped is a scary word. We all remember Ralph Bakshi use of rotoscoping for his animated features Wizards (1977) and The Lord of the Rings (1978). Scary times indeed. Loving Vincent's technique, guided by a bigger budget and forty years of technology improvements, is spot on.
The settings and many of the characters are right out of Vincent Van Gogh's paintings, and scenes often start with a classic Van Gogh painting and then has the action seamlessly move on from there. Whether in movies or even video games such gimmicks often lose their effect after viewing for a while. While I certainly got used to the technique in Loving Vincent, it never became unnoticeable.
The Bad: Loving Vincent is a quiet tale that fails a task one can give biography. Would this story be interesting if it happened to someone not famous? The answer here is a solid no. The movie's story reminds one of a walking simulator video game rather than a film with our protagonist walking around chatting people up and then going into flashback cutscenes (Done in a different black and white sketch style like that Take on Me a-ha video). We get a decent picture of Vincent in his last days and the people around him, but the central mystery of whether he killed himself or whether someone else shot him doesn't seem pressing to the characters on the screen let alone the audience watching the film.
As good as the painting technique is I think it is a smidge of a shame that the film is shot in 4:3 full screen. I understand this is an artistic decision that matches the paintings, but I do wish there wasn't so much empty real estate on my television for such a beautiful film.
The Ugly: Look if you don't want to spend the coin getting the Don McLean rendition of Starry Starry Night, you should be able to find a better cover than the one that Lianne La Havas warbles at the end of this film. It isn't quite the Bahama Men ï¿ 1/2~s version of Crocodile Rock from Crocodile Hunter Collision Course but still.
In Conclusion: The fascinating part of Loving Vincent for me were the photos at the end of the real people in the movie. Not the actors mind you but the actual subjects. Marguerite Gachet, the young nineteen-year-old girl at the center of the mystery, didn't die till 1949. We think of Vincent Van Gogh as being so long ago, but in reality, it wasn't. Like the old west in America, it is a time that is in the distant past but still within reach. Or to use the standard measurement. Vincent Van Gogh is to Back to the Future's Enchantment Under the Sea dance as the Enchantment Under the Sea dance is to us today.
The Sisters Brothers (2018): 7 out of 10: Two brothers (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) with the surname Sister work for a gentleman called The Commodore (the always good to see Rutger Hauer in a brief role), their job is to protect and expand the Commodore's business empire in the mid-nineteenth century American west through the methods of murder, torture, and intimidation.
It's a western. Yay. It's a revisionist western â" much less yay. The Sisters Brothers is, on the surface, an excellent film. As God as my witness however if I have to see one more revisionist western that seems not to realize that revisionist westerns have been a thing for the last eighty years; I am going to be forced to make ironic comments about the future while using a newfangled technology that is now part of our modern daily lives. You want to do something interesting make a regular straightforward western. That would be refreshing.
The Good. There are large swaths of this film that work. The entire section in a town called Mayfield works so well one wants to cry out more of this, please.
Tonally the movie does not go where you expect it to go. It is quite refreshing in that way. The Brothers Sisters is not a comedy despite some sharp one-liners here and there. The brothers' relationships, despite some carping about the characters below, really holds the movie together and elevates it over some of its contemporaries.
The Brothers Sisters is also a very handsome production with an excellent cast and incredible set design. I was almost under the impression that they had wandered onto multiple sets of much more expensive movies. They recreate at least three frontier towns in The Sisters Brothers including an excellent and expansive San Fransico. You could have filmed a movie version of Red Dead Redemption 2 at the same time, and only the only thing you would be missing is the alligator swamp.
The Bad: Joaquin Phoenix is the hot-headed impulsive brother that continually gets into fights and gets drunk to the point of passing out. John C Reily is the brother who wants to settle down and quit the life. As a whole their performances are excellent but through script contrivances each of them to have their moments. Reily gets it the worst by far.
Here is the scene that still sticks in my craw. Now keep in mind this whole set-up is a one-off. Nothing that happens here has anything to do with the plot, doesn't reveal anything about the characters that had not yet been revealed and doesn't provide any entertainment on its own.
The Brothers are in a saloon with prostitutes. Drunk wild brother Joaquin Phoenix has two hotties one on each arm and is getting blotto while quiet brother with a girl back home John C. Reilly drinks at the bar away from the ladies of the evening. But a girl catches Reilly's eye. She is uglier than the other prostitutes, a little chubby, and she seems shy hiding in the corner. He takes her upstairs, and they have a very awkward conversation which ends in the prostitute leaving in tears because Reilly is too gentle and kind to earn money from in exchange for sex.
It feels like some Mary Sue self-insert fan fiction the middle of my revisionist western. I would love to say I have seen this done better before, but I haven't. Every time I have seen this scenario play out in film or other media it is always awful. The ye olde our hero too sensitive and wonderful to do any prostituting with.
This is not how hookers work. This is not how they work now, this is not how they worked in the olde west, and this is not how they worked in biblical times. It simply is ridiculous on its face.
The Ugly: If you love horses stay far away from this film. You have been dutifully advised.
In conclusion: This is a good film. It's a hell of a lot better than some of its revisionist western contemporaries such as the Zellner Brothers 2018's Damsel. I enjoyed the movie and was surprised where it took me. I do wish the titular characters were less black and white and I also thought the entire enterprise had an air of pretension that did it no favors. Overall a good film.
Santa Sangre (1989) 8 out of 10: Many reviews in 1989 gave Santa Sangre top marks. It was something fresh and new. Roger Ebert probably explains it best in his four-star review.
"When I go to the movies, one of my strongest desires is to be shown something new. I want to go to new places, meet new people, have new experiences. When I see Hollywood formulas mindlessly repeated, a little something dies inside of me: I have lost two hours to boors who insist on telling me stories I have heard before. Jodorowsky is not boring. The privilege of making a film is too precious to him for him to want to make a conventional one. It has been 18 years since his last work, and all of that time the frustration and inspiration must have been building. Now comes this release, in a rush of energy and creative joy."
Santa Sangre is not dull. You will see things you have never seen before and will never see again. It is as if Dali and Fellini got together and remade Psycho. (It is a much better Psycho remake than the tone-deaf Gus Van Sant 1998 disaster. I was going to call it that Vince Vaughn disaster as I usually do, but on second thought perhaps the director needs to be called out as well)
The Good: The acting in this film is often very broad using lots of mime and clown techniques. It is also at times hypnotic. Sabrina Dennison as the adult version of the lead character's childhood love is particularly hypnotic though she is a deaf-mute and doesn't say a word in the film. I am amazed and saddened; that this is her only film.
The other acting is good in a very stylized way. This movie asks a lot from its players, and they deliver like an R rated Mexican soap opera where someone dosed the commissary with LSD.
For a film that jumps back and forth in time and is so well out there, it does have a plot that one can follow. I have seen much more straight forward films that forgot to tell a tale.
The Bad: As I get older and less concerned about what people may think of my tastes and opinions I grow closer to admitting I am not a Fellini fan. This lack of appreciation for Fellini is problematic since Santa Sangre is basically Fellini fan fiction filmed. One's tolerance for clowns and circuses will be tested quite quickly by the happenings on screen.
While the story is apparent with all the symbolism swirling around it, it is also quite simple â" a fable. If you are looking for original characters and twists that are not obvious or even internal logic prepare to be disappointed, Santa Sangre is about the journey, not the tale held within.
The Ugly: The film has a few prominent scenes with Down Syndrome actors. They seem to be enjoying themselves, and the cast could not be kinder to them. I do find it unsettling as I am unsure that they had agency in their participation in the proceedings. It's a tough subject and unlike the facepalm when you see the clown in minstrel blackface, not one that has gotten easier to read in the subsequent decades.
In Conclusion: I enjoyed myself, and I doubt I will forget Santa Sangre anytime soon. It is bizarre upon reflection that it was the performance of a mime that probably tipped this one to a see again recommend score. Recommend I do alas with more reservations than a more burned out reviewer may have.