Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – review

The Star Wars movies evoke feelings of nostalgia for most of us. When I first heard a new movie was coming out I thought, “How can they make a new story that will be sentimental for fans while at the same time touching the nerve of nostalgia without crossing the line to just fan-service.”  It is obvious that J.J. Abrams is clearly a true fan. This movie is like watching a fan given reign to make what they feel would be a more grown up Star Wars movie.

Set about thirty years after the Return of the Jedi, Luke has gone into hiding. The Empire has become the First Order. Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Isaac, gets information on Luke Skywalker’s location on the desert planet of Jakku. Poe gives the map to his droid, BB-8. BB-8 escapes and makes friends with a scavenger girl named Rey. Together they must find a way off the planet in order to get the map to the Resistance.

The movie is beautiful and the mixture of CGI and practical effects is seamless. The acting is solid and the new heroes, Rey, Finn, and Poe are all fascinating and well-played characters that are a delight to watch and acted superbly. The action scenes are thrilling and the nostalgic cameos are used like a spice in a perfectly cooked dish.

There were a few welcome changes that I want to acknowledge. For instance, the casting of more female characters made the universe seem much more believable and diverse. It was also shocking to see blood in a Star Wars film. It added a level of darkness never seen before in the franchise. Creating more complex villains was a novel concept that really landed well. Kylo Ren, the film’s villain is a fascinating villain that goes from homicidal to petulant. It is interesting to watch the goings on in the life of Stormtrooper, which for the most part have been faceless minions for most of the films.

The Force Awakens is just what the franchise needed. It is Star Wars growing up and taking chances. Audiences are tired of movies playing it safe all the time and the prequels were all safe. You knew who would live and who would die by the end. In this this trilogy anything can happen. It is a great movie that uses silence and every shot to its advantage to tell a wonderful story. See it if you can.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

For as long as there have been Paranormal Activity movies I have been an avid watcher. I defended each movie thinking that there was some method to the madness and that one movie would reveal the answers to all the questions I had. I am a fool. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension touts itself as the sixth and final installment, which is supposed to tie all the loose ends. Instead, this movie is a testament how lazy filmmakers are and how gullible they view their audiences.

Starting off with the final events of Paranormal Activity 3, the ending is re-capped. Then we are taken 25 years later to find that a new family has moved into the house. They discover an old video camera and a box of old VHS videos. The videos are of Katie and Kristi doing ritualistic cult stuff while the camera is discovered to have the ability to see the demon Tobi. They attempt to put an end to the demon’s hold on their house and hopefully rid their family of the curse that is now afflicting them.

If this movie was not a Paranormal Activity movie the spirit camera idea might have worked. As it is, it comes off as really stupid and takes all the fear away when you see Tobi as an entity and even more so when you see he has a face. There is nothing wholly remarkable about this movie and really it answers no big burning questions you might have had if you are a fan of the franchise. If anything it raises more questions and even creates an ending that would be suitable for a sequel that nobody will be asking for.

What made the Paranormal Activity movies so great were the sense of dread and powerlessness that was created in something that you could not see. It was left up largely to the imagination to develop why it was doing what it was. As the mythos grew the quality of the narrative dipped with each foray into suburban horror.

So why was this made? To put it simply, the Paranormal Activity movies are lessons in making movies on the cheap. They have a built-in audience and they cost very little to make. For a rough $10 million dollar budget they have made out well, raking in nearly $80 million dollars.  This movie is such an obvious cash-grab that I am shocked they didn’t split it into two parts. None of the former cast that you have come to enjoy is there and the ending is awful. Even if you are a die-hard fan of the franchise don’t bother, there are much better movies out there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 – review

The third and final book of the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, is okay at best and disappointing at worst.  On a positive note, the war scenes are developed and chilling. The acting however, has all the charisma of the sleepwalker going through the motions. The film even commits the cardinal sin of telling rather than showing key plot points.

Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is going up against the capitol of Panem. Deciding that she will be the one to kill President Snow, Katniss joins a ragtag band of misfits specialized to look good for the camera. They must face the war torn districts that look like scenery out of Band of Brothers and beware of the new traps that await them in their mission.

This was one of the few times that Josh Hutchinson did a decent acting job. While Hutchinson did a fine job portraying him it is really difficult to like the Peeta character. Even after four movies he is in constant need of rescue. In this movie he kills his own teammate at the first sign of danger, and the chemistry between him and Katniss feels as fake as Jena Malone’s shaved head.

There are some compelling shots that really play into the “war is hell” theme. The movie unfortunately feels forced and like they struggled to make it at all. If you saw the other movies then, by all means see this as a rental. On its own it is fairly subpar for the genre. There is very little action, some of the key plot points happen off-screen, and there really is no climax to speak of.  This is certainly a weak entrée into the franchise that might have been great if they simply edited the two films into a single movie.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Creed – review

After the previous film in the Rocky series I was sure that the story of Rocky Balboa was wrapped up tighter than a snare drum. I was dead wrong. A cleverly written story encapsulating all the heart of the original characters and bringing a new life to the franchise I can see Adonis Creed as a people’s champion for a new generation.  The acting is great and the story is fantastic. Considering this is the first of the Rocky series to not be written by Sylvester Stallone, it feels like his hand is certain involved in the spirit of things.

Adonis “Donnie” Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan is the bastard son of Apollo Creed. After finding out his who his father is, he attempts to make a name for himself in the boxing world. He goes to Tijuana and wins a few fights and finds that he needs a trainer if he will ever move up the ranks in the boxing ring. Adonis enlists the aid of Apollo’s greatest rival Rocky Balboa to train him.

If there were anything bad about this movie it would only be small, nitpicking stuff. For example: No one ever mentions Ivan Drago as the guy who killed Apollo Creed in Rocky IV. No one ever discusses the failed time Rocky trained Tommy Gunn in Rocky V. I could really piss and moan about how Rocky isn’t more famous after his exhibition match in Rocky Balboa with Mason “The Line” Dixon. It is hard to be upset though when this is the same series where a robot with artificial intelligence was given to Paulie for his birthday. Pick your battles.

The movie has all the feel of a Rocky movie. The main character is charming and is believable as Apollo Creed’s son. Rocky is still as strong-hearted and good-natured person. The cast does a great job bringing this underdog story home. Once again creating a believable task and facing a “villain” that is not bad but merely an antagonist in every sense of the word. I would not be shocked if Stallone was nominated for best supporting actor come Oscar season.

I would recommend, first and foremost, if you decide to watch this movie that at least see the previous films. The previous films will give you insight on who everyone is or was. Creed is worth seeing, especially if you are a fan of the Rocky series. Creed is a welcome addition and was clearly written by someone that knows the characters and loves the material. See it if you can.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Top Ten Movie Endings

Endings are not always the end of the movie. Sometimes they can mean a new beginning to a franchise or leave the audience with lingering thoughts that haunt long after the final credits. I have compiled a list of some of the movies with the greatest endings. Warning: spoilers ahead.

10. The Howling- News Anchor Karen White, played by Dee Wallace, is investigating a coven of werewolves in the guise of a resort colony. After being bitten she decides to warn the world of the existence of werewolves. She goes on the air and transforms into a wolfman creature and is killed by a shotgun on camera. It is a bold and dark ending to film with great special effects.

9. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari- A German silent film from 1920, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is influential on many future films. It may have even been one of the first films to feature a “twist” ending. After a man is telling his story of a somnambulist under the control of the sinister Dr. Caligari the audience discovers that the man is actually an inmate at an insane asylum and all the characters in his story are either other inmates or doctors. It is a spooky way to end an expressionist piece of cinematic history.

8. Primal Fear- Altar boy Aaron Stampler, played by Edward Norton, is accused of murdering a priest. During the trial it is revealed that he suffers from multiple personality disorder and he is able to use the insanity plea. As it turns out Aaron was making up the entire disorder; he basically gets away with murder. Aaron leaves his lawyer feeling disillusioned and shocked. It is a twisted ending to a dark movie.

7. Rosemary’s Baby- After discovering that the tenants inside her New York apartment are Satan worshipers that have been manipulating her to give birth to the antichrist, Rosemary finally comes face to face with her baby. At first she is horrified but then she settles down and decides to be a mother to this creature.  This is a great ending to a fantastic psychological thriller.

6. Night of the Living Dead- After surviving an onslaught of ghouls inside of a farmhouse overnight, Ben is completely worn-out. As a militia marches toward the house shooting zombies he emerges to look out the window. As he looks, some of the militia mistake him for one of the undead and shoot Ben dead. It is a shocking and sad ending that hits like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence.

5. Oldboy- After being locked up for 15 years in a solitary room, Oh Dae-su is hunting down the persons responsible for his imprisonment. He discovers that the girl that has become Oh Dae-su’s greatest ally and lover during this ordeal is actually his daughter and it was a vast revenge plot to get them together. Not only is this movie a brilliant piece of writing but it is one of the best action movies put to film.

4. Brazil- Brazil ends with the protagonist, Sam Lowry, captured by the oppressive government about to be tortured. As he is strapped to the chair he is suddenly rescued and saved by a resistance and ends up with the woman he loves. Turns out that he is still strapped to the chair in the torture room and he is imagining everything. He just slips into his own insanity to escape the torture.  It is a brilliant ending to a brilliant movie and it has been copied several times for other movies.

3. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)- So many people have been turned into pod people by the end of the film. As a new day dawns, the protagonist gets up and watches people go about their day-to-day tasks. He spots Nancy, a friend of his, who calls his name revealing that she is not a pod person. He turns and points to her and screeches revealing that he too is a pod person and Nancy is totally alone. This ending is depressing but really makes the movie unique from the predecessor.

2. The Sixth Sense- Child psychologists Dr. Malcolm Crowe, has been helping Cole Sear. Cole is revealed to have the ability to see ghosts. After embracing this gift Malcolm goes home to his wife. When she does not respond to him he realizes that the bullet wound he suffered at the beginning of the film killed him and he is a ghost. This movie is still chilling even knowing the ending and holds up to this day.

1. Planet of the Apes- Astronaut Taylor has landed on a planet where the dominant species are apes. Human are used as pets and cattle. Taylor is able to convince apes of his intelligence and is allowed to go to the forbidden zone. There he discovers the remains of the Statue of Liberty. It turns out Taylor was on Earth all along. This is possibly one of the most mind-blowing moments in cinema. It makes sense since the writer was Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame.

Honorable Mentions

The Thing (1982)- An alien shapeshifting monster has forced the Antarctic crew to blow up the research facility. With only two crew members left and the burning building dying down in the arctic cold the two men embrace their deaths with a drink in the freezing weather.  It is a nihilistic finale, which makes the epic effects laden movie all the more great.

Raiders of the Lost Ark- A source of great power has been taken from the Nazis and is being held by the Americans. When we see what became of the lost ark we see it being boxed up and put in a warehouse with thousands of other similar boxes. This ending is humorous and a smart way to wrap up the film.

Easy Rider- Two men on choppers drive across America. They see some of the good and the bad of being part of the counter culture of 1960s. As they come across some men in a truck they are gunned down in a failed prank. It is a shocking and unexpected way to end the movie.

Sunset Boulevard- A man found dead in a pool tells his story. As we go flash back we get to see the event that lead to his death. This has been repeated in other movies since Sunset Boulevard. It is not often that you see a movie where you know what will become of the protagonist, you are just watching the events unfold to see how it all came to be.

Angel Heart- A gumshoe is hired by a man named Louis Cypher to find a man.  As it turns out Louis Cypher is the uncreative nickname of the devil that has come to collect a few souls. The movie is truly a dark and seductive piece of film noir.

So many movies have endings that are fantastic. These are only a few that have haunted me over time. If you have a chance you should rent them sometime soon and enjoy. Bask in the fantastic beginnings, middles, and ends and treat yourself to a movie today.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Last Shift – review

When it comes to movies, something under the radar can often be an unexpected surprise. Such is the case with Last Shift. The movie shows a great eye for the disturbing and uses its lonesome setting at a closing police station as a creepy backdrop for a dark “bottle” movie.  

Rookie police officer Jessica Loren, played by Juliana Harkavy, has the last shift at a closing police station. Left alone, she begins seeing and hearing eerie things that suggest the supernatural. As events get more and more disturbing she finds that it has something to do with the Charles Manson-style cult, which was brought in a year prior.

The movie has a great eye for the disturbing. The imagery of the ghosts, and the way they show the hauntings is something that will linger with you long after the movie has ended. Last Shift builds on its characters and creates a disturbing sense of tension that builds until the twisted end. The acting is solid and the character of Jessica is likable, adding to the tragedy of the events that befall her.

I recommend this movie for anyone who is looking for horror tale that is truly haunting and disturbing.  It will linger in your thoughts and keep you wondering what was real and what was illusionary. The jump-scares are effective and put to good use which is rare for the genre. Last Shift shows a quality seldom seen in horror films.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Spectre - review

Skyfall left the bar fairly high for the last James Bond movie.  Spectre is the first of the Daniel Craig series of Bond movies, which feels like a return to the ridiculous plot holes and unrealistic situations that the James Bond films were famous for. It comes off more like a colossal step back instead of an advance in character.

James Bond, played by Daniel Craig, receives a message from the late M, played by Dame Judi Dench. She tells James to find and kill a man who leads to a conspiracy that all the villains of his past had been tied to a secret organization led by one evil man. The organization is Spectre and the evil man is Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by Christoph Waltz.

Spectre is not lacking in atmosphere. There are some beautiful shots of Mexico City during a day of the dead celebration complete with amazing skull costumes. The acting is okay and folks seem like they are having fun with their roles. However, the rest of the film cruises into the depths of disappointment.

The casting of Monica Belluci and Dave Bautista is a mystery since their parts are miniscule and both are more talented then the parts they were given. There are huge plot holes, which took me out of the movie. Even for a James Bond movie, I should not be puzzled by events on screen.  For example, how is an evil organization secret if they give jewelry to the members that displays their membership?

Lea Seydoux does a fine job as the love interest and seems capable in the character. Christoph Waltz however, is wasted. When you consider his acting ability and the silliness of adding the familiar character of Blofeld, it doesn’t come off as menacing but more like a stupid joke.

Spectre is the weakest of the Daniel Craig Bond movies. Instead of adding something new or innovative to the series it wastes time taking steps backwards for fan service. If you are a big fan of the series I imagine you are going to watch it regardless, but it is disappointing. It is predictable and neuters the James Bond character.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Human Centipede 3 (Final Sequence) – review

The Human Centipede 3 is the final movie of director, Tom Six’s Human Centipede trilogy. The film takes a major tone shift from the previous movies and goes for a gross-out over-the-top style movie that makes the previous two movies seem like art films. Taking the lead actors from the previous film and giving them new parts in this film does little to add to the charm of this awful movie.

The film begins with a psychotic warden of a prison played by Dieter Laser, getting advice from his accountant played by Laurence R. Harvey. The warden spends a great deal of time torturing inmates and chewing scenery. His accountant suggests to him that the way to cut the costs will be to make a massive 500 person human centipede out of all the prisoners. After consulting with the director of the films, Tom Six, they find a way to make it so that prisoners can easily be removed and replaced in the centipede.

The clever thing about this movie is that it starts with the characters watching the previous films. It is familiar since the second movie begins in a similar fashion. Then the characters are introduced and anything clever about it goes right out the window. At first the warden, Bill Boss, is sort of amusing with how over-the-top Dieter Laser portrays him but it gets old incredibly fast. Laurence R. Harvey, is dressed up like a fat Hitler most of the film, which makes him look ridiculous.

The effects are not anything great. It is certainly a self-aware movie that wants to be funny but fails when it goes out of the way to attempt to gross the audience out. Scenes like boiling water boarding a prisoner, castrating a prisoner, or a dream sequence that involves prisoners cutting into the warden to make a new orifice to rape are purely there for shock value. After two previous movies of unpleasant exploitation this is not new or even shocking.

When it comes to a trilogy like this the mindset should be it to burn out instead of fade away. The casting of Bree Olson and Eric Roberts as minor characters is bizarre and yet forgettable. There is not a real reason to watch this movie unless you are super fan of this series or are an exploitation film fan. In which case, there are a lot better things that you can be watching instead of this.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Martian – review

Based on the Andy Weir novel of the same name, The Martian is a remarkably good film. Top-notch acting and a phenomenal cast make this visually appealing story fascinating to watch. The themes of hope and overcoming adversity are a minority in the science fiction genre. It is hard to not leave the theater with a sense of optimism toward humanity.

The Martian starts off in high gear with a team of astronauts are exploring the alien terrain of Mars. While there, a storm kicks up suddenly and astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is hit by debris and presumed dead. The rest of the crew leaves Mars and soon Mark discovers he is alone on a strange planet. He decides that he will not let himself die on Mars so he begins working to save himself.

Matt Damon is fantastic. He pulls off the charm and wit we have come to expect from him in past roles along with enough pathos to make his dire situation seem very real and the threat of death seem imminent.  The rest of the cast is amazing as well and I could spend all day explaining how well they did but instead I will say that at no point did I feel like anybody was phoning it in.

The shots of the Mars landscape are beautiful and the space scenes look very convincing. The theme of hope as the entire globe unites to bring astronaut Watney home is lovely and optimistic. There are moments of humor and the soundtrack favors the disco era but the movie never gets confused with its overall mood. There is a tense overtone of immanent death that is always on the planet Mars since he can never leave without a suit for protection.

If you are a fan of Moon, Silent Running, or Castaway, you will enjoy this movie. It is a lot more hopeful than those movies and shows a more optimistic look at humanity in the face of tragedy. The movie does not dumb itself down but rather seems to bring audiences along with it for the science aspects of the ride. The Martian is well paced and is worth seeing if you get the chance.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Ant-Man – review

With the Marvel Universe constantly expanding it is becoming more impressive what genres the studios are covering under the guise of superhero action films. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier audiences got a spy film and with Guardians of the Galaxy audiences were treated to a space action/comedy. With Ant-Man the superhero genre comes into a heist movie and it works really well.

Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, is a thief released from prison. Down on his luck and just wanting to have a relationship with his estranged daughter, he takes a burglary job to steal from Dr. Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. As it turns out the job was actually a challenge to see if he would be capable enough to steal some technology from Hank’s former company.  To assist in this venture Scott becomes the superhero, Ant-Man. He is capable of controlling ants mentally as well as shrinking to microscopic size and re-growing at will.

If this were a typical heist movie it would have fallen into cliché. However, since the element of superheroes is involved it makes the movie fresh and seems like a unique take on the genre. The action is fun to watch and the effects make it believable that this character can do the fantastic things he can do.  There are some silly moments like a battle on a Thomas the Tank Engine train set that looks epic in small scale but like nothing when in normal size, but it adds to the entertainment as a whole.

The actors for the movie are all believable and likeable. Paul Rudd has clearly come a long way at his age to have a superhero body. Michael Douglas is also incredibly enjoyable as the first Ant-Man who experienced a great loss and has an estranged relationship with his daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly. Corey Stroll is great as the villain. While we have seen him more as a jerk in a lot of other films, he portrays a lot of menace that comes off as threatening.  It was also particularly nice to see Bobby Cannavale not cast as a jerk for a change.

Ant-Man is a unique movie that accepts its challenge to entertain and succeeds. There are so many brooding and dark themes in superhero movies and a fun heist movie is absolutely the new blood this genre needs. I completely recommend seeing this movie. It is a fun inclusion to the Marvel Universe and it will be great to see where this character goes in future features.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Top Ten Movies That Bombed

Movie bombs are not always terrible. By the same token not all good movies do well in the box office. In fact there are quite a few movies that have had reputations for being box office bombs. If the box office were an accurate display of what was good or not many more Oscar winning movies would be chosen by the public over summer blockbusters.

10. Treasure Planet
Budget $140 million
Box office $109.6 million
Disney’s Treasure Planet is a fun take on the Treasure Island story. Adding a sci-fi theme to the story it melds hand drawn animation with computer animation. The movie is creative and lovely. Maybe the science fiction element scared off folks. Any family with kids should give it a try.

9. Heathers
Budget $2 million
Box office $1.1million
Heathers is a dark and sardonic look at the high school experience. The movie is about school students killing each other so perhaps the subject material was just a bit too harsh for audiences. I certainly couldn’t imagine this movie getting greenlit today. If you are a high school senior this is a must watch.

8. Big Trouble in Little China
Budget $20 million
Box office $11.1 million
Director John Carpenter has collaborated with actor Kurt Russell on multiple occasions. This movie is big on laughs and high on slapstick action. Kurt Russell brings his A-game as reluctant hero, trucker Jack Burton, who gets his truck stolen in Chinatown and must retrieve it from a mystical foe. It is a fun movie that must not have found the right audience.

7. Sunshine
Budget $40 million
Box office $32 million
Sunshine is a suspenseful sci-fi movie about a crew attempting to re-start a dying sun. The cast is great and the story is gripping. My guess is that not a lot of people heard about it because it is considered a British film. This is a worthwhile movie for anyone who enjoys a dark or thought-provoking cinema with a mix of slasher elements for good measure.

6. Highlander
Budget $19 million
Box office $12.9 million
Highlander is a beautiful movie. Full to the brim with lovely landscape shots and decapitating action. I imagine that the constant time shifting between the scenes caused confusion with some folks. Still, this movie is enjoyable, quotable, and has a great soundtrack. See it if you are in the mood for a modern fantasy.

5. Children of Men
Budget $76 million
Box office $70 million
Children of Men tells the story of a dystopian society where children are no longer born. Suddenly a refugee brings hope because she is pregnant. The world that is created is depressing but well constructed and had some impressive shots and a very memorable chase scene. There are few movies like it but it is worth seeing since the director has since moved onto much bigger scale movies like Gravity.

4. Grindhouse
Budget $53 million
Box office $25.4
Two great directors put forth a fantastic movie. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino both direct different features and yet Grindhouse bombed. Why? My guess is the incredible length of the two films combined with the fake trailers really scared off a lot of people. Three hours was still considered a long sit for 2007. Now it is almost a normal expectation.

3. Ed Wood
Budget $18 million
Box office $5.9
Ed Wood tells the story of a notoriously bad director and his dreams of making movies. It is possibly one of Tim Burton’s best films. If there were a couple of reasons this movie didn’t do well it would probably be because it was shot in black and white and people don’t really know who Ed Wood is.

2. The Iron Giant
Budget $70 million
Box office 31.3 million
The Iron Giant is a fantastic movie. The animation is wonderful, the story is original and the characters are likable. It didn’t do well at all in the box-office but has gained a following that is growing and the director Brad Bird has gone on to making many Pixar classics like Ratatouille and The Incredibles. If you are young or old you should check out The Iron Giant.

1. Dredd
Budget $45 million
Box office $41.5
This action packed siege movie caught many by surprise. It has gained a lot of good publicity since coming to DVD but it didn’t do well at the box office at all. If I had to guess it would be because people thought it would be a lot like the previous version that Sylvester Stallone starred in. The effects and the script are solid for this movie and it is a lot of fun. If you are an action fan this movie is right up your alley.

If anything this shows that the public as a whole is not always right about the quality of a film. All of these movies are completely worth seeing. The best policy is just using your best judgment. What is popular is not always going to be good and what is good is certainly not always going to be popular.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Top Ten Most Memorable Musical Moments In Movies

Music is an important part of film- so much so that often a single perfect song choice on the soundtrack becomes an extraordinary pop culture moment in itself. This is even more impressive given the genres of the movies in these lists do not include musicals. This list encompasses what I believe captures that element of a perfect song placement in a film. It is difficult to do, but when it is done correctly it makes a moment for the ages.

10. Beetlejuice – Day-O (Banana Boat song)
A group of yuppies are enjoying their dinner in their haunted house. Out of nowhere and apropos of nothing, the hostess begins singing Harry Belafonte’s song “Day-O.” She seems possessed as do the rest of the guests judging by their reactions, dancing and lip-syncing to the song.  The reaction the ghost couple wanted of scaring the yuppie Deetz family out of their old home does not quite work out as planned which forces them to call upon the bio-exorcist, Beetlejuice.

9. Reservoir Dogs – Stuck In The Middle With You
After a diamond heist gets violent, Mr. Blonde captures a young police officer.  As he turns on the radio “Stuck In The Middle With You” comes on and we witness Mr. Blonde sadistically torture the officer while smiling, dancing and making wise cracks. It is a tense moment made memorable in the contrast to the upbeat song.

8. Risky Business – Old Time Rock And Roll
What is a young teenager to do when his parents are out of town? Open up a brothel in his home of course. However, Joel Goodson starts his fun on a much lighter note. He gets drunk and dances around in his underwear to the Bob Seger classic “Old Time Rock And Roll.” It is a memorable scene that predicts the behavior that will cause the events that unfold in the film.

7. The Graduate –The Sounds Of Silence
Benjamin Braddock has just swooped into Elaine’s wedding and stolen the bride. It is an impulsive, and somewhat romantic moment. As the two board a bus they stare off into space and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds Of Silence” play in the background. It leaves the audience with an unsure feeling about the young lovers. Do they regret their impulsive decisions? We don’t know. The ambiguity is felt in the haunting lyrics.

6. Easy Rider – Born To Be Wild
As Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper cruise down the road in their choppers at the beginning of this film. Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” plays. The road movie takes them on many adventures through the counter-culture of the American 1960s. The song choices is perfect since it underlines how these men live to be free and are like the cowboys of their generation. Riding the road and meeting people that make up America for good or ill.

5. Apocalypse Now – The End
Apocalypse Now is a dark and nihilistic film about the Vietnam War. Captain Willard played by Martin Sheen, flashbacks to helicopters dropping napalm in the jungle. All juxtaposed with him sweating in a crappy hotel room thinking about his new mission to kill Colonel Kurtz who has gone insane.  Listening to this song and seeing the images that director Francis Coppola has chosen puts the audience in a dark and depressing mood.

4. Rocky III – Eye Of The Tiger
In the third Rocky film Rocky has lost a title match against Clubber Lang. His trainer Mickey has passed away and former opponent Apollo Creed has agreed to train him. According to Apollo, Rocky has lost his edge that he had when they first fought. It was the eye of the tiger. The song worked as a perfect fight song for Rocky Balboa. It pumps you up and, for lack of better terms, brings out the tiger in you.

3. Almost Famous – Tiny Dancer
While following the fictitious band Stillwater for Rolling Stone magazine, young William Miller feels over-his-head. While the band’s bus is driving away from a house party. The mood is somewhat melancholy until Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” comes on. Soon everyone in the bus is singing along with the lyrics and spirits are lifted.

2. Wayne’s World – Bohemian Rhapsody
As Wayne’s World begins we are introduced to Wayne, Garth, and their friends. As they drive down the road Wayne snaps in a tape of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Suddenly the car erupts into operatic song as they sing along with the tape. It is a funny and memorable moment that wins the crowd from the start and lead to so many kids in my class learning the lyrics so that they could do the same.

1. Saturday Night Fever – Stayin’ Alive
A dark story of New York’s disco scene in the 1970s there are few more iconic moments in film than Tony Manero strutting down the street with a paint can while the Bee Gee’s sing “Stayin’ Alive.” The movie itself is nihilistic and disillusioning but that moment has been so ingrained in pop culture that it has been parodied countless times.

Honorable Mentions

American Psycho – Hip To Be Square
Patrick Bateman plans on killing Paul Allen because he has a better business card and can get into exclusive restaurants. Patrick has prepped his living room with newspaper and donned a raincoat. In order to cover the noise of the murder he plays the Huey Lewis and the News song “Hip To Be Square.” It is a darkly funny moment that is becomes memorable in the sheer gory nature of the horrific scene.

An American Werewolf In London – Blue Moon
A werewolf has recently bitten David Kessler. On the night of a full moon he is bored and roaming around his love interests apartment. As night comes “Blue Moon” begins to play and David falls to the ground and painfully transforms into a werewolf. The contrast in the calm music and the horrific turn of events transpiring make the scene somewhat humorous and completely unforgettable.

The Big Lebowski – Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)
During a dream sequence The Dude envisions himself in a porno titled Gutterballs while the Kenny Rogers song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” plays in the background. The dream features many of the characters The Dude has come across in his neo-noir adventure however he doesn’t really gain any new knowledge from the dream.  It is a funny moment that will go through your mind whenever you hear the song.

Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb – We’ll Meet Again
As the atomic bombs drop and the mushroom clouds flourish the Vera Miles song “We’ll Meet Again” plays in the background. It is a moment of juxtaposing sweet farewells and fiery death. Director Stanley Kubrick truly had a dark sense of humor that translated well to film.

Many movies have notable songs that stick in the public consciousness.  These songs have an almost mnemonic ability to remind us of the movies. Perhaps that is the power of the film to cement that into our memory. Even so it has lead to greatly entertaining hours of joy, fear, sadness, and anger as we can to connect the songs with these stories. Hopefully, there will be many more great moments to come in future films.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Vacation (2015) – review

Normally comedic movies get a pass from a lot of my criticism since comedy, as a genre itself, is incredibly subjective. Vacation, considers itself to be apart of a beloved franchise and wants to appear to stand-alone. It fails on both counts. The characters are grating and unlikable and the writing is stale and lifeless.

Grown up Rusty Griswold, played by Ed Helms, decides for a change of pace to take the family on a road trip from Chicago to California to visit Walley World just like his family did when he was a kid. His wife, Debbie, played by Christina Applegate, is unhappy and his sons are two horrible saps. The younger is a foul-mouthed bully while the older is a whiny intellectual who is always mocked. The boys are constantly fighting so he hopes that this trip will bring them all closer as a family.

I struggle to find anything good to say about this movie. It is devoid of originality and the characters feel like charm sponges, draining the scene of any interest or fun that could be had and leaving a husk remaining.  The movie actually tells the audience in an off-hand way that this movie is different from the original Vacation movie and that this one will stand on its own. That would be clever, if it wasn’t an outright lie.

Instead we are given scenes that are taken from the original but are wildly less funny since Ed Helms is not a leading man and his family is comprised of people you don’t want to see on screen. Scenes like:
-The Father showing everyone the crappy car’s features
- The redneck stealing from the family
- The car having an altercation with a semi-truck
-The dad’s angry blow out at the family
-The psychotic meltdown
-The car breakdown in the dessert
-The cute girl next to the car in a red Ferrari
-The misunderstanding at the pool
-The parents trying to make love but being interrupted
-Running at Wally World to the theme from Chariots of Fire
Between this unoriginal garbage is a heaping helping of poop and vomit jokes that would make any middle school student pleased.

Even when characters from the original like Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo show up it is only a grim reminder that we are watching something that doesn’t want to try very hard.  Maybe this would have worked better had it not had a beloved franchise attached to it. This movie depressed me because I enjoy the original John Hughes characters so much and to see them turned into such losers is really sad.

Vacation is not worth seeing. Watch the original movie. Hell, watch all of the original movies and they are wildly better than this. If it has Cousin Eddie in it, that is an even safer bet. This movie felt like a series of SNL throwaway skits. The jokes are obvious and juvenile. It will leave you angry and disappointed and generally you expect more out of your comedic movies.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Terminator Genisys – review

Terminator Genisys is the fifth film of the franchise.  First off, I hate this title. Calling it Genisys in this misspelled fashion just looks like what a kid from the 1990s would call “kool.” The movie itself takes a nostalgic look back into the old familiar territory of the first film and changes much of the mythos of the series. It is a bold move to basically toss out the content of the previous 2 movies and start a new trilogy. 

The end of the war with the machines is nigh and John Connor, played by Jason Clarke, leads the resistance in destroying Skynet. When they discover they sent a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, played by Emilia Clarke, back in 1984. Kyle Reese, played by Jai Courtney, is sent back in time to protect Sarah, however when he arrives he finds that Sarah isn’t the helpless young women he expected to find and she is guarded by a Terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, which she has affectionately named “Pops.”

The acting is fine. Jai Courtney does a good job at playing Kyle Reese but Emilia Clarke is just too cute to come off as tough as Sarah Hamilton did in the role. Arnold Schwarzenegger is entertaining, but he should be, he had four movies to perfect the role. I generally like Jason Clarke but it was as if the filmmakers went out of their way to make John Connor as much of jackass as he was in the other films. At this point I really begin to wonder if this dolt is ever really worth saving.

The story is really complicated if you are new to the franchise. Going back to elements of the past and essentially re-writing history is a novel idea.  The action sequences are fun to watch but would have impressed me more using practical effects. The movie basically warns us of how humanity has gotten lost in technology and Skynet will become aware right under our noses.

If you enjoyed Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day this movie will be right up your alley. If you are a stickler for details and wonder how this can fit in with all four films you will be disappointed. Next time they should be bold and make the movie rated R like the good films of the series. It isn’t really ground breaking but it is entertaining and will kill a couple of hours. Just be sure to stay until after the credits.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Choose Their Kill – A New Venue For Retro Humor Horror

CryptTV, the digital studio co-founded by director Eli Roth, recently released the YouTube sensation, Choose Their Kill. Directed by Standards of Living director Aaron Mento, Choose Their Kill is a “choose-your-own-adventure” style of digital series. All choices feature colorful characters and over-the-top deaths, which make for a fun watch.

The scenarios primarily revolve around a mime, a fitness nut, or a green energy icon going about their daily business when someone does something that annoys them. The viewer is then presented with some options on how to dispose of this annoyance. There is an option to spare the person, however, that person usually meets a grim fate nonetheless.

This is a really fun series with good acting and a great concept behind it. I imagine there will be a lot of great ideas down the pipeline as director Aaron Mento is a very creative writer/director. If you are a fan of odd and dark humor this will certainly be up your alley. The videos can be found now on CryptTV’s YouTube Channel:

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jurassic World – review

When I was in sixth grade I saw the first Jurassic Park movie and it amazed me. It was fun, it was scary, and it was smart. Two sequels later and things were not looking good for the Jurassic Park franchise. Unfortunately, it seems that the series has not aged well. While still being better than the past two sequels, Jurassic World leaves a lot to be desired.

Twenty-two years after the events of Isla Nublar, Jurassic World is a new and fully functioning theme park. Brothers Zach and Gray Mitchell take a trip to the park to visit their aunt Claire, the park’s operations manager, played by Bryce Dallas Howard.  Soon after their arrival one of the newest genetically created attractions, the Indominus Rex, escapes and starts a killing rampage. Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt, is a Velociraptor trainer who comes to Claire’s aid in stopping the rogue dinosaurs.

Jurassic World uses a distracting amount of C.G.I. Just about nothing looks real and at times it takes you out of the movie to be watching the equivalent of a cartoon. Even the door to the Jurassic World Park looked poorly pasted, like a Photoshop image. It made me nostalgic for the animatronics used in the original Jurassic Park film.

The acting is fine and Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard have a fun chemistry that works to make the movie entertaining. The problem is that the plot is juggling various balls and as an audience member I didn’t know which one to focus on. Throughout the story you have the divorce plot of the parents of Zach and Gray, you have the escaped Indominus Rex, you have InGen hoping to use dinosaurs and military weapons, and you have a romance subplot with the two leads.

If producers come at us with a new Jurassic Park movie I hope that they at least have the originality to make a movie where they don’t need kids in the cast. They borrow a lot of elements from the past movies, which they do seldom enough to not be obnoxious. There was some good build up to seeing what the Indominus Rex would look like. The problem was that the pay off was not worth it.

If ever there was a scene that showed me there was-- at one point-- a good movie idea here let me illustrate the following scene. Owen gets caught in an unexpected chain of events involving his velociraptors. He spies one in the grass and they both catch each other’s eyes. There is a look of momentary understanding between the two of them before a rocket kills the raptor and sends Owen off his feet. Owen then stares silently at the burnt wreckage where his former friend used to stand.  All of this is done without words and it is probably one of the best scenes in the movie.

Jurassic World is not a bad film but it is not a theater-worthy film either. I would recommend it for rental for sure. It is fun on occasion but lacks the story direction of any of the previous movies. There are moments that seem funny and self-aware but they are few and far between. If you are a fan of the rest of the franchise you will enjoy the beast on beast action and insane mad science on display. If you are looking to start the franchise I recommend going back to the beginning before seeing this one.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

San Andreas – review

This movie is not good and I honestly don’t expect to remember it for long. It is a cookie-cutter disaster film that is predictable and void of originality. Even if you can suspend your disbelief enough to enjoy the action, it is ruined by bad C.G.I. of which would be more appropriate for a cut-scene in a video game. It should have been a lot more fun considering the cast.

Los Angeles Fire Department helicopter rescue pilot Ray Gaines, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is in the midst of a divorce from his wife Emma, played Carla Gugino.  After discovering that Emma and his daughter Blake, played by Alexandra Daddario, are moving in with Emma’s new boyfriend, Ray is noticeably upset. Soon a series of earthquakes tear the city apart and it’s up to Ray to save his estranged family.

I was irritated that Ray is supposed to be a heroic fireman when the first thing he does in a massive crisis is basically steal a helicopter and use it to rescue his own family. People are dying left and right of him and you can count on half a hand the amount of times he goes out of his way to save strangers. Besides the rotten protagonist we have the massive dose of 9-11 and Titanic imagery that seems more like pandering than homage.

The C.G.I does no favors for this movie. Most of the shots look like green screen nightmares or the shots of people who move with the same realism of a living ventriloquist dummy. The plot is just what you’d expect from a disaster movie and is incredibly predictable. Some of the scenes even felt added for filler material to make it full length.

The writing is so weak that at no point did I feel that the main characters were at risk. With nothing at risk it really doesn’t make me give a crap what the characters do since the movie doesn’t have the guts to do something risky or original. In the end we get a movie that gives us a weak visual spectacle of an earthquake as seen by folks that, by all rights, should be dead several times over.

If they went for a more aware, tongue-in-cheek disaster movie this might have been great. The Rock and the rest of the cast would have been able to accomplish that. As it is I wouldn’t recommend this movie unless you are a die-hard fan of the Rock or just have a desire for bad science and patriotic imagery. It might be worth a rental if it wasn’t so forgettable.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Top Ten Last Words For Movie Characters

Movies have the power to move audiences in hundreds of different ways. When a character meets their end, more often than not, they are given powerful final words. Sometimes the words are amusing-sometimes sad- but too many to count are quotable and have joined the pop culture lexicon. This leads to what I believe is the top ten best last words for characters in movies.

10. “Abracadabra.” - The Prestige
Turn of the century magician, Alfred Borden is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Through the twists and turns of the story we learn of his rivalry with magician Robert Angier and how he came to be on death row. This leads to him being led to the gallows and saying his famous last words before meeting his death.

9. “We… Are…Groot.” - Guardians of the Galaxy
Groot, the tree-man of the space faring group the Guardians of the Galaxy, needs to save the universe from an evil alien creature with destruction on his mind. In an act of bravery he protects the rest of the group from what would otherwise be a fatal explosion. Because his vocabulary is so limited, his words are a testament to how much he regards his new companions.

8. “Is that the best you can do, you pansies?” - Sin City
Said by Marv after being sent to the electric chair. Marv goes on a killing spree to find who killed a woman named Goldie who he is in love with. Marv’s thirst for violence, revenge, and primitive justice gets him the killer at the cost of his own life. It takes a couple of rounds of electricity to bring an almost unstoppable hulk like Marv down. 

7. “James, earn this…earn it.” - Saving Private Ryan
World War II and a squad of men are sent to collect Private James Ryan and send him home. Captain Miller and his men need only to collect Private Ryan, however he refuses to leave his comrades defending a bridge. This leads to a violent battle where nearly everyone is killed, including Captain Miller who tells Ryan to “Earn this.” meaning to be a good man. Private Ryan spends the rest of his life doing so to make the sacrifices of the soldiers worthwhile.

6. “Remember what I said about seein’ a light when you die? It ain’t true. I can’t see a damn thing.” – Tombstone
A rival gang of cowboys has shot Morgan Earp. As he lays dying on a pool table he remembers a conversation he had with his brothers about death. He offers his point of view of what it feels like to slip off the mortal coil. This pivotal moment is acted extremely well by Bill Paxton and it brings much of the reckoning on the cowboy’s head’s for their actions.

5. “Why don’t we just…wait here for a little while…see what happens?” – The Thing
After battling a shape-shifting alien in the harsh Antarctic weather, R.J. MacReady is ready to die of exposure. When Childs, another member of the research station shows up unexpectedly, he is unsure if Childs is himself or the monstrous thing as well. Exhausted and letting the cold of Antarctica take him, he has given up the good fight and welcomes whatever may come next.

4. “Clever girl…” - Jurassic Park
Robert Muldoon is hunting the loose velociraptors in Jurassic Park. The dinosaurs show signs of intelligence and he clearly respects their lethal nature as well as their wits. When he thinks he has the drop on one, he aims his gun and is suddenly attacked on the side by a raptor that was using the other to distract him.

3. “Made it, Ma! Top of the World!” - White Heat
Cody Jarrett is a psychopathic criminal with mother issues. After a heist at a chemical plant goes wrong he laughs manically shooting at police and even killing his own surrendering gang members. After shouting his last lines he blows up the chemical tankers he is on creating a massive fireball. Truly an extreme end to an extreme personality.

2. “You fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous is Never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well known is this: Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. - The Princess Bride
Vizzini has kidnapped the Princess Buttercup and has begun a battle of wits with a masked stranger who wants to take her from him. They both have a serving of wine with the goal of inevitably figuring out which goblet contains poison. Vizzini is a Sicilian with a silver tongue and will try to get the masked man to give away where the poison is. After much chatter he laughs in the masked man’s face before dying, not realizing that both glasses were poisoned.

1. I’ve… seen things…you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off of Orion. I watched C-Beams…glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.  All those moments will be lost… in time…like tears…in the rain. Time to die.” - Blade Runner
This is possibly the best last line for a movie character ever. Roy Batty is a replicant and has a limited lifespan of four years. He is close to his expiration date and is being hunted by a police officer trained to kill replicants. All he wants is to live longer because he has seen so much and has so much more he wants to see. It is a great line that thematically fits the movie’s theme of the brevity of life.

There are many other lines that should also be considered honorable mentions. For example:

"Mein Führer, I can walk!"- Dr. Strangelove from Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

"I can't lie to you about your chances... but, you have my sympathies."Ash from Alien

"What is your major malfunction, numbnuts? Didn't mommy and daddy show you enough attention when you were a child?" - Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket

"You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine."Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars: A New Hope

Even though these characters may die on-screen, their iconic last lines ensure they won’t soon die out in our memories. With great writing and witty lines that have been added to the pop-culture lexicon, it is certain that we will be quoting these moments for years to come.