Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy Birthday, Batman!

Today is the "official" 75th anniversary of Batman's birth, March 30, 1939. I have to say he's holding up pretty good for an old man. I've had some fun with him all week, but I've also posted lots more about him since I've gotten this place up and running. This includes lots of reviews and lists...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

R.I.P. Maya Angelou

Boys and girls, it is unfortunately time to say goodbye to another great. This one, Ms. Maya Angelou, is one of the most renowned American poets of all time. Truth told, I'm not the biggest fan of her work. Still, she still has a few poems that are undeniably great and iconic.

Of course, this is a movie blog so I have to look at it from the angle of a (so-called) film buff. She has a handful of big screen credits to her name, as well as a few small screen ones, too. Most notably, she had a memorable turn in the all-important Roots miniseries. However, nothing had her fingerprints on it as much as 1993's Poetic Justice. It's the second film directed by John Singleton, the follow-up to his remarkable Boyz N the Hood. PJ isn't nearly as good, and deeply flawed, but I enjoyed it. It seemed to show us the development of a unique and powerful voice with much more to say in the coming years. He continued in this vein for a while, making flawed, but endlessly intriguing films until he went mainstream.

My disappointment with the director's career aside, what makes PJ as much Angelou's movie as it is Singleton's is her poetry. The main character, Justice played by Janet Jackson, is a young woman having a tough time after her boyfriend is gunned down. Justice writes and recites (through voice over) much poetry throughout the course of the film. Singleton wrote the original screenplay himself, which initially included all the poetry. However, he realized he just couldn't write poetry fit for narration by a young woman. He then turned to the best source he knew and used the work of Maya Angelou. If other parts of the movie feel a bit off, this aspect of it was a snug fit. Not to be outdone by her own work, Angelou also appeared in the movie and gave a passionate lecture to Ms. Justice.

Angelou's cameo in PJ was a very nice touch in a movie that has a number of them. She made the movie better, just like she has lots of things in life. For her ability to do that, as well as to create some wonderful poetry, she will be missed.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pointless List: Best Batmobile

Yesterday, I took a look at the guys in the suits, but what about those cool cars? I'll just let the pictures stand on their own. These are my five favorites...

5. The Dark Knight Returns' Tank, 2012

4. George Clooney's Batmobile, 1997

3. The Adam West Batmobile, 1966

2. The Tumbler, The Dark Knight Trilogy

1. Michael Keaton's Batmobile, 1989

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pointless List: Best Batman

Through the years, a lot of men have donned the cape and cowl with varying degrees of success. Since I'm one of those insane people who groan loudly whenever the next Batman is announced, no matter who he is, it should come as no surprise that none of these guys earned my praise easily. Ben Affleck, ugh!!! That said, here are the guys who I think did it best...

5. Bruce Greenwood
(Batman: Under the Red Hood)

4. Michael Keaton
(Batman, Batman Returns)

3. Adam West
(Batman: The Movie)

2. Kevin Conroy
(Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, Batman: Gotham Knight)

1. Christian Bale
(The Dark Knight Trilogy)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Movies I Grew Up With: Teen Wolf

A couple years ago, MTV decided to make a television series out of the 80s movie Teen Wolf. As a fan of the film, I approached the very first episode with cautious optimism. I had seen a few commercials for it, but couldn't quite grasp which direction they were going to take. Thinking back, it was pretty obvious this wasn't going to be a raucous comedy. I guess I was just clinging to my memories of the movie and hoping against the massive rushing tide of evidence that this show would be woven from similar fabric. After all, it was still called "Teen Wolf," right? If you've ever seen the show, or even know someone who is a fan, you know that it's nothing like the movie at all. During that initial offering, I found the new, TW a dark and gloomy place with all the fun removed. If you've poked around this blog a bit, you might know that I typically like such places. Unfortunately, I didn't find this an appealing location at all. I think the curveball effect was largely responsible for my dissatisfaction. It's like that time when I told my wife we were going to one of the swanky steak houses in town, but wound up at Chili's because the two and a half hour wait was unbearable. Chili's is okay, and a lot cheaper, but disappointing when we were trying to have at least one night of living the high life.

I haven't returned to the TV series since. Just can't bring myself to give it another try. I wanted to start things off with Michael J. Fox at the free throw line. I wanted to see him doing flips on the roof of Stiles' van. I wanted to see him use his glowing red wolf eyes to make the guy at the liquor store sell him a keg, I wanted to see the guy in the wolf suit during the action scenes go Harlem Globetrotters all over the court. I wanted my campy, goofy, 80s cheese-tastic metaphor for puberty. I wanted what the show couldn't give me.

You know what? I might as well just go get what I wanted? I actually own the movie. Inspired by my niece speaking about the TV show, I decided to watch it when I got home. Figuring it to be a fun family experience, I included the wife and kids on my fun. As is normally the case when I pull a movie out of the deep freezer for family consumption, I've seen it a dozen times (but not in a number of years), my wife has seen it a few times and the kiddies have never laid eyes on it.

As soon as it started, there he was: a profusely sweating Michael J. Fox shooting free throws during yet another loss for Beacon High. The thing that pops out at the viewer is that Mr. Fox is obviously not a basketball player. His shooting motion alone is cringe worthy, almost as if he's never stepped foot on a court before. The thing is, no one else on the court seems to be much of a player. This contributes mightily to the movie having some of the worst sports choreography in cinematic history. I even noticed this as a kid way back when since I played nearly every day during my own years as a teen wolf. However, that's part of the movie's charm. It adds into all the campiness and becomes a key ingredient. It makes the leap in skill our hero has when he transforms into the wolf that much more astonishing. He goes from ninety-eight pound weakling to Michael Jordan in a manner of seconds.

Something else for you folks that have hung around here already know is that I've given favorable reviews to some raunchy stuff. I absolutely love the sleaze fest "Killer Joe," for instance. I'm also a dad, though. I wouldn't watch that movie with my kids. I'm not going to equate "Teen Wolf" to "Killer Joe," but there are a few moments that make a man squirm when his little girls are in the room watching. It was that worse kind of "questionable," too. There was nothing so blatant that I had to immediately jump up and shut it off, but it was enough to get the wife and I to give each other that "if this goes 'any' further, movie night is over" look.  I guess a side effect of my advancing age is forgetting about chunks of old movies even though I vividly remember others.

As I suspected, the kids enjoyed it. Truthfully, I always think they'll enjoy the old stuff I dust off for them. It doesn't always work out, but this time it did. It worked out so well that the kids suggested we immediately watch "Teen Wolf Too" to finish off the night. After all, it was on the same DVD. Since my girls threw the puppy dog eyes on me, I said yes and off we went. I was honestly kind of curious since I had never seen it. The sequel stars Jason Bateman and maaannnn, it's just an awful rehash of the first movie. It switches out basketball for boxing and does everything the first movie does with far less charm, skill, and tact. It was painful to sit through. Of course, this is the one my children preferred. I normally have all sorts of faith in my kids, but this inexcusable lack of judgement made me take at least one tiny step toward believing that this generation truly is hopeless.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Captain Phillips

Directed by Paul Greengrass.
2013. Rated PG-13, 134 minutes.
Tom Hanks
Barkhad Abdi
Catherine Keener
Faysal Ahmed
Chris Mulkey
Michael Chernus
David Warshofsky
Yul Vazquez
Corey Johnson
Max Martini

Captain Phillips is leading a cargo ship full of food and other supplies around the horn of Africa to be delivered in Mombasa. Also roaming the same waters is a band of Somali pirates. They are led by Abduwali Muse, also known as Skinny. Despite the best efforts of the captain and his crew, Skinny and his buddies manage to get on board. Phillips tries to keep his crew safe while Skinny efforts to get his hands on whatever treasures the ship may hold.

Very early on the director manages to create a great deal of tension. He does this first by making us aware of the apprehension Cpt. Phillips has about the task at hand. Hanks is a great help in this area, subtly conveying his feelings with his face and the tone of his voice more so than through the dialogue he's speaking. In a masterful performance, he carries this tactic throughout. director Paul Greengrass and his crew return the favor by framing the actor's face in an emotionally suggestive manner. He also does this with our villain. Skinny's unwavering gaze is met by the camera's refusal to back away. The combination is powerful, endowing Skinny with a thoroughly compelling intensity.

The intensity of our bad guy is one of the major tools Greengrass uses to accomplish the movie's biggest feat. That feat is taking the tension he creates early and not only maintaining it, but gradually increasing it throughout. There never really is a moment where we think the situation is under control. As things get progressively worse, we fear they will go irredeemably wrong at any moment. This is no easy task considering that many viewers will come in to the movie with at least some knowledge of the story and it's outcome. However, Greengrass knows that the devil is in the details. He uses them to fray our edges and bring our bottoms halfway off the front of our seats.

Another effective tactic in maintaining and ratcheting it up is, ironically, not doing something at all. That something is cutting away to the captain's wife to watch her wring her hands. Doing this would likely have sucked all the air out of the balloon. Instead, she's introduced early so we know that she exists and Captain Phillips definitely has someone worried sick about him. Our idea of what must be going through her head, or what's going on in our own heads for that matter, is far greater than any physical performance of this could hope to be. In this case, less is more. The same principal applies to the characters involved in trying to help our hero. Rather than being bogged down with learning about these people, which would only serve to muddy up the plot and dissolve that precious tension, they show up and work on the task at hand without show stopping, attention grabbing moments, just the way the real military does it. Everything feeds our anxiety over how this will play out.

Narratively, this is a sharply focused piece of cinema that almost never veers from trying to jangle our nerves. It is highly successful doing just that. The genius part of it all is that it starts long before our bad guys board the captain's ship. Since it persists from wire to wire, we're stuck trying to roll with the punches, but having a hard time getting out of the way. In this case, that's a good thing. It keeps us engaged, bracing ourselves for the next development. Hanks protrays Phillips as a wise, grizzled vet of the sea, yet still "everyman" enough for us to relate to and empathize with him. On the other end of the spectrum is Barkhad Abdi. He plays Skinny as a guy whose smart, cold, calculating, fully aware of his slight build and (over)compensating for it with an easily detectable strength. It's what gives him some form of control over his crew. Watching the back and forth between these two guys with life and death hanging on every word is fascinating theater.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Act of Killing

Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer.
2012. Not Rated, 115 minutes.
Anwar Congo
Herman Koto
Syamsul Arifin
Ibrahim Sinik
Safit Pardede
Adi Zulkadry

Just when I thought I've seen everything, I sat down to watch The Act of Killing. The story of this particular documentary begins way back in 1965. During this time, the Indonesian government was taken over by the military. One of the things they sought to do was rid the country of Communists. No deportations going on here. Anyone even suspected of being a Communist was murdered. By Communist, I mean any person who disagreed with the new regime and/or any Chinese person. Over the next year or so, anywhere from five hundred thousand to one million people were killed.

I was wrong. That's not the beginning of our story, merely the backdrop. The actual beginning is the fact that most of these killings weren't carried out by the military, themselves. Most were done by two closely linked entities, the Pemuda Pancasila, a paramilitary youth organization and various local gangsters who watched and scalped tickets to American movies in their downtime. Anwar Congo is one such gangster/movie buff. that latter trait is the reason why filmmaker Jason Oppenheimer's offer is one he can't refuse. Yes, I slipped in a cinematic gangster joke right there. You kind of have to because this is pretty frightening and depressing stuff.

Oppenheimer doesn't just approach Congo about a documentary. He asked him to make his own movie anyway he wants about the murders he committed. By the way, Anwar never applies a number to how many he's killed, but we gather it's plenty. One person guesses it's about a thousand. With his right hand man Herman and the help of his friends, some of whom were also involved in the atrocities, Congo embarks on his own Hollywood-style production. It is a bizarre film starring himself as the hero and including musical sequences. We get to see a number of reenactments of just how Congo and his cronies went about the business of killing and even hear them philosophize about what they did. Most startlingly, we see them reenact the massacre of an entire village. It's flat out bone-chilling.

Even more horrifying than the events themselves are the attitudes toward what happened. These guys have been lifted up as heroes for butchering men, women, and children, regardless of whether or not there was any solid proof of being Communist. Of course, having proof would not have made it any better. At one point Anwar is warmly welcomed on a TV talk show and tossed softball questions by the host who is fully aware of his past. She actually speak of him and what he has done in glowing terms. The strange dichotomy is that people still fear them, Anwar and his friends, and their capabilities. These capabilities not only include murder, but rape as well. One guy speaks of how much pleasure he got raping teenage girls back in the day. And even now they are still gangsters. We see them blatantly shaking down local shop owners. Herman is inexplicably asked to run for office in one small town and immediately starts verbalizing ways he could use his position to extort more money than he already does.

About halfway through the movie, it becomes evident that Anwar is using the film he is making as a form of self therapy. He speaks of the nightmares that he has from time to time. Eventually, he comes to have serious misgivings about his past actions. He becomes almost human. He traces much of his anguish to a night when he capitated a man, an event he recounts for us in gruesome detail. This is in sharp contrast to his friend and fellow killer Adi Zulkary. Adi is completely cold about the things he's done and rationalizes them by believing he did nothing wrong. His proof is that he's never been punished.

If there is a short coming to The Act of Killing is that it is not concerned with educating the viewer on how this situation came to be back in the 60's or its effect on the world. It certainly had one. As for the how, it's implied the US government was complicit with these killings but it's an angle never pursued. Putting two and two together, we realize it happens during the era when America was actively fighting communism in Vietnam, but not as much as is said here. You may come away feeling you haven't learned much about this slice of history.

On the other hand, it is a movie that seeks to penetrate the hardened heart of its subject. How can anyone commit so many atrocities and remain unaffected? To get the answer our director has Anwar make a movie within the movie. It's an idea ripped from the pages of Shakespeare's Hamlet, as I was reminded while reading through the booklet that accompanies the DVD (written by executive producer Errol Morris). Oppenheimer's goal is similar to that of Hamlet. It is to provoke a telling reaction. As it says in Act 3, Scene 2 of the famous tragedy, "The play's the thing, wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king." Our question is does the director accomplish this mission? If so, to what extent does he succeed? In any event The Act of Killing is a mortifying experience. I literally watched the whole thing in slack-jawed amazement.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pain & Gain

Directed by Michael Bay.
2013. Rated R, 129 minutes.
Bar Paly
Michael Rispoli

Daniel Lugo (Wahlberg) knows that you'll never get anywhere in life without going after it, full throttle. He's a personal trainer tired of the dead-end position he holds at the gym where he works. Knowing that he's capable of much more, he talks his way into a better job at Sun Gym which is barely keeping its doors open. Within six weeks, he triples its membership, turning the place into the latest fitness hot spot. He still trains some of the clients himself. One of those people is Victor Kershaw (Shalhoub), a millionaire deli tycoon. Lugo befriends him and then hatches a plan to kidnap and extort him. To carry it out, he recruits his bestest buddy Adrian (Mackey), a body builder trained by Lugo who also happens to be impotent thanks to all the steroids he takes. That's the easy part. The hard part is getting a third party to join in. He manages to convince Paul Doyle (Johnson), an ex-con/body builder who has recently given his life over to Christ, but is in desperate need of income. Since none of the three is a criminal mastermind, things fall apart quickly. Blood and wackiness ensues. Oh, almost forgot, it's based on a true story. Mostly.

I'll just go ahead and say it right off the bat. This film is much better than it has any right to be. Let's keep it real. The first of this post, directed by Michael Bay, doesn't inspire confidence in me. I get a sense of dread when those words flash across the screen. That said, he has made a few movies I enjoy. I thought the first of the Transformers flicks was damn good, and so was The Island. I didn't hate The Rock, either. And sue me, but I'm an apologist for both Bad Boys movies. Ironically, seeing the first Bad Boys is a drawback going into Pain & Gain. That may be because I've seen Bad Boys way too many times, but the two films are way too similar looking. Lots of P&G is shot through the same orange filter. Many of the same establishing shots of the city are used. In fact, he repeats so many it often appears he's using stock footage. Finally, the way he shoots his characters is drenched in the familiar Michael Bay style, lots of low angles with the camera swirling around them. While those things detract from the movie, it's where Bay goes against his own grain that the movie excels. He lets the story breathe, giving us something to contemplate, and thankfully cuts way back on the explosions.

Helping that story sink its teeth into us are three very fun performances from this group of stooges. Lugo is clearly the Moe of this group. He's smarter than they are, but not anywhere near as intelligent as he thinks. The somewhat thoughtful Doyle is our Larry with Adrian stepping into Curly's shoes. Granted, this is a seriously demented version of the comic legends, but they pull off the act nicely. They have a nice chemistry that is glued together by Mackie. His character is a dim bulb that manages to make us laugh nearly every time he speaks. The Rock is also an underrated comic actor, and does fine work here. Of the three, he plays it straightest, giving Doyle an obliviousness that serves the movie well. Wahlberg, also underrated in the funny business, treads similar territory to his work in The Big Hit, Three Kings, and, most recently, 2 Guns. The major difference being that Lugo is easily recognizable as a slug right from the start and is just not likable.

As good as those guys are, the best performance in the movie belongs to Tony Shalhoub as their victim. He's also a disagreeable person. However, being that he's the one kidnapped and tortured we sort of feel for the guy. Sort of. Shalhoub plays it as a sweat soaked ball of slime. Really, it's that bad. Of course, bad means good. He causes a serious conflict in the viewer. We know we should sympathize with him, but he himself is so despicable we have to fight the urge to wish him harm.

We're not sure how we should feel about any of this. This is part of the movie's charm. We see things happen and laugh at them as we are appalled by them. When people get into tight situations, we want them to be punished AND to get away with it. At least early on. As the movie goes on, these people shred the hope that there is anything redeemable about them. This is where some people will be turned off. If you're looking for someone to root for here, you're watching the wrong movie. The two who come closest to fitting that description are Rebel Wilson in a hilarious turn and Ed Harris as our voice of reason. We like her because she's an innocent bystander in this outlandish turn of events. We get behind him because he is the de facto good guy. He's not fleshed out enough for us to really care about him, but we know he wants to see the right thing done.

Pain & Gain is not an easy movie to watch. As mentioned, it's a bunch of stupid and unlikable people doing stupid and unlikable things. Starts off sleazy, and only descends further from there. Much of humor is of the juvenile sort and, thanks to Adrian's impotence, is built upon an endless string of dick jokes. Somehow, in the midst of all this, it gives us a film provokes some thought in us even as we might be recoiling from all the scummy behavior. I'm not trying to tell you this is some high-minded drama worthy of Oscar praise. I will say that it is an enjoyable, if twisted adventure.

MY SCORE: 7/10

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Favorite Movie Titles Blogathon

Brittani over at Rambling Film came up with a brilliant idea for a blogathon. It's all about favorite movie titles. Rather than trying to 'splain it myself, I'll just post the rules for you:

1) Going through the alphabet, list your favorite movie title beginning with each letter.

2) You don't have to necessarily like the movie to use it's title.

3) Use the banner at the top of this post in yours.

4) Please have submissions in by Friday, May 23rd.

You can either leave a link to your post in the comments (t)here (on her site), tweet it to Brittani (@ramblingfilm) or drop her an email (

I just went with my favorite movies with the corresponding letters. I have posted about a few of these on this site. You can click on the appropriate title to get my whole two cents. Enough chatting, let's get to it...



Boyz n the Hood

Do the Right Thing

The Empire Strikes Back
(I know, technically Star Wars: The Empire...don't judge)

Full Metal Jacket

The Godfather, Parts I & II
(Yup, two movies. What did I say about judging?)

(Pacino who?)


Kill Bill, Vols. 1 & 2
(Save it before I put you on my list)

Leon: The Professional

Malcolm X
(We didn't land on Dell on Movies, Dell on Movies landed on us!)

Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!

Once Upon a Time in America

Pulp Fiction

The Quick and the Dead
(Qut me some slaq, it's friqin' Q for qryin' out loud)

Raging Bull

The Terminator
(No, really, he'll be back.)

The Untouchables

X-Men 2