Sunday, August 31, 2014

Last Vegas

Directed by John Turteltaub.
2013. Rated PG-13, 105 minutes.
Robert De Niro
Michael Douglas
Morgan Freeman
Kevin Kline
Mary Steenburgen
Romany Malco
Jerry Ferrara
Michael Ealy
Joanna Gleason
Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson

The Flatbush Four are a quartet of guys who grew up together in Brooklyn and have become life long friends despite having moved away from each other. Now they're all senior citizens and are going to get together for one more big blowout. The occasion is that Billy (Douglas), seventy years young, is getting married to his thirty-two year old girlfriend. His buddies decide a trip to Vegas to throw him a bachelor party is in order. First on board is Sam (Kline). He's been married for years, but is apparently unhappy. At the very least, he's bored. His wife encourages him to go. She even lets him know he can truly be free this weekend because, as we know, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Next is Archie (Freeman). He is on a laundry list of medication and doesn't get much more excitement than hanging out with his infant grandson. Therefore, he's chomping at the bit to feel alive again. The one reluctant party is Paddy (De Niro). He and Billy (Douglas) had a falling out years ago that he's never gotten over. The Sam and Archie manage to talk him into going, but he isn't happy about it one bit. Since we wouldn't have a movie if everything went according to plan, they don't. The Hangover for the AARP crowd ensues.

Early on, the movie has lots of fun establishing characters and exploring their various personal situations. Both Kline and Freeman display wonderful comic timing and deliver all of their punchlines perfectly, both verbal and physical. Both appear to be having a blast with their roles. The tone is then set that these two will carry most of the load in the comedy department. They are assisted in fairly regular intervals by Romany Malco who plays their host while in Vegas. Meanwhile, the emotional heft falls on the shoulders of Michael Douglas and Robert De Niro. Between them, there is much bickering that, in De Niro's case comes from a place of pain making him to lash out at the one who caused it. Mary Steenburgen gives a very nice performance as essentially the link between the two men. As for the other two, Douglas seems to be on cruise control, but De Niro does something interesting. Perhaps it's just because I've recently seen him in Grudge Match, but it was fascinating to see him play this particular part. This character maintains the hatred for someone else that as his part in Grudge Match, but completely changes motivations. In that movie, he was the one who caused the pain. Here he is on the receiving end. Admittedly, he doesn't do anything spectacular with it, but he does make it at least a little bit compelling watching this guy fail to let go of the past.

Like a lot of comedies, Last Vegas loses some steam when it turns to resolving its plot. Things get sappy between our warring buddies. Again, this movie mirrors Grudge Match. The love triangle is cleared up in similar fashion, leaving those of us who've seen both with a been there, done that feeling. The way the subplots play out involving Kline and Freeman are predictable, but play out a little better. In fact, everything that involves Kline and Freeman is a little better than the stuff with Douglas and De Niro. They're given more things to do besides trying to mend a friendship and engage us more. When their stories wrap up, it's easier to roll with whatever it is they're selling because we had a good time watching them. That isn't to say things are bad in regards to Douglas and De Niro, just more of the same stuff we've seen playing out in the same manner as it has in dozens of other films, whether you've seen Grudge Match, or not.

By the end, we have a movie that is actually pretty funny thanks to the effort of all the supporting players that slows down a bit whenever the focus is on the main plot. Thankfully, that isn't as often as it could have been since it wisely affords equal time to our four stars. It knows that it has two amazing performers in Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman and doesn't waste them. While it certainly falls short of turning the movie over to them, it definitely gives them room to operate. They do so very well. That storyline involving the other two names is adequate, but is certainly the inferior part of the film. Still, the ultimate criteria for a comedy is whether or not it makes me laugh. It did.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Dramatic Scenes

Hello boys and girls. We've landed on another Thursday. It's that day when I suggest a trio of movies to you based on a theme selected by Wanderer over at Wandering Through the Shelves. It's a wonderful weekly meme that she cooked up and I've had a blast taking part in. Last week, we had more participants than ever. Feel free to join in and help us break that record.

This week's theme was a tough one for me and a change of pace for the meme. Instead of just writing about three movies, we're asked to pick three "dramatic" scenes.


That's awfully vague. Therefore, I'll apologize in advance in case the scenes I pick aren't dramatic enough.

Usually, I go with three hidden gems. This week, I'm going to go with one I love, one I hate, and one hidden gem. Why? Because Wanderer said I could, that's why.

I'll start with my hidden gem. This is a big moment for me because I am about to do something I have rarely done in my entire life: praise a Tyler Perry movie. It comes from For Colored Girls, by far his most ambitious effort. Overall, it ends up just shy of hitting its mark. Even though that's the case, because it is a film where the director is stretching his boundaries I'm certainly willing to revisit and reconsider it (my full review, here). Within this is a cameo by singer Macy Gray. She plays a woman who gives abortions right out of her apartment and is paid a visit by one of the main characters. Trust me, this isn't a woman you want doing anything medical to you. I'm not sure how it plays out of context, but within the movie it's an insanely tense two minutes. It's perhaps the best scene Mr. Perry has ever filmed. In case you're unfamiliar with the movie and the dialogue sounds a little strange, it's because it's adapted from an extended dramatic poem and adapts long stretches of it verbatim.

The reason I started with the hidden gem because the scene that I love and the one I hate are related even though they are from two different movies. To begin with, they were both filmed by the same director, Michael Mann. In fact, they're actually the same scene.


Okay, let me explain.

As far as I'm concerned, the crown jewel in Mann's filmography is the three hour, but still thrilling 1995 movie Heat starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. The key information here is the names of the two stars. Here's the deal: Heat is actually a remake of an earlier Mann movie, L.A. Takedown from 1989, that was actually a TV movie that was an unsuccessful pilot for a potential series. It was later given a DVD release after the success of Heat. Neither Pacino or De Niro appeared in that movie. One of the most famous scenes in Heat is the one where Pacino, the good guy is sitting in a diner with De Niro, the bad guy. The two have a tense conversation that serves as a turning point for the film. The exact same scenario plays out in L.A. Takedown. It features Scott Plank as our good guy, or the Pacino role and Alex McArthur as the bad guy, or the De Niro role. Let's just say, neither guy is giving an Oscar worthy portrayal. Just take a look...

Bad acting. Acting is bad.

You'll probably never get McArthur's unblinking death stare out of your head. Sorry 'bout that. Let's just watch the pros do it and call it a day.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Short Term 12

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton.
2013. Rated R, 97 minutes.
Brie Larson
John Gallagher Jr.
Keith Stanfield
Kaitlyn Dever
Rami Malek
Kevin Hernandez
Melora Walters
Stephanie Beatriz
Alex Calloway
Diana-Maria Riva

Grace (Larson) is a twenty-something supervisor at a group home for troubled teens. She cares deeply for the kids she works with and for her boyfriend Mason (Gallagher Jr.), who also works there. Her problems are as follows: the kids are troubled and she doesn't communicate well with her boyfriend about their relationship. We engage Grace on both of those fronts. Among the kids, we focus on Marcus (Stanfield) and Jayden (Dever). Marcus is about to age out of the program and is very reluctant to be going home. Jayden is a new arrival with a ton of baggage and a horrible attitude. The poor girl doesn't even like her name. As for Mason, Grace's reluctance to share is putting a serious strain on things. Emotions ensue.

Through Grace's eyes we get to know all of the main characters and, more importantly, empathize with them. We also come to understand how troubled she is, herself. Through the performances of these characters, they become well-rounded people who have complex relationships with the realities of their lives. Keith Stanfield, who plays Marcus, shows us a kid who is going through a massive internal struggle. Physically, he doesn't appear able to express his feelings. Whatever is lurking within him only comes out in nervous bursts of energy brought about by the slightest agitation. Mentally, we learn that he communicates much better through his writing. Jayden also has issues communicating. Like Marcus, the things that are bothering her are not things she willingly speaks about. Instead, she's internalized it and now guards it by keeping everyone at arms' length. Kaitlyn Dever is remarkable in the role. Both she and Stanfield give us people that we just hurt for.

If you can't tell, communication is a big theme. Short Term 12 hammers home the point that things would be a lot better if were able to articulate our problems and had people to listen to us. Not only is this the case with Marcus and Jaden, but for the relationship between Grace and BF, as well. At each point along the way, things take a step forward when something is shared. Things take a step backward when information is withheld. We see it time and again throughout the film. It's a tactic that works very well to get us, and keep us, emotionally involved in what's going on. Basically, we're put on a roller-coaster which is what Grace seems to be experiencing every single day. Brie Larson handles the role with aplomb. It takes a good deal of self-assuredness to present us with someone who has none and make it believable. She does this with ease. We fully buy into the notion that she is as troubled as the teens she works with. The only issue with her performance is not actually something she does wrong. It's more that she ridiculously outclasses John Gallagher Jr. as her love interest. He gives the occasional comic relief, but most often is "just a guy." More accurately, he's just a guy who happens to be channeling John Krasinski. I'm rather indifferent toward Krasinski, who generally gives us unmemorable nice guys. This is precisely the way Gallagher plays the role. He's not bad. He just doesn't feel like an essential person.

To drive the point home about communication, we have Sammy (Calloway). He's a character who rarely speaks and most often just takes off running in an effort to get away from the group home. His existence serves as a metaphor. The people who don't, or can't communicate effectively are merely running from their problems. However, Sammy never gets away. The suggestion is that none of us can get away from our problems merely by running from them. We must turn and face them if we are to overcome them. It's a character wonderfully handled by director Destin Daniel Cretton. Sammy is a minor player in the grand scheme of things, plotwise. On the other hand, he's a brilliant summation of the film's entire point.

Eventually, the movie lessens its own impact by insisting on finding the silver lining in every cloud. Things happen very near the end that suggests there is still much work to do. For me, this would be the more honest conclusion. For an hour and a half, we've been presented with complicated issues. Complicated issues rarely have simple solutions. Short Term 12 tries to pretend that they do. It feels like the filmmakers shying away from the truth to give us the pie in the sky. It seems to say, 'yeah, there is work left to do, but don't worry. Everyone lives happily ever after.' It intends this to make itself into a feel-good story. However, it comes off as a movie in denial of the truth it had been giving us until it suddenly decided to flinch.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School Blogathon!

Summer is winding down. The kids are getting ready to head back to school, if they haven't already gone. That makes this the perfect time for my next blogathon!

Of course, this will have something to do with school.

Bloggers, you are tasked with creating your very own movie class using characters from as many different films as you wish (almost). We will also include someone to run the school and someone to run the class. The rules are as follows:

1. Choose at least 1 character to fit into each of the following roles:

Administrator (either a dean, principal, head master, or some other equivalent)
Star Student/Nerd
Jock/Class Bully
Popular Girl/Diva
Invisible Girl (aka not popular girl)
Class Clown
Troubled Youth

Of course, include a few words on why each character was chosen.

Some of the categories have slashes because there is a lot of overlap within. However, feel free to break those up to make your class even larger. For instance if you use a jock who is a nice guy, you can also include a bully. As long as you have the minimum number of students and others, your class can be as large as you like.

2. There are NO RESTRICTIONS on age. Theoretically, you can have Zach from Kindegarten Cop in the same class as Rodney Dangerfield's character to School

3. You can use multiple characters from a single movie, but a class must be made up of characters from at least three separate movies.

4. Use movies in which school is an important part of the plot or are largely set in a school.

5. Finally, use my banner somewhere in your entry and link back to this post.

I'm setting the deadline for September 21, 2014. Leave a link to your entry below in the comments section. On the 22nd, I will create a post highlighting  all the participating entries.

Happy Blogging!

Sunday, August 24, 2014


Directed by Paul Middleditch.
2013. Rated R, 85 minutes.
Craig Robinson
Anna Kendrick
John Francis Daley
Rob Corddry
Ana Gasteyer
Thomas Lennon
Ken Jeong
Tyler Labine
Paul Scheer
Adrianna Costa

If you're familiar with the Bible then you know that after the Rapture, things on Earth go haywire. Well, that's where we are. Much of the population has vanished from the planet and taken up residence in Heaven. Those left behind have to deal with locusts, blood rain, falling meteorites, wraiths, and yes, The Anti-Christ in the form of Earl Grundy (Robinson) who prefers to be called, what else, The Beast. He's taken over the U.S. government, dropped nukes on Chicago and Orlando among other places around the world. Now, he's living in Seattle and has taken a liking to local girl Lindsey (Kendrick). Not being the sort of girl that goes for bad boys, but one that does have a boyfriend, she turns him down flat. Unfortunately, you just can't tell the Anti-Christ no. He gives her an ultimatum. Either she marries him or he will kill everyone in her family. She has eight hours to decide. What's a girl to do?

Immediately, we start down the path of religous satire. It's meant to be a rather irreverent one, at that. No problem. A number of good movies have successfully taken on organized religion. Even if you're a devout follower of one or another, you have to admit it's a big target. From time to time, someone is going to take a shot at it. Sadly, even if you were nodding off reading up to this point, nothing as interesting as this review happens in Rapture-Palooza. I'm not just tooting my own horn, either. Travel around to as many different sites and read as many different reviews as you want. I promise every one of them will be far more intriguing than this movie.

Our heroes are just plain bland, and yes, I purposely put two synonyms next to each other for emphasis. Anna Kendrick sleepwalks through her role in the lead. John Francis Daley, who plays her boyfriend Ben, whines his way through his. I really wanted to slap him. Hard. Twice. At least. As our villain, Craig Robinson pretty much does what Craig Robinson does. He isn't necessarily bad, just failed by the writing of his character. In a movie meant to spoof Christianity, the character of the Anti-Christ is ripe with possibilities. There are so many depths to be mined. However, this movie is content to have him talk dirty, really dirty, to Anna Kendrick. Further robbing the character of any power, his behavior, and his race merely exploit stereotypes in hopes of getting cheap laughs. It doesn't. Instead, it just plays like white guy paranoia. Literally, it feels like it's a movie about a big evil black guy out to take an innocent white woman from her loving white boyfriend. That their grand solution is trying to lock him up doesn't help matters. Oops, spoiler alert...not really.

Believe it or not, there are actually three potentially interesting characters in the movie. The first is Lindsey's mom Lora (Gasteyer). She was taken during the rapture, but was sent back. All she gets to do is cry. A loud, fake "movie" cry. Let's move on. Next is Mr. Murphy (Lennon). He's become a zombie, but doesn't try to eat anyone. Neither do any of the other zombies, but that's beside the point. Mr. Murphy seems to have a story that's begging to be told. He just pushes an imaginary lawn mower until he gets a real one. Sigh. Finally, Ben's dad Walt (Corddry). He's one of the few who has managed to make a nice living and has done so by working for The Beast. Hmmm....could be a complex character that gives us some food for thought. Nope. His job is to repeatedly urge Lindsey to marry his boss. Ugh. At least we get an unfunny cameo from Ken Jeong. SMH.

Here is where I usually try to wrap up my review with a nice tidy conclusion summarizing all of my thoughts on the movie. On a good day, I'll end it with a clever sentence. This ain't a good day, boys and girls. Rapture-Palooza sucks and I've spent far too much time on it.

MY SCORE: 0/10

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies About Time Travel

Happy Thursday, all! I'm glad you're joining me for another installment of Thursday Movie Picks, hosted by Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves. Or maybe, you're reading this from the future. Maybe you're from the future and when you landed in 2014 you walked past a computer, and had to stop to check today's date. You may have even journeyed here from the past and are simply stunned that computers no longer take up entire rooms, if they even exist during the time from whence you came.

What am I babbling about?

That's easy. This week's theme is Movies About Time Travel. As has become my usual for this feature, I'm going to explore lesser traveled to pockets of time. That means no going back to November 5, 1955. You figure that one out. So I'll once again try to hip you to some hidden gems.

Deja Vu
It's hard to imagine a Denzel Washington vehicle as a hidden gem, especially one released within the last decade. Truthfully, this one did gross about $180 million worldwide. However, only about a third of that came from here in the U.S. and the critics were not exactly singing its praises. That said, I quite enjoyed this movie where Denzel plays an ATF agent who goes back in time trying to stop a terrorist attack and save the life of the key witness played by Paula Patton. Much of the time is actually spent watching her through a device called "Snow White" which enables us to look back roughly four days into the past. Why yes, that is a pic of Denzel watching himself four days prior.

The Jacket
We meet Gulf War Vet Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) in 1992 after he's survived getting shot in the head, but now suffers bouts of amnesia. This means he can't recall the facts of an event that led to him being charged with the murder of a police officer. He's found not guilty by reason of insanity, but ends up incarcerated in a mental institution (hey, travel back in time to when that was the theme). The doc there, played by Kris Kristofferson, does what docs in these types of movies do. He puts our guy in a strait-jacket, and injects him full experimental drugs. Next thing you know, Jack finds himself 15 years in the future. This one bends your mind as far as it can without actually breaking it.

Safety Not Guaranteed
Of all the movies about the subject, this might have the least time travel of them all, if it really has any at all. Hmmm. Still, it's a wonderful little film about a guy who runs an ad in the paper requesting a companion to go back in time with him and the reporter sent in to see if he's cuckoo for Coco Puffs. It's much more a film about human interaction than about hopping through time, but it does happen. Or, does it? Read my full review here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks

Directed by John Lee Hancock. 
2013. Rated PG, 125 minutes. 
Emma Thompson 
Tom Hanks 
Paul Giamatti 
Colin Farrell 
B.J. Novak 
Jason Schwartzman 
Ruth Wilson 
Annie Rose Buckley 
Melanie Paxson 
Bradley Whitford

Even if you've never seen Mary Poppins, chances are you're familiar with the character. Based on a children's novel and released in 1964, it quickly became an iconic piece of cinema, raking in all sorts of money at the box office and an armful of Oscars for good measure. Our plot revolves around the struggles of the great Walt Disney (Hanks) to get the book's author P.L. Travers (Thompson) to let him bring it to the big screen. The problem is she's so attached to her creation she can't bear to see anyone embellish it any way and is willing to fight tooth and nail about it. We get to see how Disney and his team of merry makers charmed her enough to get her to loosen the reins. This is no small feat considering she starts adamantly against him making it one of his "silly cartoons" and absolutely does not want it to be a musical. A power struggle with a seismic shift ensues.

The film benefits from a wonderful performance by Emma Thompson in the lead role. She is a perfect blend of standoffish, defensive, and rude. At the same time, we know that she is fiercely protecting something she loves. We respect that immensely even if we disagree with her methods. Thompson commands the screen whenever she is on it which is most of the time. Her strong presence pulls us in. She makes us understand that she feels wronged by Disney and his people at every turn. We're also glad when she begins coming around.

From the other side of things, we feel the frustration of the people who are trying to give cinematic life to Travers' book. Despite what you've heard, Disney is not really key to conveying this life. He's just the muscle brought in when the rest of his team is at their wits end. They spend much more time with her, and with us. It's their pain we feel. Mostly, this is thanks to a pair of wonderful turns. One is B.J. Novak, the other by Jason Schwartzman. They play the two songwriters who compose the music for the movie. Their battles with her take on an epic quality that serves the movie well. As for Hanks as Disney, he gets two scenes where he goes for the gusto, but otherwise isn't given a whole lot to do. To his credit, he makes it work when he's called upon.

Where Saving Mr. Banks lacks most is in the tension department. Given that we all know Mary Poppins got made, the movie can't generate any whatsoever. P.L. Travers can rant, rave, stomp, and shout all she wants to, we're never going to think she's actually going to stop the production. It's like watching a sporting event when you already know the final score. Sure, seeing how it got that way can be fun, but it never generates the same excitement as not knowing how it ends. Even with lots of movies that we can predict the ending, that shred of doubt that says we might be wrong can keep us interested. This movie never affords us that.

The movie does do a decent job combating this problem by using flashbacks to Travers' life as a child. It's a history most viewers aren't familiar with. We don't know how her relationship with her dad (Farrell) plays out. We hope it works out for the best. Unfortunately, this is still only a subplot. The overriding focus is on whether or not a movie will be made, a question to which we already know the answer. That said, I have to give Colin Farrell credit, for turning in some very nice work as the author's dad. It is him and his character that provide the movie's most emotional moments.

As the movie comes to a close, we're left with the feeling we watched a nice movie that is very well made. We really enjoy the performances by Emma Thompson and Colin Farrell, as well as those of actors with smaller roles. This includes Tom Hanks, disarmingly charming when he needs to be. However, its iconic subject matter serves as an anchor. The movie can never pull it along enough to build up any serious momentum. It just moseys along, pluckily doing things we can appreciate, but aren't necessarily thrilled by. I hate to say it, but we have an enjoyable and pleasant watch that is bound to be forgotten.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Guilty Pleasure Movies Blogathon

If I'm anything, it's a man with a number of guilty pleasures when it comes to my movie watching. Sure, I love most of the movies we collectively call great. I even revere a number of them. Many of the films I personally consider the best of all time give us some great insight into the society as it was when said film was released. Do the Right Thing, 12 Angry Men, M, and Boyz N the Hood come to mind. Others are just examples of epic story-telling that stand the test of time. I'm talking stuff like Once Upon a Time in America, Oldboy, Schindler's List, and  the first two parts of The Godfather. Some are not only great stories, but have also advanced filmmaking from a technical aspect. The cinematic landscape irrevocably changed after Citizen Kane, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and The Matrix came out.

Screw all of them.

This is about the flicks I put on when I get a hankering to watch something outrageous. There may not be one socially redeeming quality about the movies I pick when I get in such a mood, but they're fun. They're usually bad, like beyond a shadow of a doubt bad, but I have a blast watching them. The binding thread between them is that they are really too loony for me to take even a little bit seriously. So yeah, some are violent to the point of being nihilistic, just for the sake of it. Gratuitous nudity is another common trait. In fact, most are exploitative in some form or another and they could all be called stupid.

What's your point?

These are MY guilty pleasures, not yours.


before I go on, I must thank the ladies who gave me the impetus for this post. The wonderful Jenna and Allie from Flick Chicks invited us bloggers to write about our own guilty pleasure movies. Since there must be rules, here they are in the words of our two gracious hostesses:

1 - You can choose and discuss as many or as few movies as you like. We both did a Top 10, but you can just choose 1 movie if you like. Just tell us a bit about the movie and why you like it so much.

2 - Please create a new post for our Blogathon, rather than linking an old post you may have already done.

3 - Please include our Blogathon Banner anywhere in your post

4 - The deadline for entries is Sunday, 31st August, so there's plenty of time!

This ain't about rules.

Sorry, girls.

This is about my undying love for crap cinema. In other words, even though I've developed a pretty good blogging relationship with Jenna and Allie they may regret letting me play this particular game. For maximum effect I'm going with a list...

My 10 (but more like 25) Most Guiltiest Pleasures

# 10 
At roughly 117 years of age, Sylvester Stallone decided to dust off one of his most iconic characters by making this, the fourth installment in the First Blood franchise. That first flick, is one of the best films ever made about Vietnam Vets. The sequel, Rambo: First Blood Part II is an action flick that takes the wonderfully nuanced character of John Rambo and transforms him into a superhero. It's dumb, but still a good time. Rambo III was action packed and dumb, but not a good time. This one doesn't even pretend to be a good movie. It pretty much just tries to see how many casualties it can cram into a movie less than 90 minutes long (actually 92 according to its imdb page, but that's just a flat out lie). So yeah, take another look at that pic. That's basically the plot. By the way, this is by far the most "acceptable" movie we'll be discussing today (but we'll be seeing Stallone again). It only gets worse better from here.

True Story.
Punisher: War Zone
Marvel's wonderful anti-hero The Punisher has been brought to the big screen three times. General consensus is that the second version starring Thomas Jane is the best. That depends on how you define "best." Is that one the most accomplished and polished of the three movies? Yes, it is. Is it my favorite? No, it's not. And it's not even close. The version with Jane is basically a re-enactment of every Steven Segal movie ever made. That can be fun. I like some Segal flicks, but it didn't stand out one bit. The older version starred Dolph Lundgren. Yeah, it starred Dolph Lundgren. Meh. This last version, Punisher: War Zone, is just bonkers from start to finish. It's incoherent and damn bloody. Is it good in any reasonable sense of the word? Hell no!

You've read the eloquent thoughts of my inner-sadist, now my inner-pig is requesting some air-time. He presents to you the wonderfully craptacular  H.O.T.S. If you're not familiar with this one, it's a 1979 sexploitation flick that I became familiar with as a very young teen in the early 80s. Set on a college campus, it deals with the weighty issue of gaining acceptance by ones peers. Honestly, the teen sex classic Revenge of the Nerds ripped off this movie for its premise. A group of girls not cool enough for the popular sorority start one of their own. Only instead of a giant school-wide battle of the bands, this one culminates in a strip football game between the two sororities.

Death Race 2000
Before Jason Statham remade it, there was this cult classic. It stars David Carradine and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone. Given the details surrounding Carradine's actual death, his role here gains a whole new level of creepiness as he walks around in a leather suit, including a mask, a cape, and lots of zippers. Still, this is loads of fun. This one actually does try to make some social commentary, but whatever. Set in that most futuristic year of 2000, lol, we follow the world's best drivers on a cross country race. Finishing first is simply not enough for these guys. Drivers earn extra points for running down pedestrians. Each motorist also has a navigator of the opposite sex in the car. Since you can't drive all the way across this land in one day, there are plenty of breaks in the action for things such as fist fights between competitors, back-stabbing by politicians, and nude co-ed massages while the press interviews the participants. I'm in! (My full review here)

Happy Birthday to Me
How could this not be the most fun you've ever had? I mean, it's a slasher flick starring a girl from Little House on the Prairie, the most wholesome show ever made. On top of that, it is a totally insane watch. Some of the kill scenes have become iconic among those of us into such things. And those last fifteen minutes are a doozy. If you're at all into horror, you have to see this to understand what the fuss is about. Do it, now. Either before or after, read my review of it, too. 

Dolemite Movies
Dolemite is his name. 
Rappin' and tappin' is his game. 
He was born in a barrel of butcher knives, 
been shot in the ass with two Colt .45s. 
He's been bit by a shark and shocked by an eel. 
He'll chew a railroad track and shit out steel. 
He swam the ocean and swallowed a whale. 
He handcuffed lightning and threw thunder's ass in jail...

Oh, sorry. I was gettin' my Dolemite on.

What does that mean?

Dolemite is a pimp that often talks in rhyme, is a master in martial arts, and trains all of his hoes to be likewise. What's not to love? If you need more convincing, I've reviewed two of them. Just so you know, I really could have chosen a number of Blaxploitation flicks for this spot. Just sayin'.

Malibu High
If you've never seen this one, you have never seen a crazy movie. The quick and dirty is that Kim is flunking out of high school and will do anything to get straight A's...and earn a little money in the process. This includes prostitution, drugs, murder, and the original theme song from "The Peoples' Court." You know, the usual. This is the one and only acting credit for star Jill Lansing and she made it damn memorable. It's a completely balls-to-the-wall performance in a movie fully deserving of one. If you don't want to see it yourself, you're in luck. In a rare move by me, I spoiled the entire movie with an in-depth and funny (I think) review

Friday the 13th Movies
Roger Ebert coined a term I've used to describe tons of pictures, "Dead Teenager Movies," or "DTM" for short. No franchise has lived up to that billing more thoroughly than the Friday the 13th series. What can I say? I just love watching Jason stalk pot smokin', beer swillin', fornicatin' teenagers, even if he has to come back to life at the beginning of every movie just to do it. I've written about one installment or another several times, here. As an added bonus, the very first movie gave us one of cinema's all time great moms. Hear me out. I love my own mom. She's damn near perfect in my eyes. However, Mrs. Voorhees makes me question how much she really loves me. I mean, would she really go and kill and bunch of camp counselors had I died while in their care? I don't think so. That's weak, mom. Weak.

Raw Force
The fact that it has an alternate title as widely known as its real one is telling. That that title is Kung Fu Cannibals is just as telling. That poster for it says tons. It does indeed involve kung fu, and cannibals. Let's add in zombies and plenty of random nudity, as well. Still, none of this reveals just how special a place this has in my heart. To understand this is to journey down one of those strangely lit corridors of my childhood that, oddly enough, also houses my memories of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don't have enough room to do it justice in this post, so click over to this one.

I absolutely love this movie for all the wrong reasons. A plot that totally rips off All About Eve then both subverts and perverts it? Check. A leading lady, the questionably talented but easy on the eyes Elizabeth Berkley, who couldn't even carry Bette Davis' g-string? Check. A leading lady who often goes without a g-string, or any other type of clothing for that matter? Check. A leading lady who flops around like a fish out of water while having sex in the water? Check. Some of the worse dialogue you've ever heard? Check. Some of the sleaziest scenes ever filmed? Check. Gina Gershon sneering her way through a mostly topless performance? Check. Hell, just about everyone ass-naked so much that the poster above was pretty much the only "safe" pic I could find? Check. Never being able to look at Saved by the Bell with any thoughts of innocence ever again? Double check.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

47 Ronin

Directed by Carl Rinsch.
2013. Rated PG-13, 118 minutes.
Keanu Reeves
Hiroyuki Sanada
Tadanabu Asano
Rinko Kikuchi
Ko Shibasaki
Min Tanaka
Jin Akanishi
Masayoshi Haneda
Gedde Watanabe

We find out right away that Ronin are samurais who have disgraced their masters. Then, we don't meet any of them for a really, really long time. And the ones we do meet, we don't care about.

Oh, wait. I'm getting way ahead of myself.

Let's start with Kai (Reeves). A long time ago in a galaxy not far enough away, he's a young man who is the foster son of the good Lord Asano (Tanaka). However, since he's of interracial descent, Japanese and white, he isn't the most popular guy in town. You know things are bad when you non-chalantly answer to "half-breed." For this reason, and because he's played by Keanu Reeves, Kai seems eternally depressed and wears a blank expression on his face. That's before we even get to the real bad things that happen to him. That stuff starts when Lord Kira (Asano) and his personal sorceress, the very creatively named Witch (Kikuchi) show up. She tricks Lord Asano into committing a heinous crime for which he is sentenced to death. His right hand man Oishi (Sanada) is branded a Ronin and thrown into a hole in the ground. Asano's daughter Mika (Shibasaki) is told she will marry Kira in one year's time. Kai, our hero, is promptly sold into slavery. When that year passes, Oishi is let out of his hole, tracks down Kai plus 46 fellow Ronin, and go after Kira. This is all very loosely based on a true story. Really loosely. Matter of fact, if you have any knowledge of it, just scrap it for the purpose of watching this movie. Hell, I'm even going to pick apart my own summary of the film for you. Out of everything I just wrote, here's what you need to know: it's all over a girl. That's it.

Simple, right?


It should have been.

Instead, the movie plays out in an excruciatingly convoluted and increasingly boring fashion. It mixes Samurai lore with the purely mystical to less than thrilling effect. It's bread and butter should be sword heavy martial arts. When it gives us this, the movie is at least a little fun. Unfortunately, it spends far more time with our hero and his "friends" tip-toeing around in the woods talking to magical beings and spouting pseudo-philosophical declarations at one another. It wants to be Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, but with a supernatural element. it's actually an even messier and far less exciting version of 2011's Conan the Barbarian, itself an incoherent slab of movie. This is definitely prettier, having some top notch production values. However, I'll say what I've said before. Pretty pictures do not a movie make. In this case, it's lipstick on a pig. That might make it a great looking pig, but I still don't want to kiss it.

You know what? I haven't even dug into Keanu Reeves' performance, yet. Or, should I say his lack of one? Truthfully, it's no more or less than what I expect. He gave us a non-descript villain in the better, but not great Man of Tai Chi. Here? You watch it and let me know if you detect a pulse. I'd say his rebranding of himself as a martial arts star isn't going too well. A quick glance at the numbers seem to refute my assessment, though. 47 Ronin stumbled its way to a $150 million take at the box office. However, you have to factor in what it cost to make such a beautiful mess. It had a budget of $175 million. Yeah, I'm right. Always.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Directed by Adam McKay.
2013. Rated PG-13, 119 minutes.
Will Ferrell
Steve Carell
Christina Applegate
Paul Rudd
David Koechner
Meagan Good
James Marsden
Kristen Wiig
Dylan Baker
Fred Willard
Harrison Ford

When we first catch back up to Ron Burgundy (Ferrell), he's co-anchoring the evening news in New York City with his wife Veronica (Applegate) at the dawn of the 1980s. Together, they share a happy marriage which includes their son Walter (Nelson). However, things fall apart instantly when Ron is passed over for a promotion to anchor the nightly national news show in favor of his wife. Soon, he's living in San Francisco, alone, and miserable because he's out of the news game all together. His fortunes change when he's hired by GNN, the first 24 hour news network. Blues Brothers style, he gets the band back together and travels back to the Big Apple for their new gig. Once there, he finds himself not only in competition for viewers with his estranged wife, but also with his own network's prime-time guy Jack Lime (Marsden). This is especially daunting given his 2 AM time slot. Hijinks and shenanigans ensue.

Anchorman 2 bolts out of the starting gates. The first half of the movie is as funny as the original. Part of this is due to how effectively it builds steam during the setup phase. It takes advantage of our excitement for seeing the crew back together by re-introducing the characters in brilliant ways. The most fun re-introduction belongs to Brick Tamland (Carell) and involves his funeral. In fact, Brick is probably the most fun character in the entire film. Also fun is the ambiguous feelings for Ron that Champ Kind (Koechner) displays through his actions. There are also a number of jokes rehashed from the original. However, they work early on. It's remarkable given the fact if you've seen the first movie, you're pretty much guaranteed to remember how funny those bits were.

While the re-introductions of old characters, intros to the new ones, and the occasional rehashing of familiar bits carries the first act, our source of humor changes a bit for act two. We focus squarely on tying those early days of cable to the current state of news reporting. For those of us old enough to remember what it was like back when there were only three major networks and news only came on at six and eleven, this is a sharp satire and truncation of three and a half decades of news dissemination. For younger viewers, it is at least effective at reminding you what things were like before the age of Twitter. The movie also gets mileage out of Ron Burgundy trying to get to know his son, the competition between Burgundy and Jack Lime, and the dynamics of interracial relationships. It does that last thing by putting Burgundy together with Linda Jackson (Good), his boss who happens to be both female and black, two facts that gave Ron and the boys cause for pause. Admittedly, it never really does anything other than use it for an excuse for Burgundy to act like an imbecile. It tries to show the ignorance of stereotypes, but loses something because Ron never gets it.

All the steam we've coasted on for the first two thirds of the movie is lost when the third act starts. Simply put, the whole thing falls apart. The first thing is that all the loose strands come together quickly, but the movie keeps going as if they hadn't. Therefore, the climax is drawn out and unfunny. The effectiveness of re-using jokes from the first movie peters out because they go to the well one too many time. On that last trip, they also bring out way too large a bucket. Not content to merely copy what happened the first time around, the movie crams itself full of what seems like the most cameos in cinematic history. The problem is that the movie assumes that seeing these familiar faces is inherently funny rather than giving them something funny to do. It wants us to go "Ha ha, that's Will Smith, hahahahahaha." However, it only gives us enough material to say "Hey, that's Will Smith." See the difference?

The nosedive taken at the end of the movie makes Anchorman 2 a frustrating experience. We're enjoying ourselves for quite a while. Next thing you know, we're cringing at how bad things have gotten. It flipped from being slyly clever in a way that appears stupid to actually being stupid. Even the cast seems worn out by this time. Our main characters don't have much to do and seem to be going through the motions for what they do have. It's pretty apparent because, like the rest of the movie, they had so much life earlier. They become relegated to the sidelines while a bunch of celebrities hijack the end of the movie for no good reason, at all. Maybe the writers or director Adam McKay didn't know how to end it, or couldn't agree on it. In any event, they did not reach the right conclusion.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies that Feature Food

Happy Thursday! It's time once again for me to give you three suggestions based on a theme selected by Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves. I've had a lot of fun with this weekly blogathon. I enjoy the challenge it provides me each week. Feel free to join us because it's never too late to get in on the action.

With the formalities out of the way, let's get to the table. I mean that literally because this week's theme is Movies that Feature Food. In general, with these Thursday picks, I've been unearthing hidden gems. Let's cook up another batch of them. We all like to try a new dish every now and again, right? Well, this week I'm serving up two documentaries and yet another 'hood classic. Have a seat, loosen your belt, bless the table if you'd like, and dig in.


Soul Food
Generally, I wouldn't call soul food anyone's appetizer. Trust me, there's more than enough to get you full. However, in the case of this movie and this week's theme, this should be just enough to hold you over until the main course arrives. It's a kitchen sink drama about a family with all sorts of problems. It is also about the gravitational pull of good food as it becomes a binding force in these people's lives. With the drama getting a bit spicy at times, we can dip it in the comedy sauce from time to time and get a decent laugh. Our cooks include Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Mekhi Phifer, and my beloved Nia Long. And yes, the dreaded (by me, at least) Chef Tyler Perry has built his entire career around emulating this movie.


A Place at the Table
For our main course, we'll go with something that's going to stick to your ribs. Hunger is a huge problem here in the U.S. Many of those who aren't hungry are still malnourished because of the types of food they can afford. Simply put, eating healthy is expensive. This documentary examines the issue with a heavy focus on our broken school lunch system and food stamp programs. We also meet several families from different areas of the country and look deeply into their circumstances.


Jiro Dreams of Sushi
I'll admit, Soul Food is a big appetizer and A Place at the Table is a rather heavy entree. Still, I can't let you leave without trying our sushi. You say sushi isn't a dessert? I beg to differ, at least in this case. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is such a sweet movie, I've no choice but to put it here. This documentary focuses on Jiro, a man with the most renowned sushi restaurant in the world. In fact, there is nothing else on his menu. He works tirelessly to perfect the craft of making it and has been doing so since World War II. Put short, the man is an artist. (Read my full review)

Once you take in all that, you should be full and ready for a nap. If not,...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

R.I.P. Lauren Bacall

September 16, 1924 - August 12, 2014

Many of us are still reeling from the untimely passing of Robin Williams. However, another Hollywood legend has also left us. Lauren Bacall passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

Her death provides an interesting contrast with that of Williams. Since she was 89 and hasn't been in the public spotlight for many years, her passing is something we more readily accept. It's not something we feel the need to make a big fuss over. That's not to diminish who she was, just that the way she left us feels more organic. It's part of the natural order of things.

As for me, personally, I must say I'm woefully disconnected to Bacall. I recognize her status as one of the true starlets of her era, but somehow she's escaped me. To this point, at least. Looking over her filmography, I'm pretty sure the only thing I've seen her in is Key Largo opposite Humphrey Bogart. I love the movie, and love her in it, but just haven't gotten around to seeing any more of her work. Still, just knowing she's gone creates a bit of an empty spot.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pointless Lists: Greatest Talking Animals

Yesterday, I gushed over Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. This got me to thinking about Caesar's place in another world, the one of talking animals in movies. There have been plenty. I'll be the first to admit that once you're passed the age of twelve most of us, myself included, hate most of them. However, there are a few that sneak through our defenses and find a warm spot in our heart.

For this list, I gave myself a set of simple rules to follow. First, the character in question has to be a real animal that can be found here on Earth (even if they aren't on Earth in their movie). Therefore, Falcor the luck dragon from A Neverending Story, nor any other type of dragon, will not be making an appearance. Second, the character can't be represented as a replica of the real thing. This means no Ted or Lots-O'-Huggin' as they are stuffed animals, not actual animals. Lastly, the animal has to appear completely as such. I mean, being played by a guy (or girl) in a suit is okay, but human features cannot be visible. Bye bye, Cowardly Lion.

Now that the criteria is set, let's get to the actual list. In my opinion, and certainly not a definitive list by any stretch, these are the ten greatest talking animals in movies.

10. Sid
(voiced by John Leguizamo)
Natural Habitat: The Ice Age movies
What is he? A three-toed sloth
What do smart people call them? Bradypodidae
Fun Fact: Sloths only come down out of the tree they live in to urinate or defecate, once a week
He speaks with a lisp, isn't the sharpest prehistoric bone, and generally gets on the nerves of everyone around him. You know what? I love him for it. Through four movies, with a fifth on the way, Sid gives us probably 90% of all the funny moments not given to us by the non-talking squirrel.

9. Aslan
(voiced by Liam Neeson)
Natural Habitat: The Chronicles of Narnia franchise
What is he? A lion.
What do smart people call them? Panthera Leo
Fun Fact: Male lions sleep up to 21 hours a day
This lion is not just the king of the jungle, but of everything. I mean that literally, as in that biblical "King of Kings" sort of way. Given that, it's no surprise that he's wise, brave, and well, god-like.

8. Puss in Boots
(voiced by Antonio Banderas)
Natural Habitat: Shrek sequels and prequels
What is he? A domestic shorthair tabby, or a cute li'l kitty cat - your choice
What do smart people call them? Felis silvestris catus
Fun Fact: The technical term for a cat's hairball is "bezoar"
You gotta love a sword fighting cat that's also a ladies' man, right? If you don't, he'll melt your cold, icy heart with the most pitiful set of sad eyes you've ever seen. I mean, can we get Puss in Boots 2 already?

7. Po
(voiced by Jack Black)
Natural Habitat: Kung Fu Panda movies
What is he? A panda
What do smart people call them? Ailuropoda melanoleuca
Fun Fact: Pandas spend roughly 16 hours a day eating
Simply put, I love the Kung Fu Panda franchise. Both function as wonderful kiddie-flicks and excellent martial arts movies. Po is at the center of it all, giving us a terrific hero and probably the best character Jack Black has ever played.

6. Roger Rabbit
(voiced by Charles Fleischer)
Natural Habitat: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
What is he? A rabbit
What do smart people call them? Oryctolagus cuniculus
Fun Fact: In the wild some female rabbits can produce about eight litters of bunnies per year.
Okay, I'll be honest. Roger is here mostly because I've never seen a good Bugs Bunny movie. However, that doesn't make him any less fun a character. Besides that, he has arguably the hottest wife of all time. I mean, after mine, of course.

5. Jiminy Cricket
(voiced by Cliff Edwards)
Natural Habitat: Pinocchio and all things Disney
What is he? A cricket
What do smart people call them? Gryllus assimilis
Fun Fact: Crickets' ears are located on the knees of their front legs
More than just a cute little fellow in an adorable suit, Jiminy actually provides our hero with a conscience. He is the angel sitting on the wooden boy's shoulder.

4. Scar
(voiced by Jeremy Irons)
Natural Habitat: The Lion King
What is he? A lion.
What do smart people call them? Panthera Leo
Fun Fact: The roar of a lion can be heard five miles away
I know that Mufasa's iconic voice is provided by the legendary James Earl Jones. I know that Simba is the hero. However, watch The Lion King again and tell me it's not Scar who makes the movie tick.

3. Dory
(voiced by Ellen DeGeneres)
Natural Habitat: Finding Nemo
What is she? A regal blue tang
What do smart people call them? Paracanthurus hepatus
Fun Fact: Blue tangs are capable of adjusting the intensity of their hue - from light blue to deep purple
Finally, we have a female on the list. Sadly, she's the only one. However, this doesn't make her any less deserving as she is by far my favorite character in a great movie. I can't wait for Finding Dory.

2. Napoleon
(voiced by Maurice Denham)
Natural Habitat: Animal Farm
What is he? A domestic pig
What do smart people call them? Sus scrofa domesticus
Fun Fact: Pigs are widely accepted to be smarter than human children up to 3 years of age
Another villain finds his way onto the list. Napoleon is used to represent many of society's ills of the 1950s and he is a masterful one. Animal Farm is a great movie based on a great book. Fun facts about the movie: it was the first British animated film to get a theatrical release and Maurice Denham voiced all of the animals.

1. Caesar
(voiced by Andy Serkis)
Natural Habitat: Rebooted Planet of the Apes franchise
What is he? A common chimpanzee
What do smart people call them? Pan troglodytes
Fun Fact: Chimpanzees make and use tools for more purposes than any other creatures except human beings
Perhaps I'm just basking in the afterglow of my viewing of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Or, maybe Caesar is a piece of truly genius filmmaking, both technically and emotionally complex. Either way you want to paint the picture, he gets my top spot.

I know. I missed your favorite, or at least a character you feel is worth mentioning. Let me know what you think.