Monthly Archives: September 2019

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Movie Review – Raiders of the Lost Ark

Category : Movie Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman

Year: 1981

I think it’s important that we don’t let the passing of the way-more-than-we-like-to-admit years change our opinion of what’s obviously a classic film; Raiders of the Lost Ark is still magic.  It would be too easy, watching it now, to poke holes in its story and laugh at its attempts at special effects, but that’s only because of the Blu-ray revolution, only because of what has been thrown in front of our eyes in the time since, not because Spielberg’s masterpiece is anything other than that.  I just want to make sure my position is clear; Indiana Jones is a goddam hero, I grew up loving him, and I’m not planning for that to ever change.  There are moments when the first flick acts a little silly, but I doubt I really care; it was ’81, it’s an epic adventure, Indy is larger than life, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  There’s no reason for us to mess that all up now by pretending we’ve somehow risen above a time when punching Nazis was literally the coolest thing you could do and you wished that Dr. Jones was your secret second dad.

In the late 1930s, if America wanted to get its mitts on a coveted ancient relic, whether for power, money, or to keep it out of the hands of evil foreign entities, they sent Indiana Jones, knowing that the infamous archeologist would stop at nothing to preserve history and bring home the prize.  Dr. Jones was a professor during business hours, but a treasure hunter off campus, traversing the world in search of rare antiquities, beating up bad guys who just wanted to make a cheap buck.  His latest exploit; find a mysterious medallion, locate a lost city, discover the Ark of the Covenant, and grab it before the Germans can.  Easier said then done, since he doesn’t know where the medallion is, the city is buried under the Egyptian sands, and the Nazis have half their entire army looking for both.  But odds never bothered Indy before, and, with the help of his #1 gal Marion, he’ll save the day for sure.

I don’t mean to come off as defensive from the very beginning, and maybe this is a case of making up a group that doesn’t even exist, but I just have this feeling that there are people who would watch this movie and not understand its greatness, if only because they missed the time period in which it was truly great and can’t peer through the Marvel mist to see it now.  Raiders of the Lost Ark is special, a hallmark, a pillar of the industry, and, Jesus Christ, look at the people who made it: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman, Frank Marshall, John Williams.  The crew stands out much more than the cast, which isn’t much beside Harrison Ford and that one girl from Animal House.  Alfred Molina has a tiny part, which is cool, but beyond that there isn’t much to notice, which is fine; Indy is indeed The Man.  His daring do is all we need, his subtle humor gets us through, and we know he’ll find a way out of any sticky situation, because that’s what heroes do, and that’s how movies like this ought to be made.  The Nazis, the Ark, the desert, the submarine, the fistfights, the gunfights, the booby traps, the snakes; how could you go wrong with a film that’s this intentionally fun and fun-loving?  You can’t, that’s the answer, you just can’t, so don’t be a stick in the mud; just let the saga of Indiana Jones do its job (thrill), you sit back and do your job (absorb), and let your troubles slide away, at least until Part Two.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Category : Movie Review

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei

Year: 2007

Sidney Lumet’s final film, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, is a doozy, and perhaps the best of his career, minus 12 Angry Men of course, which is basically unparalleled.  But other than that classic, Lumet saved his best for last, a drama that will wow you with complexity of motive and intensity of emotion, a slightly gimmicky crime-gone-wrong tale that has the acting prowess to rise above the genre.  And of course it’s always wonderful to remember the spectacular career of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a troubled genius who has gone too soon.  Combining Lumet’s imagination, Hoffman’s talent, and an excellent supporting cast produces a movie unlike few others, a taste-defining moment really, if you can catch it while you’re quite young and still wonderfully impressionable.

It seems simple enough; rob a Mom & Pop store that doesn’t have security, has way too much insurance, won’t be busy, hordes its cash, no one gets hurts, everybody wins, badabing badaboom.  But you know the saying; if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.  Or, perhaps more potent for this situation, whatever can go wrong will.  Andy & Hank aren’t exactly masterminds after all, they’re just two brothers down on their luck, secretly banging the same broad, running out of time and money.  They need this score to settle debts and to get out of town, and what’s more, they know this little old jewelry store like the back of their hand; they should, since it belongs to their own mom & pop.

Told out of order and from multiple character’s points of view, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is the ultimate reminder that crime doesn’t pay, especially when you’re desperate and stupid.  The alternative might not seem that nice, but robberies often result in deaths, emphasis on the plural.  Half stage play, half crime caper, all high drama, this film is storytelling at its best, and even when it feels a little like a gimmick it still works just fine.  A lot of that has to do with the talent presented, which is just phenomenal, and could carry a bloated corpse across the finish line, picking up Oscars along the way.  My critics organization even gave the movie awards before my time, so that’s cool, and all the accolades it received are more than deserved.  Hoffman is a master of his craft, Hawke is so perfectly dimwitted, Tomei is an outright goddess, and the rest of the cast rounds out very strongly: Albert Finney, Amy Ryan, Michael Shannon.  Watch with confidence and with an eye toward the dark turns the path toward hell takes us, especially when we voluntarily give up the light.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 2

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 2 Picks

(9-6-1 last week, 9-6-1 for the season)

Bye teams: none

 

TB @ Car

Ari @ Bal

Dal @ Was

Ind @ Ten

Sea @ Pit

Buf @ NYG

SF @ Cin

LAC @ Det

Min @ GB

Jax @ Hou

NE @ Mia

KC @ Oak

NO @ LAR

Chi @ Den

Phi @ Atl

Cle @ NYJ

 


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Movie Review – American Psycho

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mary Harron

Starring: Christian Bale

Year: 2000

In a laundromat, Christian Bale’s character Patrick Bateman references Santa Fe, and if that isn’t the perfect icing on this well-constructed cake I don’t know what is.  The Newsies star breaks out onto the adult screen in American Psycho and hasn’t looked back since; he’s been Bruce Wayne, John Rolfe, John Conner, Dicky Eklund, Dick Cheney, and even Moses, for Christ’s sake.  What can Bale not do, (which is, of course, a rhetorical question) and what will we see him do next (which doesn’t even matter, because it’ll be the literal bomb).  He’s the only real star of this intentionally off-putting film, but the story doesn’t need a supporting cast, since its lead only sees others as objects ranging from mildly annoying to homicidally infuriating anyway.  Bateman is a homegrown psychopath, and this movie is basically a Hollywood icon.

Wall Street in the 1980s was a place of money & power, drugs & vices, as young men became rich executives each day, and struggled with their hidden problems over night.  Pat Bateman is in the rat race up to his ears and sees no means of escaping, as he competes to be at the very top, the absolute coolest, even among his own “friends”.  The best dinner reservation, the best tan, the best apartment, the best fiancee, the best shave, the best business cards; where will it end?  And what will the constant pressure eventually do to a person?  The answer; make them snap.  Patrick loses control and stops trying to fight his natural urges, mainly to screw and kill whatever it is he wants to screw and kill.  The American dream goes out the window in exchange for the American nightmare, and Bateman is our reluctant tour guide.

I’ve seen this movie before, but I never really saw it; today I was hit by the entire force behind the film and it was pretty powerful.  I don’t know if you can call it farce, but American Psycho is definitely over-blowing key flaws in modern humanity and therefor revealing their true natures to us, one by one.  It’s revelatory in a way, not to know that people are unhappy beneath their riches, because duh, but to be pointed toward examples of aggressive competition and soul-sucking existential crises like these, then to have it all go bonkers before your eyes and somehow stay on message.  Harron never did anything else grand, but this film is a wonderful singular accomplishment, and she should be proud.  Also, the cast is spot on: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, Chloe Sevigny, Reese Witherspoon, Jared Leto, Willem Dafoe.  Add in some excellent 80s music, creepily & hilariously explained within the action, and you’ve got something surprisingly funny, darkly witty, and bitingly real that you might need to experience more than once to fully love.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Dante’s Peak

Category : Movie Review

Director: Roger Donaldson

Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton

Year: 1997

Dante’s Peak has been a closet favorite of mine since I was a kid; I had a thing for disaster movies, don’t be too hard on me.  And I’ve always thought of it as a sort of standard for the genre, an over-the-top action extravaganza classic that a lot of others have followed behind.  Of course, Big Disaster isn’t a brand new style, they did ’em solid in the 70s too, The Poseidon Adventure comes to mind, so perhaps it’s more that my young mind thought Pierce Brosnan saving people from a volcano was simply bad ass.  But watching it back as an adult reveals a lot of the ridiculous underlying and all-too-obvious problems that keep this fun movie from being a good film; honestly, if I’m forgetting my loyalty, it’s downright terrible.

Volcanologist Harry Dalton is called to Dante’s Peak, Washington, the second best place in America to raise a family, to investigate some tectonic activity around the town’s namesake mountain.  The beast is dormant, but is showing signs of waking up, though Harry has trouble convincing anyone else of this fact.  The city council doesn’t want to freak people out, the other geologists don’t want to cause a panic, and the only person who seems to believe Dalton’s expert opinion is the town’s mayor, the lovely (and single) Rachel Wando.  But soon everyone gets in line and starts believing, as symptoms of an eruption become all too clear.  Can everyone get out in time, or will ash bury another lovely hamlet settled too near a sleeping giant?

Dante’s Peak is at once fabulous and horrendous, which makes it really hard to review.  And then there’s the added problem of my youthful love for the film, coupled with my more-critical adult perspective.  Suffice it to say, my ultimate rating of the movie falls somewhere in the middle, and I can’t blame anyone for either loving or hating what is inarguably a spectacle worth seeing.  The acting is on par with the worst you’ve ever seen, especially from Hamilton and her little kids, but extended to most everyone other than Brosnan, who at least was his typical cool self.  And the action was often obviously done in miniature, which is kind of throwback, but also really awful.  But you can’t deny the excitement surrounding a volcano blowing up, a town being destroyed, and folk running for their lives; that kind of entertainment can only be found in this genre, and that’s why we always come back for more, even if we know the real quality of the product will inevitably be poor bordering on pathetic.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – We Own the Night

Category : Movie Review

Director: James Gray

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Eva Mendes, Mark Wahlberg

Year: 2007

James Gray’s screenplays are extremely hit-or-miss, and this film, unfortunately, is a major miscalculation.  Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night, Two Lovers, Blood Ties, The Immigrant, The Lost City of Z, Ad Astra; the guy has an obsession with old “Leaf” Phoenix, which isn’t bad at all, Joaquin is a master of his craft, but I think sometimes that tunnel vision leads to blind spots elsewhere.  Blood Ties is great (although Gray didn’t direct that script, like he usually does), Ad Astra looks to be magic, but We Own the Night is simply a bad story with recycled pieces glued all over the place, until nothing seems natural except our desire to turn away from what we’re seeing as soon as possible.  For the stars it boasts, this film is a poor example of filmmaking, and there’s a reason it didn’t come out of Cannes with much of a track toward awards; it simply isn’t up to standard.

Bobby Green’s real name is Robert Grusinsky, but he doesn’t want anyone to know that.  He really doesn’t want the people he works with to know who his family is, because the two groups are like oil and water, or more like a stick of dynamite and a match; combine the two and more than one person ends up dead.  Bobby runs a club in New York City for some wealthy, connected Russians, and it’s the 80s, so that means a lot of people he knows are either using or dealing drugs.  Meanwhile, his father and his brother are two of the most decorated cops in the city, and would love to get their hands on the crooks who pump coke through the streets.  When Bobby’s brother Joe gets too close to the scene and gets shot, Bobby is suddenly involved, sending his entire life down the toilet in an instant, and forcing him to choose sides.

The acting in the movie isn’t bad; how could it be?  Joaquin is a genius, Marky Mark is often so much better than he often gets credit for, Eva Mendes is fine (and fine), and Robert Duvall jumps in a bit to round things out, which is never a bad idea.  But the problem comes when the actors go to say their lines, because, basically, the lines suck.  It’s a terrible script, a terrible idea for a movie in general, and the plot just spins round and round until you couldn’t care less who lives and who dies.  You’ll check out early, believe me, and that’s the problem; audiences need a hook, that’s the director’s job, to snag us, hold us, and convince us that we don’t want to tear our eyes away, which is a level that was definitely never reached.  With the talent on display, I’m surprised We Own the Night is so bad, but chalk it up to a free fall on Gray’s roller coaster, and hope for better times ahead.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Men Who Stare at Goats

Category : Movie Review

Director: Grant Heslov

Starring: Ewan McGregor, George Clooney, Jeff Bridges

Year: 2009

We love Ewan McGregor too much, so we make him do an American accent too much, so we can see him in more Hollywood roles, and the result isn’t always pretty.  He’s a tremendous actor; incredible and bright and likeable and funny and talented.  But that doesn’t mean he’s right for every role, and that’s the case in The Men Who Stare at Goats, a film that did most everything wrong or at least fool-headed.  Even George Clooney can’t save the filmmakers’ bacon, because he shouldn’t have been anywhere near this project, it’s too odd, too messy, and the result is a movie that almost no one on the face of planet Earth enjoyed.

This is the semi-true story of a covert department of the U.S. Military that was tasked with developing psychic weapons, or at least researching their possibility.  Bob was a journalist on the hunt for a story and for some adventure when he stumbled upon Lyn, an ex-soldier who claimed to be a psychic Jedi, able to use his mind as a weapon, to influence enemies, and to find anything in the world.  Obviously Bob was skeptical, but Lyn seemed so convinced, and had so many stories to tell about Bill, the grunt turned guru who trained him.  Part of this is history, part is complete hogwash, but it’s up to you to decide where the line lies, and who might be more than they appear.

It’s fairly interesting, the real aspects of this film, which are themselves debatable.  There really was a psychic division, they really did stare at goats to try to stop their hearts, it really did morph into something of a psychological warfare department, but the rest is pretty silly.  And it’s the rest that brings down the wobbly bridge, because as a movie goes, this one doesn’t have what it takes to stand.  Heslov isn’t really a director, McGregor isn’t really American, Clooney doesn’t really seem committed, and the rest of the cool cast couldn’t do much to help out: Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Lang, Stephen Root, Nick Offerman.  No one was where they were supposed to be, the feel was way off, and I’m not sure what the original intention was, but this finished product couldn’t have been it.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2019, Week 1

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 1 Picks

(169-86-1 in 2013, 170-85-1 in 2014, 163-93 in 2015,

156-98-2 in 2016, 167-87 in 2017, 163-91-2 in 2018)

Bye teams: none

 

GB @ Chi

LAR @ Car

Was @ Phi

Buf @ NYJ

Atl @ Min

Bal @ Mia

KC @ Jax

Ten @ Cle

Ind @ LAC

Cin @ Sea

SF @ TB

NYG @ Dal

Det @ Ari

Pit @ NE

Hou @ NO

Den @ Oak

 


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Movie Review – That Thing You Do!

Category : Movie Review

Director: Tom Hanks

Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech

Tom Hanks, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Charlize Theron

Year: 1996

As much as I liked That Thing You Do! all those years ago when I watched it for the first time, I don’t think I really got it until just now.  I thought it was a drama, a musical, a fictional biopic maybe, a fun movie for a family who didn’t want to invest too much energy.  But it’s so much more than that, and I’m just now seeing it.  It’s almost an expose on a corrupt business and a cautionary tale to young people who want to dive into their dreams, a wake up call to the price of fame.  I know it doesn’t seem like much more than pop fluff on the surface, but that’s what I thought too, or maybe you realized that long ago and I’m just now catching on.  But regardless, this film is pretty special in a way that might not be readily apparent, and it doesn’t lose its message or its charm going on 25 years later.

In a small town in Pennsylvania, a group of young men dare to dream big, and get to taste illusive fame, at least for a while.  Guy the drummer and Jimmy the singer/songwriter head a band called the Oneders; pronounced One-ders but often called the O-need-ers.  They are small potatoes but they have a really awesome song called That Thing You Do, and it gets them enough attention to get them out of Erie.  First county fairs and then Hollywood itself; the fame train runs fast, and in a matter of months they are a nationwide sensation.  But as fast as it can all come together it can all fall apart, and that’s just what happens to The Wonders, who don’t get much further past their one hit.

Other than Larry Crowne and, of course, That Thing You Do!, Tom Hanks hasn’t directed or written another movie, so this is it as far as that side of his artistry goes, and he really shouldn’t have tried again, because it doesn’t get much better than this, his first attempt.  This film is special, not only in how it depicts a fun story that anyone can watch, not only in how it delivers its message of too much success too fast, but specifically in how it sums up the 60s so quickly and so perfectly, until you realize that this movie isn’t singular, it’s meant to be an example of so much more.  When you think of it that way, all the silly moments and fast turnarounds made total sense; this isn’t a tale of an imaginary band, it’s the true story of countless real ones.  That even helps you forgive the cast a little, which is a mix of huge stars and complete flops, because they aren’t being characters really, they are being caricatures, and seeing that makes a big difference.  There’s still story, there’s still heart, but the point is larger than one group of young people, which just makes it all that more magical.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Climax

Category : Movie Review

Director: Gaspar Noe

Starring: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub

Year: 2018

Climax might be the worst movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen Surf Nazis Must Die, so that’s saying something.  The ultimate worst movie of all time has to be Room, but that’s on a completely different level, as are the Sharknado films, although even those levels are miles apart.  But Climax is its own style of terrible, and that’s impressive for a feature from Gaspar Noe, who seems to wallow in the wacky.  I didn’t dislike Love, I thought it was fascinating, the real sex element aside, and I didn’t think I was going to dislike Climax either, because I don’t mind irreverent.  But this film isn’t irreverent, it’s nihilist, it cares for nothing, least of all how audiences will feel after watching chaos for 90 minutes, with no break for normalcy and no reason not to fast forward to the end.

A group of French dancers come together to rehearse an intense piece made up of their own styles, gathering at an old school building for space and for privacy, and working hard to get the number just right.  They are all talented in their own ways, each has a unique style to contribute, and the dance they practice is very raw, full of emotion and power.  After their last practice, they take a break for a party; after all, they’ve earned it.  But what they don’t know is that someone has spiked their signature sangria with LSD, and the drug is about to affect them all in a variety of horrible ways.  What follows is a collapse of reason and of control, issuing a new norm of random sex and violence, until all hell has literally broken loose.

Honestly, you could fast forward to the end, there’s no reason to watch the middle, but there’s also no reason to watch how it all turns out; there’s nothing to see here, folks. This movie is nothing, absolutely nothing, it might as well not exist, and I think that borders on criminal, that a director should create something so selfishly pointless that it makes no impact at all except to waste space.  And it would waste more than that if it were able to bring anything out of those watching it, but it can’t, it doesn’t have any sort of power, and that’s just another reason to wish that it had never been made.  Love pushed boundaries; Climax is a flash in the pan that you missed when you blinked, and there’s nothing that comes from it anyway, so you don’t regret the loss.  It really is one of the worst things I’ve ever watched, if only because it has so little say.  You could sit and think about it for a lifetime and you wouldn’t come up with a deeper meaning other than an artist’s overblown ego let loose, and if that’s the point than I’m writing Noe off as someone who doesn’t deserve my time.

My rating: ☆