Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – Independence Day: Resurgence

Category : Movie Review

Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Maika Monroe

Year: 2016

Last summer, I prepped for the sequel by revisiting the original and basking in its 90s glory.  It’s an iconic film, something that defined a season, and is equal parts silly & fun.  I expected the second to be the same, even if it was a bit of an obvious ploy to make money off a generation’s childhood.  That I can deal with, it happens, and as long as the movie takes me back to the good ol’ days, I’m happy.  As it turns out, I didn’t watch Resurgence in the theatre, never found a chance to check it out, and so am only now reviewing it, long after it became an official bomb.  I don’t think the negative press had any effect on me though, I was willing to judge it on merit alone, and I would have given it praise had it deserved it.  News flash: it does not.

Two decades after humanity defeated the alien threat, they have returned for revenge.  Earth has prospered in the interim, uniting as one species, using the alien technology to better ourselves.  On the military side, we have also used the time to prepare defenses, to improve our strength, to create a Moon base, and to wait in ready.  But we had no idea just how bad it would be.  A mother ship that stretches the length of the Atlantic ocean has landed on our planet, and our best heroes will have to battle the threat a second time, if we are to survive.  President Whitmore, David Levinson, Captain Hiller’s son; they all return to face the aliens, and they won’t give up until our resolve beats their evil.

This really is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.  It’s Sharknado bad, but with the technology and the backstory to fool audiences into thinking that it might be something better.  It isn’t, it’s complete filth, you can smell it a mile away.  Every line and every interaction seemed written to land flat, every action sequence meant to muddle your mind, every character an idiotic stereotype that we’ve seen a hundred times before.  Emmerich must have been out of his mind if he thought for a second that this movie was on par with the mediocre but tubular films he’s given us before.  Those were entertaining, even if we knew they weren’t that great; this was pure evil.  Hemsworth was dreadful, Goldblum attempted a ridiculous love story, Monroe was miscast, and literally every other actor in the movie sucked.  I felt insulted watching this, knowing that no one cared enough about the fans to create something even passably good, that they could expect us to swallow this shit.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Graduation

Category : Movie Review

Director: Cristian Mungiu

Starring: Adrian Titieni, Maria-Victoria Dragus, Vlad Ivanov

Year: 2016

An early candidate for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars is Graduation, a Romanian drama exploring the lengths we go to give our children a better life.  It’s a simple film, about as slow a burn as you are likely to see, with unsettling chunks of action that are all the more desperate for being so out of place.  Those looking for a slow-moving two hours that will ultimately reward you with a keen depth will find that here, but your average audience member will be turned off by the deliberate pace and the lack of dramatic excitement.  So it becomes a polarizing movie perhaps, but one that I think will hold up with critics and will eventually find its way into awards conversation.

On the eve of her end-of-school exams, Eliza is assaulted and robbed.  The plan has always been for her to attend university in England, to move away from her Romanian city, to escape the harsh life that awaits those who stay.  Her grades were always exemplary, and the course seemed set for her to avoid the life of her unhappy parents.  Her father, Romeo, a doctor, gave everything to see her succeed elsewhere, and would let nothing stand in the way of his daughter’s future.  Now, after the attack, and with Eliza reeling, Romeo must face many difficult decisions.  He has spent his life teaching honesty and integrity, but also knows that rules might need to be broken in order to see his only child safely away from this place.

As each step follows another, this imperfect father balances his own morals against his commitment to a better life for his child, and the struggle is incredible to watch.  This character is very complex, as is the situation, and don’t be disappointed if there aren’t clear black & whites at the end of the film.  It’s a story that asks you to question yourself, what you would do, what is the price you would pay, where do you draw the line, the sort of introspection that challenges you long after you turn off the film.  Titieni is great as Romeo, and all the peripheral actors hold up their end, resulting in a movie that’s professionally polished, while still remaining quite realistic.  Look for Graduation this winter, if we haven’t forgotten about it, and I really don’t think we will.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Scorned

Category : Movie Review

Director: Robert Kubilos

Starring: Jenna Lewis, Steven Hill, Bob Guiney

Year: 2005

Sometimes I feel like I must be the only person not in (or related to) this cast who owns a copy of this film.  I mean, it’s been out for 11 & 1/2 years and only 298 people have rated it on IMDb.  That’s worse than most porn movies, which is funny, since The Scorned is kind of a porn movie.  It’s a genre of its own in a way, reality porn, showing you the boobs and lack of talent from a variety of reality TV “stars”, allowing you to showcase the worst parts of yourself as well.  These people were once semi-famous, in the reality boom of early 2000s anyway, bringing Survivor, The Bachelor, Real World, and others into our living room with more youthful exuberance than actual social experimentation, but we ate it up all the same.  Anyway, I was and am a reality junkie, this stuff was my jam coming out of high school, I’ve watched this movie multiple times, and so almost no one is more qualified to tell you how terrible it is than me.

In a Malibu beach house during a carefree summer, a group of friends are about to get more than they bargained for.  Kirsten wants to be an actress, Oliver is her ex-boyfriend, Seth is starting a fitness/nutrition company, DQ is mooching off them all, and various boy/girlfriends flit in & out during parties and sexual encounters.  But the house holds a dark secret, and the ghost who resides there is ready to haunt.  The landlord, a man named Matt, once fought with his fiancee Raina over his affair with her friend Nichola, leading to a tragic accident that still fuels rumors in the area.  Is Raina dead, did Matt kill her, is she the ghost who won’t go away, why is she killing off cheaters one by one, and who can stop her?

The plot is something I could make up in the next 12 seconds, the cast can’t act their way out of a damp paper towel, yet somehow I love The Scorned all the same.  I’m sure it’s by affection for these real people, I watched them on TV religiously, and so I had to enjoy their collective attempt to make a movie.  And then there are all the boobs, an unabashed attempt to capture the attention of everyone who watched Survivor and thought “wouldn’t it be nice to see Jenna naked.”  It’s cheap, it’s stupid, it’s manipulative, it’s wrong, but I’m still glad I own the DVD.  For those who grew up in the same era and watched the same shows, this movie is for you.  But even I can’t actually call it good, as much as I’m entertained by it; it’s the exact opposite, and if you don’t already know who these people are, you should run right now.  Jonny Fairplay, Trishelle Cannatella, Ethan Zohn, Tonya Cooley, Jenna Morasca, Trish Schneider; ring any bells?  If not, go before it’s too late.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Sand Castle

Category : Movie Review

Director: Fernando Coimbra

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Logan Marshall-Green, Henry Cavill

Year: 2017

I feel like I’ve watched Hoult grow up and become a great, young actor right before my eyes, something I consider myself lucky to have experienced.  About a Boy, X-Men, Warm Bodies, Young Ones, Fury Road, Equals; kid’s got talent.  I trusted him to take on a complicated role like this, even though the subject matter is a little laden and tends to lean toward the over-dramatic.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a film about the Iraq war, and it won’t be the last, but I was actually excited to see Hoult’s take on it, hopeful that he could do something unique with the standard shaken-soldier role.  A mediocre result won’t destroy my faith in the guy, but I am disappointed that Sand Castle turned out to be just another take in a long line of takes and a movie we won’t remember for long.

As the American invasion of Baghdad began, excitement mounted among the troops assigned to this most difficult of tasks.  Some were ready for “their war”, some sought the action, some were prepared to do their jobs.  A few, and count Private Ocre among them, just wanted to go home.  Joining the Reserves to pay for college in July 2001, Ocre never imagined a terror attack would propel his country into war, nor that he would be fighting on the front lines.  So while others around him are raring to go, he’s smashing his hand in the door of a Humvee, hoping that he can stay behind rather than enter a dangerous world that he has never been, and never will be, prepared for.

I have enjoyed these three main actors in various films, but combined they were a level below the quality needed to pull off a film of this emotional magnitude.  Hoult was a perfect scared Private, but he played the part one-note to a fault.  Marshall-Green was a fine Sergeant, but just isn’t an Oscar-caliber guy.  Cavill, who looked like a goddam badass, was under-used and turned into a caricature.  All three were asked to use phony accents, two actors being British in real life, and the result was almost comical.  Then add in that the plot was something we’ve seen a thousand times before, the dialogue built on cliched conversation that I hope to never hear again.  The film was saved, perhaps, by its intent, and by the accuracy of its depiction of the complications of the war zone, but even that strength couldn’t cover up the variety of other weaknesses.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Silence

Category : Movie Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

Year: 2016

Silence was supposed to be one of the best films of 2016, but it didn’t even come close.  And this time, it wasn’t lack of exposure, it wasn’t Oscar-voter blindness, it wasn’t a giant disparity between critics & audiences, it was simply because it wasn’t a very good movie.  You look up at the names attached to this film and that seems an impossibility, this movie seems tailor-made for awards, yet it fails to reach its potential, and mostly due to some surprisingly obvious flaws.  Scorsese is a genius, you won’t hear much argument, that’s exactly why he’s been nominated for Best Director eight times.  But he’s only taken home the prize once, showing that, while he knows how to make movies better than almost anyone on the planet, he very often misses that most minuscule of marks.

Japan in the 17th century, a country attempting to return to its roots.  The Christian missionaries who were once welcomed there and who spread their God’s word like wildfire, are now persecuted for their poisoning of Buddhism and their sacrilegious creation of churches.  Christianity has been outlawed, the Padres killed, and the faithful weeded out, until nothing of the burgeoning religion remains.  Two young priests, Rodrigues & Garupe, travel to Japan despite the danger in search of their mentor, Ferreira, a man who may have turned from God in an attempt to save his own life.  What the pair find on the islands is far more frightening than they ever imagined, and will change their lives far greater.

This film is a bit of a roller coaster, not in action but in critique, as it seems to layer the good with the bad like it was intentional.  The run-length is too long and a bit off-putting, but the story never actually feels that slow.  The acting from all involved is top-notch, but the writing is too poor to allow a wonderful performance.  The religious persecution is hard to watch, but becomes redundant after the same exact scene is played over and over with the foolish expectation that we’ll find it moving each time.  One step forward, one step back, as it were, and the result is an uneven movie with solid intentions but weak execution.  I blame Scorsese mostly, but I think the actors may have been phoning it in a little, and the result, regardless, is mediocre.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – American Heart

Category : Movie Review

Director: Martin Bell

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Edward Furlong, Lucinda Jenney

Year: 1992

I think Jeff Bridges is my favorite actor.  That’s a tough question to answer wholeheartedly; there are so many wonderful actors and actresses who have made a complete career out of spectacular films.  But Bridges has always been top of my list, and so far no one has bumped him off, so I guess he can stand as champion.  His range is phenomenal, his longevity a miracle, and I can’t think of any name that makes me more excited to see a film.  I watched American Heart because he was on the poster, and, what’s more, he had a pony tail.  Can’t pass that up, not when they threw in a mustache for good measure, and not when I was absolutely sure he’d blow any role out of the water, regardless of how 90s it absolutely was.

When Jack is released from prison, he’s met by his son Nick, a boy with nowhere to go who simply longs for his father.  Jack can’t have a kid hanging around though; he’s got no money, no job, no future, and his only prospects are more robberies, something he wants to steer clear of if at all possible.  But Nick isn’t going away, and the two will have to find some way to work together.  Jack meets a pen pal he fell in love with while in jail, Nick meets a young girl with a equally screwed up family life, and both men attempt to live & love in the best way they know how.  Life doesn’t give you many second chances, and so you’d better take full advantage of them when they come your way.

Bridges is excellent once again as a scruffy ex-con living in Seattle, trying & failing to raise a son, keeping his head above water by swimming as fervently as he can.  I don’t know a better actor, a better emotionally driven professional, a stronger candidate for the fictional Thespian Hall of Fame.  Bridges just has the magic, something about which the rest of us can only dream.  Furlong, not so much, and while he had a good run with T2 and AHX, he’s simply not that great.  He did OK for most of the film, but failed at the end when it mattered most, leaving Bridges out to dry.  The movie is ultimately only mediocre, a 90s time capsule flick, a father/son gut-wrencher, but not something I feel the need to recommend.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The D Train

Category : Movie Review

Director: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul

Starring: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn

Year: 2015

The D Train is basically the dirtier version of every 80s movie you ever saw.  It takes the music and the life lessons, adds in anal sex, and calls it a comedy, not stopping to wonder and/or care if you even wanted to think about Jack Black getting it in the butt.  My work is done, you are now prepared to watch this movie, (or not); the rest of this review will be trivial, but I guess I’ll write it anyway.  For what it’s worth, 80s movies do leave out a lot of the gory details of whatever tale they are trying to weave, skipping over the hurdles as if ever every film was a track star in tight shorts.  In reality, problems arise, people have sex, heroes poop, and happy endings can be messy.

Decades after the glory days of high school, Dan Landsman is still living in the past.  It’s not like he was cool back then, it’s that he’s still trying to make the same friends that would never hang out with him after class, he’s just older and plumper now.  Dan is the lead dog of the alumni committee, and he also spearheads the class reunion, which is coming up.  This year, he wants it to be big, and when he sees former big-man-on-campus Oliver Lawless on TV, he knows just what he has to do; fake a business trip, fly to L.A., meet with Lawless, convince him to come to PA for the weekend, and save the proverbial day.  Dan will have to lie a whole hell of a lot in order to make that all happen, and he might have to do some drugs as well, but sacrifices must be made, and the reunion must be a hit.

That was the what struck me the most about this film, and probably what I enjoyed the most as well; the idea of making an 80s movie with some of the gratuitous nature brought to the foreground instead of letting it be glossed over, of making more of a mess than is typical from the genre.  Count on Jack Black to stir shit up a bit, and he definitely does, bringing a funky character to the film who you can’t help but root for.  James Marsden was solid as well, as the hunky Oliver, the stud who peaked too soon and who now is forced to overcompensate for his lack of happiness.  The D Train isn’t anything special, but it is a ballsy effort to shake things around, to make audiences uncomfortable, but to provide some entertainment at the same time.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Turner & Hooch

Category : Movie Review

Director: Roger Spottiswoode

Starring: Tom Hanks, Reginald VelJohnson, Mare Winnigham

Year: 1989

If Tom Hanks was a bit of a sex symbol in Money Pit or other 80s classics, he was at his most bare-chested in Turner & Hooch, a throwback to the days that Hanks was both more and less than the internationally known superstar he is today.  It’s enjoyable to look back on his career, as it’s come so far and was so consistently wonderful, in all its forms, in all its eras.  We had Bachelor Party Tom in the 80s, Sleepless in Seattle Tom in the early 90s, dramatic Tom in the meat of the 90s, silly-choices Tom during most of the 2000s, and now the guy does whatever the hell he wants because he’s an untouchable star.  From a man in love with a mermaid to the hero who landed a plane on the Hudson, I’m not sure we’ll ever see a more versatile actor, and I always enjoy rewatching the films that made him a star.

Investigator Scott Turner is leaving the quite coastal life for a job in the city, somewhere he can use his skills to help the most people, solve the most crime.  But before he goes, there’s one more case to solve.  An old man who lived on a house boat by the harbor has been killed, an old man who was a friend of Turner’s though was also a bit of an unreliable source.  He often complained that there were strange noises coming from the fishing company next door at night, noises his ugly old dog Hooch alerted him to.  When he turns up dead, Scott not only takes on the investigation but he also takes home the dog, a beast of a thing that most people are terrified of.  Well, Scott’s scared of him too, but Hooch is the only witness to the murder, and might just crack the case.

The scene where Turner offers Hooch a muffin might be one of my personal favorite movie scenes ever, I just can’t withstand the hilarity of that moment.  There are several wonderful scenes scattered throughout this decidedly 90s thriller film, making it stand out from the crowd despite its standard appearance.  Hanks does that most times he appears in a film, Turner & Hooch being a shining example.  He’s on his game here, which is great, since no one else really steps up except the dog.  It’s a typical murder mystery but with some real heart, and I’ll always be partial to stories in which unlikely friends become the best of companions, especially when one of them is the biggest, grossest mutt you’ll ever see.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Money Pit

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Benjamin

Starring: Tom Hanks, Shelley Long, Alexander Godunov

Year: 1986

It’s becoming increasingly long ago that Tom Hanks was both a goofball comedian and a bit of a sex symbol.  That’s harder and harder to remember, especially now that we’ve seen him grow into one of the best actors in film history and star in countless powerful dramas.  But many years ago, back in ancient times called ‘The 80s’, Hanks was the man, the funny guy, the guaranteed hit, and the reason you watched a movie.  Well, most of that still applies, but he was a Hollywood hunk as well, at least in an adorable, skinny, curly-haired kind of way, something that he left behind when he began doing rom/coms and left way behind as he aged.  I don’t mean to be insulting, the guy’s a golden god, it’s just hard to remember when Hanks in a bed was exciting, scandalous, and fairly common.

Walter & Anna are a young couple in love in New York City, they’re broke but they’re happy, they live in a borrowed apartment but they’re having the time of their lives.  Walter is a lawyer who lost all his money when his crook father skipped town.  Anna is a musician with real promise, a divorcee from a previous marriage with her conductor.  Well, the Maestro has returned, we wants his apartment back, which means that Walter & Anna are homeless.  Luckily enough, or so it seems, a million-dollar house in the suburbs is on sale for 200K, the steal of the century.  Our heroic couple jump on the opportunity, but soon discover that the house has more problems than first meets the eye.  As the woodwork crumbles around them, so does their relationship, as not even love can withstand the stumble into the money pit.

It’s a depressing premise on the surface, a collapsing lemon of a house and a love that can’t stand the pressure, but it’s all done for laughs and there will be a happy ending, don”t worry; it’s the 80s, after all.  Tom Hanks was in the zone as Walter, the passionate and bumbling do-right who wants to please everyone but can’t seem to make it work.  Long is less solid, her career didn’t quite pan out, but it’s funny to see her as a “sexy leading lady”, she isn’t exactly the kind of woman you see cast in these roles today.  Neither is Hanks, but this was a strange era, and people found him charming; I guess they still do.  The film is pure fun from start to finish, never takes itself too seriously, and remains one of my childhood favorites.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Elle

Category : Movie Review

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Isabelle Huppert

Year: 2016

I recently saw a crappy film that I could tell would begin with a comedic, moan-ful sex scene, and sure enough it did.  Sex played for laughs to set the tone, I get it, but the end result was predictably predictable and basically not good.  When Elle began the same way, I thought, “great, here we go again, even foreign directors are doing it now.”  But it turns out she was being raped.  Now, that’s not giving anything away, the entire premise of this film is based on the main character attempting to discover who attacked her while also dealing with a variety of her own problems.  But it’s worth mentioning that a) Verhoeven was smart enough to fool us at the beginning, 2) the movie deals graphically with sexual assault, and blue) this story won’t be like much you’ve seen before, so hold on tight.

Michelle is raped in her own home by a masked man, and yet fears to report the incident to the police or even to her closest family or friends.  She’s a successful businesswoman who owns a video game company, a powerful and independent person who fights a constant battle to get her cake and eat it too.  The attack has left her unsteady but not defeated, and she begins a campaign to discover who the man was, what his motives were, and how she can punish him.  In the background is her daily life, the friends that she attempts to juggle, a son who can’t seem to make it on his own, lovers who she wants or wants to get rid of, and a gruesome past that still haunts her after all these years.

Elle is hard to describe; part usual thriller, part black comedy, part feminist metaphor, completely chaotic and surprising.  It’s unlike most of what you’ve seen before, and I’m not sure who the demographic is to whom I would recommend it.  Verhoeven is an eclectic director, with shocking films like Flesh + Blood, allegories like Starship Troopers, sexual thrillers like Basic Instinct, and solid mysteries like Black Book.  His latest film is his most twisted yet, but somehow still both funny and courageous.  Huppert was nominated for Best Actress for the role, and she deserves it, as periphery characters swerve around her but she stands out as the undisputed focal point.  Her performance is complicated and quite strange, but there’s a lot to respect within Michelle if you take the time to think her through, a lot to learn from this movie if you can get past the upsetting setting.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆