Month: March 2020

Movie Review – Rocky II

Category : Movie Review

Director: Sylvester Stallone

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers

Year: 1979

Rocky is the king; Rocky II is the heir to the throne that can’t possibly live up to his dad.  That metaphor works even better when you consider that Rocky has a kid in the sequel, which is one of the strangest parts of the film, so there you go.  But Rocky II does a lot of little, important things right along the way to a predictable conclusion as well, so it can’t be completely discounted, it just can’t be held up quite as high as its pater familias.  Basically we’re back for another round, and that can’t be all bad, since the first trip circling the block was so enjoyable.  Rocky is a legendary character, we (almost) just can’t get enough, so wade in and enjoy some more of the Italian Stallion, while he’s still in his prime.

Balboa has lost to Creed, but winning wasn’t really the point; he stood toe to toe with the champ and never gave up or stayed down, forcing the judges to make the call, and proving to the world that an underdog can pack a real punch.  Well, Apollo doesn’t like winning that way, so he’s pushing for a rematch, though Rocky says he’s retired.  Adrian doesn’t want him to fight again, and there’s a baby on the way, so it’s a no-go.  Mickey wants to train Rock anyway, the comeback put on hold when Adrian has complications with the baby.  But when everything turns out OK, Rocky turns his attention to Creed, and begins planning his strategy, a bout that will make him a legend.

Rocky II makes some key improvements over Rocky I, which is important, because a lot of the rest of it is no good.  I mean, this time Stallone wanted to direct, which obviously isn’t his strong suit.  Adrian’s coma, the dialogue, a runtime that couldn’t be completely filled; there were mistakes made, and there was no way this one was gonna live up to the first, especially ditching the use of that laid back 70s flick vibe that worked so well before.  But that’s not to say that Stallone didn’t know what audiences wanted.  More Mickey, more music, a longer, more detailed fight at the end; audiences were happy with the treats they were thrown.  It was almost enough to make us forgive the flaws (almost), and more than enough to make us enjoy Rocky and his success story one more time around.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Rocky

Category : Movie Review

Director: John G. Avildsen

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers

Year: 1976

Rocky is the perfect storm of mediocre talent peaking at the right/same moment and giving us something magical that could never be reproduced.  They tried, like five more times, but none of the other films in the franchise were ever quite as good as the original; Rocky remains champion.  The fact that Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay, wrote himself a part, and somehow got it all to work (it was nominated for 10 Oscars) will never not be anything short of a miracle, but then again that’s the whole point; sometimes miracles happen.  This film is simply that specific concept come to life, a larger-than-life story that shouldn’t win but does, a 70s gem that, luckily for us, shone very brightly for one brief moment in time, but etched itself on our minds so sharply that we’ll never forget.

Rocky Balboa is a bum of a boxer who never made it big whose side job is breaking people’s thumbs for a local Philly bookie.  That’s not Rocky though, he’s sweet, he’s kind, he may not be the brightest crayon in the box but he’s got a heart of gold.  He loves his turtles, his neighborhood, working out at Mickey’s gym, and the shy girl at the corner pet store, the mousy little Adrian.  But his chance to make a name for himself isn’t as far off as he imagines, because lighting is about to strike.  The Champion of the World, Apollo Creed, wants an unknown for his next opponent, a chance to gain a massive audience to watch a David & Goliath story, and he picks Rocky, the so-called Italian Stallion.  They seem to be in different classes as competitors, but Balboa has a heart that won’t quit, a tenacious southpaw style that’s hard to beat, and an entire city behind him willing him to win.

It’s gold, that’s all I can say.  Well no, that’s not true, I’m gonna say more, but that’s really what it boils down to; Rocky is gold.  It’s a sports movie with that feel-good, underdog mentality like so many others we’ve seen, but perhaps never done so well as this; Rocky is the leader of the pack.  We root for him like we’ve never rooted for anyone before, and we’re with him every step of the way, through his self doubts and his greatest achievements.  The music is spectacular, obviously, and sweeps us along, pulling all the right strings at all the right moments.  But, surprisingly, the writing is very good, done in a wonderfully simple 70s style that’s among my personal favorites, I just love the unaffected flow of 70s movies with their honest expressions and bare bones.  Rocky isn’t complicated, his mission is focused, his heart is in the right place, we fall in love with him, and so also with the film, partly because it’s so believable and uncluttered.  All the pieces combine around the actors, who all give shockingly great performances: Stallone, Shire, Weathers, Burt Young as Paulie, Burgess Meredith as Mickey.  It’s just good timing, amazing timing, perfect timing, and we don’t see films like this very often where all the elements combine at the right moment in the right way; Rocky is special.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Greed

Category : Movie Review

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Steve Coogan, David Mitchell, Isla Fisher

Year: 2019

Michael Winterbottom likes to work with Steve Coogan, which is great, but unfortunately Greed is more The Look of Love than The Trip franchise, except also much, much worse.  Winterbottom isn’t afraid to experiment, which is great, but sometimes those experiments blow up in his face, and that’s exactly what we have here, a good idea in theory that simply explodes in vomitous style all over everyone involved.  It’s lucky that this movie wasn’t released very widely or seen by almost anyone, because it is bad enough to mar otherwise positive career paths and give audiences a bad taste in their collective mouths that could last into next season or beyond.  Simply put, Greed is boring, banal, and in bad taste, an overall failure from every angle that will make any lover of film cautious the next time they go to snuggle up.

It’s Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie’s 60th birthday, and that can only mean one thing; moronic extravagance.  The bazillionaire is known for his wild romps, where no expense is spared, and you never know which celebrity you’ll find around any given corner, but his success didn’t start out easy, he had to fight for every dollar her earned, which just fueled his desire to win no matter what, fleece whoever he can, and cash in whatever chips he has in the game before anyone can notice that there’s a crooked asshole in their midst.  Richard started his empire by buying cheap clothes, selling them for an amazing amount more than they are worth, and paying his workers nothing; now he’s the richest man in Britain, go figure.  But these evil ways will catch up with him someday; divorce, screwed up children, no friends, tax investigations, public humiliation.  Money can’t buy happiness, Sir Greedy; you’d think 60 years would be long enough to figure that out.

So I’ve enjoyed Winterbottom before, like I said he takes risks and that’s great, but my god did Greed turn into a swing & a miss fast enough to make your head spin.  Steve Coogan is the man, he’s great, but there was nothing he could do to carry this dead dog to the finish line, all he could come up with was to be as over the top as possible and hope it worked out in the end.  It did not, that’s for sure, but hey, at least they tried.  That’s the positive way to look at it; the negative way is to call this film what it obviously is; one of the worst of the entire year and one that’s bad enough to hold that position.  There were eight thousand boring storylines all wrapped up in one bad experience, and I just wished each of them would end as they were happening: the garment district, sweat shops, tax evasion, ego trips, divorces, patricide, reality TV, celebrity status, Syrian refugees.  It was all way too much, no focus was given to any one thing, and the entire movie felt like it was puked out instead of captured on film.  It was sleepy, stupid, recycled, and not funny in the least; don’t be fooled by the word ‘satire’.  David Mitchell I liked quite a bit, but I was a fan of That Mitchell and Webb Look, so that was a given, and even he couldn’t work hard enough to make anything happening around him a success.  This wasn’t really an exposé on the super-rich, it was a clunky attempt to make 100 statements at the same time, and so they all failed miserably while almost the entire cast embarrassed themselves.  Stay far, far away from this one, which shouldn’t be hard, and try to forget these talented people made something this awful.

My rating: ☆ ☆


Movie Review – History of the World: Part I

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mel Brooks

Starring: Mel Brooks, Gregory Hines, Madeline Kahn

Year: 1981

We’ve been waiting a long time for Part II, Mel; maybe after the quarantine you can get on it.  I mean, Jews In Space?  Hitler On Ice?  What’s not to be excited about, even after 40 years?  I kid, and it’s just another gag, but still, that would be fun, and maybe when I get to be a famous filmmaker I’ll make the sequel in honor of Brooks, who has had such an interesting career.  He really didn’t direct too many movies, 11 to be exact, and they definitely aren’t all home runs, especially his later films.  But his early work is spot on, as is History of the World, a middle work and my personal favorite of his collection.  It’s bright, it’s funny, it’s memorable, and it’s 100% Mel, a real success in the land of classic comedies.

Mel Brooks takes us on a journey through time, from early caveman to the potential of galactic Stars of David.  We see everything from the invention of art to the Spanish Inquisition from his unique perspective, and by unique I mean ridiculous.  In Ancient Rome, we meet Comicus, the stand-up philosopher.  He’s got a gig at Caesar’s Palace coming up and really can’t blow it, because when you die at the Palace you really die at the Palace.  Later, during the French Revolution, Jacques the poor bucket boy finds himself in a Prince and Pauper situation, and so also finds himself in hot water when the peasant’s revolt.  History is a tricky, tricky river to ply, but Mel Brooks knows how to help us find the funny side of even the darkest days.

For my money, this is the best it gets from the catalog.  Spaceballs is classic, Men in Tights is fun, Producers is good, Young Frankenstein is great, but I think History of the World is my favorite, a nice, well-rounded feature that has just a little more to say.  It’s stupid, obviously, but with context, just a little touch of real life that makes it somehow believable, maybe because history is already stranger than fiction; we can almost imagine Mel’s escapes, they can’t be that much weirder than what really happened.  Brooks is great, the Rome scenes are the best, with Hines, Kahn, and Dom DeLuise stealing the spotlight.  The France scenes are fun too, and there are a few timeline tidbits thrown in for good measure, like the Inquisition, the Stone Age, Moses.  It all comes together nicely, it’s good to see Brooks lead, there’s a bit of raunchy sex appeal thrown in for good measure, and it’s just an entertaining romp from start to finish; let’s end on a high note ….”AAAAAAAAA!!!”

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Robin Hood: Men in Tights

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mel Brooks

Starring: Cary Elwes, Amy Yasbeck, Richard Lewis

Year: 1993

Men in Tights was one of Mel Brooks’ last movies and you can tell; the gag was up.  It’s shocking that it lasted so long, this running Jew joke that was Brooks’ style, this physical comedy romp genre that made fun of everyone and so was fun for everyone.  It lasted through the the 60s, 70s, & 80s, eight films before the 90s, with not every one a home run but most working as well as they were designed to.  The last decade of Mel’s career things started to slump, we just didn’t find the goofs as amusing anymore, and Robin Hood is a good example.  I liked it when I was 16 and watching with my friends who could quote every line like Holy Grail, but as an adult the same appeal is missing, or at least very, very different.

Robin of Locksley has returned to England after being a prisoner during the Crusades, and he finds his homeland changed.  King Richard is busy with war, so his brother John has taken the throne, and is ruling unwisely.  The people of Rottingham are being bullied for every penny they earn by the evil Sheriff and his men, which is breeding the seeds of rebellion.  Robin will become their leader, but first he must recruit his merry men: a black man named Ahchoo, a blind man named Blinkin, a big man named Little John, and a clever man named Will Scarlet O’Hara.  Together, along with the feisty villagers, they will rid the countryside of evil, and Robin may win the hand of the fair Maid Marian along the way, the greatest treasure in all the land.

It’s the standard Robin Hood plot for much of the way, with some standard Robin Hood fight scenes as well as homage to the older versions, but also still with Mel Brooks’ patented raunchy comedy and juvenile jokes.  They still make me laugh, I can admit that, these ridiculous dudes with their ridiculous jokes, it’s still entertaining if you grew up knowing every single line.  Blinkin, Ahchoo, the Italians from Jersey, the silly songs, the stupid gags; it’s classic Brooks, it’s not rocket science, but it’s also timeless in a very comforting way.  And the cast is cool: Elwes, Yasbeck, Lewis, Roger Rees, Dave Chappelle, Tracey Ullman, Isaac Hayes, Patrick Stewart, Dick Van Patten (Hey Abbot!), Dom DeLuise (my personal favorite part).  But, I mean, it’s all also kinda dumb.  People watching it for the first time would think the rest of us had gone crazy, it makes no sense, and it really isn’t all that comical if you watch too closely.  I think Brooks was losing a little steam, which is understandable, and he wasn’t a major player in the film himself except for a cameo, which hurt too, since Elwes is a terrible actor.  Overall, this is a classic that should remain so, but perhaps Lesser Brooks, and also not something that anyone new to his style should be experimenting with.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Over the Top

Category : Movie Review

Director: Menahem Golan

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, David Mendenhall, Robert Loggia

Year: 1987

Watch the openings credits, listen to the cheesy 80s theme song, and tell me Over the Top isn’t the best movie ever made, I dare you.  By ‘best’ I mean so bad that it comes full circle and becomes amazing against all logic, but same difference; either way this ridiculous gem is something that you need to see, if just to say that you watched Sly Stallone pretend to be a professional truck driver/arm wrestler once in your life.  Seriously, that’s the plot, and it only gets worse from there, that’s only the base; the devil is in the details.  But watch on a lonely night, allow yourself to laugh, and you’ll come away shaking your head in what, hopefully, will be a fun way.

Trucker Lincoln Hawk is also an arm wrestler and a dad, in that order.  He abandoned his wife & son years ago, but has regretted it every day since, as he drives American highways looking to make a quick buck with a random muscle match in a roadhouse honky tonk.  When his son Michael finishes a year at military academy, Hawk is there to pick him up and drive him to see his dying mother, against Mike’s grandfather’s wishes.  He’s a rich and powerful man, doesn’t want his grandson having anything to do with a scoundrel like Lincoln, and will stop at nothing to keep them apart.  But father & son have some bonding to do and an international arm wrestling competition in Vegas to win, no matter the odds.

It’s as bad as it sound.  Sly is this quiet tough guy who just loves his rig and his rassling, Michael is this spoiled kid who has a lot to learn, and of course since it’s an 80s movie there’s an angry rich white man trying to mess everything up.  My god, so terrible, and yet so perfectly lovely as well.  The opening song is so cheesy, so stupid, that you can’t help but love it, and it just goes up/downhill from there.  Lessons about life, bonding, escapes, giant bruisers named Bull; magic.  And at the heart of it all, there’s Lincoln Hawk, who’s name, no joke, switches back & forth to Hawks with an S for no reason over & over again throughout the movie; it’s maddening, and it’s just another sign of how little work went into making this movie a real film.  Watch solely for entertainment; it’s not worth anything else but shock value and guffaws, but that’s not nothing.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – Fighting with My Family

Category : Movie Review

Director: Stephen Merchant

Starring: Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden, Vince Vaughn

Year: 2019

I’m not sure there’s a cuter duo you could put on screen than Florence Pugh & Jack Lowden; having them play bro & sis in an unexpectedly heartwarming tale was the best decision any filmmaker made last year.  Merchant gives us what is essentially his directorial debut, and he chose his stars wisely, because this is a team, from top to bottom really, that’s set up to succeed.  Pugh could not possibly be hotter right now, Lowden is just so likable, and the supporting cast is strong in every direction; Fighting with My Family may not have the highest ceiling, but it was also almost guaranteed to win.  A true story, solid acting, a unique subject, British accents; I’m in, tell me where to sign.  Because, although this isn’t the best film out there, it’s one everyone can enjoy if they allow themselves; not every feature focused on entertainment can say the same.

This the real origin story of a professional wrestler; if by “professional” you understand that I mean staged wrestling like the WWE, which is no easy gig, but does lean heavily on the wow factor and not too much on actual sport.  For the Knight family, wrestling is in their blood; mom & dad have always done it, now son & daughter carry on the tradition, and they take it very seriously, even though they admit that it’s scripted, but the athleticism of the matches is quite real, can be physically dangerous, and takes skill to pull off.  Saraya and Zak, the kids, will get a chance to prove to the world that their dream is no joke when they receive tryouts in front of a WWE scout, who holds their careers in his hands.  But bouncing off ropes is only part of the game; your character, demeanor, and confidence matter most of all, and Saraya especially will have to dig down deep to find the bravery inside herself to stand up among the gods of the industry and shout her own name.

Florence Pugh can do not wrong; I hope you all agree.  She is talented & beautiful without seemingly having to try too hard, and that ease is so captivating & likeable.  She’s just a spectacular actor and I always love what she’s doing with her characters, plus she’s proven that she can literally do any kind of role.  Here she’s a goth wrestler from England trying to make it in America and feeling left out of the T&A show; that can’t have been an easy project to dive into, physically taxing as well I’m sure, but she makes it look like a walk in the park.  Jack Lowden is great too, a wonderful compliment, and so is the rest of the cast: Vince Vaughn, Nick Frost, Lena Headey, Dwayne Johnson.  I watched a little wrestling once upon a time, I understand the soap opera appeal, so that was a nice reminder of a good time, which was cool.  I guess I’d stop short of calling this movie awesome, even though I quite liked it, because it definitely did have a certain ceiling.  The plot arc was typical, it slowed in the middle, I don’t think it ended particularly well, it was just overall a nice sports/underdog story that had better actors than it did basement bones.  Perhaps it boils down to would recommend, but can’t rave about, even if the individual pieces were well formed; maybe they didn’t end up meshing perfectly.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Movie Review – A Bridge Too Far

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Attenborough

Starring: Everyone

Year: 1977

Where The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Great Escape succeeded, A Bridge Too Far failed.  Although, those former two are POW movies, where the latter is about active warfare, so perhaps it would be more appropriate to compare it to two more modern features, like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.  Those succeeded as well, where A Bridge Too Far failed again, so, perhaps no matter how you look at it, this 70s battle drama simply didn’t work.  Director Richard Attenborough seemed more concerned with bringing us reenactments of a scale we had never seen before, and while that’s all well & good, he forgot that we require a little more from cinema.  Maybe he thought the true tale would bolster the film, and that he wouldn’t need standard plot pieces and good acting to help audiences to the finish line; if so he was simply wrong.

In the fall of 1944, the Allies were winning the war.  D-Day had been a dramatic success, with American forces streaming across the beaches of Normandy, liberating France, and driving toward Berlin.  But that’s where the march ended, too far west of Germany, where supply lines began to stretch far too thin and cold weather grinned grimly over the horizon.  Without being able to finish the end, the Allies began to worry, but the British had a plan.  It was called Operation Market Garden, and the aim was to invade into enemy territory throughout the Netherlands, taking the Rhine by taking its bridges, and therefore creating an easy path to the heart of Germany; war over by Christmas.  But what followed was a disaster as bad as Dunkirk, a complete bungle of a strategy that seemed so foolproof.

Attenborough was in The Great Escape, he should have known what a WWII movie should look like, but he just wasn’t able to reproduce that same caliber.  He relied far too heavily on history, just opening the book and hoping we’d enjoy what we were reading.  Now, I’m a history buff, I love World War facts, I know about this campaign, but to watch a film about it I need something other than pure reenactment and troop deployment, no matter the scale; I need theatre.  A Bridge Too Far is only a chance to showcase old planes and equipment, to paint us a living picture, maybe to bring heroes to life, which is all well and good, but you hardly need even to tun the volume on, you could watch with no aim but to see some guns being fired at some brick walls.  That’s not enough, not if you want to make anything other than a History Channel original, and not having this amazing of a cast at your disposal and doing almost nothing with them.  The names are astounding: Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Elliott Gould, Denholm Elliott, Michael Byrne, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, John Ratzenberger, Edward Fox, Hardy Kruger.  But they almost none of them did any acting, what little there was was poor, and nothing was available to help them make audiences believe they were anything by big names cast as real people.  A Bridge Too Far is your average dad’s perfect movie, because he likes telling you WWII trivia and he likes Gene Hackman, but that doesn’t mean it’s a film for the rest of us, or for anyone who notices the details of the craft over the details of the recount.

My rating: ☆ ☆



Movie Review – The Mighty Ducks

Category : Movie Review

Director: Stephen Herek

Starring: Emilio Estevez, Joshua Jackson, Shaun Weiss

Year: 1992

Herek gave us some icons in the late 80s & early 90s, even if none of them were really that good.  Critters, Bill & Ted, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, The Mighty Ducks, The Three Musketeers, Mr. Holland’s Opus; solid gold time capsule material but, really, aren’t we just using nostalgia to gloss over quality?  Rewatching Mighty Ducks was fun but also affirming, because this era and this genre wasn’t as great as it was when we were the perfect age to love it, which calls it all into perspective.  But it doesn’t make it worthless, I’m not saying that; my kids had a super time watching this ragtag hockey team play their hearts out, and that’s, in the end, all that matters (the fact that Emilio Estevez should never have been allowed in front of a camera not withstanding).

Gordon Bombay is a former peewee league hockey superstar in the state of Minnesota; he could have gone all the way were it not for one fateful missed shot.  But now he’s a lawyer, and if you asked him he’d say he hates hockey; he equates it with the year his father died and the tournament his team didn’t win.  Gordon wins his cases though, through whatever means necessary, he sees losing as a weakness, until his high stress job catches up with him when he’s ordered to do community service and to take a sabbatical from work.  His penance; coach a local kids hockey team, and not just any team, but the worst one in the entire city.  With a little love, and a little corporate sponsorship, this motley crew could be something special, if only their coach could confront his past, learn from his mistakes, and take them to the very top.

Mighty Ducks is a combination sports movie and kids flick, like Rudy meets Blank Check, and that’s fine for what it’s worth, and we can still love it for the memories it gave us when we were young.  Cake-eater, the Flying V, Banks and Goldberg and Charlie, Gordon Bombay, the quack attack; these things will live on in cinematic infamy forever, and that’s the way it should be, because they were at the same time very silly and somehow quite awesome.  The cast was crappy, the direction was bad, the plot was thin, but none of that seemed to matter, and it didn’t bother my kids much either; they had a blast rooting for a team while also watching a movie, which is a unique experience if you really think about it.  I can’t recommend too many adults revisiting this childhood fav, because I think the chance of a letdown is great, but I also think that there are pieces to be enjoyed as long as you have a captive audience that you’re willing to live through, and enough memories of your own long-ago captivation to get you to the end.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



Thought – The Best Films Streaming

Category : Thought

I’m not taking this lightly, but during this difficult time we can all use a little distraction.  So, during semi-quarantine, what better job for a film critic than to recommend films that are available in your own home, so here we go.  Sticking to Netflix and Amazon Prime, here are some of the best options for movies to stream right now, for families and also for grownups, with links to its IMDb page and to my review, if written.  Have fun, and stay safe!