Monthly Archives: May 2020

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Movie Review – Apocalypto

Category : Movie Review

Director: Mel Gibson

Starring: Rudy Youngblood, Raoul Max Trujillo

Year: 2006

Mel Gibson’s directing style is anything but nuanced; he’s like a blunt hammer whacking away at emotion until you’re either forced to feel it or you’re dead and rather dented.  But somehow it always seems to work anyway, his films are good anyway, despite his forceful manner and his behind-the-camera antics, all of which make us not want to like him while we, at the same time, seem incapable of disliking his movies.  The Man Without a Face, Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto, Hacksaw Ridge; I guess there are some misses there, but mostly that’s a list of passable and often praise-able flicks, if he has to bludgeon audiences into submission before we can admit we enjoyed what we just saw.  Apocalypto is just that; an imperfect movie with sweeping wonderment, undeniable talent, melodrama galore, but ultimately a ton of reasons to tune in.

In the jungles of Central America, during the Mayan rule of the area, native peoples live in peace in the forests, where their fathers hunted before them, and where their sons will hunt when they were gone.  Jaguar Paw, son of Flint Sky, is a brave warrior and skilled provider, and his village is happy, though an unseen change threatens on the horizon, and clouds his dreams.  On a morning much like any other, slave traders invade the village, taking any prisoner they leave alive, killing those who resist, and abandoning the children to the woods.  Jaguar Paw’s wife, son, and unborn baby are hidden, but he is captured, and taken on a journey with many others toward the great city of the powerful empire.  He swears that he will see himself free no matter the cost, that he will return to his family, and that the gods will not turn their faces from a true child of the jungle.

Apocalypto is an epic tale set in a fabled time, and it’s given the freedom to explore many places, taking us along on the unwanted adventure of the main character, letting us see this wild world firsthand.  Tapirs, monkeys, jaguars, snakes, frogs, forests, waterfalls, giant trees, famines, temples, madmen, slaves, fatal games, evil omens; there’s a lot to take it, the movie kinda makes you breathless, and it’s a constant struggle not to flinch away from the harsh style and even harsher conditions that our heroes face.  All the while the language is beautiful, the scenery is incredible, there’s a fantasy feel almost, as well as seeming slightly historic.  Gibson was able to create something majestic, and yet he couldn’t help himself from going a little over-the-top, which becomes the film’s biggest flaw.  It’s a little over-worked, but always fun, and it re-watches very well, since it’s a grand experience that truly doesn’t have many rivals.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – The Crush

Category : Movie Review

Director: Alan Shapiro

Starring: Cary Elwes, Alicia Silverstone

Year: 1993

I challenge you to find a movie that is both more 90s and more god-awful than The Crush; I doubt you’ll be able to do it.  For, while there are, I’m sure, plenty of terrible, over-dramatic, pseudo-sexy 90s thrillers out there, The Crush might take the cake, what with its lack of anything good and apparent worship of everything bad.  I might be exaggerating a little, but not by much; even if you want to consider this film to be a cult classic, which I partially do, you still can’t claim that it’s anything but one of the worst things your eyes have ever seen.  It’s what we get for letting Cary Elwes think he’s a leading man in something other than Princess Bride and Alicia Silverstone think she can be anything else but Clueless.

Nick is a journalist, actually the grandson of a famous journalist, who is just getting his foot in the door at a real publication.  His car is beat up, he’ll have to rent a spare room, he hasn’t got much more than the clothes on his back, but the dream is starting to become a reality, if he can only keep writing what people want to read and digging up the stories people want to hear about.  But there’s a problem on the horizon that he simply couldn’t have seen coming; the 14-year-old daughter of the wealthy family he rents a room over the garage from.  Adrian’s a genius, she’s beautiful, she’s manipulative, she’s bored, and she’s got her sights set on Nick, in what starts out as a charming crush but quickly turns dark & deadly.

This was Silverstone’s first film, and, really, other than Clueless, she never would go on to do anything better.  That’s not to say that The Crush is good, only that she might be its best piece, and she might have peaked a little early.  A combination of Lolita and Fatal Attraction (which is an obvious comparison, not an original one), The Crush sends killer 90s vibes our way, from the bitchin’ music to the rad shades, but forgets that we may need a little more than mood to hold us all the way through.  Elwes is the worst actor ever, such a caricature, and Silverstone isn’t much better, especially in her first real try.  The side cast wasn’t much better: Jennifer Rubin, Kurtwood Smith, Amber Benson, TV-quality all.  Speaking of, I guess the VHS version of this film is slightly different than the TV version, and Adrian was once called Darian, the name of the real girl Shapiro based the story on.  But I don’t think this film warrants a deeper dive to compare the two; it’s hardly watchable enough for one round, more a complete joke than a real attempt at cinema, and perhaps in need of being forgotten.

My rating: ☆



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Movie Review – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

Category : Movie Review

Director: Louis Leterrier

Starring: Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel

Year: 2019

While Age of Resistance is technically a Netflix original television series, I view it more as a limited series; ten hour-long episodes, one epic tale, story over.  It remains to be seen whether we’ll get more from this universe, but for now I’m treating this as a prequel to The Dark Crystal, a peak at more of the world of Thra, and a fleeting chance to experience more of the magic that so enthralled us in the early 80s.  If you are a fan of the cult classic film, you need to see what else there is to witness from this franchise, because it seems like we’ve barely scraped the surface; luckily we get at least this one shot as watching more of what Henson brought to life with his magnificent talent, something of which we’ll never see the equal ever again.

Many years before the last remaining Gelfling, Jen & Kira, took on the evil Skeksis for the fate of their planet, the two species lived together in relative harmony, with the Gelfling tribes as loyal subjects and the Skeksis as god-like overlords.  Only when the Dark Crystal was damaged and a Darkening began to spread across the land did the Gelfling start to grow suspicious of their seemingly immortal leaders, and question how so few could claim to rule so many.  Three Gelfling in particular, from three different clans, along with their companions, led the rebellion that would start the war to rid Thra of the Skeksis threat: Rian, Brea, and Deet.  These heroes would lead the charge, with ancient Mother Aughra as their ally, but they would need the aid of all Gelfling, if they were to stand up to the warped power of the Crystal and the alien mastery of the Skeksis.

I don’t think it’s much of an overstatement to say that Age of Resistance is perhaps the most beautiful show you will ever watch.  Think of the wonderful puppets and sets of Dark Crystal, and then magnify that with the powerful lens of modernity, improve the clarity of every image, bring in the most beautiful colors; we won’t see the like again for some time, if ever.  It’s that stunning, that captivating, and it seems that real, all the while being puppets, all the while convincing us that nothing could look so good outside of a dream.  The story may be a little dodgy, a little hard to follow, somewhat distracting with its constant movement, but the characters somehow make it work anyway: Rian’s resolve, Brea’s courage, Deet’s intelligence, Hup’s heart, Aughra’s wisdom, The Chamberlain’s wile, The Scientist’s malevolence.  It gets a little violent by the end, and the story doesn’t exactly come to a complete close, this isn’t a perfect project, but it’s still something that needs to be seen, because it’s simply that awesome.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



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Book Review – Cujo

Category : Book Review

Author: Stephen King

Year: 1981

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Cujo isn’t really about a killer dog, that’s just something for the cover of the book.  That’s just something to catch the casual reader, or to rope in those King fans who know him for horror and want to be scared again.  But for those looking for something a little deeper, Cujo delivers bucket-loads, metaphor for days, stories under the story that have so much more to share with us than simple chills.  King is the master of the layer cake, something on top to make the money and something below to feed the soul, and it’s that dual talent that makes him such an artist.  Cujo is a shining example of that rare ability, which aids it in reaching the upper level, and shows us just why King is king.

Two couples are going through a major life change, both with young boys watching the struggle and learning what it might mean to be married.  Vic and Donna Trenton seem to have it all together; he’s an ad man, she’s a stay-at-home mom, they’re attractive and relatively young, their four-year-old son Tad is both bright and fun to be with.  Down the road a bit, out in the boonies, Charity and Joe Camber are living a slightly different life, he an independent mechanic, she afraid of the anger of her husband, ten-year-old Brett torn between the parents he simultaneously loves.  As shit hits the fan in their respective relationships, a random event will shake them all to their core; the Camber’s loving Saint Bernard is bitten by a rabid bat, and quickly begins to lose him mind.  Torn between the love he has for his humans and the evil that’s eating him from the inside, Cujo turns to violence, and draws the skeletons of our main characters out of all their closets, exposing their worst fears to the light.

King does so many things so perfectly; setting a quick table, layering on the symbolism, making audiences feel accustomed to his setting, and then scaring us to death.  All his talents are on display here, in one of the best books he’s ever written.  Cujo is so much more than a frightening tale about a rabid dog, and even more than one metaphor about the everlasting power of the monsters in our closets.  It’s about marriage, fidelity, what we pass to our children, what we lie about to ourselves, how we allow others to fool us.  It’s much more sad than it is terrifying, though there is definitely still an element of claustrophobia and terror; we spend a surprisingly small time with and/or talking about the dog, the plot really takes place between the characters and is often aimed at their sons, showing readers where the real points are being made.  I’ve read enough King to know when he was on his game, and Cujo is a prime example of how he can focus an emotion toward an experience with an ease and a skill that’s almost beyond belief.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


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Movie Review – Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Marquand

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Year: 1983

I couldn’t have told you that the original Star Wars trilogy had three different directors; I guess it doesn’t matter, this is George Lucas’ baby, and the story was somehow above being messed up, being misled, or being mismanaged.  I think the prequels and then the modern movies ultimately proved that idea wrong, but at least the originals were always on a solid track, and that shows itself without much prodding; all you have to do is sit back and watch.  Return of the Jedi is simply a continuance of the excellence of this franchise, and an incredible ending to what is probably the best film series that has ever been made.  Episode VI is my personal favorite, mostly because I grew up loving Ewoks and it came out the year I was born, but it is also a perfect grand finale to the plot arc we enjoyed so fully and immersed ourselves in so deeply; we deserved a stupendous ending, and thankfully we got it.

In New Hope, the Rebels rise to the challenge of the Empire, and Luke Skywalker helps them destroy the Death Star, the space station that threatened all.  In Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader’s counterstroke nearly breaks the fellowship we’ve come to love, especially with Luke away from his friends, learning what he can from Yoda on his way to fulfilling his destiny.  Now, with Han captured and Yoda’s lessons put on hold, Luke and Leia must work together to save Solo and return to the Rebels, because the Empire is not sleeping, but actively rebuilding the Death Star.  On the forest moon of Endor, the Rebellion launches one last attack, hoping to destroy Vader and the Emperor once and for all, if only their luck and the power of the Force will hold long enough to finish the job.

The first set the stage magically, the second gave us all the fun we could ever wish for, and the third wraps it all up in style, as Star Wars goes out with a bang and delivers perhaps its greatest feature of the franchise.  I know my judgement is clouded a little because this was always my favorite as a kid, but I do think it holds up as amazing even when picked apart; its pieces are just so strong.  Jabba, the barge, the desert, Lando as general, Luke as Jedi, the Ewoks and their aid, the final battle with the added evil of the Emperor; there are just so many little characters, story lines, and moments to love, flowing from beginning to end.  The music rising to a crescendo, Vader vs Luke coming to a head, all secrets revealed in their proper time; it was simply written superbly, and then executed just as well.  The prequels might not be prefect, the followup films might have their ups & downs, but we’ll always have Episodes IV-VI, no one can take that away from us, and we can still share that miracle with our children, building the Star Wars fan base for generations to come, and never forgetting this awesome, beautiful, ultra-entertaining sci-fi masterpiece.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Hand

Starring: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Pinto Colvig

Year: 1937

Disney’s first feature length animated film is also one of its most magical and memorable; it’s incredible to remember that it was created 83 years ago, and yet still holds such power today.  An original Grimm fairy tale, Snow White has become a cultural icon and helped launch Disney into the stratosphere, but its humble roots might be the most impressive thing about it.  This is the beginning of the Disney Princess genre, complete with musical numbers, whimsical animal characters, and evil villains who would meet their doom when good conquered evil in the end, because that’s how it must be in the perfect world of make believe, Snow White delivering that promise perfectly and in style.

The story is as familiar to us as our own face in the mirror, be it magic or not.  An evil queen in a faraway land holds her beauty to an unbearable standard, and asks a powerful image every day if she is still the fairest in the land.  When her own stepdaughter grows to be lovelier than she, the Queen orders her death, but Snow White survives and escapes into the forest, finding a dwarf’s cottage to hide away in.  These dwarfs become her closest friends, but even they cannot protect her from the jealousy of the mad queen, who will never stop hunting the young princess until she is dead, her beauty taken away from the world forever.

This film is about as classic as classic can get, rivaled only by The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, a handful of others, but still reigning supreme over its own genre, an animated god that still lives on in power all these years later.  The story is simple but wonderful, the dwarfs are the key ingredient, the queen is supreme evil, and Snow White herself is flawless in a way that few characters have ever achieved.  Of course, it’s the music that really stands out; hits like Whistle While You Work, Heigh-Ho, and Someday My Prince Will Come, but hidden gems like One Song, With a Smile and a Song, and The Silly Song as well.  It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s easy, it’s perfectly rounded, and the animation for the time is as impressive as you will ever seen.  Snow White is quite early but it’s not much flawed, a miracle of a masterwork right out of the gates that has lost nothing with age.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – The Machinist

Category : Movie Review

Director: Brad Anderson

Starring: Christian Bale

Year: 2004

In an era of mind-bending, dark-turn dramas, The Machinist holds its own, but perhaps fails to make a name for itself within its own genre.  Memento and Fight Club, even American Psycho and Donnie Darko, we went through a phase around 2000 when what we wanted was a tortured male lead who wasn’t really sure what was real, who couldn’t even understand his own insanity; we just thought that was pretty cool.  Looking back, was it?  Who knows, it’s hard to judge these films fairly, because they had such an impact on us then that they’ll stay with us forever, whether or not they were as awesome as we made them out to be.  Add The Machinist to that list, a crazy-cool mental meltdown that we entrusted to an incredible actor and let run wild, with enjoyment coming by the end because we wished it into existence.

Trevor Reznik hasn’t slept in a year, only dozing off in random settings to be awoken again and set back on the destruction path he seems to be sleepwalking down.  Something happened a year ago that he’s not quite ready to face, and so he’s letting his life spiral out of control, ultimately culminating in an accident at work that finally snaps the last cord he had tied to reality.  Now he’s not sure what’s actually happening and what he might be dreaming up, all while walking through each day in a daze that makes zero sense.  As the pieces coalesce, we grow closer to the truth, and begin to understand why a breakdown might be a form of protection from the thing we can’t face awake.

These partially-lunatic dreamscape flicks might be a dime a dozen, but when led by someone as talented as Bale, they can still have a heavy impact.  Sure, the plot might be a little predictable once you figure out what the hell is going on, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing; I’m not sure that tying up all the loose ends at the end and explaining things to the audiences is truly a bad thing.  Had the film gone the other way, had it been about pure madness in a Pi sort of way, I don’t think I would have liked it as much, though I may have given the director a little more credit.  As it was, Anderson didn’t do much, and he wouldn’t go on to do much, he simply laid a weird tale as Bale’s feet and let him do his thing.  Is that a cop out or a genius move?  Watch and decide I guess, but I err on the side of smart, because Christian Bale is a generational talent, and that is definitely on display here in this iconic role.  He’s great, Jennifer Jason Leigh is surprisingly good, and the film works even when sticking to the script and refusing to veer too far away from the standard that was already set and we already showed we loved.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – Eden

Category : Movie Review

Director: Megan Griffiths

Starring: Jamie Chung, Matt O’Leary, Beau Bridges

Year: 2012

Eden is based on an allegedly true story (there are some issues, you can read about them, I obviously have no idea what really happened) and meant to raise awareness about human trafficking; it may be a disservice to the film to judge it solely as a drama, because it in no way is aiming for the same standards as other, better, fictional films.  Or at least I don’t think it was trying for that; if it was it’s a bad movie, if it was meant as an exposé it’s a laudable service and we should appreciate it as such.  Either way, there’s something here, it may just not live up to its contemporaries if judged too harshly or examined too minutely, because its ceiling is rather and extremely low.

Eden is a beautiful young girl with her whole life ahead of her, who is suddenly kidnapped and forced into slavery as a prostitute by evil men looking to make a profit from bodies that are not their own.  She and many other girls are kept in a garage-like storage facility, kept very clean, but only so that they can have sex with the men and at the parties they are delivered to, all the while held in fear for their lives, the lives of their family members.  Eden’s only chance at escape lies within playing the part of the willing employee, until she finds her opportunity to run, expose the truth, and find her home once again.

Megan Griffiths is not an accomplished director, and Jamie Chung isn’t really an actress at all, she’s a model from Real World, so there was definitely a limit to how high this movie could go.  To say that it reached its peak potential isn’t really an insult; it did all it set out to do, it brought life to a real subject, and perhaps it made audiences aware of a real problem that we had been ignoring.  There’s a lot of uncomfortably reality here, and that’s the point, to make us face the issue, and to put faces to the numbers, whether or not this actual history happened to this actual person.  Chung does a fine job, she’s a passable actor, she simply isn’t that greatly talented, she has a ceiling as well, and she maxes that out quickly.  The story is thin, the supporting cast is mediocre, the movie will never wow anyone, but it was made with a purpose, and that’s something.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆



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Movie Review – Battle: Los Angeles

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ramon Rodriguez, Michelle Rodriguez

Year: 2011

I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from this movie, but definitely not a promotional video for the Marines.  Battle: Los Angeles is propaganda, not film, and I say that completely apolitically; it’s a long commercial rather than a solid movie, and that sucks.  I guess what I was looking for was alien sci-fi done well, if a little heavy on the cheese; I don’t mind that, not really.  But what I got was a loud OORAH! and not much else, with actors that were incapable of lending a hand to a struggling plot that quickly turned into a dying story.  Independence Day this is not, it couldn’t even aspire to that silly level, and that’s a real problem.

The world is at war with an other-worldly foe, and we’ve already lost.  An alien attack has been launched near every major, ocean-bordering city on Earth, and the results were catastrophic; our militaries were almost immediately overrun.  Their tech is better, their armor is tougher, their tactics are impeccable, and it looks like we’re going to lose our planet.  Just 24 hours earlier, a squad of US Marines was called into Santa Monica to assess this new threat, and to evacuate any civilians that might need their help.  Now, they seem to be the only team behind enemy lines, and almost accidentally they have the chance to strike the brain of the operation, turning the tide of the war and giving hope to all mankind.

It is definitely a dumb plot, but it’s made even dumber by its delivery, and, my god, by its acting.  First, it’s nothing more than advertising, and that’s annoying; it doesn’t even attempt to look like it’s only trying to be accurate in its depictions, it flat out owns the fact that it wants to make shooting guns look cool.  The rest is an afterthought, any quality in the storytelling quickly abandoned because the filmmakers found that kind of crap to be unimportant I guess.  The graphics are terrible, the action is sloppy, everyone just runs around screaming and/or blowing shit up; it’s either a nightmare or a wet dream depending on, what, how much your love ‘Merica?  And then there’s the acting: Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, a young Joey King, an utterly pointless Ne-Yo.  I’m almost offended by how bad this movie is, like it’s a personal insult to me and to sci-fi nerds everywhere; please remove it from the genre, because it sure doesn’t belong.

My rating: ☆



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Movie Review – Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

Category : Movie Review

Director: George Lucas

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Year: 1980

If A New Hope is a cinema god, Empire Strikes Back is its equally-powerful, maybe-cooler Olympian sibling.  In order to make trilogies sustainably and consistently good, it seems that you have to make them all at once, like Lord of the Rings, otherwise you risk a dip or a complete fall off.  But the first three Star Wars films came out with three years between each one; the miracle is that the magic lessened not at all, and perhaps even grew more powerful with every passing moment fans were left anticipating.  Wish I could say the same about the newest trilogy, but that went the way of the Godfather franchise, more’s the pity, but let’s not open that can of worms.  Let’s focus on the bright side; Empire Strikes Back is perhaps the greatest sequel ever made, and we’re lucky to have it.

The Death Star has been destroyed and the Rebellion is alive to fight another day, but the war is far from over.  With Luke Skywalker on their side, the Rebels hide on a remote ice planet of Hoth, where they hope to regroup and strategize, before the Empire can find them again.  But Darth Vader is already looking, and he knows that someone strong in the Force has arisen to fight against him.  After a battle on Hoth, Luke goes to find a Jedi Master named Yoda who will teach him the lost art, while his friends attempt to rejoin the scattered Rebel fleet.  First they must survive a perilous encounter in a cloud city, where Han’s rival/friend Lando is an administrator (and still a scoundrel).  The gang will fight for their survival, Luke will attempt to understand the Force, and all threads draw tighter as fate brings all players together.

A New Hope is practically perfect, but Empire Strikes Back may be more awesome; it’s got all the cool toys.  Hoth, tauntauns, wampas, Dagobah, Yoda, the Falcon in that creature’s mouth, all its hyperdrive failures, Cloud City, Lando, carbonite, Boba Fett, Luke vs Vader; it’s much more than we deserve.  This is was Star Wars was made to look like, these events and these characters, this is what created the legend, and that’s why this film is so spectacular, because it gives audiences everything they ever wanted.  And it still does; watching it back it’s still exciting to meet all the people again, to watch their encounters with these creatures, to know how they’re going to survive and what’s coming next for them in the next episode.  Unlike most series, the sequel takes no steps back, and is, if anything, better, simply because it offers more of what we already love, like a larger slice of chocolate cake, and you know there’s always room for dessert.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆