Monthly Archives: August 2020

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Movie Review – Shark Night

Category : Movie Review

Director: David R. Ellis

Starring: Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Sinqua Walls

Year: 2011

From the director of Snakes on a Plane comes Shark Night, and that’s no good thing.  Obviously, coming in you know you’re in for something terrible, it’s just a matter of asking yourself if that’s what you secretly want.  Shark Night is a cross between genres, a cabin-in-the-woods type horror flick with a creature-feature element that ups the gross out factor, which are both styles that I have enjoyed in the past and don’t mind indulgently enjoying again.  It really comes down to how much you can stomach, cause there’s a lot to force down here if you make the commitment, ranging from the ragged flesh to the ragged acting; in this case I’m not really sure which was worse.

Taking a break from studying for the weekend, a group of college kids from Tulane hit the lake to do some boating, some drinking, some flirting, and at the very least some relaxing away from all the stress of school.  Sara is a quiet hottie, Nick is the nerd in love with her, Malik is the hunky jock, Maya is his girlfriend, Blake is a self-absorbed man-candy, Gordon is the slacker, and Beth is a girl who just wants to get drunk & naked.  Sounds like a good time for all, except that for some reason there are sharks in the water, and they seem to want to eat our partying party, which really gets in the way of beer pong.

It’s dumb, because of course it is, but there are a few nuggets to enjoy if you’re looking to completely blank out and have a gruesome good time.  The story is classic, the youngsters far enough out that their cell phones don’t work, and the twist is actually OK, if you don’t look at it too hard.  The pretty people are very pretty, there’s plenty of skin if not outright nudity, you get to watch some fun shark biting, it’s over-the-top but not so far gone that it’s a complete joke.  But still, it’s not like this is fine dramatic work.  The acting is painful, the decisions dumb, each scene only existing to move us along to the predictable ending, but hey, at least we get to see people in bikinis along the way.  If you’re not looking for anything more than a low-inspiration horror/thriller/creature feature, than you’ve come to the right place.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joe Johnston

Starring: Rick Moranis, Amy O’Neill, Robert Oliveri

Year: 1989

A little piece of golden nostalgia in miniature form, each moment of Honey I Shrunk the Kids is a reminder of how fun the late 80s could be, and how much we can still enjoy looking back, either sharing those moments with our families or simply revisiting a time when we were younger and full of cinematic whimsy.  This film is a walk down memory lane for sure, from each trial the kids endure on their journey through the lawn to each note of theme music building each new phase of suspense.  Honey I Shrunk the Kids is the epitome of a classic good time, a portal back to when we were kids that allows us to forget what it’s like to be adults for a while, which is something we need right now perhaps more than ever before.

The Szalinski family is weird, and their neighbors know it better than anyone else.  Wayne, the dad, is an inventor, but his machines never work, including his newest obsession, a shrink ray that just blows things us.  With their parents fighting over money and cleaning and jobs and everything else, Amy & Nick are just trying to get by, but they find themselves in a strange situation when the neighbor boys, Russ & Ron Thompson come over to report that a baseball has been hit through the Szalinski attic window.  Somehow, this results in the shrink machine working, and all four kids accidentally get shot down to a minuscule size, and then swept out with the trash.  Now they’ll have to find their way back to the house, encountering many dangers along the way, from lawn mowers to now-giant bees, if they ever want to get big again.

What an awesome time, and I remember so badly wanting to be small like this so I could see the world the way these kids got too; Legos to sleep in, Oatmeal Pies to dive into, cereal to ride.  It seemed so fun, even if it was dangerous, and it definitely was fun to revisit this film and to feel all those memories come whooshing back with every note of every tune and each shout of, “Nicky, watch out!”.  It’s a little silly of course, and none of these people, like none of them, ever went on to be a famous actor, but that hardly matters.  At least Honey I Shrunk the Kids exists in its own, ridiculously fun bubble, and it did spawn a few more features, though they aren’t nearly as good.  Watch with your kids who are now old enough to enjoy it themselves, watch with your spouse who experienced the same movie in a different town, just have a fun look back, because there is a lot to laugh at and to be entertained by here.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Category : Movie Review

Director: Amy Heckerling

Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Backer, Sean Penn

Year: 1982

I don’t know if this counts as a closet favorite or just one I always forget that I love so much, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High surprises me every time I watch it because I never remember to remember that it’s fucking fantastic.  And for Amy Heckerling’s first film it’s even more impressive, because she was just getting started: Look Who’s Talking, Clueless, even an Office episode.  But she captured the vibe and feel of the early 80s perfectly, understood the terrors of growing up wonderfully, and somehow delivered it to us in a magically succinct little package of a movie that’s so very special and so incredibly unique.  Fast Times is an icon we almost forget is an icon, but that just shows how natural it feels to all of us, no matter when we grew up, like it might just have been our own life story on embarrassing display.

School’s in session once again for these California teens, and this year may be their wildest one yet.  For Brad, he’s the big man on campus, a senior with a killer car, though his life could quickly spiral out of control in an instant.  For his younger sister Stacy, things are simpler at first; she just wants to have sex and get it over with, so she can move on with her life without “virgin” hanging over her head.  She makes the mistake of falling in with the wrong guy (Mike Damone) while the right one is too shy to make a move (Mark ‘Rat’ Ratner), but she’ll figure it out eventually.  Meanwhile, the class clown/surfer/pothead can’t seem to make it to class on time and nearly misses graduation, but he might just skate through on personality alone.  There’s more than one way to make it through high school, and I guess coming of age is all about experience and experimentation, but these kids have some weird ideas on just what it might mean to be grown up.

This movie is definitely famous for the Phoebe Cates fantasy scene, and there’s a large amount of nudity and sex and hormones, but that’s not nearly the point; there’s so much more to enjoy here once you get past the juvenile pieces that we recognize and even appreciate because, hey, we were all kids once.  I went through times like these, I had friends just like these, I can see myself in these moments because they are honest and capture what it’s like to survive high school, no matter the era.  At the same time, what a snapshot of the 70s giving way to the 80s, what a nostalgic journey for those who grew up during these times, and even for those of us who were about to be born and join the confused throng.  Heckerling gets it all right, her characters are perfection, and this cast is something impressive all on its own: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Nicholas Cage, Anthony Edwards, with Brian Barker & Robert Romanus as Mark & Mike stealing the show as the real unsung leads of this film, apart from JJL.  Add in one of the most impressive movie soundtracks of all time and you have one of the most influential films ever made, a classic to beat out most other classics for no other reason than pure, lovable charisma and a once-in-a-lifetime mood that will never quite leave you.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Black Book

Category : Movie Review

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Carice van Houten, Sebastian Koch, Thom Hoffman

Year: 2006

Paul Verhoeven has directed many and various films, but his writing credits are a little fewer and more specific.  He’s known for being all over the place, from Starship Troopers to Showgirls, from Hollow Man to Elle, but earlier in his career he showed an interest in the Dutch Resistance movement during WWII, and that’s where Black Book lands us again.  This is a unique perspective on a tale we think we know so well because we’ve seen it played out so many times; the Nazis invade and everyone who isn’t ready to salute Hitler either hides for their lives or fights back.  But there is much to be appreciated and surprised by this time around, in a war story that uses different styles from what we’re used to, and offers us plenty more insight.

Toward the end of World War II, Jewish singer Rachel hides in the Dutch countryside until she can be reunited with her family, who have also been in hiding since the Nazis took control.  Their dominance may be coming to an end, the Russians are coming from the east, the Canadians from the West, but until the war ends every Jew must be supremely careful.  A member of the Dutch Resistance offers Rachel and her family a reunion and an escape, but their journey ends in tragedy, and she in turn joins the Resistance for revenge and for a chance to do her part.  But what’s asked of her may be too much; to slip into the bed of a high ranking German officer and work from the inside, a position that may offer access but also comes with its unique dangers, with the end approaching and only a few knowing which side Rachel, now going by Ellis, is really on.

Part war story and part film noir, Black Book is an unusually dramatic and even colorful look at this time period, when others focus on its extreme brutality.  Don’t get me wrong, there is still death and desecration, the period is still shown in its darkest light, but perhaps also with a nod to the dramatics that are inherent to espionage and betrayal.  So it becomes half thriller, half history lesson, which perhaps only serves to make it that much more enjoyable, and maybe would keep some reluctant audience members in their seats for what otherwise might be seen simply as a sub-titled period piece.  Black Book is so much more; it’s sexy, it’s stunning, it’s chaotic, it’s personal, and ultimately it’s touching, which is why this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this film, and why it definitely won’t be the last.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Flesh+Blood

Category : Movie Review

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Rutger Hauer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Burlison

Year: 1985

Apparently my pandemic film choices lean toward fantasy, the 80s, and Paul Verhoeven, which all combine perfectly in Flesh+Blood, a movie so good for so many bizarre reasons that I don’t know how to properly explain them all to you.  Just know this; Verhoeven is a master of the dark arts, he knows something about the allure of evil that we simply can’t put into words, and apparently he’s made some sort of a deal with the devil where he gets to create outlandish and sometimes magnificent movies, you just wonder what his end of the bargain is.  I’m serious; I’m beginning to think that Verhoeven is some sort of a genius, because even when he’s bad he’s good.  But that’s not a problem with this film; it’s so spectacular that it just might knock your socks off.  Castles, kidnappings, curses, the Black Death; Flesh+Blood has it all, and it’s all done so perfectly, so perfectly and so wickedly, that you’ll leave thirsty for more.

It’s the 1500s in Western Europe, and life is about as dog-eat-dog as you can imagine.  Mercenaries fight for feuding lords and for the highest bidder, with promises of plunder and prostitutes fueling their lust for war.  One such band, led by the warrior Martin, helps Arnolfini & his son Steven take a city, but are then denied their right of looting, chased from the land like dirty dogs instead.  Their revenge comes in the form of the virginal Agnes, who is meant as a wife for Steven.  Taking her prisoner, Marin and his troupe also craftily take a small castle, where they make themselves lords, though their manners could use a bit of polish.  With Steven on the hunt for his bride and with the plague roaming the countryside looking for more victims, our more-than-flawed heroes have only a short time to enjoy their new-found prizes, before the harshness of reality strikes them harder than ever before.

The only thing I feel that deserves a warning about this film before we move on is a very graphic rape scene, and then a later sense that the rape might have, what, been to save her from worse?  May have led to her falling in love?  It’s an uncomfortable plot point, I’m not sure it would fly today, but it is definitely in keeping with the brutality of this film, I just think some might have trouble watching it, and perhaps trouble with its presence at all.  Make you own mind up about how Verhoeven portrays the heroine, but I don’t think anyone can argue that the man is subversively talented when it comes to bringing up the worst humanity has to offer in a way that makes it hard for us not to watch.  This film is dirty, it’s deadly, it’s brutal, grotesque, and fraught with antiheroes, but it’s so brilliantly constructed that its entertainment value flies ridiculously high.  Verhoeven is simply a master, and he’s all over the place: Flesh+Blood, RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, Starship Troopers, Hollow Man, Black Book, Elle.  He’s willing to take risks, and that’s very impressive, because he doesn’t seem to mind failing (COU*Showgirls*GH).  He simply presses on, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but he always builds from the ashes in ways audiences didn’t see coming, and that’s the mark of a good storyteller.  Some Blade Runner standbys, Jennifer Jason Leigh in her young days, Bruno Kirby, that Nazi who melts in Indiana Jones; what a great cast.  And the feel is astounding, so authentically muddy and dark, so medieval that it makes your skin crawl, but then with an added Excalibur absurdity that makes the entire experience that much more enjoyable.  I unabashedly love this movie, maybe for its problematic audacity and its stomach-turning twists, but ultimately just as much for being, simply, a film worth talking about.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Rescuers Down Under

Category : Movie Review

Director: Hendel Butoy, Mike Gabriel

Starring: Adam Ryen, Bob Newhart, Eva Gabor

Year: 1990

The Rescuers is an under-the-radar Disney hit that features real heart, though it often goes unmentioned.  The Rescuers Down Under is no different, it has a special quality that’s both hard to put your finger on and hard to replicate, plus it came out in the heart of the Disney Renaissance, which means it’s exactly the kind of incredible animation we loved back then & continue to applaud today.  Rescuers DU was a great blend of classic and new when it was released, and boy was it a big deal to kids; I was 7 at the time.  But what’s more, it holds up remarkably well, and still shines with a talent that we’ve rarely seen exhibited since, even from Disney, and should learn to appreciate more.

Bernard & Bianca are off on another dangerous mission, this time to Australia, where a young boy named Cody has been kidnapped by an evil poacher named McLeach.  Cody has the ability to talk to animals, just like Penny did, and he loves to help them when they are in need, no matter what trouble they run into in the bush.  But this time he’s in over his head; the animal he wants to save is a giant golden eagle, and the madman who wants to kill her is extremely dangerous.  The Rescue Aid Society better find Cody before McLeach finds the eagle, and they’ll need help to do it: an albatross named Wilbur and a hopping mouse named Jake.  Off they go into the outback, ready to set things right, no matter the peril.

From the opening scene, which is incredible, you can tell you’re in for something marvelous; the music, the animals, the bit of computer animation mixed with the standard artwork.  It’s a splash of color and character that sets things up well right from the beginning, and it never really slows down from there.  Our favorite mice are back, Cody is a great addition, John Candy as Wilbur, George C. Scott as McLeach, Jake the adventurous companion, Johanna the wild and hilarious lizard; there are so many pieces to pick from and to praise.  Lost in the rebounding releases of the early 90s, Rescuers DU deserves its own respect, because it blends art and music and heart in an awesome mosaic, and never lets off the gas pedal once.  It was the children’s event of the year in 1990, but still holds power now, and ought to be considered higher among the Disney classics than it is; it may not have a princess but it does still rule.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Dear Zachary

Category : Movie Review

Director: Kurt Kuenne

Starring: David Bagby, Kathleen Bagby

Year: 2008

This is going to be a difficult review to write, given the subject matter of this heart-breaking documentary, but I think it’s fine to stay objective as a critic and to be emotional as a viewer, those two things don’t have to be separated completely, I am able to experience this film while wearing more than one hat.  Dear Zachary had been on my list for years, but I finally watched it when it kept popping up in a conversation about movies that make you cry, mine being About Time; that scene when he’s young, with his dad, on the beach, wow.  I didn’t want to cry necessarily, but I did want to see why this film weighed so heavy on the hearts of so many, and I now understand that clearly.  It’s as horrible a real tragedy as you could ever put on screen, but at the same time a story told with such incredible love that you simply have to see it.

Andrew Bagby was everyone’s best friend.  Wherever he went, he became a part of the lives of all the people he met like a family member they had always adored.  And with his own family, he was something larger than life, a companion that you wanted to be by your side forever.  Anyone who met him could feel the love coming off of him in waves, his infectious comedy making him the life of any party.  And then he was murdered by a spurned girlfriend, a woman who fled the United States, fought her extradition, and then made the most shocking announcement possible; that she was pregnant with Andrew’s baby.  This is the story of the murder of an innocent man, the fight for the safety of his child, the trial to send that child’s mother to jail, and the gathering off all Andrew’s memories in one place, so that someday they could be given to Zachary, the son he never met.

‘Heart-breaking’ doesn’t even begin to describe this true story, nor does that summary touch all the terrible events depicted here.  It’s a tragedy beyond coming to terms with, and the fight for justice continues to this day, a never-ending war in the name of Andrew Bagby and a child who had no choice about his future.  I’m not even sure I can recommend this film, as much as I’ll rate it highly; it’s too painful and too real, I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, but at the same time I desperately want you to see it so that you might understand.  The message here is powerful, and the delivery extremely personal; Kurt Kuenne was Andrew’s best friend, and he set about making this documentary to keep his memory alive, and to tell his son the truth.  I can’t say that the actual filmmaking was spectacular; it’s a bit amateur and a bit frantic.  But this isn’t an unbiased opinion piece, this isn’t an exposé of a hidden war crime, this is raw emotion coming from a friend, and a film that unabashedly shows how the parents of a murdered man feel in the aftermath, with no excuses given, and with the extra insanity of sharing a child with the woman who killed their son.  I doubt anyone can make it through Dear Zachary without a tear shed or a gut wrenched, but that’s simply too small to matter; we need to hear this anyway.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – 2020 NFL Predictions

Category : Sports

The 2020 NFL season is almost upon us, with Free Agency and the Draft complete, Training Camps beginning, and the Regular Season right around the corner.  It’s time for Olie’s Too Early To Tell Season Predictions!  Here’s to another great year!

 

AFC Division Winners

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AFC Wild Cards

NFC Division Winners

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NFC Wild Cards

 

Super Bowl

Champions

 


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Movie Review – Kalifornia

Category : Movie Review

Director: Dominic Sena

Starring: David Duchovny, Brad Pitt, Michelle Forbes, Juliette Lewis

Year: 1993

When I was a teenager I went on a huge Brad Pitt kick, and if you asked me then I would have said that he was the best actor in the world.  Well, I wouldn’t say the same now, there are other names that come to mind if I was making that list (Daniel Day-Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Leo, Tom, others I’m sure), but I won’t change my opinion completely; Brad Pitt is and always has been a phenomenal actor.  You can even go on a deep dive and come across some really bizarre films he was in as a youngster, even excluding Thelma & Louise: Cutting Class, Johnny Suede, Cool World.  And then came A River Runs Through It to put him on the map, followed by Kalifornia, to show that he’s much more than some pretty boy, that he can be a monster easily enough if you only ask him to.

Brian is a writer who is trying to make the jump to novels from magazines, and his specialty is the psychology of serial killers.  His girlfriend, Carrie, is a photographer who shoots black&white nudes.  They’re both a little too odd for the conventional art world, and so never have any money, and just can’t seem to get their feet in any doors.  They decide to take a road trip to California, stopping at famous murder sites along the way, to get inspiration and perhaps finally break through, but the problem is they’re broke.  So they advertise for someone to come along for the ride and share the expenses; enter Early and Adele.  They are backwoods, strange, Early is a little scary, and Adele is not much more than a child.  But hey they want to pitch in for gas; just don’t ask Early how he manages to pay, because, although his methods might be of interest for Brian’s book, they aren’t exactly humane.

Dominic Sena was a first time director here, and he would follow it up with an eclectic list: Gone in 60 Seconds, Swordfish, Whiteout, Season of the Witch.  So not a lot of talent there, and you can tell; the movie isn’t really any good.  But it’s good for a few things, and that’s reason enough to watch if you’re curious.  One is, of course, Brad Pitt in an early role, and a strange one at that; it’s so odd to hear his accent, watch him all dirty and gross, and then see him become a killer right before our eyes.  Another is Juliette Lewis, who really steals the show as Adele; she’s so simple and child-like and weird.  It’s also fun to remember that people once saw David Duchovny as a sex symbol, and by “fun” I mean “hard to believe”.  Kalifornia is a conversation piece more than an actual film, but still, you gotta have something to talk about.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Sahara

Category : Movie Review

Director: Breck Eisner

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz

Year: 2005

Sahara is no Mummy; hell, it’s even no National Treasure.  But it sure does copy off both, pulling from the same bag of tricks that worked or semi-worked before, thinking that we’re probably dumb enough to fall for it all again.  It turns out, Sahara was the dumb one, because even audiences looking for nothing more than a shallow, sandy good time weren’t fooled by a story that had more holes in it than a rusty old wrecked plane that’s conveniently turned into a desert parakite (seriously, that happens).  This movie is bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment, with so much better stacked on top that it’s a miracle anyone ever reached down this low.

Dirk Pitt is a famous diver, explorer, treasure hunter, and ex-Navy Seal who can do pretty much anything, but what he loves is searching for ancient myths that he believes can be turned into modern excavations.  Dirk and his friend Al have been on the hunt for a Civil War-era ironclad ship all their careers, a boat carrying Confederate fugitives that may have made it all the way to Africa.  Meanwhile, a doctor with the World Health Organization named Eva Rojas seeks out the source of a terrible plague that’s affecting the citizens of Lagos, Nigeria and elsewhere nearby.  When their paths cross, Pitt & Rojas realize that they’re searching for the same things; answers.

There’s a reason why there were no more Dirk Pitt movies, and Sahara is it.  Clive Cussler is an adequate author, if you like that sort of fast-paced, low-thought, page-turner, and there is an audience for that, I’m not judging (too harshly).  But Sahara had four screenwriters, plus being based on the book, and then it had about a hundred different characters that it tried to make funny and/or menacing, the result being a god-cursed mess that single-handedly destroyed a budding franchise.  It’s no wonder; while the cast might look good on paper, it was obvious that each actor was phoning in their performance, knowing full well that the movie they were starring in completely sucked.  McConaughey, Zahn, Cruz, William H. Macy, Rainn Wilson, Delroy Lindo, Lennie James from Snatch, Lambert Wilson from The Matrix Reloaded.  It’s not a terrible cast, but they did not shine here, that’s for sure, because there wasn’t any energy to feed off of, this movie was dead on arrival.  It’s overtly silly, written poorly, and just plain ludicrous from start to finish, an insult to a genre that can be OK if it’s done with at least a modicum of skill.

My rating: ☆