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As a boy, my mother used to take me to a small video store near our home. Though horror films were off-limits, she often caught me in the horror section, my eyes glued with abnormal fascination to the scary pictures on the VHS covers. I was a paradigm of youthful impatience, my appetite for the grisly forbidden whetted but forced to wait. Twenty-five years later my collection of over 700 titles includes many of those same horror films I used to drool over. I have a deep and abiding interest in all genres, but the consequences of my childhood has easily made horror my favorite.
As a serious collector, I insist on always having the original case, cover art, inserts, and disc(s) --preferably in superb condition. From the highest quality and best special features to playback on a large flatscreen and a killer surround system, I love to experience films to the fullest. I buy from major retailers, trade on Swapadvd, and discover new treasures via Netflix. I'm also a strong proponent of file-sharing, which has allowed me to see hundreds of films I might otherwise have missed and led to countless recommendations and legal purchases. In the long-run, I believe file-sharing helps filmmakers and distributors far more than it hurts them.
Some of my favorite films include Vanilla Sky, The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Butterfly Effect, Fight Club, Zodiac, The Exorcist, Session 9, Insidious, Oculus, Halloween(1978), Metropolis, The Man From Earth, Dark City, Total Recall(1990), Limitless, JFK, Frost/Nixon, Stand By Me, What Dreams May Come, The Lovely Bones, There Will Be Blood, Sideways, As Good As It Gets, The Princess Bride, Dogma, and The House of Yes.
Some of my favorite directors are David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, William Friedkin, Alfred Hitchcock, Tony Scott, Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, Martin Scorsese, James Wan, Mike Flanagan, and Judd Apatow.
Rocky V (1990)
Rocky V: Different Doesn't Always Mean Bad
Rocky fans are sharply divided when it comes to this fifth and almost last installment in the Rocky franchise, many considering it the lowest point in the series. Whether it is or not, it's certainly the most unique. The story is not so focused on Rocky himself, but split between Rocky, the troubles of his son, and the rise of his protégé Tommy Gunn. That splintering as well as the change in format and the street fight ending are the biggest issues fans have with Rocky V. And of course, Tommy's mullet.
When people fall in love with a film, or film series, the last thing they want is something different. Most filmgoers want to see the same thing over and over with only very modest changes in characterization and story. Rocky through Rocky IV all had roughly the same storyline: Rocky wants to quit fighting, someone convinces him to fight, he trains hard, and finally he dukes it out in the ring with a bigger, stronger, larger-than-life opponent. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he loses. This is the Rocky film fans were used to seeing. Rocky V takes a new road entirely and shows our hero in a very different light.
Adrian's brother Paulie is definitely the antithesis of Rocky in the films. He mistreats Adrian, drinks like a fish, and at times shows extreme jealousy and aggression toward Rocky. At the beginning of Rocky V, Paulie tops all past shenanigans by gambling away Rocky's fortune, forcing the family to return to the dingy, crime-riddled Philadelphia neighborhood where they started. Why does Rocky keep putting up with Paulie's bad behavior? We all love Rocky in part because his heart is bigger than his brain, but this time around the Italian Stallion seems denser than usual. While it is explained early on that Rocky has actually suffered some permanent brain damage, he is a little too oblivious here.
During most of Rocky V, we just want to smack Rocky across the face and tell him to wake the heck up. We can sort of understand why he keeps Paulie under his roof despite his costly blunder, but what follows is nothing less than a string of bad decisions by a Rocky who's clearly asleep at the wheel. He ignores his son's obvious need for attention and guidance, he takes an ungrateful punk under his wing and lives vicariously through him, and he allows a slimy Don King-like boxing promoter walk all over him. Adrian, meanwhile, is wide awake but her repeated attempts to shake Rocky out of his fantasies are in vain because he just won't listen.
Probably the biggest complaint fans have of Rocky V is the ending. All of the other five Rocky films spend their final fifteen minutes in the ring. Not this one. Instead, Rocky's former protégé Tommy challenges him to a bare-knuckle fist fight on the street. Since Tommy is technically the heavyweight champion now, and because the fight is relatively short and doesn't take place in the ring, it does feel somewhat unofficial. It makes sense that the audience would want to see Rocky retain his title one last time and that doesn't happen. Furthermore, the closing credits happen over a slideshow of memorable moments from the whole series, making the film feel even more final.
Having said all of this, the truth is that Rocky V is still a pretty good movie. It may have some frustrating, even awkward scenes, but it's packed with real emotion and is overall well made. The best news of course is that Rocky V isn't the end anyway. Stallone wisely decided to make another film sixteen years later - the surprisingly good Rocky Baloboa - that both closely mimics the original and gives a proper closing to this spectacular series.
I love the Rocky movies. Having recently bought the Heavyweight Collection on Blu-ray and watched them all chronologically, I have nothing but respect for Stallone and love for his series. Each entry in the Rocky series is at least good if not great and none of them stray too far from their origins. From that perspective, I'd go so far as to say the Rocky series is the most consistently good film series ever made. Every series has its black sheep and Rocky V is definitely the black sheep of this one. And there's nothing wrong with that.
All Hallows' Eve (2013)
All Hallows' Eve is Underrated As Hell
Given the overwhelming popularity of shockfests like Martyrs and the Saw series, the nearly universal disapproval of this film is itself shocking. It's strange how some films can make their mark for the very things that cause others to be rebuked. All Hallows' Eve is low budget and has its mistakes, but overall is a wonderful, very scary exploitation horror film with a memorable villain and surprisingly good production values.
All Hallows' Eve is an anthology film. Like most horror anthologies such as Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, The Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Trick R' Treat, All Hallows' Eve has three main stories plus a wraparound story that ties them together. Director Damien Leone chose this format to showcase his pre-existing short films ("The 9th Circle" and "Terrifier"), so only the second story and the wraparound are totally new. The film opens with a woman babysitting two children on Halloween night and the discovery that someone has sneaked a VHS tape into one of the children's trick-or-treat bags. Reluctantly the babysitter plays the tape and the first of three stories begins.
With regard to reputation, there seem to be three primary complaints about the movie: 1) The director used previously created material, 2) The film is excessively gory, and 3) The acting is bad. Each of these is easily negated. First, most people have not seen the two short films, so the director seized his chance to have them viewed by a large audience. Completely understandable. Second, yes the film is graphic, but certainly no more than a hundred others released in the past decade, many of which were very popular. Third, the acting is actually pretty good. It's definitely strong enough to let the audience suspend their disbelief, which is after all the name of the game.
If there's one thing I've learned from reading reviews and posts on IMDb and elsewhere, it's that people will complain about anything. The truth is that All Hallows' Eve is a tense, entertaining horror film alive with creativity, realistic effects, and inspired direction. Its rating on IMDb (as of this writing) is unfortunate and unfair. If you want a polished horror film that's long on plot and every shot perfectly framed, see something else. If you want to have a good time and be scared, see this.
Scream 4 (2011)
In Defense of Scream 4
There have been about a dozen horror remakes, reboots and reimaginings in the past decade and most of them were awful. Sitting in the theater on opening night waiting to see Scream 4 on I had mixed expectations. I hoped it would bring the series back to the level of the original, but feared it would only be decent at best. When I left, I was pleasantly surprised. The next day I checked the rating on IMDb: a solid 7.7. I was pleased. Since then however I have read post after post in which fans have not only bashed the movie into the ground, but also spoiled the ending. The film deserves a more positive review that doesn't give away the ending, so here goes.
Scream 4 is a genuine sequel. The original cast reprise their roles and do a great job. Since it is eleven years later, they are at different points in their lives. Sydney is a writer, Dewey is the sheriff and Gale is married to Dewey trying to write her first novel. The characters are older, stronger, and smarter. Then there is the new cast. While most slasher sequels offer little more than another doomed group of stupid teenagers, the Scream teens have always been pretty intelligent with time taken to develop their characters. For the most part, these traditions continue in Scream 4. Furthermore, the writer Kevin Williamson and director We Craven return to recreates the familiar atmosphere and story progression. Having said that, Scream 4 still provides plenty of surprises. As a matter of fact, it turns the original trilogy right on its head!
The pre-title opening scenes of the Scream films have always prided themselves on being shocking and clever and this one is no different. From there the film proceeds to reintroduce the three stars and then the newbies. Most of the new characters have pivotal roles, some being deliberate reincarnations of past characters. This may make some nostalgic for the days of Tatum and Randy, but most will find the new characters fresh with personalities of their own. The passing of time is acknowledged by the use of technology such as Facebook and Twitter, webcams, and modern cell phones. A staple of the series, several references are made to horror movies including Shaun of the Dead, Saw IV and that long list of remakes used in the trailer. Finally there are the Stab movies, the series within a series that began in Scream 2. In Scream 3, Stab 3 is in production. By Scream 4, they are up to Stab 7.
Of course most people will want to know who survives and who is the killer, which I won't tell you. What I will tell you is that Scream 4 is a lot of fun. You'll notice a few scenes that are obvious counterparts to the original, much like what Wes Craven did in New Nightmare. Scream 4 is brutal, funny, clever and scary. If you liked the first three Screams, you are likely to like this one too. Accept that times and the "rules" have changed (as noted in the tag line "New Decade, New Rules"), and you are sure to have a blast. I think the main reason some fans have a problem with Scream 4 is that it does not follow either the original rules or the original structure. Others have stated that there are some rather ridiculous and/or illogical moments. Well frankly, every Scream film had those moments! While the films have generally been very smart, they all came with a side of cheese. Their best feature is that they make fun of horror films while being horror films. So relax, open your mind and don't take it all so seriously. After all, it's just a movie.
South Park (1997)
The South Park Legacy
I have been a dedicated South Park fan since the third season when my area finally got Comedy Central. Until then, I had only heard about the show and seen T-shirts in stores around town. Eleven years later I can honestly say that this show has changed my life and opened my eyes more than any other in television history. It is easily the most intelligent, daring, and out-right hilarious show of all time. It has been imitated and parodied and referenced millions of times since its inception and has amassed one of the most devoted followings of any pop culture creation ever. The plots are brilliant, the characters well-developed, the writing and direction outstanding. Sure, not every single episode is perfect, but most come pretty close. The amount of time, thought and ingenuity that goes into each twenty-two minute spectacle is mind-blowing. After fourteen years, including over 200 episodes and one fantastic movie, South Park remains consistently fresh and original.
In my experience, most people who watch South Park, even those who love it, fail to truly understand by what the show is. While at first glance it appears to be nothing more than a show about some potty-mouthed children, it is far more. South Park makes bold, unapologetic statements on ideas and events using accurate information and turns the inherent contradictions or absurdity of those ideas and events into powerful jokes. That is the genius of the show. There has been dispute among fans and critics about there being obvious political agendas at the core of many episodes and that this interferes with the entertainment value. In my opinion, this is simply an example of the show's depth and enhances its entertainment value. Indeed there are plenty of messages the writers hope will be received by the viewers, but that is precisely what elevates the show above mediocrity. South Park does not pander to popular opinion, nor does it set its sights on refuting popular opinion. It is neither conformist nor anti-conformist. It is truly non-conformist, meaning that sometimes it agrees with the masses and sometimes it does not. That is what a true rebel does. Rebels do not vilify or vandalize, they think. They come to their own conclusions regardless of what is accepted as correct. The creators of South Park are genuine rebels, and this is why they and by extension their show deserve the highest respect. South Park makes fun of everything and everyone. It doesn't play favorites and no person, country, culture, company, religion, trend, tragedy, or technology is immune. I think that is beautiful.
The show is centered around the lives of four young boys who live in a small mountain town in Colorado called South Park, and it is through their eyes which we view the world. Stan is the leader, Kyle is the conscience, Cartman is the villain, and Kenny is the enigma. In the average television show, there are rarely paradigm shifts, changes in perspective or real surprises. This show offers all three on a regular basis. In the typical show, everyone has a role and those roles are to be counted on no matter what the situation. In this respect as well, South Park is unique. Although the main characters do have basic attributes, their actions are not predictable. Sometimes Stan dodges his leadership, sometimes Kyle does the wrong thing, sometimes Cartman does the right thing, and sometimes Kenny seems almost normal. This makes the show more realistic and reflects the fact that children's personalities are plastic, not rigid. And because we see things from their eyes, the show is about much more than just them. It is about their parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, and various others who live and work in the town. The show's regulars are anything but stereotypes and the stereotypes we do encounter are absolutely deliberate and stretched to the limit. They are all interesting characters, from sexually-confused 4th grade teacher Mr. Garrison to dumber-than-dirt policeman Officer Barbrady. Another level of characterization can be seen by the arbitrary inclusion of both imaginary and historic characters. Christian icons Jesus Christ and Satan have appeared on the show, as have impossible characters like Mr. Hankey the Christmas poo and Towelie the drug-addicted genetically engineered towel.
There is very little intelligent programming today. Maybe there never really was. Most shows of all kinds come and go without leaving any lasting impression. Their structure or storyline gets stale and before you know it the show is canceled. No surprise and no big loss. They are not remembered because they have made no difference in the world. South Park is different. It will be remembered long after its series finale because it has changed the world. It has pushed the boundaries of what is allowed on television more times and in more ways than any other show in history. It is filled with sharp dialogue and clever catch phrases that are recited by millions of fans all over the world. It is not afraid to confront any issue, poke fun at any celebrity, or parody any movie or book. Do not listen to those who complain about the show being immature, poorly drawn, or just plain stupid. It is smarter, gustier, and more original than any two shows of this generation or any. South Park is the best, pure and simple. The conclusion of this past season only proves that the creators are just as ingenious and imaginative as ever. Trust me, South Park will live on.
Sincerely, A Fan
The Brave One (2007)
The Underrated One
So many negative reviews about The Brave One make it necessary for those of us who understand and see the purpose beneath the gritty exterior to share in the hopes that one other person will read this and come to understand and truly see it too.
When ERICA BAIN walks the city, she takes the time to observe that most don't. She sees where she is and what it all means, all meshed together with crime and business and love and affection and affliction and power and fun and beauty. She can see. Well. Or can she? After the event that lays the story's foundation, ERICA has a frightening epiphany. Despite her private belief of strength and superiority compared to others, she finds that she is no safer than anyone else. But then rather than join a support group, take to the bottle, cry herself to sleep or barricade herself inside her apartment, she decides to do what few others do. She decides to fight back.
Yes, the police do excellent work, solve countless crimes and remove thousands of bad seeds from the streets. It is not enough. Americans have the right to bear arms to defend themselves. Not just against the forces of tyranny and oppression, but from the evil of the individual who threatens you from right down the street. Why wait for the bad people to make the right mistakes that would lead to their prosecution? Why not protect the sheep -driving their cars, riding the subway, walking the streets, sitting in bars and offices- before they're sheered by the wolves? Why not intervene...instead of cower and then call 911 after the damage has been done? People say that the events of The Brave One are too "coincidental" to be realistic, but that misses the intentions of the lead. ERICA seeks out bad people by frequenting bad parts of town, especially at night. She knows the city and for the first time she is deliberately going to the places she has always known to avoid. In a very real sense, and minus the cape and ridiculous logo emblazoned on a rubber suit, she is a superhero. Like the operatives who protect our citizens by keeping their identities a secret, so does ERICA BAIN. Remember: real superheroes are the ones you don't see.
Comparisons to Death Wish, Taxi Driver and others are expected, but this film has something distinctly real and different to offer the thinking movie-goer. She is not a villain, she has no ego about her agenda, she is not cold or malicious, and she is not a sadist. She is a regular person (not an ex-cop or ex-con or ex-military) who has had enough of the vile sociopathic minority whose only aim is to terrorize, rape, rob, and murder the majority who just want to make their way peacefully in the world. Some argue that this is impossible, but that is just an echo of the fear machine propagated by the media and by the politicians whose votes are cast out of fear.
ERICA sublimates her fears to carry out a mission of justice for the people of the city she loves. As well for the greater good and for humanity. Indeed, standing around in any crowded room, you would find among them the sad one, the lonely one, the frightened one, the angry one, the tired one, the sickly one, and the apathetic one. ERICA is the brave one. If you can't accept this, then ask yourself why is it that millions cheer on the antics of Batman or Spiderman? Isn't it a good thing when Jason Voorhees is chopped to pieces? How about that personal vendetta of The Bride? Sure, you may think that the killing of masses of "bad guys" is fine for a movie as long as that movie's setting is a far cry from reality. But when reality takes center stage, why are minds and stances so easily and radically changed? I'm asking YOU! Are you one of the timid masses or are you one of the sturdy few?